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Friday, December 07, 2007

Are a candidate's religious beliefs fair game

or "My Inner-Frenchman on Why Mitt's Mormonism Matters"

Other than a few irresistible satirical pieces, I've stayed away from the question of whether voters should consider Mitt Romney's religion before casting their vote. I preferred to sit back and bathe myself in schadenfreude as I waited for the true-red Republicans of the Intermountain West to react to being blackballed by the most powerful faction of their party's base.

But my feelings changed a few weeks ago after I read a Burnt Orange Report post on why a candidate's religious beliefs should be off limits. I've been considering writing a response since then, and what better time to do that than now, on the day after Romney gave his so-called "JFK speech."

I'll begin by saying that I fully support the "no religious test" clause of the Constitution. I am not advocating that anyone be barred from holding office on the basis of religion. I do believe, however, that it is proper for voters to consider a candidate's religious beliefs before casting a vote for him or her.

The weight one should give to this consideration is dependent on four variables. First, what is the candidate's level of religiosity? Is he or she unquestioningly committed to the church's doctrine or is the candidate more independent in his or her thinking?

Second, how dogmatic is the candidate's church? Is questioning allowed? How does it treat dissent? Do they believe their scriptures are literal or metaphorical?

Third, what does the candidate believe regarding the relationship between people and God? Does the candidate believe God speaks directly to him or her? If so, does the candidate believe he or she has special powers of revelation that are unavailable to most people? Does the candidate believe that God guided the hands of our founding fathers and continues to guide the hands of our leaders today?

Finally, how would the church's doctrine influence the candidate's presidency?

Now let's consider these variables in regard to Mitt Romney and I think you'll see why I think it's important to address a candidates religious beliefs during the campaign.

The first two variables provide us with clues about how much Mitt's religious beliefs would influence his presidential decisions.

The first variable, religiosity, is easy, perhaps even easier to determine for Mormons than for others. In addition to his public statements proclaiming his religiosity, Mitt holds a temple recommend. They are only issued to the faithful. As a high priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood, he holds the highest level of priesthood a Mormon may hold. He has also served as a bishop and a stake president (leadership positions serving areas roughly equivalent to parishes and diocese) He is unquestionably a faithful Mormon.

Mitt is a member of a very dogmatic sect. Dissent is not allowed. The late N. Eldon Tanner, a councilor to the prophet, once preached "When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over." Apostle Boyd K. Packer justified a large purge of intellectuals in the early nineties by saying, "There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher Of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not...Some things that are true are not very useful."

Now that we've established that Mitt is a committed member of a very dogmatic sect, I think it's fairly safe to assume that his religious beliefs would play an important role in a Romney presidency. But what are those beliefs and how would they influence his decision making? Let's look at the other variables and see what we find.

As a High Priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood, Romney believes he receives revelations from God. He believes God directs him to do the things he does, and he never makes an important decision without asking God for guidance and receiving a revelation first.

As a committed Mormon, he also believes that God played an important role in the creation of this nation; that he "guided the hands" of our founding fathers. He believes that the United States is favored above all nations by God, and that Jesus will return to rule the Earth from the city of New Zion, which will be built by the faithful in Jackson County, Missouri.

It is also likely that he believes that he, and his Mormon supporters, are the Elders of Zion whom Joseph Smith prophesied would save this nation as it "hangs by a thread." (JoD 7:15) How could he not believe that as he enters the presidency at a time when he believes we are in a life and death struggle with "islamofascism?"

So, like George Bush, Mitt thinks he speaks with God, believes that the United States is favored by God, and likely believes God has a specific mission for him to perform.

Now, let's look at how specifically his belief system would affect the way he governs. For the sake of brevity, I'm going to limit this discussion to one piece of Mormon Doctrine, the story of Nephi, Laban, and the Brass Plates found in the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon, along with the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Bible (KJV), is considered to be of the Church's "four standard works" of scripture. All are considered to be the word of God (although the Bible to a lesser extent because, unlike the others, it was not translated by the Urim and Thummin or received directly from God via revelation.)

The Book of Mormon begins with the flight of a family from Jerusalem. Once outside the city walls, the father, the prophet Lehi, has a revelation that he must take the "Brass Plates," a record of the Jews, with him to a new land across the ocean. He commands his sons, Laman, Lemuel, Nephi, and Sam to go back into the city and get the plates. The older brothers, Laman and Lemuel--who because of their later wickedness, would be cursed with dark skin and become the first Native Americans--weren't happy about it. The Brass Plates belonged to Laban, a powerful Jewish official--it was a dangerous assignment. After a bit of wrangling, the brothers decide that Nephi will go into the city alone to do the task.

Nephi finds Laban drunk and passed out on the street. God tells him to kill Laban, but Nephi is reluctant and asks why God wants him to commit murder. God replies with an ends justifying the means argument: "It is better that one man should die, than for a whole nation to dwindle in unbelief." That's good enough for Nephi. He chops off Labens head, dresses in his clothes, and goes to his house where he commands the servant to bring him the plates. The servant, who apparently is accustomed to seeing his master coming home in bloody robes and looking like a teenager, complies and gives Nephi the plates.

The lesson Mormons, including Mitt, take from this is that the greater good may require the violation of important laws, in this case, theft and murder. It's a lesson that is stressed in Sunday classes for adults and children as well as the weekday seminary classes all Mormon teens are required to attend. It's an important scripture and doctrine.

This is why it is critical to discuss a candidates religious beliefs. It gives us the best insight we can get into how someone like Mitt would govern. He's the type of leader who would believe that his actions are condoned by God and are not subject to Earthly laws like the Constitution.

Sound familiar?

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