Defending the Faith

Lisa Ray Turner Mormon, romney 9 Comments

I’ve never been very political. It’s not that I’m a total slacker – I always read the platforms of both parties and I keep up on presidential candidates’ basic positions. I have preferences about who should win. Mostly, though, I’m disgusted by the divisive nature of our partisan system and my interest is politics is a casual affair.

That’s all changed. This year, I am a political junkie. I watch all the debates and follow the polls the same way the wealthy follow stock prices. I have strong opinions on the merits of the major candidates and I know the dates for the state primary elections. This is what happens when you write a book on politics. I expected to become something of a political freak when I signed on to co-author a book about Mitt Romney. What I didn’t plan on is that I’d be put into the position of defender of the faith, in a way I never have before.

Of course as a lifer in the Church, I’ve had my share of explaining the Church and even defending it. I remember one of the first times. It was in eighth grade. During history class, a friend leaned over and whispered, “Do you guys really think you’re the only ones going to heaven?”

Did we think that? Did I think that? I was pretty sure I didn’t, but wasn’t sure what the official reply to that question would be. I told her I’d get back to her with an answer.

“That’s what your guy said on TV yesterday,” she said. Apparently, she’d caught a bit of general conference the day before.

Oops. I must have dozed off during that part. I was grateful when our teacher, boring Mr. Waddel, told us to stop talking.

Fast forward about fifteen years, when I learned that a lot of people thought I would be going to hell because of my Mormonism. One was my boss, while I was working as a music teacher. He pulled me aside one day and warned me, in a voice so sincere it would rival any concerned bishop’s, that I was on the wrong path and it would have dire consequences for my salvation.

All members of the Church have these experiences. The hackles rise and you learn to deal with accusations, answer questions, and assure concerned friends. However, when I started doing research about the 2008 election with my co-author, an evangelical Christian, those hackles rose to a whole new level. Through the process, I’ve been amazed by the vitriol published about us, the rumors spread, the ignorance and nastiness. Don’t people know we’re nice, casserole-toting people? Downright boring, actually, a few oddities and historical quirks aside.

Now that the book has been on the shelves for a few months, my religion is front and center. It says on the back cover that I am a Mormon. People I’ve never met send me nasty letters about Mormonism. I’ve never hidden my religion, but it’s odd when it’s one of the first identifiers about me. At book signings, it comes up immediately. “Which one of you is the Mormon?” people ask.

At one, a young man came and pointed a skinny finger accusingly at me and asked the familiar question. This time, though, it was slightly creepy. He seemed angry and anxious. He looked like he was dressed in a disguise, with a hat pulled down to his eyebrows, huge sunglasses, and oversized clothing. We all squirmed in our seats and wondered what he was all about.

“I’m the Mormon,” I admitted.

He proceeded to ask probing questions about Romney’s positions and interject his own scathing political and religious commentary. After a few assorted rants, he again pointed his skeletal finger at me and proclaimed, “And you! You’re missing conference!” Then he stormed off.

Everyone at the signing breathed a sigh of relief as he walked away, shrugged their shoulders and asked, “What was that all about?”

When these things happen, and when I read the ridiculous things said about Mormons, I want to reassure people, persuade them that we’re basically normal, that the aims of the Church are good. Admittedly, we can be overbearing and we sometimes suffer from tunnel vision. But we’re decent.

My co-author has come to believe these things. “You guys aren’t as weird as I thought!” she told me a couple months ago. This was good to hear, since people in her church were praying for her because she was working with me and when we discussed interfaith presentations she said the title for hers would have to be, “I Worked With a Mormon and Survived.”

We laugh about it. The funny thing is, she’s a defender of the faith too – hers and now mine. She says she’s been horrified by the anti-Mormon bigotry that still exists. Whether it’s bigotry or ignorance is something political watchers like to debate. The 2008 elections have certainly brought to the forefront the uneasy alliance of religion and politics. For me, it’s best to sit back and enjoy the ride … and nitpick Huckabee’s record, interpret Hillary’s poll numbers, marvel at Obama’s oratory, admire John Edwards’ boyish good looks, decide whether Fred Thompson is alive, chuckle at Giuliani’s humor, educate myself on McCain’s immigration policies, and see how Romney does on Super Tuesday. It’s an election year, after all.

Comments 9

  1. I have always found that people who are unfamiliar with something or someone are more apt to display bigotry. Those who are familiar, but have negative feelings usually take on a different flavor.

