Mormons Feeling Stung By Their ‘Moment’

Suzanne Sataline, the Wall Street Journal’s crack religion reporter, filed a front page piece today in the Journal titled “Mormons Dismayed by Harsh Spotlight.” Although I spoke with Ms. Sataline several times over the writing of her piece (and am lightly quoted near the end), I was still surprised at the depth, breadth, and understanding of Mormonism it managed so gracefully. Mormons licking their wounds this morning as they contemplate the beating their religion took over the last year may find some small consolation in this sympathetic piece. (more…)

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.

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.

 

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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.

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…)

Off the Deep End

In the build up to Mitt Romney’s speech on Faith in America, some worried that this would open the door for harsher attacks on the specific tenets of Mormonism. Thankfully, Romney refused to delve into the controversial topics of his faith, which appeared to close that door. Some people, however, really wanted the door to open, so they’re carrying on as if it has been removed from its hinges.

And speaking of unhinged, let’s go to the video. What you are about to see is a political analyst and guest participant on the McLaughlin Group actually losing his mind on camera. We know this because everything he says is actually false or completely shorn of any helpful context. He rants about Romney’s speech being the “worst political speech of my lifetime,” because Romney refused to answer questions about Mormonism’s racist past. Bonus topics include Mormons being pro-slavery (the most ridiculous and obviously false charge I’ve ever heard about Mormons), and Romney’s polygamist ancestors (Note Pat Buchanan’s completely dispositive rebuttal). Let’s go to the tape:

I hope you caught the man’s basis for making such authoritative statements regarding Mormonism: He’s an actor on Big Love. So obviously he knows whereof he speaks. Especially since Big Love “has been a real headache for Mitt Romney.” You have to love the self-flattery.

For whatever reason, the accusation of Mormon racism has risen to the level of a meme now, so it’s time to address it. I wanted to put the above video out there to introduce the topic (admittedly because it puts the accusers in a rather bad light), but there are of course others with the same questions. This week, we’ll answer the question of whether Mormons are Racists. Stay tuned.

The Trial of Christopher Hitchens

It’s here– the next big attack you’ll be reading about everywhere. This time it’s no less an intellect/polemicist than Slate’s Christopher Hitchens, whose intelligence and polymathy are matched only by the palpable rancor of his rants. (For those keeping score, this makes the fifth religious attack on Romney’s faith appearing in Slate’s pages in the last year, counting this, this, this, this, and the present article. Why is that, Slate?). Hitchens has already outed himself as no friend to Mormonism, or to religion in general, by way of his too cutely titled new book God is not Great. (You can read an excerpt on the “ridiculous cult” of Mormonism here. Note while you’re there that while the book purports to attack all religion, Slate only had the gumption to publish excerpts attacking Islam and Mormonism. No good picking on anyone that might be able to fight back in numbers, right?).

Hitchens picks up his current tirade where he left off in that last edition, making enormous assertions based on glaring mischaracterizations of Mormon history and belief. Not to fear, he’s writing in a very prominent online magazine, so Hitchens can rest assured that his readers will assume he’s been fact-checked and vetted, and will walk away from the article believing they’ve just heard all they need to know about Mitt Romney’s crazy religion. It’s one thing to go on a tear in some small evangelical magazine, and another to post a dirty, mendacious diatribe in a visible forum viewed by tens of thousands of intelligent Americans. Sadly, something below that number will view this response, so regardless of the actual truth of these matters, Hitchens has already won. If Hitchens can sanctimoniously concoct the trial of Henry Kissinger for alleged crimes against humanity, surely he ought to stand trial himself for these glaring crimes against decency and truthfulness.

But enough hand-wringing. Let’s pick up some of the worst of Hitchens’ claims and show the world how pitiful they are in the light of truth, shall we? As Hitch might say, do let’s. There’s so much here that we’ll dispense with our normal snappy segues and paragraph structures. It’s bullet point time.

  • Hitchens starts by discussing Romney’s video response to the recent push polls in Iowa and New Hampshire attempting to tie Romney to a number of controversial Mormon doctrines. To Hitchens, the video is model of “revolting sanctimony and self-pity,” and is also part of an affirmative strategy for Romney to gain politically by defending himself. I recommend viewing the video to judge the level of sanctimony and self-pity, because I don’t see it. In fact, if you’ve ever been attacked on the basis of your religion or another out-of-bounds characteristic, you’ve probably gotten a lot more exercised than Romney does here. But then, it’s possible Hitchens never watched the video, because he feigns ignorance about why Romney brings up the timing of Thanksgiving- even though Romney clearly explains that “this is a time when we’re preparing for Thanksgiving. A time when we get to celebrate the fact that this nation was founded in part to allow people to enjoy religious freedom.” See the connection yet, Hitchens? (more…)

Yes, They Were Push Polls

I am heartened to see the breathless response of the national media to the slimy survey calls being made to Iowa and New Hampshire voters that delve into obscure questions of Mitt Romney’s faith.  It’s one thing that calls like this happen in today’s political cycle, but it would be something else entirely if no one got up in arms about it.  This week’s response to these calls seems to guarantee that few will dare try something like this in the next few months (although all bets are off come the general election campaign, of course).  Which is not to say we’ve seen the last of this in the primary, but anyone who had been considering such tactics will certainly think twice now, and spend more time covering his tracks than gaining newly anti-Mormon supporters.

