DAMON LINKER'S ARTICLE ABOUT Mitt Romney and Mormonism was unworthy of The New Republic's standards of journalism and ethics ("The Big Test," January 1-15). If Romney's religion is such a concern, why didn't Linker fret about its impact on Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader? Reid is an active and believing Mormon, but Linker failed even to mention his name or explain why far more than half of Senate Democrats voted to make him their leader. Religion is only dangerous in the hands of conservative Republicans, it seems. Linker is also dead wrong on Mormon doctrine. He claims that Mormons worship a finite God, which is patently untrue. The Book of Mormon describes God as "infinite and eternal" in numerous passages. Linker claims that Mormons believe God is arbitrary and not subject to any permanent or higher moral law. Yet, again, The Book of Mormon plainly teaches that God's nature is unchanging and the perfect embodiment of every moral virtue. Indeed, it teaches that, if God were to cease to be just, he would "cease to be God." Mormons can appeal to a higher moral law as much as adherents of any other faith. Finally, Linker portrays the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an all-powerful prophet with almost despotic powers and no checks against the abuse of his authority. This is a gross exaggeration. All major decisions taken by the president of the Church must be ratified unanimously by his two counselors and by the Quorum of Twelve Apostles--in other words, by 14 very practical and experienced men from different backgrounds and political persuasions. There are more checks and balances in this denomination than in most. But why let facts get in the way when Mormonism is the issue?
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LINKER ASSERTS THAT "Mormonism lacks the intellectual or spiritual resources to challenge a declaration of the prophet who runs the Church, regardless of how theologically or morally outrageous that declaration might be." Addressing the issue of Church members who might say they would follow their Church leaders even if they knew them to be wrong, Mormon Apostle Charles W. Penrose said, "[S]uch obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings." Linker says LDS doctrine would have us believe that "[e]verything we know-- or could ever know--about right and wrong comes entirely from divine commands communicated to humanity by prophets." Hardly. University of Richmond Professor Terryl Givens, author of By The Hand of Mormon, notes the fundamental LDS doctrine that "revelation is the province of everyman" and that "concepts like revelation, prayer, inspiration" are available to all. Indeed, Givens explains, "The 'knowability' of all truth, the openness of mystery, the reality of personal revelation find vivid illustration within [The Book of Mormon] and invite reenactment outside it." Linker's essay needs a little additional research.
DAMON LINKER RESPONDS:
Crafting an adequate response to Pamela Hamblin's letter would require engaging in a fairly elaborate bit of Mormon prooftexting. Out of consideration for TNR's non-LDS readers, I'll limit myself to suggesting that Hamblin reread Joseph Smith's "King Follett Discourse" and the entry on "Natural Law" in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism for some evidence that Mormon theology is just a bit more unorthodox than she seems to believe. As for Hamblin's contention that, in my view, "[r]eligion is only dangerous in the hands of conservative Republicans," I unapologetically plead guilty, at least if we limit ourselves to the present moment in U.S. political history. It is, after all, the religious right that has injected piety into the nation's politics in recent years. Having done so, it now wishes to declare the religious views of candidates off-limits for public debate, discussion, and scrutiny. Sorry, but the right can't have it both ways. If believers want to keep their religious convictions private, I wholeheartedly encourage them to follow the lead of such Democrats as John F. Kennedy and Harry Reid in doing so. If, instead, they insist on bringing their faith with them into the public square, then they would be well-advised to drop their defensiveness and get used to reading articles like mine.
Maurice McBride would have us believe that non-Mormons need not worry about the LDS prophet who acts as "the mouthpiece of God on Earth" because every Mormon is his own prophet, receiving his own equally authoritative revelation directly from God. Suffice it to say that this does nothing to allay my concerns about the prospect of the United States electing a Mormon president.
These letters appeared in the February 19-26, 2007 issue of the magazine.