Posted by Mark Paredes
"Martin Luther and other reformers were inspired to create a religious climate in which God could restore lost truths and priesthood authority” – LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard, quoted in the current LDS Sunday School manual
“Even if they [the Jews] were punished in the most gruesome manner that the streets ran with their blood, that their dead would be counted, not in the hundred thousands, but in the millions… they are the devil's children, damned to Hell...” – Martin Luther
I am indebted to one of my regular Mormon readers for providing the inspiration for today’s post. He is welcome to identify himself in the comments section below, but will remain anonymous in this essay. Our friend objected to a Sunday School teacher’s praise of Martin Luther last week, and took the extraordinary step of emailing a church department in Salt Lake City to urge them to rethink their positive views of a vicious anti-Semite. Although I had nothing to do with the letter, he copied me on it. This is not the first time that I have encountered anti-Luther sentiment in the LDS community (though it pales when compared to anti-Mormon sentiment among some Lutherans), and I think that a brief public discussion of this topic would be useful.
According to LDS theology, the original, “true” Christian church lost its priesthood and accompanying divine authority shortly after the deaths of the original apostles. A restoration of God’s priesthood, along with prophets, apostles, and revelation, became necessary. However, only God, not man, could restore this authority, and it is an axiom of our faith that this happened when the restored Church of Jesus Christ was organized in 1830 by a modern prophet, Joseph Smith.
That said, we have great admiration for those Protestant reformers who rebelled centuries earlier against the excesses of the dominant church in Europe and attempted to restore original Christianity on their own. We don’t believe that they were authorized by God to organize their churches, but we do believe that some of them were inspired to create what became Protestantism, which ultimately led to the founding of a mostly Protestant country in the Americas where God’s true church could be restored. Given that Martin Luther was the first great Protestant leader, it is understandable that he is often praised in LDS literature for his boldness and determination.
That said, I agree with the LDS Luther-haters on a basic level. After all, if Luther had had the power to implement his publicly expressed policies vis-à-vis the Jews, there would have been no need for Hitler and his Final Solution: all of Germany’s Jews would have been exterminated or expelled centuries ago. Not only do I find Luther’s anti-Semitic rants deplorable, but his religious legacy supports my thesis that those who hate Jews almost always hate Mormons as well. Having grown up in Frankenlust Township in a small Michigan city that was half-German, I am well aware of lingering anti-Mormon feelings among Lutherans. In high school I befriended the son of a Lutheran pastor who hated the LDS Church: after a few arguments, we agreed to discuss everything but religion.
In the end, viewing this controversy through a Jewish prism yields valuable insights that allow me to support Mormon praise for one of the Nazis’ heroes. First of all, neither Jews nor Mormons expect perfection from religious leaders, and believe that deeply flawed people can nevertheless receive divine inspiration to further God’s purposes. Solomon, the great Israelite king who built the First Temple in Jerusalem, later turned to idolatry and incurred God’s wrath. Moses killed a man, the Apostle Peter publicly denied on three occasions that he had known Jesus, and the Apostle Paul persecuted Christians before his miraculous conversion. None of these actions prevent Mormons from praising these men for the positive things that they did while under God’s inspiration. If Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in Wittenberg as a result of God’s influence, then he deserves to be honored for it, regardless of his subsequent descent into hatred and bigotry.
When considering LDS leaders’ praise of Luther, it’s helpful to compare it to Jewish leaders’ praise for some pro-Israel Christian leaders who also happen to be anti-Mormon. Does this bother me? Not in the slightest, because I know that Jews are praising those Christians for their support of Israel, not their anti-Mormon activities. In a similar vein, Mormons who aren’t too keen on Luther (like yours truly) would do well to remember that LDS leaders have never praised his anti-Semitism, only his role in establishing Protestantism.
I always mention Luther’s anti-Semitism when he is brought up in a Mormon setting, and encourage my fellow anti-Luther Mormons to do likewise. However, we can’t let our opposition to one feature of his ministry blind us to his significant religious contributions. Martin Luther was an inspired man for a period of time, and we do no harm to Jews by acknowledging this.
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January 23, 2013 | 12:05 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
As a proud member of the “Jewish lobby” cited inartfully by former Senator Chuck Hagel, I fail to understand why some conservatives are pulling out all the stops in what I predict will be a futile effort to derail his nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense.
