Posted by Mark Paredes
Nevertheless, this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.—Alma 1:16 (Book of Mormon)
Given the holiday season rush and my recent engagement to a wonderful woman (the wedding is next month), I’ve had less time than usual to follow the daily news cycle. When I finally sat down today to get caught up, I learned that perennial loon Ron Paul has a good chance of winning the Iowa caucuses next week and that an even loonier Orthodox rabbi has condemned LDS candidate Mitt Romney for being a “dangerous homosexualist.” It’s enough to make a guy want to go back to checking guest lists and ordering flowers.
I’m not going to waste blog space on a racist conspiracy nut like Paul, but I do have a thing or two to say about the Rabbinical Alliance of America’s statement on Romney. Actually, it was RAA spokesman Rabbi Yehuda Levin’s statement, since the letter was posted on his personal website, not that of the organization.
For some reason Rabbi Levin and the RAA were obsessed with gays during this Hanukkah season. Earlier this week, they issued a “Torah Declaration” declaring that homosexuality “is not an acceptable lifestyle or a genuine identity.” Their remedy for “same-sex strugglers?” Therapy and teshuva (repentance). These rabbis believe that homosexuality can be modified and “healed.” Is this really the most important Hanukkah message that Orthodox rabbis can share at this time of year? I doubt it. While some Mormons might agree with the Torah Declaration’s ideas and proposals, their church does not have an official position on the origin of homosexuality.
That didn’t stop Rabbi Levin from calling on the LDS Church to “sanction” Romney for his “support and promotion of the immoral homosexual lifestyle and agenda.” Instead of making Torah-based arguments, the good rabbi’s letter cites claims made in the book “Mitt Romney’s Deception,” written by Amy Contrada. Ms. Contrada, an activist and blogger for the “pro-family” organization MassResistance, alleges that Romney implemented “sexual-radical” programs in Massachusetts while serving as governor.
I’m not interested in analyzing Mitt’s record on gay issues; his paid people can do that for him. What I prefer to do is expose priestcraft, which is condemned in Mormon scripture. This involves using religious positions and language to promote oneself and/or a private agenda that is contrary to God’s. Rabbi Levin, a member of the organization Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation (!), has a history of using the Torah to push his agenda of hatred of gays. This bigot blamed the deadly earthquake in Haiti last year on the presence of gays in the military, and promised “bloodshed” if a gay-rights parade were to take place in Jerusalem. It’s no wonder that Rabbi Levin (and I use his title loosely) has lost every election he has entered, and currently heads a small Flatbush echo chamber called “Mevakshei Hashem” (Seekers of the Lord).
It is wrong for liberal rabbis to pretend that Jewish law and tradition sanction gay marriage and relationships. However, it’s much more unacceptable for Orthodox rabbis to pretend that God kills Haitians because the United States has gay soldiers. Rabbi Levin is a fraud and a practitioner of priestcraft. You don’t have to be a supporter of gay marriage to realize that his obsession with gays is unhealthy. Judaism deserves better representation in the public sphere, and I hope that members of the Orthodox community will disavow the rabbi’s comments.He claims that more than 850 rabbis agree with him, but I know that can’t be true. As we enter a new year with a presidential election, we need to hear from candidates and leaders who have intelligent arguments to make. Unfortunately, that leaves shrill bigots like Paul and Rabbi Levin out in the cold.
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December 22, 2011 | 1:27 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Thou shalt not commit adultery. – Exodus 20:14
Thou shalt not commit adultery; and he that committeth adultery, and repenteth not, shall be cast out. But he that has committed adultery and repents with all his heart, and forsaketh it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive; But if he doeth it again, he shall not be forgiven, but shall be cast out. – Doctrine and Covenants 42:24-26
Adultery has reared its ugly head in the Republican presidential campaign, derailing the Herman Cain Express and turning many values voters away from faux conservative (and admitted adulterer) Newt Gingrich. After many conversations with Jewish and LDS conservatives about Newt’s suitability for the presidency, I’ve been struck by how the two groups differ in the relative importance that they attach to adulterous behavior by politicians. This is most likely due to two factors: 1) The tendency of Jews to be fiscal, not social, conservatives; and 2) The theological consequences of adulterous behavior in the two faith traditions.
