Would that we were all Bushmans

The Pew Forum has recently published the transcript of an address and question and answer session by Richard Bushman on Mormonism in politics. The questioners included major journalists from around the Nation and World and considered a wide variety of issues. It is simply splendid. Thanks to the Pew Forum for the great work.


  1. I can’t wait to read it, tonight after work. A friend had told my wife about the interview, and we looked at it last night.

    Interestingly enough, there was an interview with Blake Ostler last night on NPR (at least here in D.C.) where he was asked about Mormonism in general, and a Mormon president in particular. Both the interviewer and Blake were great—her questions were good, researched, and not scandalous or superficial, and his responses were excellent.

  2. Sorry—we looked for it last night, but couldn’t find it anywhere. Anyway, my wife will be excited to read it, too.

  3. That is great transcript.

    Based on the whole response to the
    whole Romney candidacy I would have to say that we are not as mainstream as many had thought (myself included)

    Bushman is a great spokesman……..

  4. Matt W. says:

    Wow, and a great marketer for Mormon Blogs and Times and Seasons….

  5. I has such a HUGE mental crush on Richard Bushman… would that we were all, indeed.

  6. “have”. I are literate, really.

  7. Thanks for the link, J. I saw a headline about it on LDSelect by Snarkernackle, but I hadn’t had a chance to check it out.

  8. WOW! I heard him speak in person, but this interview was fantastic. Are all of you ready for the panelists to start reading this blog?

  9. Another WOW! 3 1/2 hours without any comments. I didn’t mean it, y’all. (#8) Pseudonyms are OK. :-)

    (Yeah, I know. Everyone is out on a date with the spouse – therefore, the silence. Timidity? No way!)

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Holy smokes! That was an incredible performance! Thanks so much for posting this, J.; totally fascinating.

    I thought Ken Woodward was kind of inarticulate with his first set of questions; I couldn’t quite figure out what he was trying to say.

    It’s frustrating to me for someone’s entire view of Mormonism to be derived solely from Martha Beck’s Leaving the Saints.

  11. Walter Eddy says:

    http://www.interfaithradio.org/ for Blake Ostler interview.

  12. Aaron Brown says:

    Agreed that this was a fantastic interview.

    How outrageous that Bushman couldn’t think of any LDS blogs by name other than T&A, I mean T&S. Steve, you and Bushman are chummy, right? Let’s all call him up en masse and scream “BY COMMON CONSENT, BY COMMON CONSENT, BY COMMON CONSENT!!!” Maybe then we will get the free publicity that we so richly deserve.

    At least he didn’t gratuitously fawn over Nate Oman this time though. :)

    Aaron B

  13. Fantastic. I strongly suspect that most of the journalists present left thinking more about Bushman than about Romney. What an asset to the church.

  14. Thomas Parkin says:

    I don’t think I’ve read anything that made me feel any more hopeful about, you know, things, in … well, forever. Thank God for Richard Bushman.


  15. Amen, Thomas.

    Apparently, nominations are now open for panelists of On Faith. Bushman volunteered, so you’ll be in very good company.

  16. Mark IV says:

    Bushman is so impressive, in such a low-key way. Thanks for this post J., I thought the entire conversation was really interesting.

    Well, almost the entire conversation. Most of the panelists asked astute and interesting questions, and you could tell they had done some homework. But wasn’t it disappointing to hear a famous reporter from the Washington Post ask Bushman if he was Mormon? Duh. He should have responded by asking if the Pope was Catholic.

  17. Left Field says:

    Yes, compared with the thoughtful questions and comments raised by the other panelists, Quinn really embarrassed herself. My impression is that she was expecting Bushman to be the bigoted buffoon that Mormons are in Beck’s book, and she thought her shallow preparation would be sufficient. Bushman, of course, is the very antithesis of a bigoted buffoon, so I think her initial question was based on her incredulity that this articulate and erudite scholar could actually be a practicing Mormon.

  18. zionssuburb says:

    I too have a huge mental crush on Richard Bushman. A few years ago I attended a ward with one of his sons. At a dinner party in their home I found out the relationship, and went a little overboard talking about how great his father was. What really disappointed me was that most people in the room knew of the relation, but didn’t think much of it.

    It sure was nice to get my hands on an advanced copy of Rough Stone Rolling.

  19. Be thankful Quinn asked the question. These popular exposes are a real problem for the Church and often the only window that some people have into the Mormon faith. It was very useful that Bushman had an opportunity to address it.

