Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • The Problem with “The Book of Mormon”

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 09:17 am, June 16th 2011     &mdash      4 Comments »

    No, I’m not talking about the book of scripture from which the nickname for my church is derived. I’m talking about the Broadway musical that won so many Tony awards last Sunday night.

    I’ve admitted here to some ambivalence about “The Book of Mormon.” On balance the musical seems to be harmless nonsense that, I hope, signals a recognition of my faith as sufficiently established and familiar in the USA to mock. In other words, the musical might be seen as a back-handed compliment to Mormonism.

    And yet….

    Part of me is uneasy about the notion that is is acceptable — even praiseworthy — to mock a religious minority that has a history of persecution. As much as “The Book of Mormon” may be a sign of mainstreaming Mormon culture, if not its beliefs, it may also foreshadow the acceptance of intellectual persecution and ridicule of a distinctive religious tradition. We Mormons are a little sensitive about that.

    But it has taken an Orthodox Christian professor at Biola University, John Mark Reynolds, to make the point for us. In a must-read op-ed at The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, Professor Reynolds (a favorite of this blog) writes of Amos and Andy and The Book of Mormon:

    If we assume the play a brilliant satire with PR unfortunate enough to release only the cruel and facile bits, then we are still left with two unfortunate truths about this play. First, the writers are cowards. They inflict pain and mockery on those already despised while going soft on the tired assumptions of their rich and powerful patrons. Second, in a pluralistic society they have targeted a group already misunderstood and discriminated against.

    I am no Mormon, but I have witnessed bigotry and ignorance directed against this American community. The LDS Church is placed in the difficult position of seeing their most sacred beliefs mocked in a nation that murdered their prophet in a shameful lynching. Broadway has given aid and comfort to the mob of ignorant folk who know nothing of modern Mormonism outside of their prejudices.

    No wonder Mormon politicians like Jon Huntsman, bob and weave when asked by bigots if they are part of the LDS church. Few of us have the Mitt Romney courage to stand by our people when the cost is high. For his steadfastness, Romney was linked to the play in a Newsweek parody cover that left only his profile, but a profile in religious courage.

    Please read the whole thing.

    In the end, I, and other Mormons like me, find the musical disturbing and somewhat worrisome. In the aftermath of California’s Proposition 8 we felt the sting of public attacks on individual members of our church who acted on a matter of conscience. Yes, that makes us nervous about the extent to which we might have to steel ourselves for further such attacks in the future. We do not like the idea that ridiculing and marginalizing our most sacred and fundamental beliefs is not only acceptable, but hilarious. What person of faith would?

    Two days ago Susan Brooks Thislethwaite, a Professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary, writes of “Mocking Mormons.” Professor Thislethwaite takes a slightly more benign view of “The Book of Mormon,” and tells Mormons “welcome to the American mainstream. Now, in order to join this fraternity, you need to go through the hazing.”

    Other reviewers disagree, of course, that attacking faith or Mormonism is the goal of this musical. Mark Kennedy writes for Associated Press that the “Book of Mormon” is “a pro-religion show at heart.” Why? Because it has an uplifting moral at the end. “Far from being nihilistic,” Kennedy writes, “the moral seems to endorse any belief system — no matter how crazy it sounds — if it helps do good. Amen to that. Consider us converted.” That’s about as watered-down a version of religion as you can get; but after all, Kennedy writes for the Associated Press, not Beliefnet, so what does he know? (That was a joke, Mark.)

    ….

    But that doesn’t mean that the “Book of Mormon” isn’t funny, especially if you like silly, sophomoric humor of the “South Park” variety…. What is offensive to some can be funny to others, but often precisely because it is offensive. Humor isn’t always kind; humor is routinely used to put minorities in their place. In the case of “The Book of Mormon,” the offensiveness seems to be the point, not the ‘doing good.’

    Can Mormons ‘take a joke’? Like women in the workplace having to suffer through sexist jokes, I see this musical as a sign both that Mormons are moving into the mainstream of religion and culture, and that there is resistance to that.

    I hope Thislethwaite is right, I really do. But John Mark Reynolds convinces me that we ought to watch the progress of this phenomenon closely, and with more than a little concern.

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    The Left Makes Trouble, Prop 8 Backwash, General Presidential Politics and Stuff We Find Interesting

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 05:30 am, August 16th 2010     &mdash      4 Comments »

    The Left’s First Mormon Strike of 2012?

