Posted by Mark Paredes
Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 11:11
As I prepare to marry a wonderful girl in the Los Angeles LDS Temple on Saturday, I can’t help but reflect on how my church has striven mightily to bring this about. From singles wards (congregations) at Brigham Young University to singles conferences throughout the world, singles in the LDS dating pool are brought together on a weekly basis to worship, have fun, date, and marry, preferably in a temple. I have not always enjoyed exploring the Mormon singles scene, but am eternally grateful that the church’s singles program encouraged and guided my fiancée and me towards the ultimate goal of a temple marriage. While I love pointing out areas in which Mormons can learn from Jews, in this case I think that Jews could learn a thing or two from Mormons about providing opportunities for singles to marry within the faith.
In terms of dating, BYU was the promised land for a kid from a small city in central Michigan where he was the only Mormon in his high school class. Student wards had several hundred members, and we worshipped together for three hours on Sundays. On Monday evenings, we were assigned to small Family Home Evening (FHE) groups. FHE is observed churchwide, and usually includes a spiritual lesson followed by a fun activity. As far as I could tell, its primary purpose at BYU was to encourage dating and getting to know the girls in the ward. As an extra bonus, male students who held the priesthood (as almost all men do) were paired up and assigned several girls to visit monthly as part of the church’s worldwide “home teaching” program. Small wonder that such a high percentage of undergrads (22%) and grad students (62%) at the university are married.
The LDS equivalent of Hillel is the Institute program, which provides religious instruction to over 350,000 students at over 2,500 locations. Institute courses are open to anyone between 18 and 30, though most of the enrolled students are single. I attended Institute courses at the University of Texas, and enjoyed both the spiritual nourishment and social opportunities provided by the center. Florina, my fiancée, faithfully attended Institute classes in Romania until she came to the U.S. last year.
Young single adult (YSA) wards for singles aged 18-30 are found in most large American cities and in a few foreign ones as well. The BYU model is replicated (i.e., Sunday meetings, FHE groups on Mondays, home teaching pairs), and dating is actively encouraged. After all, many members of these wards have already completed their educations and are preparing for marriage. In the YSA ward in Santa Monica alone, there are dozens of marriages a year. If I were trying to figure out how to get young Jews to marry each other, I would beat a path to that YSA bishop’s door (bishop = rabbi). In some cities, including Los Angeles, singles aged 31-45 (“mid-singles”) have a separate program.
I would give a great deal to see a courageous rabbi organize a congregation of active young Jewish singles in order to increase their spirituality and encourage them to date and marry within the tribe. The membership dues for the proposed “YSA Shul” might have to be lowered a bit, but I’m willing to bet that the synagogue would produce more than its share of Jewish marriages. The closest thing that I’ve seen in the LA Jewish community is the inspiring monthly Friday Night Live production at Sinai Temple, which brings together hundreds of Jewish singles together to worship and socialize.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not praise the church’s singles conferences, which bring together hundreds of Latter-day Saints for a weekend of workshops, dances, activities and dating. I have met some amazing people at these conferences, and Florina attended two of them in Poland and the Czech Republic. Even though neither of us met our bashert at a singles conference, they encouraged us to keep looking and to stay active on the LDS dating scene.
After many years of searching, I wound up meeting my mate by getting on a plane and delivering a speech on LDS-Jewish relations in Romania. Florina had felt prompted to return to Romania from London just before my visit, and decided to introduce herself after the talk. The rest, as they say, is history. Although we didn’t meet in a singles ward, in an Institute class, or at a singles conference, we are both very grateful for the opportunities that these programs provided to improve our social skills and refine our search for an LDS spouse. Their track record is enviable: 85% of married Mormons are married to other Mormons.I pray that the day will come when young Jewish singles, especially those out of school, will enjoy similar opportunities to meet and date their Jewish peers.
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January 22, 2012 | 2:34 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Seek not after riches nor the vain things of this world; for behold, you cannot carry them with you. – Alma 39:14 (Book of Mormon)
But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. – Jacob 2:18 (Book of Mormon)
In a week when Mitt Romney has been asked to release his tax returns, and on a day when many “conservative” voters in South Carolina have shown their contempt for Mormons, family values and traditional morality, I thought it would be appropriate to address questions related to Mormons and prosperity theology. Does God always shower money on the righteous? Do Mormons pay tithing to their church with the expectation of becoming rich? Is there a connection between personal righteousness and prosperity?
