Post by Joseph -
Super Tuesday is over, Santorum took Kansas yesterday, and Romney got Wyoming (and Guam and the Virgin Islands); he continues to inch closer to Republican nomination - line upon line, precept upon precept. And in order that I might contradict my last post, I offer up this post script:
While it might seem less likely that I'll have the opportunity to be offended by the Republicans for picking Santorum over Romney, ultimately I wish that the Romney candidacy was done or that it had never happened altogether. This Mormon moment is going on for an eternity, and I feel a tremor in the Force.
Mostly, I don't like the scrutiny. With Romney in the spotlight, the news media is looking to report on anything and everything about the Church; seriously, if there is anything sensational, ugly, or that will make a good report or newsworthy (or not) they seek after these things. Check out Friday's op-ed piece in the Huffington Post that asks, "Is Mormonism a Cult?" The good old days of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics are gone, back when the Church had published ideas for stories on Mormons for the media to use when reporting about the Church. Now the talking points have given way to the Mormonism: Getting it Right feature, and Mormonism 101 which includes a FAQ section that addresses many of the queries about Mormonism, (i.e., "Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will 'get their own planet?'") Personally, I would prefer directions from the brethren that sounded something like "duck and cover!" "drop and roll!" "hold on tight!" or other words of wisdom from a Tornado Survival Guide.
This oversaturation of Mormon stories in the news and popular culture leaves me feeling defined, boxed-in, stereotyped, and judged. My discomfort is increasing with each new online article or blog post, and I am patiently awaiting the day when I become desensitized to it all (or just give up and grow horns). I acknowledge again that Mormons make a tempting target. The policies of apparent discrimination makes it so; but seriously, The Book of Mormon Musical? (And I have it on good authority that it contains catchy tunes, colorful sets, and profanity throughout.) Of course, the South Park guys are equal-opportunity offenders, and Mitt Romney's campaign can't be blamed for The Book of Mormon Musical, only thanked. But it feels a little bit much right now.
A couple of media storms have arisen in the past few weeks that illustrate my point; these concern baptisms for the dead, and the ban on blacks receiving the priesthood.
Baptisms for the dead have continued to be a problem in the Church due to the continued overzealousness of some genealogically-minded Latter-day Saints that feel inclined to submit the names of people such as of Anne Frank, Daniel Pearl, Elie Wiesel's parents and other Holocaust victims for proxy baptisms. See my previous post. And before I even heard the Church leaders' letter that was to be read in Sacrament meetings today, I first heard a report about it on NPR.
And then my former mission president (and BYU professor), Randy Bott, offered an explanation to a Washington Post reporter about the Church's ban on blacks receiving the priesthood. The Church immediately condemned it in an issued statement. Well, I don't feel I need to say much about the ban or the 1978 reversal; here is the link to the original Washington Post article, and this is the Church's response as reported in the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune. Additionally, some Mormon bloggers at By Common Consent have already thoroughly examined the issue and posted their many comments, condemnations, and analyses on their website; they lined up like members of a Utah firing squad, uncertain who had the real bullet in their barrel, but took aim President Bott and fired their guns anyway. Their posts can be found here and here and here and here and here and here. I especially liked what this guy had to say - he's southern, and I can relate.
But my point is that a lot of this news coverage seems to miss who we really are as Latter-day Saints. For example, I enjoy explaining proxy baptisms for the dead. To me, this rite and all the research that goes into it, shows a deep compassion for one's ancestors and a commitment to them in a real tangible way. I am reminded of some branches of Buddhist practice that call for the male relatives of a deceased person to become monks and spend time in the monastery so that they can obtain merit vicariously for the departed. This merit is then transferred in a ceremony in hopes that it will improve the station of the loved one in their next life. Therefore, I realize I could take the opportunity to correct the misperceptions, but with so much information on the Church and its doctrines suddently available, why would someone even feel the need to ask a Mormon for clarifications at this point? (And why would someone feel the need to talk to LDS missionaries if they just heard them singing on Broadway for three hours?)
Additionally, all of the criticism of President Bott does not represent him in the way that I experienced him as a mission leader. I love this man; I loved his enthusiasm, compassion, and insight. He did away with "junior-senior companions," (we needed to learn to share responsibilities equally); he never talked about baptismal statistics, (this obscured the real purpose of missionary service); and he consistently followed Joseph Smith's declaration, "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves." As an instructor, he was incredible. He gave us the parable of the devil tree, his retelling of the David and Goliath story, and a clearer existential understanding of life and death. I remember going to him as a struggling "green" missionary, feeling somewhat alone and isolated, and he saw to the heart of my concerns almost instantly. His counsel was right on the mark, and I remember it almost word for word. I don't feel I should forget this, regardless of the Post article and the assertion by some that President Bott has taught these ideas for years at BYU.