Most Jewish Republicans I know hate taxes and favor small government, but they are also pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage. [My fellow Jewish Journal blogger Dennis Prager is a notable exception]. When asked to evaluate Newt’s moral character, not one conservative Jew told me that a politician’s unfaithfulness to a spouse would prevent him from pulling the lever for the candidate. Regardless of whether Newt was their first choice, all of the Jews said that they would have no trouble supporting him if he were their party’s nominee.
It’s logical for Jewish Republicans to like Newt, since in many ways he’s one of them. He’s smart, articulate, fiscally conservative and pro-Israel. Should these qualities be negated by Newt’s private sexual behavior, objectionable though it may be? For Jewish supporters of Gingrich, as for many Republicans, the most important question is whether he can win the White House, not whether he has kept his marriage vows. Jews know that the perfect is often the enemy of the good, so they’re willing to overlook adulterous behavior more than a decade old if they feel that Newt can defeat President Obama next fall.
This pragmatic position is not held by most Mormon conservatives I know, who are both social and fiscal conservatives. It is very difficult for many of them to ignore Newt’s adultery when evaluating his candidacy, even if they feel that he can win in 2012. Judging from Facebook posts and online discussions, there are quite a few Mormons who, like me, will not vote for either presidential candidate if Newt is the Republican nominee (in my case, this is also true of Ron Paul, and was true of Rudy Giuliani four years ago).
The status and definition of the sin of adultery in the two faiths’ theologies might account for the divergence of views on its usefulness in evaluating someone’s character. While adultery is explicitly condemned in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, Jewish law specifies that only married women can commit adultery. Married men who have sexual relations with someone other than their spouse are guilty of fornication, not adultery. While this distinction is largely ignored by Jews living in today’s secular culture, which condemns such behavior as adulterous whether committed by men or women, I can’t help but wonder whether this ancient rule has influenced the thinking of modern-day Jewish conservatives willing to support a notorious (male) adulterer as the leader of the free world.
In LDS theology, both men and women can commit adultery, one of the most serious sins. In fact, it can be grounds for excommunication. Although each case is judged on its merits, and it is impossible to predict the outcome, it is likely that if Mitt Romney were discovered to have committed adultery, he would lose his LDS Church membership (though he could be rebaptized following a period of repentance). It is also likely that much of his Mormon support base would vanish, even if the alleged offenses had taken place more than a decade ago.
As stated above in a quote from an LDS book of scripture, Mormons do believe that it is possible to repent of adultery. However, some conservatives still believe that a person who betrays two spouses forfeits the privilege of being the conservative standard-bearer in a national election, regardless of whether he later changes his ways.
As a conservative, I lament the rise of Rush Limbaugh-style “conservatism,” which focuses not on a candidate’s private moral behavior but on his public fiscal positions. Rush, a man who has been married four times and who abused prescription drugs for years, somehow believes that this behavior is acceptable for a self-styled “true conservative.” In this election season, I am very proud that both LDS candidates have lived conservative principles all of their lives and have strong marriages and beautiful families to show for it.
I don’t know when exactly conservatism began to be defined down, but I was appalled to read this week that respected conservative thinker (and personal idol) Thomas Sowell said that he plans to support a thrice-married former adulterer for president. Had he said that he supported Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, or Rick Perry, I would have applauded him for supporting a true conservative candidate. Indeed, Iowa’s Secretary of State is Mormon, and he’s supporting Santorum.
I have no problem with moderates, policy wonks and fiscal conservatives voting for Gingrich. However, “values voters” who support him are akin to “feminist” Democrats who campaigned for Ted Kennedy. If “family values” means anything, it means respect for the institution of marriage. Someone who cheated on – lied to and deceived—his first wife, then cheated on his next wife with his current one for seven years, is not a family values candidate – or a true conservative. My Jewish Republican friends and I can agree to disagree on whether previous adulterous behavior should disqualify someone from running as a conservative presidential candidate. That said, we would all do well to reflect on a statement made by El Rushbo himself: “We conservatives are never stronger than when we are advancing our principles.” Indeed.
