Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Quirk of Arkansas History

It was bound to come up sooner or later during the election cycle, the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  The Washington Post brought it up in an article titled Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith tangles with a quirk of Arkansas history.  Two questions need to be addressed:  What is the Mountain Meadows Massacre?  What does it have to do with the 2012 election?

What is the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

Over the years I have received a number of e-mails with questions about the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  It is not a comfortable chapter of history for Latter-day Saints.  But it is part of history and there is no denying or hiding it.

There simply is not enough space in this blog to fully discuss this chapter of history, but here are the essential facts.  In 1857, an immigrant train heading west to California passed through the Utah Territory.  It consisted primarily of immigrants from Arkansas, but also from Missouri.  After leaving Salt Lake City, the party turned south through the Utah Territory settlements.  Rumors of misdeeds proceeded them and excited settlers in the Parowan and Cedar City areas.  Emotions were already running high in the territory due to the recent murder of apostle Parley P. Pratt in Arkansas and the approach of Johnston's army commissioned by President Buchanan.  At the direction of two church leaders in those communities, a militia was formed and ultimately all the immigrants were massacred, except the young children.  It was a horrible tragedy and no excuses can be made for what happened, but placing it in its historical context provides some understanding.  I recommend two books for those that would like to learn more.  The classic work on the topic is by Juanita Brooks, The Mountain Meadows Massacre.  With the availability of additional research, Ronald Walker, Richard Turley, and Glen Leonard recently published Massacre at Mountain Meadows.

What does the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre have to do with the 2012 election?

The quick answer to this questions is: nothing.  Some, such as John Krakauer in his book Under the Banner of Heaven, have attempted to use this as evidence of a power that influences the minds of Latter-day Saints.  If that were true, then one could infer that Romney has been influenced or brainwashed and could be unpredictable.  That is a tough case to make.  The Mountain Meadows massacre was an isolated incident involving a few members of the Church.  The Latter-day Saints have been a peaceful people and have endured horrible persecution.  Most of the Missouri mobbings were taken without fighting back.  The Latter-day Saints abandoned Nauvoo, Illinois, rather than engage in conflict.  Thus, if anything, the faith of Mitt Romney has influenced him to seek peaceful solutions rather than engage in conflict. 

In my opinion, the Washington Post article is a subtle attempt to influence the minds of the voters to somehow connect a tragedy of the past to the candidacy of Governor Romney.  Without question, we are, to some degree, a product of our ancestral past.  However, the Washington Post has taken a single negative incident that had nothing to do with Romney or his ancestors.  If the Post was being objective, it would more fully consider the overall impact of Mormon history and theology on the candidate.  Additionally, if the Post was being object, it would also look at the historical background of candidate Obama.  What do we know about the ancestral history of his parents?  Were his father's ancestors involved in tribal wars or strange tribal practices?  I am not suggesting that Obama's father's background has much to do with the man Barack Obama, but the Washington Post and other media outlets have failed to look at the forces that have shaped the man.  Yet, they dig into the obscure past of candidate Romney's faith in a subtle attempt to connect him to a strange legacy. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Washington, D.C. - A Suprising Mormon Stronghold

I have devoted this blog to correcting misconception of the press about the LDS Church.  However, I should give credit when credit is due.  Sometimes the press gets it right (or mostly right).  Such is a recent article on the CNN website, With or without Romney, D.C. a surprising Mormon stronghold.  The article speaks about the number of Church members in the Washington, D.C. area and their increasing influence in government.  Heading the article is the video below, comments from an LDS women who works for Kansas Senator Pat Roberts.

The article begins by focusing on the testimony of Larry Echo Hawk at a Church service.  Echo Hawk served as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the Obama administration and has recently been called as a member of the First Quorum of Seventy. 

The article continues by describing the growth of the Mormon community in D.C., and provides some history of Mormons and politics (mostly correct).  The article is also careful to point out that the Church is apolitical and that the "LDS Church, for its part, insists it is politically neutral and that it avoids pressuring Mormon elected officials to tow a church line."

As articles from the mainstream media go, this was a fairly positive article.  Kudos to CNN for attempting to get it right.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mormonism & Christianity

MSNBC host Martin Bashir recently interviewed Dr.Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.  Pastor Jeffress is the same individual that called Mormonism a cult back in October.  The text and video of the article is posted at MSNBC.  Pastor Jeffress recently endorsed Mitt Romney for president. 

