Squaretwo, an online journal in which faithful Mormons discuss issues of humanity and society, has just published a new issue including a multi-faceted roundtable on the political significance of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism (to which I have contributed).
Besides announcing this publication to our JAC readers, I wanted to start the discussion with the following commentary on some of my Squaretwo colleagues’ takes on the Romney issue. Naturally I invite responses from them and from other readers.
Bryan Benson deftly lays out the dual irony “that the current Mormon moment in politics can feature a Mormon candidate who is both a model monogamist and model proponent of capitalism.” And he does not flinch from the conclusion that “politics has shaped Mormonism much more than Mormonism has shaped politics.” Although Mormon “assimilation” into American society is considerable, however, it remains that “no serious Latter Day Saint can feel completely comfortable with either economic individualism or with the tremendous inequality that results from it.” (Stephen Cranney is convinced, as am I, that there is a solid “core” to Romney’s Mormonism, but not one that would cause him to “see anything morally wrong with gratuitously massive accumulations of personal luxuries.) Benson wisely forbears from drawing the conclusion that “government is the remedy to inequality.” (The contrast here with Janille Stearmer is great; she cannot imagine that a person who truly cares about the poor could have any reason for not supporting the continuation and expansion of the liberal welfare state — as if it were obvious that the main cause of poverty is insufficient government assistance.) And he astutely raises the questions of the limits of Mormon assimilation concerning same-sex marriage, where “our unique theology makes any sort of compromise on this issue impossible.” Should this issue come to a head nationally in a way that a President Romney could not ignore, then the “Mormon Moment” could take on a whole new meaning. To be more precise, either (1) this Moment would mark at once the high point and the end of Mormon assimilation, or, (2) – and this is the possibility I try to hold open in my contribution to roundtable (and which is has been frequently encouraged, it seems clear, in speeches by Church authorities such as Elder Oaks and Elder Cook) — this moment would take on a whole new significance as Mormons (including Mitt Romney?) contribute decisively to, or even become leaders of, a successful movement to save what remains of real marriage.
Stephen Cranney notes and urges respect for the diversity of political views among Mormons that is well illustrated by this roundtable. He sensibly separates his “business as a voter” from his “own personal views” concerning what “God cares more about.” As a matter of prudence this makes a lot of since, but if you believe, as I do, that something fundamental about our character as a people, about our fundamental vision and priorities, might be at stake in this election, then the separation becomes more tenuous.
Ryan Decker is right to wonder whether it would be good news for Mormons to have a Mormon president, given all the difficult and controversial decisions that a president must make. (Janille Stearmer shares some of the same concerns.) And he raises the hard question whether what it takes to undertake “a national political career” is compatible with being a good Mormon. I agree with him that the cost may be very high. But is it clear that is it too high? It would take a very great man (or woman) to know how to pay such a cost without assimilating internally, without losing his personal moral compass and vision. We can only pray that Mitt Romney is such a man.
George Handley raises another very important and very hard question: how the number one mission of the church, that is, bring the message of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to all nations, relates to the Church’s political interests, especially those bound up in the present U.S. Presidential campaign. He is certainly right that we must always put the first priority first. I would be careful, however, not to underestimate the importance of a strong, prosperous and morally healthy (these things go together) United States as a host for the center of the LDS Church and as the basis for the Church’s world-wide and trans-political mission.
Prof. Handley invites us to consider our “political philosophies” to be “like prisms that allow only a certain range of light to reflect upon our reality.” He is right that it is well to be alert to the partiality of our own views, and that such an attitude contributes to civility. And yet we must, inescapably, make such judgments about the whole – and so, in fact, about which views will prevail and have the force of law behind them. Praise of “diversity” is in fact such a judgment, which ought to be scrutinized along with all others. As a brave “liberal living in Utah County” George has an obvious interest in the “diversity” strategy — just like a conservative living in a university.
Finally: I find it odd to blame Romney for being too pro-life, as if our main problem now was that the laws were not presently permissive enough regarding abortion.
Now run, don’t walk, to read Cassler’s powerful critique of “post-heterosexual Mormonism” at SquareTwo