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.
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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.
March 26, 2012 | 6:10 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
I’ve decided to write today on another of my passions, soccer. I figure that if a serious writer like George Will can dedicate one or two columns a year to a boring sport like baseball, I can post an essay on the world’s most beautiful game. If you’re not a soccer fan, read no further. If you are a student of the game, then I’m sure that you’ll agree with me that the campaign currently underway to crown Barcelona’s Lionel Messi as the best soccer player ever is both premature and lacking in historical perspective.
There’s no question that Messi is scoring goals right and left for Barcelona, the world’s best club team (and quite possibly the best team of any category on the planet). In every game he’s fed passes by world-class players like Xavi, Iniesta, and Fàbregas, and he performs brilliantly. I have no objection to his designation as the world’s best player right now. But better than Pelé, Maradona, and Cruyff? If he is, it’s way too early to tell.
Pelé’s athleticism was certainly superior to Messi’s: he ran faster, jumped higher, and netted more goals (1281) in his career than Messi could ever dream of scoring. Indeed, Messi advocate Kevin Baxter of the LA Times recently pointed out that even if Messi has an equally long career (21 years) and continues to score goals at his current pace, he’ll score just over half of Pele’s total.
That said, the Pelé/Messi comparison is a difficult one to make. Brazil declared Pelé a national treasure and didn’t allow him to play club soccer outside the country, depriving Pelé of the chance to play in the world’s best professional leagues against the best club teams. Had he done so, it’s highly unlikely that he would have scored nearly as many goals in Italy or Spain as he did in the Brazilian league. In addition, Pelé’s contribution to Brazil’s three World Cup wins in twelve years is questionable. In 1958, he was unquestionably the revelation of the tournament. In 1962, he was injured in the second game and sat out the rest of the World Cup. However, Brazil won without him. In 1966, he was injured in the first round and Brazil was knocked out of the Cup. In 1970, a healthy Pelé played on what is probably the best team to ever win a World Cup. The Argentine national team, with Messi, has never won any kind of tournament.
Johan Cruyff, my nominee for most brilliant soccer mind, was voted European Player of the Century in 1999. He performed wonders for Ajax, one of the world’s best teams in the 60s and 70s, and led Holland to a second-place finish in 1974 behind a talented German team playing at home. Cruyff was the personification of the total football philosophy, which he successfully implemented as the coach of Barcelona. Indeed, without Cruyff there would be no super Barcelona team to prop up Messi. The reason why Cruyff does not rank at the top of soccer’s pantheon is that although he did not participate in the 1978 World Cup, Holland finished second anyway. I firmly believe that Holland would have beaten Argentina if Cruyff had played in that game, but we will never know. At any rate, it’s hard to make the case that Cruyff was indispensable to the Dutch team if they achieved the same World Cup result with or without him.
It is when we compare Messi to his compatriot Diego Maradona, whom I once took around Disney World, that we see just how much more Messi has to accomplish before his name can legitimately be mentioned in the same sentence with the all-time greats. Maradona is lauded for two major accomplishments at the club and international levels. First of all, he took Napoli, a club that was in 12th place in the world’s toughest league, the Italian Serie A, and led it to two national championships (the only ones it has ever had) and two second-place finishes. He also led Argentina to a World Cup victory in 1986 with what is arguably the weakest team to win the Cup in modern times, then led another mediocre Argentina team four years later to the World Cup final against Germany. In short, Maradona was the ultimate franchise player that you’d want to build a team around. If you want to hire someone to score goals, choose Messi or Pelé. However, if you’re looking for someone who can not only score goals but take your team from the bottom of the table to a league championship, I can’t think of any player in history more capable of doing that than Maradona in his prime.
