Define ‘Mormon prayer;’ give three examples

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I realize that this is strange, but I continue to read press reports (wink, wink) containing evidence that Mitt Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that this could cause him trouble with evangelical Protestant Christians. Am I alone in reading about this?

I am not sure precisely why this Mormon element of his history is so problematic, even to these strange evangelicals folks, since the mainstream media coverage rarely, if ever, publish factual material about what Mormons believe and how their beliefs do or do not clash with those of evangelicals (as opposed the beliefs of Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers, United Methodists, Presbyterians, etc., etc.).

Frankly, based on my graduate work in church history, I had always thought that these tensions had something to do with doctrinal differences on the very nature of the Godhead and the Trinity — which would certainly mean that we would not merely be talking about tensions between Mormons and evangelicals, but between Mormons and all Trinitarian Christians. I have also heard that liberal Christians are actually more likely to oppose a Mormon candidate than conservative believers, but that must have to do with moral theology instead of doctrine. As all news consumers know, issues of moral theology — such as the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, etc. — are no longer considered matters of theology by many in the press, but are now simply political issues. Right?

I bring this up because of a fascinating New York Times story about the delicate religious dance Romney is said to be performing during the Republican National Convention. The big question: How Mormon should this man be? Here’s the top of the report:

After years of largely resisting public discussion of his Mormon faith, Mitt Romney will embrace it on Thursday night when the Republican convention will stage a carefully chosen tableau of speakers who are expected to offer accounts of the candidate as a man of compassion, character and deep beliefs.

For most of his political career, Mr. Romney has said that his life in the church has nothing to do with politics, and he has offered only clipped discussions of his religious views, privately worrying about the impact of his faith on his electability. But he has changed course because of an urgent problem: voters who find him distant and unlikable have become a greater threat to his political fortunes than those who may be biased against Mormonism.

Once again, are these biased voters on the left or the right? From context, it seems that only the conservative voters matter. Why is that? More on that later.

In addition to Romney upping his Godtalk game, it appears that the GOP is letting some other Mormons and Mormon-friendly people into the mix up there on the convention platform. This leads to the bizarre reference that caught my attention:

Mr. Romney’s friends, colleagues and old classmates — women and men, Republicans and even some Democrats — have remarked throughout the campaign that they do not recognize the aloof, seemingly callous man that has been depicted by the Obama campaign.

To counter the argument that he is an indifferent elitist who hides his religious beliefs, the Romney campaign has invited Kenneth Hutchins, an old friend from church who is a retired police officer and is suffering from cancer, who will offer a Mormon prayer from the podium.

Whoa. Are we talking about a “Mormon prayer” or a “prayer by a Mormon”?

What’s the difference, you say? Look at it this way. I have long be fascinated by the wars over what is and what is not “Christian music.” Take U2, for example. The band’s primary songwriters are Christians and many of their songs contain clear Christian content. But does the band produce “Christian music”? Toss that question into the mix in some Christian gatherings and you will have a fight on your hands, pronto.

This is where I would like some help from our many GetReligion readers who are Mormons. What, precisely, would be the distinctive elements of a “Mormon prayer”? The implication here is that there will be language in this prayer that would serve as a kind of high-tone canine whistle, alerting some listeners — but not all — to the presence of real, live, Mormon content. If so, what might Hutchins say?

I would assume that this brief moment of podium drama will center on a “prayer by a Mormon,” not a “Mormon prayer.” As a reporter, however, I remain fascinated by this Times reference. You have to wonder what someone in the Romney camp said — the precise words that were spoken — that were interpreted in this manner.

After all, a real, life, doctrinal, “Mormon prayer” would almost certainly upset those legions of nasty evangelicals who are waiting in the wings to judge Romney. As this story notes:

… The Mormonism that Mr. Romney is expected to share on Thursday night will almost certainly be a carefully edited version, scrubbed of anything that might raise theological issues — especially among evangelical Christians. No one is likely to mention that as a church leader, Mr. Romney enforced policies like excommunication or limiting leadership positions for women.

“What they will do, I expect, is simply present Mitt Romney as Mike Huckabee, a pastor who has used religion as a vehicle who served his community,” said Matthew Bowman, author of “The Mormon People,” speaking of the former Arkansas governor.

Mr. Huckabee, speaking to convention delegates on Wednesday night, played down the issue of Mr. Romney’s faith. “I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country,” he said.

So tune in, if you will, and help your GetReligionistas (Hello Mark Hemingway!) listen for whatever high-pitched whistling takes place. Will all of those evangelicals rise up and walk out?

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://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

    Mormon prayers usually don’t contain much doctrinal content. I have never heard a prayer in church that discussed the Godhead and the nature of the trinity, for example. They usually contain petitions for blessings and thanks for blessings.

  • tmatt

    ADAM:

    Right. But I have heard Mormon HYMNS that allude to certain doctrines, different takes on marriage, family, eternity, etc.

    It’s more like poetic references that might get slipped in. Whistle words.

