Romney Or Not, We Can Learn From The Mormons
Tue, 11/22/2011
Gary Rosenblatt
Gary Rosenblatt

Sitting around the Shabbat table, a friend posed a question: “Now that it looks like Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee, how should we respond as Jews to the fact that he’s a Mormon?”

My first thought was that as members of a minority religion in America, we Jews should be especially supportive of the rights of other minorities. Of course that doesn’t mean we should feel obligated to vote for Romney as a sign of solidarity, but rather that he should be judged on the merits of his qualifications, not his religion. Same as we wanted for Sen. Joe Lieberman when he ran for vice president, or any other candidate for that matter.

The issue is a bit more complicated, though, in part because Romney served as a missionary in France in his youth, as is common among Mormon young adults, and in his church as bishop and stake president, which are lay and volunteer roles.

That profile makes some Jews queasy, but then the Mormon religion is a bit more exotic than mainstream Christian faiths, and some have called it heretical or a “cult.” But those disputes seem to involve Christians more than Jews, who tend to lump Catholics, Protestants, Mormons and other believers in Jesus as simply “Christian.”

There are said to be six million Mormons in America and 13 million worldwide — about the same number as Jews here and around the world — and the church is growing rapidly, by some 250,000 people a year.

One reason for that growth is that Mormons have a proselytizing religion. Indeed, there was much concern in the 1980s here and in Israel when they planned to build a branch of Brigham Young University on Mount Scopus, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. A showdown was averted when the church agreed not to proselytize to Jews in Israel.

A deeper controversy that seriously threatened Mormon-Jewish relations began a few years later when it was learned that the controversial church practice of performing a “baptism for the dead” on all non-Mormon souls who ever lived included Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Jewish survivors were deeply offended, noting that the millions of Shoah victims had been murdered by the Nazis because they were Jews.

Difficult negotiations took place between Mormon leaders and Jewish Holocaust survivor groups and others to resolve the dispute. But the issue dragged on for many years, with the Jewish groups insisting that despite an agreement to stop the proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims, the Mormons were continuing the practice.

Only last year (as first reported in The Jewish Week), did the two sides repair their ruptured relations by announcing “a breakthrough.” The church statement said the Mormons would allow Jewish Holocaust victims to be the only category exempt from their doctrine calling for the symbolic baptism of the dead. (The exemption doesn’t apply to other Jewish souls.)

Beside their numbers, Mormons and Jews have a good deal in common. Though they have very different theologies, both place an emphasis on family life, charitable giving, performing good deeds and education. And both are strongly supportive of Israel.

Mitt Romney is an attractive candidate for Jewish Republicans for reasons that include his outspoken backing of Jerusalem, relatively moderate positions, past business success and his having served as governor of Massachusetts.

The fact that Tea Party activists and Evangelical Christians distrust him is another plus for many American Jews particularly wary of those groups.

One of the intriguing aspects of the Romney candidacy is how the Mormon Church has handled the glare of attention with two Republican candidates who are members of the faith — John Huntsman, though fading, being the other one.

For the most part, the church takes a decidedly, and admirably low-key approach to negativity in the media and elsewhere, focusing on its mission. And in that, and other ways, there is much the American Jewish establishment can learn from the Mormons.

Consider for a moment how our community and organizations might have responded to the hottest ticket on Broadway being a show called “The Five Books of Moses,” best known for its foul, bawdy, irreverent portrait of religious Jews.

I can picture angry pickets and calls for boycotts, charges of anti-Semitism and worse, with the attendant splash of national media coverage.

Yet in response to “The Book of Mormon,” here’s what the church had to say: “The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”

That’s it. Brilliant, with a restraint we seem incapable of.

What’s more, the Mormons have had great success in engaging their young people in service to the church and to others. Teenagers 14-18 participate before and after school in courses in private homes or meeting houses, taught by volunteer teachers, supplemented by an online course for those far from community. And 19-25-year-old men who meet standards of “worthiness” are encouraged to devote two years to full-time missionizing, usually abroad. About 50,000 young men a year take on the commitment, described as a rite of passage for church members, and do so as volunteers, receiving no pay for their work.

