Mormons, Evangelicals, and the Republican Primaries

The New York Times reported recently that the budding Republican primaries have sparked Evangelical unease toward Mormonism (an unease reminiscent of the 2008 Republican primary fight).  According to Correspondent Laurie Goodstein, Mitt Romney’s lead after the New Hampshire Primary might flag as the primaries move from the Northeast into South Carolina and Florida—favoring, possibly, Rick Santorum, who is popular among Evangelicals.  Ms. Goodstein cites the anti-Mormon preaching of the Rev. R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Rev. Roberts advances a view apparently shared by a certain coterie of Evangelicals that Mormonism is a threatening, apostatical religion.  According to Rev. Roberts, a Romney presidency would legitimize Mormonism and pave the way for an increase in Mormon proselytism, something he and like-minded believers fear.

The term “Evangelical” encompasses a broad range of beliefs and attitudes, so any generalization about them is suspect.  But the Pew Forum reports that 15% of white Evangelical Republicans would not vote for Romney simply because of Romney’s Mormonism—a relatively small proportion  in a general election but one more decisive in a primary.  Thus, Ms. Goodstein’s article illustrates just how much a candidate’s religion alone may deter voters, notwithstanding the candidate’s political views.

Update (Jan. 20):  HarperCollins recently released a new biography of Mitt Romney, The Real Romney, by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman that explores the Romney family’s ties to the early Latter Day Saints Movement.