What do Mormons think about the ‘Mormon moment’?

Darren McCollester GETTY IMAGES Republican presidential candidates Former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (R) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney … Continued

Darren McCollester

GETTY IMAGES

Republican presidential candidates Former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (R) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (L) greet to each other prior to marching in a Fourth of July parade as Huntsman’s wife Mary Kaye (2nd R) and daughter Gracie Mei look on July 4, 2011 in Amherst, New Hampshire.

Mormons are everywhere!

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Mormon who would say “we hate all this attention.” It’s a great chance to do some evangelizing! But here’s how the conversation goes in real life:

Mr. Jones: Hey, Mr. Smith, I’ve been noticing a lot of talk about Mormons in the media. Would you mind if I asked you some questions about your religion?

Mr. Smith (excitedly): Sure! I love talking to my friends about my faith. It’s what has helped me and my family be so happy my whole life.

Mr. Jones: Tell me, do you really get to have your own planet? And what’s up with the magic underpants?

Mr. Smith (chuckling nervously): Well, I wouldn’t really consider those to be big parts of what I believe…

Mr. Jones: I read that Harold Bloom called your leader a “plutocratic oligarch.” Is that true?

Mr. Smith: I really need to get back to work now.

Mormons can be touchy, though we talk a good game. We crave popularity, not microscopes. Notice us — but on our terms, please. Look, Mormons are probably not unique in this respect; everyone loves to get attention. But not everyone is a member of a quirky, modern, American-made religion.


View Photo Gallery: “The Mormon story is a quintessentially American tale,” writes On Faith columnist Lisa Miller.

Actually, it’s hard to tell if Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman are really members of my quirky religion. Romney’s public persona is so polished and practiced that nary a hint of his religion appears, and when it does it’s in a negative sense, down-playing his Mormonism in an effort to appeal to voters. This is the odd effect of his 2007 speech in which he famously refused to distance himself from his religion: now that none of the other candidates is bringing up religion, Romney never brings up the topic himself and the underwear questions quietly disappear. Perhaps the other candidates feel that Romney is entitled to some modicum of privacy on the issue. Huntsman, on the other hand, has no need to sideline his Mormonism: “I can’t say I’m overly religious,” he has said. Why, he’s even been known to drink tea!

It might be nice to see the candidates add in a little religion to their presentation, just for effect. Perhaps Romney could take a Tebow-style kneel whenever he gets applause in a GOP debate. Huntsman could wear a stylized lapel pin of the angel Moroni. It might help the candidates seem a little more satisfying. and would certainly help to rally the LDS community.

Right now, there’s little indication that Mormons are excited or mobilized about the prospect of a Mormon president — rather, there’s trepidation. Liberal Mormons don’t know if they want Romney (or Huntsman) to be the single most prominent face of their faith. Conservative Mormons have the same concern, for the same reason: the candidates don’t share their views on social/political/fiscal issues. You won’t find a unified front of support as you might have seen from Catholic supporters of JFK, despite the obvious parallels. Instead, my LDS friends and I quietly ask innocent questions about the banal practicalities of an LDS president: Will he pay 10 percent of his government salary to the church? Will the White House offer tea and coffee? Will the Secret Service accompany him to his temple services, which are for LDS initiates only?

The two Mormon contenders in the Republican primaries bring an absurd level of attention to the LDS religion. It’s an exceptional chance for the rest of us to explain the principles and history of our faith, a singular moment to show the world who we really are. The challenge stems from the fact that like any other religious group, Mormons are far from homogeneous. Romney and Huntsman’s prominence force us to ask ourselves some hard questions about who we are and what our religious community should look like. “Showing the world who we really are” will require a healthy dose of self-examination and community definition, which is strong medicine indeed.

Steve Evans is an attorney and blogger living in Wisconsin. In 2004, Steve founded the popular Mormon blog By Common Consent, where he is an editor and contributor.

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  • xxixpines

    I wonder if we will loose our christmas holiday

  • bazwest

    Mormon’s love to celebrate Christmas and always have.

