Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Romney Candidacy, or Will The Saints Go Marching In? (part 2)

Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has attracted predictable support from his fellow Mormons, including critical covert help from the upper echelons of the Mormon leadership in Salt Lake City. What is somewhat surprising is the help Romney is receiving from Evangelical Christians, who historically have regarded the Mormon Church as a non-Christian cult.

Rev. Gregory Johnson of Lehi, Utah, is director of a ministry called Standing Together, which describes its mission as “service, prayer, and strategic evangelism,” as well as “building bridges of relationship and dialogue” between Evangelicals and the Mormon Church.

He is also a key player in Mitt Romney's outreach to evangelical Christians.

“Mitt Romney is as evangelical as any evangelical governor I would hope we could have,” Johnson insisted during a May address to a group of pastors in Massachusetts, although he conceded that in a head-to-head competition with an electable Protestant conservative, “I just feel Christian conservatives will vote for their own kind.”

In recent years, Johnson -- a former Mormon -- has been doing what he can to narrow the divide between mainstream Christians and Mormons. He has teamed up with Robert Millet, a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, to conduct a series of joint appearances throughout the Rocky Mountain West.

The Johnson-Millet presentations are intended to advance a model of “dialogue” between Evangelicals and Mormons that places the priority on building personal relationships, rather than vindicating doctrinal truth (as one is given the wisdom to understand it).

Last February, after attending a Johnson-Millet event in the Boise area – months before Johnson made his remarks in Massachusetts -- I commented to a friend: “This is helping to lay the groundwork for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign.” I shared that assessment a few days ago with a local Protestant minister who is a critic of Johnson's outreach to the Mormon Church, and received this nuanced response: “I don't think Standing Together and the Johnson-Millet dialogues began with that intention, but they certainly serve that purpose.”

Standing Together was instrumental in arranging a November 2004 speech at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City by Ravi Zacharias, an evangelical apologist of considerable note. While acknowledging many of the key distinctions between Mormonism and Bible-based Christianity, Zacharias' address – in keeping with the approach favored by Johnson – tried to emphasize what were presented as points of agreement.

Also on the bill that evening at the Tabernacle was Richard Mouw, president of Pasadena's Fuller Theological Seminary, whose speech was actually more important than the one given by Zacharaias. In his address, Mouw presumed to speak on behalf of the entire Evangelical Church in apologizing to Mormons: “We evangelicals have sinned against you [by] seriously misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of members of [your] faith.”

One evangelical leader complained to Terry Eastland of the Weekly Standard that Mouw's speech was “everything a Mormon could dream of to make Mormons theologically legitimate.”

Mitt Romney and his handlers have almost certainly been taking notes. During an interview on “The Charlie Rose Show” last June 5, Romney decanted a pretty good version of the gospel according to Johnson and Millet when asked about his Mormon beliefs: “I'm a religious person, and I believe Jesus Christ is my Savior.... But then as you get into the details of the doctrines, I'd probably say look, time out; let's focus on the values that we share.... [I]f you have doctrines you want to talk about, go talk to the church, because that's not my job.”

Romney served a full-time mission to France, he's been a Bishop in the Mormon Church, and he's well acquainted with the Mormon maxim that “every member [should be] a missionary,” so his answer was as disingenuous as it was politically serviceable.

As the Boston Globe reported a few days ago, the spine and nervous system of Romney's presidential campaign is built on a nation-wide network of Mormon fundraisers and volunteers, with church leaders all the way up to Mormon Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley in the loop. The initiative, employing language that savors strongly of the Standing Together approach, is called Mutual Values and Priorities (although Romney aide Spencer Zwick claims MVP has been abandoned).

In creating MVP, Romney's campaign consulted with Mormon Apostle Jefferey Holland, a former President of Brigham Young University, about its plans to mobilize graduates of BYU Business School. Holland “has handled the initiative for the church and hosted a Sept. 19 meeting in his office in church headquarters with one of Romney's sons, a paid political consultant ... and one of the governor's major donors,” reports the Globe.

