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There have been a few posts here on The Twelve about Mormonism, including two fine recent postings by Jamie Smith and Steve Mathonnet-Vanderwell (with Jamie’s piece even being picked up by Andrew Sullivan in his blog). If you haven’t read those, I commend them to you. My purpose here is not to interact too directly with my colleagues but to name an issue I think needs naming. My hunch is that this will not sit well with everyone, and I’d actually be happy to be proven wrong because I honestly don’t like what I am about to observe.
But here goes . . .
Four years ago once Barack Obama clinched the nomination, we heard from many quarters that some just would not vote for him on account of his being a Muslim. Of course, he’s NOT a Muslim even though an astonishing percentage of Americans (mostly Republicans according to the polls) still believe this to be the case. And, of course, many noted at the time four years ago that even if a person who really was a Muslim ran for office, that alone ought not mean you could not vote for that candidate (even as a Christian voter).
So Barack Obama is a Christian but just the thought that he might be a Muslim disqualified him in the minds of many American voters. But if Mitt Romney secures the nomination, it seems likely (as happens every election) that the vast majority of his party will get behind him and vote for him despite the fact, in this case, that Mitt Romney really is not a Christian but is a Mormon. The same people who touted Obama’s alleged Muslim faith as a reason to be suspicious and not vote for him will line up at the polls and cast their votes for someone who really is from a different faith (and a faith that tweaks and plays with Christianity and its theology just enough to make me frankly nervous, despite reassurances I get from folks like my friend Rich Mouw).
So what’s the difference? Well, let’s admit that part of the difference is the association some have with Islam and terrorism, thus tainting the entire faith. That is a factor. It’s not fair, it’s guilt by association clear as day, but it’s there. But might there be something else? Might it be that most Mormons we’ve ever seen look like Mitt Romney: that is, all-American and also white? Might it be that many Muslims are people from different cultures and who sometimes have a different skin color than white?
I am not alleging it’s all about race or racism but let’s not pretend it’s not at least a little bit about that, and that’s something we all need to struggle with (myself included) all the time and repent of over and over whenever we sense the shadow of racism arising in our own hearts. This is not a nice or tidy thing to observe, but I am afraid it needs to be named.
At a Republican rally in Florida last week the warm-up speaker asked the crowd if they were ready to send Barack Obama back to Chicago. The crowd, it turned out, was not interested in that. Instead they began a chant to indicate the real place to which they thought President Obama belongs and to which he needs to be returned. They chanted “Kenya, Kenya, Kenya.”