I wanted to add one small point to everything that’s been said about these events in the last few days.  Despite the appropriately furious reaction by many, one issue seems to have become a part of the narrative that should not be.  If you read much of the coverage, you’ll find several stories that break down the difference between what took place here and “push polls,” asserting that the calls made to Iowan and NH were something else entirely.  The term most often used is “message testing.”  That is, these calls were just being made to test certain messages so that campaigns or other advocacy groups can better understand how to craft their talking points.  *Okay, no big deal then, sorry to have made such a fuss.*

Hold on a second.  There are two things to note here.  First is that most of these stories are driven directly by sources at Western Wats (the polling company responsible for the calls).  I called an old friend at Western Wats and got the same thing– we don’t do push polling, these were methodologically substantive pieces of survey research.  Given that that’s the only information coming out of Western Wats, I understand why some people wanted to print it, but it just happens to be a huge piece of disinformational smokescreening.  Regardless of the informational richness of the survey for Western Wats’ purposes, it makes not an iota’s worth of difference to America, Mormons, reporters, Romney, or anyone else that there is actual research going on here instead of calls for the sake of convincing voters.  This is a distinction without a difference, and Western Wats is behind the blurring of the lines.  (Push polls? We are waaaaaay above that.  We only ask long lists of anti-Mormon questions when we care about the results!)

Which leads to my second point.  The very argument suggests something far grander– that rather than just trying to convince the recipients of each call, the intention is actually to test and refine a message regarding anti-Mormonism that will then be broadcast on a much larger scale to use Romney’s religion against him.  Why we should be sanguine about this angle is not evident to me?  Did everyone miss what they’re calling these calls?  Message testing!  Whoever hired Western Wats to make these calls is interested in knowing how best to package Anti-Mormon bigotry to bring down Mitt Romney!  (Okay, that’s way too many exclamation points.  Let me calm down for a minute).

We should not buy the spin being offered on the nature of these calls.  I’m no expert on telephone research (although I spent a year working for a Provo-based rival of Western Wats, so I’m happy to pose as an expert if you’d like), but I don’t think there’s any real difference at all between these calls and the push polls that became famous back in 2000.   Both have the effect of persuading voters on completely irrelevant issues, both are dirty and underhanded, and both deserve outright condemnation and legal investigation.  Let’s hope the anti-Mormon calls to Iowa and New Hampshire are met with both.

They’re Heeeere . . .

The push pollers, anti-Mormons, and political opportunists, that is.

Politico’s crack ’08 blogger Jonathan Martin has the story. Apparently, a Utah-based market research company has been hired to call voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and ask question after question about each respondent’s opinions regarding Mormonism, its status as a “cult,” its adherence to the Book of Mormon, and the eligibility of a Mormon to hold political office. This would seem to be targeted at a specific Mormon candidate, if you can think of one that holds that profile.

While it’s an awful thing to see, pretty much everyone (including me) predicted this. And it’s coming at exactly the time you would expect it to. So far we have strong denials from the McCain and Giuliani camps. However, given the current legal climate of campaigning, it could be virtually anyone paying for these calls behind a 527 group. Someone see if there have been any papers filed to set up “Anti-Mormons for Truth.”

And by the way, following up on the new gloves-are-off mode we’re entering, here’s another nice piece of scurrilous anti-Mormonism. I had planned to respond to this today, but other duties have called. Hopefully we can have a real response up soon.

Finally, if you haven’t seen it already, this New York Times piece on Romney’s mission is decent. While the continuing, obsessive focus on Romney’s religious experience is unfortunate, at least the focus is on Romney’s religious experience– rather than on the abstract theological beliefs putatively held by his religion. Once you accept the topic of the piece, it’s a pretty fair treatment that continues the inevitable process of humanizing this candidate as the country pays more attention to him.

Anti-Mormon Gloves Coming Off

Martin Frost, writing on FoxNews.com, made an invitation to his readers. He asked them to write him expressing their feelings regarding voting for a Mormon. Mr. Frost says the majority of his more than 400 respondents expressed a hope that people could get past that issue and vote for candidates on the merits. This is encouraging. But Mr. Frost, who purports to belong to that same camp, didn’t print any of those emails. Instead, he chose to publish thirteen of the most vitriolic pieces of bigotry you’re likely to ever see in a national news medium. This is pathetic.

Let’s review a few of these emails, and remember- the topic is not the truthfulness of the LDS Church, its theology or practice, the salutary effect it has on members’ lives, or any other such religious question. The topic is whether a person is comfortable voting for Mitt Romney in light of his Mormon faith. Here’s a rule of thumb: If someone asks you if you can vote for Hillary Clinton, and your response focuses more on “women” than “Hillary,” you’re a bigot. Keeping that same principle in mind, let’s look at a few of the cuddly reader responses: (more…)