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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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  • Gerald Holmes

    I heard you on Prager’s radio talk show and decided to check out your article. Thank you for the rare praise of my faith. Prager does a great job of pointing out how most people are oblivious to the irrational aspects of their own religiosity. That includes mormons, but is especially prevalent in evangelical christians who love to attack mormons for “believing in nonsense.” They lack perspective because as Prager says, “beleiving that Jesus came to earth, died on the cross and rose from the dead 3 days later to save mankind, sounds like a lot of nonsense to a non-beleiver.” Because a religious claim is older doesn’t make it more valid. The lack of introspection on the part of so many christians is discouraging.

  • DennisPragerListener

    Heard you on Dennis Prager’s program yesterday. Thank you for your comments and article. I am Mormon and I share the same values as my evangelical friends but as a teenager they often bullied me for my theology. In one incident I went to one of their church events and was publicly mocked by the youth pastor in front of my peers. It was painful to see persons that I so closely identified with walk away from me because I belong to a different religion. I admire evangelicals. I want more Christians and Jews in this country. I wish they felt the same way about me.

    • Morgan

      To the Prager listener, thanks for your touching comments. I am happy you heard me on the program, I wish I had more time on his show. There is one rule I am sure exists: every religion, race and group has its share of jerks, including Mormons, Jews, Evangelicals, and everything else. We humans are extremely flawed I am afraid. It sounds as though you met quite a few of them. I hope my piece shows that some people appreciate the value Mormons have brought to our great nation.

      • DennisPragerListener

        Thank you Morgan. I wish I could have heard more of you on Prager’s show too. Yes, there are jerks everywhere you turn, including in my religion. Life is quite messy. I am grateful for both my theology and values because they ultimately make me a happier person.

  • Lucy

    Thanks for this article and your positive comments about Mormons!

  • Gramajane

    I appreciate the kindness and desire to be accurate in this article. It might be of interest to some that the Bible does seem to show that God gave *wives* (more than one at a time, to one David)

    KJV “2 Sam 12:7 ¶And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
    8 And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.”

    While I have not found anywhere in the Bible that it says that plural marriage is wrong, (though they were not to marry out of the faith) the Bible speaks severely and repeatedly against fornication (sexual intimacy before marriage).

    The dispensation of the restitution of all things (Acts 3:21), to me would include plural marriage, which LDS believe it did, but I am glad that we are not called upon to practice it now, but it is instant excommunication if not totally repented of. Any can go to to read from on cannon the directions given to the prophet that it was time to stop plural marriage.

    Every Christian has plural marriage in the history of their faith, if they believe the Bible to be the word of God.

  • Mariah Harrison

    I want to thank you for your article. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I found it extremely refreshing to read something positive regarding our religion from the “media.” God bless you.

  • CaballeroKid

    A very fair article. Thank you for your comments.

  • I am lucky thanks to god
    God blles this church

  • Steve Rogers

    Good article. Why are we worried about someone’s faith in a country founded on freedom of religion. It is what we are about.

  • Brian

    I think Mormons look at polygamy the same way Jews look at animal sacrifice. Yes, it was a doctrinal necessity once, and was part of the religion and culture, but it is not something current members have anything other than a historical curiosity about.

    Also, most Mormons would prefer the full name of the church be used: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is no such thing as the Mormon Church or the Church of Latter Day Saints. Members of the church can correctly be called Mormons or Latter-day Saints.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Polygamy is hardly more of a stain on Mormons than on Jews. Both groups in general no longer practice it, but clearly did in the past.

    Those people who practice polygamy today have no affiliation with the Church. This peace fails to make that clear. Warren Jeffs was never a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    This is not even a case of connecting someones action to their religion on a false premise, to act like any modern polygamy issues “stain” the Mormon church is to ignore reality and connect people with a religion they are not part of and in the majority of cases have never been a part of.

    • Morgan

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments……

      Morgan (author)

  • John Pack Lambert

    In general I think this is a good piece.

    However I have to take exemption about the discussion of polygamy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has excommunicated people for polygamy for over 100 years now. In the early 1930s the Church institituted a program of test oaths in areas where many Church members supported polygamy and excommunicated members for refusing to affirm opposition to polygamy.

    Those groups that still practice polygamy have no affiliation with the Church. It is misleading to call them “Mormon” since Mormon is used in the term “Mormon Church” to mean people affiliated with a specific Church. They are no more Mormons than people excommunicated from the Catholic Church for advocating married priests are catholics, and they may even be less clearly part of the Church.

