So Christians, what’s up with that whole Romney thing?

I thought you would vote for, you know…a Christian or something.

One of my friends recently pointed out that it’s weird that we have all of these Christians voting for Mitt Romney on religious grounds. Many of our own Christian and Catholic friends claim they support ol’ Mitt because he’s against abortion and same-sex marriage. Yet Romney is a pretty obvious Mormon, and these same Christians claim that Mormonism doesn’t represent their values.

I suppose these must be the same Christians who claim that President Obama cannot be Christian, as they believe he is a Muslim, no matter how much disclosure he offers nor how many facts he presents.

That’s the problem, isn’t it? Those pesky little facts! God forbid we attempt to humor one, let alone them all! The fact of the matter also remains that the Bible—that Christianity—was used for years by white supremacists who wanted to continue supporting segregation, in completely non-Christian ways. Today it’s being used to suppress the rights of the LGBT community as well as women’s health and reproductive decisions.

Mitt’s Mormonism doesn’t bother me. Some of my friends are Mormons. Now, the whole Mormon support of Prop 8—that DOES bother me. As soon as you start mixing up religion and politics and burning women as witches, well, we’re all in trouble. But as long as you’re doing it, Christian friends, don’t you think you could at least be consistent and choose a Christian man over a Mormon one?

Ahh, I see, it’s the whole black thing, isn’t it? Do you just want a white president? “Oh!” I hear you cry. “That’s offensive! I’m not a racist!” Oh, no? Then what else are we to believe when you have an openly Christian man who is behaving like Christ—being charitable, helping the poor, loving all people and trying to give everyone equal opportunities and healthcare—as president, and you say, “Yeah, no, I’m voting for the Mormon.”

Back it up with something other than religion, folks, because you’re falling flat on your face with this one. I have friends voting for Romnesia because of his economic principles—whatever those are, amirite?—or because they’re afraid of socialism like Baby’s parents were afraid of sex in Dirty Dancing and they want to put America in a corner, for goodness sake!—but none of them claim religious principles, save my Mormon friends, which at least makes sense.

I know you like to pick and choose, conservative evangelical Christian friends. You do it all the time with the Bible and our gay friends. But how about being consistent for a change?

Our God may not be perfect

But he is nearer to us than we think.

In mainstream Christianity, God is considered an eternal being who created the world and the universe in which we reside.  Furthermore, he is a perfect being who cannot be controlled by any part of creation. However, in Mormon thought, we see God not as this platonic ideal but as a being subject to the natural laws of the universe who does not have power to overcome free will.  Does this make the Mormon God any less perfect or powerful than the traditional Christian?

The idea of a God with limited power is abhorrence to mainstream Christianity.  This thought that God works within law places supernatural miracles within the myth category, or at least in the realm of unexplainable technology.  But more importantly, in understanding God’s nature, according to Mormon theology means that not everything has to perfect if it is associated with God. 

That being said, God is perfect in our sphere.  Just as a toddler sees its parent as a loving perfect example of personhood, but yet sometimes prone to frustration and unable to change the effects of mistakes or accidents, Mormons see God as a perfect being (in our sphere) – yet one that God is ever progressing. 

This idea of a less than perfect God seems heretical to many Christians.  But, to the Mormon, God is not to be found in creed and orthodoxy, but rather, in the one to one personal spiritual experience that we call testimony.  And this testimony is the discovery that God is nearer to us as humans than we think.

God is not so distant and he fully knows our weakness and has more compassion than we possibly can realize. Furthermore, since we believe all humans have a divine nature than we are directly connected to God and may someday reside with him in a realm of glory.

 

Mormon Democrats

The Few, The Proud, The Persecuted

The LDS/Mormon Church often gets a bad rap as being too homogenized. But nothing could be further from the truth.  People often forget that there are Mormons who are a little bit country, and Mormons who are a little bit rock and roll. There's pro-mayonaise Mormons, and then there's their more-raucous pro-Miracle Whip neighbors. And, obviously, there are staunch conservative Mormons like Orrin Hatch and Mitt Romney, and then there are more liberal Mormons like Harry Reid and Mitt Romney.

Diversity, it seems, is not a thing to be shunned, but a blessing to be embraced. Just ask the church leader.  In fact, the Mormon Church regularly reminds their members that gospel principles compatible with the Church may be found in the platforms of the various political parties. And, LDS members are strongly encourage to participate and vote in local, state and national elections. 

