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Topic: Mormons (Read 1755 times)
December 07, 2007, 08:33:23 AM »
With Romney's speech yesterday in the news this morning, I open this thread on Mormonism with a piece in this morning's WSJ that accords with my understanding of things.
What Iowans Should Know About Mormons
Mitt Romney's speech and American tolerance.
BY NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY
Friday, December 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
Yesterday, at the end of Mitt Romney's speech, he told a story from the early days of the First Continental Congress, whose members were meeting in Philadelphia in 1774: "With Boston occupied by British troops . . . and fears of an impending war . . . someone suggested they pray." But because of the variety of religious denominations represented, there were objections. "Then Sam Adams rose and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot."
Were Adams alive today, he most certainly would hear a prayer from a Mormon. It is hard to imagine a group more patriotic than the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But there is reason to believe that voters in Iowa and elsewhere will not accept Mr. Romney's invitation--put forward implicitly in his remarks yesterday at the George Bush Library--to ignore religious differences and embrace him simply as a man of character who loves his country.
A recent Pew poll shows that only 53% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Mormons. That's roughly the same percentage who feel that way toward Muslims. By contrast, more than three-quarters of Americans have a favorable opinion of Jews and Catholics. Whatever the validity of such judgments, one has to wonder: Why does a faith professed by the 9/11 hijackers rank alongside that of a peaceful, productive, highly educated religious group founded within our own borders?
Many evangelicals in the GOP view Mormonism as "a cult," or at least not a Christian faith. One Southern Baptist leader recently called it the "fourth Abrahamic religion." I remember, a couple of years ago, sitting in on an apologetics class at a Christian high school in Colorado Springs, Colo., and hearing the teacher describe a critical moment in the history of the Muslim faith, when the rock that now sits under the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem tried to fly to heaven and had to be restrained by Mohammad. Acknowledging that it sounded a little wacky, the teacher added: "Well, it's no stranger than that guy who found golden tablets in upstate New York." The students laughed uproariously at the reference to the Mormons' founding father, Joseph Smith.
Six years ago, I probably could have counted on one finger the number of Mormons I had met. Having lived most my life in the Northeast, my situation was hardly unique. Then, while researching a book on religious colleges, I decided to spend some time at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. In preparation, I picked up "Mormon America: The Power and the Promise" by religion reporters Richard and Joan Ostling. The Ostlings offer a comprehensive account of the church's history and theology, as well as helpful descriptions of the Mormons' cultural and political outlook. "The onetime believers in plural marriage, considered a dire threat to Victorian probity and the entire nation," the authors write, "have become the exemplars of conservative monogamous family values."
It is hard to disagree. Mormons marry young and have large families. They don't drink, smoke or gamble. The church does not condone homosexuality. Members give at least 10% of their income to the church and often volunteer more than 20 hours a week in some religious capacity. With no professional clergy, the survival of congregations (or "stakes") is entirely dependent on lay participation. All young Mormon men and many women spend two years as missionaries, their travels funded by their own families. The church stocks soup kitchens across the country and internationally (both its own and those of other faiths) with food from its farms and warehouses.
Rather than behaving like an insular cult, members are integrated into the society around them, sending their kids to public schools and assuming leadership positions locally and nationally. Once Mormons complete their missionary service, they are not obliged to proselytize, so having Mormons as neighbors doesn't mean a constant bombardment with invitations to join up.
But many Americans, unless they've actually had a Mormon neighbor, might find all these rosy facts meaningless, feeling deeply uneasy with some of Mormonism's tenets. A lot of what we call religious tolerance depends on social contact, not theological understanding, and there are only about six million LDS members in the U.S., mostly concentrated in the Western states (though increasingly less so). If you press Baptists, they will acknowledge finding Catholics' belief in transubstantiation implausible at best; Jews like me have a little trouble getting over the virgin birth. But we all get along, for the most part, because we know each other and live similar lives as Americans, whatever faith we profess.
