“I think it’s very possible Romney’s faith will be an issue,” said Charles Kimball, director of the University of Oklahoma’s religious studies program. “When you consider that the Southern Baptist Convention has a program for ‘interfaith witness’ directed at Mormons, it points out that they don’t consider them part of the same Christian faith.
“In my experience, it’s easier to process different or odd beliefs when the tradition is very different than your own. When the traditions all reference Jesus, as in the case of Mormons and Baptists, the odd beliefs seem less exotic and more threatening.”
But at least one Oklahoma pastor thinks state voters are ready to vote for a Mormon presidential candidate.
Todd Littleton, senior pastor of Snow Hill Baptist Church in Tuttle, noted that former Oklahoma Congressman Ernest Istook, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, managed to “avoid the potential polarization that Romney seems to be generating among religiously Christian voters” nationwide.
“This leads me to wonder if Romney’s politics will take center stage in Oklahoma, or will it be his chosen religious identification? I may lean to the former, in light of our past with Istook. Conservatism seems to be the central issue for Oklahoma voters,” Littleton said.
Oklahoma Congressman James Lankford said he thinks Romney’s faith likely will be one of many issues mulled over by voters.
“I’m sure a lot of evangelicals don’t agree with his faith, but they’re not excluding him based on that,” said Lankford, an ordained Baptist minister. “Mentally, people have a list of their issues, and that list varies by individual.”
right GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered a stump speech at the Jim Thorpe Association and Sports Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City Oct. 21.
Thad Balkman, a former state representative for House District 45 and a practicing Mormon, said it’s natural that Romney’s faith would spur a national conversation.
“Mitt Romney is the highest profile Mormon in America right now,” Balkman said. “That has generated a conversation, but we are very careful to draw a distinction between church and politics. The church remains neutral in political races. We don’t endorse candidates, and Mormons aren’t necessarily for the Mormon in the race.”
Balkman, volunteer grassroots director for Romney’s Oklahoma campaign, said he likes to focus on the shared beliefs between evangelical voters and Mormons.
“On issues of marriage, family, the unborn, and right down the line, we are right in line with the stand evangelicals take on social issues,” he said.
Photos by Matt Carney