Will Romney upset … the Mormons?

SLCTemple 01The Los Angeles Times recently ran a commentary piece that perfectly captured in a single word the reason that Mitt Romney will — sadly — continue to face questions about his Mormon faith.

I say “sadly” because there may be a very good reason that Romney cannot give the speech that he needs to give in order to put this controversy to rest, which needs to happen if Mormons are going to play the role that they have every right to play at the highest level of national politics.

The article by Sally Denton, author of American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857, ran with this double-stacked headline: “Romney’s cross to bear — Questions about his religion could doom his campaign. He needs to face them head-on.” Here is the crucial background paragraph, as far as I am concerned:

To understand Romney and the unique political obstacle his religion imposes, and to determine if the Mormon vision for America has relevance in a 21st century presidential campaign, one must explore the fundamentals of the religion — both where it’s been and where it is today. The Mormon Church — officially, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — is perceived as a fringe religion by many Americans, yet it is perhaps the most homegrown of American faiths. Founded in 1830 in upstate New York by a charismatic farm boy named Joseph Smith Jr. — the sect’s “prophet, seer and revelator” — the religion was not Judaic, Christian or even monotheistic, at least not in any traditional sense.

Did you catch the key word?

The land-mine word is “was,” in that last sentence. In other words, Mormonism once held beliefs that were clearly heresy to traditional Christians in Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant sanctuaries. But are there beliefs in Mormonism that have changed, yet the church’s leaders cannot openly discuss those changes?

And there is another reality at work, I think. All churches contain people who no longer hold the doctrines that are “on the books” in their faith. Anyone who reads headlines about the wars in various Christian flocks knows this. Every time that one of the GetReligionistas writes about this topic, the comments pages soon include puzzling comments by Mormons who, clearly, do not agree with one another about some of the church’s most controversial teachings. Search this weblog for the word exaltation and you’ll see what I am talking about.

Meanwhile, you may remember that strange Time encounter between religion writer Richard Ostling and LDS President Gordon Hinckley, back in the mid-1990s.

“At first Hinckley seemed to qualify the idea that men could become gods,” according to Time, “suggesting that ‘it’s of course an ideal. It’s a hope for a wishful thing,’ but later he added, ‘yes, of course they can.’”

On whether the LDS Church holds that, “God the Father was once a man, he sounded uncertain, ‘I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it … I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it,’” Hinckley told Time.

This issue is at the heart of the tension between Mormon believers and traditional Christian believers — the doctrine of God itself. Is this a doctrine of God or Gods or gods? It will be hard for Romney to say anything about this issue if the leaders of his own church are reluctant to discuss it on the record, with tape recorders rolling.

I bring this up, yet again, because of a new piece — “Romney’s Run Has Mormons Wary of Scrutiny” — by one of the mainstream media’s top religion reporters, Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times. Let’s look at two crucial sections of the piece:

At the core of these tensions is that Mormons consider themselves to be Christians who believe in Jesus Christ and the Bible, but many of their tenets and practices have been denounced by other churches as heretical.

Some Mormons have watched with concern how Mr. Romney has responded to grilling by interviewers about his church’s distinctive doctrines.

Mr. Romney has been questioned about the Mormon definition of God, polygamy, the location of Jesus’s arrival when he returns to earth, and even a mysterious saying attributed to Joseph Smith Jr. called the “White Horse Prophecy,” which some interpret as a prediction that when the American Constitution is hanging “by a thread,” a Mormon will rescue the nation.

Mr. Romney’s tendency to gloss over Mormonism’s history and distinctive tenets has upset some fellow Mormons.

Second Coming2Fear not, the question here isn’t whether there are mainstream Mormons who still believe in polygamy, because that is a non-issue. The question is whether Romney has gone too far to repudiate his own family’s past.

And that is not the only issue discussed in this piece. Here is one that has not received much ink, until this article in the most powerful newspaper in the world. Note the reaction of Tom Grover, a Mormon who is a talk-radio pro.

Another case arose when George Stephanopoulos of ABC News asked Mr. Romney about a Mormon teaching that Jesus will come to the United States when he returns to reign on earth. Mr. Romney responded that the Messiah will return to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, “the same as the other Christian tradition.”

Mr. Grover said some of his radio listeners were astounded.

“They were just in disbelief, saying that’s not true, Jesus is coming back to Missouri,” Mr. Grover said. “It’s the L.D.S. Church’s 10th article of faith that Zion will be built upon the American continent.”

Attention Romney staff members: Now there is a question with legs in evangelical and charismatic megachurches in South Carolina.

Goodstein’s article raises several crucial questions for Romney and for the journalists who cover him. Question No. 1: Is there unity among Mormons on some of their most controversial doctrines? Question No. 2: Have some of these doctrines been quietly changed or “modernized,” making them hard for leaders to discuss in public?

And, finally, question No. 3 is political: What happens if Romney, in his quest to pacify evangelical Protestants in the Republican Party, waters down his beliefs so much that he ticks off other Mormons and is exposed as a “liberal” or a compromiser?

In the end, the problem may not be what tradititional Christian believers think of Romney’s pronouncements on his faith, or lack thereof, but what Mormons think of what he has to say. What a twist that would be. Once again, please focus your comments on the issues raised in the New York Times piece. Doctrinal warfare is out of bounds.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Romney’s answer about the Second Coming didn’t actually contradict the tenth article of faith. The article addresses what Christ will do after He returns; it doesn’t specify where the initial return will be.

    The White Horse Prophecy was disavowed as spurious by the church long ago. Gotta give credit to the reporter for doing that bit of research, though; it’s kind of an obscure footnote to Mormon history. But it’s curious that she didn’t mention that the prophecy isn’t considered valid.

    You didn’t cite it above, but the NYT article also tried to create a conflict between Romney’s private opinion on polygamy and the church’s acceptance of the practice as part of its history. It’s well-known among Mormons that Celestial Plural Marriage was distasteful to many of the people who practiced it, and they only did so out of obedience. Even Smith claimed that he had to be threatened by an angel before he would capitulate to God’s will. Expect to see a lot more articles portraying CPM as proof of the misogyny of the Mormons, with lecherous teenie-chasing men and cowed, abused women.

    For that matter, expect to see a lot more stories like this one, where one high-profile Mormon is going to be expected to play apologist for a history that’s as bizarre and confusing as it is new. For a religion less than two centuries old, Mormonism has a complex history and theology, and with Romney in the running, the mainstream media will be making a lot more howlers on LDS-related subjects and breathlessly presenting them to America as fact.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Romney’s answer about the Second Coming didn’t actually contradict the tenth article of faith. The article addresses what Christ will do after He returns; it doesn’t specify where the initial return will be.

    So you are saying that the Mormon talk-show host in Utah, and those who called in outraged, are wrong?

  • Yeechang Lee

    So you are saying that the Mormon talk-show host in Utah, and those who called in outraged, are wrong?

    Not Joel, but yes, those people had an incomplete understanding of LDS teachings on the matter. Latter-day Saints believe that Christ will appear to the world at the Mount of Olives. There are some nuances that are peculiar to our religion, of course–nuancnes which Romney wisely did not try to fully explicate in a ten-second soundbite on a Sunday-morning political talk show (!)–but hey, if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t be who we are.

  • bjalder26

    Yes, they are wrong. The LDS faith believes in the biblical account or the second coming. They also believe Jesus will visit Zion or New Jerusalem, which will be in Missouri. It isn’t one or the other it’s one after the other.

