Print   |   Back
May 21, 2012
In The Village
Mormonism in the Age of Romney
by Orson Scott Card

I've heard many Mormons speak of Romney's candidacy with delight and pride. I'm a little more ambiguous, if only because I think the work of the Church is more important than the work of any government, and far more important than the private ambition of any individual to lead a government.

Yet Romney is a citizen, with a right to seek office; it would be wrong to criticize him for seeking office, even though the Church will bear a particular burden during the time of his candidacy.

If Romney were to become president of the United States, then Americans serving as missionaries in other countries would immediately be suspected of serving as emissaries of the Mormon President.

Even in 1972, I and other missionaries in Brazil were routinely accused of working for the CIA -- not a trivial or absurd charge, given the predilection of the US spy service to interfere in the internal affairs of Latin American nations.

It was difficult for American missionaries to get visas to enter Brazil. Even mission presidents were delayed, sometimes for months. And that was when Richard Nixon was president. What if it were Mitt Romney?

Long before the election of 2012 yields an outcome in November, the Church will be put through the wringer.

Back in 2008, Huckabee ran (or at least winked at) a vicious anti-Mormon campaign against Mitt Romney, playing to the decades of slanders by evangelicals who apparently believe that the only way to stop their co-religionists from joining the Mormon Church was to lie about it.

This year, Perry was even less subtle about his anti-Mormon campaign than Huckabee had been.

But the real danger, which Republican leaders must deal with even if they can't publicly admit it, is the well-grounded fear that the Christian Right would not come out to vote for a Mormon candidate, even if it meant four more years of Obama.

That fear has been behind all the anybody-but-Romney efforts -- like Newt Gingrich's effort to get Santorum to unite with him against the Mormon dude. In my entire life of watching politics, I have never seen rivals for the same nomination seriously propose uniting to bring down a particular candidate.

There is only one reason for bringing down Romney, and it's not because he's "not conservative enough." In their rational moments, most Republican leaders know perfectly well that pure conservatism does not win over the independent votes that a Republican must attract in order to win.

I hear determinedly obtuse conservatives blame McCain's moderateness for the defeat in 2008, which is just silly. We had just had eight years of the media pounding on George W. Bush and the Republican wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The country was collapsing into a deep recession during a Republican administration. And Obama was the media's anointed First Black President, so that he was getting no negative reporting and no hard questions from the mainstream news outlets.

The miracle was that the election wasn't a landslide. If McCain had been a true-blue conservative, it almost certainly would have been.

This year it's Obama who is unpopular -- in spite of the fawning treatment of the media. But he will have the absolutely united support of all the major news media except Fox and the Wall Street Journal.

If Republicans are to have a chance against Obama, it's hard to imagine a better candidate than Mitt Romney:

A former governor of a liberal state; a businessman who made a fortune by transforming badly managed companies into lean, valuable ones by cutting their budgets (which, of course, always means firing employees); a religious man with conservative social values, but not so doctrinaire that moderates and independents have anything to fear from him.

The only thing that keeps him from being the perfect Republican candidate is that he's Mormon.

Take the brouhaha about the proxy-baptism of Simon Wiesenthal's parents, and the immediate demand that Romney condemn the Church's action.

Of course this is all silly. Those who are complaining are all complete hypocrites, and should be ashamed of themselves.

Either they believe Mormon truth-claims or they don't. If they believe that our proxy-baptisms have any effect on the dead people whose names are spoken during the ceremonies, then they should want us to perform them; if they don't believe they have any effect, then why do they care?

They care (they say) because these proxy baptisms are like the forced "conversion" of Jews during the Middle Ages. But this only reveals their ignorance. Mormons don't believe that our proxy baptisms are forced -- we believe the spirits of the dead are free to accept or reject the ordinance.

Our baptisms and other work for the dead are on a "just-in-case" basis; if the dead person chooses not to accept the ordinances, then it's as if they hadn't taken place. How is that "forced conversion" or "another genocide"?

If there's one thing Mormon doctrine insists on, it's the complete agency of all human beings at all times. We would never engage in any kind of religious ritual designed to compel anyone to do anything.

