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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Mormon Wildcard


July 7, 2007

The Mormon Wildcard

Contributing Author

I consider myself a secular humanist, on my best days a religious humanist and occasionally, if the mood strikes me, a deist.  One can never be too safe: better to hedge.  I’m one of the many who treats religion as a cultural necessity.  It pervades every aspect of our history and culture, even for those of us on the sidelines.  We all ask the same questions, sometimes we even manage to stumble across the same answers.  The evolution of world religions is a lesson in economy; as mankind gradually understood more and more of our own cosmology we seemed to require fewer gods, until finally the Hebrews decided upon just one.  Revolutionary really, imagine one God to explain both good and evil – it makes dualism sound rational.  Buddha went one step further and eliminated the necessity of a deity all together, though you would never know by its practice.  There’s a beautiful simplicity in some ancient religions, and unsightly complexity in a few modern ones.  Sanctuary is wherever you find it.

Last Sunday, while in the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art in Washington, I slipped unnoticed into a tour group paused before a portrait of George Washington.  The art historian was giving a talk on 19th century American painters, how the artists and patrons longed for their own style, one that was distinctively “American.”  No one wanted the classic religious paintings of the Virgin Mary or the crucifixion, because we were of course a “Protestant country.”  An accurate observation given the historical context, but I’m not sure how much we’ve out grown that mind-set.

The religious litmus test is a rite of passage for all presidential candidates, but when the control factor changes we find ourselves searching for a new indicator.  It’s like shopping: we see a new product from a brand we know and we just throw it in the cart; it might be a little different, but mostly more of the same – it’s a safe purchase.  Politics is not analogous to grocery shopping, though the average American knows far more about what’s on sale at Wal-Mart this week than what transpired on this week’s debate.

Americans did, however, take an interest in John F. Kennedy, the first candidate to truly change the religious control factor from Protestant to Catholic.  Few could deny that Kennedy undertook the challenge with an elegance and efficacy absent in today’s politics.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1960 [Presidential Library]

Kennedy uttered these words during his now famous address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960.  His moving speech is often credited with allaying the concerns of many non-Catholics, though Kennedy’s charisma and style probably had more to do with his presidential win than any change of heart among Protestants; Catholics currently make up 24% of the US Population, yet Kennedy was the first and last Catholic elected in the past 43 administrations.

Religious Identity & Cultural Perception

Americans have easily accepted Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Baptist presidential candidates - essentially any Christian (non-Catholic) denomination.  Catholic, Jewish, and Mormon candidates still require a good deal more consideration.  Hindus and Buddhists may be far from the average American’s comfort zone, but they would certainly fair better than a Muslim candidate.  What about a Scientologist, or Jehovah’s Witness, or dare we say an atheist?  Apparently religion does still matters.

As we move further from the American religious center, our exposure, knowledge, and comfort level decreases.  It’s difficult to equate tolerance with respect: one means to accept, the other to hold in high esteem.  It’s a seemingly minor distinction, but one with great implications.

Faith seems to be a theme of each candidate’s campaign this election – it’s always a safe answer to a tough question, even if the question isn’t about religion.  You just can’t go wrong by weaving faith into the story, though it’s more lip-service to appease the religious right than any profound theological testimony.  Are they are true men of God in the campaign this year?  Alas even Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon and this year’s reborn ultra-conservative, seems more apt to dodge a religious question than seize the opportunity to appeal to his primary constituency.  Romney always seems uncomfortable when asked a religious question of any substance, offering an auto-responsive: “I believe in exactly same things as other Christians… next question.”  I expect more conviction from a Mormon bishop, but we still have plenty of time; the presidential race is just beginning to heat up and the gloves are still on, but not for long.  This year the questions and the tactics will be quite different as the stakes are higher – Mitt Romney’s switched the religious control factor again; the problem is he’s the only one that hasn’t noticed. 

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and a leader in the Mormon Church, presents a new challenge to the media and to voters.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is one of the most misunderstood churches in America.  From a public relations’ standpoint, the LDS Church has the most to gain—and the most to lose—from this election.  It’s an opportunity for millions of Americans to learn about Mormon history, doctrine, and practices; this is precisely what worries the LDS Church the most.  

