Posted by Mark Paredes
Like most people around the world, I was rather surprised to hear that Pope Benedict XVI has decided to become former Pope Benedict XVI. He’s the first pope in 600 years to resign, and it will be interesting to see whom the cardinal electors elect to succeed him (let us pray it’s not Cardinal Roger Mahony). They’ve been given a lot more advance notice than usual, and have ample time to discern whether God wants them to select another European pope or venture into new ecclesiastical territory with a Latin American or African pontifex.
Even under normal circumstances, succession in the Catholic Church takes far longer than in the LDS Church, where the passing of the prophetic mantle is instantaneous. Our church is led by 15 apostles, who are also considered to have prophetic authority. The leader of the church is always the senior apostle by date of ordination, and he is usually referred to as “the prophet,” a modern Moses, the only man on earth authorized to receive revelation for the entire church as the presiding high priest in Israel.
When the prophet dies, the authority to lead the church immediately falls upon the most senior apostle (again, by date of ordination, not age). In other words, in order for a newly-ordained apostle to become the head of the church, 14 other apostles have to die first. This ensures that whoever becomes the prophet will be a seasoned leader with decades of experience directing the affairs of the church worldwide. The current prophet, Thomas S. Monson, was ordained an apostle at age 36 and became the president of the church when he was 80.
On a personal note, I was elated when Pope Benedict XVI was elected, and I certainly hope that the cardinals will elect another charisma-challenged European pope. The Catholic Church is in decline in Europe, and electing yet another pope from that continent will change little. From my LDS perspective, the last thing that Mormons should want is for a charismatic African or Latin American cardinal to take up residence at the Vatican. Africa and Latin America are the areas of highest growth for the Mormon Church, and having a German theologian as pope for the past eight years has allowed our missionary work to flourish in many Catholic countries around the world. I believe that our missionaries will continue to enjoy success regardless of who heads other churches, but they might have a harder time knocking on doors in Abidjan or Accra if a personable, eloquent African were heading the Catholic Church.
I wish Pope Benedict well, and hope that his successor will continue to uphold traditional Catholic moral teachings in a world that sorely needs them.
5.4.13 at 12:17 am | I read with great interest Naomi Schaefer. . .
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February 7, 2013 | 12:52 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
One of my first blogs on this site dealt with immigration, an issue on which many Jews and Mormons have rather liberal leanings. I won’t repeat here what I have already written, but I would like to draw upon my prior diplomatic experience in Mexico to contribute a perspective that is often lacking in the emotional debates on immigration that take place daily in our media and living rooms.
To begin with, every time I hear someone say that illegal aliens chose to come here instead of waiting in line like his ancestor/relative/neighbor/friend did, I want to yell at the TV or radio. Having just obtained a green card for my lovely wife, a process that involved much waiting and many fees, I do have a renewed appreciation for the importance of following the law. My wife visited the U.S. on three occasions before our marriage, and at no time did she overstay her visa by even a day. So, having paid a bundle of money and filled out countless forms in order to get a green card, why don’t I now feel very strongly that illegals should be tarred and feathered? Because most of them don’t have the same option that my wife did to enter this country. In other words, there literally is no line for them to jump.
Let’s take Mexico, a country I know very well. If you’re an average working-age Mexican, it’s unbelievably difficult to get even a tourist visa, let alone a work visa. On some days our visa denial rate at the consulate in Guadalajara was 90%. The truth is that most Mexicans can’t qualify for American visas. However, judging from the comments of callers to certain radio programs, you’d think that most Mexicans have the option of getting a visa and flying to the U.S., yet for some reason choose to make illegal and risky border crossings in order to live in the shadows here. Every week in Guadalajara I would hear rejected visa applicants tell me that they had tried the legal way, and would now have to do what they had to do in order to cross the border. While it’s true that many legal tourists overstay their visas every year, we must remember that for most illegal Mexican immigrants, and for illegals from many other countries, there simply is no legal line for them to stand in.
