OGDEN -- If you think the question of Mitt Romney's faith won't play into the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, you are sorely mistaken.
That was a central message Monday night during a talk by Craig Foster at the Weber State University Alumni Center.
In the first of a series of talks this school year sponsored by the Weber Historical Society, Foster, a noted author on historical issues associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke to nearly 100 in attendance.
Foster's talk, "Mitt Romney: GOP Presidential Nominee and the Continuing Mormon Question," noted a national poll indicating that 18 percent of Americans could not vote for a Mormon. He also discussed numerous articles about the issue published by mainstream media.
"The Mormon question remains," he began, "whether or not a Mormon can be trusted to be the president of the United States."
He closed his talk by saying, "What is not debatable is that Mormonism is still a political stumbling block."
Quoting statements by some Christians, such as their belief that it's a sin to vote for a member of the LDS Church, Foster said: "There is no question there has been a lot of soul-searching and hand-wringing among Christians."
Foster outlined how the Republican National Convention became a "mini Mormon moment" in which those involved presented a "kinder, gentler, more fuzzy and lovable Mormon" message.
But he said Romney's faith would play a major role in whether he is elected next month, because of how the public generally misunderstands the LDS Church.
"Few know what the Mormons really are or what they claim to be," Foster said.
And Foster went on to outline how members of the media have misunderstood the relationship the LDS Church had with its offshoot sects and other misinformation being generated in the mainstream media.
"Almost daily there are articles about Mitt Romney and real and imagined aspects of his religion," he said.
One key avenue for potentially inflammatory comments, he said, has been efforts to link the faith to its polygamist roots.
He said comedian Bill Maher, in describing the fall elections, said, "Obama would beat Romney like a runaway sister wife."
While he recognized that Maher is not a journalist, he said established and well-respected reporters have been confused about the LDS Church's modern stance prohibiting the practice of polygamy.
And he said there has been much interest in Mormon garments, which are worn as underwear.
"Magic underwear, don't fail me now" is a tweet he quoted Adam Levine, a popular rock star, as having sent out to many fans.
He said there is a T-shirt company selling shirts with the saying "Mitt Romney: Magic Underwear Tour" on them.
But he said efforts to cast Romney as weird also have been prevalent.
"There are people, including members of the LDS Church, who say Romney is weird regardless of his Mormonism."
And he said there have been stories, even those that were largely even-handed, that referred to Romney's religion as "weird," "bizarre" and, Foster's favorite, "wacka-do."
Speaking along with Foster was Newell Bringhurst, who has published several books on the subject of Mormonism and Mormon history along with Foster.
His talk was titled "The Media and Three 2012 Presidential Contenders With Mormon Connections: Jon Huntsman, Rocky Anderson and Roseanne Barr."
Bringhurst said Huntsman suffered from "a genuine lackluster campaign" as well as his association with President Barack Obama, having been asked by the president to serve as ambassador to China.
He said Anderson, who is running as an independent, and Barr, who won the Peace and Freedom Party nomination, worked to distance themselves from their former LDS faith, and both of their campaigns suffered from an inability to get on the ballot in enough states to make a difference.