Specifics aside, Jewish leaders who bemoan how difficult it is to attract young Jews to participate in Jewish life should take note of this success and explore how that sense of commitment and devotion can be applied in our community.

Just last week the New York Times published a front-page story on how the Mormon leadership is tackling what it calls “a perception problem,” with the church seen as “secretive,” “cultish,” “sexist” and “controlling” by many Americans.

Four years ago, 40 percent of voters said they would not choose a Mormon for president. Those numbers have gone down somewhat, but the church hired two top ad agencies and has launched a national campaign depicting Mormons as normal and reflecting the diversity of the country.

Ads in the “I am a Mormon” campaign depict white, black, Asian and Hispanic people from the U.S. and around the world, and include single parents, working women and an interracial couple.

“We’re not scared of what people think of us,” said the church official leading the campaign. “If you don’t recognize the problem, you can’t solve the problem.”

Pride. Confidence. Direct action. Reaching out to others.

Like I said, there’s a lot we can learn from the Mormons. And whether or not Mitt Romney becomes the Republican candidate or our next president, our Jewish leaders would do well to think about why the Mormons are the fastest-growing religion in the world while what most unifies us is our ongoing obsession with our decreasing numbers.

Gary@jewishweek.org
 

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Comments

I hope the Mormons are as tolerant as you seem to indicate.
I also hope that all Mormons read this and understand its importance.

I am a Methodist and have no problem with any religious group since
we believe equally in the Old and New Testaments.
My only issue here is that I truly believe no religious group should
try to missionize others unless they present them with all types of religions.
Giving them just one religion is not the answer and is in a sense very
egotistical.
If they stop trying to missionize, that is my only major concern.
A person should be given a choice of all relgions- then let them make
a well informed decision.

I am a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It's been 2 1/2 years now since I was baptized. My mother is Jewish and her parents were survivors who escaped concentration camps in Dachau. My mother unfortunately has a loathesome attitude towards the LDS church, I think mostly from a lack of knowledge. This saddens me but it was very interesting for me to read this article and nice to see both sides getting along. I think there's one thing I have to say however that is very important. I have a testimony of the LDS church, and although we are blessed in so many ways in this age with internet, and vast ways of communication, it is not advertisement that brought me to the church, or even the fact that it is a proselytizing religion. Yes, missionaries came to my door and taught me, but it wasn't the missionaries that converted me to the gospel. It was the spirit. We do our very best as members to be humble, not prideful. And we share our testimonies because we love our fellow men, brothers and sisters. Not to grow the numbers of our church for the numbers, but because the gospel has blessed our lives so much, it would not be right for us to keep that to ourselves. If we were at a park having a picnic and we noticed some one next to us who had little food, we would give to that person in hunger. Just the same as it is with us, having the happiness and the peace that the knowledge of the gospel brings, when we see someone hungering in spirit we give to them our testimony in hopes that they will come to know the happiness and peace that we know :)

I too am a Mormon, and I thank you, Gary, for this article. I was searching for something positive (or even neurtral) about my faith amidst all the negative. Your article hit the spot. I feel humbled, and very grateful. We are frustrated and hurting right now--nothing like your people have suffered, I know, but it's this forced humiliation and twisted speaking about our beliefs that's hard to take... We just have to hold our heads high and get through it somehow. We can and do learn a lot from you too, as with much dignity, you've all carried on.

I want your readers to know that Mormons love your people--the Chosen people--God's people. Your homeland is sacred to us too, not just because we consider ourselves Christians, but because we sort of consider ourselves your cousins. And the vast majority of us have thrown ourselves into your cause. It's not a political gesture; it's a deeply felt kinship. Protecting your right (or anyone's right) to worship is one of our thirteen creeds, and if Mitt Romney didn't believe that with sound conviction, then he wouldn't be Mormon.

I'm a registered Libertarian, but my candidate's vying for Republican candidacy against Romney (and not doing very well, I might add). But that being said, there are many reasons why Romney would be a good choice to preside over this Nation--even if it were all Jewish. My only complaint (and this probably is in your favor) is that he's not conservative enough.

Whatever the outcome, we hope-pray-work towards more peaceful times.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I'd like to add a fact to the equation, a fact which Mitt Romney could perhaps take to heart.

