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
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February 13, 2012 | 10:48 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 25, 2012 | 11:38 pm
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 | 1:34 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 15, 2012 | 11:14 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
On two Sundays a month I teach a spiritual lesson to a group of high priests (mostly older men) in my congregation. Today we began with a spirited discussion of the new Pew survey, which shows that 46% of American Mormons feel that there is a lot of discrimination against Mormons in the United States. This survey could not be more timely, given the presidential campaigns of two (soon to be one) Mormon candidates, the award-winning “The Book of Mormon” Broadway play, the legions of Twilight fans inspired by LDS author Stephenie Meyer, and the misguided followers of Glenn Beck. Are Mormons winning hearts and minds in America, or is the country’s so-called “Mormon Moment” a myth?
I don’t deny for a moment that anti-Mormon sentiment exists in this country. Growing up Mormon in Mississippi or South Carolina is undoubtedly different from being raised in Utah or Idaho. In some ways, obsession with LDS beliefs and practices is more widespread than in previous decades. Mitt Romney’s religion has been publicly attacked during the last two presidential campaigns, while his father’s faith was rarely raised during his gubernatorial campaign and service in the Cabinet in the 1960s and early 1970s. Ditto for J. Reuben Clark, the former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico in the 1930s who rose to become the second-ranking LDS Church official.
However, it’s important to distinguish hostility to our faith from opposition to our actions. I grew up in a small city in central Michigan and was the only Mormon in my high school graduation class of 389 students. I can only recall two anti-Mormon actions directed at me and my family. The first offender was my high school guidance counselor, who gave anti-Mormon literature to my Catholic girlfriend and actively discouraged her from converting to Mormonism. The second was an Evangelical family friend who came to my sister’s wedding reception at a hotel but refused to attend her wedding because it took place in a Mormon chapel. In both of these cases the men objected to LDS beliefs, which is clearly a form of anti-Mormonism.
Here in southern California, home to hundreds of thousands of Mormons and a live-and-let-live philosophy, there is little discrimination against LDS doctrines and religious practices. Actions, however, are another story. During the Proposition 8 campaign to eliminate state-sanctioned gay marriage, I was regularly attacked by advocates of tolerance. Some of them even contacted my employer, a Jewish organization, in an effort to have me fired for daring to oppose gay marriage (to their credit, my supervisors reminded the tolerant folks that the First Amendment was still in effect). As much as I disliked their actions, I have to admit that they were taken in response to the actions, not beliefs, of LDS Church members, including me.
The activists who attempted to storm the Mormon Temple in Los Angeles were in a class of their own, but for the most part our opponents objected to our actions, not our theology. Were their protests inspired by anti-Mormonism or anti-anti-gay-marriage-ism? My gut tells me it’s the latter. If Mormons are going to take sides in controversial political campaigns – even for good causes – then we should expect to encounter opposition every step of the way, much of it from people who disagree with us on principle but have no beef with our religion.
Opposition to Mormon political candidates is sometimes viewed by Mormons as prima facie evidence of anti-Mormonism. However, if merely opposing Mormon politicians is an expression of anti-Mormonism, then the Pew survey shows that many Latter-day Saints are anti-Mormon. Mitt Romney got a favorable rating from 86% of Mormons in the survey, three-quarters of whom identified as Republicans. However, only half (50%) of Mormons have a favorable view of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, with LDS Senator Harry Reid getting kudos from only 22% of Mormons (I suspect it’s even lower outside Nevada). The differing levels of support in the LDS community for LDS politicians show that factors other than religion can influence both Mormon and non-Mormon voters to support a given candidate. In Harry Reid’s case, his support for federal funding of Planned Parenthood and protection of the gaming industry in Nevada, inter alia, alienate him from large numbers of his coreligionists.
I was relieved to discover via the Pew survey that just like Jews, this perceived bigotry doesn’t prevent Mormons from being happy: 87% of us are satisfied with our lives today. The Pew Forum summarized the results with the headline “Certain in Their Beliefs, Uncertain of Their Place in Society.” In a day when the opposite is true of so many religious groups, including two large Jewish movements, I am pleased that while I may disagree with some of the survey’s respondents on the extent of anti-Mormonism in our country, we are in agreement that being a Mormon is a recipe for happiness.