Thus, I refuse to define my former mission president by this public relations debacle. I know that I don't wish for a lone action on my part to solely characterize me. President Bott does not equal his statement made to the Post reporter, just like the Church is not just the pre-1978 ban on blacks receiving the priesthood. But I realize that this happens often in life and popular media; we define people by their most provocative action or a prominent occurrence, and all else becomes insignificant: Kitty Genovese was defined by her murder, Richard Jewell by doing his job, and Thomas B. Marsh by cream off the top of the milk.
I miss the days of my youth in the south when nobody really knew the Mormons; I could be the one to tell them who we are and be the first point of contact. Then I had control of how I was defined and understood. So let it be over quickly. Mitt Romney's presidential aspirations have pulled Mormonism into the 21st-century spotlight like a handcart across the plains of America, and I am feeling pretty tired. Not even a hit Broadway musical could have ever done it this well.
Romney won Michigan and Arizona, and Washington's Republican caucuses liked him too; now he has to make it through Super Tuesday - the real test of sorts.
And seriously, I'd be somewhat offended if Mitt Romney lost the Republican Presidential nomination to the likes of Rick Santorum. I realize this is a strange thing to voice on a website entitled "Mormons for Obama," or when I have no plans to vote for Romney, or when I really don't even like that Romney is in the presidential contest altogether. However, as a Latter-day Saint, I can't help but wonder if much of the dislike of Romney can be attributed to his Mormonism more than to his flip-flopping. Clearly all the fervor in the news media over Mormonism this past week (the baptism for the dead letter read in church, racist remarks by my former mission president, Randy Bott,) would be much quieted or even nonexistent if Romney wasn't in the race.
And according to polls, many potential voters reported an unwillingness to vote for a Mormon for president (and this was before all the recent media scrutiny). Admittedly, many of these are liberals, but a large number of these folks are also from the far right. See one poll here. And a more recent article reported much of the same thing:
This is when I get offended, although that might be too strong of a word. As a Mormon Democrat, I consider Rick Santorum to be pretty "out there." His comments on everything from contraceptives to African-Americans does not move us forward, and I am half a key stroke away from calling him crazy, (but that is against our own submission rules for this website.) I am frustrated with "the us vs. them" mentality that exists in Congress currently, and I feel inclined to put a larger portion of the blame on the far right of the Republican Party. So when someone like Santorum starts getting votes, and he appears to be extremely partisan and divisive, I have to sit back and wonder: why isn't Romney good enough for the Republicans? Is he really so bad that they want a Santorum to represent them in the 2012 election?
Republicans have demanded an "anybody-but-Mitt" alternative since the beginning - before the creation of the world. They flirted with everyone from Herman Cain (!?!) to Rick Perry (!?!) to Michelle Bachman (!?!) The list is reminiscent of a casting call for a Christopher Guest film. (Imagine Rick Santorum holding a Shih Tzu, and you'll get the idea.) And so Santorum gets their votes because he is the last man standing, and a Mormon in the White House is not an acceptable proposition. (Click on the picture to the right to purchase Hugh Hewitt's book.)
I guess I'm revealing my victim-mentality here. These potentially imagined slights and the real historical persecutions such as Carthage, Haun's Mill, and the forced exodus west, are indeed "stamped into the Latter-day Saints' collective memory," as Jon Krakauer pointed out in his not-so-unbiased account of Mormonism, Under the Banner of Heaven, A Story of Violent Faith. But for me personally, after living in the South during my formative years, I experienced a certain amount of discrimination from other Christians. (Additionally, a Big Gulp flying at me from a car window while pedaling a missionary bicycle down the streets of Modesto CA also comes to mind.)
Unfortunately, discrimination based on religious affiliation is one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice. I've seen it from both sides in regard to Mormonism, (meaning that conservatives and liberals discriminate against Mormons for very different reasons.) In the end, I am more comfortable with the dislike of my faith that I feel from the Christian Right than what I experience from the Progressive Left.
Let me explain: In the Southern Bible belt, Mormons are perceived as weird, cultish and believing in "another Jesus." While I was in Sunday School learning about the Army of Helaman or watching LDS films like "I'll Build You a Rainbow," the Baptists and Methodists were showing their children "The God Makers," a film that informs young minds that Mormons believe in a very badly animated Jesus. And the following Monday, these same little children would go to school and inform me that I was brainwashed and that I worship Joseph Smith. However, the accusation that Mormons aren't Christian is easy for me to deal with. ("Blessed are they which are persecuted for my righteousness' sake...") In fact, this is what Mormons have experienced all along. But now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, I find opposition to my faith based on completely different reasons: the dislike of Mormons is due to the perceived intolerance of blacks, women, and sexual minorities. Ultimately, I find it easier to be portrayed as a religion that believes in another Jesus than a religion that oppresses others.
