Considering our Dismay

Yesterday a longtime member of our Dialogue Board and prominent sociologist, Armand Mauss, was featured in a front page article in The Wall Street Journal entitled Mormons Dismayed by Harsh Spotlight.. He was quoted as saying ” I don’t think that any of us had any idea how much anti-Mormon stuff was out there.” The article concluded with another statement by Armand: “There will be a long-term consequence in the Mormon Church. I think there is going to be a wholesale reconsideration with how Mormons should deal with the latent and overt anti-Mormon propaganda. I don’t think the Mormons are ever again going to sorrowfully turn away and close the door and just keep out of the fray.”

I would be very interested in how you are reconsidering the Church’s dealings, as well as your own, with the anti-Mormon propaganda.

To start the conversation, I would pose 2 possibilities. When 3 of my children were in Baptist schools, I became very familiar with the anti-Mormon literature for sale on the bottom shelf of the main Baptist Bookstore in town. My children’s teachers all knew we were Mormon. Though occasionally someone would say she was sorry we were going to hell because we seemed so nice, we were treated warmly and fairly because they were good people and we went out of our way to be on our best Christian behavior and to contribute in many ways to the school community. It was a “ya gotta try to be better to be considered equal” sort of thing. We must be enthusiastic and respectful contributors to the wider community.

My second suggestion relates to Dialogue. It’s time for far more dialogue with other Christians and among ourselves, both in the pages of Dialogue and throughout our Mormon communities. I love hearing about the friendships our local Church PR people are making with the Catholic Archbishop or journalists. I applaud the increasing work in Mormon studies and comparative studies. I am heartened when another scholar gets access to previously closed archives. I’d protect the sacred and abandon the unnecessarily secretive. It makes us appear to be hiding skeletons, if not even dishonest.

But those are just 2 to which you may take issue or add. Please do.

Comments

  1. Douglas Bitton gave a presentation at the 2004 FAIR conference where he discussed how he deals with difficult historical issues. Among other things, he concluded that “the best response to bad history . . . is good history.”

    If the church leaders, or we personally, “enter the fray,” I hope we go in armed with good history. A defensive, over-apologetic attitude tinged with a mild persecution complex won’t help things in the long run. In dealing with tough issues: let’s talk about context, admit when there were mistakes, acknowledge things we don’t understand, and be proud of the overall inspiration and goodness in our history and doctrine.

    Further, we shouldn’t allow others to define us based on our points of departure from mainstream Christianity. Mormons love God and their neighbors, serve others, stay loyal to their friends and family, repent when they mess up, and forgive others their faults. Caffeine, Jackson County Missouri, nature of the godhead, and identity of the Lamanites are all peripheral concerns compared to these.

  2. StillConfused says:

    Frankly, I expected a great deal more anti-Mormon stuff so I found the whole Romney thing to be a huge plus. I guess it depends on your point of reference.

  3. I applaud the increasing work in Mormon studies and comparative studies. I am heartened when another scholar gets access to previously closed archives. I’d protect the sacred and abandon the unnecessarily secretive. It makes us appear to be hiding skeletons, if not even dishonest.

    It is precisely because of the anti-Mormon propaganda that has been such the focus of the media lately, particularly with the cult accusation, that prompted me to finally follow through on creating my blog – TempleStudy.com. There are volumes of material that have been published by scholars of the Church, and mountains of evidence, which shows how perfectly in tune the restored gospel and ritual practice is with the worship of God since the beginning of this earth.

    The temple has been one of the biggest focuses of the anti-Mormon community. It is the focus of the cult label. They can’t imagine how we think that our temple worship is Christian. While there are many things that we can’t talk about in detail about the temple, I believe there is much that we can talk about that has been glossed over by Church members and also by the media. LDS temple worship fits perfectly in the milieu of God worship throughout history. We cannot forget the past. Many misunderstandings and misconceptions result from ignorance on these things, both inside and outside the Church. There are “unnecessarily secretive” portions of our worship that we do not discuss, talk about, study, and learn more about, which we can and we should. There have been volumes written by General Authorities and scholars of the Church on the subject of temples, usually focusing on ancient traditions which parallel our own. We just need to learn how to talk about the temple so as to protect the covenants we have made. The General Authorities and scholars of the Church are a good place to start.

  4. Molly, what is the definition of “anti-mormon” for purposes of your discussion? Is it contextual truth that just isn’t “useful”? Simple misunderstandings of our positions (such as what Elder Holland tried to address last conference), or blatant lies (like we kill sheep in the temple ceremony)? Some define “anti” as anything that doesn’t paint the church in a perfect light…..

    Besides dropping the secretive shell around things that don’t need to be “classified” and approaching ourselves, history and mistakes with more candor, I was inspired by the recent discussion where some suggested that we become less involved in lds-centric activities and coach a basketball team, volunteer at the soup kitchen and get involved in community activities. Seems to me that the church could make a statement and some huge inroads by easing up on some of the quasi all-consuming ldsisms (tons of church meetings, etc.) which tend to force us inward…instead of enabling us to serve outward. More LDS influence in community causes might cause some of the anti-mormon rhetoric/sentiment to ease as people of all faiths would see us just as they are….Christian people united in good works.