Given the media’s current focus on Mitt Romney’s wealth, he makes a good case study. Has he been blessed with abundant wealth and a beautiful family because of his dedication to his faith? I think that many Mormons would answer yes, though there is nothing in our theology that establishes this link for everyone. After all, a good case can be made that a wealthy CEO/governor’s agnostic son who worked hard to get a dual graduate degree from Harvard would also become wealthy in his own right. In addition, Mormons are hardly the only people who are try to raise good kids. None of this is meant to minimize any of Mitt’s many accomplishments, but it’s important to note that LDS theology does not teach that a person’s righteousness can be determined by his wealth (or lack thereof).
The Book of Mormon specifically warns against setting one’s heart on riches, and several examples are given of how collective wealth leads to pride, which in turn leads to the downfall of tribes and civilizations. The only allowance that the book makes for seeking riches is for the purpose of doing good, but this is only after one has sought the kingdom of God (Jacob 2:19). If a Mormon obsessively seeks riches and ultimately finds them, he does so without the sanction of his faith.
The payment of tithing (10% of one’s income) to the LDS Church is usually considered to be a spiritual law, not a material one, and members who observe it are promised spiritual protection and blessings throughout their lives. They are also granted the privilege of entering LDS temples to perform our most sacred ordinances.
Are there financial blessings attached to the payment of tithing? Well, yes and no. Mormons certainly do not pay tithing because they expect to become rich. LDS leaders are fond of telling members that if they pay tithing faithfully, God will reward them according to their need, not their greed. In other words, God will meet their material needs, as determined by Him, but is not obligated to satisfy their wants. Has Mitt received blessings because of his faithful payment of tithes? You bet. Is his fabulous wealth one of those blessings? Hard to say.
This focus on Mitt’s wealth obscures the three main reasons why he is widely admired by Mormons, regardless of their political beliefs:
1) More than any other LDS politician on the national stage, he represents the Mormon model for how to live one’s life. He served a mission, married a faithful woman, got a great education, worked hard to support his family, served in church positions when asked, and remained faithful to the church. By way of contrast, many of Senator Harry Reid’s actions go well beyond the bounds of Mormon orthodoxy (e.g., support for gambling interests and abortion provider Planned Parenthood), and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman remarked a few months ago that his identity as a Mormon was “tough to define.”
2) To the extent that a son of George Romney can be, Mitt is largely a self-made man. He is far wealthier than his father was (Huntsman is not), and has worked very hard to get where he is today.
3) As members of a once-persecuted group that is still opposed by people like some “conservative” rubes in South Carolina, Mormons are very proud that one of their own has a very real chance of being elected to the highest office in the land.
Whether Mitt’s faithfulness and diligence have caused God to bless him with material possessions is anybody’s guess. We all know God-fearing people who are smart and work hard, yet don’t achieve financial success. While Mormons are just as likely as other groups to admire the wealthy and powerful, especially if they are religious, they are less likely than most to attribute the good fortune of the wealthy to divine favor.
January 16, 2012 | 12:14 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
On two Sundays a month I teach a spiritual lesson to a group of high priests (mostly older men) in my congregation. Today we began with a spirited discussion of the new Pew survey, which shows that 46% of American Mormons feel that there is a lot of discrimination against Mormons in the United States. This survey could not be more timely, given the presidential campaigns of two (soon to be one) Mormon candidates, the award-winning “The Book of Mormon” Broadway play, the legions of Twilight fans inspired by LDS author Stephenie Meyer, and the misguided followers of Glenn Beck. Are Mormons winning hearts and minds in America, or is the country’s so-called “Mormon Moment” a myth?
I don’t deny for a moment that anti-Mormon sentiment exists in this country. Growing up Mormon in Mississippi or South Carolina is undoubtedly different from being raised in Utah or Idaho. In some ways, obsession with LDS beliefs and practices is more widespread than in previous decades. Mitt Romney’s religion has been publicly attacked during the last two presidential campaigns, while his father’s faith was rarely raised during his gubernatorial campaign and service in the Cabinet in the 1960s and early 1970s. Ditto for J. Reuben Clark, the former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico in the 1930s who rose to become the second-ranking LDS Church official.
