A home for flip-floppers

A few months ago this video (Part 1, 2) came out, showing Mitt Romney talking on a right-wing radio show in Iowa about Mormonism and abortion. Romney was once pro-choice when he was runing for office in Massachussetts but apparently had some kind of conversion to the pro-life position once he’d been elected governor. As a leading Republican presidential hopeful, he is trying to get the votes of the party’s religious conservatives and has emphasized his “family values” agenda.

I don’t really recommend watching this video unless you’re a real junkie — I found it incredibly tedious to listen to two right-wing blowhards arguing with each other. (I did enjoy the love-fest over Cleon Skousen, a far-right conspiracy theorist and Brigham Young University professor who is popular among Mormons and, apparently, non-Mormon conservative radio hosts alike.)

The radio host pushes Romney about how he could ever have been pro-choice, given the Mormon Church’s pro-life stance. Romney bristles at this and the two men spend a long commercial break arguing past each other. Romney has a couple of obvious weak points that he’s eager to shore up: First, he’s been tagged as a flip-flopper because of his changing views on abortion, gay rights, and other issues. Second, his candidacy is haunted by the problem that JFK faced and overcame, the public perception that a candidate from a non-Protestant, hierarchical religion would be beholden to his ecclesiastical leaders if elected and would essentially put the country under the country of Salt Lake City or the Vatican.

Romney spends a lot of time in this fracas defending the sincerity of his pro-life views, and he repeatedly gets the host to acknowledge that he had a pro-life record as governor. More surprising was how Romney went about his second task of assuring his audience of his independence from his church leadership. He declares that the Mormon Church has room for pro-life and pro-choice views, and that Mormons make a distinction between declaring something to be immoral and lobbying to make it illegal.

What’s strange about this is that the Mormon Church has the reputation for being uncompromising on issues like abortion. The radio host quotes a passage from the Church Handbook of Instructions, the church’s authoritative statement of administrative rules, to the effect that church members who have, perform, assist, or encourage abortions are subject to church discipline including excommunication. Church-run BYU fired a professor in the early ’90s for speaking at a pro-choice rally. And most Mormons hold pro-life views that they believe are mandated by their faith.

But Romney was more or less correct. There isn’t an official Mormon policy on the political issue of abortion, and plenty of individual pro-choice (but anti-abortion) Mormons get along fine in the church. In fact, some pro-life groups have criticized the Mormon position on abortion because the Handbook contemplates the moral permissibility of abortion in cases of rape, incest, and saving the life of the mother, while many hard-core abortion opponents declare there’s never a justification for murdering fetuses.

Romney ends the discussion by saying he doesn’t want to talk about Mormonism because he’s running for president and his religion is something personal for him, not something that should be a public issue. He sounds sincere when he says this, but also a bit anxious — you wonder if he’s tired of people marveling about exotic Mormon beliefs and practices like baptism for the dead, eternal progression, and holy underwear. Keeping his religion firmly in the private sphere is of course Romney’s way of reassuring voters that the Mormon hierarchy will be able to order him around if he becomes president. But he also has to be careful here — since his campaign strategy in the primaries depends on getting the religious right’s vote, Romney also has to assure voters that he will be influenced by God. The Evangelicals he’s courting want a theocracy, just not one that’s centered in Salt Lake City.

What I love about this episode is how it highlights the irony of Romney’s Mormonism as a political strength and liability. Since the 1890s, Mormonism has been quite concerned to define itself as a religion for the private sphere, rarely taking official positions on public issues. Still, most of the membership and nearly all of the hierarchy are pretty like-minded on a lot of things — there’s a reason you think of Mormons as reactionary Republicans — and the church can’t resist hinting broadly and working behind the scenes to influence political debate. So, for example, Mormons don’t believe it’s a sin per se for non-Mormons to drink alcohol — it’s a private issue and a commandment for Mormons, not for others. But it’s no mystery why Utah has some of the most restrictive liquor laws in the country.

