Posted by Mark Paredes
I rarely write about politics in this space, but I feel the need to weigh in on the recent violence in Egypt and Libya. As a former U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, I was very disappointed to read Mitt Romney’s ill-timed and ill-considered comments during Tuesday’s attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions by raging mobs in Cairo and Benghazi. His appalling lack of judgment and chest-thumping approach to diplomacy in the region and around the world have understandably raised questions about Mitt’s temperament and judgment when it comes to foreign policy.
First of all, Mitt’s target was way off. While a hostile crowd was gathering nearby and threatening to storm its gates, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a brief statement on Tuesday condemning a silly anti-Muslim video made in California that had been widely viewed and condemned in Egypt. The embassy’s purpose in issuing the statement was obviously to calm things down and prevent an attack; not, as Mitt asserted, to express “sympathy” with the attackers. Equally puzzling was his statement that we need not apologize for American “values.” Since when is producing anti-Muslim videos an American value? You can respect the First Amendment all you want, but there’s no need to go to bat for an Islamophobic idiot – especially one whose bigotry has resulted in deadly violence.
I can’t remember the last time that a serious politician took advantage of a tragedy in the Middle East to bash a sitting president. As The Atlantic magazine points out, when Pres. Carter’s mission to rescue the Iranian hostages failed spectacularly, then-candidate Ronald Reagan had this to say: "This is the time for us as a nation and a people to stand united." George H.W. Bush, campaigning at the time for the Republican nomination, also expressed his support: "I unequivocally support the president of the United States -- no ifs, ands or buts -- and it certainly is not a time to try to go one-up politically. He made a difficult, courageous decision." Similar comments would have made Mitt look more astute – and presidential.
History shows that angry fanatics in the Middle East are no respecters of politicians or political parties. Terrorists blew up the American embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut on President Reagan’s watch, and they blew up two American embassies during the Clinton administration. Moreover, presidents from both parties have been trying for decades to bring about a comprehensive peace in the region. They weren’t able to do it, and I’m betting that Mitt won’t be any more successful. The U.S. has been unpopular in the region for a long time, and it’s hard to see how a President Romney will change that dynamic.
Mitt’s aggressive approach to diplomacy is the one aspect of his candidacy that gives me pause. When it comes to campaigning versus governing, where a politician stands depends on where he sits. Earlier this year the former governor promised to get tough with China on trade. The truth is, as former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman explained, that once he’s in office Mitt would have to negotiate and compromise with Chinese leaders, just as his predecessors have done for 40 years. Ditto for his harsh stance on Russia. Sooner or later, a President Romney would have to meet with Putin and try to reach an accommodation with him. Granted, President Obama’s reset approach hasn’t worked, but I'm not too sure that the general proposals outlined on the Romney campaign's official website will, either. For now, all we hear is that we need "American leadership" abroad. No one doubts that, but without specifics, it's hard to judge whether Mitt's policies will be any more effective than Obama's have been. What would Mitt have done differently in Egypt? Syria? Libya? If the proposals outlined on his campaign website are any indication, the answer is "not much."
When it comes to foreign policy, the Romney campaign is long on posturing and short on specific proposals for engaging with the world and solving its problems. General criticism of Obama’s foreign policy is to be expected, but is it too much to ask for Mitt to project a presidential demeanor when tragedy strikes abroad? Mitt still has my vote, but I do wish that he had kept his powder dry on this one.
I will be making presentations on Mormonism in Los Angeles at Sinai Temple (dialogue with Rabbi David Wolpe, Oct 18th @ 7:30 p.m.) and Temple Isaiah (dialogue with Rabbi Zoë Klein, Oct 24th @ 6:00 p.m.). The public is invited.
5.4.13 at 12:17 am | I read with great interest Naomi Schaefer. . .
4.21.13 at 10:49 pm |
4.14.13 at 11:26 pm |
4.6.13 at 12:39 am |
3.30.13 at 9:39 am | Dr. Deandre Poole's outrageous anti-Christian. . .
3.24.13 at 10:53 pm | Palestinians don't "deserve" a country, and Obama. . .
11.18.10 at 1:47 am | A monument to the prophet in Israel is an idea. . . (70)
9.9.12 at 9:30 pm | When it comes to the Book of Mormon, I'll stick. . . (42)
6.5.12 at 11:26 pm | Marlena Tanya Muchnick, a Jewish convert to. . . (36)
September 9, 2012 | 9:30 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! – Isaiah 5:20, 2 Nephi 15:20 (Book of Mormon)
AY! My name is Joseph Smith, and I’m going to f*** this baby! – verse from the song “Joseph Smith, American Moses” in The Book of Mormon musical
One of the Jewish community’s many virtues is its expression of righteous indignation. Whenever anti-Semitism rears its ugly head in the public square, you can bet that organizations like the ADL and AJC, as well as prominent rabbis and other leaders, will confront it and denounce it. Jews are well-known for their self-deprecating sense of humor, and are better than anyone else at laughing at themselves, their religion, and their culture. When non-Jews attempt to poke fun at them, Jews generally laugh along with them as long as the humor is in good taste. Mormons also tend to be thick-skinned, and are usually good-natured when their beliefs become fodder for jokes. However, judging from their reaction to the vulgar, anti-Mormon musical The Book of Mormon, Mormons do not yet feel comfortable expressing righteous indignation in public, even when it is obviously warranted.
