Politics and Mormonism Q&A

I was asked a series of questions about Mormonism and the progressive wing of American politics by a UK periodical.  I typically try to separate religion and politics in my essays, but given this election and the nature of our blog, I thought these responses should be shared.

Written to Denis Campbell, Editor in Chief, UK Progressive

Denis -- Answers to your questions are below.  Before I begin, I need to add the caveat that these responses are not official church answers, but are based on my opinions and experiences with the church.  Official church statements can be found on lds.org and mormon.org.  Several of these questions do not have official church positions, so I will give you my best interpretation.

Knowing what you know today, could you support Mitt Romney for President ( why or why not?)

I could support Mr. Romney as a person, but disagree with his policies and beliefs about role of government.  I do not get sucked into the personal attacks of politicking.  American politics tries to demonize the character of both sides of the aisle, but that's politics.  President Obama is a good man, who cares about this country, and loves his family.  I would say the same for Mr. Romney.

And how does your shared faith influence this decision?

As a strong member of the Mormon Church I love seeing LDS political leaders.  However, this is not the sole criteria for my support.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a practicing Mormon and is more aligned with how I think about the role of government.

What causes fundamentalist Christians and LW pundits like Bill Maher to label the LDS church a cult?

Define cult.  Cult can really apply to any religious organization, or any group with rites of passage.  It has a negative connotation so opposition likes to use the word as a label.  This is similar to Republicans calling everything they disagree with "liberal" or "socialist", perverting the actual definition of the word, just to solicit a negative response.  Fundamentalist Christians try to discredit the church with such slang, as Mormons are viewed outside of fundamental Christian doctrine (or lack of - Mormons can answer many more questions around afterlife, pre-earth life, purpose of life using the Book of Mormon and Bible together).

From a political perspective there is a bit of strategy from Bill Maher.  To Democrats the Mormon religion is really a non-issue.  Democrats and Liberals are made of several splinter groups with all sorts of religious beliefs from atheism, to agnostic, to Christian.  When pundits from the left make comments about Mormonism, I personally believe they are trying to influence the Christian Right who are turned off by anything that is relate to the LDS church.  This should keep more of the religious right home on election day.  Although this might seem trivial when thinking of numbers; Ohio, Florida, and Virginia will all be decided by very small increments, as these three states will determine the next president.

There are a number of issues many point to when ‘dissing’ Mormonism. Would  you please share your impressions, what is most important for lay people to understand, about:

-          The Book of Mormon

A second witness of Jesus Christ.  A historical book believed to track ancestors of the American Indians.  This book was written by several prophets that lived through biblical times on the American continent.  After Jesus Christ was resurrected he spent 40 days teaching in the middle east (as recorded by the Bible), and then spend time teaching his followers in the Americas.

When King James put together the bible, he chose from over 200 manuscripts to compile what is today’s book.  The additional books of scripture not used were left behind and are rarely discussed as God’s word.  There are hundreds of additional authors of scripture that are looked over when talking about biblical teachings.  I find it interesting that little thought is given concerning the Book of Mormon writings based off of the argument that the Bible is the only word of God.  There is no scriptural backing for this claim, and how does one believe God is omnipotent yet declare his word has been closed up?

-          Angel Moroni

An angelic messenger.  Much like Angel Gabriel or any other angelic figure believed by Christian faith.  It was Moroni’s mission to preserve the teachings of the earlier prophets of the Americas contained in the Book of Mormon.

-          Planetary travel

This is doctrine not taught or embraced by the mainstream church.  Its speculative doctrine that is not found in any book of LDS scripture.  With that being said, the teachings by early apostles and prophets talk more about God being the creator of all things, including galaxies – we would argue that God, or his messengers, could engage in planetary travel (what kind of God would he be if he had limitations, right?)

-          Sealing marriage in the temple

Mormons believe that Marriage in the Temple will last for eternity (sealing).  It is predicated upon the belief that husband and wife create a unifying bond that serves a purpose in the life to come.  The purpose is somewhat unknown except to say that marriage is an eternal commitment and sanctioned by God.

-          Temple entrance barred to non-members

The requirements to enter the temple are not mysterious or subjective.  There are 14 or so questions, the same questions asked for as long as I can remember, which include chaste living, word of wisdom (no alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, drugs), belief in Jesus Christ, respect for the Prophet and apostles, tithing, belief in the Book of Mormon, etc.  Each question is answered by the individual and it is based on an honour code.  The temple teaches doctrine that coincides with both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, so why attend if you do not believe?  The temple is open to the public for a period of time after construction is complete, before it begins full time use.

Temple ceremonies are believed to be sacred, not secret, although explaining the two from an outside perspective would appear challenging.

-          Missions

A fantastic experience for any young man.  Two years are required by unmarried young men ages 19-26.  The program sends missionaries all over the world.  There are no politics or persuasion that are used to influence where a person will serve, but is based on a questionnaire and individual needs.  Missionaries like to believe that their placement is influenced by the spirit of God, and every missionary will tell you, where they served is the best place in the world.

