Rogue Mormons Turn Chauvinistic Exceptionalists
Though born-again evangelicals glory in personal life-changing experiences, such openness to change withers when latter-day newcomers defy Protestant sects with truly “born-again,” collective do-overs. What’s wonderful for individual sinners pales when core Reformation advances are confronted with what the right in other arenas happily elevate to “big ideas.”
And since the entire Mormon Trail challenges all that’s come before as betrayal of Jesus’ original message, no wonder millions of garden-variety fundamentalists dismiss LDS as a cult. How odd since Mormons “out-rightwing” many fundamentalist faithful on gender and gay rights, money and materialistic success, family and church-going, defense spending and America confirmed as God’s country. Though Mormons reject the trinity of Christ, downright unchristian to the less tolerant, they’re still more conservative and more Republican than any other faith. What was once a passion-driven radical sect now brashly aligns itself to status quo authority and deference to the unfeeling mandates of billionaire capitalists.
Ironies abound, hardly unusual for LDS. Mormons embrace the King James Bible (written, after all, in God’s tongue), yet severely recast theology and practices, declaring themselves (big surprise) the purest Christians. Actually, LDS from the get-go went rogue, consecrating polygamy and paternalism, explicitly declaring the superiority of white skin, and that universal baptism anywhere for anyone was A-okay. When or where the historic Jesus, rumored with darkish skin, promoted these notions I leave to partisans to explain.
Yet, say what you will about Mormons, you can’t call them un-American: they are the most successful (or conspicuous) modern-era faction wholly “made in America.” Spawned in New York State, the Book of Mormon was refined in Missouri (which the Garden of Eden resides), and honed repeatedly in Utah, as new times, leaders and revelations displaced earlier, apparently misguided thunderclaps. Is not reinventing yourself the quintessentially American value – notably trusting tribal insiders for divine guidance, not suspect authorities abroad, like all those other idolatrous offenders?
Mitt fits the Mormon bill
Indeed, the Church of Latter-Day Saints (old name) is flush with Yankee strengths and weaknesses. Mormons started off in the desert backwaters “doing it their way,” the only denomination to pioneer, domesticate and dominate an entire state. Now loaded with holdings and recession-proof income, this organized religion matches top corporations in efficiency and central planning, with authoritarian peer pressure when necessary. While tolerant to outsiders, leadership summarily exiles wayward Mormons, like Romney “firing” losers undeserving of higher blessings. That Mitt commands the world with a similarly black and white, spreadsheet vision – the CEO slamming different problems with the same hammer – speaks to the standard image of the perfunctory, striving, never-give-up Mormon.
I don’t wish to berate Mormon beliefs or believers, but focus on historical and political ripples. How is it once rogue Christians are virulently patriotic, wholehearted addicts to mythic American Exceptionalism? How did radicals flouting all of established Christianity turn so slavishly chauvinistic, echoing the craziness of “America, right or wrong”? How do hardscrabble, religious crusaders end up consecrating capitalism and limitless material accumulation? Years of want, I suppose, deifies wealth, especially when harboring rigid, defensive stances against hostile treatment.
Mormons, like Puritans, also equate wealth with spiritual election (and thus worthiness for high leadership). Yes, Mormons skip over Jesus’ subversive teachings, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Nor do Mormons (or Rethuglicans) follow what Jesus told the dutiful rich man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” The grace from wholly anonymous charity, which Jesus frames here, falls on deaf ears.
Even more curious, what was then a polygamous cult had to reinvent itself, causing internal divisions, in the 1890’s and become a state and join in worshipping America as it does its Christianity. Like good converts, rebels for decades against federal authority crossed over, merging their own sense as chosen people with America as the chosen (new) paradise, with our hallowed Constitution scripted by “the finger of God.” Polygamy was out.
America, Last Promised Land
Mormon teachings hold Jesus so valued America’s golden destiny he visited, in person, not just angelic visitations by one putative Moroni. For Mormons, it’s a package deal of literalism: their singularity, fueled by Joseph Smith’s magical revelations, gold tablets, and indigenous lost tribe of Israelites, sanctify America as utterly unique. God blesses America, in these terms, by gifting us with Mormonism, plus commanding our history, destiny, documents, and providence. Doesn’t that make it perfectly logical for a Mormon to eventually rule the White House?
Yes, forget dividing the Book of Mormon from the Book of Exceptionalism written by our Constitution. Geography cemented by faith defines reality, per Elder Dallin Oaks: the U. S. Constitution was established “by the hands of wise men whom [the Lord] raised up unto this very purpose . . . made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Oops, so much for our melting pot for deviants, not to mention gays, the desperate and dispossessed plus good-for-nothing minorities on the dole.
Likewise, LDS apostle Russell Ballard declares core Yankee principles and philosophy “are not simply the result of the best efforts of a remarkable group of brilliant men. They were inspired by God, and the rights and privileges guaranteed in the Constitution are God-given, not man derived … sacred, essential and inalienable.” So great is this sanctification former LDS head David McKay declares, “Next to being one in worshiping God, there is nothing in this world upon which this Church should be more united than in upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States” (Gospel Ideals, p. 319).
And then there’s this Mormon stretch, based on the theory of “incorporation by reference.” As reported in the NY Times Magazine Cynthia Dunbar argued, “When you have in one legal document reference to another, it pulls them together . . . so you cannot read the Constitution distinct from the Declaration.” And the Declaration famously refers to a Creator and grounds itself in “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Therefore, absurdly, the Founders’ (rather deistic) religiosity infused the Declaration in order to stamp the Constitution as God’s law. Whence cometh the nutcase Mormon named Glenn Beck, who equates America and God’s country: “It is God’s finger that wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This is God’s country; these are God’s rights.” See also Molly Worthen’s informative piece in Foreign Policy.
Finally, heed the book title for Mitt’s campaign propaganda: “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.” With a fine review, Michelle Boorstein summarizes why Mormons are so darned Republican: “Mormons largely adopted the Book of Mormon’s view that the United States is a promised land and that Mormons have a duty to obey God and keep the country on the right track.” Q.E.D. And watch any and all apologies, only for weaklings who make mistakes, not for a spiritually-elect superman who now seeks the election to public power.
For Romney’s latest endorsement, in letter and spirit (and codes) of merging politics, place, God and religion, study this week’s Convention speech:
“[the] goodness of America has always been based on the strength and power and goodness of our communities, our families, our faiths . . .
That is the bedrock of what makes America, America. In our best days, we can feel the vibrancy of America’s communities, large and
small . . . That America, that united America, will preserve a military that is so strong, nonation would ever dare to test it . . . That America,
that united America, will uphold the constellation of rights that were endowed by our Creator, and codified in our Constitution.”
Note: By the way, Mormons I’ve known are serious-minded, hardworking, willing to engage on religion, and loyal to community and tribe, perhaps to a fault. Rather straight shooters, most unlike Romney: none ever forged their success on an anvil of mendacity. Yet, one woman I knew, not born to the faith, divorced one abusive, misogynist Mormon only to be hounded by constant elder visitation to marry another and keep her many children (and his brood) on the right moral track. She hardly married the second for love but couldn’t over time resist the ceaseless community pressure, that tribe and family (and thus parents) first serve God.