Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Romney: What You See Is What You Get?

I have recently traded emails with a friend in the entertainment business, a fellow Republican, who has been a Gingrich supporter and, since Gingrich’s prospects have dimmed, has turned his support towards Santorum. He says he and his wife have felt like Mitt Romney comes across as too slick. He told me in the past that Gingrich and Santorum were more truly conservative than Romney. I have refuted that sentiment in the past, so I will argue the question of Mitt’s slickness here.

I think I understand their feelings, about Romney—and I do categorize them as feelings and not thoughts, because I do not think they have thought it out from my perspective as of yet. However, I do not see Romney as slick. I see Romney as somewhat awkward and uncomfortable, which might look like slickness to some who either don't know him personally or don't fully understand where he has come from in his life. If you are Romney, you know you have a portion of the voting public who –I am not suggesting that you, the reader, are in this group, because you know if you are—jealously think Romney is a spoiled rich kid who is trying to "buy" the presidency, some who bigotedly think he is a member of a satanic cult, and yet others who think he's a racist. Sadly, some are in the Republican Party. I think Romney consciously tries to be careful what he says, knowing there are plenty, including too many republicans, who are waiting to seize onto any unguarded statement out of context to try to prove their beliefs about him. As I see him, Romney is really not a politician in the sense that most in the public eye are. He seems ill at ease speaking about the things he truly believes in "political speech". I think it's difficult for him to blow his own horn about his success in business or what a good and decent and religious family man he really is. I think it goes without saying that you will not get far in politics if you are humble about your accomplishments. But, if you are a man of principle and faith and you love America and feel strongly about the importance of saving the America, and you believe in personal responsibility to your country beyond your own personal comfort zone, you step out of that comfort zone and do the uncomfortable.

As a business man and as a lay minister in his church, Romney would necessarily be more comfortable talking about numbers and economic theories and religious subjects, stressing Christian compassion, repentance and forgiveness. I have not been in the boardrooms of big financial concerns, but I have served as a Mormon missionary in a foreign land, so I can speak to what Romney has experienced, serving as a Mormon missionary for two-and-a-half years in France at the ages of 19, 20, and 21, and as a Mormon Bishop and Stake President for more than a dozen of his later years would be great in a one-on-one situation counseling in a business situation, discussing bottom lines and productivity and how to create and to succeed financially. He would also be great standing at a pulpit encouraging faith, repentance, morality and Christian compassion and charity to one’s fellow man. He would not have spoken bombastically with unbridled emotion, but in subdued and rationally expressed thoughts. If you are looking for an emotionally charged, fire and brimstone presentation from an ex-Mormon lay clergyman, you will always be disappointed. Those kinds of presentations are the ones which appear slick and rehearsed to me.

Romney has spent much more of his life filling the aforementioned rolls than as a politician. When we conservatives hear and see the things the Democrats say and espouse, we marvel at the ease at which they keep a straight face, or at least their gullibility in believing the crap they say they believe. They can seemingly look at the sun and declare that it is midnight. I think it is safe t say that when you have learned to fake sincerity well enough, you are ready to have a long career in politics, especially in the Democrat party.

So, my suggestion for those who might genuinely think Romney a slick politician, you are probably giving him too much credit as a politician—or, discredit, depending on your point of view. You might rethink that thought. What I see when I look at Mitt Romney is an extremely successful Mormon businessman who, unselfishly, did not shy away from serving his fellow believers for many, many, years (without pay) in the past, and now feels compelled to serve his fellow Americans by sharing his wealth of economic knowledge and experience in a great time of need. What you see with Romney may or may not be what you get. But then again, if you insist on seeing bad, slick, Mitt, you will likely “get” what you want no matter what he actually does. Some see the glass as half full…

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Stake President of the United States