    …Could very well be this Salon piece.

    If you’re a resident of one of nine seemingly randomly selected mid-sized (mostly) non-coastal American cities, you’re the lucky audience for a new series of commercials advertising… Mormons. They are not quite explicitly ads for the Church of Latter-day Saints, they are just ads for Mormons, themselves. They are about how Mormons are regular people who enjoy things like surfing and riding motorcycles.

    [...]

    Mormons, obviously, want to prove that they are regular people, just like us, and some of them are even cool, young, attractive people who ride skateboards.

    But… are Mormons just trying to convince Americans that Mormons are “normal,” so that in 2012 they’ll consider voting for Mormon King Mitt Romney? (These ads are running in four or five potential swing states, after all.)

    They do go on to report that the CJCLDS refutes the claim but as they say, the bell has rung.  There was reaction in The Washington Independent, a Pittsburgh TV station and the Mormon TimesEFM passed it on, and seemed to get in some hot water – please people do not be so sensitive – EFM are the good guys.

    I think we are beginning to see the Mormon meme developing as the left will likely deploy it.  Straight religious attack (“the founding whoppers of Mormonism”) is not going to play this time – it’s been delegitimized on both sides of the aisle.  However, with the passage of Prop 8 and the ensuing “blame the Mormons” cries that arose from the left, they have come to think of the CJCLDS as some sort of conspiratorial organization and the hidden hand of right wing forces.

    We have seen the “Mormon Mafia” pieces in the business pubs recently.  Dan Brown’s completely fictitious novels (The DaVinci Code) have produced images of religious institutions as conspiratorial organizations bent on promulgating deceit and cover ups.   Watch this space, “Mormons as bilderbergers” may be the meme of choice for 2012.

    And while we are on the subject, this letter to the SLTrib concerning moves in talk radio in the local market is not at all helpful:

    At a time when stellar and faithful Mormon Mitt Romney needs every ear, now is not the time to cancel his strong supporter, Sean Hannity.

    If you are Mormon, do not vote for Romney because he is Mormon, any more than an Evangelical should vote against him because he is a Mormon.  And if you do support him for the right reasons, saying that in a public forum is just not helpful.

    Prop 8 Ruling Continues to Roil…

    An emailer poses a hypothetical:

    …imagine this scenario: Judge Vaughn Walker is the proud father of seven children, grandfather of eight, happily married for 42 years and a former LDS stake president. He hears and carefully evaluates the same evidence presented in the trial and writes a 12 page opinion validating the will of the people. Do you think the media would dismiss his LDS and family views as inconsequential to the result, much as they have discounted Judge Vaughn’s homosexuality? I am convinced, given the well known impartiality of the media, that they would ignore his background.

    The emailer is, of course, being sarcastic.  And of course, it need not be a Mormon – if it were little ‘ol Presbyterian me, the point would hold just as well.  If the “shoe were on the other foot,” as it were, the media would have been all over the ruling like white on rice.  And the media is bad enough, but I am concerned legally about this.  Any right leaning judge with as much personally at stake in a case as Walker had in this one would have recused him (or her) self.  Walker’s ruling is, as best as I can tell, two things unprecedented in American national history:

    • a blatant attack on religion as a moral force in our nation by the power of government, and
    • an attempt to rule by straightforward fiat on a level easily comparable to our days as a colony.

    As reaction, I thought this piece by William McGurn was on point.

    The effect this will have on the forthcoming elections is difficult to measure.  Dan Balz seems to think the focus will remain on the economy.  Looks like Glenn Beck does too.  (So much for Mormon conspiracies!)

    Here’s my analysis – As an issue, same sex marriage is likely to stay on the back-burner.  However, the effect of this ruling will be highly significant in an indirect fashion.  There is enormous resentment building in this nation against the currently empowered left as they are moving too far, too fast, and doing so by force without the overwhelming consent of the governed.  Walker’s ruling is indeed the most strident, direct and effrontive of those moves.  People flat out will not stand for it.

    The next couple of election cycles are likely to transcend issues, they are going to be about tone, attitudes and the very definition of democracy.  Successful candidates are going to figure that out and ride that wave.  People that get too focused on issues are gong to miss the boat electorally.  The First Thoughts post I linked to above on Beck is trying to hammer Beck because they see abortion and marriage as the preeminent issues.  On the other end of the spectrum is our old pal Fred Karger who has finally attracted some big time political press.