The LDS Church and Mormon culture is a closed society in many aspects.  Mormons balk at this claim, but try walking into your local LDS temple for a visit; you’ll make it as far as the lobby or visitor center.  Paradoxically, Mormons are among the most well-informed members of any denomination with respect to their own doctrines, beliefs, and “revised” history, yet on average they are extremely uninformed or misinformed regarding other sects.  This explains Mitt Romney’s frustration with the media’s torrent of questions regarding his Mormon faith; after all did Kennedy not address the issue of religion back in the 1960s?  Romney fails to see that Americans make a distinction - no matter how seriously we maintain a separation of church and state, religion still matters.  The next vital realization is that all religions are not equal, at least not in the eyes of the American voters.  No matter what the LDS Church claims, even with “Jesus Christ” in their name, they simply fail the Christian litmus test [View Church Statements].  The other factor is that although Mormons are respected, the religion is not.  The controversies surrounding the LDS Church go far beyond the usual matters of faith.  Catholics and Protestants may debate the veneration of Mary or the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, but few question the veracity and moral character of their founder or the authenticity of their scriptures.  Academics and laymen alike view Mormonism as a modern-day hoax, more akin to the Church of Scientology than any Christian denomination.  The evidence surrounding the issue is substantial: The Book of Mormon is replete with errors and plagiarized text [LINK], while Book of Abraham (another “translated” Mormon text) was exposed as a verifiable fraud, being nothing more than common Egyptian funerary documents [LINK] ; Numerous unfulfilled Mormon prophecies that never came to pass have been “revised” [LINK]; Not to mention Joseph Smith was popularly known as the local “juggler” or con man with the court records in his home state of New York to prove it [INFO]. Before Smith became the Mormon Prophet, he honed his skills as a money-digger, using a “peep stone” to magically seek out and locate buried treasure for a fee.  Smith used this same technique to translate the Book of Mormon from “reformed Egyptian”; he would place his favorite “peep stone” in the bottom of his hat, pull the hat close to his face and the translation would appear.  The LDS Church prefers not to popularize this and the other more fanciful aspects of their early church history, not to mention the fact that “reformed Egyptian” is a fictional language.  Thus Mormon doctrine reflects the eccentric nature of its founder; not only is it irreverent to traditional Christianity, but modern science has refuted some of its most basic tenets [VIDEO].  These facts are disputed or ignored by the LDS Church, but this is the same church that insists “not all that is true is useful.”  The real question is should any of this matter to the American voters?

To understand Mitt Romney and other high profile Mormons, you must recognize they are part of culture that teaches a sense of entitlement.  After all, Mitt Romney was born into a wealthy and respected Mormon family, and this means something in the LDS Church; it’s proof that even in the pre-existence [POP UP], Romney sided with and fought valiantly under Jesus in the war against His brother Lucifer.  Odd as it may sound, this is Mormon doctrine.  The rest of us, the “gentiles,” or non-Mormons didn’t fight hard enough for Jesus, which explains our lowly position in life with respect to the church.  The LDS church uses the analogy that it is as if we all have a veil pulled over our eyes and cannot see the truth, whereas the Mormons have a better vantage point because they have chosen to follow the prophet.  The reason some of us reject the message is that we just aren’t ready to accept it or we have our minds clouded by secular views.  Thankfully, Mormon missionaries are there to teach us the truth so we can break free of our unfulfilling and misguided lives and be baptized into the one true church – the LDS Church.  And if we don’t get baptized while we are alive, temples are dotting the globe so that we can receive the ordinances necessary for salvation after we die.  Mormons are so obsessed with genealogy, not just their own family’s genealogy, but yours as well.  You may not have realized this, but there is a good chance that your deceased religious relatives, though they may have been a devout Methodist, Jew or Moslem in life, have now been re-baptized Mormon thanks to the common LDS practice of baptisms for the dead [LINK].  You really don’t have a choice, but no need to worry: the Prophet does the thinking for you.

