Posted by Mark Paredes
Under the inspired leadership of Director Ron Smith, the Jewish Relations Committee for the LDS Church in Southern California has sponsored a booth at the Israel Festival in Los Angeles for the second time. Thousands of people attended today’s event, and many stopped by our booth to say hello and to thank us for being there. We handed out 250 Mormon Tabernacle Choir CDs (Broadway tunes), along with information on the history of LDS-Jewish ties and BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. With New York’s Salute to Israel Parade and Chicago’s Jewish festival coming up in June, it would be great if Mormons could man booths at those celebrations as well.
This was my Romanian wife’s first Jewish festival and third Jewish event in LA. She was blown away by the energy and organization on display, along with the length of the food lines. For Mormons this was a chance to celebrate the achievements of our fellow Israelites, and it was a beautiful thing for us to see so many people spending their Sunday afternoon in a massive show of support for Israel and the Jewish people.
The LDS community does many things right, but our organized community of lay volunteers would have a hard time matching the output of the organized Jewish community, which is staffed by dedicated (and well-compensated) professionals. That said, I am proud to belong to a church with both a long history of philosemitism and a Jewish Relations Committee in this region. Judging from the comments made by visitors to our booth, more Jews are becoming aware of our bridge-building efforts. It is my hope that these interactions will lead to greater understanding and cooperation between our communities in the future. Am Israel Chai!
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April 23, 2012 | 12:07 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
While Mormons may baptize the occasional dead Jew, Jews can at least appreciate the thought and concern. Evangelicals just tell the Jews their ancestors are going to hell. This is probably why Jews prefer Mormons. – online comment on the Deseret News
Whenever I’m looking for a story idea, I make sure to check Jamshid Askar’s latest articles. The Iranian-American LA native writes for the Deseret News, and usually has an interesting take on current events. This week he didn’t disappoint. Under a headline that grabbed the attention of most of his paper’s Utah readers, Jamshid reported the findings of the 2012 Jewish Values Survey. If the survey is to be believed, Jews strongly prefer Mormons to the Evangelical “Christian Right.” In addition, Jews also strongly favor Muslims over Evangelicals. This news has reaffirmed my belief in the intelligence and good judgment of our Jewish friends.
When asked to rate the three religious groups on a scale of 1 to 100, Jews scored Mormons at 47, Muslims at 41.4, and Evangelicals at an embarrassing 20.9. This survey represents a reality check for those prominent Jews who have worked hard for years to convince their coreligionists that Evangelicals are their best friends. However, they shouldn’t be surprised. With all due respect to Messrs. Prager, Medved et al., Evangelicals as a group largely deserve the poor grade they received.
Evangelicals often tout their suppport for Israel as evidence of their goodwill towards Jews. However, the poll clearly shows once again that Israel, rightly or wrongly, is not the number one concern of most American Jews. Once you factor their laudable support for Israel out of the equation, what do Evangelicals have to say to Jews? Apparently not a whole lot. Some writers have pointed to liberal Jews’ disdain for Evangelicals’ conservative Republican politics as the prime mover behind the survey results. However, Mormons are the reddest religious group in the country, Utah is the most Republican state, and the LDS Church has been rather active recently in campaigns opposing gay marriage around the country. None of these “negatives” prevented Jews from expressing over a 2-to-1 preference for Mormons over Evangelicals.
Theological differences in and of themselves are unlikely to turn off large numbers of Jews, who have spent the past 2,000 years living as a religious minority among dominant faiths whose teachings they do not share. Mormons, Muslims, and Evangelicals all have profound theological differences with Rabbinic Judaism, yet it is the latter who now have a huge PR problem with the Jewish community. Given that most Evangelicals are wonderful people who love Israel and do an enormous amount of good in the world (including tikkun olam), to what can we attribute their unrequited love for Jews?
In my opinion, it is Evangelicals’ actions, rather than their beliefs, which have alienated many Jews and Mormons. I could write a book on this topic, but a few contrasting examples will suffice.
