ROMNEY'S MORMONISM: OFF-LIMITS FOR DISCUSSION?
By Avraham Azrieli, author of The Mormon Candidate - A Novel*
As candidate for the presidency, Gov. Mitt Romney has consistently declined to discuss his lifelong involvement with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (colloquially called the Mormon Church) except to say that it has played a central role in his personal life and his impressive success as a businessman and a politician. He talks about his faith in general terms familiar to the average Christian, but has never agreed to answer any specific questions. Romney's coyness, especially in the context of the Mormon Church's traditional secrecy as to its temple rituals, unusual doctrines and financial activities, has intensified public interest. This conflict is certain to heat up as the elections approach, and perhaps worsen should he become president. Is Romney correct that his Mormonism belongs in a private sphere, or are voters entitled to details of his religious commitments and beliefs?
No Religious Test for Office:
American separation of church and state, and the resulting live-and-let-live religious co-existence, are inherent to our civility and national success. The Mormon Church, despite its early history of violent confrontations and lingering polygamous sub-denominations, has evolved successfully into a rich and powerful organization. Its temples tower over major cities, its charitable operations spring into action during natural disasters, and its members participate prominently in American business and political life. While Romney is the first Mormon to be nominated by a major party for President, other Mormons have served honorably in top cabinet and legislative positions, including Harry Reid as the current Majority Leader in the Senate.
In fact, having most recently elected an African-American president, U.S. voters' pluralism needs no further proof. The constitution unequivocally states that religious affiliation shall not be a test for government service. The White House has been occupied by Anglicans, Unitarians, and Protestants of various denominations, as well as by a Catholic and a Quaker. There is no legal or moral barrier to preclude the presidency from a Mormon candidate or, for that matter, a Seventh-day Adventist, a Scientologist, or a Jehovah's Witness.
Eligibility, therefore, is not the issue. This is about the voters' right to know vs. the candidate's right to privacy. More specifically, are Romney's religious positions and his ecclesiastical priesthood jobs legitimate subjects for voters' inquiry and consideration?
Is Romney Different?
Two substantive differences arguably distinguish Romney from past presidential candidates. The first is the seniority of his position in the Mormon Church's priesthood hierarchy, the second is his level of adherence to specific theological doctrines that contradict mainstream American values.
Romney's Priesthood Positions:
Romney is the first presidential candidate in U.S. history to have served in senior ecclesiastical positions, rising to "Stake President" - the chief priest over all the Mormons in the Boston region - a position equivalent to a Catholic archbishop.
In every major religion, unlike the rank-and-file church members, archbishop-level prelates reach these positions after decades of wholehearted commitment to church theology, conformity, and missionary success. Unlike corporate jobs, such deep spiritual and emotional commitments do not vanish with retirement. Ecclesiastical seniority represents a lifelong pledge of total devotion to the church and embrace of every tenet of its theological dogma.
There are, therefore, a few relevant questions voters may ask: Is Romney still holding a high priesthood position in the Mormon Church hierarchy? What is the nature of his ongoing commitments and the scope of his apostolic roles? How would he act when the interests of his church conflict with the interests of his country? Is he still bound by any vows that hinder his freedom of action in the highest office in the land?
Romney's Theological Positions:
Mormonism include several elements that directly contradict mainstream American values. Here are a few examples:
Total Obedience: The president of the Mormon Church at any given time is called the "Prophet, Seer, and Revelator." Mormon theology decrees that he is God's high priest and speaks for God on all matters. From an early age, Mormons recite daily the doctrine of "living prophets" and take repeated vows of obedience, because the Lord speaks through the current president of the church.
Women's Subservience: Mormonism is paternal. Men are promoted to become priests and saints, and are the masters of their domains. Women, on the other hand, are inferior to men, must serve their husbands in childbirth and homemaking, and are discouraged from pursuing academic and professional aspirations. And in the afterlife, a woman's soul may only pass through to the Mormon equivalent of heaven if her husband so chooses, depending on how well she served him on Earth. If admitted, she will be allowed to continue to serve him, together with other heavenly wives awaiting each Mormon man in the afterlife.
Racial Inferiority: Dark skin in Mormon theology is considered the "Mark of Cain," hereditary of Satan, and a punishment dispensed by God to evil souls. In 1978, after years of civil rights litigation in the U.S. and the expulsion of Mormon missionaries from various foreign countries, the Mormon Church officially removed all racial exclusions. But the Mormon racist scriptural components were never removed or denounced, and have remained integral parts of the sacred texts that are held to be of true divine origin.
Christian Satanism: A fundamental tenet of the Mormon Church is that all others are Gentiles and that all other churches, including Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity, are false churches created by Satan. This belief goes all the way back to the First Vision in the 1820s', when the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, was visited by God and Jesus in upstate New York and was told to establish the one true church. The first and holiest scripture published by Smith, The Book of Mormon, repeatedly describes mainstream Christianity as the "great whore" of Satan.
These four examples of Mormon theology stand in direct conflict with mainstream American values: Total obedience negates the cherished personal freedom our nation was born to protect, female subservience is offensive to the long-fought-for gender equality, skin color no longer serves as a measure of a person's humanity except by bigots lurking in the darkest corners of our society, and invoking Satan in reference to other peoples' faiths is something we usually hear from Teheran or Afghanistan.
It is possible that some Mormons no longer embrace these beliefs. In all fairness, many religions carry with them theological elements that have become anachronistic or odd. But by their nature, senior-level priestly positions are earned through an equally high level of personal conformity. For that reason, it would be hard to imagine JFK winning the presidential elections had he been a Roman Catholic archbishop, rather than the casual congregant who publicly disagreed with his church on social issues.
Romney, on the other hand, has not been a rank-and-file church member. As an archbishop-level priest, he must have proven his personal adherence to the theological doctrines of the Mormon Church through years of teaching and enforcing the old dogmas. The question is, where does Gov. Romney stand now?
As a contender for the White House, Mitt Romney owes voters a full and honest disclosure of his personal values and commitments to the Mormon Church. He admitted as much in his 2007 speech Faith in America:
"Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate's religion that are appropriate. I believe there are. And I will answer them today."
But his speech, while eloquent, inspiring and truly heartwarming, answered none of the pertinent questions with any specificity or facts.
American voters - especially those who are inclined to support Romney - are entitled to know whether or not he believes that women are subservient creatures, that blacks are inferior souls, or that, other than his fellow Mormons, all Christians are Satan worshippers. Most crucially, Romney should clarify if he still believes that God speaks through the president of the Mormon Church, who must be obeyed totally and blindly on all matters - even by the president of the United States.
By answering these questions openly, Gov. Romney would clear away the fog of assiduous secrecy that has trailed his campaign and put an end to persistent concerns. American voters would reward his honesty with appreciation and fairness as they prepare to select the nation's next leader.
Avraham Azrieli *
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* Avraham Azrieli is the author of THE MORMON CANDIDATE, a new political thriller based on extensive research of the Mormon Church. For interested readers, a bibliography of primary sources appears at the end of the novel. Available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and everywhere books are sold. (E-book: $2.99; Paperback: $14.99)
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Martin County Democratic Executive Committee has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Martin County Democratic Executive Committee endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)