My old Friend, Scott Wright sent the following article to me and I have taken the liberty to post it again on my site. Though I don’t know Mr. Jones personally, I can identify with his thoughts and experience feel that he has expressed what I think in this instance better than I could. I have known many bishops and stake presidents during my life—I have served as a lay minister myself for many years on and off in many areas of the country—and I can attests to the general truth of Mr. Jones’ article. These men are always willing to serve with only spiritual compensation. One of my old Stake Presidents, D. Todd Christofferson, is now in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the time I knew him, he was an exceptionally humble and Christ-like man—not a perfect man, but one trying to emulate Christ in his life, serving his fellowman at every opportunity. For this reason, I have a lot of confidence that Mitt Romney will be more than just an honorable President of the United States. I and all of my “very conservative” Mormon friends have voted for a lot of non-Mormons during our lives, as have very nearly all of my fellow Mormons since the organization of our church in 1830, hoping that the nominees would share our values as Christian Americans. I ask my Christian friends and family, who do not agree with my doctrinal beliefs, to at least accept that we love this country as much as they do and back Romney because he shares all of our values. We Mormons are almost all backing Romney this time around because of our experiences with him, not because of shared doctrinal beliefs. After all, Harry Reid supposedly believes in the same doctrine, but most Mormons can’t abide his politics or his slimy—my opinion—personality.

This fellow, Maury Jones, is described as an intrepid hunting guide, always hard working and now almost retired in Jackson Hole running a Dude Ranch... the rest of us could only wish for such a life!
Stake President of the United States
By Maury Jones
Posted on February 22, 2012

A few years back, a hive of hornets decided to make its nest on top of a second-story swamp cooler outside my cousin’s Boston-area home. My cousin made an ill-fated attempt to remove the hornets, which resulted in a two-story fall and a broken arm.
“This looks like a job for your home teacher,” said my cousin’s home teacher.
The home teacher brought over his own ladder and clothed himself in homemade beekeeping gear. He then made his way to the hornet’s nest and gathered the whole thing up in a garbage bag, avoiding any stings or the more severe injuries that had beset my cousin. He did this with no public fanfare, no accolades, and no thought of collecting payment for his efforts.
And who was this noble home teacher? A man by the name of Mitt Romney.
Now, unless you’re familiar with Mormon lingo, you probably got lost when I introduced the phrase “home teacher,” or you may have conjured up images of some kind of private educational tutor who was taking care of my cousin’s kids. That would have left you wondering why a tutor thought it was their responsibility to wrangle hornets.
But if you’re a Mormon, the phrase made perfect sense, as did the rest of the story. You would know that every month, every member of a Mormon congregation receives a visit from two “home teachers,” who share an inspirational message but, more importantly, are charged with the responsibility of looking out for the family’s welfare. So if a family is struggling, the home teachers are the spiritual “first responders,” and a good home teacher jumps at any opportunity to be of service.
Among other things, Mitt Romney is a good home teacher.
People who look to Mitt’s faith for clues about how he’d govern as president usually miss the target by a wide margin. They rip the more obscure elements of Mormon doctrine out of their theological and historical contexts – polygamy or underwear or planetary real estate – and think they’ve discovered or explained something. They haven’t. The world at large, as it focuses on unusual theoretical elements of Mormon doctrine, all but ignores the eminently practical aspects of Mormonism as it is manifest in each Mormon’s daily life.
Consider the fact that “home teachers” receive no compensation for what they do. In fact, neither does anyone else in a Mormon congregation. The whole enterprise is supervised by a lay clergy that will often work over forty hours a week in their unpaid positions in addition to their “real” jobs – you know, the ones that actually earn them money. Mitt Romney has spent his entire adult life in these kinds of high-responsibility, time-intensive positions. He has been both a bishop – a leader of a “ward” that consists of a congregation of about 500 people – and a stake president, who oversees a “stake” which consist of about six or so wards, giving him ecclesiastical responsibility for thousands of people.
So what does this mean? What, precisely, does a bishop or a stake president do that eats up so much of their time?
Go to a Mormon meeting on any given Sunday, and you’ll see three dudes sitting up by the pulpit. The guy in the middle is the bishop, and he’s already spent most of the day in meetings where he reviewed the ward’s staffing needs and organizing relief efforts for families who may be struggling with health, financial, or spiritual issues. He’s also been meeting one-on-one with members of the church who look to him for counsel and support for personal problems that would turn your hair white. Usually, he’s been doing all this since before the sun came up, so don’t be surprised if he nods off while the meeting progresses.
Please keep in mind, too, that there are no elections for bishops and stake presidents, nor are there reelections. Each leader is “called” to serve, and they accept the responsibility dutifully, no questions asked. They then serve for a period of time, usually between five and ten years, after which they are “released,” meaning they rejoin their congregations as lay members and have no more responsibility than anyone else.
The call to serve can come to any priesthood holder in good standing, but it usually comes to a certain personality type. Remember, bishops and stake presidents are confronted with massive organizational challenges accompanied by the most intimate, personal, spiritual struggles imaginable. So they must lead without being authoritarian; they must judge without being judgmental, and they must minister without offending. That means the people who get this assignment are often more even-tempered that exciting, more reassuring than revolutionary, and more competent than colorful.
Sound like any particular presidential candidate you might know?
Those who remain baffled by Romney’s cool public persona have not spent a whole lot of time with an LDS stake president, a role for which Romney provides the quintessential example. If one truly understands his background, one shouldn’t expect a President Romney to dazzle the masses with rhetorical virtuosity.
One should instead expect him to practically and quietly remove the hornet’s nest from the nation’s second-story swamp cooler.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mormons are the New Catholics

