The Best of the “Mormon Moment”

By November 14, 2012

As Patrick Mason rightly noted in his guest post on Friday, “the Mormon moment was good for Mormon studies”–even if it had, by now, worn out its welcome. Perhaps the most obvious result of the past two years was a deluge of columns, op-eds, essays, and articles designed to explain Mormonism to a curious audience. And by “deluge,” I mean “holy-crap-there-are-tons-of-new-stuff-ever-week-to-the-point-that-they-all-mesh-together.” So in attempt to make sure they don’t all fade from memory, this post tries to, with the help of friends, list some of my favorites. (I’m sure I’ve forgotten many–that’s where you come in handy: if you suggest something I find very important, I’ll even add it to the list.) If I had more time/interest, I would try to outline some of the major lessons and offer a general narrative arc of where the “moment” went over the past two years, but I’ll save that for someone else.

Below, you will find the author, title, venue, date, summary, and brief excerpt from what I remember to be the “best” of the Mormon moment coverage. Please add any that I missed in the comments, as well as take issue with/challenge some of my selections.

(And to the future historian who was looking for sources when anaylizing this “Mormon moment”: you’re welcome.)

Matthew Bowman, “The Generation Gap: Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, and the two very different strains of Mormonism they represent,” The New Republic (May 2011)

  • Get used to Matt’s name here. In his inaugural contribution, Matt introduces what I think is the major lesson from this latest version of the “Mormon moment”: the diversity within the movement.
  • “Huntsman is only 13 years younger than Mitt Romney, but they are generations apart in temperament. Romney trying on Huntsman?s leather jackets and shades, or hopping on one of his motorcycles, would rightly make him look ridiculous. But, beyond mere differences of personality, Romney and Huntsman also represent two very different strains of Mormonism. While both men are the progeny of the same class of wealthy Mormon elite, Huntsman?s public life is born of a younger strain of Mormonism than is Mitt Romney?s?a Mormonism increasingly well-adapted to the boisterous diversity of early twenty-first century America, and, perhaps because of that, a Mormonism with which America is growing increasingly comfortable.”

Walter KirnMormons Rock!” Newsweek (June 2011)