Bashir began the interview by stating, "In a somewhat surprising move, one senior Baptist minister said that given the options, he would now prefer a commander in chief who is a Mormon as opposed to a Christian."  He continued, "Pastor Robert Jeffress told the Associated Press today that Christians should support Mitt Romney in spite of his Mormon faith."  Bashir also stated, "Mitt Romney is a good moral person, but he is not a Christian.  Mormonism is not Christianity.  It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity."  In attempting to explain Mormonism Bashir said, "Mormonism denies the deity of Christ and rejects the Trinity."

Those of us in the LDS community clearly understand that there are some theological differences between our doctrine and that of most of Christianity.  However, one would expect a media personality to be more objective in his representation of an organization.  Bashir blantly misrepresents LDS theology, almost pandering to his guest. 

As noted above, Bashir states that neither Romney or Mormonism is Christian.  Interestingly, he never once refers to the Church by its full name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Never once does Bashir state that Mormons claim to be Christian or follow Jesus Christ.  Even worse, Bashir states that "Mormonism denies the deity of Jesus Christ and rejects the Trinity."  No wonder people are turning away from the mainstream media.

What do we believe?
  • "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost" (Article of Faith 1).  We do believe in the Trinity. However, unlike mainstream Christianity we do believe that each member of the Godhead is a separate and distinct individual as indicated in the New Testament.
  • We believe that Christ is God, that he is the creator of this earth and the Jehovah of the Old Testament.  We believe that it was his divinity that made his atoning sacrifice possible.
  • "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins" (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 25:26).
  • Joseph Smith stated, "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it" (History of the Church, 3:30)
Thus, based on these few statements, what would any logical person conclude?  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Christian church, though it may differ in doctrine from other Christian bodies.  Martin Bashir totally missed it, not unusual from a host on a network that is known for distortion.

In the interview, Bashir questions Jeffress about endorsing Romney (the "non-Christian") as his candidate, versus Obama (the "Christian").  Jeffress states more than once that Romney shares his values.  What Jeffress failed to say, and couldn't say given his position, is that Mormons and Baptists have a lot in common, both theologically and morally, far more than the sitting president.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mormon Panic Hits U.K.

With an outrageous headline, "Mormon Panic Hits U.K.," Buzzfeed reviews a recent documentary shown on the BBC, The Mormon Candidate. The article fails to describe any panic over the Mormon faith in Britain, but simply highlights the documentary. It did state in the first paragraph that, "Mormonism, the British public learned from a documentary that aired on the BBC this week, is scary and mysterious, a possible 'cult' on the verge of taking over the most powerful office in the world."

The online article contains a three minute video with highlights from the documentary.  Following is my response to the highlights from the video. I tried to find the documentary online, but it appears that it has not been posted.

The video begins by stating that the Church is one of the wealthiest with an estimated wealth of thirty billion dollars, as if it is a negative thing. There are a legitimate reasons for the Church having that kind of wealth:

  • Many Church members tithe at a full 10%. This creates a large income stream.
  • It takes a large amount of money to construct and maintain buildings for over 28,000 congregations, support the work of over 50,000 missionaries, along with the support necessary for seminaries and institutes, welfare services, temples, and more.
  • The Church does not borrow money from banks to finance its construction projects, so there must needs be a strong revenue stream.  
The documentary continues, "The charge made against Mitt Romney's faith by some ex-members is that it is a church that spies and a church that shuns." A brief interview is shown where it is indicated that the Church has hired ex-CIA and ex-FBI members to spy on apostate Church members, particularly those that may have some influence.

I do not know who the Church hires, but it does make sense to keep an eye, not spy, on those who would do harm to the Church. The Church must be prepared to respond. Those who leave the Church with animosity must feel a certain degree of paranoia, thus feeling that they are being spied upon. The charge of shunning is baseless. I have been attending church for 60 years in at least seven different states and have never heard any teaching that approaches "shunning." The opposite is quite true. I have always been taught to love those around me, regardless of their status. I know several individuals who have left the Church or ceased activity, including family, and they are always welcome at our gatherings.  Yes, there may be those who exhibit less than Christlike behavior towards those who have left the Church, but they are the exception.

The charge of the Church being a cult was raised, once again quoting Pastor Robert Jeffress. That charge was addressed briefly in my previous blog. One interviewee charged the Church with the not allowing free thought. Again, certain individuals seem to develop paranoia because of their actions. First of all, any religion teaches their adherents to follow a certain belief pattern. This is not thought control. Again, I have been a attending Church for 60 years, most of that time as an active member. I have been posting doctrinal outlines in the Internet for 14 years without a hint of interference. I have read numerous anti-Mormon books. No one is condemning me for my actions. It just doesn't seem to be the mind-control, cultishness of which we are charged.

