Can a Mormon be president?

Most New Yorkers, I have to believe, know very little about Mormons.

There were a lot of features about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on TV in 2002, when the Winter Olympics was held in Salt Lake City.

Jon Krakauer’s book, “Under the Banner of Heaven,” has probably affected how some people think about Mormons, even though the book is about breakaway fundamentalists who are NOT part of _the_ LDS church.

Everyone, however, will learn a great deal about Mormons and their church if Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney seeks the GOP nomination for president, as he is expected to do. The Boston Globe reported a few days back that Romney — who will not seek reelection as governor — spent all or part of 212 days outside Massachusetts this year.

Romney (yes, that’s him) is a Mormon — or a Latter-day Saint, as church members prefer to be called.

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We’ve hardly gotten through the mid-term elections and there has already been a tremendous amount of analysis done on whether a Mormon can win the support of evangelical Christians, who have tremendous sway over everything Republican.

Until pretty recently, most evangelicals regarded the Mormon Church as a wacky, even dangerous cult. Things may have softened a bit, but evangelicals are still suspicious, at the very least.

Although Mormons insist they are Christians (they go by “The Church of Jesus Christ” and all), most traditional Christians think otherwise. This isn’t the time for Mormonism 101, but let’s say they have a number of untraditional beliefs: that God was once a man; that men can become god-like in the afterlife; that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate beings; that Mormons have an obligation to baptize their ancestors (in absentia, of course); that the church president receives ongoing revelations from God; and on and on.

The catch, though, is that on social policy, Mormons and evangelicals are very much in synch. Mormons are anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, pro-family and generally conservative on all things (they even have their own welfare system so no one has to go to the government for hand-outs).

So the early, early question is whether evangelicals will support Romney, who is one of them on public policy matters, even though he is a Mormon. Romney has already met face-to-face with evangelical leaders, so he knows what he is up against.

“The Washington Monthly”:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2005/0509.sullivan1.html says Romney has evangelical problems.

“The National Review”:http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=OGRiYzcxNmQ1MTZhN2YyODFkYTVjMDRiMzM3ZTM0OTc says he’ll be fine.

A group called “Evangelicals for Mitt”:http://www.evangelicalsformitt.org/ has apparently made up its mind.

This is only the beginning. Expect a lot of comparisons to what JFK went through back in the day.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.