Are Mormons American? Can They Be?

December 19, 2006 | 133 comments
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Thanks to Mitt Romney’s candidacy, I suspect that the Mormons-as-bizarre-ridiculous-and-perhaps-dangerous theme will be increasingly with us in the months to come. There are two reasons for this: one parochial and one fundamental. The parochial reason goes to the nature of political news coverage. Overwhelmingly, political stories are presented as a horse race. The central question for the Romney candidacy will be whether or not he can survive in southern Republican primaries dominated by Evangelicals. Will the Christian Right vote for a Mormon? This will focus attention relentlessly on Mormon theology, which is the Evangelical bone of contention. Furthermore, it will largely be Mormon theology as seen through Evangelical eyes, since this is the version of Mormonism (rather than the version that Mormons themselves experience) that is relevant for the horse-race story. The results will not be pretty, but the train wreck will be essentially trivial.

The more fundamental reason goes to the status of Mormonism in American politics. Religion is hot in American politics right now. The secularization thesis turned out to be demographically mistaken — at least as to the United States — and elite culture was late in learning this important fact, pushing the sleeping giant of Evangelical Protestantism into political life during the 1970s and 1980s. Ironically, Romney’s Mormonism may become one of the anvils on which the meaning of these facts gets hammered out. Broadly speaking, there are two ways in which religion in politics can be handled. Both of them present problems for Mormonism.

One approach is the solution of philosophical liberalism. In his book Political Liberalism, liberal philosopher John Rawls presented a vision of liberal society as a sphere created by the overlapping consensus of reasonable but incommensurable overarching belief systems. The basic idea is that reasonable disagreement about God, morality, and the like is simply a fact of life in modern society, but that on certain basic political issues these different beliefs converge. All reasonable Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, and Atheists can agree that limited government, the rule of law, free and fair elections, freedom of conscience, and a modestly redistributive state are desirable. This, says Rawls, is a enough. It is an intentionally thin vision of politics. This “political liberalism” (to use the philosophical name for Rawls’ position) has two problems in the current situation. First, the thin vision of politics requires we strip political discourse of appeals to our competing conceptions of the good the true and the beautiful. In other words, political God-talk is out. Second — and far more important for Mormons — is what might be thought of as the “anti-cult” provisio. The Rawlsian vision of political liberalism looks mighty inclusive; indeed if anything its inclusiveness looks debilitating. Yet it turns out that one can still be excluded from the polity on religious grounds. The overlapping consensus only cares about “reasonable” overarching belief systems. Those total kooks on the margins needn’t be worried about. The question is whether Mormonism gets counted as a reasonable belief system. Given the media’s current facination with the magic Mormon underwear and the persistant question of whether or not a Mormon can be allowed to become president, the answer to this question is far from a foregone conclusion.

The second way in which resurgent religion might be politically managed is by recapturing some sense of civic religion and republicanism. Rather than retreating into the thin politics of philosophical liberalism, we try to construct a public space that is overtly religious in some sense. This needn’t mean that we create a theocracy, but it does mean that there is some sense in which the religious beliefs of citizens become vocalized in public discussion and even that our rituals and institutions acknowledge some collective religiosity. This is a solution that has had some appeal to Mormons in the past, particularlly in the last half of the twentieth century. I am less certain now. In the 1950s, the implosion of liberal, main-line Christianity had not yet occurred, and that brand of Christianity continued to define the zeitgeist of civic religion. It was an odd historical moment. An American society recovering from the upheavals of the Great Depression and the Good War was, for a few moments, in love with a vision of peaceful, benign, middle-class patriarchy. The diffuse civil religion of America had not yet been decisively challenged by disestablishmentarianism and was relatively atheological, taking its doctrine from Frank Capra as much as anyone. The theological laxity let Mormons bask in the illusion that they had been admitted into America’s de facto Protestant establishment. Abroad, America still enjoyed enormous goodwill in many parts of the world as the liberators who had defeated Nazism and Japanese imperialism, and the backlash against various nasty Cold War compromises had not yet set it. For a brief moment, Mormons found themselves in sync with the social zeitgeist of America, and for the first time since the 1850s elders sent forth from the mountains of Deseret were baptizing in large numbers, a huge wave of converts and exponential growth that would not begin slowing until the end of the century. It was a moment, however, that could not last. The civic religion of today strikes me as more theological, more aggressively Protestant, and less tolerant. In this universe, Mormons most definitely are not part of the religious establishment. Catholics are now allowed within the fold. Perhaps even politically conservative Jews when they can be found. Mormons, on the other hand, are not either politically or symbolically powerful enough that they need be courted for crassly political reasons, and are too theologically reprehensible for conservative Protestants and Catholics to accept. Indeed, I suspect that a civic religion that granted to Mormons insider status would be viewed as objectionable precisely for that reason in many circles. Furthermore, they are the circles that are most interested in creating a new civic religion.

I hope that I am wrong. Perhaps we are on the threshold of a reassertive and thin political liberalism in which Mormonism will be accepted as one of the incommensurable but reasonable belief systems that a citizen might have. Maybe there is a place for Mormonism in a new civic religion. Perhaps Romney is a politician with the atavistic appeal to play midwife to either of these transformations, and we will look back on this moment the way that Catholics see the election of 1960: The moment of admission to American citizenship. Or maybe Romney will self-destruct before New Hampshire and Mormonism will return to political obscurity. For now, however, I am pessimistic but not apocalyptically so. I don’t expect the second coming of Governor Boggs if for no other reason that the chances of Gordon B. Hinckley (or even Boyd K. Packer) delivering a new version of Sidney Rigdon’s Salt Sermon are zero. However, it is worth remembering that the first public reaction to Mormonism was not an angry call for extermination. Rather, it was the Dogberry Letters that appeared in the Palmyra Reflector printing pirated excerpts from the soon-to-be published Book of Mormon and treating Joe Smith and his followers as a good joke. A punch line is not persecuted, but he is also not quite a full citizen.

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133 Responses to Are Mormons American? Can They Be?

  1. gst on December 19, 2006 at 2:01 am

    Nate, I see a campaign slogan in there somewhere:

    Romney ’08: A Politician with the Atavistic Appeal to Play Midwife to the Transformation of Society Either Into a Philosophically Liberal Sphere Created by the Overlapping Consensus of Reasonable But Incommensurable Overarching Belief Systems or Through Recapturing Some Sense of Civic Religion and Republicanism.

  2. Jim F. on December 19, 2006 at 2:10 am

    Because I doubt that Mormons will be admitted as full citizens any time in the near future, I hope that Romney self-destructs before New Hampshire so that we can return to political obscurity. There are worse things than political obscurity.

  3. Jeremiah J. on December 19, 2006 at 5:34 am

    “I hope that Romney self-destructs before New Hampshire so that we can return to political obscurity. There are worse things than political obscurity.”

    I think I’m hoping for the same thing (though if Romney becomes the nominee we’ll be having plenty more of these political-theological discussions that I like). But alas, Romney’s campaign seems to have a lot of steam–seems to be one of the handful of candidacies *not* self-destructing–and really has its act together. He has won over top operatives, he has adoring fans in place at the NRO, and even the internet underwear discussion only underlines the fact that he is a serious contender while getting these more embarrassing topics out of the way early on.

    “The civic religion of today strikes me as more theological, more aggressively Protestant, and less tolerant”
    I’m not sure about all of this. First of all I think that even aggressive political religion right now is, theologically, fairly ecumenical (perhaps Christian or Judeo-Christian, but no more exclusive than that). When (Protestant) religious conservatives pick judicial heroes they have tended to be Catholic. You don’t hear and probably won’t hear about disputes between Protestant and Catholic wings of the religious right on say embryonic stem cell research. That may still be too exclusive to include easily Mormons, but the civil religion of the 1950s was even less inclusive than that–Mormons may have been able to bask in some sort of appearance of acceptance, but they wouldn’t dare think they have a shot at the presidency.

    It is however true I think that the contender(s) for civil religion today are less tolerant *in a certain sense*. But that seems to be precisely because the faith is not yet a real civil religion but a fighting creed, even something like an ideology of class conflict. One can debate whether and to what extent this creed has actually won, but there is a significant difference between a civil religion and a fighting creed. You lose some of the political advantages of the latter when you declare victory and start governing from a Christian consensus (e.g. part of having won a civil religion would entail political Christians having to admit that all major parties have in some sense bought into the civil religion, which many partisans are loath to do–the temptation is rather to add victory to victory and deepen the revolution). This is, I think, the reason for the aggressiveness of political Christianity in America right now, and the reason why it will continue to be aggressive, despite the fact that many leaders in this movement sincerely do hope for a new civil-religious consensus and may in fact make their peace with having Mormon and Jewish leadership in this new faith.

    This interesting twist reveals the distinction between including religious people and including certain religious views. For Rawls and most other political philosophers who think about this general subject, it’s all about the status of certain religious *claims* in political discourse. As important as that discussion is, it really has nothing to do with why Romney will or will not be accepted in America as a Mormon politician. It’s not his message that’s the issue, it’s his religious affiliation. Indeed, precisely because his religious affiliation is somewhat suspect, or at least not embraced by most, is he less likely to make political claims on sectarian religious grounds.

  4. Adam Greenwood on December 19, 2006 at 9:05 am

    I suspect its just as likely that Mormons would definitely be *in* the civic religion as they would be *out*. The most likely possibility is ambiguity–sometimes in, sometimes out, depending on the occasion and who you talk to. After all, a civic religion is not the sort of thing that has a Pope and a defined creed. Remember that the America of “Catholic-Protestant-Jew” had an enormous amount of anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism floating around still. To the extent that Mormons are *in*, its likely because people have bought off on the Hinckley project–Mormons had a lot of quirks in their past but they’ve mostly put that behind them and now they’re regular Joes who believe in Christ, celebrate Christmas, go to church on Sundays, and haven’t figured out that you can’t believe that the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are all God and all equal without believing in the trinity. The folks who’d think we’re *out* would be the ones who haven’t bought this or else who did buy it and then felt betrayed to discover that Mormons still believe a lot of those quirks in their past. Ironically, since inclusion in the civic religion is a form of right assimilation, some of the Mormons most actively opposing it would be left assimilationists.

    Ultimately I think there’s no question Mormons can be and are Americans. It’s a mistake to make the answer to that question depend on what gentiles think, just as it would be a mistake to accept the Southern Baptist pulpit’s answer on whether we’re Christian. And the civic religion is important whether or not it embraces us. Ultimately I think my ideal may be something like us supporting the civic religion and considering ourselves part of it while the rest of America has its doubts and is aware of our differences, which we embrace and preach.

  5. Adam Greenwood on December 19, 2006 at 9:12 am

    So Nate O. has got me thinking about our success during the old civic religion. My impression is that much of it was due to us preaching outside the consensus: the old discussions were odd, all about deification and pre-mortal life and spiritual power would go down big.

    Although I think modern left-assimilation would be a disaster for missionary work here and abroad, especially in the third world, too much right assimilation would be bad too. I think deification plus authority plus a big emphasis on miracles, healings, and visions plus the *real* inside story on how the universe is run would go down big in Africa , for example.

    Of course, one advantage of right assimilation over the other kind is that its justifications for assimilation as such aren’t purely pragmatic, of the “we need to be more like X so more X will feel comfortable in the Church” variety.

  6. General Nonsense on December 19, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Nate,

    Although your analysis is well reasoned, I think it may be overly intricate. Americans on the whole are not so complicated as you outline.

    The press has already started picking up the wacky religion stories – that is true, but consequently they are already being played out. As was pointed out over at Bloggernacle.org, the “Can a Mormon be President” and all it’s variations is becoming a repetitive headline. It’s not going to sell a newsie’s pape’s much longer.

    The great part is, Romney still isn’t anywhere near a household name, so he’s got the benefit of wearing out the controversial stories while he remains an obscure character. By the time his campaign goes full-steam and his name builds recognition, the Mormon story will have lost it’s punch. Used up mostly by people like us who have been tracking the Romney Campaign like a pack of hounds on a Raccoon who had garlic for dinner.

  7. anon on December 19, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    I found the the latest Newsweek article on Romney interesting, since it discusses the the issue of his Mormonism but does not see it as his primary problem vis-a-vis the Republican religious right, who currently are more issues-driven. “Romney’s greatest challenge, though, remains proving himself a true believer on social issues. Some conservatives have expressed serious concerns about a 1994 letter Romney wrote to gay-rights activists vowing to make ‘equality for gay and lesbians a mainstream concern.'”

  8. Marc Bohn on December 19, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    I agree with Anon. I think Romney’s biggest hurdle now is not necessarily the reasonableness of Mormon theology, but the fact that he was once a political centrist who supported legal abortion and gay rights and bucked the Reagan trend as a moderate Republican in the early nineties. It’s ultimately a double edged sword because as he abandons the center in the run up for his presidential bid he’s likely to be seen by primary voters as either a calculating politician without any real views who is saying what he needs to say to get elected or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Add to that the fact that he’s a member of a “cult” and I think that is what dooms his primary hopes.

  9. Aaron Shafovaloff on December 19, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    I would change “rather than the version that Mormons themselves experience” to “rather than the version that Mormons articulate”. Lorenzo Snow couplet theology is still part of the Mormon experience, it’s just not something the normal Mormon would be willing to bluntly articulate. The evangelical concern isn’t limited to what Mormons experience. It encompasses the sorts of historic Mormon teachings that Mormons acquiesce to once they learn of them.

    Some Mormons try to alleviate my concerns about Lorenzo Snow couple theology by saying, “oh don’t worry, we don’t think about that much.” That entirely misses the point. Evangelicals care about the eternal nature of God, and a response that in essence says, “don’t worry, we’re so indifferent to teachings on this that we simply acquiesce to them and don’t include them in our regular discourse” … only makes us more concerned.

  10. danithew on December 19, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    It’s interesting just to ponder the title of this post: “Are Americans Mormons? Can They Be?”

    I find myself thinking of Harold Bloom’s book “the American Religion” and how heavily Mormonism figured into Bloom’s consideration of that topic. I know that’s a topic/book you’ve written about here at T&S.

  11. manaen on December 19, 2006 at 2:47 pm

    Third question to include in the title: “Do they want to be?”

  12. manaen on December 19, 2006 at 3:13 pm

    At the risk of starting a threadjack brushfire,

    10. RE: Lorenzo Snow couplet theology is still part of the Mormon experience, it’s just not something the normal Mormon would be willing to bluntly articulate.

    Here is the section of the Topical Guide, which is bound between the Testaments in the LDS-published KJV that lists scriptural reference under the heading “Man, Potential to Become like Heavenly Father.” Please note that this link is to the Church’s official website.

    The following extract is from “Gospel Principles,” the Church’s primer for interested people and new members. Pls note that the embedded link also is to the Church’s official website.

    Exaltation is eternal life, the kind of life God lives. He lives in
    great glory. He is perfect. He possesses all knowledge and all
    wisdom. He is the Father of spirit children. He is a creator. We
    can become like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation.
    If we prove faithful to the Lord, we will live in the highest
    degree of the celestial kingdom of heaven. We will become
    exalted, just like our Heavenly Father. Exaltation is the greatest
    gift that Heavenly Father can give his children (see D&C
    14:7).

