The Mormon Litmus

A non-Mormon friend of mine, whom I respect a good deal, has been very vocal recently about criticizing Mormons for supporting Mitt Romney, “simply because he’s a Mormon.” Although I don’t know anyone who supports Romney simply because he’s LDS (most support him because he’s not Obama, some because of his economic policies), I do think if someone did support him solely on one single factor, it would be difficult to find a better litmus test than being Mormon. Every culture has its own share of merits, Mormons simply have many more than others. In the political desert of Midian, Mormons are a conservative’s manna from heaven. Mormons fundamentally understand the benefits of small government, self-reliance, the Second Amendment, and individual rights, more than any other culture in America.

If you found the audacity of this first paragraph difficult for you to swallow, you might want to get a glass of water before continuing.

DISCLAIMER: I am a back pew Mormon. I do not have any calling within the LDS Church nor do I remotely speak on behalf of the Church. I am simply a father and husband who thanks God daily that such an incredible religion exists and that I am allowed to be a part of it.

The Mormon Heritage

Show me a Mormon who doesn’t have a visceral abhorrence for all things government, and I’ll show you a Mormon who doesn’t know their own history. With the obvious exceptions of African Americans and Native Americans, there is likely no other group that has suffered more deliberate persecution at the hands of the American government than Mormons, certainly no other religion. Within 8 years of the LDS church being organized, the state of Missouri had already issued Executive Order 44, which provided that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State…”. Pursuant to the order, hundreds of Mormon civilians were attacked, lynched, looted, tarred, raped, and murdered. If the idea File:Haun's Mill by C.C.A. Christensen.pngof a government officially endorsing the killing of a religious body seems odd to you, you’re probably not a Mormon. Don’t worry, Missouri apologized and promised they wouldn’t kill Mormons anymore a short 140 years later, in 1976. Given the Missouri government was rounding up Mormons and killing them, Mormons abandoned the cities they’d built and fled to Illinois in 1838. In Illinois Mormons showcased their economic genius (more on this later) and general autonomy by founding the city of Nauvoo. Nauvoo quickly became the largest city in Illinois and the Mormon Militia (founded in response to the government endorsed extermination Mormons had recently been privy to) grew to 1/4 the size of the entire US Army. Government persecution resurfaced, however, after Joseph Smith made a presidential bid and ran on a religious liberty/anti-slavery platform (a rather unpopular idea at the time). In response, Illinois Governor Thomas Ford, like Missouri Governor Boggs before him, called upon the state militia to throw Joseph Smith in Carthage jail (for the umpteenth time), where he was left unprotected and murdered in cold blood by a mob of face painted bigots. After watching their Prophet be killed, their cities burned, property stolen, women raped, and temple defiled, Mormons were once again forced out of their homes in the winter of 1846.

This time, however, Mormons decided to not only leave the state, but the entire country. Thus began the epic journey of the Mormon pioneers from Illinois to Utah, where Mormons founded an unbelievably prosperous city in the middle of the desert and lived  happily ever after. Juuuuuuust kidding….in 1857 the insatiable appetite for government bigotry needed some feeding so the head bigot himself, President Buchanan, ordered 1/3 of the entire US Army to leave the United States and pursue the Mormons into the wilderness (more on this later).

Time marched on and Mormons continued to thrive despite olympic grade government persecution continuously being thrown their way. A prime example of such persecution was the Idaho Test Oath Act. What’s the Test Oath Act you say? In 1884, the Idaho Territorial Legislature enacted an “Anti-Mormon Test Oath.” It barred not only practicing polygamists but anyone who believed in a religion advocating the doctrine of plural marriage (or any religion that had EVER believed in plural marriage) from voting, holding public office, serving on juries, or teaching in or administering public schools. The “Test Oath” was enforced rigidly during the election of 1886. Mormons, comprising one-fourth of the territory’s population, were prevented from voting. During the election of 1888, hundreds of Latter-day Saint men in Idaho, with approval from Church leaders, temporarily “withdrew” their membership in the Church in order to vote and thus challenge the legality and enforcement of the “Test Oath.” Most of the Latter-day Saint voters were arrested and their votes negated. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on 3 February 1890 that the “Test Oath” was indeed constitutional. It became part of the state’s constitution when Idaho was admitted to the Union the following July. Active enforcement of the “Test Oath” essentially ended after the election of 1892. Attempts to repeal it, however, were unsuccessful until some ninety years later in 1982 when Idaho finally decided bigotry was no longer as cool as it once was.

Idaho is obviously not unique in its anti-mormoninsm, the federal government passed its own version of the test oath act in 1887, only the federal government’s version not only put mormons in jail, but also allowed for the confiscation off all church property valued at over $50,000. My ancestor, Reed Smoot, was elected to the US Senate in 1903 but was consistently bombarded by attempts to remove him (solely because of his religion) until 1907. The result was 3,500 pages of testimony given by government bigots who refused to accept that a Mormon could hold office, Reed Smoot won and served in the senate for another 26 years.

Mormon Perception of Government

Given the above history (which is simply the tip of the iceberg), Mormons like myself tend to distrust government, regardless of what role the government is assuming. Even the sight of government officials giving food to starving children makes me disgusted. Early Mormon leader Brigham Young captured this sentiment when he declared, “I love the government and the Constitution of the United States, but I do not love the damned rascals that administer the government.”  The stereotypical Imagemodern Mormon woman, who teaches Sunday school and brings green jello to her sick neighbors, also has two years of non perishable food storage and a Barrett .50 cal in her basement. She may not know it herself, but at the drop of a hat she’d be more willing to raise the black flag than most in polite society dare speculate. She comes from a long line of Mormons who have watched their ancestors be raped, killed, persecuted, and ridiculed by those elected to government office. Mormons like John Moses Browning, who single handedly changed the course of American history by inventing some of the most effective firearms this planet will ever know. A man like John Browning doesn’t exist without having witnessed first hand “a history of renegade militias and mob justice, human rights violations and unlawful detentions, slavery and prejudice, abuse of governmental power and government sanctioned murder“. He didn’t invent those firearms to make a profit, he invented them so the government couldn’t do to him what it did to his parents.

You didn’t build that, someone else did that for you

The Mormon heritage is one of autonomy and self-reliance, the likes of which no other culture can match. This is a group of people who managed to build some of the most incredible cities 19th Century America ever saw, and they did it all while being raped and murdered by state governments and having war declared upon them by the federal government. Knowing how much they accomplished on their own, Mormons feel a little disgusted when they hear the president condescendingly declare that we need the federal government to build roads, bridges, and businesses. One thing is for damn sure, Mormons don’t need the government’s “help” to do anything. Not only did Mormons build fantastic cities, roads, infrastructures, and businesses without any help from the government, but we did it while the government was affirmatively doing everything they could to try and make us fail. Mormons built unbelievable cities in the middle of swamps and deserts and even managed (miraculously) to establish a gold based monetary system in Utah despite coming across the plains with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. We don’t need the government to build us roads Mr. President, we simply need you to stop destroying the ones we’ve already built.

Mormons and Entitlement Programs

Mormons are unbelievably hard workers, which explains why they find the idea of government welfare abhorrent. Mormons have always despised the idea of using government to force someone else to pay for their food, housing, or subsistence. Mormons understand the principles of personal liberty and autonomy better than most because we not only think it is the way a government should be ran, we think it is the way heaven is ran. Mormon leaders have consistently condemned the idea of receiving something that you didn’t earn, it weakens the moral fabric of society. Prophet Ezra Taft Benson aptly described the Mormon sentiment towards government welfare when he declared:

“A category of government activity which, today, not only requires the closest scrutiny, but which also poses a grave danger to our continued freedom, is the activity NOT within the proper sphere of government. No one has the authority to grant such powers, as welfare programs, schemes for re-distributing the wealth, and activities which coerce people into acting in accordance with a prescribed code of social planning. There is one simple test. Do I as an individual have a right to use force upon my neighbor to accomplish this goal? If I do have such a right, then I may delegate that power to my government to exercise on my behalf. If I do not have that right as an individual, then I cannot delegate it to government, and I cannot ask my government to perform the act for me.” (watch his entire speech here, best hour you’ll ever spend)

That’s not to say Mormons aren’t charitable, far from it. The Mormon culture is one of the most charitable on the planet. Mormons have a network of “Bishops Storehouses” and welfare centers, throughout the entire planet, that provide assistance to anyone in need. From food storage, to employment, to education, Mormons have created a welfare system that the federal government couldn’t dream of. So what’s the difference between the Mormon method and the government method? First, no one is compelled to contribute funds to the Mormon system. It is entirely funded by volunteers, voluntary donations, and private endeavors.  Second, it is a hand up, not a hand out. Unlike the federal system that actively encourages and rewards dependance , the Mormon welfare system encourages autonomy and self-reliance.

“Our primary purpose was to set up insofar as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established among our people. The aim of the Church is help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership.” – Heber J Grant, 1936.