Nevertheless, a large majority of Mormons tend to lean Republican, and an overwhelming portion of those seem to support Mitt Romney's candidacy. Mormon Democrats, however, do exist.  There have been some prominent Mormons who have shared that they were Democrats.  The most recent was President James E. Faust of the First Presidency of the Church.  Many Mormon Democrats believe that the Democratic Party takes the strongest position on many moral issues. For example, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally are principals espoused by the Church as well as the Democrats.  Furthermore, LDS scriptures' insistence that the world and all living things were created spiritually prior to their physical creation calls us to environmental stewardship, another moral issue defended more robustly by Democrats.

Mormon Democrats too often face criticism from fellow believers and are told that their political views are out of step with doctrinal teachings.  Yet, being an oppressed minority is nothing new for Mormons. It's how they ended up moving across the continent and setting up the locus of their culture in a desolate wasteland next to a giant lake filled with salt.

Mormon missionary work defines the church

"Mormonism is a missionary church and its public relations campaigns have consistently helped define its teachings, theology, and culture."

Whether you agree or disagree with their content, public relations campaigns from the LDS/Mormon church help shape public opinion and are essential to the Mormon missionary efforts.  The Church has fluctuated, in terms of growth, from its beginnings as a missionary church, to growth coming from within (from births) and back again to its missionary roots.  So, if you want to know where Mormonism going, look at Mormon missionary work. 

Mormonism is a missionary church and its public relations campaigns have consistently helped define its teachings, theology, and culture.  If you are looking to read about Mormon theology you will little in the way of theological treatises.  Instead, you would find missionary tracts.  This is due in large part to the history of Mormon missionary work.  Missionary experience produced much of early Mormon thought.

The massive emphasis on families comes from the way in which the church placed an appeal to family at the heart of its incredibly successful proselytizing work in the twentieth century.  Today we have the “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign.  It helps promote the image of Mormons as multicultural, hip, interesting.  Furthermore, it labors against the stereotype of Mormons as white Republicans locked into traditional family roles and uninteresting corporate jobs. 

Is the “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign simply a PR ploy?  Or does it try to tell the tale that Mormons come from all walks of life?  No matter what you believe, the ad campaign has become embedded within the missionary program of the Mormon Church.  As a result we may very well see a change in the types of people that join the Church.  Furthermore, over the course of their lives, Mormonism in its teachings and cultural practices may transform itself to look more and more like the cool Mormons in the “I’m a Mormon” ads.

Mormons - Accepting or Exclusionary?

My walk as a Mormon

Over the last six years I’ve investigated a number of different faiths and offshoots of Mormonism.  I was born into the LDS faith.  However, finding my place in the church hasn’t always been easy.  Part of that stems from my innate desire to increase my knowledge and not rely solely on spiritual experiences.  Part of it comes from the cognitive dissonance I experience when I act opposite of that which I believe. 

Let me preface the statements above by noting I’ve always been considered an active member of the Mormon faith.  I go to church, pay my tithing, read my scriptures and pray, I’ve been to the temple, and believe in the tenets of the church.  Yet, many times throughout my life I’ve felt disconnected and like I don’t fit in.  Part of that may be the perfectionist complex I have.  Part of it may be that while I believe the principals taught, I don’t always act accordingly – not in open rebellion, mind you, but out of impulse and at times trying to satisfy my selfish desires.  Does this make me a “Jack Mormon” (one who isn’t truly active LDS/Mormon)?  Or am I simply a human being doing my best? 

As I’ve studied a number of diverse fringe Mormon groups and other faiths/religions, I’ve come to the following conclusion – that I have a home in the Mormon Church.  Mormons are often viewed as sheep blindly following their leaders.  Some think that disagreement with common church thought is automatic grounds to be expelled from the church.  My experience has been different.  Instead, I find that most LDS Church leaders are not only tolerant, but accepting of my questioning nature.  They don’t try to change me, only try to encourage me to stay active in the Church the best way that I can.  They were even willing to assist me with dealing with my cognitive dissonance and accept me for the progress that I make – without expecting me to be perfect.

I am thankful for my home in the LDS/Mormon Church.  I am grateful that I can still be me.  I don’t agree with everything that comes from the mouth of its leaders or some of the history of the Church.  But, I find that there is more good in the Church and, as a whole, people that are tolerant and accepting of others, no matter where they are.

