I am taking a class this semester on intersectionality and, unsurprisingly, despite the fact that the class is about Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality, it has also become significantly about religion. You’re welcome. It has also focused on the election a great deal.
One thing that has come up is the idea that Romney’s religion has functioned to oppress him, perhaps not to the extent that Obama’s race or Clinton’s gender might have impacted their lives, but caused problems for him. This despite poll after poll that shows the Christian Right is happy to vote for him.
I struggle with the idea that Romney’s religion creates a significant change on his overall social status. The Church of LDS is considered, inaccurately in my opinion, a sect of Christianity, which is very much in the majority in this country. They have a state that is basically entirely their own and they are overrepresented, slightly, in the US government compared to their population percentage; 2% of the population has 5 senators and 11 congressional members. Compare this to the religiously non-affiliated who are currently 20% of the population and have not a single representative or senator — there is one atheist in congress, and he is a Unitarian Universalist. Self-identified, “hard” atheists, incidentally, make up more of the population than Mormons at 2.5%.
Add to that that the religion is almost exclusively white, middle to upper class, male dominated, married households and it is difficult to interpret the Mormon faith as something that is oppressed. Add to this that being part of the club means that you get massive financial and man-power resources at your command because the church wants to expand its power. Consider that 70% of the money that successfully overturned gay marriage in California came from the Mormon church. No, they haven’t had a president, but I don’t think that is symptomatic of disenfranchisement. The Mormon church is undoubtedly less savory to many Americans than being a Protestant, but it is much more savory than other (non)religious traditions as well.
Sally Quinn wrote an article for the Washington Post last week about the presidential debate and pointed to the fact that Romney’s religion is actually a huge boon for him because he’s part of God’s Own Party and has claimed God as his ally in the debates in a way that Obama has not. And, according to her, that matters because “Part of claiming your citizenship is claiming a belief in God, even if you are not Christian.” In fact, one of the problems Obama has had has been not seeming Christian enough. 17% of the population still thinks he’s Muslim; being Muslim is much worse in the eyes of the American public than being Mormon.
But then, I am undoubtedly bringing my own perspective very heavily into this discussion because I live in a state with this enshrined in its constitution: “No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.” My identity comes very strongly from that background, and I am sure Governor Romney’s comes very strongly from his Mormon background — but I suspect his rich white maleness is the more important identifier.