Mormons may send out missionaries, but Jews know they are not being targeted by them. If an LDS missionary knocks on a rabbi’s door, he knows that they will also stop by the homes of his Catholic and Methodist neighbors as well. By way of contrast, major Jews for Jesus/Messianic Jewish groups targeting Jews for conversion are Evangelical, and are funded and supported by Evangelical churches. Targeting the Jewish faith in this way demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect for Judaism that cannot be overcome by holding pro-Israel rallies. Mormons also strongly believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, yet it is inconceivable that an LDS leader would follow Pastor John Hagee’s recent example and preach Christian doctrine while in an Orthodox Jewish building. Respect for other faiths is a bedrock LDS belief, and it is somewhat lacking in certain Evangelical circles.
Both Mormons and Evangelicals tend to vote Republican, but only the latter impose litmus tests on prospective candidates seeking their vote. During this year’s Republican presidential primaries, several prominent Evangelical groups held public meetings to assess the candidates’ willingness to fight for their conservative agenda before endorsing them. To my knowledge, no Mormon group did this. Mormons disagree with Evangelical theology at least as much as Evangelicals do with ours, yet no Mormon leader has publicly accused a candidate of another Christian faith of belonging to a “cult” or organized a press conference to denounce his church.
Evangelical churches and organizations print anti-Mormon material, publish anti-Mormon books, and sponsor anti-Mormon lectures and conferences. Mormons do not reciprocate in kind. I have known Evangelicals who refused to attend the wedding of a family member because it was held in an LDS chapel (however, they did come to the reception held in a hotel). An Evangelical pastor in California canceled a speech that I was scheduled to give as a representative of the Israeli Consulate after he found out that I was LDS. Evangelical pastors regularly denounce Islam in the harshest terms. I could go on and on. It is clearly Evangelicals’ religious bigotry that alienates Jews, Mormons, and many others. This, combined with the Jewish perception that Evangelicalism represents a threat to their religion, is probably responsible for the survey results.
Of course, the survey also shows that Mormons have their work cut out for them when it comes to strengthening relationships with Jews. After all, 47 points out of 100 isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. That said, Mormons do have a big advantage over Evangelicals when it comes to Jews: Given our belief that we are covenant Israelites, our respect for Judaism is as strong as our support for Israel. When Evangelicals can say the same, they will have more success with Jewish outreach.
April 15, 2012 | 8:52 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
A lot of Romney supporters were outraged over Hilary Rosen’s recent claim that Ann Romney “has actually never worked a day in her life” during a discussion about women and the economy on CNN. While Hilary was clearly referring to a regular 9-to-5 job, many thought that the liberal lobbyist was attacking Mrs. Romney’s choice to stay at home and raise her five sons while her husband worked to provide for the family.
I’m not all that interested in what Ms. Rosen has to say about anything, and I’m willing to bet that more women in this country can identify with a married mother of five who has battled cancer and MS than they can with a lesbian activist who broke up with her partner after they were fortunate enough to adopt twins together. Moreover, if women who are struggling to juggle their many responsibilities could schedule a counseling session with either Ann or Hilary to improve their situation, whose schedule would fill up first?
Ann Romney was married to a man who spent many years of his life counseling people with problems while serving as an LDS bishop and stake president in Boston. She went to church every week with people living normal lives, the same people whom Rosen claims Ann doesn’t understand because she doesn’t work in an office. It’s not surprising that Rosen’s bio reveals no similar period of selfless service to others. In short, Ann, like her husband, is a role model for all Americans in the family department, while Hilary Rosen is not.
In the end, while I hardly think that Rosen is in a position to be criticizing a woman like Ann Romney, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt on her statement for only one reason: she’s Jewish. I may be naïve, but it’s hard to believe that a woman from a faith and culture that are so success- and family-centered would question the ability of a wealthy woman who has successfully raised five sons to comment on the economic lives of other women. While most Jewish women I know have chosen to work while raising their children, they respect others’ choice to stay home.
