Mitt can’t pull a JFK

By ADAM REILLY  |  May 12, 2006

Faith-based policymaking
The LDS position on same-sex marriage is that God created marriage as the  union of one man and one woman . But Mormons, of all people, should know that attributing authorship of human institutions to God is a risky business.

Polygamy is a perfect example, since, according to Joseph Smith, the practice was endorsed by the Big Guy himself. (See the LDS Church’s  Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132 , which offers a neat circular argument: “If a man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then he is justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.”) There’s also the awkward matter of the old Mormon prohibition on ordaining black men into the priesthood, which Smith also explained as an  extension of God’s will . [See Correction, below]

The LDS Church deserves credit for subsequently condemning polygamy (in 1890, although the practice continued for some time) and for opening the priesthood to African-American males (but not until 1978). That said, doesn’t the history of your own faith show that all claims to know the mind of God are suspect? And that social policy shouldn’t be crafted on the basis of God’s alleged intentions?

Governor, these questions may strike you as unfair. But you’re the one who decided to run a faith-based presidential campaign. Better get working on that speech.

Correction: This link references quotations from Joseph Fielding Smith, the LDS Church's tenth president and the grandson of Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith Jr.'s brother. J o seph Smith actually seems to have ordained two African-Americans. However, revelations purportedly given to Smith and included in the Pearl of Great Price--a part of the Mormon scriptures--link black skin to divine disfavor and to a curse “pertaining to the priesthood” (Moses 7:8, 22; Abraham 1:1-27). Also, several decades after Smith’s death, two of his contemporaries said Smith had told them blacks should not be ordained.

The attitude of Brigham Young, Smith’s successor, was less ambiguous: in 1849, Young said God “had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them from the priesthood.” One hundred years later, a formal LDS Church statement took a similar tack. “The attitude of the Church with reference to negroes remains as it has always stood," it said. "It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that negroes may become members of the church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.” For a detailed discussion of the issue, see Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), pp. 94-106.

On the Web
Adam Reilly's Talking Politics blog: http://www.thephoenix.com/talkingpolitics
Mormons in Transition: http://www.irr.org/mit/neuhaus.html

Email the author
Adam Reilly: areilly@phx.com

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