In order to compare Messi to Maradona, the question to ask is not what he is currently doing for Barcelona, a team of superstars, but what he could do for 12th-place Rayo Vallecano if given the chance. Would he be able to lead them to two championships? Based on Messi’s performance on teams that are not filled with stars, the answer is “not a chance.” Until Messi leads Argentina to a World Cup victory and/or demonstrates the ability to play brilliantly while surrounded by teammates not named Xavi or Iniesta, soccer writers have no business mentioning him in the same breath as Diego Maradona, the greatest player to ever play the game.
March 18, 2012 | 8:44 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
I was delighted to read this week that Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Pastor John Hagee’s pro-Israel Evangelical organization, is now 1 million members strong, making it the largest pro-Israel organization in the world (I think the LDS Church holds that honor, but I digress). The good pastor created the organization in 2006, and its membership has doubled just in the past two years. Kol hakavod to Pastor Hagee and his indefatigable executive director, Jewish attorney David Brog. As I read coverage of CUFI’s banquet held earlier today in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Netanyahu in attendance, I couldn’t help but ask myself the question that is often posed to me by Jews and Mormons alike: Why isn’t there a Mormon CUFI (“MUFI”)?
To be sure, a credible LDS pro-Israel organization would fill several needs. First of all, most Mormons in the U.S. are very pro-Israel and lack an organization of their own through which they can publicly express their support of the country’s policies. I know of several Latter-day Saints who have tried to find a place for themselves in CUFI, but they are invariably marginalized and given second-class treatment.
Second, MUFI could express Mormons’ affinity for Judaism in addition to Israel. Latter-day Saints believe that they are modern-day Israelites who worship in Israelite temples, possess the Israelite priesthood, and are led by Israelite prophets to honor the Abrahamic covenant.
Third, MUFI would be able to represent pro-Israel Mormons at venues where the LDS Church could not. For example, if there is an Israeli attack on Iran in the near future, large pro-Israel rallies will likely be held in major cities. Non-Jewish religious leaders are usually invited to attend and speak at these rallies in order to demonstrate that support for Israel is not restricted to Jews. Would the LDS Church send official representatives to these rallies? I doubt it. However, representatives of MUFI could go and make a powerful case for ordinary Mormons’ support for Israel’s security.
Which brings me to an analysis of how this proposed Mormon organization would differ from CUFI. For one thing, whereas CUFI is led by pastors and endorsed by their churches, MUFI would need to take great pains to emphasize that it represents its members only, and is NOT a part of and/or endorsed by the LDS Church. This is probably not a big deal to Jews, who are not hierarchically-minded and don’t automatically assume that officers of religious non-profits officially represent their faiths, but it’s important to LDS leaders on all levels to minimize confusion between Mormons with opinions and Mormons who are called upon to officially represent their church.
In addition, unlike CUFI and similar Christian pro-Israel organizations, there can be no expression of anti-Islam sentiment by MUFI. While condemnation of terrorism is unobjectionable, any credible LDS organization will avoid criticism of the Islamic faith, for which Mormons and the LDS Church have great respect.
Finally, it is unlikely that MUFI would choose to adopt the CUFI (and AIPAC) policy of essentially endorsing any position adopted by the government of Israel. Mormons are ultimately led by prophets, not prime ministers, so while MUFI’s support of Israel’s security would be unquestioned, it would probably reserve the right to remain silent on any issues on which it and the Israeli government diverged.
I believe that such an organization could succeed in demonstrating to Jews and their friends worldwide the support of Mormons for Israel, Jews, and Judaism. We have an unparalleled history of continuous support for the Jewish people, and in many ways it’s a shame that a MUFI does not yet exist. While I applaud the efforts of Evangelicals in CUFI to embrace the cause of Israel, I can’t help but hope that Mormons will soon have a pro-Israel group to call their own.
My good friend Larry Bagby, a former LDS bishop, will be speaking on “Order in the LDS Church” at Adat Elohim synagogue in Thousand Oaks, CA on Wednesday, April 18 @ 7:30 p.m. Free.
