Now What for the Mormon Moment?By: Jeff Spector
Well, at least the election is over. No matter who you wanted to win, you couldn’t be sad that the robocalls, the TV and radio ads and the junk mail have stopped. If you were in a swing state up for grabs, it was non-stop, day and night.
So, now what for the Mormon moment? Do we go back to being that obscure sect that no one knows much about, or are we in the mainstream? Do more people now have a favorable opinion of the LDS Church than before?
If you look at the exit polling from CNN.com, it appears that many more people, mostly white, who seemed adverse to Romney because of his religion, bit the bullet and voted for him anyway.
So for the very religious, those that attend services weekly, those who are Protestant and those who are white, Romney got their vote. I can’t tell if the Mormon vote is included in the Protestant vote or in other. We know the Utah and Idaho Mormon vote went to Romney.
Now, I realize, as I am sure you do, that evangelicals, who are adverse to the Church on doctrinal grounds or because they have been told to be, will probably continue to be. For every Billy Graham who changed their position on the Church, there will be at least 5 or 10 Robert Jeffress’ who will continue to beat their anti-Mormon drum. Though even Jeffries changed his tune after Romney became the nominee. According to Fox News, in my state of Colorado, 74% of evangelicals went for Mitt Romney (Colorado Springs is ground zero for Evangelical Christianity). Similar polls show the same results across the country. That is pretty remarkable given the kind of talk that went on during the primaries.
There have been a number of very favorable articles in the mainstream media about the “Mormon Moment such as from Dan Merica of CNN. Most are, in effect closing out the “Mormon Moment.” But, just as Johanna Brooks is quoted in the CNN article, “There have been many Mormon moments, and there will be many more to come…” I completely agree with statement. So I got to thinking, what were the Mormon moments leading up to this “Mormon Moment?”
First, I recall that during my time as a Ward Mission Leader many years ago, we were taught that it takes about 9 positive encounters with the Church for someone to be really interested. So I got to thinking, is that also what it takes to be considered part of mainstream society? Let’s do an inventory.
Mormon Moments in History
- Joseph Smith Runs for President. Certainly, the founding of the Church and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was not much of a Mormon Moment because not many knew about it. It seems that Joseph Smith gained some measure of wider spread attention when he ran for President.
- The Murder of Joseph and Hyrum – This seemed to make the national news from what I can tell. So I suppose this is a Mormon Moment.
- The Passage of the Tucker-Edmunds Act – Passed by the US Congress in 1887 disincorporating the Church and outlawing polygamy. In 1890, the US Supreme Court upheld the seizure of Church property under the act.
- 1890 Manifesto –Officially disavowed the continuing practice of plural marriage in The Church. Issued by Church President Wilford Woodruff in September 1890. Accepted by the Church in General Conference, October 6, 1890.
- Utah Statehood – The 1890 manifesto began to clear the way for Statehood. Brigham Young and Apostle Amasa Lyman had proposed the massive State of Deseret in 1849, which incorporated Utah, Nevada and parts of California. President Zachary Taylor sort of liked the idea and wanted to put all of California into the state in order to balance power between free and slave states. Ultimately, the whole idea was rejected and polygamy stood in the way of Utah Statehood. As a condition, Utah had to write a polygamy ban into its constitution and statehood was officially granted on January 4, 1896.
- Reed Smoot Hearings – Reed Smoot, An Apostle, was elected to the US Senate in 1902. However, over the next 4 years, a battle ensued in the Senate as to whether to seat Senator Smoot or not. The battle centered on his calling as an Apostle and association with the Church. However, there was more to it than just that. Over the next 4 years, hearings were held regarding the Temple Ceremonies focusing on whether an oath of vengeance was taken against the United States for past grievances. The entire Temple ceremony became part of the Congressional record as a result. Smoot denied taking such an oath. And, while the investigating committee recommended against seating Smoot, the full Senate voted to seat him and Smoot served until his defeat in 1932.
- 7. President David O. Mackay – More than any other Church president before him, President MacKay was the icon of the Church during his tenure. Many would say, it was he who brought the Church out of obscurity. With his flowing white hair, white suits and lack of facial hair, he was the face of the Church for 19 years. In this period, the number of members and stakes in the LDS Church nearly tripled, from 1.1 million to 2.8 million, and 184 to 500 respectively.
- 1978 Revelation on Priesthood – Extending the Priesthood to all worthy males was a worldwide event, both in and out of the Church. It made front page news in most major papers in the US ad some around the world. While the Church was seemingly under pressure to act, many know that this was under consideration for some time. It was finally President Kimball who received the revelation that made the Priesthood available to all worthy males.
- 1993 Excommunications – Also known as the September 6, this action was also a well-publicized event. Not exactly a positive Mormon Moment.
- 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics – The Church played a large role in these Olympic as did some of the Church’s positions on things like drinking alcohol. The question was how could a state like Utah, which makes it so hard for someone to get an alcoholic drink host a worldwide audience who likes to drink? Well, I guess they made it work. Not only did the Church use the Olympics as a missionary opportunity, albeit somewhat low key, they supplied thousands of volunteers, with their unique foreign language skills, to help guests and man the event. It was a win-win-win-win for the Olympics, Salt Lake and the state of Utah, The Church, and, of course, some guy named Mitt Romney.
- 2008 President Race – As a result of his Governorship of Massachusetts and his successfully running of the Olympics, Mitt Romney decided to run for President. Along with that, came the scrutiny for being a Mormon candidate (remember, Joseph Smith, Ezra Taft Benson and Romney’s own Dad, George). However, this time, the Church was really brought to the campaign, for good and bad. Mitt even had to make a Kennedy-style speech to distance his political career from his Church membership and its influence. It was all pretty short-lived as he withdrew in February 2008. But the stage was set for 2012.
- 2012 Republican Nominee, Mitt Romney – It was a bruising Republican Primary season, where Mitt’s Mormonism really came to the forefront. The Religious Right initially rejected him as a viable candidate because he was a Mormon, supporting every other weak and ineffective candidate over Mitt. Eventually, through the Primary process, Mitt outlasted all other to secure the nomination. Much was written and said about the Church, good and bad, true and false. And while the Church maintained its official neutrality, many members did not, giving Romney testimonies during Church, disparaging and denouncing President Obama and promoting Romney during lessons. They were also very involved in the political process outside of Church, which is their right and civic obligation. But, it was sad to see, Church member’s lack of Christ-like civility, respect and charity toward a duly elected official and our national leader, in spite of differences. The Church’s own statement following the election is the model for us to follow.
So, those are my Mormon moments and take on the whole question. I think we have reached the 9 positive encounters, so maybe, we are now accepted into the mainstream.
Here’s to Moments to come.