  • http://onlymormon.blogspot.com Jon

    The land-mine word is “was,” in that last sentence. In other words, Mormonism once held beliefs that were clearly heresy to traditional Christians in Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant sanctuaries. But are there beliefs in Mormonism that have changed, yet the church’s leaders cannot openly discuss those changes?

    I’m not sure that the beliefs of Latter-day Saints have changed all that much, but the emphasis of the church has certainly changed. My perception is that many Latter-day Saints still hold on to some of the more controversial beliefs, but they don’t discuss them with members of other faiths. Part of it is that the church doesn’t formally support these beliefs. Another part is that they are wary of opening themselves up to their critics.

    The media tends to zero in on the differences (take the question by George Stephanopoulos for example) when describing the church, which I believe makes many Mormons uncomfortable. The LDS church doesn’t spend a lot of time teaching many of these doctrines in meetings and classes, so many Latter-day Saints don’t always know how to respond and you’ll get different responses from different people.

  • Russell

    While Mitt may have been technically correct (I am fully orthodox MOrmon, so I know these things), his parsing of words to dodge sticky issues is simulatenously commendable and disturbing. While we cannot (and should not) expect to become the Church’s doctrinal spokesman (Pres. Hinckley is doing a fine job of that), neither should he become so good at dodging these issues that he merely become a closet Mormon playing a Protestant President.

  • http://www.draknet.com/proteus Judy Harrow

    I really wish we would all just develop a little humility and a little respect. All theological doctrine is really just our best guesses about the nature of the Ultimate. Whether or not Romney’s (or his church’s) best guesses are the same as yours or mine simply do not matter for the purposes of the upcoming election. The only thing that matters is his policies on those issues that are currently facing the nation. I don’t agree with him on most of those, and so it’s extremely unlikely that I will be voting for him or any other Republican. But his religion is his own private business and none of ours.

  • BluesDaddy

    Judy, I think you’re correct that what his theology is doesn’t matter, but the way he presents it, or doesn’t does, if you get my drift. When people go so far to obfuscate what their “church” clearly teaches, or what the fully affirm, it gives one pause. I’m not overly concerned about what he believes, as that he is unwilling (as so many Mormons seem to be) to acknowledge it. This means that power (or acceptance) is more important than honesty, integrity and forthrightness.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/eternitytalk Etienne

    I think anyone running for such an influential leadership position ought to have a firm grasp on his beliefs, including the controversial points. Why is he willing to stake his eternal future on a system that he doesn’t entirely agree with, or at best, doesn’t entirely understand? (see Hinkley’s quote from the Time article above) If Hinkley doesn’t “fully understand”, who can blame Romney for not having an answer? But Romney must have an answer. Otherwise he can be accused of blind “faith” and isn’t that what America is blaming our current president for?

    Why should I not expect the same carelessness in his leadership of our nation? I think the Mormons are doing themselves a disservice by not clearly outlining the particulars of their faith, and I think Romney’s association with such uncertainty taints his claim for presidency.

  • Travis

    The best answer, which Romney has given several times, is simply to refer doctrinal questions to the church itself. John Kerry didn’t have to talk about limbo. Those are issues for the churches, not the candidates.

  • http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/showprofile.php?Cat=0&User=32206&Number=812794&Board=EarthExternalData&what=showthreaded&page=&fpart=&vc=1 Giasen

    I think the real story here is perhaps the fact that of the dozens of candidates so far, only this one has such an intense microscope on his religion. I have yet to come across a single story on any of the other candidates ‘beliefs’. Would this much time and space be devoted to Mitt if nobody thought he had the chance to be elected, hence ‘electable’ as a president of the united states? I have not yet decided who to vote for yet, but it really does seem like an unequal amount of time spent on emphasizing a few differences between Christian religions vs. emphasizing how similar the voting patterns are between ‘Mormons’ and ‘non-mormon christians’.

  • Jerry

    The “White Horse prophecy” caught my attention since I’ve been aware that other religions have their own ‘white horse’ prophecies.

    So I looked around for references. Apparently, it’s not obviously spurious as Joel stated. Looking at this site, http://www.fairlds.org/pubs/whitehorse.pdf there’s a summary worth noting, in spite of it being written as a set of negative statements:

    It cannot be said that The Church of Jesus Christ of
    Latter-day Saints accepts the White Horse Prophecy as
    official or binding. It also is true that nothing in the so called prophecy is quoted or used by authorities in the
    Church. It is true that there is language the so-called
    prophecy that is found elsewhere in historically verifiable records.

    So there’s some of the material in that prophecy that is apparently accepted but not the prophecy itself. That does illustrate the difficulty in reporting on such matters. And asking Mr. Romney about what might be a theologically obscure point to some Mormons seems to me to be a bit nit-picky.

  • Sam

    If religion is going to be such a topic in this election, I would encourage the media to ask ALL candidates the same questions about their religions – not just Romney. If this happened, you would find many “I don’t knows” and many White Horses. Leave religion out of the campaign!

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Several comments:

    – If JFK had left faith issues to the church, he almost certainly would not have become president. He had to make a statement. Ditto for Romney.

    – Is anyone going to address the actual subject of the post?

    – May I make the observation that, once again, we are quickly getting clashing info on Mormon beliefs from Mormon commentators. It really is easy to see why this is hard to cover.

    – Is anyone out there interested in the issue of whether Romney can please the evangelicals and traditional Mormons at the same time?

  • Nate

    Mitt has done a fantastic job handling questions about his Mormon beliefs and I disagree that he is “glossing over” things. I am a seventh generation Mormon who grew up in Salt Lake City and graduated from Brigham Young University. My wife and I both actively participate in the LDS Church in Texas. Mitt’s responses to the questions from Stephanopoulos and Wallace were both very satisfying to me. The difficulty here is not that Mitt is being asked about “controversial” Mormon doctrines–the trouble is that reporters are asking about obscure doctrines that we don’t ever discuss or teach. The truth is that our church meetings and teachings are focused on (1) Jesus Christ’s role as Savior and Redeemer of the world; and (2) the Restoration of the fullness of Christ’s gospel in our day through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Imagine if any of the other candidates were asked to respond to obscure tenets of their religions or isolated incidents in the history of their religions: it just doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. Mormons have much, much more in common with other evangelical or Catholic Christians than they have differences.

  • Elizabeth

    Etienne,
    I agree with Sam, that there would be many “I don’t knows” if all candidates were asked about religion, so I wouldn’t worry so much about Romney’s supposed “carelessness” in this regard (although, I thought other posts had pretty well established that he was not careless, but in fact, precisely correct. Anyway…)

    The LDS.ORG website has a post up called “Approaching Mormon Doctorine” In it, the concept of “core doctrines” is discussed. I will include a portion:

    “Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. The mistake that public commentators often make is taking an obscure teaching that is peripheral to the Church’s purpose and placing it at the very center. This is especially common among reporters or researchers who rely on how other Christians interpret Latter-day Saint doctrine.”

    All religions have core doctrines and other doctrines that are a little more obscure. In all Christian religions, exactly what happens during the second coming of Christ is a perfect example. Some things are spelled out plainly, and other things are left to be “unknowns”, because God or scripture or leaders have not given out every detail. That is why there are some questions that are answered differently depending on the person you ask.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Sam, your even-handed application sounds good, but the fact is that the other candidates all belong to religions with which the majority of Americans are familiar. Romney belongs to a church that, unless you either are one or know a lot of them well, you’re probably not going to know much about. Add to that the hostility that many – no, almost all – Evangelicals have toward Mormonism, and it’s just going to keep engendering questions.

