Mormonism in a Nutshell (Notes for Mitt)

Everyone wants Mitt Romney to talk about Mormonism, and so far he has more or less refused. That is perhaps the wiser political course. But if it were me, I’m not so sure that I would be able to stay silent on the subject. The vacuum has left reporters with the idea that Mormonism is far removed from traditional Christianity and thoroughgoingly weird. It’s true that Mormonism is rife with theological heresy (from the perspective of most Christians), but virtually every idea percolating within it can be found somewhere within historic, traditional Christianity. So if it were me, I would have a little talk with those asking about my Mormonism, to try to help them place the faith in some context that they might understand, something like this:

Most of the Christian world is divided into three large groups: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Each has further divisions, especially Protestantism, which is particularly fragmented. The Magisterial Reformation (associated with various states) resulted in three main traditions: Lutheranism in Germany, Reformed Christianity originating in Switzerland, and the Anglican Church in England. There were also Protestant movements not affilitated with the state in any way, often referred to as the Radical Reformation, various Anabaptist sects being an example of this.

Although most Christian churches fit comfortably within one of those three large categories, not all do. There are various Christian movements that exist outside those borders. One form of such Christian profession is called “restorationism,” which came into vogue early in the 19th century. Mormonism is a restorationist church (another prominent example of a restorationist movement from the same time period is the Stone-Campbell Movement).

The Mormon Church was founded by Joseph Smith in upstate New York, largely as a reaction to the Second Great Awakening. Joseph lived in a time and in an area historians have referred to as the Burned-Over District, from the extensive revivalism that took place there. The young Joseph Smith was deeply troubled by the contest for converts by the various churches, and reportedly had a vision in which God told him to join none of them. He later would form his own (Christian) Church.

How do the beliefs of Mormons differ from more traditional Christians? Well, Joseph was a simple man, lacking in formal education, so he used the Bible and a belief in modern, continuing revelation as his guide. As restorationists, Mormons do not feel bound by the great ecumenical councils of the first millennium. So, for example, they do not feel bound by the definition of the Trinity that was first formally promulgated at Nicea in A.D. 325 and refined in subsequent councils. Mormons see the Greek philosophy underlying the idea that the Father and Son are homoousia, “of the same substance,” as meaningless gobbledigook. We believe in God the Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost, and that these three are one in purpose and will, but not in essence. So yes, our understanding of the Trinity is heretical, but I doubt that one in a hundred Christians you meet on the street could accurately describe the orthodox understanding of the Trinity.

We have a priesthood. We believe in succession and ordination, but ours is a lay priesthood, widely held by the men of the Church. Therefore, we’re sort of halfway between the Catholic and Protestant (with Luther’s priesthood of all believers) conceptions of priesthood.

We believe in an open canon of scripture. We accept the Bible (in its Protestant form), but we also accept certain other writings, most famously the Book of Mormon. I realize most people think the origin story of the book is untenable. But try reading it sometime. The substance of the book is a fairly straightforward Christianity expressed within the framework of a tale of ancient migration and fraternal strife. Even if Joseph simply wrote the book, there is precious little in there that a traditional Christian would find objectionable, and the pseudonymous authorship of literature we now regard as scripture is a longstanding tradition.

Most people immediately associate Mormonism with its most distinctive practices, such as its (one-time) encouragement of polygamy and temple worship. Joseph tried to restore the biblical practice of polygamy, much as the Anabaptists of Muenster did centuries ago. I realize most Christians think these things are wrong. But I would hope that, even from that perspective, one can see that Joseph Smith was trying to take the Bible seriously. Perhaps he took it a little too seriously. But that was the source of so many Mormon distinctives.

So yes, Mormonism is a heterodox form of Chirstianity, but the differences between Mormonism and more traditional Christianity are often to be found in the realm of formal theology. On a day to day basis, Mormons go to church, worship, read the Bible, pray, take communion, love their families, and serve others, just like all Christians do.


  1. Perfect. And if I were a member of the media, I’d find this extremely helpful.

  2. I’m not sure Mitt should call the creeds “meaningless gobbledigook”. Otherwise, I think you’ve put together a pretty good summary.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Ha, good point, CS Eric. That was my own bias showing through. And of course it’s not meaningless if one understands the platonic background. I just find that most people don’t. But anyway, you’re quite right, I should have worded that more diplomatically.

  4. I’m again’ it. I am glad that Mitt has decided to zip-lip it. That whole article sounds too much like we are trying to cozy up to people who don’t even like us. The last paragraph especially downplays the role of theology in Mormonism. It was like “Sure, yeah our theology is different, but mostly we are exactly like you because we hardly pay any attention to it at all.” I cannot speak for all Mormons (nor would I want to) but although Mormonism is a Christian religion by virtue of the fact that we worship Christ, it is VERY different from other Christian religions. At its core it is a lifestyle religion versus merely saying on Sunday “I accept Jesus into my heart” and then you’re okay for the rest of the week as so many Christian religions have it. I see no need to downplay our theology, or stick our square pegs in their round holes. We are a peculiar people. shrug shrug shrug

  5. I get what EOR is saying in #4, but just as 1 in a 100 Christians you meet on the street can’t explain the trinity, its the same thing for the typical Mormon and our own particular theological positions. The point being to the general public we’re just a garden variety Christian, to those that care about theology (that 1 in the 100) then yes we’re different.