Another argument that riles me is the apples-to-oranges comparison often made by a caller or commentator whose great-grandfather came here from Italy legally, never looked back, and became fully integrated into American society. Having learned the languages of the four foreign countries in which I have lived, I am a firm believer in assimilation into one’s host culture as much as possible, and applaud those who do so. That said, if you’re going to make this comparison, then please make the circumstances as identical as possible.
First of all, if it had been as hard for your great-grandfather to get an American visa as it is for most Mexicans today, you’d probably be living in Canada right now. My great-grandmother, of blessed memory, came to the U.S. from Slovenia at a time when we welcomed immigrants with open arms. Secondly, geographical proximity makes a big difference. My great-grandmother never looked back once she got off the ship in New York because she didn’t have a choice. There were no airlines, no Skype, no affordable international phone calls, etc. It was either assimilate into American society or be miserable forever.
What if, at the time of her one-way trip to America, there had been 110 million Slovenians living just south of the U.S., where millions of their former compatriots were living? Would it have been as easy for her to assimilate? What if she had been denied a visa? Can I be 100% sure that she wouldn’t have made a run for the border in order to be with her fiancé? Nothing that I have said here diminishes the respect and, yes, reverence that I have for the sacrifices and heroism of many of our immigrant ancestors. I do feel, however, that their experiences from a different time and place shouldn’t be used to demonize contemporary illegal immigrants, who are often making choices under vastly different constraints and circumstances.
Of course, one can always argue convincingly that illegal aliens can make the choice to stay in their native countries instead of coming here. Every American I have discussed this with who makes this argument about Mexicans has only been to, say, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Mexico City, and other large, popular cities, if they’ve been to Mexico at all. Once you’ve visited small towns in the interior like Yahualica and Atotonilco, this argument, though true, becomes somewhat less convincing.
I’m certainly not an immigration expert, but I hope and pray that whatever immigration package is passed by Congress ultimately lessens the demonization of illegal aliens, most of whom came to this country in search of a better life for themselves and their families. It would be especially nice if the new laws finally gave them a legal line to stand in.
January 28, 2013 | 1:26 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
"Martin Luther and other reformers were inspired to create a religious climate in which God could restore lost truths and priesthood authority” – LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard, quoted in the current LDS Sunday School manual
“Even if they [the Jews] were punished in the most gruesome manner that the streets ran with their blood, that their dead would be counted, not in the hundred thousands, but in the millions… they are the devil's children, damned to Hell...” – Martin Luther
I am indebted to one of my regular Mormon readers for providing the inspiration for today’s post. He is welcome to identify himself in the comments section below, but will remain anonymous in this essay. Our friend objected to a Sunday School teacher’s praise of Martin Luther last week, and took the extraordinary step of emailing a church department in Salt Lake City to urge them to rethink their positive views of a vicious anti-Semite. Although I had nothing to do with the letter, he copied me on it. This is not the first time that I have encountered anti-Luther sentiment in the LDS community (though it pales when compared to anti-Mormon sentiment among some Lutherans), and I think that a brief public discussion of this topic would be useful.
According to LDS theology, the original, “true” Christian church lost its priesthood and accompanying divine authority shortly after the deaths of the original apostles. A restoration of God’s priesthood, along with prophets, apostles, and revelation, became necessary. However, only God, not man, could restore this authority, and it is an axiom of our faith that this happened when the restored Church of Jesus Christ was organized in 1830 by a modern prophet, Joseph Smith.
That said, we have great admiration for those Protestant reformers who rebelled centuries earlier against the excesses of the dominant church in Europe and attempted to restore original Christianity on their own. We don’t believe that they were authorized by God to organize their churches, but we do believe that some of them were inspired to create what became Protestantism, which ultimately led to the founding of a mostly Protestant country in the Americas where God’s true church could be restored. Given that Martin Luther was the first great Protestant leader, it is understandable that he is often praised in LDS literature for his boldness and determination.
That said, I agree with the LDS Luther-haters on a basic level. After all, if Luther had had the power to implement his publicly expressed policies vis-à-vis the Jews, there would have been no need for Hitler and his Final Solution: all of Germany’s Jews would have been exterminated or expelled centuries ago. Not only do I find Luther’s anti-Semitic rants deplorable, but his religious legacy supports my thesis that those who hate Jews almost always hate Mormons as well. Having grown up in Frankenlust Township in a small Michigan city that was half-German, I am well aware of lingering anti-Mormon feelings among Lutherans. In high school I befriended the son of a Lutheran pastor who hated the LDS Church: after a few arguments, we agreed to discuss everything but religion.
