Mitt Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate will allow voters to compare and contrast Catholics on both sides of the political spectrum as the election approaches. Both Ryan and Vice-President Joe Biden are Catholics, though they hold very different views on many moral issues and on the role of government in society. The same can be said of Mitt Romney and fellow Mormon Sen. Harry Reid, who has publicly attacked Romney over the latter’s failure to publicly disclose some past tax returns. While some Mormons may regard certain LDS politicians as less devoted to their faith, it is both timely and useful to examine whether this is so.
Many Mormons point to Harry Reid as an example of a liberal Latter-day Saint whose true religion is the Democratic Party’s platform. They certainly have a point. I can’t judge someone’s heart or thoughts, but actions usually advertise one’s character. For example, the LDS Church has repeatedly and publicly condemned gambling in all of its forms, yet the good senator has chosen to defend and promote gaming interests in Washington for many years.
How can I possibly defend a Mormon senator’s being in hock to the gaming industry? Well, I can’t. However, I do have a question: Is it also morally questionable for LDS politicians to knowingly accept money from billionaire gaming moguls? If so, then Mitt Romney will have to return Sheldon Adelson’s checks. Something tells me that ain’t gonna happen.
Most faithful Mormon politicians oppose abortion on demand. Sen. Reid has a mixed record on the issue, but can generally be considered pro-life. Mitt Romney used to be pro-choice, but now he’s reliably pro-life. Question: Although he had been a bishop (=rabbi) and stake president (=regional leader) before running for public office, was Romney a less faithful Mormon after he publicly declared his support for abortion rights during his gubernatorial campaign ten years ago? Is he a more faithful one now?
Gay marriage is an easier call, since LDS prophets have repeatedly and publicly opposed state-sanctioned gay marriage. Romney agrees with the church’s position; Sen. Reid recently announced that he opposes it. In other words, men whom the senator regards as modern-day prophets have officially spoken on one of the major moral issues of the day, and the good senator thinks that they’re wrong. It is not possible for a faithful Mormon to support state-sanctioned gay marriage because it entails rejection of prophetic authority. On this issue Sen. Reid’s stance is not a liberal Mormon position; it is an anti-Mormon one.
Economic issues are, of course, largely gray areas for church doctrine. The LDS Church certainly believes in helping the poor and needy in society, and devotes many resources to its extensive worldwide welfare and humanitarian aid programs. However, given our history of persecution and self-reliance, as well as our overwhelmingly Republican voting record in recent years, it’s safe to say that most Mormons in this country believe that a smaller government is preferable to a larger one. While the Gospels do talk of our responsibility to help the poor and needy, Mormons can and do argue whether this means that we should spend other people’s money freely vis-à-vis the government in order to do so. LDS theology is silent on the size and scope of government in a democracy, though the Book of Mormon does warn against levying high taxes on citizens.
I am not an expert on Catholicism, so I’ll let others debate whether Ryan’s or Biden’s vision for the country is more authentically Catholic. Although the LDS Church does not expect or demand that its member politicians vote in accordance with its doctrines on political issues, it is possible to compare and contrast their positions with official church teachings. By this standard, Mitt wins the Better Mormon Award, though not by a landslide.