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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.
Giddy-up, cowboys and cowgirls. It’s time to vote!
(Photo by Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)
Giddy-up, cowboys and cowgirls. It’s time to vote!
(Photo by Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Giddy-up, cowboys and cowgirls. It’s time to vote!

(Photo by Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

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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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And rather than shy away from Mr. Romney’s faith, as some campaign aides have argued he should, they have decided to embrace it. On the night Mr. Romney will address the convention, a member of the Mormon Church will deliver the invocation. On Sunday, this new approach was apparent as Mr. Romney invited reporters to join him at church services.
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Joanna Brooks on The Daily Show with Jon StewartReading this anecdotal paragraph from a piece in today’s New York Times makes me glad we’re broadcasting our interview with Joanna Brooks.

The blogger behind Ask Mormon Girl offers her own personal stories and insights about being raised in the LDS Church — its beautiful elements and some its internal tensions — and how this presidential campaign season is a “white-knuckle moment” for many Mormons. She’s smart, candid, incisive, and, yes, she might even make you cry.

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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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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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Mormons are excoriated in popular culture (see: “The Simpsons”) for the way their church was created by someone who was kind of a con man. And the translation of the Book of Mormon was accomplished with a hat. And the Golden Tablets have been lost. Hmmm. The stone tablets of the Ten Commandments were misplaced, too. And a burning bush talking? Really? It comes down to faith, as it should. Not some sort of ignorant bigotry.

Many of the academics consider themselves liberal, socially responsible, and broad-minded individuals, the repository of the best in America. They’re proud of themselves for voting for Barack Obama (a bit too smug maybe?). They would splutter and bluster and be generally outraged to be considered prejudiced. None would consider saying anything similar about African-Americans, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans … well, you get the idea. But anti-Mormonism is part of the same continuum that contains discrimination against any group. Why, then, is it allowable publicly express bias against Mormons?

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Temple in the LightningThomas C. Terry, from his insightful commentary on anti-Mormon bigotry within academia for Inside Higher Ed

Photo of LDS Temple in Rexburg, Idaho during a a lightning story by Doug Garding via Flickr’s Creative Commons license.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Overcoming Islamophobia in U.S. Presidential Elections

by Muqtedar Khan, guest contributor

What Is Islam?A Muslim man holds a protest sign on Pennsylvania Ave NW in front of the White House. (photo: M.V. Jantsen/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

Islam has become an important part of American discourse leading up to the 2012 federal elections and candidates everywhere appear eager to take a position on Islam for political gain. Across the country, rising Islamophobia has made it difficult for some Muslims to build mosques and practice their faith, although their right to do so is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In the current race for the presidential nomination, some presidential candidates are invoking Islam and Muslims in a negative fashion in an attempt to bolster their popularity with populations they perceive to be suspicious of Muslims or Islam. For example, if elected, former presidential candidate Herman Cain promised not to appoint Muslims to his cabinet.

This is representative of recent trends. In 2010, some Republican Congressional candidates used the proposed Park 51 Muslim community centre, famously branded as the “ground-zero mosque”, and fear of sharia, the principles from which Islamic law is derived, to rally voters to their cause. And elected Congressional leaders, such as Peter King (R-NY), have used their committee appointments to argue that American Muslims are deeply radicalized, a fact repeatedly debunked by several surveys and reports.

However, there are others within the Republican Party who eschew this rhetoric, such as presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, as well as others like Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who appointed American Muslim Sohail Mohammed as a state judge despite much opposition.

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I get a kick out of folks who call for equality now, the people on the left, ‘Well, equality, we want equality.’ Where do you think this concept of equality comes from? It doesn’t come from Islam. It doesn’t come from the East and Eastern religions, where does it come from? It comes from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that’s where it comes from.
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Rick Santorum speaking to a crowded restaurant in Boiling Springs, South Carolina before today’s vote, as reported by ABC News.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Before we marry the guy next door, don’t you think we ought to have a fling with a tall dark stranger and see if he can support us in the manner to which we’d like to be accustomed?
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Dr. Richard LandRichard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention

Does anybody else find this statement by a leading Evangelical voice a bit incongruous? I understand what he’s getting at — not settling for Mitt Romney when there may be a better alternative for Evangelicals and social conservatives — but it seems quite strange for the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention to be advocating for a political affair, if you will. The language is just so odd.

By the way, this quotation was excerpted from Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s excellent piece on today’s NPR Morning Edition. If you are interested in politics and/or kingmaking, this report is for you.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Herman Cain Sings Gospel Song at The National Press Club

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Herman Cain is trending on Twitter again. But, this time it’s not for his latest television ad but for his rendition of a gospel song at The National Press Club. Facing some tough questions about the sexual harassment allegations made against him and his tax plan, the current GOP frontrunner for the presidential nomination ended by taking the opportunity to “share a little bit” about his faith with “He Looked Beyond My Faults.” The man can sing.

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Everyone talks about how Johnny has fallen from grace. In reality, he’s fallen to grace. He is integrated. He is living a life of truth. He has grown in awareness and humility. He had all these things within him, but they weren’t the guiding, leading principles of his life. Now they are.
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—Rielle Hunter, referring to former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards in her candid and somewhat befuddling interview with Lisa DePaulo in April’s GQ magazine.

Trent Gilliss, online editor

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Democrats of Faith, Then and Now
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer

While doing research for our upcoming shows about religion and politics, I tracked down a 1980 advertisement for Jimmy Carter (above), which seemed to make a more explicit religious appeal than any campaign advertisement I’d ever seen before. Carter was one of the first modern politicans to make a big issue of his religious faith, and one of the few Democrats on the national stage to do so. Then today I ran across a radio ad for Obama, produced by the Political Action Committee Matthew 25 Network, which is also surprisingly direct in its religious appeal.