But most Iowans will not meet a Mormon in the next six weeks unless Mr. Romney comes to call--Mormons make up less than one half of 1% of the state's population. So let me offer a brief snapshot, not in the hope that Iowans will vote for Mr. Romney but in the hope that, if they don't vote for him, their decision won't have anything to do with his religion.
The young men and women at Brigham Young University are among the smartest, hardest-working and most pleasant college kids you will find anywhere. (For better or worse, I have visited dozens of college campuses.) The student body lives by the Mormon principle: "The glory of God is intelligence." Most reside off campus without adult supervision, yet they adhere strictly to curfews, rules about contact with the opposite sex and every other church directive. They are purposeful but seem to enjoy themselves, spending their free time hiking in the sprawling desert. And BYU has America's largest ROTC program outside of our military schools.
This last fact is one I had occasion to think about on my trip. I left for BYU on Sept. 7, 2001, and returned home a week later. On 9/11, the students gathered for a campuswide devotional. The university president tried to comfort the students with "the eternal perspective." My eternal perspective is not the same as theirs, of course. But hearing more than 20,000 young people around me reciting the Pledge of Allegiance made me realize that our temporal perspective is the same. I'm sure Sam Adams would have agreed.
Ms. Riley is The Wall Street Journal's deputy Taste editor.
Reply #1 on:
December 07, 2007, 08:49:52 AM »
Mormon in America
How Mitt Romney came to give The Speech--and how he did.
Friday, December 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
Did Mitt Romney have to give a speech on religion? Yes. When you're in a race so close you could lose due to one issue, your Mormonism, you must address the issue of your Mormonism. The only question was timing: now, in the primaries, or later, as the nominee? But could he get to the general without The Speech? Apparently he judged not. (Mr. Romney's campaign must have some interesting internal polling about Republicans on the ground in Iowa and elsewhere.)
But Mr. Romney had other needs, too. His candidacy needed a high-minded kick start. It needed an Act II. He's been around for a year, he's made his first impression, he needed to make it new again. He seized the opportunity to connect his candidacy to something larger and transcendent: the history of religious freedom in America. He made a virtue of necessity.
He had nothing to prove to me regarding his faith or his church, which apparently makes me your basic Catholic. Catholics are not his problem. His problem, a Romney aide told me, had more to do with a particular fundamentalist strain within evangelical Protestantism. Bill Buckley once said he'd rather be governed by the first thousand names in the Boston phone book than the Harvard faculty. I'd rather be governed by Donny and Marie than the Washington establishment. Mormons have been, in American history, hardworking, family-loving citizens whose civic impulses have tended toward the constructive. Good enough for me. He's running for president, not pastor. In any case his faith is one thing about Mr. Romney I haven't questioned.
It is true that some in his campaign thought a speech risky, but others saw it as an opportunity, and a first draft was ready last March. In certain ways Mr. Romney had felt a tugging resistance: I've been in public life--served as governor, run the Olympics, run a business. I have to do a speech saying my faith won't distort my leadership?
In May he decided to do it, but timing was everything. His campaign wanted to do it when he was on the ascendancy, not defensively but from a position of strength. In October they decided to do the speech around Thanksgiving. Mr. Romney gathered together all the material and began to work in earnest. Then they decided it would get lost in the holiday clutter. They decided to go after Thanksgiving, but before Dec. 15. The rise of Mike Huckabee, according to this telling, didn't force this decision but complicated it.
The campaign fixed on Dec. 6, at the College Station, Texas, library of George H.W. Bush, with the former president introducing him, which would lend a certain imprimatur (and mute those who say his son's White House is pulling for Rudy Giuliani).
It is called his JFK speech, but in many ways JFK had it easier than Mr. Romney does now. The Catholic Church was the single biggest Christian denomination in America, representing 30% of the population (Mormons: 2%, six million). Americans who had never met a Catholic in 1920 had by 1960 fought side by side with them in World War II and sat with them in college under the GI bill. JFK had always signaled that he held his faith lightly, not with furrow-browed earnestness. He had one great question to answer: Would he let the Vatican control him? As if. And although some would vote against him because he was Catholic, some would vote for him for the same reason, and they lived in the cities and suburbs of the industrial states.
