Sunday’s Washington Post brings forth the latest establishment media hand-wringing on its own coverage of GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormonism.*
Of course, one cannot write about whether one should write about such things without discussing what LDS doctrines might make it divisive to write about such things. There is a resulting disingenuousness about the project, like making a “prayer request” for sister Suzy, who’s been gossiping again.
The word “cult,” which I thought I understood when I was younger, has proven more equivocal than I then realized. There’s a sociological meaning (opinion reserved on whether that meaning is precise). Under that meaning, Jim Jones led a cult in mass suicide in Guyana. After that, it seems as overwrought to call the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a “cult” as it does when the American Family Association calls some smutty, transgressive prime time TV program “hard core pornography.”
But there’s also a doctrinal/historical meaning vouchsafed me as a child and young man, assuring me that LDS (and others not presently relevant) were “cults” because, basically, they had some authoritative secondary text that wasn’t the Bible (or the Scofield Reference Bible or innumerable other Evangelical Lexicons and Commentaries that help these simple, humble Christians discern the “plain literal meaning” of the text if one studies them long enough). On that, my opinion (which I’ve foreshadowed rather broadly, no?) is that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
But Mormonism is a fascinating subject because it’s very visible, it’s quintessentially American, it’s growing because Mormons are, by and large, so goll-durned nice (the greatest of American virtues, which innumerable real Saints would fail), and because it has been adopting a “nobody here but us Christians” prickliness about being reminded of its hyper-sectarian roots.
I have consequently touched on Mormonism in this blog heavily enough to tag it ten prior times, mostly last Fall.
- 11/14/11. Joseph Smith’s “revelation” was as much a departure from historical Christianity as Islam was, but so are most manifestations of what is now called religion in the United States. Mormonism is increasingly trying to blend in with those other manifestations. (HT Harold Bloom and my cyberbuddy John who brought it to my attention.)
- 10/27/11. Islamic theology is closer than LDS to Christian orthodoxy in the nontrivial sense that Mormonism teaches a modern form of anthropomorphism and holds that God is material rather than immaterial. (HT Daniel Larison.)
- 10/24/11. Joanna Banks (who blogs as Ask Mormon Girl) accurately and frankly puts Mormonism in the American Protestant “Restorationist” story line, and sees it as still evolving. This “Restorationist story line” is indeed a point of unacknowledged parity between LDS and Evangelicalism. (HT NPR’s “On Being.)
- 10/21/11. Evangelicals, who are politically conflicted about Romney and Mormonism, think they’ve have kept just enough of the historic Christian baby (while discarding bathwater) to remain legitimately Christian whereas the Mormons haven’t. I reluctantly agree but think it’s quite a close call on Evangelicals. (Some days I think that more than others. But I have always counted as the beginning of my individual Christian story a very, very Evangelical-type “sinner’s prayers” when I was quite young.)
- Mormonism is neither orthodox Christianity nor Orthodox Christianity. But my 10/13/11 conclusion was “so what?” I admired Romney’s sobriety, which stacked up favorably against the Evangelical candidates who then were still at large, armed and dangerous. (Since then, Mitt has reinvented himself and is himself starting to sound crazy.)
- 8/6/11, I spent the most time ever explaining how narrow the differences really are between Mormonism and Evangelicalism, with extensive quotes from the late Richard John Neuhaus.
- 10/11/11. Politically-involved Mormons have worse problems than some cornpone Southern Baptist megapastor calling them a “cult.” (HT William McGurn)
- 10/1/11. Mitt Romney in 2008 said “I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind.” What more could a body want?
- 10/8/11. On the occasion of Dr. Robert Jeffress of Dallas First Baptist calling Mormonism a cult, I got protractedly snarky in ¿Que est lo mas auténtico? (probably revealing in the process how much Spanish I’ve forgotten in 40+ years).
- I stand by all of those blogs, but on 10/20/11, I noted what a curious, curious thing it is that the left and mainstream media have developed such keen interest in how Mormonism squares up with Christian orthodoxy, and is so intent on discerning whether Mormonism passes the test. That blog distills my position still:
Given equally competent and ideologically compatible candidates, I’d surely give a slight edge to a more orthodox Christian over a less orthodox Christian or a non-Christian (in which category I must include Mormonism).
But the world has never set me up with a nice, neat decision like that. Too often, it has given me on one side a completely preditable right-wing hawk sectarian, who thinks he’s entitled to the vote of every Real Christian®, on the other an intriguing candidate of dubious orthodoxy or who declines to talk about his faith.
The only reasons to continue discussing Romney’s Mormonism, it seems to me, are illegitimate in the context of Presidential politics.
As for decisions that aren’t nice or neat, President Obama rarely uses scripture without misusing it, but in that he’s not much different than other recent Presidents, and he may have a pretty good idea where to scratch the itchy ears of modern auditors.
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* I have heard that adherents don’t mind being called “Mormons” but do mind references to “the Mormon Church” and, presumably, to “Mormonism.” I just don’t particularly care about their preferences, and I make no special effort to talk about “LDS” or “Latter Day Saints” or such when I don’t feel like it.
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