The Curtain Falls on the Mormon Moment

With Mitt Romney’s hopes for the presidency coming to an end last night we not only close out the 2012 election cycle but we also say good bye to “The Mormon Moment.”

I felt certain that Mormonism would be used as a political device against Mitt Romney, specifically the priesthood ban. I was wrong. There certainly were left-leaning writers and opportunist who attempted to promote that angle, but those stories never really made national news. I thought a SuperPAC, unofficially affiliated with Barack Obama would create at least a few television ads attacking Mormonism’s past. Those ads never materialized. I have to say that I think the country is probably better for it. I think John McCain displayed considerable honor by not leveraging Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2008 and President Obama returned the favor in terms of Mormonism in 2012.

Mormonism will continue to gain some national exposure about once every 10 years. But it will likely never receive the kind of media exposure it did over the last year. I don’t think the LDS church made any significant gains in converts or positive public perception, but it likewise did not suffer any large embarrassments.

About the most damaging thing to happen to Mormonism was the release of hidden video of the Endowment Ceremony. Interestingly enough, the publisher of that video, NewNameNoah, had his YouTube account suspended yesterday. If the LDS church had any role to play in that action, I think they couldn’t have chosen a better day than Election Day to make it happen. Any hopes for media coverage of that censorship will be unable to find a voice in the current news cycle. The video will live on and will remain publicly available, but will be much more difficult to find off of YouTube. [update: the account was reactivated the next day]

Second on the list of hits against the LDS church would be the church disciplinary actions against David Twede, the managing editor of MormonThink.com. The church wisely chose to suspend its disciplinary actions and Twede resigned on his own terms. He was able to successfully draw greater attention to his website but I think Twede made a number of missteps in equivocating about his potential excommunication being somehow tied to political comments against Mitt Romney.

Third on my list of problem areas for the church in the national exposure was the rise in prominence of some “non-correlated” Mormons such as Joanna Brooks and John Dehlin. They’ve found courage in their unorthodox views and the church has shown, that at least for the time being, it will not be calling people with such vocal views into disciplinary hearings as it did with the September 6. I think these individuals will be sticking around in the discussion of Mormonism and will be called upon by their new found media contacts to speak on Mormon matters at least as frequently as the official church spokesman. Many would consider this the greatest positive to emerge from this Mormon moment.

Robert Jeffress began the year with a discussion of Mormonism’s cultic status within Christianity. By year’s end Billy Graham was removing the word “cult” from his website not only in reference to Mormonism but toward several other religions as well. This may be the greatest benefit to Mormonism from the Romney campaign. The Evangelical use of the word “cult” as a reference toward heretical, new-religious-movements has probably come to an end. I think moving forward you will see “cult” being exclusively a reference to mind-controlling organizations.

Though a positive for the nation, I think the lack of attention on Mormonism in the outcome of the campaign is actually a negative for Mormonism. It shows that Mormonism (and perhaps religion in general) is largely irrelevant in the national discussion. People simply don’t care beyond a passing curiosity. In terms of future converts, it’s much better for a religion to be hated than to be irrelevant.

I’d wager that the next time a spotlight such as we’ve seen cast on Mormonism in 2012 will be caused by either a large political movement to legalize polygamy or some sort of leadership crisis. I anticipate the former (and for sure decriminalized polygamy) before the latter. Many Mormons may have hoped that a Romney presidency would bring about a long awaited acceptance in American culture. The energy and opportunity for that sort of shift has now ended. In the United States, Mormonism will now return to being a topic of discussion for Mormons, former Mormons, a few curious onlookers and detractors and a shrinking number of potential converts.

Why Mormonism is only for those who desire it, and why it matters.

In our discussion about the LDS temple ritual.  I mentioned that I do not believe the endowment is for everyone, nor was it meant to be.  It is only for those who desire it.

While this seems to be a somewhat technical/semantic point. I think it is important in the context of the “Mormonism-seems-to-be-a-cult-because-it-has-secret-Rituals” discussion. By saying that endowment is ONLY for those that really want it, I underscore how different this position is from any sort of cult-like view of the ritual. Mormons are not forcing people to do weird things against their will. This seems akin to the same fallacious argument that Mormons are somehow disrespectful for performing rituals for the dead or that they disrespect holocaust victims by baptizing them. It makes no sense in context of Mormon thought and doctrine. It seems that among the pervasive misunderstandings and/or misrepresentations regarding the religion are that Mormons are a cult that pushes people or brainwashes them into making crazy commitments and weird secret rituals against their will.  This is unsupportable by the doctrine or the scriptures.

