Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Richard Bushman Discusses Mitt Romney and Mormonism with the Press

Hey Rob, shouldn't you be working on finishing your dissertation and getting a real job, instead of posting stuff on The Provonian? (Silence conscience!) I just read the transcript of a discussion Richard Bushman had with members of the press on Mitt Romney and the intersection of Mormonism with politics and American life. It's a fun (and long) read and, not surprisingly, Bushman does a fantastic job of answering questions.

One question that came up was whether or not increased scrutiny would harden public opinion towards Mormons. Bushman said that regardless of how a national discussion of Mormonism plays out, an open discussion is ultimately for the best. I agree with this. I remember an editorial I saw in the Salt Lake Tribune (written by a member) saying that Romney's candidacy would focus too much attention and scrutiny on the church. I took issue with that. Isn't attention and scrutiny exactly what we seek? I think increased attention is inevitable and sooner is better than later.


  1. I read this in the NY Times yesterday. It doesn't add a lot to the discussion, but I thought it was a pretty decent article.

  2. Thanks a lot Rob I stayed up past midnight reading the trascript. It's a great read. Richard Bushman is very well spoken and his answers were generally right on. He does a great job playing the duel roles of objective observer and practicing member at the same time, the same as he did in Rough Stone Rolling. There were a couple of issues that I thought he was a little bit too "objective". For example, his explanation that the church has few established doctrines, I think I agree with how he was trying to explain the balance between obedience to prophetic counsel and personal revelation, but it came across as if the church leaves it up to the members to figure out the doctrine. I don't think that's what he meant, but that's what it sounded like as I read. What I find really interesting is how very educated and supposedly informed individuals have such remedial questions about mormons. Or that they base their perception of mormons on memoirs of ex-members (I thought Bushman gave a great response to this issue). It's interesting that mormons are such a hot topic right now, because most people have little or no knowledge about what mormons really believe. It makes me wonder that if people really new more about the church the whole Romney/Mormon connection wouldn't be such a big deal. In fact, I don't think most people care about Romney's religious affiliation. Even though the "polls" say that people will never vote for a mormon, unless it's Steve Young or Steve Martin, I think that line of thought is driven in large part by the media. I think most people are tired of hearing about the mormon angle, look at the response Romney got at the NH Debate when he answered the "mormon" questions and said he wouldn't distance himself from his faith, it got one of the biggest reactions of the night. Anyways, I'm rambling. I enjoyed the read and I think the more exposue the church gets the better. I it also makes me think that we have a big responsibilty to living in such a way that we're ready for scrutiny and also to take advantage of opportunities to represent the faith that will most likely come more frequently as the attention on the church increases. Whoa, I'm totally blogging a really long blog I feel so tuned in to the power of the internet, I better stop.

  3. Yeah, I think the "would you vote for a Mormon?" poll question is pretty bogus. As soon as you attach a name and a face with a political platform it is an entirely different proposition than merely "would you vote for one of them varmint Mormons?"

    Is this the quote you were thinking about?
    "The fact is that in Mormondom, the revelation doesn't come solely to the president of the church, but rather infuses the whole church. Everyone is to receive revelation for their own positions, whether as a father or a bishop or a Sunday school teacher, or whatever it is. And that extends from church doctrine to political statements."

    I think he is essentially correct, but I don't think it captures the way most Mormons think about it. I don't think that when the president gives a teaching we all take that teaching and then go stake out our own positions based on personal revelation. Besides, there aren't that many new teachings to try and decide what we think. I guess that is ultimately what does happen if you struggle with a teaching or doctrine, but I think most devout Mormons would think long and hard about deciding that they have to agree to disagree with the prophet. I think if there really was an area of strong disagreement about a teaching from the president of the church most of us would just decide that we just don't have the understanding we need yet, sustain the prophet, and move on in faith.

  4. Bushman referenced the recent statement from the church on what constitutes doctrine. I think I will discuss this for a few minutes in my next gospel doctrine class. I think it would be fruitful to try and get my mind and the class members' minds around what doctrine is and how that differs from principles and policies.

  5. Good points Rob, the official statement is very solid. I agreed with what Bushman was saying but his comments could be misconstrued to mean the church has very few solid doctrines.