But back to my point, (because I'm not planning on moving back home just so I can be discriminated against differently): I don't believe that the far right of the Republican party should cast too many stones at us Mormons or our faith; one or two small pebbles might suffice. For indeed, we do proselytize to other Christian denominations, and we do believe that God has a body. But in the end, we are believers. And for every God Makers movie about us, there is a Jesus Camp about you. So give us Romney this time, and maybe next time you can have your Michelle Bachman.
But just so I'm perfectly clear: in the end it really doesn't matter. I am voting for Obama, and you might consider doing the same.
And so it continues...
As if it wasn't bad enough that Rick Santorum decided to criticize Obama's faith, Mitt Romney decided he needed to do the same thing yesterday. My guess is that Romney saw Santorum's tactics as the straight and narrow path toward better poll numbers, and he demonstrated this today when he parroted Santorum at a campaign rally, claiming that Obama has "fought against religion" and has a "secular" agenda. See the article here:
The Christian Right is at the heart of Romney's free-fall in the polls. They don't like him because he's a flip-flopper; they don't like him because he's Mormon. And Santorum seems at least smart enough to capitalize on this weakness. He is the last standing alternative to Mitt Romney, and so he says what the Evangelicals want to hear; his comments about Obama's "phony theology" and his stand against prenatal screenings are just empty rhetoric meant to woo the Christian Right of the Republican party. He knows that Arizona and Michigan are week away, next is Washington, and Super Tuesday is afterwards, (we so excited) and he has a chance to win big.
I thought Romney wouldn't go this route considering that Mormons are told that they aren't Christian all the time. But this isn't the first time Santorum has done this. He claims that if you are a liberal, you can't be 'religious' and you certainly aren't Christian. (See link below where in 2008 Santorum claimed that there is no such thing as a liberal Christian). So Sorry Eric, you do not exist.
Both Romney and Santorum are on a roll (holy rollers). They've found a cadence for the religious campaign stumping, and they can only go down from here. The Crusades 2.0 are just beginning.
Here are Santorum's latest comments on Monday as reported on MSNBC's The Last Word:
"I don't know if you've been listening to the president, the secretary of state, and other members of the cabinet, when they talk about freedom of religion... They don't say that anymore. They talk about freedom of worship; well, you folks all know there's a big difference between freedom of worship and freedom of religion. Think about what I just said. We have leaders of this country who are now narrowing the view of what religious liberty is in the first amendment."
What does this even mean? Never mind that President Obama just talked about the importance of protecting "religious liberty" on February 10th at a news conference. Regardless, it seems that using the term "freedom of worship" broadens the view of religious liberty. Many people lead spiritual lives but are not connected to a specific religious institution. Many people follow a moral or value-system but are not believers in a God. So what of them? Shouldn't their right to worship be valued, protected, and recognized?
I think Joseph Smith said it best, and Romney and Santorum might learn something here:
Articles of Faith 1:11 - We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
Amen to that.
Santorum just told a crowd of tea party people in an Ohio hotel that Obama's agenda was based on "some phony theology," and that it was "not a theology based on the Bible." I suppose Santorum is the new prophet of the people as Romney's poll numbers fall faster than Adam and Eve after... well, the Fall.
Rick Santorum: Obama Agenda Not 'Based On Bible'
So this is where I am puzzled. Everyone seems so afraid that Mitt Romney is attached by invisible puppet strings to the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City or that he'll center his presidency on the Book of Mormon, but yet we have Santorum indirectly proclaiming that he hopes to run America based on his mangled interpretation of a two-thousand-year-old document?
It isn't as if I don't want a moral president, but I just can't understand why it is so important that the president is some certain type of Christian. I am not comforted by the idea that a president would rely too completely on his own interpretation of God and His Holy Word to make decisions that might affect me. I think they tried that in the dark ages. Additionally, I object to one candidate accusing another of not being Christian enough or that a candidate would peddle his holiness and supposed religiosity to garner votes.
