Mormon Behavior, Mormon Speak

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?

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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5 Responses to Mormon Behavior, Mormon Speak

  1. Qahal says:

    Great post. I agree with the writer that it might not be an intentionally deceptive tactic, but a consequence of redefining similar terms. However, the fact that I often hear comments like, “Our beliefs are very similar,” or, “We have much in common,” etc., etc., makes me wonder if it is just an incredibly clever evangelization method. Today’s Mormons aren’t stupid. I believe that they realize how unsuccessful they would be at converting others if they were perfectly forthcoming with all of their beliefs. Far fewer people would ever open the Book of Mormon and “pray about it” if they had the whole truth up front. Instead it is “common ground” and “family-oriented” at first glance.

    I encounter this particularly as a Catholic because we share concepts of authority and apostolicity, but obviously in very, very different ways. All I have to say to them is, “Its not the same.”

  2. Interested says:

    Yes it would be great. I’d really like to see mormon speakers tell it like it is rather than the face they put forth for the public. And Neal, Mike, other LDS, before you accuse me of telling you what you believe let me assure you that I am not doing so. I really would like to hear what your church professes, believes, teaches after the “milk”.

  3. Doyle says:

    Hey guys,
    Just a quick comment. I’m LDS and was born into the church. I have always been taught that Jesus Christ is my personal saviour, and maybe the term does differ in meaning between religions,so I find it hard to pass judgement on whether Mitt has used to term to gain political advantages. I agree with you Gahal there are important differences between our religions but does that mean that we can not acknowledge even celebrate our similarities. We both believe in the christian principles of love, charity and compassion. I just believe that more can be accomplished for the betterment of this world if we embrace the points which unify us rather then quarrel over what divides us. what are your thoughts?

  4. Ginger says:

    As a lifer, I have to let y’all know that “personal Savior” is not a new term to LDS. As a Southerner, I have to tell you that I’ve NEVER heard a Baptist use that term.

  5. Interested says:

    Ginger I am not sure of what part of the south you speak but I too grew up in the south. Totally Southern Baptist surrounded and Jesus as personal savior is so Baptist I thought they invented the phrase.

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