A Mormon reader writes:
Mormonism's soul is indeed divided - and the good thing about Romney's run is that the leadership and the rank and file membership of Mormonism's largest denomination (the LDS Church) are realizing that they have painted themselves into a corner.
By linking in the mid-70's with the emerging Religious Right (to fight the ERA and the gay rights movement), the Mormons (who were until recent times gladly REJECTED the label of "Christian" in favor of the more Biblical label of "Saint') took this political alliance as a sign of their finally being accepted by mainstream Christians as fellow Christians.
Of course the Religious Right (the New Calvinists or New Puritans - as I call them) are not "mainstream" at all, but religious radicals who are working to establish a sort of Theo-democracy. As such they belong to the very sector of religious Americans who brutally persecuted Mormons in 1830's Missouri, and then led the successful campaign to completely disenfranchise Utah Mormons between the 1886 and the 1890's.
Romney knows that he can't come public with Mormon theology without completely losing the support of the New Calvinists but also many average Americans who, unfortunately, look to the New Calvinists for sound-bites on Christian belief and practice. Unlike orthodox Christianity, Mormon thelogy is polytheistic, teaching that the Gods organized the universe from pre-existing, eternal, uncreated chaotic elements. It rejects Original Sin. It rejects Salvation by Grace, teaching that individuals must "work out their own salvation" and "learn to become Gods [themselves] the same as all Gods before have done." At its inception, with the publication of "The Book of Mormon" in 1830, Mormonism rejected the doctrines of Biblical infallibility and Biblical literalism.
As a Mormon, I was put-off by Romney's disingenuousness when he was asked on a TV interview to explain how Mormonism differs from other Christian denominations. Romney tried to give the impression that he was unqualified to speak for the LDS Church, referring poeple to the Church's website. When confronted with the fact that he has been an LDS Bishop, he tried to give the impression that, in a "lay church," the calling of a Bishop isn't important.
This is untrue.
Bishops interview, and must approve every person in their Ward boundaries (aka Parish) who wishes to convert to Mormonism and be baptized. The process by which they do this (the Bishop's Interview) is the means by which the Bishop finds out if the would-be-convert understands the LDS Church's theology. If the would-be-convert is ignorant of certain doctrines, it is the Bishop's job to instruct them in the theology before approving that person's baptism. The Bishop also interviews every single member of his congregation yearly, to pastor them through any spirital crisis or tragedy, and to determine if each person is "keeping the commandments" (i.e., following Church dictates on lifestyle choices), is "active" (attending Church meetings regularly), and "has a testimony" (understands and accepts the Church's theology.) A Bishop is aked almost daily by some individual or some organization with the LDS Church to explain some aspect of Mormon theology. Whenever a Mormon has a question or concern about any aspect of Mormon theology, they are instructed to ask their Bishop about it.
In short, one can not be a Bishop without understanding Mormon theology and how it differs from that of traditonal Christianity. In any given community, Bishop would be one of only a handful of LDS Church officers whose calling it is to speak the local press, local civic groups, etc. about Mormon theology and practice. No one else in the Church's lay clergy CAN officially speak for the LDS Church other than an area's Bishop and Stake President.
Romney is intentionally misleading the press by making it seem as if he is unqualified to discuss Mormon theology. Remember, besides being a Bishop, he served as a full-time Mormon missionary for two years. For two years, his full-time calling was specifically to teach Mormon theology to potential converts--not only explaining Mormon doctrine, but explaining how it differs from orthodox Christian doctrine. The LDS Church brags that young men come back from two year missions who a deeper understanding of their religion than that enjoyed by believers of other faiths. Is Romney the lone exception to this?
The fact is, Mitt Romney is probably one of the LDS Church's MOST qualified speakers on the subject.
(Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty.)