A MORMON IN THE WHITE HOUSE?
“If they elect a Mormon as president of the US, won’t they have to renovate the White House? Aren’t they the ones who have all those wives?”
That was the reaction from a friend when I mentioned that there are two Mormons who remain in the race for Republican nominee for president in the American November 2012 election -Mitt Romney (former Governor of Massachusetts) and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., (former Governor of Utah).
( In case you’re wondering, “Mitt” is named after his father’s cousin Milton, nicknamed “Mitt”. His full name is Willard Mitt Romney.)
As I write this (7 p.m. EST) it looks like Mitt Romney’s the man who will take on Barack Obama in November this year.
And so Romney, as a Mormon, will become the crowning glory of a faith that came from dubious and humble beginnings but has always apired to the highest office in the land.
Just who are the Mormons?
I’ve been fascinated with the Mormon faith – the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) and the only American home-grown religion – ever since reading Under the Banner of Heaven (2003) by best-selling author Jon Krakauer.
The book recounts both the evolution of the Mormons and the 1984 double murder committed “in the name of God” by brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty who were adherents of the fundamentalist version of Mormonism – the disgraced branch known as the FLDS. They slit the throats of their sister-in law and her 15 month-old child after receiving a “removal revelation” from the Lord Almighty.
Dan’s in life for eternity. Ron,last I heard, was still trying to evade execution by firing squad.
It’s important to be clear, here.
It’s the fundamentalist Mormons who practice plural marriage – a tradition abhorred by the mainstream of the faith. In fact, the LDS will excommunicate any practitioners of plural marriage.
To get the big picture, Krakauer’s book is a cracker of a tale ( forgive the pun). Essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the origins of the faith which now has between six and 13 million (reports vary) followers in the US.
Here in Australia, the LDS is said to be our fastest-growing religion.
We’ve all seen the bicycle-riding, black-suited sober young missionary “Elders” in our suburban streets. Part of the tenent of Mormonism is to serve as a missionary. Romney spent his time preaching the faith in France, Huntsman in Taiwan. Both men are married.
Mitt and his wife, Ann have five children
Jon and his wife, Mary Kaye have seven.
However, it’s the polygamist black sheep who get the media attention. And here I should mention another rivetting read: Escape by Carolyn Jessop (2007).
In her book about growing up in this most secret Mormon sect, she writes:
“I was born into six generations of polygamy on my mother’s side and started life in Hildale, Utah, in a fundamentalist Mormon community known as the FLDS, or the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Polygamy was the issue that defined us and the reason we’d split from the mainstream Mormon Church.”
By the time Jessop was 18 years old, she had been coerced into an arranged marriage with a stranger who was 32 years older and already had three wives. Born and raised in the group, she escaped with her eight children after 17 years of marriage to tell her sensational story on Oprah.
Of her mother’s depressive bouts, she writes:
“I remember how terrified I felt wondering what would happen to us if my mother killed herself. Who’d take care of us? Father was gone nearly all the time. One morning I asked my mother, “Mama, if a mother dies, what will happen to her children? Who will take care of them?”
I don’t think Mother noticed my urgency. She had no idea of the impact her words had been having on me. I think she felt my question arose from a general curiosity about dying. Mother was very matter-of-fact in responding to me: ‘Oh, the children will be all right. The priesthood will give their father a new wife. The new wife will take care of them.
By this time I was about six. I looked at her and said, ‘Mama, I think that Dad better hurry up and get a new wife.’ ”
However, even after the saga of the arrest and imprisonment of the notorious Warren Jeffs (president of the FLDS) polygamy lives on… as this clip shows:
In Banner Under Heaven, Krakauer is both scathing and bemused in his description of the establishment of the Mormon religion.
The LDS condemned his book with this:
“Although the book may appeal to gullible persons who rise to such bait like trout to a fly hook, serious readers who want to understand Latter-day Saints and their history need not waste their time on it.”
What’s not disputed is that in the late 1820s, one Joseph Smith Jr. of Manchester, New York, declared that the “Angel Moroni” appeared and directed him to a buried book of golden plates beautifully inscribed with a religious history of ancient American peoples and written in “reformed Egyptian”.
Smith (alleged illiterate con man and fraudster) dictated an English translation using a “seer stone” which he placed in the bottom of a hat, then put it over his face to channel the words written within the golden plates. Smith published that translation in 1830 as the Book of Mormon.
(Charges of plagiarism are numerous – most notably that whole tracts been lifted from the King James Bible –1611 & 1769.)
Today, some members of the LDS doubt the existence of the golden plates, (and it’s right up there with the most far-fetched of religious mythology, condemned as a grand hoax) however, for most of the flock, the Book of Mormon – it’s physical existence and discovery – is a cornerstone of faith.
One of the most contentious of its tenets is the teaching that Native Americans are “Lamanites”: descendents of Herbrews who strayed and were cursed with dark skin. Blacks are said to be descended from Cain, who slew his brother Abel and were again cursed with the mark of the Lord – ”the flat nose and dark skin”. They were denied any part in the priesthood until as recently as 1978.
Racist, misogynist, undemocratic, homophobic. That’s the least of it. Fact or fiction – just Google “bizarre Mormon beliefs” and see what comes up.
In the US, there is a deep antipathy between mainstream Christian faiths and Mormonism. In some quarters, Mormons are regarded as being no better than cult members.
Now this so-called “cult” is a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.
How will this all play out in the forthcoming election?
There’s been plenty written on the topic. Go here to find the best of it, and more about Mormons: