Below are all the posts regarding Andrew’s examination of the Mormon church’s troubled history with race and how it relates to Mitt Romney’s shape-shifting character.
Imagine for a moment that Barack Obama had never attended Jeremiah Wright’s church in Chicago and had decided to attend services, and proselytize for, a black separatist, nationalist church that refused to allow whites to participate in crucial religious services because white people had been condemned by God for their iniquity in the ancient past and had been for ever marked white so black Americans would know instantly to keep their distance. In fact, the definition of white in this black supremacist church was just one drop of white blood in a black person. It was Nazi-like in its racist precision and exclusion. Whites were denied the rites that made a person a full member of the church. Even blacks with a tiny strain of white DNA were kept from full participation.
Imagine further that backing this racist church was not a youthful folly on Obama’s part, but a profound commitment – that he went on a mission abroad to convert Christians to a new religion based on black racial supremacy, and has often said that the most important thing in his entire life to this day is a church whose sacred scripture declares white people to be cursed by God for their past sins – and the sign of this curse is their white skin.
A simple question: Do you think this issue would not come up in a general election or a primary? If Obama was subjected to news cycle after news cycle of clips of Obama’s actual former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, can you imagine the outrage if Obama had actually been a part of a black supremacist church – that denied whites equal access to the sacraments – for over a decade in his adult life?
I raise this because it is a fact that Mitt Romney belonged to a white supremacist church for 31 years of his life, went on a mission to convert Christians and Jews and others to this church, which retained white supremacy as a doctrine until 1978– decades after Brown vs Board of Education, and a decade after the end of the anti-miscegenation laws.
Once upon a time, when journalists were actually asking politicians tough questions, rather than begging for a get for ratings, this question was actually asked of Mitt Romney by Tim Russert. It’s a fascinating exchange for many reasons:
Romney’s response to the white supremacism of his church was to point to his mother’s and father’s secular support for civil rights for African-Americans, which ties in with Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s abolitionist convictions. And there is no question that Mitt Romney’s parents were heroic civil rights Republicans in the secular sphere – in a party that had not yet become the South’s racial plaything. And I do not doubt Mitt’s story about weeping upon hearing that the “ongoing revelation” had now changed. But all this evades the key question: what did the Romneys do to confront their own church’s non-secular position on the inherent spiritual inferiority of blacks? Nothing, so far as I can find. If any reader can find some, please send it to me and I’ll post it. And Joseph Smith’s admirable early abolitionism was soon trumped by Brigham Young who took the Book of Mormon seriously:
2nd Nephi 5:21 “And he 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, and 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.”
Here’s Brigham Young’s interpretation of the passage:
“Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a sin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”
Here he is again in 1859:
Cain slew his brother . . . and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. . . . How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam’s children are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed.
And again in 1863:
Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.
So, in a complete inversion of Jesus’s teaching that those least valued on earth will be celebrated in heaven, we have vile racial supremacism on earth and heaven. This is not a deviation from Christianity but its total inversion. The inherent spiritual-racial iniquity of blacks places them at the very bottom of the pile on earth, and they will achieve salvation only in the hereafter – and then only afterevery other race has had their turn. Now listen to Romney’s response to Russert again:
My faith has always taught me that in the eyes of God every individual merited the fullest degree of happiness in the hereafter and I had no question in my mind that African-Americans and blacks generally would have every right and every benefit in the hereafter that anyone else had.
My italics. There’s nothing in Romney’s answer that violates the old Mormon doctrine – still there in the Book of Mormon – that for some reason, people with black skin suffer some kind of inherited curse that will only be lifted after everyone else has been saved in the hereafter. As for the total Etch-A-Sketch of the Mormon leadership on the question, watch the 2002 video below of the Mormon president explaining why the change happened:
His explanation for the sudden change? “I don’t know.” He has no answer, except, it seems, that the racism was inhibiting expanding market share for the religion in the developing world (and a white supremacist church might begin to worry about its tax exempt status in the late 1970s). Notice too the easy, casual shucking off of past positions and awkward inconsistencies. Remind you of anyone?
