Monday, June 25, 2007

The Church, Politics, and Damon Linker

A quick post while I should be studying for the bar exam.

Yesterday, the Boston Globe published the first in what is to be an in-depth, six-day series on Mitt Romney. While the article was fascinating in its own right, exploring Romney's childhood and upbringing on through the beginning of his Latter-day Saint mission to Paris, what caught my eye was a letter the story linked to from then-LDS Apostle Delbert L. Stapley to Romney's father, George Romney, then-Governor of Michigan. George Romney was a well-known moderate in the Republican party at the time and an ardent civil rights advocate. In 1964, Governor Romney made a trip to Utah and, while there, gave a speech in support of the civil rights legislation that was making its way through Congress at the time. After that trip, Stapley wrote to Romney in reference to his remarks on civil rights. While making clear that he was writing as a friend and not as a Church official, Stapley's letter was clearly an attempt to influence Romney on this very hot-button issue. Stapley went on to characterize the pending civil rights legislation as contravening the will of the Lord, and he seemed to attribute the deaths of several well-known civil rights leaders to the fact that they were pursuing a course which was against the decrees of God. While Stapley's opinions here were clearly his own and didn't seem to have any effect on Romney's public position on the civil rights, the incident plays into an current debate on what sort of influence the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its officials would exercise over Mitt Romney if he were to be elected president next year.

Last fall, media allegations surfaced of some purported collusion between the Romney staffers and Church officials. And earlier this year, Damon Linker, a former visiting professor at BYU, published an editorial in The New Republic arguing that Mitt Romney's bid for the presidency should be carefully scrutinized because Mormon "theology" and the Church's belief in modern day prophecy and revelation raised the specter that Church officials might improperly influence Romney in political decisions. This charge spawned a vigorous debate that quickly led to a New Republic editorial countering Linker's premise and an online exchange between Linker and Columbia History Professor (and active Latter-day Saint) Richard Bushman). Concerns of this nature, however, have not fully been put to rest and it has led to repeated calls for Romney give a "Kennedy" style speech in which he proclaims his political independence from the Church (see, e.g., here).

The publication of Stapley's letter, a pretty clear instance of a Church leader trying to use doctrinal interpretations to press an elected official on a political issue, has the potential to add fodder to these resurfacing claims, even if the letter was written as "a personal friend" rather than in Stapley's "official Church position." Ironically, I'm certain most members of the Church would clearly be very uncomfortable with the content of Stapley's letter, both as to the claims he makes and the influence he tries to exert. While I personally would have a difficult time seeing a Church official today, especially one of Stapley's stature, push a political issue in this way, I say that as an active Mormon who comes from within the religious tradition. Others outside of that tradition may not be as convinced. Even with the strong emphasis the Church has recently put on political neutrality, the heavy conservative tilt of its membership causes some to wonder whether Mormonism carries with it a de facto partisan dictate, the Harry Reids of the world notwithstanding. Beyond partisanship, others worry about what other de facto dictates Mormon doctrine might carry with it; which creates an odd situation where both secular liberals and religious conservatives are aligned as having an underlying suspicion of active Latter-day Saint candidates. The question is whether this letter, even though it's 43 years old, will exacerbate those suspicions.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Apparently bumper stickers are "last season" (scroll down to the right).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rock-a-bye Baby

Erich slept THIRTEEN hours last night.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"And into whatsoever house ye enter"

We had the missionaries over for dinner last night, and they dropped a bombshell of sorts. It's kind of relative I guess because my wife didn't seem all that fazed by the news. Perhaps one has to have served a full-time LDS mission for the magnitude of it really to sink in.... or maybe I'm just weird.

The blockbuster news according to our Elders is that, apparently, all state-side missionaries are in the process of moving in with local ward members. Not all at once of course. As apartment leases expire in each area of each mission, the Bishops of those wards, I am told, are being charged with finding families in their congregations for the missionaries to live with. I use the term "family" liberally here since those boarding the missionaries have to either be a single sister over 60 or a retired couple (or something along those lines). Our missionaries' lease expires next month so we were discussing their future housing prospects. We apparently don't have an eligible retired couple on hand, so the Elders say their fate has boiled down to one of two single sisters in the ward.

All I can say is AWKWARD. I can't imagine, after each long day of missionary work, having to head home to some ward member's house every night. You'd never get to fully decompress. Retreating to the friendly confines of the ole' missionary apartment, with its cheesy displays of Mormon stock-art, motivational posters, and the assorted collection of sidewalk furniture, was how I recharged for yet another day of brutal tracting in the blistering humid heat of the Virginia summer. It was especially choice to live with another set of Elders and get some break time from your companion, no matter how much you might have liked him.

With this new policy, although it might vary depending on who you live with, generally speaking you're ALWAYS going to have to be on your A-game. I know, I know, missionaries should be living up to a higher standard anyway, but even for missionaries that's asking a lot. Structurally, I'm told, the only requirement for the accommodations is that the missionaries have to have their own bedroom and bathroom. Which basically means they could have a shadow watching their every move. They'll most likely be sharing a kitchen, fridge, and cupboard space, not to mention the common areas. I can't see sitting around the house on a P-day having quite the same allure anymore.

Despite my aversion to the idea, the move makes sense on several levels. Economically, it's a boon. The D.C. South Mission alone has to rent some 50 apartments in and around Northern Virginia and that has to add up to around $75,000 to $100,000 a month. That's not chump change. You've got to figure each state-side mission will probably net anywhere between $400,000 to $1,000,000 or more in savings a year. According to Uncle Wiki, there are currently around 105 state-side missions, so the rental savings should total up to well over $50,000,000. That's a lot of scout camps, ward Christmas parties, and wheat for the Bishop's storehouse.

The policy also will likely result in more obedient missionaries. With Sister So-and-So lurking over their shoulders, it's a good bet that missionaries will be a little more precise about when they roll out of the sack, how they do their studies, when they leave their apartments, when they get back home, and when they sign off for the night. Oh... and those Elders who might otherwise be tempted to take a midnight stroll to the bowling alley down the street probably won't be so brazen (or so we hope).

Assuming the news is true though, I guess my only question is whether it's worth a missionary's sanity?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Friday, June 01, 2007

All In The Name Of Networking

So I'm now officially on my way to becoming a lawyer... and it's not because I've graduated law school or am frantically studying for the July Bar. Just how is it then? Well, I got my first set of golf clubs yesterday. A nice Tight Lies starter kit from Adams Golf. It's a graduation/birthday gift from my parents and grandfather (nicely paired with a set of six lesson at a local golf course courtesy of my wife).* I'm now well-positioned to neglect my family on beautiful sunny afternoons under the guise of "networking."

First things first though. I very much need the golf lessons. There are two things that my dad wasn't especially big on as I grew up. Guns and golf. As a result, I never got my Rifle Shooting Merit Badge as a Boy Scout because I failed the target test, and, miniature golf excepted, I've been golfing all of twice in my life (both times at Cascade in Orem so I'm not sure they really count). If you hand me a gun or a driver you're taking your life in your hands. Ironically, most of my friends are avid golfers. Perhaps that fact further dissuaded me from trying my hand at it. Who wants to be the slug with a 35 handicap?

The downside to all of this is that golfing in D.C., like the price of houses, is twice as expensive as in Utah. Good thing I've got a cush job at a D.C. law firm to help pay for my new recreational hobby. Of course that financial freedom did require selling my soul. Between my 75 hour work-weeks and my future golfing exploits, I wonder if the wife really knows what she's gotten herself into with this gift.

Sorry honey, no take-backs.

*Thanks be to BA for shepherding my family through their respective purchases.