Mormon Temple, Las Vegas

Today I opened my morning paper to discover a very large headline in the “Neighbors/Religion” section (we don’t have time to discuss this formatting decision, focus!): “Would Monroe County vote for a Mormon?” This was an unfortunate piece to say the least, and I said more in comments and I’d like to share both the column (or parts) and my take on it.

But first let’s think about this post’s title. I meant it to call into question the things we talk about in our media, including the way we talk about them, and then, because no one understands any other way to talk about anything, the way we talk about these things amongst our social groups (if we talk at all about anything together–a valid concern).

Our President is the leader of the largest and most aggressive military in the world. Not only that, but if the U.S. is not invading a country with its poorly paid volunteers or it’s highly paid private mercenaries, it is forcing the U.N. to place sanctions on countries we want to dominate that often starve their populations and/or deny them proper medical treatment. We are a peach of a nation, folks.

Can a Mormon be the Leader of so much aggressive violence? Well of course he can! (Especially a “he” in Mormon-land right? No Hilary Clinton’s in Mormon politics.) Although, the Mormons did mostly retreat for their very short history as a tax-dodging institution and end-up in a “bunker” state surrounded by the protections of mountains. Chickens! I mean look at those monolithic temples–clearly an overcompensation for coming late and hiding out.

But further, it is the “secular” organization of Mormonism that we need to understand more fully–not the oddities of their origination and traditions (face up to it–all of these stories are beyond the pale as “reasonable”). How does this “family” organize its social hierarchies. Have we learned more from Big Love than any other source?

Anyway, here’s the column–I cut some of it, but so much needed mocking that I had to let much of it stand. My pointed commentary follows. Feel free to call me an intolerant ass any time you want.

The Mormon presence in the Bloomington area is growing rapidly. Plans to build a temple in Carmel have been approved, Bloomington is now home to four Mormon congregations, and an Institute of Religion that educates young adults currently stands on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus.

Contributing to this growing visibility, of course, is Mitt Romney, Mormon businessman and frontrunner for the GOP nomination. In the near future — either in Indiana’s May primary or the general election in November — Bloomington voters will be forced to confront the issue: How comfortable would they be with a Mormon president?

Popular perceptions of the Mormon Church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, often focus on the more unusual aspects of the faith: the so-called “magic underwear,” or temple garments, that many Mormons wear; the prohibition on coffee; the three-month food stores the church encourages its members to keep in their homes. Other times, the focus shifts to polygamy (banned in 1890), or the exclusion of blacks from the priesthood (banned in 1978).

With its 6 million members, the Mormon Church is the fourth-largest denomination in the United States. Yet voters’ uncertainty regarding the religion and its belief-set continues to dog Romney in his campaign. Steve Hogan, chairman of the Monroe Country Republican Party, sees this lack of familiarity in Bloomington: “The electorate is really pretty ignorant about what Mormonism is.” Indeed, a recent study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 62percent of Mormons surveyed believed that Americans know little or nothing about their religion. Such ignorance, many believe, creates misconceptions and biases against Romney’s suitability as a presidential candidate.

The biggest question surrounding the Church of Latter-Day Saints, or the LDS Church, is its relationship with Jesus Christ. Mormons do, in fact, believe in the divinity of Jesus, and consider his message to be that of salvation. “That’s what our whole church is about,” said Robert Tibbs, a member of the Mormon community in Bloomington. Where the LDS Church separates itself from mainstream Christianity, however, is the church’s rejection of the Trinity and original sin, as well as the particularly American nature of Mormonism. Joseph Smith founded the religion in upstate New York in the late 1820s, preaching that the angel Moroni had revealed to him a set of golden tablets that would serve as the basis for the Book of Mormon. In the Mormon holy book, Christ visits America upon his resurrection, and, in yet another connection between the religion and America, Smith would teach that the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri.

But will these theological differences affect Bloomington voters’ acceptance of Romney? Tibbs, while acknowledging a certain amount of ignorance regarding the LDS Church, believes that awareness of Mormonism is increasing…

Bloomington’s acceptance of Mormonism may be a product of its large population of college-educated residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 56 percent of Bloomington residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, as compared to statewide percentage of 22percent. This fact should bode well for Romney in Monroe County, said Dr. Margie Hershey, professor of political science at IUB: “The more educated people get, the more tolerant they get in terms of religious differences.”

