In Defense of Mormons

From two unexpected sources come two ringing defenses of Mormons and Mormonism.

First, Mother Jones runs a piece by Stephanie Mencimer focusing on the high organizational aptitude of Mormons and their leadership.  Mencimer has been an eye witness to the Mormon ability to respond to disasters, and draws stark contrasts between her experience with the Mormon rapid response system and the record of government agencies like FEMA.  She sees in this record an opportunity for Romney, who could certainly claim a bit of the Mormon preparation ethic as part of his own background as a means of boosting emergency response and disaster relief credentials.

The second defense comes from Alan Wolfe writing in the New Republic (subscription required). Wolfe’s article is quite long, but worth reading to the very finish.  He details the great success enjoyed by a numerous Mormon entrepreneurs and executives, and examines in detail the source of that Mormon capitalist blessedness, delving into sociology, theology, and politics.  This is a very accurate portrayal of Mormonism, which just happens to show a very positive side of the faith.  Highly recommended.  Take out the trial subscription and read the whole thing.  Trust me.

Here are Wolfe’s concluding paragraphs:

Mitt Romney was my governor for four years. Since 1960, the Democratic Party has shown an unseemly tendency to nominate a disproportionate number of presidential candidates from Massachusetts, and, of the three so chosen, only John Kennedy managed to win. The losses sustained by Michael Dukakis and John Kerry left most Americans with one clear impression: Massachusetts simply is not like the rest of the United States.

Observing Mitt Romney’s problems in the 2008 presidential election, I have to conclude that this cliché is correct. For many of us in Massachusetts, the fact that Romney had been a successful entrepreneur was taken as a reason to vote for him. He was not, moreover, all that bad a governor, in part because he knew what he wanted–whether medical insurance for all or a new road to speed Cape Cod dwellers to their homes–and possessed the administrative talents to make it happen. When he ran for the Senate in 1994, his opponent, Ted Kennedy of all people, raised the red flag of Romney’s religion. But, since then, his Mormonism has been a non-factor. We all knew that he went to that huge temple out in Belmont, just as we knew that the rest of us were not welcome there; but it did not matter. It just seemed to make sense to us, practical people that we are, to vote for a guy with an impressive resumé.

Americans in the rest of the country evidently think differently. For Massachusetts residents, Romney’s business acumen was a plus and his religion inconsequential. Elsewhere, his religion seems to be a minus and his business experience irrelevant–or worse. It used to be the case that, if Massachusetts were more like the rest of the country, we would have elected more liberal Democrats to the presidency. But, because it is not, we are likely to be deprived of a competent conservative Republican. This does not disturb me deeply; I can think of no circumstances under which I would vote for Romney over any of the Democrats. But 2008 may well be remembered as the election in which the Republicans, the party of big business, shunned the biggest businessman in their party. For them, it is perfectly OK to succeed in business, but not, it would seem, if you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

McLaughlin Group Reactions

A friendly reader sent along this link.  It will take you to the webpage for PBS’s ombudsman, which I understand is the place for sending all your complaints regarding Lawrence O’Donnell’s miserable rant against Mormonism on the McLaughlin Group a few weeks ago.  PBS has given no real response to this episode yet, so it might be good to flood them with complaints.  You know, just for fun.

Mormons Speak Out

Welcome back!  Hope everyone’s Christmas was very merry.

Just wanted to put up a few interesting links that may show the beginning of a trend: Mormons getting sick of being everyone’s favorite punching bag.

First, Mormon quiz show phenom Ken Jennings op-eds in the NY Daily News.  Headline: “Politicians and Pundits, Please Stop Slandering My Mormon Faith.”  He follows up with a punchy and persuasive case supporting his request.

Second, Mormon journalist Joel Campbell writes in the Publisher and Editor, taking note of the imbalance of reporting about Mormonism in the media.  One nice example he highlights is Maureen Dowd’s sole reliance for information about Mormonism on noted Mormon-basher Jon Krakauer.  Campbell appears to be starting a blog on the subject.  Developing . . .

Third, Mormon law professor (and religious blogger) Kaimi Wenger enters the fray with a thoughtful response to Lawrence O’Donnell.  You may remember O’Donnell for his off-the-handle rant  about Mormons on the McLaughlin Group.  What you may not know is that O’Donnell not only stands by those remarks, but followed them up with what appears to be a sincere attempt to substantiate them, a very lengthy column on the Huffington Post.  Professor Wenger shows that O’Donnell’s reliance on hundred year old isolated quotations from Mormon leaders says nothing at all about Mormons in 2007, leastwise Mitt Romney.  Wenger also has a nice write up on his Mormon-focused blog regarding some of the questions coming up about Mormons and Racial issues.

