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December 20, 2011 9:02 am

Jews for the Church of Latter-Day Saints

avatar by Morgan P. Muchnick

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Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Photo: Gage Skidmore.

Thus far, the 2011-2012 Republican primary has been a fascinating political theater involving one frontrunner – Mitt Romney – and myriad “Romney alternatives” that have surged and plummeted to earth like 1990s bubble tech stocks. Through it all, Romney has absorbed criticism on a number of issues ranging from a suspicion that his stated conservative ideals are disingenuous to his perceived lack of charisma.

One point of criticism that was prominent during the 2008 process, and to a lesser extent this year, is Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith. If Governor Romney does, in fact, win the GOP nomination, I have no doubt that people will rehash this criticism. While I understand concerns about his core political beliefs, I have never understood why the Mormon issue ruffles so many feathers.

Thus, I, a Jewish writer, praise the Mormons in America.

For whatever reason, seemingly every religious and ethnic group in the United States endeavors to claim the title of victim, from Jews offended by a Christmas tree in a Seattle Airport to Muslims who claim religious persecution on an almost daily basis. Secular zealots – ironically every bit as religious in their beliefs as Hasidic Jews – express intense anger at the thought of a Ten Commandments statue on or near a public building. Practicing Christians understandably voice their anger at a profoundly offensive “Piss Christ” photograph in a gallery in Avignon, France. People of all religions harbor resentment at countless blatant acts, which insult their every belief.

However, in the face of unflagging anti-Mormon bigotry, at least as overt and ugly as the aforementioned groups, the vast majority of the LDS community has taken the attacks with aplomb and a sense of humor. While it’s true that polygamy has been a stain on the Mormon reputation, its leaders deserve credit for recognizing the faults within their culture and taking steps to eradicate the practice, at least in the mainstream.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of South Park, an American animated TV series, produced an episode a few years back with a two-second clip showing Muhammad in a bear suit. This alone prompted the network to force Stone and Parker to censor the image of Muhammad, because it feared a violent reaction.

In stark contrast, the same show produced an episode dedicated to belittling the core of the Mormon faith. Mormons responded without so much as a peep of protest or a single known threat of violence. Subsequently, the same creative team produced a show on Broadway predicated on the same principle, to belittle and savage the practices of Mormons. This musical is still running and has been wildly successful. Imagine what would happen if it were a musical focused on celebrating anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. As in its lack of response to the South Park episode, the Latter Day Saints mounted no protests, demanded no boycotts, and made no attempts to claim victimhood.

People have mocked Mitt Romney for his “skeletons,” which include having consumed one beer in his life and smoked one cigarette. While his demons appear quaint, the fact is that our society would be considerably better off if this was the norm and not the exception. Indeed, U.S. national security agencies employ a disproportionate number of Mormons, as it is relatively easy to grant high-level security clearances to people that ruthlessly obey the law and abide by a strict moral code such as that of the Church of the LDS.

Thus, as a religiously ambivalent Jewish American, I find myself wondering if Mitt Romney is a better person than I am. The answer is absolutely yes. I am grateful to the LDS community for absorbing the bigotry and anger in stride, undeserved as it is. There are legitimate questions about Mitt Romney’s candidacy for the GOP nomination, including his Conservative credentials and whether his beliefs are genuine or politically expedient. However, his Mormonism should not be one of them.

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