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Mormon Throwdown: Harry Reid Goes Mano-a-Mano with Mitt Romney

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been attacking fellow Mormon Mitt Romney for months on multiple political fronts, most especially regarding his taxes. Reid insinuated repeatedly that Romney had failed to release more than a smattering of his income tax returns because Romney was trying to hide the fact that he had not paid income taxes at all--a revelation that would be particularly embarrassing given Romney's videotaped remarks condemning "the 47 percent" of Americans he claimed paid no income taxes and felt they were entitled to housing and health care.

On Friday, Romney finally released more tax returns. They're bad but not damning: through the last few years Romney has paid 13 or 14 percent of his income in taxes. That demonstrates clearly how the tax laws in this country are skewed to favor the rich (more egregiously in some states than in others), and it also raises questions about how Romney might have shielded his Cayman Islands account and how much household help he's hired to run grand homes in three states. But it didn't show anything illegal.

Today, Reid turned to a different criticism: that Romney is "not the face of Mormonism."

Well, of course he isn't. (To wit, the aforementioned Cayman Islands account and the multiple mansions.) According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the context of Reid's comment was this:

Reid, a Mormon Democrat from Nevada, blasted Romney in a conference call for reporters over a litany of things the Republican nominee has said recently. And Reid added that Latter-day Saints aren’t buying Romney’s rhetoric.


"He’s coming to a state where there are a lot of members of the LDS Church," Reid said in advance of Romney’s Friday visit to Nevada. "They understand that he is not the face of Mormonism."

I think that what Reid may have been driving at was the gist of Greg Prince's excellent Huffington Post piece from last week. Greg wrote that for him, Romney's 47 percent comment was the last straw: although he had supported Romney's gubernatorial campaign and his 2008 bid for the presidency, he could do so no longer. For Greg, Mormonism is not about throwing the poor under the bus.

I completely agree with this. "The very basis of Mormon community, stretching back to the earliest years of Mormonism nearly two centuries ago, is that the more able have a sacred obligation to assist the less able," Greg writes, pointing to the Church Welfare System as an example of  Mormonism in practice. I'd also add, as this passionate Patheos blog post did last week, that the Book of Mormon is unequivocal in its insistence that a society succeeds or fails on the basis of how it treats the poor -- and that our very salvation is related to how well we heed that call.

But there is not just one face to Mormonism. I fear that Mitt Romney represents another side, one that has always celebrated wealth and success, often in ways that make me uneasy. Right now I'm reading John Turner's new biography of Brigham Young (which is outstanding so far, BTW, but that's a topic for another day), and it's clear from late-nineteenth-century Mormonism that our communitarian impulses to help the poor and share the load have often been counterbalanced by an acquisitiveness that has perennially equated financial prosperity with spiritual blessing.

In other words, as much as I'd sometimes like to reject the notion that Mitt Romney speaks for my religion, I have to acknowledge that he represents one face of it. It's not a face I'm particularly proud of, but it is still a Mormon face.

Let's remember, when we're calling each other to repentance, that there are many, many Mormon faces. If anything good comes from this year's bitter electioneering, it might just be that such notions of a Mormon monolith disappear forever.


The two images (the elephant and donkey and the election image) are used with permission of

Topics: Politics, Election, Government & Politics
Beliefs: Mormon
Tags: "not the face of mormonism", flunking sainthood, gina colvin, greg prince mitt romney, harry reid and mitt romney, jana riess, john turner brigham young, mitt romney tax returns, salt lake tribune


  1. Yes, interdependence is a higher value than independence, but independence _precedes_ interdependence. The difference between the communitarianism of early Mormonism and that of Barack Obama (note that I do not say “the Democrats”) is that the principles of the former can only be realized in a community of mostly self-sufficient individuals and families, who then voluntarily pool their collective resources and labor to create an interdependent society that protects those for whom self-sufficiency is impossible. This cannot be achieved by encouraging those who have less to rely on Big Daddy Government to support them through forcible redistribution of the resources of those who have more.