  • The lead article in the “Mormon moment” issue of Newsweek, officially launching the move. While nothing too new or noteworthy in this column, it established the talking points for many of the coverage that followed: the Mormon business ethic, the problem of secrecy, the alienation from mainstream culture, etc.
  • “But despite the sudden proliferation of Mormons in the mainstream, Mormonism itself isn?t any closer to gaining mainstream acceptance. And nowhere is the gap between increased exposure and actual progress more pronounced than in politics. In recent weeks NEWSWEEK called every one of the 15 Mormons currently serving in the U.S. Congress to ask if they would be willing to discuss their faith; the only politicians who agreed to speak on the record were the four who represent districts with substantial Mormon populations. The rest were ?private about their faith,? or ?politicians first and Mormons second,? according to their spokespeople.”
Krista Tippet, “Mormon Demystified with Joana Brooks,” On Being (August 2011)
  • An absolutely fabulous hour-long interview with Joanna Brooks, talking about the touching humanity that is Mormonism.
Eric Marrapodi, “With ‘I’m a Mormon’ Campaign, Church Counters Lily-White Image,” CNN (November 2011)
  • An excellent overview of the Church’s PR approach to the Mormon moment: embracing diversity, and emphasizing heterogeneity.
  • “Since January, the LDS Church has spent millions on an “I’m a Mormon” advertising campaign that features television commercials, billboards and bus signs with Mormons from African-American, Asian, Latino and other ethnic backgrounds.”
Matthew Bowman, “Mormonism’s Surprisingly Deep Affinity for Progressive Politics,” The New Republic (November 2011)
  • One of my favorite pieces from the “moment,” and one of the few that I thought actually shed light on Romney’s politics (oh how we strained at gnats most of the year on that topic!), Matt shows how Mitt’s ecclesiastical experience shapes his pragmatism.
  • “But the political polarities that dominate American public discourse today are of relatively recent vintage, and there is a particularly Mormon version of classical American progressivism to which Mitt Romney stands heir. These progressives believed that effective organization and the promotion of virtue went hand in hand; they are two manifestations of a single commitment, and the former can indeed promote the latter. In a nutshell, these progressives believed that public organization can promote a moral imperative, that technocratic bureaucracy can in fact change lives for the better.”
Kyle Monson, “2011: The Year of the Mormon,” By Common Consent (December 2011)
  • A fantastic and exhaustive overview of all major Mormon developments in 2011.
  • “What a wild year it?s been. Never has Mormonism been so culturally relevant, and never has the undulating curve of popular opinion shifted so wildly, so quickly. As the year draws to a close, I think we?re safe in naming 2011 ?The Year of the Mormon.? The BCC permas have picked out a few reasons why…”
Jessica Ravitz, “Crossing the Plains and Kicking up Dirt,” CNN (February 2012)
  • A profile of Joanna Brooks, this piece not only introduced a wider audience to one of the premier voices of the Mormon moment (Joanna) but also emphasized the increase of diversity amongst the faith.
  • “She cannot separate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from her identity any more than she can leave cheese out of funeral potatoes. But like her persecuted ancestors who braved the unforgiving plains to reach the promised land of what is now Utah, Brooks, 40, fights for her faith.”
Terryl Givens, “Romney, Mormonism, and the American Compromise,” Sightings: The Blog for the Martin Marty Center for the Advancement of the Study of Religion, University of Chicago (February 2012)
  • Givens looks at how Mormonism has often sacrificed its theology to be embraced through culture, and then outlines a possible new way to package the faith.
  • “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.””
Stephen Webb, “Mormonism Obsessed with Christ,” First Things (February 2012)
  • Written by a Catholic scholar and theologian, and building off of his recent book, Webb argues that Mormonism’s theology is indeed Christian in a very profound way.
  • “Mormonism is obsessed with Christ, and everything that it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and expand faith in him. It adds to the plural but coherent portrait of Jesus that emerges from the four gospels in a way, I am convinced, that does not significantly damage or deface that portrait.”
Max Mueller, “The Other Mormon Candidate: He’s running for president of Mali,” Slate (February 2012)
  • All the discussion on Romney sometimes overshadowed the fact that Mormonism is now an international religion. Max’s piece on Yeah Samake highlights the juxtaposition of an American faith with global aspirations.
  • “Samaké?s appeal across the Mormon political spectrum stems in part from his ability to upend the stereotypes that Romney reinforces. He represents a church that is international and diverse, more nonwhite than white, and more poor than rich.”
Max Mueller, “Is Mormonism Still Racist? Comments from a BYU professor stir up a troubling past,” Slate (March 2012)
  • Leagues of columns could be identified following the Bott fiasco, but Max’s is helpful in being both sympathetic and exhaustive.
  • “Yet Mormons around the country?including Bott?s own colleagues and BYU students?are working to make this moment a turning point in Mormonism?s history of race relations. Around water coolers, in classrooms, in blog posts and op-eds, a growing number of Mormons who find Bott?s beliefs in direct conflict with the main tenets of their gospel are not waiting for church leaders to speak. Darius Gray, one of the black Mormons featured in the Post article, told me that he expects Bott?s comments to force Mormons both at a grassroots level and at church headquarters to begin the process of ?healing wounds not creating them.? His belief was echoed by his longtime writing partner, BYU professor Margaret Young. ?This is the beginning of our Truth and Reconciliation,? she told me. ?This will help us deal with the history of apartheid in our own Church.?”