In the end, viewing this controversy through a Jewish prism yields valuable insights that allow me to support Mormon praise for one of the Nazis’ heroes. First of all, neither Jews nor Mormons expect perfection from religious leaders, and believe that deeply flawed people can nevertheless receive divine inspiration to further God’s purposes. Solomon, the great Israelite king who built the First Temple in Jerusalem, later turned to idolatry and incurred God’s wrath. Moses killed a man, the Apostle Peter publicly denied on three occasions that he had known Jesus, and the Apostle Paul persecuted Christians before his miraculous conversion. None of these actions prevent Mormons from praising these men for the positive things that they did while under God’s inspiration. If Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in Wittenberg as a result of God’s influence, then he deserves to be honored for it, regardless of his subsequent descent into hatred and bigotry.
When considering LDS leaders’ praise of Luther, it’s helpful to compare it to Jewish leaders’ praise for some pro-Israel Christian leaders who also happen to be anti-Mormon. Does this bother me? Not in the slightest, because I know that Jews are praising those Christians for their support of Israel, not their anti-Mormon activities. In a similar vein, Mormons who aren’t too keen on Luther (like yours truly) would do well to remember that LDS leaders have never praised his anti-Semitism, only his role in establishing Protestantism.
I always mention Luther’s anti-Semitism when he is brought up in a Mormon setting, and encourage my fellow anti-Luther Mormons to do likewise. However, we can’t let our opposition to one feature of his ministry blind us to his significant religious contributions. Martin Luther was an inspired man for a period of time, and we do no harm to Jews by acknowledging this.
January 23, 2013 | 1:05 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
As a proud member of the “Jewish lobby” cited inartfully by former Senator Chuck Hagel, I fail to understand why some conservatives are pulling out all the stops in what I predict will be a futile effort to derail his nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense.
The other day I tuned in to the Hugh Hewitt show, and was more than a little surprised to hear Frank Gaffney, a former Department of Defense official whose own nomination to a senior post was blocked by the Senate , criticize Hagel for holding views on defense and foreign-policy issues that were very similar to those of President Obama. What Obama should do, according to Gaffney, is nominate someone who will oppose him on issues like cutting the defense budget, Iran, etc. Earth to Frank: you didn’t win on November 6th. Obama did. Elections matter. If our president wants to nominate someone who agrees with him on defense issues, that’s fine with me. I didn’t vote for him, and probably would not nominate someone with Hagel’s views to head our military. However, I have seen nothing so far to indicate that the former head of the USO is obviously unqualified to preside at the Pentagon.
I am also puzzled by the brouhaha over Hagel’s use of the term “Jewish lobby” while discussing Israel in an interview with former State Department advisor Aaron Miller. Yes, in the context of his remarks he probably should have said “Israel lobby” instead of Jewish lobby. However, we shouldn’t forget, as Shai Franklin writes in the Jewish Journal, that there is a Jewish lobby that promotes Jewish interests on a national and even international level. That said, Hagel erred in his subsequent apologies by stating “I know the pro-Israel lobby is comprised of both Jewish and non-Jewish Americans.” What he may not know is that the “Jewish lobby” is as well.
Whether meeting with a pastor accused of anti-Semitism, conducting outreach to Hispanics on behalf of Jews, arranging for the cleaning of a Jewish cemetery in Europe, or lecturing on Jews and tolerance on a college campus, for years I have considered myself, and felt accepted as, a member of the Jewish community (or lobby if you prefer). You don’t have to be a Jew to want Jews to succeed wildly as individuals and as a people. Israel activism is an important part of the Jewish lobby, but it is only a part. I know Mormons who teach kids in Jewish schools, work at the Jewish Federation, solicit donations for Israel’s Red Cross, and perform many other services for the Jewish community that they love. Are they political lobbyists? Not quite. However, by promoting Jewish interests they are engaged in a form of private lobbying that inspires me.
