Dear Spice: On a Mormon Foreign Policy

Dear Spice,

Thank you for your kind notes.

We do not agree (always!) politically, but your work to free slaves globally is a model of Christian service.

You ask a reasonable question . . .

One thing I’ve had a lot of trouble with about Romney as a Mormon candidate is the implications of Mormon theology of America as the new Zion in foreign policy. I’m curious about your thoughts on that, if you have time.

First, I know you well enough to know that charges of bigotry are unfounded. You agree with me that religion is important in assessing a candidate, but that Mormonism (by itself) should not disqualify a person.

Second, asking a question is a good thing. Many partisans just develop an idea about Mormons, evangelicals, liberal Protestants and go a’ranting.

Mormons do have a elevated view of American’s role in sacred history compared to other faith traditions. Both of us know enough crazy religious and secular people to know any idea can be perverted by the fringe. My belief that God has a continuing work for the Jewish people now and in the future can be twisted into unthinking support for the modern, secular state of Israel. Secularists disdain for religious thinking has a few to “go soft” on tyrants, think Chinese communists, who support their secular worldview.

It probably would not be hard to Google us up some fringe-Mormons.

However, I think there is an easy misunderstanding of what the role of America might mean to a sophisticated Mormon.

The place for America in Mormon thought seems geographical to me and not so much political. On my (outsider) reading of the Book of Mormon, there is no implication for this political order, just a (reasonable) view that God cares about North and South America. In fact, some people in our communities often treat the new world as an after thought in Sacred History. Mormons are not likely to make this mistake!

Just as thoughtful dispensationalists need not confuse modern Israel with the “final” Israel of history, so (I don’t think) Mormon scholars need to attach any significance to any particular American moment.

In fact, we have one-hundred and fifty years of Mormon comment on world affairs. The norm has been to argue for the USA as an exceptional place, but years of persecution by the Federal government did not leave them naive about the state either. After all Joseph, the Mormon prophet, was murdered by an American mob! In short, Mit Romney’s foreign policy pronouncement seem well in the mainstream of American politics: Reagan-like.

Harry Reid does not agree with Mr. Romney and this suggests that while Mr. Romney’s foreign policy is (in his mind) consistent with his Mormonism, it is not demanded by his religious beliefs.

Finally, let me suggest a good reason to think Mr. Romney will be more sophisticated in his view of the world than most Americans, in part because of his Mormon heritage. Mormonism is booming globally. Mr. Romney spent years in France and is fairly fluent in that language. Mormons are more likely to be international in experience than many Americans.

I do not think, therefore, there is any good reason to fear a Romney foreign policy. I disagree with aspects of his plans, such as his defense of torture (as has President Obama effectively), but it is not threatening or abnormal.

Your chum under the Mercy,

John Mark


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