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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

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The election is over, and it seems like now is as good occasion as ever to turn to poetry. Non? Who better to turn to than Elizabeth Alexander, the poet who wrote and delivered "Praise Song for the Day" at President Obama’s inauguration.

She sees poetry as providing the language that elevates and emboldens rather than demeans and alienates. And, despite these times when more and more of the world requires hard data and the certainty of facts, Ms. Alexander tells us what poetry works in us — and in our children — and why it may become more relevant, not less so, in hard and complicated times.

Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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No politician, no party can deliver the utopian society they promise. Neither candidate is the hope of the world. As Christians, we believe that job is taken.
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Ben Irwin, a former publishing executive and Episcopalian Michigander, who has teamed up with two Mennonite pastors to create Election Day Communion.

The campaign is a network of more than 600 congregations of all denominations in all 50 states who have signed on to gather together on November 6th “to build unity in Christ in the midst of theological, political, and denominational differences” in “red states, blue states, and swing states.” The site leads with this manifesto:

Election Day Communion Planning GuideSome of us will choose to vote for Barack Obama.
Some of us will choose to vote for Mitt Romney.
Some of us will choose to vote for another candidate.
Some of us will choose not to vote.

During the day of November 6, 2012, we will make different choices for different reasons, hoping for different results.

But that evening while our nation turns its attention to the outcome of the presidential election, let’s again choose differently. But this time, let’s do it together.

It’s a noble effort that speaks to the premise of our own Civil Conversations Project, in which we aim to provide tools and ideas for healing our fractured civil spaces. This collaboration is one of those kindred projects that speaks to people’s yearning to achieve disagreement and work together.

Thanks to Charley Honey for pointing this out in his column for The Grand Rapids Press.

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trentgilliss:

“Good communities actually take work.”
~Steve Waldman

I’m a bit late to the game today, but this symposium covering journalism ethics in a digital age at the Paley Center for Media should be great. Digital heavyweights attending include John Paton, Clay Shirky, Eric Deggans, Ann Friedman, Gilad Lotan, Vadim Lavrusik, danah boyd, and David Folkenflik.

Here’s the line-up for the day:

9:00 a.m. Welcome
J. Max Robins, Vice President and Executive Director, Paley Center for Media
Karen Dunlap, President, The Poynter Institute
Craig Newmark, Founder, craigslist and craigconnects

9:15 – 9:30 The View From Here
Kelly McBride, Senior Faculty, The Poynter Institute
Tom Rosenstiel, Director, Project for Excellence in Journalism, Pew Research Center

9:30 -10:45 The Truth: Is It Possible in the Digital Era?
Moderator: John Paton, CEO, Digital First Media

Clay Shirky, Professor, New York University “Post Truth, Post Professional, Post Scarcity”
Steve Myers, Deputy Managing Editor, The Lens, “Fact-Checking 2.0″
Adam Hochberg, Instructor, University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications, “Whose Money Should We Take? Credibility in Investigative Non-profit Newsrooms”
Craig Silverman, writer, “Regret the Error,” “The Corrections: A Sign of Sickness or Health?”

10:45 – Break

11:00 – 12:15 The Voices: Will Digital Space Ever Reflect Our Communities?
Moderator: Emily Bell, Director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University

Eric Deggans, TV/Media Critic, Tampa Bay Times, “(Mostly) White and (Sometimes) Brown Media People in a (Mostly) Brown and (Sometimes) White World”
Ann Friedman, freelance editor and writer, “It’s Not What You Look Like, It’s What You Eat”
Monica Guzman, columnist, The Seattle Times, “The Community, Formerly Known as the Crowd, Is It a Means or an End?”

12:15 – 1:15 Lunch

1:15 – 2:30 The Vehicle: Can This Ride Take Us to Democracy?
Moderator: Stephen Buckley, Dean of Faculty, The Poynter Institute

Gilad Lotan, Vice President, Research and Development, SocialFlow, “The Unintended Consequences of Algorithmic Curation”
Dan Gillmor, Director, Knight Center for Digital Entrepreneurship, Arizona State University, “Can Private Platforms Coexist With Journalism’s Public Service?”
Vadim Lavrusik, Journalism Program Manager, Facebook

2:30 – 2:45 Break

2:45 – 4:00 The Story: What Stories Do People Want and Need?
Moderator: Andrew Heyward, Former President, CBS News

danah boyd, Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research, “The Cost of Fear in an Attention Economy”
Tom Huang, Sunday and Enterprise Editor, Dallas Morning News, “Should We Let the Daily Story Die?”
Kenny Irby, Senior Faculty, The Poynter Institute, “Seeing Is No Longer Believing”
Kelly McBride, Senior Faculty, The Poynter Institute, “We’re Feeding an Originality Breakdown”

