If Romney wins: Five things every Jew should know about Mormonism
1. Devout Mormons can be found all across the political spectrum.
The Mormon Church doesn’t endorse candidates or political parties, and although most American Mormons are Republicans, a Mormon Democrat has served as the Senate Majority Leader for the last five years. Owing to our history of persecution and emphasis on self-reliance, there is also a noteworthy group of Mormons with libertarian sympathies who do not easily identify with either party.
Mormons can be found on all sides of most issues. On immigration, for example, many Mormons tend to be more liberal than other Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter). Many of us have served missions abroad, and tend not to be too judgmental of people who come here seeking a better life. Although Mormons generally agree on many important moral issues (see below), there is no consensus on economics and the proper role of government. We all agree, for example, that we have an obligation to help the poor. However, the extent to which government should help meet their needs by taxing others is a point of contention among followers of most faiths, including ours.
2. Mormonism is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) bears the name of the Christian Savior, we believe in the God of Israel, we accept the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as Scripture, we worship in chapels and temples, and we consider ourselves to be covenant Israelites. Mormons follow the Ten Commandments and are Noahides. In addition, the Abrahamic Covenant is central to our faith. Like Jews, the family is central to our faith, and our idea of heaven is to live with our spouses and families for eternity.
3. A Mormon president would not take orders from Salt Lake City.
If Mitt Romney wins, he’ll undoubtedly have the same arrangement with top church leaders that other Mormons have with local leaders: They don’t tell us how to do our jobs, and we don’t tell them how to run the church. Even Romney’s most intractable foes haven’t accused LDS church headquarters of drafting Romneycare in Massachusetts, and it’s safe to assume that church leaders aren’t behind Harry Reid’s shameful promotion of Las Vegas gambling interests in Washington. Mormons are used to looking to their leaders for spiritual advice, not professional guidance. While I would certainly expect Romney to consult with Mormon leaders as part of his general outreach efforts to faith communities (including Jewish leaders), I am confident that he will be his own man when it comes to formulating policies for the nation. I am also confident that Mormons will not be overrepresented in his administration, as Romney has a history of hiring capable people from all backgrounds to work for him.
4. On moral issues, Mormons are not extreme right-wingers.
A closer look shows the views of most Mormons on these issues to be much more nuanced. Let’s take abortion, for example. The LDS church is very much against it but does allow for possible exceptions in the case of rape, incest, a threat to the mother’s life or when the baby is not expected to survive childbirth. That’s pretty much Romney’s campaign’s abortion platform.
On gay issues, it is accurate to say that Mormons oppose state-sanctioned, same-sex marriage. However, it is both inaccurate and insulting to say that we are anti-gay. We can and do support many other issues that are important to gays. For example, former LDS Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced a Senate bill that would have added sexual orientation to the list of protected categories for hate crimes. Every Mormon I know is opposed to discrimination against gays in education, employment and housing. We also support rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, probate rights, etc., so long as the integrity of the traditional family is not affected. As for theology, the LDS church teaches that homosexuality is not sinful in and of itself, as long as one remains chaste.
Although Mormons tend to have more children than the national average, our church doesn’t take a position on birth control. In addition, the church takes no position on capital punishment, stem-cell research, evolution or global warming. As a result, faithful Mormons are advocates for positions on all sides of these issues.
5. Mormons are philo-Semites and pro-Israel.
One of our basic Articles of Faith affirms: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.” In 1841, LDS Apostle Orson Hyde offered a prayer on the Mount of Olives dedicating the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jews. Israel went on to receive at least 11 apostolic blessings before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. For more than five decades (1870s-1920s), the church seriously considered establishing a Mormon colony in Palestine. Today, Brigham Young University has a beautiful center on Mount Scopus with the best view of the Old City in Jerusalem.
In the United States, Mormon pioneers arrived in the Utah territory in 1847. The first Jews arrived two years later, in 1849. The first Jewish worship service was held in 1864 in Salt Lake City. Rosh Hashanah was celebrated in Temple Square (the city center) in 1865. Brigham Young donated his personal land for a Jewish cemetery in 1866. In 1903, church President Joseph F. Smith spoke at the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for the state’s first Orthodox synagogue, which was largely paid for by the church. The second and third Jewish governors in the country were elected in Idaho (1914) and Utah (1916), the two states with the highest percentage of Mormons. Salt Lake City had a Jewish mayor by 1932, more than four decades before New York City.
Most Mormons in this country are very pro-Israel, and Romney is no exception. He has a close, decades-long personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who looks likely to be elected to another term. If Romney is elected, Jews and Israelis can be assured that they will have a true friend in the White House.
The Return of Farrakhan
Los Angeles Jewish spokesmen are generally taking a wait-and-see attitude in advance of the upcoming worldwide convention of the Nation of Islam, led by the frequently unpredictable and incendiary Louis Farrakhan.
The convention, scheduled for Feb. 13-17, is expected to draw between 12,000 to 20,000 delegates to Los Angeles, some coming from as far as Switzerland and Ghana.