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    Then there are articles like this one (http://is.gd/MfpKOU), and the Parade interview on which it is based (http://is.gd/rQngef), which could easily leave readers with the impression that tithing is something that only Mormons do. Granted, though, that it’s something that Mormons do rather better than non-Mormons.

  • bob

    If the “prayer” offered at the convention is like other conventional prayers at such events it won’t be recognizable as a prayer at all. It will be a political statement prefaced by “O Lord….” or some such, ending with “Amen”. Everyone will bow their head and look very grave. As one Orthodox cleric has put it “Telling God what he already knows and what he ought to do about it”. Like the national anthem, then “Play ball”. Not a word of it will be identifiable as anythng but vaguely protestant.

  • tmatt

    bob:

    But what about what I covered IN THE POST? Don’t just state your opinion on the issue: What do you think THE TIMES reference meant?

  • Kevin Atkins

    Sorry to respond (likely) after the fact. A ‘Mormon’ prayer would be conspicuous only in its care to distinguish between the individual members of the Godhead (Mormons are guilty of ‘dividing the substance’). It will explicitly be addressed to God the Father, most likely with the words ‘Heavenly Father’. There will then be thanks given for whatever blessings are most relevant to the situation or important to the pray-er. There will then be petitions for help or blessings in the same pattern. The pray-er w,ill use the archaic forms ‘thee’ ‘ thou’ and ‘thine’, never you and yours. The prayer will be closed in the name of God the Son, again explicitly naming Jesus Christ (often with titles such as Savior or Redeemer). Then ‘Amen’ (pronounced ay-men).

    Love your site.

  • Will

    Excommunication is a “policy”? Silly me, I thought it was a PRACTICE. Or, if this means a “policy” of excommunicating people for A, B, or C, shouldn’t we have a mention of what the offenses are?

    And, of course, it persists in the meme of equating doctrine with “policy”.

  • Jeremy P

    There is essentially no difference between a prayer that a Mormon offers as opposed to an Evangelical. Mormons teach their children that a prayer can include the following elements: 1. Begin by addressing Heavenly Father, 2. Thank Him for the blessings that he has given us, 3. Humbly request blessings for ourselves and others, 4. End the prayer by stating that the prayer was offered in the name of Jesus Christ. Mormons don’t believe in offering memorized prayers or prayers that are voiced as an entire congregation, however, we respect any kind of prayer that is offered sincerely by anyone of faith. I once attending a meeting at BYU in which a prominent Catholic was going to speak. The innvocation was offered by a Catholic, who recited the Lord’s prayer. The Mormon apostles that were present loudly and deliberately repeated the prayer and the congregation followed suit. It was a special moment in which we recognised the faith and sincerity of our Catholic friends that we present.

  • http://sinaiticus.wordpress.com Ray McCalla

    Joseph Walker, in the Deseret News, dissected Hutchins’ prayer and identified some Mormon elements/distinctive LDS language/terminology: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765600657/Final-Republican-National-Convention-night-filled-with-Mormon-moments.html

  • John Pack Lambert

    It will clearly be a “Prayer by a Mormon”. Kenneth Hutchings succeeded Mitt Romney as president of the Boston Stake. As pointed out by Jeff Benedict (author of “The Mormon Way of Doing Business”) in his Deseret News article, Hutchings is in many ways the antithesis of Romney. Hutchings is the son of a union organizer, a native of Massachusetts, converted to the LDS Church after marriage, and was police chief in a fairly small town. Of course Hutchings was a counselor to Romney when Romney was stake president, and the two men worked together. Since Romney was born and raised in Michigan and not Utah or Idaho, he still does not fit the full mold of a “Church leader in the eastern US from the Western US”. Still, in Boston they think Springfield, Massachusetts is the west, so there is a difference.

    I have seen prayers by a Mormon criticized as being offensive to some present in a boy scout setting. Why were the prayers deemed offensive? Because they were closed in the name of Jesus Christ. I do not expect a Mormon to say anything in a prayer at a Republican National Convetion that would offend Evangelical Protestants. Maybe offend non-Christians, because a Mormon not closing in the name of Jesus Christ is not really something I can imagine, but offending Evangelical Protestants I think is not at all likely.

  • John Pack Lambert

    “Limiting leadership positions for women” is not how Mormons view the issues. Would someone even say that as a leader in the Catholic Church a person enforced “Limiting leadership positions for women” and “Excommunication”? Those issues not being brought up has to do with not picking a fight with Liberal Protestants.

    The issues not brought up to avoid a fight with Evangelical Protestants would be not mentioning Mitt Romney giving sturring discourses on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Avoiding mentioning that Mitt Romney gave priesthood blessings to those he visited as a Church leader might also be seen as avoiding divisive dialogue, but I suspect those not mentioning such would jut be motivated by not sharing sacred things too widely.

    However a look at what was actually shared shows that the goal was to put the message “Romney was a religious leader who cared about the individual”.

