Harry Reid and litmus tests

mormon cantDo you believe in God? Do you promise to follow him and forsake sin? And do you endorse God’s one-and-only approved stance on this latest piece of legislation? Then (and only then) may you be counted among the elect!

Many evangelicals have been using this approach toward equating political correctness with doctrinal orthodoxy for decades. It’s no surprise that Mormons are doing the same, as Thomas Burr of the Salt Lake Tribune reported in “Harry Reid: A Mormon in the middle.”

The Temple-recommend-carrying Reid is very active in his church, say fellow members in the Washington area. But that may come as a shock to some Mormon critics who contend that the Senate leader’s political stands put him at odds with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The latest round of religiously charged criticism came after Reid told gay rights groups in a private meeting that the LDS Church’s efforts to back the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in California was a waste of resources and hurt the faith’s missionary efforts.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen posted a news story on that subject on his Facebook page, prompting several conservatives to challenge Reid’s Mormon credentials.

Conservative activist and Utah blogger Holly Richardson said she found Reid’s comments disconcerting and doesn’t see how Reid’s far left political beliefs can align with the LDS Church.

“I just don’t get how his politics translate to somebody who has LDS beliefs,” Richardson says. “He’s an embarrassment to me as a Mormon.”

Reid, who converted as a college student and regularly attends services, has grown accustomed to the condemnation of conservative Mormons (who make up a majority of the Mormon faithful).

He recalls a time when his grandchildren were trick-or-treating at a local LDS ward event and came upon a poster featuring a picture of the Devil and Reid, and asking “Can you tell the difference?”

“I remember it,” Reid says when asked how he deals with the criticism, “but I try not to let people who do not represent the teachings that I have learned interfere with my basic beliefs.”

Burr gets quotes from the usual suspects (Pew’s John Green) but goes further and deeper by quoting church doctrine and examining recent practice:

The LDS Church declined comment for this story but pointed to its statement on relationships with government.

It says that elected officials who are LDS make their own decisions “and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated church position.”

And the church has made efforts in the past to dispel the notion that it sides with conservative politics. In 1998, church General Authority Marlin Jensen stressed that good Mormons can also be good Democrats. The late James E. Faust, a Democrat and then a member of the First Presidency, the church’s top governing body, said it was in the church’s best interest to have a two-party system.

All faith groups wrestle with how to apply their beliefs to society and politics. Leon Wieseltier explored whether Judaism is essentially conservative or liberal in his Sept. 13 New York Times Book Review review of Norman Podhoretz’s Why Are Jews Liberal? I love how Wieseltier put it:

Judaism is not liberal and it is not conservative; it is Jewish.

So, is religion necessarily a “conservative” political force? Some are certain it is. Others are more cautious about espousing a one-size-fits-all link between doctrine and public policy, echoing the sentiments of J. B. Phillips (who wrote the classic book, Your God Is Too Small) or C. S. Lewis, who distinguished between “mere Christianity” and an adulterated form of faith he called “Christianity plus.”

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  • Jeff

    Nice Article. I like the fact that people like Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch, both active Mormons, can be high ranking senators and disagree publicy. Religion and politics should never been seen as the same thing, though there are times when they inevitably cross paths–and that’s OK too. I’m Mormon and politically active. I know my religion doesn’t work for everyone but it helps me be a better person. I respect others, their beliefs and politics, and people largely do the same in return. Altogether, it’s a win-win.

  • Jerry

    I liked this article because it presented a complex picture, with various voices being heard, about what it means to be a Mormon. Such articles would, I hope, help reduce the stereotyping.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    Thanks for the link to this interesting story. I briefly attended an LDS church while in high school, and remember very strongly the church’s emphasis on political involvement, regardless of party. Article 12 of the LDS Articles of Faith reads:

    We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

    A visiting speaker gave the example that, if an LDS member were a citizen of the USSR, they should endeavor to be the best possible member of the Communist Party. At the time, I thought he was exaggerating, but I just found this article from The Mormon Worker, profiling Joseph Hansen, a Mormon who served as personal secretary of Leon Trotsky and became a leading figure in the Socialist Workers Party. Just when you think you know a religion… :)

  • CarlH

    A pretty decent article (especially from the Salt Lake Tribune, for which tweeking the nose of the LDS Church is virtually its raison-d’être), with a rather inscrutable headline. After reading the article, the headline left me scratching my head asking: “In the middle” of what?

