Today’s list is lengthy; click these links to find each section:
Here comes the "history." The media blitz on things Mormon is about to begin. Here the Washington Post looks at the upcoming movie on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and here the Boston Globe looks at the upcoming PBS series. There will undoubtedly be endless discussion about the fairness and accuracy of the materials discussed here and of the pieces discussing them. For example, the Boston Globe, which is supposed to be reviewing a television program, cannot resist ending the review with a potshot at the subject of said program:
And yet, even after four hours of "The Mormons," it's hard to digest the institution. While all organized religions have attributes that sound daft to some and offensive to others, the Mormons, for whatever reason, seem to have more than their share. You be the judge.
Reviews are supposed to be about the program; I really could not care less about the reviewers opinion of the subject matter. What qualifies Sam Allis to judge the entirety of a religious institution anyway? He supposed to know television, not church.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre is a fascinating bit of history from the old American West, and like so much of that era, the legend and the fact are extremely hard, if not impossible, to separate. Lowell may disagree with me on this, but I am not sure what precisely happened matters all that much, at least not from a political and social perspective. I can understand how important it would be to those that hold the LDS faith because of the value they place on the office of prophet/president. But this single event, NO single event, regardless of the what did or did not happen, can be definitive with regards to the political and social value and legitimacy of a religious institution. We all have skeletons in our past.
In the end, Mark DeMoss in his Politico op-ed last week but the best possible perspective on all the questions that are being examined by this forthcoming media blitz:
I have often been asked whether evangelical voters could find their vision for president in a man of another faith, and specifically a Mormon. Then it struck me: This is the wrong question. To evaluate a candidate solely on religion is unfair to both the candidate and the religion. The better question is: Could I vote for this Mormon? That Catholic? This Baptist?
The Romney candidacy does not put the CJCLDS on trial – just Mitt Romney. For purposes of this blog, that is the focus.
Lowell adds: Agreed. Even, the more realistic left side of my brain (which is often in conflict with my idealistic right side) tells me that to a certain extent, such a "trial" is simply going to happen. For example, Romney's name comes up whenever either the PBS documentary or the Mountain Meadows movie (called "September Dawn") are discussed in the MSM.
The PBS Documentary: "The Mormons"
The Boston Globe review of the documentary begins by saying the film's
"mere airing may finally force the former governor to explain publicly his faith and its influence on him as a politician, much as John Kennedy did with his Catholicism in 1960. What it will surely do is complicate his run for the White House."
An aside: Kennedy did not explain his Catholicism in his famous Houston speech. He essentially reassured the nation that he would not take orders from Rome. As for the idea that Romney should "explain publicly his faith," I am sorry, that is simply a bizarre notion. No presidential candidate has ever done that. And Romney has already explained Mormonism's "influence on him as a politician," in Hugh Hewitt's book, A Mormon in the White House?:
"Look,” Romney told me when I raised the issue of belief in the founding narrative of the Mormon faith. “I believe my faith. I love my faith. And I would in no way shape, or form try to distance myself from my faith or the fundamental beliefs of my faith.
“But what I can say is this,” he added. “To understand my faith, people should look at me and my home and how we live. . . . I am a better person that what I would have been. I am far from perfect and if you spend some time looking into my present and past, you’ll find I’m no saint. I have my own weaknesses as did my dad. We’re not about to be taken into Heaven for our righteousness. But we’re better people—I’m a better person, my kids are better people—than we would have been without our faith. So judge my faith not by how different the theology may be on one point or another, but whether it made me and my family and perhaps others in my faith better people.”
If Romney needs to say more than that, I'd like to know why.
The Wall Street Journal review of "The Mormons" (link requires subscription) draws some interesting conclusions from the standpoint of this blog's purposes:
[W]hat's fresher here is the suggestion that the rest of us had better not judge Mormonism lest we be judged ourselves. Time and again, we're reminded that what sounds nutty or extreme to our ears may not be. With their dancing, for instance, early Mormons celebrated the physical that mainstream Christianity repressed. Ex-Mormon Margaret Toscano even allows that in advocating polygamy Joseph Smith was trying "to bring together spirituality and sexuality," which most major religions, she says, Christianity included, have been "really bad at."
The timing of "The Mormons" — with Harry Reid leading Democrats in the Senate and co-religionist Republican Mitt Romney running for his party's presidential nomination — couldn't be better. Compared to the average media portrait of other religious groups, e.g. evangelical Christians, the treatment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints couldn't be rosier.
We'll see about that.
The Movie: "September Dawn"
The Mountain Meadows Massacre, as it is known, is a troubling episode for anyone who studies the history, and perhaps especially for Mormons. I think my view is widely shared among my co-religionists: Something terrible, a true atrocity, happened there in 1857, and we will never exactly know how or why. But we mourn the loss of so much innocent life and are revolted by the violence involved. If you have the time, here's a transcript of a long presentation on the subject by an LDS scholar. The Mountain Meadows Association's web site is here. I don't think anyone can read about the event without being filled with sadness.Why is the massacre relevant to this blog? Because of statements like this, by Bill O'Reilly, interviewing Jon Voight, a star of "September Dawn:"
[T]his movie is going to be controversial, because it deals with a massacre allegedly ordered by Mormon leaders — Mormon leaders — back in 1857, and there's a Mormon running for president.
Is Mitt Romney going to like this movie?
JON VOIGHT, ACTOR: Well, so far he hasn't seen the movie. And I think — and most of the Mormon community has avoided seeing it, because they don't want to get into a discussion of it.
