Mormons have a reason to be nervous. I didn't fully appreciate it two years ago, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints first came under an intense political spotlight. In 2006, Mormon officials had begun making the media rounds, prepping for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's expected try for the Republican presidential nomination. This protective measure stood out. No evangelical contingents were giving theological primers in anticipation of Mike Huckabee's run. Few officials were warning Catholics to not do as Rudy Giuliani does on abortion before his run. Why did the Mormons need to do advance work?
We quickly saw why. Many members of this young, uniquely American church understandably did not desire the intense scrutiny that Romney's run would bring. It didn't take long, as it turned out, for journalists and popular blogs to raise questions about undergarments, theology and points of history. Some points fell within the fair scope of political journalism, while many were clearly out of bounds.
But nothing justifies the concerns of anxious Mormons like the current controversy over Proposition 8 in California. This initiative protecting traditional marriage won by the same margin as Barack Obama did in that state -- getting the support of some Obama voters, in fact. Its victory has led supposed agents of tolerance to blatant acts of bigotry; gay-marriage advocates are blaming the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for their electoral defeat.
Romney, because he subscribes to the Mormon faith, had to give a speech on religion a year ago. In it, Romney did what John F. Kennedy didn't do in the first Catholic president's effort to allay concerns about his creed. Kennedy essentially apologized for his religion, assuring people that it wouldn't have any real influence over his decisions as president. Romney, on the other hand, stood by the faith of his fathers, and took the opportunity to talk about how the varieties of belief and nonbelief practiced in the United States make it a richer, more vigorous country.
Romney's thanks for this contribution to our civic life consist of continued hostility. A piece in the Boston Herald proclaimed "Mitt Romney's kin put faith in pa$$ing Proposition 8." The story detailed how some Romney relatives, along with other prominent Massachusetts Mormons, contributed cash to the pro-8 campaign.
And so? While some reports claim that Mormon contributions accounted for a whopping 70 percent of total donations to the pro-8 cause, it should also be noted that 70 percent of black Californians voted for the initiative. The backlash -- which has included white-powder scares and bomb threats at Mormon temples and offices -- is both wrong and unfair. (Outside Denver, a Book of Mormon was lit on fire and dropped on the doorstep of a Mormon temple.) Catholics, Orthodox bishops and evangelicals also supported the initiative.
A law professor at the purportedly Catholic Georgetown University, who is also a gay activist, argues that the cause of gay marriage is simply in conflict with religious liberty; he's "having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win." (Never mind, again, that the victory of Proposition 8 in California was not the result of an edict from Salt Lake, the Vatican or any one religion, but the free and fair vote of California citizens, some informed by their religious belief, as they are free to be so motivated.)
Surely we don't have to be Mormon to be outraged. I make no statement about their recruitment strategies when I say, watching California, "We're all Mormons now." Next time the violent backlash may be in response to a brave Catholic bishop teaching responsibility at the voting booth. Next time it could be an online evangelical dating service hauled into court by a state "civil rights" office for not providing same-sex matchmaking. Oh wait, that already happened in New Jersey.
Now I know why Mormons were so nervous. They were warning the rest of us. Our freedom to believe is at hazard, and it's time we all had the Mormons' backs.
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