SALT LAKE CITY — In Utah politics, there is a different kind of religious right.
Here, despite widespread agreement with much of the national Christian movement — a strong faith in God and a belief by many that faith should influence social policy — most people don’t consider themselves a part of the “religious right,” an Associated Press survey has revealed.
Evangelical Christians and members of The Church of Jesus Chirst of Latter-day Saints can agree on a broad spectrum of policy positions, like abortion and gay marriage, but the common ground crumbles when it comes to the most central of beliefs — God.
“I am very, very conservative and very religious, but I don’t consider myself part of their movement,” said Candace Daly, one of Utah’s 36 Republican National Convention delegates who will be in New York City starting Monday.
In some ways, Daly and other Utah Republicans represent a political oddity: The same seed that has produced one of the nation’s most conservative delegations also alienates it from like-minded religious Republicans.
In the AP survey of Utah delegates to the Republican convention, a nearly two-thirds majority said they didn’t claim membership in the national Christian movement. Many added that they agreed with the religious right’s policy positions, but that they felt excluded because some in the religious right don’t consider Mormons to be Christians — an old charge that mainstream Mormons, whose primary religious focus is Jesus Christ, dismiss.
The AP interviewed 26 of Utah’s 36 Republican delegates. All but one of the respondents was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The question was, “Do you consider yourself part of the conservative Christian movement, sometimes referred to as the religious right?”
Even some delegates who responded “yes” to the question wavered in their affiliation.
Utah’s highest-profile politician, Sen. Orrin Hatch, said, “They don’t consider me part of it. I’m certainly in agreement with most of what they feel. They don’t think Mormons are Christians, some of them.”
The divisions are deeply rooted and continue to this day. Mormons were brutalized and chased out of at least two states in the 1800s by angry mobs, often led by Christian clergy. Anti-Mormon preachers calling themselves Christians routinely show up to the twice-yearly Mormon conference in Salt Lake City to picket and protest the event as the celebration of a false religion.
The two sides collide over evangelicals’ belief that the “Holy Trinity,” the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all one being. Mormon theology holds that the three figures are separate and distinct. Other faiths are ambiguous on the point. Roman Catholics, for example, say that “By the Blessed Trinity we mean one and the same God in three distinct Divine persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Evangelical Christians also disagree with the LDS belief in ongoing revelation from God to man, and the use of scriptures supplemental to the Bible.
Disputes over details aside, Utah is routinely in step politically with the ideals of the religious right. In the last state legislative session, lawmakers tightened restrictions on abortion and sent a constitutional ban on gay marriage to the Nov. 2 election.
Ronald Hrebenar, chair of the University of Utah’s political science department, said the state’s strong Republican majority and and widespread LDS Church affiliation mean that Utah politicians haven’t had to link themselves to movements like the religious right to win votes.
An estimated 90 percent of Utah state legislators are Mormons.
“The Mormon church is such a separate identity, and they haven’t been blended into that overall movement because they’re already so successful here, where they play their politics,” he said. “They don’t need to join that larger coalition. They may believe in the same issues, but they don’t consider themselves part of that larger movement.”
Despite the religious divide, the differences haven’t presented a political problem for Utah’s congressional delegation.
Rep. Rob Bishop, a Mormon, said he didn’t consider himself a member of the religious right, but “intellectually or politically, I probably agree with all of their positions.”
Bishop said he’s had casual conversations with conservative Christians on Capitol Hill, but he wouldn’t characterize them as arguments.
Bishop recalled a conversation he had with a congressional aide who was an evangelical. The aide opined that there was no separation of church and state in Utah because of the LDS Church’s heavy concentration of followers there.
“In that case, I just said, ‘This Utah Mormon is still on your side.’ ”