  5. There was a great post by Kevin Graham over at MormonDiscussions today that suggested that the anti-Mormon effect on the election has been greatly exaggerated. I thought that Kevin’s analysis was fairly apt.

    -Chris

  6. Molly, the more and more I dialogue with with other Christians, the more and more I become convinced that we’re just different than them and ought to quit trying to be like them.

    I’m really just tired of begging for a place at the table from people who have no intention of ever making room for me. Time to say “the hell with them” and find my own table.

    That said, I have met an awful lot of nice Evangelicals online. And I have gained from the exchange with them. I’ve gained better understanding of my own faith, and a new appreciation for the need to be careful, as a church, with our orthodoxy.

    But I’m sick of playing apologist. We share some of the same roots with traditional Christianity, but not really much more than Judaism, or Islam or other religions. Time to quit whining to be a part of their club. It ain’t much of a club anyway.

    We aren’t “Christian,” we’re Christ’s one authorized Church. And if the Southern Baptists don’t like it, they can go jump in a lake.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    #1 CE, I agree with your thought, and I love that Bitton quote. I also like another one from Richard Bushman, to the effect that when there are hard issues, we have to go straight at them (IE not evade them).

    And #4, I’m all for anything that results in fewer meetings! Somehow we’ve got to get a handle on that situation.

    Molly, I have all sorts of thoughts about this. I’ll try to break them up a little bit in separate comments. More in a moment.

  8. Outside a few cases, I honestly didn’t see much anti-Mormon stuff come out during this election period, actually. I found most people tended to treat our religion quite respectfully. One thing that I think we need to be wary of is that Mitt Romney, while Mormon, does NOT represent Mormonism to the world. As such his own quirks and eccentricities cannot be attributed to all Mormondom. Also, any critique of the way Romney presented himself, and his religious life, may not actually be a critique given to most Mormons if most Mormons were in Romney’s position. I know I would have answered many of the questions asked him differently than he did.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree with Armand’s comments. I think the Church as an institution has been becoming more open to various types of apologetics over time. The ideal used to be simply to turn the other cheek and not respond. And I think at least a part of the reason for that was that most of the people who were responding to criticisms against the Church back in the old days just weren’t very good at it. Better to say nothing than to open mouth and insert foot.

    I remember my very first exposure to sectarian countercult literature. Green on my mission to Colorado, my very first investigator was sent a Walter Martin tape by a relative, and we listened to it. Some missionaries had gone to his presentation, and he just twisted those kids into knots. They were zealous, but they didn’t actually know anything, and they hadn’t actually prepared (as in, say, listening to a Walter Martin tape ). And it wasn’t an appropriate forum for missionaries to egnage in in the first place. That kind of stuff used to be par for the course, and it was ridiculous.

    But I think these days there are more talented advocates for the Church who actually read, who are knowledgeable and personable, who aren’t just interested in an old-style bash but in discussion and mutual learning. (There actually is such a thing as a Mormon ecumenism.) I would argue the Mormon blogosphere is part of that. And I think our leaders are seeing this and getting a greater comfort level in having people speak up in defense of the faith. We saw it with Elder Maxwell, we saw it just recently with Elder Ballard, and I think we’ll see this trend of trust in our people to articulate Mormonism for others is going to accelerate. It has to. In my view, grassroots Saints are in a better position to articulate Mormonism effectively to outsiders than are the bureaucratized institional channels of the Church itself.

  10. Um, Seth, I don’t think Molly was suggesting that we should try to be more like the Baptists or get them to approve of our theology, only that we should act in accordance with our Christian ideals, which, last time I checked, included loving even our enemies (let alone our friends with theological differences from us!) and praying for them, not suggesting that they go jump in a lake.

    But thanks for providing Exhibit A of the kind of chip-on-the-shoulder resentment and superiority complex that rubs people the wrong way about Mormons sometimes!

  11. This week Newsweek had a very respectful column on the life and passing of President Hinckley, remarkably free of many of the normal disclaimers that the news media often use in describing or discussing our church. I think it’s no mistake that our most media savvy President, who dealt with the media directly and not suspiciously, was treated with such respect and decorum in noting his passing.

    Such candor as displayed by President Hinckley can be a model for all of us in dealing with both critics and the curious. The more we evade the issues, the more reclusive and odd we are perceived. The more open and honest we are, I think the more respected we will become.

  12. I’m a convert to the Church who was raised by very liberal parents. While I changed my religion, my political leanings are every bit as liberal, if not more so, than my parents’ political preferences. I can honestly say that in all the work I’ve done with local Democrat organizations, I’ve never once experienced brow beating for being Mormon. That’s why I was shocked to see how many evangelical Republicans truly see Mormons as heretics and would never vote for one. The vast majority of LDS people I know are dedicated conservatives. It’s a shame that the labels “Republican” and “Christian” that many Mormons so sincerely want to be called is denied them by a group they consider to be allies.

  13. Chris Laurence says:

    And thank you Kristine for being our first moralizing Mormon pointing the finger of righteousness.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    I’ve been active in Mormon apologetics (through FAIR) for the last nine years or so. I was asked to speak at their first conference, and somehow I got sucked into it from there. I personally have never had much interest in chicken fighting directly with anti-Mormons. Uggh. [FAIR doesn’t do that, BTW, which is why I’m involved with that group.] But I am very passionate about what Roger Keller describes as educative apologetics, which is really more inward directed–trying to protect our own people from the adverse effects of negative criticism of the Church. And the way to protect them is through education.