January 12, 2012 | 12:53 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
With the AFC playoff game this weekend, Tebowmania promises to hit new heights. Straight men around the country are openly acknowledging their man crush on the Broncos’ quarterback, while Christian parents from coast to coast dream of such a match for their daughters. I’m definitely not one to idolize athletes, but in this case even I have to admit that Tebow is the real thing. I only have one regret: He’s not a Mormon. Or a Jew.
What’s not to like about a polite young man who has taken a vow of chastity amid tremendous temptation, who takes time off to perform missionary work in the Philippines, and who tapes a pro-life commercial for the Super Bowl? If sports fans can find much to like in the semi-literate, tattooed thugs who populate many NFL rosters, then they should be positively ecstatic that a clean-cut kid like Tebow is setting an example for their kids by succeeding without compromising his moral principles. If I were a Mormon youth leader or a Jewish day school principal in Denver, I’d be begging him to come and speak to my charges.
There are a few famous Mormon athletes (e.g., Steve Young, Jimmer Fredette), but I can’t think of one who has ever dropped to one knee in prayer on the field or started a press conference by thanking his Lord and Savior. I know that some people are put off by these actions, but I find them inspiring. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear an LDS football player publicly thank his Lord on a regular basis?
As things now stand, a professional Jewish athlete’s perceived religiosity is measured by his willingness not to play on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews. How inspiring it would be to have the observance bar raised by a Jewish baseball star who not only stays home on Yom Kippur but also mentions Hashem by name in every interview. I have long been an advocate for Jewish proselytizing efforts, which would be enhanced by having prominent Jews regularly proclaim their love for the God of Israel.
Of course, these pious proclamations would have to be sincere in order to have the desired effect. If a Mormon or Jewish athlete doesn’t feel like letting the world know of his love for his Creator, then he shouldn’t. However, I remain grateful to Tim Tebow for reminding us every week of the depth of his faith and for encouraging religious people around the country to be proud of theirs. Yasher koach, Tim.
January 6, 2012 | 1:21 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Although the U.S. Constitution declares that the government can’t administer a religious test to presidential candidates, individuals are certainly free to judge politicians using whatever religious criteria they wish. One popular topic of discussion among Mormons in this election year is the extent to which the “anyone-but-Romney” sentiment expressed by Republican voters in the primaries is a manifestation of anti-Mormonism. While many conservatives can and do have legitimate doubts about Romney’s conservative credentials, I suspect that Mitt’s biggest liability in the eyes of many Evangelical/Baptist/Fundamentalist voters remains his religion.
I am often asked whether anti-Mormonism also exists in the Jewish community. It does, but not nearly to the same extent as in certain Christian communities. In addition, Jewish anti-Mormonism comes from a different place and is more understandable than Evangelical anti-Mormonism. If certain Evangelicals and Jews decide not to vote for a Mormon because of his faith, that’s fine. However, one needs to make a distinction here: anti-Mormon Evangelicals judge LDS beliefs, while anti-Mormon Jews judge the actions of the LDS Church.
A further distinction can be made on the Evangelical side. It’s not only the Mormon belief in additional scriptures, modern prophets, and a corporeal god (inter alia) that upsets Evangelicals: It’s the Mormon claim that these are authentic Christian beliefs that is heretical to them. According to Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, if Mormons were to declare themselves to be members of a non-Christian Abrahamic religion, Evangelical opposition to the LDS Church would probably decrease. Of course, such a declaration would never be made by Latter-day Saints, and Dr. Land’s suggestion merely confirms that Evangelicals who won’t vote for LDS politicians generally have a problem with what Mormons believe, not with how they live their religion.
The exact opposite is true of Jews who harbor anti-Mormon sentiments. Jews, like Mormons, usually don’t care about the theology of politicians. In most American states, both Jews and Mormons have little expectation of seeing members of their communities elected to high public office on a regular basis. As a result, they tend to focus on the positions, values, and character of candidates. On the rare occasions when I hear a Jew express concern about Mormons, he always addresses one of three issues: missionary work, opposition to gay marriage, and the performance of LDS temple ordinances for the dead. All of these objections are based upon Mormon actions, not beliefs.
Given the intense persecution and proselytizing efforts directed at them throughout the centuries, Jews’ unease with the tens of thousands of Mormon missionaries serving worldwide is certainly understandable, even if those missionaries are not targeting Jews (or any other religious group, for that matter).