Notice also the lack of any apparent remorse, or criticism of the church’s previous position. This is a church that can take a position rooted in its own Scripture and just one day say it’s over and let’s move on. Even white supremacism! And people still don’t see how Mormonism – its utilitarian use of truth, its studied mainstream all-American appeal, its refusal to be completely transparent to outsiders, and its insistence on never having to account for itself – isn’t integral to Mitt Romney’s personality and beliefs. Romney will no more let outsiders look at his finances than the LDS church will allow non-Mormons inside their Temples after they have been consecrated.
Look: every religion has these stains in its past. My own church committed the Inquisition and, in my view, began the demonization of the Jewish people that killed and terrified and marginalized so many for centuries, leading to the Holocaust. Its continued systematic discrimination against women is a scandal. Its criminal rape of children makes it the most flawed current Christian institution on earth. And if you asked a Catholic candidate whether it was wrong for the Church to have treated Jews as cursed and sub-human for so long, I cannot imagine any Catholic politician not saying yes. Unequivocally. Is there a mite of evidence that Mitt Romney ever challenged the white supremacism in his religion and its active racism while it was in existence and he was still a missionary and member for 31 years of his life?
Listen again to the last question and answer in the Russert interview:
Russert: But it was wrong for your faith to exclude [African-Americans] for as long as it did?
Romney: I’ve told you exactly where I stand. My view is that there is no discrimination in the eyes of God and I could not have been more pleased when the decision occurred.
Why could he not just have said “yes”?
Dissents Of The Day
A reader writes:
I’ve told my friends before that we’ll know when Romney is truly leading in this race when Obama supporters start to smear Romney’s faith, when Dems start attempting to make his Mormonism an issue. Right on cuehere you are on the Dish, just absolutely puzzled as to just how HOW!? could the press, how could America fail to hold Romney accountable for the Mormon church stance on race before 1978! Here will come the history lessons on all the evils and strangeness of the Mormon faith, just watch.
Well, we are a little touchy, aren’t we? Why can we not look at the only set of beliefs that Romney has consistently adhered to his entire life? And I included a question from Tim Russert, asking the kind of question today’s press won’t – for fear of the charge of religious bigotry. Where were you when the GOP spent months in 2008 trying to make Obama’s church disqualifying for the presidency? But the racial rhetoric of Jeremiah Wright is nothing compared with a church that declared black people cursed by God until 1978. Another:
The LDS church was a “white supremacist” church? Really? It’s “racist precision and exclusion” were “Nazi-like?” Seriously? For someone who is perennially pissed that Republicans can’t admit past wrongs or even present defeats, you tend to beat the shit out of an American religion that has been essentially admitting “We were wrong” about some pretty crucial things. The prohibition of the priesthood for worthy men of African descent was one of those instances where you had leading members of Church saying to the Mormon public: “I was wrong, and so were you. Let’s move forward.”
To cherry pick some moldy old quotes from Brother Brigham’s journal is completely, shamefully ridiculous. Do you think the Mormons of Mitt Romney’s youth spent Sunday afternoons memorizing those vile passages instead of the Scriptures? You haven’t fully grasped just how the continuing revelation thing works for Mormons: what is said today by Church leadership takes precedent over what went before. And to claim that this is done “casually” is to betray your ignorance on the question.
No one said “we were wrong and we are sorry.” No leading official of the Mormon church has apologized for a century of white supremacism as theology. I gave you the video of the former president of the LDS refusing to apologize or even explain. And yes, I do understand how Mormon theology works, as my reader writes:
What is said today by Church leadership takes precedent over what went before.
That’s reminiscent of Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie in 1978:
“It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978.”
As a character in “The Book Of Mormon” puts it, ““I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people.” Now run along and remember that tomorrow is always a latter day! We don’t need to explain; we never apologize; you just obey, whenever we change. This is the culture in which Romney was not just raised but marinated in. So he can say anything, as long as it increases his own power and wealth. It explains in my view how he can flip-flop without any qualms. What was doctrine yesterday is just wrong today. And please don’t ask me to explain. Another:
Mormon reader here, and one who has no qualms saying that Brigham Young was wrong, wrong, WRONG on racial matters. The priesthood ban will always be a stain on our history. But I’m writing because I think your use of the term “white supremacist” is both factually incorrect and unnecessary.
The priesthood ban that existed until 1978 was not against non-whites, but rather against blacks of African ancestry. The Mormon priesthood had been extended to Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Native American, Polynesian and Melanesian Mormons without restriction. Not that this makes the ban any less abhorrent, but it was certainly not about “whiteness.” I know you were going for shock value, but “racist” is just a damnable as “white supremacist,” and is far more accurate in this case.