    We can’t control someone like Mike Huckabee slyly planting the idea that gee, maybe we’re Satan worshipers. But we can control to some extent the knowledge and understanding of our own people, and we can prepare them so as not to freak out over such a silly ploy.

    But it’s easier said than done. So many of our people stand up in testimony meeting and assert over the pulpit, shaking with emotion, that they know absolutely with every fiber of their being that the Church is true. Then these same people stumble upon some trifling oddity on the internet and their faith breaks like glass and that supposedly strong testimony just falls all to pieces.

  15. I have been surprised by how many people came vigorously to the defense of Mormons. I have also been surprised how many decent people seem to have a remarkable amount of pent up animosity toward Mormonism. The huge number of people who said they would never consider voting for a Mormon was the most disappointing thing to come out of the race I think. On the other hand, it really puts that sentiment front and center and it is not only Mormons who are disappointed by it, so in many ways I think it is a good thing.

    Evangelicals are already subject to their own fair share of negative stereotyping, I don’t think they are anxious to become known nationally for their religious bigotry.

  16. Last semester I was struggling with the issue of writing a history paper. I ended up writing to Professor Bushman and asked him for his opinion on writing Mormon History. His comment to me was very much that historians cannot back down and “prettify” things for others. Yet we must be considerate of others at the same time.

    It is a fascinating process trying to work within those parameters. At the end of the day I think Mormons as Mauss said will start to face down Anti attacks in ways that do not devolve into bashing but yet does not leave the field for people like them.

  17. Steve Evans says:

    And thank you Chris Laurence for being the first true troll on the thread.

  18. I kind of agree with Seth. That is, I don’t want to beg to be liked.

    I’m all for involving myself with people outside the church. I’m all for being kind and respectful. But I don’t want to catch myself holding out a plate of cookies with a look on my face that says, “Do you think I’m nice now? Do you think I’m normal?”

  19. we should act in accordance with our Christian ideals, which, last time I checked, included loving even our enemies

    but apparently not our fellow bloggers or commenters.

  20. Some observations

    1- Probably most Anti-Mormons will not change their point of view no matter how much information is out in the public. With all the changes in race relations in the last forty-plus years does not racism still exists in this country? Mormon hating will continue on some level even if it is only Bill Maher. It is time to toughen up and stand up for our beliefs. We have the fullness of the Gospel and the Lord has promised it will not be taken away again.

    2- How many mainstream Americans now have a better understanding of The LDS faith because of the debates about who we are and what we believe? Newspapers like the New York Times, Washington Post plus the Associated Press, about half way through Romney’s campaign, went to lds.org and the Church public affairs department for information about Church doctrine and beliefs. They stopped using lapsed Mormons and anti-Mormons as their information sources. Truth and accuracy about our religion began to appear more often in print and on television. We as citizens, people of faith and patriots showed our country our patience and goodness.

    3- How many church members saw an increase of opportunities to talk about our religion with non-members? The Church is in the public dialogue for now. We should embrace it as doing the Lords work, proclaiming the Gospel while reaching out with honesty, openness, and love. During the last years scrutiny we have look like the reasonable people while some liberals and folks of other faiths look a little bigoted and shrill. The next Mormon who runs for President should hand out the little card with the Articles of Faith printed on it and tell the public this is our basic beliefs and if they have any question to call Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City. I’m sure Headquarters would be happy to send out a couple of young men or women to hand deliver a Book of Mormon to their homes.

  21. “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” doesn’t apply just to how we should handle our associations in the Church. My approach (at least the one I try to take) is to be an educator – to explain when questioned, to correct when I see inaccuracies, to point out double standards when they are applied, etc. I try very hard not to cross the line into an attacking and belittling mode – although I don’t succeed all the time.

    I am convinced that 90% of the bigotry we face is due primarily to ignorance. It is mother’s milk (preacher’s prattle) for many, and it is so ingrained in their perspective – in their very psyche – that it is extremely difficult to excise fully. It also is influenced heavily by how many people simply don’t know any Mormons – or who think that the one Mormon they know is the exception that proves the rule.

    Imho, unrealistic expectations are the root of much of our dismay. If we can drop our own expectations and simply love and serve those around us (talking openly and honestly and lovingly about our faith and testimonies and beliefs to all who want to listen without “looking for conversions” and imposing conditions), we can leave the end result in the Lord’s hands and quit feeling dismayed when we are rejected by those who simply can’t understand us. I also think becoming more Christ-like will result in more people joining the Church than anything else we can do.

  22. For purposes of this narrow discussion, adcama, I had in mind the kind of prejudice that has surfaced in the election, the “I could never vote for a Mormon.” The Journal article asserts that polling data indicates far more admit to never being willing to vote for a Mormon than admit to never voting for a woman or an African-American. Granted, there is lots of room and reason for error in such polls, but they have to give us pause. 2 years ago my parents’ Congregational church (not evangelical) offered a series of classes on cults to fear and avoid; the Mormons were one. There’s a lot of bad information out there fueling the prejudice. I can’t argue for prejudice or for ignoring prejudice in any setting. It’s destructive to all concerned.