    Principles of self-sufficiency may be (and are, unfortunately) distorted to justify unfettered acquisitiveness; likewise, communitarian values are distorted to justify dependence, which is simply another kind of acquisitiveness. Or as Joseph Smith said in D&C 56:16-17: “Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor….Wo unto you poor men…whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods…and who will not labor with your own hands.”

  2. “THE single most powerful figure—not merely in these two millenniums but in all human history—has been Jesus of Nazareth,” said Time magazine. When Jesus was on earth, thousands of honesthearted people recognized, not just his greatness, but his concern for others. Hence, it comes as no surprise that they wanted to make him king. (John 6:10, 14, 15)  Jesus declined to get involved in politics
    JESUS’ response was based on at least three factors: his Father’s view of expressions of human self-determination, which include human rule; Jesus’ awareness that there are powerful, hidden forces working against even the best human efforts at rulership; and God’s purpose to establish a heavenly government to rule over the entire earth.
    When God created humans, he gave them authority over the animal kingdom. (Genesis 1:26) But humankind was under God’s sovereignty. The first man and woman were to confirm their submission to God by obediently abstaining from the fruit of one particular tree, “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.” (Genesis 2:17) Sadly, Adam and Eve abused their free moral agency and disobeyed God. Taking the forbidden fruit was not simply an act of theft. It constituted rebellion against God’s sovereignty. A footnote to Genesis 2:17 in The New Jerusalem Bible states that Adam and Eve laid claim “to complete moral independence by which man refuses to recognise his status as a created being . . . The first sin was an attack on God’s sovereignty.”
    Because of the serious moral issues involved, God allowed Adam and Eve and their descendants to choose their own way of life, and they established their own standards of right and wrong. (Psalm 147:19, 20; Romans 2:14) In essence, the human experiment with self-determination then began. Has it been
    successful? With the advantage of thousands of years of hindsight, we can say no! Ecclesiastes 8:9 states: “Man has dominated man to his injury.” This lamentable record of human self-rule confirms the truthfulness of Jeremiah 10:23: “I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” History has proved that humans do not have the capacity to rule successfully without their Creator
    Jesus fully concurred. Independence from God was anathema to him. “I do nothing of my own initiative,” he said. “I always do the things pleasing to [God].” (John 4:34; 8:28, 29) Hence, with no divine authorization to receive kingship from humans, Jesus did not even consider accepting it. This does not mean, however, that he was reluctant to help his fellowman. On the contrary, he did all in his power to assist people to find the greatest happiness then and in the future. He even gave his life for mankind. (Matthew 5:3-11; 7:24-27; John 3:16) But Jesus knew that “for everything there is an appointed time,” including God’s time to assert his sovereignty over mankind. (Ecclesiastes 3:1; Matthew 24:14, 21, 22, 36-39) Recall, though, that in Eden our original parents submitted to the will of a wicked spirit creature who spoke through a visible serpent. This brings us to a second reason why Jesus kept out of politics

  3. Jana, you are just inviting another hand of Mormon poker. “I’ll see your ‘Paul’ and raise you ‘Joseph Smith’...” The scriptures are clear that we must support the poor. They are also clear that we need to work for ourselves (see Tusco’s point above). It is dangerous to mix religion and politics. Your religion most certainly can, and should, inform your stance. But to justify your politics with your religion is just plain wrong.

    I do not think that Mitt Romney’s “face of Mormonism” is a particularly bad one. He gives a lot of his money away to charity (indeed, to organizations other than the LDS Church at a RATE, not amount, higher than the current Vice President—a Catholic, which tradition is big on social justice), he has done very kind things, moving things, for others in his past, including those outside the church. (I stress the donations and service outside the church because I have read comments from you and others where you attack him as only serving in the church, and only there because it was his duty—a very flawed argument that I will leave for rebuttal another time.)

    So, why aren’t you proud of his ‘face or Mormonism’? I am less proud of Harry Reid’s constant, and baseless, accusations and slander of others. Mitt Romney walks the walk of communitarian ideals. He just may not share your view of the government’s role. And where has Romney ever shown he believes in the ‘prosperity gospel’? The only thing I have ever heard even remotely related is that he feels he has been blessed in his life with financial security—just another way of saying he feels grateful for it. Why is it bad to feel blessed of God to be financially well off? Moreover, what Mormons do you know who “equate[] financial prosperity with spiritual blessing”?