March 12, 2012 | 12:45 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
It’s easy to see now why the voters of Pennsylvania gave Rick Santorum the boot six years ago. Now that he’s decided to play the same Mormon card that worked so well for the equally bright Rick Perry, I hope his defeat in the upcoming primaries is even more humiliating. Tomorrow morning the honorary chairman of Santorum’s Florida campaign, Rev. O’Neal Dozier of the WorldWide Christian Center, plans to hold a press conference in Pompano Beach with a group of other bigoted African-American pastors. Their purpose? To ask Mitt Romney to “openly renounce his racist Mormon Religion” in order to “foster and maintain good race relations here in America.” Their unstated purpose, of course, is to benefit Santorum by reminding Southern voters of Romney’s faith before they cast their ballots the following day.
Now let me get this straight. The Rev. Dozier has labored for decades in his ministry, and has all of 2,000 souls to show for his efforts. I don’t know whether he knows the definition of chutzpah, but it takes a considerable amount of it for him to presume to label a church “racist” that has over 350,000 members and 1,000 congregations in Africa (the LDS Church’s fastest-growing region), 1.2 million members and 2,000 congregations in multiracial Brazil, and many black members in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the United States. In my last blog post, I profiled a black Mormon who is running for the presidency of Mali. As a biracial Mormon, I laugh at the pastor’s ignorance and arrogance.
The good book tells us that by their fruits ye shall know them. The Mormon Church is building chapels and temples in Africa and Brazil at a record rate, sealing black couples together for eternity, calling blacks to leadership positions (including callings as senior Church leaders and spokesmen), bringing blacks into the Abrahamic covenant, and keeping black families together throughout the world through gospel-centered teachings. As far as I can tell, the good reverend is living off his flock (he reportedly drives a Mercedes and likes expensive suits) while preaching that homosexuality “makes God want to vomit” and that Islam is a terrible religion. It’s actually a badge of honor for Mormons to be on Santorum’s religious hitman’s list.
There’s no need for me to revisit LDS Church history here, because Santorum and his proxies should be looking to the future instead. Romney has won the overwhelming share of the Mormon vote everywhere, while Santorum has lost the Catholic vote in every major state. I guess his coreligionists can spot a fraud when they see one. Things must be going badly for Rick if he’s nominating bigots as honorary state campaign chairmen. This country deserves better, and so does Rev. Dozier’s flock. If he wants to see black Christians who are enthusiastic about their faith, he should do as I did and visit Mormon congregations in South Africa. Heck, maybe he can hold a similar press conference in Johannesburg featuring his “racist Mormon Church” message. I’ll pay his airfare if the Mormons there buy it.
March 5, 2012 | 12:09 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Jews and Mormons who want to meet a future Mormon head of state should head to Claremont Graduate University this Wednesday. There they will hear a handsome presidential candidate with a master’s degree and picture-perfect family articulate his vision for the future. His name? Yeah Samaké, the front-runner in next month’s Malian elections.
Yeah has a rags-to-riches story that would put any American politician to shame. One of 17 children born to a family in the village of Ouéléssébougou, he was encouraged by his parents to get an education and make something of himself. He became a volunteer teacher and Peace Corps interpreter, and was eventually invited to continue his education at Brigham Young University. He completed an M.A. in Public Policy and married Marissa, an Indian who was born and raised in Bahrain. They and their children lived in Utah for a few years, then moved to Mali, where Yeah became mayor of Ouéléssébougou. Here are several articles on Yeah with more career highlights of this remarkable man:
Needless to say, unlike with Mitt Romney, all Mormons can unite around Yeah’s candidacy (though I’m pretty sure that the LDS Church will not endorse a candidate in the Malian elections). He’s the personification of the phenomenal growth of Mormonism in Africa, the church’s fastest-growing region. Moreover, he’s a proud Mormon who speaks often and openly about his faith. This openness is all the more remarkable given that he and his wife are the only Mormons in the 90% Muslim country.