    If Karger makes it on stage in those debates, he’ll join a line of single-issue candidates that have had some degree of success over the years.

    There will be no room for “single issue candidates” this time around.  There is too much at stake.  The very heart of what it is the be the United States of America is in play.

    Which brings me to…

    …2012 News

    I thought this MSNBC break down of the field was interesting:

    You can look at the emerging GOP 2012 field this way: the establishment (Romney, Barbour), the new faces (Pawlenty, Daniels, Thune), the evangelicals (Huckabee and Santorum), and the cable TV personas (Palin and Gingrich).

    There is a lot of sorting to do before this gets serious, but that is a taxonomy that might prove useful.  Some of those folks are going to the Iowa State fair, and some are not.  There is more strategy buried in who is and who is not than you might think.  Clearly Haley Barbour is making forays into Iowa, but is he dropping the forty pounds?  Romney and Palin are the clear leaders, but I still do not think Palin is going to run.

    There are some unsmart things happening.  Politico wonders in “offbeat” candidates are going to hurt Republicans this time around.  I do think the very high levels of resentment out there are going to result in some unusual choices.  The party is going to have to tread very lightly as it works its way through this minefield of resentment.  Not all the candidates Politico is attempting to cast as “offbeat” are that bad, and they are preferable to the Democrat mainstream, but it is going to be interesting.

    This is not offbeat, it’s stupid:

    An influential group of religious conservatives said Monday it would sit out the fall gubernatorial election as promised after candidates it favored lost in last week’s Republican primary.

    And thus the fallacies of “one issue” are revealed.  They don’t get what they want and so they don’t get anything at all.  In politics there are lots of battles, and as we have seen here, when we only fight a few, we lose the bigger picture.

    And in closing, let’s consider what our illustrious president said Friday evening concerning the ground zero mosque:

    This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.

    Let’s see how much he reminds his supporters of that should his 2012 opponent be a Mormon.

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    About That Prop 8 Decision…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 10:27 pm, August 4th 2010     &mdash      13 Comments »

    …time and employment have not permitted Lowell or I to review the decision in detail.  To that caveat I will also add that I am neither a lawyer nor a legal scholar, so any review I might do of the ruling will be limited.  However, that said my eye was drawn by a quick document search for the word “religion” to the following.  On the question:

    WHETHER THE EVIDENCE SHOWS THAT PROPOSITION 8 ENACTED A PRIVATE MORAL VIEW WITHOUT ADVANCING A LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT INTEREST

    The judge found:

    77.  Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.

    That is extraordinary.  There is nothing neutral in a legal ruling that religion does harm.  It is particularly extraordinary when across the continent in New York City officials seem to be bending over backwards to distinguish between religion and the idiots within the religion that caused more than “harm,” they caused the death of thousands of Americans, and their business associates from around the world.

    It also ignores the fundamental belief of virtually all persons of faith that all people are guilty of sin.  That being true there is virtually no step from this ruling and having to ban religion altogether as discriminatory towards everyone because the religion holds that everyone has sinned and is therefore harmed..

    It is also interesting to note that the finding implies that calling a homosexual relationship sinful is a “private moral view” but that saying it is not sinful is an amoral statement.  The fact of the matter is that the question is inherently moral.  It is equally demonstrable that forcing me to view a homosexual commitment ceremony causes me harm for I certainly hold my religious identity as dear as any homosexual holds their sexual identity.

    The ruling, as so many have said is unsurprising.  It also appears to me untrained eye to be the worst case of judicial abuse of power in our nation’s history.  Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff said:

    …Judge Walker’s decision is the fruit of a lengthy process through which an elite within the legal profession has worked tirelessly in an effort to blur, hopelessly, the distinction between the law and personal preferences of that elite. If the decision stands, its main impact will be a diminution, probably past the tipping point, of public confidence in the law and the courts.

    That’s a pretty good summation. But I fear the ramifications will be even broader in the long run.  This decision as written appears, again to my untrained eye, to severely erode the legitimate position of religion in our greater public discourse.  If we no longer trust the law and courts and religion is delegitimized as a source of moral authority in the nation – only chaos can ensue.  Such has brought down empires.

    Are we to go the way of the ancient Roman Empire?

