One of the people for whom I am thankful today is Gary Rosenblatt, editor of The Jewish Week. In his most recent article, he expresses support for Mormons as fellow members of a minority religion. As such, he believes that they should be judged, like Jews, on their character and values, not their theology. He also identified several Mormon attributes that Jews should strive to adopt, including pride, confidence, direct action, and reaching out to others.
I thank him for the compliments, though I think that Jews to a large extent have already internalized these positive values. In the spirit of returning the favor, I’d like to highlight a few areas in which Mormons can learn from Jews.
One of the reasons that Jews are currently the most highly-regarded religion in the country is because they have perfected the art of building coalitions and reaching out to others. Mormons are getting better at this, especially when it comes to humanitarian relief and religious freedom issues. Still, I long for the day when the church will be able to reach out on a non-political basis to blacks, Hispanics, gays, and other religious groups with half the success of Jewish groups like the AJC, ADL, and major Jewish federations.
I am also envious of the extent to which large synagogues attempt to meet the intellectual as well as the spiritual needs of their congregants. Nationally-known authors, speakers and politicians are standard fare at major LA synagogues, as are lectures, classes, symposia and the like. All of this comes on top of worship services and Jewish learning. The LDS Church prefers to focus on spiritual development, including temple worship and genealogical research. As much as I enjoy participating in LDS rituals and worship, I will confess to a certain holy envy while thumbing through the adult education offerings at synagogues and JCCs. Ditto for Jewish book fairs, which bring together Jewish authors and readers around the country.
Mr. Rosenblatt praised the LDS Church’s “low-key approach to negativity,” suggesting that Jewish organizations might want to follow its lead by focusing more on their missions and less on reacting to every public slight or criticism of their faith. There’s no question that the organized Jewish community reacts more loudly and aggressively to attacks on Judaism than Mormons do to attacks on Mormonism. While the restrained approach works well for the church as an institution, I for one would like to see individual Mormons react with more fire in the belly when their religion is mocked.
Turning the proverbial other cheek to anti-Mormons can sometimes cause others to lend credence to their arguments. Even the author of Ecclesiastes observed that there is a “time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (3:7). By responding aggressively to attacks on their people and faith, Jews have largely succeeded in making anti-Semitism socially unacceptable in this country. By way of contrast, public criticism of Mormon beliefs and practices is often met with shoulder shrugs by Mormons. The result? In the last few weeks LDS Christianity has been ridiculed by a Yale literature professor, a New York Times columnist, and a Baptist pastor, inter alia.
On a day when Americans give thanks for their many blessings, Mormons can be grateful to Jews for showing how a small, cohesive minority can overcome discrimination and prejudice and succeed in this great country. My thanks again to Mr. Rosenblatt for publishing his insightful column.