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…)

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.

The Real Reason Some Oppose Mitt Romney

There may be some of you loyal RomneyExperience readers who think I’ve failed you this week, and for this, I’m sorry.  You may have noticed a deafening silence here in contrast to the breathless and frenetic coverage going on everywhere else about Mitt Romney’s much-anticipated “Faith in America” speech.  Well, I wish I had a better excuse, but here’s the reason I haven’t gone in for much of that: I think it’s boring.  That’s right.  I read all of the prognosticating, second-guessing, predicting, exhorting, and everything else people are saying about this speech, and I get a little drowsy.  I really don’t care that much what everyone else thinks Romney will say, or what everyone else thinks he should say, or what everyone else thinks Romney will gain or lose by this.  Yeah, I have some opinions on these topics, but given how indifferent I am to others’ thoughts on the topic, I can’t presume that you’ll be interested in mine.  I much prefer to sit and wait and see what Romney says, and once he’s said it, you can bet I’ll be here to deal with any unfair coverage that follows.  But for now, the huge volume of commentary this week feels like one of those by-the-numbers topics that columnists just have to pick up because everyone’s doing it.  I’ll be glad when it’s over and the country can return to its normal denigrating of Mitt Romney and his faith.  (Just kidding!).

In the meantime, how about a link to a nice bit of substantive conversation?  Jonah Goldberg was apparently preparing to weigh in on (what else?) the speech, and started reading up on some relevant topics.  He came up with a startling conclusion: there may be nothing to fear from a Mormon presidency!

So I’ve been getting email for something like two years now from thoughtful, articulate and from what I can tell decent evangelical or conservative Christians explaining to me why they have everything from “reservations” and “concerns” to outright revulsion at the prospect of having a Mormon be the Republican nominee or the President of the United States (often the concern seems to me more passionate about the nomination, though that might simply be a result of the fact the nomination comes first). I’d like to say I understand all the theological issues, but I don’t. But don’t care to understand all of the theological issues either.

What I would like to know, however, is what exactly these people think a Mormon President might do that would be so unacceptable? Are there Mormon public policies I do not know of that would be implemented? Is there a Mormon faction in foreign policy?

I’ve been reading up a bit because I want to write about “the speech” but so far I haven’t found much on this basic question.

He left an open invitation for someone to write in about what Romney will do to implement Mormonism as public policy in the White House.  The responses made clear that there’s simply nothing you can credibly say to support that notion. (more…)

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…)

South Carolina: Raising the Stakes, Risking the Wrath

It became clear last week that recent polls out of South Carolina showing a surprising rise to the top by Mitt Romney in that state deserve to be taken seriously. Much as the other candidates would like to dismiss these reports, and pundits have long thought such an ascension unthinkable in this heavily evangelical state, Romney’s advantages in organization, endorsements, and work ethic seem to be paying off, at least for now.

In the immediate wake of this good news for the Romney camp comes a reminder to mix their optimism with a healthy dose of caution. This Michael Crowley story in the New Republic catalogues the well-known tradition in South Carolina Presidential politics of fighting as dirty as humanly possible.

Crowley details several low blows already dealt in the S.C. race, many of them leveled directly at the biggest chink in the Romney armor: the millstone of Mormonism. Exhibit 1 is a mysterious letter widely distributed just before an S.C.-based debate last Spring, wherein Joseph Smith was unflatteringly compared to Mohamed, with emphasis on each prophet’s (supposed) ambition to become a “warlord.” Even uglier, a mass email reached many S.C. voters with the message that “[t]hose dark suspicions you hide deep inside yourself about Mormonism are trying to tell you something. . . Trust your instincts! . . . the light of truth will burn through the smoke and mirrors of Mitt Romney’s movie star looks and crafty words!” Unsurprisingly, the enlightened author of this ominous counsel remained anonymous. But the religious insinuation– God is trying to tell your conscience to reject the glossy candidate of evil– was easily discerned. (more…)

Evangelicals to Romney: You Can’t Claim the Lord (He’s Ours!)

Several stories have been published of late advising Mitt Romney on the strategy of dealing with his religion in the presidential race. The advice is unsolicited, mean-spirited, and premised on half-truths, but at least it’s free. Several writers and sources are now urging Mitt Romney to be very careful about the common ground he tries to stake out between Mormons and Christians for purposes of connecting with the broader evangelical audience. “I told him, you cannot equate Mormonism with Christianity; you cannot say, `I am a Christian just like you,”’ says Bob Inglis, R-S.C., one of the lead sources in both stories. “If he does that, every Baptist preacher in the South is going to have to go to the pulpit on Sunday and explain the differences.” (By the way- ever seen a candidate to whom others were so desperate to give advice? It’s almost become a pundit parlor game these days).

Despite the unpleasantness of this counsel, there is little doubt that Bob Inglis is right. If Romney were to try to equate his Mormonism with mainstream Christianity, he’d have a problem on his hands. Evangelicals don’t want to be told they’re identical to a church they’ve railed against for years. And, though it may come as a surprise to many outsiders, Mormons are similarly nonplussed about rhetoric that morphs them into just another non-distinctive mainstream Christian church. If Romney were to erase the lines dividing these groups, he’d risk the ire of both, and needlessly.

The differences between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism are substantial, and neither group has any interest in ignoring them. Mormons follow modern prophets and believe in modern revelation; they view their church as a divinely instituted restoration of ancient Christianity with exclusive authority to officiate in God’s name. You can see how it might be disingenuous to say that Mormonism is just like Lutheranism and Methodism and all the rest, given that it claims to pull rank on them all.

