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Monday, February 27, 2006

Mormon Politics and Big Love

I have been naive. I thought the disdain of the LDS Church toward the HBO series Big Love was due to concern for the image of the Church (see last Friday's blog, Fundamentalist Mormons and Big Love). But The Guardian Unlimited, published in the UK, has a different perspective.

According to an article published today, "The march of the Mormons",
"The Latter-day Saints are on the rise in the US, and a Republican named Mitt Romney has hopes of becoming the first Mormon president. But the church has one serious image problem: polygamy. Which is why HBO's new drama, about a man with three wives, is stirring up controversy."

Journalist Julian Borger has written a very interesting article. You can read a few excerpts below, but I encourage you to take a look at the whole story at The Guardian Unlimited web site.

  • "Polygamy is a constant embarrassment to the church in its quest for mainstream acceptance and top-level political influence."


  • "The truth is that the Mormon church has managed to live down the Osmonds, but it is still struggling to live down polygamy 116 years after banning the practice. Polygamy survives like a batty old aunt in the attic, sounding off at the most embarrassing moments.

    "All this is not entirely the church's fault. The fundamentalist sects in Utah and beyond who still use the Mormon label generate a disproportionate number of news stories, mostly about horribly abused women and children. Yet some critics say the church leadership, in its multi-spired temple in downtown Salt Lake City, must shoulder some of the blame. It has sent mixed signals on plural marriages, turned a blind eye to polygamists in its own ranks decades after the ban, and done little to help victims of abuse. Although the church's 1890 'manifesto' against polygamy prohibits it here on earth, the scriptures retain it as a celestial ideal for believers who find their way to the kingdom of heaven.

    "Such criticisms have long been an irritant to the Mormon hierarchy, but of late they have become excruciating. Now more than ever, the Mormon apostles do not want dirty old laundry to be aired on prime-time television, just as the Latter-day Saints seem poised to fulfil their founder's prophecy and scale the supreme heights of US government."


  • "Hardly anyone batted an eyelid when Harry Reid emerged as the Senate minority leader in 2004. In fact the Democrats, convinced they had lost that year's elections on 'moral values,' were proud of Reid's Mormon credentials.

    "The church is a byword for conservatism (95% of American Mormons voted for Bush in 2004) and Reid is anti-abortion, opposed to gay marriage and gun control and defends capital punishment.

    "But he is liberal on bread-and-butter issues such as health and education, and that is good enough for the Democrats in this time of exile. Reid at least offers potential crossover appeal in conservative 'red' states.

    "Reid's Mormonism is unthreatening. America does not fear excessive religious zeal in its Democrats, as it tends not to worry about weakness on security from its Republicans. It would be counterintuitive. In any case, the job of Senate minority leader is a backroom task for a political engineer. It does not hold sway over the Union.

    "But a Mormon running as a Republican for the presidency is another matter. Americans want their presidents not just to represent them, but also to embody them somehow as a nation.

    "Would a Mormon be permitted to do that?

    "The precedents are not favourable. Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the Latter-day Saints church, declared his presidential candidacy in 1844, at a time when his followers were a community of outcasts in Illinois. In July [June] that year, he was shot dead by an anti-Mormon at the age of 38, before his campaign even got going. His successor, Brigham Young, fled west to Utah with the remaining Saints (including Miles Park Romney, Mitt Romney's great-great-grandfather).

    "They took with them Smith's prophecy that one day a Mormon would come to America's rescue.

    "Mormons would be 'the staff upon which the nation shall lean,' the prophet predicted, when the constitution 'is on the brink of ruin.'"


  • "The legacy [of polygamy] endured for nearly half a century after Smith's death, and the church only surrendered it as a compromise, in return for Utah statehood. Polygamy has dogged Mormonism ever since, and it will dog Mitt Romney's bid to become the Latter-day Saints' first president.

    "The fact is that polygamy makes lousy politics - for all the same reasons it will no doubt make great television."



I think it's also interesting to note Mitt Romney's comment in a Fox News Sunday interview with the show's host, Chris Wallace.
WALLACE: I want to ask you about another area of possible controversy and it involves something very personal, your religion. You are a Mormon. As you well know, a number of evangelicals say that could be a problem for you in Republican primaries because they say Mormonism is a cult. Your response.
ROMNEY: Well, I think people in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their governor, as their senator, as their president. I don't think most people care what brand of faith they have.

I certainly hope Governor Romney is mistaken about this. If Americans only care that a person has faith, but we don't care what that faith entails, our nation is in deep trouble. This is like saying we want a president who cares about economics, but we don't care what his position on economics might be.

Governor Romney's religion asserts, for instance, that Mormons and Mormonism will rescue the Constitution of the United States of America from ruin. Does this not have some sort of significance in his bid for the U.S. presidency? Wouldn't American's think so?

The issue of Governor Romney's Mormonism is one every U.S. citizen is likely to have to consider as the 2008 elections draw near. But right now, regardless of his chosen religion, I find Governor Romney's implication regarding the shallowness of the American public to be highly offensive.

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