Mitt the Mormon's Idea of Freedom
By Andrew Sullivan
The Sunday Times, December 9, 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
Mitt Romney says that any doctrinal differences Mormons have with mainstream
Christians are trivial compared with the war against secularism: "Freedom
requires religion just as religion requires freedom ... Freedom and religion
endure together or perish alone ... I believe that Jesus Christ is the son
of God and the savior of mankind."
The speech was a purely political
maneuver. Romney is not just a Mormon but has served as a bishop, and for
nine years was a stake president. He knows the doctrines as well as anyone,
but he will only explain that part of them that reassures the Christian
Romney appeals to those who see religion primarily as a benign
force in American culture. He says to the Christianist right: forget about
our theological differences. What matters is that someone believes in
something and advances your political agenda.
Romney is not the first Mormon to run for president. In 1844 Joseph
Smith Jr ran on an abolitionist platform and in defence of the rights of
religious minorities. In that campaign, Smith said: "I go emphatically,
virtuously and humanely, for a theodemocracy, where God and the people hold
the power to conduct the affairs of men in righteousness."
Theodemocracy: the blending of government with a universally Christian
populace in which faith is the prerequisite of public office. This is the
vision of America that Romney is proposing. He has behind him the Protestant
right, the Catholic right, the Mormon church, and the Republican party
Romney is veiling intolerance under the guise of tolerance.
Nonbelief is rooted in the same freedom of conscience as belief. Freedom of
religion must mean the right to come to the conclusion that there is no God
What Is It About Mormonism?
By Noah Feldman
New York Times, January 6, 2008
Edited by Andy Ross
For Mitt Romney, the complex question of anti-Mormon bias boils down to the
practical matter of how he can make it go away.
From a constitutional
standpoint, the religion of a candidate is supposed to make no difference.
The founding fathers inserted a provision in the Constitution expressly
prohibiting any religious test for office. But for some, the objection to
Romney may be that Mormonism is religiously false and that voters should
choose a president who belongs to the true faith.
Like Mormon ritual,
much of Mormon theology remains relatively inaccessible to outsiders. "God
himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in
yonder heavens! That is the great secret," Joseph Smith is reported to have
said in one of his last communications with his followers. Mormonism's
theological secrets actually have more than a little in common with
religious mysteries that can be found in medieval Islamic esotericism,
kabbalistic mysticism, and ancient Christian Gnosticism.
the start of his career, Smith was denounced as a charlatan, an impostor and
worse. Yet Mormonism grew steadily. Mormonism's opponents turned to
violence, and Smith was gunned down by a lynch mob. Unhindered by Smith's
death, the Mormons, now under the leadership of Brigham Young, went out to
Utah to establish their own kingdom. After the Civil War, federal
prosecutors in the Utah territory and in neighboring areas convicted and
jailed thousands of Mormons in the most coordinated campaign of religious
repression in U.S. history.
This period of resisting persecution by
living outside the law taught Mormons that secrecy can be a necessary tool
for survival. The Mormon path to normalization over the course of the 20th
century depended heavily on this avoidance of public discussion of its
religious tenets. Mormons depicted themselves as yet another Christian
denomination alongside various other Protestant denominations that prevailed
throughout the United States.
Another part of the Mormon
assimilationist strategy was to participate actively in politics at the
state and national levels. The condition for political success was that
nobody asked about the precise content of Mormon religious beliefs and the
Mormons themselves made no particular effort to tell. Ezra Taft Benson
became secretary of agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. George
Romney, Mitt's father, became chairman of the American Motors Corporation in
1954 and was elected governor of Michigan in 1962.
Mormons came to
embrace the American ideals of multi-party governance and electoral
democracy. They also gradually embraced the Republican Party. What made the
Mormons Republican was simply their move toward the conservative center of
American public opinion. With Eisenhower especially, the Mormons found a
leader they could admire and with whom they could work.
Benson had ties to the John Birch Society. In the 1960s, as the Democratic
Party increasingly began to embrace an agenda of civil and cultural
liberties, the Mormon allegiance to Republicanism was cemented further
The rise of the religious right posed a tricky political
quandary for the LDS church. Mormons were able to argue that they, too,
believed in salvation and in the literal accuracy of the Bible. The
difficulty was that in addition to the Bible in its King James Version, the
Latter-day Saints had further scriptures with which to contend — the Book of
Mormon and supplements to various biblical texts known collectively as the
Pearl of Great Price.
In theory, the evangelical political movement
says that it is prepared to embrace Jews and even Muslims so long as they
share the same common values of the religious right. In the case of a Mormon
candidate, though, many evangelicals are not prepared to say that common
values are enough. One prominent evangelical, the Southern Baptist Richard
Land, has proposed that Mormonism be considered a fourth Abrahamic religion.