Kristine Haglund, Stephen Prothero, and Alan Wolfe, “Mormonism and Presidential Politics,” Televised Roundtable held by the Boston College (March 2012)
  • A thoughtful discussion on Mormonism’s place in election politics.
Terryl Givens, “The Heavenly Logic of Proxy Baptism,” First Things (March 2012)
  • Once again, debates over the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead became a national issue. In this thoughtful piece, Givens offers theological defense of the ordinance’s beauty.
  • “The effect of posthumous baptisms is not conversion; only a personal, conscious decision to accept the baptismal covenant, in this life or the next, constitutes conversion. The intention is to provide an opportunity for participation in that ?whole and complete and perfect union? of the human family.”
Max Mueller, “Hemings and Jefferson Together Forever? Troubling Cases of Mormon ‘Proxy Sealing,'” Slate (March 2012)
  • Using a few quixotic cases of slaves being sealed to masters through temple rituals, Max shows that the tentacles of race still touch much of Mormon thought and practice.
  • “Ideally, removing these sealings from ?public? view is not about the church covering its tracks. Rather, it should?and may?signal the beginning of what will be an agonizing process in which LDS Church leaders figure out what to do with such sealings. To undo them?which would require formal approval from church leaders?might serve to end the symbolic violence of such rituals, which link slave masters to slaves they sexually abused. It would also send a loud and powerful message about what is right and what is wrong when it comes to this aspect of Mormon temple practice.”
Matthew Bowman, “Why is it So Hard to Figure out what Mormons Believe,” Peculiar People (April 2012)
  • Yes, it is like nailing jello. Only a lot more complex.
  • “Mormonism remains a work in progress, and, paradoxically, it is strongest when it acknowledges that it is yet half-built.”
Josh Kron, “At Age 19, From Utah to Uganda,” New York Times (April 2012)
  • With all the hoopla surrounding the broadway play, this excellent piece of journalism shows what Mormon missionary work in Africa really looks like.
  • “For new converts like Mr. Kagodo, the values of the young proselytes are as compelling as any set of religious beliefs. Indeed, Mr. Kagodo says the details of Mormon doctrine were confusing for him at first ? do they believe only in the Book of Mormon, or in the Bible as well? (They are meant to complement each other.) But in a land where many aggressively preach the word of God and worship tends toward the enthusiastic, he appreciated that the Mormons lived as they taught ? quietly, humbly.”
Matthew Bowman, “Saturday’s Warriors: How Mormons Went from Beard-Wearing Radicals to Clean-Cut Conformists,” Slate (April 2012)
  • A fantastic overview of the institutional and cultural changes that have shaped the modern Mormon image.
  • “Mormons are increasingly adept at reconciling the demanding moral code of the correlated church with participation in broader American culture, venturing into fields as far-flung as reality television and vampire fiction. This Mormonism, the Mormonism of David Archuleta and Stephenie Meyer, is defined less by rigorous conformity and personal self-discipline than by the ability to project a wholesome pluralism?to reflect back to present America the things which it values most, albeit edited to a PG rating.”
Joanna Brooks, “Mitt Romney and the Ghost of Anti-Mormonism: An Interview with Kathleen Flake,” Religion Dispatches (May 2012)
  • One of the premier scholars on Mormonism and American culture shares the similarities and differences between Mitt’s run for the presidency and Reed Smoot’s senate seating.
  • “And I also see continuities between the Smoot hearing and the techniques used in the primaries in attempts to discredit Romney, as well as the style of his response. Ministerial associations objecting to Mormon candidates in 2012 isn?t as effective as it was in 2008, let alone in 1904. What you see instead are other common pressure tactics: arm-twisting of political leaders by religiously-affiliated constituents, and the use of ridicule as a means of galvanizing public opinion.”
Laurie Maffly-Kipp, “The Long Approch to the ‘Mormon Moment,'” Religion and Politics (May 2012)
  • This is a fascinating look, by one of the field’s top experts, on the give-and-take relationship between Mormonism and American culture during the 20th century. A video of the longer, and excellent, presentation is found here.
  • “My task is to bring some needed historical perspective to current collective conversations about Mormonism in public life. Because I believe that this moment, like many such events that seem to come out of the blue, actually has been about 100 years in the making. In short, my argument is this: since the beginning of the 20th century Mormons in the U.S. and other Americans have struggled with a particular but pervasive problem: how to recognize Mormons as U.S. citizens, with all the obligations and privileges that attend that designation. The last few years marks only the latest round in a series of events that have shaped, but never completely resolved, this question.”
Steve Evans, “Man on a Mission: Mitt Romney in France,” Washington Post (May 2012)
  • One of the bloggernacle’s founding voices gives a look at what foreign missions do for American Mormons, and what Mitt’s missionary service in France would have been like.