The other day I tuned in to the Hugh Hewitt show, and was more than a little surprised to hear Frank Gaffney, a former Department of Defense official whose own nomination to a senior post was blocked by the Senate , criticize Hagel for holding views on defense and foreign-policy issues that were very similar to those of President Obama. What Obama should do, according to Gaffney, is nominate someone who will oppose him on issues like cutting the defense budget, Iran, etc. Earth to Frank: you didn’t win on November 6th. Obama did. Elections matter. If our president wants to nominate someone who agrees with him on defense issues, that’s fine with me. I didn’t vote for him, and probably would not nominate someone with Hagel’s views to head our military. However, I have seen nothing so far to indicate that the former head of the USO is obviously unqualified to preside at the Pentagon.
I am also puzzled by the brouhaha over Hagel’s use of the term “Jewish lobby” while discussing Israel in an interview with former State Department advisor Aaron Miller. Yes, in the context of his remarks he probably should have said “Israel lobby” instead of Jewish lobby. However, we shouldn’t forget, as Shai Franklin writes in the Jewish Journal, that there is a Jewish lobby that promotes Jewish interests on a national and even international level. That said, Hagel erred in his subsequent apologies by stating “I know the pro-Israel lobby is comprised of both Jewish and non-Jewish Americans.” What he may not know is that the “Jewish lobby” is as well.
Whether meeting with a pastor accused of anti-Semitism, conducting outreach to Hispanics on behalf of Jews, arranging for the cleaning of a Jewish cemetery in Europe, or lecturing on Jews and tolerance on a college campus, for years I have considered myself, and felt accepted as, a member of the Jewish community (or lobby if you prefer). You don’t have to be a Jew to want Jews to succeed wildly as individuals and as a people. Israel activism is an important part of the Jewish lobby, but it is only a part. I know Mormons who teach kids in Jewish schools, work at the Jewish Federation, solicit donations for Israel’s Red Cross, and perform many other services for the Jewish community that they love. Are they political lobbyists? Not quite. However, by promoting Jewish interests they are engaged in a form of private lobbying that inspires me.
Hagel’s impolitic remark should be ignored absent other compelling evidence of anti-Semitism. I’m positive that my fellow conservatives have more important things to focus on right now, like how badly the Ravens will thrash the 49ers next month.
January 16, 2013 | 10:37 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Tomorrow marks the Day of Judaism (Giorno del Giudaismo) for the Catholic Church in Italy, an annual occasion for reflection and the promotion of Catholic-Jewish ties. It has been held since 1990, and the Italian Jewish community has participated for more than a decade. This is a tradition that philo-Semitic Mormons can and should make a part of their outreach efforts to the Jewish community. How about a Day of Judaism for Mormons worldwide?
As this blog has repeatedly argued, Judaism and covenant Israel hold a special place in LDS theology. Mormons believe that they are members of the House of Israel, the Abrahamic covenant is central to our worship, the Israelite priesthood governs our church, etc. There is no other religion whose history and scriptures are so fundamental to the LDS faith.
October 24th of each year would be an appropriate day on which to celebrate Jewish-Mormon ties. On that day in 1841, Mormon Apostle Orson Hyde knelt on the Mount of Olives and dedicated the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jewish people. Elder Hyde is the favorite Mormon of many Jews, and there is a garden named for him at Netanya Academic College in Israel. The public reading of his prayer could be a part of the day’s events, to which local Jews could be invited.
Unlike the Catholic Church, the LDS Church does not have a history of anti-Semitism. Consequently, it does not feel the same moral obligation to publicly celebrate Mormon-Jewish ties on an annual basis. However, Mormons on a local level would do well to follow their Italian Catholic brethren by publicly acknowledging their respect and affection for the Jewish people. I’m sure that Orson Hyde would approve.
January 11, 2013 | 10:09 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
After reading Welshman Tom Doran’s essay on his intellectual journey from the anti-Zionist left to mainstream Zionism in this week’s Jewish Journal, I couldn’t help but wonder what else Jews could do to combat ant-Zionism and/or anti-Semitism in Europe. I happened to pose this question to my lovely European wife, who immediately came up with an inspired idea: “Why not create a Jewish version of ‘I’m a Mormon?’” The more I think about it, the more I wonder why a similar campaign hasn’t been launched before.