    You project and assume—judge the hearts of others—WAY to much.

  4. “If anything good comes from this year’s bitter electioneering, it might just be that such notions of a Mormon monolith disappear forever.”

    I think you do a lot to keep the notion of a “Mormon monolith” alive. Your blog post you linked about the LDS Church’s City Creek development project is a prime example.

    And a quick comment about that: the profits from the development will be taxed.The for-profit enterprise that oversaw the development must pay franchise taxes, like any other for-profit enterprise. That the parent is a non-profit is irrelevant.


  6. I don’t think that Brigham Young ever confused governmental programs with charity to our fellow man.  I find it disturbing that someone could justify the use of the force of government to compel her neighbor to give to the poor and call that charity.  We have a sacred responsibility to care for the poor and should do that through our own efforts by reaching out and through private volunteerism and donation.  While government may assist in some areas, the idea that we look to government to provide for this responsibility is indeed pathetic.

  7. Mitt Romney has not been campaigning to become “the face of Mormonism”.  He has not asked Americans to judge the Church based on how they like or dislike him. 

    When you talk about “acquisitiveness” in a pejorative way, are you refrring to any accumulation of wealth, like when my 401(k) increases in value on the stock market, or the value of my house increases on the market?  Is that evil?  The parable of the talents is not an endorsement of money lending and usury, but it is also not a condemnation of earning a return on investment.  If you earn something more than you had before because you worked for it, or you saved your income and invested it, do you consider that a morally questionable kind of “acquisitiveness”? 

    If an author like Stephanie Meyer makes loads of money from her books and sale of movie rights, is that “acquisitiveness”?  Is it wrong?  If a man makes money by guiding investos on the purchase of companies and then helping those companies reform so they become profitable, and given the investors a return above the market average, and the investors are pension funds that support hundreds of thousands of retired public school teachers, is that “acquisitiveness”?

    If Mitt Romney were only interested in “acquisition” he could have stayed on at Bain Capital and become a billionaire after another decade of investment growth.  Instead he retired and has been living off his accumulated wealth rather than increasing it exponentially as he could have. 

    Is three homes extravagant?  In my 60s now, a lot of people I work with have acquired at least a timeshare condo if not a vacation home of some kind.  (I have two houses because I got a new job in the middle of the recession and can’t sell my old house.)  Does the fact that the homes are “palatial” somehow hurt anyone?  Were they stolen from somebody?  Does the fact that he paid people to build them, and maintain them, people who would have LESS income if he had not done this, supposed to be held against him?  George Washington had a “palatial” home in his day.  The actual square footage of Mount Vernon is not that large compared to the million dollar homes in a lot of cities, with game rooms and swimming pools and big bathrooms and walk in closets.  Are we supposed to be angry that he didn’t make Martha live in a log cabin?  A number of presidents have had nice digs, like Teddy Roosevelt and his cousiin FDR.  Is there a moral principle involved here, or is it just envy?  People in Japan live with much smaller homes than most Americans.  At most, they might have a single car, due to the high cost of parking.  Are we all evil because we don’t reduce ourselves to the level of personal possessions of the people in Japan? 

    Does Romney’s generosity count for anything in your eyes?  Does his contribution to pay for half the milk consumed at a homeless shelter for hundreds of homeless veterans in Boston, anonymously for two years, affect your evaluation of him?  How about his willingness to devote hours of his personal time to aid people, even outside of church leadership callings?  When he goes with his son to spend hours at hard physical labor to help cut out the stump of a burned tree in the yard of a man whose home was affected by a wildfire in San Diego, does he get any credit in your eyes? 

    Do you think there is anything in the biography of Romney that might be included in a book of Mormons worth emulating in some aspect of their lives? 

  8. What passes for logic from well meaning but mislead Liberals always amazes me.

    Yes, Christ’s teachings require charity.  Ergo, the Democratic welfare state with its learned dependency is morally superior to the Conservative principles of self-reliance and earned success.  Wrong!

    And you think your podium authorizes you to define “the face of Mormonism”! 