However, it’s important to distinguish hostility to our faith from opposition to our actions. I grew up in a small city in central Michigan and was the only Mormon in my high school graduation class of 389 students. I can only recall two anti-Mormon actions directed at me and my family. The first offender was my high school guidance counselor, who gave anti-Mormon literature to my Catholic girlfriend and actively discouraged her from converting to Mormonism. The second was an Evangelical family friend who came to my sister’s wedding reception at a hotel but refused to attend her wedding because it took place in a Mormon chapel. In both of these cases the men objected to LDS beliefs, which is clearly a form of anti-Mormonism.
Here in southern California, home to hundreds of thousands of Mormons and a live-and-let-live philosophy, there is little discrimination against LDS doctrines and religious practices. Actions, however, are another story. During the Proposition 8 campaign to eliminate state-sanctioned gay marriage, I was regularly attacked by advocates of tolerance. Some of them even contacted my employer, a Jewish organization, in an effort to have me fired for daring to oppose gay marriage (to their credit, my supervisors reminded the tolerant folks that the First Amendment was still in effect). As much as I disliked their actions, I have to admit that they were taken in response to the actions, not beliefs, of LDS Church members, including me.
The activists who attempted to storm the Mormon Temple in Los Angeles were in a class of their own, but for the most part our opponents objected to our actions, not our theology. Were their protests inspired by anti-Mormonism or anti-anti-gay-marriage-ism? My gut tells me it’s the latter. If Mormons are going to take sides in controversial political campaigns – even for good causes – then we should expect to encounter opposition every step of the way, much of it from people who disagree with us on principle but have no beef with our religion.
Opposition to Mormon political candidates is sometimes viewed by Mormons as prima facie evidence of anti-Mormonism. However, if merely opposing Mormon politicians is an expression of anti-Mormonism, then the Pew survey shows that many Latter-day Saints are anti-Mormon. Mitt Romney got a favorable rating from 86% of Mormons in the survey, three-quarters of whom identified as Republicans. However, only half (50%) of Mormons have a favorable view of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, with LDS Senator Harry Reid getting kudos from only 22% of Mormons (I suspect it’s even lower outside Nevada). The differing levels of support in the LDS community for LDS politicians show that factors other than religion can influence both Mormon and non-Mormon voters to support a given candidate. In Harry Reid’s case, his support for federal funding of Planned Parenthood and protection of the gaming industry in Nevada, inter alia, alienate him from large numbers of his coreligionists.
I was relieved to discover via the Pew survey that just like Jews, this perceived bigotry doesn’t prevent Mormons from being happy: 87% of us are satisfied with our lives today. The Pew Forum summarized the results with the headline “Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society.” In a day when the opposite is true of so many religious groups, including two large Jewish movements, I am pleased that while I may disagree with some of the survey’s respondents on the extent of anti-Mormonism in our country, we are in agreement that being a Mormon is a recipe for happiness.
January 12, 2012 | 1:53 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
With the AFC playoff game this weekend, Tebowmania promises to hit new heights. Straight men around the country are openly acknowledging their man crush on the Broncos’ quarterback, while Christian parents from coast to coast dream of such a match for their daughters. I’m definitely not one to idolize athletes, but in this case even I have to admit that Tebow is the real thing. I only have one regret: He’s not a Mormon. Or a Jew.
What’s not to like about a polite young man who has taken a vow of chastity amid tremendous temptation, who takes time off to perform missionary work in the Philippines, and who tapes a pro-life commercial for the Super Bowl? If sports fans can find much to like in the semi-literate, tattooed thugs who populate many NFL rosters, then they should be positively ecstatic that a clean-cut kid like Tebow is setting an example for their kids by succeeding without compromising his moral principles. If I were a Mormon youth leader or a Jewish day school principal in Denver, I’d be begging him to come and speak to my charges.
There are a few famous Mormon athletes (e.g., Steve Young, Jimmer Fredette), but I can’t think of one who has ever dropped to one knee in prayer on the field or started a press conference by thanking his Lord and Savior. I know that some people are put off by these actions, but I find them inspiring. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear an LDS football player publicly thank his Lord on a regular basis?