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Playing Politics

Earlier this week Billy Graham formally endorsed Mitt Romney in his campaign to become President. The endorsement is significant for a number of reasons, Graham is a life long Democrat and has never formally endorsed a candidate. This endorsement is important to Romney because it secures the most well-known and respected Evangelical voice of the last century. Graham’s endorsement is thought to put at ease the minds of those Evangelicals who may be reluctant to vote for a Mormon in a national political race.

Perhaps of greater interest than the actual endorsement was the immediate retraction of a number of articles from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association’s web site. All of the articles in question had named Mormonism as a cult. A spokesman for Graham stated:

“Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”

The retraction on the subject has raised the ire of many Evangelicals. Calling some to ask, will we gain the White House but lose our souls?

Christianity Today published an article with some brief reactions from Evangelical leaders asking, should the BGEA have removed the cult designation from Mormonism on their site? Here are two I thought of interest:

“Yes, but not for the reason they apparently did. If [the BGEA] did so to help the Romney candidacy, then that was probably folly. First, because it likely won’t help in any meaningful way; and second, because it gives the appearance that the BGEA might think that—on certain occasions—they will let politics trump principles. However, in the big picture I’m not sad that they are moving away from the word ‘cult’ for Mormonism. These days, the word is nothing more than a pejorative, and unhelpful in communicating the true gospel to Latter-Day Saints (LDS).”
–Craig Hazen, professor of comparative religion and apologetics, Biola University

“It is unfortunate that the BGEA chose to remove the cult designation describing Mormonism this week. It will appear to the world that the Graham organization has chosen political expediency over spiritual conviction. It is possible to endorse Mitt Romney, as I have done, and yet maintain that Mormonism is a false religion that leads people away from the one true God.”
— Robert Jeffress, pastor, First Baptist Church (Dallas)

My personal take is that the word “cult” serves very little productive use in communicating about Mormonism. I appreciate the theological definition that Evangelicals have used but regard the the distinction between sociological cults is more often than not misunderstood or not all clarified. In my view it is a welcome change to remove the word “cult” from our vocabulary but the timing of this change stinks of politics and not of principle. If anything this change serves the opposite of the BGEA’s intentions by reinforcing the politicized nature of the debate over the word “cult”. I’m not sure how better the BGEA could have handled this controversy other than to make the change many months ago out of principle in a non-political atmosphere, or to have left all of the articles online and replaced the word “cult” with “heretical sect”, and then clearly explain that the change in vocabulary was intended to better communicate the association’s disagreements with Mormonism.

Billy Graham’s legacy is strongly in tact, but I think I would have preferred him not to have made this one of his last nationally recognized statements. His record of non-endorsement of presidential candidates would have better served his name and not have further promoted the political stigma that has inflicted Evangelicalism.

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Romney

Mitt Romney has been invited to give the commencement address at Liberty University, an evangelical school founded by Jerry Falwell. The announcement has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. I have to admit that the news left me in a bit of quagmire of thoughts.

I attended an Evangelical college and I’ve presumed that all of our graduation speakers have been men or women who could agree to the university’s statement of belief. Liberty University is quite a bit more conservative than the school I attended, so I was surprised to hear that they’ve previously had Jewish and Catholic speakers. But then I recalled that Michael Medved, a Jew, spoke once in University Chapel and I don’t remember anyone expressing anything negative about it.

I’m completely resolved to the idea that it’s okay for an Evangelical to vote for a Mormon. I would probably throw a fit of one shape or another if a Mormon were invited to speak from the pulpit of my church. A graduation speech at a Christian university is not a sermon, but the expectation is that spiritual themes will be affirmed and encouraged. So I can appreciate the concerns being expressed in opposition to the invitation.

I’m interested to hear what others think. Is it appropriate for a Mormon to give the commencement address at an Evangelical school?

The Mormon Candidate

The BBC recently released a new documentary about Mormonism and Mitt Romney. I think the average Mormon will regard this as a very biased hit piece against the LDS church. But it is notable for the extensive interview with Apostle Jeffery Holland including discussion about the Book of Abraham, Smith’s treasure digging, the practice of shunning, masonry and penalties in the Mormon temple and the “Strengthening the Members Committee”.

This is part one. All the parts can be seen seamlessly by clicking this link and hitting “Play All”.