    I do agree with you who feel no urge to join the Christian club, cookies in hand. I left another religion to join the Mormons; I don’t need to be in all clubs or universally liked. But I think it is important to dispel the falsehoods and ease the fears wherever possible. Look for young scholars like Brian Birch (also on Dialogue’s board—I am a shameless huckster) developing language which will invite and allow a dialogue between Mormons and other Christians, language which will make it easier for us all to understand the other. Seems the Christian thing to do.

  23. Molly I would agree with you wholeheartedly.

  24. I think it is prudent to point out that the Prophet Joseph Smith was clear that we were NOT like other Christians. I don’t see how trying to be accepted by other Christians as another Christian denomination would even be a good thing.
    I agree with someone else who said we should just be bold and stand for Jesus Christ regardless of whether or not someone believes we are Christian or fit in with them or not. We are different… there is a good reason for that… and we should not be ashamed or afraid of that. We are supposed to be a PECULIAR people, not a people that blends in with everyone else.

  25. David Clark says:

    Look for young scholars like Brian Birch (also on Dialogue’s board—I am a shameless huckster) developing language which will invite and allow a dialogue between Mormons and other Christians, language which will make it easier for us all to understand the other.

    Because when two groups don’t speak the same language what your REALLY need is a third language which neither group speaks.

  26. Steve Evans says:

    Guy, LOL.

  27. #25 I hope through your cynicism you were chuckling because I want to be smiling with you. And I am smiling.

  28. Andrew Wilson says:

    It goes like this: when you are a religion that sends people to knock on doors (this has happened to me wherever I lived) seeking to convert people, you had better have something that is better than what your prospective converts already have. If the religion being shopped around door-to-door didn’t allow African Americans full participation until the 70s or 80s (!), then it’s kind of presumptuous to go around promoting it. No?

  29. Steve, where’s your club?

  30. Molly, I especially welcome your second suggestion, and specifically with respect to Dialogue. Over the years the journal left behind that inter-faith dialogue it originally featured and which has always been part of its motto. I wish you and the Board well in rekindling that spirit.

  31. #30 Thanks for your good wishes. I’ve been on the board almost 10 years. During that time we have always sought a dialogue, but it has been harder to achieve. We rely largely on submissions; if opposing views are not submitted, we can’t publish them. We do not have a viewpoint, only a goal of honest brokerage of the dialogue between faith and reason, accurate scholarship, quality writing and responsible judgment. Perhaps you have a paper in mind? A friend of the journal recently coined our goal “critical affirmation.” I like that.

  32. #4 That is a real problem with Mormons being so involved with just each other, that they have little time for other organizations. I am YW pres right now and I spend so many hours trying to do activities with girls that are fairly affluent with good parents and home lives. I know that we need to work with the youth to keep them strong and active, but it leaves little time and energy for working for those truly in need.

  33. I really love the fact that the Church, as an institution, doesn’t really react to all the anti stuff that is out there. I think it’s a sign of confidence. I just think about how the Church of Scientology tries to sue everyone who publicly criticizes them, and I am really glad we aren’t like that.

    And regarding #28, if you believe a religion to be the closest thing to the word of God on earth despite what many consider to be human error in its past, and it has considerably enriched your life, and you truly believe that it has the ability to enrich the lives of others and maybe even make the world a better place, then no, it’s not “presumptuous” to promote it.

  34. #10:

    But thanks for providing Exhibit A of the kind of chip-on-the-shoulder resentment and superiority complex that rubs people the wrong way about Mormons sometimes!

    Biff!

    #13:

    And thank you Kristine for being our first moralizing Mormon pointing the finger of righteousness.

    Zing!

    #17:

    And thank you Chris Laurence for being the first true troll on the thread.

    Bash!

    And the permas have it! An upset 2 to 1 victory!

    #29:

    Steve, where’s your club?

    Why, right here at BCC, of course. 8)

    Anyhoo, I agree with Ray that “that 90% of the bigotry we face is due primarily to ignorance,” and the remaining 10% probably comes from resistance to our proselyting efforts. In Europe at least, “Mormon” seems to be more a synonym for “Jehovah’s Witness” or “any member of a sect” and not a distinct religion. In this context, anti-mormonism has less to do with targeted attacks against a specific group than with the general bruising caused by the defenders of the establishment.

  35. Regarding children and activities and such … I just heard a pretty strong message tonight at stake conference by Elders Oaks and Holland and Sisters Beck, Tanner, and Lant (the Worldwide Leadership Training broadcast that is being packaged for stake conferences for all adult members) that the Church doesn’t want as many hours spent on Church activities. That sometimes magnifying one’s calling is to do less than we’ve done in the past.

  36. Queuno – I love to hear them say that…but the reality is that most of us are going to spend all day today in church meetings….and much of the week at activities….leaving little/no time to participate in our communities (let alone our families). Time to quit talking and start cutting back (eliminate via FP mandate/announcement unneccesary/unneccesarily lengthy meetings, activities and programs). If such comes from our leaders, with a little direction for us to take the time saved and spend it in service of our communities and families, perhaps, over time, some of the most harsh biases and misconceptions about us would naturally go away.