December 16, 2011 | 1:28 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct ‘Palestinian people’ to oppose Zionism.” – Zahir Muhsein, member, PLO Executive Board (1977)
“...it’s true that a specifically Palestinian identity is a relatively recent development.” – BYU Prof. Daniel Peterson
“…that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring, if it were possible, their brethren, the Lamanites, to the knowledge of the truth, to the knowledge of the baseness of the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct.” – Alma 17:9 (Book of Mormon)
My last three posts were dedicated to answering questions about Mormon beliefs posed by a thoughtful rabbi. My task today is to respond to a thoughtful BYU professor who believes that Newt Gingrich was wrong when he said that the Palestinians are an “invented” people. Dr. Daniel Peterson is every Mormon’s favorite Arabist, as well as one of the LDS Church’s leading apologists. In a recent article in the Deseret News, he makes the case against Newt with a barrage of facts that don’t hold together well. Although I am certainly not a Gingrich supporter (as a true conservative, I consider “conservatives” who vote for Newt to be akin to feminist liberals who voted for Ted Kennedy), he is right on this point. I will address each of the professor’s objections while raising a few of my own to Palestinian nationalism.
The best response to Newt’s statement by his opponents is, “So what?” After all, Americans are an “invented” people as well, and we seem to be doing pretty well for ourselves. There was no American nationalism 300 years ago, yet that did not prevent one from coalescing around great political figures and eventually inspiring them to establish the greatest democracy in human history. The fact that a people is not a historical one doesn’t mean that it cannot eventually lay claim to nationhood. However, Palestinian supporters have not advanced this argument in response to Newt. For some reason, many of them seem determined to prove that the Palestinians’ historical legitimacy is on a par with those of, say, Armenians, Kurds, and Jews. Any such attempt is bound to fail.
Based on his statement quoted above, I suspect that Prof. Peterson agrees with Newt and me that Palestinian nationalism is of late vintage. What he objects to is the assertion made by Mr. Muhsein above: that Palestinian nationalism is a fraudulent attempt to put a respectable patina on hatred of the Jewish state.
In support of his position, the good professor begins by arguing that “Arabs aren’t fungible.” That is, Egyptians, Syrians, and Algerians have distinct histories and cultures, as do Palestinians. He goes on to list several dialects of Arabic in an attempt to further distinguish some Arabs from others. This includes the “recognizably unique” Palestinian dialect.
With all due respect to Prof. Peterson, he has it backwards. Newt’s point wasn’t that there are no differences among Arabs; of course they’re not fungible. What he was attempting to do was to highlight one important difference between Palestinians and some other Arab peoples: their longevity as a people. As long as we’re listing differences between Palestinians and other Arabs, let’s compare Palestinians to Egyptians. Egyptians, like Jews, have had a distinct culture and national identity for thousands of years. Palestinians, it need hardly be said, have not. That is the main point of Newt’s argument, and it is an irrefutable one.
Unlike other Arab peoples, the Palestinians’ distinguishing feature is their narrative of dispossession, not a shared dialect. While there may well be a distinct Palestinian dialect in Arabic, former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat spoke with a heavy Egyptian accent until his dying day. Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon sound like Lebanese, not like Hebronites.
Prof. Peterson correctly points out that many Arab states did not achieve independence until after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. According to him, this somehow makes the absence of a Palestinian state under the Ottomans irrelevant (it “signifies little”). What it really means is that Palestinians are not the only invented people in the modern Middle East. Let’s take the Jordanians, whose country was created by the Brits after Jews were expelled from eastern Palestine and the defeated Hashemite royal family was brought from Saudi Arabia and subsequently enthroned in Amman. History does not record any mention of a “Jordanian” people until 1946, but it is alive and thriving today.
While political Zionism began with Theodore Herzl, many Zionists would take exception to Prof. Peterson’s assertion that Zionism began with the publication of Herzl’s “The Jewish State” in 1896. The first Zionist Aliyah (immigration wave) began in 1882, and for nearly two millennia Jews had expressed in their prayers the desire to return to Jerusalem. This underlines yet again a huge difference between Jews and Palestinians: Jews have been a distinct people for many centuries. There were no “Palestinian” Arab contemporaries of Bar Kochba, Maimonides, Nahmonides, the Baal Shem Tov, or, for that matter, Herzl.
The most candid moment in the essay comes when the professor admits the obvious: “it’s true that a specifically Palestinian identity is a relatively recent development.” However, he then confuses the reader by making the case for the existence of the region/province Palestine since the days of the Philistines. No one is arguing that Palestine, the name formally given to the area by the Romans in an attempt to de-Judaize the historical Land of Israel, doesn’t exist. What Newt and others are saying is that there was not a specific Palestinian Arab nationalism in the territory until the last few decades. Being an honest historian, Prof. Peterson concedes the point.
