Archive for July, 2007

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Welcome to the modern age.

July 30, 2007

This week’s topic: the new “Preach My Gospel” missionary discussions

by carrie ann

Have you seen the new “Preach My Gospel” missionary guide? Full color, spiral bound, glossy, interactive, and totally inspired (especially from a designer’s point of view).

Do you remember the old discussions? They were 6 separate pamphlets, two color, in a very 1950’s palette and pedagogy, not interactive, unless you count memorizing as interactive.

My husband and I are both returned missionaries. He served in New Zealand and I served in Scotland. Even though we were in opposite ends of the earth our missions were remarkably similar, accounting for the fact that were in Commonwealth countries. Back in 1995, you bought your little packet of discussions and promptly began memorizing them along with supporting scripture.

In the new discussions, the pedagogy is completely new. Instead of the discussions being like a manual, they are a workbook/journal. In the front cover is a space for your name, your mission and dates of service, a list of areas, companions, and the names and addresses of people baptized and confirmed. How awesome! If I had actually written those things down all in one place…

You will still find an ordered set of lessons for an investigator. Chapter 3 is called “Study and Teach”. This section has 5 sections which contain all the information and commitments extended to investigators. Because of the workbook format, a missionary really can study to topic, writing his or her answers (drawing pictures) and building testimony. I love it.

Learning how to be a missionary teacher was revolutionary for me. My most formative gospel years were spent in Boston, Massachusetts were I had DAILY inquiries about my religion. Teachers and friends had copious questions about my beliefs, my early-morning Bible study class (seminary), my reasons for doing something or not doing something (sex), etc. I wish I knew then what I know now. Being a young person with a budding testimony, I didn’t know where to begin.

Just a few weeks before I left on my mission I was full of gospel fire. I friend of my sister’s asked me to participate in an after school forum at their high school sponsored by their Islamic club (only in Texas will you find religious clubs at school!). I was psyched, all the major local religions were going to be there: Muslims, Born Agains, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Jews, and Mormons! Let me at them! I’ll convert them all. Oh, I had zeal, but I didn’t have a knowledge of HOW to teach the Gospel. So took the 13 Articles of Faith thinking it would be a breeze. It was confusion. Some of those Articles head into pretty deep water.

I so wish I had known the natural progression of teaching the Gospel: God is our Father in heaven, Jesus Christ is His son, the Gospel was restored through Joseph Smith a prophet, Gdd has a plan for us to return to Him, He gave us commandments, you can be baptized and receive all the ordinances needed to return to your Father in Heaven.

IF I had kids, I would make the “Preach My Gospel” a regular part of Family Home Evening instruction. Whether you live in Saturated-Mormonville or not, you and your kids will be asked questions and it’s nice to have a starting point.

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Maybe this should have stayed with the pioneers

July 27, 2007

I found a cookbook in the thrift shop the other day for 29 cents. Famous Mormon Recipes by Winnifred Jardine. Printed in 1967 with a foreword that reads:

Part of the heritage handed down by early Mormon pioneers to our generation is to be found in pioneer recipes, many of them still a treasured part of family collections. Lamb stew, chicken and dumplings, biscuits and Mormon gravy, split pea soup, whole wheat bread, even buttermilk doughnuts made by my own great grandmother Emily Dow Partridge young for her husband Brigham Young…these are of Mormon tradition.  Some recipes have been brought up to date — streamlined to fit modern ingredients and time schedules — but the good flavors are the same as those that permeated early pioneer homes, and many of them are classics.  The “saints” as the Mormons called themselves came to Utah from many countries of the world, creating a sort of melting pot within a melting pot. Consequently, the recipes are as international as the “saints” themselves were. But no matter their origin, the dishes they prepared have lived beyond them, bringing pleasant eating to third and fourth generations…and to all who care to partake of their wholesome goodness, no matter where in the world they may live. (quotes original. those are not Amri quote-y fingers)

After reading through the 75 or so recipes, I decided that this is where the pioneers no longer matter. Where I no longer need their advice or their experience or their example. Pioneer Lettuce Salad is the worst offender. Listen to what’s in the recipe. 1 head lettuce, 1 cup heavy cream, 1/4 c vinegar, 1 tsp sugar and 1/4 tsp salt.  You shred the lettuce and then whip the heavy cream with the other ingredients. Then you put a huge dollop of whipped cream on the lettuce. For variety it says you can add onions and a little bit of black pepper.

