By Orson Scott Card
There is a sort of comfortableness that can settle in with majoritarians. A complacency that allows one to be picky and exclusive.
I remember getting this feeling when I lived in Utah. I moved to the town of Orem, where Mormons were an estimated 98 percent of the population. That should certainly have made me feel at home!
However, I was also a Democrat, and in Orem, Democrats in 1980 were about as common World Series pennants in the Chicago Cubs clubhouse.
So the local Mormon congregation had no idea what to make of me. I clearly didn’t have a job — freelance writer? Of science fiction? — and I did something so eccentric as joining the Democratic Party, so how could I possibly be a good member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
My opinion was that the two questions were really unrelated — my identity as a Mormon was, I thought, secure. I kept the commandments. I fulfilled my callings in the Church. And — here’s the clincher — I sang tenor in the choir. Good tenors in church choirs are almost as rare as Democrats. I expected to be embraced with open arms.
Unfortunately, my ward (congregation) did not have a choir at that time.
Nor did they have a single calling that they thought I could fulfill.
Now, this is one of the peculiarities of Mormonism (which is, after all, the subject of this discussion, yes?): Because we have a lay ministry, every single member is expected to serve in some ministerial role. We teach or supervise or perform other services as part of an official “calling” in the Church.
In fact, that’s much of the way that we create our identity — by our callings. No matter where we move in the Mormon Church, our congregation will have a “Relief Society president” and many “Primary teachers” and a “ward clerk” and an “executive secretary,” and so on.
Even if these people are complete strangers to us, we know who they are in the ward — the function they fulfill, and what we can expect of them, and even some information about the kind of person who is usually given such a calling.
But in my ward in Orem, they couldn’t think of a calling that a science-fiction-writing Democrat could possibly fill.
In their minds, because I was such an unfamiliar creature to them, I couldn’t really be counted as “Mormon.”
It happened that my wife (a good Republican) was approached for her fourth — or was it fifth? — calling just as she was getting good and sick with the pregnancy that brought us our second child. So as my wife was turning down the calling — to teach a class of 9-year-olds in which the boys were so rambunctious that they had driven away four teachers in the past few months — I interrupted the conversation and said, “I’m available.”
Well, what could they say? I ended up teaching the class and calming down the boys, and we all had a wonderful time.
And by the time we moved away, the ward had learned something. It was actually possible for a Democrat without a day job who wrote books about space and strange creatures and all — he could also be a good Mormon.
When I moved to a place where Mormons were more rare, however — South Bend, Indiana, and then Greensboro, North Carolina, where I live today — Mormons were much more rare. Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians predominated.
So the leadership of all these wards saw me very differently. Because we were not in the majority, every Mormon who would faithfully fulfill his callings was valued — and nobody much cared about my day job or my politics. In fact, I wasn’t the only Democrat, because we hadn’t got the memo about how all good Mormons had to be Republicans out here in the hinterlands.
The result? They’ve had no problem finding callings for me. I’m still considered rather odd, but I have not felt myself to be an outsider; no one has regarded me as “not a good Mormon” because I don’t fit their preconceptions.
This story may seem overly long to some, but it’s absolutely central to the point I’m making.
It happens that I have exactly the same view as Dr. Mohler — only I apply it differently. I believe that only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can save the souls of those who sin. However, I believe that the only Church that has the authority to act in the name of God and speak for him in the world today is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But I also know that far from being in the majority (except in the nation of Tonga), we Mormons, who (in my belief) do have that authority and that living gospel of Christ, are usually a tiny minority. It makes it all the more important that we teach the gospel — openly, to those who care to listen, and also quietly, by trying to live exemplary lives so that, seeing who we are and how we live, others might be moved to join with us and receive the saving grace of Christ that is offered to all who will believe and obey his commandments.
This is exactly what worries Dr. Mohler about Governor Romney: If elected, he might be such a good man, and such a good president, that people might become confused and think that Mormons are actually good Christians.
So I can’t disagree with him there: There is a real possibility that if Governor Romney became president, people around the world would look at him and his actions and say, If that man is a Mormon, then maybe I should be a Mormon, too.
That wouldn’t be Gov. Romney’s goal — his goal would be to serve his nation as best he could. But it might well be a by-product.
