Tough questions for Mitt Romney

from The EconomistAs most Americans following the political press know, Governor Mitt Romney, the first Mormon candidate popular enough to actually become the President of America, will give a speech today. It is a speech which everyone has compared to a famous speech by John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential campaign. The American electorate, in the general election of 1960, was concerned that Kennedy would take marching orders from the Pope in Rome. Kennedy went far, a bit too far, to assuage their concerns.

I would like Governor Romney to answer a few tough questions.

Let’s get rid of all the cheap shots against Mormonism first. I don’t want Mitt Romney to disavow polygamy; I don’t want him to tell me how happy he is that black people were allowed to become Mormon; I don’t want him to defend himself or his religion against old practices which no longer pertain to him or to his religion.

I don’t have a problem with the past. My problem with Mormonism concerns the present and the future. While I applaud the religion for having changed from polygamy to monogamy and from race-excluding to race-including, I am primarily concerned with the reasons for the changes. From what I can gather, the 12 leaders of the Mormon Church, called the Apostles, and particularly the eldest Apostle, called the Prophet, continue to give prophecies and hand down new teachings.

But what are the criteria for these monumental decisions? The conventional Christian view is that monogamy and racial equality are mandated by the natural law. In other words, they are consistent with upright reason. Because the Christian view of God is that he is reasonable, his revelation supports and ratifies what is in the natural law. Even God cannot change it. Hence, the New Testament, which represents the fullness of God's revelation for Christians, orders monogamy and racial equality. It supports and ratifies the natural law, but never contradicts it.

But the Mormon position seems to be different. The Mormon God can change the natural law. He can allow polygamy and then ban it. He can decree the inferiority of blacks and then raise them to equality. His judgements, or at least his prophet's judgements, seem arbitrary and not altogether in accordance with reason.

Herein lies my concern with Mitt Romney as President of the United States: if, as believing Mormons say, the Prophet and the 11 other Apostles of LDS truly offer inspired prophecy which can be wholly new and which is not subject to scrutiny or reproach from the natural law; and if Mitt Romney is indeed a believing and faithful Mormon and therefore obliged to follow these prophecies; then why should I not be greatly concerned about the future prophecies of the 12 Apostles of the LDS? If their new teachings have the status of prophecy that must be obeyed and adhered to, then, in order to trust a Mormon President of the United States, wouldn’t I have to trust the Prophet of the LDS as well?

I happen to agree with the shift to monogamy and the shift to a pan-racial LDS. But unless the LDS’s 12 Apostles have some reliable, explicable, rational basis for these changes, then I cannot adjudge any fundamental belief and policy flowing from those beliefs which Mitt Romney might adhere to in the campaign as anything more stable than the prophecies of the LDS. And history shows that these can fundamentally change.

Since such issues as monogamy versus polygamy are fundamental issues for society and leadership in our government, I am unable to support a devout Mormon for President without a detailed explanation of either (a) the rational criteria which underpins these prophecies; or (b) doctrinal grounds allowing for conscientious objection in the event of fundamental changes in the Mormon faith. 

I doubt that Mr Romney will say that the Mormon faith has no serious or effective influence over the hearts and minds of believing Mormons. This cannot be true. Otherwise, the ban on polygamy would never have been made, or, once made, the majority of Mormons would never have followed it. And I hope that he does not say that he has always followed his own conscience and ignored his faith on all matters pertaining to politics and leadership. This I very much doubt, anyway, because Governor Romney has said he is a devout Mormon, and we know that indeed he was a Mormon bishop and stakeholder.

Either Governor Romney is honest, and therefore very serious about his Mormon faith, in which case I need a detailed explanation of why the Prophet and the 11 other Apostles of LDS will not hand down new and binding prophecies while a coreligionist is in the White House, or he is not honest, and therefore will ignore any future prophecies of the LDS. I hope the Governor is honest, and so I hope he will address my difficult questions.

Matthew Mehan is a Contributing Editor for MercatorNet


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