 I am flabberghasted by this recipe. Whipped cream that is a little bit sweet and a little bit sour on lettuce? And this is the 60s, so while I have no idea what kind of lettuce the pioneers used, Sister Jardine is talking about iceberg. The great and abominable lettuce. The whore of all the earth lettuce. Plus did I say that it was whipped cream?

I like the pioneers. They’re my people. I like to hear real stories about them. I have always thought it’s obnoxious to ask if we could give up our lives, just like the pioneers did but otherwise I say bring on the stories and the celebrations. Now I have just one more stipulation to remembering the people who walked across the plains and kept our religion going: please don’t serve me their food.

However, if you are interested in more horrendous recipes, leave a comment and I’ll leave some recipes to make for your friends and family.

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My Son’s Ancestors

July 25, 2007

by Ann

I’m a convert, so I don’t have any pioneer ancestors. My sixth great grandparents were pioneers in western North Carolina, given land reserved for Lutherans. My great-great grandparents were pioneers, moving to Pittsburgh from Ireland during the potato famine. My great-grandparents were pioneers, moving to Dayton, Ohio from Hungary at the very beginning of the 20th century. None of these pioneers were Mormon, though. They weren’t seeking to worship in safety and to establish the kingdom of God on earth. They just wanted an adventure, a better life, opportunity.

I married a man with a nice long pioneer pedigree. One of his nth great grandfathers was baptized during Lyman Wight’s mission, the call for which is documented in the 52nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants. There is a town in Utah that bears his (my) surname. His Scandinavian ancestors, arriving in Utah in the 1860′s, were late arrivals.

I have always been rather proud of my convert-ness. Blazing the trail for my progeny, boldly going where no one has gone before. With my older two kids, I had to figure out this Mormon stuff on my own. We made it up as we went along. Now, though, I have another kid. The Kid. And thanks to his daddy, he’s got a nice long pioneer pedigree. I’m not quite sure how to maintain his maternal heritage in the face of the sheer weight of the paternal birthright. Because we have never lived in the Mormon Cultural Region, he will not be regularly engaged with the physical emblems of the sacrifice and struggle of the forebears. I hope this will give him some balance; that My People will mean as much to him as Those People.

Those People, though, are His People, and so they are also My People. Maybe they have been My People all along, and I’ve been so busy making my own way I just didn’t want to acknowledge it.

I respect their faith, their commitment, and their pursuit of happiness. As long as faith and commitment matter, so will the pioneers. All of them. His and Mine.

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Mercy vs. Justice

July 16, 2007

This week’s topic: Mercy vs. Justice

by Carrie Ann

For a Christian (and many others), JUSTICE is an eternal principle, and I don’t mean a Mormon-y eternal, I mean a cosmic, universal constant. Justice is a cousin of KARMA: what goes around comes around. Religions differ, however, on how the comes around gets around to coming around.

I think most humans agree with this, that all actions (good/bad/moral/immoral/ethical/unethical) will bring about some result, and we can choose how to behave and how this will affect others. My afore-mentioned big brown study guide defines justice thus: “The unalterable decree of God that sin and righteousness bring their own consequences.”

The Book of Mormon seems to indicate that the law of justice is a law that constrains God himself. I have interpreted the whole idea that by breaking this law “God would cease to be God” to mean that he didn’t make this one up. This law existed before God (if that’s possible). But to give us agency, God was condemning us to be “victims” to justice. There was no way we could make it through mortality without screwing up and thus being damned, or stopped from returning to God, for although God loves us, he cannot abide sin (another bigger-than-God law?).

So there is a loop-hole: to satisfy the law of justice, one person can pay the price for another…enter MERCY and the need for that person to pay our price, our savior, or Savior.

The idea that mercy overcomes justice is not FAIR. Justice is not fairness. It is not FAIR that I sin and Jesus pays the price. But one reason I am here in the first place is to overcome my pride and to learn to rely upon a power greater than my own. God has shown me mercy by giving his Son in atonement. I can embrace mercy or kick against the pricks. It seems like an easy choice, but my toes are sore.