My Racist Past

John Piper, a major Evangelical leader in the Reformed tradition recently released a new book “Bloodlines” dealing with his own sin of racism.  You can download the book for free here.

In conjunction with the video Crossways has released this short documentary in which Piper revisits his home in South Carolina and discusses his history with race and racism.

I’m proud to see Piper name racism for what it is and to make such a public confession.

Obery Hendricks on Mitt Romney & Mormon Racism

Yesterday Obery Hendricks posted an article on the Huffington Post challenging Mitt Romney on racist sentiments found in the Book of Mormon.  As has been pointed out, Hendricks is guilty of cherry-picking some of those statements.  He also doesn’t have a good enough handle on Mormonism to understand that the Book of Mormon is not making reference to people of African descent, rather it’s speaking of dark-skinned people of Jewish descent living in a yet-to-be-determined location (some might say they are dark-skinned Native Americans, others might say these passages have nothing to do with skin color at all).

Last night Hendricks appeared as a guest of Ed Schultz on MSNBC.  As I predicted, I believe this is just the start of these attacks on Mitt Romney and Mormonism.  The challenge Romney faces is answering these charges in the length of a sound-bite.  I don’t think the nuance that Mormons engage the priesthood bad with is going to communicate.  I also don’t think he has the opportunity to engage in exegis of the Book of Mormon. Hendricks does not offer an attack that effectively sways Mormons, but he does offer an attack that sways non-Mormons.

I don’t believe this is going to go away and I’ll be interested to see how Romney resolves it.  I believe he’ll eventually be forced to say, as John Huntsman has stated, that the priesthood ban was wrong.

Top 10 Anti-Mormon Comments of 2011?

I spotted this article in the Deseret news which referenced Mormonvoices.org’s article naming 2011’s “Top” Anti-Mormon statements.   I will quote the entire list and explanation here because the original does not allow for comments.

1. “By any standard, Mormonism is more ridiculous than any other religion.” Bill Maher, October 15, 2011, George Washington University, as reported by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, October 18, 2011.

2. “[Mormonism is] one of the most egregious groups operating on American soil.” Christopher Hitchens, Slate, October 17, 2011.

3. “The theology comes across as totally barmy. We can become gods with our own planets! And the practices strike me as creepy. No coffee and tea is bad enough. But the underwear!” Michael Ruse, Chronicle of Higher Education, November 30, 2011.

4. “The current head of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson, known to his followers as ‘prophet, seer and revelator,’ is indistinguishable from the secular plutocratic oligarchs who exercise power in our supposed democracy…” Harold Bloom, The New York Times, November 12, 2011.

5. “That is a mainstream view, that Mormonism is a cult…Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” Robert Jeffress, Values Voter Summit, October 7, 2011.

6. “I believe a candidate who either by intent or effect promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve. Mitt Romney has said it is not his intent to promote Mormonism. Yet there can be little doubt that the effect of his candidacy—whether or not this is his intent—will be to promote Mormonism.” Warren Cole Smith, Patheos.com, May 24, 2011.

7. “Yes, it is my opinion that an indoctrinated Mormon should never be elected as President of the United States of America.” Tricia Erickson, CNN.com, July 7, 2011.

8. “Mormonism is not an orthodox Christian faith. It just is not…it’s very clear that the founding fathers did not intend to preserve automatically religious liberty for non-Christian faiths.” Bryan Fischer, Focal Point radio show, September 2011.

9. “Can you name the candidate that’s running for president that believes that if he’s a good person in his religion he will receive his own planet?…Would you vote for someone for president who believes in their religion, if he’s a good person, he’ll get his own planet?…Do you want to get your own planet?” Ben Ferguson, Fox 13 News, Memphis TN, July 6, 2011.

10. “The Christian coalition, I think [another candidate] could get a lot of money from that, because Romney, obviously, not being a Christian…” Ainsley Earhart, Fox and Friends, July 17, 2011.

Mormonvoices explains:

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Huntsman on Mormon Priesthood Ban

I discovered this ABC News interview about the LDS Priesthood ban with John Huntsman recently.  I was pleased to see that Huntsman said exactly what I think Mitt Romney should say in regards to this issue.

HUNTSMAN: I think it was wrong, plain and simple. I think it was wrong. I think it was something that divided people, divided friends and maybe even divided families. I believe they — they saw the errors of their way and they made a policy change. And I think they’re much better because of it.