    I think we’ll be seeing this kind of story a lot for as long as Romney is in the race. The media enjoy putting candidates on the spot – it’s what gets them read – and Romney’s religion is tailor-made for the job. There are enough odd doctrines and historical issues that have hitherto been unknown to most Americans to keep them busy until election day.

    I don’t think Romney can solve this with a Kennedy speech, though. Even if he makes clear his position on church and state, the church will still be a handle the media can grab him by. I notice that President Hinckley hasn’t been asked his position on a Mormon president. I’d be interested to see a reporter ask him how much influence he intends to have over the White House. I expect he’ll disavow any (and mean it), but so far, I don’t think anybody’s asked. He’s a lot more accessible to American journalists than the pope was in Kennedy’s day.

  • http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com Dave

    Okay, here are some answers. No. 1: No, there is not unity on controversial issues, there’s a spectrum of opinion. If there was a simple answer that everyone shared, it wouldn’t be controversial.

    No. 2: Yes, some doctrines have been “modernized.” Thank God. All believers who would take the time to get to know the details of their own denomination’s ecclesiastical and doctrinal history would feel likewise, I suspect.

    No. 3: If Romney shades his answers, nothing will happen. Politicians do this all the time. Any candidate who gives unflinchingly candid answers to tricky questions is probably not fit to govern the country (discretion is a requirement of the job). Besides, it’s not like the questions are sincere religious questions; they are typically tricky questions designed to make a candidate look bad. There’s nothing wrong with giving tricky answers to tricky questions. If reporters really wanted detailed answers to religious questions, they’d go ask Michael Otterson or some other suitably official LDS spokesperson.

  • Elizabeth

    Well said, Dave!

  • UtahRez

    The land-mine word is “was,” in that last sentence. In other words, Mormonism once held beliefs that were clearly heresy to traditional Christians in Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant sanctuaries. But are there beliefs in Mormonism that have changed, yet the church’s leaders cannot openly discuss those changes?

    If the above is true then was Gordon Hinckley lying when he said, “Those who observe us say that we are moving into the mainstream of religion. We are not changing. The world’s perception of us is changing. We teach the same doctrine” (“Living in the Fulness of Times,” Ensign, November 2001, p.5).

  • Eric G.

    Did you catch the key word?

    The land-mine word is “was,” in that last sentence. In other words, Mormonism once held beliefs that were clearly heresy to traditional Christians in Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant sanctuaries. But are there beliefs in Mormonism that have changed, yet the church’s leaders cannot openly discuss those changes?

    To be blunt about it, the question is a bit insulting. I have a hard time imagining the same thing being said about Catholicism, for example, especially in the context of a presidential campaign.

    Basically, if the church leaders are unwilling to talk about particular doctrines, they aren’t doctrines that are binding on the members.

    The fact is that there are no secret doctrines in the church. The only thing that approaches secret doctrines are the teachings of the temple, but even those are available online for those who know where to look. There are undeveloped doctrines and certainly doctrines that raise questions, but that’s not the same thing as saying that church leaders are keeping the truth hidden from members.

    The second fact is that the LDS church probably does more than any other denomination to make its teachings public. Nearly every Sunday school manual and other church-produced publications used in teaching are available online at the church’s web site. All of our scriptures are available online. All of the teachings of the General Conferences are available online. And Sunday school and General Conference are the main places where members of the church learn doctrine, so it’s there for the world to see or hear.

    All that said, there are some obscure doctrines, things that were once taught but are no longer emphasized. There has been change in emphasis for sure. And there might even be some teachings (the Adam-God doctrine, for example) that have since been repudiated, but the historical record is there for anyone to see.

    If there are any teachings that can’t be found in the above sources, they aren’t essential for our salvation. And if there’s a doctrine that isn’t essential to know, and the church isn’t teaching it, can it truly be called a doctrine of the church? I don’t see how.

    “At first Hinckley seemed to qualify the idea that men could become gods,” according to Time, “suggesting that ‘it’s of course an ideal. It’s a hope for a wishful thing,’ but later he added, ‘yes, of course they can.’”

    On whether the LDS Church holds that, “God the Father was once a man, he sounded uncertain, ‘I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it . . . I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it,’” Hinckley told Time.

    Many of the church’s critics have been bothered by that statement, but everything President Hinckley said is true. The doctrine that God was once a man isn’t particularly taught except in passing. The historical record of the doctrine is incomplete. The specific issue (where did God come from?) is understood differently by different people in the church. There are any number of ways you could interpret the doctrine and still be considered a faithful member of the church. In nearly a decade of being a member of the church, I’ve never heard it come up in any official context.

    Question No. 1: Is there unity among Mormons on some of their most controversial doctrines?

    No. There’s universal agreement on the basics (Jesus is the Son of God, the Bible and the Book of Mormon are divinely inspired, our Heavenly Father and Jesus are corporeal, Jesus is the head of the church, the Earthly leader of the church is a prophet, and so on). But you’ll find a wide variety of understandings of various other beliefs, and some of those are the ones that get the most attention. And there is some disagreement over whether some beliefs are meant to be understood literally or figuratively (you’ll find disagreement on the details of evolution, for example).

    Have some of these doctrines been quietly changed or “modernized,” making them hard for leaders to discuss in public?

    If I understand the question correctly, no. But point me to a specific doctrine, and I’ll see if I can give a better answer. The question presupposes some conspiracy by church leadership to hide doctrine from its members, but I haven’t seen any evidence that such is the case. Again, without some background on this conspiracy, the question is a bit insulting.

    What happens if Romney, in his quest to pacify evangelical Protestants in the Republican Party, waters down his beliefs so much that he ticks off other Mormons and is exposed as a “liberal” or a compromiser?

    I haven’t heard him water down his theological beliefs (political beliefs are another matter entirely, and his reputation as a flip-flopper is well deserved). Most people I know in the church would say that it would be awful if polygamy were restored, so I don’t see him losing too many points there. (Romney never called it a false doctrine.) And Romney was right about the Second Coming, at least in the context in which the question was asked.

    Finally, I have to echo some of what others have said: Why is Romney even being asked some of these things? And why is he expected to provide an answer?

    I have yet to see a single one of the Catholic candidates asked, for example, about transubstantiation, which from my perspective is as strange as some LDS beliefs, even if no less sacred or meaningful for those who believe. Nor have they been asked about the Second Coming — how many of the other Christian candidates could even name the Mount of Olives as a place in Biblical prophecy? I haven’t seen any of the Catholics asked about the Crusades. I haven’t even heard Obama questioned about the Afrocentric aspect of the church he belongs to, and I find that question more relevant than Romney’s Mormonism (and I say that as a person who may vote for Obama in the Democratic primary next year). I haven’t heard Clinton questioned about how she can support gay rights when her own church calls homosexual behavior incompatible with Christian teaching. I haven’t heard any of the candidates (including Romney) who support torture asked how that squares with their faith. I have heard some of the Republicans asked about creation/evolution, but that’s about it.

    All that said, I found the New York Times article interesting. And for those who haven’t seen it, here’s an an interesting article on McCain’s religious beliefs.

  • Jerry

    Is anyone out there interested in the issue of whether Romney can please the evangelicals and traditional Mormons at the same time?

    I have to say I’m not interested in that question. I thought Romney’s statements about his beliefs are clear and to the point. If some groups dislike his statements, so be it. I’m much more interested in his policies and platform and how his faith informs those than I am in how the Mormon “White Horse” compares to the white horse in Revelation, for example.