  6. Your nutshell explanation is as good for the media as it is for fellow Mormons. It seems to bridge the gap between the media meme “Mormons are sweet & clean-cut, but theologically weird” and our fellow members’ ignorant trope, “But we believe in Christ, so of course we’re Christian!” So, yes, the theological heresies are there; on a day-to-day basis, though, the lives of Mormon Christians mirror the lives of most other Christians. Brilliant.

  7. quick search and replace:
    “ordinantion” = “ordination”
    “substnace” = “substance”
    “straightroward” = “straightforward”
    “some time” = “sometime”
    “Mormoism” = “Mormonism”
    “serve others” = maybe “and serve others”

  8. Droylsden says:

    This is a fantastic write-up. Thanks.

  9. I like it, though not necessarily if it emanated from the Romney campaign.

  10. Walkingshoes says:

    The best measure of a people shows in their community involvement and ethics, a measure where Mormons generally receive high marks. Yet mainstream media loves to find the strange and unusual in order to ‘create a story’ for their readers; and Mormonism has many unusual points to story around. Working in that context, the Church should team with Ogilvy & Mather (or another high-profile NY company) to build on points that mainstream citizens complain over. Commercial manufacturers (P&Gamble, SC Johnson,..) work hard to find a ‘branding edge’ to help them stand out from competitors. Mormons have a lot of policy and doctrine material to work among, giving much to rework and repackage. For example, instead of the label of ‘flip-flopping’, brand us as ‘new and improved’. Our treatment of polygamy in 1840-1890 could be viewed as ‘product testing’ to arrive at today’s view on marriage and family. I do not intend to sound silly or flippant; I am just offer ideas to turn a perceived negative into a positive element.

  11. Chris Gordon says:

    Clean Cut, you give the average media too much credit by thinking they’d follow any of the nuances Kevin is illustrating. I think Mitt’s staff knows this. I think Mitt knows this and the precarious position it would put him in to speak authoritatively about the church and its position vis-a-vis other christian faiths. (Granted, as a high priest in good standing he has as much authority as anyone in the church to teach what he knows.)

  12. Walkingshoes I think the last thing The Church needs to do is engage a branding company. Seriously, I did not join this Church to be part of a damned corporation. If we are going to forget about the doctrine or gloss it up to be approved of by men it is game over for me. Absolutely.

  13. Nearly everyone of the lines that attempt some form of reconcilliation can be blasted apart with a half-truth, out of context quote from some authority of the church, pioneer or modern.

    So when Mitt gives this speech, you can be certain the media will excitedly go for the controversy and cover some other toolbox dredging up quotes to refute all that and show you “what Mormons really believe”. They already do that without Mitt saying anything.

    The difference will be, by Mitt saying something it will give credence to the aggressive or unfair responses of those who oppose Mormonism.

    The media loves to manufacturer (or encourage) a controversy. It’s what works best. And since Mitt would not want to go on the offensive in any way in defense of his beliefs there isn’t much to be gained.

  14. chris (13) I agree…even though I don’t care about what is best for Romney’s campaign. I care about what is best for The Church members, and apparently every other Church in the world is allowed to believe whatever they like, and have horrible histories and scandals except us. (singing No More Mr. Nice Guy…)

  15. This seems like it ought to be the first entry in a “What Mitt should say”contest. Romney will probably never give a speech like this one but he is likely to need to use talking points beyond those he has used so far. Given some of his verbal missteps in other areas, it is kind of amusing thinking about what he might come up with on his own.

  16. maybe Mitt can get Huntsman to write the speech :)

  17. >>Perhaps he took it a little too seriously.

    Volumes of thought represented in that sentence. =)

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 7, thanks for catching my careless typos; I have fixed them.

    No. 15, I agree, people should feel free in the comments to outline what they think Mitt’s talking points ought to be.

  19. If I have to belong to this weirdo religion, I’m glad Kevin Barney is on our side.

  20. Kevin, your explanation of Mormons and Trinity is as clear as I’ve ever read.

  21. I don’t want to do a major thread-jack here, but I would someday like to hear about why you have to belong to this weirdo religion madhousewife (19) that thought makes me a sad panda.

  22. Mommie Dearest says:

    I can’t speak for madhousewife, but knowing her voice as I do, it didn’t seem sad at all. But then, I’m feeling the weird a bit more myself lately. It’s nice to read a Barney take on it.

    And I had no idea that the trinity elements were originally from the Greeks. I learned something today; someday I’ll have to chase it down and learn it properly.

  23. I have plenty of qualms with various media outlets, but all the cynical anti-media comments in the comments here do a complete disservice to all the journalists who take their job seriously and make good-faith efforts to help inform the public.

    As for EOR’s response, I don’t think a simplistic glossing over which elides theological differences entirely is what Kevin’s calling for. At the same time, I’ve become familiar with a good number of Christians whose faith means more to them than one-day-a-week lip service.

  24. MikeInWeHo says:

    Good stuff, Kevin. Seems to me that secular individuals would find your argument persuasive, but you underestimate the significance of heresy in the eyes of Evangelicals and Catholics in particular. Rejection of the creeds is a deal-breaker to most other Christian bodies. The believers in the pew may be unable to define the Trinity, but to their leaders it’s a very big deal….Joel Osteen excepted, of course. : )

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah, Mike, I really had in mind more secular readers. You’re right that for other Christians, heresy is heresy.

