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God's Politics

I’ve attempted to distill the most helpful elements from the rather heated comments on Tony Jones’ post on Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, much of which focused on this sentence: “I’m skeptical of a religion that admonishes its adherents to wear sacred undergarments … that didn’t allow non-whites to be clergy until 1978, and that follows the teachings of Joseph Smith, whose scriptures I find highly dubious.”

The strongest objections came from blogger Faithful Progressive, who has repeatedly asked for apologies from Tony and Diana Butler Bass for what he considered “mocking,” “insensitive and ultimately intolerant remarks,” though he has since moderated some of his original criticism.

I’ve defended Tony’s post as honest inquiry – especially since he bracketed his questions with a confession: “My ambivalence stems, I suppose, from my ignorance,” and an acknowledgement of the strangeness of his own beliefs: “I know that much of orthodox Christianity is irrational, too: I eat flesh and drink blood every Sunday.”

Many of the most balanced and insightful comments came from Mormons themselves:

Unfortunately I have met far too many people who seem to imagine that Mormons worship Joseph Smith (or even Satan), using that as a basis for their arguments against our being Christians. Aside from that, I wasn’t trying to beg into the club. I am proud of our doctrine, its materialism, its progressive nature, its undercurrent of gnosticism, its belief in a God who is willing to extend ALL his blessings and glory to his children. …

Also, for the record, I found out about this post thanks to Faithful Progressive. I’m afraid he made it out to sound worse than it was, and I wish he could have toned down the rhetoric. Diana’s comment could easily be read in a positive light, depending on your opinion of Stanley Hauerwas. Many of us in the LDS church (myself included) have ancestors who were tarred and feathered, forcibly relocated, even hanged from their own porches on account of their Mormonism. Some of us can feel small in comparison to these heroes in our past, and will look for persecution anywhere we can get it. Perhaps it is an attempt to prove our mettle.

Though not without some pointed criticism:

As a Mormon and a liberal I was disappointed in Tony Jones’ comments. I can appreciate that some Mormon thought is “out of the mainstream” but one should keep in that the fundamental belief of Mormonism is in Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer. Tony is right; he is ignorant of Mormonism. But ignorance should in thoughtful Christian people motivate an effort at greater understanding instead of disrespect.

As I’ve reflected on these comments it’s occurred to me that from a Mormon perspective, such questions, however intentioned, can be offensive when they’re perceived through the lenses of those who’ve endured patterns of ridicule or condescension. And as a member of the majority dominant culture, I generally want to give extra credence to the testimony of those who’ve been marginalized in these ways. I felt a creeping double standard as I reflected on my own words regarding the Biden blow-up:

Choose your words carefully, and be aware of how they may be interpreted. And if challenged, be honest with yourself about your own prejudice – the prejudice that infects all of us. I am the chief of sinners, and confess that I constantly grapple with the stereotypical fears, lowered expectations, etc. that I’ve inherited from a society permeated with prejudice. This may seem unfair, but it is the responsibility of those who have been given unfair privilege and power by that society to go the extra mile.

While I still think it’s inaccurate to call Tony’s comments “mockery,” insensitivity may be the fairest criticism. I get the sense that between the two of us, he’d rather err on the side of candid inquiry, and I’d rather err on the side of sensitivity. He’s volunteered to grow a thicker skin for these conversations – I’m just not sure it’s always fair to ask that of the minority in any given situation. But above all, I believe we both want to strike a balance between honesty and sensitivity while walking the tightrope of true dialogue.

Ryan Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

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