A new controversial documentary suggests Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman will have to defend more than their politics as they seek the White House — the former governors will have to answer for their Mormon faith.
Released Aug. 23, “A Mormon President” questions whether America is ready for a leader who worships with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And although director Adam Christing said his goal was to leave the question open-ended, an early video preview of the film suggests an answer in the negative.
“We’re at a place in American history where we’ve elected a black president, but we don’t seem to be in a place where someone’s religion is irrelevant,” Christing, who grew up Mormon but now attends a Protestant church, told Roll Call. “It seems like people would sooner vote for a black female Jewish candidate than a Mormon. I wanted to explore that.”
Created with a $300,000 budget, the documentary includes interviews with Mormons, Mormon critics and historians. It has been criticized both by Mormons who say the movie is anti-Mormon and other groups who charge the movie actually is pro-Mormon.
Christing said he hoped to strike a balanced look at the founding of the LDS church, a middle ground between what he called “puff pieces” published by the LDS church and “attack films” disseminated by some evangelical Christians who don’t recognize Mormons as Christians.
The film focuses on the life of the much-debated founder of the Mormon church, Joseph Smith, who declared a presidential bid in late 1843 before he was murdered by an anti-Mormon mob. How is Smith relevant to today’s presidential bid?
“The past can shed a lot of light on things,” Christing said. Although he acknowledges that “Romney is not Joseph Smith,” the documentary seems to suggest a connection.
“Mormonism places an undue point of leverage upon their people to be absolutely tethered to the priesthood, and if the Mormon priesthood tells a person in public office something, they have to do it,” Rocky Hulse, who works at an organization that seeks to convert Mormons to other types of Christianity, says in the film. “And if they don’t, their eternity is at stake.”
Sound familiar? That’s a similar argument opponents used against electing the Catholic President John F. Kennedy. The pope, they said, would ultimately rule the country because Kennedy would be subservient to his orders. Mormons in Congress have not faced the same scrutiny — consider, for example, the different ways in which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and conservative Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) approach legislation. They are both Mormons, but their political positions couldn’t be further apart.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.