Romney’s advisers are no doubt aware of some of the unpopular positions and controversies that plague his religion, but then again, no religion is without controversies.  The LDS Church is in a precarious position – on one hand it’s received positive media coverage in recent years thanks to the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and numerous “softball” interviews with Larry King [INFO]. On the other hand people are becoming increasingly aware that the “one true church of Christ” might rest on a foundation of lies and deception.  Even faithful Mormons concede if the Book of Mormon is a hoax, the whole Mormon religion is the greatest fraud ever.
The key difference between Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign and that of his father George Romney’s in 1967 is the speed and exchange of information.  You’re reading this article, you may learn something, and with a few more taps of the keyboard you can verify this as fact or fiction.  Previous elections were limited to sound-bites and whatever the media decided to report; today a political career can hinge on a rogue email or an investigative blog.  The American public is fickle; it takes very little to change the tide of public opinion.  Five years ago, America was still in the midst of a love affair with Tom Cruise, and Scientology was just another movement – no one really understood it, but it wasn’t universally ridiculed.  Fast forward and Scientology is a recognized cult with absurd beliefs and fanatical members; more importantly it’s fair game in the media.  Some wonder if the LDS Church is edging dangerously close to this precipice.   

There is no simple answer to why Americans respect and trust one religion over another, but at its foundation is the correlation between type and degree.  The type of religion, its doctrines, and practices are important, but often the decisive factor in our reasoning has more to do with degree of obedience or devotion.  To clarify, obedience to God is a virtue in America; this is not to be confused with blind obedience to man, no matter how spiritual or ordained.  Americans prefer the word of God to come directly from God, whether they hear it through the bible, prayer or some other spiritual experience.  We are notoriously suspect of zealots and intermediaries, whether it is the leadership of a church, a movement, or even a self-proclaimed prophet.

Christianity – A Known Commodity

Biblical revelation, the process in which God made himself and his will known, effectively ended for mainstream Christianity with the death of the apostles, give or take a few years.  We cannot overlook this as a stabilizing factor, no doubt by design – God or man’s, no one really knows.  Christians all see the bible as God’s word, whether it be divinely influenced or literal.  Catholics tend to see the bible as the former with the early church fathers and bishops as translators, compilers and editors.  Most Protestants are affronted by this, but one thing is certain: when St. John ended the bible with the Book of Revelations, he gave us a very unambiguous message:

22:18 I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: 22:19 and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book. 22:20 He who testifieth these things saith, Yea: I come quickly. Amen: come, Lord Jesus22:21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints.  Amen.
St. John the Evangelist, Book of Revelations
Revelation Ch 22, Online Bible

Even the Pope and the Catholic body of bishops function more to interpret existing scripture and doctrine as opposed to creating or receiving new revelation.  When is the last time you heard the Holy See or any mainstream Christian denomination announce a new revelation?  
Prophecy and revelation may abound in our society, but these remain strictly the domain of television evangelists and doomsday cults.  One wonders if the mainstream religions have concluded it’s better to simply play it safe - say less and be correct more often.

The consequence of closing revelation is that it effectively fixed our moral compass and defined what it means to be Christian.  We have the bible, the basic tenets, and although Christians disagree on the details, we more or less know what to do. We know what God expects from us and we feel we know God or at least our concept of God.  An equal part of this covenant is recognizing what is clearly not from God.  This is one of the reasons Americans trust mainstream Christian candidates – they’re a known commodity.  They may not always exercise sound judgment in either personal or political matters, but we the electorate have done our best to minimize the unknown.  Now we arrive at the heart of the Mormon dilemma.        