    Actual Mormon doctrine includes these truths: self-reliance is a virtue, dependence o government is a vice, and what passes for a welfare program sponsored by the government is a “counterfeit” of the Lord’s welfare program.  But no one need accept my opinion.  Here is the face of Mormonism as pertains to these matters as defined by a Prophet:

    “First, may I remind bishops of the vital need to provide recipients of welfare assistance with the opportunity for work or service that thereby they may maintain their dignity and independence… We cannot be too often reminded that Church welfare assistance is spiritual at heart and that these spiritual roots would wither if we ever permitted anything like the philosophy of the dole to enter into our Welfare Services ministrations…

    May we be on guard against accepting worldly substitutes for the plan to care for his poor in this, the Lord’s own way. As we hear talk of governmental welfare reforms and its myriads of problems, let us remember the covenants we have made to bear one another’s burdens and to succor each according to his need. President Romney, our dean of Welfare Services, gave good counsel when several years ago he made this statement:

    “In this modern world plagued with counterfeits for the Lord’s plan, we must not be misled into supposing that we can discharge our obligations to the poor and the needy by shifting the responsibility to some governmental or other public agency. Only by voluntarily giving out of an abundant love for our neighbors can we develop that charity characterized by Mormon as ‘the pure love of Christ.’ (Moro. 7:47.)...

    No “ism” should confuse our thinking in these matters. As a reminder of Church policy regarding individuals receiving government or other forms of charity, may I emphasize the following declaration of principle:

    “The responsibility for each member’s spiritual, social, emotional, physical, or economic well-being rests first upon himself, second, upon his family, and third, upon the Church. Members of the Church are commanded by the Lord to be self-reliant and independent to the extent of their ability. (See D&C 78:13–14.)

    “No true Latter-day Saint, while physically or emotionally able, will voluntarily shift the burden of his own or his family’s well-being to someone else. So long as he can, under the inspiration of the Lord and with his own labors, he will work to the extent of his ability to supply himself and his family with the spiritual and temporal necessities of life. (See Gen. 3:19; 1 Tim. 5:8; and Philip. 2:12.)...

    Underlying this statement is the recurring theme of self-reliance. No amount of philosophizing, excuses, or rationalizing will ever change the fundamental need for self-reliance…”

    Becoming the Pure in Heart
    April 1978 General Conference

  9. As someone whose ancestors came over with Brigham and who has lived in Salt Lake City and Southern Idaho I can confirm Reid’s statement.  Pick it apart as you please it is still true.  I’m glad someone spelled it out, someone from the “inside”

  10. How can we as a Nation really get a comprehensive view of this multimillionaire if we are not shown at least eight years of income tax like all the other candidates. How is this man pulling the strings so he doesn’t have to give us the eight years of unadulterated tax returns? I am very concerned that this man Romney has not been at all transparent enough to be elected to the Presidency. He is still just to shady of a character to be going for this office. He is very scary. Paul Ryan is obviously a young republican politician who has demonstrated he will say anything, We have his nearly decade of tax returns which gives him more credibility right now than Romney even. We as a Nation need to see at least eight years of Mitt Romney’s taxes and he needs to defend his decisions to use tax havens much more responsibly than he has. Mitt Romney has seemed to take a stance of contempt for our Nations concerned citizens. .

  11. the hatred expressed here against the poor and the powerless and the self congratulatory excuses for self centered selfish entitlement we’ve seen before in 1835 when the US Supreme Court determined all first nations americans to be citizens and the president declared genocide and ethnic cleansing. Know Nothingism followed by the Civil War followed by US lynch law and terrorism through a third of the country. the fact is the USA has some of the world’s highest rates of death from treatable illness, low birth weight, infant mortality and maternal death. In California maternal death equals Afghanistan’s. The best predictor of income is parents’ income. That is true only in the USA of all first world nations and it has only been so since the turn of the century. It was not so when I was in high school when the USA led the world in economy, in freedom, in science, and in opportunity. THe USA has education falling behind all of Europe and behind even 3rd world countries. The USA has the worst health care in the first world and in fact it is behind much of the 3rd world. The USA is the only first world country where health costs cause bankruptcy and 90% of USA bankruptcies are due to health care.