  26. #24 & #25 – and almost none of them understand that nearly all of our heresies are based on the Bible (and particularly the Gospels, compared to the Pauline focus of many of those who call them heresies) – and, in most cases, not taught at all in the Book of Mormon. That, to me, is the ultimate irony – and why I loved your mention of how Bible-centric our beliefs really are, Kevin.

  27. I’m a non-Mormon teaching a course on the Book of Mormon and this is what I try to get my students to understand in the first couple classes. It might downplay a bit of the Mormon distinctiveness, but then again, there’s room for nuance later on when the kids have thrown away ideas of heresy and are more ready to engage with Mormonism on its own terms. I don’t know if it would work in a media context but it’s certainly an interesting exercise.

  28. BHodges (23) I also know many Christians who put their proverbial money where their mouth is, but I have lived deep in the heart of the Bible belt and it has certainly been my experience that by and large the feeling is “Since I’ve accepted Jesus into my heart, it’s all good!” Baptists at our Barbecue may make for a cutesy movie concept but I have a strong doubt those people have been face to face with the barrel of a shotgun for daring to have the audacity to knock on said Baptist’s door merely because they were Mormon.

  29. In the interests of full disclosure, I was being colorful with language–I know shotguns barrels don’t have faces.

  30. See, I kind of think that Mormons are Trinitarian and do believe in homoousia.

  31. Antonio Parr says:

    While this is a nice, succinct summary of the LDS story, it would be strengthened by a stronger expression of our sense of wonder. We are not a theology-based faith, and people need to know that our religion finds its truest reflection in acts of love. People need, also, to know of our love of Christ, and the way that we look to Him for light and healing and strength.

  32. IMO Mitt should take the wise political course. If he starts talking about his religion the leftist media will pounce on him for injecting religion into the campaign. No matter what Mitt says about Mormonism, his example will be the thing that leaves an impression on most.

  33. I enjoyed, thanks.

    I have thought Mitt, if he were the kind of guy, who could believably sit down with some reporters and let them ask and shoot from the hip, something that he would have thought of beforehand, that he could actually make an impression with Mormonism.

    About another question: The Trinity. It seems that the more I think of it, the more I feel that the Nicene Trinity is the same thing as our “three separate persons make an entity that we call God”. It includes Father, Son and the Spirit, but when anyone interacts with us, we can call that God. IOW, I just use a different language.

    In that model God is an abstract, not a being, which is exactly what medieval scholastics seemed to come up with, from Anselm on.

  34. Antonio Parr (31) I wish you would please elaborate. The theology is the only reason I stick around. The Church itself has little or nothing to do with my faith.

  35. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 30
    How do you conclude that, Ronan? Are you basically saying most Mormons believe something different than what has always been a central tenet of the faith? Rejection of the unity of the Trinity goes back at least to Nauvoo and remains unambiguously rejected in correlated Church materials to this day.

  36. Thanks, Kevin. This is great.

  37. Blah blah says:

    Romney is running against quite possibly the toughest political contender since Nixon. Maybe since FDR. Should we really be expecting him to completely turn the tide of anti-Mormonism simultaneously? He has to do one thing at a time. He has to run a campaign right now, and therefore soft-pedal his religion. Right?

  38. Blah blah says:

    And someone help me …are some of us Mormons insecure that we are not trinitarians? If so, please inform me as to why.

  39. I’m proud to not be a trinitarian, cuz at least I know I’m free…. oh wait, wrong song!

  40. I’m going to make a prediction that Mitt’s not going to talk about Mormonism much more than he already has. Members may feel like he has to but it seems that this campaign’s goal is to get beyond his faith and focus on the issues which is a huge shift from where he was back in 2002 and even in 2008. If there’s any truth to the GQ profile of Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s reputed political consigliere, then don’t expect any “My name Is Mitt Romney and I’m a Mormon” moments or ads on the campaign trail. He made his this is my faith speech in 2008 and while we may be overly sensitive to what the press is going to say, I doubt that will cause him to shift focus.

    Nor do I think Romney really should. Plenty of effort has been put in place to lay the groundwork for what Mormons believe and who we are. We may not think it has been sufficient but the tone has shifted, going after his LDS beliefs is now going to focus on the truths and controversial actions the Church has taken (like Prop 8) and not on how weird Mormons are.

    The more Mitt can steer clear of discussing his faith I think the happier he will be. He’s the soon to be Republican candidate for office just like Kennedy was the Democratic candidate for office. Not the Mormon or Catholic candidate for office.

  41. Blah blah says:


    Nice! And don’t be discouraged. There’s got to be a bad country, or hair-band song out there that would suffice. I just wish it would land on me right now….

  42. Blah blah (41) haha nice! Let me know when you find it.

    Alain (40) I agree that it would be highly unlikely for Romney to bring up religion any further than he already has. He would be better served if he did not anyway. It is a bitter pill for many Republicans to swallow that he is already the candidate–he doesn’t need to go nanny nanny poo poo I am a Mormonnnn.

  43. Blah blah says:

    The thing is, whatever Romney does will please one part of his party and religious base while upsetting another part. It isn’t his fault. It’s the tenor of his times. He is smart to put his religion I’m the trunk …np matter how many eager Mormons he frustrates. Have they forgotten that less than 3% of the population of the US is actually Mormon, and over half of them are inactive?

  44. Blah blah says:


    I dunno. I kinda like the NannyPoo thing once he’s in….