  • “Missions are a crucible in which Mormon youth refine their faith, and it?s where Mitt Romney first emerged as the steadfast Mormon he is today. He still refers to those days fondly as golden years, central to his education. Like many of us, Romney began his mission as a pranksterish adolescent, and emerged as a missionary leader. We can only guess as to what other parts of Romney may have been burnt away forever in that crucible, never to return.”
Clayton Christensen, “If Harvard Business School were a Religion, it Could be Mormonism,” Washington Post (May 2012)
  • Christensen, one of the most famous business professors in America and area authority for the Church, shows the convergences of HBS and LDS mindsets.
  • “A reason why so many discussions among the erudite disparage religion, while some religious people are wary of answers from science, is that we have the categories wrong.  Many assume that science and academics belong in one category of knowledge, while religion comprises another category, primarily of belief. Further, religions often are sub-segmented into Catholics vs. Protestants, and Traditional vs. Evangelical Christians. Some in the latter group even categorize deeply Christian Mormons as ?non-Christians.? These categorizations generate far more heat than light.”
Susanna Morrill, “Mormonism and Public Discourse on Religion,” (May 2012)
  • Susanna explains how discourse on Mormonism is often, in actuality, discourse of something else entirely.
  • “I wonder if Mormonism is a ?safe? way to talk publicly and critically about religion in an age of political correctness. My classes have confessed to me that Mormonism is one of the few religions that it is still okay to openly criticize. Based on anecdotal evidence from my many encounters with non-Mormons talking about Mormonism, I would have to agree with them. I am still surprised at how often fair and well-educated people will make openly critical and ill-informed remarks about Mormonism in a tone and expression that they would never use to talk about, for instance, Judaism or Islam or other groups that are perceived as being non-Christian or ?exotic.? And I?m not talking here about honest disagreement with points of belief or practice or history. I?m talking about angry and badly formed opinions.”
Paul Reeve, “The Wrong Side of White,” Sightings: The Blog for the Martin Marty Center for the Advancement of the Study of Religion, University of Chicago (May 2012)
  • In a fascinating glimpse into his forthcoming book, Reeve shows how Mormonism has always been an important symbol for American race, first as being depicted as non-white and eventually becoming too-white.
  • “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.”
Max Mueller, “Can You be Both Mormon and Gay? Why a Religion Notorious in the Gay Community May be ‘Evolving,'” Slate (June 2012)
  • Homosexuality has becoming a central issue in American cultural politics, and Mormonism’s relationship to that issue is possibly in flux. Max offers a history and analysis of these tensions, and points to possibly new trajectories.
  • “Until recently, many Mormons probably would have rejected the notion that you can define yourself as gay and still be a truly devout and fully committed member of the LDS Church. (The church even rejects the term ?gay,? instead referring to those who ?struggle with same-gender attraction.?) But LDS authorities appear to have accepted the decision by [Josh] Weed, Mansfield, and others to follow that path. And that acceptance reflects a growing?though certainly uneasy?tolerance on the part of the Mormon Church. In the years since California?s Proposition 8, some members of the religion, upset that their church had become so closely associated with intolerance, have taken steps to advance what they consider a more ?Christ-like? attitude toward gay men and women, Mormon and otherwise. And the LDS leadership has generally chosen not to tamp down these grassroots expressions of dissent as they might once have done.”
J. Spencer Fluhman, “Why We Fear Mormons,” New York Times (June 2012)
  • Drawing on his excellent and recent book, Fluhman expertly connects anti-Mormonism from the 19th century to the present, showing differences and continuities.
  • “This election, regardless of outcome, unquestionably pushes the United States onto new political terrain because neither candidate represents the religious old guard. But until Americans work through our contradictory impulses regarding faith, diversity and freedom, there is no reason to believe anti-Mormonism will go away anytime soon.”
Jennifer Schuessler, “The Mormon Lens on American History,” New York Times (July 2012)
  • Drawing on the top scholars in the field, this column shows how, similar to Mormonism moving in the American mainstream, Mormon studies is making headway into academia’s mainstream.
  • “The development of Mormon studies in some respects mirrors the academic study of other minority groups, which has typically begun with creating a basic account of their history and then moved toward theoretical approaches that bring the subculture into conversation with the bigger picture.”
John-Charles Duffy, “What Happened to Romney’s ‘Evangelical Problem’?” Religion and Politics (July 2012)
  • Duffy skillfully shows that the Evangelical Right’s embrace of Romney is not due to the breaking down of theological boundaries, but the reinforcement of them.
  • “The moral of this story is not that evangelicals are sacrificing their doctrinal objections to Mormonism for political expediency. Romney?s Mormonism per se was never an issue for most evangelicals. A majority were always open to voting for him?if he didn?t insist Mormonism was Christian, and if they judged him sufficiently conservative. By assigning disproportionate weight to the minority of evangelicals in the ?Don?t vote for a Mormon!? camp, commentators missed an important shift: by 2012, if not earlier, doubts about Romney?s conservatism replaced concern about blurred theological differences as his greatest evangelical liability. That?s not because politics trumped theology; it?s because Romney learned to respect evangelicals? theological boundaries.”

