Saturday, November 25, 2006

Andrew Sullivan and Mormonism

Andrew Sullivan has raised the question of whether Mormons are Christians, in connection with the probable Presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney (soon-to-be ex-Governor of Massachusetts), who is a Mormon. Among other things, he says in response to an e-mail: "And the inspiration for Mormonism's radically innovative understanding of the message and life of Jesus - Joseph Smith's "discovery" - is so alien to mainstream Christianity (and so transparently loopy) that I don't consider Mormons Christians. This is not to say I don't support their religious freedom or their right to play a full part of American politics and society. But they're not Christians as I understand Christianity" (italics mine). He later says that, "they are Christians of a very different stripe than most others."

His main discussion then turns to the racial politics of the Mormon church, and the fact that until the late 1970s black men could not be part of the Mormon priesthood (which is open to all men - and no women, a fact not noted by Sullivan). He thinks that this fact will probably cause problems for Romney should he run for President (and he might be correct, considering how troublesome George Allen's racist past - and present - was for him in his recent failed run for re-election to the Senate in Virginia).

He then, in a couple of recent postings, turns to the vital issue of Mormon undergarments (which adult Mormons wear after having gone through a ceremony in a Mormon temple), and publishes a photo of what they look like. He defends himself against a Mormon critic who was offended by his publication of the photo with these words: "My policy on this site is to publish reality, within certain boundaries of religious respect. If I can publish a cartoon of Muhammad, I can sure publish tasteful pictures of Mormon underwear."

I'm disturbed by the way that he's bringing up Romney's Mormonism. The racial history of the church seems relevant to me, as does the stand of the Mormon church against gay marriage or abortion - or in fact its stance on any political issue. But why engage in polemics against the idea that Mormons are Christians, or call Mormonism "transparently loopy"? Those of us who are not Christians sometimes raise our eyebrows at various aspects of Christian doctrine as taught by the Roman Catholic Church or the various Protestant churches - but our making fun of Christianity is not a reasoned argument against it. It seems to me that Sullivan is trying to make a principled argument that questions Romney's fitness for the presidency based on some of the doctrines, or former doctrines, of the LDS church. Engaging in mockery or calling Mormonism "loopy" doesn't advance his argument, and makes him sound bigoted.

1 comment:

  1. He makes the point that he wouldn't be saying anything if Republicans didn't make such a point about pointing out their evangelism and their religious beliefs. Romney certainly does the same thing. If he himself is going to make an issue of it (and say that a President should believe in God), he needs to answer questions about his beliefs. He has made a huge issue of his own religion by trying to appeal to evangelicals.