    Discussion
    • What is exaltation?

    Blessings of Exaltation

    Our Heavenly Father is perfect. However, he is not jealous of
    his wisdom and perfection. He glories in the fact that it is
    possible for his children to become like him. He has said, “This
    is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality
    and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

    Those who receive exaltation in the celestial kingdom
    through faith in Jesus Christ will receive special blessings. The
    Lord has promised, “All things are theirs” (D&C 76:59). These
    are some of the blessings given to exalted people:
    1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father
    and Jesus Christ (see D&C 76).
    2. They will become gods.
    3. They will have their righteous family members with them
    and will be able to have spirit children also. These spirit
    children will have the same relationship to them as we do
    to our Heavenly Father. They will be an eternal family.
    4. They will receive a fulness of joy.
    5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and
    Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge.
    President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “The Father
    has promised through the Son that all that he has shall be
    given to those who are obedient to his commandments.

    ‘They shall increase in knowledge, wisdom, and power, going from
    grace to grace, until the fulness of the perfect day shall burst upon
    them’ ” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:36).
    (“Gospel Principles,” pp. 302-3)

    I hope this is “bluntly articulated” enough for your purposes.

    The message of Christ’s restored gospel taught in this Church saved my life and then it healed my soul. I hope you’ll accept the same joy from these truths.

  13. Mark B. on December 19, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    I realize that we shouldn’t be rude to those who visit the fair shores of Bloggernacleland in hopes of rescuing us from the benighted condition into which we have fallen, but I can’t help seeing Aaron’s name without thinking of Shove-off-a-loff.

  14. Admin on December 19, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    Aaron S.,

    Your comments are generally welcome here. However, please refrain from posting links to visual depictions of portions of the temple ceremony. Thank you.

  15. Ben on December 19, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    Aaron, it’s only half the couplet that Mormons have trouble with. I don’t think you find any deniers of exaltation/deification, though one can disagree on the details of what that entails (see Blake Ostler’s books). It’s the “As man now is, God once was” that doesn’t find any much canonical support. It may be a logical inference, but logical inferences can and often have been wrong.

  16. Matt W. on December 19, 2006 at 4:23 pm

    Ben, from the evangelical viewpoint, God was once was as man now is, as God and Jesus are the same via Trinity, so God was once here on earth as Jesus, as man now is.

  17. JKC on December 19, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    Matt, you’re joking right?

    We can play with semantics to draw that connection, but I’d be willing to say that there are next to no bona fide evangelicals that would agree with the statement “as man is now, God once was.” In fact, the response you would be most likely to get is that Jesus was not “as man now is” because he was born outside of the curse of the fall. I might be straying into Catholic theology as opposed to evangelical, but I think evangelicals would agree with Catholics that Jesus’ conception was not a natural human conception and that hence he was a fundamentally different kind of being.

  18. MikeInWeHo on December 19, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    Oh totally. Either comment #16 was in jest or Matt W needs to hang out with more Evangelicals. To them (and the Catholics, for that matter) the notion that “God was once as man is now” is supremely blasphemous AND heretical. It’s probably the crux of the reason why Mormons are not accepted as fellow-believers by the majority of Christendom.

  19. Aaron Shafovaloff on December 19, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    For those of you who want to avoid watching the depiction of the temple ceremonies, skip 12m30s – 13m50s.

    Given the concept of “continuing revelation” the concept of “canon” in Mormonism is problematic. Many Mormons pride themselves in being able to believe in things that aren’t explicitly found in the canon / standard works.

    Traditional Christian understandings of theophanies and the incarnation of Christ are far different than the Mormon traditional understanding of the first half of the Lorenzo Snow couplet. I hope that is clear.

    For both Catholics and evangelicals, that Jesus was born without a sinful nature or the imputation of Adam’s sin doesn’t mean he was any less human. In fact, he was the most authentic human that ever lived, and will forever have a permanent human nature (see this).

    manaen, if Gordon B. Hinckley or Mitt Romney were asked about the Lorenzo Snow couplet on public television, how do you think they would respond?

    Of those who favor the idea of a Mormon president, there seem to be three approaches to dealing with Romney’s religion:

    1. The Mitch Davis approach. Help evangelical Christians think that Mormons really do believe in the Bible, that they really are Christians, that they don’t worship Joseph Smith, and that they have absolutely nothing to do with polygamy. In other words, make Mormons look like normal Christians so that Christians embrace a Mormon candidate with open arms. This is not much different from the general, misleading Mormon approach to mainstreaming. It’s a big reason I started the MittAndMormonism.com blog and video.

    2. The Hugh Hewitt approach. Be quiet and uncritical over the issue of Mormon theology, lest we Christians have to face the same standard of scrutiny from secular absolutists.

    3. The John F. Kennedy approach. Be sufficiently open and honest about Mormon theology so that the campaign can move on from the annoying religion issue. Alleviate concerns that Mormon religious authorities or distinctive Mormon doctrine will play a key role in Romney’s politics.

  20. Craig V. on December 19, 2006 at 5:22 pm

    I think a candidate’s relationship to religious authority is (or will be) part of the popular concern. This is nothing new as the same issue was raised when Kennedy ran. It’s fairly clear now that such concern was misplaced then. When I’m visited at my home by representatives of various religious groups, the first question I ask is “Where do you disagree with your church?” I ask this not so much because I value disagreement but because I believe that being able to think for oneself is necessary for legitimate discussion. There’s no reason to see the movie when I can read the book.

    Mark B, you have always been respectful and gracious in your responses to me so I’m a little surprised by #13. Admittedly, I was disappointed that a massive turning to Presbyterianism didn’t occur after my first post to this blog, but I’ve gotten over it. Seriously, though, I recognize that I’m a guest here. If ever I’m not welcome, please let me know.

  21. Aaron Shafovaloff on December 19, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    Mark B, does this ring any bells?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snuffleupagus

  22. Nate Oman on December 19, 2006 at 5:29 pm

    The funny thing about the will-Mitt-take-orders-from-Salt-Lake meme is that the whole issue was dealt with at excrutiating length a century ago when the Senate spent months and months and months deliberating over whether or not Reed Smoot — who was actually a Mormon Apostle — was required to submitt to dictation by the Church President and whether he could be a United States Senator. The Church’s answer was that it disclaimed the right to instruct members on political issues.

    At the time it was a cause celebe, but it has now faded from both Mormon and American memory, so we get to go through the whole thing again with Shafovaloff and his ilk. Anyone who thinks that the the current Mormon leadership is more aggressive than Joseph F. Smith about intervening in politics is suffering from a paranoia so profound that it is probably ineradicable.

  23. danithew on December 19, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    Aaron Shofovaloff appears to be another bored anti-Mormon with a zero-comment blog doing his damndest to stir up LDS traffic to his site.

  24. Nate Oman on December 19, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    For Craig and Aaron and others that can’t understand why Mormons get touchy when Evangelicals feel called upon to make Mormon heresy from Nicene Christianity an electoral issue and when Andrew Sullivan et al feel the need to delve into Romney’s underwear, consider the case of Richard Nixon. To my knowledge, he was the first Quaker ever elected President. Oddly enough, despite the fact that he ran as VP in 1952, and for President in 1960, 1968, and 1972 the question of whether or not a Quaker is fit to be President of the United States never came up. The fact that there are lots of news stories about Romney’s Mormonism indicates that Mormons occupy a profoundly different place in the American polity. Figuring out that place is actually a fun intellectual exercise (and for Mormons at least it is also an important one), but the fact that my civic membership is in some sense contingent on first demonstrating the legitimacy of my Christology and ecclesiology to a bunch of Protestants and Catholics with a cartoonish understanding of my history and theology makes me a bit testy.

  25. Russell Arben Fox on December 19, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    “The funny thing about the will-Mitt-take-orders-from-Salt-Lake meme is that the whole issue was dealt with at excrutiating length a century ago when the Senate spent months and months and months deliberating over whether or not Reed Smoot — who was actually a Mormon Apostle — was required to submitt to dictation by the Church President and whether he could be a United States Senator. The Church’s answer was that it disclaimed the right to instruct members on political issues.”

    To be fair though, Nate, you must at least admit that the range of political issues upon which the church–any church–might today be interested in instructing its membership regarding has expanded enormously, arguably at least in part due to the breakdown in the kind of civic religion you describe which at one time established a set of informal religious norms that, due to the majoritarian influence they enjoyed, safely kept abortion and pornography and divorce and homosexuality and lotteries and Sunday drinking and a great deal more off the ballot. They are all on the ballot now–when they aren’t, in fact, the duly established (though much contested) law of the land. Given all that, it does not seem at all unusual or inproper to me for the church to be more political today that it has been anytime since the end of the State of Deseret; hence, I do not think it at all unusual that certain questions–such as your own about whether or not we can be “Americans”–be asked in a more pressing manner than they once were.

  26. Russell Arben Fox on December 19, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    “Because I doubt that Mormons will be admitted as full citizens any time in the near future, I hope that Romney self-destructs before New Hampshire so that we can return to political obscurity.”

    Incidentally, I have been puzzling over this comment of Jim’s all day. What are you saying, Jim? Are you suggesting that there is still in America today an informal yet absolute civic religion in place concomintant with citizenship, and that for that reason we cannot ever be true citizens of the U.S.? I suppose that is possible, though I would like to hear your view of that civic religion fleshed out some more. Or are you suggesting that Mormons should not (cannot?) allow themselves to have full citizenship in any country, in the grand metaphorical sense, because our first allegiance is to Zion? In which case, would that mean that Romney is actually bad for Mormons? Wouldn’t this logically entail that the appropriate Mormon response to politics would be, for example, the Amish one?

  27. Aaron Shafovaloff on December 19, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    “…but the fact that my civic membership is in some sense contingent on first demonstrating the legitimacy of my Christology and ecclesiology to a bunch of Protestants and Catholics with a cartoonish understanding of my history and theology makes me a bit testy.”

    Generally speaking, one’s most fundamental religious beliefs affect one’s political worldview. Worldviews are more or less integrated. So it doesn’t seem far fetched that reasonable people would want to gauge how kooky / reasonable one’s religion is before putting them into office. The tricky thing is discerning just how integrated one’s worldview is. It’s awkward how atheistic liberals take more Christian positions than Christians sometimes.

    I don’t mind voting for someone with kooky beliefs. I just want Mormons to be up front about them. That’s the drum I’ll beat.

    Most of my Christians friends consider Mitt Romney a better convservative to vote for than the atlernative, professing liberal Methodists. That should be some sort of compliment. Things don’t look that bad for Romney.

    My problem is with the Mitch Davis approach, as described above. If Mitt is going to run and be elected, I’d at least like him (and the LDS Church) to answer the inevitable questions about the Mormon faith forthrightly. If traditional Christians are going to vote for Mitt, they should do so informed with an accurate understanding of Mormon practice and theology.

    PS: Speaking of “cartoonish understanding”, you might be interested in this: http://mittandmormonism.com/2006/11/29/the-south-park-episode-and-respect-for-mormons/

  28. Alison Moore Smith on December 19, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    “For Craig and Aaron and others that can’t understand why Mormons get touchy when Evangelicals feel called upon to make Mormon heresy from Nicene Christianity an electoral issue”

    THANK YOU, Nate.

    The whole religion issue has seemed odd to me since I was very young. Men with NO character were deemed “acceptable” because they occassionally walked out of a Sunday service at one of the chosen churches carrying a Bible. Still, today, a man of high morals, or true integrity, is questioned because he’s also carrying a Book of Mormon.

    Aaron, I’m baffled at what the “inevitable questions” are that we aren’t answering. In my experience Mormons clamor to answer whatever they are asked. We are often, however, accused of not answering when our answers don’t align with what non-LDS folks have decided is true. A neighbor, for example, once “accused” me of “making up your own Bible.” When I tried to explain the origins of the Book of Mormon, my answer was simply discarded based because, “That’s not true. My preacher told me.” While I can’t recall ever TELLING someone else what they believe, I’m told not only what I believe, but that what I claim to believe is a lie more times than I can count.

    I’m still trying to figure out how “the big lie” is ever going to work as a missionary tool. Since we’re also accused of proselyting our fool heads off, what do those who accuse us of the cover-up think our motive is? We lie to people FIRST so that we can get them baptized and THEN we tell them the truth since they are somehow trapped in Mormonism and have to keep paying tithing for the rest of their lives?

    FWIIW, your claim that we, collectively, shy away from the idea that we can become gods is so far from my 42-year experience in the LDS church that I don’t even know how to respond. “Um…well…no. Really, no. Not that…I…no…” I feel like asking in return, “Aaron, did you beat your wife three or four times today?”

  29. Mark B. on December 19, 2006 at 7:18 pm

    Craig V.

    I suppose that Nate put it best when he suggested that parts of this discussion make one a little testy. And, frankly, Aaron’s comments seem to be coming from a different quarter than yours. But I am sorry that the light tone I intended was not carried by the black and white of the blog.

    Nate,

    Actually, MadMagazine did at least raise the issue of Nixon’s religion in a piece on religion in America. Describing the Quakers, it said that “they were peace-loving, non-violent, anti-war folks who believed in dealing honestly with their neighbors. In the U.S. there are 135,122 of Quakers. Richard Nixon is a Quaker. Make that 135,121.” [Parts of that quote are manufactured. My memory from 36 years ago isn’t that good!]

    Actually, the reason nobody cared about Nixon’s religion is because it was pretty clear that he didn’t care about it either.

    Nobody really cared about Mo Udall’s either, for the same reason. (Although I do remember the mayor of Detroit (Coleman Young) raising an issue about blacks and the priesthood, and Mo denouncing that as a cheap shot, since he had turned his back on that practice and the rest of the church over a quarter-century before.

    People care about Romney’s religion because he appears to take it seriously.

  30. Craig V. on December 19, 2006 at 7:30 pm

    Nate, I have no difficulty understanding the “touchiness”. I would agree with the point you make with Nixon as an example. Much of what is surfaced in the news is based on ignorance at best and prejudice at worst.

    For myself, (I don’t represent all Evangelicals but I am representative of many) there are three issues I would raise with respect to a candidate’s religious affiliation. First of all, can the candidate think for himself or herself? Secondly, is the affiliation itself evidence of poor judgment? Thirdly, is the candidate able to represent those outside of his or her religion? Though I’m not totally free of irrational bias and prejudice, I do believe that I would apply these tests objectively. I would apply the same tests to an Evangelical candidate (and not all would pass). Of course, a candidate could pass these tests and still not receive my vote for purely political reasons.

    Mark B. thanks for the clarification.

  31. Nate Oman on December 19, 2006 at 7:32 pm

    There is a basic problem with Aaron’s claim that Mormons must be forthright with what they believe, namely his belief that he has a clear handle on what Mormons “really” believe and that the measure of Mormon forthrightness is its correspondence to the version of Mormonism presented by Evangelical pastors worried about sheep stealing.

    As it happens, I think that Mormons ought to be more open about any number of historical and theological issues. But I don’t think that this is because what Mormons “really” believe is radically different from what they profess to believe.

