The_Hill_Cumorah_by_C.C.A._Christensen

Thomas Terry defends Mormonism against alleged bigotry:

At about 13 million members, Mormons are a pretty large cult. So what is so bad about this “cult?” … Utah is about 72 percent Mormon, so it's a pretty good representation of Mormonism. Among the 50 states, Utah has the lowest child poverty rate, the lowest teen pregnancy rate, the third-lowest abortion rate, the third-highest high school graduate rate at 94 percent, the highest scores on Advanced Placement exams, fewest births to unwed mothers (also the highest overall birthrate), lowest cancer rate, lowest smoking rate, lowest per capita rate of alcohol use, and, arguably, the most comprehensive and universal state health insurance system in the U.S.

Furthermore, Mormons as a group have the lowest rates of violence and depression among religious groups, are seven times less likely to commit suicide (if active church members), and have the lowest divorce rates of any social-religious group. Sixty-five percent of Utah residents have personal computers, the highest penetration rate in the country. Crime has decreased in the state of Utah by anywhere from 15-18 percent over the past 10 years.

The great and obvious achievement of Mormonism has been exactly the conduct of Mormons in every day life, in all spheres and all sectors. If you judge a faith by how its adherents behave and act, then the LDS church is very hard to beat. No child rapists, moreover, are protected in this church.

I've written my Sunday column on this question so won't elaborate further till it's published. But while I really don't think Mormonism is doctrinally stranger than older religions (my own church, for example, believes the Virgin Mary was physically whooshed up into the sky), I also don't think Romney's religion should be ruled entrely out of bounds for discussion. He is running in a party that explicitly states there is no solid separation of religion and politics. And the current president was pummeled mercilessly for the more radical teachings of his church in Chicago. And Obama was just a member of the congregation – not a former official in the church, like Romney, whose entire identity is bound up with a very particular religion.

Mormonism, in other words, should not be tackled differently than any other faith; but neither can it be completely exempted from examination in this election. When a future president puts on white robes and enters a secret Temple on a Sunday, it will be as big a cultural shift as having a black man in the Oval Office. I think Romney should pre-empt bigoted attacks with his own account of how his faith affects his life and politics. Just as candidate Obama did.

(Painting: C.C.A. Christensen's painting of Joseph Smith receiving the Golden Plates from the Angel Moroni at the Hill Cumorah.)