In a panel convened to discuss the parallels between Evangelical Christians and Latter Day Saints, Mark R. Silk ’72, a professor of religion at Trinity College, aimed to tell the “hidden story of religion in the election and in the Republican Party.”
Voter demographics from the past twenty years have shown that voters who strongly claim a religious identity usually align themselves with the Republican Party. This trend, known as the “god gap,” is most obvious among Evangelicals and Mormons, Silk said. In fact, over 75% of Mormons voted for the Republican nominee for the past 12 elections.
Both the Mormons and Evangelicals focus their rhetoric around a return to past ideals, according to Silk. “The idea of going back to the golden days is as old as civilization,” he said.
After a period of conservatism in the early twentieth century, these communities became less vocal in their cultural criticisms and moved towards an acceptance of mainstream society, according to Silk. However, as they watched the progressive movements of the 1960s, many began to believe that a return to conservatism with a focus on family values would better suit the country.
“What activated the religious gene was to recover what was lost in the 1960s,” Silk said.
As the two religions began to ignite social change through politics, an idea of American exceptionalism emerged in an attempt to restore a country that served as an example to other nations. This theory was reinforced by Ronald Reagan who adopted the biblical phrase “a city on a hill.”
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney reinforces the idea of exceptionalism today, as well as the idea of restoration, Silk said. Romney’s Super PAC is named “Restore our Future.”
“Mormons are not going back to Brigham Young’s Zionism, but there is a pull in that direction,” he said.
Despite similarities between these two groups, Silk said that each is generally not cognizant of the actions of the other group. “It is clear that they are unaware of each other’s thoughts. They are both in the conservative ﬁght, but they don’t work together,” he said.
“Without the publicity of Mitt Romney, Mormons, who are only two percent of the US population, would not even be featured in this discussion,” said history professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in a critical examination following the lecture.
She also pointed out that Romney’s campaign has been much more focused on economics than religion. “Many Mormons are not happy that this is the world’s most famous Mormon,” Ulrich said.
Overall, the crowd engaged with the panel, asking questions and participating in the discussion.
“This is deﬁnitely a pertinent issue in the midst of the upcoming election, one that deserves this kind of intense discussion,” Emma R. Adler ’16 said.