Last week I taught 2 workshops at the ACM National student Conference rather facetiously named “Everything You Want To Know About Mormonism In An Election Year.” As a result of my research to teach and my discussions afterwards I now feel the need to write a little about Mormon history and theology and especially Mitt Romney‘s family’s part in it. Calling Romney a Mormon does not really tell us very much about him as an individual. I hope to give you a broad understanding of Romney’s background in Mormonism.
But first let’s start at the beginning.
1805 Joseph Smith Jr. is born.
1820: Smith now 15 years old, receives a “visitation” that initiates his work as Prophet. The LDS magazine “Ensign” says:
“This work began with the most remarkable manifestation when the Father and the Son appeared to the boy Joseph Smith on a Spring morning in the year 1820. All of the good we see in the Church today is the fruit of that remarkable visitation, a testimony of which has touched the hearts of millions in many lands.” (Ensign, Jan.2005, p.2)
This is now called the “First Vision” but there is no account of this experience by Smith before 20 years later in 1840. The details of this theophany varied as Smith recounted the vision. In one version he is almost overtaken by an evil power before two shining “personages” appeared and rescued him. These personages are presumed to be Jesus and God the Father who told him that all the churches existing were wrong and that their creeds were an “abomination.”
1823: Smith stated that an angel visited him. In Smith’s own words he received the angelic visitation to guide him to a special set of golden plates.
“He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni (originally Smith said the angel’s name was Nephi); that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness[sic] of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants; also that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates”. (Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, Liverpool: S.W. Richards, 1853)
Smith stated that the precise location of the golden plates was shown to him by Moroni. Other accounts by Smith were that a “personage” showed him the location and he told Henry Harris that the located the plates using his favorite “seer stone”.
1824: Smith goes to the location revealed to him on September 22nd and found a stone box with the gold plates inside. He was given specific instructions which he failed to follow so the plates were resealed and he was told to return one year later to the day.
1825-1826: To make a long story short Smith returned on September 22nd each year but was told to return in a year. Finally he was told he had one more try and then the plates would be held from him forever.
1827: Using a “seer stone” Smith receives a prophecy that Emma Hale was to marry him and then accompany him to the Hill Cumorah on September 22nd. He eloped with her over his father’s objections and they were wed early that year. She went with Smith, now her husband, to the fateful meeting and as she prayed he received the plates and hid them in a fallen tree near the hill.
According to Smith, the golden plates were:
“…six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Ancient Egyptian characters and bound together in a volume, as the leaves of a book with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction and much skill in the art of engraving.” (Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, Liverpool: S.W. Richards, 1853)
1828-1829: After getting funding from Martin Harris, Smith and Emma moved to Harmony Township, PA and began the work of translation of the golden plates. Smith translates the plates using seer stones and Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery record the translation without actually seeing the golden plates. (The first 116 pages are lost by Harris and Smith is told not to retranslate them but to replace them with the book of Lehi. Finally the translation is complete and witnessed to by Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Harris (8 other witnesses were added later).
1830: 5,000 copies of translation are published as a 588 page volume called The Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith, Jr. was listed as Author and Proprietor. Later that year Smith founds the church that would become the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
1837: Only seven years later in Romney’s great-great-grandparents Miles and Elizabeth Romney began studying with the first Mormon missionaries to England: Apostle Orson Hyde & Apostle Heber Kimball. Soon they joined the 7 year old religion and were baptized.
1841: Miles and Elizabeth and their five children set sail from Liverpool on the “Sheffield” headed for the Mormon city of Nauvoo, Illinois. Joseph Smith is not only head of the LDS church but also Mayor of the city, and head of the Militia of the 2nd largest in Illinois at that time. The day before their departure Miles Romney met Brigham Young, the man who would soon become the new President, Prophet, Revelator and Seer of this new American religion.
1843: Two years after arriving in Nauvoo Miles Park Romney is born to Miles and Elizabeth in Illinois.
1871: Miles Park Romney marries Hannah Hood Hill and Gaskell Romney was born in Utah.