Oh, so because Africans and African-Americans alone were singled out for the special curse, it wasn’t so bad. Another:
I was born the month after the Priesthood Ban ended. Do I like your post? No. Do I want to defend my Church? Yes. But let the axe fall where it may. I have no stomach to defend a racist policy. Mercifully it is over, but the shame of it is not. I feel embarrasment for it and I hurt inside knowing our congregations will always have fewer black members than they otherwise would were it not for our history. Hopefully the Mormons of tomorrow will be better for it and maybe someday we will earn forgiveness from those hurt by it.
Forgiveness begins with a genuine apology. We’ve never gotten one. When asked why the ban was suddenly lifted in 1978, president Hinckley said, “I don’t know.” I want a Tim Russert to demand why Romney participated in a white supremacist church for 31 years, and what he did to resist such racism and how he reconciled his conscience with it. I want the same attention paid to Romney’s faith in 2012 as was paid to Obama’s faith in 2008.
This is especially true because the only consistent intellectual thread in Romney’s life is Mormonism. It’s the only thing we know for sure he believes in. Because on almost every other topic of public policy, he has been on both sides of the issue.
(Video: Part of an extended preview of “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons”)
Romney And Mormonism’s Long History Of White Supremacy
One question I have asked is: what did Mitt Romney, who claims he wept when he heard the news about the end of white supremacy in the LDS Church in 1978, do to challenge the racist policy before he was 31? In a WaPo piece by Jason Horowitz a while back, there’s a clue in an anecdote about his time at Brigham Young University. Money quote:
In 1970, students elected a liberal named Brian Walton as their president despite the administration’s attempts to nullify the results. “It was an unbelievably conservative place,” said Walton, who later left the church and became a chief negotiator for the Screen Writers Guild in Los Angeles. “You wouldn’t believe the things some people were saying — complaining about the civil rights laws, that it would take away their rights.”
Jon Ferguson, Walton’s vice president, also ultimately left the church. He later wrote several novels, including “The Missionary,” about a young Mormon in France who loses his faith. “When we did all this stuff on Vietnam, it was like the first turmoil BYU had had,” Ferguson said. “BYU has never had so much excitement.” Walton and Ferguson also sought to allay anger over the church doctrine barring black priests by meeting with black student unions around the country.
Romney navigated a vastly different world. “You didn’t think too much of people who were going out to try and demonstrate to persuade the brethren,” said his friend McBride, who noted that only a revelation from the church president could change the doctrine. “It’s not something [Mitt] would have done. From a church and priesthood leadership perspective, it would be unseemly as well as useless.”
When Romney’s old school, Stanford, announced at the end of 1969 that it would boycott athletic competitions with BYU, Romney was incensed.”I remember sitting in a football stadium with Mitt, he and Ann were sitting next to me, and I do remember Mitt being really angry with Stanford,” said Cameron, Ann’s onetime suitor. “He felt like it was, A, naive, and, B, sort of a bigoted, narrow-minded perspective.”
Romney was not incensed by the racism as some of his peers were. He regarded their protests as “unseemly.” He was incensed that BYU’s racism led to a boycott of BYU’s football team! And he saw that boycott – not the policy – as bigoted.
Religion, Race And Double Standards, Ctd
Not all of the reaction from readers is dissenting:
The Mormon church is all one giant Etch-a-Sketch. All of it. Polygamy, African Americans in the church. “Oops, that policy isn’t working with the power that be, well, oh thank Moroni there is a new revelation! Oh that policy is incredibly backwards and bigoted. Oh by the power of Nephi, there is a new revelation!” It is just crazy.
On that note:
I just read your piece about Mitt’s religion and the white supremacy of the Mormon Church. As far as I am concerned, it is alive and well. A couple years ago I got on a mostly-empty train headed into Boston from the suburb of Newton. The only other passengers on the car were a pair of LDS missionaries and, as an atheist who does his best to keep up on other religions, I decided to strike up a conversation.
I figured they would happy to talk to someone who wasn’t slamming a door in their face. The conversation turned to the Book of Mormon, which they were using as proof of the existence of God. I asked them if they believed it was the word of God. Yes. If it was all and completely true. Yes.