Hagel’s impolitic remark should be ignored absent other compelling evidence of anti-Semitism. I’m positive that my fellow conservatives have more important things to focus on right now, like how badly the Ravens will thrash the 49ers next month.
January 16, 2013 | 11:37 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Tomorrow marks the Day of Judaism (Giorno del Giudaismo) for the Catholic Church in Italy, an annual occasion for reflection and the promotion of Catholic-Jewish ties. It has been held since 1990, and the Italian Jewish community has participated for more than a decade. This is a tradition that philo-Semitic Mormons can and should make a part of their outreach efforts to the Jewish community. How about a Day of Judaism for Mormons worldwide?
As this blog has repeatedly argued, Judaism and covenant Israel hold a special place in LDS theology. Mormons believe that they are members of the House of Israel, the Abrahamic covenant is central to our worship, the Israelite priesthood governs our church, etc. There is no other religion whose history and scriptures are so fundamental to the LDS faith.
October 24th of each year would be an appropriate day on which to celebrate Jewish-Mormon ties. On that day in 1841, Mormon Apostle Orson Hyde knelt on the Mount of Olives and dedicated the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jewish people. Elder Hyde is the favorite Mormon of many Jews, and there is a garden named for him at Netanya Academic College in Israel. The public reading of his prayer could be a part of the day’s events, to which local Jews could be invited.
Unlike the Catholic Church, the LDS Church does not have a history of anti-Semitism. Consequently, it does not feel the same moral obligation to publicly celebrate Mormon-Jewish ties on an annual basis. However, Mormons on a local level would do well to follow their Italian Catholic brethren by publicly acknowledging their respect and affection for the Jewish people. I’m sure that Orson Hyde would approve.
January 11, 2013 | 11:09 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
After reading Welshman Tom Doran’s essay on his intellectual journey from the anti-Zionist left to mainstream Zionism in this week’s Jewish Journal, I couldn’t help but wonder what else Jews could do to combat ant-Zionism and/or anti-Semitism in Europe. I happened to pose this question to my lovely European wife, who immediately came up with an inspired idea: “Why not create a Jewish version of ‘I’m a Mormon?’” The more I think about it, the more I wonder why a similar campaign hasn’t been launched before.
In 2010 the LDS Church launched the “I’m a Mormon” media campaign, which has been very successful in introducing people all around the world to their Mormon neighbors. In its current incarnation, non-Mormons can go to the mormon.org website and click on the “People” tab, where they can explore several features. The “I’m a Mormon” link allows viewers to watch videos of famous and not-so-famous Mormons sharing moments from their lives and introducing themselves as Mormons. The “Meet Mormons” link allows viewers to scroll through tens of thousands of online profiles of church members, searchable by gender, age, ethnicity, and location. Finally, interested viewers can chat live with Mormons if they’re interested in learning more about their faith.
Think of what an “I’m a Jew” campaign would look like for, say, Hungary. Interesting, down-to-earth Magyar-speaking Jews from Hungary and other countries, including Israel, would have a video photographer visit their homes for a day or two and record candid moments in their lives, including closing scenes where they identify themselves as Jews and give a 30-second explanation of what Judaism means to them. Hungarians would also be free to look at profiles of Hungarian Jews around the world, and could chat with them if they wanted to learn more. Conversion from stereotypes and prejudice, not religious conversion, is the ultimate goal here.
It’s hard to see how an “I’m a Jew” campaign would do any harm, and easy to see how it could break down barriers to understanding created by unfamiliarity. Having lived in Europe four times, I know many Europeans who do not have any Jewish friends or acquaintances. I’m sure that Jewish communities in the U.S., Europe, and Israel have the resources – human, technological, and financial – to launch a professional pilot campaign in one or two countries. As with any PR campaign, the target audience is not the fanatics but the fair-minded. I have said for many years that the best ambassadors for Judaism and Israel are Jews, and this would be a great chance for them to demonstrate this. I can’t wait to see the first videos.
