Over the weekend the Salt Lake Tribune posted an opinion piece titled “Romney candidacy will stir up anti-Mormon feeling”. The author, Tom Williams, begins,
Am I the only practicing Mormon who’s not excited about Mitt Romney’s run for president? It’s not like his first order of business will be a $10,000 tax credit for all Latter-Day [sic] Saints. (But imagine what that would do for the missionary effort.) In my mind there’s very little to be gained from Romney’s candidacy, and a great deal to be lost.
Mr. Williams thinks the “Christian/evangelical bloc of the Republican Party” will make sure Mitt Romney does not gain the Republican nomination. How will they accomplish this? Mr. Williams writes,
I’ll tell you what they’ll do. There will be discussions of LDS temple ceremonies, temple garments, polygamy, priesthood restrictions on blacks, blood atonement, Adam-God theory, etc., etc. They’ll bring up every anti-Mormon bullet point you’ve ever seen, and probably a few you haven’t. There will be quotes taken out of context, distortions of doctrine and kernels of truth buried in landfills of inaccuracy.This will put leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in an absolute no-win situation: If they try to respond to the doctrinal distortions aimed at Romney they will be perceived as defending him and thus supporting his candidacy; if they do nothing, the anti-Mormon assertions will be seen as true. Your 19-year-old missionary serving in Mississippi will spend the rest of his mission trying to explain the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Adam-God theory, things he probably knows nothing about.
I find it interesting that Mr. Williams seems to think any discussion of Mormon doctrine, practice, and history in the public arena would be “anti-Mormon.” Like it or not, “LDS temple ceremonies, temple garments, polygamy, priesthood restrictions on blacks, blood atonement, Adam-God,” etc. are not merely “anti-Mormon bullet points”; they are actual elements of Mormonism. Why should discussion of these issues be immediately dismissed as “anti-Mormon”?
Of course, many of these doctrines have a potential to be misunderstood by non-Mormons due to the reticence on the part of the Church to fully explain what it considers sacred. Even worse, many of these issues are not very flattering to the LDS Church and could take some of the shine off the Church’s image. Mr. Williams has done some pre-emptive damage control by asserting that quotes will be taken out of context and doctrines will be distorted. This is the sort of thing authors Richard and Joan Ostling observed in their 1999 book Mormon America:
All too often [Latter-day] Saints use the label “anti-Mormon” as a tactic to forestall serious discussion. (376)
Mr. Williams believes the public discussion of Mormonism will put the LDS Church in an “absolute no-win situation.” It won’t be able to respond to doctrinal distortions without putting its tax-exempt status in jeopardy, but a non-response will be seen as an admission that the “distortions” are true. I don’t think there’s any merit to this claim.
Few of the issues that could come up if and when Mormonism finds itself in the spotlight will be new. Mr. Williams’ list of possible topics of concern have already been discussed publicly for decades. It’s just that relatively few people have encountered the discussions in the past; and the LDS Church has been fairly successful at marginalizing critical material.
But with Mr. Romney running for President there will be many more people interested and curious about Mormonism than ever before (or at least since Donny Osmond captured the heart of every 14-year-old girl in America). Influential people may begin asking questions — people who expect full-disclosure answers, who won’t settle for less; people whose opinions have the power to impact others — and I think this is why Mr. Williams is concerned. He writes,
The church will spend thousands of dollars and several years refuting the doctrinal distortions that will be used to undermine Romney’s candidacy.Is this what we really want?
It seems to me this quandary could have been avoided if the LDS Church would have dealt with the doctrinal concerns evangelicals have continued to bring to the table lo these many years. But it has not. It has instead responded with denials and mischaracterizations of its critics, choosing to turn a blind eye to honest questions and concerns rather than deal with them forthrightly.
I think Mr. Williams’ rhetorical question — “Is this what we really want?” — is right on the money. Candid public discussion of the doctrines and history of Mormonism is not what the LDS Church wants, as has been demonstrated over 177 years of the Church’s history.
“Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12: 2-3).
Perhaps the Romney campaign is God’s way of fulfilling this in regards to the LDS Church.