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree with adcama. We’ve heard the rhetoric for years, but rhetoric isn’t going to trim the number and length of (often poorly planned and largely needless) meetings; only top-down action will accomplish that. And a lot of people like the status quo, so I’m not sure there’s going to be any real action in this sphere for the foreseeable future.

    So much of what little we really need to do in meetings could be accomplished by modern technology (e-mail or even, you know, like the telephone), but there is a real resistance to that; people want to try to follow the program, and until the “program” is modified from above nothing is really going to change.

    Pending the Church taking action to fix this problem, I self-medicate, meaning that I pick and choose which meetings to attend. It’s not an ideal solution, but it keeps me sane and active in the Church. If my only choice were to attend every last jot and tittle of a meeting or drop out, I would probably do the latter. I have very limited time, and I really don’t appreciate when it is wasted by what turns out to be a totally unnecessary meeting.

    (This kind of thing is my own spiritual Achilles heel much more so than the kinds of doctrinal or historical issues other Saints struggle with.)

  38. # 6 – very well said, Seth R.
    # 36, 37 – very well said, adcama & Kevin.
    All the more true from the international church angle.

  39. Seth–sorry for being snotty. I got sidetracked from your otherwise useful comment by the last line. Should have walked away and read again before commenting. (I think Steve probably invited me to blog here because he needed someone else with a hair-trigger temper to make him look better by comparison :))

  40. I agree that more dialogue with our christian, hindu, muslim, and atheist friends is a good thing. We also have unique beliefs that will remain unique, no matter how much dialogue exists. For many evangelicals the view of the godhead developed by Joseph Smith will never be “christian” by fact that it is so different that traditional christianity. We should become comfortable with that and quit trying to convince the world “sameness”.

    However, let me also be the first to publicly state that as a life-long member of the church, if I had been polled I would have been one of those expressing worry about a mormon president. In fact, I can’t ever see myself voting for a mormon to be president. Maybe in 30 years, but not now. Let me explain.

    When JFK was running for president, much of the US was afraid of a catholic president because of the whole concept of obedience to the Pope. Mormons today face the same perception. However, JFK was able to allay those fears by directly stating that his allegiance wasn’t to Rome, it was to the people of the US.

    “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote…”

    His statement was believable because there was frequent precedent of individuals disagreeing with the Pope on a number of issues, many times quite publicly.

    Unfortunately, President Kennedy’s view of America is often at odds with the mormon view. We live in a time where the leaders of the church do frequently, but indirectly, tell their parishoners how to vote. Beginning with organized opposition to the ERA, to the more recent organized support of California’s “defense of marriage act” and the many, many statements I have heard from local leaders in my lifetime.

    While Americans could understand JFK because they witnessed open dissent in the catholic church, that is not something seen in the mormon church today. We see the mormon church excommunicating members who express dissent, even when that dissent is not particularly public.

    So while it’s easy for Mitt Romney to say,

    “Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.”

    many reasonable people, of which I include myself, find reason to doubt his sincerity. Do we really think that Mitt Romney, as POTUS, would publicly dissent from a position taken by the president of the church? Would he risk excommunication? We have all heard the story that his father once said, “I would rather be a deacon in the mormon church than president of the US” (I’ve paraphrased but the sentiment is correct). Do we think that Mitt is any different?

    Thirty years from now, if we see disagreement and dialogue tolerated within the church, my opinions might change. But for now I prefer not to vote for a person whose religious traditon values obedience over all other values.

    ps. queno, our stake conference was this weekend as well. are you in the puget sound area?

  41. Somehow deleted my final paragraph didn’t copy over.

    So while we can all speak about anti-mormon sentiment and what we can do to change it (be more involved in our communities, treat others with kindness, truly become friends with non-members, etc.) the ultimate change that, in my opinion, needs to occur, is out of our hands, and rests with the leadership of the church. The problem isn’t how we, as individuals are perceived by our neighbors — that perception is mostly positive. The problem is with how the church as an organization is perceived. And there still is a lot of distrust of the organizational church.

  42. Our stake conference this weekend did not feature the WW Leadership training, and is being presented at a later date (also in Puget Sound). Instead, we had Elder Samuelson as a visiting GA. We also had a former stake president who is currently the regional public affairs coordinator for the church, who spoke briefly. He and his wife just only a few months ago were invited to sit in on the Seattle Area Council of Churches, and described a little of that experience. He did not mention denominations, but said that many of the members of the council have been very warm and friendly, while others have remained very cold and aloof towards them. We still have miles to go, I believe. The recent WSJ article may be correct in saying that Romney’s campaign may have opened the door a bit wider for us in the future.

    But I agree that we need to be more open, and if as Kevin Barney and Queno have indicated, some of our church activity might have to take a back seat to our involvement in the communit, then perhaps we need to accept that. I personally had to leave my Washington State caucus early to attend stake conference leadership meetings. I’d like to have stayed, but felt like I needed to be at my meetings more. A paradox, for sure.

