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“Just Being A Strong Conservative Doesn’t Help The Party”: Cruz And Rubio Engage In Battle For Nevada Mormons

Deep divisions among Nevada Republicans over a $1 billion tax increase pushed by the state’s Republican governor are helping to shape the battle between Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas to win this state’s presidential caucuses — the first nominating contest in the West.

Rubio’s backers are eagerly eyeing Nevada as they look for an early-voting state the candidate could win. Although Rubio is widely seen as one of the leading contenders for the GOP nomination, the early primary states mostly look unpromising for him.

Cruz, by contrast, leads the polls in Iowa, which holds the first contest of the season on Feb. 1, and is well-positioned in several other conservative states that hold early contests.

With the stakes high here, the two freshman senators are vying to gain the support of a key voting bloc within the state’s GOP — members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who mostly lined up behind fellow Mormon Mitt Romney in the last two election cycles.

Mormons make up only about 4 percent of the state’s population, but their influence in Nevada’s Republican caucuses is much greater. In 2008 and 2012, members of the church accounted for nearly a quarter of Republican caucusgoers, entrance polls showed.

Both Cruz and Rubio — who attended an LDS church in Las Vegas in his youth — have enlisted politically prominent members of the church, and now the fault line on taxes that split the state’s Republicans this spring and summer has come to the forefront.

Rubio’s side includes prominent backers of the tax increase, aimed at expanding the state’s budget for schools, which Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval pushed through the GOP-controlled Legislature in May and June. The tax hike, the largest in state history, was strongly opposed by a large portion of the Republicans in the Legislature.

Also among Rubio’s backers is Bruce Woodbury, a Mormon and former Clark County commissioner who is so admired in southern Nevada that the I-215 beltway around Las Vegas is named after him.

Four years ago, Woodbury appeared in radio advertisements urging supporters to vote for Romney. He plans a similar effort this cycle for Rubio, working alongside the campaign’s state director, Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison — another prominent Mormon — to build support ahead of the Feb. 23 caucuses.

“An essential factor is winning the election in November,” Woodbury said after a recent Rubio rally in a hotel ballroom a short drive from the Las Vegas Strip. “He has all the essentials: a powerful life story, he’s moderate — he can appeal to all segments of the electorate.”

His son, Boulder City Mayor Rod Woodbury, and two City Council members — all church members — also back Rubio.

Among the leaders of the opposition to the tax increase was Assemblyman Ira Hansen, a Republican who represents Sparks, just east of Reno. Hansen, also a Mormon church member, is now part of Cruz’s state leadership team.

“You see it at the national level and here: Cruz folks are much more conservative than Rubio’s,” said Hansen. “When it comes to social issues, when it comes to tax increases, if you’re a conservative — a true conservative — then Ted Cruz is your candidate.

“I think that Mormons and just Republicans in general want a true conservative who will stand for conservative values in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Hansen says Rubio’s past support of bipartisan immigration reform, which included a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, is also a negative for him in the state’s caucuses. It’s an issue on which Cruz has repeatedly assailed Rubio, saying that the Florida senator supports “amnesty” for those who have violated immigration laws.

Rubio’s campaign has two field offices in the state — one in Las Vegas, the other in Reno — and nearly a dozen paid staffers. The Cruz campaign has a similar infrastructure.

Cruz has enlisted Paul Workman, a former bishop in the Mormon church and a member of Romney’s 2012 Nevada finance committee, who says his job is to make sure LDS members know about Cruz’s record as a conservative.

Cruz “talks about his faith with confidence and how it guides him,” Workman said. “There’s a real openness to other faiths that he has. It appeals to me and I’m sure other Mormons as well.”

At a recent religious round table in Las Vegas hosted by the Cruz campaign, Workman spoke with evangelical Christian pastor Rafael Cruz, the Texas senator’s father. The two talked about Mormon doctrine — of salvation, atonement and family — and how to appeal to LDS voters. Workman says he was impressed by the elder Cruz’s knowledge of Mormonism, which he says will help bolster the senator’s LDS support.

Rubio supporters, however, say Cruz’s brand of staunch conservatism will not help the party win in November.

