Mormon Doctrine and the Presidency: An Insider's Perspective
The purpose of this article is to explore two common misconceptions about Mitt Romney in relation to his religion: first, the assertion that Romney’s religion does not have an effect on his politics, and second the claims relating to Romney’s distance from the doctrines of his church.
Many people insist a candidate’s religion should not matter. How much of an effect does Mormonism really have on Romney as a presidential candidate?
Well, let me tell you about the life of a faithful Mormon. I have been a Mormon for over two decades. I was born and raised in Utah, and I have been a member all my life. I graduated from seminary, attended church and activities every week, and graduated from Brigham Young University (BYU) where I received a thorough education in LDS doctrines and culture. I, therefore, feel particularly qualified to discuss Mormon doctrines and how they might affect an individual.
The LDS Church represents a significant time commitment for members of its congregations. Meetings last for three hours every Sunday. Because almost every Mormon has a calling, a job of some sort, Sunday also involves a number of additional meetings about weekly activities or their roles in church leadership positions. Each day of the week is also set aside for a church based activity lasting 2-3 hours for each age group of the family: dads, moms, teenagers, children, and single adults. Weekends often have broadcast shows from Utah, socials or dances. Each Monday is set aside as family night for family home evening where the family has a spiritual lesson combined with an activity.
As a bishop and stake president, Romney spent all day Sunday and several hours during the remainder of the week at the local ward house where he met with members of the congregation individually and in groups. A bishop or stake president spends a minimum of 20 hours a week involved in their spiritual duties. To claim that this level of involvement would not have an effect on an individual or a candidate strains credulity.
The church also affects the intellectual life of an adherent. To be a member in good standing, Romney must begin from the assumption that the LDS Church is true, with everything else being subjected to that one truth. Any contradictory evidence or issue in the church is subsequently and quickly dismissed. Although the church claims to foster an environment that encourages reason and intellect to work together, the truth is that there is a strong anti-intellectual streak in the church (http://www.zionsbest.com/face.html), especially as it relates to history and/or critical thinking. This does not mean that mormons are not intelligent individuals; this does, however, mean that the institution does not advocate a scholarly approach to its doctrines, history, or origins (http://zarahemlacitylimits.com/essays/ModernChurch/uncertain_origins.html).
The overarching problem with this mindset, especially in the leader of the country, is that a Mormon must dismiss “facts” and “evidence” that contradict the prophets (as they always speak for the Lord—unless of course they are indisputably proven to be making fallacious statements: then they were only giving their opinion). The doctrine of the church is above reproaches of “truth.” Mormons depend on and remain accountable to a higher power. And this is not faith in things which are not seen which are true; this is faith in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary that must be dismissed because it means that perhaps the prophet may have been wrong.
This necessarily fosters elitism. Mormons are led by the prophet, the mouthpiece of God, and therefore know more and are led more correctly than any other group of people. (Mormons claim that the prophet is not perfect, which is true, and also that he is just a man, which is also true. This clause of “the prophet was just speaking as a man” is trotted out especially when a statement made by past prophets becomes too embarrassing or is proven incorrect. However, Mormons are not allowed to recognize the distinction in the counsels or commandments of the current prophet; those words come directly from God, and a member must obey.) Past administrations have already shown the country that presidents can exploit their high position. This tendency to exploit power combined with Mormon elitism and recent anti-intellectual history may prove unfortunate.
One of the biggest criticisms facing Mitt Romney’s campaign is his inconsistencies as evidenced by his rebirth or return as a conservative. This ambiguous or contradictory nature is reflected in or reflects Mormon doctrine.
Doctrine of the LDS church is an amorphous concept. Mormons define doctrine as that which is found in their standard works (the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), Pearl of Great Price, and—to some extent—the Bible). Because Mormons acknowledge a living prophet, however, they believe that assertions made by the prophet are doctrinal statements by God. This means that all the General Conferences of the church contain doctrine. Also considered doctrine are the early books of church history, the current and past magazines of the church which contain the prophets words. In short, there is a great deal of Mormon doctrine.
The slippery, evolving, and contradictory nature of Mormon doctrine means that anything you say about Mormonism will have both your claim and its exact opposite in legitimate Mormon writings. Most members are relatively uninformed about their own history, as well as the controversial doctrines. In many LDS churches, the legitimacy of polygamy on earth and in heaven is still emphasized, yet this is directly in contrast to any public statements by Mitt Romney or the LDS Church. However, a Mormon who says polygamy is not emphasized or taught could also be telling you the truth. Polygamy is condemned in many LDS scriptures (Jacob 1:15, 2:24), but also commanded (Doctrine and Covenants 132:1, 37-39, 61). In addition, Mormonism recognizes many gods in one book of scripture (Abraham 4:1), but only worships one god (Alma 11:28-29). For further information on contradictions in LDS scripture, see: Contradictions in LDS Scripture.
Because this information is not taught, or is taught in terms of “sacred knowledge,” members don’t consider withholding that information dishonest. Mormons are generally uncomfortable with what they know of their own history and the teaching of individual congregations can vary slightly. Also, Mormons use laity in their church leadership positions, thus teachers do not always have the formal training necessary to give them a clear picture of church doctrine, especially in relation to other religions.
The church, instead of issuing a doctrinal statement, merely confused the issues by giving members and the media a way to usually tell if something might be doctrine under some circumstances - View Statement. The LDS Church is expert at avoiding issues. One would expect the one true church to stand up for the word of God, but the church seems to take every opportunity to make controversial topics a thing of the past.
Besides being a perpetual confusion for any devout member, it also fosters an inability to pin down or fully question a Mormon. When a Mormon tells you that Joseph Smith didn’t practice polygamy, they are not lying because Mormons believe that none of his wives had consummated marriage, despite evidence to the contrary. Mormons are told that the Book of Abraham is accurate despite the “translation” and “interpretation” being proven false.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can’t have it both ways. They can’t be both a peculiar people and just like everyone else. Mormons can’t be both Christian and be a part of a religion which decries Christianity as a whole. Romney can’t both be unaffected by his religion and also a devout member. Romney can’t both obey the prophet and also operate independently as a politician.
This whole argument boils down to a difference in a frame of reference. While the different frame of reference is not necessarily bad, an unacknowledged difference can be problematic. This difference, combined with Mormons’ inability to articulate or discuss such differences means that they cannot or will not be explicit in their explanations. They might not even realize that they are misleading you. A candidate with a frame of reference differing from more than 98% of his constituency should definitely give voters pause. And a lack of knowledge, especially when it involves decisions that affect the whole country, is definitely a problem.
In the LDS Church, often dissention or questioning is negatively valued. Apostates, those who leave the church and no longer affirm all the doctrines of the church, are thought to have done so because they sinned, or they wish to sin, or they found the positive lifestyle too demanding. Or maybe they were abused by church authority or patriarchy, or they might have been offended by something a member of their congregation did. These scenarios do not apply to me. I simply found that the church is not what it claims to be, nor is it honest in all its dealings with its fellow man, as it demands its members to be.