John Turner, “A Pageant of Mormon History and Mirth: A 75-Year-Old New York Tradition that Only Looks like the Rapture,” Wall Street Journal (July 2012)

  • Lots of great coverage of the Hill Cumoruh Pageant—including this fabulous “fab or drab” piece from Buzzfeed, and Max’s excellent piece in Slate—but John’s is excellent in capturing the complexities of Mormon culture.
  • “Above all, the pageants speak to reverence for history, both of the Mormon church and the more ancient history contained in their scriptures. For Mormons who come to Palmyra, the pageant brings them to the spot where they believe Joseph Smith received the golden plates. For everyone else, the Hill Cumorah Pageant provides a window into Mormonism’s familial, communal and artistic spirit.”

Walter Kirn, “Confessions of an Ex-Mormon: A personal history of America’s most misunderstood religion,” The New Republic (July 2012)

  • My vote for the most touching and poignant column on Mormonism, Kirn offers an absolutely beautifully written memoir on his experience with Mormonism, arguing that its the religion’s humanity, not exotic beliefs, that shape the church.
  • “I sat on a bench regarding its Eastern face and the trumpeting gold angel on its main spire: Moroni, the being who directed Joseph Smith to the spot where the golden Book of Mormon lay buried. I was after something, I realized. A lift, a boost, a spiritual burning in the stomach. I?d never given up chasing that sensation. I tried to force things by praying with closed eyes?or not praying exactly, focusing my willingness. Nothing. The roar of big trucks on I-15, the pounding of my caffeinated pulse. Then I opened my eyes and saw something I?d missed: a simple carved symbol above the Temple?s entrance that other religions might not have thought to put there. It told a story, it summed it up in stone. My father?s story. A lot of mine. And, from what I knew, much of theirs?the Mormons. Nothing mysterious. Nothing cultish. Just a handshake.”

Caroline Winter, “How the Mormons Make Money,” Bloomberg Business Week (July 2012)

  • A touchstone for much discussion, this article is an in-depth look at the financial wing of the LDS Church.
  • “Watching a religious leader celebrate a mall may seem surreal, but City Creek reflects the spirit of enterprise that animates modern-day Mormonism. The mall is part of a sprawling church-owned corporate empire that the Mormon leadership says is helping spread its message, increasing economic self-reliance, and building the Kingdom of God on earth.”

