Senator Harry Reid has recently announced that Mitt Romney has “sullied” the Mormon faith (which Senator Reid and Governor Romney share), and that Mr. Romney is “not the face of Mormonism.” He may have picked that “not the face of Mormonism” language up from Gregory Prince, another Mormon who, using that very phrase, has expressed strong public disagreement with some of Mr. Romney’s political positions.
I would like to point out that neither Senator Reid nor Mr. Prince is “the face of Mormonism,” either. No single mortal (unless, perhaps, he be the current president of the Church; and, even there, I would have reservations) is “the face of Mormonism.” We’re a varied bunch. Here’s as good a candidate as any:
Senator Reid is, by all accounts, a committed member of the Church. I’m told, for example, that, of all the LDS members of the United States Senate in recent decades, he has been the most willing to help the Church out on international political issues (e.g., missionary visas, and that sort of thing). He is, reputedly, a good man.
I don’t doubt it, though I confess that I haven’t appreciated his often rather uncharitable political style (which is putting it mildly) and I frankly disagree with many of his most important political positions.
I have very strong political views myself. (You may possibly have noticed that.)
But I have always opposed attempts by my fellow conservatives to try, effectively, to read Harry Reid out of the faith because he leans politically left. There is no single “Mormon position” on policy matters like “No Child Left Behind,” diplomacy toward Iran, Obamacare, or military budgets. Certainly not so obviously so that anybody should be called before a church court — as some Mormons on the Internet have, incredibly, proposed for Senator Reid — because he or she believes differently on such issues. (I remember decades ago that the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who did some good things and who almost certainly voted the same way I tend to vote, seemed to be implying that there was a “Christian position” on the Panama Canal Treaty.) These are prudential matters, and there is plenty of room for good, serious people to disagree on them.
Do we have a religious and moral obligation to serve the poor? Yes. Absolutely. Does the government have a role in that? If so, what should that role be? Faithful Latter-day Saints can and do disagree about the practical questions, even while entirely committed to the principle.
Thus, I really don’t appreciate it when Senator Reid and Mr. Prince (the latter with more subtlety and nuance than the Majority Leader, and much less ham-handedly) seem to want to read Governor Romney out of Mormonism for his views.
An emeritus General Authority who happens to hold a Harvard Ph.D. in political science and to have taught for years on the east coast of the United States told me, a couple of years ago, of a conversation he had had with the late Michael Deaver, one of President Ronald Reagan’s inner circle at the White House. Deaver complimented this General Authority (it was, perhaps, prior to his call as a General Authority) on how Republican Mormons are. Mischievously, this Mormon political scientist responded that “Actually, most of us are socialists.” Mr. Deaver was shocked, thinking that it was a jest. But it wasn’t. Internationally, our ranks include members of the British Labour Party, Venezuelan Chavistas, and many other species of Leftists who could probably not gain election to the Provo City Council. Nor even, perhaps, to that of Berkeley.
I’m very much a man of the Right. A serious conservative, with strong libertarian inclinations (particularly on specifically economic issues). And Im prepared to argue for my positions. I believe that socialism, statism, most forms of modern liberalism, Communism, and Marxism are, to their varying degrees, wrong, and even, sometimes, wickedly immoral. But I refuse to break fellowship with Saints who don’t share my right-leaning political views. And I don’t believe that they are justified in breaking fellowship with me. Nor in even hinting at it.