  • Dentite

    I wonder if he’ll implement the perpetual education fund or an extensive humanitarian aid program or place hundreds of thousands in jobs and training programs or implement a 10% flat tax or….

  • DCreamer1

    It has always been perplexing to me how a Christian can be a hard right conservative and reconcile their objection to a social conscience in government with their religious beliefs as taught and espoused by Christ. Notwithstanding my innate ability to be obtuse a majority of Mormons and evangelicals do just that. Though, you will find Mormons as a group very giving of time and resources to their church and communities and as a result more altruistic than most.

    The church runs a welfare program the epitome of what a good public welfare system should look like. Mormons however for the most part would like to see government welfare and social safety programs not only limited but dismantled. In fairness to them one must realize that they believe Christ will rule the earth through the LDS church upon his return thus obviating the need for secular government of any kind.

    In any case as good as the church’s welfare programs are and as exemplary an example as they provide of a well designed and run social safety net they fall far short of the needs of our poor, sick, aged, infirmed and displaced. Government in my view has a responsibility to care for those who cannot care for themselves. A society that leaves such things up to chance, personal charity and the kindness of strangers as opposed to a structured government funded and organized program also falls far short of that responsibility.

  • foxtrot1

    In my experience of working closely with LDS people and having them as students; they make a huge effort to be good people with stellar values. I think it would be against everything they believe for them to act in a mean-spirited way. They are family-oriented, respectful of others, extremely hard workers, polite, resourceful. My impression is that many have a lot of money because they live within their means and, over the years, it adds up. The Mormon medical students where I work are always at the very top of their class because they study incredibly hard and have the support of their wives (Most are married.) to enable that. None of the LDS people I’ve worked with ever talked about their religion without being asked. The are good people.

  • mhenshaw

    With the exception of the 10% flat tax, how would any of that be a bad thing?

  • RELLSian

    Maybe that’s how some Mormons would answer those questions, but not how all of us would. I would answer:
    1) The “getting your own planet” thing is not Mormon doctrine. We believe that human beings have the potential to become gods (John 10:34; Galatians 4:7), but we don’t profess to know any details of what that entails.
    2) The underwear is called “garments” and is intended to remind us of our moral obligations. That’s why we wear it as underwear: so that we can wear it all the time, no matter what we put on that day. Garments aren’t magic; their significance is that they serve as a reminder to keep our religion and resist temptations.

  • observerfkaerics

    Nice one, Steve. If for no other reason, candidates like Romney/Huntsman force Mormons and non-Mormons alike to self-reflect and be introspective about what they think of Mormonism. I think that is a net “good” process. Hopefully it increases religious tolerance and awareness for all faiths.

  • coltakashi93

    On your questions: I am sure Romney will donate ALL of his salary, after taxes, to various charitable organizations, including the Church and BYU. I am sure that beverages appropriate to the guest will be served, since it is a government facility. There are plenty of LDS members of the Secret Service, among whom some can be found who could accompany the Romneys to the temple in DC or at some other location they are visiting, such as near their homes in Boston and Orange County, California, and overseas.

    My guess is that the ward meetinghouse where they would attend church when at home in the White House would get beefed up with electronic surveillance and security systems.

    On the plus side, we should note that 55% of the voters in the New Hampshire Primary voted for one of the two Mormon candidates, more than the combined 42% for the four candidates who are NOT Mormon. Since Mormons are only one half od one percent of the population, it means the citizens of the “Live Free or Die” state are very accepting of a small minority religious group and willing to make one of them the leader of the Free World. Apparently the majority of voters who identify as “Evangelicals” voted for Romney.

    I think it is quite possible that the membership of many Evangelical churches are much more tolerant of those belonging to other churches than are their pastors. In the book American Grace, which analyzes research on the place of religion in American society, the authors found that 100% of the Mormons in their survey agreed with the statement that mwembers of other churches could go to heaven. That is in line with Mormon theology, but the remarkable thing was that people who self-identified as Evangelicals agreed, by a large majority of around 75%. That result is directly contrary to doctrines taught by many of their churches, as was pointed out by pastors who were confronted with this evidence by the authors. One of the pastors said “We have failed in our teaching mission.”