Farrakhan’s speeches have been laced for decades with often-vicious anti-Semitic rhetoric. In a recent statement, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) declared that “Minister Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam have spread the message of Black separation and anti-gay, anti-Catholic, racist and anti-Semitic bigotry through the United States and the world.”
On some occasions, Farrakhan has indulged in conciliatory gestures during meetings with Jewish leaders and journalists.
An announced theme of the convention will be world peace, and 3,000 to 6,000 “peace ambassadors” are to walk the streets of high-crime areas to resolve differences between “black and brown” gang members, Tony Muhammad, the organization’s western regional minister, told the Los Angeles Business Journal.
“We have been informed by city officials that the convention’s focus will be on ‘forgiveness,'” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “If they live up to their billing, then there’s no problem.
“In the past, the problem has been that when Farrakhan steps up to the mike, no one knows what he’ll say. If he wants to turn over a new leaf [in his attitude toward the Jewish community], everyone will welcome that. But we are aware that his past record is marked by so many false starts and U-turns,” Cooper added.
David Lehrer, outgoing regional ADL director, said that while everyone has the right to rent public facilities, his organization will check closely whether the Nation of Islam meets its concomitant legal obligations.
“We will watch whether the L.A. Convention Center will be open to the public without discrimination during the meeting and whether there is intimidation of those who ask questions,” Lehrer said.
Michael Hirschfeld, director of The Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee, said he would issue no advance warnings or alerts before the convention, “but we will follow what is said and respond appropriately.”
The high point of the convention will be the closing address by the 68-year-old Farrakhan on Feb. 17 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood.
The official designation of the gathering is the Saviours’ Day conference, commemorating the death of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad.
Security will be exceptionally tight at the convention venues and at the eight hotels where delegates will stay, in light of the organization’s controversial nature and the anti-Muslim sentiment following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, law enforcement agencies said.
In the past, the annual Saviours’ Day conference has always been held in Chicago, where the Nation of Islam is headquartered, and the decision to hold the meeting in Los Angeles caught local officials by surprise.
One apparent reason of the switch in venue is that the followers of Farrakhan adjust their meeting site to their leader’s schedule. Farrakhan, an accomplished violinist, as well as a one-time professional calypso singer and dancer, will perform in concert on Feb. 13 at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center.
Also weighing in the choice of venue is that “Los Angeles is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country,” spokesman Muhammad told the Business Journal. “There is a lot of fighting among young people called gang members. The minister [Farrakhan] wanted to speak to that pain and hurt between the black and brown gang members to resolve the conflicts.”
Unabashedly delighted by the upcoming convention is the Los Angeles hotel and tourist industry, which has been suffering since the Sept. 11 attacks. It is estimated that the delegates will pump at least $2.8 million into the local economy.
Web Hate Sites Proliferating
The growth of hate sites on the World Wide Web is staggering, according to a report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
On April 19, 1995, the day a truck bomb leveled the Oklahoma City federal building, there was only one Web hate site, run by the Ku Klux Klan. A year ago, there were 600 such sites. And an updated compilation now lists 1,400 sites.
The figures are contained in an interactive CD-ROM report on “Digital Hate 2000,” released at a press conference this week by the Wiesenthal Center.
In the three weeks since the latest data were calculated, 120 new sites, espousing racial and anti-gay violence and anti-Semitism have sprouted, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center.
Aside from the sheer numerical increase, “we are now seeing a number of new developments pointing to the growing outreach and sophistication of hate groups,” said Cooper.
Most worrisome are the hate programs aimed specifically at children, from preteens on up. One common tactic is to alter popular computer games, such as “Doom” and “Wolfenstein,” by inserting racist and white power messages.
Also noticeable is the increase of extremist sites that originate with overseas groups. By establishing sites in the United States, they evade anti-hate laws in their own countries and can then be accessed by users back home, Cooper said.
One such site, originating in Sweden, has done a booming business by peddling the notoriously anti-Semitic tract “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
There has been a particularly large jump in sites that preach hatred and violence against gays and lesbians.
As an example of the sophistication of many hate sites, Cooper pointed to one frequently visited by students and others looking for information on slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“That site is brilliantly put together, with all the bells and whistles,” Cooper said. “Initially, it looks like a serious, scholarly site. But when you come to the recommended reading list, you’ll find the autobiography of white supremacist David Duke.”
Cooper believes that in the fight against racists and Holocaust-deniers, “we’re entering a new era, in which the main battlefield is the World Wide Web.”
In combating hate groups, the answer is neither censorship nor abridgment of free speech, said Cooper. However, Internet service providers, such as America Online, or search engines, such as Yahoo, can and should set certain standards of their own.
“Like any responsible newspaper, they can refuse to carry obviously racist and dangerous advertisements and messages,” he said. “For instance, no paper would print precise instructions on making a terrorist bomb, but you can find that on the Internet.”
The Wiesenthal Center will distribute 20,000 free copies of the CD-ROM to police and educators. Others can order a copy for $20 through the Web site www.wiesenthal.com.–Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor