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…)

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…)

Might Mitt Romney Be a Closet Polygamist? Umm, No.

Writing in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph, Harvard History Professor Niall Ferguson analyzes the Yanks’ ’08 race for the Presidency. He breaks down some of Giuliani’s deficiencies before moving on to this somewhat astounding paragraph about Romney:

No wonder Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith suddenly seems like less of a handicap. Although technically entitled to practise polygamy, Romney is (as he likes to repeat) the only Republican contender who has had only one wife. Giuliani’s children are so sick of his father’s antics that they are unlikely to vote for him. By contrast, Romney’s progeny resemble the Osmonds: handsome, wholesome, and 100 per cent devoted to Dad.

The Romney-as-possible-polygamist meme is making the rounds lately. Moving from middlebrow, above, to very lowbrow, one finds the comments of much-derided, but much-viewed talk show regular Elisabeth Hasselbeck of ABC’s The View. (more…)

Has Mormonism Already Been Proven False? A Response to Yglesias and Douthat

Mega-bloggers Ross Douthat and Matthew Iglesias sat down for a video chat about Romney and Mormonism last week, presenting opinions on the LDS Faith at times interesting and at times spectacularly uninformed. The video is an excellent artifact of the way Mormonism can be held in contempt even by those whose bona fides as non-neanderthals are undeniable. Mormons are used to having fringe-y religious zealots attack their faith, and can even conceive of the secularists of the far left dismissing them, but it is a relatively new experience to hear normally open-minded, thoughtful people label their religion as pure silliness, as Yglesias and Douthat have. To his credit, Douthat quickly admitted that he spoke mostly from ignorance on the topic, and invited informative responses. Russell Arben Fox offered a very good one, and this piece hopes to answer that call as well.

There is much to respond to in the Bloggingheads video– too much for this morning. So let’s take a few major points, and hopefully get back to some of the specifics in later days. (more…)

Who is the Jesus of Mormonism?

In the debate about why Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith does or does not matter, one increasingly hears the concern that he believes in a Jesus that is different from the Jesus worshiped by those of more traditional strains of Christianity. The New York Times’ political blog reports that many Evangelicals are concerned about this issue (see here), the Brownback campaign’s smear of the Mormon faith a month ago focused on this issue (see here), and Al Mohler now opines that Mormons and creedal Christians worship very different saviors (see here). While RomneyExperience believes it should go without saying that these questions have no place in a political campaign, the number of people asking the question suggests that an answer is needed.

So, who is the Jesus that Mormons worship, and is he a different figure than the Jesus worshiped in traditional Christianity?

First of all, we must be clear about how narrow the parameters of this discussion really are. There was once a person named Jesus who lived in Palestine under Roman rule around 2000 years ago, this much is historical fact. (more…)

Is Mormonism a Cult? Part II

See Part I here.

Despite the weaseliness of the “cult” label, the word does actually mean something. To most people, it implies a group of people lacking in independence or sophistication under the sway of a powerful doctrine or charismatic leader, which leads them away (often dangerously or objectionably) from mainstream society. It is only fair to ask whether the LDS Church exhibits tendencies that could place it in or near this definition.

First, do Mormons lack sophistication or independent will such that they can be brainwashed or unfairly manipulated? There is no way to objectively answer this question, but it is helpful to try to find such manipulation or brainwashing in the church’s practices. If such brainwashing exists, it must take place in church meetings or other church-related venues. And yet, every single meeting connected with the church involves only discussions of the gospel, organizational administration, or social activity. While it is true that Mormons would include in their view of “the gospel” topics not seen in other Christian churches (including unique perspectives on the Trinity, salvation, and Priesthood), roughly 70% of what is discussed in any church discussion would be very familiar to a visiting Christian. Lessons and talks on topics such as charity, repentance, Christ-like living, and faith abound. In other words, what Mormons are doing in their churches is almost identical to what those of other faiths are doing– discussing points of doctrine and coordinating efforts to serve each other. No pressure is applied, no coercive techniques are used, and everyone is free to come and go as they please. (more…)

Is Mormonism A Cult? Part I

Perhaps one of the most common, and most damaging accusations leveled at the LDS church is that it is a cult. You can find iterations of this attack in the political realm here, here, here, and here, for example. Which, of course, doesn’t scratch the surface of dialogue in the religious world, where the accusation is bandied about with alarming regularity. This topic deserves two separate treatments. Part I deals with the semantics of the word “cult” when used in the political realm. Part II will deal specifically with how well the term applies to Mormonism.

The first thing to note about the “cult” epithet is that it means nothing at all. I’m serious. (more…)