Explaining Mitt: For Mormons, historically, changeability has always been business as usual
By Susan Jack
The GOP is currently in emergency mode, attempting to bring footage found from fourteen years ago where President Obama states that he “is for redistribution” into the spotlight and national conversation as a deflection to Mitt Romney’s now infamous statements about “the 47%.” Sadly, they’re missing the point that will cost Republicans the Presidential election- they are forgetting to look at history.
It would be tempting to look back that same fourteen or so years, when Mitt Romney was a proponent of gay rights [ http://web.archive.org/web/20021218005104/www.romneyhealey.com/issues/ ], a woman’s right to choose [ http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2005/07/03/clarity_sought_on_romneys_abortion_stance/?page=full ], stem cell research [ http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2007/02/11/romneys_stem_cell_view_may_upset_the_right/ ] , a ban on assault weapons [ http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/22/news/la-pn-colorado-shooting-renews-focus-on-romneys-gun-control-stance-20120721 ] , green power and the finality of global warming. [ Coleman, Jack (March 14, 2003). “Wind power gets boost, but Cape plan shunned”. Cape Cod Times.] especially as Romney’s platform is diametrically opposed to each and every point he used to propose to support.
This might see strange to see so much flip flopping in a Presidential candidate, yet there is a pattern that makes utter sense in the larger Romney narrative; specifically that historically, Mormons as a whole have deemed it a holy rite to radically change their minds in the course of this very American Religion.
Skipping the tenets and creation stories of Mormonism for sake of both respect and expediency, Mormons as a society rather than as a religion have had no problem with doing a complete logical 180 when it comes to material gain, nor have done since the time of Brigham Young. Members of the FLDS, a more “traditional” but marginalized portion of the Mormon faith call taking as much welfare as they can from a state they do not recognize as “Bleeding the Beast.” [“Under the Banner of Heaven,” Jon Krakauer] Fictional character Bill Henrickson on HBO’s “Big Love” saw owning a casino as an excellent way to launder his money to redistribute to his second and third wives, even though he himself refused to gamble. Mainstream Mormons seem to call it historical record and business as usual.
Not convinced? Mormons built and owned brothels in Salt Lake City to serve non-Mormon travelers who were going through the city on their way to the California and Alaska Gold Rushes in the late 1800s [ http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon363.htm ] as a way to entrap then convert Gentiles. Mormon men themselves were and still are forbidden to visit brothels, but they were more than happy to take the wages of sin from others all the way up until 1941.
Joseph Smith deciphered The Book Of Mormon in the late 1820’s, which states in Jacob, Chapter 2 that monogamy be standard doctrine for all Mormons. Yet in the 1830’s, Smith, who it is said had an eye for the ladies, abruptly announced to his growing flock that he had had a revelation that polygamy was seen not only as a blessing in the eyes of their Heavenly Father but necessary in order to reach the highest level of Heaven. As opposed to today’s ideal LDS image of shiny, happy, squeaky clean Mormons, in Smith and Young’s day it was an era of increasingly starchy and even celibate Evangelical movements, such as the Quakers, the Shakers, and the Mehonites. Mormonism, especially the beliefs surrounding polygamy, proved to be very attractive to potential converts who wanted to have their church-endorsed fun in this life and their very own planet In next.
While the Mormons were living in what was known as the Utah Territory bigamy was legislated against by the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act while still being preached to that bigamy was the word of God. Further Supreme Court rulings (Reynolds v. United States, 1878), the Edmunds Act of 1882 and Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 enforced these anti-bigamy laws. The Mormons, however, were not keen on giving up their marital rites in this life or their celestial rites in the next.
The objections would not last long, though. After over 120,000 US federal soldiers were dispatched to Mormon territories in 1890. Mormon lands were seized, the church disincorporated, and prominent polygamists were arrested, was it enough to convince Mormon President Wilford Woodruff to agree to all anti-bigamy legislation or future religious claims to demand so. It was lucky timing indeed that Woodruff also had another divine revelation at the same time that the Mormon Faith should return to monogamy, and expressed so in the “1890 Manifesto.” In 1890, the express ban of polygamy was worked into the State Constitution as a prerequisite to joining the United States to seal the deal.
In 1954, Mormon bankers, led by E. Parry Thomas of The Bank of Las Vegas, underwrote legitimate loans for the Saharah, The Fremont and the Stardust Hotels and Casinos in conjunction with La Cosa Nostra (Mafia) from the East Coast and Chicago. Again, although Mormons do not condone gambling, they made millions of dollars in profits and tithes which the Church did not shy away from receiving.
Closer to living memory, in 1978 another great revelation was shown to then President Eldon Tanner, lifting the ban on African Americans holding the Priesthood, catching up (albeit slowly) with the rest of the country’s views on equal civil rights for all races. Sadly that same malleability has not been shown either in the US, which still has women earning an average of 78 cents on every man’s dollar, or the LDS Church, which has been outspoken in its rejection of the Equal Rights Amendment on “serious moral grounds.” [ www.lds.org ]
Mormons and their faith have shown themselves adept at adapting and changing with the times to best appeal to their most current audience and it has proven a rewarding strategy. According to the US Census, Mormons are the fast growing religion in the United States. Growing up in such an environment, Mitt Romney was shown by history and his own experience that use the same strategy has provided rewards to him personally and politically. By adapting he has made himself a millionaire (with a little help from family along the way) and held middling political office. However, in the days of fact checkers that he doesn’t need, and 24 hour news cycles he just can’t seem to get ahead of, Romney’s greatest asset won’t provide him with the special something that every President needs; genuine and long-held conviction.