The Mormon Compromise

Theological Starting Points

Terryl Givens’ recently wrote about the American compromise with Mormonism, whereby Mormons agreed not to be so radical as to entirely alienate themselves from American society (i.e., ditch polygamy and our lovely Deseret) in exchange for the U.S. ceasing its explicit campaign to eradicate us. He describes the unwritten contours of that compromise as consisting in a willingness to accept and even promote the various cultural achievements of Mormonism (e.g., our choir, football, family focus), while agreeing to shelve any serious engagement with our theology.

One can hear the variation on a popular LDS General Conference theme when he writes: “In opting to emphasize Mormon culture over Mormon theology, Mormons have too often left the media and ministers free to select the most esoteric and idiosyncratic for ridicule. . . . But members of a faith community should recognize themselves in any fair depiction.” The upshot is that Mormons themselves need to help define their public image now that Presidential politics have disturbed our great compromise and open season’s been declared on our theology.

While the Mormon church has adopted 13 Articles of Faith that describe its theolgical believes, Givens has narrowed that down to five theological starting point for any serious engagement:

  1. God is a personal entity, having a heart that beats in sympathy with human hearts, feeling our joy and sorrowing over our pain.
  1. Men and women existed as spiritual beings in the presence of God before progressing to this mortal life.
  1. Adam and Eve were noble progenitors of the human family, and their fall made possible human life in this realm. Men and women are born pure and innocent, with no taint of original sin. (We find plenty on our own).
  1. God has the desire and the power to save, through his son Jesus Christ, the entire human family in a kingdom of heaven, and except for the most perversely unwilling, that will be our destiny.
  1. Heaven will principally consist in the eternal duration of those relationships that matter most to us now: spouses, children, and friends.

There is not one of these of these beliefs that are relevant to a political candidate’s fitness for office. However, they are a starting point for any serious attempt to get at the core of Mormon belief.  While there is much in Mormon history that represents compromise, using these five areas as a jumping off point should not be.

Mormon Sunday School for the Masses

What about those of us who want to dig deeper?

As members of the LDS Church, we are taught to “liken the scriptures” unto ourselves.  We are also taught that education and learning, or seeking truth in all things, is of great benefit.  We also believe that all truth can be assimilated into our belief system.  Yet, when I attend a Mormon Sunday School class, I often find the same teachings and discussions previously taught and taught in the same manner.  Where’s the correlation to other belief systems? Where’s the likening it to my situation? Where’s the  historical context  of the scriptures presented?

Over a four year period, LDS teen and adult Sunday School classes study the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Church History (with focus on the Doctrine and Covenants).  These are then rotated every four years.  Teacher manuals for these subjects don’t change often.  However, teachers do change regularly as all serve on a volunteer basis.  So, it stands to reason that different teachers, usually non-professionals, using the same materials will teach the same stuff in the same way.  Zzzzzzz. Often I find myself nodding off in class. 

I study a lot outside of class.  I enjoy it and like to look for correlations in other sacred texts, historical context, and even in science.  I don’t, however, share these findings during a Mormon Sunday School class.  I have in the past, and usually they are met with quizzical looks, doubts, or a simple glossing over.  I wasn’t trying to take over the class, but wanting to add my two-bits to the discussion.  But, many LDS classes are like public school – teaching to the middle.  Actually there are usually classes for those new in the church which teach basic gospel doctrine and then there’s the classes for the rest of us.  Unfortunately , there are no classes offered for those of us who want to delve a little deeper.

So, I will continue to dig deeper into Mormon doctrine and Christian theology on my own while smiling and participating on a surface level in the formal Sunday classes so I don’t upset the masses.

Are Mormon’s flip-floppers by nature?

Continuing Revelation and It's Effect on Members of the LDS Chuch

Are Mormon’s flip-floppers by nature? Latter-day Saints (Mormons) reject a closed canon. The scriptures are God's word, but they are not God's final word, they believe. It seems unreasonable to them that if God spoke to prophets before, that he would not do so now. The scriptural texts we have are not sufficient to teach us everything God ultimately intends humanity to know.  Our present understanding is incomplete and, in the long term, inadequate. Therefore, important truths will be revealed in the future that have never been known before. 