Since I do not plan to see the musical, I researched the songs and storyline before writing this essay. I’m not easily offended, but I was appalled at the vulgarity and at the way in which anti-Mormonism makes even racism palatable. Try to imagine the opening night for a musical parody that depicts Africans as AIDS-infected, misogynistic villagers who sing a song (“Hasa Diga Eebowai,” a parody of “Hakuna Matata” from Lion King) whose title translates to “F*** you, God.” There would be protests up and down Broadway, and the musical’s run would be pretty short. However, if you add Mormon missionaries to the mix and use this outrageous depiction to skewer Mormonism, suddenly it becomes acceptable, even laudable.
Two things are obvious from even a cursory review of the musical: Its creators hate religion, and they hate Mormonism. No one with any respect for the sacred or the divine would write lyrics like “F*** you God in the a**, mouth, and c***.” There is no context in which this is anything less than religious pornography. Adding a catchy tune and voices to this smut doesn’t change anything. Ditto for a schmaltzy, predictable ending.
Unsurprisingly, the musical’s creators are all hostile to religion. Trey Parker believes all religions are silly: "All the religions are superfunny to me......The story of Jesus makes no sense to me. God sent his only son. Why could God only have one son and why would he have to die? It's just bad writing, really." Matt Stone, though ethnically Jewish, is an atheist. Here’s Robert Lopez’s insightful take on LDS beliefs: “The reason why we both wanted to do Mormonism from the beginning is that we all felt that way about religion. There is something supremely, ridiculously fake about it, but it helps people live their lives better, and there is something emotionally true about it … But you don't think God talked to this guy and had him bury some plates in the ground, that's ridiculous. But if believing in a goofy story helps a bunch of people lead lives in a meaningful way, then it is true, and that's where we started from."
What is incomprehensible to me on a personal level is to read comments from a few Mormons who have seen the show and find positive things to say about it. When I worked in the Jewish community, I was always disappointed to see Jews serve as spokesmen for groups and organizations that actively worked against Israel and the Jewish people (e.g., BDS groups). They are referred to in some Jewish circles as “self-hating Jews,” a term I always recoiled at. I could never bring myself to use it, because I never experienced the visceral reaction that those who used the term did upon seeing fellow members of the tribe behave in such a disgraceful way. When I see these Mormon mouthpieces praise a blasphemous, sacrilegious, vulgar show that is hostile to their faith, I get it; Like my Jewish friends, I experience a total disconnect. I have no idea where these people are coming from, or why they would want to support the efforts of people who hate their religion. All of us want to be liked and accepted by others, but sometimes it’s important to be in, not of, the world.
A word of explanation is probably necessary here: I am not a vulgar person, I do not swear, and I included the original lyrics above (albeit with asterisks) only after long deliberation on my part. I apologize to anyone who is offended by them, but in the end I thought that it was necessary to include the original words in order to make my point.
Like most Mormons, I do have a healthy sense of humor in the religion department, and am happy to laugh at the latest polygamy jokes. I am also pleased that my church has chosen to take the high road by paying for ads pushing the real Book of Mormon in the musical’s playbill. However, as they say in Hebrew, yesh gvul (there’s a limit). I dearly wish that there were a Mormon ADL right now to point out that Mormon-bashing (as a subset of Christian-bashing) remains the only acceptable prejudice in this country. If there are any Jewish readers who want me to lighten up, imagine Moses delivering the Joseph Smith line cited above in a Broadway musical entitled “The Torah.” Not so funny now, is it?
To be clear, I can understand why Mormons want to go to the musical. They may be curious, they may think it’s only a little risqué, or they may think that a show that’s won 9 Tonys must be worth seeing. I am genuinely baffled, however, by my coreligionists who come away from the show with good things to say about it. Thankfully, their numbers are few. I’m more than willing to laugh at LDS culture with people who do so in good taste and with at least a modicum of respect, but as for The Book of Mormon, I’ll stick to the original.
I will be making presentations on Mormonism in Los Angeles at Sinai Temple (dialogue with Rabbi David Wolpe, Oct 18th @ 7:30 p.m.) and Temple Isaiah (dialogue with Rabbi Zoë Klein, Oct 24th @ 6:00 p.m.). The public is invited.
September 2, 2012 | 10:29 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
As the Jewish New Year begins later this month, I will join Jews in reflecting on beginnings. I was married earlier this year, and celebrate my birthday on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Since neither Rosh Hashanah nor my temple wedding would have been possible without the covenant that God made with Abraham, I can’t think of a better time to give an overview of the LDS concept of the Abrahamic covenant and its centrality in our theology.
Many Christian churches believe in supersessionism (so-called “replacement theology”), which holds that the Christian churches have replaced Israel in God’s plan, that Jews are no longer God’s chosen people, and that the Abrahamic Covenant has been fulfilled in Christianity. What do Mormons have to say about these beliefs?
It is an article of our faith that other Christian churches do not have divine authorization to “replace” anything, let alone the Jewish people. If you ask a Mormon to join a debate on supersessionism, don’t be surprised if he declines. Claims that Israelites (including Jews) no longer have a covenant with God or that they have been replaced by modern Christian churches are non-starters for us.
