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.

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

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.

The Manhattan Declaration

Last Friday a historical document called “The Manhattan Declaration” was released. It is a joint statement by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders addressing abortion, same-sex marriage, religious freedom and civil disobedience. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

I have not signed it, but I do like it. I think it will influence few to the Christian perspective, but it at least intelligently and clearly states our perspective so that we can be understood. I think it is most timely and important on matters of religious freedom.

I think as Christian civil disobedience becomes a more prominent tool a lot of people will point back at this declaration for inspiration and justification.

Find it here: http://manhattandeclaration.org/decdocs/ManhattanDeclaration.pdf

Palin, Prayer, Politics and Prophecy

When I saw the media coverage of Sarah Palin’s speech in her church (shown in full here,part 1 and  here part 2) had some observations and questions relevant to this blog.

It has struck me with my limited experience with Evangelical prayer that they generally pray for different things and pray in different ways.

1. Evangelical prayer is more informal, Mormon prayer seems more solemn and formal, very often using old-style english and very formal forms.

2. Praise is a much bigger theme in Evangelical prayers.  Mormons generally don’t have many hymns or prayers of praise like I have seen in evangelical churches, i.e. Mormons don’t really talk a lot about how God is great and awesome and powerful.  Mormons are generally thankful and

3.  It seems that Palin is much more open in praying for certain things to happen in the world, i.e. pipelines, economic development, etc.  Mormons are more subdued in that sort of thing, I generally feel embarrased when people pray for such “political” things (I don’t really know if most mormons are that way or not).  Is this typical of evangelical prayers?

4. I think for many mormons it is an uncomfortable thing to pray for one particular person to obtain public office or that some political event to take place.  Mormons and the Mormon church do tend to be more right-wing than the average person in the U.S.  (not really true outside the US) and socially “conservative” across the board but politics is most often carefully kept out of public worship.   At least in the case of Palin’s pastor, he seems very open about putting Palin in office.    I am sure he believes his prayers had a part in getting her on the Republican ticket.   Despite the claims of prophetic guidance, Mormon leaders are now extremely conservative in making any sort of political prophecy. I think there is a lot of irony here, i.e. that Mormons, in my opinion, are more uncomfortable about such bold prophecy than evangelicals, and generally more skeptical unless the prophecy is very clearly delivered as such from the head of the church.

5. I thought the older pastor’s prayer seemed much more Mormon-like, i.e. it focused on love, gospel, and left out politics.

The questions that remain are:

Are Mormons comfortable (or even excited) about having a national leader who prays like Palin? are Evangelicals?

If you are comfortable or excited about having a national leader make decisions based on prayer, does it make a difference that the leader prays in a “Mormon” or “Evangelical” (or some other) way?

Is there something Mormons can learn from evangelicals prayers and vice versa?  such as: Could Mormons get closer to God by praising more and could Evangelicals get closer by focusing less on political areas and more on interpersonal issues?

Could the fact that evangelicals seem to be very bold in their prophecy on a local level, help them develop more understanding of Mormon’s belief in modern prophecy as authoritative?

The Church Wants You to Contribute

I was really surprised by this post over at Nine Moons.

It’s understandable to me that a church would suggest to its congregants that they pay attention to a particular political issue or even be involved in the political process. But it starts raising flags with me (and perhaps many other people) when official church representatives, acting in their capacity for the church, show up at members homes and tell them, to the dollar, how much they should contribute to a political campaign. Even more surprising that the church may be using tithing record to determine what each member can afford.

I can’t imagine this is going to work out well for the LDS church. Particularly if the mainstream press catches wind of it. I’d be interested to know how high up the chain this idea goes in the Mormon hierarchy. If it’s just a Stake President who got a little over ambitious with the suggestion that members participate in the passing of Proposition 8, it will raise some eyebrows. But if it’s discovered that this “game plan” came from Salt Lake City it will not mean good news for the LDS church.

On the one hand, the LDS church is taking a definite side on perhaps the most controversial issue in the country right now. I can’t really blame them for that and churches will always take their lumps on moral issues that may be unpopular in the rest of the culture. But it heightens the press for the second issue. Church leaders making individual appointments to tell members how much they should give to a political issue is outside the church experience most people are familiar with (even if it is voluntary). It will come off as way too aggressive and way too controlling to most people.

I expect some bad press for the LDS church on this one. If you know an LDS missionary you might be able to guess what they’ll be discussing with contacts in the coming months.