  45. Blah blah says:

    …put his religion IN the trunk…

  46. Well, first off, I do not believe it is a politician’s place to explain their religion in this particular context. This is the role of the Church. And I am not talking about Mitt Romney specifically, any politician and any church.

    It is just ackward when a politicians or a high profile people try to sell apologetics about their religion. I personally think the best way for Mitt or any other politician to handle their religion is to focus on THEMSELVES, and explain their OWN PERSONAL MORAL SYSTEM not their religion. Especially when questioned about specific and unfomfortable aspects of their faith (whatever it may be).

    The problem for Mormons really is that they are not terribly flexible with objective views… if you don’t agree with the prophet you are an apostate, if you don’t agree with what this apostle said, you must be an apostate, if you don’t agree with the culture of the majority, you must be an apostate, if you are critical of our past or history, you must be an apostate, etc, etc, etc.

    For example, if you think polygamy was uninspired and wrong, you must be an apostate because Joseph Smith implemented it and practiced it, therefore, it HAD TO BE RIGHT (right? It was Joseph Smith!!!, how could it have been wrong!!!).

    In reality, the problem lies in Mormonism itself and their extreme lack of flexibility to view themselves objectively (because you know the prophets receive revelation and guide the Church according to the actual will of God, not a lot of room for differing opinions there).

    We cannot publicly express our views about our religion in an objective way, and in turn, any high profile member is not going to be able to express themselves in a truly objective manner. Mormonism will punish you if you disagree with them.

    If I was a high profile Mormon and I was running for president, I would be honest about what I believe. If the people of the United States do not like my beliefs, even after being honest about them, then I probably should not be their president.

    In my case, if I was questioned about polygamy, I would say: “I do not believe polygamy was an inspired principle in my religion. I believe it caused a lot of grief and destruction, it destroyed families and challenged traditional values and the traditional family structure. I think it was the result of faulty scriptural interpretation, lack of inspiration and the yielding to carnal desires of Joseph Smith. I do not support that type of lifestyle and for the record, nor does my religion currently support that lifestyle.”

    I know a lot of Mormons who feel this way, but the Church would be too punishing if they were to state this publicly. But this is exactly the way we communicate to others our religion or our personal moral system: it is how WE live it, and what WE think of its own elements. It’s not what the Church in general is or isn’t.

    The Church should be in charge of defining itself, not politicians or high profile members. Politicians and members should define how THEY PERSONALLY live their religion and SPEAK FREELY about what aspects of it they agree or disagree with. I think these are very valid points for voters to consider about somoene who is going to govern them and make decisions that will affect them relying on their own personal moral system. It is logical and valid if anyone wants to understand what that personal moral system is.

    If after honestly and clearly declaring to voters the elements of that personal moral system and how it will play a role in the desicion making process, and the voters decide that it simply is not what they desire in someone who is going to govern them, then the politician should MAN UP, pull up his/her diapers and realize he or she IS NOT the candidate the people are looking for. This, is a democracy.

    Cheap branding and false advertizing (look we are just like you!) and excessive apologetics do not work in the long run (sometimes they don’t work in the short run either).

    Your explanation is very good at the beginning (first four paragraphs) at placing Mormonism within the Christian religious frame–something that is absolutely MUCH needed. After that, it isn’t so good. Nevertheless, these aren’t notes for Mitt Romney. These are notes for the Leaders of the Church, who should be the ones defining the Church.

    I find your last paragraph rather innapropriate, assuming people interested in a politician’s religion are not really interested in theological specifics, rather in routine worship practices, which is probably (imo) the wrong assumption to make.

  47. Blah blah says:

    The NannyPoo-dom, as it were …if you will.

  48. I disagree that it is a constituent’s business what personal religious beliefs one who intends to govern them subscribes to. When one attempts to govern they are in place to serve the people they represent, so what they believe privately is actually irrelevant. If one’s religious beliefs helps them decide on certain policies, then it is those policies they should be called out to answer for, not the underlying beliefs.

    Blah blah, Nanny Nanny Poo Poo-ing by Mitt may have some serious harmful results. I won’t say the words, but I will just say that enough people still own guns without being tested for mental illness and leave it at that. :)

  49. “I disagree that it is a constituent’s business what personal religious beliefs one who intends to govern them subscribes to. When one attempts to govern they are in place to serve the people they represent, so what they believe privately is actually irrelevant.”

    EOR, this is absolutely illogical. The personal religious beliefs of the candidate will inevitably form the basis for their personal moral system and their desicion making process. I would be very concerned if the candidate I am voting for is a member of a white supremacist religion. or if he honestly believes the world will end in 2014. These are extreme examples, but they are also real examples, in the sense that there actually are Americans who believe these things. People should have a knowledge of these things and it should ABSOLUTELY be their business and part of their decision making process whether a candidate should be elected or not.

  50. If they are a White Supremacist that will bear out in their policies. The fact that they believe it is irrelevant. If they can separate their personal views from their governing (which absolutely can be done) it has no bearing on what type of representative they will be. Mixing religion and politics is always a recipe for disaster. I would rather be governed by someone who believes the world will end in 2014 if they spend the next two years making it a better place for their constituents than someone like Rick Santorum who is a nut-job who thinks religion and politics are and should be one and the same.

  51. “If they can separate their personal views from their governing (which absolutely can be done) it has no bearing on what type of representative they will be. ”

    That is way too naive and illogical. On my part, I completely disagree. I do not believe a person makes decisions without involving their personal moral system in the process. Computers and robots may be able to do this and they may be able to make decisions based on mathematical formulas having no sense of moral system in their background, but I have yet to meet a human that can do such a thing.

