The right question: Do the facts about the Latter Day Saints make general election success harder?
So far the discussion here and elsewhere is in my opinion off the mark and what’s worse for Republicans causes strife where none should exist.
Respect for the sincerely held religious views of others includes taking seriously their right to hold such views. It doesn’t mean subscription to their beliefs or lack of belief. And of course it doesn’t mean overlooking the practical working out of certain beliefs and dogma in everyday life.
Ordinarily a candidate’s religion or lack thereof is way, way down on my support/don’t support flow chart. But not always.
Before addressing the LDS faith let me give a hypothetical concerning another denomination. The Church of Christ Scientist. I met my first Christian Scientist in Vietnam. I remember only that his name was Bill and he came from Oklahoma. Bill was rotating into Armed Forces Radio just as I was a “short-timer” so I didn’t get to know him well. But I never will forget about my first encounter with a Christian Scientist.
I saw Bill drinking water from a jug we kept in the radio/TV station lounge to water plants. I was horrified. You simply did not drink untreated water in Saigon. It was home to all manner of nasty bugs. Bill asked me why I was “afraid” of water. I told him that the only safe water was the stuff we received that had been filtered and treated. It was easy to tell because “safe” water smelled like bleach.
The newly-arrived enlisted man explained he was a Christian Scientist and was certain that anything so small as not to be visible couldn’t injure him. I listened and decided to wait for the inevitable dysentary which was such a problem that we radio and TV types kept recordings long enough to cover a lengthy stay in the bathroom. I had three bouts of dysentary during my stay.
Sometime later while shooting hoops outside the station complex Bill badly hurt his left-hand. He landed on something sharp and took a major-league slice out of back of his hand. I offered to take him to the dispensary, but he declined and said he would consult a Practitioner. I was really curious and he explained that just as the military had medicos so they had Christian Science Practitioners. And no, there would be no antiseptics, tetanus shot; maybe a bandage. Next day his hand wasn’t quite healed, but it was close.
I worked the all-night DJ gig and was soon to leave so I didn’t get to know Bill well. However when I returned to the US and secured a job I was hot to investigate CS. I read Mary Baker Eddy’s opus, went to Sunday services and Wednesday night meetings. I met some great people and learned a lot that has been helpful. I still read Mrs. Baker from time to time and occasionally attend a Wednesday night meeting. I can honestly say I’ve never met a Christian Scientist I didn’t like. I have found them to be unfailingly kind and thoughtful.
I respect their faith, but can’t fully share it though it has been helpful to me. I also could never support a practicing, believing Christian Scientist who sought the presidency.
You see CS teaches that matter is unreal, a dream, an illusion. War, pain and suffering are not real. We, all of us are in the image and likeness of God. His mind is the one and only mind. There is “only God and his Idea”
Please do not think I am mocking CS. I am not. But I can’t join them, and while I would support a Christian Scientist for many offices if they were conservative I could never entrust the defense of the US to someone who sincerely holds that men and women as God’s idea are wholly good.
Does that make me a bigot. Am I prejudiced? Am I saying a CS member can’t seek or hold public office? No. What I am saying is that the CS belief that matter does not exist must be taken seriously, not dismissed as a purely private matter.( Note however, Christian Scientists do serve in the military. They believe in obedience to legitimite government authority.)
Now I can support a Mormon for president, but as a purely practical matter believe a Morman candidate has some political obstacles not in the way of a “traditional christian”
Some examples: The Book of Morman makes crystal clear that Latter Day Saints are Christians, but flatly states that all other churches and denominations are apostate. I am not being unkind when I say this. I’ve read the Book of Morman cover to cover more than once. It is very clear as is LDS teaching that only one church is not in error and that would be the LDS. Their holding this view bothers me not at all, but I can imagine a reporter asking about it.
If a Morman becomes president and decides to attend an LDS rite in a consecrated temple will the Secret Service and media be allowed to accompany him or her? This is a sincere question since many of the agents and media will not have “temple recommends” and at present that means you can’t enter the temple. Also what goes on in the temple is kept secret. Do you really think the media is not going to inquire about this?
Will a Morman candidate have the whole energy of Christian evangelicals when they are told, and count on it they most certainly will be told, about LDS beliefs that are very different than conventional Catholic/Protestant/Jewish tenents? Can polytheism and montheism be reconciled? Polytheism? Yes. The LDS church plainly teaches that human beings may become gods. In fact that is the goal. Such a belief probably should be a matter of indifference regarding political life but it will be mentioned. Do you doubt it?
How will people react to the history of Joseph Smith? Do you think Democrat “operatives” are doing some research concerning the life of Smith? And this most famous son of up-state New York did not lead a dull existence.
Make no mistake. If a Morman runs against President Obama there will be plenty of MSM reporting on Smith’s life, revelations and the LDS church. President Obama will of course take the high road. Other roads and paths will be left to others. Joseph Smith led a short and tumultious life. “No man knows my history,” he reportedly said. But trust me what is known about the Prophet will be examined and reported. In detail. Fawn Brodie’s bio reports Joseph Smith was married to more than 100 women. In 1843 he declared in a revelation that plural marriage was not only right, but a duty. The church’s Prophet, Seer and Revelator late in the 19th century reversed this and the church now condemns polygamy.
So let me be clear: If a Morman is a candidate for president, say Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman, he can count on my support. However I would expect them or anyone else not to run for cover when real questions of fact arise. That’s not the conservative way. And expecting to skate is naive.
Mormanism is as a faith materially different than traditional christian belief in many ways. Different. The practical fruits of the “Restored Gospel” seem to me to be very good. I personally think the LDS church has prospered through much tougher times than is likely in a political campaign.
However candidate Romney or Huntsman or a future LDS candidate can not pretend that evangelicals and others have a perfect right to be as firm in their public belief as the LDS church is in its cherished and sincerely-held tenets. And to be self-righteous when a Baptist minister states his beliefs is not helpful.