All in all, I do think this constitutes a trend, and I think it’s only the beginning.  As Mormons continue to feel spat upon by evangelicals, leftist secularists, and journalists-with-an-agenda, they’re speaking up and defending themselves.  This is not exactly a sleeping giant, but there is a huge number of intelligent, articulate, even influential Mormons out there, and once provoked, they could have a real impact on the current public debate about the place of Mormonism in America.  Welcome to the fray, everyone.

We’ll be right back . . .

Just wanted to leave a note to say that posting will be light this week.  Yeah, I know it’s about the worst possible time to abandon this project, as things are heating up all over the place.  Unfortunately, that includes my life, and there’s just way too much to get done this week for me to spend time reading the 30 stories a day I have to read to feel current on every relevant issue.  As always, pertinent guest posts will be accepted.  I’ll be back soon, and if I don’t show up before then, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Mona Charen: Mormon Church Produces “Excellent Americans”

I hate to write many posts that just link to other stories, without adding any substance myself.  But the rigors of the close of the billable year call me to other pursuits at the moment.  Nevertheless, you won’t regret reading this article by Mona Charen.  She sounds many notes we’ve heard before, but her framework is new.  Isn’t it true that every election year, we see people wondering why our crop of candidates is so pathetic, when there are so many successful, competent people in America?  Anyone saying that this year clearly hasn’t thought hard enough about Mitt Romney, who perfectly fits the bill:

The question as to whether someone’s religious convictions are a fit subject for public scrutiny is not as simple as it sounds. It’s too pat to say, “There should be no religious test for public office and there’s the end of it.” If a candidate were, say, a fundamentalist Mormon like Warren Jeffs, or a Scientologist, that would be an obstacle. But the mainstream Mormon Church has enough of a track record in producing excellent Americans that the particularities of its doctrine are by now a matter of purely scholarly interest.

* * *

When Mitt Romney took office as governor of Massachusetts, the state had a $1.2 billion deficit. Four years later it was in surplus. He boasts that fourth and eighth graders in Massachusetts achieved the highest scores in the nation in reading and math, though they were doing so before he became governor as well. But his program of assessment, merit pay for good teachers, English immersion and a focus on math and science may have helped keep them at the top.

It is difficult to find any significant weakness in Romney. He is refreshingly articulate, exceedingly well prepared and self-disciplined, clearly an excellent manager with both private and government experience, happily married with a large, supportive family, and well within the mainstream of conservatism on every major issue. His nomination would not divide the base.

He is just the sort of candidate people complain that they never get.

Read the whole thing.  And have a good weekend, everyone.

Michael Novak on Religious Discrimination in Presidential Politics

Overshadowed by the endorsement by the National Review editorial board was Michael Novak’s endorsement of Governor Romney. Novak wrote a post detailing his reasons for supporting Romney, much of which have to do with sticking up for a victim of discrimination for his faith:

National Review beat me to it, alas, but I have been deciding to come out publicly for Mitt Romney for some days now. I have been supporting him privately for weeks, though I was trying to avoid supporting anybody publicly.

But the attacks upon Romney’s religion have been a last straw. They are just not fair. I remember his father’s campaigns and what an upright man he was — and no one even breathed a word against him because of his religion.

In addition, every one of the Mormons I have ever worked with, beginning with a great graduate assistant for one of my classes at Stanford in about 1967, have been the most well-mannered, inquisitive, competent, kind and thoughtful people I know. Arch Madsen of Bonneville Broadcasting, with whom I served on the Board of International Broadcast for many years, Joe Cannon who was on the AEI Board, Senator Orrin Hatch, and a long list of others always lifted my spirits.

One of my favorite texts from the New Testament is “By their fruits you shall know them.” That verse has taught me to look for persons who actually love God, not so much by the churches they attend or what they say they believe, but by how they and their families live their lives. Over two public generations now, the Romney family has given us examples of upright, decent, warm lives, given to public commitment even though they did not have to be.

These days, though, it has become imperative for some Christians to come out publicly for Mitt, now that his religion has come under unfair attack. I am no expert on Mormon theology, but I do profoundly admire the good family life and good individuals it keeps sending forth into the world. Those are signs I read clearly.