January 5, 2013 | 11:28 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
In a Gallup poll released on Christmas Eve, Mormons were the “most religious” of any faith group surveyed by far – 87% of us said that our religion was important to our daily lives, and 81% of us attend worship services at least monthly. At the other end of the spectrum, Jews were the least likely to profess a daily attachment to their faith (41%) or attend worship services (32%).
Before I started working in the Jewish community, I would have been surprised by these figures. However, I know now that while a lot of Jews avoid praying in synagogues or engaging in daily Torah study, almost all of the Jews I know respect, honor and live the wonderful Jewish values that have enriched and enlightened the world. They value education, family, tradition, and tolerance, and are often leaders in their community. Mormons are increasingly known for espousing similar values. How, then, to explain the great disparity in religious observance? Several differences between the two communities immediately come to mind.
First, a far higher percentage of Mormons are converts. Both my wife and I are converts, as are many of our friends and acquaintances in the church. There is no zeal quite like a convert’s enthusiasm for his new faith, which is also very infectious. By way of contrast, the overwhelming majority of Jews were born into their faith, one that does not actively seek converts.
Second, Mormonism is strictly a religious identity, and the way to express that identity is to go to church and participate in the community’s religious rites and rituals. Jews, of course, are members of both a religion and a people with a distinctive culture and history. Consequently, there are many ways of expressing one’s Jewishness that have nothing to do with religion. In fact, Jews can be atheists and still be considered as Jewish as Orthodox rabbis. There may well be Mormon atheists, but I have yet to meet one.
Third, on a related note, the percentage of all Mormons attending at least one meeting a month seems a bit too high. This is probably because the Mormons in the survey self-identified as members of the LDS Church. While active Mormons are likely to share their religious identity with strangers, “less active” Mormons who don’t attend church are probably more likely to choose another religious label, including “none.” In my experience, even Jews who never see the inside of a synagogue are quick to identify themselves as Jewish.
Fourth, Mormons do not have professional clergy members or staff in their congregations. This puts the burden of running the church at the local level on lay members, who are called to lead congregations, teach Sunday School, deliver sermons, keep records, serve and visit other members, etc. Most members have at least one such calling, making it easier for their religion to become important to their daily lives.
Finally, our missionary program makes a big difference. Every year we send tens of thousands of missionaries all over the world to share our beliefs with others. We tend to love what we sacrifice for, and our missionaries come home with increased discipline, knowledge, love for their area of service, and dedication to their faith. I have publicly stated many times my desire for Judaism to become a proselytizing faith once again, which I have no doubt would raise the level of religious observance throughout the Jewish community to historic levels.
Best wishes for a successful, memorable 2013 to all of my readers.
December 30, 2012 | 7:45 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
”Mark, did you hear about this? Heartbreaking! Going to Junior's after the temple was tradition for a lot of us in La Crescenta. Funny how many Mormons have a connection to this fab deli!”
This Facebook message from my friend Christa Woodall was how I first learned of tomorrow’s unexpected closing of Junior’s Deli, a Westside LA fixture for decades. Christa used to blog on Mormon-Jewish relations for a Jewish newspaper in San Francisco, and suggested this as a blog topic. As usual, she was inspired.
Soon after sending email and Facebook requests to current and former LA Mormons for their reaction, I received the following note from Aaron Roberts: ”With the proximity of Junior's to the Temple, meeting places and our homes, I think lots of us have celebrated special moments at Junior's. My home teacher went with me to Junior's the evening after being ordained an Elder, shortly before leaving on my mission. It was also the first Jewish deli that I remember my Jewish family members taking me to as a child. Because of that it was the first deli I took my [Uruguayan] wife, who hasn't participated in Jewish culture, to experience that part of my heritage.”
Cherie Schlierman followed with her best wishes: ”My oldest son and daughter-in-law love their cheesecake. Hopefully they will end up at a new location.”
Finally, the inevitable Utah connection was made by Dave Mills: ”When I learned that the Jewish founder of Junior’s had been a uranium miner in Utah, just like my grandfather, I knew that I had to try the place. Their turkey pot pie was my favorite.”
Best wishes to the owners of Junior’s in their search for a new location. Many Mormons, as well as Jews, will be praying for you.