Mr. Romney gave the speech Thursday morning. How did he do?
Very, very well. He made himself some history. The words he said will likely have a real and positive impact on his fortunes. The speech's main and immediate achievement is that foes of his faith will now have to defend their thinking, in public. But what can they say to counter his high-minded arguments? "Mormons have cooties"?
Romney reintroduced himself to a distracted country--Who is that handsome man saying those nice things?--while defending principles we all, actually, hold close, and hold high.
His text was warmly cool. It covered a lot of ground briskly, in less than 25 minutes. His approach was calm, logical, with an emphasis on clarity. It wasn't blowhardy, and it wasn't fancy. The only groaner was, "We do not insist on a single strain of religion--rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith." It is a great tragedy that there is no replacement for that signal phrase of the 1980s, "Gag me with a spoon."
Beyond that, the speech was marked by the simplicity that accompanies intellectual confidence.
At the start, Mr. Romney was nervous and rushed, his voice less full than usual. He settled down during the second applause, halfway though the text--"No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths." From that moment he was himself.
He started with a full JFK: "I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith." No "authorities of my church" or any church, will "ever exert influence" on presidential decisions. "Their authority is theirs," within the province of the church, and it ends "where the affairs of the nation begin." "I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law." He pledged to serve "no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest." He will not disavow his religion. "My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs."
Bracingly: "Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it." Whatever our faith, the things we value--equality, obligation, commitment to liberty--unite us. In a passage his advisers debated over until the night before the speech, Mr. Romney declared: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind." He made the call. Why? I asked the aide. "Because it's what he thinks."
At the end, he told a story he had inserted just before Thanksgiving. During the dark days of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, someone suggested the delegates pray. But there were objections: They all held different faiths. "Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot. And so together they prayed." At this point in Mr. Romney's speech, the roused audience stood and applauded, and the candidate looked moved.
There was one significant mistake in the speech. I do not know why Romney did not include nonbelievers in his moving portrait of the great American family. We were founded by believing Christians, but soon enough Jeremiah Johnson, and the old proud agnostic mountain men, and the village atheist, and the Brahmin doubter, were there, and they too are part of us, part of this wonderful thing we have. Why did Mr. Romney not do the obvious thing and include them? My guess: It would have been reported, and some idiots would have seen it and been offended that this Romney character likes to laud atheists. And he would have lost the idiot vote.
My feeling is we've bowed too far to the idiots. This is true in politics, journalism, and just about everything else.
Ms. Noonan is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal and author of "John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father" (Penguin, 2005), which you can order from the OpinionJournal bookstore. Her column appears Fridays on OpinionJournal.com.
Reply #2 on:
December 07, 2007, 08:56:06 AM »
EVIEW & OUTLOOK
The Book of Romney
The debate over his convictions--religious, and political.
Friday, December 7, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
In anticipation of Mitt Romney's big speech yesterday on the "religion question," some seemed to expect him to address the meaning and purpose of human existence. He didn't, and the speech was all the more politically admirable and instructive as a result.
Instead of directly pushing back against skepticism of his Mormon beliefs, the Republican Presidential hopeful spoke to the more limited--though still loaded--topic of faith and politics in America. There were considerable risks in doing so. He had to allay qualms about his spiritual convictions without also turning off the primary voters who consider religion an important element in selecting their candidate. Another danger was that "the Mormon issue" could dominate the 28 days until the Iowa caucuses.
Despite the endless media analogies, the speech won't be remembered as the kind of canonical American document that Jack Kennedy's 1960 defense of his Catholicism is made out to be--and that's not a bad thing. The Kennedy precedent isn't useful because JFK essentially argued that religion shouldn't matter in politics. He endorsed "an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," and in many ways that speech anticipated all that would follow.