    But in any case, the constituents should have the right to know about their candidate’s beliefs and shold decide whether they feel a candidate will be able to separate their beliefs from their governing and choose their candidate accordingly.

    When you are offering yourself to make decisions for a group, you should be transparent enough for the group to form a decision. This may be idealistic, but constituents should have the right to know what kind of person is going to represent them. If constituents decide it is important for them to know if the candidate doesn’t eat pork, then the candidate should be able to respond whether he/she does or doesn’t. Like I said, this is a democracy, and if constituents find a particular attribute to be an important one, then it should be part of the information made available to them.

  52. EVERYONE does not want Mitt to talk about Mormonism. The less Mitt talks the better. He can’t even represent himself without flip flopping all over the place. I do not want Mitt talking about Mormonism EVER!

  53. Manuel what you are advocating is an invitation to exclusionism. I have been described as robotic in the past, but as meaningful as “meeting” someone on the internet can be, you have just met someone who can govern in direct opposition to their personal beliefs when it is what the people want because I have done it, and would do it again.

    This being a Democracy (snort) does not offer you the rights that you think it does. Where does your right to invade another person’s private beliefs come from? In which document (founding or otherwise) does it state that as voters we have the right to “fly on the wall” status regarding people we intend to elect? Yes, nowhere. Again, I say it is the policies themselves, whether informed by the personal beliefs of the candidate or not, that the public is entitled to know and vote for or against.

    I’m with Droopy (52) I do not want Mitt talking about Mormonism at all. In fact, I would appreciate it if he would downplay his connection thank you very much.

  54. Antonio Parr says:

    EQR (34): I am not sure that Mormonism has a formal theology that would be recognized as such by theologians. Its foundation is premised more upon the truth of various sacred events (First Vision; translation of the Book of Mormon; Priesthood Restoration; etc.) than upon a list of creedal statements nailed to a door. The theological implications of these events mean different things to different people. For example, I know Latter-Day Saints who embrace fully the non-canonized version of God as set forth in the King Follet discourse, while others are much more comfortable with the more Protestant-like God presented in the Book of Mormon. Both would take issue with the other’s insistance that their version of God was the official/exclusive way of describing the God of Mormonism.

    Mitt would do well to sidestep attempts at creedal summaries, and, instead, speak of his conviction in the reality of God, and the hope and strength derived from such universal principles as prayer and charity, both of which are crucial to Mormon worship. He should emphasize the importance of the two Great Commandments in Mormonism, and the way that his religion helps him carry out these Commandments. Finally, he can express the joy and peace that he finds in serving God and man, and his gratitude for membership in a church that provides him with opportunities to do both.

  55. Politicians have a job to do, and it’s an important one with specific limitations. Christian apologetics does not fit in the job description, though this is a fabulous, well-turned piece for lay discussion. Sidestepping the politico-bashing (which is just as annoying as media-bashing or religion-bashing), religion is meant to be a private endeavor and is always soiled when drug into the political arena. Politics in the US should focus primarily on the job of administering government and should encourage all private endeavor that turns to the unity and strength of the federal whole. That’s it. Candidates for public office have no responsibility to explain their religious beliefs, nor should they expect to speak for their religious orders.

    The question of whether it is wise for Mitt to speak or keep silence is another topic altogether. Naturally, he is choosing prudently to keep formal faith out of the spotlight, because anything he says no matter how well-turned immediately becomes untenable. If he spoke as a stake president, it would be one thing. There are things politicians can’t say about religion, just as there are things apostles can’t say about politics.

  56. EOR,

    Inquiring about a person’s beliefs is hardly invading their privacy, especially if that person is seeking a PUBLIC office in which those beliefs play a huge part of the political arena he wants to play in. Mitt Romney is trying to obtain the votes of Republican Conservatives. It is disingenuous to even imply, these people should not be concerned with religion… these are the people who have laws that forbid evolution to be taught at schools and that insist creationism to be taught instead. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? How is inquiring about someoneo’s religion or moral views an invasion of privacy?

    Sorry, but what you accuse people of doing (like invading privacy) by inquiring on someone’s system of beliefs and moral values, especially within a political party that uses moral values as their banner of publicity and alleged foundation for correct government practice, is absolutely contradictory. Like I said, illogical.

    If PUBLIC officers feel their religious beliefs are too private to disclose to their constituents, then them may want to rethink trying to represent o represent people for whom religion is an escential pillar of their daily lives and believe religion is an escential pillar of the nation itself and the foundation it was built upon. It would be absolutely laughable if they would adopt the position “my religion is none of your business.”

    I have news for you: Americans, especially Republican Conservative Americans (whom Mitt Romney seeks to gain support from) care about religion. It is a fact.

    This fact is not going to change in the near future, and it certaintly will not change before the coming elections. It doesn’t matter whether it is their right to know about their candidate’s religion or not, because, it is THEIR VOTE. The candidate’s election is in the hands of the constituents–the candidate doesn’t really have much of a choice. He/she cannot ignore what his/her constituents’ priorities are when electing a representative.

  57. I second Mike’s question: Tell us more Ronan!

    “If I have to belong to this weirdo religion, I’m glad Kevin Barney is on our side.”