Yeah is so committed to transparency and to fighting corruption in Mali that he has refused to raise money there, since there would be many favors expected in return for financial support. Instead, he raises money abroad. I don’t have a lot of money to give him, but I can what I can do is promote his upcoming speech, which is sponsored by Claremont’s Mormon Studies program. Here’s the 411:
Wednesday, March 7
Albrecht Auditorium (Stauffer Hall of Learning)
925 N. Dartmouth Ave, Claremont 91711
Yasher koach, Yeah.
February 27, 2012 | 1:29 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
“FYI, discovered today: Posthumous baptisms for the parents of Simon Wiesenthal. I am collecting evidence, which will be e-mailed to you, if requested, as long as there is a public stink.” – e-mail sent by anti-Mormon genealogy researcher Helen Radkey to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, February 8, 2012
He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion. – 2 Nephi 26:29
Last week the charade involving a group of leaders in the Jewish community and the LDS Church’s practice of proxy immersions reached a new low. Elie Wiesel, one of the towering moral figures of our age, found out that his father and grandfather’s names had been submitted by a disobedient member of the church for temple ordinances. The church quickly canceled the submissions, but not before Mr. Wiesel had called on the church (via the Huffington Post) to stop performing temple ordinances for all Jews, not just Holocaust victims. He then asked Mitt Romney to “speak to his own church” about the issue. With all due respect to Mr. Wiesel (and considerable respect is due), he would probably do more good by suggesting to certain Jewish leaders that they mind their own business.
I’m giving Elie Wiesel a pass on this because he’s 83 and – more importantly – because he was born in Romania, my new wife’s homeland, and she’s a big fan. However, I can no longer cast a benign eye on the nefarious goings-on at the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) in Los Angeles. SWC Rabbis Hier and Cooper have greatly overplayed their hand with their latest temper tantrum, and I’m going to call them on it. This is easily the most painful article that I have written for this blog, and I regret very much that I need to address this topic again. However, there is a limit to everyone’s patience. I have reached mine.
Many an Orthodox rabbi has complained to me of the liberties taken with Jewish law by their colleagues in more liberal movements. Whatever the sins of Reform rabbis may be, they pale in comparison to the SWC’s unwarranted extension of halachic authority to the olam ha-ba (afterlife).
A basic recap of the issue is necessary, though I have already written several articles on the practice and feel no need to repeat myself. In the early 90s, a group of Jewish leaders approached the church after discovering that a few members had submitted – in violation of church rules – names of Holocaust victims for LDS temple ordinances. Although these ordinances do NOT confer membership in the church, the leaders claimed to be offended. They even made the bizarre claim that if this issue were not addressed further, future generations might think that Mormons, not Jews, were killed during the Holocaust (I am not making this up).
Had I been in charge of the LDS delegation to the initial meeting, it would have been a short one. I would have started off by asking the leaders what authority they had to represent dead Jews. The answer? None. One of them, Ernest Michel, headed up a Holocaust survivors’ group, but representing the living was as far as his writ extended. There is an interesting paradox in Jewish life that never ceases to amaze me. On the one hand, Jews freely admit that no one in the world can speak on behalf of all Jews. Judaism has no hierarchy, no pope, no president, no high priest (at least not for 2,000 years). However, this fact does not discourage Jewish leaders from seeking opportunities to represent the entire Jewish community to non-Jewish groups, especially churches, if there is some personal benefit in it for them.
In this case, Ernest Michel had every right to receive an explanation from church leaders as to why his relatives had been improperly submitted for LDS temple rites. However, he exceeded his mandate when he presumed to negotiate on behalf of the dead. In the 1995 agreement, Mr. Michel stated that his group, the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, “considers its members as guardians of the rights of Jewish Holocaust victims.” This was, of course, untrue. No one on earth has the authority to represent the 6 million victims.
Thankfully, the people in Salt Lake City are much nicer than I, and church leaders generously signed a memorandum of understanding in 1995, promising to do what they could to prevent the unauthorized submission of Holocaust victims’ names to LDS temples (members are only supposed to submit names of their ancestors for the ordinances). They also promised to delete such names from the church’s database if/when they were found.