It’s interesting to see that Huntsman wasn’t disciplined for saying it was wrong and the LDS church in no way has suffered because he chose to clarify the issue like this.  In what way would Mitt Romney harm the church by saying the same thing? Huntsman still describes himself as a Mormon and has family ties that run deep within the Mormon leadership.  In some ways, as the former governor of Utah his personal ties to Mormon culture are deeper than Romney’s.

Mitt Romney’s Mormon Problem Explained

Mitt Romney has a problem. It’s a Mormon problem.  But it’s not the problem you think it is.

When most people think of Mitt’s Mormon problem they think it has something to do with Evangelicals.  It’s true that Evangelicals don’t like Mormonism and it seems apparent that Evangelicals would prefer to not vote for a Mormon.  But Evangelicals are very pragmatic.  When it comes to an election Evangelicals will vote for a Mormon who fits their political values.  Most Evangelicals haven’t been faced with that before, but when push comes to shove they’ll do exactly what Evangelicals in Utah, Idaho and Arizona do, pick the candidate that best fits their political worldview. Continue reading

Mormonism Demystified

I listened to a recent podcast at On Being, by Krista Tippett. She interviews religious thinkers of every stripe. I like Tippett, definitely on the happy liberal unitarian side, but positive and fair.  In 2008 she interviewed conservative Mormon apologist Robert Millet (Audio /Transcript).

In the wake of the Romney-Jeffress discussion over Mormonism, seeking a less “orthodox” voice she interviewed Joanna Brooks. (Audio/Transcript)

Tippet described Mormonism and how she sees Brooks as a good representative:

“A highly disciplined, highly effective frontier culture grows up and migrates back out into centers of power. It’s a classic American story. But there’s also some kind of religious and cultural coming of age here, for Mormons and the rest of us.

I couldn’t have found a better person than Joanna Brooks to shed some distinctively informative, candid, and meaningful light on it all. She’s a literature scholar and a journalist. HerAsk Mormon Girl blog and Twitter feed is a remarkably reflective, compassionate community of questioning with Mormons of many stripes.
And Ask Mormon Girl, as she notes on her website, is housed on the “legendary Feminist Mormon Housewives blog.” That is just one of many things that does not meet the traditional American eye on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — but which we engage through the voice and life of Joanna Brooks.

I thought Brook’s perspective was a refreshing alternative to apologists like Millet’s.    I find her as a good example of one who remains faithful to Mormonism despite serious problems with the way the Church represents its ideals.  Mormonism with its authoritarian structure stuck on top of a very expansive, revolutionary, and often undeveloped view of the world has produced many who live the faith while dealing with many internal contradictions.

A Mormon President

Mormon President, Mitt Romney Joseph Smith I highly recommend the documentary “A Mormon President“. With great production, story telling and controversy this DVD tells the story of Joseph Smith’s presidential run, his introduction of polygamy and his eventual murder. In many ways the documentary is as much the story of William Law as of Jospeh Smith. I think the producers did an excellent job of laying out the facts and deftly introducing both sides of any controversy they encountered.

I felt the Smith biography “Rough Stone Rolling” served as a template for the narrative of the documentary, but the film made fewer speculative judgement calls for what must have been motivating Joseph Smith in the last year of his life. Additionally the documentary was able to boil down the key events of 1844 into a 60 minute presentation. It’s so much more consumable and explanatory than most of the evenly-toned presentations of Joseph Smith’s life. A resource that honestly tells Smith’s story without skewing too positively or too negatively was desperately needed and I think “A Mormon President” hits the mark.

The commentators will be familiar to many Mormons and include both faithful voices (including a BYU historian and Richard Bushman) and critics but neither is given any favorable weight. I thought you could easily distinguish what may be motivating their bias as they reflected on the events.

In addition the DVD includes some bonus features that are well worth the time to view. They include a segment of Mormons defending their faith and the feasibility of a Mormon president and a segment of non-Mormons (most of them Evangelical critics of Mormonism) discussing why they don’t think America should elect a Mormon). I thought both segments introduced the basic arguments each side makes. My one criticism is that I don’t recall any Evangelical (or non-Mormon) making an argument for why it would be okay to elect a Mormon. At one point it seemed the producers needed to scare up some dissenting voices and decided the easiest way to find voters opposed to a Mormon presidency was to film some interviews in a backwoods, Arkansas bar. I’d hate for those brief interviews in the bonus section to dissuade anyone from viewing the DVD though.

If you get a chance to see “A Mormon President” I think you should make the effort.