  • coltakashi93

    I am a 62 year old Mormon who has lived in Utah, Japan, Colorado, Maryland, Japan again, Virginia, Nebraska, California, Idaho and Washington State. I have no idea what kind of change in “Mormon rhetoric” you are talking about. For example, during 2012 one of the Church lesson manuals for adults is based on sermons given by George Albert Smith, who was president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1945 to 1952. The emphasis on devotion to Christ and love of our neighbors is present all through his teachings, as well as his life, which included sending food and clothing to Europeans to help them recover from World War II.

    Emphasis on love of God and of neighbor is present through Joseph Smith’s teachings as well, which is natural, since Mormons believe the Bible is the Word of God in a very literal way and we devote much of our time to studying it and following the precepts taught by Jesus Christ.

    It is true that there is some variation in meaning of common terms between Mormons and some other denominations, but that is true between Baptists and Catholics as well.

  • coltakashi93

    I think you go a bit beyond the facts in claiming that a majority of Mormons want to see “government welfare and social safety programs . . . dismantled”. I have never heard anyone put that question to a large sample of Mormons in the U.S. On the other hand, I would not be surprised to see many Mormons agree that Social Security needs to be adjusted so it is on a firm financial basis.

    Historically, the Mormon majority in Utah was pretty much evenly split between the two national parties through most of the 20th Century. However, when the Democratic Party was radicalized by its left wing with the McGovern insurgency in 1972, and the Democrats took a hard line in support of unlimited abortion and opposed traditional sexual morality, and was highly critical of the armed forces and American exceptionalism, it drove a lot of Mormons over to the Republicans, in the same way that happened in the South and other parts of the West. Basically, two political parties who each had Liberal and Conservative wings realigned along the Liberal to Conservative axis. Mormons did not leave the Democrats as much as the Democrats abandoned them and other constituencies who embraced traditional social values.

    My own observation is that much of the rhetoric of a more extreme anti-government conservativism is a more recent development in Utah, and is sort of a bleedover from developments in the national Republican and conservative movements, not something generated within Mormon ranks. A fiscally conservative but more moderate stance like that of Orrin Hatch, Jon Huntsman and MItt Romney is more representative, in my view, of the center of mass of Mormons’ political opinion than the more Libertarian or extreme Conservative approach of many of those who have identified with the Tea Party. Working in a very hands-on way to aid the unemployed and poor makes it difficult to adopt a rhetoric that denigrates the mass of the poor as “undeserving”, and a pragmatic concern with alleviating

  • zobewan47

    Hey Steve, is that how you respond? This example just illustrates that common people need to do their homework and look in the dictionary for the definition of “plutocratic oligarch”. Have you seen Kevin Dujan’s article in Hill Buzz…An Open Letter to Mormons?

  • Rongoklunk

    I think Mormonism proves that there are no gods. A guy comes along, claims he found a solid gold rock blah blah blah hidden in a cave blah blah blah and writes the Book of Mormon dictated by god and so on , gets jailed for whatever, and tarred and feathered too.

    And there was the Mountain Meadows Massacre where Mormons dressed up like Indians and slaughtered a whole wagon train of people who were just passing by. Look it up.

    My point being- that if there really was a god he’d be doing an awful lot of smiting of liars, and cheats and scammers and other folks who sell this snake oil. The fact that he doesn’t lift a finger to smack ‘em tells me he doesn’t exist.

  • DanielHardman

    I’m laughing about your fake conversation. I don’t think it’s very realistic, but it *is* funny.

    I’m LDS and I hope I would never make a Polyanna assertion like the one at the beginning. Religion is important to me, and it brings me joy and purpose, but it doesn’t make all of life’s problems vanish.

    I certainly wouldn’t chuckle nervously if someone asked me about one of the silly caricatures of my religion floating around out there.

  • DanielHardman

    I agree with some of this article. I’m LDS and not super enthused about Romney. And I’m somewhat irritated by the assumption in mainstream media that if I’m Mormon I must therefore be enamored of candidates from the same religion.