While I support the LDS Church’s public opposition to gay marriage, it does make efforts to reach out to liberal Jewish communities much more difficult. LDS-Jewish relations in Los Angeles haven’t been the same in the post-Proposition 8 era. Reform Jewish leaders issued some of the harshest denunciations of the LDS Church during and immediately after the Prop 8 campaign, the effects of which were keenly felt in their community. Again, it’s important to note that what set off these leaders was not LDS beliefs concerning traditional marriage per se, but the church’s actions on behalf of Prop 8. The same can be said of Orthodox Jews who worked with the LDS Church to support the initiative. They did so because they agreed with the church’s actions, not its theology.
Enough has already been written on LDS proxy ordinances for the dead. I for one am glad that the issue has been put to rest. Nevertheless, it bears repeating that it was the actions of Mormons, not their belief in modern temples, that became the cause of Jewish concern.
Anti-Mormonism is alive and well throughout the U.S., and will undoubtedly rear its ugly head against Mitt Romney if he should win the Republican nomination. I take comfort in the fact that few Jews will refuse to vote for a Mormon based on his theology, though they may well oppose Mormon candidates who fail to support gay marriage or abortion rights. In the end, it’s easier to accept criticism of your actions than of your most sacred beliefs.
December 30, 2011 | 10:30 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Nevertheless, this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.—Alma 1:16 (Book of Mormon)
Given the holiday season rush and my recent engagement to a wonderful woman (the wedding is next month), I’ve had less time than usual to follow the daily news cycle. When I finally sat down today to get caught up, I learned that perennial loon Ron Paul has a good chance of winning the Iowa caucuses next week and that an even loonier Orthodox rabbi has condemned LDS candidate Mitt Romney for being a “dangerous homosexualist.” It’s enough to make a guy want to go back to checking guest lists and ordering flowers.
I’m not going to waste blog space on a racist conspiracy nut like Paul, but I do have a thing or two to say about the Rabbinical Alliance of America’s statement on Romney. Actually, it was RAA spokesman Rabbi Yehuda Levin’s statement, since the letter was posted on his personal website, not that of the organization.
For some reason Rabbi Levin and the RAA were obsessed with gays during this Hanukkah season. Earlier this week, they issued a “Torah Declaration” declaring that homosexuality “is not an acceptable lifestyle or a genuine identity.” Their remedy for “same-sex strugglers?” Therapy and teshuva (repentance). These rabbis believe that homosexuality can be modified and “healed.” Is this really the most important Hanukkah message that Orthodox rabbis can share at this time of year? I doubt it. While some Mormons might agree with the Torah Declaration’s ideas and proposals, their church does not have an official position on the origin of homosexuality.
That didn’t stop Rabbi Levin from calling on the LDS Church to “sanction” Romney for his “support and promotion of the immoral homosexual lifestyle and agenda.” Instead of making Torah-based arguments, the good rabbi’s letter cites claims made in the book “Mitt Romney’s Deception,” written by Amy Contrada. Ms. Contrada, an activist and blogger for the “pro-family” organization MassResistance, alleges that Romney implemented “sexual-radical” programs in Massachusetts while serving as governor.
I’m not interested in analyzing Mitt’s record on gay issues; his paid people can do that for him. What I prefer to do is expose priestcraft, which is condemned in Mormon scripture. This involves using religious positions and language to promote oneself and/or a private agenda that is contrary to God’s. Rabbi Levin, a member of the organization Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation (!), has a history of using the Torah to push his agenda of hatred of gays. This bigot blamed the deadly earthquake in Haiti last year on the presence of gays in the military, and promised “bloodshed” if a gay-rights parade were to take place in Jerusalem. It’s no wonder that Rabbi Levin (and I use his title loosely) has lost every election he has entered, and currently heads a small Flatbush echo chamber called “Mevakshei Hashem” (Seekers of the Lord).
It is wrong for liberal rabbis to pretend that Jewish law and tradition sanction gay marriage and relationships. However, it’s much more unacceptable for Orthodox rabbis to pretend that God kills Haitians because the United States has gay soldiers. Rabbi Levin is a fraud and a practitioner of priestcraft. You don’t have to be a supporter of gay marriage to realize that his obsession with gays is unhealthy. Judaism deserves better representation in the public sphere, and I hope that members of the Orthodox community will disavow the rabbi’s comments.He claims that more than 850 rabbis agree with him, but I know that can’t be true. As we enter a new year with a presidential election, we need to hear from candidates and leaders who have intelligent arguments to make. Unfortunately, that leaves shrill bigots like Paul and Rabbi Levin out in the cold.