The Mormon Wildcard

In February 2007, the New York Times printed an article mentioning that Mitt Romney had closely studied John F. Kennedy’s famous Houston speech, the one that pledged if elected President he would not look to Rome (the Pope) for guidance on how to govern [New York Times].  When controversial questions arise regarding Romney’s religion, he simply equates his intentions with those of Kennedy.  It’s difficult not to insert the hackneyed, yet still devastatingly effective “Mitt Romney, you’re no Jack Kennedy” cliché.  Though the more relevant comparison is Mormonism is simply not congruous to Catholicism - Mormons really do look to Salt Lake City for direction from God, specifically to one man: their living Prophet.  Unlike most other religions, Mormons have a living prophet; they always have, starting with Joseph Smith, then Brigham Young, all the way to the current Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is the largest Mormon sect with a living Prophet, but there are others like the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints (FLDS) [NPR Article].  You may recall their Prophet, Warren Jeffs, was on the FBI’s 10 Most-Wanted List until his arrest in August 2006 on first-degree felony charges of accomplice rape (arranging extralegal or polygamous marriages with girls under the age of consent).  The LDS and the FLDS Church both claim to be the true church of Christ, but as LDS members plainly state, just because you put Saint in the name, it doesn’t necessarily make you a true Latter-day Saint.  Maybe we should take note of this logic as it may be applicable elsewhere.  Local politics in Utah aside, one thing is certain: the office of the Prophet wields power and influence over the lives and actions of Mormons.  The Prophet’s word is God’s word and vice versa, at least when he is speaking as such.  Obedience is required of all Mormons in good standing; you cannot over emphasize this degree of loyalty. When the Prophet speaks, the thinking is done – an unfortunate, but actual quote taken from an LDS publication.

When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan--it is God's plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.
Improvement Era, June 1945
(Ward Teaching Message for the month)
FAIR defends statement

President Boyd K. Packer tried to clarify this statement at a conference in April, 1983, stating that their unquestioning obedience to the Lord’s commandments (via the Prophet) is not blind obedience because they are not compelled to be obedient; they are obedient because they know certain spiritual truths and have decided, as an expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God.  I’m not certain if this statement allays the concerns that a Mormon in Whitehouse would not remain an independent thinker and free from the influence of the LDS Prophet.  If anything, it confirms the only real option for members – obedience. This line of indoctrination begins at a young age as evident by this Prophets of God Sunday School Lesson quoted directly from LDS.org. The LDS Church understands that outside the Church, these statements might be misconstrued.  As it is vital that Mormon candidates have the support and respect of the general public, the LDS Church re-stated unequivocally that it does not dictate rules to its members; Gordon B. Hinckley maintained that it’s really more of a “persuasive urging.” 

"No, I reply, the Church will not dictate to any man how he should think or what he should do. The Church will point out the way and invite every member to live the gospel and enjoy the blessings that come of such living. The Church will not dictate to any man, but it will counsel, it will persuade, it will urge, and it will expect loyalty from those who profess membership therein."

Gordon B. Hinckley, General Conference, Priesthood Session April 2003
Conference Transcript

The concern that a Mormon President might be influenced directly by the Prophet is not without precedence.  Although the Prophet primarily makes general statements regarding the faith and guidelines, there are numerous prophecies and proclamations in the Doctrine & Covenants (D&C) whereby the Prophet singled out individual Mormons to act in accordance with God’s revealed instructions [INFO]. In recent years, LDS officials have repeatedly instructed Mormons to regard their vote as an act of obedience to leadership, rather than an act of individual conscience.  This type of mobilization dates from the LDS church's 1975-82 campaign against ratification of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Although Mormons encountered religious persecution throughout their history, they fail to recognize that often problems stemmed from blind obedience to their Prophet, especially when it was in direct conflict to the laws of the land.  Mormons maintain and foster a martyr-complex second to none; engage in a debate and it will quickly center on the years of persecution suffered by the Saints.  Often ignored by Mormons are the 50+ years of overt polygamy, not to mention the continuation of the practice long after the LDS Church claimed it had ceased [VIDEO - Interview with Prophet].  Even today, the Utah State Government declared it would not pursue and prosecute polygamists because it did not possess sufficient resources.  Polygamy is obviously the most famous transgression, but there are others that placed the Mormons squarely in the sites of both federal and state governments.  Joseph Smith’s claim that the government of the United States was irredeemably corrupt and that it would be destroyed; under those circumstances, the raising of local Mormon militias proved particularly alarming.  Smith created his own bank and printed his own money.  When newspapers printed stories critical of Joseph Smith, he had their printing presses destroyed, thereby violating the printer’s 1st Amendment rights and leading to his arrest and imprisonment.  Also fundamental to the anti-Mormon sentiment of the time were the attempted assassination of Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs and the doctrines of Brigham Young that led to the murder of an entire wagon train of settlers [Mountain Meadows Massacre - PBS].  Actions such as these never seem to go unnoticed by the government.  Most Mormons will scoff at these claims, many of which are in their own books; more sensible Mormons will highlight the fact that these were all in the distant past and an accurate view of Mormonism requires more than familiarity with obscure historical details.  The problem is not so much that these events occurred; this is troubling in itself, but it would be entirely missing the larger issue.  Individuals and elected officials violate laws everyday; the problem is that early Mormons routinely obstructed justice and perjured themselves, as well as other illegal activities, all at the direction of the prophet.