Now we come to the part of Newt’s claim that strikes at the heart of Palestinian nationalism: its inauthenticity. Peterson claims to believe in the cause, but fails to address perhaps the most damning indictment of the Palestinians’ territorial claim. Israel declared its independence in 1948. One day later, it was invaded by five Arab armies. Did the armies attack Israel in order to establish a state for “Palestinians?” Au contraire. In fact, when Jordan captured the West Bank during that war, it didn`t call it “Palestine” – instead, Jordan annexed it. For some reason Egypt also didn’t get the memo on Palestine: It actively undermined and controlled the “All Palestine Government” in the Gaza Strip prior to 1967. My question is this: if Jordan and Egypt were “occupying” Palestine between 1948 and 1967 (when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza), why were there no protests by “Palestinians” at the time? Didn’t they want their country back? “Palestine” only became “occupied” after Jewish rule began in the disputed territories, which should tell us all we need to know about the true aim of Palestinian nationalism.
It’s quite amusing to me that Palestinian leaders, of all people, should be expressing outrage over Newt’s remarks. Yasser Arafat insisted to President Clinton at the Camp David Summit in 2000 that an ancient Jewish temple was built in Nablus, not Jerusalem. Palestinian officials have actively engaged in what Dore Gold calls “Temple denial” ever since. At the same time, the leaders are trying to convince anyone who will listen that their historical narrative is just as long and rich as the Jewish one. It’s time to call on them to defend their ahistorical claims.
Declaring, “It was our mistake. It was an Arab mistake as a whole,” former Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (his term expired in 2009) shocked many Middle East watchers a few weeks ago by admitting in an interview on Israeli television that Arabs should not have rejected the United Nations 1947 Partition Plan for Palestine. [Had they not rejected it, there would likely have been no invasion of Israel the following year]. This admission was both welcome and long overdue. Since Abbas is interested in setting the historical record straight, he would do well to go on TV again and state the obvious: Newt Gingrich was right.
The Palestinian “right of return” is another historical invention. In law, the proximate cause of an injury – in this case, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Arabs living in Palestine and hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Arab countries – is determined by the “but for” test. That is, but for the action, the injury would not have occurred. In the case of Palestinian Arabs, the proximate cause of their dispossession was their repeated support for genocide, culminating in the 1948 invasion of Israel that they actively supported.
Arab leaders in Palestine enthusiastically supported efforts by the Nazis (the Holocaust) and Arab states (the 1948 war) to annihilate the Jews living there. When you support genocide, you don`t get to hit the reset button when you lose the fight. You also don’t get to return to the nation that you tried to destroy. In the decades following the 1948 genocidal war, a “Palestine Liberation Organization” was created for a “Palestinian” people in order to “liberate Palestine” from those darned Jews who had the temerity to resist repeated efforts to annihilate them. The results of this invented history are plain for anyone to see: “Palestinians” who are now led by a terrorist organization and a termed-out president who can`t even feed their people or meet a payroll without extensive international aid.
How can Gingrich`s statements help the so-called peace process succeed? By calling into question the inane policy adopted by Western governments of propping up Palestinian leaders and giving them a place at the negotiating people. The legitimization of the Palestinian “liberation” movement was a colossal error by the West and Israel, and declarations like Gingrich`s can provide a rationale for putting that genie back in its bottle. There is no good reason for a Palestinian representative to be allowed to negotiate with or demand anything of Israel, let alone to be invited to the White House. Western taxpayers are feeding, clothing and educating Palestinians, so their governments should have the right to dictate to Palestinians the terms of any peace agreement.
Given that both Hamas and Abbas are illegitimate representatives of their people (Hamas launched a coup in Gaza following an election, while Abbas should have left office in 2009), now would be the perfect time to tell the Palestinians that this charade is over. Now is also the time to tell them a few more truths: They are not a historical people, their right of return is nonexistent, and they have no right to engage in negotiations with the state of Israel over the status of land just because they want it for their future state. They`re on the international dole, so the international community will decide for them what the arrangements will be in Israel/Palestine.
It may sound like a harsh prescription for peace, but the continued indulgence of Palestinian delusions and fables has already proved to be a recipe for regional instability and disaster. Over the years Palestinian leaders have destabilized countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Kuwait. Their people certainly deserve better, and they also deserve to have the truth told to them.
