Today’s New York Times quotes John Dehlin to the effect that Mitt Romney is not steadfast, is shady (i.e. not “up front”), lacks integrity, and is inconsistent. It is unclear what these judgments are based on, but these were not the only notable comments relating to Romney and Mormonism in today’s newspaper article. The impetus behind such comments, especially in the context of the rest of the NYT article, seems to be that Romney is somehow misrepresenting the Mormon faith or Mormon doctrine.

More interesting in this regard, perhaps, is the following commentary in the article:

Another case [of what the NYT article claims is Romney's "tendency to gloss over Mormonism’s history and distinctive tenets" which has supposedly "upset some fellow Mormons"] arose when George Stephanopoulos of ABC News asked Mr. Romney about a Mormon teaching that Jesus will come to the United States when he returns to reign on earth. Mr. Romney responded that the Messiah will return to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, “the same as the other Christian tradition.”

Mr. Grover said some of his radio listeners were astounded.

“They were just in disbelief, saying that’s not true, Jesus is coming back to Missouri,” Mr. Grover said. “It’s the L.D.S. Church’s 10th article of faith that Zion will be built upon the American continent.”

Tom Grover’s listeners (apparently) were incredulous at Romney’s comment that Latter-day Saints believe that Christ will return again to the Mount of Olives just like creedal Christians believe.

The scriptures read and believed by Latter-day Saints weigh against Tom Grover’s incredulous listeners and against Tom Grover’s own presentation of the issue. After all, the Doctrine and Covenants reiterates the Old Testament prophecy in Zecharia (Zech. 14:4-9) that Christ will appear at the Mount of Olives, dividing it asunder:

48 And then shall the Lord set his foot upon this mount, and it shall cleave in twain, and the earth shall tremble, and reel to and fro, and the heavens also shall shake.
49 And the Lord shall utter his voice, and all the ends of the earth shall hear it; and the nations of the earth shall mourn, and they that have laughed shall see their folly.
50 And calamity shall cover the mocker, and the scorner shall be consumed; and they that have watched for iniquity shall be hewn down and cast into the fire.
51 And then shall the Jews look upon me and say: What are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet?
52 Then shall they know that I am the Lord; for I will say unto them: These wounds are the wounds with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. I am he who was lifted up. I am Jesus that was crucified. I am the Son of God. (D&C 45:48-52)

To what extent can LDS radio listeners who call in to a radio talk show and voice their own misunderstanding of “Mormon Doctrine” be determinative for whether Romney is being disingenuous in how he is portraying the faith? The Tenth Article of Faith is irrelevant to the question of whether Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus will appear to the view of all the world at the Mount of Olives, smashing it in two, at the Second Coming. Latter-day Saints believe in addition to this fantastic and incredible tale — but not instead of — in further fantastic and incredible tales. Grover’s listeners should not be incensed when Romney reinforces that Latter-day Saints join creedal Christians in believing in Christ’s Second Coming at the Mount of Olives.

It is unclear why Grover would present it as some sort of categorical thing — Latter-day Saints believe that Christ will also play a role in the New Jerusalem that is to be built on the American continent so therefore we don’t believe that Christ will appear at the Mount of Olives at the Second Coming. This simply isn’t true. “Zion” being built on the American continent does not negate and is in fact irrelevant to whether Latter-day Saints believe that Christ will appear at the Mount of Olives. It is a mischaracterization to suggest that there is a fundamental tension or any kind of incongruity between these two occurences.

Finally, it is also curious that Mitt Romney would need to answer questions about the Latter-day Saint view of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in a political debate or as part of his campaign for political office in the United States of America. A belief that the New Jerusalem will be built on the American Continent is not necessarily any more bizarre than a belief in transubstantiation, Rapture, reincarnation, salvation by grace alone, religious salvation of any kind whatsoever, heaven or hell, the devil, Greco-Roman deities, Quetzalcoatl, or anything outside of our empirical capacity at all.