Motes and Beams

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I am fascinated by the reaction to Lawrence O’Donnell’s criticism of Mormon orthodoxy. I understand why many Mormons would feel hurt by O’Donnell’s criticism. Personally, I don’t have a problem with O’Donnell’s criticism, in part, because I find it difficult to disagree with him and, in part, I have embraced the reality that my heritage, which has bestowed many privileges and opportunities upon me, is inseparably intertwined with various aspects of evil. Due to my own journey, I appreciate, however, how trying it can be to be associated with racism and the like for one’s religion.

That is all the more true when one believes that racism, polygamy, and the like are well behind us. Although I disagree because polygamous and racist doctrines continue to rear their ugly heads in our midst, often to the detriment of our children, even I have to admit that there has been progress.

I am wondering though, how any Mormon can possibly be surprised that other Americans would be afraid of us in light of our record of abusing the democratic process at the expense of our gay and lesbian neighbors. Proposition 22 only happened in 2000 and continues to be the precedent for an ongoing campaign against a vulnerable minority. As recently as in 2006, Gordon Hinckley chose to support Bill Frist’s efforts to enshrine discrimination in the United States Constitution.

How can it be that all those people who were so happy when the discrimination against Mormons of African descent was lifted, didn’t object when the next minority was targeted for discrimination? Did you think that this would not affect our own rights?

Thanks to our enduring discriminatory agenda, we are remaining in a poor position when our own rights are under assault.

The need for religious tolerance is predicated on the fact that religion is a matter of conscience, which means that religious obligations can only apply to believers. Believers who want to enjoy the benefits of citizenship in a world of religious diversity should not use their religious organizations to deny other people the benefits of citizenship and humanity.

Mitt Romney’s campaign is inadvertently but predictably shining the spotlight on the ugly reality of communal bigotry. Unfortunately, some of that light reveals our own reflections. There is good indication that we are not beyond institutional, cultural, doctrinal, and personal racism. It is all the more tragic that our leaders have chosen to appeal to our baser instincts once more before we had entirely put the ghosts of christmas past behind us.

Instead of getting angry at Lawrence O’Donnell, we need to ask ourselves how we can assure our fellow citizens that we will respect their rights. That begins with the rights of those who are the most different from ourselves.

If we want to assert our claims on citizenship then we better start recognizing the humanity of others. The most credible way to demonstrate our own commitment to the rights of others is to engage intolerant and illiberal behavior within our own community.

Therein lies the rub. Unfortunately, our leaders, past and present, remain a bad influence in matters of human rights. But until we take on their aggression against blacks, women, intellectuals, and gays and lesbians, we have no right to demand of Baptists and Hollywood liberals that they respect ours.

PS: For those of you who have missed it, here is Lawrence O’Donnell’s attack on Romney and orthodox Mormonism:

17 thoughts on “Motes and Beams

  1. Pingback: Movies and Film Blog » Motes and Beams
  2. Nice post, Hellmut. Too often I, an ex-Mormon, just attack Mormonism without recognizing that there are many good Mormons within that group. If more Mormons were like you, I wouldn’t have anything to criticize… 😉

    Of course, then “Mormonism” wouldn’t be “Mormonism,” but I wouldn’t have a problem with that.

  3. Often I like people from minority religions (Jews, Wiccans, Hindus or other Asian religions in the West) better than people from majority religions. Not because I think their teaching are more enlightened or anything, but because the minorities are the people who typically learn (from experience) that freedom of religion does not mean freedom to force your religion on others through the channels of the government. Since Mormon thought and discourse seems dominated by voices from the inter-mountain west — where Mormons are in the majority — it would appear that many Mormons don’t understand that in reality they’re a minority and that protection for minorities protects them as well.

    I’m glad this adventure with the presidential race is helping to show Mormons what the religious right really thinks of them. Those same people — whose platform is defined by hatred for gay people and secularists — also hate plenty of other religious minorities, including Mormons. This is a great opportunity for Mormons to ask themselves what their leaders are doing in bed (politically) with these people.

  4. That makes sense, Chanson. I was amazed when Ken Jennings expressed surprise at the fundamentalist vitriol against Mormons. My first thought was “Where have you been, Ken? They have always hated us.”

  5. Wow! I just watched the Lawrence O’Donnell video clip.
    Though I agree with some of what he said, I take exception with insinuation that Mormons, or more specifically Romney, are in constant lockstep with the Church.

    It is possible for Mormons to disagree politically with the leadership and not have their membership in jeopardy.

    Also, just because the church was racist, and may still have racist leanings, does not mean that members can’t or won’t come to the conclusion that racial bias is incorrect.

    Of course, it is a difficult message to get across because Mormons are a comparatively small group and they all appear to vote the same way.

