Romney’s Mormonism up for debate?

George Frey GETTY IMAGES A statue of the founder of the Mormon Church Joseph Smith sits outside the historic Salt … Continued

George Frey


A statue of the founder of the Mormon Church Joseph Smith sits outside the historic Salt Lake Temple April 3, 2010 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

William Saletan’s recent commentary comparing racial and sexist bigotry with bias against Mormonism showed an admirable intent to remove prejudice from our national rhetoric.  But his comparison conflated two very different topics—discrimination based on biological characteristic and discrimination based on a chosen system of beliefs.  This conflation runs the risk of suppressing citizens’ obligation to evaluate a politician’s beliefs, based on the false premise that expressing concern about a religion’s doctrinal teaching is simply another form of bigotry.

Growing up in Mormonism, I felt uncomfortable with the religion’s teaching that people of African ancestry had failed to fight with Christ in the “war in heaven” that preceded the creation of the earth.  This was taught to me as the reason such individuals were given dark skin, and that black men were not allowed to hold the Mormon priesthood.  In 1978, the Mormon prophet reported a revelation from God allowing men of all races to hold the priesthood—but the doctrinal righteousness of the early race barrier was never denounced.

At age twenty, surrounded by my Mormon loved ones and as a condition necessary to be married, I took a secret oath in a Mormon temple to give all my resources, including my “time and talents” to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Despite my desire to do what was expected of me, I felt uncomfortable with this, secretly amending the wording in my own mind so that instead of the church, I swore allegiance to God.  Years later, when I was more mature and had learned more about the doctrinal layers of Mormonism, which affirm the righteousness of early practices including polygamy and racial discrimination, I realized that to uphold my allegiance to God, it would be necessary to disavow my membership in the religion.  I simply no longer believed what Mormons believed.  To retain my affiliation would have said that I had no disagreement with doctrines or policies.

Mitt Romney was born into a Mormon family, but this is nothing like being born into a gender, a race, or even an ethnicity.  Any adult has the freedom to examine the belief systems to which he or she belongs, and to make decisions to remain affiliated or to leave that system.  I will defend Romney’s right to be Mormon to my last breath, but I don’t agree with his belief system.  Belief systems underlie policy decisions.  They not only can but should factor into voters’ judgments about which candidate to choose.

As a highly intelligent and informed man, Mitt Romney undoubtedly understands his religion’s teachings.  As a member-in-good-standing of the Mormon religion, he too has taken a vow to devote all his “time and talents” to the church.  While he may chose not to act in accordance with Mormonism’s worldview politically, voters should be aware of his group affiliation, and his continued choice to reaffirm his commitment to the beliefs the church espouses.  He could eschew the church’s teachings, including historical and doctrinal racism and sexism, at any point, simply by choosing and stating a different belief.  This is not in the same category as trying to change one’s race and gender.

Bigotry aims judgment and devaluation at characteristics that are part of an individual’s biological legacy.  Religious prejudice attacks competing points of view as “sinful,” “heathen,” or “heretical.”  But Americans who are free of bigotry and religious prejudice are still obligated to evaluate the belief systems embraced by candidates.  Whether Mormonism is a cult or a mainstream religion is a sociological point (I have a doctorate in sociology, and I believe it is a mainstream religion).  Whether Mormons are Christians is a theological point (I believe Mormonism is a branch of Christianity).  But taking a serious look at a candidate’s avowed belief system—the religion with which he daily chooses to remain affiliated—is simply the responsibility of any voter who wants to make an informed and thoughtful choice.

Martha Beck is an author, life coach, and former Mormon. Follow her on Twitter @MarthaBeck.