4:00 – 4:30 The New Ethics of Journalism: A Guide for the 21st Century
Moderators: Tom Rosenstiel and Kelly McBride

4:30 Going Forward
Paul Tash, Chairman and CEO, Times Publishing Co.
David Folkenflik, Media Reporter, NPR

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Jonathan Rauch talks to Krista Tippett and David BlankenhornThis week’s show on the future of marriage is one of those conversations that we believe adds to our collective imagination and understanding of how to work through the difficult issue of same-sex marriage. Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn came to the “gay marriage debate” from two, predictable opposing sides — but with an equal desire to strengthen marriage. They’re pursuing another way to talk about this difficult issue, and others, with civility and honesty.

Please listen in and share with your friends. We’d love to hear your feedback and wonder if the way these two men engage each other might possibly be a model for the rest of us to talk about other difficult issues with sincerity and openness.

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I’m waiting for the story that transcends the flat ethnicity paradigm and gets the deeper and more persistent question of religion and moral bearings:

How does the most religiously devout candidate in recent memory reconcile a life of religious commitment with a values-neutral approach to work, livelihood, and the marketplace?

Why does religion play an outsized role in the politics of gay marriage and contraception but apparently has no say when it comes to big-ticket items like national spending and economic policy?

That profound disconnect certainly did not originate with Romney, but it may in fact be the key to understanding how he would lead and govern.

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Joanna Brooks, from her Religion Dispatches's piece, "Romney: “A Life Balanced Between Fear and Greed”?"

Is she describing the disconnect between the spaces in which we live and the way we’ve publicly lived religion since the 60’s?

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Makes me think of an interview I witnessed with Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad. Knowing how they lost loved ones to enemy fire and then seeing their friendship and love for one another made everything possible and any petty animosities of my own seem frivolous.
thepoliticalnotebook:

The Queen shakes ex-IRA commander/current Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness’s hand. No small moment right there, one that not so long ago would have been considered more than impossible. (This is not the initial handshake, which was private.)
[Belfast Telegraph]

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Makes me think of an interview I witnessed with Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad. Knowing how they lost loved ones to enemy fire and then seeing their friendship and love for one another made everything possible and any petty animosities of my own seem frivolous.

thepoliticalnotebook:

The Queen shakes ex-IRA commander/current Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness’s hand. No small moment right there, one that not so long ago would have been considered more than impossible. (This is not the initial handshake, which was private.)

[Belfast Telegraph]

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Tagged: #peace #politics
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The Wrong Side of White: Black Mormons in a Presidential Year

by W. Paul Reeve, guest contributor

Meet an African-American Mormon

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism) has consistently found itself on the wrong side of white. In a recent New York Times article, “Black Mormons and the Politics of Identity,” an embedded video begins with a Times reporter commenting “it may come as a surprise to people that there are black Mormons in America.” It is a telling statement that captures the nexus of the LDS Church’s racial past and its efforts to realize a more diverse racial future.

Although few in number, blacks have been a part of the LDS movement from its founding to the present. The first documented African American to join the LDS Church was a former slave known only in the historical record as “Black Pete.” He became a member at Kirtland, Ohio, in 1830, the year of the Church’s founding. More significantly, at least two black men, Elijah Abel and Q. Walker Lewis, were ordained to the Mormon priesthood in the Church’s early years. Abel participated in Mormon temple rituals at Kirtland and was baptized as proxy for a deceased friend and two relatives at Nauvoo, Illinois.

In this regard, it is most accurate to speak of integrated priesthood and temples in Mormonism’s early years, a progressive stance in a charged national racial context. At the same time that the nation moved toward legal segregation in the wake of Reconstruction’s demise, the open space for full black participation in Mormonism gave way in fits and starts. By the first decade of the twentieth century race-based priesthood and temple bans were firmly in place.

It is impossible to understand that trajectory without first understanding the ways in which white Mormons themselves were racialized. The prevailing American fear of interracial mixing played a significant role in that process, especially as outsiders projected their own alarm over race mixing onto Mormons. At Kirtland, outsiders suggested that Black Pete received revelations to marry white women. In Missouri settlers argued that Mormons were inviting free black converts to that state, not only to incite a slave rebellion but to steal white women.