  43. Regarding activities and time constraints: We are members of two very distinct churches – the global one led by the prophets and apostles (to which we “belong”) and the local one led by the bishops and stake presidents (which we attend). That means that there can be and too often is a discrepancy between what is taught at the global level and what is practiced at the local level. Often, we don’t recognize that distinction, and we end up frustrated with SLC when the cause of our frustration is local.

    Just two quick examples:

    A few years ago, I was released from the Bishopric because my wife was being called as the YW President. We had 6 kids still at home, and the youngest wasn’t in school yet. Our Bishop was dedicated to the counsel from SLC to not overburden families with small children, so I was released and called into the Primary.

    Over the last year, especially, our Stake President has encouraged all the stake leaders to conduct as much business as possible over the phone and via e-mail – specifically to reduce the time parents and spouses are away from each other. He also has directed leaders to keep meetings as short as possible when they need to be held – for the same reason.

    Often “The Church” isn’t the issue; it’s translating what The Church teaches and says to the local level for the church we actually attend. The over-abundance of meetings and over-burdening of families is a great example, as I live in a ward and stake that has taken very seriously the admonitions that have come from SLC about this issue.

  44. Recently in our Philadelphia area stake the SP and all Bishops were counseled to cancel all adminstrataive meetings on one Sunday a month. They were counseled to go to church with their families and enjoy more time with their families. Following this advice, the SP recently said not to even bother asking for a temple recommend interview on his Sunday off, b/c it won’t happen. This is a recent “innovation” and we’ll see how long it lasts.

    As to the OP, I did not see very much overt anti-Mormon rhetoric in the Philadelphia area in the last year. Sure, there were the occasional standard evangelical tropes against Mormonism, but it was sporadic and quickly dismissed. (In this area, I’m not sure which is held in more disdain: Mormons or fire-breathing evangelicals maligning other religions.) Besides, for many people around here we are still an odd, little-known religion that produces, among other things, good football coaches. (Andy Reid-debatable, I know)

    I find myself in agreement with #6. We are what we are. We shouldn’t beg others to like us or accept us on their terms. (We don’t do it with Fundies when they label themselves “Mormon.” Instead, we take great umbrage and try to distance ourselves from them.)

    Perhaps a combination of Spencer W. Kimball earnestness/dogmatisn and Gordon B. Hinckley savvy/kindness is what the Church needs to navigate the waters of Christian ecumenisism.

  45. Kristine,

    It’s a good thing I decided not to go with my first choice:

    “And if the Southern Baptists don’t like it, they can kiss my butt.”

    My wife made me rethink it.

  46. Chris Laurence says:

    My apologies Kristine for jumping in where I didn’t belong.

  47. I would like to see us use our buildings to sponsor community activities more. I have been attending a class on Saturday mornings in a Methodist church. I wish we could use our buildings for those kind of things. Some years ago my daughter held a recital for her music studio in a local chapel. One of the parents of her one of her students was really worried about entering our chapel. After it was over she was greatly relieved to see it was “just a church.”

    I would like to be able to open a newspaper to the religion page and see the address and meeting times of the nearest chapel (I’m thinking about the little community papers not the New York Times or Washington Post.)

    We need to make ourselves less mysterious to others.

  48. Stepheny, I am involved in Public Relations in our stake. That is a great suggestion, and I will pass it along to our Public Affairs Director. We have been able to build a very good relationship with the City Council in two of the cities in our stake, so they might be open to that suggestion.

  49. Since I’m reading this from last to first I just noticed #40. The statement you have paraphrased is not from George Romney it is from Senator Reed Smoot who was an Apostle. He was approached by some Republican leaders and asked to run for President. He told them no.

    People out side the church and apparently inside could benefit by understanding the concept of stewardship and how it relates to authority. As President Mit Romney’s stewardship would be that of running the country. It would not be his Bishop’s stewardship or his Stake President’s stewardship or even the Prophet’s stewardship. The Prophets stewardship is running the Church. Mit Romney would be entitled to his own inspiration and guidance. Furthermore, unless he decided to change the doctrines of the church, committed serious sins, or sympathized with apostate groups he could not be excommunicated. I find it really surprising that anyone would think that the Prophet would attempt to influence a President unless asked. No one seems to have a problem with Billy Graham or his son advising presidents. This should not be an issue.

    Listen to what they First Presidency says before every election. They don’t take stands on political issues.

  50. Stepheny,

    Thank you for the correction. I had remembered the story as being of George Romney, not Reed Smoot. However, the point still stands.

    The First Presidency certainly does take stands on political issues. Frequently those stands are not public, but result in telephone calls and “grassroots” movements to defeat or support an issue. They church wants to keep the appearance of political neutrality, when it isn’t, your lecture on stewardship not withstanding.

    The reason most people don’t have an issue with Billy Graham or his son advising presidents, is that it’s done in the open, and past presidents have felt free to oppose Graham’s advice. The mormon church doesn’t yet have this clear track record of allowing opposition. Also, the Grahams don’t excommunicate folks for disagreeing with them.

    You should read this entry at Mormon Matters. Elder Delbert Stapley clearly attempted to influence George Romney’s position regarding civil rights. Your doubts that this could happen again may be correct, but certainly can’t be said with certainty given the history of the church’s involvement with political matters.

  51. #50 – “The church wants to keep the appearance of political neutrality, when it isn’t.”