December 23, 2012 | 10:18 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Today my wife and I decided to get into the Christmas spirit by attending the baptism of Tsaschikher, a 19-year-old Mongolian college student. About 25% of the Christians in Mongolia are Mormons, and our congregation was only too happy to welcome yet another Mongolian into the LDS Church. Upon returning home, I decided to answer in this forum the emails from readers who are curious to know what my reaction is to the recent passing of Christian radio talk show host Frank Pastore, who was struck by a car while riding his motorcycle on a major highway. In a few words, my thoughts are these: RIP – and good riddance.
By all accounts, the baseball-player-turned-theologian-and-radio-host had a heart of gold, was actively involved in charitable works, and used his radio pulpit to promote his version of Christianity and morality. Radio hosts whom I respect – Dennis Prager, Hugh Hewitt – gave moving eulogies to Frank on the air following his untimely demise. I’m sure that he was also a wonderful husband, father and grandfather. Can all of this compensate for his hatred of the LDS Church and LDS theology? Not quite. For an understanding of how informed Mormons viewed Frank Pastore’s anti-Mormon rants, we can look to another religious man who is well-known to Jews: Jimmy Carter.
Any honest Jew has to admit that Mr. Carter has done more good in this world (e.g., Habitat for Humanity, the Carter Center, Camp David) than Mr. Pastore ever dreamed of doing. In addition, I’m sure that the former president loves his wife, daughter, and grandson. Given all of his virtues and good works, will Jews overlook his deep hostility to Israel when composing his future obituary? I think not. Not only does Carter hold certain beliefs about the Middle East (e.g., Israel is an apartheid state)that are anathema to most Jews, but he has used his public pulpit to vilify and delegitimize Israel in the eyes of the world. The fact that he does this while invoking virtue and morality is almost unforgivable to supporters of Israel. For me, Frank Pastore was our community’s Jimmy Carter.
Frank Pastore was a classic anti-Mormon. Non-Mormons witness to me about what they believe; Anti-Mormons witness to me about what I [allegedly] believe. Not content with labeling Mormonism a “cult” of Christianity because its teachings deny a “central doctrine” of the Christian faith, Pastore regularly preached a whole slew of lies about our beliefs. In a Townhall blog post that raised lots of Mormon eyebrows, the sanctimonious pastor alleged that Mormons teach that the Holy Spirit has a physical body [he later retracted this], that Jesus was conceived through sexual intercourse between God and Mary, that Jesus was a polygamist, and that EVERY Mormon male will one day become a God ruling over his own planet, accompanied by multiple wives. Not one of these beliefs is an official LDS teaching, which Pastore must have known. There’s a word for someone who deliberately distorts others’ beliefs and slanders their church, and “Christian” isn’t it.
Since I am speaking ill of the dead, I feel the need to clarify that I, like most Mormons and Jews, don’t care a great deal what individuals may think of my religious beliefs. If Pastore thought that I was as crazy as a loon for believing in a contemporary church with apostles and bishops, that’s fine with me. However, when he followed the example of his idol Walter Martin and publicly attacked the religious beliefs of the LDS Church and other churches, he crossed a line that should almost never be crossed. No one appointed him to be the arbiter of Christianity, and he had no business misrepresenting our religious beliefs and practices to his radio audience. Pastore was very much opposed to Evangelical outreach to Mormons conducted by Richard Mouw, Hugh Hewitt, and other tolerant Evangelicals, and once grilled a pastor on his show for having the temerity to actually invite a Mormon to discuss Mormonism at his church without ensuring that all Evangelicals present had received proper apologetics [= anti-Mormon] training in advance.
In nearly three years of blogging, the only time that I have criticized the theology of another faith in this space was when I discussed the replacement theology of mainline Protestantism. The reason I did this was because I opposed the actions (e.g., anti-Israel divestment and boycotts) that resulted from their beliefs, not because the beliefs themselves caused me to have sleepless nights. My wife and I are planning to attend an Episcopal service on Christmas Eve, where we will likely be surrounded by people who believe in supersessionism. We’re not bothered by this a bit, though we would probably walk out if the priest used the occasion to bash Israel in his sermon. It is the bad actions inspired by religious beliefs, not the beliefs themselves, that merit condemnation.