    There are times when the media strikes me as a bunch of sharks who believe they sense blood in the water and keep circling and striking their prey. There are times when monomaniacal deconstructionism of someone’s beliefs and reputuation is necessary to uncover the truth. But there are also times when that behavior says more about the media than the subject of their attacks. To me, Romney’s beliefs are an example of the later case.

  • Eric G.

    — If JFK had left faith issues to the church, he almost certainly would not have become president. He had to make a statement. Ditto for Romney.

    What specifically do you believe Romney needs to say that he hasn’t said already?

    — Is anyone going to address the actual subject of the post?

    I think I have, but I was writing my response while you were posting the above question.

    — May I make the observation that, once again, we are quickly getting clashing info on Mormon beliefs from Mormon commentators. It really is easy to see why this is hard to cover.

    True, we are. But the clashing info centers primarily on beliefs that we don’t consider all that important. As has been stated, you don’t find that much difference on the beliefs we find important.

    My guess is that if you were to ask Protestants to explain the nature of the Trinity, you’d get at least as much disagreement on that major doctrine as you’re getting from Mormons on what we consider minor doctrines.

    — Is anyone out there interested in the issue of whether Romney can please the evangelicals and traditional Mormons at the same time?

    As long as Romney states Mormon beliefs correctly, and so far he has, that’s up to the evangelicals. All I will say for now is that if they reject Romney because of his theology, they should reject most of the other 20 or so presidential candidates as well, since (as far as I know) only a minority would affirm evangelical theology.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/eternitytalk Etienne

    Elizabeth,

    Some doctrines are more important than others and might be considered core doctrines. For example, the precise location of the Garden of Eden is far less important than doctrine about Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice.

    I totally agree. However, at least the core doctrines need to be understood and committed to by a member of any religion. Romney seems to be dodging the issue too much to me. Why doesn’t he come out and tell us what he believes and how that will shape his politics if he were president? If he can’t, why not? If he won’t, it points to deeper issues.

    Despite the recent balderdash surrounding General Pace about how “leaders shouldn’t have moral views”, I simply don’t think it’s possible to seperate leadership from spiritual belief (or religion) if one is truly committed to their religion. I want a complete picture of the candidate before I put my vote in for him. I’d like to have an idea of what’s running through his head when faced with the challenges of running the most powerful nation on earth, especially when his decisions could directly affect me.

    And on Sam’s comment: Do the same for all the candidates! If a candidate has subscribed to a religion and can’t define the core doctrines and how commitment to them will affect their leadership, that candidate has issues. Though I personally disagree with Mormonism I might respect Romney’s character enough to vote for him if he can give me that kind of careful self-evaluation and thoughtful commitment.

  • http://www.davidgoldingdesign.com Dave

    It’s incredibly unfair to see how the media treats Mitt Romney’s Mormon background. However, I think it’s actually a good thing as many Americans are, too, finding it insulting. As long as Mitt continues to tag along, looking like the innocent victim who is being berated for his beliefs, he will get sympathy votes. And the name recognition that is so important at this stage of the campaign is adding up; the very act of questioning his faith is becoming a hot topic.

  • Hans

    If there is one question that I think Romney needs to be asked, it’s with regard to the LDS Articles of Faith 9 and this doctrine of continual revelation. It may not be as sexy to write about as plural marriage, but it’s far more important.

    Mormons believe that God continues to give new revelations today. And throughout Mormon history, God has essentially changed the rules at certain times through new revelation. For a time, plural marriage was essential for exaltation. Now, God dissaproves of plural marriage. For a time, God did not allow blacks in the priesthood. Then, in 1978, the rules were changed.

    I’m sure many Mormons would be quick to point out that, in certain articles of the Doctrines and Covenants, God reveals his command that church affairs and civil affairs be separate. However, if God has essentially changed the rules on plural marriage and blacks in the priesthood through new revelation, there’s nothing to suggest that God won’t give new revelation that changes the rules with regard to church/state at some point.

    So, the vastly important question that I’d like to see Romney asked goes something like this: “If you are elected president, and President Hinckley receives a revelation from God ordering you to use the office of US Presidency to further the cause of Mormonism (in whatever hypothetical ways those might be), would you be bound by this?”

    Whatever the truth is about the White Horse business, I don’t think any Mormons would deny that continual revelation (or whatever the appropriate term may be) is of paramount importance in Mormon doctrine. And thus, if people want to see Romney asked questions that are actually fair with regard to his faith, this is, in my humble estimation, the best place to start.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Hans, that’s a good point. However, one of the qualities I’ve noticed in Romney is that even if his opinions change while he’s in office, he sticks to promises he made when he was campaigning. (His hands-off policy on abortion laws being an example of that.)

    I really can’t picture the LDS attitude toward church-state separation changing in the foreseeable future. (They’re not especially separate in Utah, but then, Utah was their promised land before it was a state.) If it did, though, I also can’t see Romney changing his policies in mid-term based on the church’s change in leadership.

    Church leadership almost certainly will change before the election after next; maybe before this one. But the next prophet is (IIRC) Boyd Packer, and he’s likely to continue the standing policy of leaving politicians to their conscience.

  • Eric G.

    So, the vastly important question that I’d like to see Romney asked goes something like this: “If you are elected president, and President Hinckley receives a revelation from God ordering you to use the office of US Presidency to further the cause of Mormonism (in whatever hypothetical ways those might be), would you be bound by this?”

    In the LDS church, that’s not the way revelation works.

    In any case, would you ask the same thing of a Catholic candidate with regard to the pope? If not, what’s the difference?

  • Eric G.

    And I might add to that for Protestant candidates (or other candidates who belong to a nonhierarchical church and believe in a personal God), should reporters ask them if they ask God about political decisions, and how they know when they’ve received an answer?

    If so, then I suppose you’ve being consistent with what you say Romney should be asked. If not, why not?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Hans wrote:

    If there is one question that I think Romney needs to be asked, it’s with regard to the LDS Articles of Faith 9 and this doctrine of continual revelation. It may not be as sexy to write about as plural marriage, but it’s far more important.

    I agree with Hans that this is more important doctrinal point but, as Eric G. points out, a lot of Protestants also believe that God speaks directly to them apart from Scripture.

    I think the important question to ask is how this direct connection with God would affect policy and if they answered that it wouldn’t, why wouldn’t it?

    In other words, if God tells people what wife to marry or what not, why wouldn’t he tell them whether or not to invade a country? Does God limit his personal revelation to non-policy matters? If so, why?

    And I agree with Eric G. that this question is just as relevant for any candidate who believes God directly communicates with them as the Mormon Romney.

  • linda

    Hans,
    Surely you are kidding about the prophet ordering Romney to use the office of the presidency to further the cause of mormonism! What do you know about mormonism that would ever lead you to believe such a thing is possible? That is without a doubt the silliest thing I have ever heard during this entire debate. You are sadly misunderstanding the LDS faith. BTW – the prophet does not “order” anyone to do anything.

  • HiveRadical

    What I find telling is the fact that Romney has not said anything worse than Brigham Young (that’s right BRIGHAM YOUNG) on polygamy. And people (sadly some from my own faith) have a cow over the man voicing his mere opinion.

    And it’s so simple and easy for the media. Find someone who either doesn’t follow the history of their faith OR doesn’t look closely at what was actually said by Romney-and the whole context- and you have yourself the portrayal of a contradiction. Now either those Mormons are “all confused” as to what they believe or Romney’s flipp’n! And what news that is.