    No, it doesn’t. The Church does not endorse any candidates; it is politically neutral as to elections. It has never pretended to be totally politically neutral; nor should it be. Your hint of hypocrisy is wrong and baseless.

    “The mormon church doesn’t yet have this clear track record of allowing opposition.”

    Yes it does – in spades. We are talking about politicians. Harry Reid is a perfect example of the fallacy of your statement. If he can hold a temple recommend, just about any politician can. There is NO evidence whatsoever that a President would have to “toe the doctrinal line to avoid excommunication. NONE.

    “the Grahams don’t excommunicate folks for disagreeing with them.”

    See above comment about Harry Reid. Also, what a simplistic charge that is.

    “Elder Delbert Stapley clearly attempted to influence George Romney’s position regarding civil rights.”

    Elder Stapely wasn’t the Church, he wasn’t the President of the Church, and he didn’t represent the Church when he wrote his letter. Straw man, pure and simple. Very weak straw man, actually.

    The Mormon Matters post doesn’t support your contentions. It actually disputes them by pointing out how far the Church has come since the time of Elder Stapely.

  52. BTW, I ignored #40’s hyperbole, since it was phrased as personal opinion. #50 makes two in a row that make claims that can’t be backed up by actual evidence but simply are broadsides saying Mormons can’t be trusted in high political offices, because “The Church” can’t be trusted to refrain from trying to dictate to them. That simply is ludicrous, based on the actions of “The Church”.

    You can call Mormons mindless puppets in soft tones, but they still are puppets in the words you use.

  53. MikeInWeHo says:

    This post reminds me again of something that was discussed in the Bloggernacle a while ago: There should be an LDS version of The Anti-Defamation League (www.adl.org) and The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (www.glaad.org). They’re very similar organizations.

    I’m not convinced that Christ’s injunction to turn the other cheek means one should disregard overt hatred against one’s community.

  54. Ray, I think that we will eternally disagree on this issue. You have faith that leaders of the church (whether the president or leadership at any level) would not attempt to exert influence on a mormon president. I don’t share your faith. But lets get back to the main point of Molly Bennion’s post, that is how we are to address the anti-mormon feelings that exist in the world.

    It remains my contention that many “anti-mormon” issues that arose with Romney’s candidacy aren’t based upon personal knowledge of mormons as people. In general (yes, this is a generalization) people respond positively when polled about mormons as a people. As such, I think that the previous discussion about becoming more engaged in our communities and having more dialogue with other faiths, while very important, misses the point. It is not those things that are going to eliminate the “anti-mormon stuff” of which Armand Mauss speaks, particularly in the political arena.

    The anti-mormon sentiment mostly expressed during Romney’s candidacy were either 1) disagreement with our doctrines, either past or present (which, I admit, was the predominant opposition expressed), or 2) the view that Romney, as POTUS, may become subservient to church leadership. My posts dealt with the second. I happen to think that based upon church history the second view is a valid concern/perception that must be addressed if we are to ever see a mormon president. I am not the only one to express this opinion. A year ago the cover story from January 2007’s edition of The New Republic essentially said the same thing. There have been multiple other discussions of the same in the press and the blogosphere. Many, including myself, did not feel that Romney’s statements did enough to counter this perception; that he just wasn’t able to clearly express his willingness (if it exists) to stand in opposition of church leadership if necessary.

    I believe that this is a perception that as a people we will not be able to change by dialogue, serving in community soup kitchens, getting involved with the PTA or little league, or opening our buildings up for community uses. It is going to take a significant change in the culture of leadership. It won’t change as long as BYU professors are fired (or denied tenure) for writing letters to the editor in support of same-sex marriage. It won’t change until the church stops using local church leaders to create “grassroots” movements for a political cause. It won’t change until we stop having letters read over the pulpit that encourage particular positions on political issues. These things only add fodder to the opinion that hegemony trumps all with the church.

    Whether or not you believe this is a valid perception, the perception exists just the same. Your simple dismissal is a declaration of faith in church leaders, and does nothing to allay the concerns of those who have this perception. In fact, for many your declaration of faith only strengthens the perception of mormons as non-questioning of their leaders, even though I do recognize that this isn’t your position. If you want those who have this perception to eliminate it from their thoughts, you will have to do something more constructive that dismiss their arguments as straw men or hyperbole, as you have done with mine. I recognize that I should have been precise in my language. Rather than using terms such as “the first presidency” or “the church” I should have left it as “leadership” and been more clear that I meant leadership at all levels. I should have also been more clear that excommunication isn’t the only form of discipline or action the church takes. I will work harder to be more clear.

  55. Antonio Parr says:

    One way to deal with the “Mormons aren’t Christians” attacks is to repent of our collective failure to “talk of Christ . . . rejoice in Christ . . . preach of Christ . . . prophesy of Christ . . . that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” 2 Ne 25:26.

    Elder Oaks gave an astonishingly candid talk regarding this topic some years ago, and stated that our neglect of Christ and His atonement have placed the Church under condemnation. (See, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”, http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=7103.

    Christ’s life ignites the human story, and we do ourselves, our neighbors, and our critics a disservice by neglecting to focus our meetings and talks on Jesus of Nazareth.

  56. I am a Christian, and I believe that honest dialogue is the only way we will begin to get past the misunderstanding. perhaps it can even cause a strengthening of personal beliefs. I never knew much about Mormonism until recently. I am, of course, sympathetic to the persecution Mormons in American history, and at the same time, and confused about the foundations of the Mormon faith. I have to say, most people get hung on on the polygamy aspect. I know it is not condoned by the present day LDS church, and that that specific revelation was done away with by a later revelation. This is hard to believe (remember, honest dialogue here). If a revelation comes from God to His people–about certain behaviors, then a nation applies pressure about those behaviors…then a leader from God’s people condemns the behavior and then later calls it a revelation…it is hard to respect the revelations as having the authority of God. I am not being argumentative here, just trying to understand how these types of, in my eyes, contradictions are reconciled. Any response would be welcomed…hopefully honest, friendly dialogue.

  57. Antonio Parr says:

    Kel:

    You have a perfectly valid concern. Although there may be polemical attempts to respond, I doubt that any of them will be satisfactory. (Although, with genuine respect and good will, please note that God once forbade His people from eating pork, but then instructed Peter otherwise just as he was embarking on his mission to the gentiles, i.e., a people who ate pork. One could construe the timing and circumstances of Peter’s revelation to be equally opportunistic.)

    Even if such a concern is justified, it still does not explain to devout Latter-Day Saints why a practice of more than a century ago is such a source of consternation to our critics, as it clearly has been abandoned by current Latter-Day Saints.

  58. Kel:

    As Antonio mentions with pork, although God is the same yesterday, today and forever, the structural and social and symbolic has changed multiple times throughout scripture. Baptism replaced circumcision; the Jewish dietary system was modified in the early Christian Church; women in one society were told to remain silent, and almost no Christian denomination still follows that prior constraint; Paul dictated comparative hair length (again, at least in one society), and that has been abandoned in our day.

    Polygamy itself was practiced by the OT prophets but not by later societies. Eternal principles might not change, but the practical lives believers have led throughout time have changed in nearly innumerable ways.

    I understand the difficulty of many in accepting polygamy and its cessation, but I am struck by the double standard this imposes on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every other Christian denomination that has been around for as long as our church has some aspect of its current practice AND belief that are different than when it was founded – and different than what is described in the Bible. That change occurred is not the issue; if that change was inspired is.

  59. I agree with comment 54.  I think there has been enough evidence of the church interfering in politics to make people be somewhat nervous about it’s complete neutrality.  Also I read in several news stories about Romney, that he had taken temple vows that made his allegiance to the church above everything else.  Whether or not this is actually what the temple vows mean is not the point – the point is that those stories were out there in the news and probably had the effect of making some people nervous about voting for a candidate who might have a religious conflict of interest in discharging his civic duties as a president.  I also agree with post 55 about the best way to improve our image with other christians is to refocus on Christ.  I think we focus way too much on Joseph Smith, etc., and not nearly enough on Christ.  I think for most of our history we have tried to emphasize our differences in regards to other christian religions in order to gain converts, etc. – how often have you heard we are a “peculiar people”?  So is it any wonder that we are seen as non-mainstream, and something to be feared?  I think we marginalize ourselves by emphasizing our differences – which may be what we want to do – but then we shouldn’t be surprised when this comes back to bite us from time to time.

  60. Sam Kitterman says:

    I likewise agree with #54, especially with regards to actions taken by Church schools such as BYU and the disciplinary (or other) actions taken against the academic staff.
    Involvement of the Church in political issues although stylized as moral and ethical matters likewise lends weight to the Church being viewed as not truly being neutral in politics.
    The efforts the Church undertook regarding the marriage amendment in state elections was to me well beyond it expressing its position regarding marriage and how civil laws should define marriage. It was a campaign on the same footing as any campaign fought on the battlelines.
    And when most of the membership locks in step, it surely gives support to the world’s perception we as members of the Church become little more than lemmings…..

  61. $54 – Very well said, Kari. There is little to argue about there – especially when it is focused on perception. Perhaps my only point of divergence is that I want the Church to make statements about issues that it feels are not *just* political but also moral in nature.

    I want political neutrality as to parties and candidates, but I don’t want the Church to be silent on legislation that has a direct moral component. Imo, neutrality does not require silence.

    A simple example: If laws are being considered to allow the re-establishment of slavery, I would expect and want the Church (and ALL churches) to take a public stand against it. I think (hope and pray) 99% of members, regardless of their political views, would agree with that. The disagreements arise, I believe, not in that the Church is “taking a political stand” but rather in disagreements over whether or not it should do so in specific situations with specific issues.

  62. Ray,

    If the Church started taking stands for or against specific pieces of legislation on a regular basis, the tax deductability of contributions to the Church would be placed in jeopardy.

    I suppose, however, if they were really determined to do that church leaders could form an independent political action committee and place a couple apostles on the board of directors. Probably wouldn’t go over very well though.

  63. Why call apostles to the LDSCOBPAC — as I’ve now named decided to name Mark D’s hypothetical political action committee — when you can call Elder Jensen?

    (And Kari, I live in North Texas, not Puget Sound. Although, my wife applied to go to college there. And I love the area.)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,683 other followers