Many proud mortals, such as yours truly, have a hard time letting other people do something for them. I love to serve but hate being served (unless I’m out to eat). There are those blessed individuals who readily accept Christ as their Savior. They, at the last supper, would have been like John the Beloved and would have leaned upon his breast out of love and familiarity. I would have been filling cups and clearing plates, careful to keep a respectful distance.

The scriptures tell us that if we choose NOT to take advantage of Christ’s paying our price, the Atonement, then we will have the opportunity to pay it ourselves. Alma the Younger got a small taste of that after the angel visited him; he was in agony, he was a damned soul for three days. We are also told by Alma that is it a lot easier to repent now and be forgiven then if we wait until after our mortal probation is over. THIS is the time to prepare to meet God, he says. But the choice is yours. The choice is mine. Now or later.

I rarely do this, but I feel the need to testify, a little personally… I still don’t know a lot about the Atonement or how it works. One of my goals in my scripture study is to know my Savior better. I have always struggled with really knowing him or feeling close to him as I feel that I should. I went through a real rough patch once and I had to become intimately acquainted with the process of repentance. I understood so clearly how my actions required a payment of justice; it was acute and excruciating. I had no other option but to beg for the mercy of my God. I HAD to rely on my Savior. He was the only person who could help me make restitution, the only person who could give me relief. I can’t explain in enough detail to provide satisfaction or adequate closure, but I experienced the process of mercy overcoming justice. I understand this principle through experience. Not to say that you can’t understand it without going through it, because you can. The Holy Ghost can teach just as powerfully as experience. But through that experience, I have more gratitude for my Savior.

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He may be heavy-metal but he’s my brother

July 14, 2007

My favorite Book of Mormon prophet has always been Nephi #1. His can-do attitude really saved his entire family from death. No matter how many times his elder brothers Laman and Lemuel had wronged him, he always forgave them. He looked out for them and only left them when they were plotting to kill him. It reminded me growing up to never resent your brother, even if he can be mean sometimes.

My  favorite Biblical prophet is Samuel. His whole life was dedicated to God and to helping others. He was a king-maker but did not seek riches or power for his position. And when the King of Israel strayed he told him that the Lord would anoint another one. His reign as prophet and judge was to be the last before the establishment of a monarchy.

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Think Like Me.

July 13, 2007

by Amri 

I’m a self-centered girl. Most the time I think I’m mostly right and I tend toward people who think like me, which is to say if you think I’m mostly right then I think you’re right too.

It turns out then that the prophets I like most are the ones I can get behind. The ones that think like me. The ones that don’t think like me, well, I conveniently don’t pay attention to them.

My current pick is King Benjamin. I like the whole tent revival feel. It’s like all gathering at the Manti Pageant, except without the freaky music and weird eternal love story.  I can get behind service, behind leaders working right along side their followers. I can get behind real, sincere gratitude. I can get behind humans sometimes being jerks and sometimes being great and kind and that we have to get over the jerkiness.  And I can definitely get behind his levelling of people. We’re all beggars. We all need so we should all give and our neediness robs us of the right to judge others’ neediness.

Benjamin’s is the religion that’s easiest for me to wrap my head around. I follow it and it makes me feel right about my place and purpose in the world. Plus there are a whole bunch of perks to service. If you’re doing it, you’re not doing bad stuff. Work gets done. People are happier. Things are exchanged for free. People are nicer.

I can’t tell if Benjamin thinks like me or I think like him but I’m sure that we’re right.

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He Started Out a Straight Up Punk

July 11, 2007

by melbo

There are two characters I’ve read about in books that have stolen my heart: Jean Valjean (from Les Miserables), and Alma the Younger. If polygamy exists in the afterlife and is somehow changed to allow me to select extra husbands, these will be my first draft picks. Yeah, okay, so one guy is fictional I know – just let a girl have her fantasies…

These men and their stories are very different, but I just can’t help but adore them for the same reasons. I sometimes wonder if Victor Hugo ever glanced through a Book of Mormon for some inspiration on a ruggedly handsome, repentant and compassionate leading man. Hmm, did I mention ruggedly handsome?