For Mormons, the Abrahamic covenant is as valid today as it was on the day that God gave it to the biblical patriarch. However, we don’t believe that the covenant is restricted to Jews. Anciently the covenant was extended to all Israelites, and Latter-day Saints believe that everyone who is accepts the gospel of Jesus Christ and is baptized into our church becomes a child of Abraham and therefore a covenant Israelite.
The last belief – that the Abrahamic covenant has been fulfilled in Christianity – requires a much more nuanced answer. Compared to Judaism, LDS theology posits an expanded definition of the Abrahamic covenant. For Jews, the only affirmative obligation listed in the Torah in order to receive the blessings promised to Abraham is to circumcise their newborn boys (though Moses certainly lengthened the list). For Latter-day Saints, the covenant involves the higher priesthood and related covenants (including eternal marriage) that Abraham received.
The covenant also requires us to engage in missionary work in order to encourage people worldwide to take upon themselves the name of the Lord (indeed, Jews at one time were the most aggressive missionaries in the world). So the next time you see Mormon missionaries on the street, remind yourself that they are fulfilling what they understand to be their obligations under the Abrahamic covenant.
In other words, the question for Mormons is not whether the Abrahamic covenant still applies to Jews, the descendants of the ancient Israelites (it does). The question for us is whether Jews (or Mormons, for that matter) are keeping the terms of the covenant. Given the LDS understanding of the covenant that God made with Abraham, it can find its fullest expression only through the higher priesthood and temple ordinances.
While Mormons and Jews may differ on the scope of the Abrahamic covenant, we definitely agree that it is as valid today as it was during Abraham’s lifetime. It helps to define us as a people and to inspire us to honor God in all that we do. Circumcision for Jews, and priesthood ordinances for Mormons, help to remind us of who we are and Whom we serve. As I blow out my birthday candles on Rosh Hashanah, I plan to make a special wish that the names of Abraham and his God will be honored to a greater extent throughout the world in the coming year.
August 24, 2012 | 11:47 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
I was disappointed, but not surprised, to hear that hundreds of liberal rabbis nationwide have once again decided to publicly endorse Barack Obama for president. Over 613 “Rabbis for Obama” have signed up, twice the number of endorsers in 2008. Although I would love to see those rabbis stick to teaching Jewish values and avoid partisan politics, I realize that their liberal advocacy stems from their desire to follow their interpretation of the “prophetic tradition.” While Mormons have a very different idea of the prophetic tradition, the absence of Orthodox rabbis speaks volumes about the centrality of “Jewish values” in the rabbis’ support for Obama.
If we leave aside Israel advocacy, which is supported by rabbis from all movements and political views, my experience is that only liberal rabbis preach politics from the pulpit. Moreover, it is almost always liberal rabbis who make their political affiliations known. Ever hear of a “Rabbis for McCain” or “Rabbis for Romney” group? As I read the names of LA-area Rabbis for Obama, there were no surprises: All of the ones that I knew on the list have a reputation for advocating progressive causes.
I once attended a panel discussion at Leo Baeck Temple, a liberal Reform synagogue, on the prophetic tradition in Judaism. Several liberal rabbis calmly explained why the prophetic tradition in Judaism authorizes – even requires – modern-day rabbis to speak out on the issues of the day. In other words, because the prophets in ancient Israel spoke out against injustice, a liberal Reform rabbi who preaches progressive politics from the bimah is merely a follower of a great prophetic tradition.
Of course, for Mormons one has to be a prophet in order to speak in the prophetic tradition. Our focus is not so much on what is said, but on who is saying it. If a man is the presiding High Priest in covenant Israel, as we believe Moses was and our current prophet is, then the E.F. Hutton Principle applies: When he talks, people listen. Mormons are currently led by 15 men whom they consider to be prophets, with one authorized to lead the church. Modern Jews don’t have the priesthood or prophets, and they don’t believe in revelation. Still, it’s understandable that liberal Jewish leaders would want to cloak themselves in the mantle of prophetic leadership when speaking out on controversial issues.
My problem with these rabbis is not their theology, but their disingenuousness. One of the greatest advocates for speaking out on political issues in the prophetic tradition is a Reform rabbi who is one of the Vice Chairs of Rabbis for Obama. After the Proposition 8 victory in California, he sent me an e-mail filled with harsh criticism of the LDS Church for – you guessed it—involving itself in politics and taking a public position on what he considered a political issue. For this rabbi, religious leaders are free to endorse politicians and platforms in the prophetic tradition as long as they agree with him.
The other problem I have with the rabbis’ declaration is that there few names of Orthodox rabbis, and none of prominent Orthodox leaders. It could be that Orthodox rabbis are much more reluctant to publicly endorse politicians, or it could also be that they view President Obama’s platforms and principles as incompatible with Jewish values and tradition. I suspect that it’s more of the latter. Liberal rabbis can make believe all they want that liberalism and progressivism are synonymous with Jewish values, but it is very significant to interested non-Jewish observers that those Jews who care most about preserving and following traditional Jewish values and teachings aren’t jumping on the pro-Obama bandwagon.
For me, the rabbis’ campaign is all about hope and change: I hope their candidate loses, and I pray that their conflation of Judaism and liberalism will soon change.
August 16, 2012 | 1:29 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
While walking with a group of rabbis on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, I noticed that one of them had a rather pensive look on his face. Hoping to resolve his concern, I asked him if everything was OK. After a brief hesitation, he admitted that he had trouble understanding how the LDS Church was able to get its members to pay tithing. Another rabbi immediately volunteered to answer his question: “Mormons believe that they are a covenant people. Paying tithing is a way to keep their promise to God.” I couldn’t have said it better.
