In 2004, a month after Illinois state legislator Barack Obama made headlines with his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, I ran into him on the streets of Chicago. I was a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) on the south side, and though I was not supposed to read newspapers, I knew who Obama was from the signs in the windows and the front-page articles I glimpsed on porches while I knocked on doors. When my companion and I saw Obama in person, we stopped him and shook his hand. The first question he asked was, “Are you from Utah?”
Future president Obama treated us kindly that day on the street. With characteristic optimism, he viewed us as potential friends. But we were not from Utah, and it may have surprised him to know that I, for one, had voted Democrat in 2000 and 2002. And I will be voting for him in 2008.
Boston-area Mormons have had a long time to get to know Mitt Romney, and we have followed his campaign to see how the American public received a serious Mormon candidate. We share with Romney a kinship of faith. But not all of us will be voting for him.
The Boston chapter of Mormons for Equality and Social Justice (MESJ) has found instead that Barack Obama embodies the values of faith put in action and will best lead our country to become more fair and prosperous. We trust his experience as a community organizer, civil rights lawyer, and legislator as proof that he will promote peace, equality, and justice in whatever situation he finds himself. We pray that he will find himself in the White House.
Obama best represents our attitudes about the uses of faith in politics. In contrast to Romney, who in his 2007 speech “Faith in America” sought to unite believing voters, in his own 2006 signature speech on religion and public life Senator Obama called for a coalition of progressives, both believers and secularists. Obama possesses the unique perspective as a lifelong rationalist and recent convert to speak sincerely to all Americans.
Without a doubt, the prejudices of the American people are being tested. On principle, are they willing to vote for a woman, an African-American, a Mormon? They may be most reluctant to elect a Mormon, a fact that dismays us. But we take heart in the ongoing success of progressive Mormon politicians like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. We await the day when a Mormon Democrat runs for president.
Mormons have a long history of progressive politics, dating back to founder Joseph Smith’s 1844 presidential campaign which called for the abolition of slavery. Although in more recent decades LDS adherents have acquired a reputation for conservatism, Mormons such as Stewart Udall (Secretary of the Interior) and Esther Peterson (Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau) have served the country in the Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter administrations. In January 2005, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others organized the Mormon Democratic Congressional Caucus in hopes of tapping into this progressive tradition of politics among Mormons.
Mormon women in the Boston area have worked in less overtly political ways through the creation of Exponent II, an organization and publication of the same name, aimed at raising consciousness of women’s issues and rights within the context of Mormonism. Several of the founders of the Mormon Peace Project and the Mormon Worker paper are church members from Boston or Harvard alums.
As progressive Mormons, we call for Obama to take even bolder steps when elected than he has outlined in his campaign. Many of us hope that he will have the courage to extend marriage equality to all people, to revise and expand his healthcare program, and to use diplomacy to promote peace abroad.
Among the quickly-narrowing pool of Republican candidates, we commend Senator John McCain’s firm opposition to the use of torture in violation of the Geneva Conventions and Representative Ron Paul’s rejection of the hawkish foreign policy that has dominated the post-9/11 years.
In 2008, we are thrilled with our choices for the Democratic nominee for president, and we publicly avow support for the best candidate in the field, Barack Obama.
Thomas M. Wickman ’07, a member of the Boston Chapter of MESJ, is a student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Eunice Y. McMurray ’04, a Harvard Medical Student, and Peter L. McMurray ’05 are co-chairs of the Boston Chapter of MESJ.