05/13/2012 08:38 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Mitt Romney and Those 'Mormon Moments' (VIDEO)

From Donny and Marie Osmond, to HBO's "Big Love," to Proposition 8 in California, to persistent -- and inaccurate -- Beltway legends about how half of the CIA is staffed by members of the LDS Church, America's Mormons have a way of episodically popping into the national consciousness.

The recent ascent of Mitt Romney to the status of presumptive Republican nominee is no exception to this rule. It is yet another "Mormon moment" in a long string of such moments dating back to the 19th century.

In my conversation with Hampden-Sydney College professor Matthew Bowman (author of "The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith"), we explore the possibility that Mormons themselves aren't necessarily the biggest fans of Mormon moments. The national scrutiny can be taxing and treacherous, especially for a community as family-oriented and averse to the spotlight as this one is.

Dr. Bowman goes on to make some really intriguing observations about how and why both Evangelicals and secular liberals share a statistically verifiable hesitancy to vote for a Mormon candidate.

After calling attention to Romney's striking "Mad Men" sartorial style, Bowman turns to the complex issue of Romney's perception among African-American voters. What with the LDS Church's (now-abrogated) exclusionist teachings about blacks, this is no small matter. Consider that conservative African-American voters in Ohio in 2004 may have played a small part in handing that crucial state to George W. Bush (Wineburg 2007, p. 88).

We are now living through the biggest "Mormon moment" of them all, and the coming months will teach us a lot about America and its ability to fully embrace its religious minorities.