I’d like to suggest that Mormonism is structured perfectly as a home base for political candidates because, when you get down to it, it has very few absolutely official doctrines. In the Catholic Church, there is a paper trail of official pronouncements dating back nearly two thousand years and a diffuse network of theologians and cannon lawyers who codify and interpret these pronouncements. By contrast, the Mormon Church has a small number of official pronouncements and no interpreters of any standing outside the official hierarchy. When you go looking for an official Mormon position on most topics, you’ll come up with a bunch of statements by church leaders that are generally in agreement but conflict in some way or other, none of them bearing any of the signs of a truly official doctrine.

In this environment, good Mormons are the ones who know how to take hints. So most Mormons are pro-life, even though there’s not an official church position about the political question of abortion legalization. And in a non-legalistic sense, these Mormons are right when they say the church is pro-life. But a political candidate can also be perfectly accurate in claiming that his politics won’t be constrained by an official church position on the matter. Mormonism was made for flip-floppers.

The problem is that the right-wing Protestant voters Romney is courting aren’t as good at taking hints. They like candidates who say that Jesus is their favorite political philosopher, not candidates who insist (as if it were 1960!) that their religion is a private matter. Romney’s defensiveness on this point may be his undoing.

72 responses to “A home for flip-floppers”

  1. standpipe says:

    They like candidates who say that Jesus is their favorite political philosopher

    How far can right-wing protestant voters push this category error? “Jesus is my favorite chef”?

  2. Bryan says:

    Jesus used to be my favorite car-key finder. Well, to be theologically correct, it was his father who’d help out with that little request. We just asked in Jesus’ name.

    I never put much stock in those clapper things that helped you find your lost keys.

  3. Dave says:

    “Jesus is my favorite everything!!!1!” is the correct answer.

    Standpipe is my favorite Judeo-Christian deity.

  4. Rachel says:

    The church has not shied away from funding political causes it believes in, especially not recently. Does anyone know if the LDS church is explicitly endorsing Romney’s campaign, and if so, is it funding it, too? Just curious. Many practicing Mormons I know think it’s their religious duty to vote for Romney. Me, I’d prefer that our Commander-In-Chief NOT believe he literally wields the power of God on earth.

  5. standpipe says:

    When I come again in glory, Dave will be seated at my right hand, IYKWIM.

  6. Mark says:

    I think changing your view on a sensitive topic such as abortion is perfectly normal…as long as you’re not a politician about to run for POTUS.

    Funny how being pro-choice might help you to get votes in Mass, but then changing your mind when courting the majority of the country. A timely deathbed conversion indeed.

    And if anybody is offended by this opinion, I’m thinking of changing it tomorrow.

  7. Bryan says:

    Rachel — I thought I saw a piece out there somewhere about Romney turning off some Mormon voters both by saying polygamy was disgusting (even a lot of mainstream Mormons would be offended by that, since it disses their ancestors and violates what some take to be theological necessity in the afterlife) and by flip-flopping. Most of them probably didn’t realize he ran on a pro-choice, (semi-)pro-gay platform while running for office in MA.

    Dave may be right that there are ideological loopholes in Mormon history and theology that make flip-flopping easy, but at the same time I think a lot of Mormons would simply want an honest, straightforward candidate who stuck to convictions.

    Then again, Utah is, as Dave reminded us in a past post, the last outpost of really strong Bush supporters in the country.

  8. Dave says:

    The Mormon Church would never endorse a candidate for a number of reasons, not least because it’s terrified of jeopardizing its tax-exempt status with the IRS. But it doesn’t need to endorse Romney — anyone who would be swayed by that endorsement is already a Romney supporter. For fun, check out this site that lets you search political contributions by zip code. I tried my parents’ neighborhood and nearly all the Romney contributions were from their ward members.

    I also think Romney is not as loony as the other major Republican candidates. Giuliani, for example, has hired as foreign-policy advisers a bunch of neocons who were too extreme to actually work for the Bush administration. McCain’s solution to any problem overseas is military force.

  9. Marleyfan says:

    And, as an participating Mormon, I’m not voting for Romney. Not only is he Republican, he comes across as being superficial.

