Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I can understand why Mitt Romney doesn't want to answer questions about Mormonism

If I were running for president, I wouldn't want to answer questions either.

Christopher Hitchens (on slate) has written a pretty scathing opinion piece about why Romney's mormonism should be fair game for questions. I say scathing since it calls mormonism a cult and Joseph Smith a convicted fraud. Those are usually terms that do not win you accolades from most faithful members (of any religion for that matter).

I know I have readers that have many different backgrounds and paths (LDS and non). I think it's easier to write about this for someone not familiar with mormonism. Apologies in advance to my readers who already knew all this stuff.

But mormonism/a.k.a. the LDS faith is rather complicated. Defining the faith is like trying to hold a greased pig.

For example, on Main Street Plaza, every time someone tries to make a definitive statement about mormon/LDS policy, other posters come right back with "I don't know that they teach that" or "That's not my experience". See here, here and here. And in the end, aside from quoting from LDS leaders, I can't really argue against experience because everyone's experience is unique. And I acknowledge that everyone's experience is different - but I think there are some commonalities. I don't think anyone can argue (successfully) that mormonism is not a top down hierarchy.

And I can't quote prior LDS prophets (like Joseph Smith or Brigham Young) because some of their teachings are out of favor. (They weren't speaking from God, they were speaking as men). Although sometimes the current LDS leaders (prophets) like to claim the LDS faith is the same "yesterday, today and forever" - it's really not. It really changes with social pressure and culture. That's why the notion of LDS fundamentalists grates on the nerves of LDS leaders - because there should be no need to return to "fundamentals" within mormonism. But one can't deny there have been a lot of changes. Changes in the secret/sacred temple ceremony. Changes to the Book of Mormon. Outlawing polygamy and allowing men of African descent to hold the priesthood, for example.

You can't even go to a book like Bruce R McConkie's Mormon Doctrine any more. There are no definitive texts for what mormons believe and what they don't. You can go to the articles of faith - but those are fairly vague and can be widely misinterpreted.

Many people (particularly active LDS) like to compare Romney's run with Kennedy's in 1960. But there's a big difference between Roman Catholic beliefs and LDS beliefs. While they are both male dominated top down religious institutions, there's not a lot about Catholics that isn't open and available for anyone to understand. It's all pretty straightforward. There are no (or not many) secret/sacred places or objects that anyone off the street couldn't view or talk about. They certainly don't have special buildings (a.k.a temples) where members get married that no one knows what goes on in.

For all a layperson knows, they could be performing satanic rituals in there (and this is what is claimed by some fringe groups). They're not, and the temple ceremonies can be read and discussed on many places on the web. Fraternities and Sororities have these "secret rooms" and secret handshakes - but for some reason it's seen as different. I suppose it's that fraternities and sororities are more familiar. And while people make promises in those initiation ceremonies or whatever - they may still discuss them (which is how I know about them despite never having joined a sorority/fraternity) without fear of eternal damnation.

So, with all the strange past and secret/sacred beliefs, it's no wonder that Romney (or any candidate) doesn't want to discuss mormonism. Not only could the debate go on infinitely, it could become the focus of the entire campaign. Because it wasn't so long ago (in the 50s) that mormons didn't even want to call themselves Christian, they wanted to be called Mormon (this is no longer the case).

And as most of the readers of this blog know - the US political system is focused (too much so in my opinion) on every detail of the personal life of our elected officials. As if whether or not the president goes running or biking really makes a difference in the decisions he/she makes. Or whether or not the president's wife/husband or child becomes a lawyer, teacher or librarian. But these are all fodder for the debates and front page headlines.

My advice to reporters and concerned voters? I do think that a candidate's personal life and beliefs can be important (within reason). I think it is acceptable to ask questions about belief - particularly if you make assumptions about a candidate (are they really conservative? Are they really Christian? How do they really feel about women in the public arena?).

And I don't think it's unreasonable to point out the differences that a candidate expresses over what their professed organized religion teaches. Saying "all those questions have already been answered and refuted" is really not an answer at all.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post...your points about the experiences being so varied that is definitely true and that leads believers today to rely on their feelings about the church versus doctrine from the scriptures or from modern day profit$.

Being a member of a fraternity the big difference between a fraternity and the LDS Church is that we as fraternity members don't claim ALL truth as the church does. Along with that I think my fraternity initiation did more to prepare me for the temple ceremonies than the stupid temple prep class.

As for the politics of Mitt, I think it will only hurt him to have a "JFK" like talk about Mormonism as any conversation about the religion will bring out the antis and apologists and it will only create more issues than it would solve.

C. L. Hanson said...

Why not cross-post this one on MSP? ;^)

Bot said...

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS)has always considered itself to be a Christian religion, but is often accused by Evangelical pastors of not believing in Christ and, therefore, not being a Christian religion. This article http://mormonsarechristian.blogspot.com/ helps to clarify such misconceptions by examining early Christianity's comprehension of baptism, the Godhead, the deity of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) adheres more closely to First Century Christianity and the New Testament than any other denomination. Harper’s Bible Dictionary entry on the Trinity says “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.”

Perhaps the reason the pastors and Aerin denigrate the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is to protect their flock (and their livelihood).

Aerin said...

Thanks AZ. Yes - this is precisely why it must be so difficult for anyone (including Mitt Romney) to answer questions about past or current beliefs. Everyone's experiences are widely different - and there isn't any sort of firm "we believe in this, we don't believe in this" that an outsider - reporter, etc. could rely on.

I believe the pbs documentary did a fairly even handed job of addressing some of these issues. But there was a lot that was not brought up.

chanson - you really think so?

Bot - Thanks for your comments. I was referring to Richard Packham's statement here that when he was growing up in the 40s, he was taught not to refer to himself as Mormon and not Christian - to emphasize the differences between Mormons and traditional Christians.

In this post, I was not meaning to suggest that Mormons are not Christian. All the faithful LDS I know certainly believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. I agree with what Richard wrote (see link above) that it depends on your definition of Mormon (LDS) and Christian.

I was also not trying to denigrate the LDS faith by this post - although I can see why it might offend some.

I was just trying to point out that it is very difficult to define what LDS doctrine is at any given point. And that for someone in the political arena, where politicians are under a great deal of scrutiny, it makes it even more difficult.

Anonymous said...

I think that Bot is a "COB" troll, just a guess.

Bot said...

What is a "COB" troll?

Aerin said...

AZ Awakening - well, everyone is welcome to leave comments on my posts and like chanson, I encourage the conversation to try and understand where people are coming from.

Bot - I think COB stands for church office building.

NOTE- I was very interested to hear about Romney's speech later this week concerning his faith. I also heard some of what JFK said in his famous speech - separation of church and state, no state funding for church activities - how things have changed in the last 40 years.

I will be interested to hear what he talks about and what he doesn't talk about.