 

***

 

In any case, that’s the last straw. Someone has to protest, in the name of Christianity itself, that spreading bigotry and hatred for the sake of winning a political campaign is wrong. I for one don’t want to let this issue of bigotry and suspicion pass by without protest — and without open support for its victim. The least Americans can do is speak up for each other on matters of religious liberty.

Romney is a good, executive-keen man, and without this mud he would earn the respect and love of the American people on his own.

 

These thoughts stirred another response at NRO’s the Corner as well, this from Mike Potemra:

I want to second something Michael Novak said. In my decades’ worth of meeting people from many different religious backgrounds, I have found that in every faith tradition-Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, what have you-there is roughly the same proportion of nice people and jerks. To this rule there is one conspicuous exception: Mormons. I have yet to meet a single Mormon who has been a jerk-and I have met many LDS believers. As someone who grew up in Rudy Giuliani’s faith, and is now somewhere between Mike Huckabee’s and John McCain’s, I find Mitt Romney’s religious background a factor that makes me more, rather than less, likely to vote for him.

Nice to see a few people willing to stand up and defend Romney and his faith.

 

Mormon Belief Regarding Jesus and Satan

Mike Huckabee is getting plenty of buzz lately, but not all of it is good. There have been many stories hitting the airwaves suggesting that Huckabee suffers from deficiencies in ethics, crime, foreign policy, and a God-complex (here’s one small summary). This kind of negative vetting is to be expected for a surging candidate, and need not be an insurmountable challenge for Huckabee. However, Huckabee himself has added a new label to the above list: Anti-Mormon.

As reported in a story to be published on Sunday in the New York Times Magazine, Huckabee had the following exchange with a reporter on the issue of Mitt Romney’s faith:

Huckabee is, indeed, a discreet fellow, but he has no trouble making his feelings known. He mentioned how much he respected his fellow candidates John McCain and Rudolph W. Giuliani. The name of his principal rival in Iowa, Mitt Romney, went unmentioned. Romney, a Mormon, had promised that he would be addressing the subject of his religion a few days later. I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion. ‘‘I think it’s a religion,’’ he said. ‘‘I really don’t know much about it.’’

I was about to jot down this piece of boilerplate when Huckabee surprised me with a question of his own: ‘‘Don’t Mormons,’’ he asked in an innocent voice, ‘‘believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?’’

People are jumping all over this quote as evidence of Huckabee’s willingness to let religion enter the contest. Frankly, I don’t think any more evidence was needed, given some of his recent quotes attributing his success in the polls to God. As for this particular quote, it’s a mixed bag. We shouldn’t pass over his answer to the first question, which has Huckabee finally choosing a side on the “cult or religion” debate, and passing up the chance to label Mormonism a cult. That’s something.

The problem is that he kept talking. He could easily have stopped, but the Times piece makes it look as if he saw an opportunity there, and wanted to exploit it. He did so by resurrecting one of the oldest and most absurd tropes in the anti-Mormon arsenal: Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers!!! Given how well-worn this old chestnut is in Huckabee’s circles (and yes, we know he does run in those circles), Huckabee might be forgiven for believing it. But for repeating it to a reporter, as if he hopes it will get passed around and laid before Iowa voters? Pretty sad.

But let’s get down to the truth of the matter: Do Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers? You can answer that with another question: Do evangelicals believe that Mike Huckabee and Hitler are brothers? (say it with an ominous tone preferably with dark strings playing in the background). The answer to both is the same: if you insist on making a few logical leaps and completely ignore what each group actually teaches, sure.

Mormons have never taught this strange notion. It has never been a tenet of Mormonism, and the first time any Mormon hears the idea is always from an anti-Mormon characterizing Mormon beliefs. In other words, there’s no sense in which this idea has any impact within the LDS Church. The truth of the matter is that the Mormon Church teaches that God created everyone and everything. That means he created Jesus (one of the few areas where Mormon understanding of Jesus differs from that of traditional Christianity), and yes, it also means he created Satan, and also created you and me.

Thus the scandal of Jesus and Satan being brothers is one based entirely on extrapolation and syllogism. Yes, because both Jesus and Satan were created as part of the offspring of God, you could say they’re related, or even brothers. To say so would sound very foreign to Mormon ears, most of whom have never even considered such a relationship. But why would you? If it’s not something Mormons believe or teach or think about, what’s the point? Answer: just to make Mormons look bad.

Here’s LDS Church spokeswoman Kim Farah on the issue:

“We believe, as other Christians believe and as Paul wrote, that God is the father of all. That means that all beings were created by God and are his spirit children. Christ, on the other hand, was the only begotten in the flesh and we worship him as the son of God and the savior of mankind. Satan is the exact opposite of who Christ is and what he stands for.”