    I look at the likes of the Stephanopolous ‘fiasco’ and find myself thinking, every time I re-read what Stephanopolous asked, “Stephanopolous sure botched the question for the kind of answer he was fishing for.” And he did. He botched it royally and then he comes out claiming to be able to call Romney either a liar or an ignoramus because he ‘clearly’ doesn’t know his religion.

    The quote on this site says it all, the press (and most individuals) don’t get religion! Especially not any religion that was not the center of their theological training in divinity school.

  • HiveRadical

    I think the following is interesting–

    “I think the important question to ask is how this direct connection with God would affect policy”

    I know not of a single individual that doesn’t have substantial preconceptions as to the way things are, what constitutes reality. This goes without saying. Assumptions are the basis of human logic-whether or not we’re comfortable with saying that.

    Certainly the assumptions that God can speak with man directly better affect many aspects of policy making and implementation. But I’d just as soon ask to know every science book, social studies book etc. that the person has ever read. That’s about how substantive that question is. A single wrong preconception formed by some erroneous aspect of any piece of type or press or speech a person’s consumed in their life is as likely to affect policy as is their religious convictions. So why don’t we ask for detailed lists of all the media they’ve consumed? Why don’t we demand to know the exact papers, websites, radio, tv and all other media they consume?

    Why don’t we? Well aside from the fact that they are not as easy to fit into our preconceptions as simply labeling someone in a faith and assigning a strength or depth to their belief we tend to go off the actual records of what people have done.

    We could pontificate all day long about what MIGHT affect someone’s policy and to what degree. But all these pail in comparison to simply looking at the history of what they’ve done. For THAT above religion, above ideological labels, above personal claims of the individual WILL BE THE MOST POTENT FORETELLING OF WHAT THEIR POLICY WILL BE.

    If Romney has a deep history of being a puppet for the Mormon Leadership then that would likely continue. If not then it would not likely suddenly appear. And either way it helps to look at the effective net result of either scenario.

  • Anna

    If one honestly wants to know how Romney’s Mormonism will affect his politics, take the time to read the Pew Forum on Public Life and Religion at http://pewforum.org/events/?EventID=148. There you’ll find meaningful questions and substantive answers. If not willing to take the time, continue with the speculation,five cent questions, and lightweight answers.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    ALL:

    Folks, the confusion on what is public and what is private doctrine seems rather clear. Meanwhile, it is hard to get more CORE in terms of organized religion than a faith’s Doctrine of God.

    We have linked to the Pew Forum event already, I believe, in a previous post. It’s great stuff.

    But here is the bottom line: The New York Times is not a minor paper. Argue with the Times, not with GetReligion, when we ask how journalists should wrestle with this issue.

  • Hans

    Linda said,

    What do you know about mormonism that would ever lead you to believe such a thing is possible?

    As I said in my first post, Article 9 of the Articles of Faith leads me to believe this is possible. Through new revelation, God has changed the rules in Mormonism before–a la plural marriage. Brigham Young had 53 wives and, inso doing, was obeying the will of God, according to Mormons. If Joe Mormon tried to have 53 wives today, he’d be excommunicated. That’s obviously a change.

    So, since God has changed the rules there and in a few other places, and since God continues to give revelation to those in the LDS Church, I don’t see how there is anything to prevent God from changing the rules with regard to church/state. The debate is not over whether this will happen. The debate is over whether it could happen.

    Eric G and Mollie,

    I also believe that, at least the gist of my question should be asked of any candidate who believes that God speaks to him/her apart from Scripture. However, I do think there’s a fairly significant difference between Mormon revelation and revelation as understood by most protestant denominations–and that this difference makes the question a bit more pressing for Romney.

    By and large, I would say that most of those protestant denominations who believe that God can speak to us apart from the Scriptures would still insist that God’s revelation to private individuals can never contradict or overturn established doctrine–and if a private revelation does that, then it wasn’t from God and, thus, is not to be followed or obeyed.

    But with Mormonism–and my apologies that I keep harping on this point–God’s new revelation can do that and has done that. Though I’m sure Mormons would say that a new revelation from God has never contradicted their previous doctrine, new revelation has at least overturned the old one in the sense that living Mormons are now bound by the new revelation and not the older one.

    Again, my argument is not that LDS church/state doctrine will change or is likely to change if Romney is elected. My argument is, with the LDS belief on revelation, it can change–something that’s not possible, at least on paper, in your average protestant church body. That’s why I think this question is a bit more important for the only Mormon candidate running for president to answer.

    Sorry this post was so freakin’ long.

  • Kaydee

    Obviously you didn’t like my other post as it was one of the ones you deleted. I will ask this again and see if it gets deleted again. I think it is relevant as these questions are either important for all or in my mind not important at all. From the deleted post:

    One other point……it seems pretty obvious the same questions of personal religious beliefs are not being asked of the other Presidential candidates. But perhaps even more interesting is why the press is not asking the same questions and demanding the same answers of Harry Reid who is also a devout Mormon and who is Senate Majority Leader and I believe third in line to the Presidency?

  • William Cupit

    As a Mormon. I was not upset about Romney’s answer about the second coming of Christ. Mormons do believe he will appear in Jerusalem, but they also believe he will appear in Jackson County, Missouri and then to the whole world. So what’s the problem? He was just trying to show we have common beliefs with other faiths.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    No kidding: watch Samantha Bee’s take on Mitt’s Mormonism on the Daily Show. (Warning: As usual, Sam walks right up to the line of what one can say on a regular TV show and looks right into the chasm…)

  • http://hometown.aol.com/frgregacca/ Fr. Greg

    But perhaps even more interesting is why the press is not asking the same questions and demanding the same answers of Harry Reid who is also a devout Mormon and who is Senate Majority Leader and I believe third in line to the Presidency!

    Actually, the Senate Majority Leader is NOT in line for the Presidency; you are probably thinking of the President pro tem of the Senate, who is currently Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia. See the following: United States presidential line of succession.

    However, despite that, given Reid’s prominence, your question is still somewhat fair. The short answer is that Reid, just by being a Democrat, has shown himself not to be in bed with the Mormon-Republican establishment that runs Utah. Further, as a Democrati not running for President, Reid is not faced with the challenge of walking a tightrope between the Mormon section of the Republican base and the Evangelical/Roman Catholic section, many of the latter being very nervous about supporting a Mormon candidate.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    No kidding, watch Samantha Bee’s take on Mitt’s Mormonism on last night’s Daily Show. Warning: Bee works adult.

  • Stephen A.

    This style of reporting really has to be questioned as to its legitimacy. It borders on yellow/attack/sensationalistic “journalism.”

    Doctrinal questions are not part of the political debate, and reporters who inject it into the debate are doing a huge disservice to our civic discourse.

    I’m not a Romney supporter, but it’s grossly unfair to put him in a box – so that if he declines to answer, he’ll be painted as being “secretive” about some unique aspects of his faith.

    The Harry Reid point is a valid one. If I was Mitt, the next time a doctrinal question came up, I’d say “Go as Harry Reid. He’s as much of a Mormon as I am. Next question.” Harry seems like the kind of guy who won’t answer one question, and will simply tell the reporters to go away. And he’d be right to do so.

    Mitt Romney should no more be answering questions on his religion’s theological technical points than should Hillary, Obama or Guiliani. It’s ludicrous to be covering the race for president, or any political race, as if some religious test must be passed, even if the theological questions are interesting. A brief mention of the person’s faith is all that is required. If people want to know more about the religion, lds.org is online.