The core of the Democratic Party shifted over time toward secular absolutism--where any public engagement with religion is tantamount to its public establishment, and maybe even the repeal of the Enlightenment. The Supreme Court also took an active role in making the policy preferences of the secular left the law of the land, beginning in 1963 with its prohibition of prayer in public school.
Mr. Romney, then, was addressing traditionally minded voters who have valid reasons for feeling excluded from the cultural, if not democratic, mainstream. He did well to recognize the contributions that faith and religious institutions make to the American civic landscape. And as he noted, the American system is tolerant enough to accommodate the varieties of religious experience.
Mr. Romney's implicit purpose, though, was to speak to the ecumenical alliance called "the religious right," which is united on some political issues but often divided on matters of faith. He noted that "a common creed of moral convictions" brings him to the same policy conclusions as evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics. The political church, in other words, is broad enough to include Mormons, even if their doctrines aren't simpatico.
Mr. Romney mentioned the word "Mormon" only once, and he was right to steer clear of formal theology or specific practices. Some denominations are leery of--or openly hostile to--the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, considering it un-Christian, or even a cult. Surveys indicate that many voters oppose Mr. Romney for this reason, and his speech probably won't do much to convince them otherwise.
How unfortunate it would be if he were rejected on the basis of such irreducible doctrinal differences. The Mormons seem the very embodiment of "family values," and you couldn't invent a religious culture that lived more consistently with Biblical messages. Broadly speaking, most Mormons have, and come from, big families; they're regular churchgoers and give to charity; they don't drink, smoke, gamble or engage in premarital sex. On the scale of American problems, the Mormons don't even register.
It's particularly ironic that some religious voters are trafficking in anti-Mormon bias, because the secular left has spent years trying to portray these same religious voters as a threat to the American system. Evangelicals have spent decades being ridiculed by the coastal elites--for the born-again lifestyle, creationism, opposition to embryonic stem-cell research, the "Left Behind" novels. Recall the ridiculous "theocracy" panic after the 2004 election.
Now some of those same believers are trying to do the same to the Mormons. We doubt Mr. Romney persuaded those voters, but he probably had more success with, say, Republican Catholics who recall their pre-JFK ostracism from Presidential politics.
A larger irony is that the biggest doubts we hear about the Romney candidacy have nothing to do with his religious convictions, which seem consistent and sincere. They concern his apparent lack of political convictions. He governed Massachusetts as a moderate Republican, and even today he speaks about reforming Washington less with policy ideas than with the power of his positive technocratic thinking.
Once a cultural moderate, Mr. Romney has converted to conservative social positions on abortion, and so on. Rudy Giuliani recently needled him about his "sanctuary mansion" for illegal immigrants, so this week he fired his gardeners. He boasted about his HillaryCare Lite reform in Massachusetts, then had his free-market advisers rewrite it for the primary campaign. Despite yesterday's laudable speech, we suspect Mr. Romney will rise or fall as a candidate based on how well he can sell his worldly record.
Reply #3 on:
December 07, 2007, 03:56:08 PM »
I grew up close to Utah, have spent time there and have known lots of mormons. As a group, they are hardworking, patriotic and family oriented. Still, there is a creepy cultishness to the religion and the theology is almost as strange and laughable as islam's. Rural Utah town have a "pod people" feel to them that makes my skin crawl.
Reply #4 on:
December 21, 2007, 02:10:11 AM »
While following another thread through another forum I came across another discussion about Mitt Romney and Mormonism.
If you follow the link you will also be able to read responses to the article.
Romney, Religion, and America
America is a religious nation. There’s no question about that. It was created by white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, principally the English, and their Jewish-based religion. Whether the earliest colonies in “Virginia,” or the later colonies of New England, the people were God-fearing, Bible-believing people. (England’s King James I, who published the famous “King James” version of the Bible in 1611, was a temperance advocate, calling tobacco, the newly found commodity in the southern colonies, a “vile and stinking custom.” He issued a pamphlet against it in 1604, called A Counterblaste to Tobacco.)
