Tag Archives: mormon

CAP’s “God in Politics” Forum

By Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil

The Center for American Progress in Washington, DC hosted a forum earlier this week on “God and Politics: Examining Religion in the 2012 Religion.” Jews were never mentioned in the 90-minute talk, but speakers raised some illuminating points about the country’s religious voters:

  • Changing Demographics: The white mainline Protestant population is in decline, says Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. While the Catholic population has been steady, the demographics are shifting—the number of white Catholics is dwindling as Hispanic Catholics are on the rise. These racial divisions are also reflected in voting patterns: non-white Christians voted heavily for President Obama, while white Christians were split.
  • Evangelicals and Mormons: Almost half of white evangelicals—49 percent—say Mormonism is not a Christian religion, slightly higher than the 47 percent who say they would be uncomfortable with a Mormon president, according to PRRI surveys. Even factoring in other factors like Mitt Romney’s moderate social views and his work at Bain Capital, Jones says, “In the data, we see a consistent sign that his religion, particularly among evangelical voters, is still playing an independent role.”
  • More Believe Obama is Muslim: Forty percent of Americans still say they don’t know Obama’s religion, and 18 percent say he’s Muslim. “That number has actually gone up from 12 percent since he’s come into office,” Jones says.
  • Religion and Favorability Rating: Jones explains the strong correlation between perception of religious difference and favorability rating: Of the 51 percent of Americans who say Obama’s religion is at least somewhat different than their own, only 7 approve of him. Similarly, those who say Mormonism is very different than their own religion favor Mitt Romney 20 percentage points below those who say Mormonism is similar to their own.
  • What All Religions Agree On: Six in ten Americans agree with the statement, “Society would be better off if the distribution of wealth was more equal.” Every major religious group agrees despite a stark partisan divide.
  • Trouble for Obama: Obama could lose this fall, says Shaun Casey, professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary. But only if four circumstances come together—evangelical voters show up in record numbers, white mainline Protestants and white Catholics sit this election out, Obama’s campaign has poor religious outreach, and if the Catholic bishops voice their discontent with the White House. “If you have those four, then the president could be in very big trouble,” he says.
  • Hispanic Vote: Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Hispanic Evangelical Coalition, says Hispanic evangelicals could be swing votes in several states this year. “The question, I think, is, are they voting around the immigration reform issue, or are they going to vote with their sisters and brothers in the wider evangelical communities around social conservative issues?”
  • Religious Intolerance: Since the anti-Catholic backlash against John F. Kennedy in the 1960s, “religious intolerance has mutated,” says Casey. “Now the targets are different, and they’re harder to detect because people have more social pressure to not admit it to a pollster. We do know that if you’re a Muslim, a Mormon, or if you’re unaffiliated, you’re in deep trouble if you’re running for elected office in the United States.”
  • Historic Anti-Mormonism: “This meme of Mormons not being trustworthy, of being secretive, of not being fully assimilated into the United States—this has been with us for more than a century,” says religion scholar and journalist Joanna Brooks. “So what Mitt Romney is working out and working through right now is more than a century in the making.”

The Jewish Side of “The Book of Mormon.”

by Amanda Walgrove

Joseph Smith first published The Book of Mormon in March 1830. About 180 years later, The Book of Mormon made its Broadway debut at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. Tag-lined as “God’s Favorite Musical,” the hysterical satire is unsurprisingly offensive and appalling, but wrapped around a heartfelt and sympathetic tale. Written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Robert Lopez of the Tony award-winning and equally groundbreaking Avenue Q, this original musical tells the story of two young men sent to Africa on their Mormon mission. Thrown into a God-loathing culture plagued by AIDS, murder and maggots, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham easily demand sympathy as they naively travel through their own religiously fueled bildungsroman.

Lopez, who studied religion at Yale with Harold Bloom, said that he quickly developed an interest in the Bible as literature. In an interview with the New York Times, Lopez said, “I had thought about doing the Bible Part III, but then I realized, that’s the Book of Mormon. That’s the Bible fan fiction.” Controversial material aside, the plot unfolds traditionally, even parodying certain musical forms, presenting the uncomfortable context in an agreeably recognizable structure. In an interview with USA Today, Parker crooned over the optimism of Rodgers and Hammerstein productions he saw as a child, while Stone says his exposure was limited to the Fiddler On the Roof soundtrack, adding, “My mom’s Jewish, so she wanted me to be Jewish.” Despite the satirical undermining of organized religion, Parker proudly described the show as a pro-faith musical.

While Mormonism and Christianity are dominantly exploited, Judaism plays an inevitable role in the story as well. In one powerful number, “I Believe,” Price belts out a string of peculiarly Mormon teachings, including the idea that ancient Jews sailed to America and that the Garden of Eden was located in Jackson County, Missouri. Opening the second act, Hitler shows up in Elder Price’s guilt-induced “spooky Mormon hell dream” along with Genghis Kahn and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Faced with the responsibility of converting the Ugandans, Elder Cunningham admits that he hasn’t actually read The Book of Mormon. The awkward, stocky teenager manages to weave an embellished tapestry of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings stories, which famously have their own cult following, into his preaching. The product of this is the song, Joseph Smith American Moses performed by the Ugandans for the mission leaders. Arguably the most shocking religious faux-pa occurs when the Africans perform, Has a Diga Eeboawi, which, in English, is a profanity directed towards God.

While the musical introduces its own mini cultural Mormon revolution, Mormonism is garnering media attention through Mitt Romney, a possible GOP presidential candidate. This Passover, on a smaller scale, Jews and Mormons have been exploring ties as well. Over Passover, Brigham Young University — a school where 99% of 33,000 students identify as Mormon and only three as Jewish—held widely popular Seders with more than 160 students, faculty, alumni, and “townies” in attendance. Many of them identify with the Exodus narrative, given their ancestors’ flight from the Midwest to their own “Promised Land,” in Utah. Victor Ludlow, the BYU religion professor who runs the Seders, says Mormons and Jews increasingly inhabit the same communities as more Mormons move east and Jews move west.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, once said to Latter-Day Saints President Ezra Taft Benson, “There are no people in the world who understand Jews like the Mormons.” Earlier this year Mark Paredes and Christa Woodall blogged about Jews and Mormons in Jewish Journal and J.online, two California-based Jewish news websites. Paredes, a former diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, spoke at the Salt Lake City JCC about the ways in which Mormons can develop relationships with Jews and show support for Israel, highlighting connections between Jewish and Mormon history. Paredes said, “We believe, as a people, we are modern-day Israelites who build temples, have the priesthood, are led by prophets, believe in Elijah’s second coming, claim the blessings of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, and support the establishment of the state of Israel.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued a statement regarding The Book of Mormon musical, positing that “the production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening,” but that Mormon scripture “will change people’s lives forever.” Widely lauded by critics and even members of the Mormon community, the show should have a successful run, provided attendees are willing to follow the story but not take it too seriously. Stone, recalling friendly Mormon neighbors as a child, pondered, “Do goofy stories make people nice? What if, in their goofiness, these stories somehow inspire that in the right way? Is that a social good?” While the basis of the coming-of-age story is relatable, the humor lies in the hyperbolic absurdity of events that can easily be construed as disrespectful. Only a month into its Broadway run, viewers can decide for themselves whether the creators have succeeded in producing a blasphemous tale, a social good, or just another goofy story.