Reid attacks Romney over faith

Harry Reid, senior Democrat in Congress and the most powerful Mormon politician in the country, made the charge Tuesday that … Continued

Harry Reid, senior Democrat in Congress and the most powerful Mormon politician in the country, made the charge Tuesday that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is not the face of Mormonism, and, in fact, has “sullied” the religion of which both Reid and Romney are adherents. Reid may be wrong about Romney, but not in the way one would think.

For the past year, Romney has been the touchstone for everything Mormon while Mormonism has become the oddball celebrity of reality television. In the past month, reporters have been going to church with Romney, to learn from other Mormons such as J. W. Marriott, who said from the pulpit, that Romney lives “an exemplary life.” The numbers support Marriott’s claim. According to a Gallup poll, 84 percent of Mormons who are registered to vote in the United States plan to vote for Romney. As the icon of today’s Republican ideals, Mitt Romney does seem to be the face of the overwhelming majority of Mormons in this country.

View Photo Gallery: The Republican presidential candidate’s decades as a bishop and stake president demonstrate an assurance with the church, a confidence in his authority and a deep spirituality.

However, while Romney is the face of 84 percent of Mormons in the United States, it may be that 84 percent of Mormons in the United States are not the face of Mormonism.

Mormons may be renowned for a legendary culture of self-reliance, but a distinctly collectivist philosophy is at the core of Mormonism. Joseph Smith experimented with collectivism in early Mormon communities. The great Mormon exodus of some 16,000 Mormons to the Salt Lake Valley between 1846 and 1850 was an exercise in the able giving to the unable without an expectation of a return in kind. The ongoing migration to Utah of thousands until 1886 was facilitated by a take-and-replenish program that floated financial assistance to migrants all along the route from Europe to New York to St. Louis to Salt Lake City.

Brigham Young established several settlements in the American West that practiced varying degrees of communal living. Some communities in Young’s Utah were designed specifically to accommodate the arrival of destitute immigrants from the East and from Europe—to house and feed them until Young could issue the immigrants a labor assignment in another community, suited to the trade skills they brought from their homelands. From the outset of the Mormon presence in Salt Lake City, Young prohibited settlers from subdividing or selling the carefully uniform plots of land that were distributed by lottery. Nineteenth-century Mormon Utah may have been the biggest, most successful implementation of socialism in American history.

Even polygamy, the stigma of which is still attached to Latter-day Saints, had its collectivist premise. Young’s first “second wife” and her three children had been abused and abandoned by her husband. For awhile, then, well more than 47 percent of Young’s own household was made up of “victims” in need of “governmental” support.

Since Utah gained statehood just prior to 1900, Mormons have had a bewildering preference for the Republican Party. Now, one of their own leads the party that was formed in 1856 and among its goals was to obliterate Mormon collectivism. But in the previous century, Mormonism fought against what it regarded as Republican tyranny. In the coming century, perhaps, 80 percent of Mormons will be the foundation of the Occupy movement.

What the “Mormon Moment” has ignored is that there are many Mormonisms in America, today. Perhaps eighty percent of Mormons, themselves, misunderstand how heterogeneous contemporary Mormonism is. Between the Romney-ites and the Democrats, between the community of Christ and the polygamists clinging to a culture of yesteryear, between the socially conservative and the socially progressive, between the ultra-patriots and the cosmopolitans, Mormonism is not monolithic, but divided and fractured into a host of widely divergent and equally legitimate Mormonisms.

Romney really is the face of one Mormonism. Harry Reid is the face of another. For good reason, Reid doesn’t want people to confuse his Mormonism with Romney’s, and, I suppose, vice-versa.

As the Mormon Moment comes, thankfully, to a close in November, perhaps we’ll finally have arrived at the point at which we speak not of Mormonism, but of Mormonisms.

View Photo Gallery: The Republican presidential nominee continues his campaign tour of the country’s swing states.

David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.” Follow him on Twitter: @fatsodoctor .

David Mason
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  • PA Mormon

    Finally, a reporter who does his homework. Yes, Harry Reid is actually the exception to the Mormon norm, not Mitt Romney. And a clarification on the “collectivist” mentality. “Communal living” only works with a people who are selfless enough to do it voluntarily. Voluntarily, I must stress. A major tenet of the Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) faith is free will, and honestly a lot of the ideals of the Democratic party revolve around governmental force, which is one of the reasons why the majority of Mormons find it distasteful. At the heart of Mormonism is liberty. Trust me, very few Mormons are going to rush to agree with Harry. If anything, we find him embarrassing.

  • JayrAire

    Freedom equated to Mormonism? Far from it – it’s a vile occult that pretends to be Christian.

  • I’mjustsayin’

    Harry should be careful about pointing the ‘sully’ finger at anyone given his penchant for the redlight district in Vegas

  • bdcstrong11

    Romney, don’t stop… The USA will not buy the European Snake Oil President Obama is trying to sell us come November!

  • Post_Partisan

    Loony author alert! “In the coming century, perhaps, 80 percent of Mormons will be the foundation of the Occupy movement.” What inane prattle!


    When is Harry Reid going to tell the world how he made his fortune as a “public servant” in Nevada. Gee, I wonder if he could have been the recipient of the generosity of the gaming industry? Perhaps he gets his money from stock in the brothels? Has liquor ever touched his lips? “Inside sources” say he’s a closet drunk. Of course none of this may be true, but it’s as valid is the criticism this hipocrite (aka liar) uses against Romney and Ryan. I wonder if he’ll make it into the inner circle when he finally leaves the planet.