    A little or no knowledge is still a dangerous thing

  2. First off, congratulations on the book, Lucy Ray. I think it great that you were able to collaborate with someone of another faith and succeed in getting the book published.

    Secondly, bigotry is leveled at many minority groups due to the basic ignorance of the group mind. Yet, this bigotry tends to be religiously driven in many cases, as in your episode. Take the homosexual factor, for instance. Most of the legislation and rhethoric directed at homosexuals and their rights as human beings is often due to the faith of the politician. We as Mormons likewise have our moments of prejudice, except sometimes it is leveled with a smile and an “I know…” comment.

    As far as there being an uneasy alliance between faith and politics, I don’t think there should be an alliance at all. They should(ideally so), by Constitutional reasoning, be mutually exclusive and privately held. The fact that Romney is a Mormon, or Huckabee a baptist, or Obama has a Muslim father should have nothing to do with the policies of running this country. The founding fathers specifically left out any mention of God/Providence/Almighty in the Constitution because this should be a country directed by a democracy and the people, not a theocracy and whoever’s governing idea of God.

    Ideally (I am a pragmatist, after all), much of this comes down to education, critically thinking, and basic empathy–a Golden rule mentality, if you will (or at least a Silver rule: don’t do unto others as you don’t want done unto you.). Reality, however, suggests that people just want to feel that they are right, regardless of how or who it hurts.

  3. I attended a lecture today by Cornel West, the philosopher of social justice, for a Martin Luther King celebration at the University of Utah. A student asked him about Obama and Romney (apparently some people’s dream match-up for November) and mentioned that Mormons have experienced a “small” amount of persecution from other Americans in comparison to blacks. To his credit, Cornel West responded by saying, “I wouldn’t call it small. I would call it mean and vicious.”

    Cornel also made me feel at home as a Mormon by referring to everyone as brother and sister. “If Brother Obama and Brother Romney are the candidates, I will vote for Brother Obama” and then gave reasons why he endorsed this particular candidate but not Sister Hillary or Brother Bill.

    There were quite a few interesting reactions to parts of his speech and LDS students who identified themselves as such asked some interesting political questions with religious overtones. I wished sacrament meeting speakers, even once a month at least, could be half as inspiring and motivating as Brother West. I bet Lisa, that there is less specifically anti-Mormon bigotry outside the camp of the Republican faithful than inside it…Write a book on Harry Reid next time and your hate mail will be coming from a slightly different crowd.;)

  4. I’d written a previous book for the publisher and he asked me to write the Romney book. My next project is a book called Sleeping Together: A Couple’s Guide to Sharing a Bed. It’s a book about the issues couples face when they share a bed — the common ones like cold feet, blanket wars, etc., and the less common, like sleep disorders, conflicting circadian rhythms, etc. I am co-writing it with my husband, who works in the field of sleep. We’ve also been researching the issue for almost 30 years.

  5. I’m a Romney supporter, but I’ve become that way mostly because of the proxy religious war started by Huckabee and the evengelicals. I have to seriously swallow the red pill to believe anything Romney says he will do. He is trying to fit himself into the Reagan vacuum and in many ways is coming off as a complete panderer. My only reconciliation is that I think Romney really isn’t that interested in politics. He is orthopraxic about fixing problems in government, and doesn’t concern himself with principles. As a principlist, this is hard to swallow, but maybe it will work. I do believe that if there is a Social Security or Medicare or deficit problem, Romney is the guy to fix it.

    But my heart and soul of this support is to fight the evengelical whisper campaign. I want it to fail. I think Romney’s campaign and nomination would eventually destroy the “Mormons are cultists” sunday school dogma coming from Baptists and similar evangelicals. It would show sensible people how callow and self-serving the evangelicals have been–because we all know that Christian anti-Mormonism is negative campaigning against a religious momentum frontrunner–Mormonism.

  6. “but I’ve become that way mostly because of the proxy religious war”

    I’ve been amazed at the number of people I’ve met that say that. My wife just donated a hundred dollars to the campaign and last I heard had no intention of voting for him, just was irritated by what has happened.

  7. The wealthy aren’t the only ones who follow stock prices. Those of us who are struggling to make ends meet while trying to improve our financial situation follow stock prices just a closely, if not more so.

    I for one seek to be one of “the wealthy” in this country.

    I wish people who have something of substance to say would just say it and leave all class warfare references to the misguided Democrats and Liberals.

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