    The USA is the only first world country where people die because they cannot pay for health care. 99% of felons in USA prisons were physically abused as children. Child abuse is due almost entirely to lack of training in parenting. Part of maternal medical care. The USA has an epidemic of child abuse except Vermont where all mothers are asked before leaving the hospital if they need help with mothering. It costs Vermont less than US$50,000 to ask that question. It saves them millions in health care costs.

    The attitudes expressed here against the poor are nothing but excuses not to do our civic duty as citizens. 800 of the top US corporations pay no taxes and all sectors of industry, pharmacy, health, prisons, transportation, carbon energy, agribusiness, communications, media, and private education depend for their profits on massive direct government subsidy: such as airplanes developed for DOD before they become airliners, communication satellites developed for DOD, weather and climate prediction based on DOD developed satellite. Michelle Bachmann pockets millions in farm aid.

    Those who pay no taxes in the USA are working families where everybody is working, disabled people, retired elderly people, soldiers in battle. This myth of dependency is hate speech. The single most important factor in USA economic growth in the 40s 50s 60s when income taxes for the wealthy were 90% was the USA government’s GI Bill which for the first time made college a possibility for poor people. AND you don’t remember how little that was: 50 or 100 dollars a month. Subsubsistence. Veterans had to work and go to school.

    The unmitigated self justified selfish self centered you seem to relish is contrary to christianity protestant evangelical pentecostal catholic orthodox: read st paul on that. Against islam. against Torah. against the precepts of Buddhism. against sufism, or hassidism or vedanta. against the religions of the Fist Nations. None of the holy books gives rights to the rich. All the holy books give rights to the poor.

    Helping poor kids eat is not dependency: the USA has the highest rates in the First World of child hunger. If Wall Street had not taken away in its greed the millions of jobs,  800 thousands in one month, almost a million jobs a month starting in 2008. In the USA’s largest conspiracy of fraud in its history. Between 2000 and 2008 the USA lost jobs and average incomes declined so now denying working families food stamps to feed the offshore accounts of the 0.1% and their immeasurable greed is nothing less than sinful.

  12. Is wealth infinite? Can everyone be well off? Maybe ones wealth leads to another’s poverty.

  13. My wife’s best friend is a Mormon and her father was a Mormon Bishop, her family are all devout Mormons. Neither she or her family are voting for Romney. They have serious concerns about him one of the major ones is the fact Romney was a Bishop and has not in their opinion separated his Bishop life from his political life.

    They are uncomfortable with any religion even theirs having a Minister, Preacher, etc. in public office forcing their religious views on others. That was why she says the Mormons went out West in the first place to escape religious persecution and now they see that can happen now.

  14. Liberal contributions to the USA economy and individual personal freedoms: 40 hour work week, public education, civil rights, women’s suffrage, workman’s compensation for OJT injury, safe work conditions, clean drinking water, safe hospitals, safe medicines, safe toys, safe food, safe airplanes, safe cars, clean air, veterans care, the right to vote, the right to marry regardless of race religion ethnic background place of origin, the Internet, satellite communications, weather satellites, child labor laws, US Highway System [the Interstates], The Lincoln Tunnel, the weekend, summer vacation, public libraries, public universities, science research, nuclear research, medical research, modern medicine, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, small business support, small business loans, crop insurance, FDIC, the end of smallpox, the end of polio, college loans, Centers for Disease Control, Smithsonian, rural electric, national electric grid, GMC and Chrysler, desegregation of the military, equal pay for working mothers, public parks, national park system, safe homes, safe office buildings, tornado warnings,

  15. Every single advance in the USA economy and in individual personal rights has been legislated by Liberals and Progressives with Conservatives fighting each and every one. The Republican Party had increased the size and cost of government in Every Republican administration since WWII. Every Republican administration has greatly increased the USA deficit.  Under Clinton and under Obama the size of government decreased. Clinton gave GW Bush a surplus. A growing economy increasing jobs and reducing economic differences between social groups. Between 2000 and 2008 the surplus was turned into the biggest deficit ever and an 8 year decline in jobs and incomes for working families.