Mormonism is a Cult

This is a recent interview with Rev. Robert Jeffress by Anderson Cooper. Jeffress is an outspoken supporter of Gov. Rick Perry and pastor of a large Baptist church in Dallas. I think this is perhaps one of the worst definitions of “cult” I’ve ever seen. Even with a pre-qualifier that it’s a “theological definition,” it’s so broad that it becomes meaningless. It’s only use is as a pejorative.

I think Mormonism is in fact a different religion that Traditional Christianity. The Mormon view of God’s place in the universe and His relationship with man is so radically different than what Christianity teaches it’s hard to meaningfully align them unless you’re only looking at the most cursory comparisons. That being said, Jeffress does a terrible job here explaining the differences and an even worse job as an ambassador of Christ. His definitions and explanations appear to be for no one’s benefit except Rick Perry.

For a different perspective by a clearer thinking Evangelical, I recommend this article from the Washington Times by John Mark Reynolds: Why Evangelicals Must Stand Up to Anti-Mormon Bigotry.

Evangelicals Also in Political Spotlight

Guest post by Eric

Tim’s post a few months ago “Can an Evangelical Vote for a Mormon?” was a well-thought-out piece in which he concluded that, yes, an evangelical could back the right Mormon presidential candidate despite differing theologies. Of course, his article was written in response to the candidacy of Mitt Romney. I agree with Tim in saying that I have no qualms about backing candidates of different religions; I most often vote decide how to vote based on a candidate’s values and character, and I certainly don’t believe that my fellow Latter-day Saints or even Christians in general have a lock on the qualities I’m looking for.

While Romney, of course, has received plenty of attention for his Mormon faith, it’s been interesting to see in the past few weeks that some of the same arguments (or prejudices, take your pick) that have been used against Romney for being LDS have been used against at least two other candidates who are evangelicals.

The question asked of Michele Bachmann at the debate Thursday — Would you submit to your husband if you’re elected president? — isn’t all that much different than some of the questions that have been asked about Romney and his relationship with the LDS church. (I’m not sure how believable her egalitarian answer was, but that’s a whole other issue.)

And the left-wing media in recent weeks have had a flurry of stories (here’s one) about Rick Perry’s ties [1] to the New Apostolic Reformation — a movement on the fringes of evangelicalism [2] that not only recognizes its own apostles and prophets (although different than in the LDS sense) but that, at least according to the left-wingers, doesn’t take the usually-hands-off approach to politics that the LDS church does. And Perry certainly hasn’t been reticent about sharing his faith in the public square.

I actually believe that if Perry (or, less likely, Bachmann) were to get the GOP nomination, his religion would be more of an issue in the 2012 campaign than would Romney’s. Am I right? Or am I deceiving myself in thinking that evangelicals can seem just as strange to the general population as Mormons can?

Footnotes:

[1] I do not mean to suggest that Perry is a part of this movement or agrees with it theologically, and I see no indication that his church affiliates with it. But some of his most vocal supporters, including some of the co-organizers of a recent mega-prayer rally that Perry spearheaded, are part of the movement.

[2] Some of the movement’s leaders are enough “out there” on the fringes that they have been accused by a few “discernment ministries” (here’s an example) of denying Christian doctrine even though they use the words of Christianity. Sound familiar?

Can an Evangelical Vote for a Mormon?

As we begin to approach a new presidential election season I thought I’d write up my thoughts on this controversy. This is not intended in any way to be an endorsement of Mitt Romney or any political candidate. I don’t think Gov. Romney has much hope in becoming the Republican candidate much less win the presidency (because Evangelicals won’t vote for him). But his candidacy offers the opportunity to talk about some larger issues. There are two objections I most often hear expressed against voting for a Mormon.

1. When Salt Lake City Calls

When Salt Lake City Calls” is the name of a book that supports this line of reasoning.  Its premise is that because of the covenants made in LDS Temples a Mormon President would have a higher oath to the Mormon Prophet than to the people of the United States or the U.S. Constitution.

I don’t disagree at all that such oaths are made by Mormons who attend their temples.  Investigating the wording (and penalties formerly associated with the covenants) will reveal that they are serious, literal and binding.  Mormons are indeed asked to place allegiance to their church, its prophet and its message at the highest priority.

