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
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
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
“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.