From the Admin: We’re proud to announce our latest backdoor entrant to our perma-blogger lineup: Dan Ellsworth.

I think LDS folk are watching the Romney candidacy right now with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, they are thrilled to see one of our very best and most competent in a position to make a serious run at the Presidency.  There are people on the left, as well as a lot of Evangelicals in the Republican Party, who are nervous over the prospect of a mormon wielding that level of influence; it is natural to feel that way towards any group that has an elite membership (recommend holders) with access to exclusive places, and institutional secrets.  So when we put a face forward to engage the public, we want it to be someone good and intelligent enough to demonstrate that we are actually rather normal, maybe even boring.  Mitt, in many LDS minds, is the competent and successful PR Moses of the Church, who can bring us the social acceptance we so crave by ascending to become the Mormon leader of the free world.  Mitt is pursuing that position within the context of the Republican Party, which most mormons regard as their political home.  Parenthetically, home is the wrong metaphor here.  The better metaphor is, the Republican Party is like an abusive boyfriend, and the Church is generally like a needy, acceptance-starved girlfriend who comes back to more and more abuse because she simply can’t imagine better alternatives out there.

Anyway, the Romney candidacy has also spooked some mormons.  I, personally, have been spooked by the silly pandering to the guns and NASCAR crowd- I have no idea how someone as smart as Mitt can listen to the image consultants he has.  What’s next, pictures like these?  Puhleeease.  Mitt, put down the pork rinds and get out of that bass boat.  You’re a white-collar Northeastern businessman, and nobody will believe anything other than that- just accept it and run with it.

The other reason a lot of LDS have been spooked by Mitt’s candidacy is the revelation of the things he argued so eloquently while running for office in Massachussetts.  He argued the pro-choice position very well, and his statements about gay rights were jarring to a lot of people who could not fathom a stake president holding those views.

Well, I would argue that those views were to some extent the more scriptural ones.  Look at the book of Helaman:

 Chapter 4

21 Yea, they began to remember the prophecies of Alma, and also the words of Mosiah; and they saw that they had been a stiffnecked people, and that they had set at naught the commandments of God;

22 And that they had altered and trampled under their feet the laws of Mosiah, or that which the Lord commanded him to give unto the people; and they saw that their laws had become corrupted, and that they had become a wicked people, insomuch that they were wicked even like unto the Lamanites.

Hmmm, and this from chapter 5:

1 And it came to pass that in this same year, behold, Nephi delivered up the judgment-seat to a man whose name was Cezoram.

2 For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted.

3 Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction.

4 And it came to pass that Nephi had become weary because of their iniquity; and he yielded up the judgment-seat, and took it upon him to preach the word of God all the remainder of his days, and his brother Lehi also, all the remainder of his days;

Now, chapter 4 says the people’s laws were corrupted; that being the case, why would Nephi and Lehi abandon their political positions?  Wouldn’t that be the best place for them to exercise a positive influence over the people?  Apparently not- in fact, their abandonment of their political positions suggests that they viewed their work in that capacity as being fruitless, in light of the moral state of the people.

After the gay marriage amendment debacle a year ago, I wrote a friend a lengthy email expressing what a waste of energy I felt the Church’s well-meaning efforts had ultimately turned out to be.  At the end of the day, trying to create a more moral people (a mission of the Church) is, always was, and always will be a matter of teaching and inviting, not legislating. I think Helaman 5 argues that efforts to make laws conform to religious and moral sensibilities are misplaced if people don’t actually have those sensibilities, or if they don’t consider them a high enough priority to merit their own legislation, as is the case with many of those issues here in the U.S.

I told my friend that if the Church wants a gay marriage amendment, they would achieve vastly more success by purchasing TV air time and doing an interfaith broadcast in prime time to give the American people the moral teaching behind the amendment.

The same goes for abortion; I grew up in a part of Southern California where abortion was very common among people I knew, and some of them were assisted in their abortions by parents and grandparents.  That is the moral teaching (or lack thereof) that they acted upon.  As mormons, we believe abortion is awful except for a few exceptions, so where are our efforts at prevention best spent, in legislative campaigns and blockades of clinics, or in the real work of engaging people and teaching, funding, and publicizing alternatives?

I believe that flashy, heated political activism in the Church has become in a sense a counterfeit to quiet, humble, heart-wenching difficult missionary work in its varied forms.  Mitt Romney would do well to relearn his skepticism of legalism as the way to a more moral society; and if Rudy Giuliani’s success is an example, Mitt’s campaign would be better off for it.