My mind was drawn to the good rabbi’s comment as I read the recent Reuters article on the finances of the LDS Church. Entitled “Insight: Mormon church made wealthy by donations,” it offers investment advice to the church based on insights gleaned from an ex-Mormon professor and “disgruntled current and former Mormons.” Coming as it does on the heels of an equally inane article on the church’s finances in Bloomberg Businessweek, one is left to conclude that the country’s business media have decided to use the financial transparency mantra as a club with which to clobber the Mormon Church. If they’re going to do that, they should at least take the time to try and understand the faith that is in their crosshairs.
News flash: all successful religions need a reliable source of income in order to continue their ministries. Tithing used to be a Jewish (and Israelite) practice. Today, synagogues collect membership dues, High Holy Days ticket fees, and day school tuition from their members. In addition, generous Jewish donors help keep Jewish institutions and organizations afloat. Knowing this, how would Jews feel about the following Reuters headline: “Insight: Jewish community made wealthy by donations?”
Faithful Mormons pay 10% of their income to their church, along with monthly fast offerings to help the poor which are given following a 24-hour fast. They are also free to give to other church funds, including those which help support missionaries serving worldwide and provide loans to church members in underdeveloped countries who need to obtain more education and/or training. Yes, there are rich Mormons with surnames like Romney and Marriott who give a great deal of money to the church. However, most Mormons are not wealthy yet willingly give their widow’s mite to the church’s coffers. Again, I doubt very much that Reuters would publish an article citing names like Bronfman and Adelson as representative Jewish donors. Every month my wife and I give to the church’s tithing and fast offering funds, and have recently started donating to our congregation’s missionary fund as well. While I can assure the reader that our donations are rather modest, we consider it an honor to be able to demonstrate our faith in God in this tangible way.
Secular journalists try to make a big deal out of the fact that the LDS Church, like the Catholic Church and many other churches, chooses not to publicly disclose financial information. In the case of Reuters, it goes one step further by soliciting insights from disgruntled Mormons, then offers advice to the LDS Church on what it should be doing with its money. Lost in the analysis here is the hard truth that the LDS Church is a church, not a business. Its goal is to save souls, not make a profit. The article’s author is correct when he points out that building large temples around the world doesn’t make sense from a business perspective. Of course, the same could have been said of Solomon’s and Herod’s temples in Jerusalem. There was no logical explanation for the extreme sacrifices made by the ancient Israelites to construct their temples. None, that is, except one: They believed that God commanded them to do it. If one believes (as Mormons do) that only in temples – beautiful, expensive buildings dedicated to God – can the highest ordinances of the Abrahamic covenant be administered, then it is worth incurring any reasonable expense in order to build them. If, on the other hand, one only views temples as buildings that cost x dollars to build and maintain, then the analysis comes from a very different place.
As a tithe-payer, I don’t need to know exactly how much money my church brings in annually in order to see what is being done with my donations. On our recent honeymoon trip across the United States, my lovely wife and I visited LDS chapels, temples, visitors centers, and monuments all over the country. When we first met in Romania, we did so in a beautiful LDS chapel in Bucharest. Her sister just finished attending a conference in Hungary for LDS singles from 10 European countries. The cost for the five-day conference, including meals, bus transportation from Romania and a hotel room? Fifty euros ($61); the rest was subsidized by the church. Any businessman would tell you that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to foot the bill for the conference, but it does seem logical to people who believe that young Mormons should meet and marry other Mormons, preferably in one of those expensive temples.
Reuters obviously has little or no understanding of what motivates and inspires LDS leaders to spend money in the ways that they do. For Mormons, the results, both tangible and intangible, speak for themselves. If Reuters really wants to give advice on prioritizing spending, I can think of a few folks in Washington who could use it.
August 14, 2012 | 1:06 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Mitt Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate will allow voters to compare and contrast Catholics on both sides of the political spectrum as the election approaches. Both Ryan and Vice-President Joe Biden are Catholics, though they hold very different views on many moral issues and on the role of government in society. The same can be said of Mitt Romney and fellow Mormon Sen. Harry Reid, who has publicly attacked Romney over the latter’s failure to publicly disclose some past tax returns. While some Mormons may regard certain LDS politicians as less devoted to their faith, it is both timely and useful to examine whether this is so.
Many Mormons point to Harry Reid as an example of a liberal Latter-day Saint whose true religion is the Democratic Party’s platform. They certainly have a point. I can’t judge someone’s heart or thoughts, but actions usually advertise one’s character. For example, the LDS Church has repeatedly and publicly condemned gambling in all of its forms, yet the good senator has chosen to defend and promote gaming interests in Washington for many years.
How can I possibly defend a Mormon senator’s being in hock to the gaming industry? Well, I can’t. However, I do have a question: Is it also morally questionable for LDS politicians to knowingly accept money from billionaire gaming moguls? If so, then Mitt Romney will have to return Sheldon Adelson’s checks. Something tells me that ain’t gonna happen.
Most faithful Mormon politicians oppose abortion on demand. Sen. Reid has a mixed record on the issue, but can generally be considered pro-life. Mitt Romney used to be pro-choice, but now he’s reliably pro-life. Question: Although he had been a bishop (=rabbi) and stake president (=regional leader) before running for public office, was Romney a less faithful Mormon after he publicly declared his support for abortion rights during his gubernatorial campaign ten years ago? Is he a more faithful one now?