As things now stand, a professional Jewish athlete’s perceived religiosity is measured by his willingness not to play on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews. How inspiring it would be to have the observance bar raised by a Jewish baseball star who not only stays home on Yom Kippur but also mentions Hashem by name in every interview. I have long been an advocate for Jewish proselytizing efforts, which would be enhanced by having prominent Jews regularly proclaim their love for the God of Israel.
Of course, these pious proclamations would have to be sincere in order to have the desired effect. If a Mormon or Jewish athlete doesn’t feel like letting the world know of his love for his Creator, then he shouldn’t. However, I remain grateful to Tim Tebow for reminding us every week of the depth of his faith and for encouraging religious people around the country to be proud of theirs. Yasher koach, Tim.
January 6, 2012 | 2:21 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Although the U.S. Constitution declares that the government can’t administer a religious test to presidential candidates, individuals are certainly free to judge politicians using whatever religious criteria they wish. One popular topic of discussion among Mormons in this election year is the extent to which the “anyone-but-Romney” sentiment expressed by Republican voters in the primaries is a manifestation of anti-Mormonism. While many conservatives can and do have legitimate doubts about Romney’s conservative credentials, I suspect that Mitt’s biggest liability in the eyes of many Evangelical/Baptist/Fundamentalist voters remains his religion.
I am often asked whether anti-Mormonism also exists in the Jewish community. It does, but not nearly to the same extent as in certain Christian communities. In addition, Jewish anti-Mormonism comes from a different place and is more understandable than Evangelical anti-Mormonism. If certain Evangelicals and Jews decide not to vote for a Mormon because of his faith, that’s fine. However, one needs to make a distinction here: anti-Mormon Evangelicals judge LDS beliefs, while anti-Mormon Jews judge the actions of the LDS Church.
A further distinction can be made on the Evangelical side. It’s not only the Mormon belief in additional scriptures, modern prophets, and a corporeal god (inter alia) that upsets Evangelicals: It’s the Mormon claim that these are authentic Christian beliefs that is heretical to them. According to Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, if Mormons were to declare themselves to be members of a non-Christian Abrahamic religion, Evangelical opposition to the LDS Church would probably decrease. Of course, such a declaration would never be made by Latter-day Saints, and Dr. Land’s suggestion merely confirms that Evangelicals who won’t vote for LDS politicians generally have a problem with what Mormons believe, not with how they live their religion.
The exact opposite is true of Jews who harbor anti-Mormon sentiments. Jews, like Mormons, usually don’t care about the theology of politicians. In most American states, both Jews and Mormons have little expectation of seeing members of their communities elected to high public office on a regular basis. As a result, they tend to focus on the positions, values, and character of candidates. On the rare occasions when I hear a Jew express concern about Mormons, he always addresses one of three issues: missionary work, opposition to gay marriage, and the performance of LDS temple ordinances for the dead. All of these objections are based upon Mormon actions, not beliefs.
Given the intense persecution and proselytizing efforts directed at them throughout the centuries, Jews’ unease with the tens of thousands of Mormon missionaries serving worldwide is certainly understandable, even if those missionaries are not targeting Jews (or any other religious group, for that matter).
While I support the LDS Church’s public opposition to gay marriage, it does make efforts to reach out to liberal Jewish communities much more difficult. LDS-Jewish relations in Los Angeles haven’t been the same in the post-Proposition 8 era. Reform Jewish leaders issued some of the harshest denunciations of the LDS Church during and immediately after the Prop 8 campaign, the effects of which were keenly felt in their community. Again, it’s important to note that what set off these leaders was not LDS beliefs concerning traditional marriage per se, but the church’s actions on behalf of Prop 8. The same can be said of Orthodox Jews who worked with the LDS Church to support the initiative. They did so because they agreed with the church’s actions, not its theology.
Enough has already been written on LDS proxy ordinances for the dead. I for one am glad that the issue has been put to rest. Nevertheless, it bears repeating that it was the actions of Mormons, not their belief in modern temples, that became the cause of Jewish concern.
Anti-Mormonism is alive and well throughout the U.S., and will undoubtedly rear its ugly head against Mitt Romney if he should win the Republican nomination. I take comfort in the fact that few Jews will refuse to vote for a Mormon based on his theology, though they may well oppose Mormon candidates who fail to support gay marriage or abortion rights. In the end, it’s easier to accept criticism of your actions than of your most sacred beliefs.