Truly, the New England colonies proved more successful though established later, no doubt due to the fact they were created primarily for religious reasons. They were the establishment of faith, not commerce. The people had a religious vision and purpose, and did not represent merely a commercial venture. The government of what was to become the United States of America was developed by the New England colonies. The Revolution was accomplished by the faith of the religious people of the north.
Their vision is still the basis of the American social psyche. The Puritan mold is inexorable. Though it is translated in many different ways, such as commercialized justice, ideological causes designed to sanction racial offense, or even international economic aggression, the Puritan mind set, the basic values of the Pilgrims, still shape the language of politics even today. Modern entertainment is based on one ethical distortion or another derived from the basic Judeo-Christian moral values of the founding fathers.
Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney
So where does Romney’s religion fit into this? What of Mormonism?
Off the top, most religions of the world comprise people who are not expert in the knowledge of their own faith. And even those who profess to be, such as the Dalai Lama, are often far removed from the teaching of their venerated prophets, as the Dalai Lama is.
Should we expect something different from Mitt Romney? Does he believe what the Mormon Church (Later Day Saints) teaches? This question involves two things: one, we have to know ourselves what the Mormons teach, and, two, we have to ask him what he believes—or whether he believes what the Mormons teach.
People talk about bizarre beliefs in the Mormon faith, but, let’s get down to the basics. There are two doctrines I would consider contrary to the Bible: 1) “Adam fell that men might be,” 2 Nephi 2:25; and 2) “Man was also in the beginning with God,” Doctrine and Covenants, 93:23, 29. This is enough to recognize that the faith of the Mormon is quasi- mystical. Man is divine, eternal, and immortally so. “God” designed that he should experience sin. “God” ordained sin. “God” planned sin, and the multiplicity of the human race. This is practically Kabbalistic—the concept of divided, scattered light. It’s even Platonic.
Does Mitt Romney know about these things? Does he believe them? Does it make a difference in how he lives and what he does, and what he values?
Frankly, I don’t know. I don’t know that Catholics are aware of the fact that there are modern bishops that do not believe in the existence of an immortal soul. Cardinal Ludovico Billot, S.J. wrote in 1919 that death fixed man’s fate. There was no afterlife opportunity for moral improvement. (La Parousie, in Etudes 54-56, 1917-19.) Are Lutherans aware that Swedish Bishop Anders Nygren of Lund said in 1939 that the doctrine of the immortal soul was not Christian? (Agape and Eros, pp.280,281.)
Religion is a monstrous thing, historically. To be a member of an established organization is perilous. The older the organization, the wider and more variant the beliefs accumulated therein. It is quite likely that an adherent simply espouses certain major beliefs, and leaves the rest to the priests, the theologians, and historians. A man can hardly be responsible these days for what the whole organizations embodies. It would be like saying an American espouses everything advocated in Washington. It doesn’t work that way.
Howard Kurtz wrote an interesting piece, “Romney and Religion,” in the Washington Post, November 28, 2007. He cites commentator Christopher Hitchens (among others) for the current concerns over Romney’s religion. Hitchens blasts the Mormons for racism and for regarding prophetic law over any human law. Kurtz quotes Kathryn Jean Lopez’ constitutional concerns, and then Mohammadan Monsoor Ijaz’ arrogant concern that Mohammadans be given a place in the presidential cabinet.
I can only wonder if everyone knows his own religion the way Romney is expected to know his.
"You see, it's not the blood you spill that gets you what you want, it's the blood you share. Your family, your friendships, your community, these are the most valuable things a man can have." Before Dishonor - Hatebreed
Reply #5 on:
December 21, 2007, 10:50:44 AM »
Interesting, and coincidentally enough this from today's WSJ:
The Mormons still haven't settled their race problem.