    If Romney is serious about dispelling some of the worries he may want to start hanging out with Sen. Reid.

  6. Hi Wayne! Did you know that in 1994, James Faust criticized Mitt Romney for supporting abortion during his Senate campaign against Ed Kennedy?

    During the televised debate with Kennedy, Romney pointed out that since his cousin had died during a back alley abortion, he supported the right to abortion although he would discourage anyone from having one.

    As soon as Romney had lost the elections, Faust appeared at a BYU devotional and accused Romney of Trying to Serve the Lord Without Offending the Devil.

    During the same campaign, George Romney had cried on television because Joseph Kennedy had attacked Mitt for being a Mormon. I imagine that it must have been doubly hard on the Romney family when a member of the First Presidency attacked them as well.

  7. I was not aware of that. I want to say that I’m not shocked, but I am.
    I know that the Church occasionally has made attempts to show that they don’t dictate political persuasions. (I recall some interview with a Democrat leaning GA in the Salt Lake Tribune about ten years ago)

    Did he threaten to excommunicate him for his political views?

    It may be hard on them, but it does not mean they have to agree. I realize that, that is easy to say.

    Something like that could cripple a TBM family especially in a place like SLC.

    All, I can say is that Liberal leaning members still have an uphill battle.

  8. No, there was no mention of excommunication, only shaming and heartache.

    Faust did not even mention Romney by name but it was clear to anyone who had paid attention to the 1994 campaign whom he meant. The only damage to Romney was to his reputation.

    Instead of being the Mormon champion, Mitt was now the man who was trying to please Satan.

    Fortunately for Romney, the Olympic scandal restored his image. There is a certain justice in the fact that he had another opportunity to appear as knight in shining armor.

  9. I think you have a good point, Hellmut, and that CHanson is on target as well. One of the problems is that we want to think we are reasonable, rational beings who carefully consider the alternatives before making a position or believing something. Of course, we’re not. We are very adept at coming up with a post hoc explanation for why we believe as we do, and framing it in a way that sounds rational and reasonable, but much of what makes people tick is emotion. We don’t always notice the inconsistency of supporting discrimination in one context while decrying it in another.

  10. That’s definitely true, Michael. That’s another reason why free speech is important because it allows others to keep us honest by criticizing us.

    I have the notion that reason requires an ethical commitment, may be, in the sense of Habermas’s discourse ethic although I would put more emphasis on empathy or recognizing others on their own terms. One of those days, I will have to sit down and write about it.

    Writing would be so much easier with a good interlocutor . . .

  11. As an active, mostly believing Mormon, I found O’Donnell’s rant highly distasteful.
    Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with criticizing the Church for its past stands on polygamy, ERA, racism, etc., as well as its current homophobic stance.
    What I do have a problem with is the complete disinformation in O’Donnell’s rant. He made a number of claims, many of which are patently false (i.e., Smith was pro-slavery), some of which are insinuation and probably can’t be proven one way or another (Smith was a rapist).
    There’s plenty within the Church and its history to criticize. I only ask that if one is going to criticize the Church, they do so on a factual basis.

  12. That’s true, Andrew. O’Donnell was wrong about that. Joseph Smith agitated for the end of slavery. After buying the slaves’ freedom, Smith wanted to repatriate them to Africa.

    On the other hand, I am not sure that O’Donnell’s error really does us an injustice because Smith’s successors were definitely racist and shaped our belief system accordingly. Even when I attended BYU, I have heard apostles suggest that intermarriage is unpleasing to the Lord’s anointed.

    Intermarriage prohibitions are the cosmogonic root of racism. We all belong to the same species, which means that members of different groups can procreate just fine. It is only marriage prohibitions that create the notion that we belong to different races.

  13. Fortunately for Romney, the Olympic scandal restored his image. There is a certain justice in the fact that he had another opportunity to appear as knight in shining armor.

    Hellmut, you are really far off on this. Romney’s reputation was never in jeopardy among Latter-day Saints. Shaming and causing heartache seem a regular tactic of yours but whether Church leaders are really doing so by teaching religious principles that are believed to follow from the Bible (i.e. abortion is evil to use Faust’s talk as an example) is still open for debate.

    On the abortion issue, the belief that an embryo or a fetus is already a human being could be seen as requiring a pro-life stance. If Faust holds this belief then it is his obligation to try to convince those within his sphere of influence to resist abortion, even to the extent of describing the practice in terms of evil, just as he would no doubt make every effort to dissuade those in his influence not to murder people and in doing so would legitimate speak of murder in terms of evil.

    Romney defined his beliefs as pro-choice in the 1994 Senate race. He is entitled to his view and Faust is entitled to decry that view consistent with his own convictions (assuming without any evidence that Faust was somehow referring to Mitt Romney with his BYU devotional address).

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