Much of the commentary and criticism swirling around Mitt Romney and the religion issue seems to take as its starting point the assumption that there is a single Mormon view on any particular issue, decided by LDS leaders and accepted by the LDS membership. Too bad there isn’t a Mormon view on particular issues. That kind of kills the theory.
Surprisingly, it’s not just critics who give Romney a hard time, insisting that as a Mormon he needs to affirm Mormon views (seemingly oblivious to the fact that there are LDS politicians of both parties and a wide variety of views). Mormons, too, have been eager to assail Romney’s pledge to place his oath of office before any private or religious commitments, a view which if announced would put LDS politicians in a position similar to and as untenable as that espoused by critics who want to paint Mormon politicians into a Mormon corner. Perhaps some facts will shed a little reality on this strange discusion. If anything, the record shows LDS politicians were independent from the very beginning and remain so today.
Here’s from the Ostlings’ Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (rev’d ed., 2007):
The twentieth-century LDS record has not always been what simple stereotypes might suggest, nor have Mormons automatically followed their leader. The powerful U.S. senator and church Apostle Reed Smoot defied the church president by voting to override President Taft’s veto of an immigration bill. The First Presidency favored the League of Nations while Smoot was vocal on the successful negative side. Smoot opposed Prohibition, which was backed by fellow apostles. In 1933 the teetotaling First Presidency and Twelve Apostles decided the church would not campaign against the repeal of Prohibition because it was a partisan political issue, although the quietly hoped that good Mormons would vote dry. As it turned out, Utah was the state that put the constitutional amendment repealing Prohibition over the top.
And here’s the official LDS policy on neutrality: “Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated church position.” Hard to state it any more simply, and it does accord with the facts, always an advantage. So why do so few people accept it? Why is the myth of monolithic Mormonism so pervasive given the obvious and easily obtained facts to the contrary?