From Jan Shipps

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Jan is still learning how to use the technology, so I’m posting this for her. MS
To great hoopla, Governor Mitt Romney gave an address about “Faith in America” on Thursday (December 6, 2007). What he said was designed to deal with what has become a contentious issue, particularly in Iowa: his Mormon faith.
Following the candidate’s speech, some commentators complained that the speech was not Mormonism 101 and some even suggested a lack of truth in advertising. But Romney’s said he would talk about faith in America and how, if elected, his faith would inform his presidency. That is what he did.
Had he not stayed with his announced topic and had gone the Mormonism 101 route instead, he might well have sounded like he was delivering a missionary message. If he managed to avoid that, he would have been forced to oversimplify the thoroughly complex LDS theological system so much that many of his listeners probably would have concluded that what Mormons believe is, in fact, really weird.
In any event, the candidate made no effort to explain Mormon beliefs. Nor did he describe his faith tradition more generally. Yet in the way he talked about religious diversity, the nation’s symphony of faiths; how religious liberty stands at the heart of the American Constitutional system; and how religion should have a place in the public square, his was a very Mormon speech.
The news from his campaign is that Romney wrote this speech himself and this is surely correct. As a student of Mormon rhetoric as well as LDS history and religion, I recognized elements of what Romney said that could have come from the mouth of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith. The founder of the LDS movement was passionate about religious liberty, believing it to be a gift not simply from the framers of the Constitution, but a gift from God to this new nation.
Violence against them forced the Mormons from their homes in Ohio and Missouri. But they continued to insist that religious liberty was an American value and when they built a town they named Nauvoo on banks of the Mississippi River, they put that belief into practice. In that very Mormon place, the Saints were careful to welcome persons of all faiths. Moreover, the prophet included members who were not Mormon in his “Council of Fifty,” the body that oversaw the civic dimension of the Mormon realm.
After the prophet’s murder, the Saints were again driven from their homes. While many of them scattered across the East and Midwest, the largest Mormon group followed Brigham Young to the inter-mountain west. There they established a theocratic kingdom that lasted about a decade before they were forced by the federal government to share political power with non-Mormons. Soon afterward, the U.S. began efforts to suppress the Saints’ most distinctive religious Mormon practice, plural marriage (polygamy).
Regarding the government’s action as a form of despotism, the Mormons were convinced that the fight against polygamy was a desecration of the nation’s commitment to religious liberty. It took a while, but the Supreme Court’s decision that religious liberty did not extend to the polygamous practice of plural marriage had the effect of moving Mormonism into the political, economic, and cultural, but not religious mainstream.
What happened next is a paradox: The nation made the Saints move into a post-polygamous universe mandatory, but as that move come about the Mormons became super-patriotic. And as they did so, the connection between religion and liberty was elevated almost to the point that it is now Mormon doctrine.
The consequence is that Mormons value tolerance as much or more than any other U.S. citizens. So if Romney failed to talk very much about his Mormon faith directly in this speech, he nevertheless revealed a great deal about his being Mormon.
Whether his candidacy will carry the transformation forward, bringing Mormonism into the religious mainstream, is still an open question.