Posted by Mark Paredes
I was disappointed, but not surprised, to hear that hundreds of liberal rabbis nationwide have once again decided to publicly endorse Barack Obama for president. Over 613 “Rabbis for Obama” have signed up, twice the number of endorsers in 2008. Although I would love to see those rabbis stick to teaching Jewish values and avoid partisan politics, I realize that their liberal advocacy stems from their desire to follow their interpretation of the “prophetic tradition.” While Mormons have a very different idea of the prophetic tradition, the absence of Orthodox rabbis speaks volumes about the centrality of “Jewish values” in the rabbis’ support for Obama.
If we leave aside Israel advocacy, which is supported by rabbis from all movements and political views, my experience is that only liberal rabbis preach politics from the pulpit. Moreover, it is almost always liberal rabbis who make their political affiliations known. Ever hear of a “Rabbis for McCain” or “Rabbis for Romney” group? As I read the names of LA-area Rabbis for Obama, there were no surprises: All of the ones that I knew on the list have a reputation for advocating progressive causes.
I once attended a panel discussion at Leo Baeck Temple, a liberal Reform synagogue, on the prophetic tradition in Judaism. Several liberal rabbis calmly explained why the prophetic tradition in Judaism authorizes – even requires – modern-day rabbis to speak out on the issues of the day. In other words, because the prophets in ancient Israel spoke out against injustice, a liberal Reform rabbi who preaches progressive politics from the bimah is merely a follower of a great prophetic tradition.
Of course, for Mormons one has to be a prophet in order to speak in the prophetic tradition. Our focus is not so much on what is said, but on who is saying it. If a man is the presiding High Priest in covenant Israel, as we believe Moses was and our current prophet is, then the E.F. Hutton Principle applies: When he talks, people listen. Mormons are currently led by 15 men whom they consider to be prophets, with one authorized to lead the church. Modern Jews don’t have the priesthood or prophets, and they don’t believe in revelation. Still, it’s understandable that liberal Jewish leaders would want to cloak themselves in the mantle of prophetic leadership when speaking out on controversial issues.
My problem with these rabbis is not their theology, but their disingenuousness. One of the greatest advocates for speaking out on political issues in the prophetic tradition is a Reform rabbi who is one of the Vice Chairs of Rabbis for Obama. After the Proposition 8 victory in California, he sent me an e-mail filled with harsh criticism of the LDS Church for – you guessed it—involving itself in politics and taking a public position on what he considered a political issue. For this rabbi, religious leaders are free to endorse politicians and platforms in the prophetic tradition as long as they agree with him.
The other problem I have with the rabbis’ declaration is that there few names of Orthodox rabbis, and none of prominent Orthodox leaders. It could be that Orthodox rabbis are much more reluctant to publicly endorse politicians, or it could also be that they view President Obama’s platforms and principles as incompatible with Jewish values and tradition. I suspect that it’s more of the latter. Liberal rabbis can make believe all they want that liberalism and progressivism are synonymous with Jewish values, but it is very significant to interested non-Jewish observers that those Jews who care most about preserving and following traditional Jewish values and teachings aren’t jumping on the pro-Obama bandwagon.
For me, the rabbis’ campaign is all about hope and change: I hope their candidate loses, and I pray that their conflation of Judaism and liberalism will soon change.
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August 16, 2012 | 1:29 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
While walking with a group of rabbis on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, I noticed that one of them had a rather pensive look on his face. Hoping to resolve his concern, I asked him if everything was OK. After a brief hesitation, he admitted that he had trouble understanding how the LDS Church was able to get its members to pay tithing. Another rabbi immediately volunteered to answer his question: “Mormons believe that they are a covenant people. Paying tithing is a way to keep their promise to God.” I couldn’t have said it better.
My mind was drawn to the good rabbi’s comment as I read the recent Reuters article on the finances of the LDS Church. Entitled “Insight: Mormon church made wealthy by donations,” it offers investment advice to the church based on insights gleaned from an ex-Mormon professor and “disgruntled current and former Mormons.” Coming as it does on the heels of an equally inane article on the church’s finances in Bloomberg Businessweek, one is left to conclude that the country’s business media have decided to use the financial transparency mantra as a club with which to clobber the Mormon Church. If they’re going to do that, they should at least take the time to try and understand the faith that is in their crosshairs.