The United States is in fact an Israeli colony via Great Britain (b'rit, of the covenant). This took many centuries, but it happened!

This places the US in a very specific relationship with Israel when it comes to things such as foreign aid.

If the US cuts off all foreign aid to other nations, it should not ever consider doing so to Israel, since Israel is in fact the 'original' and the US is the 'derivative.'

As an ex-Mormon and a retired self-employed business man, I am proud to cast my lot with Mitt Romney. I feel he has the two basic requirements to be President--inteligence and character; the rest can be learned from advisors.

He has no hidden agenda as our current President has. America should be so lucky to get a man of his qualifications to lead us at this critical time in our history. The majority gave "Hope and Change" a chance in 2008 -- Will those of you who can admit you might have made a mistake, vote to give "Sacrifice & Common Sense" a chance in 2012? We CAN be the America we were destined for!
Clark Walker, Sparks, Nevada

Spelled "Jon Huntsman." Not "John Huntsman."
Small little error that didn't detract from what is otherwise very cogent and insightful.

Thank you for writing with the brotherly love that is what we all aspire to (or certainly should).

On just one aspect of your article: I am LDS. It is and has been Mormon Church policy that unless you are directly descended from someone or it has been authorized by a direct descendant, you cannot be baptized in the temple for anyone who has not been dead at least 100 years. Those who were doing such baptisms for Holocaust victims unrelated to them were well-intentioned, wishing them happiness in the way they themselves knew it, but ill-informed, not thinking through that the living matter too, and they were not listening to their leaders. I personally want to apologize, if my effort could be of any help or comfort at all, for the offense they did not intend to give--but did.

Dear Gary

My highest respect, for that wonderful article written by you.
My father Wilhelm Skibbe became a Mormon 1932, before that he was a lutheran. Than he learned (via Book of Mormon 2. Nephi: 29: 4-5 and other "Mormon" sources) about the good example of the Jews history.
Our landwort was a Jew. His name was Eckdisch, living in Germany, Wolgast, 1937, 53 Wilhelm Street.
At the age of 7, I insulted this jovial man, because I called him "Saujude" (a Jewish pig) this man must have run straight to my father, telling him about my behaviour ... I was summond by my father. He placed me on his knee, face down, took the felt slipper from his foot, and then slap, slap. It did not really hurt all that much. But into full consciousness, the words fell over and over again...: "Never forget it my son: all people are children of God. Did you understand: All people are children of God" (this story is written in my Autobiography "Steps Through Two Dictatorship" 2010, see Internet

kind regards
Gerd Skibbe

The problem with any Mormon/LDS political candidate who is fully aware of that organizations doctrine, is that they necessarily believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet. Most secular historical studies of Mr. Smith paint a different picture. He was actually an unlearned, treasure hunting, womanizing, mystic with a pentecostal family background. He was prone to making up fantastic stories and was good liar. For Mr. Romney to be in good standing he must buy into the LDS party line that says that J. Smith was not actually this way. Consequently, at the core of Romney's beliefs is a proven fabrication about Smith. I for one do not want someone in office who cannot deal reasonably with the facts of history.

Sorry, No man, your historical premise is without basis. These are statements made by Joseph Smith's detractors with out supporting evidence. Read the actual writings of Joseph Smith and you will learn that there is nothing in the primary sourse documents to lead to any other conclusion than that he was sincere in what he taught. Really, the only way to determine if his motives were motivated by a desire to serve God is to study the primary sources (such as his actual writings and those of his contempararies), ponder what is taught and then pray to God for guidence to determine the truth.

I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I enjoyed this article. One point on which I disagree with is some of the condemnation for apparent "over-reaction" by Jews regarding disparaging treatment. Yes, the LDS Church and its members tend to take a more low-key approach to bigotry and mockery. That said, Mormons have never been subject to the Holocaust. Sure, Mormons have been driven and subject to the brutality of 19th Century mobs. Still, even that terrible history pales in comparison to the Holocaust. Within that context I can understand why some Jews are particularly sensitive to bigotry.

Nice article. Only one correction. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a face growing religion but not the fastest growing.

Very refreshing to read someone comfortable enough in his own beliefs and religion that he can identify the strengths in another tradition and seek to ways to incorporate those strengths.

