I'm not prejudiced, some of my best friends are Mormon

By Jennifer Lipman, February 2, 2012

The hottest ticket on Broadway at the moment is a biting musical comedy called The Book of Mormon. Created by the team behind South Park, it offers a satirical look at faith, humanitarian aid and ambition.

It's funny, risqué and shows no mercy when it comes to the more eccentric parts of Mormonism, the religious movement that began with a man having visions in the upstate New York of the 19th century.

But it's not just on Broadway that the Mormon story is under the spotlight. Tickets are considerably cheaper - unless you're a donor - for the spectacle of the Republican nomination race, where two Mormons had the temerity to throw in their hats and one seems now to be storming to victory.

In the coverage of Mitt Romney's second bid to take on Obama for a seat in the Oval Office, his religion comes up almost every time. So, too, does his corporate background, his inclination for paying only minimal tax, his tendency to flip-flop on key issues and his alarmingly Tea Party-unfriendly positions. But whereas those are all pertinent for an electorate choosing who to give the nuclear codes and keys to the public piggy bank to, his religion is of less relevance.

Despite the separation of church and state, the US is a country where organised religion is mostly revered; indeed a recent study found that atheists were distrusted as much as rapists. Compared to Britain, where a politician's prayer habits are of less interest than his biscuit choice, in America, you gotta have faith.

There are plenty of reasons to be anti-Romney

But you gotta have the right faith. It took until 1960 for the US to vote in its first Catholic, and another 40 years for a Jew to have the White House within his sights (Joe Lieberman, and even then as second-in-command). Nobody from outside the Judaeo-Christian religious framework has had a serious run yet.

But whereas when Kennedy ran, his Catholicism was considered a question mark by many voters, by the time of Lieberman's bid his faith was, by and large, off the table (and for the record, he's not only Jewish, he's pretty frum). As well it should have been.

It's frightening that, at a recent count, one in six Americans expressed doubts that they would vote for a Mormon. For some, it seems to be the religion's innate social conservatism - abstemious, anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality - while for others it's the history of polygamy (outlawed a century ago) and the fact that the religion has its roots in a guy who was shown some tablets by an angel called Moroni.

Not being teetotal (give up coffee? Never) and generally swerving to the liberal side of the spectrum when it comes to a woman's right to choose and so forth, I can see why voters might want to challenge him on those points. But they are stances shared by a host of candidates from all manner of religious backgrounds and they should be attacked for being wrong, not for being the products of a particular faith.

As to the second point, for every angel, I raise you a man eaten by a whale, a leader conjuring up frogs and rivers of blood, or a deity giving two tablets to a bloke on a mountain. The Mormon canon might seem nonsensical but the Jewish one doesn't hold up too well either when it comes to the reality test. That's faith for you. Who is anyone to cast aspersions about someone else's crazy beliefs?

A person's faith will inevitably affect his outlook and, if he's a politician, his decisions. But so will his socio-economic background, whether he's a parent, where he comes from in the country and what he did in the workplace. Not all Mormons vote Republican. Religion is but one part in the sum, and it's not always a reliable guide as to what the answer will be.

There are plenty of reasons to be anti-Romney (as there were to oppose the rather lacklustre campaign of Jon Huntsman, who was something of a Rosh Hashanah Mormon and therefore seen as less of a threat).

That he belongs to a religion known mostly for cultish offshoots, Salt Lake City and funny underwear isn't one of them. To say otherwise is prejudice, plain and simple. Don't believe me. Substitute "Jew" for "Mormon" and just see how the apprehension about his faith makes you feel.

There aren't any Jews seriously in the running this year (although if I had a vote and it had to be Republican, perhaps I'd back the gay Jewish hopeful Fred Karger). But if there were, I would be shocked and appalled to see their religious beliefs come under so vicious a microscope.

Jennifer Lipman is deputy comment editor of the JC

Last updated: 11:59am, February 2 2012