    My advice? Romney needs to give a “Take me as I am” speech. Immediately. Any theological questions should be answered behind closed doors with preachers and parisoners who are concerned about his religion.

  • Eric G.

    Stephen A. — I pretty much agree, although (as stated below) I think some questions are perfectly fair.

    Hans said:

    Again, my argument is not that LDS church/state doctrine will change or is likely to change if Romney is elected. My argument is, with the LDS belief on revelation, it can change—something that’s not possible, at least on paper, in your average protestant church body. That’s why I think this question is a bit more important for the only Mormon candidate running for president to answer.

    I still don’t think it’s more relevant, for two reasons:

    1. With all due respect, the question as originally worded shows ignorance of how revelation is understood in the LDS context. Among other things, the president of the church (who is recognized as a prophet) doesn’t have the authority to order a church member to do anything. In LDS teaching, the power of the priesthood is one of persuasion, not compulsion. And even if the prophet did have the authority to order a U.S. president to do something, church teaching requires any member to determine for him/herself if any revelation received from the prophet or church is true. Ultimately, in the nonsensical scenario presented, it would still be up to Romney to search his conscience, pray and determine what is right. So ultimately, we voters are left at the same place we would be for any other person running for president, doing the best we can to judge that person’s integrity and discernment.

    2. The fact that a presidential candidate belongs to a church that has changed the way it does things shouldn’t be alarming, because that’s true of nearly all the candidates who belong to a church. Some of the candidates belong to churches that once endorsed slavery, and some are members of churches that are growing through a painful process involving positions on homosexuality. I simply fail to see how the fact that the LDS church has changed the way it does some things has any bearing on a member of the church running for president.

    You’ve quoted the 9th Article of Faith as if it’s something ominous. Here it is in its entirety: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Isn’t that something that most Christians would agree with?

    I think it’s a fair question to ask candidates how they approach the many moral issues they would face as president — genocide, poverty, abortion, terrorism and so on — and how their moral compass works and, if faced with a moral dilemma, how they would decide what is right or wrong. In fact, the media would be remiss not to ask such questions.

    But to single out one candidate because he’s a member of minority branch of Christianity, and to suggest that because he is a member of that particular church that he’s unable to think for himself, that’s both insulting and inappropriate.

  • Hans

    Steven A,

    When doctrinal beliefs enter into the political field, then doctrinal questions absolutely deserve to be a part of the political debate.

    Beliefs that don’t enter into the political spectrum should be kept out of it, obviously. Rudy Guiliani and Mike Huckabee shouldn’t have to debate eachother on the efficacy of infant baptism since that has nothing to do with the office of the presidency.

    However, if a candidate holds religious beliefs that enter into the political spectrum, I don’t see how it falls under the category of attack journalism if people ask him how those beliefs would effect his governing.

    If Joe Politician belongs to a church body that believes they have been charged by God to set up Christ’s kingdom in Jerusalem, isn’t it fair to ask Joe Politician if his religious beliefs will compell him, for example, to use his role as Commander in Chief to wage war on Palestine?

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Eric, I agree with you in principle, but I doubt very much the media will see it that way. For the news industry, it’s not about his theology per se. Most journalists aren’t questioning him because they really want to know the difference between the LDS concept of the Trinity and the Nicene one. They don’t give a rat’s patoot about theological niceties. What they’re looking for is oddities in the candidate’s religion that will make their readers say, “Hmm… I wonder what kind of a fathead believes THAT.”

    So I doubt we’ll be hearing about Adam-God, but we will about Blood Atonement. (Watch and see if I’m wrong.) Both of those are repudiated points of doctrine, but one is strictly religious, while the other is social as well.

  • Roy

    Unaddressed is Romney’s agreement or disagreement with his Church’s stand on homosexuality. Mormons believe homosexuality is a “choice” not a natural occurance so homosexuals can be “cured.” We need to know if Romney agrees with this to determined if we need to anticipate another form of theocracy in the USA where the Surgeon General implements “curation” programs for gays such as electroshock therapy that was allegedly used by the Mormon Church at BYU and by Bishop referrals. Will Romney leave gays alone or will he agressively try to eradicate them by some sort of cure directed by the Church and in thee hands of a raging homophobe like Dr. Holsinger, Bush’s current nominee for Surgeon General.

  • Hans

    Just a brief little response this time, I promise:-)

    1. Perhaps my original wording was poor, but the gist of my original point wasn’t that Romney will essentially be a subordinate of Hinckley and will have to do whatever he says. Rather, my point was that, because of the Mormon doctrine on revelation, it’s possible that Romney could face the scenario of having to figure out what to do with a new revelation.

    2. It’s true that virtually every church body in the world has changed the way they’ve done things. But it hasn’t been in the same fashion as Mormonism. While some church bodies may have supported slavery, those that did would now concede that their theological rational for supporting slavery was wrong. They wouldn’t claim that slavery used to be an institution blessed by God but that God changed the rules later on. They would claim that it’s always been wrong, though their denomination didn’t always see that.

    3. As for Article 9, no, I don’t think it’s something that most Christians would agree with. Even if some Christians believe in a kind of modern revelation from God, I don’t think they believe that God continues to reveal things today and tomorrow in the same authoritative way that He revealed them through the OT prophets and through Christ.

    4. I neither said nor insinuated that Romney or any other Mormon can’t think for himself or herself.

  • Tracy Hall Jr

    http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2475

    Maybe my third attempt to point out the persistent anti-Mormon bias of this blog will survive deletion for more than a few seconds — but I doubt it.

    Terry writes, with reference to his favorite burning question about Mormonism, “God or gods,” “It will be hard for Romney to say anything about this issue if the leaders of his own church are reluctant to discuss it on the record, with tape recorders rolling.”

    He refers, of course, to the scoop from his reporting days where he claims to have exposed two prominent LDS leaders for slipping up on tape and admitting to polytheism. He wants the press to lay the same snare for Romney.

    “For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off: That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.” (Isaiah 29:20-21)

    The word which so offends Terry is “exaltation.”

    Terry continues, “Every time that one of the GetReligionistas writes about this topic, the comments pages soon include puzzling comments by Mormons who, clearly, do not agree with one another about some of the church’s most controversial teachings. Search this weblog for the word exaltation and you’ll see what I am talking about.”

    So what does the search show? Not Mormons disagreeing with each other about exaltation, but rather Terry Mattingly and Daniel Pulliam repeatedly taking the press to task for failing to press Romney on this doctrine, which, they allege, is equivalent to polytheism.

    As recently as May 15, Terry re-ground his axe via the Scripps Howard News Service, using the old dodge of avoiding personal responsibility by quoting another, in this case Richard Ostling:

    “People need to know, ‘Is this man going to take orders from Salt Lake City? Are there elements of Mormon theology that will affect public policy?’ … But before he gets to those questions, Romney may have to say, ‘We have different doctrines. We have different scriptures. … We even have different concepts of God.’ He has to know that he can’t just say, ‘We all have the same faith.’ That is not going to work.”

    Terry, I invite you to respond to my accusation of anti-Mormon bias, rather than just deleting it.

    Tracy Hall Jr
    hthalljr’gmail’com

  • Carl

    The doctrines of the LDS church have not changed. Society has changed, and therefore the emphasis of church teaching has changed too. In the 19th century, almost everyone went to church regularly and had large families, and so few people needed to be educated about the basics of Jesus Christ’s gospel or the importance of family values. Rather, they needed to understand the areas where Mormon teaching differed from creeds they had been taught. Today things are much different, and the church has wisely shifted its emphasis to address society’s changed landscape.