From the looks of my choices, I suppose I could give someone the impression that I’m a fan of redemption. Good thing, because it’s true. However, because this week’s topic is about favorite prophets and not favorite studly reformed ex-cons, I’ll put the spotlight on Alma.

The Book of Alma contains the most faded, stickered and highlighted pages in my 20-year-old Book of Mormon. (I know, it’s time for an upgrade, but who has time to re-sticker everything?) Everyone always jokes about reading the Book of Mormon and stopping at Nephi’s Isaiah chapters, putting it down, only to start back up months later with “I, Nephi having been born of goodly parents…” for the billionth time. My solution to that dilemma is to always go back to my boy. If I need inspiration, I’ll start with Alma’s words to his sons starting in Chapter 36 (some sage advice in there my friends). If I need to stay awake, I’ll start at the very beginning, Chapter 1, where as chief judge, Alma executes Nehor for priestcrafts. Nothing like a good old fashioned court room drama to kick start your scripture study – especially when it ignites a civil war! Woo-hoo!!

But like I said before, it’s the prodigal son niche that gets me every time. In his youth, Alma was a straight up punk – teaming up with the Sons of Mosiah to rebel against and unravel everything his father, Alma, the founder of the church in Zarahemla, worked so hard to build. Alma Jr. and his pals were eventually rebuked by an angel and Alma spent three days in a coma, forced to confront all of his many sins. (I figure there must have been a lot if it took three days to recap, eh?) “I was tormented with the pains of Hell,” he says in Alma 36:13. Afterwards he chose a life of repentance and preaching the gospel. He didn’t live long, though. About 20 years later he just up and vanished. Everyone at the time supposed the Lord received Alma in the spirit, unto himself. See? Isn’t he great? And while I know I’m not worthy of marrying a translated 2nd husband in my imaginary “afterlife draft”, I’ll settle for watching him from the bleachers. Or even an autograph. Gee, a photo together might be nice, too.

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Upon this Rock

July 11, 2007

by Ann

The LDS church teaches that when Jesus said to Peter, “Behold, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,” that Jesus was talking about revelation. But I was raised Catholic, and I still like the idea that it was a play on words. “Peter, you’re a rock. When I’m gone, you’re in charge.”

Peter is a wonderfully drawn character; one of the most fully realized in the New Testament. We get to follow his development, from devoted but unsure follower to frightened companion of the condemned to bold witness of the Messiah. He’s just a regular guy, working in the family business with his brother Andrew. It’s hard and erratic work, and one day when the two of them are sweating over the nets, an itinerant preacher wanders over and says, “Follow me, and you’ll catch men.” Peter and Andrew dropped their nets and followed along. They and ten others lived, slept, and drank with Jesus for the rest of his mortal ministry.

The stories we hear most about Peter are often told in a criticizing tone. Jesus came walking along the water, and Peter wanted to join him. He did…but then he freaked out. “What am I doing? I’m in the Sea of Galilee, for Pete’s sake. I could drown.” And he starts to sink, and begs Jesus to save him. Of course, Jesus does (they’re friends!) but then he chastises Peter for his lack of faith. Peter is probably embarrassed, and glad not to be drowned. We think to ourselves, “I would have had enough faith.”

Another commonly told story is the story of Jesus asking Peter three times if he loves Jesus. Each time Peter says “Yes,” and by the third time he’s a little upset. Knowing what he’ll be doing soon, we think to ourselves, “Don’t be so sure of yourself, Peter.”

The third story is the hardest. Hardest for Jesus, hardest for Peter. Peter has just rashly cut off the ear of a Roman slave when Jesus is being arrested. Jesus heals the slave, and tells Peter to put down his arms. At a distance, Peter and some of the disciples follow behind, to see what will happen. People recognize him. “Hey, weren’t you with him?” “I know you…you were with that criminal.” “I’m sure I saw you with him earlier.” Each time, Peter’s fear grows. What is going to happen to Jesus? What are they going to do to him? These are the Romans; they don’t mess around. It’s the middle of the night and there are all these people and it’s the big city and he’s afraid. So he feigns ignorance. “I don’t know him.” “I don’t know him.” “I don’t know him!” And then the rooster crows, and he remembers Jesus saying what he would do, what he was so annoyed and hurt to hear. And he weeps and weeps and weeps. For Jesus, who he loves, and for himself, too weak to admit to loving his friend.