Then I asked if they believed that people with dark skin were inherently evil. No. I’d just asked him if he believed everything in the book, and he’d said yes, but when asked about a specific racist passage he said he didn’t think it was right. (Sound familiar?) I kept pressing, and he said that, according to more recent interpretations, these passages didn’t speak to the cursed nature of the dark skinned, but were there to discourage interracial marriage.
Let me repeat: The defense of the racist portions of the Book of Mormon were that “oh, it’s not racism, it’s just to remind us not to intermarry.” Thelatest versions of LDS doctrine simply recommend against it; here’s a quote from Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3, Lesson 31:
“We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question” (“Marriage and Divorce,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1977], p. 144).
Seriously. I told him that in a country with a long history of anti-miscegenation laws, this was not a particularly convincing argument and bid them good evening. Imagine if Obama was currently a member of a church who had published doctrine aimed at teenagers that recommended black men should only marry black women. Do you think Fox News would pass that over?
Of course not. And the double standard is itself inherently racist.
A reader writes:
A major problem with the LDS treatment of its black church members, a problem that persists even after the “revelation” of 1978, is that all the references to Mormon scripture you cited are still on the books. The formal position of the LDS church has changed, but the theology underlying it has not. The 1978 revelation, in other words, simply was dropped on top of a deeper theological structure that still is deeply racist.
Black Mormons still have to read those passages you referenced in your initial post on race, religion, and double standards. They have to read that they are cursed. They have to imbibe that their black skin is not a product of geography and evolution, but a curse from God.
I’m convinced this is why the video of Gordon Hinckley you featured shows him being so obtuse and lacking in explanations. If you scratch the theological surface of Mormonism, all the old racism still is there. However much we might be relieved that the LDS church changed its formal position on blacks and the priesthood in 1978, it was not a change, in my view, that possessed much theological coherence or integrity. It merely was a fiat, a decree, but it still requires black Mormons to read about their origins in a way that must be deeply hurtful.
I would go one step further than Tim Russert did, or even a step further than you are asking our journalists to go. I want a journalist to ask Romney, “Where do black people come from? Why are they black?” Or even better: “Is your opponent in this election a product of the curse of Cain? Did Obama fail in his pre-mortal existence, and thus end up with black skin?”
An excellent question, since Mormons of course deny evolution and the curse of Cain is designed to explain why all human beings aren’t “white and delightsome”. Another writes:
There is a difference between saying you will no longer discriminate against a particular group and saying you believe that are equal. Note the condescension and superiority built into this Hinckley quote:
We’re working among these people, we’re developing them . . . we respect them and are trying to help them.
Obviously, they’re inferior, or they wouldn’t need this help.
The Mormon church has repudiated its racist teaching. Romney himself says he opposes the racist teaching, and was glad to have it rescinded. What more can Sullivan expect of him? Is a man supposed to reject entirely the religion in which he was raised because of one ugly teaching? Most of us struggle, one way or another, to believe certain things our faith proclaims. If Sullivan still remains a Catholic, even though the Catholic Church teaches doctrines he finds hateful and bigoted, then why won’t he give Romney the same grace and understanding he expects for himself? At least the Mormon church no longer teaches racially bigoted theology; from Sully’s perspective (not my own), the Catholic Church still proclaims anti-gay theology that is as bigoted as anything the LDS Church taught back in the day.
No, it doesn’t. The Catholic church does not condemn a whole class of human beings, regardless of their acts, as deemed inferior by God for all time because of their biological nature, having to wait even in the hereafter behind all other groups to become gods themselves. It condemns non-procreative sex for all, and by that teaching uniquely singles out gays for lives of loneliness, celibacy and repression, while permitting the infertile and the elderly to be full members of the church even as they too have non-procreative sex. And, contra Rod, Romney has not – repeat not – opposed the teaching about the inferiority of Africans in the Book of Mormon itself. He retroactively supported rescinding the tradition of excluding blacks from the Mormon priesthood. Neither the Mormon church nor Romney has altered the teaching on the inferiority of blacks in the Book of Mormon itself. He would have been taught this on his mission. Christianity – in stark contrast with Mormonism – sees no differences between races or groups as a core teaching:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And the difference between me and Romney is that I am openly dissenting within my own communion, have done so for a long time, have analyzed Catholic theology at great length on this, and talked at Catholic insitutions, like Georgetown and Notre Dame, using natural law theory to expose what I sincerely believe is a double standard in the church. My views on the appalling treatment of women in the church are the same. I have put my conscience before authority. Romney put authority before his own conscience. And my church has apologized. The LDS church has not. Moreover, one of its greatest institutions, Brigham Young University, is still named in honor of the man who said:
“You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind …. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race—that they should be the ‘servant of servants’; and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree.