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    Possibles, Pundits, Polls and 40 Pounds…

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 11:18 pm, February 25th 2010     &mdash      5 Comments »

    Starting With Our Friend Mike Huckabee . . .

    The Huckster was typically petulant about his non-appearance at CPAC last weekend.   Of course, such a  “rift” among Republicans is cause for a story from the press.  Which leads me to this bit by James Lewis at “American Thinker:

    See a pattern? If they can’t win honestly, the Left is happy to split the conservative vote by hook or by crook. They do it all the time.

    heavyHuckWhich leads me to wonder whose side the Huckster is on anyway?  And while we are discussing Huck it seems that he was in Iowa this week, and according to the Des Moines Register, “shows no signs of running for president.“  The picture at left here is what appeared with the piece.  It put me in mind of the oft-repeated quote from Haley Barbour at CPAC last weekend, “If you see me lose 40 pounds, you’ll know I’m running for president….”

    I’d say the Register is dead nuts on with that one.

    The Book Tour Begins . . .

    Actually not.  The tour for No Apology does not officially kick off until 3/13 in SLC, but the pre-release copies are out and the discussion is getting hot and heavy.  Not to mention, Romney is on Letterman next week.  The discussion of the week concerned Romney’s assertion in the book that the White House is “calling shots” at GM.   I thought this NRO “Planet Gore” post took care of that pretty readily.

    One more thing before we leave Romney:  Was the rapper/plane incident pivotal?  My thought is that if you are the kind of person that thinks TMZ is “news” then maybe, but if you are someone that actually pays attention to things like issues, probably not.

    The Others . . .

    Thoughts on Mitch Daniels.  Interesting – good stuff, but I’m telling you, if Daniels runs this time it will be with a gun to his head.  Not a winning formula.

    Palin continues to poll.

    Read this and remember.  Marc Ambinder, while very smart, is a leftie with a vested interest in stirring the Republican pot.

    Our best sources tell us Thune is in, so this is more than “buzz.”

    Religion and Politics . . .

    There was a conference between Catholics and Mormons this week at BYU.  Here’s the Deseret News coverage and the audio and video is here.

    “In recent years, Catholics and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have stood more frequently side by side in the public square to defend human life and dignity,” Cardinal Francis George told nearly 12,000 students, faculty and community members gathered Tuesday at BYU.

    “I’m personally grateful that after 180 years of living mostly apart from one another, Catholics and Latter-day Saints have begun to see each other as trustworthy partners in defense of shared moral principles.”

    You know, Evangelicals might find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to political activism when solid alliances like this get built.

    According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, secularism is not all it’s cracked up to be.

    American foreign policy is handicapped by a narrow, ill-informed and “uncompromising Western secularism” that feeds religious extremism, threatens traditional cultures and fails to encourage religious groups that promote peace and human rights, according to a two-year study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

    The council’s 32-member task force, which included former government officials and scholars representing all major faiths, delivered its report to the White House on Tuesday. The report warns of a serious “capabilities gap” and recommends that President Obama make religion “an integral part of our foreign policy.”

    And note that religion generally, NOT religion specifically, is what matters.  Because tying religion and politics too tightly is not good for religion either.  It is interesting that in the UK, conservatives are suspicious of religious influence.  (HT: Ross Douthat)

    That also seems to be a concern among younger Evangelicals in this country.  My friend Matt Anderson thinks the problem is the appropriation of religious language for discussing American exceptionalism.  I think such a mixture of language is unavoidable.  It’s where the whole problem we look at on this blog arises.  For the average American politics, patriotism, and religion are matters to a great extent of faith.  Most people, through lack of interest or capability simply do not understand how the nation works, anymore than they understand how church works. They approach both in much the same fashion.  That language would bleed from one to the other is almost unavoidable.

    The difference lies in the fact that church really is an institution of faith, while government is an institution of immense practicality.  As long as we have to convince people to vote one way or the other, we will borrow the tools of religion which is also in the convincing business.   The question is how to motivate people to learn more how their government works.  But then that’s a problem the church has as well.

    Lowell adds . . .

    Mike Huckabee’s weight is not something we bring up to poke fun. It’s simply an indication that he probably isn’t running in 2012, unless we see a rapid and dramatic weight loss. In addition to the photo John posts above, take a look at the video clip here. That’s a far different Huck than the one we saw jogging with reporters back in 2007.

