I’ve never been very political. It’s not that I’m a total slacker – I always read the platforms of both parties and I keep up on presidential candidates’ basic positions. I have preferences about who should win. Mostly, though, I’m disgusted by the divisive nature of our partisan system and my interest is politics is a casual affair.
That’s all changed. This year, I am a political junkie. I watch all the debates and follow the polls the same way the wealthy follow stock prices. I have strong opinions on the merits of the major candidates and I know the dates for the state primary elections. This is what happens when you write a book on politics. I expected to become something of a political freak when I signed on to co-author a book about Mitt Romney. What I didn’t plan on is that I’d be put into the position of defender of the faith, in a way I never have before.
Of course as a lifer in the Church, I’ve had my share of explaining the Church and even defending it. I remember one of the first times. It was in eighth grade. During history class, a friend leaned over and whispered, “Do you guys really think you’re the only ones going to heaven?”
Did we think that? Did I think that? I was pretty sure I didn’t, but wasn’t sure what the official reply to that question would be. I told her I’d get back to her with an answer.
“That’s what your guy said on TV yesterday,” she said. Apparently, she’d caught a bit of general conference the day before.
Oops. I must have dozed off during that part. I was grateful when our teacher, boring Mr. Waddel, told us to stop talking.
Fast forward about fifteen years, when I learned that a lot of people thought I would be going to hell because of my Mormonism. One was my boss, while I was working as a music teacher. He pulled me aside one day and warned me, in a voice so sincere it would rival any concerned bishop’s, that I was on the wrong path and it would have dire consequences for my salvation.
All members of the Church have these experiences. The hackles rise and you learn to deal with accusations, answer questions, and assure concerned friends. However, when I started doing research about the 2008 election with my co-author, an evangelical Christian, those hackles rose to a whole new level. Through the process, I’ve been amazed by the vitriol published about us, the rumors spread, the ignorance and nastiness. Don’t people know we’re nice, casserole-toting people? Downright boring, actually, a few oddities and historical quirks aside.
Now that the book has been on the shelves for a few months, my religion is front and center. It says on the back cover that I am a Mormon. People I’ve never met send me nasty letters about Mormonism. I’ve never hidden my religion, but it’s odd when it’s one of the first identifiers about me. At book signings, it comes up immediately. “Which one of you is the Mormon?” people ask.
At one, a young man came and pointed a skinny finger accusingly at me and asked the familiar question. This time, though, it was slightly creepy. He seemed angry and anxious. He looked like he was dressed in a disguise, with a hat pulled down to his eyebrows, huge sunglasses, and oversized clothing. We all squirmed in our seats and wondered what he was all about.
“I’m the Mormon,” I admitted.
He proceeded to ask probing questions about Romney’s positions and interject his own scathing political and religious commentary. After a few assorted rants, he again pointed his skeletal finger at me and proclaimed, “And you! You’re missing conference!” Then he stormed off.
Everyone at the signing breathed a sigh of relief as he walked away, shrugged their shoulders and asked, “What was that all about?”
When these things happen, and when I read the ridiculous things said about Mormons, I want to reassure people, persuade them that we’re basically normal, that the aims of the Church are good. Admittedly, we can be overbearing and we sometimes suffer from tunnel vision. But we’re decent.
My co-author has come to believe these things. “You guys aren’t as weird as I thought!” she told me a couple months ago. This was good to hear, since people in her church were praying for her because she was working with me and when we discussed interfaith presentations she said the title for hers would have to be, “I Worked With a Mormon and Survived.”
We laugh about it. The funny thing is, she’s a defender of the faith too – hers and now mine. She says she’s been horrified by the anti-Mormon bigotry that still exists. Whether it’s bigotry or ignorance is something political watchers like to debate. The 2008 elections have certainly brought to the forefront the uneasy alliance of religion and politics. For me, it’s best to sit back and enjoy the ride … and nitpick Huckabee’s record, interpret Hillary’s poll numbers, marvel at Obama’s oratory, admire John Edwards’ boyish good looks, decide whether Fred Thompson is alive, chuckle at Giuliani’s humor, educate myself on McCain’s immigration policies, and see how Romney does on Super Tuesday. It’s an election year, after all.