After the Mormons openly announced the practice of polygamy in 1852, the charge of interracial mixing took on a life of its own. One Army doctor filed a report with the United States Senate in which he claimed polygamy was giving rise to a degenerate “race.” Political cartoons depicted interracial polygamous families, sometimes with black, Asian, and Native American wives mixed in among the white. In a variety of ways outsiders constructed Mormons as racially suspect, facilitators of interracial mixing and therefore of racial contamination. As one news account put it, “the days of the white race are numbered in this country.” At the crux of this fearful deterioration was the “American of the future,” “a black Mormon.”

Against such a charged national racial backdrop, Mormons responded with an effort to claim whiteness for themselves. In 1852, Brigham Young drew upon the curses of Cain, Ham, and Canaan, derived from long standing Judeo-Christian Biblical exegeses, to bar black men from the priesthood. Leaders later expanded the policy to include temple worship for black men and women, except for proxy baptisms for their deceased ancestors. In 1908, leaders cemented those policies in place when historical forgetfulness trumped verifiable evidence to misremember that the bans had always been there, divine mandates that only God could rescind.

With that reconstructed memory as the new guiding principle, it took Spencer W. Kimball, the faith’s mild and unassuming prophet, to overturn the ban. In 1978, Kimball announced a revelation which returned Mormonism to its universalistic roots and reintegrated its priesthood and temples.

Since that time, Mormon growth in Africa has been rapid, while the pace among blacks at home has been much slower. The bans and the doctrines that supported them sometimes plague missionary efforts among blacks and make it difficult to retain converts once they join. LDS leaders have yet to repudiate past teachings which shored up the bans, a lingering problem that makes it possible for various iterations of those teachings to live on in the hearts and minds of some members.

In the meantime, black Mormons, like their coreligionists of all stripes, must decide how they will vote in this historic election year. It is a contest that is poised to pit the nation’s first president of African ancestry against the first Mormon of any color to capture a major party nomination. Mitt Romney’s ascendency to the top of the GOP ticket might signal to some Mormons that their historically pariah faith has finally arrived. In that regard, Romney may very well mark Mormonism’s full racial passage to whiteness. It is an awkwardly-timed if not tepid acceptance that coincides with Mormon attempts to claim a more diverse racial identity for themselves — witness the “I Am a Mormon” national media campaign featuring a heterogeneous group of Latter-day Saints as the faces of modern Mormonism.

Unlike his Mormon ancestors, no one today questions Mitt Romney’s whiteness. One culture critic went so far as to call him “the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory.” It is a designation that Mormons craved a century ago, but one that comes as a liability today. The historical arc of Mormonism’s racial dance is richly ironic. In the nineteenth century they were denigrated as not white enough, by the twenty-first century, as too white.


W. Paul ReeveW. Paul Reeve is Associate Professor of History at the University of Utah. He is writing a book, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, under contract at Oxford University Press.

This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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But there is a different story in the DNA of Oklahoma politics. It’s a truly forgotten story in the relatively brief history of this state that people fled the past to create. When the former Indian Territory became Oklahoma in 1907, it had one of the most progressive constitutions in the union, influenced largely by a farmer-labor coalition. Yet small farmers and laborers—75 percent of the population of around two million by 1920—grew less secure and more economically burdened in the early years of statehood, while “New White elites” (bankers, lawyers, merchants and landlords) flourished. These increasingly downtrodden voters gave Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs 16 percent of the Oklahoma vote in 1912, compared with 6 percent nationally. And for a tumultuous moment a decade later, a semi-Socialist grassroots Oklahoma movement elected a governor. …

There are echoes of those farmers and laborers in today’s tea partiers and Wall Street occupiers, but also in Democrats and Republicans who long to recover their faith in politics. A faith in politics, and a determination to make politics work anew for common people, finds impassioned and often eloquent expression in the forgotten pages of the Reconstructionist. Its voices, and its lessons, deserve remembering.

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An Islamic State in Egypt? The Muslim Brotherhood and the Presidential Elections

by Barbara Zollner, guest contributor

Banned Muslim Brotherhood CandidatesA composite photograph of Egyptian Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Abu-Ismail (left), Khayrat al-Shater (center), and former Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. Egypt’s election commission said on April 14, 2012 that the three men were among ten candidates barred from running for president. (Photo by Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

The battle over Egypt’s democratic future is at a significant crossroads. But while the fight for succession to Mubarak’s throne is fully under way, the rules of the competition seem to be constantly changing.