The average person who receives aid from the LDS church is back on their feet in 3-6 months. When Mitt Romney says he’s “not concerned about the very poor“, it’s because he’s been shown first hand how to help them and knows what needs to be done. It also explains why Romney understands that he doesn’t need to filter his money through an inefficient government bureaucracy in order to help people, as opposed to Obama who appears to have no comprehension of charity. From 2000-2004 Obama gave .4-1.4% of their almost 2 million dollars to charity, while Romney gave at least 14%.  I think one of the reasons Romney won’t release his tax returns is because he gave a LOT of money to the LDS church and, for reasons already set forth, America has a history of not looking fondly on such actions.

Of course there are sadly some Mormons who have shrugged their ancestral mantel of autonomy for the scarlet letter of welfare. Regardless of their reason for doing so, those voices don’t speak for the rest of us. I was raised to see merit in hard work, and shame in dependance. I believe that is a sentiment that runs true throughout the majority of Mormonism.

Mormon Upbringing

Mormons are a peculiar people. A Mormon childhood is one where the traditional family unit is held in the highest regard. While most kids are going to bed hearing stories about Burt and Ernie, Mormon children might hear stories of Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty. Who’s that you ask? Moroni was a guy that lived around 100 BC and really enjoyed personal liberty. He enjoyed it so much that when those among him desired to establish a king to rule over them, he rent his coat and wrote upon it, “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children”. These words became known as the “Title of Liberty” and with the Title, he rallied his people to defend their families and their freedom. Directly in front of my son’s crib is a 36 X 48 painting of Captain Moroni standing on a pile of bodies holding the Title of Liberty. In other words, Mormons gain an appreciation for liberty at an early age.

While most 19 year olds are complaining that the bandwidth in their parent’s basement is not conducive to watching online porn, 19 year old Mormons are learning foreign languages, building houses for the poor, studying scriptures, and performing various other missionary activities all over the planet. Mormon missions are completely voluntary and are 100% paid for by the missionary himself, no missionaries are paid for their service. At any given time there are 65,000 Mormon men and women who volunteer to leave their families and friends for two years and travel to an unfamiliar part of the world. For me, waking up in the Amazon jungle and realizing that it was incumbent on me, and only me, to learn a new language and adapt to a foreign culture was a sobering experience. Mormon missionaries learn a level of autonomy and self-reliance that can’t be taught in a classroom. I could take you on a walk today through an Amazonian neighborhood where even the Policia Militar won’t go. I’d introduce you to a man named Nego Gomes, who was rumored to have chopped up seven prison inmates with a machete and used them to bait a jaguar. I don’t know if the rumor was true, but I remember fondly the 25 pound turtle Nego and I cooked over open fire on Thanksgiving 2003.

Mormon women, in addition to being some of the best looking women on the planet, are also notorious for being picky in choosing their husband. I guess when they can choose between a man who sacrificed two of the best years of his life to make the world a better place, and one who spent two years sexually exploring himself at a junior college, the choice becomes pretty clear.

Mormon Economics

Mormons give a minimum of 10% of their income in a traditional tithe. Most Mormons give much more than that to charity, like Mitt Romney who gives an average of 16% (as opposed to Barack Obama who gave less than 1%). Despite giving a large portion of their income away, Mormons are still extremely wealthy. Mormons are taught to avoid debt in any way possible and to live by sound economic principles. Mormons are also extremely industrious. America loves to point to Steve Jobs (rightfully so) for his ingenuity in creating the iPod, but what about the Mormon who invented the television?  From the hearing aid to the compact disc, from video games to the transistor radio, Mormons have brought the world some of its most important innovations. While the rest of America seems mystified by Mitt Romney’s success at Bain Capital, Mormons need only look at his religion for a roadmap of how success is achieved. Although the LDS church’s finances are not known, it is safe to say that it could day trade entire nations were such a market available. The Mormon Church has achieved unbelievable success in the private sector, including owning the largest cattle ranch in America, and this successful business model is something Mormons become familiar with from an early age.

Mormons and the Second Amendment

Second Amendment supporters love to proudly proclaim that the true purpose of the right to bear arms is to enable the people to fight back against an unjust government. That’s a great sentiment and invokes a patriotic tear, but the difference between Mormons and the average gun lover is Mormons have actually used the right to bear arms to fight back against an unjust government, with great success.

In 1857 the head bigot in charge, President James Buchanan, wanted to replace the democratically elected Mormon Governor of Utah with a non-Mormon governor. Because he wasn’t able to achieve his unjust objective without using force, as is so often the case with government, he decided to cut off mail service to Utahans and ordered 2,500 US troops (later 5,500) to march to Utah (which was outside the United States at the time) with the objective of taking the governorship by force. In the absence of formal notification of the government’s intentions (due to mail service being cut off by Buchanan), Mormon leaders interpreted the army’s approach as religious persecution (what would possibly give them that idea?) and adopted a defensive posture. Instead of allowing the government to rape, rob, and murder them again, Mormons decided they had finally had enough. What followed has become known as the Utah War and is one of the most exemplary Second Amendment stories America has ever seen.