In the ideal LDS arrangement, which the Romneys have, a married man and woman have different divinely-ordained roles to play in the rearing of children. The man is expected to work to support the family, while the woman stays at home to raise the children. Both serve in the church, with women called to serve and teach children, young women, and other women (they are also called to be organists, choir directors, etc.). Most married Mormons with children pattern their lives after this ideal. I have known exactly two active Mormon husbands who are stay-at-home dads. I respect their choice, but it’s not a common one in the LDS community. A few years ago I dated an LDS girl, a new convert, who thought it was important that a parent stay at home with our future children. Unfortunately, she wanted to succeed in her career so badly that she asked me to agree to be a house husband so that she could continue working after having the kids. I love kids, but once I found out that she wasn’t going to change her mind, she became my ex-girlfriend. I suspect that most LDS men would have done the same thing.
Of course, some couples’ work/home arrangements are difficult to understand. During my first week of conducting visas interviews at the American Embassy in Israel, I met an unforgettable applicant who was an ultra-Orthodox rabbi with seven kids. Having spent the previous two years interviewing Mexican applicants, I immediately asked him what he did for a living. His answer? Study Torah. In his world, the wife had to work to support the kids so that he could study Torah all day. I told him that his lack of a job rendered him ineligible for a visa (which is what I would have told an able-bodied Mexican man of his age), but that I would be happy to consider the applications of his wife and minor children. He in turn told me that I would “join Jesus in hell.”
As a newlywed LDS man, I’m very glad that I don’t have to choose between staying home and working. I respect women (and men) who do both, though I will admit to having a hard time relating to men who believe that God doesn’t want them to get a job. Part of this respect involves acknowledging that women who stay home are as credible as their sisters in the workforce when they voice their opinions on the issues of the day. As much as Hilary Rosen hates to admit it, this even holds true for wives of Republicans.
April 8, 2012 | 10:09 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
What better occasion than the celebration of Easter/Passover this weekend to consider the limits and expectations of interfaith cooperation. The catalyst for this essay was the recent visit of pro-Israel Pastor John Hagee to Jerusalem, where he videotaped a sermon about Jesus Christ while standing on the roof of the headquarters of Aish HaTorah, one of the world’s most prominent Jewish educational institutions. As you might imagine, many Jews, including some Aish officials, were less than thrilled about this, and a vigorous online debate ensued over religious liberty, Evangelical proselytizing to Jews, etc. Based on my experience dealing with similar issues in LDS-Jewish dialogue, I think that the pastor’s video was both insensitive and inappropriate.
My feelings about the video have nothing to do with Evangelical theology or support for Israel. Even though Mormons don’t agree with all of the theological points made in the video, readers of this blog know that I’m not terribly interested in what Evangelicals believe. I have also written in this space that Jews should accept Evangelical support for Israel even if they suspect their motives for doing so. Interfaith relations have to be based on common decency and fairness, and I think that in this case the good pastor abused the trust of his hosts.
Mormons would be quite offended if a leader of a breakaway LDS sect made a short video promoting the glories of polygamy while standing on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The Aish World Center in Jerusalem faces the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, and is the worldwide headquarters of an organization (its name means “Fire of the Torah”) dedicated to promoting Orthodox Jewish learning. Given the rejection of Jesus’ divinity by rabbinic Judaism, it was highly inappropriate for Pastor Hagee to preach of every knee bowing to Jesus while standing atop Aish’s building. I would of course feel differently if he had asked permission from Aish to make the video, but it’s highly unlikely that Aish would have approved such a request.
Respecting Jewish sensitivities is also a theme of LDS-Jewish dialogues, which normally feature two prayers offered by a Mormon and a Jew. The Mormon will invariably ask the organizers how he should close the prayer, since LDS prayers always end “in the name of Jesus Christ.” There are some LDS leaders who feel that Jews come to such an event expecting to learn about another faith tradition, so in the interest of authenticity they prefer to have the Mormon close the prayer using the Savior’s name. Others try to be as considerate as possible of Jewish sensitivities, and prefer to close the prayer “in the name of the God of Israel,” “in the name of the God of Abraham,” or some other variation that is synonymous in LDS theology with Jesus Christ (who Mormons believe was both the God of Israel and the God of Abraham). I tend to prefer the latter approach, though I think that both are valid.