Heidi Wixom, a mother of six, lives a few blocks from a Mormon church in her eastside Las Vegas neighborhood. After rallying behind Romney in the last two elections, she remained torn for much of the summer and fall about which candidate to back. Electability in November was vital in her decision to support Rubio, she said.

“Just being a strong conservative doesn’t help the party,” she said. “You have to have shown you can work alongside Democrats; even if right now that doesn’t seem ideal, it will pay off in the general election.”

 

By: Kurtis Lee, The National Memo, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2016 Posted by | Marco Rubio, Mormons, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Religious Fundamentalists Are Losing”: Overall, The World’s Faithful Are Becoming More Open-Minded And Liberal, Not Less

This past weekend, over 2,500 Mormons showed up en masse outside the Latter-day Saints headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, to submit their resignations to the church. They were protesting a new decree excluding wedded same-sex couples from the church and granting baptism to the children of gay couples only if the children disavow their parents. As one devout Mormon put it in expressing her disappointment with the policy: “I feel like we are going backward when I thought we were moving forward slowly.”

Her statement encapsulates the current paradox of religious extremism: How is it that as humanity as a whole seems to be evolving to be more inclusive and less dogmatic in general, certain religious strains are doubling in their extremism? It’s possible to conceive of kernels of extremism as intrinsic within particular faith traditions. But it’s also possible to understand the current rise of extremism as a reactionary backlash against the overall liberalization of faith.

“We live in a world where every single person is challenging everything, where every single person has a voice” Amanullah De Sondy told me. De Sondy is a senior lecturer in Contemporary Islam at University College Cork (Ireland) and author of The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities.

“The extremists want conformity and detest plurality and differences. Being different, being an individual who states that it is their individual relationship with the divine is a huge challenge to those who want the strict order of organizing society.”

Put another way, strict religious ideology requires strict conformity, and people aren’t confirming anymore.

Between 2007 and 2014 in the United States alone, the portion of the population that identified itself as Christian declined by 7.8 percent. During the same period, the percent who consider themselves Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or some other non-Christian faith increased by 1.2 percent—still not enough to keep pace with the overall population growth of 7.9 percent during the same period.

The most significant shift came from the increase in those who consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or otherwise unaffiliated (an overall increase of 6.7 percent). Within this shifting landscape, the United States reached its lowest level of religiosity since 1952.

The phenomenon is similar in Europe. According to data culled by the Islam in Europe blog:

The number of church-goers has dropped steadily for decades, but now there [is] also a lot of space in mosques around Europe. Recent data from the extensive European Social Survey (ESS) show that the number of Muslim immigrants who regularly go to the mosque drops significantly after they’ve lived in their new homeland for some time.

So how is it that in the face of declining religiosity, we nonetheless find ourselves swept up in almost unprecedented magnitudes of religious struggle—from the brutality of Daesh (as ISIS hates being called) in Paris and throughout the Middle East, or the far less extreme yet still perpetual hostility of Christian fundamentalists toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community?

“The three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all have groups that espouse some type of eschatology, or belief about the end of time,” says Valerie C. Cooper, associate professor of Black Church Studies at the Duke Divinity School. “Among these groups, eschatological fears that the end times are near may be stoked by perceptions that the group is being persecuted.”

That sense of persecution can come from the fact of declining religiosity. Or, say, a war being launched against an entire religion—whether it’s the supposed “War on Christmas” or a kind of “War on Islam” that some on the far right call for.

In this context, it’s reasonable to interpret any surge in fundamentalism within a given denomination as a reactionary backlash to the overall trend of liberalization. In Islam, for instance, “Many believers continue to believe in God but not in the place of worship,” says De Sondy. “Even if they don’t go and tender a resignation letter, they attend the Mosque and listen but at some level have checked out and do something different outside.”

De Sondy cites as an example the increasing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Muslims outside formal religious structures—akin to the demonstration made by rank and file Mormons. These shifting beliefs seriously challenge the orthodox structures and ideas of the faiths, says De Sondy.

And so, unable to propagate their narrow view through ideological cohesion alone, dogma resorts to force—in mild forms like pro-discrimination laws against LGBT people pushed by Christian extremists in the United States, or murderous forms like the brutality of Daesh, which is disproportionately used to punish other “unfaithful” Muslims.