If football teams change their names to obliterate even a hint of racism, why is a major university in America still named after a vicious racist and, as you can see, someone who dreamed of a divine genocide and defended slavery as a function of a divine curse?
The Church Of Etch-A-Sketch
Here’s the Mormon apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, responding to questions as to why the ban on full African-American membership in the church was suddenly lifted in 1978:
There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet.
Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world…. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more…. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year.
Re-phrase that in a political context: It doesn’t make a particle of difference what Romney ever said about any of his positions before October 3, 2012. Now get in line. The October 3 debate “erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.”
Dissents Of The Day
A reader writes:
Has the LDS church behaved shamefully in its past? Yes. Does the LDS church continue to behave shamefully (albeit to a lesser degree) by not entirely repudiating its past actions as wrong now, then, and forever? Sure. But you might want to consider the fact that this sort of difficulty facing up to past wrongs is the norm for religious organizations, and large institutions in general. Apologies of the kind you are asking for are rare and unusual, and they take a long time to come in most cases. Look at your church and its struggle to deal with child rape, or the piecemeal attempts of the United States to apologize and deal with its own racial sins against blacks and Japanese Americans. All of which is to say, I think you are overplaying your hand.
Your reader’s dissent on your attack on Mormonism was a criticism that you’ve only starting attacking Romney’s Mormon faith now that he’s ahead in the polls. Instead of pointing out that you’ve been posting questions about Mormonism for several months, you called out your reader for being “touchy.” Not exactly a shining defense, or an accurate read of the dissent.
Indeed, the Dish has long scrutinized LDS history and teachings. Here is a big post from July, here is one from June, here from May, here all the way in March, to name just a handful. The reader continues:
To the matter at hand: if attacking Obama because of Rev. Wright was wrong, then how is attacking Romney because of something that a former head of the LDS said any better? I’ve read the transcripts of Wright’s remarks in his church – they are no less vile than things that the LDS has said. So indict them both for the things that their church has said, or indict neither of them.
I do not believe that Jeremiah Wright’s “black value system” is the equivalent of the white supremacy advocated in the Book of Mormon as ordained by the Mormon God (a very different creature than the Christian God). And I absolutely believed that Obama had a duty to respond to the criticisms as he did, and then to disown the preacher, as he then did. Romney – as a devout Mormon – would never, ever criticize his church’s leadership or past positions. And notice that he never has. He doesn’t apologize. Because for him, like the Mormon hierarchy, an apology would break the spell of total authority. Another reader:
I think you are drawing a false equivalence. Romney’s only real choice in the matter would have been to leave the Mormon faith entirely, or go against the church leadership and risk being booted or ostracized. Not really fair to ask someone to do that. Obama, by contrast, just had to walk down the street to another Christian church where the pastor wasn’t as inflammatory as the Rev. Wright (like Oprah did). It’s not at all analogous to Romney’s situation. You are really stretching here.
Many readers are echoing this one:
A reader wrote in to correct your inflammatory rhetoric calling Mormons “white supremacists” instead of what they were, “racists” – and you respond with “Oh, so because Africans and African-Americans alone were singled out for the special curse, it wasn’t so bad. ” That is not what your reader was saying. He or she was correcting your terms, not the gravity of the crime you observed. You could have very graciously listened to them, shifted to a more accurate label and continued to analyze the ramifications of a presidential candidate growing up in this environment. But by (perhaps deliberately) missing the point and lashing out, you’re instead chipping away at your reputation for considered analysis of the news. Please Andrew, don’t write angry. Your rhetoric is eroding your credibility.
I’m a blogger. I write in real time all day. I write when I’m pissy and when I’m joyful. I’ll try to do better. But this is real. I’m not faking it, I’m just writing it. When I’m wrong, I concede. But I don’t think the jousting with readers was out of line. A little spirited perhaps. But not out of line.
