Mormon Society and the 2012 Presidential Race

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I’m very excited about what the future holds for Utne Reader, and I hope that you are, too. It’s truly an honor to be here.

The Longer the 2012 Republican presidential primary drags on, the more it seems like a politically themed remix of Humpty Dumpty: “All of Mitt’s money, and all of Mitt’s friends, can’t seem to convince the Republicans.”

When I heard former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty speak at the University of Kansas’ Dole Institute of Politics in February, a woman who described herself as a conservative Christian asked Pawlenty–a Romney surrogate and outspoken conservative Christian–how he could justify his support for the Mormon frontrunner. Pawlenty deftly answered that Romney’s actions alone proved to him that he was a good and moral man worthy of his support. Pawlenty tried to equate Romney’s morals with the assumed morals of the conservative Christian woman, but not once did I hear him utter the word “Mormon” in his response.

Maybe he should have.

While Romney makes no secret of his faith and values, his campaign has failed to publically acknowledge the skepticism that many conservative Christians have toward Mormonism and Mormon society. It hasn’t addressed the fact that popular culture has magnified the sensational aspects of Mormonism and helped it become one of the nation’s most misunderstood religions. Most importantly, Romney has yet to assert a conviction that he probably already subscribes to: that Mormons and conservative Christians have the same morals and ideals, and that they should be working together to recalibrate the nation’s moral compass, which they all agree needs a major adjustment.

It’s hard to say if Romney can gain any ground with conservative Christians by publically embracing his Mormon faith during the 2012 presidential race. It’s entirely possible that for many devout Christians, who have been taught to view Mormon society with a wary eye, Romney’s faith is a deal breaker no matter how attractive his other qualities might be. But if this campaign has shown us anything about conservative, faith-based voters, it’s that they value conviction. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul’s enthusiastic supporters are both evidence of this fact. From outspending his opponents to shifting further to the right than at any other time in his political career, Romney has tried just about everything to sew up the nomination except conviction. Perhaps the only thing left to try is to knock on his neighbor’s doors, stick out his hand and proudly proclaim, “I’m Mitt Romney, I’m a Mormon, and I want to be your president.”

You’ve probably noticed by now there’s a new voice and a new face in this space. While this is my formal introduction as new editor of Utne Reader, I’ve spent the last four months working closely with previous editor David Schimke and the rest of the top-notch Minneapolis staff, learning what you, the reader, expect from this magazine.

Through our many conversations, David and I realized that we have quite a bit in common when comparing our visions for Utne Reader. Like David, I’m committed to the exploration of new ideas and perspectives, and the hope that Utne can continue to spark the civil discourse that’s so important in our constantly changing world. While the staff and production location have changed, rest assured that the mission has not.

Of course, I’m not doing this alone. I’ve searched high and low for the combination of exceptional journalistic skill and intellectual curiosity, and I’ve been extremely fortunate to find both of those qualities in assistant editors Sam Ross-Brown and Suzanne Lindgren. I’m very excited about what the future holds for Utne Reader, and I hope that you are, too. It’s truly an honor to be here.

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