    RAF: I wonder if you are actually correct about this. For example, there were attempts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to amend the constitution so as to prohibit ministers from holding political office, and some states (Tennessee comes to mind, but I may be remembering incorrectly) passed laws that limited the involvement of clergy in politics. Hence, it is not as thought anxiety about priestly influence in politics is some new concern that has sprung up with the sexual revolution and Roe v. Wade. Furthermore, the range of political issues about which Mormon leaders are concerned has shrunk dramatically as compared to the late 19th century.

  32. Aaron Shafovaloff on December 19, 2006 at 8:11 pm

    The “version of Mormonism presented” by people like me, the version that I want the Mormon Church to publicly own up to, centers around Lorenzo Snow couplet theology and the role of personal worthiness in exaltation. Is that too much to ask for? Is this really an issue of evangelicals setting up our own caricature of Mormonism and then demanding that you admit to it? Is it really a malicious lie to say that Mormonism holds the Lorenzo Snow couplet as doctrinal (cf. Hoyt W. Brewster Jr., “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Feb. 1982, 38)? Or that God has a wife? Or that you must prove your personal worthiness to acheive Celestial exaltation?

    I dedicated a whole chapter in the movie “Mitt Romney and Mormonism” to “Ambiguity, Transition, and Diversity in Mormonism”. Partly out of respect, I wanted people to know they couldn’t stereotype Mormons as believing the three main teachings the video talked about (the return of Christ to Missouri and both halves of the Lorenzo Snow couplet). I have no use in setting up a strawman. I spend a lot of time clearing up misconceptions about the Mormon faith to outsiders. To caricature me as someone who wants Mormonism to own up to an unfair caricature is unwarranted.

    I’m reminded of a dinner conversation I had with a BYU student awhile back. Adam Daniels vehemently denied that it was doctrinal that God the Father has a wife. Was he aware of the teaching? Yes. Did he finally admit to it? Yes. Did he still accuse me of misrepesenting the Church by stating that Mormonism teaches that God the Father has a wife? Yes. Do you really think the accusation that Mormons often won’t be forthright about their beliefs just popped out of nowhere? Do I need to start recording discussions with the local missionaries and post them online for you?

    “[H]ow to address this [Lorenzo Snow Couplet theology] with nonmembers[?]. My advice: don’t. This is difficult doctrine. Remember, milk before meat.” (http://theboard.byu.edu/index.php?area=viewall&id=20391)

  33. Sarah on December 19, 2006 at 9:39 pm

    Aaron, how often do Catholics start with transubstantiation? One of my good friends teaches the Catholic equivalent of the new member discussions in her parish, and she spends most of her time on stuff like repentance, too. I’ve also come up short on 9th grade math teachers who spend a lot of time on chaos theory with the Algebra II students — even with the kids who really like math.

    Nate, you are my favorite blogger ever for putting “disestablishmentarianism” in a sentence so appropriately that it doesn’t even jump out at the reader right off. I’ll download extra copies of your SSRN publications just for that reason alone. Even the ones on contract law, which I really don’t understand, still. ^_^

  34. Ryan on December 19, 2006 at 9:45 pm

    Is that too much to ask for? Is this really an issue of evangelicals setting up our own caricature of Mormonism and then demanding that you admit to it?

    In my opinion, yes and yes. When I was a missionary and I was confronted by evangelicals, they typically came with some pre-loaded questions designed to ensnare.

    For example, our belief that God is the Father of all. After a few set-up questions the loaded question was thrown out nice and loud to any passers-by and toned to emphasize how blasphemous we were: “So you believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers?!?!”

    If the questions were ever asked fairly and in an effort to understand why we believe the way we do instead of in an accusatory, disregard-the-details-and-skew-the-wording-so-I-can -show-how-heretical-you-are way, our answers might flow more freely and we might *gasp* have an edifying conversation..

    So don’t knock the “milk before meat” analogy when so many evangelicals have proven quite clearly that the meat is too much to receive without becoming rude, defamatory and childish about doctrines we hold dear.

  35. Chris H. on December 19, 2006 at 9:51 pm

    Nate,

    As a Mormon Rawlsian (if there are others please let me know), I am quite fond of Rawls’ conception of political liberalism. The proviso is quite generous in the amount of religious rhetoric and sentiment allowed in public discourse. Its primary requirement is that we must be able to also make appeals on public grounds. So, we can cite the Word of Wisdom, as our reason for supporting smoking legislation but we also need to make appeals to public health. “God said so” does not count.

    Are Mormons reasonable in the their theo-politics. Most Mormons are not since they are mostly religious conservative sheep. However, I would contend the Mormon theology could fit with a Rawlsian overlapping consensus of comprehensive. Our doctrine does support constitutional liberty and economic equality. (I am working on this as a larger academic project, so I will not get into this too much here).

    It should be said that our opposition to the ERA (and our current support of an anti-gay marriage amendment) and the influence of Ezra Taft Benson have made this a challenging case to be made. Yet, I am not convinced that either of these influences are based in our theology, but rather the result of an unfortunate tendency towards blind acceptance of all things on the right.

  36. Geoff J on December 19, 2006 at 10:12 pm

    Aaron: Is it really a malicious lie to say that Mormonism holds the Lorenzo Snow couplet as doctrinal? Or that God has a wife? Or that you must prove your personal worthiness to acheive Celestial exaltation?

    It could be. Particularly if one knows (as I suspect you do by now) that none of those things you mentioned are actually “doctrinal” in the sense you are using the term; as in “indisputable and universally accepted in the church”. For instance there are lots of ways people in the church interpret the Snow couplet. I know some who accept it in the most literal sense (probably what you are hoping) and I know some who entirely reject the couplet as a misguided 19th century speculation and I know some who are between those poles. Yet they are all in full fellowship with the church (temple recommends and all). The same is true for the other concepts you mentioned. Therefore, what is there to ‘fess up to? That Mormons all a wide range of acceptable beliefs regarding mysteries of the universe? That isn’t very exciting — certainly not the stuff one says when one wants to create inflammatory movies or Web sites that attack Mormonism…

    So I am curious about how much effort you put into your “Ambiguity, Transition, and Diversity in Mormonism” chapter. I have trouble believing it is particularly fair when you still “want the Mormon Church to publicly own up to” all sorts of unsettled doctrinal issues.

  37. Friend on December 19, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    Re #24: I was brought up in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and therefore feel compelled to jump out of lurkerdom to point out that the first Quaker U.S. President was Herbert Hoover.

    Richard Nixon was also Quaker, though I was always taught as a kid that he was a \”different\” kind of Quaker than we were (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting), and that the West Coast meetings were more like traditional Protestant services with ministers and communion and things like that, very different. I don\’t know if this is true or whether my co-religionists just wanted it to be true since so much of what Nixon stood for was anathema to most Quakers.

    Anyway, I don\’t think it\’s a very strong analogy in any case, because Quakers have no hierarchy — that is, each person is equally close to God. Worship consists of silent meeting in which everyone sits together, and individuals can stand and speak if the spirit prompts them to. There is no leader or corporation to be beholden to. Though I suppose the pacificism could be a potential problem for a candidate. I don\’t know if that was an issue for Hoover or not.

  38. Jeremiah J. on December 19, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    “Are Mormons reasonable in the their theo-politics. Most Mormons are not since they are mostly religious conservative sheep.”
    I think that you are either misreading Rawls or misreading Mormon politics.

    American Mormons are definitely conservative, especially in national elections (the policy liberalism of the state of Utah is actually not as high as many think). But the reasons they generally give for this are not explicitly theological. At least they are not as explicitly theological as many stripes of Evangelical Protestantism or left or right Catholicism in America. Listen to the statements of the Utah congressional delegation–they don’t sound like Mormon political theologizing but rather like a tape delay of typical conservative Republican rhetoric.

    Perhaps American Mormons are unreflectively conservative, but they don’t publicly offer up Mormon doctrinal reasons for this. In fact I think that’s the last thing we tend to do. I don’t think that giving each other Benson quotes qualifies because these are things we tell each other, not the general public. This doesn’t violate Rawlsian reasonableness since Rawls’ standard of reasonableness is concerned with *public* practices of reason-giving rather than or private justifications or thought-processes. This is an important point about Rawls. If Mormons are giving the same kinds of reasons for their preferences as other American conservatives are (indeed I think they are, perhaps slavishly so as you say), then they are no less publicly reasonable (in the Rawlsian sense) than most other American conservatives (which is to say, pretty reasonable since national conservatism does not rely, for the most part, on theological arguments).

  39. Chris H. on December 20, 2006 at 12:37 am

    I may be misreading Mormon politics. Rawls is much clearer to me (he is the greatest political philopher ever).

    I think that we are actually in some agreement. Mormon conservatism is reasonable. Elder Oaks clearly is a good example. The average Mormon lacks that reasonableness since many of them have no other explanation for their politics than supposed religious reasons. However, Rawls is not concerned with whether individual people are reasonable (most liberals I know fail to meet such a standard) but whether comprehensive doctrines are reasonable. Mormonism is a reasonable comprehensive by Rawls’ standard.

    “Perhaps American Mormons are unreflectively conservative, but they don’t publicly offer up Mormon doctrinal reasons for this. In fact I think that’s the last thing we tend to do.”
    You must be hanging out with different Mormons that I do. I should move.

  40. anon on December 20, 2006 at 1:41 am

    Why doesn’t Harry Reid’s faith raise red flags for everyone? Here he is in charge of the Senate and Mormon, and Mitt’s getting all the press. Seems like Reid’s already proved that religion is not necessarily a relevant issue in governmental leadership.

  41. Jeremiah J. on December 20, 2006 at 1:44 am

    “You must be hanging out with different Mormons than I do.”

    I guess I can think of some examples in my own experience of what you are talking about. But it seems that your idea that Mormon conservatism is pretty typical American right (a claim I could agree with) is in tension with the idea that we have some uniquely Mormon doctrinal reasons (valid or not) for our conservative views. Of course it’s possible that we have unique doctrinal reasons for strongly supporting the very same hodge-podge of ideas promoted by current national conservatism. But one would normally expect that if we have this strong theological foundation for political conservatism then our overall views would have their own idiosyncracies like all the other theologically-informed types of American conservatism. My sense is that Mormon conservatism follows popular American conservatism pretty closely (i.e. not the elite conservative discourse that says “Bush isn’t a conservative”), and while we may come up with ad hoc doctrinal reasons for this adherence, the theological resources from whch these reasons come are never taken seriously enough for us to stake out a Mormon alternative to the popular American version we follow so closely. That’s why I think Mormon conservatism isn’t very theological. Not necessarily less rational or more dogmatic, just less theological.

    “Rawls…is the greatest political philosopher ever”

    I’ll give you top five American political thinkers ever, as well as one of the most important Anglo-American intellectual figures of the past 50 years. A pretty decent human being as well by most accounts.

    On a different note, out of curiousity: where did you learn your Rawls?

  42. RayB on December 20, 2006 at 10:38 am

    I share the feeling expressed by one poster above: I hope Romney self-destructs so we can return to political obscurity. As it is, watching him suck up to the religious right is making me ill. Maybe a winter of skiing will help me get over it.

  43. Jettboy on December 20, 2006 at 10:56 am

    “Why doesn’t Harry Reid’s faith raise red flags for everyone? Here he is in charge of the Senate and Mormon, and Mitt’s getting all the press. Seems like Reid’s already proved that religion is not necessarily a relevant issue in governmental leadership.”

    It is because they are liberal hypocrites. However, the reasons I have been given that at least try to have a more reasoned response has to do with the Republicans vs. the Democrats perception of religion. I will put it in my own biased words. Democrats are the godless party, and so religion doesn’t matter unless it goes against liberal beliefs. Like many Catholic Democrats, Reid acts and talks like all the other liberals of the party and even goes against his religion- making the whole question moot. Republicans are the god fearing party, so the news media are trying desparately to goad the Evangilical Christian group to create in-fighting. What is not getting reported (and I think it is too big a story to ignore) is the liberal reactions to a Mormon presidential candidate. After all, the percentages reported that wouldn’t vote for a Mormon no matter what include this group. What is interesting is that the Religious Right wouldn’t vote for a Mormon because they aren’t enough like them and the Liberals wouldn’t vote for a Mormon because they are too much like the Religious Right. I guess this might be where the Catholics once were.

  44. bbell on December 20, 2006 at 11:45 am

    I wanted to pipe in on the Chris H and Jeremiah J conversation on what makes Mormons so conservative on average.

    To me it seems partially theological but just as important is the demographic characteristics of the average TR holding family.

    Look at some of them briefly:

    large families: there is a link between birthrates and voting conservative
    Marriage: there is a link between marriage rates, age of marriage, and voting conservative
    Race
    homeownership
    church attendance

    Essentially the LDS vote like white evangelicals

    Jettboy, I think your last couple of sentences make a great deal of sense. Mormons sit in a weird place in contemporary American Politics. Disliked by many liberals over political issues like SSM, Abortion, large families, and simple anti-religious bias. Similarily disliked by a large portion of conservatives over narrow theological grounds. I think the reason that the conservative opposition to Romney is being played up right now is because his first test is in conservative driven primaries.

  45. Chris H. on December 20, 2006 at 11:45 am

    Jeremiah J.,

    I learned Rawls at the Univ. of Utah under Chandran Kukathas (he wrote a book on Rawls), Mark Button, Brenda Lyshaug and Farid Abdel-Nour in the political science department. I also studied Rawls under Cindy Stark (a diehard Rawlsian) and Leslie Francis in the Philosophy Department at the U.

    I earned my BA and MA in political science there, though I am not sure if they would claim me. I am working on a doctorate at Idaho State in poli-sci, though I will likely work on a doctorate in philosophy somewhere else in the future.

    And you?

  46. annegb on December 20, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    I read a novel last night about the plague and end of the world and cloning, etc., (long story). I was impressed because as people were discussing how to handle a communication problem the author had the protagonist state that there were Mormons in the facility who had considerable foreign language abilities. It was published in 2002. I think that is one area where we get lots of acceptance and respect. As Americans.

  47. Lamonte on December 20, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    Jettboy writes “I will put it in my own biased words”! Do ya think? Let me follow suit by setting up my own straw man. The real reason Mormons who consider themselves conservative dislike (hate) Democrats is because they support abortion rights. And bbell mentions SSM (a distant second place). But please answer these questions honestly. Do you think it is only Democrats who are getting abortions? Do you think only Democrats support abortion rights? If so then why were the stars of the most recent Republican National Convention two pro-choice stalwarts (Guiliani and Schwarzenegger)?

    If you call human rights, civil rights, caring for the less fortunate, living wages, due process, affordable and available education, higher taxes for those who can most afford them and so many other “Democratic” issues, a Godless philosophy them I’m not sure we believe in the same God. I could mention peace through diplomacy, checks and balances and universal health care as Democratic issues but I wouldn’t want to make a biased assumption about my conservative brothers and sisters.

  48. Lamonte on December 20, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    One final comment related to my post. Contrary to popular conservative belief, it is possible to be a Democrat and NOT support abortion rights.

  49. Chris H. on December 20, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    It is also possible to be a good person and a good Mormon and support abortion rights.