    If the audience was 100% Mormons Romney would still not bring up his role in excommunicating people, or the fact that the bishop oversees the making of decisions on who can take the sacrament. The only thing that might have changed was mention of Romney giving priesthood blessings. No candidate would ever bring up the interaction with those who have turned aginst and rejectede the faith in such a context. While excommunication is meant to be a process of love, and there are those who will boldly testify about how they love those who took them through that process, there are very few context where people would bring that up, and lots of context where the mention of such is clearly meant to be an attack on both the individual involved and the faith that dares to try to exercise any control over the beliefs and actions of its members.

  • Jon

    When I was a Missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we would teach people what we believed to be approporiate prayer (although there are of course different prayers for more specific things like baptisms). The standard of what you call a mormon prayer is the following: 1. Address God (“our Father in Heaven”); 2. Express the feelings of your heart (grattitude for blessings, questions with specific issues or answers being sought, requesting help/blessings etc); and 3. Close in the name of Jesus Christ.

    Really this is much ado about nothing as the mormom format for prayer is rather innocuous and is based on Christ’s instruction on how to pray in the New Testament. I see little difference between how an evangelical would pray and how a mormon would pray other than the old english reverential terms used more frequently by mormons as noted by another commentor.

  • Jettboy

    Question after the fact, to outsiders was it a “Mormon prayer” or a “Prayer by a Mormon?” Now that it has been said, its time to compare the reality from the report. Myself? It was a Mormon prayer, but also a prayer by a Mormon. You really can’t untangle the two.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Here http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865561162/As-a-Mormon-leader-Bishop-Mitt-Romney-grew-learned-from-broadened-experiences.html is a really good article from the “Deseret News” that talks about Romney as bishop. I have shaken my head at some past quotes from Barlow, such as implying Romney’s awareness of an issue by his not having discussed it with Barlow, but I think his point about bishops being about caring is accurate. Stake presidents on the other hand have more of a responsibility to discuss spiritual matters, but there are reasons why Romney as bishop comes up more.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I think the mention of the ward council in the article I listed gets at the heart of how the actions of a ward are carried out. The bishop is very much the leader of an organization, not just a lone moving force.

  • http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org Marcia

    According to the Mormons themselves, the prayer by Hutchins contained Mormon elements, but I’m not sure Christians would have recognized them. You can see and hear the video of the prayer at the first video in this article: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765600657/Final-Republican-National-Convention-night-filled-with-Mormon-moments.html

  • MJBubba

    So it was a ‘safe’ Mormon prayer. Thoroughly Mormon, but couched in generic-enough terms to keep from clanging on Christian ears.

    • Jettboy

      No, it was a completely Mormon prayer. They happen to be generic and at times formulaic because Mormons give lots of prayers and therefore often get stuck in rhetorical ruts. This one was actually better than average, but still what you could call traditional.

  • Will

    Have there never been “Mormon prayers” at a Republican convention? What about 1956, with Benson in the bloody cabinet?

  • Passing By

    Any word on that Catholic prayer? Or prayer by a Catholic? :-)

    http://blog.archny.org/index.php/a-prayer-for-our-country-at-the-republican-national-convention/

    Honestly, a google search might qualify this for “Got News” status:

    http://tinyurl.com/8z8kmtg

  • John Pack Lambert

    At both the 2004 and 2008 Republican conventions there were prayers given by Mormons. In 2004 it was Sheri Dew, CEO of Deseret Book, a publishing company owned by the LDS Church, in 2008 Thurl Bailey, a retired professional basketball player who is LDS, gave a prayer. Here http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700255526/Thurl-Bailey-opens-GOP-convention-with-prayer.html is a Deseret News article on Bailey’s prayer. The intriguing thing to me is I have read discussions in the last month of Mormons praying at the convetion that mentioned Dew but neglected to mention Bailey. I do not know the reasons behind this oversight. So Hutchins did not break any new ground.

  • Steve Florman

    I didn’t listen to the prayer at the convention. The conventions give me the fantods; I’d rather clean bathrooms than listen to politicians (Mormon or otherwise). But as an active Latter-day Saint of many years who has worked with and worshiped with many evangelicals, one of the differences in theology might actually show itself in the prayer. As many have noted in previous comments, the LDS will usually specifically address prayer to Heavenly Father, and close in the name of Jesus Christ. I’ve heard innumerable prayers in Protestant venues, evangelical and otherwise, which are addressed generically “O Lord,” or “O God,” or sometimes even to Jesus Himself, and are closed either in Jesus’s name or “in Your name.” I find that somewhat jarring and discordant, accustomed as I am to the LDS teaching that Father and Son are separate and distinct individuals and not the same thing Three-In-One as the Trinitarians teach. I suspect that Brother Hutchins was pretty precise about it.

    That said, I think I or any other Latter-day Saint could offer a “typical” LDS prayer in any Protestant gathering and not have it questioned, and I have done so on more than one occasion. My “archaic” use of thee and thou sometimes gets a raised eyebrow. ;)


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