Some voter reluctance to accept the LDS Church, however, persists….“I would never vote him in,” said Kerrigan Skelly at an impromptu evangelical rally on IU’s campus last week. Mormonism, according to Skelly, is “a contradiction to what the Bible said.” Such sentiments, however, do not appear to be widespread in the Monroe County electorate, perhaps due to the goodwill fostered by people like Robert Tibbs.

“We’re just concerned about living the lives that we can,” he said. “The most Christ-like lives we can.”

First, what is a “special to the H-T” and who is David Love? Love pops up in an IU search as a student in the creative writing program; Love pops up again as an electrical engineering prof at Purdue. Is he one of these fellows? As his column is over 700 words it exceeds both “letters” limits and Guest Column limits. Is this “opinion” or “reportage”? Perhaps those are irrelevant questions–but they seem important to me. How do readers assess the credibility of the “speakers” of these pieces? I know that any column by an IPR flack is a right wing template. I have different expectations of reporters. And further expectations of investigative journalists, of which the H-T has none.

But anyway–what we have is a morass of “frame” confusion here. In the Neighbors/Religion section we are addressing a political question that centers on a man who is a Business candidate who’s life is a paean to the ways the financial industry has written its own rules in order to extract as much cash as possible from any sucker it can find. (Did I let my freak-flag fly there?)

We discover some “facts” or perhaps just convenient details:

1. Mormonism is not well understood by residents and apparently by the one practitioner “interviewed,” Robert Tibbs. He’s of the faith without know about it. Cool, that’s American as can be! Mormonism is perfect for US residents.

2. Congregations are encroaching and, though the language does not clarify, apparently there is an Institute at IU that “teaches” Mormonism to “young adults.” Should we be nervous?

3. The sole Democratic bastion in Indiana is confronted with the dilemma of voting for a Republican, Privateer, Owner because he’s a Mormon. The Mormon part is the problem?

4. Nothing offered about the “faith” will clear up anyone’s confusion about it nor will it seem anymore mainstream. Mormons have specific dicta regarding undergarments and “vice” consumption as well as an “end of the world” preparedness agenda (all that seems pretty smart if not comfortable); Mormons only recently publicly stopped hating black people; and while the faith of Joseph Smith allowed polygamy, apparently it’s a faith, like Catholicism, that allows revision. Plasticity makes sense in this crazy world!

5. I didn’t know that the biggest question about Mormonism had to do with Jesus, or rather “its relationship with” said divinity. Still there is no clarity offered but that response of Tibbs professing salvation and Jesus are “what the whole church is about”–though later he has acknowledged “a certain amount of ignorance” about it. This is a “Who’s your Daddy?” question that apparently holds some meaning to voters. Religious bigotry is important in this Evening Land claimed “Morning” by Ray-Gun.

6. I’m fairly certain there are large swaths of Christians who call into question the “material” nature of the Trinity as a “three-in-one” divinity and that this has been a very deep disagreement among several of the sects or schisms.

7. But let’s not kid ourselves. In I think in 600 CE a man named Mohammed wrote his own holy book–I believe it was dictated–and this book too simply “grafts” onto the existing testaments and makes its own religion to fit its particular worldview. Is this not of the same species of faith? It is unfortunate in my reading that the angel in question that had revealed golden tablets (a kind of ark of the covenant revised) to Smith was called Moroni. If I were Brigham Young I might have “revised” that detail. Anyway, where does this Moroni fit in the heavenly hierarchy?

8. Though Americans are ignorant of Mormonism we are told; we are not told that Americans are equally ignorant of their own professed faiths.

9. Bloomington is way smarter than the dunderheads who would actually vote for Romney in Indiana if he is the GOP candidate. But because they’re smarter they may see that it’s smart to think they can vote for Romney!

10. It’s interesting that the more “educated” are more “tolerant” of religious intolerances. Weird.

11. There was an impromptu evangelical rally that David Love happened to attend and decided to ask those folks what they thought of Mormonism? So sad that Kerrigan Skelly (what a name! fiction writing at its best) would offer textual “contradiction” as the issue with Mormonism–but again, Americans don’t seem to know their own religious texts.

All in all, horrible piece and really useless unless the goal was to further confound the population about a home-grown faith.

One imagines an author willing to offer his name to a piece like this might have some prior knowledge of the faith in question; I mean they have a book too, right?

Or is that too much to ask when thinking about how people might vote for the man in charge of the murder machine?

Photo Credit: Altus Photo Design

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Douglas Storm is a host and producer for Interchange on Bloomington, Indiana's community radio station WFHB. "Why then do you try to 'enlarge' your mind? Subtilize it..."

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