Gay marriage is an easier call, since LDS prophets have repeatedly and publicly opposed state-sanctioned gay marriage. Romney agrees with the church’s position; Sen. Reid recently announced that he opposes it. In other words, men whom the senator regards as modern-day prophets have officially spoken on one of the major moral issues of the day, and the good senator thinks that they’re wrong. It is not possible for a faithful Mormon to support state-sanctioned gay marriage because it entails rejection of prophetic authority. On this issue Sen. Reid’s stance is not a liberal Mormon position; it is an anti-Mormon one.
Economic issues are, of course, largely gray areas for church doctrine. The LDS Church certainly believes in helping the poor and needy in society, and devotes many resources to its extensive worldwide welfare and humanitarian aid programs. However, given our history of persecution and self-reliance, as well as our overwhelmingly Republican voting record in recent years, it’s safe to say that most Mormons in this country believe that a smaller government is preferable to a larger one. While the Gospels do talk of our responsibility to help the poor and needy, Mormons can and do argue whether this means that we should spend other people’s money freely vis-à-vis the government in order to do so. LDS theology is silent on the size and scope of government in a democracy, though the Book of Mormon does warn against levying high taxes on citizens.
I am not an expert on Catholicism, so I’ll let others debate whether Ryan’s or Biden’s vision for the country is more authentically Catholic. Although the LDS Church does not expect or demand that its member politicians vote in accordance with its doctrines on political issues, it is possible to compare and contrast their positions with official church teachings. By this standard, Mitt wins the Better Mormon Award, though not by a landslide.
August 2, 2012 | 12:04 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
As part of my personal campaign to oppose bigoted boycotts, I will be having lunch tomorrow at the Chick-fil-A in Hollywood. I couldn’t get there for today’s official “Chick fil-A Appreciation Day” declared by Mike Huckabee, but I suppose late is better than never when it’s for a worthy cause.
I have never eaten at a Chick-fil-A, but I’m going there to show my support for the chain’s CEO’s right to publicly endorse traditional marriage without having his restaurants boycotted by bigoted gay marriage advocates. I had no idea that such people existed until I was personally targeted by them during the Prop 8 campaign. If I had not had Jewish bosses who respected my right to voice an opinion on contemporary moral issues, I could have lost my job thanks to these advocates of tolerance. I hasten to add here that a gay rabbi condemned their attacks, and I will always be indebted to him for his support while I was under assault.
My regular readers know that I don’t support business boycotts organized by people who happen to disagree with statements made by a company’s executives. I recently registered my opposition on this blog to the misguided boycott campaign against Starbucks because of its CEO’s support for gay marriage. The only business boycott that I have participated in was a personal one against Marriott, and that was because it was a Mormon-led hotel chain that offered pornography channels (thankfully, it no longer offers smut to its guests). To me the difference between Starbucks and Marriott is clear: Starbuck’s CEO and I happen to disagree on gay marriage. However, although Marriott’s chairman agrees with me that pornography is a great evil, he chose to profit from it anyway.
Of course, there are extreme cases where boycotts are called for. A few years ago in my hometown in Michigan, a furniture store owner began espousing racist views and allowed a white supremacist speaker to speak at his store on a regular basis. The townspeople boycotted the store, which soon closed its doors. Had I lived there at the time, I definitely would have participated in the boycott. However, giving money to organizations that support traditional marriage and making statements opposing gay marriage are in no way comparable to hosting white supremacists.
As I eat my chicken sandwich tomorrow, I’ll be thinking of each bite as a victory for tolerance and freedom in this great country. Viewing online pictures of people lined up to eat at Chick-fil-A restaurants today reassured me that the bigots haven’t won yet.
July 29, 2012 | 11:14 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
As I viewed the picture of Mitt Romney standing at the Wailing Wall during his current trip to Israel, I clearly remembered my first time at the wall. It was one of the spiritual highlights of my life. Like many Mormons who have traveled to the country, I feel like Israel is my second home. I’m sure that Mitt was moved by the wall’s otherworldly grandeur. As a devout Mormon, it’s likely that he was pondering some of these thoughts as he offered up his written prayer to God:
*LDS apostles have dedicated the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jewish people on many occasions, beginning with Elder Orson Hyde in 1841. In 1845, all of the apostles called on the Jews “in the name of the Messiah, to prepare, to return to Jerusalem in Palestine; and to rebuild that city and temple unto the Lord.” Today there is an Orson Hyde Memorial Garden on the Mount of Olives.
*Netanya Academic College has Orson Hyde Square, which features an olive tree planted to honor each prophet of the LDS Church.
*Israel is the only country in the world whose creation was expressly called for and supported by Mormon leaders. George Albert Smith, LDS Church President at the time of Israel’s creation in 1948, publicly and privately assured many Jewish leaders of his support for their efforts to establish a Jewish state.
*Israel Bonds were first issued in 1951. One year later, Church President David O. McKay purchased $5000 of Israel Bonds on behalf of the church, stating that he was doing this “to show our sympathy with the effort being made to establish the Jews in their homeland.”
*Brigham Young University has been sending students to study in Israel since 1968. It currently leases land from the Israeli government for its magnificent Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, which looks down on the Old City.