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  • docfreddy

    One man’s religion is just another man’s cult. Any intelligent person
    with just a smidgeon of critical thinking can successfully argue that
    ALL religions from the beginning of human existence are merely cultist and magical wishful thinking. What we finally need is a president who is a freethinker, a critical thinker, and who’s mind is trained in science and reason not group-think and blind faith.
    Why is Christianity a cult? How’s this: The belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-women was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.
    Does this seem legit? Reasonable? Is there the slightest evidence that any of this is true? No, there is no evidence or indication that any of the tenets or stories presented in the Bible are true at all. Simply to say, have ‘faith’ doesn’t satisfy at all. Someone could say, “there are aliens speaking to me every night and giving me instructions to save the planet… have faith and come follow me.” Wouldn’t any rational person ask for some evidence before doing so?
    So-called religious people arguing over whose beliefs are more valid is like divisive groups arguing (and killing each other) over any fairy tale myth like Zeus, Thor, Hermes, Apollo, Poseidon, Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy… you name it.
    All these religious beliefs – past and present – are manufactured out of pure imagination and wish-thinking. There has never been a shred of evidence that any of these Gods or modes of worship are valid in the least. They are products of pure anthropomorphic projections and superstitious thinking to ‘comfort’ a fear-based humanity and they need to be exposed as such. Power, superstition, and control is the life-blood of most religions – especially the monotheistic ones. Become a free-thinker and

  • brymonson

    What a HIGHLY irresponsible article from the Post. It seems you are more interested in Enquirer-variety reporting than painting an accurate picture.

    A disgruntled Anti-Mormon writing as an “expert” on my religion? Why don’t you sign up the Yankees general manager to report if people should cheer for the the Red Sox? Or lets sign up Putin to expose a critical opinion on the virtues of capitalism and free society? If you are this far in left-field on a topic of which I am an expert, now I know about what to trust on articles I’m less familiar.

    This article is TERRIBLY mis-representing and false. There NEVER EVER has been church doctrine stating that Blacks were “less-valiant” as Beck claims. Never. Some individual standing at the microphone may have held such beliefs, but the Church as a whole NEVER EVER taught that as official doctrine. Not once.
    From the Book of Mormon: “…for [Christ] doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” -2 Nephi 26:23

    And why don’t you ask the aprox 1.2 MILLION active African members, bishops, Stake Presidents or general authorities of the faith if they feel racism in the church?

    Or how about you ask the aprox 7.1 MILLION active women in the church if they feel sexism in the church? I’d have you talk to my wife, but you’ll have to book an appointment with her secretary at her law firm first.

    What’s next up a “former Mormon expert” talking about how disgruntled they are about having to wear pioneer clothes? Come on people. This is outrageous. Its offensive.

    Please contact me anytime. I’m happy to write an article about the church, or be an expert opinion anytime. Lets get the facts strait.

  • brymonson

    Might I add, how convenient to omit that the founder of the Church, Joseph Smith ran for president of the United States to abolish slavery. He was murdered by a mob of religious zealots in the deep south over the issue. The Mormons were hated in Missouri, an economy built on slavery, because of their condemnation of slavery, their harboring policies, and their protection of run-away slaves.

    Why not add that Joseph and Emma Smith ADOPTED an orphaned run away slave girl, who grew up strong as a revered saintly woman, who had held for her a special reserved seat on the front row of the tabernacle until her death?

    The inconvenience of the truth Beck.

  • KenKyle

    Martha Beck writes, “Years later, when I was more mature and had learned more about the doctrinal layers of Mormonism, which affirm the righteousness of early practices including. . .racial discrimination. . .”

    Good grief. She has to know this is not true. Members of the LDS church must put aside any thoughts or legacy of racial intolerance or unkindness. In 2006 LDS Church President Gordon Hinckley stated at a men’s priesthood meeting,” I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children. . .If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.”

  • honestlyspeaking

    Growing up in the Mormon faith, I was also taught that the people of African ancestry were a cursed race because of what occured during the “war in heaven”. I think I am a little older than Martha Beck and I can vouch for the fact that this was taught to the members of the Church when I was a young girl and continued to be taught while I was serving as a missionary for the Mormon Church.
    About Joseph Smith being a martyr – many people were angry with Joseph Smith because he taught that polygomy was an eternal law. He practiced this law by marrying young girls and even women who were already married. I believe this is why he was killed.

