Damon Linker has a piece in the current edition of The New Republic in which he questions Mitt Romney’s suitability for the Presidency of the United States based on his religious faith, which everyone knows by now is Mormonism. Linker even suggests that Mitt Romney’s recent election-year flip-flops on abortion, gay marriage, gays in the military, protections for gays against hiring discrimination, etc. etc. etc. may be faith driven. “Romney may have undergone an authentic religious rebirth during the last few years—a rebirth that has led him to embrace the fundamental tenets of his church more fully than ever before in his political career. If so, voters need to know it. And they need to think long and hard about the possible consequences of making such a man the president of the United States,” Linker writes.
[Via Patrick Hynes at Deal Hudson’s blog]
Looks like Damon Linker knows as much about Mormonism as he does about the impending theocracy. Mormons have no official teaching on abortion, though they do have one on caffeine. As to Romney’s flip-flopping I think it is easier to believe it is something endemic in Massachusetts. Sen. Kennedy was once pro-life and then of course there is the King of Flip-Flops Sen Kerry. Though then again political opportunism is not just native to Massachusetts.
As I recall, Linker did a stint teaching at Brigham Young before he joined Father Neuhaus at First Things. I wonder if he planned to do some kind of expose on the Mormons before deciding the Catholics would make a more marketable topic.
How did this guy ever get a job at First Things?
It is true, if a man has had a conversion of heart especially on issues as important as abortion and gay “marriage” then he should be welcomed into the fold with open arms (at least politically).
On the other hand, we should also be skeptical of the opportunist because everyone knows politicians cannot be trusted in the first place and because the battle is so desperate in the second place.
But what can we have him do to prove his conviction? If only we had some kind of mystical test we could subject him to — a quest of some kind — to prove his conviction before we endorse him.
Of course I still have reservations regarding his religion. It is not just the fact that Mormonism rejects the Christianity’s Trinity or traditional monotheism.
Mormonism’s roots are extremely anti-Catholic. Most of the cult religions of that era gained instant street credit by bashing Rome and immigrant Catholics. You could say the same thing about Protestantism, but Protestantism has mellowed somewhat over the past 500 years. Also, Protestantism, while founded on anti-Catholic rhetoric, does not have “inspired” scriptures that blast the Church (with the exception of Seventh Day Adventists).
Sure Protestants changed the Bible by removing books but the funky translations Luther used to try to foist his ideas on non-Catholics has been utterly rejected even by his own Lutherans. Mormonism, on the other hand, keeps her Catholic-bashing rhetoric as an intrinsic aspect of their faith.
Do I believe this dynamic will somehow come to light if Romney ever was elected? Not necessarily. But that also does not mean it could not come to light in some form either.
Also, I worry about the close relationship between the Mormon hierarchy and the US government and the fact that having a Mormon in office would close the circuit, so to speak.
Do I imagine an uprising with militant Mormons instating a theocracy in the name of Joseph Smith? Not at all. Still, the potential for some kind of abuse is there (on top of all the other potential abuses normal politicians face).
Also, the fact that these issues exist is something we can expect Democrats to make very good use of in the upcoming election to disenfranchise voters and bring Obama into the White House.
Sorry, when I saw the title of the post, I immediately thought of how flip-flops seem to be all the rage in dressing up for Mass (even in winter). 😛
A Mormon president?
They can have my coffee when they pry it from my cold, dead hand.
Mr. Linker, whose falling out with Fr. Neuhaus and First Things has been amply documented and commented upon, is eminently qualified to discuss “flip-flops,” considering his roller-coaster ride in journalism. Mr. Linker is my candidate for writing John F. Kerry’s “Profile in Courage” nomination essay, when the Kennedy Library people make their announcement for 2007. Only Mr. Linker could do justice in describing every psychological nuance in parsing the sentence, “I voted for the bill before I voted against it.”
Now Mr. Linker offers his two-cents’ worth on Mitt Romney and Mormonism and flip-flopping. Yeah, I want to read that right after I finish studying Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame application, and watching Affleck and Damon’s “Dogma” DVD which I received for Christmas. Honestly, I thought Mr. Linker’s journalistic credibility had gone the way of Jayson Blair’s. Like Mark Twain’s, I guess reports of Mr. Linker’s credibility passing are greatly exaggerated.
Found this responce to the Damon’s piece:
Your anxiety about a Mormon politician knuckling under to a Mormon Church president replays the debate in 1904 over the seating of Apostle Reed Smoot in the United States Senate. Senators kept questioning church president Joseph F. Smith about his control of Mormon politics. Over and over, he assured the committee that he had no intention of dictating Smoot’s votes in the Senate, but the questioning went on.