I’d like to end with a brief explanation of why I feel so strongly about the issue of Palestinian nationalism. Of all people, Mormons should be those least likely to be duped by the claims of Abbas & Co. The Book of Mormon tells of a people whose belief in the traditions of their fathers, who falsely claimed to have been wronged by others, led them to sin grievously. It goes on to warn against terrorists who try to overthrow governments and engage in “secret combinations” involving murder for gain. Mormons believe that this book of scripture was written for our day. If the Book of Mormon warns against anything in the contemporary world, it’s people like Arafat, Hamas, and other Palestinian terrorists seeking to overthrow governments and murder for political gain.
Eschatology influences me as well. Mormons believe that in the last days, a cataclysmic war will take place that will involve an all-out attack on Jews living in Israel. They will be saved by Jesus Christ, who will appear on the Mount of Olives just in time to protect them from their enemies. On which side, pray tell, will most Palestinians be fighting? Thanks to the lies told to them by their leaders, most Palestinians will be in the wrong army. This is intolerable to me. Mormons have an obligation to expose massive lies, not justify them. In a week where Israel`s 10th Nobel Prize winner claimed his award in Stockholm, the contrast between a legitimate nationalist movement and an invented one could not be more marked.
December 9, 2011 | 1:02 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Know then that ev’ry soul is free,
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is given,
That God will force no man to heaven.
He’ll call, persuade direct him right;,
Bless him with wisdom, love, and light;
In nameless ways be good and kind;
But never force the human mind.
—Know This, That Every Soul Is Free (LDS Hymn)
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? – 1 Corinthians 15:29 (New Testament)
In a recent letter to the editor of The Jewish Week addressing Mitt Romney’s candidacy, Rabbi Mordecai Schnaidman posed three questions about LDS beliefs. I have answered two of them in previous posts, and will now address the third. Given that the topic is a sensitive one—posthumous immersions for the dead – it is especially important to remember that honesty and clarity often trump agreement in interfaith dialogue.
Q: [The Jewish Week Editor Gary] Rosenblatt acknowledges that only victims of the Holocaust were exempted from the Mormon doctrine of baptizing the deceased, but that otherwise the practice continues unabated. How does such an approach to persons, although deceased, jibe with the principle of individual autonomy that is the very foundation of modern democratic society?
A: This question contains two questions: 1) Are Jewish Holocaust victims in fact exempted from LDS temple ordinances? 2) Do Mormons believe that these ordinances somehow obligate the dead to accept them in the afterlife? In both cases, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’
Mormons believe that a prerequisite for reaching heaven is to receive certain ordinances, including baptism. One can receive these ordinances in person while on earth (as LDS Church members do) or by proxy after death. In the latter case, Mormons acting on behalf of the dead receive the ordinances in their name during temple rituals.
In the past year some Jewish leaders have publicly proclaimed that Jewish Holocaust victims are exempted from this requirement in LDS theology. This is a mistaken belief. The only people for whom temple ordinances are not performed posthumously are children who die before they are eight years old (the age of accountability, when they are deemed capable of sinning). Those young spirits get a free pass to heaven. The rest of us need to receive the ordinances that God has prepared for us.
Just to be absolutely clear, Mormons believe that people who need temple ordinances in the next life in order to live in God’s presence include victims of the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and other extermination campaigns where victims were targeted because of their race, nationality, or religion. Those who argue that Holocaust victims don’t have to receive the ordinances that are required for all of God’s other children are inadvertently making the case that God loves a group of Jews less than He loves everyone else. This certainly does not square with our theology.
Mormons have an obligation to perform temple ordinances for their deceased relatives. Indeed, we believe that we will not reach heaven without our kindred dead who have accepted the rites. However, church members have no such duty towards others’ relatives. For decades church leaders have asked members to perform temple ordinances only for their own ancestors. In the past, a small number of Mormons inappropriately performed temple ordinances for Holocaust victims who were not related to them, in violation of church policy (for more details, please see my first and second blogs on the subject). This understandably raised the ire of Jews, and a series of discussions took place between LDS and Jewish leaders over many years.