    Obama’s my favorite Democrat (after Jesus- of course)

  10. Ruben Mancillas says:

    In a crude bit of realpolitik I am all for Romney in the primaries because I think he would be easier to defeat in the general election than Giulani. I might seriously vote for him in California’s open primary if he still has a shot and a suitable Democrat (read anyone) is in the lead. I also enjoy seeing the bigotry of religious right voters as they try to explain why they won’t vote for someone who ostensibly represents so much of what they claim to want in a candidate.

    Not to bring down the discourse but is Marie Osmond still on Dancing With The Stars due to a huge Mormon fan base voting for her? For those who pretend not to know, the contestants stay week by week based half on the judge’s scores and half on the votes from the viewers so a relatively bad dancer can stick around if he or she has enough of a motivated fan base calling or texting every week.

  11. Jeremy says:

    Great post, Dave (oops, sorry!). Actually, I was wondering: Did any of you see this article in The New Republic, about how even Mormons are getting annoyed by the “politcal games” Romney is playing with his explanations of his faith? (It even quotes Elbert, friend to many TGWers.)

  12. Jeremy says:

    Sorry, I haven’t gotten sick of that “great post” joke yet.

  13. Dave says:

    Great link, Jeremy!

    Elbert’s right. Mormons believe all kinds of things that sound crazy to other Christians — like the baptisms for the dead, eternal progression (the doctrine that the righteous will progress in the afterlife to the point of becoming gods and goddesses who create their own worlds), and holy underwear I mentioned in the post. But you don’t mention these things if you’re a Mormon missionary talking to someone interested in the church. I can definitely see hard-core Mormons getting upset by Romney’s soft-peddling, particularly those living in places like Utah where they don’t realize how peculiar some church teachings are and are not as likely to have to change the way they talk about the church to suit different audiences.

    The polygamy thing is interesting. Some Mormons believe polygamy will be mandatory in the afterlife for those who want to get in on the becoming-gods thing, and one reading of the relevant texts supports this view. But plenty of orthodox Mormons don’t believe this, and many are actually troubled by Mormonism’s past practice of polygamy. Romney seems to have made the calculation to side with the less-peculiar Mormons to try to win over as many non-Mormon voters as he can.

  14. stephanie wells says:

    It’s “soft-peddling”? Like a soft sell?

    I always thought it was “soft-pedaling,” like on a piano.

    I learn something on this site every day. I am so fascinated by (afeart of) this whole marriage of politics and religion (and that’s a STRAIGHT marriage, of course, like God intended). And I have to agree that Rachel’s “great post” comment was the feel-good laugh-out-loud comment of the year!

  15. Dave says:

    Steph, you are apparently correct. I typed “soft-pedaling” and rethought it, since the selling metaphor seemed more apt than the piano (or bicycle?) one.

  16. TC says:

    There is a lot of fascinating polling data about the Mormon factor. For example, in a poll from February 2007, 60% of adults said there was “no chance” they would vote for a Mormon for president. Here were the reasons they gave:

    Disagree with/uncomfortable with/dislike Mormonism…39%
    Don’t know enough about Mormons…12%
    Worry about influence of Mormon Church…11%
    Not true Christians…7%
    Multiple wives/polygamy…6%
    Too conservative…6%
    Too much like a cult…3%
    Prefer a specific non-Mormon candidate…2%
    Discriminate against minorities…1%
    Discriminate against women…1%
    No opinion…6%

    This suggests that the frequently cited thing about how they’re worried Salt Lake City will be running the country isn’t exactly the issue– or at least, it isn’t the terms in which respondents phrase their objection. I’m actually kind of surprised that people were generally willing to say “I dislike Mormons” (a statement that has a form that we usually frown upon as being offensive or “prejudiced”) instead of choosing the allegedly rational claim about church hierarchy.

    This poll is probably way out of date anyway, since I’m told that people always initially say that they would never vote for a candidate associated with a marginal group, but then later change their mind in large numbers once they have more exposure to the person.