The question unanswered is “If a Mormon President holds to this covenant as rigidly as we might imagine, does it pose a threat to the United States?” I don’t think it poses any threat at all.  Knowing that the LDS Church and the President are going to be carefully watched and scrutinized about the nature of their relationship, I don’t think either would be interested in abusing this oath.  The image-savvy Mormon church is already quite sensitive about being accused of being a cult. They don’t show a pattern of wanting to reinforce that stereotype.  If anything, I imagine there would be a distancing in the relationship between Salt Lake City and Washington DC while a Mormon sits in office.

Second, let’s suppose the worst.  Let’s imagine that the LDS Prophet receives a revelation that all religious organizations in the United States should come under his control and he calls on every Mormon to make that vision a reality.  Let’s further suppose that the Mormon President makes such legislation a top priority in his administration.  The chances of him enacting such a law would be infinitely small.  He would be unable to find cooperation from the House of Representatives or the Senate. He’d stand no chance before the Supreme Court and the state houses of 49 states would find their own ways to nullify such a law.  He then would likely be impeached for not upholding the Constitution.  I can’t really imagine the LDS church asking a Mormon President to do anything that might harm the values of the nation, but if it did, the President would have little support from our (very intentionally) separated powers.

The truth is Mormonism is perhaps one of the only religions in the world that recognizes and cherishes the United States Constitution.  When Mormons have been persecuted it has always been their belief that the Constitution (and Heavenly Father) would save them.  Joseph Smith many times would extol the virtues of the Constitution and even predicted that there may come a time when the Mormons are the only people left to preserve it.  The Mormon church used to make American Independence Day celebrations part of its worldwide curriculum because Mormons recognize that they were able to form a new religion precisely because of the religious environment afforded by the US Constitution.  It would be out of character for the Mormon Church or a Mormon President to harm or change it.

Most of these issues were previously discussed in our history during the Reed Smoot Hearings in which it was decided if Mormons could qualify for federal public office.

2. Won’t a Mormon President Legitimatize Mormonism and Make it Mainstream

In truth, I think it will. Evangelicals will need to hold this in tension as they weigh their political choices.  But I would like to question if a mainstreamed Mormonism would be something Evangelicals should fear.

The first concern is that an increased awareness of Mormonism might cause more people to investigate the LDS church and consider becoming members.  History doesn’t really bear this out. George W. Bush and William Howard Taft were by far the most outspoken Presidents about their Evangelical faiths. Neither caused an increase in attendance at Evangelical churches (if anything their presidencies might have set the Evangelical movement back). I don’t believe any evidence exist that John F. Kennedy was able to drive a spike in Catholic conversions in his presidency either.

The second concern is that Mormonism would likely lose it’s image as an “outsider religion”.  Evangelicals might very much like to do what they can to keep the LDS church from gaining that sort of credibility.  I can appreciate the concern for aiding or boosting the heresies taught by Mormonism.  But I think an investigation into Mormon history might convince Evangelicals that a mainstreamed Mormon church might inspire reform within Mormonism.

Culturally there is a large portion of Mormons who want nothing more than to be viewed as normal.  They are aware of some of their church’s previous difficult doctrines and practices but because they don’t have to live with them they are able to pretend they don’t exist.  Many of these Mormons are actually unaware of the origins of some of these practices and assume the folk explanations they’ve heard must be true.  A Mormon President would cause Mormon origins to come to light.  An increased public discussion of these issues is exactly what is needed to cause Mormons to distance themselves from their spiritual ancestors.

When Mormonism interacts with mainstream American culture it has a habit of conforming. Mormonism wants to survive and it has a clear history of doing whatever is necessary to survive.  Polygamy (Reed Smoot Hearings), the black Priesthood ban (NCAA boycotts against BYU) and even temple death oaths (The GodMakers) are all examples of how Mormonism caved to public pressure once broader public awareness was brought to those issues. Even former LDS prophet Gordon Hinckley denied specific Mormon doctrine when asked about it in front of a national audience and claimed he didn’t know if they even taught such doctrines. Mormons will insist that these changes were made as a result of Heavenly Father’s direct intervention and communication. That may indeed be the case, but it’s peculiar that these changes occurred after outside pressure was exerted on the LDS Church.

Currently the LDS church growth rate in the United States is about the same as its birth rate.  The church’s missionary efforts seem to be faltering in countries with widespread internet access.  Free access to information about Mormonism doesn’t help the LDS church’s efforts.  Particularly when that information contradicts the LDS church’s faith-promoting version of the story.  A larger public discussion of Mormonism would only bring that information to further light.

