If you are a fan of the combustible blend of religion and politics that has played a large role in American history, then today is your Christmas. Religion & Politics, an online journal run by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, was launched this morning with a plethora of fascinating and sophisticated content. General information about the journal can be found here, and you can see that it boasts an impressive and wide-ranging staff and board. Our own Max Mueller serves as the associate editor, so we at JI like to claim a personal connection with the project.
In the middle of the “Mormon Moment” and with seven grinding months ahead of us where Mitt Romney’s religion will be dissected, analyzed, caricatured, and any other type of analysis, we are sure to see a stream of Mormon content. In today’s inaugural release, we have two fantastic pieces, both of which are written by two JIers.
In the first article, “When Romney was a Mormon President,” Max visits the Belmont Massachusetts Ward (which Romney presided over in the 1980s) with Mitt’s son Tagg. He muses on what Mitt’s experience as a Bishop and Stake President might mean for his campaign and possible presidency, and concludes that there are pastoral aspects that may actually prove a major positive for the presidential candidate. Two excerpts:
…considering his service to the LDS Church, “pastor-in-chief” may be an accurate way to frame a large part of Romney’s presidential campaign résumé. After all, for over fourteen years, he was one of the most powerful Mormons in New England, first as the bishop of his home church in Belmont, then as Boston Stake president, the region’s highest ecclesiastical authority. Mitt Romney helped shape the Boston-area Mormon Church and in turn it helped shape him as a political candidate. In fact, with more than a third of his adult life spent serving the LDS Church, Mitt Romney’s business has, until recently, been more religion than politics.
And from the conclusion:
This presidential election cycle, Romney’s carefully curated self-image is of the fiscally conservative businessman, an economic fixer. Yet it’s also important to recognize that Romney, perhaps more than any other serious candidate for the White House, is a seasoned religious leader…That personal narrative is what voters crave. In his fight to win over skeptics, and those suspicious of his Mormonism, Romney would do well to translate his religious experience in [a way that emphasizes his pastoral and caring background].
The second column comes from the ridiculously prolific Matt Bowman, titled “A Mormon Scholar Meets Latter-day Libertarians.” Interviewing several self-proclaimed Mormon libertarians, Matt examines the movement’s roots in Mormon theology and discourse. An excerpt to whet your desire:
Boyack and other Mormon libertarians argue that their preferred policy choices are not merely political. They are theological, rooted in a particular interpretation of Mormon teachings about how the cosmos operates. Their devotion to Ron Paul is not simply a reasoned decision about which of several political platforms might be best for the country. It is, in the fullest sense of the word, religious. That adjective should not be taken as a synonym for fanatical or cultish. Rather, it is to say that Connor Boyack believes that if Ron Paul (who is, let’s remember not a Mormon) is elected president, American politics might fall into greater harmony with God’s will, and thus human freedom, potential and happiness will have the opportunity to be most fully realized.
These beliefs are the product of a certain systematized form of Mormon theology. The salvation story all Mormons are taught while they are young rests on a narrative of progress: the human soul’s journey from a pre-existent state through earth life to exaltation, the achievement of divinity in eons to come. What philosophers call “libertarian free will,” Mormon theology calls “agency.” With agency, humans have unfettered capacity for making free choices. Neither original sin nor biological determinism can sway them. Mormon doctrine teaches that one’s “eternal progression” is contingent upon learning from wrong choices, succeeding with right choices and gradually refining the soul and character toward heavenly purity.
Now, go forth and read!