*Two presidents of the LDS Church (Spencer W. Kimball and Howard W. Hunter) and an apostle (LeGrand Richards) have been awarded the Jerusalem Medal.
Whether it’s Mitt or Glenn Beck, I’m always pleased to see prominent Latter-day Saints get warm receptions in Israel. I take great pleasure in knowing that If Israelis could decide the winner of November’s election, Mitt – the Mormon candidate—would win in a landslide. As more and more Jews and Israelis become familiar with the history of LDS-Jewish relations, they will better understand why Mormons feel a special closeness to them. In the case of Mitt, I believe that his religious beliefs and his strong support for Israel and Jews can’t be separated; they merely feed off each other.
July 18, 2012 | 12:52 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
In a case of using questionable means to achieve a noble end, pro-life pastors and activists in Kansas are planning to incorporate a full-size replica of the Western Wall in their proposed International Pro-Life Memorial and National Life Center. The wall will have 60 crosses in front of it, each one representing one million dead babies. The organizers have said that they want to include the wall because it is a symbol of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, and they believe that another holocaust is taking place in the nation’s abortion clinics. While I sympathize with the organizers’ intent, they are misappropriating a powerful Jewish symbol that has nothing to do with abortion or the Holocaust to make their point.
As a Mormon, I agree that abortion is a great moral evil. The LDS Church considers abortion a serious sin, and it can be grounds for excommunication. However, the church does recognize that exceptions can be made in certain cases (e.g., when the mother’s life is threatened) after prayerful consideration, and it does not consider abortion to be murder. Moreover, it is possible for Mormons who have participated in abortions to repent and obtain forgiveness.
Notwithstanding my support for the organizers’ goals, I object to the Jewish theme of part of the proposed memorial, which my wife and I will definitely visit after it is dedicated. The Western (Wailing) Wall is Judaism’s holiest site. The placement of 60 crosses in front of the wall could be offensive to many Jews, for whom the cross represents additional Jewish suffering during centuries of Christian pogroms and persecution. In addition, while the wall is a symbol of Jewish suffering, it is not normally associated with the Holocaust, which happened 2,000 years after the wall’s construction. If the good pastors want to link the killing of babies to the Holocaust, it would be more accurate to include a gas chamber in the monument.
Here is where I must tread softly. I was 100% on board with the abortion-as-modern-Holocaust argument until I went to Auschwitz a few years ago. I can’t explain why exactly, but for me there is a difference between the herding of living, breathing human beings into gas chambers and the killing of babies in utero. There certainly are parallels – for example, in both cases some people decide that others’ lives are expendable. This is especially true of viable, third-trimester babies. I get the pastors’ Holocaust argument, and admire their desire to promote the sanctity of all innocent life. That said, when you’re standing in a gas chamber at Auschwitz, something about their reasoning falls flat.
Of course, many Jews have also objected to the inclusion of the Wailing Wall, which one national pro-abortion Jewish organization has called “an outrageous affront to the Jewish people.” Truth be told, nothing that the pastors have proposed is nearly as “outrageous” as support for the killing of babies by people who claim to have Jewish values. Jewish law and tradition do not support the killing of the unborn in most cases, and there is nothing Jewish about being pro-abortion. On this issue the pastors are much more in tune with traditional Judaism than liberal Jews are.
This is a project that my wife and I would like to donate to if it gets off the ground, and I wish the pastors much success with fundraising and other activities. However, I do hope that they will reconsider their inclusion of the Western Wall.
July 12, 2012 | 12:54 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
According to the church’s official website, a semiannual General Synod of the Church of England “debates matters of national and international importance.” Given the current state of the world, there should be no shortage of items to discuss. However, the Eurozone meltdown, Syrian civil war, Iran nuclear talks breakdown, and other crises inexplicably failed to make the cut. In fact, only two international matters have been deemed worthy of discussion at the synods held this year: Muslim attacks on Christians in Nigeria and the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme (EAPPI), which takes people to the West Bank so that they can experience life under “occupation” and supports the anti-Semitic BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaign against Israel. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Board of Deputies of British Jews may vote to sever ties to the Church of England at its next meeting. Good for them.
Attendees at recent gatherings of liberal Protestant churches can be forgiven for wondering why Israel is always in their crosshairs. The Anglicans’ shameful vote to strengthen ties with the EAPPI comes on the heels of the Episcopal Church’s call for a negotiated two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, a schizophrenic vote by Presbyterians to reject a divestment resolution while boycotting products made in West Bank settlements, and the rejection by Methodists of yet another divestment initiative. It’s quite clear that these liberal leaders lack an appreciation for the Jewish state, and it’s also obvious that political activism, not divine guidance, is fueling their unhealthy Israel obsession. I can’t imagine why anyone would care what liberal Protestant committees think about Israel, and admire Jewish organizations for their patience and forbearance when dealing with them.
The response of the Church of England’s interreligious affairs adviser to the synod’s vote was very telling: “Many Synod members abstained, not willing to dismiss EAPPI, but presumably registering that they understood the negative implications for Jewish-Christian relations of a positive vote.” In other words, the well-meaning synod voters didn’t object to the substance of the resolution, but feared that it might harm relations with the Jewish community.
