Hal Boyd: Mormon gospel not money gospel: A reply to new essay on Mormonism from Harper's Magazine
The author claims to elucidate "the organization of economic life" of Latter-day Saints — yet, at no point in the article does Lehmann quote or even reference the seminal work on the subject, Leonard J. Arrington's "Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900," published in 1958 by Harvard University Press.
Lehmann: LDS influences GOP
Lehmann's other argument in the essay focuses on the way Mormonism's supposed "prosperity Gospel" has allegedly influenced the current tea party-faction of the GOP via Glenn Beck by his promotion of buying gold and reading the works of conservative Mormon lay-writer W. Cleon Skousen. In Lehmann's words, "Mormons tend to fetishize precious metals" — especially gold. His argument goes:
1. Joseph Smith found gold plates,
2. Mormon convert Glenn Beck advertises for gold companies,
3. Therefore, 14 million Latter-Day Saints "tend to fetishize precious metals".
While there is little doubt that Glenn Beck has influenced the Republican party, especially the GOP's tea party base, Lehmann fails to realize that when a Mormon writes a book or gives an opinion it doesn't mean that (a) it represents the views of other practicing Mormons and (b) it represents official Mormon church doctrine. In the case of Glenn Beck and W. Cleon Skousen, neither is a spokesman for the church nor are they authorized to declare official church doctrines.
And although it is true that more than 60 percent of American Mormons are Republicans, according to a 2006 Faith Matters survey, there are very prominent members of the church who are not Republican — most notable among them Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Mormon who currently holds the highest elected office.
During a 2007 forum address at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, Sen. Reid famously said, "I am a Democrat because I am a Mormon, not in spite of it."
Likewise, one of the most noted Mormon scholars to teach at BYU, Hugh W. Nibley, was an outspoken critic of the excessive accumulation of wealth — his famous essay on the church's law of consecration "Work We Must, But the Lunch is Free" is a strong argument for why Mormon doctrine is antithetical to wealth obsession and materialism.
"Following Satan's instructions, Cain murdered 'his brother Abel, for the sake of getting gain' (Moses 5:50)," Nibley wrote. "… Recently this gospel was proclaimed by one of the richest Americans addressing the student body of Ohio State University (on TV): 'There is nothing that gives freedom,' he said, 'like bucks in the bank.' This seems to be the policy we are following today, and there is no doubt whose policy it is."
Additionally, although the author says Mormons have historically had a sometimes-tenuous relationship with the U.S. government, the LDS Church's Articles of Faith state clearly, "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."
The underlying problem: objective reporting
Ultimately, the fount from which most of the problems in this article flow is the author's lack of objective reporting.
Drawing on only two original interviews and using Fawn Brodie's controversial 1945 psychological biography, "No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith," as his guide (rather than Richard Bushman's critically acclaimed 2005 biography on Joseph Smith, "Rough Stone Rolling"), Lehmann inevitably commits several fallacies of composition. He assumes that because one lay member of the church gives an interpretation of Mormon doctrine, that most Mormons or the church itself feel similarly.
According to LDS Church spokesman Michael Otterson, "there are six million Latter-day Saints now in the United States (about the same number as Jews), and another eight million worldwide, and they represent a growing cross section of ethnicity, demographics, cultural experiences, professions" and political sensibilities. Indeed, members "are not obliged to think and act in lockstep."
Mormonism is a faith that continues to grow and receive visibility in the media — the hope of many is that over the next 100 years magazines will continue to make a concerted effort to truly understand what the faith believes and advocates before dedicating a feature article to the subject. As Theodore Roosevelt put it more than a century ago, "There should be relentless exposure of and attack upon every evil practice, whether in politics, in business, or in social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer ... in book, magazine or newspaper, (who) with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful."
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