    This other poll, from September 2007, compares perspectives on Islam and Mormonism. One of the most interesting parts is the report on “one-word impressions” of the religions. The top three positive words for Islam were “devout,” “peaceful,” and “dedicated.” For Mormonism, it was “family,” “dedicated,” and “devout.” The top neutral terms for both religions were “different” and “strict.” These correlations are amazing. The top negative words were, for Islam, “fanatic,” “radical,” and “terror”; and for Mormonism, “polygamy,” “bigamy,” and “cult.”

  17. Kate the Great says:

    I’m in the middle of reading about Darwin and Emily Bronte, but I must comment that even though I’m Mormon, I tend to float towards the Democrats in political issues. And I live in Utah.I try hard not to get eaten alive; living in a university setting helps.

    Anybody know of one site that states (in written, paragraph form) all the candidiates’ views on the important topics of the elections? I’m grossly uninformed.

  18. Kate the Great says:

    TC: That one percent who don’t like us because we discriminate against women makes me laugh. Have you seen how many women gather in one room for an hour every Sunday? And they’re all sorts of different women, too. Though it depends on where you poke your head in. In the university setting, we’re all married. But some of us are on birth control and some of us work full-time and some of us are stay-at home-moms and …

  19. TC says:

    Yeah, I think this 1% may be confusedly referring to, like, Warren Jeffs.

  20. Bryan says:

    #18 — why would gender-segregated meetings = pro-woman? just wondering. because there are lots of gender-segregated meetings where everyone’s male. and that’s where they make most of the big decisions. like should we give millions of dollars to anti-gay campaigns. (or the anti-ERA campaigns before that.)

  21. Bryan says:

    #19 — you’re right. they are confused. they should be referring to, like, this fellow.

  22. Beth W says:

    #9: Obama intrigues me. He’s very hopeful.

    #10: re: Marie Osmond I’d say very possible but she’s very entertaining. I thought Sara Evans was on a lot longer than deserved just because of country music fans.

    #18: Are women allowed to hold the same positions as men in the Mormon church?

    Did anyone see the pbs documentary on the Mormons? I watched it online. Quite interesting.

  23. cynthia says:

    Jeremy, Yes I saw the article and I totally agree. Great post by the way. Not sure about women in the mormon faith, I believe in certain donominations of Christian you can, but not all. I to am a Mormon, and I have not seen any women in the same positions but I could be wrong

  24. stephanie wells says:

    Beth: I think Bryan is actually IN that documentary–am I right, folks?

  25. Scotty says:

    It’s strange to me that Mormons proselytize as much as they do, because as I’ve gotten to know a bunch of you through this site, you all seem much more akin to secular Jews than the types of people that are so insistent on spreading the word. I’m sure that it has something to do with the value that each group – Mormons and Jews – gives education.

  26. ghost of mormon past says:

    i think there’s a picture of bryan holding a megaphone and shouting about academic freedom. it’s a bit part, to be sure. he probably wishes it hadn’t popped up to haunt him.

  27. ghost of mormon past says:

    and in response to scotty, i’m sure there’s something evangelical behind the impulse to hold a megaphone and shout about academic freedom. old habits die hard.

  28. Scotty says:

    The man is enthusiastic about some things…oysters come to mind.

  29. Bryan says:

    Once an evangelist, always an evangelist, I suppose. Now I just work to convert people to eating eggplant.

  30. Rachel says:

    It’s all about the baba ghanouj, baby.

  31. Bryan says:

    baba over baptism any day …

  32. Guenevere says:

    Speaking of ghosts from the past, is there a reason that you omit a certain university from your CV, Bryan? Is it because it would give rise to assumptions about you that are untrue? Is it because of some bias in academia that you are trying to avoid? Or just because that is so much a part of the past, not your remade Eastern self?

    Sorry if the question is too personal? I just find it interesting.

  33. I don’t want them to have any part of what I do, basically. I’ll give credit to individual teachers but not the institution. If I could have given back the degree I would have.

    Does that help?

  34. not your remade Eastern self

    also not sure what to make of that? it’s not like i entered a witness protection program or pulled a talented mr. ripley or something — i just grew up.