It’s difficult, if not impossible to intelligently discuss the controversial aspects of Mormon history and doctrine with current LDS members.  Mormons imagine a different history for themselves, one in which Joseph Smith was a virtuous farm boy chosen by God to restore Christ’s church, and anything to the contrary is obviously fabricated to malign Smith and the one true church – In fact Mormons are taught that the very nature and intensity of the attacks on their faith proves that the LDS Church is true.

A Mormon in the Whitehouse
Mormons have made great strides combating their early anti-government and overtly racist doctrines, even going so far as to alter or correct the language in their scriptures, despite the original text being the supposed word of God.  In recent decades, the LDS Church has focused on instilling a sense of charity, civil duty, and patriotism absent from the Church in the early days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  Today Mormons within the LDS Church are proud and loyal Americans, despite a rocky start with the federal government a century earlier.  There’s even a messianic theme to their brand of patriotism; the LDS Church teaches that someday they will be called upon by God to save the United States, and they should be prepared to meet the challenge. This is astounding as most of us had no idea that God was so intimately involved in US politics.

In truth, the Mormon religion is unique in that it is a distinctly American innovation; this is far deeper than its inception in upstate New York and subsequent migration west.  One cannot ignore the fact that the United States has particular religious significance to Mormons; America is literally the focal point of their religion starting from the dawn of mankind.  To begin, Mormons teach the Garden of Eden was located in what is now Jackson County, Missouri; the Book of Mormon is a historical account of a two Semitic tribes, the Nephites and Lamanites, who journeyed by boat from the Holy Land to the Americas where they created an entire civilization (the remnants of which Mormon’s believe were the chief descendents of the American Indians); Jesus too came to the New World immediately following his resurrection and appeared to the Nephites; and finally that Jesus will return to both Jerusalem and Independence, Missouri (which Mormon’s consider Zion).  These are still the official teachings of the LDS Church, despite there being definitive proof to the contrary.  Biological DNA proves Native Americans are of Asian decent, not Semitic, with no pre-Columbian Semitic DNA [USA Today], language traits, or culture [VIDEO].  Nor is there any archeological evidence of this massive civilization – no evidence of wars, settlements, steel (yes steel), swords, coins, chariots, and horses all artfully described in the Book of Mormon.  As LDS Church leaders have said, sometimes the truth isn’t always useful.  

The Mormon culture is full of faith promoting stories that have little regard for historical accuracy.  Missionaries are famous for returning from their overseas mission with a miraculous story that proves beyond doubt the legitimacy of LDS Church.  These ‘Mormon legends’ are accepted as true, despite strikingly similar stories that occurred at another location, to different missionaries, years apart.  At times it can be difficult to discern Mormon doctrine from anecdotes; the Mormon canon contains numerous books some historical, biographical and prophetic.  There’s also the LDS literature published by the Prophets, General Authorities and Conferences, all of which contribute to a patchwork of doctrines, some official, some fictitious and some in between.  The current Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley is famous for denying a specific doctrine is taught or was ever taught [TIME Interview], despite it being in the official canon and reinforced countless times by LDS leadership at Conferences, BYU addresses, and approved publications.  Thus a genuine prophecy, claim, or adage can often be traced back to an official LDS literature and leadership, though in media interviews, most high-profile Mormons dismiss these as hearsay.  The most damaging and indeed embarrassing statements regarding the LDS Church and Mormon beliefs were uttered not by detractors, but by their own Prophets and General Authorities [LINK]. 