Need I say more? And O'Reilly is no left-wing Romney-basher; he's actually friendly to the Governor! It seems to me that we had better get used to this: Almost anytime a controversy related to Mormonism comes up, Romney will be mentioned. That does not happen, for example, to Giuliani whenever a Catholic controversy comes up (has anyone ever seen Giuliani's name him in a story about Catholic priests sexually molesting young boys?). John interjects: What about John McCain and the recent move by the Episcopal Church electing a gay bishop?!
But I think it's important for Mormons not to whine about that imbalance. Our faith is simply not well-known by many people the way Catholicism is. As Mark DeMoss told us in an interview yesterday (to be published hopefully later this week or the week after) there seems to be plenty of time between now and the 2008 election for people to become more familiar with — and, presumably, comfortable with– Romney's faith. Again, we'll see.”
Update: For those interested, here’s the audio of an interview today with the PBS documentary’s producer, Helen Whitney. For those wondering if all the history has any relevance to Mitt Romney as a candidate, I also liked this blogger’s comment:
[T]he [documentary's website] prominently features fundamentalist polygamy and Mountain Meadows. While we recognize these as valid matters for press exploration, active Mormons can and do practice Mormonism for a lifetime without such things playing any role in their religious lives.
2. David Brody of CBN
David Brody at Pat Robertson's CBN continues to have good things to say about Romney. I hope other evangelical outlets will at a minimum be as wise in terms of discussing the politics, not The Question.
Speaking of which, over the weekend, Naomi Schaffer Riley in the WSJ, recounts a sit-down with Richard Land, who in her words, "represents the political concerns of the largest Protestant denomination in the country." He had good things to say about Romney and The Question, even if he is non-committal. But consider these excerpts:
He wants "to make certain that we never become as taken for granted by the Republican Party as African-Americans have been taken for granted by the Democratic Party."
At the very least, the evangelical influence in the Republican primary will be diluted, with some religious conservatives thinking ahead to the general election and others going for the purest representative of their values. It is noteworthy that even among the unelectable candidates, evangelicals can't make up their minds between a free-trade, open-immigration candidate like Sen. Brownback and a closed-borders protectionist like Rep. Hunter.
Seems to me that if the latter is the case, the former should not be a concern. The Democrats’ ability to take the African-American community for granted, something they can do less and less these days, lies in that community's bloc voting habits. If Evangelicals are that diverse, and indeed they are, then they will never be taken for granted, which is why this statement about Land is bothersome:
Richard Land is a man waiting to be courted, and on behalf of religious conservatives he is playing hard to get.
If Land could deliver Evangelicals as a voting bloc, then indeed, the "wait to be courted" approach would be the way to go. However, it seems to me that the political clout of a diverse community arises out of its willingness to pitch in and work. If Mr. Land is not careful, he may find himself a spinster, still waiting to be courted. It's early, but….
After roughly a week of technical difficulties,John Mark Reynolds returns with part five of his six part series. He then concludes with part six. Excellent, heady stuff, and again, too much to encapsulate adequately. READ…IT…ALL!
Just a reminder of THE REAL OPPOSITION. This MySpace post, which if you follow the links comes from far more influential and adult sources than you might imagine, is from the nutter left. It starts with Romney, somehow manages to tie him up in a ball with George Wallace, and then declares Romney "Theocrat of the Week" I keep telling you, the left cannot tell the difference….
Speaking of which, last week, courtesy Hugh Hewitt, we looked at the religously bigoted rantings of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone in the wake of the SCOTUS Gonzales v. Carhart decision. Sunday, John Yoo was published by the Wall Street Journal forcefully asserting the same bigotry charge levelled by Hewitt. Favored with a joint appearance at Los Angeles Times Festival of Books over the weekend, Hugh Hewitt was able to briefly interview Stone. Here is the key exchange:
HH: Do you think they were applying catechism?
GS: No, no, no, no. I think they were seeing the issue through the light of their particular religious views, and confusing those with moral views, and I think that, in our country, where we talk about separation of Church and state, I think it’s very important for public officials, whether they be legislators or judges, to make a serious effort to separate their religious beliefs from their moral beliefs. And I think that this is a case where the justices, those five justices may have failed to do that.
HH: So if they didn’t separate their moral and their religious beliefs, they were applying catechism, in your view?
GS: I don’t know what it means to say applying catechism. But what I mean is I think that they saw the issue through the lens of their own personal experiences and beliefs, and those beliefs can be about religion, they can be about civil liberties, they can be about institutional judgments, about federalism. They don’t have to be about catechism or religion. But when you see a decision that’s not explainable in conventional legal terms, and you see a pattern of the justices voting in a way that just doesn’t make sense otherwise, you look for explanation.
And there you have it, a religious test. Any holder of any faith can be accused at any time of viewing virtually anything "through the light of their particular religious views" that is the very nature of religion. Thus Professor Stone argues, though he attempts to deny that he does, that persons of faith are inelligible for public service.
Which is the point I have been trying to make to people concerned about Romney's faith for over a year now. Those that would argue about Romney's Mormonism giving him a "skewed" worldview, or something similar, are making an argument EXACTLY parallel to that levelled by Professor Stone. If we as Evangelicals make such an argument and make it stick, then we have given the Geoffrey Stone's of the world all the ammunition they need to win this political battle. Anyone of any faith will be disqualified from office. Goodbye Roberts — Goodbye Alito — Goodbye the other three justices — Goodbye George W. Bush — even Goodbye Jimmy Carter. Not the nation I want to live in.
[tags]PBS,The American Experience,Frontline,”The Mormons”, “September Dawn”,David Brody, Richard Land, Mark DeMoss,John Mark Reynolds,Geoffrey Stone [/tags]