  35. Rachel says:

    Boy, what a can of worms this is. Bryan, I don’t think you’re being altogether fair. Deliberate self-fashioning is a great deal more complex than simply “growing up.”

    Whether we like it or not, we are products of place, time, and culture. I can move to a midwestern city, come out, and stop going to church, but that doesn’t change the fact that I grew up Mormon and closeted in rural New England. But my origins are not the sum of who I am or what I can become.

    You reinvented yourself as a New Yorker, with all the cultural heft that implies, and a certain type of New Yorker at that (“Bryan Waterman prefers life on the East Side below 14th Street”). For people who knew you way back when on the other side of the continent, it’s going to look like an adopted identity. Because it is. That doesn’t make it any less real, or change that it’s who you felt like you were all along. Believe me, I know!

    Not sure if this is what Guenevere meant, fwiw.

    (And I dropped my B.A. from my cv too.)

  36. I know a lot of people who dropped it for political reasons.

    Maybe “I grew up” was too glib. But the reality is I feel like I was called out for not being who or what I was when I was 21. The reality is, from 1989 to the present, I’ve lived on the east coast, with the exception of 2 1/2 year. This essentially means I spent the first half of my life in the intermountain west and the second half (almost) in the mid-Atlantic, New England, or New York. My point about growing up was to ask the question: where do you draw the line between getting older (which implies change) and the sort of radical transformation that “remade” implies.

    My identity as a New Yorker will always be the rube from the sticks who came to the city to make good. It’s an old story. Been going on here for a long time. But the “me” I am now was largely in place before I left Boston, for what it’s worth.

  37. actually, rachel, i’m not sure “Deliberate self-fashioning” describes my experience very well. who we are is probably only partly deliberate at any given moment in our lives. i’m also the product of a whole lot of contingency.

  38. Dave says:

    Rube from Boston moves to New York to make good. Sounds like the Red Sox fans I run into around here.

  39. New Yorkers have always thought of Bostonians as rubes.

    Actually, around the time of the Revolution there was a lot of chatter about which city — Boston, New York, Philly — offered the best social life for rich white folks.

  40. Missy says:

    wow. Guenevere’s question and the responses to it have my heart pounding. What about the you that edited the underground newspaper? The you that listened to reggae in your little house south of campus? The you that held the megaphone and went on to co-write a book that put that very moment in an historical context?

    I’ve been thinking about this recently, since one of our friends from That Place has a show premiering on Logo sometime soon, and her biographical materials completely omit her time there. Granted, she was a convert, and maybe that’s a tiny blip in her life, but it’s still where she went to college. Michael Warner has made his time at Oral Roberts part of his narrative, fwiw, and I think he dines out on that part of his life a lot.

    I have both my BA and my MA from That Place on my cv. It seems to me pretty political to be the out scholar I am, publishing queer things, with their name subtending it all. What’s political about erasing it? Doesn’t that make them win more? I also have to say that as much as That Place sucks, our college years–sticky, painful, amazing–are ours. I got a good, dirt cheap, if conservative, education there–I sure know my Keats, and Hopkins, and Milton because of it. I wouldn’t have been able to go to college otherwise, something I don’t take lightly. And while I was there I met people like you and learned to be the political person I am today, and I even had many moments of huge, choking, happiness there. Do you remember how blue the sky was? What the clouds looked like? What it felt like to be completely surrounded by mountains? (I know, kind of a metaphor for cultural suffocation, but also so glorious and big.)

  41. Guenevere says:

    I have to run off but I meant no offense by the comment remade Eastern self. I just read your blog and find a lot of your identity tied up in New York. That’s cool. I mean, I remade myself living on the East Coast, getting certain degrees, living in Europe. Of course [for me], I had to come home again because of my love of the desert.

    Lots to comment on. I will.

  42. Dave says:

    I think it’s a sufficient reason not to mention The University That Must Not Be Named that one doesn’t want one’s Mormon past to lead the conversation. I usually don’t mind talking about Mormonism, but often it would be an annoying or unnecessary conversational detour.

