Lawrence O'Donnell apologizes for offending 'a great many Mormons'

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 1:37 p.m. MDT

MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell apologized Wednesday for offending members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Associated Press

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MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell apologized Wednesday night for "two sentences" that "offended a great many Mormons."

O'Donnell was apologizing for comments he made April 3 in responding to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's statement that President Barack Obama is trying to "establish a religion in America known as secularism."

O'Donnell's point was that as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Mitt Romney lives in the glass house of American politics."

O'Donnell went on to say that "Mormonism was created by a guy in upstate New York in 1830 when he got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it. Forty-eight wives later, Joseph Smith's lifestyle was completely sanctified in the religion he invented to go with it, which Mitt Romney says he believes."

In his apology O'Donnell said that he is "truly sorry if I said something inaccurate about Joseph Smith," and he offered time on his MSNBC show to a representative of the LDS Church to correct his misstatements.

The main thing O'Donnell was sorry about, however, is that "my word choice ripped some people's attention away from my point, and that is that we should not tolerate religious intolerance in voting."

"My preaching on the politics of religion has always been that religious intolerance is wrong," O'Donnell said. "Refusing to vote for a Mormon candidate is wrong. Refusing to vote for a Catholic candidate is wrong. Refusing to vote for a Jewish candidate is wrong. Refusing to vote for a Muslim candidate is wrong. And yes, refusing to vote for a non-believer is wrong.

"I'm very sorry that for some that message got lost because of my insensitive phrasing of two sentences that … I wish I could take those words back."

Then O'Donnell said "we can all patiently await Mitt Romney's apology for lying about President Obama trying to create a new religion. But we must be prepared for a long wait."

Writing about the O'Donnell apology on Time magazine's Swampland political blog, Time's White House correspondent Michael Sherer wrote that the LDS Church "is traditionally averse to litigating its history and beliefs in the national media, so it is unlikely to take O'Donnell up on his offer" to appear on his MSNBC show.

However, Sherer said "the history of Joseph Smith and the origins of Mormonism are well documented. And there is little doubt that O'Donnell misrepresented them, by repeating a claim that has long been used by Mormon opponents to tar its followers as a sort of cult created to justify the sexual license of its founders."

Sherer cited meticulous historical studies by Richard Bushman and Todd Compton in briefly outlining the history of the beginnings of polygamy in the LDS Church, which indicate that "O'Donnell has got the causation reversed," Bushman said.

Not only was O'Donnell factually incorrect, Sherer wrote, but he was also "raising a question about Romney's own judgment and values based upon his religious beliefs, which would be out of bounds in the context of other religions."

"I am Jewish, for instance, and I have been a guest on O'Donnell's show," Sherer said. "O'Donnell would certainly never suggest that Abraham's apparent willingness to murder his own son, Isaac, reflect on my own judgment and values."

Issues associated with Romney's active membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will continue to be part of the 2012 presidential campaign, Sherer said. He quoted Romney's 2008 speech about his faith, during which he said: "Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."

"That is a good place to start this conversation about religion and Mitt Romney," Sherer concluded. "Without evidence contradicting Romney's contention that he will govern independent of religious authority, he should not be held responsible for the entire history of his faith."

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