When Christianism Bites Back
“Not to shun Mormons, but they teach that Jesus was a man exactly like you or me and that men can become gods. We have traditionally been a Christian nation, and God has blessed us because of that. And now we’re going to hand the reins over to a Mormon?” – Ed Seyler, an undecided evangelical voter in Iowa. As the article notes, he is not alone:
Plenty of congregants at Grandview Park Baptist Church face the same predicament: Is it better to vote for a Mormon or to not vote at all? “It’s a conundrum,” says Smith, the senior pastor, who is personally keen on Romney. “It’s tough for a lot of people.”
Mainstream Christianity rejects the Mormon theology that God the Father is actually still a physical human being, that Jesus visited the Americas two millennia ago, that men can become gods, that black people are inherently cursed by God in their DNA, that dead people (especially Jews) can be baptized by proxy, and, most critically, that God is not three-in-one, but three separate entities. From Wiki:
In the Mormonism represented by most of Mormon communities (including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), “God” means Elohim (the Father), whereas “Godhead” means a council of three distinct gods; Elohim, Jehovah (the Son, or Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The Father and Son have perfected, material bodies, while the Holy Spirit is a spirit and does not have a body. This conception differs from the traditional Christian Trinity; in Mormonism, the three persons are considered to be physically separate beings, or personages, but united in will and purpose. As such, the term “Godhead” differs from how it is used in traditional Christianity.
Being nontrinitarian, the teachings of the LDS Church differ from other Christian churches’ theologies as established, for example, in the First Council of Constantinople. Mormon cosmology teaches the existence of other “gods” such as is exhibited in the concept of the Godhead being three, separate, distinct beings.
Many may object to my posting video footage of the kind of ceremony that Romney will be extremely familiar with, but which even many Mormons do not get to see. My view is that if you are running for president, transparency is essential. We have seen countless videos of Obama’s church services; and we have not been barred from seeing any religious services that previous presidential nominees have attended. The video has already been viewed over a million times. But rhe mainstream media in America – but nowhere else –
I don’t believe there should be double standards on this, as fervently as I believe that a candidate’s religion should be irrelevant in the decision to elect him or her to a secular office. But then, I’m a secularist Christian, and Romney and his party strongly disagree, seeing religion and politics as inseparable. And indeed, in one debate, Romney recently stated, his belief that
“We’re all children of the same God.”
The trouble is, theologically speaking, and with all due respect for the sincerity of Romney’s faith, we are not all children of Romney’s version of God. The Christian Trinity is not the Mormon Godhead. Many evangelicals understand this. But despite their fervent belief that religion should be indistinguishable from politics, most will ignore it. And that is why they will vote for Romney not as Christians as such, but as Christianists, willing to overlook the bizarre theology of Mormonism in order to promote the policies most fundamentalists of all types favor: re-criminalizing abortion, stripping gay people of the rights heterosexuals have, and a new war to protect Israel. Perhaps the most striking evidence of this happened earlier this month:
The Rev. Billy Graham’s Web site has removed an article labeling Mormonism a cult, a move that follows Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s visit to the evangelical leader. An online journal The New Civil Rights Movement and the Asheville Citizen-Times reported the disappearance of the article. The article had said that “Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, the Unification Church, Unitarians, Spiritists, Scientologists, and others” were cults. Mr. Graham, 93 years old, met with Mr. Romney last week, on Oct. 11 at his home in Montreat, N.C.
(You can see screenshots of the pages now removed – illustrating the suppression of religious difference in favor of fundamentalist political unity – here.)
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.
Dissents Of The Day I
A reader writes:
I have been reading you for years because of your wit, your balance, and your interjections of sanity into politics and human events. Thank you for that. Here comes the big but: What is with the reliance on racism as the motivating factor behind wanting a change in the White House? I’m sure there are some individuals motivated by race, but it sure seems that in the last week you are leaning on that argument much too heavily. There are plenty of us who supported Obama’s vision in 2008 who simply have been disappointed with the results. I wish the man no ill will and certainly do not hold his race against him. Using racism as an excuse for the erosion in his support among white men is cheap, dismissive and intellectually dishonest. Suddenly all of us white guys who voted for him in 2008 have discovered our latent racism and decided to let it out now?
