Back in March I did a short piece on this subject where I made the statement that "the Book of Mormon does not teach Mormonism!" I also said that "…expect to see considerable discussion about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and its beliefs." That has certainly been the case. It’s time to elaborate on some of those complicated issues.
As noted earlier, "Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and those who came after them "progressively defined" the religion as they went." Mormon missionaries still go about distributing the Book of Mormon, but the truth is that Mormonism is a religion defined by whatever the LDS church says that it is. The best way to illustrate this is with the matter of polygamy. The Book of Mormon refers to polygamy as an "abomination," but that was before Joseph Smith developed the whole idea of polygamy as a means for men to have many "spirit children." It was thus became a central Mormon practice and was one of the things that forced the LDS church, led by Brigham Young after Smith’s death, to actually exit U.S. territory and settle in then-Mexican Utah so they could continue with their way of life.
As was the case with the Confederacy, the U.S. Army marched on, and the Mormons found themselves back in U.S. territory after the Mexican War. Remarkably, Young was able to hold things together in his community, aided by geographical isolation and the pre-occupation back east with slavery. But the polygamy issue resurfaced as Utah sought to transition from territory to state; the rest of the country would not permit one state to have such a different definition of marriage as the rest. (Some things never change…) So the LDS church simply reversed its position on the subject, much to the displeasure of many who have constituted "renegade" bands since. (They, however, are in many ways closer to Young’s idea than the current LDS church is.)
Although Romney has come out against polygamy, his own views on abortion are equally curious. Even without polygamy, the Mormon ideal is for their men to reproduce many "spirit children," which explains a) their high birthrate and b) their view of the role of women. How the product of such as system could support abortion–and then retract that position–is the most disturbing mystery about Mitt Romney there is. There are two possibilities:
- He doesn’t take his Mormonism seriously; he is what would be best described as a "cultural Mormon." His high position in the LDS church–he was a stake president–belies that, but it can be hard to know.
- He is doing what the LDS church has always done–take positions of convenience that are subject to change.
Both of these display an opportunist at work, and in that respect Romney is in good company in our political system.
As far as supporting or voting for Romney, our message to him is that of Oliver Hardy: "This is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into…"
Let’s start with this: there’s nothing "intolerant" or "bigoted" about evangelicals considering Mormonism non-Christian. Mormons themselves believe that they are the "Restoration" church, and the others are corrupt.
Having established that difference, it should be remembered that the stink over Romney’s religion is far greater than when his father ran forty years ago. (George Romney, it’s interesting to note, was born in Mexico because his grandparents fled the country over the polygamy issue.) The "why" of this issue the bad part of living in the West today.
Evangelicals are in a more difficult position with Mitt Romney than they realise. Supporting him gives tacit approval to what he believes. Opposing him because of his religion effectively makes evangelicals carry secularism’s water, because it’s an article of faith amongst secularists that no one who has any kind of religious belief is fit to lead anything in our society. (It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened; evangelicals did and still do this over the subject of the miraculous.) Some evangelical leaders (such as Pat Robertson) are tacitly suggesting that a deal be cut, but we’re not a deal cutting society these days.
Evangelicals have preached for years that religion is more than a private matter, and now they wake up to the secularists who a) agree with them and b) use that against them and anyone else with religious belief. Having been untied from our mooring buoy of shared values, we are adrift in a sea of competing dogmas. A democracy cannot be maintained under this condition. What we will end up with is a minority becoming the arbiter of a divided society, and the contest today is simply who that minority will be. The best known example of this was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where the Sunni minority ruled supreme over the Shi’ites and Kurds that outnumbered them. (The Alawis and the Assads are in the same position in Syria.)
Based as much on the opportunist thing as anything, I’m not sold on Mitt Romney. But the same comment I applied to Rudy Giuliani also applies here as well:
…the time has come for Christians to look at what they are doing in the political arena, set some realistic and worthwhile objectives, work more diligently to strengthen our own churches, and realise that the state has definite limits in what it can and should do. To miss the last point–which too many Christians are doing these days–only validates our statist opponents, and that’s the last thing we need to do.