I think that we can cut to the chase on the Israel issues by asking attendees at upcoming meetings of liberal Protestants to vote on the following question: Is the Abrahamic covenant valid today? They will deny that it is. Mormons believe that the covenant remains valid, and that is why the LDS Church has sent apostles to dedicate the Land of Israel on many occasions for the gathering of the Jewish people. Jews believe in the continuing validity of the covenant as well, which is why they have worked so hard to establish and preserve their state. Mormons and Jews may disagree on what the terms of the Abrahamic covenant are and on what one needs to do to receive the blessings of the covenant, but they agree that the Abrahamic covenant is 100% in force today. As a result, you don’t see LDS leaders debating divestment from Israel out of a misguided search for “justice” and “peace.”
There is no reason to expect that liberal Christian synods and conventions will adopt a more comprehensive view of injustice in the world in the near future. Each year brings new phraseology and new resolutions, but the underlying message is the same: The Abrahamic covenant is not valid for Jews today, and Israel is one of the worst countries in the world. Once Jews realize this, more of them will emulate the actions of the British Jewish leaders by looking elsewhere for fruitful dialogue on Israel.
July 2, 2012 | 12:36 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Last week a Jewish journalist contacted me about Mormon outreach efforts to the Jewish community. His email came just after an LDS leader interested in reaching out to Jews had called for a briefing on the “ABC organizations” that make up the organized Jewish community. Their queries caused me to reflect on the prospects for future LDS-Jewish collaboration, which I believe will ultimately prove to be most fruitful with Orthodox and pro-Israel groups.
Through my professional involvement with the Jewish community, I have seen firsthand the positive results from LDS-Jewish interfaith outreach. Jews are the best coalition builders in the country, and are always willing to work with Christians who love and respect them. Many Mormon leaders have longstanding relationships with prominent Jewish leaders and organizations, Mormons are working and blogging in the Jewish community, and the thorny proxy baptism issue has largely been put to rest.
However, there are many movements and communities in the Jewish world, and they vary greatly in the degree to which they are willing and able to engage in meaningful interfaith collaboration with the LDS Church. The Orthodox community is the most appealing partner because its moral vision is closest to the LDS ideal. Orthodox leaders joined forces with the LDS Church during the Prop 8 battle in California, they oppose abortion in most circumstances, they denounce pornography, and they largely share Mormons’ preference for a society of strong families based on traditional Judeo-Christian values. The Orthodox have also started to echo LDS leaders in stressing the importance of religious freedom in a pluralistic society. I have given the D’var Torah (sermon) from an Orthodox bimah and conducted a public theological dialogue with an Orthodox pulpit rabbi, so I know firsthand that the Orthodox are willing to extend a hand to Mormons who care deeply about Jews and Judaism. There is no limit to how much good the collaboration between our two communities could accomplish.
Generally speaking, LDS dialogue with Reform and Conservative Jews, while wonderful and even inspiring, is on a different level. While more liberal Jews usually more open to interfaith outreach efforts than the Orthodox, it is sometimes difficult for them to overlook differences they may have with the LDS Church on gay marriage, abortion, and other controversial moral issues. This is not a criticism, merely an observation. For example, one Reform rabbi was considering inviting a few Mormon leaders to his synagogue to hold a forum on how to raise good kids, a topic of great interest to his congregation. During the first planning meeting, a Mormon woman presented to the group a pamphlet explaining the LDS Church’s youth program. The reaction from some of the Jewish participants was so negative that the good rabbi had to nix the proposed forum. To them the Mormon ideal for religious youth education was so different from theirs that it precluded dialogue on the issue. With one exception, on the few occasions when I have encountered hostility towards my church in the Jewish community, it has come from secular or Reform Jews over political/moral issues.
What is often missing in the LDS dialogue with more liberal Jewish movements is a Jewish component. When Mormons ask about large Jewish organizations, most of which are liberal, they are usually shocked to learn that many of them support abortion rights (including partial-birth abortions), gay marriage, etc. One LDS local leader in a private conversation called a well-known Jewish organization “the ACLU with a yarmulke.” When it comes to moral issues, liberal Jewish movements are not bound by traditional Jewish law, which does not sanction third-trimester abortions or same-sex couplings.
Don’t get me wrong: I know a lot of wonderful Reform and Conservative Jews, and their dedication to tikkun olam (service to others in an effort to repair the world) is truly inspiring. It’s just that when a Mormon ward and a Reform congregation work together to, say, staff a soup kitchen together, the common bond is a desire to do good and to serve others. As laudable as this is, I fail to see any distinctly Jewish component here. In other words, when Mormons and Orthodox talk about collaboration, the conversation includes words like Torah, Judaism and morality. When Mormons discuss collaboration with Reform Jews, they could just as well be talking with Methodists, Muslims or Episcopalians. Again, I have nothing but praise for interfaith collaboration that involves service and doing good. However, there is nothing distinctly Jewish about these concepts, so the “dialogue” that takes place is not as meaningful as it could otherwise be.
Another promising area of cooperation between Mormons and Jews is Israel. Although the LDS Church doesn’t take sides in the Middle East, most Mormons in this country are solidly pro-Israel and would welcome the chance to work with Jews on Israel advocacy. The only glitch here is that most Jewish organizations seeking to promote Jewish-Christian ties on Israel have already partnered with evangelical organizations that are unwilling to fully accept Mormons into the coalition. The best solution would be for Mormons to create their own version of CUFI (Christians United for Israel) with a distinctly Mormon vision.