We would have done better. We would not have denied Jesus.

I contrast this Peter with man we see after the resurrection and ascension and Pentecost.

The healer:

“Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.”

The seer:

And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

The witness:

And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, if we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

We see in Peter, from the time he is called to the end of the Acts, the story of his conversion. Peter lived and walked and ate and learned from Jesus, but when the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Godhead, was imparted to the disciples on the tenth day after the Acsension, then Peter was converted. He became everything that Jesus saw was in him all along.

The story of Peter is a story of great hope for me. He is everyman, and what he becomes is possible for all of us.

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Best Prophet Smack Down Ever

July 9, 2007

This week’s Topic: Favorite Prophets

by Carrie Ann

1Kings 18:17-40

“So you’re the one causing all the trouble,” said Ahab regarding Elijah doubtfully.

“The same could be said of you and your father’s dubious regime in Israel,” replied Elijah. “Tell you what, you gather all of Israel to Mount Carmel. Gather all of your priests of Baal, all 450 of them, and call Jezebel’s minions too, what’s she up to? 400 now? We’re going to have a little ‘General Conference.’”

Ahab couldn’t resist the odds. He called EVERYONE.

Once everyone was assembled Elijah took the “pulpit”. “How long are you, the children of Israel, going to straddle the line? If the Lord be God, then follow Him; but if Baal be God, then follow him.”

The crowd was silent. Did they feel guilty? Probably not. Most likely they were embarrassed at Elijah’s shabby cloak against the pageantry of 450 priests of Baal with their colors and their banners.

“OK,” said Elijah. If it’s spectacle they want, so be it, he thought. “Bring two of your best bulls for sacrifice. Baal, you guys get first pick, dress it, lay it out on the wooden alter, but don’t light the fire just yet. I will take the other bull and dress it and lay it out, too. Then you call on your gods to light your fire and I will call on mine. The god that answers…let him be the only god.”

The crowd roared in approval. They loved a good showdown. The priests of Baal got to work building the alter out of the driest wood, choosing the smaller bull thinking that it would catch fire quicker and better, and “accidentally” smearing a little of the fat around to ensure good fuel for lighting. Elijah tied his bull to one of the trees of the infamous grove and let him graze as he sat down to whittle a stick of wood to pass the time.

The priests of Baal put on a pretty good show. There was lots of singing and crying and banner waving. As the morning wore on the dramatics increased to near acrobatics as they were leaped upon the alter crying, “Baal, hear us!”

Around noon the priests were finally getting hoarse and Elijah spoke up. “Hey maybe you guys should shout a little louder. Maybe your god is talking to someone else, or maybe he’s on vacation…could he be taking a nap? For goodness sake, call louder and wake him up!”

The priests of Baal seemed to go into a frenzy. They cried louder, they jumped higher, they waved their banners all the more mightily. Some priests even began cutting themselves with their ceremonial daggers in the hopes that their fresh blood would entice the nose of their god and arouse him to their aid.

Eventually, the sun began to set and nary a flame had licked at the now blood-drenched alter of the priests of Baal. Even the crowd who had been thrilled with the opening dramatics had thinned and the remaining spectators where sprawled on the grass talking amongst themselves, barely aware of the contest and just happy for a day off work.

Finally, Elijah stood up, brushed off his rough mantle and called the people to gather close around. He did not want them to miss a thing. Elijah gathered twelve stones and used them to repair the alter of the One True God that had been neglected and was in disrepair. The priests of Baal sat on the ground, exhausted and grateful for a break. They all watched as Elijah dug an unfamiliar and unusually deep trench around the entire alter.

Elijah took what wood was left and carefully arranged it on top of the stone alter. He then quickly and skillfully dressed his bull and laid the pieces on top of the wood. Elijah called to the priests and the spectators, “I want you to find and fill four barrels with water and pour them on the sacrifice and on the wood. Just drench it.”