We have backed off from performing proxy ordinances for any group that there have been protests about. Even the baptism of Simon Wiesenthal's parents was done without the Church's knowledge of their identity, and the Church apologized for the error.

Why, then, was Romney being required to condemn it? It had nothing to do with him. Nobody had any idea that it did. He was really being required to repudiate the whole practice of proxy baptisms -- required by people who don't believe in them, don't understand what we believe we're doing, many of whom are only raising the issue because of their own hatred of other people's religion.

Those who claim that our proxy baptisms of any Jews, ever, are "another holocaust" or "genocide" designed to eliminate Jews from the earth, even after death, are themselves engaging in blood libel.

You remember blood libel -- the false charges by Christians in the Middle Ages that Jews had, in secret rituals, murdered Christian children and used their blood in anti-sacraments. These lies were used as an excuse to attack and murder Jews.

Well, it is also blood libel that Mormon proxy baptisms are morally identical to the holocaust, to genocide of Jews. These false and outrageous charges are designed to shut Mormons out of public life, to make us objects of fear and loathing.

The truth is that the last thing Mormons would do is eliminate Jews from the world. We are absolutely committed, more than any other Christian group, to the survival of Jews -- it's a doctrine of the Church from the Book or Mormon on forward.

But the Mormon-haters of the world feel no need to understand what Mormons actually believe -- it's enough to find a convenient hook to hang their slanders on.

It's not Romney's fault that his candidacy is the occasion of such outrageous nonsense to surface. It's not his fault that in the same country where criticizing Islam -- in whose name mass murders are being committed continuously and have been for decades -- is absolutely forbidden to the politically correct, the very same people can tell monstrous lies and make absurd, offensive charges against Mormons and hear not a word of criticism.

If Bill Maher had performed a fake ritual mocking Islam, he would have been taken off the air forever -- HBO would never have stood for it. (Besides, Maher would probably then have to go into hiding for fear of assassination, even though it would be Very Bad to hint that he would be a target of Muslim jihadists.)

But he could perform a comic ritual mocking Mormons, because there are no Mormon death squads, and nobody loses his job for holding Mormon beliefs up to public ridicule.

I'm proud to know that no one fears us.

But it grieves me, as it would any Latter-day Saint, to have sacred things made light of. Fortunately, such acts reveal the character of the actor, and it is the mocker who stands exposed before the just.

There are people who, not believing in our religion, nevertheless recognize that all faiths are ridiculous to the unbeliever -- even the faith of those who place their trust in whatever fad dogmas pass as "science" from decade to decade.

Romney is feared by some because they dread a theocracy, a government in which the private beliefs of a minority are forced upon a majority against their will.

Of course, that is the government we have now, where Obama and his co-believers think that Catholics should be forced to violate their conscience, because women who want birth control or abortions or abortificants are too weak or stupid to find some provider other than their Catholic employer.

Their contempt for women is matched by their contempt for anyone who has beliefs different from their own. The fact that their religion has no god does not change the fact that in their puritanism, they do not hesitate to openly proclaim their right to force those who do not share their beliefs to necessarily obey their commandments.

Since we already live under an atheocracy, the dread of compulsory religion is not unfounded. And I wish Utah's historical record of keeping state and Church separated were a bit closer to perfection.

It's not that the Church has dictated to the state government, not in recent decades; but the state government, consisting mostly of Mormons, sometimes gets confused about whether they're convened as a legislature or a high council.

More dangerously, there are many Mormons who believe that you can't be a good Mormon without also being Republican. (I may be a Democrat -- yea, even an embarrassed, unhappy Democrat -- but that does not even imply that I find Republican litmus-test issues any closer to the gospel than Democratic ones.)

Back when the Church was the only effective government for Mormons in Utah territory -- when the legal government was both corrupt and unremittingly hostile to Mormons -- there was good reason for the Church to involve itself in secular matters, often in a quasi-governmental way.

But I have been pleased to see, in my lifetime, a clear and clean withdrawal of the Church from the business of government and, to a large extent, the business of business.

For it is not the government or businesses that are corrupted by the touch of the Church, but the Church that is corrupted by such connections.