    As for interfaith alliances, it will be interesting to see if Mormons and Evangelicals can openly join forces on matters of joint interest the way Mormons and Catholics are doing that. A lot of progress in that direction was made in California’s Prop 8 election, but the uneasiness remains. That’s a subject for another post, I think. Maybe for a book!

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    Maine and Gay Marriage: “Mormons still to blame, somehow?”

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 05:59 am, November 6th 2009     &mdash      7 Comments »

    Mollie Hemingway at GetReligion has done a survey and analysis of MSM coverage on Maine’s Question 1, which passed Tuesday night and overturned the Maine Legislature’s approval of same-sex marriage.  The entire piece is worth reading.  Among other things, Mollie notes the odd way in which the MSM focuses on the religious background of the Yes On 1 campaign’s backers, including the apparently unquestioned assertion that the National Organization for Marriage “is a stalking horse for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”  Here’s one paragraph:

    It’s so interesting to me that so many of these stories about the Yes on 1 victory in Maine portray it as a loss for gay activists. But that similar focus isn’t brought to bear on the scrutiny of the groups that are involved in the effort to legalize same-sex marriage. I mean, I’m on a bunch of denominational news list-servs and there were plenty of religious groups fighting this ballot initiative and working to keep same-sex marriage legal in Maine. Why don’t they get the same scrutiny as the Mormons, who actually may have had no discernible role in the Maine campaign? It’s just odd.

    It’s my understanding that the LDS Church indeed provided no organizational support to Yes On 1, so it’s all the more curious that its name is being bandied about in the “news” coverage of the election.

    John thinks about it a bit:

    What fascinated me about the piece was how incredibly convoluted was the argument to arrive at the conclusion that the whole thing was some sort of Mormon plot.  It was a conspiracy theory on the order of the bilderburgrs.

    These theories gain traction because the proponents of same sex marriage are so convinced of the rightness of their stance that they believe there must be an “unbelievable” conspiracy for them to be defeated.  The Mormons are singled out as the conspiracy’s source based in part on the tightly held nature of some of their practices (a vacuum, even an innocent one, is always filled) and because it plays on age old prejudices.

    What saddens me is that we have recently been treated to two rather elaborate, and popular, movies that paint the Roman Catholic church in similar conspiratorial terms.  Can the rest of Christianity be far behind?  Our philosophical and political opponents seek not merely to defeat us in the ballot box, but to portray us as purposefully evil.  All the more reason for us to unify, not bicker.

    Which brings me to what frightens me.  Within the “Tea Party” movement, and the other “true conservative” movements are elements that are looking for such conspiracies.  Like some proponents of same sex marriage, some pro-lifers and some opposition to same-sex marriage is so convinced of the sheer rightness of their stance, that they believe opposition must be born of conspiracy.  But worse, the same age-old prejudices are at play and so, without realizing it, they buy the conspiracies of the left and look within their own party for the conspiracies.  We are then rent asunder and the left prevails because of our disunity.

    Which raises the question of whether or not the perceived conspiracy theories of the left are really conspiracy theories at all, or whether they are strategic efforts on the part of the left.  Now there is a conspiracy.  But then reason prevails and tells us that many on the left are sincere, if misguided, in their conspiratorial concerns, but  there are some willing to use that sincerity a bit more cynically.  And in turn, they use our “sincerity” to their advantage as well.

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    Dallin Oaks, Religious Freedom, Proposition 8, and . . . Keith Olbermann?

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 11:40 pm, October 14th 2009     &mdash      7 Comments »

    We’ve been a little delayed in getting to the story of the speech Elder Dallin Oaks gave yesterday on religious freedom.  Already the speech has caused a bit of a stir.  As I read the transcript, I find that result fascinating, because I am hard-pressed to find much controversy in it.  Please read the speech; it is not long, or difficult, or complex.

    So what is the controversy all about?