The stunned crowd took a few moments to process his request, but then scattered to oblige. Even the priests, as exhausted as they were, seemed renewed as they helped to douse Elijah’s sacrifice.

Elijah watched the trench around the alter begin to fill. “Ok,” he called. “Do it again.” The crowd rushed to do his bidding. They knew something was up. Again the alter was doused, the water running off into the trench.

Elijah asked them one more time to fill four barrels with water and pour it over his sacrifice. By now the sun was set, but in all the excitement wives and children were fetched from their homes to return and see the prophet’s insanity.

How patient Elijah had been with this people! But his patience was wearing thin. The calm demeanor he had worn all day was hardening to a grim efficiency as he watched the crowd become increasingly animated and excited. He just wanted this whole thing to be over with.

Once the wood was wet soggy, the bull soaked to the bone, and the trench brimming with water all around the alter Elijah stood with bowed head and waited; the time for the regular evening sacrifice was near at hand. The crowd quieted in anticipation, but became impatient as they misunderstood Elijah’s hesitation. Bravely, a few hecklers began snickering.

Then looking heaven ward, Elijah raised his bowed head, took a deep breath and his voice shook like thunder, “Hear me, O Lord, hear me that this people may know that thou, Jehovah, art God, and that thou wilt soften their hard hearts once again and return to thee!”

Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust. Flames even licked up the water that was in the trench.

And when the crowd witnessed this, they fell on their faces in humility, and they said, “The Lord, he is the God. The Lord, he is the God.”

Elijah spoke to the people and commanded them, “Take these false prophets of the false god Baal and let not one of them escape.”

The multitude obeyed and brought the priests to Elijah down by the brook, Kishon, where Elijah gave them their just rewards.

I love that in the next few chapters, Elijah, who has had to go through all this, becomes discouraged and is taught by the Lord that He is not in the fire nor the whirwind nor the earthquake, but is in the still small voice. We get a glimpse into the humanity of the prophets. By understanding the humanity of men of God we can love them as they love us with all our faults.

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Religious Intolerance In America

July 8, 2007

By Marc

Do I want a Mormon president? Well… I like the idea of a Mormon president. But, as Mitt Romney’s campaign rolls along, I find myself wanting a Mormon president less and less. Beyond politics (and the idea that many might wrongly attribute a Mormon president’s political beliefs to me because we share a common faith), I guess I’m just not comfortable seeing my beliefs watered down to satiate the masses. I prefer being a “peculiar” people instead of having to shoe-horn my religion to fit into some pre-determined and pre-defined categories.

At the outset, my differences with some of Romney’s political positions aside, I think he’s run a strategically brilliant campaign. He’s defied skeptics and the conventional wisdom, has a boat-load of money, and owns a sizeable primary lead in the first two Republican primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire. Although he’s been criticized for his shift in positions on several issues, had he not taken the policy positions that he has thus far, he would be left fighting a difficult battle with John McCain and Rudy Giuliani for the moderate Republican-economic conservative-Libertarian vote, leaving the vacuum among social conservative candidates to be filled by someone else. Romney did what he needed to do to put himself in a position to win, and one of the key factors in how well he does come primary season is how persuasive he can be in convincing voters of his sincerity. All that is fine and well. While I may not vote for Romney, it is not what has turned me off of the idea of having a Mormon as president.

My unease about a Mormon president stems from two separate, but interrelated developments. One is the recurring attacks Romney has weathered for his Mormon faith from secular liberals on the left, religious conservatives on the right, and from the campaign staffs of an increasing number of fellow candidates (see here, here, and here). The other is seeing the great lengths that Romney has been forced to go to appease the religious right on the issue of his faith.

I don’t think a candidate should have to apologize for his faith in order to run a successful campaign. When it comes down to it, most religions have tenets and doctrines that others would consider odd. A candidate’s political viability should not hang on what some might consider oddities of belief, it should instead rest on the candidate’s platform and character. Some might argue that a candidate’s faith is an element of his or her character, but if by that they are insinuating that a candidate, by holding beliefs that either stray from a particular line of Christianity or that accept the historicity of the miraculous, is somehow unfit for office, then they are imposing a troublingly narrow view of character that I object to. Constitutionally we, as a nation, aren’t supposed to have religious tests for office, but requiring such a homogenization of belief essentially amounts to one. Many pay lip service to the constitutional ideal, but, in spite of public condemnations and apologies, each week predictably sees a new critical article or another incident on the campaign trail.