The understanding that was finally reached between the two groups led to further steps taken by the LDS Church to try to prevent temple ordinances from being performed for Holocaust victims by non-relatives. In addition, the church will continue to delete names of these victims from its ordinance database when evidence is produced that an unauthorized ordinance has been performed for them. These are the only concessions made to Holocaust victims. If a granddaughter of a victim converts to Mormonism and wants to perform temple ordinances for her grandmother, she has not only a right but an obligation to do so.
Now we come to the question of “individual autonomy” and temple rites. Mormons believe that our freedom to choose between good and evil, truth and error will continue beyond the grave. Just as we are not compelled to accept religious truths on earth, we will be free to accept or reject religious principles and rites in the next life as well. If a Mormon has performed ordinances by proxy on behalf of an ancestor in an LDS temple, the potential beneficiary is under no obligation to accept them. Thus the foundational principle of individual autonomy in religion cherished by Rabbi Schnaidman remains inviolate. In our belief system, if someone who was not a Mormon on earth becomes a Mormon in the world to come, it will be because he has chosen to become one.
The importance of free will in the LDS concept of an afterlife becomes clearer when we look at proxy immersions. When I first started discussing posthumous temple rites with Jews, I quickly noticed that they only raised objections to the ordinance known to Mormons as “baptisms for the dead.” Even though Mormons perform several ordinances for the deceased, Jews focused almost exclusively on that one. [I have never heard a Jew object to the eternal marriage by proxy of a husband and wife who perished in the Holocaust, for example]. Most Jews may not know a whole lot about Christianity, but they do know that a “baptism” means someone has just become a member of a Christian church.
It’s not always easy to explain to them that with Latter-day Saints, things are a little different: While living Mormons are baptized into the LDS Church and do become members, the dead are baptized by proxy and are not listed as members of the church. The difference? Consent. The living can freely consent to be baptized, while it is impossible to objectively discern whether the dead have accepted the ordinance.
It is for this reason that I use the term “proxy immersion” to refer to LDS proxy baptisms for the dead. Not only is the word “immersion” far less emotionally charged for Jews than “baptism,” but the term is more accurate. The “baptism” for a dead soul only becomes a true baptism (i.e., entry into the church) if he ultimately accepts it. If he doesn’t, it becomes an immersion that was performed for naught. Since the dead who are baptized by proxy are not considered to be members of the LDS Church, I think it’s a good idea to use a different, more accurate term than “baptism” when discussing the ordinance with Jews. In addition, use of the term “immersion” avoids giving non-Mormons the impression that the practice automatically confers membership in the church, as do baptisms in other Christian churches.
I thank Rabbi Schnaiman for taking the time to write his thoughtful letter, and hope that my answers to his questions have been helpful. Shabbat shalom.
December 4, 2011 | 11:07 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
“I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” – Joseph Smith
This is the second post written in response to Rabbi Mordecai Schnaidman’s letter to the editor of The Jewish Week. He posed three questions about Mormonism in relation to Mitt Romney’s candidacy. My last post addressed the rabbi’s concerns about LDS temple rites, and I will now address his second question. My standard disclaimer bears repeating: This is not a political blog, and I have no interest in advocating Mitt’s candidacy here.
Q: Since the supreme leader of the Mormon faith is considered by its adherents to be endowed with prophetic powers, might not the independence of a faithful Mormon elected to the presidency of the United States be compromised by his loyalty to his faith’s ultimate authority?
A: Mormons do indeed believe that prophets are indispensable to Israelite worship (Amos 3:7) and are grateful for prophetic guidance. It’s important to note, however, that this guidance follows the pattern established by Joseph Smith of teaching correct and moral and spiritual principles to church members and then letting them work out the details for themselves.
While LDS doctrinal teachings are often clear and unambiguous, they do leave room for individual members, including politicians, to apply them in their own lives. Let’s take the case of gay marriage, which the church clearly opposes. Can an LDS governor, while personally opposing gay marriage, not make its prevention a top priority in his administration? The answer is obviously yes, since that’s what Mitt did while serving as governor of Massachusetts. Of course, another LDS governor could choose to fight gay marriage tooth and nail during his term. In both cases the church’s doctrine is the same, but individual members are free to figure out how best to apply it in their personal and professional lives.
