Who’s afraid of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism?

Since their political reemergence in the 1970s, conservative evangelicals have lived with a tension. They hold tightly to their theological convictions. But there isn’t a conservative evangelical majority in America. This mathematical reality is what led Jerry Falwell to associate politically with Pentecostals and Catholics, as well as with Jews and Mormons. Such ecumenism has been an unexpected contribution of the religious right. In a democracy, the desire for influence tends to overwhelm theological differences. If Romney looks like the likely nominee, mainstream religious conservatives are more likely to build bridges than torch them.

But even though conservative objections to Romney’s Mormonism are likely to diminish, criticism by secular liberals is likely to blossom…

[S]ecular tolerance for the emphatic faiths has been thinning for some time. To many liberal thinkers, conservative religion is inherently illiberal. Mormonism only magnifies those concerns. Damon Linker has warned that Mormon leaders, claiming prophetic authority, might dictate to an American president. Jacob Weisberg has insisted, “I wouldn’t vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism.” Twenty-seven percent of Democrats currently say they would not vote for a Mormon — a higher percentage than among Republicans or Protestants.

Will Romney’s Mormonism matter? It depends. On much of the right, politics will eventually trump theology. On at least some of the left, secularism will trump tolerance.

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