News flash: all successful religions need a reliable source of income in order to continue their ministries. Tithing used to be a Jewish (and Israelite) practice. Today, synagogues collect membership dues, High Holy Days ticket fees, and day school tuition from their members. In addition, generous Jewish donors help keep Jewish institutions and organizations afloat. Knowing this, how would Jews feel about the following Reuters headline: “Insight: Jewish community made wealthy by donations?”
Faithful Mormons pay 10% of their income to their church, along with monthly fast offerings to help the poor which are given following a 24-hour fast. They are also free to give to other church funds, including those which help support missionaries serving worldwide and provide loans to church members in underdeveloped countries who need to obtain more education and/or training. Yes, there are rich Mormons with surnames like Romney and Marriott who give a great deal of money to the church. However, most Mormons are not wealthy yet willingly give their widow’s mite to the church’s coffers. Again, I doubt very much that Reuters would publish an article citing names like Bronfman and Adelson as representative Jewish donors. Every month my wife and I give to the church’s tithing and fast offering funds, and have recently started donating to our congregation’s missionary fund as well. While I can assure the reader that our donations are rather modest, we consider it an honor to be able to demonstrate our faith in God in this tangible way.
Secular journalists try to make a big deal out of the fact that the LDS Church, like the Catholic Church and many other churches, chooses not to publicly disclose financial information. In the case of Reuters, it goes one step further by soliciting insights from disgruntled Mormons, then offers advice to the LDS Church on what it should be doing with its money. Lost in the analysis here is the hard truth that the LDS Church is a church, not a business. Its goal is to save souls, not make a profit. The article’s author is correct when he points out that building large temples around the world doesn’t make sense from a business perspective. Of course, the same could have been said of Solomon’s and Herod’s temples in Jerusalem. There was no logical explanation for the extreme sacrifices made by the ancient Israelites to construct their temples. None, that is, except one: They believed that God commanded them to do it. If one believes (as Mormons do) that only in temples – beautiful, expensive buildings dedicated to God – can the highest ordinances of the Abrahamic covenant be administered, then it is worth incurring any reasonable expense in order to build them. If, on the other hand, one only views temples as buildings that cost x dollars to build and maintain, then the analysis comes from a very different place.
As a tithe-payer, I don’t need to know exactly how much money my church brings in annually in order to see what is being done with my donations. On our recent honeymoon trip across the United States, my lovely wife and I visited LDS chapels, temples, visitors centers, and monuments all over the country. When we first met in Romania, we did so in a beautiful LDS chapel in Bucharest. Her sister just finished attending a conference in Hungary for LDS singles from 10 European countries. The cost for the five-day conference, including meals, bus transportation from Romania and a hotel room? Fifty euros ($61); the rest was subsidized by the church. Any businessman would tell you that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to foot the bill for the conference, but it does seem logical to people who believe that young Mormons should meet and marry other Mormons, preferably in one of those expensive temples.
Reuters obviously has little or no understanding of what motivates and inspires LDS leaders to spend money in the ways that they do. For Mormons, the results, both tangible and intangible, speak for themselves. If Reuters really wants to give advice on prioritizing spending, I can think of a few folks in Washington who could use it.
August 14, 2012 | 1:06 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Mitt Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate will allow voters to compare and contrast Catholics on both sides of the political spectrum as the election approaches. Both Ryan and Vice-President Joe Biden are Catholics, though they hold very different views on many moral issues and on the role of government in society. The same can be said of Mitt Romney and fellow Mormon Sen. Harry Reid, who has publicly attacked Romney over the latter’s failure to publicly disclose some past tax returns. While some Mormons may regard certain LDS politicians as less devoted to their faith, it is both timely and useful to examine whether this is so.
Many Mormons point to Harry Reid as an example of a liberal Latter-day Saint whose true religion is the Democratic Party’s platform. They certainly have a point. I can’t judge someone’s heart or thoughts, but actions usually advertise one’s character. For example, the LDS Church has repeatedly and publicly condemned gambling in all of its forms, yet the good senator has chosen to defend and promote gaming interests in Washington for many years.