Of course, if people around the world hated him, then the reverse effect could happen, and people would say, If that man’s a Mormon, then keep those missionaries away from my door, I want none of that.” That’s also a risk — and I know Mormons who devoutly wish Gov. Romney were not running for president, because they see it as just one more way to bring negative attention down on the Church.
But let’s look at this as dispassionately as we can. None of us can control the impression Romney makes on the rest of the world, or how they extrapolate from him their attitude toward the Mormon Church. Dr. Mohler fears one possible outcome of a Romney presidency; there are Mormons who fear a different one.
But let’s take Dr. Mohler’s worst-case scenario: that President Romney is so universally loved that people all over the world will be moved to follow his example.
If Dr. Mohler is successful in persuading all those people that an admirable Mitt Romney has nothing at all to do with Christianity, then the logical result is that those who admire him will look, not to Christianity in general, but to Mormonism in particular as the sole source of his virtues.
On the other hand, if people perceive this same admirable Mitt Romney as I wish they would — as a Christian who is trying his best to emulate Christ as he believes the Savior wants him to — then these admirers of his who were already Christians of whatever denomination might show their admiration for Romney by returning to the Christian church they already attend and trying to live more assiduously the Christian life they have already been taught.
In other words, by differentiating Gov. Romney from Christianity, Dr. Mohler fairly guarantees that anyone who admires Gov. Romney will be led away from Christianity in general, because Christianity will have repudiated him. Only the Mormon Church would benefit from any admiration a President Romney might inspire.
Surely this is not what Dr. Mohler intends.
But this is truly a mere speculative argument. If Romney, as president, were despised, then it would be a good thing indeed for Christianity in general if everybody thought of him as a non-Christian!
Of course, I see no evidence that the low popularity of our very openly evangelical president Bush has caused any harm to Christianity. Most people have the wit to realize that the actions of a U.S. president may say nothing about the validity or value of the particular religion he belongs to. Or does Rev. Mohler know of some study that indicates that Pres. Bush’s low popularity throughout the world is harming Christian missionary work?
In all likelihood, Rev. Mohler’s worries about a Romney presidency and its effects on Christianity and the salvation of souls are unfounded or contrary — either Romney would have no influence, or his influence could even be positive toward all Christianity, if only other Christians would let it.
But I think there is a much clearer and more important argument, which does not just involved a particular candidate for the presidency.
It is true that when it comes to teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, we Mormons are definitely rivals with the evangelical Christian movement. Baptism in one requires a clear rejection of the other interpretation of Christ’s gospel, just as joining either of our Christian traditions means rejecting the Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions.
Let’s not forget, after all, that Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians have an even older “mainstream Christian tradition” than any Protestants, and for hundreds of years they were all convinced that Protestants were going to Hell—and causing the damnation of many souls. Since the 1960s, Catholics have been more polite toward Protestants—the word “heretic” is never used anymore (and they long accepted “heretic baptism”)—but the pope recently reaffirmed that while the Orthodox churches are to be regarded as “apostolic” with a defect, Protestant churches simply don’t have the apostolic authority.
And to hard-line Catholics, any distinction between Mormons and Baptists is pretty trivial—we’re all pope-disdaining, saint-ignoring, transubstantiation-denying distractions from the true Christian message.
Have we forgotten, too, that American Protestants have a long tradition of denying Catholics the status of Christians? Magnanimously, for purposes of our discussion here, Dr. Mohler is willing to admit that Catholics are Christians … at least compared to Mormons. He recognizes—no, he asserts—that his movement is part of the ancient Christian tradition, despite the long anti-papist tradition of the Baptist Church.
I submit that tolerance of other views of Christianity is a matter of perspective and situation.
When we Mormons, with the huge sums of money and supplies we raise for welfare work, needed to have help in getting it to the suffering people who needed it in places where our own church had no infrastructure, we turned to Catholic relief agencies and asked them to help us in our Christian mission.
I imagine that this caused some soul-searching among the Catholics involved, but they reached the conclusion that in the Christian goal of helping the poor, regardless of faith, surely our Mormon offerings must be acceptable to Christ, and should not be turned away just because they believe our doctrines about Christ to be horribly wrong-headed.