David Clark recently stated on this blog “For now, I’d be satisfied if Mormons would be more open and honest about their history and doctrine at their public church meetings. If that were to happen, I think the LDS church would reform in short order.” I tend to agree.  There are a great many Mormons who have knowledge of and a great love for Mormonism’s many peculiarities. They will never want anything to change.  But I do not believe that is true for the majority of Mormons.  A Mormon presidency coupled with an organization’s desire to survive might be just the thing to cause a Mormon reformation.

As we speak, individuals and organizations opposed to Mormonism are forming materials and strategies to use a Mormon candidacy against the LDS church.  Add to that a candidate’s political opponents who are willing to use anything to hurt him and I think the LDS church has reason to hope there is never a Mormon president.

Compromise is demanded of every person who enters into democratic politics.  This even extends to individual voters.  A perfect candidate who matches every one of a person’s values is not likely to exist.  If it does, that person may not be electable (you might as well write your own name in on the ballot). It’s an Evangelical’s duty not to vote for the candidate that perfectly matches their values, but instead to vote for the candidate from the available and viable choices that most closely represents their values.  I think if a Mormon candidate matches an Evangelical’s political values and they think that candidate has the best possibility of winning they should feel more than comfortable in voting for that candidate.

Politically Speaking

With some trepidation I’m going to venture ever so slightly into the political realm. There has been a general conversation in the Evangelical community surrounding Governor Huckabee. There are a number of Evangelicals who believe they should and must vote for him simply because he shares their religious views.

On the other side of the coin there are a number of well placed Evangelical voices saying that it is wrong to vote for someone simply because they are Evangelical, Mormon, Black, Female, or Male. It’s also wrong to vote against someone because they are Evangelical, Mormon, Black, Female or Male. Instead, candidates should be selected based on merit and issues. Religion, race and gender are not qualifications for the office of President (a stance I completely agree with).

To be sure, I am frustrated with Evangelicals that are voting for Governor Huckabee solely based on the fact that he used to be a pastor (and even more frustrated that Huckabee is running on nothing but that). But I have to laugh when Romney supporters claim that there is religious bigotry among Evangelicals. The reason I have to laugh is that Mitt Romney got 92% of the Republican vote in Utah. 92%!!!! That’s ridiculous for any candidate. If Mormons want to throw stones at Evangelical voters for voting on the wrong thing, they first need to step out of their glass house. A voting block that large in Utah seems to be just as clearly drawn down religious lines as voting trends in the Bible Belt (if not more so).

If it’s wrong to vote against Romney because he’s a Mormon, it’s equally wrong to vote for him because he’s Mormon. Huckabee is proving what I thought to be the case when I first heard of his candidacy. A Mormon candidate’s worst nightmare is an Evangelical pastor.

Ask a Mormon on 106.7 KROQ

The Kevin and Bean Show on KROQ recently had a featured called “Ask a Mormon”. Interesting what they decided to discuss. Their guest is an ex-Mormon, but by no means a raving lunatic.

It’s at the 14 minute mark if you want to fast forward. The Kevin and Bean show is a long running morning program on a popular rock station in Los Angeles, so you can expect to get everything that might come along with that. Sadly for us Evangelicals, I think they handled the subject matter much more respectfully than many of our own radio host would have.

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But It’s a Cult

This post is likely to cause some controversy. Hopefully I’ve earned enough good faith that I can present my ideas respectfully and my readers can take what I have to say with the authentic intention in which it is offered.

I think it’s inappropriate to think of the LDS church as a mind-controlling cult. For theological reasons, mainstream Christians have used the term cult to signify that the LDS church is a heretical sect outside the bounds of orthodoxy. Unfortunately the word “cult” is often also associated with destructive mind-controlling groups. There is a theological definition and a sociological definition of the word “cult” and the distinction is not often well explained. For this reason (and many others) we really need to find a better word to describe groups that we feel are in deep heresy.

Psychologists have developed some methods to discern whether or not a group is a mind-controlling cult. There are many groups that fit these descriptions and they are not limited to religion. There are business networking, martial art and substance abuse cults.

As I stated earlier. I do NOT think that the LDS church is a mind-controlling cult. It’s extremely inappropriate to describe it as such. But there is an aspect of Mormonism that starts raising some flags for me. I find a great many reasons to be alarmed about the missionary program. I am NOT saying that the missionaries are being abused or mistreated. I am NOT saying that the missionaries have been unfairly coerced into being there. I do think that there are some abuses in the system and that from an outside prospective the system is suspect.