How can I possibly defend a Mormon senator’s being in hock to the gaming industry? Well, I can’t. However, I do have a question: Is it also morally questionable for LDS politicians to knowingly accept money from billionaire gaming moguls? If so, then Mitt Romney will have to return Sheldon Adelson’s checks. Something tells me that ain’t gonna happen.
Most faithful Mormon politicians oppose abortion on demand. Sen. Reid has a mixed record on the issue, but can generally be considered pro-life. Mitt Romney used to be pro-choice, but now he’s reliably pro-life. Question: Although he had been a bishop (=rabbi) and stake president (=regional leader) before running for public office, was Romney a less faithful Mormon after he publicly declared his support for abortion rights during his gubernatorial campaign ten years ago? Is he a more faithful one now?
Gay marriage is an easier call, since LDS prophets have repeatedly and publicly opposed state-sanctioned gay marriage. Romney agrees with the church’s position; Sen. Reid recently announced that he opposes it. In other words, men whom the senator regards as modern-day prophets have officially spoken on one of the major moral issues of the day, and the good senator thinks that they’re wrong. It is not possible for a faithful Mormon to support state-sanctioned gay marriage because it entails rejection of prophetic authority. On this issue Sen. Reid’s stance is not a liberal Mormon position; it is an anti-Mormon one.
Economic issues are, of course, largely gray areas for church doctrine. The LDS Church certainly believes in helping the poor and needy in society, and devotes many resources to its extensive worldwide welfare and humanitarian aid programs. However, given our history of persecution and self-reliance, as well as our overwhelmingly Republican voting record in recent years, it’s safe to say that most Mormons in this country believe that a smaller government is preferable to a larger one. While the Gospels do talk of our responsibility to help the poor and needy, Mormons can and do argue whether this means that we should spend other people’s money freely vis-à-vis the government in order to do so. LDS theology is silent on the size and scope of government in a democracy, though the Book of Mormon does warn against levying high taxes on citizens.
I am not an expert on Catholicism, so I’ll let others debate whether Ryan’s or Biden’s vision for the country is more authentically Catholic. Although the LDS Church does not expect or demand that its member politicians vote in accordance with its doctrines on political issues, it is possible to compare and contrast their positions with official church teachings. By this standard, Mitt wins the Better Mormon Award, though not by a landslide.
August 2, 2012 | 12:04 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
As part of my personal campaign to oppose bigoted boycotts, I will be having lunch tomorrow at the Chick-fil-A in Hollywood. I couldn’t get there for today’s official “Chick fil-A Appreciation Day” declared by Mike Huckabee, but I suppose late is better than never when it’s for a worthy cause.
I have never eaten at a Chick-fil-A, but I’m going there to show my support for the chain’s CEO’s right to publicly endorse traditional marriage without having his restaurants boycotted by bigoted gay marriage advocates. I had no idea that such people existed until I was personally targeted by them during the Prop 8 campaign. If I had not had Jewish bosses who respected my right to voice an opinion on contemporary moral issues, I could have lost my job thanks to these advocates of tolerance. I hasten to add here that a gay rabbi condemned their attacks, and I will always be indebted to him for his support while I was under assault.
My regular readers know that I don’t support business boycotts organized by people who happen to disagree with statements made by a company’s executives. I recently registered my opposition on this blog to the misguided boycott campaign against Starbucks because of its CEO’s support for gay marriage. The only business boycott that I have participated in was a personal one against Marriott, and that was because it was a Mormon-led hotel chain that offered pornography channels (thankfully, it no longer offers smut to its guests). To me the difference between Starbucks and Marriott is clear: Starbuck’s CEO and I happen to disagree on gay marriage. However, although Marriott’s chairman agrees with me that pornography is a great evil, he chose to profit from it anyway.
Of course, there are extreme cases where boycotts are called for. A few years ago in my hometown in Michigan, a furniture store owner began espousing racist views and allowed a white supremacist speaker to speak at his store on a regular basis. The townspeople boycotted the store, which soon closed its doors. Had I lived there at the time, I definitely would have participated in the boycott. However, giving money to organizations that support traditional marriage and making statements opposing gay marriage are in no way comparable to hosting white supremacists.
As I eat my chicken sandwich tomorrow, I’ll be thinking of each bite as a victory for tolerance and freedom in this great country. Viewing online pictures of people lined up to eat at Chick-fil-A restaurants today reassured me that the bigots haven’t won yet.