Cultural Critique / Politics / Religion / The Color Line

Mormonism vs. Universalism: A Post-Racial Evangelical Dilemma

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are pictured in this June 2011 file photo. (Jim Cole/AP Photo)

With the Iowa Caucuses a distant past and the New Hampshire primaries fading to black, all eyes are now focused on the South Carolina primaries for the Republican Party nominee.   The Republican field has had its plethora of changes with candidates like Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum thrust onto center stage as of late, after being nearly absent in the media and debates late last year.  With the likes of Herman Cain and Rep. Michelle Bachmann no longer in contention to occupy the White House, more attention has no been focused on front runner candidates of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and I guess we might as well add Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman.

Let’s be honest, Mitt Romney is probably going to get the nomination after all of this is said and done, but can he win South Carolina?

Northern candidates have historically had a tough time in the South Carolina primary due to old hold outs of Confederate tribalism and the like, but this go round, the religious right has to deal with a slightly different factor that contributes to this millieu:  the presumptive nominee and current front runner is Mormon.

Well, to be totally politcally correct, Mitt Romney is a member of the Latter Day Saints church and is a believer in Mormonism.

How’s that?

Without going too deep, Mormonism is one of those religious beliefs that has sparked numerous side-eyes from the rest of the Protestant country.  Not trying to be too sensational, but this a belief that practices polygamy and believes that there are a specific number of persons who are going to heaven–and believe that if Jesus comes back he’ll be coming back to Missouri.   More germane to me, this is a belief that until the second half of the 20th century did not believe blacks were to be counted in the number of the saved.

Whatever the case is, oddly enough, the Church of Latter-Day Saints is uniquely American.

Joseph Smith’s vision to move he and his fellow believers to a place where they were free to practice their faith free from governmental religious persecution could only happen in a place called the United States.  So much so that they launch out as emigrants and settle and even apply for statehood.  Generations later, they’re still going strong.  What more American story do you know of that speaks of rugged individualism, hardwork, self-determination, struggle and progress?

Well, I could think of several, but you get my point.

Nonetheless, what’s not to love about the story of how Mormonism came to be about?  Oh, just discount the part that they don’t believe in the singular authoritative existence of the Holy Bible, but believe in also the Book of Mormon which corrects the inaccuracies that exist.  And just forget the part where the cosmological agents of the universe spoke directly to Joseph Smith and he then recorded the Book of Mormon himself.  So, yeah, if you forget all of that, what’s not to love about the story?

Enter Barack Obama.

In 2004 Obama was first receiving his rise to stardom as a U.S. senatorial candidate that he was interviewed by religion reporter Cathleen Falsani and she point-blank asked him “Who is Jesus to you?” and the first words out of Obama’s mouth were “Jesus is an historical figure for me.”

Prior to the question Falsani asks him, Obama says

I am a Christian.  So, I have a deep faith. So I draw from the Christian faith.  On the other hand, I was born in Hawaii where obviously there are a lot of Eastern influences.  I lived in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, between the ages of six and 10.  My father was from Kenya, and although he was probably most accurately labeled an agnostic, his father was Muslim.

So, I’m rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people. That there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and there’s an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived.  And so, part of my project in life was probably to spend the first 40 years of my life figuring out what I did believe – I’m 42 now – and it’s not that I had it all completely worked out, but I’m spending a lot of time now trying to apply what I believe and trying to live up to those values.

Such a quote lands Obama relatively comfortable in the arena of universalist thought.  Universalist thought, succinctly put, is the belief that there are many paths to some universal truths; that there is no one way to one truth.  Now I’m not sure if Obama was aware of his personal beliefs in concert with politics on a national arena, but it makes perfect sense why Obama and his family would have ended up at Trinity United Church of Christ.  The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a denomination with its official inception in 1957 birthed out of the Congregationalist Church that is considered the most liberal Protestant denomination in the country.  The next step toward the left is outside of the realm of socially acceptable American and Protestant beliefs.

So what’s an evangelical Christian  to do?  How is this “born again” demographic supposed to vote in a general election?  One choice is a non-Protestant dispensation of Christianity that holds orthodox and highly non-orthodox views relative to the Christian belief system.  The other is a Christian universalist–where the person believes in Jesus (purposely leaving off Christ) as a great historical figure from which we can draw truths from and the figure acts as a bridge between God and humanity.

What I do think is very interesting is that Mitt Romney is a proud member of the LDS and it is without dispute.  Four years ago, the news media was all up in arms debating Obama’s Christianity.  So much so to the point that people were willing to calling him a Muslim (pronounced Moos-slim).  No mainstream network has called in numerous talking heads to discuss the veracity of the Mormon faith as was the case with Black Liberation Theology.  Four years ago, Obama was forced to give a speech about why he associated with Trinity and how his faith intertwined with his life, race and politics in general.   Will Mitt Romney be forced to do the same?

Frankly, I don’t think so.

To be bold, there’s a double standard that is drawn along racial lines.  Even with the frittering of the Tea Party as a possible force to be reckoned with in this 2012 political season, staunch social conservatives tend to also identify themselves as being evangelical Christians and a part of this “born again” demographic.  For the state of South Carolina, the likes of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have a better chance in the coming days because of their recent employ of the “Southern strategy.”  The use of fear tactics by Gingrich and Santorum to discuss blacks and food stamps is utterly deplorable.