The same twisted argument can be made with lots of beliefs. Imagine someone comes up to you and starts the following line of questioning: Do you believe Jesus had a human body? Do you believe he sweated? Do you believe he spent lots of time in the hot sun? Do you believe he showered daily? Hah! Then you believe Jesus had body odor! You believe your Savior was stinky!

Would Christians be right to be offended by this attack? It is based on their true belief in a sense, in that you can come to that conclusion by cobbling together other ideas about Jesus. But it would be patently unfair because it’s not something anyone actually thinks about, teaches, or relies on. It’s made up by extrapolating other facets of belief. It is sensationalistic, it sounds weird, and it actually says nothing about the real beliefs of Christians. The Huckabee line about Jesus being the brother of Satan is exactly the same kind of argument.

To renew the point about Hitler above: Did you know that evangelicals believe that Hitler is the brother of the apostle Peter? And that Judas is the brother of James Dobson? Isn’t that sick and twisted? Well, no evangelical has ever taught such a thing, but you can certainly extrapolate the point from their belief that all of mankind are the children of God. You can do it, but why would you? Only if you want to smear them for no good reason.

By repeating this absurd anti-Mormon line, Mike Huckabee is doing exactly that, whether he knows it or not. But even if he doesn’t know it, you’d hope a presidential candidate would check around before slurring a religion, especially the religion of one of his fellow candidates. Makes you wonder what kind of unplanned slurs he might drop if he were our President. As an evangelical, it’s not possible that he holds a few misconceptions of Islam, too, is it? Hmmm.

Mormons, and Americans, deserve better from serious contenders for the presidency.

UPDATE: Huckabee has laudably apologized to Romney for his remarks.  Won’t undo the damage, but at least he’s sorry, and that’s not nothing.

National Review Endorses Mitt Romney for President

RomneyExperience doesn’t often stray from the center of its niche of religion/politics, but once in a while, there’s an issue important enough on one or the other side of that combination that it’s worth discussing. Today, there are two, one on each side.

First, and most important, the editors of the National Review have officially endorsed the candidacy of Mitt Romney. In their editorial, they make the detailed case for Mitt Romney as the right man at the right moment, far better qualified and better positioned to win the presidency and lead the country than any other Republican candidate. Here’s the kernel of the argument, in my view:

Romney is an intelligent, articulate, and accomplished former businessman and governor. At a time when others yearn for competence and have soured on Washington because too often the Bush administration has not demonstrated it, Romney offers proven executive skill. He has demonstrated it in everything he has done in his professional life, and his tightly organized, disciplined campaign is no exception. He himself has shown impressive focus and energy.

I think it would be really difficult to argue with that statement. There’s no question that viewing the field solely in terms of competence, focus and energy, Romney is far and away the best choice on either side of the aisle. Of course, Romney’s got so much more to recommend him, including his broadly conservative stances on most important issues. The NR editors also deal with every major objection to Romney, from the claims of inauthenticity and flip-flopping, to distaste for Mormonism. I recommend reading the entire article. It’s the second strong piece of evidence in a week (after last week’s Faith in America) that Romney has what it takes to become the nation’s president. And the accompanying illustration pushes the total to three, clearly.

Secondly, on the religion side, one of the biggest questions in the public discussion of Mormonism is whether Mormons are Christians. RomneyExperience has dealt several glancing blows to this question, but hasn’t yet confronted it head on. If this is a topic that interests you, please read this piece by Mike Otterson, who is the official spokesman for the LDS Church. Otterson writes on Newsweek’s “On Faith” blog, and offers his own answer to the question of whether Mormons are Christian. The money quote:

But for Mormons, these belief differences have nothing to do with whether or not they are Christian in the true meaning of the word. Mormons believe in the Jesus of the Bible, the same that was born at Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, preached His gospel in Galilee and Judea, healed the sick, raised the dead, and finally offered Himself as a sinless ransom for the sins of the world. They believe that Jesus Christ was literally resurrected, that He lives today, and that He is the only name under heaven by which mankind can be saved. This is the Jesus whose name is depicted on the front of every Mormon place of worship. This is the Jesus in whose name every Mormon prays and every sermon is preached. This is the Jesus whose body and blood are commemorated in weekly worship services by Latter-day Saints from Nigeria to New Zealand, from Michigan to Mongolia. For Latter-day Saints who try to live their lives as they believe Jesus taught, assertions that they aren’t Christian are as bewildering as they are wounding.