    I feel this way all the time and I don’t think it’s sad at all. I simply recognize that most people think my religion is strange, but it’s where God wants me to be. At the same time, if I’m in that boat, I’m just really happy to have Kevin Barney in there with me.

    I’m of the opinion that Mitt is not going to make a speech like the one outlined by Kevin here, and he probably shouldn’t. As nice as it would be to make this speech in an attempt to make Mormonism understandable and place it in a context that the majority can understand, it’s probably not Mitt’s place to do it, and would probably do more harm than good. In other words, “Don’t dance with the bear.”

    I can already hear how Kevin’s well thought out words would sound to most Church members (those who do not even dip their toes in the waters of the bloggernacle) and the result would not be good. I’m with those who think there is not much political upside to Mitt discussing his religion, and some very high risks of serious downside. He should stay clear of it and let people like Kevin do it for him. They’re better at it.

  58. Manuel, what is disingenuous is to change your stated position mid-thread. Earlier you were saying the voting public has a RIGHT to know about a person’s private beliefs (which is an invasion of their privacy) and now you are saying they have the right to inquire. Of course they have the right to inquire–they also have the right to be told to MYOB. I don’t care what Republicans have built their party on because I am not limiting my discussion to Republicans. If Republicans won’t vote for someone unless they know their religion then I guess they will seek out that type of candidate. However, as I have stated multiple times, it is not an entitlement in any way shape or form. It is a candidate’s policies that matter, not their personal views.

    Also, “Americans” don’t care about religion, CERTAIN Americans do. Are you putting forth a position that anyone who does not care about religion by definition is not an American? I don’t think so. Not everyone is as you are, and tbh it is pretty rich to call positions illogical and naive simply because you do not agree with them. If you want to know all about a candidate’s personal life that is your choice. If Sally Joe and Bobby Sue and Mary Jean and Red all want to know that is their choice also. However, you would be hard pressed to get them all to vote for someone who is “religious” who then votes for stricter gun laws and against the death penalty–so, no, it is the policies they are voting for. Religion in politics is a red herring.

    Bonnie (55) Brava!

    McQ (57) the reason I felt it was sad was because someone felt as if they “needed” to be a part of a religion that they think is a weirdo religion. I don’t like for people to feel bound to something they do not love. However, if I misread or misunderstood then I offer my apologies.

  59. It’s not an invasion of privacy to ask about a politician’s religious beliefs. It may not be the most relevant factor, but it is one relevant factor. “Invasion of privacy” has a certain meaning, and that ain’t it. Because personal views and beliefs can and sometimes do shape policy decisions, the public and journalists are within their rights to ask about them. This is the tradition of our political system, it seems to me. Romney has never taken the position that his religious beliefs are none of the public’s business, because it would be political suicide for him to say that. He just says he’s not a spokesman for his church when it comes to doctrinal or historical issues, which is correct.

  60. Again, inquiring is not an invasion of privacy–requiring is. Which is what I said. If a candidate wishes to disclose it is up to them, but it is not and should not be required. Their personal beliefs are irrelevant when they intend to govern others who do not believe as they do.

  61. EOR,

    Oh please, what a big fat pile of BS. No, I am not implying people who don’t care about religion are not Americans, and you know it.

    I did not change my position about the right to know about a candidate’s religious beliefs. I said it doesn’t matter.

    And no, it is not an invasion of privacy, especially and in the case the person being questioned lives his religion openly and publicly such as Mitt Romney and every other Mormon out there does (in fact the Church wants people to know not only that we are Mormons, but how this makes us peculiar yet good people).

    You keep separating policies from religious beliefs, which lead me to suspect you are not aware of how many critical policies are debated, campaigned for and more importantly, how they are decided. I do not see your position being too functional in a realistic political context within the United States of America with policies that are closely tied to western principles which are based on moral values propagated by religion.

    You may not be limiting your discussion to Republicans, unfortunately, we are talking about Mitt Romney, so, I really do not understand how you can possibly dismiss the Republican Conservative ideologies and patterns for electing their candidates.

    I think you are simply wired differently, and we probably will never reach an agreement on much. Therefore, I end this conversation wishing you good luck and best wishes! ;)

  62. Blah blah says:


    My NannyPoo statement had to do with the fact that if he went do far as to get the nomination , people would have to deal with the fact that we actually have a Mormon president. Then anti-Mormon Christians might then have the obligation to educate themselves about Mormonism as opposed to taking their pastor’s word that we sacrifice chickens in the temple, and so forth.

  63. EOR, I assure you that I meant the “weirdo” thing affectionately. I do love Mormonism. I also think it’s weird. I also feel like I need to be part of it regardless of how weird I find it, but that’s another story. Just please don’t be sad anymore! [Insert an appropriate emoticon here, if you like that sort of thing. If not, forget I said anything.]

    I also think that Mitt should avoid explaining Mormonism to the electorate. It’s a thankless job for anyone, but especially for someone who’s trying to get elected (and convince the majority of Americans he doesn’t belong to a weirdo religion). There’s really nothing to be gained for him, and nothing to be gained for the church. The only people who care about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism are Mormons and people who won’t be persuaded of our legitimacy no matter how eloquently one explains our beliefs.