It’s important to note here that the church offered at that time to “freeze” names of all known Holocaust victims for purposes of temple work if the Jewish leaders would agree. Unfortunately, they chose the second option of taking upon themselves the responsibility of notifying the church whenever they discovered the submission of a Holocaust victim’s name. The Jewish leaders knew from the beginning that the option they chose would mean that many names, and sometimes the same names, would continue to pop up in the database. In a stunning moment of candor, someone with detailed knowledge of the early discussions acknowledged to me that one of the reasons that the Jewish leaders chose this option was so they could continue to hold church leaders’ feet to the fire on this issue and eventually reach their ultimate goal: to have the LDS Church declare that Judaism was sufficient for salvation, and temple ordinances were not necessary for Jews.
What is also often lost in this discussion is the promise that the Jewish leaders made in the agreement. After the church agreed to take certain steps – which it did long ago – the Jewish signatories agreed to “exercise their best efforts to communicate and persuade the other Jewish organizations as to the sufficiency of this agreement.” Furthermore, “It was agreed that differences between friends should be reduced and eliminated.” While many of the Jewish leaders have taken this obligation seriously, Rabbis Hier and Cooper have not.
Last week the rabbis’ hit pay dirt. According to the Washington Post, she sent the following e-mail to Rabbi Cooper last week: “FYI, discovered today: Posthumous baptisms for the parents of Simon Wiesenthal. I am collecting evidence, which will be e-mailed to you, if requested, as long as there is a public stink.” Well, there was, beginning with this pompous press release by the rabbis: “We are outraged that such insensitive actions continue in the Mormon Temples. Such actions make a mockery of the many meetings with the top leadership of the Mormon Church dating back to 1995 that focused on the unwanted and unwarranted posthumous baptisms of Jewish Victims of the Nazi Holocaust. The only way such insensitive practices would finally stop is if Church leaders finally decided to change their practices and policies on posthumous baptisms, a move which this latest outrage proves that they are unwilling to do. We are grateful to activist Helen Radkey for exposing the latest outrage.”
First of all, anyone who knows the SWC rabbis knows how they react to people who use material provided by anti-Semites to defame Jews. Why are they using an anti-Mormon to help them defame the philo-Semitic LDS Church? Have they no shame? If we judge people by the company they keep, the rabbis don’t come off so well here. At least they were honest enough to identify their ultimate goal: to get the church to change its “policies” and “practices” on proxy immersions.
I have met and spoken with the SWC rabbis on several occasions, and on a personal level I have always enjoyed working with them. When I was the executive director of a Jewish non-profit, they came through for me in a big way when I needed them. When the SWC needed help setting up a genealogy exhibit, the LDS Church helped them free of charge. They know that I have enormous respect for the work that they do for Jews worldwide. While I am under no illusion that I will be spending next Friday night at their shabbat tables after posting this article, it is important to me that readers know what the rabbis already do: this is a most painful article to write, and I regret very much that the rabbis’ outrageous actions through the years have forced me to do so.
Rabbis Hier and Cooper have no standing whatsoever to demand that a church change its religious practices because they’re offended by them. They tried that with the Catholics (e.g., the resurrected Good Friday prayer), and were politely told to mind their own business. I long for the day when the rabbis’ latest temper tantrum will be met with a shrug by both Mormons and Jews.