The immigration issue is also an interesting one from a Mormon perspective, since our scriptures teach us both to have charity for others and to be obedient to the laws of our country. Church leaders issued an official statement last June calling for a “balanced” and “civil” approach to the issue. They also criticized state legislation (read “Arizona”) that only contains enforcement provisions for “fall[ing] short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God.” The church also declared its support for legalizing undocumented immigrants “without this necessarily leading to citizenship.” In spite of this statement, the chief sponsor of the Arizona immigration legislation was an LDS state senator, and Mitt Romney currently has one of the toughest anti-illegal immigrant positions in the Republican field (though he held different views during the 2008 campaign).
The LDS Church issues a letter prior to every national U.S. election that is read from the pulpits of every ward (congregation) in the country. The letter encourages members to vote, but emphasizes its political neutrality. The church’s official policy on political neutrality (yes, it has one) includes a statement that the church “does not attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader,” though it does reserve the right to “address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church.” Every other large church in the country also reserves (and in many cases exercises) the right to address important moral issues.
Could an LDS politician be unduly influenced by the President of the Mormon Church? I think it’s telling that Rabbi Schnaidman and others who have posed similar questions are unable to cite an example of an LDS governor, senator, congressman, cabinet member or mayor who took orders from Salt Lake City. In the specific case of Mitt Romney, although his church opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, he supported abortion rights and gay marriage while serving as governor. It’s highly unlikely that LDS leaders were dictating Massachusetts policy on these moral issues during Mitt’s term. [It’s also unlikely that they told Sen. Harry Reid to advocate public funding of Planned Parenthood’s abortions earlier this year, but I digress].
It’s also hard to cite examples of LDS leaders attempting to influence politicians, LDS or not, on political issues. The last example I can think of was the 1981 letter by the church’s top three leaders asking the federal government not to base the MX missile in Utah. Since then, only gay marriage (a moral issue for us) has merited a similar response by top LDS leaders.
In short, there is no history of LDS politicians allowing themselves to be “compromised” by their prophet. There is also no history of LDS prophets attempting to “compromise” presidents. I’m sure that any LDS president would consult with LDS leaders on the moral issues of the day, just as he would with leaders of other faiths. In the end, however, he or she is the one who is elected to run the country. Based on the track records of leading Mormon politicians, there is every reason to believe that they would be able to maintain a necessary division between their spiritual and professional lives.
December 2, 2011 | 1:18 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
In his thoughtful letter to the editor of The Jewish Week, Rabbi Mordecai Schnaidman poses three serious questions about LDS beliefs. He asks them in the context of determining whether Mitt Romney’s faith should render him unsuitable for the presidency. This is not a political blog, and I have no interest in advocating Mitt’s candidacy here. However, I think the rabbi’s questions merit honest answers, and I’d like to offer some in the next two posts. In doing so, I recognize that clarity often trumps agreement in matters of theology.
Q: Much of the Mormon faith is kept hidden even from most Mormons who are excluded from participation in rituals and observances conducted in the secluded and off-limits areas of its temples. How can the general public determine whether this faith will affect a person’s political life if it is not totally available for study and scrutiny?
A: Given that non-Jews are not permitted to study Torah in Orthodox yeshivas or study kabbalah in a traditional Orthodox setting, I’m somewhat surprised to see the question of religious exclusion posed by an Orthodox rabbi. That said, he is correct that non-Mormons are excluded from our temples; however, Mormons are not.
Mormons worship in chapels every week, and perform certain sacred rituals and ordinances in temples. Chapels are open to the public, while temples are not. Why are non-Mormons not allowed in LDS temples? For a very simple reason: participants in temple ordinances make promises to God. Since we believe that those promises are the most sacred ones that men and women can make, God requires that those attending the temple attest that they have previously made and kept certain promises made to Him. Non-Mormons haven’t yet made those promises, so they cannot be asked to make more sacred vows.
Some Mormons like to say that the temple is “secret” or exclusionary in the same way that only Jews were permitted to gather at ancient Jewish temples. There are two problems with this argument. First of all, non-Jews were permitted to bring animal sacrifices to the temple. Second, while the high priests, Cohanim and Levites were assigned duties that could not be performed by other Israelites, those duties were clearly spelled out in the Torah. In other words, while the high priest was the only person in all of Israel who could enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, everyone knew what he would be doing there. By way of contrast, the LDS Church does not publish details of its sacred temple ordinances. Mormons are right to insist that those ordinances are sacred, not secret, but if they’re going to reference ancient Jewish temples, they should do so with the understanding that what went on those temples was common knowledge.