Faced with the allegation that they do not believe in the same God as
ordinary Protestants, or that their beliefs are not truly Christian, Mormons
find themselves in an extraordinarily awkward position. They cannot defend
themselves by expressly explaining their own theology, because, taken from
the standpoint of orthodox Protestantism in America today, it is in fact
Mitt Romney has felt the need to minimize the centrality
of Mormon scripture by saying that he reads the Gideon Bible when he is
alone in his hotel room on the campaign trail. Something similar is perhaps
contained in Romney's outspoken admiration for Rick Warren, the megachurch
pastor and best-selling author.
Romney is an impressive candidate.
For conservatives to reject a Mormon because he is a Mormon would be a harsh
setback for a faith that has accomplished such extraordinary success in
How The Mormons Make Money
By Caroline Winter
Bloomberg Businessweek, July 10, 2012
Edited by Andy Ross
Mormonism has adopted the American faith in money. LDS Church members are
required to tithe 10% of their income to gain access to Mormon temples.
The Mormon church's holdings are vast. First among its for-profit
enterprises is DMC, which reaps estimated annual revenue of $1.2 billion
from six subsidiaries, which run a newspaper, 11 radio stations, a TV
station, a publishing and distribution company, a digital media company, a
hospitality business, and an insurance business with assets worth $3.3
AgReserves, another for-profit Mormon umbrella company,
together with other church-run agricultural affiliates, reportedly owns
about 1 million acres in the continental United States. The church also runs
several for-profit real estate arms that own, develop, and manage malls,
parking lots, office parks, residential buildings, and more. The church is
often exempt from paying taxes on the real estate properties it leases out,
and doesn't pay taxes on donated funds and holdings.
Mitt Romney and
others at Bain Capital gave the LDS Church millions' worth of stock holdings
obtained through Bain deals. But the church officially stopped reporting its
finances fifty years ago. A recent investigation estimates that the LDS
Church is likely worth $40 billion today and collects up to $8 billion in
tithing each year.
The Mormon Church is owned and run by the
Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints. This entity is owned entirely by the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,
currently President Thomas S. Monson.
The Mormon presidency is not an
elected position. When one president resigns or dies, he is replaced by the
longest-serving member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Each new
president handpicks two counselors to help him lead. The three-man team is
called the First Presidency. The church's General Authorities consist of the
First Presidency, the Presiding Bishopric, the Quorum of Twelve Apostles,
and the Quorum of the Seventy. All General Authorities, including the
prophet, receive equal pay.
DMC is overseen by 10 directors: the
members of the First Presidency, the Presiding Bishopric, three senior
Apostles, and CEO Keith B. McMullin. Besides having final say on major
transactions, the church owns all of DMC's shares. And each year the holding
company, like all church businesses, donates 10% of its income to a church
fund. In some cases money flows in the opposite direction, from the church's
treasury to the businesses.
The Mormon belief in the spiritual value
of financial success goes back to 1830, when Joseph Smith declared: "Verily
I say unto you, that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time
have I given unto you a law which was temporal."
Donated money is
wired directly to Salt Lake City. Mormon tithing slips read, "Though
reasonable efforts will be made globally to use donations as designated, all
donations become the Church's property and will be used at the Church's sole
discretion to further the church's overall mission."
By Adam Gopnik
New Yorker, August 13, 2012
Nearly 200 years ago, in Palmyra, New York, a man named Joseph Smith said
that an angel named Moroni had directed him to a set of buried golden
plates, inscribed with the Book of Mormon. The book is told in a flat first
person: all its opening chapters begin "I, Nephi".
Mormonism was one
of countless sects dating from the Second Great Awakening, which shaped the
signature style of American Christianity. Smith held that God and angels and
men were all members of the same species, so Jesus was conceived by "natural
action" and God had one or more wives.
Mormonism was the great
scandal of American nineteenth-century religion. Forced out of New York by
fierce Protestant hostility, Smith and his followers began years of
wandering. Smith was finally martyred by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, while
in the local jail.
Brigham Young took the role of the apostle Paul
for the Mormons. Young led his posse of believers out West, chose an arid
but suitable piece of land, and in 1847 began building a wooden tabernacle
in the town he called Salt Lake City. As the first governor of Utah, he
ruled over a huge chunk of Western territory, including a lot of what is
today Wyoming, Colorado, and Nevada.
Young preached a brutal doctrine
of blood atonement: "Will you love that man or woman enough to shed their
blood? That is what Jesus Christ meant." Young's brutality, and his
insistence that Utah belonged exclusively to the Mormons, led President
James Buchanan to send in the troops. Young backed down and accepted federal
After the Civil War, Brigham Young sponsored the first
Mormon department stores and commercial franchises. It was a victory of
Gilded Age capitalism over Great Awakening spiritualism. The intensity of
the faith got sublimated into missionary zeal and commerce.
art produced one camp genius, the painter Arnold Friberg. His image of Nephi
looks exactly like Mitt Romney.