  • justicethinks

    This is not a race for who is the most popular in one’s religious persuasion, this is a Presidentail race to the White House. In our constitution there is the No Test Religious Clause. Anyone of any religion can become president if they meet certain criteria. They are not judged on their freedom of religious choice and how they worship. The people of the United States are not so concerned about Mitt Romney’s religious persuasion as they are about how he can restore America, get people back to work and hopefully allow people to have a little spare change in their pockets. Mitt Romney does not represent Mormonism, yes he is a Mormon however this is not a race about Mormons, this is a race about the next President of the United States.

  • snotbubbles

    Harry Reid would be a total disgrace to any Religon. I am unaware of any religon that its ok to completely slander and attempt to humiliate another person for any reason let alone for political gains. He should be ex communicated from the 16 percent of his brand of Mormonism,

  • Laura Siple

    I totally agree with you PA Mormon. As an LDS woman who was born into the church, Harry Reid’s example of Mormonism is a far cry from what I grew up with and believe. However, Mitt Romney does represent the type of Mormon behavior that I know and love. I find Mr. Mason’s comment that “Mormons have had a bewildering preference for the Republican Party.” I have always wondered how a good LDS person could support the Democratic Party. Having said that, I know that we have General Authorities who are Democrats, so I have to accept that a good LDS member can be a Democrat. I don’t believe Mr. Mason states that he is a Mormon also. In some of his writings, Ney York Times Opinion Pages, June 12, 2012, he states that he is “about as genuine a Mormon as you’ll find”. I have never heard an active Mormon refer to himself as a “genuine” Mormon. I am an active member of my church and even if I was not, since I am baptized into the church, I would still be a “genuine” Mormon.

    So, in comparing Harry Reid and Mitt Romney, I would say to all of you that “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:16. Mitt Romney is a decent and good man who has a life long history of serving others. He has been blessed with much wealth from his own hard work. Harry Reid has been a public servant, who became very wealthy, while serving. But, he never exactly states how he accomplished that. Just when I thought Harry Reid could not sink any lower, he has proven me wrong.

  • fmdj

    I’m surprised Mr. Mason finds the Republican leanings of LDS church members as odd based on the history of the party. By the same token, it could be said it is odd Blacks favor the party that fought against the end of slavery, women favor the party that fought against women’s suffrage, and Latinos don’t favor the party which granted amnesty to the largest number of aliens at any point in US history. Political parties follow the lead of their members, not vice versa.
    I’m also surprised he tries to contrast collectivism in the early church against apparent individualism in modern times. Anyone with any knowledge of the faith would know the LDS church has one of the most active groups in supporting both members inside and outside their faith in both personal tragedies and natural disasters. Further, the LDS faithful believe a devine communal society will exist on the earth after the second coming of Christ. LDS members reject the notion of collectivism under flawed government in a way perhaps best summed up by past church president Ezra T. Benson as “godless communism”
    But I do applaude his recognition that, like individuals under any religion or none at all, to bunch them under a common set of societal views is a serious mistake.

  • ADishOfSpecialK

    A message to Mr. Reid: As one Democrat to another: SHUT UP!!!!!

  • prasband

    David Mason – You are really twisting some things here. Mormons believe in free agency, and self reliance goes hand in hand with that. They also believe in charity, which by its nature is VOLUNTARY. The idea that forced redistribution of wealth is logically supported by a people who believe in (voluntary love-based) charity is absurd. Agency is more important than anything. You just don’t understand Mormons at all. I grew up in Utah, and I know many thousands of Mormons. You are playing cute with ideas just to come up with an interesting angle for a news story. This is why journalism in America is in trouble.

  • prasband

    You are absolutely correct. And it all does beg the question, who is talking about Romney being or not being a face to his religion? Romney has tried to avoid this, and rightly so. Many of his supporters will interject his faith from time to time, and it happened at the convention, but no more than is usual. The NEW THING is Harry Reid specifically calling Romney out on his faith, and basically saying “I’m one better than you are one” (or at least that is how I read his angle). What might Harry Reid’s motives be? Its pure politics, its bad politics, and Harry Reid is sponsoring the whole thing by virtue of his instigating comment. What a slimeball.

  • Freedom Lover

    Harry Reid is the antithesis of a faithful follower of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints! He has either never learned the Doctrine or has completely abandoned it. Perhaps he occasionally touts his “faith” to lure in the unsuspecting, but please do not believe him! My pet name for him is “Hateful Harry”. He simply is working for the wrong side!

  • patnhu2aolcom

    I read Mr. Mason’s words with wonder. Has Mr. Mason ever attended a Mormon Church meeting or activity? There is only one Lord and one baptism. Mr. Mason doesn’t have the faintest idea about what he is saying. He is just filling up a page!

  • haveaheart

    “They also believe in charity, which by its nature is VOLUNTARY. The idea that forced redistribution of wealth is logically supported by a people who believe in (voluntary love-based) charity is absurd.”


    How voluntary is tithing?

    When you are required to give 10% of your gross income to a church every year in order to remain a “good Mormon” and be eligible to enter the temple, you are paying a fee. There’s nothing “voluntary” about it.

  • haveaheart

    ” ‘Communal living’ only works with a people who are selfless enough to do it voluntarily. Voluntarily, I must stress.”

    PA Mormon,

    Once again, that word “voluntarily.”

    How voluntary do you think all that plural marriage was? No one was asking the women if they liked the idea.

    I guess by “voluntary,” the Mormon church means that dicta are handed down, and the males of the church choose when and how to apply them.


    Ya, but look how well his state is doing-Nevada leads the country…
    in crime, foreclosures, suicides, etc etc etc!

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