What do you think? Are you one of the 46% of Americans, according to the Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life, who feels uncomfortable when politicians talk about their own religion? Or do you think we’re better off when both sides of the campaign are addressing religious values in the presidential election?

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Faith Coverage for a Political Blogger Trent Gilliss, Online EditorFollowing this year’s presidential campaigns wouldn’t be nearly as fun without the humorous, and often spot on, commentary of Ana Marie Cox. The former Wonkette blogger and now TIME magazine Washington editor has been covering the Republican candidates on the campaign trail and posting extensively on Swampland, TIME’s political blog, via her twitterfeed (definitely subscribe to this if you like pithy metaphors), and her Flickrfile.That she even posted the picture was surprising, but what grabbed my attention was item #3 from her “Missing Mitt” vid: learning more about Mormonism. A refreshing take… and then she cited a Jon Krakauer book, Underneath the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, as her source of information about the LDS Church. Now, I haven’t read it, but I kinda gotta think the subtitle isn’t a promising starting point for Krakauer’s narratives, which, in my humble opinion, tend to have a judgmental, condemnatory tone to them. Robert Wright in his review for The New York Times points to this deficiency:"Certainly the picture of religion presented in the book is unflattering. Linking the Laffertys to Mormon history means stressing its violent and authoritarian aspects. And of course neither of these is an invention of Krakauer’s. (Polygamous societies in general tend toward authoritarianism, as the anthropologist Laura Betzig has shown. She attributes this to the need of powerful men to control not just women but the understandably unsettled lower-status males who, through the grim mathematics of polygamy, go mateless.) Still, it would have been nice to see some of religion’s upside. Something must explain the vibrancy of mainstream Mormonism, and I doubt it’s just the dark energy of residual authoritarianism. Religion, like patriotism, can nurture virtue within the group even while directing hostility beyond it."Have any of you read this account? Do you think it’s a good reference book for learning about the LDS Church? Well, after reading a Tom Stoppard play and a biography on Heschel, I might just have to check this out.
Faith Coverage for a Political Blogger Trent Gilliss, Online EditorFollowing this year’s presidential campaigns wouldn’t be nearly as fun without the humorous, and often spot on, commentary of Ana Marie Cox. The former Wonkette blogger and now TIME magazine Washington editor has been covering the Republican candidates on the campaign trail and posting extensively on Swampland, TIME’s political blog, via her twitterfeed (definitely subscribe to this if you like pithy metaphors), and her Flickrfile.That she even posted the picture was surprising, but what grabbed my attention was item #3 from her “Missing Mitt” vid: learning more about Mormonism. A refreshing take… and then she cited a Jon Krakauer book, Underneath the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, as her source of information about the LDS Church. Now, I haven’t read it, but I kinda gotta think the subtitle isn’t a promising starting point for Krakauer’s narratives, which, in my humble opinion, tend to have a judgmental, condemnatory tone to them. Robert Wright in his review for The New York Times points to this deficiency:"Certainly the picture of religion presented in the book is unflattering. Linking the Laffertys to Mormon history means stressing its violent and authoritarian aspects. And of course neither of these is an invention of Krakauer’s. (Polygamous societies in general tend toward authoritarianism, as the anthropologist Laura Betzig has shown. She attributes this to the need of powerful men to control not just women but the understandably unsettled lower-status males who, through the grim mathematics of polygamy, go mateless.) Still, it would have been nice to see some of religion’s upside. Something must explain the vibrancy of mainstream Mormonism, and I doubt it’s just the dark energy of residual authoritarianism. Religion, like patriotism, can nurture virtue within the group even while directing hostility beyond it."Have any of you read this account? Do you think it’s a good reference book for learning about the LDS Church? Well, after reading a Tom Stoppard play and a biography on Heschel, I might just have to check this out.
Faith Coverage for a Political Blogger
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Following this year’s presidential campaigns wouldn’t be nearly as fun without the humorous, and often spot on, commentary of Ana Marie Cox. The former Wonkette blogger and now TIME magazine Washington editor has been covering the Republican candidates on the campaign trail and posting extensively on Swampland, TIME’s political blog, via her twitterfeed (definitely subscribe to this if you like pithy metaphors), and her Flickrfile.

That she even posted the picture was surprising, but what grabbed my attention was item #3 from her “Missing Mitt” vid: learning more about Mormonism. A refreshing take… and then she cited a Jon Krakauer book, Underneath the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, as her source of information about the LDS Church. Now, I haven’t read it, but I kinda gotta think the subtitle isn’t a promising starting point for Krakauer’s narratives, which, in my humble opinion, tend to have a judgmental, condemnatory tone to them. Robert Wright in his review for The New York Times points to this deficiency:

"Certainly the picture of religion presented in the book is unflattering. Linking the Laffertys to Mormon history means stressing its violent and authoritarian aspects. And of course neither of these is an invention of Krakauer’s. (Polygamous societies in general tend toward authoritarianism, as the anthropologist Laura Betzig has shown. She attributes this to the need of powerful men to control not just women but the understandably unsettled lower-status males who, through the grim mathematics of polygamy, go mateless.) Still, it would have been nice to see some of religion’s upside. Something must explain the vibrancy of mainstream Mormonism, and I doubt it’s just the dark energy of residual authoritarianism. Religion, like patriotism, can nurture virtue within the group even while directing hostility beyond it."

Have any of you read this account? Do you think it’s a good reference book for learning about the LDS Church? Well, after reading a Tom Stoppard play and a biography on Heschel, I might just have to check this out.

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