If, as Isaiah says, God's thoughts are as far removed from ours as the heavens from the earth (Isa. 55:8-9), then Mormons believe we should expect our understanding to change radically as we grow deeper into our divine nature.  While the basic teaching of the LDS Church have not significantly changed, there have been some drastic changes in some LDS practices (polygamy, etc.) due to continuing revelation.  Living on the this side of those changes, we may forget how profoundly many Saints had to alter their thinking about what they had understood until then to be revealed, unchangeable doctrines.

By the same token, Mormons cannot rule out the possibility that teachings they now regard as fundamental may someday be revised, even abandoned, as God leads the Saints to new understanding. Reliance on the scriptures or teachings of living prophets must be accompanied by the recognition that  understanding of truth is subject to change, even on questions for which God may appear to have given decisive answers.

So, are Mormons flip-floppers? I don’t think so.  As a child grows and their minds sharpen, their once held beliefs evolve.  So it is with a church and people that believe in continuing revelation. It is not an exercise in flip-flopping, but one of understanding that increases.

Ask a Mormon

Often times I read about how Mormons, as a whole, are characterized and am appalled at the misrepresentation of the people and the religion.  When I decide I want to learn about something, or find an expert opinion, I usually go to the expert.  I would think that a podiatrist would know something about feet.  Eddie Van Halen would know a thing or two about guitars and playing guitars.  Billy Beane would be able to give me the in’s and out’s about putting together a winning baseball team on a minimal budget.  But Mormons…well, if you want to know about Mormons, ask someone who isn’t a Mormon.  Maybe Howard Bloom or Jon Krakauer or Ron Howard or even those South Park guys.  Doesn’t that seem a bit odd?

OK…time to get it off my chest…I am a Mormon.  I’m a Mormon who doesn’t always fit the stereotypical mold of what a Mormon is.  I tend to vote Democrat, I don’t have a problem ingesting caffeine (though I don’t drink coffee or tea), I only have one wife and my ancestors did not practice polygamy.  At times I question our Church leaders, I have my own interpretation of the scriptures, and I’m not blind as to some of the historical lapses of the Church.  Yet, on all accounts, I’m a good member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I do pay tithing, I attend church on Sunday, I’m somewhat sociable, I have a responsibility at church, and I enjoy being a Mormon.  I think for myself and yet still believe in the tenets of the Mormon church and have reconciled those questions I may have.

How do I fit in to the stereotype?  I hope that as I begin sharing some of my thoughts here on Mormon Talk, maybe I can help clear up a few misconceptions about “all” Mormon, or at least about some of us.

The Mormon Church: A Bigger Future Ahead of Them?

Plus, Some Interesting Facts about Mormons from Howard Bloom

 

The Mormon faith has been in the news quite a lot; first, the Mormon religion was in the spotlight because of its fundamentalist polygamist offshoots, and more recently because of presidential candidate Mitt Romney bid for the Republican nomination. Of late, fundamentalist Christians have labeled the Mormon religion as a cult, while others have called for religious tolerance. An Op-Ed piece by Harold Bloom in The New York Times recently posed an interesting question in a recent article asking whether or not the election would serve as a breakthrough period of time for the Mormon Church. 

 

Bloom didn’t spend quite as much time answering his own question in the article as he might have. He did, however, mention that if Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination and had to run against President Barack Obama, the president would probably avoid the issue of religion much more than the Republican contenders have thus far.  

 

In Bloom’s piece, he also detailed a few of the criticisms and interesting facts that he and others from non-Mormon backgrounds have about the Mormon Church. 

 

  • Members of the Mormon Church believe that they, one day, will become Gods like their founder Joseph Smith, who was killed at the young age of 39.
  • The Mormon Church still has many secrets that the rest of us “Gentiles” are not privy to; Bloom’s contention is that the amount of secrecy may affect Romney’s decisions if he becomes president of the United States. 
  • Mormon Fathers can hope to ascend to godhead after their death where they apparently each get their own planet. 
  • Joseph Smith was actually a religious genius whose original story about being visited by Moroni was the genesis of one of the fastest growing religions on the planet. 

 

How do all of these facts add up in terms of the popularity and the political influence of the Mormon religion? I’m not exactly sure. I have a feeling that if Romney is elected to the presidency, he will be watched much more closely than anyone else and won’t be allowed to just push through legislation that is of importance to the Mormon Church. The problem may be that many fundamentalist Christians will be forced to choose between a black man and a Mormon in the next presidential general election in November of 2012. 

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