Skip to comments.How Mormons see the world ("Romney isn't our JFK")
Posted on 01/19/2012 12:38:38 PM PST by presidio9
Last week, the Pew Forum released the results of its Mormons in America study, the broadest survey of Mormon attitudes ever conducted by an outside organization. The results made headlines, in large part due to the Republican front-runner status of Mitt Romney, a devout and life-long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many accounts led with Mormons surprising perceptions of anti-Mormon prejudice: A whopping 46% of respondents said that Mormons face a lot of discrimination in modern America. Fewer Mormons said the same thing about discrimination against African-Americans (31%) and atheists (13%).
The specter of prejudice and persecution looms large in the Mormon myth. Under the leadership of founding prophet Joseph Smith, the early Latter-day Saints rarely got along well with their frontier neighbors, with tensions escalating to the point that the governor of Missouri issued an 1838 executive order calling for all Mormons to be exterminated or driven from the state. (The order was finally rescinded in 1976, luckily for Mormons considering job offers in St. Louis.) After Smith was killed by a mob in 1844, Brigham Young led his followers on a long exodus across the continent to the Salt Lake Valley, where they spent the next half-century in near-isolation. They were, in effect, done with America.
Even today, with Mormons more engaged in American public life than ever before, their sense of suspicion toward the outside world remains. When I attend my weekly church services, sermons and Sunday school lessons often come with anxious warnings about the dangers of the World not the planet we all live on, but an evil place with a capital W, an unimaginably depraved Babylon that surrounds the righteous at all times. From 1995 to 2008, the LDS church was led by a sprightly old man named Gordon B. Hinckley, whose sermons were marked by an irrepressible joie de vivre. At the age of 84, he told a New York Times interviewer, The world is good. Wonderful things are happening in this world. This is the greatest age in the history of the Earth. But Hinckleys sunny optimism never quite became his churchs.
Im sympathetic to the idea that we need to stand firm against the evils of modern life (war, racism, Are You There, Chelsea?), but this kind of gloomy siege mentality is counterproductive. Too often, the response is to disengage, like our pioneer forefathers. We stick to ourselves and overshelter our children. We develop thin skins, taking every late-night monologue joke about Romneys teetotaling ways or magic underwear as a sign of rampant discrimination. (I take it this is what many Mormons mean when they tell pollsters they are half again as put-upon as blacks, a ridiculous notion.)
This isnt just a Mormon problem, of course. Most religions, deep down, like to feel persecuted. American Christians insist theyre being oppressed every time the ACLU challenges a manger, even though they still live comfortably in a nation where every single President has shared their religion, God makes cameo appearances in the Pledge of Allegiance and on our money and Jesus gave the Broncos a division title behind a mediocre quarterback. But feeling downtrodden mobilizes the base, motivates the youth and provides paradoxical evidence of Gods favor.
In my experience, outright discrimination against lay Mormons is much rarer today than this poll claims, but the political arena may be another story. The Obama campaign has said that it plans to target Romneys weirdness factor (hint, hint, Mormon, nudge, not like us), and a recent Gingrich ad mocked as un-American Romneys fluency in French, a language he picked up as a Mormon missionary. A Gallup Poll last June found that 22% of Americans wouldnt vote for a Mormon from their own party, so Romney will face undeniable challenges getting out the vote in a general election against President Obama.
But it may comfort Romneys skeptics to know that there will be little Mormon triumphalism in their mans nomination or even election. In my experience, Romney isnt an icon of hope to his community the way John F. Kennedy was for Catholics or Obama for African- Americans. If anything, his rise makes us uncomfortable. What will they say about Mormons at work every time Romney makes a debate gaffe or an unpopular policy move? Why would we want someone as divisive as a politician to be our public face? Werent Donny Osmond and Jimmer Fredette doing just fine?
We dont particularly want to take over the White House. For better or for worse, after all that weve been through, Mormons would rather just keep to ourselves.
Me too. I thought that she went back to NY and joined a church near Palmyra NY..
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