I experienced mixed emotions when I heard of Frank’s death: sadness at the passing of a force for good, along with relief that a prominent anti-Mormon voice has been silenced. I sincerely hope that he is praised to the skies at his upcoming memorial service. However, for Mormons who followed his career he will always be a second-rate theologian and a first-rate bigot. Speaking of his reluctant support for Mitt Romney if he were to become the Republican presidential nominee, Pastore wrote, “At the end of my life, the question I will be asked is not, 'Whom did you help elect?' But, 'Whom did you serve?'” For his sake, let us hope that “Whom did you slander?” does not also appear on the celestial questionnaire.
December 20, 2012 | 12:30 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Having just returned from a trip to my lovely wife’s frigid yet enchanting homeland (the temperature reached -20°C at times), my thoughts naturally turn to my new Romanian family, the world’s best pretzels (covrigi) and apple strudels, and Jewish and Mormon matters.
When we decided to spend a night at a hotel in Bucharest, our choice was made easy by the proximity of Central Hotel to the Holocaust Monument on Brezoianu Street. Both the hotel and the monument did not disappoint.
After a wonderful breakfast, we walked three blocks to the monument on a bitterly cold morning. It’s an easy site to miss, as it is poorly marked and located below street level. However, once we got there I was touched by its simplicity and directness. During WWII, the Romanian government was directly responsible for the murders of more Jews than any other government except for Germany. Although Romanian governments until the Basescu administration (2004-present) largely refused to acknowledge the country’s role in murdering hundreds of thousands of Jews and Roma in the Holocaust, the monument was dedicated just three years ago and issues a strongly-worded mea maxima culpa on its plaques.
In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it assigns culpability to wartime head of state Marshal Ion Antonescu by name. He is an Atatürk-like figure to many Romanians who still revere him for his strong anti-Stalin stance, and a statement condemning Antonescu by name on an official monument would have been unthinkable before the Wiesel Commission report in 2003. Romania has definitely come a long way in terms of acknowledging government complicity in the Holocaust, and it was a great thing to see.
Last Sunday found us in one of two beautiful Mormon chapels in Bucharest. Although there was a large contingent of Americans in the congregation, I decided to go to the Romanian-language Sunday School class because I wanted to see how many native-born members were in attendance. Unfortunately, the numbers were not encouraging. One of the leaders explained to me that member retention is a huge problem there. When there is a regular exodus of Jews from a country, it usually means that they are being persecuted. When there is a regular exodus of Mormons from a country, it usually means that they are not able to find professional opportunities there. After all, if husbands and wives aspire to follow the Mormon ideal of man as breadwinner and woman as homemaker, the man has to be able to support a family by himself. In Romania, this is a huge challenge. For young people, opportunities for career development are similarly lacking; in fact, the second most-spoken language at Microsoft’s US headquarters is Romanian, even though the company has a significant presence in Romania. So while Romanians are being baptized into the Mormon Church, many of them leave for greener pastures as soon as they can. [I’m eternally grateful that I was able to convince the country’s most beautiful Mormon girl to come to the States, but I digress].
The head of the church in Romania is the mission president, Ned Hill, who served for years as the dean of BYU’s business school. He’s a remarkable man who has agreed to volunteer his service for three years in a country whose language he does not speak. Ditto for the McFaddens, a lovely couple from Utah who are serving as Public Affairs missionaries in Romania and Moldova. Although they also do not speak Romanian, they are a force of nature who played a role in facilitating Ioana Paverman’s recent documentary on the LDS Church. It’s probably the fairest treatment I’ve seen of Mormons in any language.
It is my fondest wish to see both Jews and Mormons enjoy an increased public profile on my subsequent visits to Romania, a country with immense potential.
December 9, 2012 | 1:22 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
I felt a lot like Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky this week: excited about progress in my faith’s relationship with the gay community that may not represent a large doctrinal shift but is nevertheless very significant. Yesterday the LDS Church unveiled a new website, “Love One Another: A Discussion of Same-Sex Attraction,” that presents the church’s views on same-sex attraction to the world in the context of encouraging Mormons to treat gays with kindness and understanding.