Your implied point is that white Southerners who vote Republican are racist. That is not only insulting and derogatory, but it incites the type of “Cold Civil War” you have accused white Southerners of launching.
I was merely citing a just-released AP study that estimated that racism would cost Obama five points among whites and win him three points from non-whites. I also noted the report’s findings that Republicans are far more blatantly racist in attitudes than Democrats. In a knife-edge race, of course that is relevant. As to the geography and increased racial polarization in this election, does my reader think it’s pure accident that the first states to go from Obama to Romney were all in the South? And that the map we now have even more closely resembles the Civil War map than 2008?
I’m sure many of those whites are voting because the last four years have seen an agonizingly slow recovery from the massive debt build-up and financial crash of the Bush-Cheney years. I said that to George Will. But the Southern strategy is not my invention. And the map shows it has now reached the apogee of Nixon’s dream. The GOP now represents most of the Confederacy states, and has lost the West as a result (Nixon’s and Reagan’s home-base), and much of the Northeast. Lincoln would look at today’s GOP and see Democratic Dixie.
Dissents Of The Day II
A reader asks:
What have you done to challenge the misogynistic policy of the Catholic Church, which denies the sacrament of Holy Orders to women? Both vice presidential candidates are Catholic, as are you and me. Let’s be careful about throwing the first stone. I think the attacks on Romney based on his actions more than 30 years ago will do little to persuade people. You would be better served documenting his lies, half-truths, and frequent position changes.
We have indeed covered all those topics at length, as is our duty as journalists. And I think it’s also my duty to cover the most formative influence on the life of a man who could be the next president.
As for the first point, I have long favored women in the priesthood – and married men and women in the priesthood for my entire adult life. In the post my reader objects to, for example, I wrote:
The Catholic Church’s continued systematic discrimination against women is a scandal.
In contrast, at no point until 1978 did Romney address the issue of Mormonism’s ban on full black membership. His obedience to church authority was total. He went to Salt Lake City to “inform” the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that he had to run as a pro-choice candidate in Massachusetts. We don’t know what happened at that meeting; Romney says he was merely informing his church of his position; one source says he was seeking permission to run as a social liberal.
And, one should recall, he wasn’t merely a member of the LDS Church, the way Obama was a member of Jeremiah Wright’s multi-racial congregation.
He was roughly the lay equivalent of a Catholic Archbishop of an arch-diocese for a period of time. He was an integral part of the hierarchy and his family was Mormon royalty. In fact, there is evidence he believed the boycotts of his whites-only university, Brigham Young, were driven by anti-Mormon bigotry!
And the Mormon priesthood is very, very different from the Catholic priesthood –every Mormon boy becomes a priest at around the age of 12 as a matter of course. If Catholics excluded women from, say, receiving communion, it would be analogous to preventing African-Americans from becoming priests in the Mormon tradition. The racism was that bad for that long.
A simple question: if Romney had belonged to an all-white golf club until he was 31, do you think it would not have come up in the campaign? And yet not a single reporter this year has asked Russert’s obvious and probing question back when journalists were not terrified of the right-wing noise machine.
Quote For The Day
“I remember being in a Sacrament meeting, pre-1978, and the sacrament was being passed and there was special care taken by this person that not only did I not officiate, but I didn’t touch the sacrament tray. They made sure that I could take the sacrament, but that I did not touch the tray and it was passed around me. That was awfully hard, considering that often those who were officiating were young men in their early teens, and they had that priesthood. I valued that priesthood, but it wasn’t available,” – Darius Gray, President of The Genesis Group, an LDS organization for black Mormons. He remains active in the LDS Church and sees no more racism in it than in any other part of society.
Do. Not. Ask. Romney. About. Mormonism
It’s the only consistent thing in his entire life, apart from his hair. But he won’t talk about it and gets angry when pushed to explain what he believes, what secret rites he has performed in, what he believes about the Second Coming in Missouri, etc, etc. When your running mate is touting his pocket rosary, and when your party believes there is no distinction between religion and politics, then why is Romney so livid and touchy? Watch what everyone else is watching:
For further information about Romney’s faith and another video that shows an actual Mormon Temple ceremony he would have participated in, check this out. On Mormonism’s long history of white supremacy, check out our thread here.