Meet Mitt, the Mormon
I was raised in a devout Mormon family. My parents and most of my siblings are all very active in their church and happy to be so. Due to my experience growing up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as they are officially known, I have a bit to say on the subject of Mitt Romney’s religion. Certainly more than Mitt himself has said.
Mitt has expressed his devotion to his church saying “I’m not a cafeteria Mormon”, but that’s all he seems to say about it. Just for the sake of clarity, I’d like to examine what that means exactly.
For the record, every religion on earth believes things that are weird, silly, and sometimes disturbing. Catholic doctrine says that wine and wafers turn to flesh and blood when consumed. Seriously. So don’t think I’m just Mormon bashing here, all religions are kooky.
As for the evangelicals who think Mormons are a non-christian cult, well just consider the source. Ignorant mouth-breathers are notoriously ill-informed. Take a look at the LDS Articles Of Faith and tell me they’re any different than most basic mainstream protestant beliefs. (I had to memorize all thirteen of those when I was a kid. Really. It sucked.)
Now to the more “quirky” doctrine of the church.
Baptism for the dead
It is Mormon doctrine to baptize those who have died to give them a chance to be redeemed in the afterlife. This includes anyone who has ever lived on earth, like say devout Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. It’s an uncomfortable question to answer for any Mormon, but for a man running for President, it’s downright impossible. Hence the “ask the church about it” dodge. The church has the largest database of genealogical records on the planet, which is awesome, but any of your ancestors in that database may have been posthumously baptized into the LDS church. Just so you know. (I had to do this as a kid. They take you to the temple, put you in a zip-up jumpsuit, and then dunk you under water about thirty times in a big hot-tub looking thing while reading names off of a screen like a deranged auctioneer. It’s um… interesting.)
The Law of Consecration
This, I think, is the absolute best part of the church. In January, 1831 church founder Joseph Smith received a revelation from God telling him that all members of the church should give everything they own to the church to be portioned out according to each member’s need and thus eliminate poverty in the church. That’s right, the early Mormon’s were a bunch of dirty commie hippies.
This particular “law” was not in effect for very long, but it did spur the institution of the modern church’s welfare program, which actually does some outstanding work. Here’s what Marion G. Romney (cousin to George Romney, Mitt’s dad) had to say about it in 1979.
In October of 1936, about one hundred years after the termination of the law of consecration experience, the First Presidency of the Church announced the organization of the welfare program.
President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., its principal architect, said concerning the welfare program and the united order:
“We have all said that the Welfare Plan is not the United Order and was not intended to be. However, I should like to suggest to you that perhaps, after all, when the Welfare Plan gets thoroughly into operation … we shall not be so very far from carrying out the great fundamentals of the United Order.”
Minorities and the Church
This is a very tough topic for Romney. The church’s history with minorities is mixed at best. The Book of Mormon, their own scripture supposedly revealed to Joseph Smith by God, says that the modern Native Americans are descendants of people known as Lamanites who were cursed by God with “a skin of blackness” and were made “loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.”
The early leaders of the church believed that black people of African decent were the descendants of Cain, and were therefore cursed with dark skin.
“Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain] … in him cannot hold the Priesthood and if no other Prophet ever spoke it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it.”
–Brigham Young, 1852
With only a handful of exceptions, black men were not allowed to hold the “Priesthood” in the church until 1978. Whether the modern church still holds this “curse” nonsense as official church doctrine is debatable, but I can tell you from experience this is exactly what I was taught as a child in the 1980’s.
Church leaders have publicly denounced racism many times over the years but have stopped short of denouncing the old doctrine.
So yea, that’s a tough one to tackle in the general election, especially against an African-American president. I think it’s a valid question to ask. Do we want a president who believes dark skin is a curse from God?
(It’s probably not a problem in the primaries though. Conservatives love them some good ol’ fashioned biblical racism.)
Easily the most egregious act of discrimination by the church in recent years has to be the Proposition 8 battle in California.
We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.
–Letter from LDS Presidency read to all congregations on June 28th, 2008
-Broadcast message to California congregations October, 2008
Notice the “means and time” language there. That’s very important. The phrase “give of your time, talents, and means” is derived from the Law of Consecration and is a key part of the Endowment ceremony carried out in LDS temples. When the Prophet of the church asks them to donate their time and means, he’s speaking directly to that holy covenant, and they do it.
Californians Against Hate released figures Tuesday showing that $17.67 million was contributed by 59,000 Mormon families since August to groups like Yes on 8. Contributions in support of Prop. 8 total $22.88 million.
That’s why the Prop 8 fight was such a despicable move by the church. They deliberately targeted their member’s using language they knew would manipulate them to act, and then sat down with their tithing records and asked for money based on their income. This was all done for a political purpose that had nothing to do with the church or its doctrine. It was a cold and calculated move to deny equal rights to millions of people based on nothing but bigotry, in order to further their own political power among conservative groups.
Of course this is the least damaging of all for Mitt. Gay hating is not as frowned upon as open racism these days, but it should be. I do think if these questions are pursued it would at least be discomforting for him.
So if Rachel Maddow is wondering why Mitt is acting like a closeted Mormon…
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Look no further than South Carolina and Florida where he has turned hard to the right. It’s a very difficult balancing act. He has to play to his evangelical base who are distrustful of him at best, but he also has some very uncomfortable questions coming from the center that he may not want to deal with right now. Which leaves him perpetually pretending to be someone he’s not.
Unlike many liberals, I believe a person’s religious beliefs are fair game in politics. Especially when talking about conservatives who put their religion front and center in their campaigns. A person’s faith informs their worldview and their politics. If Mitt Romney believes the world is 6000 years old and black people were cursed by god with dark skin then I think we need to know exactly why we should trust him in any position of power in our secular government.
That goes for anyone, not just a Mormon.
However, if Mr. Romney is willing to denounce bigoted nonsense from his church then fine, but someone needs to ask him about it, and soon.