McKay Coppins, “Polygamists See Themselves in Romney, Obama Family Trees,” Buzzfeed (August 2012)

  • McKay visits polygamous communities in Utah while explaining the fascinating coincidence that both presidential candidates have polygamous heritage.
  • “More than ever before in U.S. history, polygamists view this year as an opportunity to convince the American public that they have something to offer the world ? and they’re pointing to the presidential election as Exhibit A. Call it the polygamist moment.”

Edward Blum and Paul Harvey, “How (George) Romney Championed Civil Rights and Challenged his Church,” Atlantic (August 2012)

  • Blum and Harvey, authors of a foundational new book on race, religion, and politics, look at what has changed in civil rights, Mormonism, and the Republican Party between George’s and Mitt’s presidential campaigns.
  • “In order to stand alongside leaders like Martin Luther King, George Romney had to weave his way through the intricate mazes of race, religion, civil rights, and church leadership issues. Should he choose to follow his father’s lead, Mitt Romney’s path would seem to be much smoother. But the Republican Party has itself shifted so far to the right that the landscape has changed. Historic barriers have been lifted, but with such sharp divides within politics itself, common ground seems more elusive than ever.”

Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Mormon Women Seeking Middle Ground to Greater Equality,” Salt Lake Tribune (August 2012)

  • Though not tethered to Romney’s run, this catches the growing spirit of middle-way feminism in Mormon culture. Written by the legendary Stack, and drawing from top voices in Mormon women’s studies, it touches on many of the salient issues in Mormonism and gender–a topic remarkably absent in much of the Mormon moment.
  • “They are not pushing for ordination, but they crave a more engaged and visible role for women in the Utah-based LDS Church. It is a role, they believe, their Mormon foremothers played ? and one that could fit easily into the institutional structure without distorting or dismantling doctrine.”

John G. Turner, “Why Racism is Still a Problem for Mormonism,” New York Times (August 2012)

  • After contextualizing Mormonism’s racist past, Turner (rightly, I think) shows that ignoring and moving on from the problem is not enough.
  • “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.”

Taylor Petrey, “Mormonism and the Christianity Police,” Peculiar People (September 2012)

  • As always, the question of whether Mormonism is Christian popped up its ugly head. Here, Petrey expertly shows that the very way the question is framed displays an amnesia over the title’s ambiguous history and demonstrates a presumptive authority of religious power.
  • “Definitions of Christianity that seek to portray its essence are arguments about what that essences should be, not objective descriptions of fact.  They assume the very thing they are trying to prove.  Such definitions are rhetorical and ideological, producing similarities between themselves and what they see as authentic Christianity, and downplaying the differences.  Those that represent the boundaries as natural and fixed also represent themselves as atemporal, outside of the tumults of time and space.  But we know that such definitions fail the test of time.”

Kristine Haglund, “Why Mormon Men Love ‘Church Ball’ and are Scared of Homosexuality,” Religion and Politics (September 2012)

  • Kristine, with her typical brilliance, shows the tenuous cultural line of masculinity that defines much of our gendered experience.
  • “The performance of Mormon masculinity is a difficult balancing act, a tightrope walk between poles established by a brutish, hyper-masculine ?natural man? and an effeminate gay man. It is perhaps unsurprising that Mormon patriarchs?as well as Mormon men running for high elected office?wobble from their carefully constructed equilibrium when buffeted by the cultural winds of feminism and the gay rights movement.”

Andrea Radke-Moss, “Pragmatism and Progress: An Overview of LDS Sister Missionary Service in the Twentieth Century,” Juvenile Instructor (October 2012)

  • The wake of new changes in missionary ages brought many reflections on the progress of gender relation within the work. Andrea’s stands out for expertly showing the historical precedent for this progress.
  • “The age change puts missionary service for young women squarely along their road maps of major life milestones, even privileging ?Mission? as a desirable step toward life preparation.  Young women will have more opportunities for lessons about companionship, effective communication, conflict resolution, problem-solving, public speaking, more intense gospel study, doctrinal preparation, church governance, and leadership.  As with previous historical episodes, even if there is a pragmatic motive behind the Church?s policy change, in this case, the pragmatism comes with a great leap forward.  The implications are endless, and I eagerly await their full exploration.”

