Thursday, November 22, 2007

How Romney's "Mormon Speech" Could Be Handled

There was a humorous article in the Deseret News about what Mitt’s “Mormon Question” response would be like. I thought only a few comments were funny, including:

Why is this press conference starting 10 minutes late?

It was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. MST — Mormon Standard Time. MST is about 10 minutes later than the rest of the world. Most BYU football fans, for instance, have never heard "The Star Spangled Banner."

Can you discuss the widespread rumor that Mormon men are subjected to horrible violence and unspeakable ugliness regularly in the Mormon culture?

I'm not here to talk about church ball. Not in front of the women anyway. Next question.

Do Mormons still drive wagons on the roads?

Please, that's the Amish gig! We do like vans and Suburbans, though — aka the Mormon Cadillac.

As a long shot, how do you ever expect to move to the White House?

The Elders Quorum.

Following after these comments, I thought to add my own Q&A all in good fun:

Why do you make such unfunny jokes about Polygamy?

My wife asked me that the other night. My response was that the best way to bring up a serious topic is with humor, but I am no comedian. She then told me no kidding.

Some would say if you become President that you would take orders from Salt Lake City. Is that true?

Look, my wife’s cooking is good, but not that good. Besides, we eat out most of the time. As for the real answer to your question, getting a member of the church to do anything is like herding cats. I’m not sure why I would be any different.

Did you avoid the draft by going on a mission?

Luckily I brought some warm clothes because some of the apartments we lived in were real dives. Serving a mission was no picnic. We were Americans . . . in France.

Will you have a lot of Mormons on your staff?

Not as many as JFK, Eisenhower, or Reagan. I served my time as Bishop and Stake President and am ready for a change.

You were an ecclesiastical leader in the Mormon Church. What did you do during that time?

When I wasn’t helping people out, I was taking a nap on the podium. When I was speaking, the congregation was taking a nap.

Why don’t you talk about Mormon theology more?

See my answer to the above question.

How will your Mormonism influence you as President of the United States?

There will be longer meetings. Sunday and Monday will be days off. State funerals will have lots of casserole served. Other than that, business as usual.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Democrats Buttering Up Mormons

In my continued look at Mormons and politics this month, I thought I would point out a small trend. Some Democrats have been looking at the "Mormon Question" in editorials and trying to sound rather appauled at how Romney has been treated. The real confusion is the insistance that they would never ever vote for him, but . . . his religion should be off limits to deciding to vote for him. Now, these statements have not come from any of the main Democratic operatives of the Presidential contenders. Thinking of why these Democrats would be sounding so respectful of Mitt and his religion, it might be a coup if those presidential Democratic contenders were to follow the examples. I think the real reasoning behind the Democrat's editorials (although I do think they are sincere in feelings if not in agenda) is to shave off a few Mormon votes from the Republicans.

One example comes from Democrat Martin Frost about Romney falling victim to voter descrimination because of his religion. Of course, "descrimination" is a catch-phrase in Democratic circles for those who need government (particularly Democrat) protection. He states:

As a Democrat, I wouldn’t vote for Romney in the general election if he is nominated by the Republican Party. But I’ll be damned if I can understand why he should be disqualified from seeking his party’s nomination because of his religion. This makes no logical sense in the world’s greatest democracy in the 21st century.

One of the reasons that this makes so little sense to me is that I have spent most of my adult life in the most religiously tolerant major city in the South -- Dallas, Texas.

Dallas, with a Jewish population of only about 35,000 out of more than one million residents, has been served by three Jewish mayors (Adlene Harrison, Annette Strauss and Laura Miller), numerous Jewish members of the City Council, two Jewish state representatives (Steve Wolens and Alvin Granoff) and a Jewish Congressman (myself).

Additionally, Dallas produced the first Jewish chairman of the Democratic National Committee (Bob Strauss) and the neighboring county to the north (Collin County) has been represented by a Jewish state senator (Florence Shapiro) for many years. All this has occurred in the last 30 years.

First, I think he overestimates the inclusive nature of Dallas, even by his own references. To be Jewish in the U.S. has been "mainstream" even by Evangelical Christian standards. They may think of them as lost, but not without hope or some sort of blessing from God as a "former" chosen people. What would really be impressive is if there were members of the Hindu, Muslim, or any other religion that were put in important politial and social positions.