I wish to conclude this essay by making two important points. First, the rabbis are demanding a standard of perfection from LDS leaders that they would object to if demanded of the Orthodox community. There are 14 million Mormons, and in the idealized world of the SWC, computers at LDS genealogy centers would somehow be able to detect when even one of them is about to improperly submit a Jewish name for a temple ordinance. This is ridiculous, and they know it. I have a question for them: Why can’t they do something to address the problem of agunoth in the Orthodox community worldwide? Everyone knows that it’s outrageous, and rabbis throughout the world denounce husbands who refuse to grant divorces to their estranged Jewish wives. Why can’t Rabbis Hier and Cooper force every Orthodox husband to toe the line on marriages? Because the husbands have free will, that’s why. The requirement that husbands grant divorces can’t be eliminated, because that would violate Jewish law. So basically the solution is for the Orthodox community to declare the correct principle of husbands being mensches to their wives, then work to shame and sanction violators of that principle. That’s what religious groups do all over the world to bring their members into line.
The second point is to highlight the unfortunate way in which the SWC rabbis and a few others have worked hard to reframe this issue in misleading terms in the Jewish community. Even The Forward calls temple ordinances “proxy conversions,” an intentionally false and misleading term. The only reason that people like Elie Wiesel are “outraged” by LDS temple practices is because the SWC rabbis have told him that evil Mormons are trying to convert his departed relatives. They know that temple ordinances do not make someone a Mormon, but in a misguided effort to shore up their donor base they pretend to defend Jewish souls by issuing arrogant press releases every time a prominent Jewish name is found in LDS databases. There is no logical reason for the rabbis to devote so much time and attention to the actions of a few disobedient Mormons, unless their goals are dishonorable. If they were smart (and honest), they’d adopt the attitude of the Catholic Church: we don’t like the fact that prominent Catholics are baptized, but in the end we don’t believe it has any effect on their souls.
In the past week, I have convinced two LDS teachers and an entertainment executive to cancel trips planned to the SWC’s Museum of Tolerance. It is my hope that Mormons and people of goodwill of other faiths will choose not to visit an institution that is using an anti-Mormon mercenary to dig up material in an attempt to embarrass a church that has always been very friendly to Jews. The rabbis have also threatened LDS leaders with protests on more than one occasion unless their demands were met. This is a violation of both ethics and decency that is beneath the dignity of rabbis of their stature. In spite of this persecution, Mormons can take consolation from the fact that Jews, even Holocaust victims, are still not exempted from the requirements of LDS temple ordinances. As LDS Church spokesman Michael Otterson pointed out a few days ago, direct descendants of Holocaust victims (an admittedly small group) are still able to perform these ordinances for their ancestors.
Mormons are answerable to God concerning their performance of proxy ordinances. In addition, Jews who find out that their ancestors have had their names submitted to LDS temples are certainly entitled to an explanation of how and why this has happened. However, the day will never come (a favorite phrase of Rabbi Hier) that Mormons will owe an explanation to the SWC and others on the lunatic fringe of this issue in the Jewish community. Rabbis Hier and Cooper would do well to devote their considerable talents to helping Jews in this world instead of attacking a church that means them no harm in the next.
NOTE FROM THE JEWISH JOURNAL: In a previous version of this blog entry, Mark Paredes made a statement to the effect that the Simon Wiesenthal Center paid Helen Radkey for her information.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has categorically denied that any such payments were made, and we have removed the allegation from the blog. You can read the letter from the Simon Weisenthal Center below:
The Jewish Journal violated the basic standards of journalism and did a disservice to your readers when you posted a blog that impugned the integrity of Simon Wiesenthal Center officials and that of activist Helen Radkey. This attack was posted with a prominently displayed picture of Rabbi Marvin Hier, Founder and Dean of the Center, next to the title, “Mormons and Jews, the SWC Charade Continues.”
You didn’t ask, but for the record, Ms. Radkey is not a paid informant, and she and the Center are owed an apology by the Journal. Had the editors even bothered to check, we would have debunked this libelous assertion. Helen Radkey isa continuing source of accurate information about the posthumous baptisms of victims of the Shoah and prominent historic Jewish figures by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.
The Jewish Journal had earlier reported the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s protest following Ms. Radkey’s revelation that the parents of Simon Wiesenthal had recently been posthumously baptized. Since then, Dr. Elie Wiesel protested the presence of the names of his parents on a preparatory list.