    This leads me to my especial dislike for the line “at least in the mainstream”. Those who practice polygamy are not part of the Church. The Church will excommunicate people for polygamy or advocating that others practice polygamy. The Church does not have any ability to punish people beyond this. Warren Jeffs was never a member of the Church. The Church has no more power to control polygamy on the part of Warren Jeffs and his associates than it does on the part of Hmong immigrants or Muslims in the United States. Both these groups have far more polygamists than you will find among those who claim to follow the teachings of Joseph Smith, even if we look just in the United States.

    The eradication of polygamy is a legal issue, which involves the law. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Church with no police power. It is outside its ability to do anythig against polygamy.

    Whether or not polygamy should be a criminal act under the law is another issue. However those who practice polygamy today have no connection with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the group around Warren Jeffs is largely the descendants of people excommunicated en masse for refusing to affirm the polygamy test oath in 1932, although Jeffs father was not excommunicated until 1939, in large part because he did not embrace polygamy until about then.

  • Jeff Frazier

    Thanks for this great article. I’m a Mormon – Thanks for understanding. 🙂

  • Immovable11

    Of course you gotta get an atheist in here to voice his or her discrediting of religion. If there is no such thing as an afterlife, and your time here is the only time a person has in all existence…..wouldn’t that mean that every minute was precious? I dunno, but if I was an atheist, I don’t think I would “waste my time” belittling people who view this life differently. That’s just me. Anyways, thank you for this article. It’s refreshing to read positive remarks about the LDS community. It’s amazing to me that an organization that doesn’t just preach about Christ, they live about Christ, is involved in many humanitarian organizations around the glove and doesn’t go after the people who persecute them…….yet, they seem to be hated for no apparent reason. So, once again, thank you for this article.

  • salvage

    Oh all theism is nonsense ripe for ridicule, it’s just that the Mormonism is just such obvious nonsense. At least Christian, Jews and Muslims can use the mists of time as an excuse for all the bizarre contradictions, Mormons not so much.

    >Those who do practice it today are not Mormons.

    No TRUE! Scotsman would… yadayadayada.

    • Fred Barrett

      It is obvious that you have no idea what you are talking about. Actually the name Mormon was a name the Christians of the early 1800’s gave to the saints in their attempt to insult them. And like the name Christians, given to the ancient saints was for the same purpose that is to insult the followers of Jesus Christ in that day. The actual name for Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the saints not the Mormons. Whether you are a good Scotsman then you need to investigate something you know nothing about and then make an informed decision based on the facts.

      As to this article it is so refreshing to read someone who has enough knowledge of the saints to know what he is talking about common sense can make a difference. Your post tells me that you are a man of contention.

    • Joel cannon

      Salvage, your Scotsman reference illustrates the common misconceptions about the Mormon church and polygamy. The minor sects that practice polygamy distance themselves from the Mormon church – anti-Mormons are the ones that perpetuate the derogatory association. The simple fact is that Mormons no longer practice polygamy and the author example of animal sacrifice is most applicable, but even then, there is no authority to excommunicate Jews if the did resume the practice. And the same is true for Scotsmens.

      • salvage

        >Salvage, your Scotsman reference illustrates the common misconceptions about the Mormon church and polygamy.

        No, it illustrates the fact that there are Mormons who call themselves Mormons who are into polygamy and there are Mormons who call themselves Mormons who are not and each side claims the other to be wrong because they’re the TRUE Mormons or Saints or whatevers.

        This is typical of all theists, whatever sect they are a part of is the right one be it Catholic, Presbyterian, Orthodox Jew, Sunni Muslim, and so on.

        Which of course begs the question why their real god tolerates so many fake ones.

        At any rate I’m pretty indifferent to polygamy as I am indifferent to whatever consulting adults do in their personal lives.

  • Phillip C. Smith, Ph.D.

    Thank you for your fair article. We believe that the criticisms directed against us are generally without foundation. We are taught, though, to turn the other cheek and to return good for evil.

    As to polygamy a careful reading of the Torah will show you and other Jews that Abraham, Jacob and Moses were all polygamists. God commanded or at least allowed polygamy at that time, so it can’t have been all bad, in fact it was good when properly practiced. Today it is not needed and thus is not practiced by Mormons. Those who do practice it today are not Mormons.

    Phillip C. Smith, Ph.D.