Thursday, May 16, 2013

Romney's Religion: What does it mean to be a "true believing" Mormon?




This is the first installment in an ongoing series about Mitt Romney's religious beliefs.

As noted in my profile, I was a Mormon for over 30 years. During that time, I served in a number of capacities that gave me a unique knowledge about the church, including Elder's Quorum President, Ward Executive Secretary, Adult Gospel Doctrine Instructor (for over 8 years), Elder's Quorum Instructor, Assistant to the President (on my 2-year mission), Seminary President, etc. I would say that my knowledge of the LDS church is better than the average Mormon. When I attended church, I was often the person that others would turn to with difficult theological questions or to explain away problems with LDS truth claims (i.e., I was an LDS "apologist"). I read the Bible and the Book of Mormon dozens of times. I had hundreds of scriptural passages memorized. I was unquestionably a believing Mormon with a deep knowledge of the church's teachings and practices.

With the upcoming election, Romney's religious beliefs are in the spotlight. My perspective on the Mormon church might be interesting and possibly useful, especially to those who know nothing about Mormonism. This blog is not designed to be an exposé on Mormonism. There are many blogs and discussion boards that do an excellent job on that front. My goal is to highlight certain unique doctrines of the LDS church that Romney likely believes and consider the implications of those beliefs.

Why is Romney's religion at all relevant to the election? I'll answer that question with an example. Suppose that Romney believed that a witch gave him a magic rock.  The rock is said to be inhabited by a spirit that can foretell the future, give advice, grant wishes, and provide magical protection. Suppose that Romney had already used the rock as Governor of Massachusetts to make certain decisions, such as the decision to oppose gay marriage, and that there is every reason to believe that he would use the rock as President of the United States to make important decisions about U.S. policy. Suppose that, in exchange for the rock, Romney swore an oath to the witch that he would implicitly obey her orders, and even sacrifice his life to her, if necessary, in furthering her objectives.

Would anyone feel uncomfortable voting for anyone, much less Romney, under these conditions? The facts, however, are not too far removed from this story. The only thing helping Romney is that rationally discussing religious beliefs is taboo in this society. People can believe in Xenu, radioactive volcanoes, Thetans, e-Meters, and all manner of "woo woo" (to quote The Amazing Randi), but demand "respect" in the form of not being questioned about embarrassing details of their religion.

Some people might argue that Romney doesn't actually believe some of the more outrageous claims of Mormonism. However, I suspect he has mainstream Mormon beliefs at least three reasons.  First, I have it on good authority from people I know and trust, who personally knew Romney at Harvard and worked with him in connection with the 2002 Winter Olympics, that he is a "true believer," as opposed to a liberal or "cafeteria" Mormon.

Second, Romney has every incentive to distance himself from Mormonism as did Jon Huntsman   Romney could simply say, "I was raised Mormon, but I have my own beliefs, and they don't always coincide with mainstream Mormonism."  This would help to alleviate many of the concerns harbored by evangelical Christians, as well as moderate and independent voters.  However, for a believing Mormon to due so would be unthinkable.

Third, we know from interviews that Romney is "temple-worthy," i.e., he can enter Mormon temples   In order to obtain a temple "recommend" from his ecclesiastical leader, Romney must answer fourteen questions (link), which include questions about his belief in God, the unique authority of the church, his non-affiliation with groups critical of the church, his sexual practices, etc.

Fourth, from photographs, Romney appears to be wearing the authorized garment (frequently referred to as "magic underwear" in the media), which is an outward sign of his inward commitment to God and the Masonic rituals of the LDS temples.

From the temple worthiness questions, and based on other statements Romney has made, we can probably conclude that he believes, at least, in the following basic aspects of Mormonism:
1. The Book of Mormon. In particular, the Book of Mormon is a literal history of at least some actual people living in the ancient Americas.
2. The First Vision. Joseph Smith literally saw God the Father and Jesus Christ, who told him to not join other churches because all of their creeds were "abominations" in his sight.
3. Restoration of Authority. The LDS Chuch is the only church that currently has the Priesthood, or the authority of God to officiate in certain "saving" ordinances, including baptism, which authority was "restored" to Joseph Smith under the physical hands of Jesus' ancient disciples, Peter, James, and John.
4. Continuing Revelation. The prophet of the LDS Church, Thomas S. Monson, is God's current oracle for revealing truth to the whole church (and the world).
Not many LDS people would disagree with the foregoing list.  It is core of what it means to be a Mormon.  I realize that there are a few "liberal" Mormons who reject, for example, the historicity of the Book of Mormon or the authority of LDS prophets, but such attitudes are not tolerated in most Mormon congregations and would likely require lying to answer one or more of the temple recommend questions.

Future posts will explore various aspects of Romney's beliefs.  I will stay away from some of the more controversial beliefs, because the truth is strange enough for outsiders.

8 comments:

  1. I'm like you, formerly Mormon and I might vote for Romney, just for the comedic value. Obama might not want to talk about religion, but guys like Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart have no problem pointing out that Mormonism is the most stupid religion on the planet. Like Bill Maher said on Conan last night, "Mormonism is so stupid Tom Cruise wouldn't join it and Glenn Beck did!" haha

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    1. What amazes me is that some very intelligent people I know are true-believing Mormons. There are many psychological and social psychological reasons for this that I plan to explore in upcoming posts.

      I love that joke about Tom Cruise!

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  2. Might as well get in a good belly laugh before Romney Nukes Iran, then North Korea, triggering WW III.

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    1. The scary thing is that Romney, like most Mormons, really do that they are being led by revelation. Their gut instincts or intuitions are confused with mystical communication from an external source, which can lead to extremely poor decisions if those instincts or intuitions are not critically examined. It is almost as though he has a rock that tells him what to do, which is scary when he has his finger on the "button."

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  3. Really Stan? The stupidest religion? Either you are very ignorant of religions, or your so filled with hate, your blinded by others.

    JMS

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    1. Stupid is somewhat pejorative. I prefer "silly." I think all religions are equally silly. The whole transubstantiation thing of Catholicism is hilarious. Don't get me started on Scientology.

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  4. Joshua, what religion do you find stupider than Mormonism?

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    1. I look at it this way. If you like science fiction, you will tend to favor Scientology. If you like fantasy, with its magic rocks, etc., you will prefer Mormonism.

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