When the Republican Party nominates Mitt Romney for the presidency in August, it will put the former Mormon bishop one step closer to the White House. But some Mormons are beginning to wonder if the attention being given to their religion by a Romney presidency will hurt or help their faith.
"It's something we're afraid of. He's going to be on the front line," Steven Goaslind, a Utah Mormon, told the Boston Globe. "It's a mixed feeling for a lot of people. Hopefully the world's gone beyond the bigotry."
For decades the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are known as Mormons, has been an afterthought to most Americans who reside outside of Utah or in a handful of other western states where the religion is better known. Yet over the past year Mormonism has come under intense scrutiny from those wanting to understand Romney's faith and how it will potentially impact the decisions he will make as president.
Most Mormons are accustomed to their faith being misunderstood, ridiculed or at a minimum, being considered outside of mainstream Christianity. Some theologians – and even liberal comedian Bill Maher – have even called Mormonism a "cult." And while some church members see an opportunity for greater acceptance in the faith community under a Romney presidency, others see a downside to the additional attention.
"Of course a Romney presidency will help Mormonism," said Tricia Erickson, author of Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters? The Mormon Church Versus the Office of the Presidency of the United States of America.
"The LDS church is banking on Romney becoming president," Erickson told CP. "He will be a walking billboard for Mormonism. The church has always struggled to overcome the perception that their beliefs are not odd and out of touch with the beliefs of the Christian faith. You can't be any more Mormon than Mitt Romney so with him as the leader of the free world, it will give tremendous credibility to the religion."
However, it's not only Mormons who have concern about their own religion. In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, one in four respondents said having a Mormon president would be a cause for concern – a higher number than those who expressed concern over a Hispanic, woman or African-American president.
Although some former Mormons such as Erickson said that church officials are "beside themselves," at the prospect of a Romney presidency, church leaders tend to downplay the situation and guard their comments closely.
"There is cautious optimism across the church," Michael Otterson, the church's head of public relations told the Boston Globe. He also said there will be "some assertive messages coming from the church over the next few months," that could be as specific as an advertising campaign to church members addressing civic clubs.
Still, Christians (and even people of other religions) seem to have difficulty in coming to grips with some Mormon beliefs. This is one reason why some in the faith are hesitant of a Romney presidency.
For example, Mormons have long held that their members can become gods in their own right – a view that Christians would consider blasphemous considering the fact that Scripture states there is only the Trinity – comprised of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
On her "Ask Mormon Girl" blog, Joanna Brooks recently answered a question from someone who asked if Mormons indeed believe people can become gods.
"Yes, I was raised to understand that this is Mormon doctrine," Brooks wrote in her response. "Mormons believe that we are the children of Heavenly Parents, that our spirits lived with our Heavenly Parents before our mortal lives, and that we came to earth on the plan that we should gain experience through mortality and prepare to return to our heavenly parents."
"Like traditional Christians, Mormons believe that salvation from sin through Jesus Christ is what makes this return possible, but the kind of eternal experience the soul gets to share in and enjoy depends on his or her preparation."
Romney is expected to win the 1,144 delegates needed to become the Republican presidential nominee after Tuesday's Texas GOP primary.