Because they realized that we did agree, definitely, on the simple truth of this scriptural statement: “Even as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
So the Catholic relief agencies accepted the offerings of the Mormons and helped us distribute them because they knew it would be unChristlike to refuse to let the poor receive help, just because that help came from Christians with incorrect opinions about God.
There was an era when interdenominational rivalry would have trumped Christianity — but we were happy indeed that when it came to helping the poor, that era has passed, at least between the Catholic and Mormon churches.
There was a time — and not long ago — when we Mormons had a chip on our shoulders and began all our teachings by proclaiming the falseness of all other Christian churches. But we grew up. We realized that in most nations of the world, we aren’t teaching other Christians, we’re teaching people who have never heard the name of Christ.
What do they care whether we have the best Christian church — what they need is to hear of Christ at all. And to begin our teaching by telling them what’s wrong with wrong people is simply…wrong.
Right now, Mormons are as unwelcome among evangelical Christians as I, a science-fiction-writing Democratic Mormon was unwelcome among Republican normal-job-holding Mormons in Utah.
But that’s because evangelicals have a majoritarian attitude that is really not appropriate any more.
America is the most religious Western nation — but surely Dr. Mohler sees that our children can hardly get a college degree without being indoctrinated, not just in atheism, but in hostility to all organized religions, Christianity in particular.
When professors tell our children that all religions are outmoded, that Christianity belongs in the dustbin of history, that all evils in history have been caused by fanatical believers in some religion — do you think it matters to them whether the religion they’re rejecting is Orthodox Judaism, evangelical Christianity, Catholicism, or Mormonism?
And when Islamist terrorists seek the overthrow of all secular governments and the establishment of Sharia and the downfall of all competing religions, do you think they’ll care even a tiny bit whether the church they throw down or the crowd they blow up consists of official, traditional Christians or those weird Mormons?
The message of Christ is today proclaimed into the ears of an increasingly hostile world. Whether from jihadist Islam or jihadist atheism, we are beleaguered on all sides and none of us has the majority.
Instead of “mainstream Christianity” seeking opportunities to shun and exclude and deny the Christianity of Mormons, it might be more helpful for us to admit our irreconcilable differences but then recognize that in this world, today, right now, we can gain more for the cause of Christ by treating each other with respect and honoring each other for the degree to which we do live up to his teachings.
Returning to the example of Gov. Romney, I wonder if there is a Christian denomination on earth that would not be proud to claim as a member of their church a man who is so faithful to his wife and devoted to his children, so abstemious in his personal habits, so consonant to his expressed ideals?
Wouldn’t evangelical Christianity be best served, not by proclaiming, “That man is no Christian!” but rather by proclaiming, “We may not agree with all his beliefs, but Christians should all try to live their understanding of Christ’s teachings as well and thoroughly as he does!”
Shouldn’t all Christians be saying, “Take Governor Romney as an example of effectiveness in the world without sacrifice of faith and religious ideals!”?
It is true that we Mormons do not accept the way the doctrines of Christianity evolved, under the influence of neoplatonic philosophy after the death of the Apostles. We reject that tradition and believe it has been wrongish and getting wronger from about the middle of the second century A.D. onward.
But we accept every word of Christ in the New Testament. We teach our members to live up to the commandments — and we work from pretty much the same list of commandments as the Baptists, with the major exception being that we dance.
When Christianity is once again seen — correctly, I might add — as the nurturing mother of democracy and freedom throughout the world, as the great teacher that made humanism in all its forms not only possible but the ideal that most decent people aspire to — then perhaps we can afford to squabble amongst ourselves about who is really Christian and who is not.
Right now, Dr. Mohler is as uncomfortable with my insistence that we Mormons are Christians as a Vatican theologian would be with Dr. Mohler”s insistence that his denomination is part of the ancient Christian tradition.
But just as the Catholic Church has accepted Mormon help in serving the poor in the name of Christ, and just as ordinary Republican Mormons have found it in their hearts to accept me, a Democrat, as if I might be a real Mormon all the same, I wish Dr. Mohler would take the tiny, tiny step of saying, not that Mormons are right, but that a person can believe as a Mormon does and still do good works in the name of Christ, that would be acceptable to Christ by that clear, bright standard:
Even as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.