As the person who represented the Wiesenthal Center at numerous meetings with senior LDS officials on this issue dating back from 1995 to a meeting in New York in 2010, I, along with Holocaust survivor Ernst Michel and other officials of Jewish organizations dealt with the LDS representatives with appropriate and earned respect. We also recognize the steps the Church has taken to try to address the matter. Unfortunately, recent incidents show that more must be done within the Church to deal with those individual Mormons who still view such actions as appropriate. Any further moves to address this matter must come from within the Church and cannot and should not be dictated by others.
And now comes word that Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and butchered by Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan 10 years ago, was also recently posthumously baptized. We can assume that those who performed this rite did so out of love and concern for the soul of Daniel. But at what cost to the living? Last week, Dr. Judea Pearl, Danny’s beloved father, presented the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s annual State of Anti-Semitism lecture in New York. In dialogue with the audience Dr. Pearl declared that, “Danny was murdered because he was a Jew.”
To those who posthumously baptized Danny, we ask more in sorrow than anger: ” Haven’t Danny’s parents suffered enough?”
Signed Rabbi Abraham Cooper
Simon Wiesenthal Center
February 13, 2012 | 11:48 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
A little over two weeks ago, my lovely Florina and I were “sealed” together in holy matrimony at the LDS Temple in Los Angeles. This is the crowning ordinance of the LDS faith, and we had dozens of friends on hand to witness the ceremony. The sealing itself was very beautiful, very moving – and very Israelite.
A high priest married us by the power of the Israelite priesthood for “time and all eternity,” the meaning of which will probably take a lifetime to comprehend. For Florina and me, there is no “till death do us part” – we’ve made a commitment to each other for forever. In addition, we were promised the blessings of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” to accompany us in this life and the next. We were also given the Adamic injunction to be fruitful and multiply, which we will do our best to follow. Tears flowed down our cheeks for much of the ceremony, and we will always remember the sweet spirit that was present in the sealing room.
Truth be told, the sealing was a little bittersweet for both of us because no family members were present. Only faithful Mormon adults can attend a temple sealing, and none of our relatives fit that description. Thanks to Skype, relatives in Michigan and Romania were able to see us in our dress and tuxedo on the big day. While it’s easy to understand the church’s policy in theory, you can’t help but feel your stomach sink a bit when you enter the sealing room on the happiest day of your life and don’t see the faces of people who’ve known you since birth. Before my wedding, I was a little envious of Mormons who live in countries like Mexico where a civil ceremony is required in addition to a religious marriage. Non-Mormon Mexican moms and dads get to cry their eyes out at the civil ceremony, while the couple can go to the temple afterwards and get sealed in the presence of their faithful coreligionists. However, after experiencing the sealing power firsthand, I have come to understand in a powerful way that no other ceremony is necessary.
I invited several Jewish guests to the wedding luncheon following the sealing, and one of them asked me beforehand whether I would be breaking a glass in the Jewish tradition at the meal. At first, I thought it might be nice to acknowledge my philo-Semitism in such a public way at a gathering of close friends. However, after further consideration I decided to leave my glass intact for the following reason: Jews break glasses at weddings in remembrance of the Israelite temple destroyed 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. If I come to the luncheon after having been sealed to my wife in a modern Israelite temple, one of nearly 140 in operation worldwide, what reason would I have to break a glass?
We spent our honeymoon visiting LDS historical sites and temples in 15 states, which I would highly recommend as a start to an eternal marriage. The highlight of the trip was a wedding dinner hosted by my family in Michigan, at which Florina was formally adopted into the Paredes clan.
The most common piece of marriage advice that I’ve been given is to marry above your station, then do what your wife tells you to do. I’ve done the first, and am striving mightily to do the second (at least most of the time). With the help of the God of Israel, Florina and I hope to make our marriage an eternal one. As the saying goes, well begun is half done.
January 26, 2012 | 12:38 am
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.
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.