With the possible election of a Mormon for president this year, Mormons are anticipating many questions from the public on Mormon beliefs and doctrines. In addition, I believe that as more and more Jews meet more and more Mormons, the former will come to appreciate a philo-Semitic church whose members believe that they are modern-day Israelites. Mormon outreach should be directed to Jews from all movements (and none), but I’m betting that in 20 years the most fruitful efforts will prove to have been those made to bring Mormons and Orthodox and/or Israel-loving Jews together.
June 18, 2012 | 1:00 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
ἄρα γε ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν ἐπιγνώσεσθε αὐτούς (“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them”) – Matthew 7:20
And even I, myself [King Benjamin], have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne…” – Mosiah 2:14 [Book of Mormon]
My stock portfolio and I were very relieved to learn that Greeks had voted to save their economy by giving the New Democracy Party a narrow win over the delusional Syriza Party. Now that European governments have breathed a great sigh of relief, they can prepare to negotiate the final terms of the Greek bailout package. While I’ve seen plenty of reports on the country’s economic ills, few of them have highlighted the country’s spectacular moral failings. The sad truth is that almost all of them can be laid squarely at the gilded doors of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ, to which 98% of Greeks belong.
There is little de facto separation of church and state in Greece. Greeks don’t just have a constitution: its official title is “The Constitution of Greece – In the Name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity.” This holy constitution establishes Greek Orthodoxy as the country’s “prevailing” religion, and the state pays for the clergy’s seminaries, salaries, and pensions. All of this largesse would be understandable if the government were getting inspiring moral leadership in return. Even a cursory review of Greek’s current situation shows that this is hardly the case.
I have blogged before about the Orthodox Church’s shameful record on anti-Semitism, and it bears repeating: surveys show that Greece is among the most anti-Semitic and anti-Israel countries in Europe. Matters were not helped any when the Orthodox Metropolitan of Piraeus (a senior bishop on the public dole) declared 18 months ago that “Adolf Hitler was an instrument of world Zionism and was financed from the renowned Rothschild family with the sole purpose of convincing the Jews to leave the shores of Europe and go to Israel to establish the new Empire.” [In a “statement of clarification,” the Metropolitan added, “My public vehement opposition against International Zionism refers to the organ that is the successor of the ‘Sanhedrin’ which altered the faith of the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Righteous of the Jewish nation through the Talmud, the Rabbinical writings and the Kabbalah into Satanism.”]
Regular readers of this column won’t be surprised to learn that Mark’s First Principle of Persecution – those who dislike Jews also dislike Mormons as well – is operative in Greece. According to the U.S. State Department, at least eight LDS missionaries have been arrested in the last four years. Six were released within two hours, and two missionaries spent two days in jail before being tried and acquitted of all charges. Former missionaries in Greece whom I contacted confirmed stories of police harassment and hostility towards church members and missionaries stoked by local Orthodox bishops and priests.
In addition to anti-Semitism and religious intolerance, Greeks are well-known for having a corrupt government and an aversion to paying taxes, the latter a primary focus of economic reform proposals. Clearly the Orthodox Church is not engaged in serious moral teaching and/or the people aren’t listening. Since only a quarter of Greeks attend church regularly, my guess is that their spiritual needs aren’t being met by the priests that they’re supporting.
I have two solutions for this disconnect. First of all, the best spending cut that the Greek government could implement would be to cut off funding for the salaries and pensions of all Orthodox priests, deacons and bishops. Ditto for Orthodox seminaries. Both the New Testament and The Book of Mormon provide examples of spiritual giants (e.g., the Apostle Paul) who supported themselves through hard work. One reason why Mormon bishops and other local leaders are unusually successful in their moral teaching efforts is because they all have day jobs, which allows them to relate very well to their congregants. [While it’s true that rabbis, like Greek Orthodox priests, are also supported by others, they have been much more successful in preaching moral values to their flocks than their Orthodox counterparts in Greece.]
My second suggestion would be to tone down the church’s nationalism. I recall visiting a Greek Orthodox church in Santa Barbara a few years ago and leafing through an official church publication. Several articles discussed political issues related to Cyprus and Macedonia, and their tone was so biased that they could have been written by the Greek Foreign Ministry. This kind of material doesn’t belong in a magazine published by a universal apostolic church. In the end, nationalism is a poor substitute for inspired moral teaching, and the empty pews throughout Greece bear witness to this.
One of Israel’s official titles is “Light Unto the Nations,” a reminder that from the days of the prophet Isaiah Judaism has been expected to provide moral and spiritual leadership to the world. Rightly or wrongly, Israel’s actions – good and bad – are often seen as a reflection of Judaism’s ethics and morality. Although most Israelis are not religious, and Jewish law doesn’t govern the country, Jews’ image and ethics are constantly on trial when three quarters of a nation’s population is Jewish. The Greek Orthodox Church deserves similar scrutiny, since almost every Greek is a member.
If one were to give an evaluation of the moral teaching of this national church of a country on the brink of financial ruin, one would have to conclude that it has utterly failed to provide moral and spiritual leadership to millions of Greeks. In LDS theology, spiritual leaders have a solemn responsibility to teach correct moral principles to their congregants, lest God hold them responsible for the people’s sins. Greek priests would do well to follow this principle. In this case, the kindest thing that the Greek government could do for Orthodox leaders (as well as for the country) is to ask them to increase their moral preaching, nix the nationalism – and get a day job.