Is the American electorate ready for a Mormon president?

January 17, 2012, Tuesday/ 17:36:00/ AYDOĞAN VATANDAŞ

Over the last several years, Mormons and Mormonism have been receiving growing attention in the American media. The main reason for this attention is definitely Mitt Romney, the current GOP front-runner in the 2012 US presidential race. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who has already quit the race for the Republican nomination and endorsed Mitt Romney, is a well-known Mormon as well.

The Mormon church is officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many Mormons believe they are one of the least understood faiths in America and are stereotyped by the American media.

The word “Mormon” is actually a nickname used for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormons make up less than 2 percent of the American population. According to statistics, Mormons represent the fourth largest religious group in the United States.

Like the other Christians, they also believe in and testify to Jesus Christ as the savior of the world. Mormons also attest to the validity of the Bible. The most important difference, however, is they also believe that God appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820 with the express purpose of restoring Christianity. Therefore, Mormons believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. In the beginning, Joseph Smith and his fundamental teachings were the principal targets of the other Christians. In the past, the prophetic credibility of Joseph Smith and the validity of the Book of Mormon was highly criticized and targeted.

But when the practice of polygamy was publicly announced in 1852, the stereotypes immediately changed. From then on, Mormons have been depicted as lustful males and degraded females.

The HBO show “Big Love” was the story of a modern-day polygamist who lives in suburban Salt Lake City with his three wives and seven children. This show disturbed Mormons and was highly criticized by members of the Church.

“Cold Case” was, on the other hand, an American police television series on CBS from Sept. 28, 2003, to May 2, 2010, which depicted the Mormon faith as insanity and all Mormons as strange people. After growing criticism about the series, CBS announced on May 18, 2010, that the series had been canceled.

Mormon commentators were really surprised when they watched the Mormon family in the “South Park” episode “All About Mormons.” Most Mormons thought it was unexpectedly their best treatment. But at the end of the episode, Mormons were depicted as the only Christians who go to heaven after death, which actually was a humorously ironic twist, rather than a meaningful endorsement of Mormonism.

In March 2011, a religious satirical Broadway musical entitled “The Book of Mormon” has both captivated -- and offended -- Mormons. With Mormonism continuing to receive increasing attention in the media, the Pew Research Center has released a major survey about Mormons and how Americans view them. According to the results, Mormons are more conservative than the general public on a variety of political, social and moral issues. Compared to the population as a whole, Mormons are more likely Republican in their party affiliation and conservative in their political ideology. The research indicates they have a less favorable view of US President Barack Obama than non-Mormons, and they hold more conservative views than the general public on issues such as the size of government, abortion and homosexuality. The research also shows Mormons are more likely than others to say extramarital sex and drinking alcohol are morally wrong. The survey, which was conducted from late October through mid-November 2011, concluded that Mormons have overwhelmingly positive views of Mitt Romney, with 86 percent of registered voters saying they have a positive view of Romney compared with only 10 percent who have an unfavorable view.

According to research, 68 percent of Mormons believe that they are not viewed by society as mainstream. They also believe they are misunderstood and discriminated against. But, at the same time, a majority of Mormons believe that Mormonism is rising. Research also indicates they are satisfied with their lives and content with their communities.

The research also concluded that many Mormons feel they’re misrepresented in media. More than half (54 percent) believe media portrayals hurt their image. Mormons have a sizable concern about how the public views them.

The research finds that Mormons describe Mormonism as a Christian religion, with 97 percent expressing this point of view. According to the research, when asked what one word best describes Mormons, the most common response from those surveyed was “Christian” or “Christ-centered” (17 percent), and an additional 5 percent volunteered “Jesus.”

In contrast, many non-Mormons do not see Mormonism as a Christian faith. Research found that one-third of non-Mormon US adults (32 percent) say the Mormon faith is not a Christian religion, and an additional 17 percent are unsure whether Mormonism is Christian. In an open-ended question asking what one word best describes the Mormon religion, the same survey found the most commonly offered response was “cult.” Many believe Mitt Romney’s faith will be his biggest challenge during his political campaign. In states like South Carolina, for example, where about 60 percent of Republican voters are evangelical Christians, Mitt Romney will face an electorate that believes that the Mormon faith is apostasy and against the roots of traditional Christianity.

*Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative reporter based in New York.

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