I think all American Presidents have either been Christians or perhaps non-religious freethinkers. John Kennedy broke the “no Catholics” barrier and Richard Nixon was a Quaker.
It’s almost a done deal that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee in 2012, and I don’t think we ever had a Mormon in that spot before. There was a major firestorm over Barack Obama (who is a Christian) by detractors trying to paint him as a Muslim. While Democrats in the main are not religious fundamentalists, I still expect to see Romney’s religion on the table, perhaps more from Christian conservatives who hold that marriage is a union of “one man and one woman,” while Romney’s grandfather was a polygamist (Mormons call it “plural marriage”). Obama detractors did everything they could to make him appear strange and “other” and you can imagine what will be directed against the up-until-now little-known Mormons.
I’m a veteran of the Mormon Wars. I don’t mean the conflict between Mormon Utah and the US Government in 1857-8, but a group of “flame wars” on the talk.religion.misc newsgroup on USENET a decade or so ago. I learned a lot about Mormons in that process, and little about myself at the same time. What I expect to see is revival of conspiracy theories about the LDS (the official name of the Mormon Church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). They have some secret rituals and borrow practices from Freemasonry, which itself is the subject of myriad conspiracy theories. The LDS are said to hold vast wealth, and wield considerable power in Utah behind the scenes. The First President of the LDS can, according to them, speak inerrantly1. Would Romney be bound to follow the Church instead of the Constitution (substitute “Pope” for questions actually raised about John Kennedy)? The anti-Mormon literature, for example Mormonism: Shadow or Reality by the Tanners has a wealth of dirt a detractor can use.
Personally, I’m not concerned about Romney’s religion. As for the question of whether Mormons are Christian, I would answer in two ways:
I would describe a “normative Christian” as one who agrees with the content of the Nicene Creed. Mormons do not believe in the central doctrine of normative Christians, the Trinity. Mormons have a plurality of gods, of which Jesus and Jehovah are two. So, Mormons are not normative Christians.
They do, however, believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Bible (when correctly translated) is the Word of God, so that qualifies them as Christians of some sort (they also believe that the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price are equally inspired). Words like “sect,” “cult,” and “denomination” are thrown about for polemic purposes and I choose not to use them here. Whatever it is, Mormonism is special because it is a religion (like Christian Science) that rose in modern times. The historical sources add depth to a story that is only told by partisan sources for ancient religions.
1I don’t think this is a real concern. Mormons believe that they may all receive “revelations” from God. The revelations come to appropriate individuals according to their station in life, so some Brigham on the street would not receive a revelation about the church as a whole; only the First President would get those. Presumably, the First President would not receive a revelation about what the US Government should do either. Also, to be considered inerrant doctrine, the First President’s revelation has to be confirmed by another council. An example of such a revelation was when it was revealed to First President Wilford Woodruff that Mormons should no longer enter into plural marriages.