Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mitt the Missionary

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is, as everyone knows, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly known as the Mormon Church. There has, certainly, been discussion in some circles about Romney’s religion, but recently it has been a little-discussed matter.
I had not planned to make a blog posting about Romney’s Mormon faith. But in this week in the second presidential debate Romney himself brought the subject up. He said,
My -- my passion probably flows from the fact that I believe in God. And I believe we’re all children of the same God. I believe we have a responsibility to care for one another. I -- I served as a missionary for my church.
I know something about being a missionary, for June and I served as missionaries to Japan for 38 years. And I know a little about Mormons in Japan, for their main headquarters, and since 2000 their temple, in Fukuoka was within easy walking distance from where we lived for more than 20 years.
In spite of Romney’s statement that he believes “we’re all children of the same God,” there is little evidence that Mormons think that all of us are equally God’s children. Their missionary work is almost exclusively directed toward house-to-house visitation seeking to make converts.
From time to time they would come to our house, and telling them we were ourselves Christian missionaries did not always deter them from trying to give their proselytizing spiel.
In Japan, Mormons, along with members of the Unification Church (“Moonies”) and Jehovah’s Witnesses, are widely considered somewhat of a nuisance because of their aggressive proselytization. In fact, many traditional Christian churches in their PR materials usually include the disclaimer that they are not in any way connected with Mormons, Moonies, or JWs.
Because of the small percentage of Christians in the nation, there is generally a great deal of cooperation among Japanese Christians. Through the years I spent a considerable amount of time in various cooperative, ecumenical meetings.
But the Mormons were never there. Not only did they not seem to believe that the non-Christians in Japan did not believe in the same God, it seems that they did (do) not believe that even other Christians believe in the same God, at least not adequately in their view. 

During the 2½ years he was in France, which was (is) overwhelmingly Catholic, Romney’s work was primarily going from house to house seeking converts. And taking inspiration from the pop-psychology book Think and Grow Rich, he is credited with leading the Mormon missionaries in France to exceed their goal of gaining 200 converts in 1968.
Last week Romney also said that “we have a responsibility to care for one another.” And no doubt there is considerable care given by Mormons to Mormons. But there is little indication that Mormons do much in society at large in the field of health care, education, or social service. Certainly that has not usually been evident in Japan.
Through the years, traditional Christian missionaries and the churches and organizations started by them have been widely involved in medical, educational, and a multitude of social service activities. But by and large Mormons have not been a part of that history.
And it is even questionable how much of Romney’s considerable offerings given to the Mormon Church can legitimately be called “charitable giving,” as a large portion of those gifts are used for building temples that only Mormons can enter and for efforts to make more converts for the Mormon Church.


  1. This Wikipedia article shows that the missionary efforts of the Mormon Church are successful at increasing their numbers. I’ve heard it suggested that their rate of growth approximately matches the probable rate of growth of the early Christian church in its first 150 years.

    1. Clif, what you heard may well be correct. Here is a link to a new book about Mormon growth: (I have made a comment about this below.)

  2. My experience with Mormons in Hawaii (once shared a house with 2 young Mormon men and once taught school with other Mormons) is that they are very supportive of other Mormons but only see non-Mormons as potential converts. It appeared to me that even their assistance to other Mormons was not out of concern for the ones in need, but was a means of attaining their own salvation through their charitable acts.

  3. Here’s another article that’s sort of on this subject. It’s a reminder that even though “God’s word remains the same today as yesterday” it’s still possible for Christians to change opinions about which groups are to be classed as “cults.”

  4. Billy Graham associate has recently dropped them from its list of cults. I do not think their beliefs have changed in the last 6 months.

  5. This certainly sounds bad and seems to fit in with the gaffes Romney has committed. I do not have direct experience with Mormons so I cannot add to your conversation on that topic. However, I am concerned with generalizations and stereotypes, which can be and are used against other denominations with which I do have experience.

    It would be interesting to me if all the instances of "Mormons" in this posting were replaced with "Southern Baptists". How much editing would be required before you would be comfortable posting the new version?

    Romney would have to be replaced with someone else and some statements would be removed, but I bet many if not most of the damning statements would remain whether you are thinking of the 1960s' SBC or the current one.

  6. Dennis, thanks for writing and posting your comments.

    Certainly there have been, and are, some similarities between Southern Baptists and Mormons--but much more now than in the 1960s. The International Missionary Board of the SBC in recent years has come to place emphasis almost exclusively on "church planting," which is the reason some of us missionaries became increasingly alienated from the IMB. Until the 1990s there wide a wide variety of missionary activities.

    But SBs, nor any other Christian group that I know of, have never built a place of worship (or place for religious activities) that only they can enter.

    In 1976 Jimmy Carter, a dedicated Southern Baptist was elected President, and "Time" magazine called 1976 "the year of the Evangelical." He was said to have "witnessed" to world leaders while President, and was criticized for that. But consider the type of activities he has been engaged in in all the years since leaving office (unfortunately) in 1980.

    While there may be some similarities between some Southern Baptists and the Mormons, there are many, and decisive, differences also.

  7. This is a judgemental statement, I admit from the start, but I believe it to be true. I'm sure Gov. Romney believes that his campaign is as much about getting him into the White House as it is to mainstream Mormonism in this country. The videos and testimonials on faith at the RNC were clearly trying to make people feel like Mormonisms is just like being a Methodist.

    This concerns me most because I strongly believe that if Romney is elected president then a great many church-state separation issues will be at risk.

    1. David, sorry to be so slow in responding to your comments, which I appreciate you posting.

      As I say below, I don't think people should not vote for Romney because he is a Mormon. But I do think, as you suggest, it is misleading for him, or the RNC, to let on like Mormons are just like Methodists in their religious beliefs. They are not.

      If Romney is elected, it will be interesting to see how church and state issues will be addressed. But that is not the main reason I think that for the good of the country he should not become the next President.

  8. Comments received several days ago from a Thinking Friend, and former Baptist pastor, who now lives in Arizona:

    "Good description of Mormon 'missions.' Words and faith expressions do not mean the same to Mormons as to Protestants and Baptists. Very deceiving."

    1. Truett, sorry to be so slow in responding to your comment. I think that, indeed, Romney is deceiving about this.

      I don't think people should not vote for Romney because he is a Mormon. But neither do I think that it is right for him to try to try to convince people, especially evangelicals, that they should vote for him because he has been a missionary and a "pastor."