The Utah Governor declared martial law and deployed the local militia, the Nauvoo Legion, to delay the US troops. Harassing actions included burning three supply trains and driving hundreds of government cattle to the Great Salt Lake Valley. The “scorched earth” tactics forced Albert Sidney Johnston’s Utah Expedition and the accompanying civil officials to improvise winter quarters (at Camp Scott and Eckelsville), near Burned-out Fort Bridger, while the nation feared the worst.

During the winter both sides strengthened their forces. Congress, over almost unanimous Republican opposition, authorized two new volunteer regiments, and Buchanan, Secretary of War John B. Floyd, and Army Chief of Staff Winfield Scott assigned 3,000 additional regular troops to reinforce the Utah Expedition. Meanwhile, the Mormon communities were called upon to equip a thousand men for duty in the one hundred miles of mountains that separated Camp Scott and Great Salt Lake City. (source)

Mormon wives poured hot lead into molds to make bullets and sewed blankets into overcoats for militiamen. “When an army quartermaster asked Mrs. Albert Carrington if she would cut down her carefully cultivated peach orchard to defend her faith, she replied in the affirmative, ‘And would sit up nights to do it.’” Drilling commenced throughout the territory and Mormons sought to gather guns and ammunition, manufactured Colt revolvers, scythes were turned into bayonets, and long-unused sabres were burnished and sharpened.

The result was a 13 month standoff between Mormons and the US military. Though it would be a stretch to say Mormons won, they could at least say they prevented the government from killing any of them or burning their temples, which was a substantial improvement over past interactions. Ultimately, Buchanan’s military force was enough to replace the Utah governor with a non-Mormon. Mormons watched as 70% of the land they had pioneered was seized by the federal government (and remains seized today), to ensure the federal government had plenty of land to build prisons on and to house soldiers.

Mormons and Gay Marriage

I realize that a common perception of Mormons is that they are “anti-gay”. Mormons supported Proposition 8 in California and have been unwavering in their condemnation of homosexual acts (as they also condemn premarital sex and adultery). Although I am by no means a representative of the church nor do I speak on their behalf, I would still like to offer my perception on the entire gay marriage debate. As a general rule, Mormons are reluctant to support any movement that seeks federal intervention (that point should be pretty clear by now). So when the same sex marriage community seeks the federal government’s help to force people to recognize their beliefs, Mormons recoil instinctively. That’s not to say Mormons are anti-gay, such an assertion is ludicrous. Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 presidential bid largely because he did not support federal intervention in the form of the Civil Rights Act. He wasn’t racist, he just didn’t feel the coercive force of the federal government was the proper avenue to achieve the same objective.

Although I would never compare the civil rights movement to the same sex marriage movement, I see merit in the trepidation many mormons feel about the federal government regulating marriage. Mormons have never asked for their marriage to be validated by the government, we’ve simply asked that the government not kill us because of our views on marriage. We’ve been kicked out of 3 states by military force, exterminated by state militias, gone to war with the federal government, been denied the right to vote or serve on juries, been imprisoned countless times, had our property stolen, and our temples burned, all because of our view on marriage. When same sex couples criticize Mormons for not understanding the persecution homosexuals go through, the irony is almost too much to handle (talk to me when you have an extermination order on your head or are denied the right to vote). So what’s the difference? Why can’t Mormons get behind the same sex movement? For me personally it is because I see government validation of ANY viewpoint as anathema, not something to be coveted. We have had the government’s view on marriage jammed down our throats for over 150 years, we’re tired of it. Privatize marriage, stop aligning yourself with the coercive power  of the federal government, and you will likely see more Mormon support, at least you will from this Mormon.

The Future

For Mormons the future is very bright. We are an educated people, the percentage of LDS who have completed post-secondary education is significantly higher than it is for the US population in general (over 20% higher). We are a proud people, and we know what we believe. Because we are proud of our beliefs (and the benefits we see from following our beliefs) we are always looking to share what we believe with others.

Undoubtably future Mormons will see persecution in high places just as their ancestors before them. It is something we have become accustomed to and not something we are afraid of. We are not, and have never been, victims. Mormons have succeeded despite all odds, and if we can survive the persecution of their inbred grandparents, surely the effeminate grandchildren can do no worse.

If you’re not a Mormon, become one. If you are a Mormon, be a better one. Being a member of this religion has brought me everything good I have in my life, nothing can change my knowledge of that simple principle.

“You know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it. … This Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world.”  Joseph Smith, June 1829.

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