As a volunteer for Mitt Romney's campaign working in New York and Virginia, I often hear citizens remark of the similarities of John F. Kennedy's election as our first Catholic president and the possibility that Romney will be our first LDS president.
I am old enough to recall the Kennedy campaign. Even though I was just a kid, I recall how the Catholics turned out an army of Irish and Italian kids to knock on doors and distribute campaign materials for Kennedy. Whenever a group of the Catholic kids would get together, they would sing songs about what a great guy Kennedy was.
In stark contrast to the way the Catholics got behind JFK, my campaign experiences with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been quite the opposite. Church leaders, missionaries and anyone affiliated with the church seem so eager to proclaim that they are politically neutral that they have refused to sign nominating petitions — or even pass along any information about campaign events to friends or neighbors. A couple of leaders in Richmond, Va., told me that they didn't even want me to collect ballot signatures on the public street near their chapel.
Church officials appear to hold their tax-exempt status as more sacred than any other vestment. They are willing to deny support for a great man, such as Romney, and possibly miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to elect a president who shares the LDS faith, rather than appear to be engaged in our process of self-governance.
No one is asking any church to endorse any political candidate. However, for our nation to continue to self-govern, the people must be fully engaged in the political process. There is nothing wrong with congregations sharing information about candidates, as long as all campaigns are invited to participate. Indeed, many churches sponsor forums for political candidates. It is also highly appropriate for members of the faith to volunteer with the campaign and share information with their neighbors both about their faith and about Romney's superb qualifications to become president.
As the Irish statesman, Edmund Burke, famously said, "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
J. Tyler Ballance lives in Syracuse, N.Y., and works to collect nominating signatures for the Romney campaign.