So the problem with the above-mentioned stories is not in their insistence on Mormon differences. It is in how far they take those differences. (more…)

Is the “Mormon Factor” Still Important?

I’m in trial this week, so blogging time is limited.  While my time constraints continue, we’ll keep running high-quality guest posts like the following.  This one was submitted by reader James Masters.  Send your guest post to [email protected]

It’s time to rethink the impact of “The Mormon Factor” when considering Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations.  CNN let slip a small news story last Thursday regarding a recent poll from Opinion Research Corporation.  The poll indicated that 80% of individuals would not let Mormonism be a negative factor in deciding on a candidate.  Only 19% of those polled indicated that they would be “less likely” to vote for a Mormon.  The poll’s margin of error is +/- 3%.  Compare this statistic with the following historical polls: (more…)

Romney Religion Roundup

In the wake of Mitt Romney’s on-and-off the air debate with an Iowa radio host last week, there has been a huge uptick in coverage of Romney’s religion issues. I’ve read probably twenty such stories in the past two days, but that’s the punishment I’m willing to take to filter it all and bring you just the good stuff. Unfortunately, that’s left me with little time to come up with anything original to say about the new wave of coverage, but that’s okay, because few of these stories say anything original either.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t point you to the good ones. First of all, there’s a long (for a blog) piece at GetReligion that argues against the continuing coverage of Romney’s religion because it does the disservice of obscuring the man behind the believer. (more…)

Giuliani, McCain: Morally Repugnant. Romney: Worse.

Bill Berkowitz at Media Transparency provides an interesting summary of the race so far, from the perspective of the Religious Right base. While he gets some of his facts right, Berkowitz also throws a lot of gas on the fire of intolerance against Romney, pretending that it’s water. Here’s the sub-head:

While Giuliani and McCain register ‘morally repugnant’ on the religious right’s traditional values-meter, Romney has a bigger problem: many conservative Christian evangelical leaders don’t believe his religion measures up.

And here’s the segue within the story to Romney’s ‘problem’:

While Giuliani and McCain are viewed with enormous suspicion and distaste by many on the Christian right, Romney has a much larger problem, one that has little to do with his serial flip-flopping on social issues. It is Romney’s Mormonism that clearly makes many conservative Christian evangelicals uneasy.

So, as this author tells it, the conservative Christian base of the Republican party finds McCain and Giuliani morally “repugnant,” but feel even less regard for Mitt Romney because of his religion? (more…)

LA Times: “Evangelicals Uneasy with Romney’s Faith.” Readers: How Many?

Answer: Four.

The headline to this LA Times story would have you believe it’s more than that, like, a lot more. And yet, any good seventh grade social studies student would reject their sampling out of hand. Look beyond the headline and you’ll see a story about a journalist trotting around Rock Hill, South Carolina talking to Evangelicals about Mitt Romney. Of the people quoted in the story, four are disinclined to vote for Mitt Romney because of his religion. Five others have no such problem. And remarkably, three of the four people who oppose Romney due to his Mormonism are all employees of the same Christian bookstore. In other words, a majority of the people quoted in the story are not opposed to voting for Romney based on his faith, and of those that are, a majority were part of the same conversation with the journalist. Truly, this is a headline that is far out ahead of its story.

To be fair, there is little doubt an intrepid reporter could have found more than four people to express hesitancy about voting for a Mormon. And the rest of the story’s description of Mormon beliefs is more or less fair (although one source’s belief that outsiders cannot enter Mormon churches is well off the mark). But one wonders what kind of newspaper pushes an article that shows only mild questioning as a staunch entrenchment against religious tolerance? How many headlines could we come up with that would more accurately summarize the story? Even inserting a “Some” in the header would have been more honest, although less sensational.

Of course, it is asking too much for a newspaper to base its conclusions only on scientific rigour. But this leads to a greater difficulty that underlies much of the Romney question. That is, no one has any idea how much his religion will be a factor, and talking to nine people on the street may be about as accurate a portrayal of the facts as any. There have been literally hundreds of articles written on the question, and only three sources of information. First, there are the ubiquitous polls stating that such and such a percentile of people (18%? 28%?) would never vote for a Mormon. These polls are suspect from the start, given the anonymity of the “Mormon” in question. One has to think Mitt Romney can do better than this shadowy disembodied “Mormon” based on his chin alone.

Second, one has anecdotes from Evangelicals on the street. And yet, many of those expressing reluctance are those found in supercharged Christian bookstores or ultra-zealous church groups– the kind most likely to view Mormons with disdain. And for every Evangelical-on-the-street with doubts, there are three well-regarded movement leaders that dismiss out of hand the question of withholding votes for a Mormon.

The third source of information is simple, unadorned opinion. So there is that.

I wish I could say I know what the truth is on the Evangelical Street (square? group? What is the proper geographical shorthand for the mean of Evangelical opinion?). Like everyone else, I have my hunch. I am inclined to believe the countless Evangelical leaders and thinkers that have stated an openness to evaluating Romney on the merits, appraising his values over his theology. I also think that he’s less likely to be viewed in isolation, and more likely to be compared against some other options that have their share of warts. But I’m open to the possibility that I’m wrong.

What I’m sure of is that we’re not getting any of the answers from the LA Times. Despite the certitude of their headlines.