    And I don’t want Mitt Romney to be our spokesperson, no offense to him. I don’t want Harry Reid or Orrin Hatch or David Archuleta or Gladys Knight to be our spokesperson either. If people want to know more about Mormonism, they should ask a Mormon they know. Or visit, or whatever the kids are doing these days. Obviously, we’d all love it if people had a better understanding of our religion, but theology doesn’t really belong in a political debate. I agree that a person’s religious beliefs influence their personal ethics and values; of course they do. But if theology determined policy positions, there wouldn’t be any room for disagreement on government policy among Mormons. Mitt Romney’s theology really is irrelevant to the job he’s applying for. There’s just no point going there.

    Which is not to take anything away from Kevin Barney’s talent for explaining Mormonism to others. If we ever do have a theologian-in-chief, I think Kevin would do a super job.

  64. Mommie Dearest says:

    The real question is, would we get to vote for a Theologian-in-chief? Or who would appoint someone to such an office? And lastly, would a woman qualify for the appointment?

    Sorry, Kevin.

  65. Kevin Barney says:

    Just to be clear, I’m not really advocating that Mitt speak more about Mormonism. I’m just saying this is the kind of statement I’d be tempted to make were I in his shoes. Which is a big part of the reason that I’m not actually in his shoes, I suppose…

  66. Jacob H. says:

    Someone should host a poll here to see who would likely win the position.

  67. Meldrum the Less says:

    Aside from the question of whether I or any one of us should be directing the strategy of Romney’s campaign, I found the summary of our beliefs in the original post somewhat lacking. It suffers from the same flaw that much of what comes out of official church sources; beautifully written and not one word is demonstrably incorrect, except for fundamental glaring omissions.

    At its core authentic Mormonism is radical. I find it rather too much glossing it over to simply state that Mormonism rejects the creeds of the first millennium. Those creeds represent the very foundation of the faith. Can we Mormons even image rejecting the first millennium of Mormon revelation? Reject everything our first couple dozen prophets said along with another 800 years? More like 1500 years?

    The rest of Christianity and the other three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism) all begin with a distinction that we lack. They emphasize a clear difference between a single Creator God and His creation. The Creator is not the created. Everything else is created. For them God created, out of nothing: all matter, energy, time, space, darkness, light, all electromagnetic fields, and He created all concepts, principles, laws, and every being, animal, insect, nematode, plant, fungi, and microbe. There is no possible music or poetry or art or far out mathematical concept that has been created or that could be created that this God has not already done Himself. No possible blog response that God has not already anticipated. This traditional God is soviergn (being a Mormon boy, I can’t even spell the word), or in total control of his creation in every way, in ways that Mormons find inconceivable.

    As for the Mormon concept of God, God is part of the creation. He is material and some of those things such as matter are co-eternal with God.God is multiple, with at least one wife, a son (and perhaps more relatives than a redneck trailer park). The human race is coeternal with God. The Mormon God is subject to basic principles and laws that govern the universe and through comprehension of these concepts God derives His power, not through creation of the laws. The Mormon God becomes more of an organizer than a creator out of nothing. And this concept leads right into the idea that man is God in embryo. This is why those outside our faith find the idea so revolting. It is incompatible with the traditional concept of God held for thousands of years. Some of us find the Mormon concept of God liberating and distain the back-pedaling from it we see going on.

    Another area that deserves mention and I will not get into are the concepts behind what is going on in the temple. (Salvation and secret rituals.) For traditional Christians well-grounded in their beliefs, it is actually worse than frying a few chickens. But I will refrain from going there.

    Most modern people really don’t care about theology anymore. A family will walk across the street from a Calvinistic Presbyterian church to a Wesleyan Methodist church because they like the sunday school teacher’s hair style better. (True story). We can get away with glossing over disturbing foundational distinctions in doctrine. But do we want to?

    I say, leave Romney to politics, at least for the next 6 months. He already did his two mission a long time ago. If he looses badly they can send him on another mission.

  68. Blah blah says:

    Meldrum, well said. I basically agree. The Mormon concept of God allows me to believe deeply in God. The idea of the Trinity is as silly to me as Hinduism, for instance. I simply cannot do it.

  69. Meldrum (no. 67) — Maybe it isn’t back-pedaling — may it’s a retrenchment from the folklore that has dominated our thought for too long, and a return to basic truths. I’m a Mormon, but my view of God differs from yours, and yours does not represent all Mormons or Mormonism. There is enough material in the tapestry of Mormon thought to support your view, but not enough to make me support it. I like Paul’s counsel in Romans ch. 14 — let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind, and don’t put a stumblingblock in front of your neighbor.

    I really don’t like talk of Mormon doctrine, because there really is very little. For me, Mormonism is priesthood authority restored, and I can sustain a man in his priesthood even if I differ with his views on doctrinal matters. We will agree to a large extent on what is false doctrine, but there is no need for us to agree on the exact principles of true doctrine.

  70. Meldrum the Less says:

    Reply to #69 ji

    I am for big-tent Mormonism. Even though I know virtually next to nothing about your views I think there is plenty of room for them probably in the middle of the tent.

    Doctrine or folklore? That is a big question. If you go for minimal doctrine and lots of folklore, then it is easy to find common ground to reject as doctrine. Describing concepts enshrined in the D & C as folklore is a bit slippery although we did boot the Lectures on Faith out of the scriptures. King Follet address, especially if it is quoted continually in contemporary material is less slippery but still an issue. Material from sources like Sterling McMurrin who was a University of Utah philosopher makes extremely good sense to me but might not to others.

    For me Priesthood restoration is not the central issue. At best it is like a ticket in the front of the lunch line instead of the middle or the back. Every member of the human family will be blessed by the Priesthood ordinances eventually. The event, lunch if you will, is the atonement of Christ. The rest is folklore to me.

