Today’s (9 April) New York Times carries an op-ed piece by Kenneth Woodward about Mitt Romney and Mormonism. A large portion of the article is dedicated to understanding why Americans are uncomfortable with Mr. Romney’s religion. Mr. Woodward writes:
Among the reasons Americans distrust the Mormon church is Mormon clannishness. Because every worthy Mormon male is expected to be a lay priest in voluntary service to the church, the demands on his time often leave little opportunity to cultivate close friendships with non-Mormon neighbors. A good Mormon is a busy Mormon…To many Americans, Mormonism is a church with the soul of a corporation. Successful Mormon males can expect to be called, at some time in their lives, to assume full-time duties in the church’s missions, in its vast administrative offices in Salt Lake City or in one of many church-owned businesses…
Moreover, Mormons are perceived to be unusually secretive. Temple ceremonies — even weddings — are closed to non-Mormons, and church members are told not to disclose what goes on inside them.
I think Mr. Woodward has been quite perceptive in his identification of some specific Mormon behaviors that may concern non-Mormon Americans.
Furthermore, Mr. Woodward suggests that Mr. Romney use his many public-appearance opportunities afforded him as a presidential candidate to explain Mormonism to the American public. Mr. Woodward writes:
But Mr. Romney must be sure to express himself in a way that will be properly understood. Any journalist who has covered the church knows that Mormons speak one way among themselves, another among outsiders. This is not duplicity but a consequence of the very different meanings Mormon doctrine attaches to words it shares with historic Christianity.For example, Mormons speak of God, but they refer to a being who was once a man of “flesh and bone,” like us. They speak of salvation, but to them that means admittance to a “celestial kingdom” where a worthy couple can eventually become “gods” themselves. The Heavenly Father of whom they speak is married to a Heavenly Mother. And when they emphasize the importance of the family, they may be referring to their belief that marriage in a Mormon temple binds families together for all eternity.
Thus, when Mr. Romney told South Carolina Republicans a few months ago that Jesus was his “personal savior,” he used Southern Baptist language to affirm a relationship to Christ that is quite different in Mormon belief. (For Southern Baptists, “personal savior” implies a specific born-again experience that is not required or expected of Mormons.) This is not a winning strategy for Mr. Romney…[he] should avoid using language that blurs fundamental differences among religious traditions.
I’ll hop on this bandwagon; it’s good advice. I’d like to see Mitt Romney heed it, but I’d also like to see every Mormon who speaks publicly about the teachings of their Church express themselves “in a way that will be properly understood” by non-Mormons, avoiding the use of “language that blurs fundamental differences among religious traditions.”
Wouldn’t that be great?