  • SgtJarf

    “He could eschew the church’s teachings, including historical and doctrinal racism and sexism, at any point, simply by choosing and stating a different belief.”

    1. Beck’s allegation of historical and doctrinal racism and sexism is laughably disingenuous.
    2. The suggestion that Mitt Romney “eschew” his heritage by “simply choosing and stating” a different belief is among the most comical things I’ve read in the course of the most recent media-fueled Mormon Circus.

    This lady is a joke, and the Washington Post should be ashamed for allowing such garbage to run.

  • D123451

    Nothing funnier than a bigot trying to defend bigotry. It’s like a thief trying to explain that stealing is a good talent we should foster.

  • D123451

    “This article is TERRIBLY mis-representing and false. There NEVER EVER has been church doctrine stating that Blacks were “less-valiant” as Beck claims. Never. Some individual standing at the microphone may have held such beliefs, but the Church as a whole NEVER EVER taught that as official doctrine. Not once. ”

    I’m glad someone said it. This person is just another person paid by Obama and Perry who have their own pinochio problems.

  • CherilynEagar

    Martha Beck’s world was not the world I grew up in as a Mormon in Hollywood, California. Her description of our faith is skewed regarding discrimination and racism.

    My great-great grandmother and her daughters were part of an horrific experience crossing the plains with the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company. They are featured in the recent film 17 Miracles. They were near death but did not complain. They were strong and bold women, who stood against the elements and with sheer ingenuity, will – and yes, faith – they survived. Those were my role models, and they still are.

    I have lived in all regions of the country since my young years in Hollywood, and now in Utah. I find Martha’s complaints to be similar to most liberal feminists I have known. When offended or slighted, they can’t handle it, and so they call upon government to solve their problems.

    My parents did not teach me prejudice. Neither did my religion. I watched the news coverage during the early 1960s and found it unimaginable that American children were segregated in the South.

    Life is tough and it’s sometimes not fair, but my parents and my Mormon ancestors taught me that women could achieve anything they desired, so I approached life that way, never letting my challenges stop me. Have there been ups and downs, successes and failures? Of course, and some of my dreams were not realized, but it is how we respond to our successes and failures that makes all the difference.

    It’s a choice and I’ve found that it transcends religion. The attitudes play out in the political arena. For example, a difference between a conservative woman and a liberal feminist is that conservative women such as myself typically don’t stand around complaining about how unfair life is and waste their time looking to government to fix all of life’s social ills. Instead, we roll up our sleeves, and get to work, finding our solutions at home, amongst extended family, our churches, amongst friends and within the pr

  • Secular1

    “people of African ancestry had failed to fight with Christ in the “war in heaven” that preceded the creation of the earth.” Where do these morons come up with this SCAT. You LDS guys on this forum tell me, I am asking you all seriously, does this not do serious violence to your reason? The next question I have is what is the reasoning given when in 1978 this was rescinded? Or is it that when the sky daddy gives new revelation to the grand poo bah sky daddy does not give any reasoning, nor does teh poo bah ask him for any reasoning, is it?

  • SgtJarf

    Are you asking your questions with a genuine interest in a response, or are you just looking for outlets for your clever nicknames for God and the LDS prophet? Also, are you prepared to rationally consider responses to your questions?

    I’m asking you this with respect and in all seriousness. I would like to answer your questions, but first I want to make sure you’re not just trolling.

  • honestlyspeaking

    It is called “brainwashing” … when you are in it, it makes perfect sense!!!

  • Secular1

    Did this grand pooh bah explain why the new revelation was revealed suddenly in 1978.