BY JASON L. RILEY
Friday, December 21, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
In an "Official Declaration" issued on June 8, 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints extended "priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church." The church announced that a "revelation had been received" by its then-president Spencer Kimball. Until then, Mormonism was a defiantly apartheid faith that denied blacks full participation based on doctrinal beliefs that whites are "pure" and "delightsome," while black-skinned people are "unrighteous," "despised" and "loathsome" descendants of the biblical Cain, who was cursed for killing Abel.
By 1978, the U.S. was more than a century removed from a civil war over the status of blacks; W.E.B Du Bois and Henry Moskowitz had co-founded the NAACP; and President Truman had integrated the military three decades before.
By 1978, Plessy v. Ferguson had been overturned by Brown v. Board of Education, and Thurgood Marshall was a Supreme Court justice.
By 1978, Jackie Robinson had not only retired from the Brooklyn Dodgers but was fielding grounders in the hereafter.
By 1978, Martin Luther King Jr. had given his "I Have a Dream" speech, and Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
By 1978, the universities of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama had been integrated.
By 1978, Strom Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948 calling for "segregation of the races," had endorsed integration and hired black staffers.
Which is to say that in a decades-long march toward civil rights that eventually included even the likes of former Dixiecrats, the LDS church was still bringing up the rear.
It's true that, in the late 1970s, other religious denominations in the U.S. still tended to be largely segregated by race out of choice or custom. But according to journalists Richard and Joan Ostling's "Mormon America," only the Mormons "had instituted such a sharp racial preference or placed it at the level of divine revelation."
Armand Mauss, a leading scholar on Mormons and race, and a Mormon himself, has noted that "much of the conventional 'explanation' for the priesthood restriction was simply borrowed from the racist heritage of nineteenth-century Europe and America, especially from the justifications for slavery used in the ante-bellum South."
The priesthood proscription, which operated under a "one-drop rule," wasn't in place simply to keep blacks out of leadership posts. Ultimately, the ban was a manifestation of a central belief that blacks are unfit to be full members of the church on Earth, or to exist alongside whites in heaven.
In the Mormon system, "the priesthood is everything," write the Ostlings, and boys normally enter the first stage at age 12. "Without priesthood, many routine forms of church participation are beyond reach, such as distribution of the sacrament," write the authors. "Priesthood is the necessary condition for men receiving temple endowments and eternal sealings of marriage that admit its holders to the highest tier in heaven and potential godhood."
Mormon leaders were applauded for finally ending the prohibition. But according to Mr. Mauss, the church has never repudiated the teachings that supported the policy. In 2004, he wrote, "ironically, the doctrinal folklore that many of us thought had been discredited, or at least made moot, through the 1978 revelation, continued to appear . . . [in church literature] written well after 1978 and continues to be taught by well-meaning teachers and leaders in the church to this very day." And "Mormon America," which was just re-released, notes plainly that "Mormon teaching against race-mixing remains in force."
In 1978, Mitt Romney was a 31-year-old vice president at Bain & Co. and a lifelong devout Mormon. Throughout his current campaign for the Republican nomination, Mr. Romney has declined to distance himself from the repugnant racial teachings of his church.
On "Meet the Press" last Sunday, the candidate was asked by Tim Russert if "it was wrong for your faith to exclude [blacks] as long as it did." Mr. Romney dodged the question, instead stating: "I told you where I stand. My view is that there--there's, there's no discrimination in the eyes of God, and I could not have been more pleased to see the change that occurred."
In his ballyhooed speech earlier this month, Mr. Romney said he wouldn't renounce any of Mormonism's precepts. He also implied that questions like Mr. Russert's come too close to a "religious test" for public office that the Constitution explicitly forbids. But in a country with America's racial past, Mr. Russert's question isn't a religious test. It's due diligence. And for all his claims to the contrary, Mr. Romney has, in fact, been willing to distance himself from past teachings of the church--just not those having to do with its treatment of black people.
"Look, the polygamy, which was outlawed in our church in the 1800s, that's troubling to me," he told "60 Minutes" in May. "I must admit, I can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy." Gee, I can.
Mr. Riley is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board.
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