In 2010 the LDS Church launched the “I’m a Mormon” media campaign, which has been very successful in introducing people all around the world to their Mormon neighbors. In its current incarnation, non-Mormons can go to the mormon.org website and click on the “People” tab, where they can explore several features. The “I’m a Mormon” link allows viewers to watch videos of famous and not-so-famous Mormons sharing moments from their lives and introducing themselves as Mormons. The “Meet Mormons” link allows viewers to scroll through tens of thousands of online profiles of church members, searchable by gender, age, ethnicity, and location. Finally, interested viewers can chat live with Mormons if they’re interested in learning more about their faith.
Think of what an “I’m a Jew” campaign would look like for, say, Hungary. Interesting, down-to-earth Magyar-speaking Jews from Hungary and other countries, including Israel, would have a video photographer visit their homes for a day or two and record candid moments in their lives, including closing scenes where they identify themselves as Jews and give a 30-second explanation of what Judaism means to them. Hungarians would also be free to look at profiles of Hungarian Jews around the world, and could chat with them if they wanted to learn more. Conversion from stereotypes and prejudice, not religious conversion, is the ultimate goal here.
It’s hard to see how an “I’m a Jew” campaign would do any harm, and easy to see how it could break down barriers to understanding created by unfamiliarity. Having lived in Europe four times, I know many Europeans who do not have any Jewish friends or acquaintances. I’m sure that Jewish communities in the U.S., Europe, and Israel have the resources – human, technological, and financial – to launch a professional pilot campaign in one or two countries. As with any PR campaign, the target audience is not the fanatics but the fair-minded. I have said for many years that the best ambassadors for Judaism and Israel are Jews, and this would be a great chance for them to demonstrate this. I can’t wait to see the first videos.
January 5, 2013 | 10:28 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
In a Gallup poll released on Christmas Eve, Mormons were the “most religious” of any faith group surveyed by far – 87% of us said that our religion was important to our daily lives, and 81% of us attend worship services at least monthly. At the other end of the spectrum, Jews were the least likely to profess a daily attachment to their faith (41%) or attend worship services (32%).
Before I started working in the Jewish community, I would have been surprised by these figures. However, I know now that while a lot of Jews avoid praying in synagogues or engaging in daily Torah study, almost all of the Jews I know respect, honor and live the wonderful Jewish values that have enriched and enlightened the world. They value education, family, tradition, and tolerance, and are often leaders in their community. Mormons are increasingly known for espousing similar values. How, then, to explain the great disparity in religious observance? Several differences between the two communities immediately come to mind.
First, a far higher percentage of Mormons are converts. Both my wife and I are converts, as are many of our friends and acquaintances in the church. There is no zeal quite like a convert’s enthusiasm for his new faith, which is also very infectious. By way of contrast, the overwhelming majority of Jews were born into their faith, one that does not actively seek converts.
Second, Mormonism is strictly a religious identity, and the way to express that identity is to go to church and participate in the community’s religious rites and rituals. Jews, of course, are members of both a religion and a people with a distinctive culture and history. Consequently, there are many ways of expressing one’s Jewishness that have nothing to do with religion. In fact, Jews can be atheists and still be considered as Jewish as Orthodox rabbis. There may well be Mormon atheists, but I have yet to meet one.
Third, on a related note, the percentage of all Mormons attending at least one meeting a month seems a bit too high. This is probably because the Mormons in the survey self-identified as members of the LDS Church. While active Mormons are likely to share their religious identity with strangers, “less active” Mormons who don’t attend church are probably more likely to choose another religious label, including “none.” In my experience, even Jews who never see the inside of a synagogue are quick to identify themselves as Jewish.
Fourth, Mormons do not have professional clergy members or staff in their congregations. This puts the burden of running the church at the local level on lay members, who are called to lead congregations, teach Sunday School, deliver sermons, keep records, serve and visit other members, etc. Most members have at least one such calling, making it easier for their religion to become important to their daily lives.
Finally, our missionary program makes a big difference. Every year we send tens of thousands of missionaries all over the world to share our beliefs with others. We tend to love what we sacrifice for, and our missionaries come home with increased discipline, knowledge, love for their area of service, and dedication to their faith. I have publicly stated many times my desire for Judaism to become a proselytizing faith once again, which I have no doubt would raise the level of religious observance throughout the Jewish community to historic levels.
Best wishes for a successful, memorable 2013 to all of my readers.