  43. Rachel says:

    If Michael Warner is still dining out on his Oral Roberts days, homeboy needs to MOVE ON. Shake the dust off, you know?

    Are you talking about Michelle? Five episodes of “Exes and Ohs” have already aired, and yes, she does list both BYU degrees in her website’s bio. If there’s someone else with a show on Logo, I’d be thrilled to hear about it!

  44. Missy says:

    Oh! Glad to hear it. I haven’t seen exes and ohs yet. I was going off her webpage from when her movie came out. Sorry for the bad/sloppy info and sorry for getting all “Jimmy, oh Jimmy” on your ass, Bryan. You don’t have to be a Saturday’s Warrior if you don’t want to.

  45. Bryan says:

    guen — thanks for the clarification. rach — thanks for keeping me honest. dave — thanks for covering my back. missy — thanks for making that earlier self sound like someone i’d like to know.

    i do know i wouldn’t trade the relationships formed in those trenches for anything, so i suppose i do owe the bastards that. i would trade out that half of my google profile, though. shouldn’t there be some sneaky software that allows you to go in there and eradicate references to yourself that you don’t want? maybe i should start a rumor that the other one, the cartoonist, was the one who went to That Place.

  46. Kate the Great says:

    #22: Kinda. The way we’ve got it organized makes sense to me, and let’s see if I can explain it clearly. Since women and men aren’t geared the same way, we also have different roles in the church. The men are given a very cut-and-dried role. Here, Brother blankety-blank. You be a counselor of the ward. (A counselor is like a vice-president on the meeting-house level leadership) You go to this set of meetings and conduct the meetings

    .His wife, most of the time, takes on a more unofficial role, but also much more complicated one. She organizes social events and pot lucks and other such things. She’s very much the social support for the whole ward: She attends to the sick (not just her kids) and is assigned certain women to look after and stand as their shoulder in case they need anything (like a ride to the hospital or an emergency babysitter or just a shoulder to cry on, depending on the relationship). The assignments are given by the Relief Society, aptly named, and that area is led and run by women.

    The leadership, as I hope you can see, is spelled out for the men because they need it to be that way.The women are their support, but only as much as they want to be. We joke that the women are the more spiritual and that men have to be assigned spirituality. The structure is a little old-fashioned, but it doesn’t mean it’s not effective.

  47. Kate the Great says:

    Clarification that my poor eyes didn’t pick up earlier: Every woman is given an assignment. Those assignments change periodically based on who moves in and out, but it’s a web of support branching from the women that follows the much more public web that the men have.

  48. Guenevere says:

    Now I can respond more fully

    1) Bryan as Mr Ripley just makes me want to giggle. So no, that is no what I meant.
    2) Rachel said exactly what I meant in # 35 (Thanks.)
    3) [threadjack] I’m kind of interested in the topic of what our ties to institutions say or mislead about us. I’m still an active Mormon, RS presidency no less, but when people find that our they heap assumptions on me that make me cringe. [Could I say Momon* i.e. loudly supports gay and immigrant rights, liberal, wears pants to church just for the scandal]

    But I could no less deny that part of my identity than stop breathing. Plus, it is just one part of who I am. I am also a lawyer, a mom, a wife, sister, an unrepentantly crude broad, a businesswoman, a cook, a world traveler, a friend, a graduate of state school, religious school, and ivy league. So, it’s weird to have that Mormon part of my identity dominate some people’s responses to me so much.

    And I was wondering if you just didn’t want all those assumptions on your C.V. {Just as poor MItt Romney doesn’t want them on his.]


  49. Guenevere says:

    Response to # 47

    “The leadership, as I hope you can see, is spelled out for the men because they need it to be that way.The women are their support, but only as much as they want to be. We joke that the women are the more spiritual and that men have to be assigned spirituality. The structure is a little old-fashioned, but it doesn’t mean it’s not effective.”

    Sorry,I don’t buy argument that women are spiritually superior so they don’t need the priesthood. Because what follows is women are spiritually superior so they can’t be in the decision-making roles, run things or be leaders of men. And that’s plain old Victorian thinking.