    Also since my parents were in the circle of acquaintances of the highest church leaders when they were young, I tend to not have as much respect for them as many. They are not celebrities to me, more like the old guys in the ward. Quite capable of going senile or screwing up. When they say the prophet or the apostles will never led us astray, it sounds to me like saying the local Elk’s lodge will never led us astray. Except I can remember the time last fall during the big hunt when the entire Elk’s lodge got lost in a snow storm in a large hay field on the edge of town.

    It doesn’t help my faith in Priesthood authority that recently my stake and ward leaders have managed to screw up pretty seriously. If I had to bear my testimony tomorrow, it wouldn’t be “I know the church is true.” No, it would be more like “My ward sucks.” Because of poor leadership. I want to be helpful, but I really don’t know how or what to do. I tend to keep quite at church now and yap on line. Some members of my family are attending other churches and finding them much better. Much more Christ centered, with better sermons, youth programs and music, etc. Ah, well.

  71. Kevin, Thank you for this post. It was timely since I took friends through the KC temple this weekend and used some of your words verbatim. We are a restorationist Christian church, we reject the ecumenical councils, etc.

    #67 Meldrum the Less, I also appreciate your comments. Now I know why when I said we reject the ecumenical councils my friends seemed much more shocked and appalled than I thought they would.

    “The Mormon God is subject to basic principles and laws that govern the universe and through comprehension of these concepts God derives His power, not through creation of the laws.” The one thing I would add to your description of the Mormon God is to add after the word comprehension the words ‘and obedience’.

    I so appreciate people who are able to explain Mormonism succinctly and all the comments have been very thought provoking. Thanks for sharing!

  72. #70. And here I thought my ward was the only one that gives me reasons every week why I want to be back in my old ward.
    And I join in the chorus as to not wanting Mitt or any other celebrity, political or othewise, to be out there discussing Mormon beliefs, especially those created through “traditions of the fathers” rather than through revelation.

  73. Meldrum the Less says:

    Reply to Sam K.

    Doesn’t do much good to comprehend if you don’t follow through with action. yes definitely compliance with principle beyond mere comprehension is the source of power.

  74. Meldrum the Less says:

    Whoops- that was for KC.

    My reply for Sam K:
    Does this mean you consider me a celebrity? Probably not. Aw, shucks.

  75. Religion reporters in the professional news media know how to get information about the LDS Church from the Church itself. They know enough about the history of Catholics and Protestants to be able to contrast Mormonism with more traditional beliefs.

    However, it is not religion reporters covering the election campaign, it is political reporters. Most of them have not even an elementary idea of what is in the Nicene Crred. Political reporters like to focus on scandal so they tend to latch onto gossip about Joseph Smith. They are not really interested in comparing church doctrines, but in scoring some quick points like “If you believe this stuff about angels, you must be out if touch with reality.” The Obama campaign has little positive achievement to stand on, so instead they will try to distract people, getting them into interminable debates about Mormonism that cannot be resolved in a speech or press conference. It can only be effective in a setting where the hearer can accept the Holy Ghost, not in a political attack. Romney’s best option is to point to the honorable public service of Democrats and Republicans for a century who have been Mormons, to show that there is no reason to worry about him or any other Mormon in publuc office. Anyone who wants to know Mormonism can go to and

  76. #4 — “At its core it is a lifestyle religion versus merely saying on Sunday “I accept Jesus into my heart” and then you’re okay for the rest of the week as so many Christian religions have it.”


    #23 — ” I’ve become familiar with a good number of Christians whose faith means more to them than one-day-a-week lip service.”

    Not only that, but just because Mormons’ weekdays are filled with Church-related activities does not mean that they are behaving in a more Christ-like way during the week than those Christians whose weeks are not so thoroughly scheduled. I find the suggestion otherwise to be extremely, extremely, extremely irritating.

  77. Shona, if you thought I meant that Church activities during weekdays is what I meant by “lifestyle religion” then I am not sure what to tell you. As I said in a post following that I have seen mainstream Christians act as if simply accepting Jesus into their heart covers them for all sorts of horrific behaviors. I have seen this on a massive scale. I have seen it all but taught by certain pastors and reverends. I cannot speak intelligently on your experiences and what you have seen, but I certainly can about my own.

  78. #75: The Obama campaign has little positive achievement to stand on, so instead they will try to distract people, getting them into interminable debates about Mormonism that cannot be resolved in a speech or press conference

    According to the DNC chair the Obama camp said Mormonism is off-topic and doesn’t plan to address is. You could at least wait until they break that promise to complain. Maybe the guys over at the Fox News message board will be more interested in your Obama criticism.

  79. EOR,

    Setting aside for a moment that the grace v. works debate is, IMO, 99% semantics, I will agree that there is a theological difference there between Mormons and non. However, in my experience, that theological difference doesn’t translate into more consistently Christlike behavior on either side. Is that what you were implying? If by “lifestyle” you did not mean church activities, then you must have meant something else. Lay it on me.

  80. Shona (79) I meant that more is required. More sacrifice, more service, more stewardship over others, etc… These are all symptoms of a lay priesthood and aux. authorities. Of course there are poor examples and wonderful examples on all sides of the aisle. I am not suggesting that Mormons are better, or Mainstream Christians are better. I was making a comment that they are absolutely different.

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