In fact, like other fundamentalist religious groups in this era, Daesh is overreacting to a shifting global climate in which its ideas are increasingly marginalized. The trick to defeating Deash is to see for what it is—a desperate backlash by a declining ideology.

 

By: Sally Kohn, The Daily Beast, November 20, 2015

November 22, 2015 Posted by | Christianity, Mormons, Religious Extremists | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Negro Matter”: Why Race Is Still A Problem For Mormons

“I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people,” sings Elder Kevin Price in the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon.” The line is meant to be funny, and it is — in part because it’s true.

In a June 1978 letter, the first presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaimed that “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.” Men of African descent could now hold the priesthood, the power and authority exercised by all male members of the church in good standing. Such a statement was necessary, because until then, blacks were relegated to a very second-class status within the church.

The revelation may have lifted the ban, but it neither repudiated it nor apologized for it. “It doesn’t make a particle of difference,” proclaimed the Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie a few months later, “what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978.”

Mr. McConkie meant such words to encourage Mormons to embrace the new revelation, and he may have solemnly believed that it made the history of the priesthood ban irrelevant. But to many others around the country, statements of former church leaders about “the Negro matter” do, in fact, matter a great deal.

They cause pain to church members of African descent, provide cover for repugnant views and make the church an easy target for criticism and satire. The church would benefit itself and its members — and one member in particular, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — by formally repudiating the priesthood ban and the racist theories that accompanied it.

Mormonism wasn’t always troubled by anti-black racism. In a country deeply stained by slavery and anti-black racism, the church, founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, was noteworthy for its relative racial egalitarianism. Smith episodically opposed slavery and tolerated the priesthood ordination of black men, at least one of whom, Elijah Abel, occupied a position of minor authority.

It was Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, who adopted the policies that now haunt the church. He described black people as cursed with dark skin as punishment for Cain’s murder of his brother. “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him cannot hold the priesthood,” he declared in 1852. Young deemed black-white intermarriage so sinful that he suggested that a man could atone for it only by having “his head cut off” and spilling “his blood upon the ground.” Other Mormon leaders convinced themselves that the pre-existent spirits of black people had sinned in heaven by supporting Lucifer in his rebellion against God.

The priesthood ban had sweeping ecclesiastical consequences for black Mormons. They could not participate in the sacred ordinances, like the endowment ceremony (which prepares one for the afterlife) and sealings (which formally bind a family together), rites that Smith and Young taught were necessary to obtain celestial glory.

Of course, while perhaps unusual in its fervor and particular in its theories, the rhetoric of Mormon leaders was lamentably within the mainstream of white American opinion. White Christians of many denominational stripes used repugnant language to justify slavery and the inferiority of black people. Most accepted theories that the sins of Cain and Ham had cursed an entire race. Indeed, those white Americans who today express outrage over Mormon racism should remind themselves of their own forebears’ sins before casting stones at the Latter-day Saints.

Most Protestant denominations, however, gradually apologized for their past racism. In contrast, while Mormon leaders generically criticize past and present racism, they carefully avoid any specific criticism of past presidents and apostles, careful not to disrupt traditional reverence for the church’s prophets.

To an extent, this strategy has worked. The church is now much more diverse, with hundreds of thousands of members in Africa and many members of African descent in Latin America. In the United States, not all Mormons look like members of the Romney family: Mia Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants and the Republican nominee for a Utah Congressional seat, proudly states that she has “never felt unwelcome in the church.”

Nevertheless, regardless of how outsiders would respond (audiences will still enjoy that line in “The Book of Mormon”), a fuller confrontation with the past would serve the church’s interests. Journalists frequently ask prominent Mormons like Mr. Romney and Ms. Love about the priesthood ban. African-Americans, both members and prospective converts, find the history distinctly unsettling. Statements by prior church presidents and apostles provide fodder for those Latter-day Saints — if small in number — who adhere to racist notions.

The church could begin leaving those problems behind if its leaders explained that their predecessors had confused their own racist views with God’s will and that the priesthood ban resulted from human error and limitations rather than a divine curse. Given the church’s ecclesiology, this step would be difficult.

Mormons have no reason to feel unusually ashamed of their church’s past racial restrictions, except maybe for their duration. Their church, like most other white American churches, was entangled in a deeply entrenched national sin.

Still, acknowledging serious errors on the part of past prophets inevitably raises questions about the revelatory authority of contemporary leaders. Such concerns, however, are not insurmountable for religious movements. One can look to the Bible for countless examples of patriarchs and prophets who acknowledged grave errors and moral lapses but still retained the respect of their people.

Likewise, the abiding love and veneration most Latter-day Saints have for their leaders would readily survive a fuller reckoning with their human frailties and flaws. The Mormon people need not believe they have perfect prophets, either past or present.

 

By: John G. Turner, The New York Times, August 18, 2012

 

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Mormons | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Posthumous Baptisms”: Controversial Mormon Baptism Of Daniel Pearl

The Boston Globe reports this morning that Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was baptized posthumously in a Mormon temple in Idaho last year.

Pearl was Jewish and was captured and killed by terrorists while reporting in Pakistan in 2002.

NPR has independently confirmed the Mormon “proxy” baptism for Pearl on June 1, 2011, at a Mormon temple in Twin Falls, Idaho.  Documents from church genealogical records describing the baptism and other sacred Mormon “ordinances” for Pearl were provided by Helen Radkey, a researcher who has found many embarrassing baptisms in church records.

NPR is seeking comment from Mormon officials, who have yet to respond.

In the last official statement on the subject, church spokesman Michael Purdy said:

“The Church keeps its word and is absolutely firm in its commitment to not accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism.

“It takes a good deal of deception and manipulation to get an improper submission through the safeguards we have put in place.

“While no system is foolproof in preventing the handful of individuals who are determined to falsify submissions we are committed to taking action against individual abusers by suspending the submitter’s access privileges. We will also consider whether other Church disciplinary action should be taken.

“It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the Church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention.”

Pearl is the latest prominent member of the Jewish faith to be found in Mormon baptism records.  Technically, Pearl’s baptism does not violate Mormon baptism rules because he was not a Holocaust victim.  But followers have also been told to restrict posthumous baptisms to direct ancestors.

Earlier this month, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel called on Mitt Romney, a faithful Mormon, to condemn posthumous Mormon baptisms of prominent Jews and Holocaust victims.  Romney’s campaign has referred questions about the practice to the Mormon church.

Jewish leaders have tried to get Mormon leaders to stop baptisms of Holocaust victims since 1992; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has promised better policing of its baptism system and recently punished at least two followers for violating a rule that limits baptisms to direct relatives.

Pearl’s parents told the Globe they found the news of the ceremony “disturbing”:

“To them we say: We appreciate your good intentions but rest assured that Danny’s soul was redeemed through the life that he lived and the values that he upheld,” Judea and Ruth Pearl said in an e-mail. “He lived as a proud Jew, died as a proud Jew, and is currently facing his creator as a Jew, blessed, accepted and redeemed. For the record, let it be clear: Danny did not choose to be baptized, nor did his family consent to this un-called-for ritual.”

Pearl’s widow, Marianne, told the Globe, “It’s a lack of respect for Danny and a lack of respect for his parents.”

Radkey says the stream of embarrassing baptisms “is reaching really ludicrous proportions.  [Mormon] officials promised time and time again that they would stop and they haven’t done it.”

Mormon leaders have promised to purge Mormon baptism rolls of Holocaust victims and to place filters in its genealogical database so that the names of deceased souls from the Holocaust era and locations are flagged for review.

But church leaders have also sent mixed messages about the practice and the policy.  Mormon Apostle Quentin Cook told NPR in 2009, “We concentrate first of all on our ancestors and then for the people in the world at large.”

“Proxy” and “posthumous” baptism is a central tenet of the Mormon faith.  Mormons believe it offers to deceased souls the opportunity to embrace the faith and receive eternal salvation.  The belief also includes the notion that the baptism has no effect if the deceased soul rejects it.

A recent spate of highly publicized and criticized baptisms has some speculating that these revelations are deliberate efforts to embarrass the Mormon church and the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.

The church has declined to identify or characterize those found responsible.  Radkey insists the people doing these baptisms are overzealous Mormons and “absolutely not mischief makers.”