  50. Bryan says:

    And I was wondering if you just didn’t want all those assumptions on your C.V.

    nope. i figure anyone who googles me to find my cv will find the rest of my junk too. if they ask, i tell them about it. i just don’t want to have any public association with an institution so clearly in violation of basic principles of academic freedom. and one that made my life miserable for a good number of years.

    i do think my religious origins are not the most interesting thing about me, and i’m way past the point in my life where i want it dine out on it (or use it as grist at a cocktail party). i don’t find conversations about the church or its politics to be very interesting, but i do get upset when otherwise smart people (say, matt yglesias, for example) act like being a mormon is any weirder than being any other sort of devout religious believer or would qualify someone’s presidency to a degree that someone else’s biographical quirks wouldn’t. the idea of really religious people in the office of the presidency kind of scares me for the same reason it scared thomas jefferson. but hell, we don’t get to pick our perfect scenario. we should know that by now. and i’d be more terrified of a really devout evangelical christian than i would be of mitt romney, who i think is just kind of a sleazy guy smiley type, politician through and through. in my experience, mormons tend to be more even-keeled than really devout evangelicals or even fanatical catholics. frankly, i doubt if harry reid ran for president his mormonism would be that big of a deal. the right wing would hate him anyway and the left wing would suddenly become all pluralistic about it, whereas it suits their purposes now to make jokes about his funny underwear.

    longer comment than i wanted to make but oh well.

  51. Because what follows is women are spiritually superior so they can’t be in the decision-making roles, run things or be leaders of men. And that’s plain old Victorian thinking.

    And on top of that this line of thinking typically leads toward women needing to reign in their sexuality in order to prove how morally superior they are. My favorite essay to demolish this line of thought — and what a good New York essay it is, too — is Emma Goldman’s “The Tragedy of Woman’s Emancipation.”

  52. Dave says:

    Ha! A Mormon feminism discussion right here on our very own Great Whatsit!

    Beth, Mormons have a mostly lay church structure, with people rotating in and out of a large number of “callings,” as Kate points out. There are a number of callings that can be filled by either a man or a woman, but these are all low-level — teaching Sunday School and such. As far as leadership callings go, women can be leaders of three organizations within a congregation (or at higher levels, of groups of congregations or even of the church at large) — the women’s auxilliary, known as the Relief Society, and the organizations responsible for teaching and watching out for children (ages 0-12) and “young women” (ages 12-18). Every other leadership position in the church is reserved for men, as is the right to officiate over church sacraments (“ordinances”). Women do tremendous work within the church, helping other members and nonmembers and building strong communities. But they don’t get to make the ultimate decisions for the organization. They don’t have ultimate authority over budgets or facilities. They aren’t presumed to be in touch with God in the same way that male church authorities are.

    All this has been hashed out at mind-bending length in print publications and at dozens of Mormon blogs. But the short answer is, women have very little power in the Mormon church compared to men.

  53. “his” at the end of 51 s/b “Mitt’s.” just for the sake of clarity.

  54. Rachel says:

    #52: I don’t want to go all William Safire on your ass, but since Stephanie doesn’t seem to be around today….I think you mean “women needing to rein in their sexuality,” like they would pull the reins on a horse. Women reigning in their sexuality suits me just fine.

  55. Dave says:

    Okay, I’m posting this here so I won’t be tempted to do another Romney post. Andrew Sullivan excerpts a few letters from right-wing Evangelicals who don’t like Romney on theological grounds:

    I would have no trouble voting for a Catholic or a Jewish candidate, and would even consider voting for an atheist, but can and will never vote for someone whose ambitions include becoming god

  56. Rachel says:

    Funny, aren’t those the same people who voted for Bush The Decider?

  57. Dave says:

    Raining on their sexuality.

    The people in 56 are indeed the least rational segment of the electorate.

  58. 55 — thanks. obviously typing too fast today. when someone reins in your sexuality, do you whinny and champ at the bit?

  59. 56 — my point was that it would be easier to be a Mormon Democratic candidate. the right wingers would hate him for being a mormon and for being a democrat, so it wouldn’t really matter. the left would make the exception and back him.