Only two weeks ago, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) announced their decision to field a candidate for the May presidential elections. They nominated businessman and multi-millionaire Khayrat al-Shater. Fostering deep-seated fears about Islamist regimes, the Washington Post expressed concern that, should Shater win the elections, Islamic law would be enforced.

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Orthodox Christians and Alevi Muslims in Turkey Fear Consequences of Syria’s Assad Losing Power

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

As our radio show prepares for a production trip to Turkey this coming June, I’m watching for particular stories and voices that might foster our own sense of how to add to the news and information coming out of this country. PRI’s The World offers this smart report on one of the few Orthodox Christian communities in Turkey that has learned to survive in a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation.

Correspondent Matthew Brunwasser reveals the complexity of the social and religious issues of Tokaçlı, a village in Hatay province of Turkey, which was once part of Syria until 1938. With the Altinozu refugee camp ten miles from its back door and 20,000 Syrians expected to stream across the border, this multi-ethnic community is being confronted by the realities of a Syrian civil war:

"Minorities see the Assad regime as representing multi-ethnicity and religious tolerance. And they can’t imagine anyone in a post-Assad Syria giving them a better deal. Just ask Can Coban who owns a cafe here in Tokacli.

'You can’t predict the future,' Coban says. 'But let’s say radical Muslims win the elections. The Christians’ lives will never again be normal like they are now. They could expel the Christians or their lives could get more difficult. They might be prevented from praying and practicing their religion. They live better now in Syria than we do here in Turkey.'”

Also at stake is a peaceful way of life for Alawite Muslims, known as Alevis in Turkey, because President Assad is an Alawite Muslim:

"Alawites make up about 16 percent of the population, and Sunnis resent them for monopolizing power. And so Alawites are terrified of a backlash. And in Hatay there are fears of that backlash spreading across the border."

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A Face That Looks Like You: Matthew Septimus and the Protestors of Occupy Wall Street

As the Occupy movement wanes, its protestors brought issues of economic inequality to the forefront of our national political discourse. On Being looks back at the protestors driven out of Zuccotti Park in November and the faces that look like you.

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

Greetings From Zuccotti ParkAs the Occupy Wall Street movement took root, Brooklyn-based photographer Matthew Septimus found himself visiting Zuccotti Park as much as possible. Now in his 50s, Septimus says he’s no stranger to protest movements, but describes his experience of Occupy Wall Street as “something different.” The people he encountered were open, trusting, and eager to have a conversation.

Walking into the park for the first time, Septimus remembers being overwhelmed by a wave of emotion and kept going back for more:

"The thing that resonated was the civility and genuine interest. All are willing to look me in the eye and acknowledge my existence. Not all is peace and love. But on the whole, the community is positive and committed. Finally people are speaking up. And I am engaged, too. It feels good to see people having a conversation."

Over the course of several months, Septimus generated over 1,200 images documenting the scores of people who were drawn to Lower Manhattan to experience the energy and potential of the OWS phenomenon.

Using a vintage Rolleiflex camera, Septimus crafted intimate portraits revealing people’s humanity, diversity, and complexity. “The protester,” as seen through Septimus’ lens, flies in the face of stereotypes. His photographs challenge us to see them more completely.

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Desmond Tutu, the Embodiment of the Qualities of the God He Preaches: Compassion, Justice, Patience, Surprise, and Humor

by Krista Tippett, host

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Closes His Eyes After His Interview with Krista TippettPhoto by Trent Gilliss

Desmond Tutu had long been at the top of my list of people I wanted to interview. I met him in the woods of southern Michigan in 2010, where he was beginning a few days of retreat. He was visibly tired, yet utterly delightful and larger than life. And passion overtook his tiredness as soon as we began to speak about the history he has helped to shape and how he has found meaning within it.

Desmond Tutu’s intellectual intensity and spiritual gravity are tempered by a mischievous wit and a raucous laugh. All of these qualities are abundant in conversation with him, and they infused one of the first stories he told me about his path to political resistance — his realization at some point that “if these white people had intended keeping us under, they shouldn’t have given us the Bible.”

He tells me of preaching and speaking with mature women who were generically called “Annie” by their white employers and grown men forever called “boy” — and handing them the “dynamite” of the Bible as they headed out of church and back into the world. When someone asks you who you are, he recalls telling them, you can say, “I am a God-carrier.” This kind of inner liberation, one life at a time, yielded eventually to an outer upheaval of one of the most entrenched governments of social brutality in modern memory.