Radkey’s research has identified those who have submitted the names of Pearl and other prominent Jews and Holocaust victims, but she refuses to disclose those names, citing the privacy of the people involved.

But she says the “huge number” of multiple and different members in multiple locations submitting controversial names and then conducting posthumous ceremonies is a strong indication to her that overzealous members ignoring or unaware of church directives are responsible.

In fact, posthumous Mormon rites involving Pearl occurred in temples in two different locations in Idaho and another in Utah.

“I’m not anti-Mormon,” Radkey says of her role in spotting and publicizing the names that lead to embarrassment for the faith.  “Research is research.”

Update at 3:25 p.m. ET. Comment From The Church:

Michael Purdy, the spokesman for the Mormon Church, says that it does not have a specific statement  about Daniel Pearl’s posthumous baptism.

Purdy referred to the earlier statement we quoted above, but also added that:

“The  church has a position on what members should be submitting. That position is  communicated to them and we have some safeguards in place to catch improper  submissions.  Nothing is foolproof and we work to handle improper submissions  when they do occur.

 

By: Howard Berkes, NPR News, February 29, 2012

March 1, 2012 Posted by | Mormons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Perry’s Backers Won’t Lay Off Romney’s Mormonism

Mitt Romney beats Rick Perry among all Republicans — men, women, young, old — except the “very conservative,” The Wall Street Journal‘s Gerald F. Seib observes. Perhaps that’s why Perry didn’t distance himself too much from Robert Jeffress, the Dallas preacher who called Mormonism a “cult.” And why, as The Daily Beast’s McKay Coppinsreports, another important minister who’s a big backer of Perry has been emailing supporters about the need to start “juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false God of Mormonism.”

David Lane was in charge of raising money for the national prayer meeting in early August that was the unofficial kickoff to Perry’s presidential campaign. He was among the key Christian leaders who pushed Perry to run, Time‘s Amy Sullivan reports. On October 12, Dick Bott, head of the Chrstian talk Bott Radio Network, emailed Lane that he would be interviewing Jeffress, saying Jeffress was right to question Romney’s faith: “What would anyone think if a candidate were a Scientologist? … Shouldn’t they want to know what the implications were that may flow therefrom?”

On October 13, Lane replied: “Thank you for what you are doing and for your leadership. Getting out Dr. Jeffress message, juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false god of Mormonism, is very important in the larger scheme of things … We owe Dr. Jeffress a big thank you.”

Coppins says the emails give reason to wonder whether Jeffress’s comments were “a deliberate strategic move by the campaign.” He notes that in other emails, Lane talks about talking with a “key Perry aide” about “the creation of a clarion call to Evangelical pastors and pews is critical and from my perspective is the key to the Primary.”

Lane stood by his comments in an email to “friends” after the story was posted, Real Clear Politics’ Scott Conroy reports. Lane pointed to a story in The New York Times about Romney’s role in his church and how he counseled a young alcoholic “Are you trying to improve, are you trying to do better? And if you are, then you’re a saint.” Lane said that belief was “not Christian.” He continued in his email, “If the secular Press’ bullying over the ‘cult issue’ fails to censor those voices who are calling into question the theological legitimacy of a ‘group sharing belief’ (political correctness for Cult), Romney is going to have to defend his and the Mormon’s ‘bizarre’ Articles of Faith.”

“Polling conducted for the Washington Post and ABC News, Gallup, and the Pew Research Center in recent months has shown between 20 and 25 percent of Americans say they either won’t vote for a Mormon or would be less likely to vote for one,” The Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake writes. Social conservative voters in Iowa — where Perry needs to do well in the caucuses — aren’t likely to vote for Romney. But Mormons were a quarter of the voters in Nevada’s caucuses in 2008; 95 percent of them voted for Romney. Politico’s Maggie Haberman observes that “The surest way for Perry to get a second look is for Romney’s negatives to go up — a fact his supporters seem to realize.” After all, as The Journal’s Seib notes, “60 percent of very conservative voters still say they have overall positive feelings about Mr. Romney.”

By: Elspeth Reeve, The Atlantic Wire, October 17, 2011

October 18, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, GOP, GOP Presidential Candidates, Ideology, Mormons, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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