Seth Perry, “What’ve We Learned?” Peculiar People (October 2012)

  • In the waning moments of the Mormon coverage, Seth offers some important and incisive lessons.
  • “That, then, may be the most surprising consequence of Mitt Romney?s campaign: by forcing those most devoted to religion?s place in politics to make a decision between ?values? and ?faith,? he may succeed in making the religious element matter a bit less for everyone.”

Matthew Bowman, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Complexities of Mormon Political Theology,” Political Theology (October 2012)

  • A fitting conclusion to many of the coverage that tried to tether Romney’s theology to his politics, Bowman makes the necessary point that both “religion” is often too messy to be compartmentalised so easy, especially in a dynamic faith like Mormonism.
  • “Spencer W. Kimball, in short, had no coherent political position. He would alternatively inspire and horrify today?s progressives, and prove an inconsistent and frustrating ally to the American right.  And this is as it should be.  Mormonism is not so simple as a quirky version of American conservatism, and both Mormons themselves and their fellow Americans would do well to notice.”

Joanna Brooks, “Seen Andrew Sullivan’s Expose-Style Footage of the LDS Temple? Now Read this,” Religion Disptaches (November 2012)

  • Perhaps the most unfortunate occurrence in the “moment” was the LDS temple video going viral on youtube. Here, Joanna not only explains why this is disrespectful, but also offers a helpful framework to understand why so many Mormons find the Temple a powerful experience.
  • “What are you seeing when you see those videos of LDS temple ceremonies? Simply put, LDS temple worship is a high religious ritual that includes standard elements of ritual used in other faith traditions, including ritual dress, symbol, gesture, morality play, and sacred boundaries. What makes the LDS temple ceremony seem so unfamiliar is that high religious ritual held private or secret has disappeared from most modern faith traditions?exceptions here being Native American traditions (especially Puebloan kiva ceremonies, also held in privacy) and the Ismaili sect of Islam (with millions of members worldwide).”

Patrick Mason, “Why Romney’s Loss is Good for Mormonism,” Peculiar People (November 2012)

  • Mason expertly explains why Mormonism is always its best, and most powerful, when found on the margins of the body politic.
  • “Beyond the daily walk of individual Latter-day Saints, Romney?s loss also has salutary effects for the institutional church.  Because Romney is not in the White House, the LDS Church will be able to continue to weigh in on public issues of vital importance to it.  Had Mitt Romney occupied the Oval Office, the White House and the Church Office Building would have cut off virtually all contact, for fear that either the president or the prophet would be accused of theocratic ambitions.  As it is, however, the church can maintain its legal and appropriate lobbying efforts in Washington just like every other church and special interest in America does.  Ironically, a Romney administration would have had the effect of decreasing the political influence of the LDS Church.”

Terryl Givens, “How Mormons became American,” Religion and Politics (November 2012)

  • Givens explains how Mormonism’s move from the periphery to the center of American culture coincided with America’s cultural emphasis moving from the center to the periphery–an irony that keeps Mormonism at arm’s length.
  • “The meaning of this new role, however, is especially dubious in today?s intellectual and political climate (not to mention in a world that now has more Mormons in foreign countries than in America). It is now because Mormons occupy what used to be the center that they fall into contempt. The embrace of ultraconservative values, not their flagrant rejection, is now construed as the source of Mormon perfidy.”

Joanna Brooks, “The Speech Mitt Romney Never Gave,” Religion Dispatches (November 2012)

  • Romney, for understandable reasons, never made his Mormonism a big issue. But if he had, Brooks offers what a powerful message his Mormonism could have been.
  • My faith has taught me that big dreams require sacrifice and hard work, and that we have miles yet to travel before we achieve a place where all can enjoy security, liberty, and well-being. But this is not particular to Mormonism. This is an American article of faith, held by people of all religious backgrounds, and of no religious affiliation at all. It?s this faith that we hold in common that I will uphold as president.”