  50. Oliver on December 20, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    annegb, it depends. Some people do respect the foreign language abilities of RMs, but I’ve also heard people complain about “Mormons who go on their little missions and then turn their foreign language ability into careers in the Academy, etc.” One professor that I TA’d for, who obviously didn’t know I was a member and learned Spanish on my mish, said pretty much that sentence. He was referring to a professor who learned Portuguese on his mission and is a Linguistics professor. Some people find the connection between our language abilities and proselytizing an unhappy marriage, they admire it but at the same time loathe the idea of converting people to “Mormonism” at the same time.

    I’ve also noticed that some RMs have learned the language but failed to understand the culture and come home complaining about this or that “unholy” aspect of wherever they served. I also believe that missionaries should be more encouraged to teach their native companions English. My mission president had a “Spanish only” rule in our mission, which was great for my Spanish, but my Mexican companions would have been greatly served by learning English (maybe more than I have by learning Spanish).

  51. Mark B. on December 20, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    Lamonte

    Thanks for you comment. After Jettboy’s, something was needed to start the wind blowing a different direction.

    And, it’s good to see the passion rising to the surface! It does a fellow’s heart good to get the old Irish up. (Or is it Welsh?)

  52. Adam Greenwood on December 20, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    “I’ve also noticed that some RMs have learned the language but failed to understand the culture and come home complaining about this or that “unholy” aspect of wherever they served.”

    RMs who learned the culture very well should also come home complaining about this or that unholy aspect of wherever they served, given this whole Fall thing.

  53. Jeremiah J. on December 20, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    Chris H.:
    I’m not a Rawls expert, but I did graduate work in political theory at the University of Notre Dame (still finishing this year). They have Paul Weithman, a former Rawls student, Rawls admirer, and Rawls critic in philosophy, and Michael Zuckert, a former young critic who has softened up a bit on Rawls in recent years, in political science. I’ve studied more with the latter.

    bbell: “To me it seems partially theological but just as important is the demographic characteristics of the average TR holding family.”

    I tend to agree with this, and good political scientists who have looked at this issue (LDS political scientists like David Campbell and Quinn Monson) I think would agree with you (the part emphasizing demographics). Then again, ideational explanations in social science are not very well received in general, and I think for good reason.

    As I noted above, the fact that we vote so typically in a white-married evangelical pattern seems to run counter to the idea that our voting patterns are determined by theology. But then there’s the separate question of what justifications we give for our practices (however they seem to be caused on the macro-level). We could give doctrinal reasons for our typically conservative behavior and views, but my sense is that we don’t do that any more than other religious groups in America do, indeed I think less so. Right now, the political question about Mormons, oddly enough, has to do with *neither* of these issues. It is not how we vote, nor is it the reasons we give for how we vote, that seems to bother people. It is our odd, private, largely non-political practices (I don’t see hardly anyone raising the question about Romney taking orders from Salt Lake–the guy has quite an easy time changing his mind about things, and not for ecclesiastical reasons) that people are talking about. In short, our strangeness. But that’s a very thin barrier to social and political acceptance, which is why–despite all lingering prejudice among voters casting secret ballots–I don’t expect any real public debate about whether Mormons can be good Americans. The foregone conclusion will be yes.

  54. Jeremiah J. on December 20, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    Adam: “RMs who learned the culture very well should also come home complaining about this or that unholy aspect of wherever they served, given this whole Fall thing.”

    But I think you know what Oliver’s talking about. E.g. “the way Spaniards or Brazilians do things shows that they are a wicked people, specifically in comparison the people where I grew up.” Since I know you I’m suspecting that you didn’t come off your mission disgusted and tired of the wickedness of the people of Spain but rather very grateful for all the wonderful, Christlike people you met. But not all missionaries are like that.

  55. Adam Greenwood on December 20, 2006 at 5:06 pm

    If I were a better man, Jeremiah J., you would be right. But since the Gods of the Copybook Headings have decreed that “the grass is always greener on the other side” and “better the devil you know” it follows that I and many other missionaries tended to underestimate the wickedness of the folks back home, since we aren’t seeing them up close, and were particularly put off by sins that we hadn’t grown up with. That’s just human nature, which is why I’m always a little surprised by people who call on missionaries to be tolerant and sympathetic but aren’t willing to extend the missionaries that same tolerance and sympathy. But that’s probably human nature too.

  56. bbell on December 20, 2006 at 5:18 pm

    Jeremiah J.

    I do think its the private religious practices/beliefs that are so bothersome to some on the right. That is because the right tends to be much more openly religious then the left(The primary voters for Romney) Sullivan for example is focusing on Garments. You can have similar critics of any number of uniquely LDS ideas on the right. The right though agrees with us on the hot button social issues.

    I think the left in a general election will be more opposed to Romney’s (current) ideas on SSM (lDS based Abortion (partially LDS based), and may even drift into the whole prophetic council on SAHM (LDS based) as a point of concern/contention.

    It was Teddy K. in Mass in 1994 who dragged up Mormon beliefs on Gays, old racial beliefs, and traditional roles for women as a negative in a race in liberal Mass. The left seems more bothered by these types of things then they do about Adam God theory or the Snow Couplet.

  57. William Morris on December 20, 2006 at 5:35 pm

    And it continues…

    Slate’s Jacob Weisberg endorses the Fawn Brodie JS biography.

    Choice quote: “But Mormonism is different because it is based on such a transparent and recent fraud.”

  58. jay S on December 20, 2006 at 5:56 pm

    That slate article was interesting. Essentially religion is a fraud, and any true believer should never have any authority.

  59. Russell Arben Fox on December 20, 2006 at 6:51 pm

    Regarding that atrocious Slate article that William Morrise just linked to–all I can say is that, there are stupid and mean ways to ask questions about Mormonism and its place in American politics, and there are at least moderately respectful ways to do so. I think the coming days and months will give us plenty of examples of the former; all we can hope for–given that Romney seems determined to make a run for the presidency–is that we’ll get a few examples of the latter as well.

  60. Jeremiah J. on December 20, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    bbell: “I think the left in a general election will be more opposed to Romney’s (current) ideas on SSM (lDS based Abortion (partially LDS based), and may even drift into the whole prophetic council on SAHM (LDS based) as a point of concern/contention.”

    I’m not sure what these initials stand for but I think I get your drift. I’m also not sure what the left will try to do, though I think they’ll be more careful in a general election that Teddy Kennedy was in a Massachusetts Senate race. But perhaps they will find a way to go after Romney on religion. Hillary for one has a few real goons on her team who might want to try it.

    On the whole in America it seems that you see a little bit of the opposite of what Durkheim predicted. Durkheim says that religious pluralism will lead to secularization because the religions would bash each other to death. I think in politics in America at least, the opposite happens–people are so worried about the weird beliefs of their own church being brought up that they don’t want to go directly down the road that Weisberg is going down. Can you imagine any candidate for any major office in the U.S. saying “Yes, my religion may be strange and even fraudulent too, but its a lot *older*”? People who really want to be known as believers of one kind or another are not going to want bluntly to make the argument that Mormon beliefs are just too nutty. People may still cast anti-Mormon votes in the voting booth, but an anti-Mormon attack argument will have only a few select notes to play, and it will have to play them carefully.

  61. William Morris on December 20, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    What’s interesting is that although I don’t agree with much of what Jacob Weisberg writes. I had thought him to be a decent writer and analyst and a voice worth seeking out — and fair in his partisan way.

    I guess the thing that surprises me about it and other treatments of Mormonism on Slate (including the comments — which are generally filled with flaming, but still…) is that I genuinely thought that we had made a few more inroads among secular humanists and liberals and techies and creative types. I know a heck of a lot of Mormon professionals who are Slate readers and would (and do) get along well with that segment of American society.

    I guess I’m not as much of a MormoAmerican as I thought I was.

  62. SJL on December 20, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    What is outrageous about the Slate article? Its view of Mormonism or religion in general?

    Just so I understand those of you who get cranky when Romney’s Mormonism comes up, do you 1. believe a candidate’s religion shouldn’t be a factor in an election, or 2. believe religion is a legitamate issue, but Mormonism passes the test of reasonableness?

    I didn’t think the article was that outrageous, given the secular worldview of its author. I think I might have a similar opinion if I were a secular humanist. Its most unreasonable claim was that Mormonism’s miracles aresomehow more fradulant because they are more recent. You either believe in miracles or you don’t. The passage of time has nothing to do with it.

  63. jay S on December 20, 2006 at 8:06 pm

    “its most unreasonable claim was that Mormonism’s miracles aresomehow more fradulant because they are more recent. ”

    Thus why it is so outrageous. For many Members of the LDS Faith, Joseph Smith and Subsequent prophets contemporary nature makes them more believable. also The article implies that TRUE belief in religion makes one incapable of rational thought, and that older religions get a pass.

    As for your first two questions SJL, I believe that a person’s religion shouldn’t be a factor in elections, and 2, mormonism passes the test of reasonableness in every category where it matters.

  64. Jeremiah J. on December 20, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    “Its most unreasonable claim was that Mormonism’s miracles are somehow more fradulant because they are more recent.”

    He actually didn’t say that; he said that other religions could have a basis that is just as fraudulent, but that over time this con turned into something more universal and symbolic–more than merely a con.

    I don’t have a problem with people talking about religious beliefs and making some attempt to evaluate them. I’m not one to go with “for the believer no explanation is necessary, to the non-believer none is sufficient”. The fact these views and practices are based on faith makes them harder to evaluate but not immune from criticism.

    The problem I have with Weisberg’s argument is that its standard of evaluation doesn’t seem to be very good. He posits that orthodox Christianity, Judaism or Islam *must* be more moderate, flexible and symbolic because they are older (surprise! Judaism comes out best). But one doesn’t have to simply speculate, one can look around at the world and see whether Mormonism leads its adherents into obscurantism and fanaticism more than other religions do. If you look even at the early history of Mormonism you see Mormons doing a lot of reasonable, productive, high-minded things that fanatics and obscurantists tend not to do.

    Perhaps Weisberg would be puzzled that Mormons are no less reasonable in most parts of their lives than other religious people are, since after all our actual religious *beliefs themselves* are so patently fraudulent. But that’s just because he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he makes claims about how believable our beliefs are. He highly recommends Fawn Brodie but I somehow doubt he’s read much else on the subject.

    If people want to talk about Romney’s private relgious views, then we should be able to ask whether these views make him a worse political leader. I doubt that anyone can point to something bad in Romney’s public life and show how it resulted from his gullibity or his belief in the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. Saying that Mormonism, simply because it is a con, *must* result in bad political leadership, despite all evidence to the contrary and plenty of examples of perfectly good Mormon political leaders–I’d probably say that really does come pretty close to religious bigotry.

    So I have no problem with religion being an issue in an election, but it doesn’t matter all that much how reasonable one thinks Mormonism is. What matters is whether it actually results in adherents being bad political leaders. That seems to be an empirical historical question not a theological one.

  65. UnicornMom on December 20, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    I always find it interesting that people accuse Mormons of being sheep as if we have a corner on the livestock business. The only phrase I heard more often than \”Kein Interesse\” (No Interest) at the doors I knocked on was \”Ich bin Katholisch\” (I am Catholic) as if being Catholic meant that by definition you weren\’t open to other ideas.

    In my experience, most people are sheep. It just differs by which shepherd a person picks, whether it is Joseph Smith, the Pope, the Media, Science, Liberals, Conservatism or simply the Antiestablishment.

  66. Aaron on December 20, 2006 at 11:42 pm

    Particularly if one knows (as I suspect you do by now) that none of those things you mentioned are actually “doctrinal” in the sense you are using the term; as in “indisputable and universally accepted in the church”.

    Geoff, how am I using that term that way? You are most certainly putting words in my mouth!

    Take a look at a section I am developing:

    http://mormonwiki.org/Beliefs#Approaches_to_the_issue_of_.22doctrine.22

  67. SJL on December 21, 2006 at 12:36 am

    “He actually didn’t say that; he said that other religions could have a basis that is just as fraudulent, but that over time this con turned into something more universal and symbolic–more than merely a con.”

    Yeah, that’s what I meant. I just think it’s a weak argument. The miraculous events in the bible are just as real and immediate to many Christians and Jews (and not just the fanatics and fundies) as the angel Moroni is to LDS.

    I think religion should be an issue to the extent it informs the candidate’s worldview. I think the reporter’s question “You’re religion teaches X, is that what you believe?” is a legitimate question to the extent it relates to discovering the wisdom and reasonableness of the candidate. I would not vote for a faithful Jehovah’s Witness, for example, because that religion has much to say about politics and war that I do not agree with. I would not vote for a Muslim candidate unless I was assured that he was a liberal or moderate in that faith.

    At any rate, I think the next several years will be interesting for the Church if Romney becomes a serious contender. I wonder if, as the Church comes more under scrutiny, we will see something akin to an official doctrinal declaration from Salt Lake that distances the Church from the more esoteric/folk doctrines.

  68. Geoff J on December 21, 2006 at 12:40 am

    Aaron,

    I’m familiar with your wiki. (Lovely picture of the Mormon zombie by the way). As I said, I think you understand that there are very few settled doctrines in the church that someone who is antagonistic toward the church can use as a club to beat us Mormons with. No doubt that is terribly frustrating to those who wish to bash the church. But based on what you know about the many, many acceptable schools of theological thought in Mormonism I think it is nothing short of disingenuous of you to claim you “want the Mormon Church to publicly own up to” basically all of the schools of thought that have cropped up among Mormons in the past 170+ years. Mormonism has some core Christian beliefs and practices that are binding on all members; those are the only things the leaders of the worldwide church ought to discuss and those are the only things the top leaders do discuss. The types of speculative issues you are hoping to harp on get tossed around informally among members but we members take responsibility for our own speculations (just like the lay members of any church do).

    So what is it you want Preesident Hinckley and others to own up to? He and his associates only have to own up to the doctrines that are clearly taught in our scriptures and that they feel inspired to emphasize today. The types of things you hope to harp on (the Snow couplet, MiH, etc.) fall under the theological “mysteries” category and will probably remain there until the Second Coming.

  69. DavidH on December 21, 2006 at 1:04 am

    Oliver,

    Sidenote re helping native companions outside the US learn English. Indeed, the chapter in Preach My Gospel with respect to learning the language does exactly that, and encourages companionships of an English speaking missionary with a native language missionary to set aside times for the missionaries to practice both languages: e.g., English in the apartment, non-English native language when proselyting outside.

  70. Aaron on December 21, 2006 at 2:45 am

    “I think you understand that there are very few settled doctrines in the church that someone who is antagonistic toward the church can use as a club to beat us Mormons with.”

    What is this supposed to mean? That Mormonism can’t be called to account for traditionally teaching and largely still believing in things like the Lorenzo Snow couplet, all because it doesn’t fit some crazy definition of Mormon “doctrine”? I’ll carry on with the public exposure and public criticism over this historic teaching until there is a public repudiation of it. And besides, much of it is still expressed in Gospel Principles. Hardly “speculation”.

    That you think whether there is a MiH falls under the category of speculation and mystery is nonsense to me. Who else does “heavenly parents” in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” refer to? I think it’s very clear Mormons naturally and plainly understand this to refer to parents of both sexes.