And Holland, interestingly enough, has been in contact with Gregory Johnson. That was one of two interesting disclosures made by Johnson during a meeting last Wednesday with some of his critics from the Evangelical community. The other disclosure was that Johnson had received a phone call from Utah Lt. Governor Gary Herbert, who asked the minister “how do we deal with the perceptions” of Evangelical Christians that could impede the Romney campaign.

So it appears that the Romney campaign is turning to Johnson – and like-minded Protestant figures – to fine-tune its pitch to Evangelicals. That pitch is nicely summarized by Robert Millet, Johnson's tag-team partner in the Mormon/Evangelical “dialogues”: “[Romney] will have to make the point that if you want to understand me, look at 21st century Mormonism and not its anomalies” -- meaning polygamy, the 148-year ban on ordination of black men to the church's lay priesthood, the “blood atonement” doctrine, and the theocratic teachings and practices that supposedly ended when Utah achieved statehood in 1896.

At the same time the Romney campaign is positioning its candidate as an exemplar of “21st century Mormonism,” it is building a Mormon campaign infrastructure that hearkens back to the 1844 presidential candidacy of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, and the theocratic system he had devised shortly before he was murdered in June of that year at Carthage Jail in Illinois.

In 1842, Joseph Smith organized an esoteric body within the Mormon priesthood leadership called the “Council of Fifty.” Known variously as the “Anointed Quorum,” the “Kingdom of God,” the “Council of the Kingdom,” or the “General Council,” that body was styled as the curia regis, or King's Council, for Joseph Smith as the “Prophet, Priest and King” of a global theocracy. Joseph Smith was ordained to that position in a special conference of the Council of Fifty on April 11, 1844 – about two months prior to his death.

“I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the world,” Smith declared publicly roughly one month after his secret coronation. The presidency would have been useful to that end, had Smith been elected. But by Mormon reckoning, by aspiring to the White House Smith was actually seeking an office beneath his station. “You are already president pro tem of the world,” wrote Mormon Apostles Lyman Wight and Heber C. Kimball in a June 19, 1844 letter to Smith.

Perhaps the most provocative title given to the Council of Fifty came in an April 18 statement Joseph Smith claimed was given by revelation from God: “Ye are my constitution.” Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt explained the import of that declaration to his comrades, telling them that “here in this Council we have a living constitution not a written one – which we must conform to.”

In 1844, nearly all members of the Mormon Church lived in Nauvoo, Illinois. At the time a city larger than Chicago, Nauvoo was ruled by Joseph, the city mayor and commander of the Nauvoo Legion, the largest private militia in the country. Most Mormons were unaware of the extent to which Joseph and his Council – which was organized along Masonic lines, and included several powerful non-Mormons – aspired to obtain and exercise political power.

Although he publicly spoke the language of “Jeffersonian democracy” and “protection of person and property,” Smith's private political machinations were highly authoritarian and conducted through oath-bound, esoteric channels.

Yale-trained Ph.D. historian D. Michael Quinn
, who enjoyed unprecedented access to Mormon Church archives, notes that Joseph's ruling Council was bound by multi-layered ritual oaths of secrecy, and “nearly every member” of the body “was a Freemason.” One-third of its membership was drawn from the Danites, a violent, secret society created during the Mormon Church's violent struggles with its Missouri neighbors in the 1830s. Although described as a self-defense organization, the Danites were deeply involved in plunder, harassment, and other violent crimes against non-Mormons. Its members were bound by an oath “never to reveal the secret purposes of this society.... Should I ever do so, I hold my life as the forfeiture.”

Comments Dr. Quinn, who could be considered the Carroll Quigley of Mormon historiography:

“In the Spring of 1844 Smith gave the public only an indistinct foreshadowing of the new world order he was formulating in his secret meetings with the Council of Fifty.”

That “new world order” would feature many of the most obnoxious elements of the post-Constitutional regime under which we now live. As set out in his campaign manifesto, Views of the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States, Smith supported, among other things:

*Creation of a central national bank with branches in every state (not unlike the Federal Reserve): “let Congress shew their wisdom by granting a national bank, with branches in each state and territory, where the capital stock shall be held by the nation for the mother bank....”