What is most intriguing is the sacrifice by these young men.  There is no dating or flirting, every day’s schedule is very regimented, there is no communicating with family members back home except for letters and emails, no discussion of politics or current events, reading is confined to a standard library including the Bible, Book of Mormon, and additional study manuals (and language instruction if missionaries are foreign), and no music.  Missionaries are expected to proselyte 70+ hours a week, with one day given as a rest day in which laundry, letter writing, or activities (sports, tourism, etc) are allowed.

-          Tithing, Is it 10% of net, gross, pre- or post-tax?

Mormons believe tithing is 10% of increase as taught by the bible.  There is no official statement on whether this is net, gross, pre tax or post tax.  Tithing is 10% and it is up to the member to interpret what this means.  Tithing can also be paid weekly, monthly, or annually, again all determined by the person paying.

-          Race relations prior to 1978

The official church doctrine can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants in one of the last couple pages of the book – this and the ending of plural marriage are the two proclamations included in Mormon scripture.  Why this proclamation was released in 1978 is not really known save belief that this was God’s intention.  I will say that this coincides with the back end timing of the civil rights movement, which many members have speculated would have been an even greater challenge to the church, given the constant persecution the church historically faced.  As a note, race never prohibited any individual from being baptized or being members of congregations and there are records of black members all the way back to the early church.

I know this is a sticky point with many outsiders, but this position was in line with many other churches at the time.  Even today in pockets of the South there are still segregated churches and establishments.  We living in the South, we used to get asked whether our church “was a white church or a black church?”   Segregation was a part of US culture for centuries, and the civil rights movement changed how churches included members of different races.

The religion has known polygamous history and indeed some splinter cells still practice it. When and how did the main LDS church denounce this practice and why?

The church (there are no accepted splinter cells – we are one body with one leader) reversed doctrine in 1890 when pushed by the US to deny statehood, and polygamy was banned by law.  Mormons are law abiding citizens and the doctrine of plural marriage was reversed upon gaining statehood.  Any person practicing polygamy is kicked out of the church, or excommunicated.   In considering the history of the world, polygamy is a long supported idea.  Even throughout Christ’s time polygamy was practiced by Pharisees and Sadducees and Christ never condemned the practiced.  The Old Testament has multiple examples of prophetic leaders engaging in the practice, yet there is little opposition from the Christian community around historical prophet’s relationship with God.

It has been said that Mitt Romney’s grandfather comes from a polygamous sect in Mexico, how does that shape his background and life?

Minimal.  Mr. Romney’s father was the Governor of Michigan – if Mr. Romney Sr. was able to shake loose the connection, Mr. Romney will be no different.  I’m sure somewhere in my history there is some polygamous splinter as my mother’s side dates back to the Mormon pioneers.  In reality we all have polygamous ancestors as most of our ancestry dates back to Abraham (a stretch I admit).  I also think it’s hard to understand the choice of plural marriage using today’s frame and filter.  I know that there were hundreds of thousands of widows after the Civil War where half of a million men were killed.  I also know that the early women in the church were treated with respect and dignity largely due to the Mormon doctrine of woman’s equality with men.

Mormon men are not used to confrontation their word is all that is needed and we have seen frustration on the campaign trail and a culture of secrecy around the candidate, how does that affect one’s ability to govern from the most scrutinized position in the world?

Highly disagree with this statement.  I don’t believe this statement is fact based.  Mormon men are just like every other man – we all like to be right and do not enjoy being challenged.  How is this any different than President Bush standing up after the second election stating, “I am the decider.  I have won political capital in this last election and I intend to use it”.  Men, in general, seek out authority and command and I think President Obama, PM David Cameron, or Mr. Romney are no different.

Mitt Romney was a lay bishop in Massachusetts. What does that mean? Please explain the church’s hierarchy.

Bishops are the leaders of a local congregation of 300 or so.  Mr. Romney was also a Stake President, which governs the 7-8 local Bishops.  As you can tell a Bishop in the Mormon Church has a much different meaning than Bishops of the Catholic faith.  Bishops are the lowest level of leadership and the position is not political.  There is no campaigning and the personality of a Bishop can be incredibly diverse.  My last bishop was a scientist for a local company.  I once had a bishop who was a roofer that worked 17 hours a day.  No clergy is paid in the Mormon church, so being a Bishop equates a time dedication of roughly 20-25 hours a week of unpaid service.  Stake presidents are roughly 25-30 hours a week on top of their regular work schedule.  The upper echelons of the church are typically retired , and receive a stipend for living expenses (think General Authorities – which are the Prophets, Apostles, and Quorums of the 70).  Now, there are paid jobs for the church for administration and infrastructure, but they are modest.  People who work for the church do so with the understanding that they will never be extremely wealthy.

In 1960 John F Kennedy was questioned on whether or not he would take cues from the Pope. Mitt Romney is on record saying the church is VERY important in his life. Would he take his cues from church elders? Why or Why not?

Being a Mormon I don’t worry too much about this.  Mr. Romney’s faith already deeply influences his choices.  Besides, the checks and balances this country has in place would stop any blatant issue.  Faith does not trump laws, especially Mormon faith.  Remember, the vast majority of the Republicans in Congress are elected by Christian Fundamentalists which is a massive check for any religious grandstanding on Romney’s part.  Anyone who thinks that Romney will be able to ram a religious agenda through probably does not understand US political demographics.

Thank you for letting me input.  Feel free to ask any follow up questions.


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