As I finally approached this opportunity to speak with Desmond Tutu, I was also deeply aware that South Africa’s transformation, like its previous status quo — like life itself — has been dynamic, not static. The extraordinary accomplishment of a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy has not led to the easy eradication of social and racial inequity.

Violent crime has assumed epic proportions. And, as Desmond Tutu puts it, he has been reminded that original sin doesn’t discriminate on a racial basis — South Africa’s new generations of black leadership are not immune from corruption both personal and political. As he has watched the aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he has realized ever more deeply that this was not a closed effort in time, but the origination of a national project that will be the work of generations.

One of his most sobering learnings in that light has been, he says, how “damaged” non-white South Africans were as they entered a new era — and damaged not merely by 50 years of apartheid, but by 300 years of colonialism, which distorted their very sense of themselves. He shares a stunning, saddening story of getting on a plane to Nigeria and seeing, to his great pride, that it was being flown by two black pilots — a first in his lifetime. When awful turbulence hit, he found himself reflexively wishing there were white men in that cockpit to lead them to safety. From such self-knowledge and personal suffering, Desmond Tutu has created a life of deep wisdom and healing, which he extends to all he meets.

At one and the same time, this is a human being overflowing with delight and a kind of infectious spiritual glee. I have never heard anything quite so joyful, or so moving, as the description Desmond Tutu gives me of voting for the first time at the age of 63, comparing it to falling in love — of being transformed from a cipher to a person. And just as vulnerably and powerfully, he reflects on the limits of politics, which turn out to be even more exacting than the decades of struggle that political freedom entailed.

He describes this in theological terms as a movement from being “free from” to being “free for.” He continues to long for a South African society defined not merely by equality under law but by true human flourishing. And the last few centuries of Europe’s history of world war, tyranny, and the Jewish Holocaust, he says — breaking into his raucous laughter even as he makes a deadly serious point — give him great hope for Africa’s eventual progress.

This same long, indeed biblical view of time animates Desmond Tutu’s lifelong insistence that “God is in charge.” He believes as passionately now as he did decades ago that evil, injustice, and suffering will not have the last word. Though he does, he jokes, often ask God if he would please make it a little more obvious that He is in charge.

In the end, Desmond Tutu is the embodiment of the qualities of God he preaches: compassion, a fierce love of justice, divine patience, a capacity to surprise, and a wicked sense of humor. His 21st-century stature as one of the leading clerics of the Anglican church born in England — which was implicated in every one of the 300 years of South Africa’s collective trauma — is another divine irony.

"At the center of this existence is a heart beating with love," says Desmond Tutu. "You and I, and all of us, are incredible… We are, as a matter of fact, made for goodness." Such statements fly in the face of reality as defined by newspaper headlines. But we can only wonder at them, ponder them, and honor them from the mouth of this man, who knows evil and injustice as intimately as he seems to know the mind and heart of God.

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This story from BBC News about NASA’s missing moon rocks is absolutely tragic. Accidents do happen but people losing and selling so many of these fragments seems to place so little value on the herculean feat of the human race making it to the moon.
From trentgilliss:

“Each ‘goodwill moon rock’ was encased in a lucite ball and mounted on a wooden plaque with the recipient nations’ flag attached.”

This story from BBC News about NASA’s missing moon rocks is absolutely tragic. Accidents do happen but people losing and selling so many of these fragments seems to place so little value on the herculean feat of the human race making it to the moon.

From trentgilliss:

“Each ‘goodwill moon rock’ was encased in a lucite ball and mounted on a wooden plaque with the recipient nations’ flag attached.”

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Romney, Mormonism, and the American Compromise

by Terryl Givens, guest contributor

Mitt Romney Bows His Head in Prayer in Elko, NevadaMitt Romney bows his head in prayer in Elko, Nevada while on the presidential campaign trail. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Mitt Romney is threatening to disturb the American compromise with Mormonism.

Nineteenth-century observers were largely indifferent to the new religion Joseph Smith founded in 1830. Most dismissed his claims about angels and gold plates as just another example of American gullibility. “Had we not seen in our own days similar impostures practiced with success,” yawned one Illinois contemporary, “[Mormonism] would have excited our special wonder; as it is, nothing excites surprise.” But in Missouri and Illinois local tensions erupted in violence, and national concern intensified when Brigham Young — relatively safe in the refuge of Utah — announced a system of plural marriage in 1852.