Using the B.I.T.E. protocol developed by Steven Alan Hassan, I’ll attempt to make my case. I do not believe that any one of these things is an indictment but rather their collection as a whole.

Behavior Control

  • Missionaries are told where they will be living and with whom they will be living.
  • They are required to wear a white shirt, slacks and a tie in all situations (no less what type of underwear they can wear).
  • They are given very little free time off (only 8.5 hours) every week, the rest of their time is spent either sleeping, proselytizing or studying.
  • Missionaries are financially restrained by a small living allowance each month.
  • Contact with family members is cut off except for 2 phone calls a year and hand delivered letters which must be delivered through church authorities.
  • Permission must be sought for everything.
  • Missionaries must be present with their companions at all times except for a few minutes in the bathroom. Any violation of mission rules is to be reported to authorities.
  • Obedience to church authorities is of utmost importance

Information Control

  • Only church approved reading materials are allowed. All other forms of information are cut off entirely.
  • Missionaries are kept extremely busy

Thought Control

  • Loaded language and jargon is pervasive.
  • Only given titles are to be used (Elder and Sister). Given names are not to be used.
  • Thought stopping techniques are used to block challenging information. All objections which can not be answered are to be met by “bearing one’s testimony”.
  • Missionaries are encouraged to testify that they know the church is true even if they have doubts or have reason to suspect that it may not be the case. Some are told to “fake it until they make it”.
  • No critical questions about leadership or leadership decisions is allowed

Emotional Control

  • Missionaries are told that if they are not “feeling the spirit” it must be the result of some unrighteousness on their part.
  • Guilt is frequently used as a motivator
  • There is a great fear of shunning by not fulfilling one’s missionary responsibilities or by returning home early
  • Any lack of success is the fault of the individual not the message nor the organization

It’s my impression that the top priority of the missionary program is actually to bond the missionary to the church rather than to win converts (a great side benefit). It’s no coincidence that they choose to send missionaries at a time when they are at the most impressionable age and can only think, act, and sleep about the church in an isolated and controlled environment. Some might say that many of these restrictions are a result of the age and maturity level of the missionaries. My response is that if 19 year olds are not mature enough to act as responsible agents of the church without the organization imposing inappropriate boundaries, then perhaps missionaries should be sent out at an older age.

Mormon Owned

The term “Mormon Owned” can probably be of great benefit and of great detriment based on what the general public thinks of Mormonism in a specific location. One of the things that drives me crazy is that nearly 2,000 years later we sometimes are still fighting the battles that Paul cleared up for us.

There are a great number of Evangelical Christians that will not vote for Mitt Romney simply because he is a Mormon. Those same people will not stay at a Marriott because it is Mormon owned. I’m sure they are equally concerned when they hear that Pepsi is owned by the Mormon church, or is it Coke, I can’t remember (neither is true, by the way). I think these sorts of boycotts are basically bigotry.

Bigotry is a strong word but I think it applies because those that boycott are not at all being consistent. Are they looking at the spiritual lives of all candidates and only voting for those that believe as they do? Do they stay at the Hilton instead of the Marriott with any concern with what THAT family might be doing with their money? Do they avoid purchasing products from publicly owned companies because they can’t know if all of the share holders say their prayers? Do they only seek employment from other Christians? What would they do if they found out that Inspector 47, who handled their Hanes Underwear, was a Pagan witch? Would they open every package in the store to make sure they got Inspector 48 because she’s a Methodist?

These same Christians will freely walk into a Chinese restaurant with a Buddha statue sitting next to the cash register and enjoy their meal. Why? Because Paul made it clear that eating meat sacrificed to idols is okay. We have freedom to do that. What they don’t get is that the principle extends beyond literal meat before literal idols.

I have no idea what Utah culture is like in this regard. Are Mormons less likely to shop at a store that is not Mormon-owned? Will they boycott stores because they are owned by non-LDS?

The Incomparable Richard Bushman

Richard Bushman really is a fine (albeit unofficial) speaker for the LDS church. Chris Jones pointed this article out to me. http://pewforum.org/events/?EventID=148

It’s a long read but I think worth it if you can do it in chunks. The panel surrounding him asked many of the same questions and brought up many of the same issues as we do here (and did so with respect and civility). I think there are some things that he said that some LDS would disagree with, but he really represents the LDS faith with a lot of class and candor.

I wish there was an audio version of this forum. Anybody got a link?