It’s a great piece, worth a few minutes of your time.

Are Mormons Racists?

Despite his completely unblemished personal record on race relations, it’s become clear that some want answers from Mitt Romney regarding the racial stances of the LDS Church. Romney will never give such answers, nor should he. The focus by some on the question of Mormon racism is an attempt to smear a good, progressive, modern man with a few quotations and stories from others of his faith, a means of slurring-by-association that should not be accepted. I’ve noted before that there’s not a hint of any basis on which to allege that Mitt Romney is himself a racist, and that should end the inquiry. Still, I’ve seen a number of sensible people who seem to agree with the less-sensible Mssrs. Hitchens and O’Donnell, that Romney ought to answer these questions. So it’s worth delving into the topic in order to kill the continuing chatter about Mormon “racism.”

Two threshold questions ought to be raised before delving into the history. First, is there any reason to believe that the present-day Mormon Church is racist today? Second, is there any reason to tie Mitt Romney to any charge of Mormon racism? The answer to both questions is an unqualified “NO”. The modern day Mormon Church is a huge global organization, with members representing every race, and congregations in approximately 170 countries. Many hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saints are black, living in places like Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. I am told that Brigham Young University, owned by the LDS Church, is the most diverse university in the country, measured by the number of nationalities represented there (I have seen this claim myself but cannot find documentation. If you can, send it to me). There is nothing preached in the Church that approaches, justifies, or encourages racist thought. Indeed, national polling data in recent times has shown that Mormons are actually less likely than other Americans to hold racist attitudes. Anyone wishing to smear the LDS Church with claims of present-day racism simply does not know the LDS Church. (Further points in this regard are offered in a thoughtful post at ColTakashi).

As for Romney, he comes from a racially progressive family that championed civil rights. Mitt’s father George marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. at a time when such actions were not uncontroversial in the Republican party, and Mitt celebrated the LDS Church’s reversal of its policy against black priests. Romney has a pristine record on race relations, and so questions regarding the racial stances of his faith should remain just that- targeted at his faith, not him. So, on to the larger question regarding Mormonism and race:

The Priesthood Ban

It’s important to understand what the LDS Church’s Priesthood ban entails, beginning with an understanding of the Mormon concept of Priesthood. (more…)

Irrational? Mormon Beliefs Aren’t Alone

I loved this article at NRO regarding the rationality of religious belief. To those who dismiss Mormonism because it seems so irrational, the author asks how to distinguish Mormon irrationality from that of any other faith:

Lots of people take it as a given that Mormonism is nuts; the tolerant ones just think this shouldn’t keep Mitt out of the White House. Many who hold the “Mormonism is nuts” position are religious themselves — and they’re the ones I find hardest to understand. I suspect that, almost to a man, they are (1) incapable of rationally defending their own beliefs and (2) completely unaware of how deeply irrational — in the sense of “rationality” given above — those beliefs are.

Which of the following ideas requires the bigger leap of faith: that a resurrected Christ appeared to ancient inhabitants of the Americas, or that the dead can come forth from their tombs at all? That the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, or that there was a Garden of Eden? Why do so many people scoff at the notion that an angel spoke to Joseph Smith, but accept without question that angels spoke to men and women in the Bible? (And since when is it rational to believe in angels?)

Shall we put the history of Mormonism on trial, too? Do we have a hard time voting for Mitt because his church practiced polygamy a hundred years ago, or withheld its priesthood from black men until 1978? Yes? A politician whose church has burned heretics at the stake, on the other hand . . .

You get the idea. People look on Mormonism with skepticism and contempt not because its doctrines are uniquely irrational, but because it is young and obscure. Miracles are easier to accept when viewed from the safe distance of two or three millennia; they have no business in James Monroe’s America. And familiarity with hoary old concepts — God, Resurrection, Heaven — desensitizes us to just how philosophically radical they are.

To be honest, I think he gives away too much here. I don’t think Mormon or Christian religious beliefs are irrational in the strictest sense of the word. They are often un-empirical, un-verifiable, and yes, weird sounding. But it’s not uncommon to hear a Mormon or a Christian express rational reasons for believing what they do. Imagine you had an experience for which there were very good reasons to believe that a divine being communicated with you. Wouldn’t it then be rational to believe whatever that divine being told you? That is often the basis for the beliefs of many religious people. Again, these are not empirically verifiable evidences, but they’re not crazy either.

Regardless, the point is that however irrational Mormonism may be, Christianity has no claim to greater rationality. It all reminds me of a church sign I saw once:

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