    Another important point is that over the years there have been many Mormons that have made a pastime out of constructing elaborate doctrinal systems from just a few isolated statements made by various church leaders and stringing them together by strained logic. Many of these Mormons have widely disseminated their views through books, and many members have thought their ideas were authoritative because they were so widely read or because they held high church office (never mind the disclaimer in the books that their views were meant to be received as opinion only, and not as official church teaching).

    But really, I think the main questions of the article are moot. All Romney needs to say regarding his religion is to remind everyone that there have been many active Mormons that have served in high political offices in this country, including many currently serving in Congress and governorships and cabinet posts, etc. Romney himself has already served as governor. There is no evidence that any of these people’s official duties were adversely affected by their Mormonism. Therefore, all questions about how Romney being a Mormon might affect his performance in the White House are ignorant and meaningless.

    As for whether Romney might offend more Mormons than evangelicals by his responses to these ignorant and meaningless questions, the answer is yes–which is why he should stop answering them now and just refer to the fact pointed out above: that if he wins the presidency, it won’t be the first time a Mormon served his country, and all our experience up to now indicates that his faith will only be an asset, not a liability.

    As for whether Romney should be able to explain all the positions and historical tidbits of his church, of course that’s absurd. I agree wholeheartedly with someone else who said that the other candidates would probably do a much worse job than Romney has in explaining the dark past and unique doctrines of Catholicism, or the radical elements of evangelicalism, etc. If the pope once rallied the Crusaders to pillage Palestine, couldn’t he do it again? And wouldn’t Guiliani have a spiritual crisis to face? If Baptist leaders once encouraged the work of the KKK, couldn’t they do so again? And wouldn’t Hilary have a spiritual crisis to face? The questions people are asking about Romney are just as silly as these are. There are plenty of Catholics and Christians of other denominations serving their country nobly, and so the history or beliefs of these religions are of no import in a presidential election that features Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, etc. As someone else said, these questions reveal much more about the intellect of the journalists than they do about Romney or his church.

  • Rathje

    tmatt,

    Going after your questions:

    “Question No. 1: Is there unity among Mormons on some of their most controversial doctrines?”

    Answer: Yes. They almost uniformly don’t talk about them, think much about them and, in many cases, even realize they exist.

    “Question No. 2: Have some of these doctrines been quietly changed or “modernized,” making them hard for leaders to discuss in public?”

    Answer: Yup. Few examples: 1) The “Mark of Cain” business in relation to blacks in the church (once commonly preached from Mormon pulpits, but you never hear it anymore); 2) Polygamy as an essential ordinance for the highest levels of exhaltation (a common belief among top church leaders way back when, but espoused by none today); 3) Joseph Smith’s original stance that the creeds of all other Christian faiths were “abominations” in the sight of God (the LDS church has been undergoing a “make nice with the neighbors” shift under the current prophet); 4) the once popular notion that the Catholic church was “the whore of Babylon,” the “Great and Abominable Church,” etc (Apostle Bruce R. McConkie was privately pressured by other church leaders to retract these statements in his landmark book: Mormon Doctrine); 5) Birth control (in my parents day, birth control was an absolute no-no, but folks today largely don’t care); 6) Homosexuality (used to be you were considered “evil” just for even having attractions like that and there was a focus on “curing” gays – today church leaders are conceding that homosexuality may not be a choice, and may well be incurable, and that just having the attraction doesn’t make you a bad person – this issue is still shifting). The list goes on for a bit.

    The problem is that this is a free-form religion based primarily on spiritual confirmation and direct revelation from God. Not only are our leaders supposed to be getting frequent direct updates, but we members ourselves are expected to seek for our own personal confirmation that the latest church teaching, or program, or counsel is actually true and binding for ourselves. What Mormonism is at any one moment is primarily a matter of unwritten consensus. The actual writings of past prophets are cited extensively, as are the scriptures, but Mormons can vary in which prophets and which scriptures receive emphasis at any given moment.

    You also need to realize that we have no professional clergy. No Catholic magisterium keeping the doctrine pure and consistent. Mormons put great stock in scriptural and prophetic authority. But their church has no apparatus of scholars interpreting those writings and statements. Thus the same sets of scriptural writings or prophetic utterance can end up being reinvented by each new generation.

    Right now, for instance, the Mormon church is sort of re-discovering their own existing scriptures on the Christian concept of grace. Previously, Mormons were almost uniform in the notion that salvation is a matter of righteously working your way toward heaven. You’d get contemptuous sniffs in Mormon Gospel study groups about the Evangelical rhetoric of “being saved” and “grace.” That’s changing now and it’s been a gradual shift. But different scriptures are being cited, and they are being cited in different ways. Usually, your average Mormon is completely unaware that these shifts are taking place and will probably initially disagree with you if you try to point it out.

    But we have no rabbis, or the equivalent. Your average practicing Mormon generally has a high degree of familiarity with the scriptures (typically more than your average American). But as a whole, they are usually poorly equipped for systematically dealing with the scriptures, with their own history, and with their own beliefs in any sort of systematic way that will satisfy outsiders. Even our church hierarchy simply represents a highly refined version of the lay membership they represent (almost none are professional theologians).

    You ask a common Mormon about doctrine and you’ll get a manifestation of the current underlying consensus that runs throughout the entire church – largely unnoticed but extremely important. There will be little or no historical context, or even a great deal of awareness of the historical context. “Yeah, blacks used to be denied the priesthood, but that was, like, back in the 70s. Why are you still talking about that?”

    Yes, we do change that quickly. In one generation, the LDS membership can be completely different. This makes our Church extremely resilient and able to remain relevant in any context.

    But it drives scholars (and journalists) who are looking for a systematic theology absolutely bonkers.

  • Rathje

    And finally, your third question:

    “And, finally, question No. 3 is political: What happens if Romney, in his quest to pacify evangelical Protestants in the Republican Party, waters down his beliefs so much that he ticks off other Mormons and is exposed as a “liberal” or a compromiser?”

    Honestly, I don’t think there’s much danger of this. But that’s just my personal opinion.

    As far as I’m concerned, my fellow Mormons have already waterer-down their own doctrine in an attempt to “mainstream.” Romney won’t have to break with the Mormon majority at all to compromise and water down. Many Mormons are already there. At least, American Mormons are already there. He may very well end up ticking off non-American Mormons (many of whom were absolutely mortified that VP Cheney was allowed to give the commencement address at Brigham Young University – a Mormon-owned school).

    What bugs me about Romney as a Mormon, is that he represents a wider trend among Mormons to pander to the mainstream of America, regardless of whether the mainstream of America is full of crap or not. I also worry that he will solidify the Mormon = Republican connection in the minds of many Americans and, more importantly, many Mormons. I find this connection to be highly damaging to the Church’s spiritual legitimacy. Despite the best efforts of top LDS leadership, many lay members remain convinced that “God is a Republican.”

    I don’t see Romney doing our church any favors on that score.

  • Rathje

    But I hasten to add that my #50 is a minority view among Mormons and many would dispute the sort of “compromising” I’m accusing my fellow Mormons of.

  • Rathje

    Hmm. I guess that should have read “#51 is a minority view.” Durn commenting que.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Rathje, your responses to those questions was excellent, frank and informative. It also accords exactly with what I’ve observed among the LDS I know (who are legion). I especially can identify with the part about a systematic theology being elusive. That’s what gives the Ed Deckers and the Tanners so much ammunition; they can pick out whatever is most damning and there’s nobody to contradict them.