The most difficult talks for me to give are presentations on the LDS faith in a Jewish setting, usually a synagogue. As Joseph Smith said, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” If I were to make an honest presentation on LDS theology, I’d spend about 90% of the time talking about Jesus Christ. However, for obvious reasons I don’t think that would go over too well with the target audience. I usually mention that we’re a Christian church headed by Jesus Christ, whom we accept as the Savior of the world, then move on to other topics. I’m open to suggestions from Mormons who have made similar presentations on how to incorporate Jesus into the discussion without sounding too preachy.
In the spirit of interfaith understanding, I’d like to take this occasion to wish my readers a Happy Passover and a Happy Easter.
April 1, 2012 | 9:17 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
I’ve been contacted by several people this week who want me to endorse the “Dump Starbucks” campaign sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). Starbucks’s sin? According to the campaign’s website, the socially-conscious company has “taken a corporate-wide position that the definition of marriage between one man and one woman should be eliminated and that same-sex marriage should become equally ‘normal’.” My correspondents have also made me aware of a Starbucks memo issued in January that said same-sex marriage “is core to who we are and what we value as a company.” Readers of this blog know that I do not support gay marriage and that I personally boycotted Marriott hotels for years due to their revenue from pornography channels. In this case, I will choose to pass on the “Dump Starbucks” campaign.
The primary reason that I will continue to patronize Starbucks is that like many Jews, I have high expectations of my LDS coreligionists but do not necessarily expect others to adhere to the same standards. I boycotted Marriott because the company was founded by and bears the name of a prominent LDS family that still sits on its board. That it took in revenue from pornography was completely unacceptable to me (note: the company has since changed its policy). Did I consider boycotting other porn-offering hotel chains? I did not, because they weren’t run by Mormons.
If I were not LDS, I would be in favor of gay marriage. While there are valid religious objections, I have yet to find a secular one that makes sense. I can’t bring myself to fault someone who does not share my theology for supporting gay marriage. The CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, happens to be a non-Orthodox Jew. Why I should expect him to have the same beliefs about marriage as a devout Mormon is beyond me. If a Mormon were to become CEO of the company, I might think about taking my business elsewhere because the idea of a Mormon actively promoting the sale of coffee and tea, two drinks expressly prohibited by our dietary laws, is unacceptable to me. However, I can’t fault Mr. Schultz & Co. for going to the mat over what they believe is an issue of fairness and equality, even if I don’t see things the same way.
Indeed, as a survivor of the Prop 8 battle in California, I don’t think it is advisable for either side of the gay marriage issue to start targeting people or companies for punishment. Several people unsuccessfully tried to get me fired from my job with a Jewish organization after Prop 8 passed, and I know of several Mormons who did in fact lose their jobs or suffer other career setbacks thanks to bigots who took revenge on them. The First Amendment is still alive and well in this country; firing people and boycotting companies that disagree with you on moral issues seems rather petty and small-minded to me in this day and age.
Another concern that I have is consistency. Both Microsoft and Google have also expressed strong support for gay marriage. Is the NOM planning to target Bill Gates and encourage people to give up Windows and close their Gmail accounts? If not, why not?
My final point is that Starbucks is not an advocacy organization, it’s a coffee shop. When I walk inside, I don’t have to pass by rainbow flags and banners advocating gay marriage. No one asks for my political preference or my signature on a petition. All I need to do is place my order, pay, and pick up the warm croissant and grande hot chocolate at the counter. I’m willing to bet that Mormons aren’t a huge slice of Starbucks’s customer base, and we are known for our opposition to gay marriage. That said, I’d be very surprised to see many Mormons join the “Dump Starbucks” campaign. You don’t have to support gay marriage to believe that people with different theologies who act on their beliefs shouldn’t be punished for doing so.