For the first time in United States history, a practicing Mormon appears to have secured the nomination for President in a major political party. Mormons have always been politically active. Founder Joseph Smith ran as an independent candidate for President in 1844, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) readily overturned major doctrinal tenants on polygamy and a belief in white racial supremacy in the interest of political expediency.
Until recently, Mormons were impeded from much political ascension due to a general public distrust of their largely secretive and apparently strange religious views. The difference now is that thanks to the Citizens United ruling, as Wisconsin’s recent recall re-election of Governor Scott Walker demonstrates, elections now go to the highest bidder. With Willard Mitt Romney as a Presidential candidate, and both Wall Street and the wealthiest religious institution in the United States to back him up, Mormonism may now realize Joseph Smith’s original Presidential ambition. Yet it would seem that some of Mormonism’s basic tenants are distinctly at odds with the basic values upon which the United States was founded, including but not limited to free thought, separation of church and state, respect for diversity of opinions, equality and transparency.
In an effort to shed a light on some of these conflicting values, this will be the first in a series of blog posts on the Mormon faith. I hope that Mormon readers will weigh in and correct or clarify any misrepresentations I might make. I am endeavoring to research the topic objectively, but efforts are somewhat stifled by the fact that the Mormon faith is shielded by a deliberate veil of mystery. Founder Joseph Smith was an active Freemason and modeled many aspects of his church on the secret rituals of that infamous sect. Temple admission is restricted exclusively to church members who have “recommend” status, a qualification that is awarded only to those who tithe at least 10% of their annual incomes and swear to absolute, unquestioning dedication to the church and its teachings. Consequently, much of what transpires within the actual ritual of the church is unavailable to scrutiny.
Even with the restrictions on actual practices within temple walls, enough information is available to raise some serious eyebrows. Of particular concern is the Mormon faith’s blatant discrimination against women. Like the Biblical polygamists who preceded him, founding father Joseph Smith subscribed to the self-aggrandizing notion that polygamy exalted a man’s position in heaven. The number of wives a man secured, he reasoned, reflected his favor with God. In reality, Smith acquired many of his wives through sadistic manipulation, telling vulnerable women as young as 12 that their eternal salvation was entirely dependent upon their coupling with him. Like David Koresh, Jim Jones and other self-proclaimed prophets throughout history, Smith used his position of power to gain sexual access to every woman he desired and then mutated his doctrine to justify his own perversions.
The tainted history of polygamy in the church is only the tip of the sexist Mormon iceberg. While the contemporary LDS church would like to gloss over this unsavory founding principle, the residues of polygamy’s anti-female values continue to permeate the church and its teachings.
In the Mormon faith, men alone are indoctrinated into a “priesthood” that involves stages of hierarchical advancement, achieved through a combination of commitment to the church and secret ritual. Ascension through the levels of priesthood on earth is for Mormons the ticket to admittance into a similar hierarchy in heaven. Men realize their heavenly reward via success in the priesthood. Women, on the other hand, are only granted admittance through the pearly gates as accessories to their husband’s achievement. In other words, if a woman isn’t married to a man, she has no means to access the heavenly afterlife.
When a young person reaches adulthood, they are given a secret name (a practice also observed in Freemasonry) that grants access to heaven. Women must share their secret name with their husbands, who alone hold the key to their salvation. Men, of course, are under no such obligation, since they are worthy of entering the celestial kingdom based exclusively on their own merits.
The second-class status of women in the LDS church permeates all levels of infrastructure. Ruling positions in the church, including in descending order the President (believed to be the living prophet and God’s representative on earth), the First Presidency (a three-member council including the President), the Twelve Apostles and the “Seventies,” are all held by men. These authorities are further only answerable to themselves and administer global church affairs from centralized authority in Salt Lake City.
The ultimate Mormon disdain for women is reflected in the fact that LDS doctrine teaches that God, who was supposedly once a human, also has a wife, and with her procreated the world. Yet She, the co-creator of the world, is not an object of worship. Feminist Mormons, who have suggested that both heavenly parents should be accorded reverence, have been excommunicated, and the sticky subject finally resulted in a public statement by LDS President Gordon Hinckley, stating unequivocally that he considers “it inappropriate for anyone in church to pray to our Mother in heaven.”
The day-to-day lives of female Mormons reflect the symbolic role of their Mother. Women are incubators of children and companions for men. They are expected to subordinate their own ambitions in the interests of their husband’s and be content to ride submissively and unrecognized on his coattails all the way through this life and into eternity.