The Republican debate last night was just as ‘edifying’ an event as the previous ones have been. I noted that while NOVA was thinking about life on other planets on PBS there must have been many a Republican across America looking for a winner among what I think is the most lackluster grouping of candidates in many a cycle seeking a party nomination. (Michele Bachmann is a lunatic.)
Near the end of the debate the topic of religion came up, and swirled around for a few minutes. The only reason it surfaced was that Mitt Romney has to sell himself to a very conservative base of the party as a Mormon. It has caused some tension over the months, and more is sure to follow.
There were some lofty words spoken by Newt Gingrich that actually made sense about politics and religion, but again Rick Perry could only go so far in backing away from politically intemperate words from a supporter who took great difference with Romney’s religion. Perry wants this wedge issue to continue as Iowa and South Carolina approaches, and the evangelicals come out to cast votes for delegates.
I have stated repeatedly that this matter over Romney’s religion is fascinating to watch unfold from a political perspective, and one that might have longer arms to tangle Mitt than he fully appreciates. That is not to say anything about Mormons or their religion, but just is a political fact that is playing out in the hunt for the GOP nomination.
But after the debate last night it is Maureen Dowd who makes the loudest statement about the GOP, the Mormon faith, and politics this morning.
The Mormons even baptized Anne Frank.
It took Ernest Michel, then chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, three years to get Mormons to agree to stop proxy-baptizing Holocaust victims.
Mormons desisted in 1995 after Michel, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, “discovered that his own mother, father, grandmother and best childhood friend, all from Mannheim, Germany, had been posthumously baptized.”
Michel told the news agency that “I was hurt that my parents, who were killed as Jews in Auschwitz, were being listed as members of the Mormon faith.”
Richard Bushman, a Mormon who is a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, said that after “the Jewish dust-up,” Mormons “backed away” from “going to extravagant lengths to collect the names of every last person who ever lived and baptize them — even George Washington.” Now they will do it for Mormons who bring a relative or ancestor’s name into the temple, he said.
Bushman said that “Mormons believe that Christ is the divine son of God who atoned for our sins, but we don’t believe in the Trinity in the sense that there are three in one. We believe the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are three distinct persons.”
Kent Jackson, the associate dean of religion at Brigham Young University, says that while Mormons are Christians, “Mormonism is not part of the Christian family tree.”
It probably won’t comfort skeptical evangelicals and Catholics to know that Mormons think that while other Christians merely “have a portion of the truth, what God revealed to Joseph Smith is the fullness of the truth,” as Jackson says. “We have no qualms about saying evangelicals, Catholics and Protestants can go to heaven, including Pastor Jeffress. We just believe that the highest blessings of heaven come” to Mormons.
As for those planets that devout Mormon couples might get after death, Jackson says that’s a canard. But Bushman says it’s part of “Mormon lore,” and that it’s based on the belief that if humans can become like God, and God has the whole universe, then maybe Mormons will get to run a bit of that universe.
As for the special garment that Mitt wears, “we wouldn’t say ‘magic underwear,’ ” Bushman explains.
It is meant to denote “moral protection,” a sign that they are “a consecrated people like the priests of ancient Israel.”
And it’s not only a one-piece any more. “There’s a two-piece now,” he said.
Republicans are the ones who have made faith part of the presidential test. Now we’ll see if Mitt can pass it.