Mormons refer to an 1843 prediction by Joseph Smith that in the latter days the U.S. Constitution will hang by a thread and a Mormon will ride in on a metaphorical white horse to save it.  The LDS Church says it does not accept the legend - commonly referred to as the "White Horse Prophecy" - as doctrine, yet it still seems to be taught in Primary.  The Mormon culture is full of faith promoting stories that have little regard for historical accuracy.  It is true that Joseph Smith did declare himself a presidential candidate in 1844, though he found it difficult to campaign following his assassination.  I’m not quite sure how the “Prophet” didn’t see that one coming.  

Mitt Romney assigns no credence to the White Horse Prophecy and its historical basis in Mormon culture.  It is safe to say that Mormons will support Romney enmasse as good rank and file members; he has that voting block locked down, prophecy or not.  Few politicians opt for only one term in office, but the way Mitt Romney acted after four years you would think he single handedly saved the Commonwealth.  When Romney’s term ended on January 3, 2007, he left his corner office in the Statehouse and strolled modestly down a red carpet, greeting well-wishers along a 25-minute “lone-walk” that ended with a 19-gun salute.  The front page of the next day’s Boston Herald proclaimed, “WASN’T I GREAT!” using a photo of Romney waving to the cameras with his wife in tow.  The Governorship was a mere stepping stone for Romney; the endgame has always been the presidency.  Romney wants desperately to win the Whitehouse, but no one wants him to be president more than the LDS Church.  To Mormons, this succession is just one more example of divine providence.  

Other than prestige and possible assimilation into mainstream Christianity, there is another reason a Mormon in the Whitehouse is so important to the LDS Church.  Remember, all Mormons in good standing are expected to obey the Prophet and unless Mitt Romney decides to apostatize, we should expect no less from him than total obedience.  Although Romney insists he will think and act independently, we only need to look to his father’s cousin Marion G. Romney, a prominent LDS leader and former President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1985-88) who reaffirmed the importance of obeying the Prophet:

“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home … Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’  Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry.  The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.’ ”

Marion G. Romney (Conference Report, October 1960, p. 78.)

What can we expect from Mitt Romney?
This is no simple answer to this question, political analysts have enough trouble predicting the behavior of known candidates with established records, let alone someone as complex as Mitt Romney.  We can safely make some assumptions that it will be a move to the right, but considering Romney’s record as governor, his recent change of heart on the issues and the implications of a Mormon defining policy, the only thing we know for certain is that there are far too many unknowns to envision how this may affect the nation and individual rights.  Some might say this is true of any President, and there is truth in this, but the other candidates are not following a 95-year old alleged prophet supposedly in commune with God.  If the Bible taught us one thing it’s that with prophetic statements, you only have to be wrong once to be branded a false prophet, and the LDS Church has give us more than their fair share of blunders [LINK].   

Characteristically un-Mormon, Romney’s policies in Massachusetts were generally moderate, often leaning more to the left than the right.  If you look at his 2003-07 term as governor, he favored abortion rights, supported RU486 (the abortion bill), gay rights, and stem cell research, limited gun access and raised taxes.  While campaigning for governor he even changed his position on gays in the military, supporting the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, though he openly opposing it during the 90's [Washington Post].  Sounds more like a Democrat.  Not surprisingly, he more often than not raised the ire of conservative Republicans.  Granted, most politicians in Massachusetts know riding the Religious Right ticket is not the quickest way to office.  New England is Kennedy territory, the bastion of liberal ideology, and the home of America’s top Ivy League universities; it’s generally not a haven for evangelicals or Mormons for that matter.  Romney’s progressive stance on the issues during his term in Massachusetts was one of political necessity.  

Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post described an interview with Romney back in 2005 while he was still governor of Massachusetts, but already eyeing a 2008 presidential bid: “Listening to Romney that day was like watching a chameleon in the fleeting moment that its color changes to suit its environment” [Washington Post].  Romney’s an intelligent and shrewd politician; he understood the voting block needed to win Massachusetts and he crafted a persona to meet the challenge.  He’s doing this once again, but on a national scale leading many political pundits to comment about his sudden rebirth the new advocate of the religious right.  It’s not a re-birth, just an uncovering.  

If Romney’s recent debate appearances are any indication, we can expect a continuation of the policies of George W. Bush, at least with respect to domestic policies, international relations, Iraq, and the war on terror.  I’m not sure we need more of the same.  No one will argue we have to combat terrorism and radical Islam when and where appropriate, but Bush’s policies have exacerbated the situation.  Romney has something else in common with Bush; they’re both self-professed men of “faith.”  How odd that the men of faith are the ones with the least compassion and respect for people, nations, and cultures.  They must follow a different Jesus, and in the case of a Mormon candidate, there’s a ring of truth to this.

The Religious Right and other conservatives will no doubt rejoice that a candidate on the Republican ticket reflects their beliefs and political objectives; Rudy Giuliani may be a Republican and the front-runner, but he’s no friend of the Evangelicals.  As previously stated, we can assume Romney makes to steer the country further to the right and undoubtedly usher in programs focused on family values while blurring the lines of separation of church and state.  Barak Obama, Hilary Clinton, and Rudy Giuliani may not espouse your same ideals; they might even protect the rights and privileges of groups that don’t meet your approval, but at least they respect all people, faiths, and creeds.  Recall that Mormons believe the one true church of Christ on earth is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; all other churches are an abomination in God’s eyes.  This is not hyperbole, nor am I putting words in their mouths; those are the words that God supposedly told the Prophet Joseph Smith.  In speeches and writings, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young specifically called out Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Catholics as corrupt and baseless.  The Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt felt previous statements were too restrictive and described all Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Protestants as the biblical “whore(s) of Babylon” (Orson Pratt, The Seer, p.255). Mormons are hardly characterized as being respectful of other faiths, especially Christian faiths [Examples].  The LDS Church has one of the largest missionary programs in the world with only one goal: to proselytize and convert the “gentiles” to their one true Church of Christ.  They take it one step further by even baptizing the dead into to the Mormon religion; it’s truly doubtful the deceased have made a conscious decision to join their church, but they don’t let that stop them from giving you their ordinances.  

This is not the first time Mormons have been forced to respond this barrage of allegations; they even publish literature on how to properly respond to questions with LDS Church approved answers.  Those of us with Mormon friends and family might feel some of these claims and attitudes are uncharacteristic of the LDS members we encounter.  Mitt Romney is in the public eye all the time, yet he never spouts such rhetoric.  Even when asked a direct question regarding a controversial religious topic, Romney is always quick to respond with a statement assuaging any concerns.  It’s not uncommon to for Romney to indirectly answer the question by simply stating his beliefs are in line with those of the other Christian traditions.  When asked about the more disreputable aspects of LDS history and practices, often he downplays their significance or denies them as being doctrine or officially taught.  These are all typical Mormon answers; they’re used to dealing with difficult questions, and they’re instructed how to respond, but honesty is not at the forefront.