    Wow, it must be nice to be able to privately believe something so basic to your historic faith yet be able to offer denial to an outsider before it doesn’t your conception of “doctrine”. Sounds pretty slippery to me.

  71. Aaron on December 21, 2006 at 2:49 am

    “[T]his doctrine is accepted and taught by the Brethren… It is clear that the teaching of President Lorenzo Snow is both acceptable and accepted doctrine in the Church today.” -Hoyt W. Brewster Jr., “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Feb. 1982, 38

    Geoff, is stuff like this just hogwash to you? Why do you think such a person as Brewster would make a statement like this? And that the Church would let such a significant statement get published in the Ensign magazine?

  72. Aaron on December 21, 2006 at 2:53 am

    “outsider before it” –> “outsider because it”

    Time to hit the pillow…

  73. Geoff J on December 21, 2006 at 3:57 am

    Aaron,

    You are missing my point. There are clearly ideas of about the mysteries of the universe that are acceptable and even popular in Mormonism that most creedal Christians would have a cow over (including the Snow couplet and the Mother in Heaven notion). My point is that while these ideas have enjoyed varying levels of acceptance among church members over the years the Lord has never revealed very many details about any of them to the church so we remain in the dark about these subjects still. These concepts remain classified among “the mysteries of God” with us. Creedal Christianity has more than its share of mysteries as well so you should be familiar with the idea. So Mormons have core beliefs that one cannot reject and remain in good standing in the church (like a testimony of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; a testimony of the restoration, etc.) and there are core practices one must adhere to as well. But one can accept or reject the various theological ideas floating around we classify as “the mysteries of God” (no matter how popular the various ideas happen to be) and face absolutely no difficulties in remaining in full fellowship in the church. For instance I know devout Mormons who reject the popular versions of the Mother in Heaven idea; others who reject the fundamental ideas usually gleaned from the Snow couplet; and others who reject any number of other ideas you want to harp on. But these same people hold temple recommends and are devout and faithful Mormons with local leadership callings. So my point is that you are harping on issues that are not core to Mormonism. You are free to harp away (though it seems like a pretty lame hobby to me), but it is not fair to insist that “Mormonism” (whatever you mean by that) must account for theological notions that are so far from being core to the church that people in the church who flat out reject them face no difficulties for doing so.

    Now for the record, I happen to be a huge fan of the Snow couplet. I think some of the theological speculations that float around the church might very well prove to be true. But until we know for sure they remain mysteries. So no, the church does not have to account for its non-core teachings to you or anyone else. No more than creedal Christians have to explain how God could magically create a universe out of nothing. Every religion has parts it classifies as mysteries.

  74. Aaron Brown on December 21, 2006 at 4:08 am

    If I took a poll of most lifelong Mormons I have known (and I am one, so I’ve known quite a few), they would find Aaron’s views on the settled nature of the Lorenzo Snow couplet or MiH in Mormon theology to be more accurate than Geoff J’s “various schools of thought” observations. Now, it happens that I technically agree with Geoff in a lot of ways, and I think that his understanding is where the Church is heading. But most LDS members I know AREN’T THERE YET in terms of how they understand the authoritativeness of various historical LDS teachings. Thus, I am never able to muster up the irritation with folks like Aaron that so many others do.

    I’ve said this a lot, in a variety of different places, and it frequently pisses off many who otherwise agree with me on a host of issues. I don’t care.

    Aaron B

  75. mormon fool on December 21, 2006 at 4:55 am

    Aaron S.,

    The quote in question was written by Gerald Lund not Brewster. I hope it isn’t to much to ask of Mormon critics to get citations right before analyzing their meaning and importance to the Mormon community?

  76. UnicornMom on December 21, 2006 at 7:42 am

    This is a bit of a thread hijack, but I’m going to comment anyways.

    As far as the Lorenzo Snow couplet goes, I think it simplifies the basic idea of “As God once was . . . ” but it is still a valid doctrine. What is so wild about believing that, much as our children will someday become like us, God’s children may someday become like him? Or, that we were once children ourselves?

    It reminds me of an intense discussion I once had with a JW. They believed that “sons of God” was a specific term relating to a particular type of angelic beings, and that “sons of God” could not be interpreted to mean humans. They, however, had no problem calling humans “children of God.” The difference still confuses me.

  77. Adam Greenwood on December 21, 2006 at 9:08 am

    Aaron,

    I hate you (Brown, that is.).

  78. Nate Oman on December 21, 2006 at 12:02 pm

    Adam, I think that you speak for most of us on this issue ;->

  79. Craig V. on December 21, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    I suspect we may be taking our political process too seriously. It seems to me that most US presidents have been relatively tall (and those who were not made efforts to hide that fact). Given that it is fairly obvious that a person’s height has little to do with leadership abilities (OK, I admit it; I’m short) it is difficult for me to give credit to much that emerges in a campaign.

    At the risk of getting pulled in to a discussion I’d rather stay out of (because I know very little about it) it seems to me that what a church tolerates has implications for official doctrine even if many tolerated views are not official doctrine. For example, (and an extreme one) if I were to state that my church tolerates views that deny the holocaust that would certainly reflect poorly on my church, especially if many church members held this view. As an Evangelical, it seems to me that tolerating some of the views mentioned above implies a low view of God. I’m willing to be corrected on this, but it is where I think the discussion should begin.

  80. Aaron Shafovaloff on December 21, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    Geoff, I’ll take what you said more seriously once fringe, Olsterian-type views actually have some sway in the larger Mormon community, and find some form of expression in Church-published literature. That such fringe views are tolerated while the masses believe differently and Church-published literature gives traditional doctrine continued life doesn’t help your case. It only makes things look worse, i.e. that Mormons generally are indifferent to the issue of the eternal nature of God altogether. Which seems altogether contrary to Smith’s attitude in the KFD:

    “It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another, and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did.” – Joseph Smith

  81. Aaron Shafovaloff on December 21, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    mormon fool, thanks for the citation correction.

  82. Mark B. on December 21, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    Of course, Aaron S., Mormons might (but again, might not) pay the least attention to people like you if you did not show yourself willing to make a mockery of that which Mormons believe to be most sacred.

    I don’t have any problem with your not believing what I do. Believe whatever you want. Believe that the things I hold sacred are straight from the pit of hell, or that I am a deluded sap. But mock what I believe to be sacred, and I won’t listen to anything else you have to say.

  83. bbell on December 21, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    Aaron S.

    I will take ownership of the quotes from JS and the doctrine. I like it and believe it. I have taught it in Seminary, YM, Elders Quorum and on my mission.

    I think your motives here are suspect.

  84. mfranti on December 21, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    Aaron S.

    all these years of being fooled– but not any more!

    thanks to you for clearing that up for me.

  85. Aaron Shafovaloff on December 21, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    Oops. I should have quoted “mormon fool”. That was someone’s alias, not an insult by me!

    If honest criticism of Lorenzo Snow couplet is petty “mockery” to you, then that’s your problem. Some are some offenses I am willing to give that find Biblical precedent.

  86. Aaron Shafovaloff on December 21, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    Ack, I wish I could rewrite those two sentences:

    If honest criticism of the Lorenzo Snow couplet is petty “mockery” to you, then that’s your problem. There are some offenses I am willing to give that find Biblical precedent.

  87. mfranti on December 21, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    on a serious note.

    alison # 28, your comment is great:

    “I’m told not only what I believe, but that what I claim to believe is a lie more times than I can count”

    so for you aaron, how come you feel it appropriate to tell people about, clear up, make known, ect –what we believe?

  88. Mark B. on December 21, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    Aaron S.

    I was referring to the video you linked to (which link was deleted by admin). Your criticism of the statement of a prophet of God I’ll leave to a higher Judge.

  89. manaen on December 21, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    I’d like Aaron’s B. and S. to share their personal experiences with this verse. :->

  90. Geoff J on December 21, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    Craig V.: it seems to me that tolerating some of the views mentioned above implies a low view of God. I’m willing to be corrected on this, but it is where I think the discussion should begin.

    Since no one else responded I figured I’d do it…

    The standard response to this criticism of the Snow couplet and associated ideas is that it does not reflect a low view of God but rather it reflects a high view of the potential of humankind. Mormons tend to take the terms “Father in Heaven” and “children of God” far more literally than creedal Christians do. (Sometimes the counter complaint is that creedal Christianity views us more like God’s pets than his actual children.)

  91. DavidH on December 21, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    My father, who is a patriarch and sealer, does not believe that God the Father was once a man like us–and he is open about it. The patriarch in our stake, recently deceased, and who was a missionary companion with Bruce R. McConkie, does not believe it either–and he was open and vocal about it.

    I know a number of people–people among the majority of multiple-generation Mormons who do believe that God the Father had a father etc….–who were surprised and disappointed when President Hinckley backed away from the first part of the couplet (and King Follett discourse).

    I think a significant number of converts in the Church do not believe the first part of the couplet, and may not even know about it, because as President Hinckley correctly observed, we really don’t teach it (or certainly emphasize it) as part of the correlated teachings of the Church. I don’t recall a conference address touching on the subject in my lifetime–but I am sure I will stand corrected when someone finds a paragraph here or there that mentions it.

    I do not pretend to understand, or even have a glimmer of belief, how God became God, or if He was always God. I am agnostic on the issue. I recall having been taught–unofficially–at BYU that the King Follett discourse represented the official doctrine of the Church, and implicitly that my father, and others like him, were heretics for not believing the first part of the Snow couplet. I am glad the Church, and President Hinckley, have made it clear that there is plenty of room in the Church to have different beliefs about the matter.

  92. melanie on December 21, 2006 at 6:59 pm

    us humans have a difficult time just being nice to each other. we barely have charity in our hearts for those outside of our family/friend relations. we don’t concern ourselves with with understanding the position of those who are different than us with love and compassion.

    something to think about:

    35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
    36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
    37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
    38 This is the first and great commandment.
    39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
    40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

    if we can’t keep this commandment, if we don’t fully practice this little piece of doctrine that came straight from the Savior’s mouth, how on earth are we ever going to understand how more complex things work like where God came from and whether or not he was a man and all of the other crap people get hung up on.

  93. Craig V. on December 21, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    So that we don’t totally abandon Nate’s original post, I should point out that though I believe a discussion about the nature of God is incredibly important, I do not see it as being all that relevant to the qualifications for being a US president.

    Geoff J,

    It is true, I believe, that the Scriptures have a shockingly high view of humankind. Yet, it seems to me that a distinction between humankind and God is always maintained. An openness to the view that God was once a man seems to me to put that distinction at risk. Is there also an openness to the view that we were not created (or that God was created)? Is there an openness to the view that God sinned? What do we mean when we say “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Evangelicals usually take this to mean that we have an absolute dependence on God for our life and existence)? To represent God as being less than He has revealed Himself to be is, for us, idolatry. That is why we respond so passionately (though it does not excuse rudeness or disrespect).

    DavidH,

    Does your father’s rejection of this view indicate an understanding that the view seems to entail a low view of God?

  94. C Jones on December 21, 2006 at 7:41 pm

    Craig V.: Does your father’s rejection of this view indicate an understanding that the view seems to entail a low view of God?

    This is a fair question, but the answer is much more complex than the question leaves room for. I don’t crave either the certainty of a rationalist world view, or the narrowness implied by this (is it an evangelical?) question. I love restorationist theology as taught by Joseph Smith for its opening of possibilities. Among other reasons.

  95. Craig V. on December 21, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    C Jones,

    You’re right, I made my question too restrictive. What I was trying to ask, however poorly, is what reasons are usually given when this view is rejected in an LDS context? I was looking for some common ground but made a bad assumption along the way.

  96. Aaron Shafovaloff on December 21, 2006 at 8:31 pm

    “I’m not persuaded that the Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient history.” – Van Hale September 18, 2005

    The Church “tolerates” Van Hale, who is, as far as I know, an active member who doesn’t believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

    Am I now to assume that it isn’t “doctrine” that the Book of Mormon is historical? Is this part of the “core” indispensible beliefs or not? Is it something that can potentially be discarded?

    If diversity within active members over a belief and institutional tolerance of it is sure evidence of it not being doctrinal, and not being something outsiders can call the Church to “own up to”, then wow… doctrinally speaking, Mormonism certainly has very little to offer the world, at least very little that they can say of, “we believe this, and you can with accuracy publicize that Mormonism teaches it”.

    If this is so, then your Church is doing a dismally awful job of communicating to members that what they’re reading in Church-published books like Gospel Principles isn’t necessarily doctrine. There are scores of Mormons who, if challenged with the supposition, “it’s completely possible within Mormon doctrine that there is no Mother in heaven”, would resolutely disagree.

  97. DavidH on December 21, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    “Does your father’s rejection of this view indicate an understanding that the view seems to entail a low view of God?”

    Yes, my father believes that God is the highest of all–that there is no God (or Father-God) over God. In that sense, I think he believes that the concept of God’s being subject to a higher God or Father-God would be a “low” status, because God would, in that scenario, not be the “highest” and therefore would be “lower” than the “highest.”

    He also believes that while human beings can become gods, they will never be in the position of God the Father with respect to other worlds. I have never spoken with him about whether or how he believes that sealed couples would have spiritual progeny in the hereafter.

    I think the late patriarch in our stake had the same view.

    ********************************************

    And I agree that a person’s view about God (or nonbelief) is irrelevant to his or her qualifications to be president.

    ********************************************

    I think belief or nonbelief in the Lorenzo Snow couplet/King Follett discourse is different from belief or nonbelief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, in the sense that the Church currently clearly teaches in correlated materials that the Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient record. It does not teach the Lorenzo Snow couplet/King Follett discourse (although it has not been disavowed).

  98. Mark David Butler on December 22, 2006 at 6:54 am

    I think that it is a healthy thing that the church accomodates a diversity of views about all of the mysteries of godliness. After all, if they were plainly obvious, they would not be mysteries.

    I once mentioned my conception of distributed heavenly fatherhood (e.g. that when one arrives at a certain station he is called to serve as a heavenly father to his own lineal and adopted posterity here on the earth) to a good friend of mine, and the response was “You must be one of those people who is going to be deceived in the last days.”

    I don’t think enforcing a false canon (this is a pretty mild example) about the mysteries is a very productive exercise. For one thing all those other denominations have bits and pieces of gospel understanding that we have neglected, and if we canonize instead of venerate our own traditions, we are likely to stop the growth of the church in its tracks.

    And if anyone is paying any attention, I submit that the growth of the church has faltered in recent years for that very reason – a false canonization of psuedo-doctrines that are not the consensus of each and every member of the Quorum of the Twelve.

    Joseph Smith once said “I will give you a key that will never rust. If you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.” But on the contrary, the greatest problem in the Church today is that far too many want to stay with and enforce the limited understanding of just one apostle, and often dead ones at that.

    In the worst case, people are threatened with excommunication or other church disciplinary action not because they disagree with the bona fide legitimate, fundamental, and established doctrines of the Church, but rather because they take a position contrary to the uncanonized position of some long since dead leader or another. That is an exceeding perversion of the church disciplinary process. I think the proper term is “chilling effect”. What member dares publish a theological work under such conditions? And it is it any wonder that CES is a theological (though not doctrinal) wasteland?