McKay Coppins, “A Mormon Reporter on the Romney Bus: How America got used to his religion, and mine,” Buzzfeed (November 2012)

  • McKay has been one of the top beat reporters following Romney, and his insights into Romney’s faith has been in a league of their own. In this recap after the election, he looks at the big picture of how Romney’s religion became normalized.
  • “As we neared election day, it became increasingly clear to me that Mormonism was being woven into the social fabric of the political class. Pool reporters began to see trips to church with Romney less as a tantalizing peak into the candidate’s strange religion, and more in the way Mormons sometimes view it: a dull chore to be fulfilled out of obligation.”

Article filed under Current Events


  1. Stellar list, Ben. I agree about the Kirn essay. It was really fantastic stuff.

    Comment by Aaron R. — November 14, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

  2. Ben,

    Thanks for this list.

    Let me add one more, by Mr. Ben Park.

    Comment by Max — November 14, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

  3. Wow — someone put a lot of time into assembling this post. Thanks for the effort and the list.

    Comment by Dave — November 14, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

  4. Wow, a great list and a lot of work compiling it. (I agree with Aaron R. as to my favorite.)

    Comment by Kevin Barney — November 14, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

  5. This is a great resource Ben, thanks for taking the time to put it together.

    One final step to make this authoritative: can you give one of them an award for being the best? Maybe after an opaque voting process?

    Comment by Kyle M — November 14, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

  6. Thanks, all. I’ve updated the list with pieces from Clayton Christensen, Steve Evans, Paul Reeve, and another from Max Mueller.

    Kyle: great question. I would vote Kirn’s “Confessions of an Ex-Mormon” as the best, but there are a few others that stand out, especially Matt Bowman’s articles on correlation and progressivism.

    Comment by Ben P — November 14, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

  7. And thanks, Max, for linking to my R&P column. I didn’t want to be so solipsistic as to include my own work in the list, but I do want them on record, so maybe I’ll just link some of my favorite here:

    Obviously Christian,” Patheos (July 2011)

    The Perils of an Open Cannon,” Patheos (March 2012)

    Mitt Romney, Mormonism, and the Tensions of an ‘American Religion,'” Peculiar People (March 2012)

    Mormon Patriotism and the Cultural Reading of Scripture,” Peculiar People (May 2012)

    Why do Mormons Love the Fourth of July So Much?” Religion and Politics (July 2012)

    Comment by Ben P — November 14, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

  8. Quotes from Mason and Fluhman notwithstanding, here is evidence that the Mormon Moment is truly over:

    JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (MDN) ? A 182 year history in Missouri has not always been kind to Mormons, but the Show-Me State elected a Ladder Day Saint to lead the free world this year.

    One wag has suggested that Lowes and Home Depot should adopt this as a marketing campaign.

    Comment by Last Lemming — November 14, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

  9. I wouldn’t have thought one would need more than a few lines to enumerate the perils of an open cannon 😉

    Comment by Kristine — November 14, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

  10. Thanks for putting this together, Ben. There’s been a lot of great stuff, and I’m happy to see so many friends step into the spotlight this year and provide intelligent and thoughtful analyses of Mormonism. Hopefully the articles you’ve listed here outlast in memory and influence some of the, uh, less-than-good pieces on Mormonism over the last year.

    Comment by Christopher — November 14, 2012 @ 10:39 pm

  11. Thanks for the list, Ben.

    Comment by Saskia — November 15, 2012 @ 6:58 am

  12. I’d also include Kathleen Flake’s essay in “Christian Century”

    Comment by david — November 19, 2012 @ 10:22 am

  13. Great addition, david! Can’t believe I forgot that one.

    Comment by Ben P — November 19, 2012 @ 10:38 am

  14. Wow, Ben, this is fantastic — thanks so much!

    Comment by Tom S. — November 29, 2012 @ 9:13 pm


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