  20. Randy B. says:

    Wow, I think I now have a man crush on Bushman.

  21. Randy B. says:

    On a more serious note, I want to echo Seth’s point. It’s frustrating when people form their opinions about Mormonism from things like Beck’s book, but it is also unavoidable. As a result, we need to be able to respond to that sort of thing in a productive way. If someone would have asked me about Beck’s book before I read this interview, I would have probably just brushed her off as a nut. Needless to say, Bushman’s approach is clearly more effective. To echo the chorus here, would that we were all Bushmans.

  22. I believe it was Bushman who mentioned the historical precedent for concepts of deification in other “mainstream” Christian traditions, and I think it was Ostler who mentioned that even evangelicals must admit that polygamy is not inherently evil if they accept the OT as the word of God and OT prophets as guided by God. (I’m not going to listen again just to clarify who said what.) I appreciate this type of understanding and response particularly, since it points out that most of the beliefs for which we take the heaviest criticism come from our interpretation of the Bible – NOT from the Book of Mormon.

  23. Guenevere says:

    I was interested in what I perceived to be his de-emphasis on theology beyond the basics, and an emphasis on how Mormons define themselves more by their acts/community. It was just a subtle suggestion in some of his comments, more than an outright statement. Does anyone have any additional comments on this idea? I am actually thinking of lesson 11 in the manual this year, about provident living, and wonder how other members think about this. I mean, do we think of our religion as a verb [go and do] rather than [go and think] more than do other religions?

  24. Wow, what an interview. I thought Bushman did an incredible job of explaining the church and putting in context.

  25. Guenevere, I think you hit it on the head with your last question. I think the emphasis on “becoming” drives the “go and do” over the “think” in Mormonism – and that the emphasis on “believing” in Protestantism carries much less of a “go and do” focus. Of course, there are plenty of individual Protestants who “go and do”, and the more structured Catholicism has had a strong “go and do” component for a very long time, but neither of them envisions eternity quite like we do – as a place and a condition where our eternal goal is to continue to “go and do”. Also, the fact that doctrine can be so fluid mitigates against a hard set “think” – again, a major difference between us and evangelical denominations.

    I studied Liberation Theology a bit in college, and I agree completely with Bushman that Joseph Smith was fixated more on the idea of community building (establishing a physical Zion) than he was on anything else – with the possible exception of extending familial ties across generations. He wasn’t after “personal salvation” (go and think) but rather “communal salvation” (go and do).

  26. Guenevere,

    I think another pertinent question is whether a codified and definable theology is even a useful thing to have and pursue in the first place.

  27. Steve Evans says:

    AB, Richard Bushman knows we exist; frankly, considering the grilling on all those other topics I’m surprised that even T&S came to mind. Under that kind of spotlight I’d be lucky to remember my own name.

    OTOH, the discussions re: Beck, and re: the Kennedy/Romney comparisons were very interesting.

  28. I agree with Ray and Seth. Nailing down a theology is a waste of time. IMO, such a venture has a tendency to turn us all into a bunch of religious psychopaths; it turns us into liars.

    No sooner do we cross the line from pure religion into creedalism than we find we are forcing oursleves into believing things that we don’t really believe. It’s madness.

    I think we are unified by what we do more than by what we believe; by events more than concepts, principles or beliefs.

  29. That was easily the best explanation of the Mormon Church I have ever read. Thank you Brother Bushman!

  30. Jon in Austin says:

    Excellent explanation by Bushman. Here’s to RSR becoming our SS manual for a year!

  31. I was interested in the exchange between Bushman Ken Woodward relative to the ability of church members to speak out about political issues:

    “BUSHMAN: There have been lots of people who have spoken out, Gene England, whom you know, being one of them. Occasionally he was talked to by this person or that person, asking what he was up to, but he was never forced out of the church.

    WOODWARD: My understanding is that you can be. As long as that’s there, you’re going to get people like this saying, uh huh, you see?

    BUSHMAN: I don’t think you can be. You can be if you oppose the doctrine of the church in the sense of teaching directly against it. But especially on political issues, I don’t think you could find any precedent of that happening.

    WOODWARD: Well, I agree, they’re applying a possible sanction in one sphere to another sphere to criticize Romney, it seems to me. In other words, what you’re saying is right. It wouldn’t apply to a political statement, but it does apply to some kinds of things that are publicly opposed by a teacher, say, at BYU or something like that. Some of the feminists have gone through this. I think since it’s possible in that sphere, they might drip on Romney unfairly.