In my lifetime, the Church has become truly international in outlook; and I speak not only of the peak of the hierarchy, but the rank-and-file membership as well. More than any other religion, we Mormons, because of our widespread missionary labors in other lands, are keenly aware that the Church, while it began in America, is no longer an American church.

Those who fear Romney because they think he will carry the Church with him into office would be wise to remember that more Mormons live outside the US than in. We have broader concerns than elections in any one country, even when that country is a colossus astride the world (a weak colossus, with crumbling feet).

In fact, I am most amused by the assumption by some that because Romney is a leading candidate for the Republican nomination, somehow his makes him an important Mormon, one who can prescribe the doctrines or practices of the Church.

What a silly notion.

While I'm sure Mitt Romney's phone calls to general authorities, should he make any, would be picked up or returned quickly, this is only on the principle that any public figure who could make statements or take actions that would complicate the work of the Church must be responded to promptly.

But Romney knows that even as President, he would and should have no more influence in the councils of the Church than any other Latter-day Saint -- or than any non-Mormon president.

I hope that, echoing Jimmy Carter, Mitt Romney, as President, would teach Sunday school in his Washington DC ward; in fact, I would hold him in high esteem if he called to be adviser to the teachers quorum and fulfilled the assignment faithfully during his presidency.

Such an example of humility -- of service performed out of the view of the media -- would be good for all Christians, Mormon or otherwise.

Even now, I admire Romney for not shying away from his commitment to the gospel and the Church.

While I do not agree with him on many issues, I do agree with him that if he backed away from his covenants for the sake of political ambition, he would be unworthy of the public office he aspires to.

As Romney faces those who hate Mormons, or who ridicule Mormonism in order to damage his candidacy, I am grateful for members of other faiths, or of no faith at all, who deplore the attacks on his religion and affirm the right of believers in any doctrine to seek and hold public office in the United States.

In the magazine First Things, for instance, a magazine with a Christian outlook ranging from high church to mere Christianity, Stephen H. Webb recently published an article that affirmed that whatever the doctrinal differences might be, it's absurd to say Mormons are not Christian, because, as the title of his essay says, "Mormonism" is "obsessed with Christ."

Webb makes a few errors -- for instance, the common notion that the Book of Mormon says Jesus would be born in Jerusalem (as if Joseph Smith had never heard of Bethlehem!). Perhaps the weirdest mistake is his idea that we Mormons don't believe in the virgin birth. What?

But the errors are beside the point; he gets the main thing right, that we are Christians, but Christians with no admixture of Plato, taking us outside the Western tradition, but not outside the Christian one.

And I love his parable of "grandfather's funeral" -- you'll have to read his essay yourself to enjoy it.

In Tablet: A New Read on Jewish Life, Yair Rosenberg makes an explicit comparison between anti-Mormonism and anti-Semitism; this is a far more helpful and appropriate attitude than the weird accusation that our proxy baptisms somehow damage Jews.

Though Jews have suffered far more persecution than Mormons, we have our memories of pogroms and murders directed against us for our faith; and in a world where anti-Semitism is widespread among "liberals" under the very thin disguise of "anti-Zionism," Rosenberg's comparison of Jews and Mormons under fire is an apt one.

Fortunately, Jews -- Zionist and otherwise -- will find no stauncher friends outside their own faith than Mormons. And we are grateful when we find friends among America's Jews.

In Commentary -- the premier publication of America's conservative Jewish intellectuals (and one of my favorite magazines) -- I was glad to read Bethany Mandel's essay "Will 2012 Be a Referendum on Mormons?", which raises the issues even more explicitly.

Mormons are under no obligation to favor Mitt Romney's candidacy; but as Americans, we do have the same obligation as every other citizen to support any candidate's right to be considered only on his own merits, and not to be debarred from office because he has faith in a particular religion.

Meanwhile, like it or not, we Mormons must do our utmost now to demonstrate and declare ourselves as good citizens of whatever country we live in; we cannot allow ourselves and our children to be reduced to second-class citizenship merely because we believe in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We make no apologies for what we believe, or for the practices of our religion. We are, to the degree we keep the covenants of our faith, good neighbors, good citizens, good friends -- and worthy of fair consideration in the marketplace of ideas.

Copyright © 2024 by Orson Scott Card Printed from