What is really impressive, at least by Mormon standards, is his argument about the Mormon's place in U.S. society:

The answer that many people give is that Mormonism is a cult, not a religion. If that is so, then why do we permit Mormons who have served in our military to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery? . . .

Mormons pay taxes, can wear the uniform of our county, and can die for our country. There are Mormon members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. And yet significant numbers of voters believe they are not qualified to serve as president.

His argument shouldn't be refuted. It is a good and true one that I think should be heard. What I am looking at is the reason for such a "bold" declaration, particularly on Fox News. Anyone who knows the perception of that news channel knows exactly who he is trying to talk to; Convervatives. And Mormons are known as Conservatives, so they would be part of his audience. What he is doing, I think, is no so much talking to Evangelical Christians as he is Mormons. He is basically saying, I am a Democrat who is not voting Republican and yet I am more "enlightened and tolerant" than those large numbers of Mormons are voting with. This wasn't something I had thought possible until I read another article that sounded almost exactly the same.

In an op-ed article for The Carmi Times, another Democrat talks about the "Mormon Question" in relation to Romney and voters. He adds at the end, just to be clear:

I'm a Democrat and I'll be picking from among Hillary, Barack, John and the others when I step into the voting booth Feb. 5. And even if I were a Republican, I'm not at all sure that Romney would be my man.

What he has to say about Mormons comes right from the playbook if there was one that exists. There is the JFK and the Jewish reference:

And then, in 1960, we did the once unimaginable and elected a Roman Catholic, John F. Kennedy.

Since then we've further expanded our horizons. Millions voted in 2004 for an Orthodox Jew (Joe Lieberman) for vice president.

Again, Leiberman was a Democrat and second Evangelical Christians hold high regards if only in memorium for Jews because of (rather than inspite of) religious theology. He then goes on about the many respected and important people in the U.S. who are Mormons. Half way down, after he makes the list and confronts those who just don't know much about Mormons, the true group of his disagreements becomes evident:

Reason No. 2: Fear. A lot of evangelical Protestants believe that if Romney were elected president, the Mormon church would grow by leaps and bounds--at the expense of their own denominations. And, to be fair, many of them also believe that Mormons aren't Christians (despite the name of their church and their fervent claims to the contrary), and that people who convert to the LDS church are headed for Hell.

Are they right? Make that judgment on your own, if you care to.

But would a Mormon president open the floodgates of conversions to the LDS church? I don't think so. Ask yourself: Have the United Methodists blossomed under George W. Bush? Did Bill Clinton attract new Baptists in droves? Would you convert to another religion just because the president espoused that faith? . . .

Would a Mormon president do what the church president out in Salt Lake told him to do? Did Kennedy follow the pope's orders? Come on.

There isn't any concrete proof of a political move by the Democrats that they are courting Mormon votes. So far becaue of the minimal number of Mormons and the concentrated geography of membership it isn't a group that would spark much interest to court. However, it would seem that Democrats could make inroads if they were to adopt the stance of these two commentators and talk up the "protected minority" status they like to tout.

Not that I would vote Democrat because the party still doesn't hold to my political beliefs. That, perhaps, is the greatest hurdle that would need to be crossed. It isn't insurmountable with other Mormons. All it would take is a more libertarian (and less Liberal) position and greater religious (not dogmatic, anti- or a-religious) focus. Taken together, the Democrats have a good hand to criple the Republican party in the West if they play it right. Again, not that I would want that. Rather, I would just like to see rhetoric turn to action and conservatism become more a political (and generic relgious) than theological movement.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

And People think Mormons Claim Orders from God

The only reason I am including this story about Huckabee is because of how Mormons would be treated if any leaders did the same, and what it would mean for Mormons (and others who are considered non-Christian) if he was elected President. My patience for the Religious Right, as stated in my other post, is wearing thin. At this point, if Romney doesn't win then I hope Gilliani does even if I don't consider him Conservative. Either one of those will either shrink the exclusive bigotry of a group that I support the moral values of or break the influence of the increasingly theocratic voters in a political party I belong.

Here are some important graphs:

IRVING, Texas — New Beginnings church hasn’t endorsed anybody in the 2008 presidential race, but God probably has, pastor Larry Huch said Sunday.

