Religion and presidential politics, an interesting mix

Once again, religion has been raised by some in the case of a presidential candidate. This time, some question the Mormon (Latter Day Saints – LDS) faith of candidate Mitt Romney. Four years ago it was the controversial association of about 20 years that candidate Barack Obama had with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

I clearly remember the heated controversy that surrounded the election of our only Catholic president. Religion became a significant issue in the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. The prejudice against his Roman Catholic faith was that some believed that he would govern as directed by the Pope in Rome.

This became enough of an issue that candidate Kennedy took steps to assure voters of his independence. Kennedy met with the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on Sept. 12, 1960. He told them, “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters – and the church does not speak for me.”

Kennedy questioned rhetorically whether one-quarter of Americans were relegated to second-class citizenship just because they were Catholic, and once stated that, “No one asked me my religion [serving the Navy] in the South Pacific.”

I come from a very diverse family in terms of religion. We are Protestants, Catholics, Evangelical Christians and Mormons. Many of us have done mission work in the U.S. and around the world.

I am a Lutheran here in Minnesota. However when my wife and I lived in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia for several years in the early ‘90s, I was an active member of a Southern Baptist congregation. There were no Lutheran churches where we lived in that part of the American Bible Belt.

We also have extensive experience with Mormon friends and neighbors. We lived in Utah in the mid-’60s for three years. I reported to several Mormons where I worked. Several also reported to me in my job. All were good, honest and fair people.

The Mormon Church in Utah had a very strong safety net that was provided for all those in need. The church, rather than the government, provided it. Those in need were given help, but the system also emphasized experience that encouraged them to learn to provide for themselves. The church started these services during the Great Depression.

Able-bodied needy people were expected to assist at the church vegetable and grain fields, cannery, church storehouse, grain elevator, pasta plant, bakery or milk processing plant. The church also had an employment office in Salt Lake City that helped people find jobs. The theory behind this was to help people to become self-reliant. These services are available to all people, regardless of religion.

The church has since expanded similar services to other countries. These include Canada, Mexico, England, Pacific Islands, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The thing that impressed us most when we lived in Utah was that the people were willing to jump in and help anyone in need. The Mormons did this humbly as one of their Christian duties and did not seek recognition for it. Many other church denominations and their members do the same.

It is interesting to note that there are many Mormons who are presently elected members of the U.S. government. There are nine Mormon members in the House of Representatives. The Senate has six. They are of both political parties.

Both current Senate members from Utah and from Nevada are Mormons. This includes Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, the longest serving Republican, is also Mormon.

Among past presidents, the largest religious group is 12 Episcopalians. This is followed by eight Presbyterians. Others are Baptist, Congregational, Disciples of Christ, Dutch Reformed, Methodist, Quaker, Unitarian and one lone Catholic. Interestingly, five others including Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were not affiliated with any denomination.

Oh my – no Lutheran past presidents and none in the upcoming election for me to vote for either! Guess I will just vote for the least-worst choice as I usually do.

Chuck Drury is an Anoka resident, retired engineer and former technical director of Federal Cartridge Company.

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