In a conference call with reporters two days ago, LDS Sen. Harry Reid delivered himself of the opinion that Mitt Romney had “sullied” the Mormon faith, saying that Romney “is not the face of Mormonism.” He may not be, but there’s no doubt that Sen. Reid was the face of chutzpah this week.
Let’s look at Reid’s LDS bona fides for a moment. He’s a Mormon senator who is the point man for the gambling industry in Washington, who has publicly criticized top LDS Church leaders -- whom he regards as prophets -- for their position on gay marriage, and who recently slandered Mitt Romney by falsely claiming that he hadn’t paid taxes. This is the guy who gets to determine who the face of Mormonism is?
In his ill-considered comments, Reid expressed support for Gregory Prince, an LDS historian who wrote that Romney had “sullied the religion that he and I share” after hearing of his infamous “47%” speech to supporters. Prince apparently believes that the religious injunction for Mormons to "take care of the poor and needy throughout the world" requires Mormons to support liberal government programs that have failed to lift people out of poverty for nearly five decades. If he wants to support such programs, he’s welcome to do so. However, I dearly wish that he’d keep our religion out of this discussion.
While Mormons believe, along with Jews and other Christians, that God wants us to take care of the poor and the needy, there is nothing in our theology that requires us to use government programs to do so. Mormons have an individual obligation to help others, but no verse of scripture that I’m aware of enjoins us to take money from one group of people in order to help another. Self-reliance, not handouts, is at the heart of the LDS Church’s welfare program. Mitt Romney spent many years of his life helping the poor and needy while serving in various ecclesiastical positions, and I doubt that he needs lectures from a historian on what his religion requires of him. Again, if Prince feels that government programs are the best way to help the poor, he’s welcome to advocate for them. However, I resent very much his inference that Mormons who disagree with him care less about the poor or are not as devoted to their faith.
Harry Reid would have more credibility in the mainstream LDS community if he spent more time studying the doctrines of our faith (e.g., sustaining and supporting prophets) and less time practicing liberalism, the faith that appears to command his prime loyalty. As for Dr. Prince, one hopes it is not too much to ask that he stop conflating his political views with normative Mormonism and/or anathematizing those who disagree with him. If Mitt Romney is not the face of contemporary Mormonism, at least he is far more representative of it than Messrs. Reid and Prince.