Romney, while publicly stating that he wouldn’t distance himself from his religion in a recent debate, in some ways, already has. Since religion is such a core issue for one of Romney’s key constituencies, his candidacy has raised numerous concerns ranging from what sort of influence his faith and religion would have on his governance to whether electing a Latter-day Saint would lend credibility to Mormon proselytizing efforts. As such, Romney has repeatedly sought to address the issue of faith. In doing so, his typical response has been to reduce difference to the same. You’ll hear him generically discuss God, faith, and common values, and he never misses a chance to cite to the Bible, but you’ll almost never hear him mention the Book of Mormon (and if he does it inevitably is in answer to a question about the book which he typically deflects). Last week, when he was asked, inappropriately in my mind, whether, as President, he would put the Book of Mormon above the Bible when seeking inspiration, he completely ignored the question and went straight to his boilerplate “common values and beliefs” answer. In an interview in May, in response to a question about the Church’s past practice of polygamy, Romney said he couldn’t “imagine anything more awful” than the practice. Admittedly, our polygamous past perplexes a lot of members today, myself included, but, even still, the statement struck me as a little over-the-top. And earlier this year, in another interview, when asked about a unique Latter-day Saint belief involving Christ’s Second Coming, he didn’t even acknowledge that we had such a doctrine and again stressed common Christian beliefs. Strategically, avoiding these sorts of issues is almost certainly his best move, but that he has to make it to remain competitive as a presidential candidate leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I think it’s unfair that a presidential hopeful like Romney has to package his faith in this way.

Other Latter-day Saint politicians, who hold or have held offices a little less glamorous than the Presidency, haven’t been forced to strip as much away from the public presentation of their beliefs. In years past, members like Reed Smoot and Ezra Taft Benson held prominent political offices while concurrently serving as Apostles. More recently, Senator Gordon Smith from Oregon is known to have taken his oath of office on a “Quadruple Combination” which included all canonized Mormon scripture, Harry Reid has a large statue of Joseph Smith prominently displayed on his desk in the Majority Leader’s office, and Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah has put out a string of LDS-themed musical albums. Even Romney’s own father didn’t seem to have as much trouble over the issue of faith as Mitt has been confronted with. The biggest obstacles looming over George Romney’s candidacy were the explanation he gave about his prior support for the Vietnam war and the fact that he was born in Mexico. But we live in different times, both the religious right and secular liberalism hold much more sway today.

Even still, friends have suggested that Romney’s run is breaking down some of the unspoken barriers that seem to exist for Mormon candidates today. Perhaps it is, but this past year has left me bruised and very wary of the looming primary season. I remain pretty skeptical as to whether a Mormon can survive the primary gauntlet and, if one does, how he or she would fair in a general election. People often are hesitant to admit to how gender, race and religion might affect their votes. The fact that polls have shown large numbers of people who readily admit they would have trouble voting for a Mormon is a red flag for me. Romney’s camp is more optimistic, claiming that once people get to know a Mormon candidate such as Romney, a lot of their concerns will be put to rest. I think they underestimate the brutality of primaries in places like South Carolina, where terrible rumors of John McCain having an illegitimate black daughter helped to derail his campaign. I shudder to think what is in store for Romney.

So do I want a Mormon president? Like I said, I like the idea of one… it’s the reality of it that I’m not so sure about. For me it’s not so much about Romney or the LDS Church, but about the country, its democratic principles, and the shortfall that an apparent religious test like this implies. I’m troubled by the hypocrisy, ignorance and lack of fairness from individuals and groups who so lionize American democracy, tolerance and freedom, and yet hold such prejudicial views. While many in the Church are already skeptical of the secular left, I’m left wondering what will be the consequence to the Republican Party if the GOP proves to hold Mormons, who so disproportionately vote Republican, in such low repute that it wouldn’t stoop to nominate a Latter-day Saint as its candidate for High Office.

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