A Few Reflections By a Mormon on a Mormon Candidate
NRO has now posted Kevin Williamson’s excellent cover story from its most recent issue of the magazine entitled “An American Gospel.” As an active, mainstream Mormon, I recommend it. While it doesn’t address all the potential issues that arise in people’s minds about my faith, I think it addresses most of those that are likely to be relevant to Americans who are deciding whether they can support a Mormon candidate for president. I think Mr. Williamson’s answer to that question is “yes.”
Let me add a few additional thoughts. First, the argument that Mitt Romney would be the pawn of mysterious Church leaders in Salt Lake City is laughable. A few facts are worth considering. The Church does not support candidates and has a strict policy that politics are banned from its meetings. In sixty years, I have never heard a sermon by a member or a church official in a church meeting that turned into a campaign speech (compare this to hyper-political sermons of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright). If you want a dose of politics served with your religion, the Mormon Church is the wrong one for you.
Church members are encouraged to take part in the political process, but are never directed to one candidate over another. The Church, on very rare occasions, involves itself in specific issues of a moral nature, the best example of which was its call for support of Proposition 8 in California. The Church has also taken public positions in the past on gambling and a few other issues. These forays into the political world are notable for their rarity.
One particular issue is also worth a few words. Mr. Williamson cites Tricia Erickson, in his words “a Mormon apostate and professional opponent of all things Latter-day Saintly.” Her fundamental argument is that Mitt’s Mormonism is a disqualifying factor for a presidential candidate (I think she advances the old "he'll be the pawn of sinister forces" argument).
Until I read the NR article, I had never heard of Tricia Erickson, and I suspect that the vast majority of my co-religionists have never heard of her either. Nonetheless, in my six decades, I have seen several professional Mormon apostates come and go (Ed Decker is cited in the article—suffice it to say that his work has been thoroughly debunked). Any religion with a set of strong defining doctrines has this kind of critic, including former Catholics and Jews. (Is there a more rabid hater of Israel than a Jewish anti-Zionist?).
I can attest that mainstream Mormons, the kind who spend their time raising their families, working, and finding solace and peace in the Church, pay little attention to the Tricia Ericksons of the world. We find their wild conspiracy theories laughable and at odds with our day-to-day experience in the Church. We find strength in the culture, the feeling of belonging, and in the theology. Tricia Erickson and her ilk are far from our thoughts.
But, since Romney is the likely candidate, you’re going to be hearing a lot more from the Lawrence O’Donnell’s of the world. All I can ask is that you compare the wildness of the allegations to your own real-world experience with Mormon friends, neighbors, and co-workers (while giving us the courtesy of recognizing that none of us is perfect). After all, one great truth taught by Christ is that “by their fruits ye shall know them.” I believe most American Mormons are more than happy to let themselves and their Church be judged by what we do and what we are: loyal Americans who care about their country and its future.
So, as you are confronted with a few loud former Mormons, just remember the definition of a fanatic: the person who will neither change the subject nor his mind.*
I would also suggest the words of two other men. The first is the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell, formerly a member of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and formerly an American fighting man on Okinawa. When Hugh Hewitt created his excellent PBS series Searching for God in America, it was Elder Maxwell that he interviewed (and whose interview is in the book that Hewitt wrote to accompany the series). I am one of many Mormons who continues to look to Elder Maxwell as a source of wisdom and sweetness of spirit. In 1996, he wrote these words about the “former Mormon” critics of the Church:
“They criticize the use of Church resources to which they no longer contribute. They condescendingly seek to counsel the Brethren whom they no longer sustain. Confrontive, except of themselves, of course, they leave the Church but cannot leave the Church alone . . . .” [Neal A. Maxwell, 1996]
Roger Scruton, the great English conservative and regular contributor to the American Spectator, made this observation in his memoir Gentle Regrets: “[S]acred things are intolerable to those who no longer believe in them.”
Please don’t take this the wrong way. I make no claim that Mitt Romney’s candidacy is sacred. All I would ask is that you judge him, for good or ill, on his vision for America and the specific policies that he espouses.
*[Update: On further reading, I feel a need to clarify. There is a huge difference between a professional former Mormon like Tricia Erickson (whose raison d'etre is pouring scorn on their former religion) and people like Marco Rubio and family, who were once Mormons but for reasons of their own returned to the Catholic faith. The difference, of course, is obvious: people can convert from one religion to another without hating and speaking out against their former religion. If a person finds greater solace in another religion, so be it and I wish them Godspeed].