  99. mike on December 22, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    Jacob Weisberg of Slate says the following: “But if he gets anywhere in the primaries, Romney\’s religion will become an issue with moderate and secular voters—and rightly so. Objecting to someone because of his religious beliefs is not the same thing as prejudice based on religious heritage, race, or gender.”

    http://www.slate.com/id/2155902/

    How did Jacob get his Job at slate? Did someone ask him what religion he was, or did someone ask what experience he had? Perhaps someone asked to see his Resume.

    Jacob Weisberg said, “Such views are disqualifying because they\’re dogmatic, irrational, and absurd. By holding them, someone indicates a basic failure to think for himself or see the world as it is.”

    Jacob can pre-judge religious people based solely on their religious beliefs? He does not need a Resume. He does not want to look at their IQ, ACT scores, or accomplishments to judge them. All he needs to know is what religion we belong to in order to classify us as “dogmatic, irrational, and absurd”. Jacob actually said, “by holding them (these beliefs), someone indicates a basic failure to think for himself or see the world as it is.”

    Is that how Jacob Weisberg got a job at slate? They asked him for a Resume, and he said, “don’t worry, I’m an atheist”. And the head-honcho at Slate, said, “Good, I don’t have enough time to look at people’s qualifications. I hate Résumé’s with all those stupid things like, ‘graduated from Harvard Business and Law School Cum Laude. Valedictorian. These don’t really mean anything. All I need to do is hear a profession of faith (testimony), or lack thereof, depending on what is fashionable in this day and time. By proclaiming your religious beliefs or lack there of you have told me everything I need to know about you. Welcome to Slate.\’”

    No, I assume that Jacob had to show some qualifications maybe even a Resume. It would have been against federal law for his boss to ask him what religion he was, wouldn’t it? Jacob thinks that he should be able to disqualify individuals because of their religious beliefs when they run for president. I wonder if that is how he runs things at slate. Has Jacob ever hired someone who was not an atheist, or is that a pre-requisite at slate? You know, we don’t know what is going on over their at slate, but the rest of the world, Jacob, does not just look at a religious litmus test. There is at least some talk of qualifications. If that is all you need in order to be disqualified to be president, if it is that obvious that Mormons do not deserve any respect, no matter how hard they work or what they accomplish, why should they be allowed into college? All Mormons and the other religions that Jacob should be mentioned should be outlawed from college for the reasons that Jacob outlines. He says; “Such views are disqualifying because they\’re dogmatic, irrational, and absurd. By holding them, someone indicates a basic failure to think for himself or see the world as it is.” Sorry Mitt, we are going to have to take away your degrees from Harvard Law and Business school. You are an irrational, dogmatic, and absurd Mormon. You do not deserve them.

    Jacob says, “By the same token, I wouldn\’t vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism.” Is that so Jacob? If you owned a business would you hire a Mormon? They have obviously proven to you that they are stupid. Do you want stupid people working for you? Do you feel comfortable admitting to the world that you are a bigot?

    Jacob says that Mitt Romney is an “Elder” in the church. If Jacob would have spent 30 seconds talking to someone from the church, he would have realized that Romney is not an Elder.

    I think it is great that Jacob wants America to be more like Northern Ireland and Iran were people are judged based on which religion they belong to.

    I’m glad that Jacob can take a short cut to intellectualism. He doesn’t have to debate Mitt Romney, he doesn’t have to read the Old Testament, New Testament, or Book of Mormon. He doesn’t have to do better in school, on the ACT’s, SAT’s or in life than Mitt Romney in order to be smarter than he is. All he has to do is reject Mormonism, and therefore he is smarter than Mitt Romney, and deserves more than Romney does, to be president. Forget that Romney balanced the budget without raising taxes; forget that he came up with a new way corralling people away from the emergency rooms and into insurance plans. None of that Matters. Jacob Weisberg is more qualified to be president, in his view, because he is not a Mormon.

    Then Jacob says about the stupidest thing I have ever heard. It is his only argument that he brings to the table besides that Mormons are too stupid to be president. The rest of his article is him parading around in his naked bigotry. But here is the only argument that he bring to the table and it makes me wonder how he got a job working anywhere, even at slate magazine.

    He says, “Perhaps Christianity and Judaism are merely more venerable and poetic versions of the same [transparent fraud]. But a few eons makes a big difference. The world\’s greater religions have had time to splinter, moderate, and turn their myths into metaphor.” So according to Jacob every other time there was a religious movement were people left one church and joined another, it was healthy. It was good, because it was a reformation. But when my ancestor, George Laub, who was a Baptist preacher left his church to become a Mormon it was not part of this refining process? He does not think that Mormonism had anything to draw my grandparents to it? It was not a healthy splintering or moderation? Why are all the other new religions good, but Mormonism was bad? Jacob does not tell us. He wants us to judge mitt Romney, without looking at any of the details of his life, and he wants us to agree with him (that religious bigotry towards Mormons is good) without giving us any reason to agree with him. No substance. No reasons to come to his conclusion. No logic. No independent way of judging Mitt. No use of a Resume. No looking at his skills or experience. And Jacob gives us no reason to agree with him, except other religions have been around longer, and for some reason their leaders that started new churches were good, and our leaders were not. We are just supposed to jump to his side without any substance, without any reason besides his self righteous mockery.

    I would like to see Jacob Weisberg’s Resume, and I can get Mitt Romney’s resume, and we can see who America thinks is smarter.

    ~~~Mike

    This is kind of a rough draft. I got my degree in electrical engineering, and I don\’t write very well. Could someone who can use words better than me take a stab at this?

    Addendum

    This from Nancy

    He also thinks President Bush relies too heavily on his faith, that he’s a religious nut as well…

    Good company I guess…

    This from Peter

    It seems likely that Mr. Weisberg has spent more time researching Mormonism by watching South Park than reading Fawn Brodie\’s biography, or anything actually published by the LDS Church. His errors in reasoning would be laughable if he were some anonymous blogger like yours truly.

    I suspect this type of argument is what we can expect from those on the left who oppose Romney. Notice how he chides Mitt for being a man of \”flexible principles\” then extols this as an admirable quality. The whole \”He\’s not a pure conservative\” argument just doesn\’t work coming from the left so they can only resort to attacking people of all faith, but those ignorant Mormons in particular because they\’re newer and all. I guess being in possession of \”religious heritage\” diminishes the role of faith so the longer your religion has been around, the easier it becomes to follow your parents footsteps because that\’s what is expected. People with \”religious heritage\” can\’t be accused of being true believers because faith plays a lesser role than it does if your brand of faith is a newer variety. In other words, Mr. Weisberg won\’t hold you accountable for the duping of your ancestors as long as it happened more than say 500 years ago.

    I\’m also quite sure that many of the recent attacks on Romney come from people who harbor similar opinions as Mr. Weisberg, but they can\’t openly express this because of the obvious hypocrisy they open themselves up to. So instead of a direct religious attack, they opt for any other real or perceived weakness. Thus the firestorm over quotes taken out of context and accusations of moral expediency. I\’m kind of tired of it, but I expect they\’re going to come with all they\’ve got. Thanks for the post Mike. It\’s comforting that just about wherever I go in the blogosphere, I find well articulated responses to the endless attacks. In most cases, the replies to the attacks are much better than the accusers deserve and I think in the end, that\’s a big reason Mitt is going to come out on top. Here\’s hoping anyway.

  100. Blake on December 22, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    Where are the liberals screaming blooooody murder over what Weiserg has written? Only religions that have turned their essential convictions into mere metaphors can be considered reasonable enough that those who adopt them can be elected. That is Weisberg’s suugestions and it is ludicrous beyond belief! The man is a simple bigot — and his approach to religious beliefs is so narro-minded that he ought to be put into the same category as those who he regards as crazies. Where the liberals who purport to oppose such bigotry, prejudice small-mindness and small-souledness? This man is our worst enemy — a bigot who regards anyone who actually believes in a resurrection or any miracle as unfit for office! This man ought to be fired … and any sensitive person ought to call for his ousting.

  101. Rob on December 22, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    If your blood pressure can stand it, check out Damon Linker’s attack on LDS prophetic beliefs and Americanism in today’s TNR (subscription required, though I’m sure Russell is fixin’ to discuss it at length on his blog).

    As a life long member, here’s something from Linker that I found gauling:

    “…The fact remains that, as it is currently constituted,
    Mormonism lacks the intellectual or spiritual resources to
    challenge a declaration of the prophet who runs the church,
    regardless of how theologically or morally outrageous that
    declaration might be.”

    I’ll give anyone a dollar who can find a “fact” in that sentance.

    Thanks Damon. Just like you sold-out your Catholic friends at First Things, you’ve turned around to bite your Mormon associates from your days at BYU and even as a guest blogger here at T&S. Sad how little of real Mormon theology or practice you picked up in all that time, or else how willing you are to misrepresent it to further your one-note career as champion of the “religionists are dangerous” mantra.

  102. Russell Arben Fox on December 22, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    Interesting enough, Rob, you picked out the exact line from Damon’s piece that reveals–in my view–the cause of his inability to be satisfied with the sort of answers you or I might give him. His article capably goes over the levels of organization in church, the importance of the standard works to defining doctrine, the conservatism of church leaders–yet he does not see in any of that an “intellectual or spiritual” principle upon which a philosophical liberal like himself can trust. This is a problem, possibly an unresolvable one. Good work homing in on it so quickly.

    Incidentally, Blake, I’m a liberal (by certain definitions), and I think Weisberg’s article is a piece of crap.

  103. SJL on December 22, 2006 at 6:57 pm

    “…The fact remains that, as it is currently constituted,
    Mormonism lacks the intellectual or spiritual resources to
    challenge a declaration of the prophet who runs the church,
    regardless of how theologically or morally outrageous that
    declaration might be.”

    Okay, maybe it isn’t a “fact.” But why don’t you (Rob) do an experiment. Stand up in testimony meeting and tell everyone that you are prepared to defy the prophet if he ever teaches anything you find morrally or theologically outrageous. Lets see how many nods of agreement you get. Or how quickly you are given a calling in the nursery.

  104. SJL on December 22, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    “This man is our worst enemy — a bigot who regards anyone who actually believes in a resurrection or any miracle as unfit for office!”

    Yes, only if by “our” you mean all true religous believers, and not just Mormons. I think the article is unfortunate, but at least it is internally consistent with the worlview of its author. It is more consistant than evangelicals who point fingers and say “your miracles are wierder than our miracles.” If the guy is suspicious of people who believe in uprovable truth claims, then his position is consistant. But, fortunate for Romney, it also happens to be a minority view in the US where more than 85% of the population believe in angels.

    “This man ought to be fired … and any sensitive person ought to call for his ousting.”

    So his religous views (or lack thereof) make him unfit for a particular job?? The argument sounds familiar.

  105. Damon on December 22, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    And you, Rob, show once again that you prefer to keep your faith hermetically sealed from intellectual debate or argument with genuine critics. That’s very convenient. And easy. And safe. And comforting. I, however, have more respect for religion than that.

    So I will ask you once again: Do you believe that the president of the church is a prophet of God? If so, on what basis can you reject something he says? You insist over and over again that Mormons can and do do this all the time. Well, that’s nice. But how? On what basis? Are they bad Mormons, as opposed to those who, say, abide by Erza Taft Benson’s Fourteen Fundamentals? Or are they appealing to their own private revelations against the prophet? If so, is this acceptable as a general principle in the church? Should non-Mormons console themselves that Mitt Romney would do the same thing if he were president and the LDS prophet declared that, say, Christ had returned in Jackson County, MO on May 13, 2009?

    As long as you refuse to grapple with questions like these, or at least accept that it’s possible to raise them for discussion without placing oneself out of bounds of decency, then you’re just not being serious. And non-Mormons will have to come to their own conclusions.

  106. Rob on December 22, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    Damon, you aren’t a genuine critic. You have been disengenious over and over again–chosing to attack that which you don’t understand. You do not respect religion. You attack it. You show a poor understanding of Mormonism and a hostile attitude–not a good recipe for entertaining an “intellectual debate”. You want Mormons to prove that they aren’t a threat just because you claim, without evidence, that they are. When you prove yourself serious about wanting to understand Mormonism, rather than attack it, I’ll be more than happy to discuss these issues with you. Until then, you having cozied up to and then attacked Catholics and Mormons, you have several other religions to misunderstand and publish about, so I’ll wish you well and Godspeed!

  107. Blake on December 22, 2006 at 10:03 pm

    Damon: Get real. I have written numerous matters directly challenging positions and statements of the Church and its leaders based on philosophical, legal and other intellectual grounds — and I remain not only in good standing but within the tradition as it actually functions. It is time that you became informed on what happens in LDS intellectual discussion and how we go about it without having to attack the faith as you have done. I suggest that in the absence of revelation that is accepted by common consent, we are free to discuss argue, debate and reason to arrive at a position. Once the body of the saints has accepted the doctrine, just what the doctrine entails and means is still discussed, debated, etc. No one is refusing to grapple with issues … and I suggest that you are the one who refuses to see the various levels of checks and balances inherent in LDS practice and scripture.

    SJL: No I propose that he ought to be canned because he is a bigot who is unthinking in proposing a religious test for fitness for office. Such a test directly contradicts the Constitutition and especially the legacy of case law interpreting the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. Did you purposely miss that? Moreover, neo-Nazis and the flat-earth society also have internally consistent paradigms — it is the simple refusal to look at how the actual world works that is the problem. The article isn’t merely unfortunate, it is actually an attack on anyone who believes that God might speak to a person. Would you truly suggest that we ought to adopt such a religious test as a basis for political decision — or that we ought to even countenance it as a legitimate expression of American Repbulicanism? That is what Weinberg did.

  108. SJL on December 23, 2006 at 2:57 am

    “Such a test directly contradicts the Constitutition and especially the legacy of case law interpreting the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses.”

    I don’t think he is proposing such a test in any kind of official way, so I don’t see how that statement is relevant. He is simply saying that a candidate’s religion can and should be a consideration for voters, not that one ought to have to pass a religious test to even run for office. But I don’t want to get into defending his article, because I disagree with its tone and conclusion.

    I would like to know why you believe that any consideration of a candidate’s religion amounts to religious bigotry. In short, do you believe a candidate’s religion matters? If you don’t please explain. I respect your opinion (judging from your comments/writings in the past). I just wonder how we as LDS can on one hand say that religion is one of the most (if not THE most) meaningful aspect of human existence, and on the other say it shouldn’t matter in an election.

    I think don’t think Weisberg and Linker are wrong in their opinion that religion matters in an election or that is should be a consideration for voters. I think where they get it wrong is their assessment of contemporary Mormonism and its capacity for intellectual and political diversity. In this, I think they should be strongly corrected. I would like to see a strong rebuttle piece in the New Republic, but I’m not holding my breath.

  109. SJL on December 23, 2006 at 3:21 am

    Damon,
    You are mistaken in looking to Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or a couple BYU students to gage the LDS Church’s current interaction with politics and politicians. Why not look at more contemporary examples and observe what actually occurs? Can you name any contemporary high ranking LDS politician who has taken orders from Church Headquarters?
    The chances of Romney taking orders from Salt Lake are about the same as they were for Kennedy being controlled by the Pope. It is not, and was not, a practical concern in any way.

