In 1972 Wayne Owens, a Democrat, got himself elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Utah. He was considered one to watch nationally, but got a little ahead of himself and ran for Senate in 1974, losing to Jake Garn. Owens eventually made it back to Congress more than a decade later.
Owens was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. He was also a Mormon. The LDS church came out against the ERA, which Owens said surprised him. He continued, nonetheless, to support the amendment while the church moved forces against it.
In 1975, after Owens lost his Senate race, LDS church leaders asked him to serve as mission president in Montreal.
That position, mission president, meant he oversaw the work of about 200 missionaries trying to convert people to Mormonism. So Owens, an Equal Rights Amendment supporter, was asked by a steadfast Equal Rights Amendment opponent organization, to lead that organization’s recruitment efforts in the Montreal area.
I bring this up because of two developments. One is Texas Baptist Robert Jeffress’ decision to publicly back Rick Perry for president, because he is a Christian the way Jeffress is a Christian, That to Jeffress’ mind makes Perry a more suitable president, because he believes Romney shouldn’t be president, because he is Mormon, and therefore not a Christian, but a member of a cult. Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll made a similar case this week just on the cult question. I’ll get to the cult discussion below.
Jeffress later claimed he got a call from a woman who is the daughter of a former Mormon Bishop who agreed that Mormonism is a cult.
I have a hunch who that woman is. My guess is it was Tricia Erickson. She wrote a book, “Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters?” She sent out an email after Jeffress’ statement, not claiming to be that woman, but with a headline, “Mormon Bishop’s Daughter Agrees with Jeffress, Mitt Romney Belongs To A Cult.”
Full disclosure: I am a practicing Mormon. This discussion comes at an interesting time for me, personally, but that is a separate issue for a different forum. I served a mission for the church in Chile and married my wife in the Salt Lake City LDS temple.
Erickson, in her book and frequent emails, makes arguments against Romney’s bona fides as a conservative. I won’t discuss those here. I would argue it’s fair to ask any Mormon candidate his or her stance on marriage rights for homosexuals, civil rights for blacks and women and, if it interests you, on polygamy.
Another issue Erickson raises could give non-Mormon people pause in considering Romney. It is her assertion that comes from language that is part of the LDS temple ceremony, language Erickson believes means if LDS President Thomas S. Monson called Romney on the phone and told him to run the country in a certain way, that Romney would have to do it.
In the press release she quoted the temple language and followed it with ” . . . Mitt Romney absolutely must obey the religion of Mormonism and the Prophets of the Mormon Church first, before his allegiance to our country. His very eternal exaltation to godhood depends on it.”
If history could show evidence that this has ever happened, anyone would be justified in doubting whether a Mormon should be elected to anything, unless you’re OK with someone taking orders from Salt Lake City. I don’t know of any instance that it happened, not in recent history. In fact, I’ve given you the example of Wayne Owens, chosen to be a mouthpiece for the church in a region even though he disagreed with the church’s reasoning on a pretty significant issue of that day.
I became a member of the church in 1973 when I was 11 years old. Over the years I have heard members of the church question how someone could be an active, temple-going member of the church and still support some political ideas. But I have never heard that from church headquarters.
The church’s official statement on this is:
“Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated Church position. While the Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent.”
Example number two: In 1933 Utah was among the final three states to ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition, despite the protests of LDS President Heber J. Grant.
On the cult question, Jeffress and Driscoll make the case that under one religious definition of “cult,” Mormonism is one. They say that because Mormonism differs with “Orthodox” Christianity, it is a cult. They are both using a religious definition of “cult,” which is not the same as what Driscoll calls the “popular sensationalist” definition of cult.
Fine. You can call Mormonism a “cult,” then. To me, that seems to be the point. They want to call it a cult, so they find a way to do it. Driscoll calls what Mormons teach “Whacky,” (sic) as if the LDS definitions of God, Christ’s resurrection, or the nature of Heaven are any more wacky than traditional Christianity. Both teach that Jesus rose from the dead and that it is through Jesus that people will be accepted into Heaven. I’m not sure how one is wackier than the other.
When I hear “cult,” though, I think Jim Jones and David Koresh, the popular sensationalist definition. Whatever the LDS church may have been in its early years, it’s not Jones or Koresh now. I am assuming most people hear the word “cult” and think the same thing I do. As it is there are many critics of the LDS faith who make the case that the church’s practice come awfully close to that definition.
But for Jeffress and Driscoll to argue that Mormonism is a cult under a particular, narrow, less-often used definition is like arguing a poodle locked in a closed car in the summer is a hot dog. It’s technically true, perhaps, but is highly misleading.