Keynote address by Noah Feldman at the Mormonism & American Politics conference entitled Persecution and the Art of Secrecy: An Interpretation of the Mormon Encounter with American Politics.
Mitt Romney's run for the White House raises perennial questions about the place of religion in the public square and offers scholars an interesting occasion to reconsider the relationship between religion and American politics. The media has made much of Romney's religion and so have some sectors of the American public. What can we learn from public attitudes about Mormonism? Are the religious beliefs of a political candidate relevant to serving in office, and if so, how? Are there political implications to Mormonism? Do the careers of other Mormon politicians shed any light on this question? In what ways is Mormonism politically comparable to other religious groups?- Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University
Noah Feldman is the Bemis Professor of Law at Harvard University as well as a senior fellow of the Society of Fellows. A contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and Bloomberg View, he has authored five books and, most recently, co-authored Constitutional Law, Eighteenth Edition (2013). He served as senior constitutional advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and advised members of the Iraqi Governing Council on the drafting of the Transitional Administrative Law or interim constitution. Previously, he served as a law clerk to Justice David H. Souter of the U.S. Supreme Court (1998-1999). He received his A.B. summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1992, finishing first in his class. Selected as a Rhodes Scholar, he earned a D. Phil. in Islamic Thought from Oxford University and a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as the book reviews editor of the Yale Law Journal.
Member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of a sect closely related to it (e.g., the Community of Christ). The Mormon religion was founded by Joseph Smith, who claimed to have received an angelic vision telling him of the location of golden plates containing God's revelation; this he published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon. Smith and his followers accepted the Bible as well as the Mormon sacred scriptures but diverged significantly from orthodox Christianity, especially in their assertion that God exists in three distinct entities as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mormons also believe that faithful members of the church will inherit eternal life as gods. Other unique doctrines include the belief in preexisting souls waiting to be born and in salvation of the dead through retroactive baptism. The church became notorious for its practice of polygamy, though it was officially sanctioned only between 1852 and 1890. Smith and his followers migrated from Palmyra, N.Y., to Ohio, Missouri, and finally Illinois, where Smith was killed by a mob in 1844. In 184647, under Brigham Young, the Mormons made a 1,100-mi (1,800-km) trek to Utah, where they founded Salt Lake City. In the early 21st century, the church had a worldwide membership of nearly 10 million, swelled yearly by the missionary work that church members, both men and women, are encouraged to perform.
Noah poses a fallacious "either or" causation for Mormon secrecy: persecution or bigotry, on the part of its detractors. There's at least one other cause that is obvious to those who are acquainted with the goings on of the Mormon church, namely the desire to further your ends and your own vested interests at the expense of the truth. One instance of this is the "faith promoting" approach to church history advanced by church leaders, which seeks to conceal the less flattering (or downright shameful) episodes or aspects of the mormon experience in order to present an image attractive to prospective converts or geared to membership retention. Is it persecution for a critic to point out, for instance, that the Egyptian papiry Joseph Smith claimed to translate into the Book of Abraham (canonized as Mormon scripture) in the 1840s, once translated by egyptologists in the 1960s have nothing to do with Abraham but are rather common funeral prayers from the Book of the Dead? Mormons certainly call it persecution when this, as well as other fraudulent teachings of theirs, are exposed. On a more practical level, now that the religious right is preponderantly composed of protestant evangelicals who with some substance, as Jan Shipps will attest to, don't regard Mormon as Christians, is it possible that Joseph Smith having claimed that God revealed to him that all those protestant churches taught false doctrines and were "an abomination" in the sight of God, could be coming back to haunt our contemporary Mormon politician? Is that persecution or bigotry against Mormons? ... or just reaping what they sowed...
It's not ridiculous, and I think it's an excellent ideal, but unfortunately it can't be entirely divorced from issues that "should" matter. In the same way, contra the quotation early in the address, a candicate's views on "geometry," science more broadly, do matter because of the implications of scientific advancement.
Could you clarify what makes belief in Mormon doctrine a disqualifying attribute for President? Are other Christian beliefs -- Adam & Eve, virgin birth, resurrection, atonement (and for the Catholics, transubstantiation) any less remarkable or fantastical, other than that they carry the patina of having been believed for several thousand years.
Is the argument that all religious belief is disqualifying, or only Mormon religious belief?
Finally, your assertion may not be bigoted, but absent any carefully reasoned line of argument or a clearly delineated martialing of evidence to support it, one could be excused for interpreting it as such.
False Tenant that a candidates religion should not matter
Noah Feldman tries to convince his audience that the religion of a presidential candidate should not matter to voters. This is ridiculous. A person's religious views says everything about a candidate. The fact that a man can believe what the mormon church teaches makes him a scary person to hold the office of President of the United States. This is not bigoty. This is discernment, discretion, and sound judgement.