  60. Dave says:

    I agree with your 60, Bryan. Although Harry Reid is too conservative to be a serious Democratic presidential candidate. (Only a 29% NARAL rating, for example.)

  61. Dave says:

    Oh, and to KTG’s 17: Try here for lots of stuff on where the candidates stand on various issues.

  62. ssw says:

    super cool links dave. you’re so in the know.

  63. Eleanor's Papa says:

    I like the juxtaposition of Missy-41 and Bryan–51. My question is who gets to decide the relative weight of the various pieces of our past that shape our current identity — ourselves, or our observers? At this point in my life, most folks don’t even know about my mormon past, or occasionally remember it as an entertaining gimmick. I probably give it a lot more weight; am i out of touch with myself?

  64. Beth W says:

    I missed so much while I was working!

    #24 I had no idea. Do they say his name? I’ve never met the other BW in person so I wouldn’t recognize a video.

    #53 Dave, thank you for the info. Did you hear the npr piece this morning about Romney and evangelicals?

    #47 Thank you Kate for sharing your experience. I admire how supportive your community is of its members. To be honest, I think it’s sexist to assign roles according to gender. Why not let people choose what they wish to do before telling them what their gender determines they are good at? For example, do men participate in the Relief Society? I know many men that are great babysitters, tenders to the ill and shoulders on which to cry. I also know women that are inspiring leaders for people of both genders. There are definitely biological differences between men and women. However, I worry that when societal roles are so definitively defined by gender it limits one’s imagination of what one is capable of doing and dampens potential for unexpected greatness.

  65. Kate the Great says:

    I can’t argue with you there, Beth. I can only clarify. (Thanks, Dave, for the clarification on the basics of the callings. I realized this morning that I forgot to mention the teaching callings and auxilary programs like Young Women and Primary) It does feel sexist, but I guess it’s just the way it works. As for choosing, the entire church is based on callings. Someone asks you to do a job, and you can accept it or reject it. You can choose not to do what they ask you to do if you really don’t like it. There are many men who are called to teach children in Primary, and men also get involved with the Young Men’s program, which often involves mentoring and babysitting. As for men who tend for the sick, their priesthood callings ask that they do that. Men are given assignments as well, called home teaching assignments, in which they’re assigned whole families to visit in their homes and teach. Those families, depending on the relationship, can also call on him in times of need, like sickness.

  66. Bryan says:

    66 — maybe that’s the way “it works” for some but certainly not everyone feels the same way. i didn’t want my daughters to grow up in that system, for instance. it didn’t work for my notion of equal opportunity. best–bw

  67. Rachel says:

    Yes, but according to Mormons, gender (and gender roles, and the gendered division of labor) is eternal. Please excuse the quotation of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” a 1995 statement that has been adopted as LDS doctrine. (I think it’s hateful and odious, but that’s just me.)

    “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. […]

    “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”

    So, that’s the family. The church hasn’t always been so cut-and-dried about positions of official authority, but for now it’s pretty straightforward who has power (men) and who doesn’t (women). Positions of service, teaching, and support are a little more equitable–a little.

    I don’t want to dwell on this Mormon thing too much, but I am not one of those people who thinks a candidate’s faith has nothing to do with how he or she will lead. It is very relevant to Romney’s candidacy, in my opinion.

  68. Kate the Great says:

    And it doesn’t work for everyone. I realize that. That’s why everyone’s not Mormon. Iits organization is not for everyone. I can’t say I’m fond of the slight sexist undertones, but it’s a human organization.

  69. Kate the Great says:

    But Rachel, just because they have authority doesn’t mean we don’t have power.

  70. LP says:

    66: Kate, you write that “It does feel sexist, but I guess it’s just the way it works.” A few years ago, you could have said, “It does feel racist, but I guess it’s just the way it works.” Neither is acceptable, IMO

  71. Beth W says:

    68: “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

    After I commented last night, I was still churning this over and thought about how souls obviously do not have a gender. I did not even imagine that Mormon doctrine would disagree. wow