The Salt Lake Remonstrance: Mormons are out-Baptist-ing Baptists (in a good way)

The Salt Lake Remonstrance: Mormons are out-Baptist-ing Baptists (in a good way) October 9, 2016

The Deseret News is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “For 80 years, the Deseret News has not entered into the troubled waters of presidential endorsement,” it’s editors wrote on Saturday. “We are neutral on matters of partisan politics.”

That’s a bit of a stretch. Deseret News and the Mormon church that owns it may not have an official partisan affiliation, but they’re unmistakenly, unapologetically conservative. While they may be technically “non-partisan,” they’ve been consistently aligned with the conservative party. And while they may not have officially endorsed presidential candidates, they’ve always made it very clear where their conservative sympathies lie. It’s a conservative, Mormon newspaper and that has almost always meant it has supported the Republican at the top of the ticket.

But not this year. Here’s that editorial: “Donald Trump should resign his candidacy.”

This centers on the hot-mic audio released Friday that reveals Trump discussing, in crude language, his attempts to sleep with a married woman and then boasting that his celebrity status allowed him to grope and sexually assault women — “grab them by the pussy” — and “get away with it.” The Deseret News rightly views this as deplorable, and as wholly incompatible with the conservative “family values” (and purity culture) championed by Latter Day Saints.

To their credit, they’re not primarily focused on Trump’s enthusiastic attempts at adultery. They seem to recognize that his gleeful admission of assaulting women is far worse. Unlike many other religious conservatives responding to Trump’s comments, they seem to understand that consent matters. Many prominent “Christian conservatives” have focused their condemnation on Trump’s adultery, seeming to regard his groping and assault as merely one particular subset of him violating his marriage vows, without seeming to understand that he’s also violating another person’s dignity, safety, and bodily autonomy. It seems like they’re upset with “adultery” because that’s an offense against another man’s property — against a woman who belongs to someone else.

Deseret’s editorial is exclusively focused on Donald Trump’s sexual misbehavior. They convincingly and correctly argue that this, alone, is sufficient to disqualify him and that he should, therefore, “resign his candidacy.” But the editorial doesn’t mention that this is only one of many things that ought to disqualify Trump. He endorses torture and war crimes. He has advocated religious bans, mass-deportations, and a host of policies denying and violating the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. He has expressed contempt for every part of the Fourteenth Amendment — equal protection, due process, birthright citizenship. And he has endorsed policies contradicting so many other parts of the Constitution that it is impossible to believe he could swear an oath to uphold it.

And to their credit, for millions of Mormons, opposition to Donald Trump takes all of that into account. The usually dark red state of Utah is shading pink, or even purple, because Mormons have been repulsed by Trump since the beginning of the Republican primaries. McKay Coppins summarizes some of the many other reasons Mormon Republicans have been reluctant to support Trump:

His draconian immigration platform clashes with the sensibilities of a church that has sent hundreds of thousands of young missionaries to Latin America; his Muslim-bashing alarms members of a faith whose early history is rife with state-sanctioned persecution; and his portrait of a nation spiraling into dystopia doesn’t resonate with communities that lead the country in many social and economic indicators. But one of the most visceral turn-offs for Mormon voters has always been Trump’s personality — the brazen philandering, the macho vulgarity, the penchant for hurling crude insults at women.

Much of what Coppins writes there about Mormons is equally true of Southern Baptists, and yet their support for Trump has been enthusiastic, growing steadily and consolidating throughout the campaign.

Southern Baptists also support thousands of missionaries to the very people that Donald Trump has demonized as filthy, dangerous, evil foreigners. But somehow that “passion for missions” has done nothing to diminish the appeal of crude nativism for white Southern Baptist voters, nothing to create a missionary sensibility that would be offended by Trump’s xenophobia. Perhaps that’s because SBC missionaries are a separate class of professionals and specialists to whom love of neighbors beyond borders has been sub-contracted. Perhaps it’s because the Southern Baptist missionary model remains essentially colonial — at least as perceived by the “people in the pews,” even if no longer by the missionaries themselves (many of whom are bewildered and horrified by the cultural Christianity they encounter when they return to the states for furloughs).

This photo snurched from the SBC’s International Mission Board site looks like a collage of the people Donald Trump’s speeches teach his followers to fear and hate.