    Speaking of the Tannners, I wonder how lonng it will be before the MSM start using them for their counter-quotes in Romney stories of this kind. Judginig from the way so many reporters went to the Dobson-Falwell-Robertson well for quotes on Fundamentalist issues, I’m betting the Tanners will be seeing themselves in print a lot more as long as Romney’s hat is in the ring.

  • BluesDaddy

    “Raging homophile” = anyone who disagrees with the agenda of homoerotic individuals and describes in clinical and factual fashion the nature and consequences of homoeroticism.

  • Stephen A.

    Once again, whether the Mormons believe Christ will visit Missouri first or the Mt. of Olives first matters very little to 99% of the voters.

    Now, if we have a Christian Scientist running for president who will refuse to fund ANY heathcare initiatives – and not because of his/her federalist belief that such things are best left to the states, but because he/she doesn’t believe in medicine itself – then that is a huge problem, and a relevant issue for reporters.

    I see no such issue rising to that level in the LDS Church. Not prexistent babies, not baptism for the dead, not temple ceremonies. NOTHING.

    If my president wants to worship according to his conscience and pray to God every night and every morning and twice on Sunday (or whatever other day he chooses to worship) and will still reflect my values and lead the nation with honor when he’s on the job, his religion is irrelevent, IMO. Reporters trying to claim otherwise are feeding the distrust of the people and are adding religious intolerance and suspicion into the political process.

  • http://2natures.blogspot.com/ Roland

    With respect to Question No. 2: Two weeks ago I heard this interview with Blake Ostler, author of Exploring Mormon Thought. Towards the end of his 21-minute interview (at the show’s 18:58 mark), Maureen Fiedler asked him about the Mormon belief in deification. In his effort to show that the belief is a part of mainstream Christianity, he pointed to the Orthodox belief in theosis. He also recommended this paper on the subject, which opens by exploring the doctrine’s origin in the early Church before turning into a series of scriptural proof texts. (But careful reading will show evidence of Mormon’s non-mainstream understanding of deification: “As gods, [Christians] are part of the heavenly assembly of gods presided over by the most high God spoken of and referred to frequently in the OT.”)

    Mormon modernization would not be all that surprising – it is a modern religion, after all. But here we see not modernization, but an unexpected reference to ancient authority! This is a huge departure from Joseph Smith’s teaching that all existing churches (presumably including Orthodoxy) had fallen into apostasy and that Christianity needed to be restored.

    I think Mormons are self-conscious about their weirdness, and they will look anywhere, whether to current trends, the practices of other churches, or voices from the past, to make themselves look more mainstream to outsiders – and to feel more mainstream themselves.

    A few years ago the Missouri Mormons (RLDS) went so far as to change their church’s name to the generic-sounding “Community of Christ.”

  • Mark

    Terry,

    There is a saying that used to be popular among LDS several decades ago. Supposedly it was first uttered by David O’McKay, the prophet for most of the 50′s, 60′s, and into the 70′s. It goes, “Mormons are the only people who can take a rumor and in five minutes turn it into church doctrine.” So a reporter should not be surprised when he comes across numerous seemingly contradictory statements on belief.

    Take the White Horse prophesy, for example. It has been declared false by nearly every prophet, apostle, and general authority since it was first published several decades after it was supposedly given. Yet you still find people preaching it from the pulpit. It is just too “juicy” to be left alone.

    How ironic is it that there are people like Hans trying to scare people with tales how Gordon B. Hinckley is going to ‘order’ Romney to do his bidding. If the poor man can’t get people to leave the WHP alone, how does Hans expect him to succeed in ordering the President of the United States around?

    As to your frustration as to getting so many confusing answers to obscure doctrines, would you expect regular members of any chruch to have ready answers to all the nit-picky elements of their faith?

    I well remember the first door that I knocked on as a missionary. It was over thirty years ago, yet I remember as if it were yesterday. A lady answered the door and told us, “I’m sorry, I’m a Methodist.”

    I responded, “You know, I have always wondered what Methodists believe about the resurrection. Do they believe in a universal resurrection or only for the just?”

    A look of utter panic came over her face and she stammered out, “You will have to ask my minister”, and closed the door.

    Yet you seem upset that various Mormons can’t give you a consistent answer on whether Christ will return to Missouri, Jerusalem, Flagstaff, Arizona, or Nome, Alaska.

    Do good journalists hold members of one faith to a higher standard than the members of another? Must all Mormons have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the minutia of their faith, but those belonging to other faiths are given a free pass? Must all candidates for the Presidency of the United States be apologists for their various sects, or are only the Mormon ones singled out for such treatment?

    Again, is this good journalism?

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  • John Christensen

    It seems that most of the theological question come from the liberal left media, I would bet George S. knows very little about the Greek Orthodox theology. What really in all fairness does one care about someones critique’ on the minute details of his or her religious beliefs, that’s why they have the reference books. So get a grip on it look at the overall picture for Romney’s vision for America. Who in the liberal left media really cares about America, they have their own agenda, they are basically secular progressive’s anyway. The American people given good information, will make a decision based on that information. The progressives have very little in religious teachings or character. So get on to the issues that are hurting the economey and well being of our great country.

  • Glenn Trimble

    I think that there is a need to clarify a very important point that may not be understood. Bear with me for a moment.

    With two differing beliefs, either one is correct, both are incorrect, but both cannot be correct.

    Eric G. said:

    There’s universal agreement on the basics (Jesus is the Son of God, the Bible and the Book of Mormon are divinely inspired, our Heavenly Father and Jesus are corporeal…

    The Bible says that God is a spirit. He is not corporeal. Nowhere in the Bible is that taught.

    The Bible also says that there is one God, none before, nor after him (Isaiah 43:10).

    On these two points, Christians and Mormons differ.

    Eric G. wrote:

    But to single out one candidate because he’s a member of minority branch of Christianity…

    With the differences in belief of the nature of God (and number of gods), Mormonism is clearly not a minority branch of Christianity.

    Nate said:

    Mormons have much, much more in common with other evangelical or Catholic Christians than they have differences.

    If our beliefs are vastly different on who God is, Christians and Mormons really don’t have much at all in common.

  • Rathje

    I don’t agree with Eric G. either. I honestly don’t give a damn if I, as a Mormon, am ever admitted into the Christian country-club of American privilege.

    Mormons are about as different from mainline Christianity today as the original Christianity was from Judaism. And just like the original Christians, Mormons are claiming that the established order has gone astray.

    This is just a cross our religion has to bear. We have an inherently antagonistic stance towards mainline Christianity. No matter how much some Mormons, Mitt Romney included, may wish to minimize it, it’s not going away.

    Doesn’t bug me any. I feel my religion can scrap with the best of them.

  • Eric G.

    I’m not sure I really disagree with you, Rathje. (I thought your recent posts were excellent, by the way.) We can talk about similarities between Mormons and other Christians (and in my view they are substantial), or we can talk about differences between Mormons and other Christians (and in my view they are substantial), but ultimately that becomes a matter of semantics.

    And ultimately, I don’t really care either whether other Christians think we belong to the “Christian club” or not. My only wish would be that before they come to that conclusion is that they understand what we believe rather than have their only understanding be the caricature of us made by various critics. And that’s why I’m pleased to see that at least some members of the press are making an effort to talk to real, believing, articulate, credible, knowlegeable Mormons have to say about our beliefs and history (not that we all agree …).


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