    Oaks_mediumElder Oaks is member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of te Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the “Church”). He’s also a lawyer, a former professor of law at the University of Chicago, past President of BYU, and a former member of the Utah Supreme Court.  He is a formidable legal and political thinker and a clear writer.   His speech, given to students at BYU-Idaho (a college owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or “the Church”), has a simple thesis:  There is a “battle” underway over “the meaning of religious freedom under the United States Constitution,” and that battle “is of eternal importance.” Nothing terribly surprising there, coming from a churchman.  The controversy has arisen from Elder Oaks’ comments about what is happening now in the arena of religious freedom in the USA:

    Unpopular minority religions are especially dependent upon a constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion. We are fortunate to have such a guarantee in the United States, but many nations do not. The importance of that guarantee in the United States should make us ever diligent to defend it. And it is in need of being defended. During my lifetime I have seen a significant deterioration in the respect accorded to religion in our public life, and I believe that the vitality of religious freedom is in danger of being weakened accordingly. (Emphasis added.)

    Then Elder Oaks zeroed in on the problem of  “silencing religious voices in the public square” and in the process, used the Proposition 8 battle as an example.

    In other words, he touched the “third rail” of the modern culture war:  gay marriage.   It’s important to note that Edler Oaks did not talk about gay marriage, only about the reaction to the active involvement of the Church and its members in supporting Proposition 8.  In other words, the Oaks speech was about religious freedom, but it somehow earned him designation as one of the”worst people in the world” by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann.  (A badge of honor to some, I suppose.)

    The Key Points of The Speech

    So what did Elder Oaks say to incite such a venomous attack from the wild-swinging Olbermann?  Well, this:

    For example, a prominent gay-rights spokesman gave this explanation for his objection to our Church’s position on California’s Proposition 8:

    “I’m not intending it to harm the religion. I think they do wonderful things. Nicest people. . . . My single goal is to get them out of the same-sex marriage business and back to helping hurricane victims.”

    Aside from the obvious fact that this objection would deny free speech as well as religious freedom to members of our Church and its [Prop 8] coalition partners, there are other reasons why the public square must be open to religious ideas and religious persons. As Richard John Neuhaus said many years ago, “In a democracy that is free and robust, an opinion is no more disqualified for being ‘religious’ than for being atheistic, or psychoanalytic, or Marxist, or just plain dumb.”

    Still looking for a statement worthy of “worst people in the world” designation?  Maybe it was this:

    [W]we must speak with love, always showing patience, understanding and compassion toward our adversaries. We are under command to love our neighbor (Luke 10:27), to forgive all men (Doctrine and Covenants 64:10), to do good to them who despitefully use us (Matthew 5:44) and to conduct our teaching in mildness and meekness (Doctrine and Covenants 38:41).

    Even as we seek to speak with love, we must not be surprised when our positions are ridiculed and we are persecuted and reviled. As the Savior said, “so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:12). And modern revelation commands us not to revile against revilers (Doctrine and Covenants 19:30).

    Well, no, it probably wasn’t that.  Maybe it was this:

    [W]e must not be deterred or coerced into silence by the kinds of intimidation I have described. We must insist on our constitutional right and duty to exercise our religion, to vote our consciences on public issues and to participate in elections and debates in the public square and the halls of justice. These are the rights of all citizens and they are also the rights of religious leaders. While our church rarely speaks on public issues, it does so by exception on what the First Presidency defines as significant moral issues, which could surely include laws affecting the fundamental legal/cultural/moral environment of our communities and nations.

    We must also insist on this companion condition of democratic government: when churches and their members or any other group act or speak out on public issues, win or lose, they have a right to expect freedom from retaliation.

    Uh-oh.  Now we are getting somewhere.  Elder Oaks seems to be about to decry the retaliation and intimidation that Prop 8 opponents employed against Mormons – and many others – who supported Prop 8.  I am talking about the publication of maps showing the homes of individuals who donated to the Yes on 8 campaign; boycotts of their businesses; identification of Mormons among the public lists of donors to the Yes campaign; and other admitted efforts at intimidating voters from exercising their Constitutional rights.

    This is no joke, by the way.  I remember hearing Fred Karger, the leader of the charmingly named Californians Against Hate, say on the Al Rantel show (KABC radio, Los Angeles) that the reason donors were being identified and harassed was to make sure they thought twice about donating the next time there is an election about same-sex marriage.

    These two paragraphs are probably the most controversial of Elder Oaks’ speech:

    Along with many others, we were disappointed with what we experienced in the aftermath of California’s adoption of Proposition 8, including vandalism of church facilities and harassment of church members by firings and boycotts of member businesses and by retaliation against donors. Mormons were the targets of most of this, but it also hit other churches in the pro-8 coalition and other persons who could be identified as supporters. Fortunately, some recognized such retaliation for what it was. A full-page ad in the New York Times branded this “violence and intimidation” against religious organizations and individual believers “simply because they supported Proposition 8 [as] an outrage that must stop.” The fact that this ad was signed by some leaders who had no history of friendship for our faith only added to its force.