Baptists, like Mormons, are part of a faith tradition “whose early history is rife with state-sanctioned persecution.” This is, in fact, the essence of what it means to be a Baptist — that baptism is an act of personal choice and personal conscience, not something determined by the state church and the accident of nationality. Religious liberty — and specifically freedom of conscience for religious minorities and dissenters — is at the root of Baptist origins and of Baptist’s history here in America. Baptists fled religious bans and religious persecution in Europe. Then Baptists fled religious bans and religious persecution in Massachusetts.

But while their own history of marginalization and state-sanctioned persecution caused Mormons to balk at Trump’s talk of religious-based bans on refugees and immigration, millions of Baptists seem to have forgotten their history and the central principle of their tradition. A notable minority of Southern Baptists spoke out against Trump’s proposed religious restrictions, but millions of others cheered for them — supporting Trump while working to marginalize religious minorities in their own communities.

Maybe the difference has to do with the fact that Mormons are still (outside of Utah) a religious minority with a still-raw sense of what it means to be marginalized because of your faith, while Southern Baptists now enjoy cultural dominance and hegemony throughout the Bible belt. But whatever the reason, here again the Mormons are out-Baptisting the Baptists.

Even on Coppins’ final point — Trump’s “brazen philandering … macho vulgarity … [and] penchant for hurling crude insults at women” — it seems baffling that what offends and dismays Mormons shouldn’t be equally offensive and dismaying to Southern Baptists. A youth minister in a Southern Baptist church would get fired if he showed the youth group a movie about a character who behaved like Donald Trump, yet none of these folks have any qualms about voting for him — or about saying that doing so is God’s will and commandment.

Southern Baptists have — rather recently — written just the sort of thing that the Deseret News just published, proclaiming that sexual infidelity disqualifies a man from the office of president. See for example their 1998 “Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials” (passed in Salt Lake City, coincidentally). That statement is part of why Jonathan Merritt has a point when he says “Trump-loving Christians Owe Bill Clinton an Apology.” But again, this concern has always been about adultery — about the “sanctity of marriage” and the sanctity of wives as other men’s private property. It can’t seem to grasp the hugely significant difference between coercive acts — rape, sexual assault — and simple extra-marital sex.

And Southern Baptists seem to be selectively partisan in condemning even extra-marital sex. Even while they were condemning Bill Clinton, they were giving Newt Gingrich and David Vitter a free pass. That free pass for Republicans always seems to involve the invocation of King David. “King David had affairs,” they say whenever a conservative politician gets caught with his pants down, but they never seem to invoke that biblical story when the politician involved has a “D” by his name.

That King David business has always been pretty messed up because it misreads and distorts the actual story from the Bible. David did have some “affairs,” but not with Bathsheba, who never had a chance to say yes or no to the commands of a king. That wasn’t an “affair.” And we won’t even get into David’s concubines, who seem to have been slaves, and whom he imprisoned because they were raped by his son. So now they’re invoking David’s “affairs” to defend and dismiss Trump’s “affairs,” without recognizing that none of what they’re talking about is anything at all like a consensual “affair.” Ugh.

(And, no, this doesn’t mean the David story is actually more applicable in Trump’s case. Two wrongs don’t make a right and two effed-up failures to grasp the meaning of consent don’t make for a legitimate interpretation.)

The bottom line here is that Mormons identify as a people who value missions, religious liberty, and sexual morality. And they are condemning Donald Trump and distancing themselves from him because they value missions, religious liberty, and sexual morality.

Southern Baptists identify as a people who value all those things, but we’re not seeing any evidence of that. They’re — still — standing firmly behind Trump out of partisan loyalty.

It seems Mormons are Mormons first and Republicans second, while Southern Baptists are Republicans first — and Republicans second and third and last, alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.

P.S. The title of this post references the “Flushing Remonstrance” — which is a very cool slice of American history. In 1657, long before the United States became its own nation, this document embodied the ideal of freedom of conscience that would later be written into our Constitution. And long before New Amsterdam transformed into New York City, it also embodied the idea that let that place become one of the greatest cities on earth.

Basically, the governor of the then-Dutch colony wanted to keep out the Quakers. New Yorkers, acting like New Yorkers, told the governor what he could do with that law. They stood up for the freedom of conscience not just for Quakers, but for the “Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist” as well — and for “Jews, Turks and Egyptians” and all other “sonnes of Adam.”

So when some rich guy from right there in Queens tries, 359 years later, to bar Turks and Egyptians and whoever else he doesn’t like, that rich guy richly deserves a remonstrance of his own. Surprisingly, it’s coming partly from the Latter Day Saints — a religious tradition nearly two centuries younger than the Flushing Remonstrance.


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