But this is the same man who said Occupy protesters should got take a shower and get a job.  And in turn, Rick Santorum began to discuss blacks as blah people.

White social conservatives, who have a higher chance of identifying as evangelicals have an easy choice in South Carolina.  But in terms of getting a candidate who can run against Obama sucessfully, they’re probably going to be stuck between the Mormon and the Universalist.

What boggles my mind is that the likes of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann proudly go around touting that this country was founded on Christian values.  Without running the gamut of Constitutional framers who had decidedly unorthodox Christian beliefs, I was under the impression that “freedom of religion” was one of the major cornerstones of this country.  How pathetically hypocritical can one be to push a myopic and narrow view of Christianity while at the same time arguing for 1st and 2nd Amendment rights?

To be blunt, I think these evangelicals aren’t going to think twice and vote for the white guy.

Granted there’s 10 more months of political wrangling to be had and things change.  What I think helped Obama win some of those swing states last time was that some whites in conservative regions of the country actually thought twice about the state of the economy and about universal health care when they walked into that voting booth.  But unfortunately for Obama, his public image isn’t stellar, though his record may be for all intents and purposes.

What I will think will be interesting to watch is to see these two go head to head.  Personally, I’m not convinced of Romney’s conservatism.  I believe he’s a fiscal conservative beyond the shadow of a doubt.  Even when he ran before he was advocating getting rid of the capital gains tax and that fits right in with concepts of fiscal conservatism.  But a social conservative?  Not by a long stretch.  Somehow I think if Romney gets the nod, there will be a debate where it all comes tumbling down and Romney simply says “Mr. Obama, I’m sorry, you’re right. I can’t do this anymore,” and walks off the stage leaving a stunned GOP party.

Romney hasn’t made any brutal racial statements since he’s been in the spotlight and even questionable quotes concerning his firing practices have gotten totally misconstrued by his opponents.  But Romney isn’t guilty of harping on old bigoted and racist sentiments as a means to further his brand nor his potential presidential politcies.

But none of these are reason enough to vote for Obama.

I think the social conservative base (i.e. Tea Party) is so utterly peeved at the mere existence of Obama, and his wife, living in the White House that people are willing to contrive anything for the sake of their political ideology.  FoxNews cannot go one week, and probably not one day (sorry, I don’t watch it enough to make the latter claim) and not utter the name of Jeremiah Wright.  Even still watching the news in the days leading up to the 2012 Iowa caucuses, social conservatives interviewed were invoking the name of Jeremiah Wright with acute ire.

Post-racial my foot.

Concepts of post-racial theory are rendered null in void if attributes that are deemed to be right and wrong, good and evil, sacred and profane can also be delineated by racial lines as well.  Given Romney’s probably nomination, I think it’s safe to say these two candidates will probably run a clean race, but so much can’t be said for other parts of the country.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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6 thoughts on “Mormonism vs. Universalism: A Post-Racial Evangelical Dilemma

  1. A quite timely post and not just because you have not been posting.

    After reading this post and checking my email, I stumbled upon this 1968 Bill Cosby documentary ‘Black History: Lost Stolen, or Strayed.’ The entire video is approximately one hour in ten minute segments. Cosby’s commentary in the 1968 film provides some detail about how we arrived as discussed in your ‘uppity’ post.

    Thank you for keeping it uppity; please, reflectively continue to write on.

  2. “I think the social conservative base (i.e. Tea Party) is so utterly peeved at the mere existence of Obama, and his wife, living in the White House that people are willing to contrive anything for the sake of their political ideology”

    This says it all. There are MANY legitimate reasons to vote against Obama. But many of the Republicans aren’t interested in them. It’s ALL about race with a lot of them. This is why they push stereotypes so hard-they NEED those stereotypes to be true. It confuses them and upsets them when they run across evidence that the stereotypes aren’t real. They want to make them real. They’re angry that the Obamas don’t fit them. Thus the constant use of racialized language -baby mama, ghetto crackhead, etc. This has given us a look into the white racist id and it’s not pretty. Hopefully such people are an increasing minority of the white electorate but sometimes I wonder.

    • @Shady_grady

      As I was writing this post, it was hard for me to really call it racism, because nowadays we don’t have Jim Crow, we have James Crow, Esq. as Al Sharpton once put it. These social conservatives create an alternate reality where all of these false positives exist, but when what’s considered good and bad fall on racial lines, its hard for me to want to listen to your argument. I think the concept of racism has morphed in this new political era.

      • If for one second you believe that racism is dead and has a new alternate reality,then let me remind you of the over populated prisons in this country with black and brown folk,the 20% or more unemployment in many urban centers in this country.No racism have not gone anywhere it alive and well,we just turn a blind eye to it’s existance.

  3. I just learned something. Previous to this post I thought believing there are many paths to get to God simply meant I wasn’t an arrogant control freak who shared Gods brain & had a monopoly on truth. I’m Universalist?

    Damn, I guess this girl should forget about running for President then.

  4. D.A.D. I see that you prediction on Mitt was correct about SC. Now let us see will the media treat Mitt the same on his religion as did they on President Obama’s. Thanks for bring out these points and others.

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