The separation of church and state is a good thing. In fact, I do not agree with the conservatives who call for prayer in school. I grew up with prayer in school; we all said grace, (as it was called in the South where I'm from,) before heading to the cafeteria for lunch. It went something like this:
God is great; God is Good
and we thank Him for our food
And then the Catholics would cross themselves, and I'd feel confused. I wasn't taught to pray that way; I was taught to say, "Dear Heavenly Father," and "In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen," and most always, "We ask Thee to bless the Prophet." I suppose that if I found the daily prayer-chanting in school isolating and confusing, a Buddhist or Muslim or Jew might find it even more so. But maybe we don't care about them; maybe this country is for Christians only, everyone else be damned.
And by the way, this goes for us Mormons too: for those of you voting for tea party candidates, just remember that they most certainly believe that you belong to a cult and that you also adhere to a "phony theology," but they'll still take your vote and your campaign donations anyway.
So onto my final point here, a point that I have made previously: I am not interested in the religion of my president. Although my faith guides choices in my life and who I vote for, I am not more likely to vote for a Mormon than a Catholic president. Additionally, some right-wingers seem hell-bent on calling President Obama out as a Muslim (or even an atheist.) But I wonder what's the big deal? I wouldn't have a problem voting for a Muslim, just like many Muslims don't take issue voting for a Christian. (Besides, am I supposed to be worried that a Muslim president would wear an explosive vest to the State of the Union address?) I would be just as likely to vote for a Buddhist, a Jew, a Jain, or even a Christian for that matter, so long as their political beliefs coincided with mine and with my faith.
So Santorum: I am not voting for the next Preacher of the United States of America, so hush up about your religion and your Bible, and run for president already.
As a proud member of the Religious Left – and a Mormon – I understand that membership in the Church does not require a specific, pre-defined stance on important social issues. That said, I am regularly baffled by the vastly different interpretations that some members of my church arrive at on social issues, when ostensibly working with the same set of religious texts and modern-day revelations that serve to guide my own morals and beliefs.
Many social issues, from capital punishment to war, funding for the social safety net to environmental stewardship, are clearly related to Church doctrines and teachings. Yet the second greatest commandment that we have ever been given, to love our neighbors as ourselves, seems to often be absent from the analysis of social issues by the Religious Right, Church members included.
Add to this list the issue of immigration. The NY Times recently ran a story about how the immigration stance of America’s most well-known Mormon, Mitt Romney, is at odds with the official position of the Church.
The Church recently supported the Utah Compact, a declaration calling for humane treatment of immigrants and condemning deportation policies that separate families. They have also taken the rare step of publically getting involved in the immigration debate, “issu[ing] a series of increasingly explicit statements in favor of allowing some illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work”, and acting as a “…defining factor in passing…immigration legislation” in Utah (which, while far from perfect, was opposed by anti-immigrant groups in the state).
And Romney? Well, lets just say that on this issue he has chosen another tack. He supports the Dream Act, or at least the part that would give citizenship to immigrants who put their lives on the line fighting wars to protect American economic interests, which neither he nor his own sons felt any compulsion to become personally involved with. He slammed Newt Gingrich (and I feel a little nauseous defending the Newt) for suggesting that breaking up families that have been longstanding contributing members of our communities is bad for everyone involved. And he made Rick Perry look reasonable (Perry!) when Perry suggested that undocumented residents who were brought to this country as children should not be punished for their parent’s actions, which Romney pounced on as “amnesty”.
Now I know that I probably shouldn’t read too much into Romney’s stance on immigration, as it is subject to change depending on what crowd he is speaking to, but it makes me wonder how he defines “loving” and “neighbor”. I am not suggesting a free-for-all at the southern border, but I do believe that if Romney, and the rest of the Religious Right, really thought of the brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking foreigners they call “illegals” as their literal brothers and sisters (which our doctrine teaches us they are), they might treat them a little differently than they do now.
My principal reason for backing President Obama is his support and initiation of healthcare reform, and ultimately his signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law in 2010. Republicans have pejoratively labeled it Obamacare; meanwhile President Obama has embraced the term, saying, "I have no problem with people saying Obama cares. I do care." I care too, and this issue is the political lynchpin for me. I cannot support any candidate who does not appreciate or understand the need for an expansion of access to healthcare in this country. Healthcare should not be a privilege of the wealthy, but a right for all. I believe that if we can get behind public monies for libraries, sports arenas, museums, parks, wildlife protection, and Bombs over Baghdad, then we should also ensure healthcare access.
And so you might further see my point: are you aware that through local tax payer money, you (and your children) can check out Saw I, II, III, IV, V, VI, and Saw: the Final Chapter from the Seattle Public Library and the King County Library System? And I just checked - you can get it at the Salt Lake City Library as well.