1907: Gaskell Romney marries Anna Amelia Pratt and George Wilcken Romney is born in 1907 in Chihuahua, Mexico.
1947: George Romney marries Lenore LaFount and Williard Mitt Romney is born in Michigan.
Why this genealogy? I want to point out that Mitt Romney is not a casual member of the LDS religion. His maternal great-great-grandfather was Parley Pratt, a Mormon apostle who had twelve wives. His great-grandparents were polygamous Mormons who moved to Mexico because of U.S. anti-polygamy laws. Miles Park Romney had five wives—including one taken in 1897, more than six years after the “Manifesto” supposedly announcing a ban on plural marriage in the LDS Church. The historical evidence shows clearly that Miles was not an anomaly. LDS Church founder Joseph Smith had himself secretly practiced polygamy, and his successor Brigham Young led the way in making it a common practice in territorial Utah. Many Mormons, including Wilford Woodruff, the LDS Church President who issued the Manifesto, continued to take additional wives years after the Manifesto.
Romney’s father, George Romney, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, to monogamous parents, and moved with them back to the United States in 1912. George went on to become governor of Michigan (1963-69) and the head of HUD under Richard Nixon (1969-73). However, during his retirement years, George Romney held the offices of patriarch and regional representative of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the LDS Church.
Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is deeply ingrained. Oh, I don’t think Romney will reinstate polygamy but he served for two and a half years as a Mormon missionary in France (1966-68), during the last three months of which he functioned as mission president in Paris. Romney has acknowledged that his faith “became much deeper” as a result of his missionary experience.
But what did his faith becoming “much deeper” mean? What does his LDS religion really teach? Is it just another denomination? No it is not! In fact the tenets of Mormon theology have more in common with Hinduism than with Christianity.
The LDS religion with its temples, endowment buildings and its polytheistic theology is inconsistent with the beliefs and practices of biblical and orthodox Christianity. For example, Mormons are engaged in a massive project of trying to baptize their members on behalf of every non-Mormon who has ever lived in order to help “save” the deceased and provide them an opportunity to live in the highest heavenly kingdom. The LDS Church agrees with traditional Christianity on some facts about Jesus (such as that he lived a sinless life, died on the cross, and rose bodily from the grave), but also teaches radically unbiblical and untraditional notions about Jesus. For example, when Mormons affirm that Jesus is “the Son of God,” they mean that Jesus is the only human being who had an immortal Father of his physical body as well as a mortal mother. That is, the LDS Church teaches that Jesus is the literal physical offspring of God the Father.
While many people—even many Christians apparently—think Romney really has little interest in Mormon doctrine and genuinely sees his religion primarily in terms of moral and social values. For example, Mormon historian Matthew Bowman suggested in an article in New Republic in May 2011, “This was not an attempt to dodge issues of theology—rather, it simply reflected what Mitt Romney genuinely believes religion is.” If that is true why does any effort to provoke Romney into discussing his Mormon beliefs elicit denunciation from Mormons and non-Mormons alike?
Mike Huckabee asked Romney if Mormons didn’t believe that Jesus and the devil were brothers. The question drew scornful protests from Mormons and Christians — in the end Huckabee felt obliged to apologize to Romney. The fact is that in LDS theology, all human beings (including Jesus), all angels, all demons, and the spirit who eventually became the Devil himself, are all originally spirit children of a Heavenly Father and one of his heavenly wives. Jesus became a God and Lucifer became a Devil, according to LDS doctrine, because of the choices they made in Heaven before the earth was made. This doctrine is far more significant for what it tells us about the Mormon view of Jesus than for what it tells us about their views of Satan. While Mormons, including Mitt Romney, are taught to downplay the significance of their theological differences with Christianity, right thinking Christians maintain that theology—what we think about God—is central to life and faith. That is why, for me, Romney’s LDS faith remains an issue with regard to his run for President—not the only issue, certainly but an issue at least to be considered. Whatever one may think about a Romney presidency, the controversy points up the importance of taking a closer look at the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
So I propose to do just that from now to the election. Blog about the stated beliefs of the LDS religion.
Send in your questions and I’ll take a crack at answering them over the next few months.