It is obvious to me that Mormons are the new Catholics. I remember in 1960 hearing our preacher in the Baptist church we attended tell us from the pulpit not to vote for John Kennedy because he was a Catholic and would take his orders from the Pope. Many of my stridently extended family members felt the same way. Granted, I was only about 8 years old at the time, but it made an impression on me. I was a Baptist and most of my family were Baptists or of another evangelical persuasion. I’m pretty sure their thoughts held little sway with my father—he was a Roosevelt Democrat and religiously believed that “Democrats are for the working man and Republicans are for the rich man”. My father was a Baptist, but his prejudices were more social and political than religious. Again, this made an impression on me.

A few years later, my uncle on my mother’s side joined the Mormon Church and created quite a stir with the strident evangelicals in the family. It got even worse when his parents and a couple sisters, including my mother, followed his example. Then, my father and I joined the Mormon faith, along a bunch of cousins. All Hell broke lose and we Mormons in the family felt like we were being somewhat persecuted. Since that time I have heard a lot of savaging of Mormons by Evangelicals: Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers, etc. But the curious thing is that, in my 40 plus years of experience as a Mormon convert, missionary and lay minister of the Church, Evangelicals tend to be the best Mormons here in the United States.

I should probably say that Mormon doctrine teaches that Jesus and Satan are brothers in the sense that we are all spiritual brothers: Angels, men, women, etc. When Huckabee was asked in 2008 if Mormons were Christians, his response was to ask that same old tired question in return, ‘don’t Mormons believe that Satan and Jesus are brothers”. It was, in my opinion, a slip of the tongue, revealing his religious prejudice. After all, Huckabee is an intelligent man and had been a Baptist minister before becoming a politician. He knew what his response would elicit in the casual hearer. Years ago, when accosted by an Evangelical with the same declaration about Jesus and Satan being brothers, I entered into the discussion by saying that that silly statement was designed to create an unfair image in the mind of the hearer. Mormons believe that Jesus is the Son of God and God the Father’s creation. We also believe that Satan and all of the other fallen Angels were created by God. We are all God’s creations, as every Evangelical would have to agree. The truth is, as I see it, that all God’s creations have had freedom of choice. Satan and Jesus were brothers in the same sense that Hitler and Billy Graham are brothers. In fact, I believe, probably to their great dissatisfaction, that Satan and Huckabee and every other Evangelical are brothers, though they usually fight against each other.

The idea of fighting against each other brings me to religious bigotry—that is what this blog is about, after all. If you have studied history as I have, you know that there has always been hatred between religionists, though they claim to worship the same God. Catholics and Protestants had persecuted and murdered each other for centuries. And, different denominations of Protestant have done the same to each other. Strangely, it had almost nothing to do with values but with doctrine: Whether Mary should be worshipped; whether the sacrament really was the actual body and blood of Christ; whether we had free will; if the Bible should be translated into other languages for the “people” to read. It is probably natural then that, even in America, where our Constitution recognized man’s right to worship God according to his conscience without persecution, such bigotry and distrust would still exist. Mormons were reviled for their suggestion that God could talk to Man face to face as in ancient times and their “odd” doctrines and view of the Trinity. I should note here for those who don’t know the history, that the Nicene Creed, the generally accepted definition of the Godhead in Christendom, was developed to codify, in essence, a belief that would be acceptable to Rome and all of it’s citizenry. If you did not agree, you were not considered “mainstream’ and could be ostracized or killed. No surprise then that the definition caught on.

