The beginning of the modern Mormon Renaissance can be traced back to the second decade of the millenium. In 2012, with a fractured Republican primary containing upwards of 8 candidates, all considered viable, Sarah Palin is nominated with 35% of the delegate total. The general election is considered a disaster, and though Barack Obama only wins with 395 out of 538 Electoral Votes, as the solid-red states in the South and Big Sky regions stay in Republican hands, it is a blow to the superconservative wing of the party. They are futher marginalized in 2014, when Republicans, instead of gaining seats, as is the tradition for the minority party in midterm elections, lose several, expanding the Democratic majority.
In the runup to 2016, the GOP looks to moderation to win back power. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, now 66 years old, is ushered into the frontrunner status, and wins the GOP nomination handily. He eventually nominates former Senator from Maine Susan Collins, who chose not to run for re-election in the Senate due to a likely primary loss, as his Vice-Presidential candidate. He faces Senator Amy Klobuchar, a popular senator from Minnesota, with former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer as her running mate.
Romney’s campaign focuses on moderation, and is able to eek out a close 278-260 electoral win, even as Romney loses his home state of Massachusetts, and the Democrats retain majorities in both the House and Senate. During the campaign, as in 2008 and 2012, much is made of Romney’s Mormon faith. This has little traction in the mainstream media during the campaign, as the questioning consists mostly of “Would your faith influence your governing?” to which Romney’s answer echoes JFK’s: “Only in the aspect that my faith influences my morals. But as with all Americans, I can and do have disagreements with my church, and I can promise as President that I would never cede control to any religious authority.” This satisfies most Americans — indeed, in the wake of the election, many pundits point to independent groups attacking Romney’s Mormon faith as contributating factor to Klobuchar’s loss, even in an otherwise successful year for Democrats.
However, as Romney’s presidency begins, the Mormon faith comes under fire from conservative organizations. Several prominent conservative names, including a few members of the House of Representatives, inquire into the religion with delcarations that Mormonism is polytheistic, and that Mormons believe that God is just a normal person who received powers of creation after his death. These ideas are discussed ad nasuem, with some coming down that yes, Mormons do technically believe this, but it is not the most important part of their belief structure, to assertions that these more unfamiliar tenets are actually apocryphal and no longer represent the Church’s official positions. Nevertheless, the accusations dog Romney throughout his first two years, and the approval of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints plummets to an all time low.
As the country begins to recover fully from the effects of the depression in the early part of the decade, however, Romney’s approval rating remains high, and he sails smoothly to reelection in 2020. His second term completes fairly uneventfully in historical terms, and the hysteria about the LDS faith dies down. Romney exits gracefully amid a prosperous US economy and the best outgoing Presidential approval rating in modern history, besting even Clinton and Reagan.
Following his retirement, Romney pens two books. The first, a memoir detailing his time in office, entitled Faith in America, was only moderately well-received, as, though he was a popular president, he faced little scandal in his presidency and disappeared from the limelight after his second term. His second, a biography entitled Mitt Romney: My Life, My Faith addressed the more controversial aspects of LDS beliefs that came up during his first term. It was criticized by many, who claimed it cast Mormonism (and Christianity in general) in a more victimized light than it really was in modern society. Regardless, it became a recordbreaking bestseller, due mostly to the attention it received in Christian circles, even outside of Mormons. And most historians point to it as a turning point for the denomination, which grew to represent 20-30% of the Christian population in America by 2080. Indeed, in the last half of the Century, it is the only specfic Christian denomination other than Catholicism to grow as a percentage of the adult population in the country, as many more Americans began to consider themselves unaffiliated Christians, or nonreligious, with the majority of these changes happening from losses in the mainline Protestant churches.
– Jeremy Williams, The Mormon Renaissance
As the expedition to Tau Ceti began to solidify, with several groups already outlining their plans for the voyage, many influential members of the LDS Church lobbied the leadership to organize a church-supported mission, based on four main factors:
1) Mormon beliefs were uniquely qualified to tackle such a mission, as Mormon cosmology allowed for, and even explicitly mentioned, life on other planets;
2) Mormon doctrine called for spreading the message of Jesus Christ to all those who would hear it, and the possibility of witnessing to a foreign population seemed an opportunity too good to pass up;
3) Tithes were paid for no reason other than to build up and extend their Heavenly Father’s kingdom. Therefore, the mission would not be considered a waste of member resources;
4) And finally, the participants in the mission were likely to be seen as heroes, especially in the case that Tau Ceti is inhabitated. In that case, the expedition would be seen as a chance to be a “city on a hill” to the rest of the world.
The Church came under fire from secular and political organizations (including, it must be disclosed, yours truly) who claimed that the Church wanted to meddle in what could be a developing society, or invoke the wrath of an advanced one. However, the President and Prophet attempted to assuage the fears by assuring the public that they only wished to present their beliefs, and that they would respect the cultures and beliefs of others as they did on Earth.
The Church leadership officially declared, in 2075, that they would indeed organize a flight to the newly discovered planet. The ship was to be named The U.N.S. Liahona, named after the compass given to Lehi to facilitate his escape from Jerusalem.
-Mary Scott Davis, Mission to Tau Ceti: A Retrospective