My belief is that providing healthcare is the right thing to do; it is the Christian thing to do, and this aligns with my Mormon faith. I echo the words written by Boyd Peterson in his essay entitled, Why I'm a Mormon Democrat:
"I believe that the Democratic party takes the strongest position on many moral issues. For example, King Benjamin's address in the Book of Mormon admonishes us to prioritize, 'feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants' (Mosiah 4:26). I believe the Democratic party works harder to protect and defend these moral priorities."
And so I feel about President Obama. When I decided to vote for Barack Obama, I did so with the belief that he would bring change to America and especially its healthcare system. Of course, there is more to be done. However, President Obama has fulfilled his promise of change in so many ways; therefore, I will continue to support him and his presidency.
In addressing the specific issue of healthcare, I like these two quotations, one from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the second from the American Medical Student Association:
"Our approach to health care is shaped by a simple but fundamental principle: 'Every person has a right to adequate health care. This right flows from the sanctity of human life and the dignity that belongs to all human persons, who are made in the image of God.' Health care is more than a commodity; it is a basic human right, an essential safeguard of human life and dignity. We believe our people's health care should not depend on where they work, how much their parents earn, or where they live. Our constant teaching that each human life must be protected and human dignity promoted leads us to insist that all people have a right to health care."
USCCB - June 18, 1993, "A Framework for Comprehensive Health Care Reform."
"In a time when thousands of people lose their health insurance every day, when health care is becoming elusive to even well-to-do Americans, and when any person is just one pink slip away from becoming uninsured, it becomes clear that health care for all is not just important to achieve, but imperative.
At its root, the lack of health care for all in America is fundamentally a moral issue. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not have some form of universal health care (defined as a basic guarantee of health care to all of its citizens). While other countries have declared health care to be a basic right, the United States treats health care as a privilege, only available to those who can afford it...
Americans purport to believe in equal opportunity. Yet, in the current situation, those who do not have health care are at risk for financial ruin and poorer health, both of which disadvantage them in society and thereby do not give them equal opportunity...
The Declaration of Independence states there are certain 'inalienable rights', including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If Americans believe in an inalienable right to life, how can we tolerate a system that denies people lifesaving medications and treatments? Similarly, if Americans believe in an inalienable
right to the pursuit of happiness, how can we allow millions of dreams to be smashed by the financial and physical consequences of uninsurance?"
AMSA - Aug. 27, 2009, "The Case for Universal Healthcare."
It feels dang good to be on the right side of history on this one.
Post by Joseph M -
I used to be rather surprised whenever I would see Mormons referenced in the media or popular culture (remember the last line of Raising Arizona?) This is not the case anymore. Here are several links about Romney and his Mormonism. Thanks to all of you that sent us links (my liberal sister for one,) and if you find more, please send them our way!
From Fox News, Jan 12th: Mormons confident US ready to elect first LDS president, survey shows
From CBS News, Jan 14th: Is America Ready for a Mormon President?
From Yahoo! News, Jan 16th: Will America Get Its First Mormon President? Five Facts About Mormons
From Huffington Post, Jan 25th: Why Mitt Romney Can't Be the Mormon JFK
From CNN Belief Blog, Jan 26th: On Call with Conservatives, Romney Speaks to Mormon Beliefs
Let me state the obvious, just because I am Mormon, I don't feel the need to vote for a Mormon. Although I might say that I am voting for Obama because I'm a Mormon. In that same vein, I suppose that every Jew was not lining up behind Joe Lieberman for his 2004 presidential bid just because he is Jewish. (Although I admit that Lieberman is probably more of a Jon Huntsman of Jewish religious practice, so it is not a perfect analogy. But again, if Huntsman was in Romney's position, then my very liberal sister just might throw her support his way because she finds him rather attractive.)
At church a few weeks back, a discussion came up about how one should interact with the numerous homeless people on the streets. The opinions were varied and numerous and stretched across the spectrum of possibilities. We heard everything from a Mr. Wendal-styled approach (this is where I tend to fall) to a response that seemed to be directly pulled from Mosiah 4:17. The point is this: I don't see that Mormons agree on everything, so why would Mormons necessarily all agree on the same candidate for president, regardless of religious affiliation? And I realize that most Mormons know this. So possibly I am writing for those of us that may not understand the diversity of opinion within the LDS church.
But back to my first paragraph: is it possible that a Jew might not vote for Romney because he is Mormon? According to an article posted today on the Huffington Post website, some Florida Jews may take issue with Romney because of the past practice of baptisms for the dead of Jewish Holocaust victims. Or maybe this may be used against him by his rival(s)? Either way, I have to agree with Gary Mokotoff, the Jewish genealogist quoted in the article: "Romney should be judged on his political views and political past and not on the views of the president of his church." True. That is why I am not voting for him.