Angie C. aka Hawkgrrl returns with a very a propos series of questions.
Many Mormons watched in morbid fascination during the South Carolina primary as Evangelicals ultimately rallied around the nearly forgotten corpse of Newt Gingrich’s campaign. The ensuing days, leading into the Florida primary, saw a flurry of anti-Newt Facebook updates from my LDS friends. If Evangelicals are embracing anyone but a Mormon, there is one candidate Mormons do not like one bit: Newt Gingrich. Is it just a case of his politics? He does pander a lot to the tea party despite being a well established Washington insider, albeit with a Nero-like sense of self-importance. Is it that he went on the offensive against “our guy”? I don’t think so, as pretty much all the candidates did so, although he was briefly the most successful of them.
Maybe Mormons are just tougher on sin.
From what I have consistently heard, the biggest Mormon objection to Newt is his serial adultery, especially because the wives he cheated on and eventually left were gravely ill at the time he left them for younger women. One article even theorized that Newt’s serial adultery made him more relatable than Mitt’s “one-woman for life” approach. In Newt’s words:
“it may make me more normal than somebody who wanders around seeming perfect and maybe not understanding the human condition, and the challenges of life for normal people.”
Which frankly doesn’t sound all that repentant to me.
Dennis Miller once riffed on the fact that so many prison inmates were being born again while on death row. He said it’s easy to turn to Jesus when no one down here will talk to you any more. As he pointed out, this kind of conversion is pretty easy. You just say you believe, and you are saved.
For Mormons, the repentance process is very rigorous for adulterers. In the case of all sins, Mormons believe repentance requires confessing your sins to God, asking for forgiveness, but also making restitution to any wronged person, and forsaking the sin entirely. Books like Miracle of Forgiveness imply that returning to a sin after repentance undoes the original repentance, making the sin even more serious. A penitent adulterer must also confess the sin to the bishop. Depending on the bishop’s assessment, the person may also undergo a church disciplinary court in which s/he may be disfellowshipped or excommunicated, requiring eventual rebaptism after at least a year waiting period. In the interim period, the person is considered to be without benefit of saving ordinances, so should that person die during that time, s/he is left out in the cold from a salvation perspective.
By contrast, Evangelicals do not require baptism, accepting “transfer” baptism from other Protestant sects. Being saved means accepting Christ’s atonement and your role as a sinner. Being forgiven of any sin simply requires asking God for forgiveness.
Mormons have a particular hatred for philandering husbands. While divorce is not uncommon, ward members often assume the wife is in the right, and we even assess worthiness for temple worship based on one’s familial relationships and for those obligated to pay child support, whether they honor those obligations. While Evangelicals and Mormons both talk family-centric, Mormons add teeth to it.
Do these differences mean that Evangelicals are lighter on (spiritual) crime than Mormons? Perhaps. Or does this mean that Newt’s explanation of his repentance process is culturally familiar to them, whereas to Mormons it is evidence that he did not truly repent (in that he didn’t forsake his adultery or make restitution). Is our repentance process evidence of Mormons being more focused on “works” whereas to Evangelicals, grace is sufficient? Do we reject repentance that we consider insufficiently stringent?
Who am I to judge? I’m a person who hasn’t committed adultery twice when my spouse was gravely ill. And I’m a Mormon. (Maybe that should be my mormon.org tagline.) Thanks to the JST, Mormons do in fact feel entitled to judge, so long as it isn’t “unrighteous” judgment. Since Evangelicals believe the Bible to be inerrant and unalterable, they’re just left with: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” So perhaps we do feel we are entitled to judge others if we believe our judgments are just. And in this case, c’mon! However, based on my personal relationships, I have a hard time believing Evangelicals are in practice and culture any less judgmental than Mormons.
When polled, Iowa Republicans (sporting a strong Evangelical base) were asked how they viewed Newt and Mitt:
A leading Democratic pollster, Peter Hart, recently conducted focus groups with Republican voters and made an astonishing discovery: voters, when asked which family member Newt most reminded them of, said their “good uncle” or their “kindly grandfather.” However, when asked who Mitt Romney most reminded them of, it was their “Dad who was never home”
While Mitt as a dad who was never home probably resonates for many Mormons familiar with the number of hours high profile careers coupled with demanding church callings require, the idea of Newt as a kindly grandfather seemed completely out of left field to me as a Mormon. Do Evangelicals have a lot of philandering grandfathers and uncles? Does the fact that Mormons are more educated on average than Evangelicals make us more likely to identify hypocrisy? Does it make us less likely to have creepy uncles? Despite our own reputation as gullible, Evangelicals are certainly not immune to Ned Flanders Disease. Perhaps it’s just a matter of degree.
Mormons have higher expectations for leaders.
Is it Newt’s relentless hypocrisy that disgusts Mormons? Newt, when asked how he could be unfaithful and give a speech on family values:
“It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.” Source: John H. Richardson. “Newt Gingrich: The Indispensable Republican.” Esquire.com. 8/10/2010.
In 1994, Gingrich responded to reports he’d had extramarital affairs while running a family-values campaign in 1978 by saying:
“In the 1970s, things happened.” Source: AP. “Wife’s lawyer to question woman in Gingrich divorce case.” Marysville Journal-Tribune. Marysville, Ohio. 8/13/1999. pg. 2.
Bear in mind that he was in year two of another six-year affair at the time. Apparently “things happened” in the 90s as well as in the 70s. Are Mormons culturally more critical of serious flaws in leaders than of others? Maybe so. One of our most oft quoted scriptures states:
D&C 82: 3 For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.
And in the JST version of the Bible, we re-examine this verse from Luke:
Luke 12:57 But he that knew not his Lord’s will, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and to whom the Lord has committed much, of him will men ask the more.
What if Newt were one of us?
As I examined my own Newt revulsion, I asked myself how I would feel if Newt were LDS. My first thought was that he probably would not be LDS any more, having been excommunicated, and it is unlikely he would have undergone the rigors of the process to become rebaptized. This thought lessened my respect for him even further. He can do the crime, but not the time.
I immediately thought of a prominent LDS figure, Hyrum Smith who founded the Franklin company and was excommunicated for adultery. Reading his process back to church membership filled me with empathy and admiration, knowing how difficult and humbling it must have been. I can’t help but think Newt was never taken (by others or himself) off his lofty perch, and humility is requisite to repentance. At least it is in Mormon culture.
Yet, if I compare our cultural views of repentance to a more stringent process such as corporeal mortification, practiced by only the most devout Catholics, I don’t necessarily find that more empathetic or more admirable. If it came out that Newt was wearing a hair shirt or twisting a cilice into his thigh between sessions of congress, I would be more impressed with his sincerity but a little grossed out, too (just the thought “Newt’s thigh” creates a wave of nausea). My unfamiliarity with these practices makes them seem extreme and even psychotic. Perhaps that is how our repentance process seems to an Evangelical who believes a friendly chat with God in private is copascetic. While it probably makes more sense to hold a person accountable for the repentance process of their own faith, our judgment is inextricably tied to our own faith’s culture.
- Do you think Mormons are tougher on adultery than other sects?
- Do you think Mormons feel more justified in judging others or about the same?
- In your opinion, why do Mormons dislike Newt?