California’s Mormons Not Necessarily United for Romney

By Stephanie Martin

(Pferriola: Flickr)

The temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Oakland. (Pferriola: Flickr)

Since first arriving in California in the mid-1800’s, members of the Mormon faith have played an active role in the state’s civic and cultural life.

They’ve colonized settlements, built businesses, served in the legislature, and — as recently as four years ago — Mormon congregations helped get out the vote for Proposition 8, the statewide ban on same sex marriage.

The Mormon church officially holds a neutral position about Mitt Romney’s candidacy for president. But during the campaign I’ve spoken with individual Mormons around the state about the intersection of faith and politics in this year’s presidential election.

Just like other religious groups in America, “(Mormons) are not a solid and completely monolithic voting block.”

In general the California Mormons I spoke with agreed that counting a U.S. president among their ranks would mark an important first for their faith. But when I asked how they felt about the man who could win that distinction — Republican nominee Mitt Romney — I heard a wide range of opinions.

I met Modesto resident Tresa Edmunds at a San Francisco gathering called “Circling the Wagons” — part of a series of supportive conferences for gay and lesbian Mormons, their family and friends. Edmunds was raised Mormon.

“I’m an active Mormon. I love the Gospel,” she told me. She’s also a die-hard Democrat and says the fact that Mitt Romney is a lifelong Mormon doesn’t sway her vote in the least.

“Doubt and dissent can be a very sacred form of participation in church life,” she says. “If there are people around me who are comfortable speaking as if Romney is “Our Man,'” she says smiling and making air quotes, “then I need to be comfortable dissenting.”

Edmunds, who is disappointed with her church for backing Proposition 8, likes Obama’s support of same sex marriage. She agrees with those who accuse Mitt Romney of being a profit-focused businessman, out of touch with the poor and middle class.

She says when she thinks about him through the lens of her faith that a Romney presidency doesn’t make sense.

“He is certainly representative of a certain stripe of Mormonism. But it’s not my Mormonism,” she says.

Over in Silicon Valley retired real estate developer and local philanthropist Boyd Smith couldn’t disagree more. Smith is one of California’s top Romney fundraisers and spends hours each week in his Palo Alto office making phone calls.

Like Tresa Edmunds, Smith is a lifelong Mormon with a strong love for his faith. But he sees Mitt Romney from a vastly different perspective. Smith spent several years serving as a Mormon bishop in Palo Alto, and Romney served as a Mormon bishop in Boston. Smith says the role of bishop is a leadership job that involves looking after the poorest members of the congregation, making sure they have plenty of food, clothing and help finding employment.

“A bishop is more in touch with the poor than any politician in this world is,” Smith explained. “Because that’s the heart of what he does, and he spends hours and hours and hours every week at it.”

Smith says he supports Romney because of his politics, not his Mormonism.

Still, Smith believes the candidate’s active role in the Mormon Church says a great deal about who he is as person and a leader.

“I know he’s got character. I know he’s honest. I know he is moral. I know you cannot buy the man,” Smith says. “because we just can’t be bought.”

Professor Patrick Mason Chairs the Mormon Studies Department at Claremont Graduate University. He points out that Mormons are diverse politically, just like other religious groups in America. “They are not a solid and completely monolithic voting block.”

Mason says there’s no significant polling data showing how California Mormons plan to vote this election, but national surveys suggest that the Mormons across the country will largely back Romney.

That may be helpful to Romney in Nevada and Colorado — both swing states with larger-than-average Mormon populations. In California, Mormons make up about two percent of the population — also larger than average. But Mason says it’s not enough to help Romney win this solidly Democratic state. Still, he expects a large Mormon voter turnout.

“Because the overwhelming majority of Mormons will be voting for Romney,” Mason says, “they’ll also be voting on a Republican ticket. So, it’s conceivable to think that they could have some influence in some areas where there’s a significant turnout for Republican-voting Mormons.”

Mason, a Mormon himself, says even in a diverse state like California, Mormons often complain that they feel misunderstood and discriminated against — especially in the wake of the controversial battle over Proposition 8. “There was a lot of blowback against the Mormon community, and a lot of Mormons in California feel quite scarred by that.”

Mason also says Mormons are concerned that a Romney presidency could open up their church to further scrutiny.

Back in Modesto, Tresa Edmunds finds herself already feeling pretty uncomfortable.

“A lot of us are kind of white-knuckling it, hoping that these things like — say the temple ceremonies or some of our more esoteric doctrines that seem so bizarre to people — we recognize that these things that are very tender and sacred to us can, in some ways, become fair game, and that’s a little bit terrifying.”

But on the flip side, Edmunds says, Romney’s candidacy has given her new opportunities to talk with non-Mormons about her faith, answer questions and clear up misconceptions. As a faithful Mormon, it’s something she always welcomes, regardless of what’s happening in politics.

Listen to Stephanie Martin’s story:

  • bain.vain

    Romney is THE end-time Anti-christ!

    Mormonism, established by the snake-oil polygamist salesman Joseph Smith
    and his Book of Mormon is a Christian blasphemy–Mormonism is NOT a
    Christian religion!

    Mormonism believes in the doctrine called “LYING FOR THE LORD” (Google
    the term) which makes all the Mormons conditioned to lie, and thus the
    Lord they refer to, is none other than Satan The Devil himself. (the Mormon god of the Planet Kolub)

    John 8:44King James Version (KJV)

    44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.

    He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth,

    because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of

    his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

    Romney believes he is the apocalyptic horseman riding on the white
    horse in the Book of Revelation, and that is the reason why he is
    OBSESSED in running for the US Presidency, since the Mormons believe
    America to be the Holy Land, and therefore Romney is putting himself in
    the role of Christ that will usher in the Kingdom of God on earth, which
    Mormons refer to as MORMON THEOCRACY! (Google the term)

    It is NOT an accident that humans find Romney CREEPY, same as his fellow creepy Mormon agitator Glenn Beck, and even creepier Mormons, the Koch Brothers!

    • Guest

      Do you really believe this, or do you only wish for others to believe it? I have a very hard time understanding why someone would go to such extreme levels of characterization and hyperbole. If you do not wish to believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints then do not. If it is really a bad as you wish it to be people will come to that conclusion on their own. Whether you believe in the Church or not, my experience with and its members leads me to believe that it is not as you have described.

  • LakersTrent

    It’s definitely true that mormons aren’t a monolith politically. As 2% of the population their vote doesn’t make a huge difference anyway, but it’s worth mentioning that they are as much or more politically diverse as Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Blacks, Episcopalians, University Professors, etc.

    More than half of Mormons tend to vote for a party, but that’s true of most communities, and Mormons have more alternative political voices among them than many other groups. The caricature of mormons as die-hard republicans is way off.

  • Brian Terrill

    I know that my church (same as Romney’s) is politically neutral but they have also come out against Communism officially, so even if a Mormon is not a Romney supporter I can’t see how they can in good faith support the current so called Democrat who in reality is a communist who just happens to stand for abortion and gay marriage. In my opinion if you support Obama you’re not true to your faith be it Mormonism, Catholicism or any other Christian faith. Obama attacks religious freedom of Jews and Christians. So when my church tells me they are politically neutral I don’t interpret that as an excuse to vote for the party of baby killers aka Democrats, I use that as an excuse to support other political parties such as the American Independent Party, Constitution Party and in some cases even the Libertarian Party as well, but not the Democrat, Green or Communist parties, as they currently are just three different versions of Marxism. I would also say that perhaps they don’t endorse the Republican party or Mitt Romney whole hardheartedly because many times the Republican party has fallen very short of their conservative platform.