The video concludes with a reference to the temple under garments worn by members, along with a reference to certain actions taken in the temple, including one that is no longer performed. Each faith has its own symbols. Many wear crosses as a endorsement of their belief in Christ's atoning sacrifice. Others go to cathedrals or sanctuaries offering prayers, lighting candles, and crossing themselves. These are symbolic actions of faith. As are the actions taken by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Without question, the BBC is jumping on the bandwagon of Mormon stories, going for the sensational, particularly when the Republican candidate for president is LDS. The sensational grabs attention and attracts viewers. Possibly, the full program is more objective, but the intro video is definitely going for the sensational and contains only the slightest hint of truth about the Church and its people.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Mormon Factor

Last week the New York Times posted an article titled Romney and the Mormon Factor.  The first line of the article read, "Mitt Romney has a persisting Mormon problem."  The article then goes on to quote John Geer, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University who stated, "This nomination would be in the bag if it weren't for the Mormon factor."  Based on exit polling during several of the primaries I suspect that Professor Geer's statement may be true.

What is the Mormon factor?  Last year, Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas stated that he believes that Mormonism is a cult and that he believes that Mormons are not Christians.  If this is the attitude of many evangelical leaders, then these voices are a window into the views of their parishioners.  Thus, Romney, and any other Mormon candidate for president, could have a difficult time winning voters in areas with a strong evangelical presence, particularly the South.

I find it unfortunate that any Mormon candidate would suffer bias in voting simply because of his or her membership in the Church.  Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution states that "  no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."  Certainly, this is not something that can or should be enforced among individual voters, but it should be a principle that all Americans adhere to.

Though evangelicals and Mormons differ in a number of aspects of Christian doctrine, there are many principles upon which the two groups agree.  Consider a few:

  • Agreement upon Biblical principles and their application to life in America.
  • A strong belief in the U.S. Constitution along with a strict interpretation of this great founding document.  
  • A strong belief in the importance of the family.
  • A strong belief in the sanctity of life, beginning with conception.
  • A strong belief in the importance of moral values.
With agreement upon these principles, and others, it is hard to understand why their is such a bias against electing an active member of the LDS Church to the presidency.  Mr. Jeffress did state that if Romney is the Republican candidate that he would "hold my nose and vote for Mr. Romney."  However, such an attitude does not energize an important voting block to get out and vote.  One can only hope that somehow those who hold such a bias will consider their shared values and enthusiastically support a candidate with whom they agree on most political principles.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Mormon Moment

In November 2000, Jeffery Sheler wrote an article published in U.S. News and World Report titled The Mormon Moment.  Sheler wrote, "By almost any measure, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the world's richest and fastest-growing religious movements. In the 170 years since its founding in upstate New York, the LDS church has sustained the most rapid growth rate of any new faith group in American history. Since World War II, its ranks have expanded more than 10-fold."  Sheler continues by writing about the expansion of the Church throughout the world, the challenges to its faith and doctrine, and its increasing influence.

Sheler concludes his lengthy article with this paragraph, "It's unlikely that conflicts between Mormons and other religious groups will go away anytime soon, as the church continues to expand. And so far, experts say, there is little reason to expect a reversal of Mormonism's fortunes. 'The nation,' wrote The American Religion author Bloom, 'will not always be only 2 percent Mormon. The Saints outlive the rest of us, have more children than all but a few American groups, and convert on a grand scale, both here and abroad. . . . Their future is immense'."

Though he may not have been aware of it, Sheler wrote the preface to what has really become the Mormon Moment.  Since Sheler wrote his article in 2000, the Church has had the lights of the mainstream media turned it on by such diverse events as the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, California Proposition 8, the candidacy of Mitt Romney, the award winning Broadway play The Book of Mormon, Harry Reid's rise to the leadership of the United States Senate, controversy over the practice of baptism for the dead, the movie Napoleon Dynamite, the abduction of Elizabeth Smart, the rise of talk show host Glenn Beck, and the HBO series Big Love.

As an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it has been fascinating, and sometimes painful, to hear commentary about my church and faith.  The comments have ranged from praise to extreme criticism. I have finally concluded that I must put in my two cents worth. I can restrain my voice no longer. In this blog I will comment on articles and reports found throughout the media. Mormonism is my faith and the faith of my fathers. In my own way, I intend to defend that which I believe and have placed my faith.