    When Democrats ran the country there were better economies, more economic growth, more jobs, better jobs. Those are the proven facts in numbers. Do the arithmetic.

  16. I used to be a Mormon. The Book of Mormon teaches what is called the Prosperity Cycle. When people live according to God’s commandments, they prosper materially. Then, when they become rich, they turn from the Lord and fall into decline and suffer at the hands of their enemies.

    There’s a lot of pressure within Mormonism to at least appear righteous. So, if the blessings of wealth are a sign of righteousness, they work to acquire the trappings of wealth. “See, I have nice things, so the Lord is rewarding me.” And Mormons tend to venerate successful people more than those who live modest lives by choice.

    The flip side of this is the belief (which is more cultural than doctrinal) is that poor people are poor because they’re unrighteous. This mirrors Romney’s statements about the poor being lazy. The LDS church believes the way to help poor people is to convert them and set them on the path of righteousness. Material help? Not so much. Sure, they’ll sometimes rush supplies to disaster areas, and they’ll give a little financial assistance to members in good standing (while those who don’t meet the church’s standards are usually told to get right with God before any aid will be given), but, generally, the church believes that material assistance makes people dependent.

  17. @Al:

    In response to your first point: Neither the Book of Mormon nor the LDS Church teach a prosperity gospel. The Book of Mormon does discuss how the society thrives during times of righteousness and falls during times of wickedness. It doesn’t say the society is rich because of righteousness. Rather, because they are righteous, there are “no poor among them.” Elaborating on that, the Book of Mormon describes how they took care of one another, and there was no disputations among them, leading to peace in the land. Peace is absolutely necessary for prosperity—objectively speaking. The Book of Mormon also teaches, as the bible does, that a prosperous, even wealthy, people can easily turn to pride and fall.

    Your second paragraph is just silly. I have never met anyone in my life who believes that wealth is a reward for being righteous. Moreover, the Book of Mormon specifically warns against “wearing costly apparel”, i.e., using your wealth as evidence of your righteousness.

    With respect to your last paragraph, I can speak from personal experience, from pretty much every conceivable point of view, that is certainly not the case. You do not need to be active. You do not need to even be a member. Moreover, the LDS Church and its members do not believe that becoming a member of the church will mean financial security and prosperity.

  18. ISA, learn to check your stats. you said “California maternal death equals Afghanistan’s.” however Afghanistan’s 2010 rate was 460 per 100,000 and California’s has nearly tripled to 17 per 100,000. California and Afghanistan’s rates for maternal deaths are NOT equal.
    And where is all this hate against poor people? I did not read any hate. In fact if everyone blessed as many poor peoples lives as Mitt Romney has, we would not need any government programs.
    Conservatives tend to want people to help people and many of us do. Liberals tend to want the governmentnt to take care of it. Conservatives give more of their charitable donations to churches and food banks whereas liberals tend to give more to the arts and universities. (I see many tax returns!!!!)
    And talk to a tax preparer, a tax lawyer or CPA. Romney is retired and has almost no earned income. His income is from capital gains which Congress deemed to be taxed at 15%. So with any itemized deductions at all, his tax rate has to be slightly less than 15%. Dah! Do the math. This is not sinful, it is the law. Don’t like it, get it changed. Liberals voted for it, too!
    I do agree that this country owes a thanks for certain very good things liberals have provided. But I refuse to thank them for extending racial segregation for an extra 100 years and fighting school and military integration at every turn. It took President Eisenhower to pass a integration bill with teeth in it and his use of the 101 Airborne to escort black children to school over the screaming objections of liberal democrats.
    And what is this stuff about American children going hungry at high rates? If so their parents should be arrested for child neglect. Is there any state in the US where you can’t get food stamps or food for your children if your IQ is greater than room temperature? If they don’t qualify then the parents are even worse because they are spending the disqualifying income on items other than food for their children.
    Isa, you need to learn to be empathic and really listen and try to understand conservatives better than you have. Your rehtoric would really soften. Your mind would not be changed, i am certain. But you probably would soften. And please don’t quote stats you have not checked out!
    Citation for my stats: and

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