Mormonism and Freedom of Thought
By Rick Marschall
Monday Morning Music
Rational discourse in America seems to be an endangered species. Activists should be working to preserve Logic, not only snail darters and old trees; and if we were to rescue Reason it might become easier to rescue unborn babies.
Look at all the stuff in the news these days. People proclaim their “rights” when they don’t acknowledge anything as wrong. TV interviewers answer their own questions before they ask them. Interview subjects routinely answer questions that are not asked. The “Occupy” mobs are walking oxymorons: they shout “Anarchists Unite!” and they are endorsed by politicians whose policies the protestors supposedly despise. Circular illogic. Rationality has moved and left no forwarding address.
Common Sense is, itself, a member of those Unemployment Figures we hear about. The current flap over Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and other candidates’ opinions of it – and issues surrounding their own faiths – blow across the landscape like a big sand storm, blinding everyone in its path.
It all is characteristic of our contemporary culture’s moral confusion and intellectual cowardice. Mitt Romney is a Mormon, in fact descended from church hierarchy; being an overseas missionary and relatives recently living in Mormon “communities” in Mexico are part of his resume. A large number of Christians are curious or suspicious – and outright reject – a religion with core beliefs that are separate from the Old and New Testaments; with practices that are airlock-secret; with recent tenets that include denigration of blacks and women, and the embrace of polygamy.
Now that Mormons are running for president, Christians are thinking about Mormonism in the same way (maybe more carefully) that they consider candidates’ positions on, say, the capital gains tax, or free trade with Southeast Asian nations. Many are saying “I would not feel comfortable voting for a man who believes those things.” Or, maybe, “I would not feel comfortable with the kind of man who could believe those things.” It is reasonable to reach such conclusions, and is legal to state them. But it is being called bigotry.
Christians who decline to vote for Mormons do not confess to hatred, nor to anti-Mormon laws nor persecution nor deportation. They just declare they will vote for another person. If some use the word “cult,” it should be recognized that for decades evangelicals and Pentecostals have taught that cults are non-Christian sects that were started by, or still revolved around, an individual. That would be Joseph Smith, in the case of the Mormons. No one claims that Mitt Romney is going to command his followers to drink Kool-Aid en masse.
Objections to someone using the term “cult” over-reach.
There are tender threads of reason and clarity that might redeem a controversy that should not be a controversy.
1. The Mormons are in a horrible dander that people do not recognize them as Christians. “Look, our name is ‘Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” said John Huntsman, rolling his eyes in a “duh” response about LDS. A movement that believes what it does about multiple gods, and the afterlife, and Jesus’ appearances on earth, and so forth, ought to be able to understand the reservations of traditional Christians, especially when all of Mormonism’s tenets are not even shared outside LDS. If the Mormons can disavow the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the sect of Warren Jeffs, convicted polygamist and child rapist) as a distorted off-spin of LDS, why cannot Christians be free to regard Mormonism as a distorted off-spin of biblical Christianity?
2. When Michele Bachmann’s traditional Lutheran synod holds to ancient characterizations of the Pope, the media called its members bigots; the implication being that other voters should reject members of that denomination. But when citizens decline to vote for a Mormon because of its beliefs… they are the ones labeled incipient bigots. The only constant, if you will notice, is that Christians are always painted as the nasty haters. Millions of liberals reject any candidate who opposes abortions, but they are never portrayed as haters or bigots in the press.
3. If it is bigotry to act, as a citizen, according to your convictions, then how soon do the Thought Police arrive, and how will they punish our opinions? And what a topsy-turvy world this has become. Christians are being murdered and sentenced to death for their faith in Pakistan, our ally. There are no Christians churches left, all having been closed or razed, in Afghanistan, another ally. In Iraq, after thousands of Americans died and billions of American dollars spent, two-thirds of a substantial Christian population have fled the country because of persecution, or have been murdered for their faith. All subsequent to Saddam Hussein. We can look at our ally Egypt, too, where since the Arab Spring, Christians churches have been invaded and Christians attacked, sometimes with the Army watching, sometimes by the Army. And the US Administration reserves its policy objections and sanctions for other countries, other causes.
The relation to the Mormon controversy, so-called? The media would paint those who decline to vote for an LDS candidate as virtual Taliban Trainees. In truth it is the opposite. Clarity of Thought informs Responsibility to Act, which both undergird the Duty to Vote, all of which are necessary prerequisites of Freedom of Religion. The Thought Police, with their Compassion meters, would strip-search everyone’s standards and consciences at the curtain of every voting machine.
Mormons are free to run for office in America. Who questions that? Nobody. And the rest of us are free to vote. Or not to vote. And, for the moment, we are still free to think.
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A traditional hymn of the church is here sung by the boys’ choir Libera. As we have noted, traditional, evangelical, and Pentecostal Christians seem to be the culture’s last remaining faith to denigrate. Any exercise of their own biblical beliefs is routinely called “hate speech.” This hymn is from a time when Christians asserted themselves more bravely and with assurance, not from hatred of men but love of God.
Click: Onward Christian Soldiers
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Rick Marschall is the author of 65 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia magazine called him “perhaps America’s foremost authority on popular culture”) to history and criticism; country music, television history, biography, and children’s books. He was Managing Editor of Rare Jewel magazine, the Christian worldview journal of culture and politics.
Rick has been a faculty member of New York’s School of Visual Arts; Rutgers University; Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts); and the Summer Institute for the Gifted at Bryn Mawr University. He has spoken in Europe on behalf of the US Information Service of the Department of State; in 1995 was consultant to the US Postal Service for a 20-stamp set of commemoratives in the “American Classics” series.
He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. His anthologies of vintage cartoons have won several awards in the US and Europe. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals; co-writing The Secret Revealed with Dr. Jim Garlow (FaithWords, 2007); and writing a biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series for Thomas Nelson. Rick was on the editorial staff of the 1599 Geneva Bible Restoration Project (Tolle Lege Press, 2007).
In the Fall of 2011, Rick’s in-depth biography of Theodore Roosevelt, BULLY!, illustrated entirely by vintage political cartoons, will be published by Regnery History of Washington DC. Rick also edits the e-zine reissue of Harper's Weekly -- The Civil War Years. He is currently working on two devotionals for Tyndale House. Rick was named Christian Writer of the Year by the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference in 2007. www.mondayministry.com.
© Rick Marschall. Used with permission.
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