*The expansion of the United States to include Canada Mexico, in an arrangement akin the proposed North American Union: “let the union spread from the east to the west sea; and if Texas petitions Congress to be adopted among the sons of liberty, give her the right hand of fellowship; and refuse not the same friendly grip to Canada and Mexico....”

*Giving the president power to intervene militarily within individual states, at his sole discretion, to deal with threats to the civil rights of minorities (an abuse of federal power that has become commonplace in the post- “Civil Rights” era):”Give every man his constitutional freedom, and the president full power to send an army to suppress mobs; and the states authority to repeal and impugn that relic of folly, which makes it necessary for the governor of a state to make the demand of the president for troops, in case of invasion or rebellion.”

But Smith's vision was not limited to the United States, or the Western Hemisphere.
The slender book Joseph Smith & World Government by the late Mormon historian Hyrum L. Andrus (who taught in the religion department at Brigham Young University) outlines what its author calls "Joseph Smith's concept of a new world government.”

According to Brigham Young, Smith's chief disciple and successor, the Council, as the theocratic government of "Zion," "is the only true form of government on the earth." What of our constitutional republic? It was merely "a preparatory development necessary to the later establishment of the Kingdom of God," meaning the Mormon theocracy, according to Andrus.

When the theocracy was fully installed, wrote Mormon Apostle Parley P. Pratt, "the kingdoms of this world will be united in one.... O America! how art thou favored above all lands!... Within thee is the Kingdom of God [meaning Joseph Smith's covert theocracy, the Council of Fifty.] Thou wast chosen to prepare the way! It must increase, but thou shalt decrease!"

How is the Mormon theocracy to obtain the political power to which it is supposedly entitled?

According to Andrus:

"To establish the Kingdom of God in its political power, the Constitution of the United States was to be brought into association with Zion's [the Mormon Church's] religious and economic society in such a way as to grant the appropriate priesthood councils in Zion the power to nominate men to political office.... [T]he Church, with its priesthood authority, was the body out of which this political organ was to be developed...."

This sounds more than a little like the role played by the Mormon leadership, and prominent elements of its lay membership, in quietly supporting the Romney candidacy. This is entirely understandable, since Mormons, like every other constituency, has a predictable interest in supporting and promoting their own. This sense of political identity is particularly strong among Mormons, however, in part because they have long been taught an eschatological view in which the “Elders of Zion” -- Mormon priesthood-holding men – would step in to rescue our country at a time when our Constitution would hang “by a thread.”

With the current crop of 2008 Republican presidential contenders devoid of a conspicuous conservative favorite, Romney (who is not a conservative; he only plays one on TV) is, for all intents and purposes, the default favorite of the Christian Right – assuming that Gregory Johnson, Richard Mouw, and others of their persuasion succeed in neutralizing Evangelical concerns about Mormonism.

And I venture this prediction: If the Republicans lose control of the House on November 7, Romney will be the 2008 Republican nominee. Christian Right leaders accustomed to a “seat at the table” of political power will wrestle with their collective conscience, and win.


Myclob said...

Globe REALLY Digs in Now--Sinks to publishing private email communications
Trying to "save face" from their poorly reported stories . . . the Boston Globe writers have now come forth with their "Documents" that they were claiming showed the link between Romney operatives and the LDS church. They've even stooped to the level of publishing personal e-mails (how they were obtained is not mentioned, but I bet that is more scandalous than the "expose" that they are trying to push).

Obviously, Romney, personally is 100% clean on this one. In fact, the dubious nature of the documents makes it hard to pin anything on anyone.

However, assuming the "documents" are real, lets put this in a little perspective:

Don Stirling is NOT a staff member of Romney's PAC; he's just a consultant. His email was to Sherri Dew . . . a prominent woman in the LDS community and CEO of Desert Book (and has been on the record before as being VERY pro-Romney). In trying to tie this to President Hinckley there are just too many "degrees of seperation." The e-mail says that Don Sterling said he heard Kem Gardner say he heard that Elder Holland said that he heard that Elder Faust and Pres. Hinckley (get the picture) "voiced no objections" to the MVP program and use of the BYU Management Society to promote it. Kem Gardner is a long-time friend to Romney (and major donor) and he (or Stirling himself) may have either 1) misunderstood, 2) exaggerated, or 3) took out of context Holland's meaning. This is all assuming that the emails are legit.