    BUSHMAN: Yeah.”

    ….it may be valuable to get a little more context of the above from the transcript.

    I was interested in how this squares with former BYU Professor Jeffrey Nielsen’s political statement vis-à-vis the op-ed piece he did. As I recall, Professor Nielsen’s article was intended to express his political view in response to a call by the First Presidency to have members consider and take action on a contemplated SSM Constitutional amendment. I guess I’m not so convinced, based on what I’ve seen, that the church (perhaps some would say BYU and Professor Nielson’s ward?) is open to those who don’t politically conform.

    Perhaps the answer here is that Professor Nielsen’s op-ed was directly against church doctrine, but maybe that’s the point. Perhaps repercussions are less formal, but certainly existent.

    Would Romney be excluded from speaking at BYU, firesides or teaching gospel doctrine if he made a speech or wrote an op-ed in favor of SSM? Would there be tacit or perceived pressure to conform his views if they differed from the official position of the church? How would he react if the church was pushing for a Constitutional amendment for SSM and his conscience was opposed to it? Yeah, he probably wouldn’t be excommunicated or lose his eternal salvation, but it’s not realistic to say those are the only repercussions available for someone who doesn’t fall into line.

    Overall, another outstanding piece of work by Professor Bushman.

  32. Adcama, those who work at BYU (or are otherwise employed by the Church) are held to a higher standard than members who don’t.

    President McKay made this explicit in his discussion with and about Sterling McMurrin and his non-belief in BoM historicity.

  33. Fair enough – but my point was that just because a member doesn’t lose their job at BYU, they could lose their calling (which may not be all bad :)), cultural standing, cookies from visiting teachers, etc. Moreover, I’ve lived in wards where someone who made a public stand like Nielsen’s (regardless of whether he/she was employed by BYU or the church) would have had huge issues with our bishop – likely in the form of membership/T-recommend status.

    Based on that, I guess my point is that I wouldn’t agree that there is no pressure (perhaps tacit pressure?) for members (including members who hold political office) to politically conform to some degree. I can understand how that would be concerning to someone contemplating “the Mormon issue” as it relates to Mitt.

  34. Wow, what an incredible interview. I was impressed with many of the journalists’ questions and just swept away by Bushman’s articulate, substantive and comprehensible answers. He is my new hero.

  35. Thanks for the link; it was a great interview. I think the journalists did a great job also, with the exception of Sally Quinn, who really did look like an idiot.

  36. adcama,

    Lots of wards have their share of “fringe loonies” who say all sorts of outrageous things, and yet their membership and standing is never in any real danger. Bushman’s point was that the excommunication of dissident academics does not readily translate into other fields, such as politicians or ordinary members.

    If the same standards that are applied to BYU professors are to be applied to ALL Mormons, I know of at least half a dozen Mormons who should have been booted-out, but have thus far been tolerated and welcomed in Sacrament Meeting.

    Scrutiny in one realm does not always translate into scrutiny in another realm.

  37. Seth-

    I’d be interested in your definition of “fringe loonies” who say all sorts of outrageous things – but are tolerated….. Do certain differing political views meet this definition? If so, you help make my point….

    As for your contention of a separate set of standards for BYU professors, I would dispute the assertion that there are (or should be) two sets of rules (scrutiny) when considering excommunication. I don’t recall all of the facts, but I don’t think the September Six were exed because they were BYU professors. Rather, I think they were exed because they were “apostate.” Why should someone’s membership status have anything to do with whether they were employed at BYU? It doesn’t – and there is not (or shouldn’t be) different excommunication standard for church employees – there is only one standard in this regard.

    The larger issue is this….just think of the chilling message it sends to the general church membership when dissident intellectuals are exed. People aren’t really free to share/promote a different view when that type of message chokes the air. The fear of church discipline, cultural abandonment or even being “tolerated” isn’t lost on people – those inhibitions, for some, are as deterring as excommunication.

    As for the way this applies to a politician’s sense of freedom to speak out. It’s not realistic to say there are NO restrictions of members (even high profile politicians) to express a political view that differs from the official church position. Does a different political position equal excommunication – maybe not, but someone who speaks out politically in a way that contradicts the church faces other reprecussions (social, cultural, and yes sometimes as it relates to their church membership).