Salon has invited me to contribute to “The Mormon Moment” with a series of articles that reflect on Romney’s campaign within the context of Mormon faith and culture.
Romney Boosts Liberal Mormons
July 1st 2012
With their religion front and center, progressive Latter-day Saints are becoming bolder about speaking out
Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has the nation talking about Mormonism. You can’t scan a newsfeed without being bombarded by several stories of gay Mormons, black Mormons, doubting Mormons, ex-Mormons – you name it. There are Mormons available in every genre imaginable. Not surprisingly, what perks the interest — and at times incredulity — of outside observers is the persistence of liberal and progressive Latter-day Saints.
Mormons are everywhere, but what may be less obvious is the extent to which this so-called Mormon Moment is actually exposing the internal stresses and fractures that have long existed within the faith. In November, Romney’s campaign may determine the direction of our nation, but it has already launched the battle for the soul of Mormonism in the early 21st century.
For more than five decades, Elder Boyd K. Packer has been an intimidating presence within the leadership of the Church. As president of the senior Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, his deep, gravel voice and hardline commitment to 1950s social conventions has been a divisive force within Mormon congregations – separating, as it were, the goats from the sheep. Or perhaps more aptly, the liberals from the conservatives.
In 1993, Packer pronounced what he saw as the three great threats to the Latter-day Saints: “The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.” He darkly cautioned that some members might “become their advocates — sympathize with their complaints against the Church, and perhaps even soften the commandments to comfort them.”
Packer’s bark was quickly followed by his bite. He subsequently oversaw the high-profile excommunication of six members whom he considered the very embodiment of such danger.
Flash forward nearly two decades into the Mormon Moment 2012. Packer’s Google Alerts must only inflame his horror: “Gay Mormons Challenge the Church,” “The Rise of the Mormon Feminist Housewife,” “Mormons Who Love Obama.”
Lo, the end is nigh.
Mormons Who Fear Mitt
April 27, 2012
Young people are leaving the church — and some think a Romney presidency will only make things worse
“I would not vote for him just because he is Mormon. I want to know what he is going to do for the people. I want to see the compassion.”
Gladys Knight is not voting for Mitt Romney. In a recent interview with BET the famed singer, herself a Mormon, said she wants to see the GOP front-runner “talk about something else besides the money.” Knight’s ambivalence about Romney is shared by at least a handful of her fellow Latter-day Saints.
You see, last time a Republican was president, he became just about the least popular person in the world. So some Mormons are a little bit nervous that having one of their own in the White House could interfere with the church’s true mission of spreading the gospel — something with which it has already been having recent troubles.
“Mitt Romney is having a terrible impact on how we are perceived,” explained Brigham Young University law student Marshall Thompson, a former intern to Orrin Hatch, an Iraq vet and a faithful Mormon — the type of person, in other words, you’d expect to be part of Romney’s base. “I’m told he’s a very nice person in real life,” Thompson continues, “but he comes across as out-of-touch, materialistic and disingenuous.”
Thompson is cluing into what pundits have identified as Romney’s greatest vulnerability – the so-called likability gap that separates him from Barack Obama. Romney’s candidacy comes at a time when Mormonism itself is facing a similar crisis of likability.
When Mormons Were Socialists
April 15, 2012
Joseph Smith would be horrified by the religion’s present-day materialism — and uber-capitalist candidate
“You are cursed because of your riches!”
It was a bummer message that nobody wanted to hear. Samuel the Lamanite stood alone atop the great wall of the city of Zarahemla to warn the inhabitants of their pending destruction.
Now you have probably never heard of this Samuel, nor the capital city that was once the center of the Nephite nation. But Mitt Romney certainly has. In 6 BC, as the story goes, somewhere on the American continent, the inhabitants of this mythic city had grown decadent. There were extreme class divisions. Politicians were corrupt. The government disregarded the sick and poor.
God had called Samuel to essentially Occupy Zarahemla, to stand up and speak out against corporate greed and wealth accumulation. For his trouble, he was promptly thrown out the front gates. Undeterred, he bravely scaled the city’s exterior wall, evading a barrage of arrows and stones to stand defiant. He offered Zarahemla a choice: repent or be destroyed by God. Like any of us who have ever witnessed the ranting of a doomsday prophet, the Nephites couldn’t be bothered. Four hundred years later, Samuel’s prophecy would sorely come to pass. After decades of perpetual wars and extreme environmental upheavals, the inhabitants of Zarahemla were wiped completely off the continent and out of history.