The Almighty, who chose a Goliath-slayer to reign over Israel years ago, apparently has selected an Arkansan to rule over the United States, the Irving pastor repeatedly told his congregation as Mike Huckabee stood nearby.

Huch, saying he believes he has a word from God for the Republican hopeful, quoted a Scripture passage from 1 Samuel that ends with the Lord declaring: “Arise and anoint [David to lead the nation ] for this is the one.”

The crowd, some of them wearing yarmulkes, cheered noisily after Huch’s declaration, and they later stretched their hands toward Huckabee as they prayed for campaignseason favor from heaven.

“I believe that Sen. Huckabee is the David that you’ve brought in to be a head over this nation’s house,” Huch said, misstating Huckabee’s political rank. “And Father, I ask for the blessing on him, on his family, on their campaign, that you will keep them safe, you will give them wisdom, that you will give him favor, for he is giving you all the praise and all the glory.”

A more level headed, but still problematic, blog run by Evangelical Christians contemplated about this article:

1. Can you imagine the brouhaha if this had happened to Gov. Romney in an LDS church?
2. Does this violate the IRS tax codes, to have a pastor lay hands on a candidate and declare that God has anointed him to win the election... at church? Just curious and my resident attorney is away.

In case anyone thinks that Huckabee is just going on for the ride, remember he is a Baptist Preacher himself. That isn't a layman's calling that means mere membership responsibilities. Not only that, but he has preached in a church recently while running for U.S. President. What he said is both typical and questionable:

For Christians, Huckabee suggested, defeat need not ever be final.

“All things work together for good — not for everybody in the world — but for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. That’s a unique privilege for those who put their faith in Christ,” he told the 10 a. m. worship crowd, paraphrasing Romans 8: 28.

Then Huckabee compared the future to an Arkansas Razorbacks basketball victory — tape-delayed and rebroadcast, but with the outcome never in doubt.

He compared that broadcast to the end times outlined in the book of Revelation, the apocalyptic final book in the New Testament. “Cheat just a little bit, and just go read the back of the book, because guess what ? In the end, we do win this thing.”

“Whatever the score is late in the fourth quarter, hang on, because when the final whistle blows, Jesus is Lord and that’s what matters.”

He even got in a shot at Romney, with God behind it:

With news cameras clicking and television crews beaming his image onto Jumbotron-style screens, Huckabee compared the Christian’s life to a bobsled race. “God has plans for the curves ahead. God plans for us to succeed — not fail.”

Quoting the late singer Ethel Waters, Huckabee added, “God don’t sponsor no flops.”

This man really disturbes me. The only good news is that if he does win the Republican nomination, something I don't believe will happen, he would most certainly lose. It is amazing that people are talking all about Romney's Mormonism that has proven to be of little political practical value. Here is someone who is unquestionably using his religion as a political asset. He is even invoking God beyond the relatively generic term for a higher power that others of a different faith can share.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Open Note to Christian Conservatives

There was a time when I thought that Evangelical Christians and Mormons were in a position to work together. That was in the mutual respect for shared moral views as upheld in the majority Republican Party voters. Both fought for a less secular society and more respect for traditional families, personal property, the sanctity of the unborn, and other similar issues. For at least ten years things were looking promising. Currently there is a need to band together to fight for those values as they are in danger of getting lost after a liberal Democrat take over of Washington. However, the regrouping that should be happening has been stopped by theological arguments that should not be part of a political discussion.

I used to believe that the warnings by the left that the Religious Right wanted to create a Theocracy in the United States similar to Islamic states was unfounded. When there was talk of a "Christian Nation" it was always my assumption that simply meant a nation that respected the "Judeo-Christian" past and values of its founding citizens and ideals. Never did I believe it meant making laws or only accepting for citizenship those that support a specific religious creed or dogma. That is totally against the founding principles of the Constitution.

Recently I have wondered if the left was not horribly correct. Now, I still believe that a liberal is as much against Mormonism as any Evangelical Christian who holds to their Jesus doctrines. The difference is that the liberal would not vote for the Mormon for political reasons and not purely theological ones. They might say that Mormons have stranger beliefs than any other religion, but at least they are usually consistant in saying all religions are suspect.