    The article mentions a reference to the LDS Church’s having declined to comment for the story but referencing a “its statement on relationships with government” and includes a single quote from the unidentified statement. The article could have been stronger with a reference to the specific statement referred to.

    An even more timely statement from the LDS Church is a issued on October 16, 2009, which is available online here:

    The Mormon Ethic of Civility

    and includes the following statement:

    Furthermore, the Church views with concern the politics of fear and rhetorical extremism that render civil discussion impossible. As the Church begins to rise in prominence and its members achieve a higher public profile, a diversity of voices and opinions naturally follows. Some may even mistake these voices as being authoritative or representative of the Church.

    was unfortunately entirely missed. (Perhaps the Salt Lake Tribune had reported on that statement earlier.)

    The fact that this was issued shortly after reports of Sen. Reid’s comments about the LDS Church’s involvement with encouraging passage of California’s Proposition 8 and the address by LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks’ address on religious freedom–and in the wake of many media stories highlighting Glenn Beck’s Mormon faith (and seeming to conflate Beck’s views with “Mormonism”)–in a statement that includes many citations of LDS scripture and invokes statements from various LDS Church leaders suggests (to me at least) that the LDS Church wished to make clear–particularly, in my view, to Mormons themselves–that no one (whether Sen. Harry Reid, Glenn Beck, or former Gov. Mitt Romney, let alone a Mormon blogger, conservative or otherwise, or a party official) speaks for the Church as an institution and it is inappropriate for individual Mormons to assume that their own political position is the only one that is consistent with LDS doctrine or belief.

  • http://tfhgodtalk.blogspot.com Jeff

    One of the things the media do not “get” when it comes to God is His necessary transcendence. Without this, all you have is a sort of system for living, making it OK to keep the components of your system and political stances apart. But if you truly believe that God is transcendent–and while I come from one particular angle here, I think this applies for all faiths that uphold an omnipotent, omniscient, ubiquitous God–then you cannot separate Him from any aspect of life. He keeps cropping up everywhere! Those reporters who don’t grasp this approach from God-believers are certain always and forever not to “get” us.

  • http://tfhgodtalk.blogspot.com Jeff H

    BTW, this second Jeff (now Jeff H) is not the same as the initial Jeff in these comments.

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  • john kos

    I find it perplexing when one’s political views are contrary to one’s religious beliefs. I wonder how Harry answers these two particular temple recommend questions when asked by the bishop? Question 6. Do you affiliate with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or do you sympathize with the precepts of any such group or individual? AND Question 8. Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen? —- I guess on a particular day he can answer “yes”, get the recommend, and it is valid for two years, and then he can do whatever he wants in between the next interview. Also, how is it, that the bible tells us all of us are unworthy, and short of the glory of God. Yet, an unworthy man interviews another unworthy man, tells him he is worthy to go to the temple, and he is worthy for two years. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

  • Dax

    This is the LDS Church’s partial view on abortion.

    Human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God. Church members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions may lose their membership in the Church.

    Plain and simple, if we as mormons and citizens of this country are required by our country to do certain things we don’t believe in, I believe we will not be judged. But the man who makes those laws, in my opinion, will be judged.

    There have been many many faithful leaders of the LDS Church who thought they were on the right path but fell. In most cases it was due to the deadly sin of pride. Harry Reid’s job is not to rule over my life but get out of the way of me living my life in full freedom the way God intended. How can a man who deceives the public be respected? He is no different than a con man on the corner taking your money.

  • Dax

    Sorry. This only is the quote

    “Human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God. Church members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions may lose their membership in the Church.”