  110. Jeremiah J. on December 23, 2006 at 4:03 am

    “Incidentally, Blake, I’m a liberal (by certain definitions), and I think Weisberg’s article is a piece of crap.”

    Blake, I’m exactly one notch above Russell on the liberal scale (though perhaps the same on the “left” scale) and I’ve already stated in this very thread that I think the Weisberg article is not very good.

    Damon: “Do you believe that the president of the church is a prophet of God? If so, on what basis can you reject something he says?”

    I’m happy that you’ve come to discuss this here, and I hope you stay a bit.

    If your point is that it is theologically possible, within Mormonism, for the prophet to say or do something that would put good Mormons outside the pale of American political life, then I suppose I agree with you that the answer is yes it is theologically possible. But I’m not sure how this is a significant political issue for Mormon political candidates in 2006. Instead of looking at how contemporary Mormonism has behaved and does currently behave in the U.S. and abroad, you look at our theology and seem to conclude that we are like a sleeper cell waiting to pull out all the theocratic, apocalyptic materials of our tradition at the drop of a hat (or at least in the space of a single presidential term). I don’t think you’re an expert in Mormon theology and I don’t think you claim to be one. But this makes me even more puzzled that you are using your view of what is possible in Mormon doctrine to determine what non-Mormon Americans *should be worried about* in political Mormonism. Theology and doctrine only appear in real social relations and actions in an imperfect, incomplete and complex way. Your form of political argument reminds me of the old rule that atheists could not testify in court (based not on sad experience with atheist perjurers but rather on quasi-theological conclusions by Christians about what actions *must surely follow* from a lack of belief).

    I could say that in the 19th century American Catholics were suspect from the perspective of the mainstream of American democracy because of papal statements like the Syllabus of Errors. If you were to respond that theologically it would be okay for a 19th century Catholic to think that the Syllabus of Errors was itself completely wrong (and indeed “democracy, liberalism and Americanism” were actually great things and not errors), that might be an interesting and true theological point. But the more important political point would probably be that American Catholics in the 19th century got the hang of democracy pretty well and supported it in many different ways. Whether those people were really and truly good Catholics may be an important issue for you but not for a non-Catholic American concerned with American democracy but not with Catholic doctrine and ecclesiology. Likewise it seems more sensible (from a political perspective) to look at how the political culture of Mormonism actually looks in the real world than to make a priori conclusions based on theological sketches of basic doctrines and ecclesiastical structures.

    Your basic thesis also seems to me to be more straightforwardly incorrect since, at least in my view, the coexistence of individual political freedom and prophetic authority is not just a modus operandi of the contemporary church (though if I were a non-Mormon American patriot I can’t see how I should care whether it is or not) but is woven into Mormonism and appears there from the very beginning. A good example of this is not just the 134th section of the Doctrine and Covenants but the context from which it sprang. More generally, Joseph Smith’s comments on politics are full of sincere defenses of political pluralism and freedom of conscience. You may say that these are merely Joseph’s attempts to survive in a relatively liberal and democratizing country (pure theocracy is the true core). I think that’s not taking Mormonism seriously enough.

  111. Jonathan Green on December 23, 2006 at 5:34 am

    OK, I’ve read the article. Damon, I think you get most of the facts right and you put your finger on a couple of important points. I think you’ve misunderstood a lot of other things, including Romeny’s faith.

    Why do you keep coming back to millennialism? You have to distinguish between the Mormon view of history (which does put us somewhere pre-millennium) and a feverish expectation of an immediately impending Second Coming, which doesn’t exist. Your concern tha the Mormon prophet will announce that Jesus has returned in 2009 is precisely as reasonable as a concern that Christ will actually return in 2009. In what sense are we “gripped by eschatology”?? This is the one area where your concerns seem less about Mormon theology, and more about Mormon weirdness a la Weisberg.

    Your thoughts about a finite Mormon god, and the moral nature of the world, strike me as bizarre. I understand that those areas of Mormon thought can seem equally bizarre and alien to outsiders, but I think you’ve failed to appreciate how much traditional formulations of God are accepted by Mormons. God is all-powerful, all-wise, all-good? That’s, like, in the first two lines of the first missionary discussion.

    The key insight seems to be that modern prophets make Mormonism a “politcally perilous religion.” I like it. It makes us sound hip. It might even be true. Also, declaring modern prophets a problem that must be solved also does much to confirm the Mormon worldview that continuing revelation is the Church’s truly audacious claim and the real cause of others’ offense. Your account of Mormon beliefs about early Christian apostasy is quite good, but what it comes down to for us is not specifically the apostles’ deaths but the loss of continuing revelation. Having to choose between a place in the American polity and following a modern prophet is nothing new for us. It’s part and parcel of our founding mythology.

    The most glaring absence in your account of Mormon prophecy, though, is that you regard it as an entirely one-way affair, as if all that’s involved is the prophet declaring that some new revelation must now be obeyed without question. But even the most basic accounts of Mormon revelation call on believers to seek their own spiritual witness (directly from God, unmediated by the prophet) of the revelation’s truth. At the core of Mormonism is the idea that every person can seek and receive their own spiritual witness, in the same way Joseph Smith did, and this is also taught as the way to know for oneself whether a revelation is divinely inspired. You might not find this satisfying, but it’s false to write that Mormonism has no spiritual resources for dealing with a difficult statement by a prophet.

    As for Romney, I don’t think you’re reading his Mormonism well at all. His positions with respect to abortion and gay marriage tell us which constituency he’s seeking to please at the time, not if he was lapsed in the 90s and undergoing a spiritual renewal in this decade. For his commitment to Mormonism, those are at best tertiary issues. What Mitt thinks of the prophet, and the Book of Mormon, and God–those are the issues that count in a Mormon context, and I don’t see that we know the first thing about them, or that Romney has made them a point of his campaign. Until he does, he’s not running as an especially pious candidate, but as a politcally conservative candidate.

    What I’m still not seeing is how a conflict between faith and politcal responsibility would be any different for a President Romney than it would be for, say, a President Kerry. How is the prophet telling Romney to veto H.R. 44563 any different from John Kerry’s bishop deciding that pro-choice politicians must be excluded from communion?

  112. Blake on December 23, 2006 at 11:45 am

    SJL: I agree with you that religion can matter. If one’s religious beliefs were that candidates themselves cannot make their own decisions but must seek the answers to their political queeries from their religious leaders (say as certain radical Islam activists sometimes suggest) then one’s religious beliefs are legitimate and open for discussion. That is not what Weisberg suggests. He argues that anyone who is gullible enough to believe that God actually has done something, or that accounts of say the resurrection are taken as something more than metaphorical, then the person who adopts such beliefs has demonstrated that they are too wacked to be trusted. That is an entirely different order of argument and it is loathsome and contrary to the entire American system of law and social order. If we open it up as socially acceptable or adviseable (as Weisberg argues) to reject candidates because they have religious beliefs that are literal in any way, then we make a person’s religious beliefs the basis of our decision to vote for a person — and what better definition of bigotry exists?

    In fact, some polls show that for about 2/3 of southern evangelicals and — get this — among liberals, all that they need to know about a person to disqualify that person from receiving their vote is that the person is Mormon. They exclude a person based on belonging to a religious organization. That kind of judgment is sheer bigotry and prejudice. Imagine anyone saying, “I won’t vote for Leiberman because he is a believing Jew and that is all that I need to know.” Our type of government ought not countenance such judgments and all such arguments ought to be roundly condemned as morally repulsive and politically unacceptable. That is what I do with Weisberg. His ilk ought to be relegated to the Neantherthal argument category.

  113. Nate Oman on December 23, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    Damon: I read your article, and I’m a bit confused. On one hand, you say as a practical matter that Mormon prophets are exceedingly unlikely to start trying to direct a Mormon president or use him to run the country, but then you present an argument based on (your understanding of) Mormon theology to the effect that Romney might nevertheless be the victim of a radical turn on the part of Mormon prophets. If the radical turn is exceedingly unlikely, why is it a political issue as opposed to a theological one.

    Consider the Catholic example: Post-Vatican II Catholicism seems quite compatible with a liberal pluralistic society. On the other hand, post-Vatican II Catholicism is a recent creation, and it is possible in theory that future pontiffs and councils might reverse its positions. This is, one might point out, extremely unlikely to actually occur. Still, theological change is always a possiblity within Catholicism as Vantican II itself demonstrates. Why don’t the same worries apply to Catholicism? Indeed, it is worth pointing out that in 1904 Joseph F. Smith disclaimed the right of the Mormon prophet to direct Mormon politicians in political matters. We have more than a century of experience under that rule, and the Mormon prophets have followed it. This is twice the length of time that we have had post-Vatican II Catholicism. Your response, I take it, is to point to the Natural law traditiion, but I don’t see how that helps you. Natural law thinking was part of the aggressively anti-liberal Catholicism of pre-Vatican II days (to say nothing of the Inquisition, which I take it read its St. Thomas), and it is part of the more liberal and pluralistic post-Vatican II Catholicism. In other words, I don’t see why natural law thinking provides either a conceptual or practical advantage in assuring the safety of Catholic politicians vis-a-vis Mormon politicians.

  114. sr on December 23, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    Let’s have a reality check and remember what the options are:

    1. A divorced thorn-in-GOP’s-side who made religious-right-bashing a central point in his then-struggling 2000 presidential campaign, declaring that Republicans are “the party of Abraham Lincoln, not Pat Robertson. We are the party of Ronald Reagan, not Bob Jones,” and who wanted to get rid of the tax deduction for charitable contributions.

    2. A secular pro-choice, pro-gay social liberal from New York who filed for divorce while having a public extramarital affair (and came across as too cruel for words in the tabloid press).

    3. A squeaky clean Mormon guy still faithful to his first wife and five children.

    The more the debate centers on family values and personal faith and personal character, the better for Romney, because this is a battle that he will win by a landslide. The idea that Romney’s views on KFD or the Lorenzo Snow couplet will play a role strikes me as a little crazy. When has that ever been an issue for a national Mormon politician? Romney is a very talented politician, and he is very good at handling questions about religion—much better than most of the people who have written in to defend him on this post. He will acknowledge that there are some doctrinal differences, but he will never get suckered into a doctrinal discussion, and he will focus on the political issues that religious people care about.

    There are some things in Romney’s past that might give religious conservatives pause — but I don’t really believe that his Mormonism is one of them. It’s just something for bored columnists to write about to fill time before the real campaign drama begins (with the issues and the speeches and the attack ads and the policy pundits and the rallies).

    As for the silly polls we keep hearing about, try replacing “Would you consider voting for a Mormon?” with “Would you consider voting for a man who first informed his wife of his intention to separate from her via a press conference?” or “Would you consider voting for a candidate who opposes a ban on partial birth abortion and had an public extramarital affair?”

  115. DavidH on December 23, 2006 at 4:58 pm

    I do think it is legitimate to resolve whether a candidate’s primary political allegiance goes to the people or to a religious leader (or leaders).

    I suppose the reason few, if any, people raise the question with respect to Harry Reid is that he seemed unafraid to publicly oppose the Marriage Amendment in the face of the apparent endorsement of the Amendment by the united First Presidency and Quorum of 12, and invitation to Church members to express their support.

    I agree with Nate that the Church’s official position is that it does not dictate political positions, even in political matters with moral implications perceived by the Brethren. Yet there continue to be stories, some of which I suspect based in fact, of recommends not renewed or other action taken because of a member’s position with respect to liquor by the drink, the Marriage Amendment, or the ERA. Moreover, even in the Bloggernacle, we sometimes read assertions that it is not possible to be a
    “faithful” Mormon, or to be a Mormon “in good standing” and be opposed to an official political/moral position of the Brethren. I can see why Damon or others might be concerned.

    While I disagree with Senator Kerry’s position on abortion, I think it took some courage to continue that position in the face of some bishop’s denying him communion. Had he changed his position in order to take communion in those jurisdictions, that might have suggested that his primary allegiance was to the leadership of the catholic church.

    Would a Mormon president be willing to take action contrary to the wishes of LDS Church leadership if so doing might risk withdrawal of a temple recommend or suspension of the right to take the sacrament via any form of Church discipline? Would “good” orthodox Latter-day Saints be willing to vote or support such a candidate?

    I do agree there is a long history of Mormon church/state relations that suggests that, when it comes to political officers, at least as distinct from voters at large, the institutional church does maintain a hands off attitude in terms of using ecclesiastical sanctions to attain political/moral results. For example, I know of one openly gay former state legislator against whom, to my knowledge, no ecclesiastical action was ever taken, even though that action might have been premised on conduct rather than political positions. I think that was extremely wise on the part of church leadership (just as I now think it was unwise for leadership to have taken action against Sonia Johnson 27 years ago).

  116. Blake on December 23, 2006 at 6:09 pm

    David: Are you suggesting that if a person’s “primary allegiance” is to the Church or God rather than his constitutents that we ought to vote against such a person?

  117. Mark B. on December 23, 2006 at 9:01 pm

    It’s remarkable how one not in the shoes of Sonia Johnson’s bishopric can decide, a quarter-century after the fact, that they were wrong.

  118. DavidH on December 23, 2006 at 9:13 pm

    I think in deciding to vote for a person, it is relevant to know if that person’s primary allegiance in governing is to a religious entity (or leaders) rather than to the people who elected him or her.

    I also think the current position of the Church is that an elected official owes his or her allegiance to constituents, not to the Church or its leaders.

  119. Blake on December 24, 2006 at 12:35 am

    Given your interpretation David, if I were a politician I should care more about what folks think than what I believe God demands of me. Any God that was willing to be treated in such a way is not God, but a very weak imitation. Any person who cared more about what others think than God doesn’t quite grasp who and what God is. I doubt that the Church has stated anything like what you assert. I sure hope not.

    You are of course correct that as a constituent we should care whether a person will have primary allegiance to their religious convictions than to the polls. In the end, I would rather have a person principaled enough to not be swayed by polls and who had a compass other than popular opinion.

    The solution seems to be to vote for those with similar religious convictions or similar values.

  120. Gary on December 24, 2006 at 12:49 am

    Folks, first off, I\’m a Southern Baptist who nonetheless managed or consulted the campaigns of dozens of LDS candidates for public office during 20 years of political activism in Idaho.

    My take: Protestants won\’t get around to voting against Romney because of his religion. Social conservatives — Protestants, evangelicals, and Mormons included — will vote against Romney once they become aware of the simply astounding fact (at least, astounding compared to my LDS friends and family) that up until the last couple of years…

    Romney spent his entire political career promoting Roe v. Wade, abortion on demand, Ted Kennedy\’s federal \”gay rights\” legislation, tax-financed same-sex benefits for government employees, \”gays in the military,\” homosexual \”domestic partner\” legislation, appointing homosexual activist judges to the bench in Massachusetts, opposing the Boy Scouts\’ ban on homosexuals, being endorsed by the pro-abortion Republican Majority for Choice and the homosexual Log Cabin Republicans (twice)…

    Maybe my exposure is limited, but the conservative LDS folks I know cannot comprehend how a faithful, mature (in his 40\’s and 50\’s) member of the LDS Church could ever have taken the stands he did.

