A Verdict on the “Mormon Question”

Posted on June 15, 2012 by

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Some published articles seem to recirculate long past their expiration date.  So it is that an article published in The Washington Post by Charles Lane is still making its rounds on social media sites such as Facebook.  The article is factually accurate, except for one minor, likely unintentional, oversight:

“They considered the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, a prophet, and his Book of Mormon a work as sacred as the Bible.”

The Book of Mormon was not Joseph Smith’s book.  Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon.  If it can be said that it is anyone’s book then it’s Mormon’s.  Indeed, the name of the book says as much.  However, notwithstanding the factual accuracy, Mr. Lane commits other logical errors:

“Facing institutional destruction, the Mormons renounced polygamy; this, in turn, enabled Utah’s admission as a state in 1896. Over time, the twin cases that produced the court’s ruling — Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. U.S. and Romney v. U.S. — faded into obscurity.

They’re relevant again. If he wins the presidency, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and Mormon bishop, would not be the first president to confess a historically disfavored faith. But Romney would be the first who belongs to a church that the U.S. government actually tried to crush.”

(Let’s ignore the apparent slip-up by Mr. Lane that the case was Reynolds v. US and not “Romney”.)  Granted, Mr. Lane’s article is published as an editorial.  So despite it being historically factual it’s expected to be full of bias and opinion.  Mr. Lane, however, takes his editorial license too far in that he makes claims such as the political relevancy of the historic practice of polygamy by Mormons.  A comment by reader “axelheyst”sums up Mr. Lane’s fallacy quite well.  (Remember that this was from before Mitt Romney won the nomination.)

“The measure of Lane’s objective analysis is his failure to highlight Gingrich’s faith (and it’s persecution of Jews and other “heretics” during the Spanish Inquisition), and Santorum’s faith’s (and the fact that its forebears engaged in the murder of “witches”). The point, of course, is not that these historical facts are relevant at all today; rather, that Lane is cherry-picking history to camouflage his own religious bigotry. And, his hypocritical attempt to appear unbiased and culturally pellucid by including his concluding paragraph falls short of resurrecting his intellectual honesty. Lanes article will die an ignominious – and just – death.“

Indeed, Mr. Lane digs up numerous historical references and indirectly but deliberately paints a picture of historic Mormons as being chauvinistic and then claims its relevancy for the current political arena.  Yet Mr. Lane seems to forget the historical context of his selected references.

The Women’s Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized in 1842 and became “one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the world.”  This occurred, of course, several decades before women were given the right to vote in 1920 and twenty-six years before women were specifically forbidden the right to vote in 1868 by the 14th amendment to the US Constitution.  Notwithstanding, women had always had the right to vote within the sustainings of the Church since its beginning in 1830.  Furthermore, women always voted in the Utah territory prior to 1870 when the US Congress deliberately revoked that right through the Edmunds-Tucker Act.

So the historical context that Mr. Lane has conveniently disregarded is that historical Mormons were far more progressive with respect to women’s suffrage than was the United States as a whole and the US Congress, specifically.  And yet, Mr. Lane chooses to cite references that equate the historic practice of polygamy by Mormons with human sacrifice and slavery.  (And further ignore the fact that Mormons also were not slave owners and were vocally against the practice of slavery.)

Mr. Lane writes of the irony of Mormonism origins as a “counterculture” as compared to modern Mormonism’s views on traditional marriage and its support of California’s Proposition 8 measure against same-sex marriage.  Yet Mr. Lane chooses to ignore the irony of the “progressive left” that would endorse marriage of same-sex partners while simultaneously frowning upon the heterosexual marriages of historic Mormon polygamists.

In the end does Mr. Lane tell us the relevancy of the historical mud-raking that he chose to perform?  Not at all.  In fact, he actually manages to emphasize how irrelevant it should be.

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