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 right.

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 elite.

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 at all.

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.

Almost from 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.

Ezra Taft 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 still.

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 heterodox.

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 overcoming discrimination.

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 billion.

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 supremacy.

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.

Mormon art produced one camp genius, the painter Arnold Friberg. His image of Nephi looks exactly like Mitt Romney.