LDS temple rituals are not kept hidden from Mormons, and they are not excluded from rituals and ordinances. Every Mormon in the world who wishes to enter a temple is asked the same questions by two local leaders in private interviews. To enter the temple, a member has to affirm, inter alia, that he believes in God, accepts Jesus Christ as his Savior, is chaste, treats his family in an honorable way, meets family obligations, attends church meetings, deals honestly with others, pays tithing, keeps the LDS health code (no tobacco, alcohol, coffee or tea), and pays spousal and child support (where applicable).
If he can meet these requirements, he will be issued a temple “recommend” that allows him to enter any temple worldwide and participate in any rituals that are performed there. Mormon leaders at all levels have urged church members to obtain and use temple recommends. If a Mormon wants a temple recommend but does not have one, it is because she is not observant enough. In other words, she is not excluded from the temple, but excludes herself from the temple. Temple ordinances are at the center of LDS worship, so this self-exclusion is a very serious matter indeed.
In Jewish terms, imagine that only observant Jews (adult men and women) can study kabbalah. Moreover, the observance level of Rabbi Schnaidman (an Orthodox rabbi ordained at Yeshiva University) is required to study. To determine worthiness, a Jew wanting to begin the study of kabbalah needs to have an interview with his local rabbi and answer a standardized set of questions to determine his observance level. Anyone meeting the universal standard set by Rabbi Schnaidman is given a certificate and allowed to study kabbalah with any qualified rabbi worldwide. However, anyone confessing to, say, a weakness for cheeseburgers is not given a certificate. If Rabbi Schnaidman turned away a woman from his kabbalah study group who did not have a certificate, would it be honest to say that he had excluded her, or that she had excluded herself by failing to meet the standard that she knew was expected of her if she wanted to hear the good rabbi teach?
The sad truth is that if Rabbi Schnaidman wishes to know the details of our temple ordinances, they are all available online. Ex-Mormons and other malcontents mistakenly believe that by “exposing” and mocking our most sacred ceremonies, they will somehow damage the church. Every word of every ordinance is available for scrutiny by those wondering whether LDS temple ceremonies can somehow skew the judgment of Mormon politicians. Anyone reading transcripts of the ordinances will soon note the absence of tax plans and fiscal policy proposals. Instead, he will learn that Mormon temple-goers are earnestly engaged in performing proxy immersions for their deceased ancestors, receiving symbolic washings and anointing similar to those given to Aaron and the priests in ancient Israel, contracting marriages that they believe will last forever, and making promises to God to be chaste, avoid unholy practices, and obey God. I am not encouraging my readers to visit the anti-Mormon sites, but Mormons certainly don’t have anything to fear if they do.
A final word of caution to anyone who believes that the beauty or essence of LDS temple ceremonies can be found in transcripts or reenactments. If an alien were to come to earth and ask to see a transcript of our most important ceremony, he would probably be given something that reads like this:
Priest: And do you take this woman to be your lawfully-wedded wife?
Man: I do.
Priest: I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.
The couple kiss, walk down the aisle, and have rice thrown on them.
Not terribly compelling reading, is it? If the alien relies only on the transcript, he will never understand why that moment is the highlight of most parents’ lives, why those words have brought many a father and mother to tears, or why many people will travel across the country or the world just to hear those words spoken. If he wants to understand the essence of the wedding ceremony, he should either attend one or sit down with those who have participated in one for a frank, honest discussion. Words on a page can’t begin to capture the emotion surrounding a wedding.
In the same way, non-Mormons should understand that Mormons attempt to prepare spiritually before going to the temple. Once there, they participate in temple worship in a spirit of prayer alongside like-minded Mormons. Temples are quiet places where conversations are whispered and the mind wanders naturally to celestial topics. If non-Mormons want to understand what goes on in LDS temples, they should talk with temple-going Mormons. While they won’t discuss specifics, Mormons can share with them their feelings about temples and temple worship. Jews can also learn of the many Israelite themes in temple architecture and ceremonies.
To recap, non-Mormons can’t make certain vows and promises to God in LDS temples because they haven’t yet made and kept certain promises with Him; the only Mormons who are denied entry to temples are those who are not sufficiently observant; and the only way to understand LDS temple ceremonies is to talk with temple-going Mormons about their significance. If Rabbi Schnaidman is truly interested in learning more about these ordinances, he’ll find no shortage of Latter-day Saints both ready and willing to help.