Mitt Romney and other Mormons do not believe you deserve the truth; instead they supplant it with what they feel you “should know.”  Romney’s answers to questions are consistent with how Mormons are instructed to respond to questions of character and faith.  In the words of LDS Bishop Robert Millet while instructing new Mormon missionaries, “Don’t answer the question they asked, answer the question they should have asked” [VIDEO - LDS Bishop sanctions deception].  Romney always responds with what’s referred to in the LDS Church as “milk, before meat”.  When questioned about “controversial” doctrine, beliefs, and practices, Mormons are instructed to “never provide meat, when milk will do”, i.e. respond with an answer that others will accept, even though it might not be true, or might not even be germane to the question.  Why?  According to Millet, Mormons “already know more about God and Christ and the plan of salvation than anyone.”  We, the gentile masses, must therefore be addressed like children because we don’t have the intellect or spirit within us to understand the true teachings of the LDS Church.  We already have ample evidence of this; Mitt Romney just mistakenly assumed the media would not research his answers.  When George Stephanopoulos asked Mitt Romney if Muslims would have an issue with Mormon belief that Jesus would return to the United States and reign personally here for a 1,000 years, Mitt Romney replied:

... That doesn't happen to be a doctrine of my church. Our belief is just as it says in the Bible, that the messiah will come to Jerusalem, stand on the Mount of Olives and that the Mount of Olives will be the place for the great gathering and so forth. It's the same as the other Christian tradition.
Mitt Romney, ABC NEWS, Feb 18, 2007
VIDEO CLIP- Watch Romney's Answer (00:58 Secs)
Complete Interview Transcript, ABC NEWS

Either Romney fundamentally misunderstood the intent of question or is ignorant of his own church’s doctrine; the later of which is not uncommon in America, but we expect more from a former LDS Bishop. More likely, however, is that Romney is following the common Mormon practice of not telling the whole truth. Unconvinced of Romney’s response, Stephanopoulos rephrases the question, but to no avail.  Romney and other Mormons know most Americans have some general knowledge of Mormonism, but they assume detractors will be unfamiliar with official LDS scripture and statements and will be unable to support their arguments with hard facts.  The following day, parts of this interview were re-aired on ABC’s Good Morning America after Stephanopoulos checked the veracity of Romney’s answer.
 “Actually we checked in with a Mormon spokesman who said that’s not exactly true.  They believe that the new Jerusalem is here in the United States, in Missouri and that’s where Jesus is going to come”
George Stephanopoulos, Good Morning America, Feb 19, 2007
VIDEO CLIP- Watch Stephanopoulos Correct Romney (00:58 Secs)

This a major dilemma for voters – Mitt Romney started out conservative, switched to moderate for a term, and it now making a hard swing to right.  This has all the makings of an exciting administration, but not a particularly stable or predictable one.  The new Mitt Romney is clearly at odds with traditional democrats, woman’s rights, liberals, gays/lesbians, and the intellectuals of society, but after exposing the extraordinary claims of the Mormon religion, it’s difficult for traditional conservatives and the Religious Right to relate to him either.

We can only hope that Mitt Romney truly heeds the words of John F. Kennedy and not just rephrasing them because he thinks that’s the “milk’ that Americans need to hear.  We expect Mitt Romney to make his “You’re electing a president, not a religion” speech any day now.  We know a great deal of thought is going into this; a good speech can propel Romney to be the top runner of the GOP.  In many ways he’s the perfect candidate for the Republicans; he’s well-funded, polished and every bit the politician.  On face value he seems ideal, but as we’ve discovered, it is impossible to separate Mitt Romney the presidential candidate form the LDS Church.  As a former LDS missionary, a graduate of BYU, bishop, and stake president, we can assume Romney believes the Mormon doctrines and carries out the will of the Prophet.  Why wouldn’t Romney preserve separation of church and state as he did in Massachusetts?  Well, we already know he’s had a “change of heart” as he swings to the right, but I caution the Evangelicals not to rejoice but to remember the church he serves is not yours.

Americans have become complacent; we’re so used to living in a country where our rights are protected that we take it for granted.  Most Americans just want to keep living the way we always have. It's not that we don’t want change, provided the change is one that's at the benefit of our own group, even though it's often at the detriment of another’s.  The trick is always making sure you’re in the right group at the right time, and I’m not sure Mitt Romney will be good for anyone outside the LDS Church if we continue in the current direction. The First Amendment should be enough assurance that we’re electing a president, not a religion. Mitt Romney, like all politicians, claims his faith is entirely a personal matter, though a trip through the byways of Utah suggests it mysteriously translates into legislation.

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