I really enjoyed reading this article and have noted myself how similar the populations are in the country and worldwide and find that fascinating. I do appreciate the tone of the article a great deal and feel that there is much opinion held in the world in the absence of knowledge, and much that we can all learn from each other. Too much of the strife in the world comes from accentuating differences instead of building on the foundation of similarities.

As an "active" member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I found this article insightful and refreshingly open-minded. While I've not decided whether to vote in the Republican primary or, if I do vote, for whom I will pull the lever, Romney's religion will not be a factor. Likewise, I hope that my fellow Americans will similarly look beyond religion to political philosophy, character and leadership capacity in casting their votes.

For me, it would be helpful to better understand why Romney's service as a missionary, bishop and stake president "makes some Jews queasy". What is problematic about these roles? If the Jewish community had a better understanding of how highly we in the Mormon community esteem our Jewish friends and their religious traditions and how much the two faiths have in common -- particularly in relation to Shabbat, marriage and temples -- I think that observant Jews might take Romney's leadership in the Mormon community as one reason to vote for him. Along these lines, some readers might find insightful Donna B. Nielsen's book, Beloved Bridegroom: Finding Christ in Ancient Jewish Marriage and Family Customs, http://www.amazon.com/Beloved-Bridegroom-Donna-B-Nielsen/dp/157636075X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322493784&sr=8-1.

Thanks again for a great article!

I would like to point out that the majority of Mormon missionaries serve in the country they are natives of. I would also like to point out that the function of the missionaries is to share a message with people and to show them how it will bless their lives.

Your words speak well of your faith, I applaud you. If everyone had such a sentiment about differing points of view then the resulting respect and tolerance between religious denominations would strengthen the social and moral fabric of communities and the world. It is sad that the rampant spread of often well intentioned yet mislead propaganda as well as fear of what we do not or will not understand is having just the opposite effect.
Being a Mormon aside, if people truly understood what it takes on a personal and moral level to be a temple recommend holder and the scrutiny that one must measure up to then the fact that Mitt Romney holds one would make anyone of any religious persuasion consider Mr. Romney, given his other extensive qualifications, an extremely viable candidate to hold this country’s highest office.

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ and really enjoyed this article. It is true that we want people to recognize that although we are Christians we are not simply Protestants. I love finding common ground with other religions. It is good to keep the discussion open. As a Mormon I was quite surprised by the reaction to the Broadway play and had not previously seen that quote. Thanks for teaching me a little bit more about my own religion from your own observations.

Beautiful Article, I hope we can understand that during the brief time in this planet. We all have more in common than differnet.
Let's respect and be the force of unity.

I am Mormon and would like to Thank you for your article. When most media sources write about my faith they always seem to be so skilled at taking true tenets of our faith and add a special "spin" to them that on their face are still mostly accurate, but portray my beliefs as "weird". The tone of your article does not do that and I appreciate that.

I dont feel that as citizens of our communities we will be able to agree on everything, but that does not mean we can't respect one another regardless of race, creed, religion, nationality, etc... and you are correct...we might just learn something from each other. Thank you.

I remember Mitt's father, George, very well from when he was governor of Michigan in the 1960s. George Romney was a popular moderate. He had a very good relationship with the Jewish community.

There are many things to like about Mitt Romney, and his Mormon faith would not stop me from voting for him. At the same time, I just can't feel warm and fuzzy about him. I will never forget his speech at the 2008 Republican convention; it was nothing but empty conservative rhetoric. He said, "We need change all right — change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington! We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington — throw out the big government liberals and elect John McCain!" What Romney didn't say was that President Bush had a Republican Congress for much of his term, but they made things worse instead of better. I have mixed feelings about President Obama, but I honestly don't think the economy would be much different today if McCain had won.

Romney has been critical of unions, especially government and teachers' unions, but he refused to endorse the tough Ohio anti-union ballot proposal that was on the ballot a few weeks ago. Conservatives are furious because he backed the same measure back in June.
http://news.yahoo.com/mitt-romneys-incredible-waffling-ohios-union-fight-092700515.html
Mitt Romney is perhaps an opportunistic flip-flopper who will say anything to get himself elected. He isn't the first and he won't be the last, but he won't get my vote.

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