The website features a series of conversations with church leaders and members on issues related to homosexuality. One pleasant surprise is the prominent acknowledgement that “Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them.” I have never before seen an official recognition by the church that gays do not choose their sexual orientation (though most Mormons I know have always believed this).
Mormons don’t recognize themselves or their church in anti-Mormon propaganda that demonizes us as haters, bigots, and homophobes because of our opposition to same-sex marriage. Here is a great chance for us to define our own beliefs on homosexuality to the world. This project is a great beginning, and I hope it will be a catalyst for discussions that need to take place between Mormons, their gay friends and family members, and members of other faiths.
Hag sameach to all of my Jewish readers.
December 3, 2012 | 7:15 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Like many Jewish Journal readers, I have followed the rather personal exchange between Rabbis Daniel Gordis and Sharon Brous over Israel. Since I have never met Rabbi Gordis, and have had only a few personal interactions with Rabbi Brous, I had intended to sit this one out. However, a recent article by Ron Reynolds in The Times of Israel reminded me of my one Shabbat evening at IKAR (Rabbi Brous’s progressive synagogue) and a Torah Slam that have indelibly shaped my perception of her rabbinate. Reynolds, who has never been to IKAR, scoured the synagogue’s website for references to Israel and was largely disappointed. I share his disappointment in IKAR, but for a different reason.
Before I got married earlier this year, I regularly attended shabbat services at LA-area synagogues. I have visited nearly every large synagogue and a lot of smaller ones, and my primary goal when visiting is to have a powerful Jewish experience. Having heard rave reviews about Rabbi Brous, I was thrilled when a friend invited me to join him a few years ago at an IKAR shabbat service. I nearly bumped into noted journalist J. J. Goldberg at the entrance, which I thought was a sign of great things to come. However, after sitting through the entire service, including Rabbi Brous’s sermon, I distinctly recall leaving the building feeling like I had not participated in a Jewish worship service. Change one or two minor details, and I could have been at a progressive Protestant gathering.
That said, I found Rabbi Brous to be very warm and personable, so I invited her to offer the prayer at a large dinner sponsored by the American Jewish Congress. She graciously accepted the invitation and composed a thoughtful prayer tailored perfectly for the occasion. That experience left me wanting to hear more from her, so I was very excited to learn that she would be participating in a “Torah Slam” together with some of my favorite rabbis, including Ed Feinstein, Elazar Muskin, Eli Herscher and Daniel Bouskila. To top it off, they would be discussing “What is a good Jew?” as they analyzed Torah, text and history. I invited two secular Jewish friends to join me, and we settled into our seats at the Wilshire Theatre with a great deal of anticipation.
I enjoyed the debate immensely, and for me it clarified quite a few things. How impressed was I with the rabbis? Well, let’s go through the list. Rabbi Feinstein – I have attended several lectures at VBS (his synagogue), and he went to Utah with members of my committee. Rabbi Muskin – I have attended several shabbat services at his shul, and had the honor of discussing his commitment to Israel in his private study. Rabbi Herscher – went to Utah with our committee. Rabbi Bouskila – I took a “Torah on Tuesdays” course he taught in Beverly Hills and blogged on some of his insights. Rabbi Brous? I have had no meaningful contact with her or IKAR since then. During her Torah Slam presentation, I was not terribly impressed with her ability to articulate her knowledge of or passion for Judaism. Her thoughts just didn’t seem as authentically (or uniquely) “Jewish” as the contributions of the other rabbis. Don’t get me wrong: Rabbi Brous is very bright, and for all I know she may be able to beat any other rabbi in town on a comprehensive exam on Judaism. However, after sitting through her sermon and public presentation as an interested non-Jewish observer who wanted to be impressed, I just wasn’t feeling it.
P.S. - In response to numerous inquiries, I see no reason to take sides in the Gordis-Brous debate. However, on the question of whether IKAR is as centered on Israel as, say, Rabbi Muskin’s Young Israel shul, that’s a call that even a non-rabbi can make.