    In addition, Mitt admitted that he wasn\’t even a Republican before he decided to run against Ted Kennedy in 1994. He was a registered Independent who voted for left-wing Democrat Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary.

    (He announced all this to disprove Kennedy\’s charge during a debate that Romney had supported the Reagan administration: \”I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush,\” Mitt protested.)

    I suspect he\’ll also have a hard time explaining to the NRA and Westerners in general — LDS included — his endorsement of the Brady Bill and the federal Assault Weapons ban.

    Of course, he\’s since flip-flopped on some of the above. For example, he claims that only during a briefing two years ago on stem cell research (at age 57) did he realize that abortion on demand had \”cheapened the sanctity of human life\” and thereafter declared himself (July 2005) to be \”pro-life.\”

    Give me a break, governor. How sincere does it sound that a 50-something member of the LDS Church, raised in an extremely politically active and aware family, who had already run for U.S. senator and been elected governor (and thus thoroughly studied and calculated every issue on the menu) finally discovered his \”core values\” when he was nearly 60 years old? The flip-flopping, rationalizing, equivocating pattern suggests a character flaw in addition to flawed positions on the issues.

    It is beyond ironic that the most prominently publicized and investigated and spotlighted Mormon in America over the next two years will be one with a past record of supporting abortion on demand and every element of homosexual activists\’ political agenda other than homosexual \”marriage\” (and even on that, he opposed a state Marriage Protection Amendment proposed before the Mass Supreme Court legalized homosexual \”marriage,\” then suddenly postured himself as a champion of the same only after the court had ruled.)

    Such a record is not representative of the cultural, social, and political values of the LDS candidates I worked for or of LDS folks in general, at least in the West and here in Michigan.

    The otherwise uninformed American might, in response to high-profile revelations about Romney\’s record over the next two years, falsely conclude that Mormons are a pretty liberal bunch on issues like abortion and homosexual activity — when, as you know, nothing could be further from the truth. Except for Mitt Romney.

    For documentation of the above, simple Google for yourself or see the excellent summary — \”The Romney Deception\” — authored by a Jewish pro-family activist in Massachusetts:

    http://massresistance.org/docs/marriage/romney/record

  121. Steve on December 24, 2006 at 1:35 am

    \”I’m reminded of a dinner conversation I had with a BYU student awhile back. Adam Daniels vehemently denied that it was doctrinal that God the Father has a wife.\”

    Aaron, do you know if this Adam Daniels guy happens to have a wife names Jeanette? Eleven years ago I was brought into the LDS fold with the assistance of an Elder Adam Daniels who attended BYU after his mission. The guy I\’m thinking of is about 6 feet tall, balding, blond hair (if he has any left these days).

    Anyway, if we\’re talking about the same guy, I\’d be disappointed to hear that he\’s dodgy about the doctrine of celestial families. Or maybe it\’s back to that old argument about the definition of \”doctrine.\”

    Let me know if we\’re talking about the same guy. It would be cool to get back in touch with him. I haven\’t seen Daniels in about eight years–when he and his wife dropped me off at the MTC.

  122. sr on December 24, 2006 at 1:46 am

    Gary,

    I agree that gay rights and abortion issues may be problems for Romney in a Republican primary. But consider his competition. McCain also has a history of ambiguous statements about abortion and has taken a weaker stand in opposing gay marriage. And Giuliani is far more liberal on abortion and gay rights issues than Romney. At this point, Romney does not have a credible opponent to his right. Do you really think that your friends in Idaho would conclude that, in a Romney-McCain-Giuliani match-up, Romney is decidely worse than the others? I’d be genuinely curious to hear your views on this.

    It may be that a more conservative candidate (one can think of a few possibilities) will gain some traction during the coming months, but such a candidate would face an uphill battle against the current favorites.

  123. DavidH on December 24, 2006 at 2:09 am

    Blake,

    My comment related to allegiance to Church leadership versus voters. Your comment seems to relate to allegiance to God/religious values versus voter polls. There is an intersection of allegiance to Church leaders and allegiance to religious convictions when, as in our Church, a core religious value is following Church leaders because we believe they are inspired by God.

    I think the concern in the Smoot hearings was not that Senator Smoot would be guided by his personal religious principles about right and wrong, but that the particular way he applied those principles might be dictated by someone the voters did not elect. And I thought Joseph F. Smith disavowed the right to dictate to LDS government officials in such a way, and I thought that continued to be the Church’s position. But I may be wrong.

    Illustration:

    Suppose Orrin Hatch ran for president and won. Senator Hatch is currently a supporter of stem cell research and has been vocal about it. Assume that many of those who hypothetically vote for him do so because of his support of stem cell research, and a Hatch campaign announcement that he intends to lift the Bush ban on federal dollars for certain types of research.

    Hypothetically, then, the First Presidency and Quorum of 12 announce that the Church opposes stem cell research and any ending of the Bush ban. What should President Hatch do? Should he follow his campaign representations to the voters, or should he change his position and not lift the federal research ban because his Church leaders have implicitly indicated that the Bush ban was God’s will?

    *****************************

    I think we agree that it is relevant to a voter to understand how a devout Mormon might act in such a circumstance. I do not know if we agree whether it is in the Church’s interest that LDS politicians make, and be perceived as making. their decisions based on pronouncements of Church leaders on particular political issues.

    ****************************

    Mark B.,

    You are correct that I was not privy to the proceedings or part of the bishop’s court (this was before the change to “councils) But I did read the publicly released letter from her bishop explaining the reasons for the decision; I lived in the same metropolitan area at the time; I knew some of the others connected in various ways to the proceedings; and I know the reactions of non-LDS at the time.

    Based on the information I then had, particularly the bishop’s letter and other public pronouncements of the Church, I ardently defended the excommunication for many years. Of course, that ardent defense was as questionable as my now disagreeing with the decision, because both are based on limited knowledge.

    But based on that same limited knowledge, I now believe that if the Church wished it to be perceived that LDS legislators and voters do not take dictation from Church leaders on how to vote, the excommunication of Sonia Johnson was a mistake. I cannot speak to other nonpublic factors that may have come into play–either to defend or criticise the decision.

  124. Oliver on December 24, 2006 at 2:34 am

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/6203179.stm
    Here’s an article about Romney, but my favorite line from it is this: “cocoa has been decreed ‘not hot'”, now that’s funny.

  125. Mark David Butler on December 24, 2006 at 2:54 am

    It is quite true that there is no hard scriptural evidence that Jesus Christ was ever married in mortality. Nor (apparently) is there any scriptural evidence to the effect that the Holy Ghost was ever married. But it is a pretty amazing feat to occupy the station of Eternal Father of heaven and of earth and all things that in them are without being married at one time or another.

    Though certainly not doctrines of the Church, it is almost indisputable that the general tenor of LDS doctrine (as it was known in my generation at least) is that all three members of the godhead (pertaining unto us) will each be married eternally in due time (if they have not yet already been) and (together with exactly one their chosen partners) have that ordinance sealed upon their heads for time and all eternity, in the pattern and model of the Abrahamic covenant of marriage.

    I might add further that the scriptural evidence that there is polygyny (let alone polyandry) in the highest order of celestial glory is non-existent. In fact, all of the evidence runs in exactly the opposite direction, i.e. that polygamy is a temporal expedient at best. Jacob 2:27-31 is a classic example of a scripture which was written and preserved for our day. One might well also consider:

    D&C 78:5-6,
    D&C 104:7-8,14-18;
    D&C 49:15-16;
    1 Tim 3:2,12;
    Jacob 3:5 et seq.;
    D&C 107:40 et seq.;
    Gen 16:2 et seq;
    D&C 132:34 eq seq.

    Is Hagar Abraham’s wife? (Unless Sarah has fallen from her [place, birthright blessing, exaltation]) I dare say (not any more). On the contrary she occupies the position of a husband who marries a widow who has been previously sealed in the temple to a faithful husband – A legitimate (wife,husband) to be sure, but not the one according to the promise, unless (horrors) the chosen (husband,wife) falls from (her,his) place in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and yields (his,her) birthright and covenant blessing to another more worthy than she, even as Esau.

  126. SJL on December 24, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    Blake,
    “Are you suggesting that if a person’s “primary allegiance” is to the Church or God rather than his constitutents that we ought to vote against such a person?”

    “The Church” and “God” should not be thrown together so easily. There is a difference, and we should be wary of any candidate who does not see the difference. I would have no problem with a candidate whose primary allegiance was to God, but if he thought his Church leadership always perfectly reflected the will of God, then I wouldn’t trust him to run a ward, let alone a country.

  127. Jack on December 25, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    I’ve only skimmed this thread so my comment is sure to be reduntant.

    Why is it that *practice* means nothing in the political realm? If the Mormon faith induces its members to live chaste lives, to be honest, to be hard working, to care for the poor, etc., why all the backflips over theological differences?

    Merry Christmas.

    P.S. Perhaps it would be useful to settle our differences by comparing nativity sets.

  128. Chino Blanco on December 26, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    The Weisberg piece should probably be read with the understanding that large parts of the country feel the current administration has done enormous damage to our nation\’s credibility, international standing and long-term interests, and that much of the disastrously poor policy and planning we\’re seeing — the general sense of incompetence — can only be remedied by a leadership capable of taking cold stock of reality and charting a pragmatic course, a leadership that is not beholden to \’kooky\’ religionists. As interesting as the banter between the evangelical Christian and LDS commenters here may be for the variously affiliated believers, it is the kind of discussion that would likely further persuade non-evangelicals and non-Mormons alike of the need to get some political leadership in place that is less concerned with what are, for most Americans, fairly arcane points of religious doctrine, and more consumed with, say, doing a better job at governing. As an American, whether Romney\’s candidacy is ultimately good or bad for the Mormon PR project would seem to be secondary to whether or not he\’d be good for the country. But, having apparently decided that he has a better shot at tying up the evangelical vote than working to appeal to a broader demographic, it seems likely he\’ll end up doing not much good for either his country or his faith. This time around, let the Christianists take a breather from politics for a few years to let others patch up our social contracts, infrastructure and the American brand. Romney will have ample opportunity to re-package himself, later. Until then, the damage has been done: by apparently flip-flopping on matters of principle, it leads non-Mormons to suspect that his Mormonism may also very well be just a conveniently-held set of beliefs, and is all the justification the commentariat needs to unload on his professed religious convictions.

  129. Blake on December 26, 2006 at 10:50 pm

    SJL: I am an attorney so the word “or” is always disjunctive and I mean “or” rather than “and” as you have read me. As a voter I would want to know if an elected official would follow his own guiding principles and philosophy rather than that of an unelected religious leader. Once he affirms that he will do so, however, I don’t get to second-guess that statement. No one listens to Mitt Romney — they foist off on to him what they insist he will do rather than what he says.

    David H. — I actually think that we are in substantial agreement. A voter has a right to know if there is autonomy from a religion or particuar point of view. That is why we have party affiliation for the most part.

    Chino: No amount of frustration with the current administration can justify Weisberg’s simple religious bigotry. If others, including non-evangelicals and liberals, are willing to look the other way on such prejudice then they are hypocrites who ought to think a little more about what they stand for.

  130. Chino Blanco on December 27, 2006 at 1:55 am

    As a liberal, who, like Romney, was a Tsongas supporter, and until lately would have felt comfortable supporting a Romney bid, I can only chuckle at the suggestion that it’s me, not Romney, who is the hypocrite in need of thinking a little more about what I stand for. I also don’t agree with Blake’s characterization of Weisberg’s piece as ‘simple religious bigotry’ … I suppose that the simplest anti-Mormon bigotry is that found among evangelicals, and would allow that a good number of liberals and others are simply bigoted on this count as well, albeit for different reasons, but I thought Weisberg framed his argument well enough that it rises to the level of at least a nuanced bigotry. In any case, what bothers me about Romney’s candidacy is not his Mormonism per se, but his taking the same tack as the current occupant of the White House in aligning himself with the evangelical wing of the GOP. 6 years ago this might not have seemed so fraught with peril as it does now, but for anyone sympathetic to the damning indictments by guys like David Kuo who’ve described the GOP’s manipulation of the evangelical voters, as witnessed by evangelicals like Kuo, who got inside and then came to realize that even regarding the initiatives gotten under way on behalf of the evangelical base that brought Bush to office, the administration was incompetent, even disinterested, in actually putting useful policy into place … it was all a veneer of legitimacy for an outfit that was interested only in politics, not governance. All signs are that Romney similarly thinks playing evangelical politics is a winner … But, by opting for an all-too-transparent political expediency, he has now undermined any attempts he may make in future to reassure evangelicals or the broader electorate about the role of his Mormon religion in his public decision-making … Contrary to what Blake asserts, I must now second-guess just about any statement Romney might make about anything. Now, much more than the issue of Romney’s religion, there will be ‘truth in packaging’ concerns to address, concerns shared by liberals, conservatives and evangelicals alike these days … The Weisberg piece is just the beginning and Romney will deserve much of the blame if he’s unable to eventually persuade a majority of Americans to think otherwise …

  131. Jack on December 27, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    Amazing…

    No doubt, the flood of “second guessing” gushing forth from opponents of the current administration is merely a reaction to the White House’s bent toward “politics” rather than “governance.”

  132. RR Millward on December 27, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    I read every word; some of it twice. I think I understand the three sides so I will venture a comment after listing the three sides.
    1) Can Romney be trusted at all?
    2) Can Romney be trusted by people for whom Godly standards exist
    3) Can Romney be trusted by people who do not want Godly standards

    The question here (though far from the title that brought me here) from all three points of view seems to be “if the major organization that my candidate belongs to made a statement on an issue would I still get my money’s worth from the candidate?”

    First, I can assure you that you will never get your money’s worth from any political candidate. That probably can not happen at all today but would require as a basis the candidate’s not wanting to be president (or whatever) in the first place (George Washington style). America is so divided (thanks in the main to politics) that 75%-76% of voters vote against the other candidate (50% don’t vote and half of the 50% who do vote see their candidate as the lesser of two evils). As for my example of not being represented, I have repeatedly for the last 16 years called my representative and requested a vote a certain way on certain issues and gotten “I can’t vote that way – would you like to know why?” So much for representative government.

    Second, there are 600+ other national voices to balance things out (or is it just 9 now).

    Third, I hope that Obama and Romney both get there (through the party process) and everyone writes in someone who can actually do the job. The parties have not had a sane candidate for many years. They are irrelevant to what America needs and the cause of many of her needs. Nothing pleases me more than a grid-locked congress.

    Back to the question “Can I, a Momon, be an American citizen?” the answer is yes. My very good athiest friend thinks that no person who believes in God should be allowed to vote – I think he should be allowed to vote. I will go further: I think there should be a financial penalty for not voting (as in Brasil, I believe). I believe that America will become what her voters become. When half vote then America will be half what it could be. The politicians know this as do the media and they apparently want to sicken the people to the point where no one votes (and there is no America).

    Work for unity… but in the mean time, vote.

    Sincerely,
    RR Millward

    RR Millward

  133. queuno on January 6, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    I know I’m a bit late to this party, but I have to say to RR Millward — we learn more about what America wants from the votes not cast than the votes cast.