November 7, 2012

Bible Belt Votes Mormon: Does Politics Trump Religion?

Bible beltLike much of the deep south, the state of Mississippi is filled with evangelical fundamentalist Christians. From what I have heard from these individuals over the past several years, I assumed they were deeply anti-Mormon. They refer to Mormons as belonging to a cult, as not being Christian, and with a wide range of disparaging comments (often involving polygamy). It is not uncommon to hear them talk about converting Mormons in order to "save" them. So what does it mean that Mississippi voted for Mitt Romney?

I see a few possibilities here. First, I suspect that some voters were not aware that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. There are plenty of "low information voters" around here, and it isn't like Romney was eager to discuss his Mormon faith. By itself, I don't think this can explain the vote, but it may be a contributing factor. Second, some voters believe that President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim. No matter how many times this has been debunked, I've encountered plenty of Mississippians who remain convinced of it. They may have seen Romney as closer to their religious views for this reason. Once again, I doubt whether this factor can explain the vote but would not be surprised that it contributed. Third and most likely, I suspect that politics simply trumped religious belief for many Mississippi voters. They voted for the Mormon candidate who shared their political views (e.g., abortion, same-sex marriage) instead of the Christian candidate who did not.

To the degree that this theory is accurate, it would seem to suggest some real hypocrisy. Perhaps the faith of many Mississippi voters is not nearly as important as they claim. Could it be that their desire to control the reproductive decisions of women in the state exceeds their desire for policies toward the poor that are obviously closer to what the biblical Jesus described? Could it be that their bigotry toward the LGBT community is more important than the message of tolerance promoted by the biblical Jesus?

As we move forward with President Obama, I think this election may hold some interesting lessons about the nature of evangelical fundamentalist Christianity in the bible belt today.