By the time the United States came around, Americans had begun to see themselves as enlightened, viewing religious intolerance as a bad thing. So, they tried to protect religious thought with the Constitution. There would be no “State religion” and there would not be a faith test for political office. Throughout our history, however, our presidents have generally professed to be men of faith—some, it could be argued were professors only—who tended to share the same values with the majority of those they served. Sadly, shared values, such as patriotism, love of family and moral fiber, have not been enough for many voters over the years. It would be natural to want someone in office who thinks as much like you as possible, but that is not possible for everyone. We have to get as close as we can. It is safe to say, I think, that in some cases we have cut our noses off to spite our faces. I can see not voting for JFK for any number of reasons. After all, we learned after the fact that he was a serial adulterer, which I would not want in the White House any more than any other untrustworthy person. If they cannot keep a wedding vow, I would doubt that they would hold their oath of office any dearer. But, JFK’s immorality had nothing to do with his membership in the Catholic Church. Of course I wouldn’t vote for him because of his politics either, but his religion would not enter into it.

Nonetheless, in 1960, many were told by their preachers that they shouldn’t vote for a Catholic because his doctrinal beliefs were not right. I find it ironic that we now find ourselves in the same situation and Evangelicals are again the ones who cannot find themselves able to vote for a candidate because of his church’s doctrinal beliefs. It means nothing to them that his values, of patriotism, strong family and moral fiber are, perhaps, perfectly in line with their own, they just cannot bring themselves to vote for a MORMON.

As I stated earlier, I am a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was raised as a Baptist. I found a home in this faith not only because I think its doctrine is correct and biblical—don’t we all?—but because of the great examples of the people who belong to that faith. There is a reason why most Mormons are conservative Republicans: We have the same values as our conservative friends. Utah has repeatedly supported conservative Republicans of all faiths since it was formed. Though Mormons were continually harassed by mobs, chased out of every state they lived in from 1830 to 1847, had their homesteads burned and stolen, driven out in the dead of winter, their men beaten, jailed and killed, and their women raped and children deprived of comfort—often at the urging of local evangelical clergy, by the way—when asked to provide volunteers for the US army during the Mexican War, the army of the government which had turned a deaf ear to their pleas for assistance in getting help against the mobs, the Mormons complied. They did it because they believed that, though the government had turned its back on them, the Constitution of the United States was an inspired document and that America was a land blessed by God for all those who loved freedom.

So how is it that we find ourselves trying to explain ourselves to our fellow Americans that we share the same values? When I hear that exit polling at the primaries and caucuses shows that “very conservative” voters do not trust Romney’s conservative bonifides, because he is a flip flopper and will do anything and say anything to get elected, I am dumbfounded. Are they not aware that Gingrich has at least as many more recent changes of opinions in his life, that he sat on that couch with Pelosi and sang the virtues of fighting Global warming, cap and trade and endorsed federal mandates for health insurance coverage? Are they unaware that Santorum has voted time and again to spend more and more taxpayer money, to raise his own pay, to make unions the preferred contractors for federal and state work? Clearly, none of these guys are perfect, but COME ON! I cannot help but notice that the numbers of voters in the exit polls who say they are very conservative and can’t vote for Romney because he isn’t conservative enough and those who say they will vote for someone who shares their religious beliefs are almost the same. Then, there are the people who are honest enough to call in to the talk shows I listen to and declare that if Romney gets the nomination they will stay home because Romney is a Mormon and Mormons are not Christians. Then, there are the Evangelical ministers who keep clambering about Mormons not being Christians and dragging up the same old crap I’ve heard for years and the tired stories about Joseph Smith that have been debunked time and again. I am frankly tired of it. And, I am sad that you call yourselves Conservatives, if you are unable to embrace me and my Mormon brothers and sisters as your fellow Americans. I love you, my Evangelical brothers, but your sactimonious, hoier-than-thou crap is getting too old and it is stifling us as a united people. Sometimes, I just want to slap you in the back of the head. Wake up and be the good tolerant Cristians you pride yourselves as being.

I find it ironic that the majority of Evangelicals are now embracing two Catholics (Gingrich and Santorum) for president, while the Catholics seem to be breaking in big numbers for the Mormon, Mitt Romney. Could it be that they can see, as I do, that Mormons are the new Catholics in American politics?