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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

Ken Woodward on Mormonism: Stating the Facts, Missing the Point

Katie Couric is curious about Mormons. So she brought in a religion-beat journalist to answer some questions. The answerer is Ken Woodward, whose name you might recall from the byline of this story, which has long served as an anchor of RomneyExperience’s “Attacks” page. Regardless of the man’s apparent dislike for members of Mitt Romney’s Church, our “expert” culture demands someone who has studied such things, instead of someone who has lived them. So, somehow, Ken Woodward is the man to tell us what Mormons believe, instead of, say, an actual Mormon.

Still, Mr. Woodward seems generally to know his stuff. One hates to argue with him because he gets his facts pretty right. Yet his descriptions combine the sound of authoritativeness with a tonal bent for painting Mormonism as cultish and backward. It’s no great thing to get your facts right but leave the reader with a completely wrong impression. (more…)

The Myth of Mormon Secrecy Part II: LDS Church Finances

Part II of a series discussing the Myth of Mormon “Secrecy.” See Part I here.

As explained in the first episode, many outsiders fret about the perception that the LDS Church is “secretive,” a worry that perhaps borrows from the notion that Mormons are cultists, which would only gain strength if people conclude that the LDS Church is insular and guarded. The idea of LDS secrecy, however, arises from only two issues in the galaxy of programs and practices of the Church. The first is Temple worship, dealt with in Part I. The second is the LDS Church’s preference for maintaining privacy regarding its finances, something that has gained more prominence in recent weeks after the Oregon Supreme Court refused to intervene in one plaintiff’s attempts to unveil the entire picture of the Church’s financial status.

What then, is the truth about the secrecy surrounding LDS Church finances? (more…)

Mitt Considers Speech, LDS Church Re-affirms Neutrality

Two interesting and loosely-connected items today:

First, many media outlets published portions of an AP story yesterday which quoted Mitt Romney saying that he is considering making a speech specifically dealing with issues surrounding his religion. Many have chimed in with opinions on whether this speech is a good idea, and what points it ought to make. I think the idea has its pros and cons, but the publicity it would generate for Mitt by itself must make it hard to pass up. I would be interested to know what Romney hopes to accomplish with the speech, because my sense is that no such speech could do very much good without causing more problems. But if anyone can do it, it’s Romney, the gifted communicator with the ability to sound brilliant and perfectly down-to-earth at the same time.

On another note, the LDS Church released a statement yesterday re-emphasizing its neutrality and asserting its own interests in the media coverage of the Romney campaign. (more…)

Clarifying “LDS” Criticisms of Romney

A story popped up at WorldNetDaily on Friday reporting that the “Mormon Church-owned Deseret Morning News” published an editorial critical of Mitt Romney. It was followed by the Brody Files, under the headline “Romney Gets Slapped by Mormon Newspaper.” While these pieces use their language carefully, they leave the strong impression that Mitt Romney is being directly castigated by his own church– something akin to the recent remarks of the Pope threatening ex-communication for Catholic politicians (such as Rudy Giuliani) that support abortion rights. It would certainly make for a big story for the LDS church to speak out in condemnation of Mitt Romney, but no such thing has actually happened. Indeed, the Morning News editorial did not speak for the LDS Church, and was actually not very critical of Mitt Romney. (more…)

Is a Vote for Romney a Vote to Legitimize Mormonism?

In a piece posted at First Things on Friday, Richard John Neuhaus weighed in on the factors that influence whether believing Christians ought to vote for Mitt Romney. While the column meanders a bit, it appears that the crux of Neuhaus’s position appears in the following paragraph:

It is not an unreasonable prejudice for people who, unlike Alan Wolfe et al., care about true religion to take their concern about Mormonism into account in considering the candidacy of Mr. Romney. The question is not whether, as president, Mr. Romney would take orders from Salt Lake City. I doubt whether many people think he would. The questions are: Would a Mormon as president of the United States give greater credibility and prestige to Mormonism? The answer is almost certainly yes. Would it therefore help advance the missionary goals of what many view as a false religion? The answer is almost certainly yes. Is it legitimate for those Americans to take these questions into account in voting for a presidential nominee or candidate? The answer is certainly yes.

Fr. Neuhaus joins Al Mohler and others in suggesting that Mitt Romney should perhaps be opposed because his election would make an honest religion out of Mormonism, with accompanying downsides that must be obvious enough that they remain unstated.

Could it be true that the LDS Church would get a boost if one of its faithful members is elected as President? And would substantial rises in conversions follow from the added prestige, as Fr. Neuhaus suggests?

The argument gives rise to several familiar images: the door being closed after the horse has left the barn, the finger in the dike, and of course, Chicken Little. (more…)