What do Mitt Romney, Glenn Beck, Katherine Heigl, and Stephenie Meyer all have in common? Their Mormon faith. Many successful people, including the Marriott family, the founder of JetBlue, and more than a dozen members of Congress, are among the 7 million Mormons in the United States. In his book The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon Religion Became a Dominant Force in Politics, Entertainment, and Pop Culture, Stephen Mansfield, the author of several books on the role of religion in history and modern culture and founder of the Mansfield Group communications consulting company, explains why he says Mormonism's doctrinal values and emphasis on family and education put its followers on the path to success. Mansfield recently spoke with U.S. News about what he calls the "Mormon Machine" and why religion will be a factor in the 2012 election. Excerpts:
Which aspects of the religion appeal to Americans?
First of all, the Mormons are very, very good at involving people in community, bringing them into big families, bringing them into big local congregations. They do that through their missionary efforts, they do that through very creative outreaches, even through their television programs. And so all of that invites Americans, especially Americans who don't have good strong families, who are living kind of lonely lives and don't really have places to belong.
Why is it the fastest-growing religion in the United States?
No other religion sends as many young missionaries out every year knocking doors as Mormonism. There's just nothing else like it. I've already seen them, two by two on their bicycles or walking the neighborhoods, white shirts, black ties. They just cover the whole nation every year. I think when you combine all of the appeal of Mormonism with the strategies the Mormons use to reach people, it's very effective.
What is the "Mormon Machine"?
The Mormon Machine is my phrase—and kindly, it's not in a negative sense—for all of the things that kick in if you are a consistent, totally committed Mormon. When you put together all the different parts of Mormonism, it kind of forms a machine that leads to success. Suddenly you're in a family that's going to be living together for eternity, that comes from eternity; parents invest in the kids' education, you're working hard to succeed, to accomplish things, it just goes on and on. And of course the whole Mormon Church is about preparing you, equipping you, training you for all of that.
How important is Romney's religion to him?
He's very committed to Mormonism. He was a Mormon bishop; he went on mission in France, the two-year mission that 20-year-olds do; he has led Mormon [congregations and larger groups], Mormon facilities up in Boston, [and] funded them himself. There's just no question about the fact that he is a completely committed Mormon, and I think it does shape him. He does believe its doctrines, he does follow its ethics, and some of that will have an effect on how he leads as president, if he becomes president.
How important will religion be in the upcoming election?
The election is looking like it's going to be pretty close, and I don't think either side is going to be able to stay away from the issue of religion. Both men are vulnerable on the issue of religion. Obama says he's a Christian; a huge chunk of Americans don't believe him and many, many more don't think that his policies are very Christian. And then Romney is a Mormon. One of the Pew Forum studies said that about 62 percent of [Mormons say Americans don't] know much about Mormonism. So you either have people who are ignorant or suspicious about Mormonism, and neither one of those will help you get elected.
How are evangelical Christians likely to vote?
Evangelicals have always had a hard time with Mormonism, and it's mainly doctrinal. But I think evangelicals are so eager to get Obama out of office that they are lightening up on their willingness to not vote for a Mormon. In other words, I think more of them will vote for Romney than have said they will, but I don't think that's because they have changed their view of Mormonism. I think they just hate Obama more. In other words, an evangelical who votes for Romney is going to have somebody who is pro-life, pro-free market, and all those kinds of things that evangelicals are. And they find Obama to be the opposite. I don't think there are many people who are going to stay home. I think they are going to let go of their religious differences and vote for Romney because he reflects their political values, and I think they're just going to have to swallow it. Many of them won't be happy about it, but they'll do it anyway.