    It is important to note that while this aggressive intimidation in connection with the Proposition 8 election was primarily directed at religious persons and symbols, it was not anti-religious as such. These incidents were expressions of outrage against those who disagreed with the gay-rights position and had prevailed in a public contest. As such, these incidents of “violence and intimidation” are not so much anti-religious as anti-democratic. In their effect they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South that produced corrective federal civil-rights legislation.

    (Emphasis added.)  The bolded language seems to have driven some people up a wall.  Note:  Elder Oaks did not compare the harassment of Mormons and other Proposition 8 supporters to the evils inflicted on African-Americans during the civil rights era.  He instead addressed the effect of those “incidents of violence and intimidation.”

    Elder Oaks also said “we must insist on our freedom to preach the “doctrines of our faith,” and that

    “as advocates of the obvious truth that persons with religious positions or motivations have the right to express their religious views in public, we must nevertheless be wise in our political participation. . . . even the civil rights of religionists must be exercised legally and wisely. . . . The call of conscience — whether religious or otherwise — requires no secular justification. At the same time, religious persons will often be most persuasive in political discourse by framing arguments and positions in ways that are respectful of those who do not share their religious beliefs and that contribute to the reasoned discussion and compromise that is essential in a pluralistic society.”

    Not exactly firebrand stuff, is it?  Finally, and going right to the reason for this blog’s existence, Elder Oaks talked about . . . Article VI of the Constitution!

    [F]inally, Latter-day Saints must be careful never to support or act upon the idea that a person must subscribe to some particular set of religious beliefs in order to qualify for a public office. The framers of our constitution included a provision that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” (Article VI). That constitutional principle forbids a religious test as a legal requirement, but it of course leaves citizens free to cast their votes on the basis of any preference they choose. But wise religious leaders and members will never advocate religious tests for public office.

    Fragile freedoms are best preserved when not employed beyond their intended purpose. If a candidate is seen to be rejected at the ballot box primarily because of religious belief or affiliation, the precious free exercise of religion is weakened at its foundation, especially when this reason for rejection has been advocated by other religionists. Such advocacy suggests that if religionists prevail in electing their preferred candidate this will lead to the use of government power in support of their religious beliefs and practices. The religion of a candidate should not be an issue in a political campaign.

    We couldn’t have said that better ourselves.

    The Upshot

    So, Elder Oaks said, in essence, that religious expression is under fire in the United States and that religious people (indeed, all people) ought to be able to speak peaceably in the public square, about public issues, without fear of retaliation for doing so.  That earned him the brickbats of the Left – who thus ironically proved Elder Oaks’ point.

    Talk radio host and cultural commentator Dennis Prager often says that the Left believes that because they are inherently and unquestionably right, their tactics can never be legitimately questioned.  The reaction to the Oaks speech certainly seems to support that thesis.  A calm, closely-reasoned speech that urges love and tolerance, but that also urges that religious people should be able respectfully to stand their ground on moral issues, without fear of retaliation, produces a firestorm of criticism.

    Good.   That means the debate is going on.  May the best, most principled arguments win.

    John adds his thoughts:

    I am pleased to see officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stand up for their civil rights in this fashion. In doing so they defend not only their own rights, but the rights of all people of all faiths.  That is something that is very important to remember.  We of the more orthodox Christian faith expressions as well as other non-Christian faiths are indebted to Elder Oaks for this speech.  We need to stand beside out Mormon friends in this – something this blog has insisted upon from the very beginning.

    My favorite part of the speech is where Elder Oaks points out that in declaring a “violation of their civil rights” so violently and destructively, proponents of Prop 8 violated those same civil rights of the people the aimed their protests towards.  Americans will always disagree, but we must do so civilly.  Freedom is only free if it applies equally to all.  We learned that the hard way through the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement – it’s in the Declaration of Independence for crying out loud!

    Again, kudos to Elder Oaks for standing up in this fashion. This Evangelical Presbyterian stands squarely with him and this speech as should persons of faith of all stripes.

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