However, the Evangelical Christian is very picky with who they show displeasure against. Many would not vote for a Mormon no matter what. Although there are some instances when Mormons have been equally as questionable in voting by association when they are the majority, it would be unthinkable from a national perspective. They would not only lose, but have no one to vote for in national elections. There are those who point to the fact that Romney is getting support from some high profile Evangelical Christian leaders as an argument for Religious Right pragmatism. That is nice for him. However, the support is so back handed and laced with so many theological strings that it pretty much disqualifies the support. It reaks of opportunistic theocratic aspirations and self-justifications.

One example includes the following:

"I told him, you cannot equate Mormonism with Christianity; you cannot say, `I am a Christian just like you,' said Representative Bob Inglis of South Carolina, which is scheduled to hold the first primary among the Southern states. `If he does that, every Baptist preacher in the South is going to have to go to the pulpit on Sunday and explain the differences.''

Another comment tries to be far less direct, but still misunderstands or doesn't care about the Mormon feelings on the matter:

Richard Land said he sees Mormonism "as another faith in the same sense that I would look upon Islam as another faith. I think the fairest and most charitable way to define Mormonism would be to call it the fourth Abrahamic religion — Judaism being the first, Christianity being the second, Islam being the third, and Mormonism being the fourth. And Joseph Smith would play the same character in Mormonism that Muhammad plays in Islam."

I have heard often times by Romney Evangelical Christian supporters the reasoning that they can support him, because God can just as easily lead nations with unbelievers. The examples they use would obviously make a Mormon cringe:

"Or have we come to the point where evangelicals will only vote for people they consider Christians? I hope not, for nothing in the Bible says that people have to be born again Christians before they can be governmental authorities who are used greatly by God to advance his purposes. God used Pharaoh, King of Egypt, to raise Joseph to a position of authority over the whole country, so he could save his people from famine (Genesis 41:37-57). God used Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, to protect and raise up Daniel and his Jewish friends to positions of high authority over Babylon (Daniel 2:46-49). God used Cyrus, King of Persia, to restore the Jewish exiles to their homeland (Isaiah 45:16; Ezra 1:1-4), and used Darius, King of Persia, to protect the Jewish people as they rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 6:1-12). God used Ahashuerus, King of Persia, to raise up Esther as Queen and to give Mordecai high authority and honor in his kingdom (Esther 6:10-11; 8:1-2, 7-15). In the New Testament age, God used the peace enforced by the secular Roman Empire, the Pax Romana, to enable the early Christians to travel freely and spread the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world.

Here in the United States, God used not only Founding Fathers who were strong Christians, but also Deists such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to build the foundation of our nation."

Romney may not respond because he is not, as he has said many times before, runnning as the Mormon President. However, most Mormons would agree with the statement made by Kim Farah, a spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, "The fact that we are Christians is non-negotiable." There are those who question why allowing for more inclusiveness and less theological "purity" is important. Some would even say it benefits the Mormons with too much "legitamacy" as if they don't already have that in the United States. The question and the statement says it all. Evangelical Christians must decide if they want a theocratic nation or democratic one; they can't have both.

No matter how much support a Mormon gets from Evangelical Christians politically, if they don't stop publically spouting theological disagreements then they will lose all political influence. When these statements are made outside of a Church then it no longer is a theological consideration. It becomes a political statement with very specific consiquences for both groups. The Mormons are a strong force in the Republican Party, as the consistantly conservative Utah and Idaho members of Congress and Senate illustrate. As much as the "religious war" is a product of liberal media looking for a wedge between conservatives, it is not entirely without fuel.

As the Religous Right gave advice to Mitt Romney about his religion, I think they should get some advice for themselves. If they want to continue to be politically relevant they should become more tolerant of other's religion. They should stop theologically attacking those who hold political and moral allegiances. If they don't then they could find themselves standing alone. The Mormons have changed political affiliations in the past because of how they were viewed and treated by those who should have been with them, and grumblings have already started to do it again. Not only that, but there are other groups who have expressed concerns about what the Religious Right have done to the Republican Party and conservatism in general. You don't have to agree to be agreeable. A qualified endorsement can come across as no endorsement at all even if the person endorsed has graciously accepted.