  • Secular1

    Ok the leaders denounced it as false doctrine as myth. And that JC came to Missouri on his way from middle east to wherever he was going is not a myth. Excellent, impecable logic an no superstition at all is there?c

  • SgtJarf

    Never mind, Secular1, I can tell you have no interest in understanding other people. Happy trolling.

  • Secular1

    SgtJarf, why should it matter to you what my motivations are. If you are confident that your explanations are rational then by all means give them. My skepticism does not make them silly. If they are silly they are intrinsically silly and not because of my motivations. Please try me.

  • docfreddy

    Hey Secular – you are spot on. As bad as the racist crap is in the LDS cult pretty much take any of the dogma and idiotic fairy tales presented in most religions and you will find them an egregious violation of reason and critical thinking.
    This maybe a wake-up call to many – especially the folks debating whether Jesus walked different places on the earth other then the Middle East – but there are serious doubts that the historical figure ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ EVEN existed at all! I base this ‘Jesus myth’ probability on the scholarly books and websites that explored this topic.
    The website goes into the details from many Biblical scholars why they, in fact, believe that the Jesus character was a myth created by the tribes living in that area for various reasons. There was NO extra-biblical accounts at all that Jesus existed. Also, many tribes and cultures long before Christianity had similar messiah myths and all the details were suspiciously similar… the virgin birth, the miracles, the persecution, the ‘savior’ of mankind, etc… so it is quite probable that these stories caught on from place to place and ‘adopted’ non-critically by the early Christians. Then as the centuries passed the ‘machinery’ of the organized church relentlessly reinforced the entire fairy tale with a suffocating power, abuse, and absolute tyrannical control over the population.
    And it is also important to acknowledge that even if the Biblical Jesus existed historically it doesn’t validate in the least that any of the stories, miracles, and powers attributed to him were factual, or that ‘believing’ in Him would have any worldly or other worldly effect at all. The whole enterprise foundationally is nothing more then a human sacrifice cult as many of the tribal religions were that long pre-dated Christianity.

  • sbrian

    Amen to Martha Beck. And if Romney holds the views of the Mormon commentors here he should not be president. Rather than disavow past wrongs they continue to make poor excuses. This is exactly why we need to know what Romney believes. When loyalty to dogmas and prophets supersedes loyalty to a simple sense of right and wrong, this becomes not just a religious issue, but an issue of character and independence. Since the LDS Church refuses to formally disavow its past religious “apartheid” policy, without his further clarification, we are forced to assume that Romney also believes that this awful, racist teaching originally came from God. In 2007 Romney said he stood committed to the faith of his forefathers. I’d much rather have a president who is firmly committed to the right–regardless of the faith of his forefathers.

  • ccnl1

    There were no bodily resurrections and there nevere will be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, No Christianity or Mormonism !!

  • ccnl1

    never be

  • eddikon

    Virtually every Christian Religion has strong links to racial oppression. Why single out the Mormons? Christianity has very little to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ; it has much more to do with the religion building of Paul. Religion is a nightmare.

  • dap1981

    I am a current Mormon and I agree with you. Belief systems are central to the way people view the world and act within it. As far as I am concerned, Romney’s beliefs go some way to bridging a gap between my politics and his.

  • augustlarson

    Mormons, also known by our proper name as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-Day Saints do NOT believe that those of African descent were less valiant in the pre-existence or that they didn’t fight with Christ. On September 30th, 1978 it was revealed through the prophet Spencer W. Kimball that it was God’s will that all men, regardless of race receive the power of the priesthood. Before that time it was not known why those of African descent couldn’t hold the priesthood, but it was God’s will at the time. One prominent member of the church wrote a book, published in 1958, which stated his opinion that those of African descent were “less valiant” were cursed with black skin, but that is in NO WAY official church doctrine. For that reason I assume the church never denounced “the doctrinal righteousness of the early race barrier” as the author pointed out. Mitt Romney or any other Mormon is not a racist because of their faith, please do not claim that about him or any other member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.