Now, a century later, we can judge the actual dangers of the Mormon Church to national politics from the historical record. Have any of the church presidents tried to manage Smoot, Ezra Taft Benson, Harry Reid, or Gordon Smith? The record is innocuous to say the least. There is no evidence that the church has used its influence in Washington to set up a millennial kingdom where Mormons will govern the world or even to exercise much sway on lesser matters. It’s a long way from actual history to the conclusion that “under a President Romney, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would truly be in charge of the country–with its leadership having final say on matters of right and wrong.”
Mitt Romney’s insistence that he will follow his own conscience rather than church dictates is not only a personal view; it is church policy. The church website makes this explicit: Elected officials who are Latter-Day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated church position. While the church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent. You are going against all the evidence of history and stated church policy in contriving the purely theoretical possibility of Mormon domination. Is that not the stuff from which all paranoid projections on world history have been manufactured?
Liberals must be particularly cautious in speculating about the political intentions of religious groups because of their fascination with fanaticism. Fanaticism is one of the most firmly entrenched stereotypes in the liberal mind. The fanatic is the polar opposite of all that the liberal stands for and thus constitutes a particularly delicious enemy.
Joseph Smith ran up against the fear of fanaticism almost from the beginning. It was the chief underlying cause of the recurrent expulsions the Mormons suffered. When non-Mormons could find no specific infractions to warrant prosecution in the courts, they resorted to vigilante action to drive the Mormons out. The Mormon presence was unbearable because they were so obviously fanatics. Quite typically, the fear of fanaticism led democrats into undemocratic extremes. Mormons were deprived of their property and the right to live and vote in a supposedly open society. In 1846, after a decade and a half of recurring attacks in Missouri and Illinois, a body of armed citizens forced out the pitiful remains of the Mormon population in Nauvoo by training six cannons on the town.
The stereotype of fanaticism is essentially a logical construction. The seemingly airtight logic is that anyone who claims to speak for God must believe he possesses absolute truth with an implied commission to impose that truth on everyone else. Mohammed, to whom Joseph Smith was frequently compared, used violence. Joseph Smith, lacking the means, tyrannized his own followers and refused to acknowledge the truth of any other doctrines but his own. You assume that Mormon leaders, by the same token, will want to commandeer the United States government to advance their cause.
Nothing Mormons can do will ever alleviate these fears. It did not help that the right of individual conscience in religious matters was made an article of faith, or that the Nauvoo city council passed a toleration act for every conceivable religious group including Catholics, Jews, and “Muhammadans.” Whatever they said, their neighbors could not believe that the Mormons’ ultimate goal was not to compel everyone to believe as they did.
Your essay chooses not to look at the historical record, because specific facts are irrelevant in explicating fanaticism. It is the logic of revelation that counts. The Mormons have to be interested in world domination because their doctrine requires it of them. Furthermore, they are all dupes of the chief fanatic and will willingly do anything he requires. You cite as proof of this extravagant claim “more than one” undergraduate who said he would kill if commanded. No mention was made of students who said they would have refused. That method is in keeping with the management of the fanatic stereotype. There is no effort to give a balanced picture. Certain key facts or incidents are made archetypal. In unguarded moments or exceptional instances the true nature of the fanatic mind reveals itself.
The unquestioned belief in the potency of fanaticism makes facts unnecessary. Readers know in advance what to expect just as they foresee the ending of a romantic movie far in advance. The art of writing in this mode is to mobilize all of the foreknown elements and arrange them to reach an expected conclusion.
Damon, I thought you moved along judiciously through most of the essay, but you blew your cover in the paragraph of questions to Mitt Romney. There, you try to nail him on his beliefs about the church president being a prophet. It follows necessarily, you think, that, if Romney believes in current prophecy, the church will run the country under his presidency. That leap from assumption to conclusion in one bound is only possible if you are steeped in the logic of fanaticism. For Mormons themselves, it makes no sense.
You are caught in the dilemma that ensnares everyone preoccupied with fanaticism. You describe Mormonism in a way that makes perfect sense to non-Mormons and no sense to Mormons themselves. This means, to me, that
you are describing the inside of your own mind as much as the reality of Mormonism. Mormons will hear a lot of this so long as Romney is in the race, and it will baffle them every time.
Richard Lyman Bushman
Richard Lyman Bushman is Gouverneur Morris Professor
of History Emeritus at Columbia University.