I'm sorry, but this kind of poorly founded journalism is what I expect from Hollywood tabloids, not from the Boston Globe.

I'm interested in seeing the Church's response on this one.



Another point that crossed my mind is that all of these people are well known to eachoter. Dew, Stirling, Gardner, Holland etc . . . they're all among the "elite" of the Salt Lake City crowd. It's not a huge city and being a member/leader in the church makes that that much smaller. What I'm getting at is that this is not some targeted scheme by Romney's people to "get in good" with the church heirarchy. More likely this could just be some in the "Salt Lake Elite" excited about one of "their own" becoming POTUS (Romney's stint as SLOC chair made him an adopted member of that crowd.) Again, Romney and his PAC are 100% clean on this one. This episode just sends up a warning flare to people who personally support Romney but happen to hold positions of power in the Church/Utah/BYU to be more careful in their personal communications--you never know who may break into your system.


William N. Grigg said...

Jeff -- welcome aboard! Thanks for posting the terrific picture of you and your kid. BTW, Monsters, Inc. is one of my favorite movies as well; our daughter Katrina, when she was younger, was a ringer for Boo.

Assuming that you're correct in your assessment that there is no "there" there regarding MVP, Governor Romney's cagily evasive remarks to the Globe are somewhat puzzling. His response wasn't to deny the gravamen of the Globe account, but rather to minimize it as just another example of what could be called faith-based campaign networking.

As to calling into question the provenance and authenticity of the e-mails -- that puts off the same musk of spin-doctor desperation that's been wafting our way from the likes of Denny Hastert since the Foley scandal broke. If we're dealing with something as trivial and innocent as you insist, then there's no reason to believe that the e-mails are bogus. If this is something more substantive than mere tabloid sensationalism, then it's likely the e-mails were made public by a whistleblower as an act of conscience -- something you, as a fan of "A Man for All Seasons," should appreciate, n'cest pas?

Tom Eddlem said...

Romney is proof positive of the adage in big government politics that "Democrats propose, Republicans enact." In Massachusetts, Democrats suggested tax increases, but only Romney raised them (though he called his hundreds of millions of dollars of tax increases "fee" increases). Conservatives screamed bloody murder when Hillary Clinton proposed universal health care coverage in the mid-90s, but somehow these same conservatives are silent when Mitt Romney accomplished Hillary-care in Massachusetts last year.

As a Massachusetts resident and native, I can tell you that Romney is to the left of most of the national Democrats on most issues. When he ran for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy, he flanked Kennedy to the left on the abortion issue.

What self-described "conservatives" say about Romney is a sheep and goat issue in our body politic. Watch out for anyone who calls him a true conservative!

Jeff Taylor said...

At least Ezra Taft Benson was a genuine political conservative. He was a Robert Taft man in '52 and endorsed NDCC twenty years later. With Romney, you get neither good theology nor good ideology (from my perspective).

William N. Grigg said...

JT -- President Benson was a solid statesman, widely and unfairly maligned within and without the Mormon Church for his principles. Among his many admirable traits was his preternatural self-control when dealing with incredibly vicious critics. He also -- to his credit -- talked his nephew Steve (the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist) out of a military career, for the right reasons.

The other Mormon statesman for whom I have great respect is J. Reuben Clark, although his record is not unblemished (he did author a conscription statute, if memory serves). Ah, well ... everyone has a Persian flaw.

William N. Grigg said...

One quick additional comment about Benson and Clark:

J. Reuben Clark was ETB's political mentor. During the debate over the League of Nations Covenant, Clark was very much on the side of the "Irreconcilables" who opposed the pact, even though the Mormon leadership, from President Heber J. Grant on down, supported the League of Nations as God's "plan for peace." (It was actually described as such over the pulpit in LDS General Conference.)

Utah Senator Reed Smoot was also numbered among the "Irreconcilables," largely because of Clark's influence.

Had Clark and Smoot deferred to the Brethren, as Mormon teachings require, they would have supported the League.