For the next forty years, from the popular press and pulpits alike, cries for the eradication of this “relic of barbarism” streamed forth from the pulpits, press, and party platforms. Then came concessions — but limited concessions — from both sides. Mormons abandoned polygamy and political isolationism. And America granted partial accommodation. The deal was signed in 1893 — but it was a devil’s bargain. Here is what happened.

At the choral competition of the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, on Friday September 8, in front of packed crowds, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir dazzled the audience and the judges alike, to win the silver medal. (The general consensus of Mormon and non-Mormon alike was that they had actually earned the gold.) The recipients of rapturous acclaim, the choir had suddenly become America’s sweetheart. They were invited to provide the patriotic music for the placement of the Liberty Bell at the Chicago Exposition. Their farewell concert was standing room only, journalists raved to a receptive public about the singing sensation, and concert promoters lobbied the choir to tour the east. Suddenly, Mormons were not just legitimate, they were popular.

And then, a funny thing happened on the way to the festivities. In conjunction with the grandiose Columbian Exposition, organizers had planned a World’s Parliament of Religion for September 11-22, 1893, in order to “promote and deepen the spirit of human brotherhood among religious men of diverse faiths.” Over three thousand invitations had been sent worldwide, to bring together representatives of every world faith and Christian denomination in a momentous gesture of interfaith respect and dialogue. Many faiths were underrepresented — but only one group was deliberately and conspicuously left out altogether. And that was, not unpredictably, the Mormons. So even while the choir was singing its way into history and America’s heart, the Mormon church was emphatically denied a voice in the nation’s first attempt at a comprehensive interfaith dialogue. What seemed like a contradiction was actually a compromise.

In the century since the Chicago fair, Mormons have been lauded for their choirs and their football. They are largely respected as good, decent, family-centered people, who are welcome to sing for presidents and dance with the stars — and everyone agrees to avoid theological questions. But as presidential nominations near, Romney’s candidacy threatens this compromise, because what a Mormon presidential candidate actually believes seems far too important to table. And when Mormon theology enters the public discussion, the words Charles Dickens wrote in 1851 strike many as still apt: “What the Mormons do, seems to be excellent; what they say, is mostly nonsense.”

But this is only true because in acquiescing to the compromise, Mormons have largely left others to frame the theological discussion. In opting to emphasize Mormon culture over Mormon theology, Mormons have too often left the media and ministers free to select the most esoteric and idiosyncratic for ridicule. So jibes about Kolob and magic underwear usurp serious engagement, much as public knowledge about the Amish is confined to a two-dimensional caricature involving a horse and buggy. But members of a faith community should recognize themselves in any fair depiction. And it is the fundamentals of Mormonism that should ground any debate worth having about Mormon beliefs or Mormon membership in the Christian community. What are these fundamentals?

  1. God is a personal entity, having a heart that beats in sympathy with human hearts, feeling our joy and sorrowing over our pain.
  2. Men and women existed as spiritual beings in the presence of God before progressing to this mortal life.
  3. Adam and Eve were noble progenitors of the human family, and their fall made possible human life in this realm. Men and women are born pure and innocent, with no taint of original sin. (We find plenty on our own).
  4. God has the desire and the power to save, through his son Jesus Christ, the entire human family in a kingdom of heaven, and except for the most perversely unwilling, that will be our destiny.
  5. Heaven will principally consist in the eternal duration of those relationships that matter most to us now: spouses, children, and friends.

None of these beliefs is relevant to a political candidate’s fitness for office. But they should be the starting point for any serious attempt to get at the core of Mormon belief.  And there should be no compromise on that point.


Terryl GivensTerryl Givens is Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond.

This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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"Lonely Old Widow" Eloquently Argues on Behalf of Same-Sex Marriage

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

In the state of Washington, a vigorous debate is taking place on the issue of same-sex marriage. A Republican state lawmaker, Rep. Maureen Walsh, offered this humble, passionate speech defending marriage equality on February 8, 2012.

Where she starts begins with the most human of stories: the death and loss of her husband of 23 years: “I’m a lonely old widow right now, looking for a boyfriend. Not having much luck with that. … And I think of all the wonderful years we had and the wonderful fringe benefit of having three children. I don’t miss the sex. You know. And to me that’s what this kind of boils down to.”

She proceeds to tell the story of a proud mother who thought she’d agonize over her daughter being gay, and was surprised she didn’t. She continues, “How could I deny anyone the right to have that incredible bond with another individual in life? To me it seems almost cruel.”

Her speech and her story showcases the best of political discussion and civil debate, no matter what side of the issue you support. If we could all model that civility in our public and private lives.

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