A reader writes:
As a Mormon who reads the Dish, I was not offended by the posting of the ceremony – I'd have an awfully thin skin if I did. I've been expecting it for months. Personally, I believe that the more people actually know about the Mormon faith, the less scary it will actually be. Of course, really getting to know it takes quite a bit of effort. What I question is genuineness of the timing of post (a week before the election) and the justification for it (evangelicals' hypocrisy)–why didn't you post it long before the final week of the election and call Mormonism scary in a straightforward way? It seems at once desperate and contrived.
Your post is also wrong in about Mormon doctrine in two respects: (1) that black people are inherently cursed by God in their DNA and (2) that dead people (especially Jews) can be baptized by proxy.
With respect to (1), you've confused the so-called cursing of some of the characters in the Book of Mormon with the church's pre-1978 position on allowing men of African descent to hold the priesthood. The origins of and the rationale for the priesthood ban are unclear to this day–Joseph Smith ordained black men himself in the 1840s.
The Book of Mormon story is even more nuanced–the cursing didn't represent a form of racism similar to that familiar to us, who must see racism through a lens that accounts for slavery. A careful reading of the Book of Mormon makes that quite clear. See, for example, 2 Ne. 26:33: "For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile." There have been numerous articles written on these issues by Mormon historians and theologists.
With respect to (2), the point of the doctrine of proxy baptism is to give everyone a chance to accept baptism and other ordinances in the hereafter. There is no and has never been a special emphasis on Jews. Individual members of the church broke the policy of not using Holocaust victims' names. There is no institutional policy of emphasizing the Jewish dead.
The first thing to say is that my reader exemplifies the kind of patience and calm argument that I have encountered often among Mormons. These are extremely touchy subjects, and yet he takes no offense and argues against two points of fact. That doesn't usually happen. Or think of how the LDS Church responded to the blasphemous but hilarious musical of the same name as their holy book. They chuckled. Think of how some Catholics responded to "The Last Temptation of Christ". Extreme Islamists murder the mildest blasphemer.
I've discussed Mormonism on this blog all year long for one reason and one reason alone: it's easily the biggest single influence on the mind and soul of the Republican candidate for president. Since his positions on so many topics seem multiple choice, this single strand of total consistency stands out. It's worth looking at and discussing. And many Mormon readers agree. George Romney – a truly remarkable man – seemed completely at ease with being public about it, seeing nothing to hide, while his son would rather stay almost completely silent about it.
But timing does matter. And it does seem to me, in retrospect, that the closer to the actual vote we get, the more discussion of this difficult subject can seem "desperate and contrived." I have a penchant for wanting to talk about things that many don't: race and IQ; homosexual marriage; the end of AIDS; the Palin pregnancy; the stupidity of hate crimes, to name a handful over the years. And I think a blog that is also completely open to dissent is a place where those kinds of things can and should be aired, as long as we keep to the facts. The post was in the spirit of Hitch, who would have written it all so much more elegantly and viciously. So I'm not going to post any more on this subject except dissents until after the election, if ever.
On the question of 1) I noted that Smith was a fervent abolitionist. I am more than happy to reprint the Book of Mormon's version of Saint Paul's teachings on all being one in Christ. And the curse of blackness was indeed referring to the skin colors of various indigenous American peoples in the first millennium. At the same time, come on:
And [God] had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. And thus saith the Lord God; I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities."
Not darkness; blackness. And a blackness of skin. If you believe this is simply a word to connote a visual sign of cursing for various tribes in early America for their disobedience to God, then it must simply be "unclear" why some Mormons interpreted the "blackness" to mean African-Americans. But in the context of mid-nineteenth century America? If you harbor skepticism about those golden plates? And there is, sadly, nothing subtle about Brigham Young's brutal racism or the endurance on barring African-Americans from full membership as late as 1978.
Here, for example, is one of the most influential and powerful Mormon theologians in the twentieth century, Bruce McConkie: who was one of the twelve Mormon Apostles until his death in 1985:
In the pre-existent eternity various degrees of valiance and devotion to the truth were exhibited by different groups of our Father's spirit offspring. One-third of the spirit hosts of heaven came out in open rebellion and were cast out without bodies, becoming the devil and his angels. The other two-thirds stood affirmatively for Christ: there were no neutrals. To stand neutral in the midst of war is a philosophical impossibility.
Of the two-thirds who followed Christ, however, some were more valiant than others. Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes.
Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. The present status of the negro rests purely and simply on the foundation of pre-existence. Along with all races and peoples he is receiving here what he merits as a result of the long pre-mortal probation in the presence of the Lord. The principle is the same as will apply when all men are judged according to their mortal works and are awarded varying statuses in the life hereafter.
That doctrine, by the way, was, as we know, subsequently revoked and it was the very same Apostle who instructed that it mattered not a particle what had occurred before June 1, 1978.
As for 2) an emphasis on baptizing Jews who had died in the Holocaust posthumously, let me just direct you to the Wiki page and its resources on what is a fraught topic. The persistence of the attempt to rebaptize the victims of the Holocaust as Mormon is as strange as it is true. And there is no question, however, of Mormonism's long history of philo-Semitism. After all:
Mormons consider themselves to be the descendants of the Biblical Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (also known as "Israel") or adoptees into the House of Israel, and contemporary Mormons use the terms "House of Israel" and "House of Joseph" to refer to themselves.
The Book of Mormon also specifically abhors anti-Semitism, while Christianity, in many ways, began it:
"Yea, and ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews, nor of any remnant of the house of Israel; for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them, and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn."
And many Mormon leaders have been vigilant against anti-Semitism. But not all. The racist Apostle McConkie wrote in The Millennial Messiah as late as 1982:
Let this fact be engraved in the eternal records with a pen of steel: the Jews were cursed, and smitten, and cursed anew, because they rejected the gospel, cast out their Messiah, and crucified their King… Let the spiritually illiterate suppose what they may, it was the Jewish denial and rejection of the Holy One of Israel, whom their fathers worshiped in the beauty of holiness, that has made them a hiss and a byword in all nations and that has taken millions of their fair sons and daughters to untimely graves.
And he specifically cited Mormon Scripture to justify this vile anti-Semitism:
"What sayeth the holy word? “They shall be scourged by all people, because they crucify the God of Israel, and turn the hearts aside, rejecting signs and wonders, and the power and glory of the God of Israel. And because they turn their hearts aside, … and have despised the Holy One of Israel, they shall wander in the flesh, and perish, and become a hiss and by-word and be hated among all nations.: (1 Ne. 19:13-14; 2 Ne. 6:9-11.) Such is the prophetic word of Nephi."
He was one the Twelve Apostles at the time: the highest ranking Mormon Quorum. According to Wiki, he "wrote the chapter headings of the LDS Church's most recent editions of the Standard Works." But not a particle of this matters any more.