    On the other hand, I think your hypothetical conversation is funny, but not very realistic. My religion matters to me, deeply, but not in some naive or Pollyanna way. I certainly wouldn’t chuckle nervously if someone asked me about one of the silly caricatures of Mormonism floating around. I’d be happy to give an answer–and do it without proselytizing.

  • DanielHardman

    I agree with some of this article. I’m LDS and not super enthused about Romney. And I’m somewhat irritated by the assumption in mainstream media that if I’m Mormon I must therefore be enamored of candidates from the same religion.

    On the other hand, I think your hypothetical conversation is funny, but not very realistic. My religion matters to me, deeply, but not in some naive or Pollyanna way. I certainly wouldn’t chuckle nervously if someone asked me about one of the silly caricatures of Mormonism floating around. I’d be happy to give an answer–and do it without proselytizing.

  • bradster

    It seems to be an oft-repeated tactic of critics to take obscure or irrelevant beliefs and extrapolate it further using irreverent terminology, the result of which is totally unfamiliar to the LDS. Interestingly, the abused root doctrine is usually not only Biblical, but often one in which the early Christians endorsed. The intent is obviously to make our beliefs look ridiculous and juvenile. This resulting new doctrine (or straw man) is then beat down and used to insult LDS beliefs, such as to validate the use of the cult word. For example, to say that we believe we will be Gods on another planet is something I have never heard in church teachings and never read in any manual, but only heard from critics. But the root doctrine–the deification on man–is both Biblical and was a very common teaching in the early centuries of the Christian faith. What exactly it means to become like God is nothing more than speculation.

  • RonInMontana

    Cute dialog. Silly, but cute. It’s easy to control a conversation when you write both sides of it. But, honestly, I think my version is more realistic.

    Mr. Jones: Tell me, do you really get to have your own planet? And what’s up with the magic underpants?

    Mr. Smith (chuckling tolerantly): No. It is not LDS doctrine that I will get my own planet, and Mormons do not wear magic underpants. Any other questions?

    Mr. Jones: I read that Harold Bloom called your leader a “plutocratic oligarch.” Is that true?

    Mr. Smith: No. Harold Bloom is just calling names with nothing to back it up. Do you know what a plutocratic oligarch is?

    Mr. Jones (a little embarrassed): Not really.

    Mr. Smith: Well, a plutocrat is someone who rules by virtue of his wealth and an oligarch is someone who rules as a member of an elite class. Our leader is Thomas Monson, who grew up in the poorest neighborhood in Salt Lake City, worked his way through University of Utah, worked hard enough to eventually buy a modest three-bedroom one-story brick home in an older section of Salt Lake City. I am a high-school Civics teacher, and my house is bigger than his.

    Mr. Jones: Oh.

    Mr Smith: Harold Bloom needs to learn what I try to teach all my students — that you shouldn’t go writing about something until you’ve done a little of what we all like to call “research.”

  • raywadsworth

    Well, the Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith conversation is a typical anti mormon line, and wouldn’t ever happen between people that respect each other, but here is how you answer (after you make sure you are not casting perils be fore swine)

    Romans 8:17 “and if children, then heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

    if I were an heir to my family fortune, it would mean that some day, I could inheirit everything. The same meaning must exist here or Paul would not have spoken it. We are children of God, Gods family, and we want to become like him, (our Father) and he tell us we can.

    in all my 50 years in the church, I have never heard anyone talk about “get to have your own planet” in the manner you expressed.

    Regarding special clothing that holders of the priesthood wear: Good grief, most religious leaders wear it on the outside not on the inside! we would surely not make fun of the nuns for their outfits. Or make fun of the Jewish clothing.

    I have great grand parents who lost their lives to perserve their beliefs, and they are burried in unmarked graves on the plains in either Counsel Bluffs or Winter Quarters Nebraska. They were driven out of their homes at gun point and with this same flavor of speech. Judge a tree by its fruit, and take the time to understand.

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