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26 January 2012

‘On Faith’ Blog: Mormons and the Practice of Tithing

January 25, 2012


Michael R. Otterson, managing director of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), dedicated his On Faith blog post this week to addressing the Latter-day Saint practice of tithing.

“Tithing and other financial offerings are less about finances and more about personal attitude and commitment,” Otterson said. “It is difficult to pay tithing and be selfish at the same time. For the millions of people who participate, there is something in the act of voluntary giving that is innately enriching to the human soul.”

In addition to explaining that most faithful Latter-day Saints follow the biblical principle of tithing and donate “one tenth” of their increase, Otterson explained how these Church funds are utilized.


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Politics of Romney’s tithing: generous philanthropy or dogmatic Mormonism?

January 25, 2012

Christian Science Monitor

A slew of poll results over the past year, from Gallup and the Pew Center to CNN and ABC, have all shown that Americans’ attitudes toward Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith may play a decisive role in his campaign.

Election 101: Nine facts about Mitt Romney and his White House bid

Now that the strength of his religious conviction has a dollar sign attached to it, the question arises: Will his tithing invigorate the uneasiness that many Americans, including evangelicals and some other Protestants, have toward the Mormon church and its adherents?

Some evangelicals who question the legitimacy of the religion, doubting its Christian credentials, may warm to Romney’s generosity, says Michele Dillon, sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Others, she adds by e-mail, “especially some who are already highly skeptical of Mormonism, will probably use his generous tithing as further evidence that Mormons, in these voters’ minds, are too much in the clutches of their church, and who knows what he might do to advance some alleged ‘Mormon agenda’ if elected?”


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Why Mitt Romney Can’t Be The Mormon JFK

January 25, 2012

Huffington Post

Mitt Romney’s sudden downgrade from Republican frontrunner to potential also-ran coincided with a massive shift of conservative Christians voters in South Carolina to Newt Gingrich’s camp.

Why? Many observers trace it to lingering suspicion among evangelicals — a key Republican constituency — about Romney’s Mormon faith.

And that has led some to suggest that Romney needs to make a speech about his Mormonism along the lines of John F. Kennedy’s defense of his Catholicism to Protestant leaders during the 1960 campaign.

So could Romney pull a Kennedy? Should he?


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Why Evangelicals Don’t Like Mormons

January 25, 2012

New York Times

Still, the church’s doctrines and practices, past and present, don’t fully account for evangelical uneasiness. After all, there are hundreds of religious groups in America today, some of whose tenets or practices are far more distant from the mainstream.

The real issue for many evangelicals is Mormonism’s remarkable success and rapid expansion. It is estimated to have missionaries in 162 countries and a global membership of some 14 million; it is also, from its base in the American West, making inroads into Hispanic communities. Put simply, the Baptists and Methodists, while still ahead of the Mormons numerically, are feeling the heat of competition from Joseph Smith’s tireless progeny.

Some evangelical leaders take this a step further to accuse Mr. Romney of vaguely conspiratorial motives. The Baptist minister R. Philip Roberts, author of “Mormonism Unmasked,” recently said that evangelicals are concerned not about Mr. Romney promoting his faith as president, but about the great boost a Mormon presidency would give to the church’s proselytizing efforts.

There is particular worry that Mr. Romney, a wealthy, prominent figure in the church, is too close to his faith. How else to explain the concern among evangelicals when it became public that Mr. Romney had tithed some $4 million to the church over the last two years?


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Religion News: Understand the Mormon people better

January 26, 2012

Daily Register (Illinois)

A comprehensive survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, questioned 1,019 respondents who describe their religion as Mormon.

Here are some of the key findings to help people better understand the Mormon religion and its people:

– Mormons place a high priority on family life. Large majorities say that being a good parent (81 percent) and having a successful marriage (73 percent) are among their most important goals in life, far surpassing the numbers in the general public who say the same.

– Politically, Mormons are quite conservative and supportive of the Republican Party. Two-thirds of Mormons (66 percent) describe themselves as politically conservative, and three-quarters of Mormon voters (74 percent) identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.


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Tithing: In the news (ask Mitt Romney) but also in Old Testament

January 25, 2012

Los Angeles Times (California)

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Romney explained: “The Bible speaks about providing tithes and offerings. I made a commitment to my church a long, long time ago that I would give 10% of my income to the church. And I followed through on that commitment.”

Romney is hardly alone in his donation policy. A recent survey on Mormons in America by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 79% of the Mormons surveyed said they paid a tithe to their church, while just 19% said they didn’t.

“Our major source of revenue is the ancient law of the tithe,” Gordon B. Hinckley, a past president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a statement. “Our people are expected to pay 10% of their income to move forward the work of the Church. The remarkable and wonderful thing is that they do it. Tithing is not so much a matter of dollars as it is a matter of faith. It becomes a privilege and an opportunity, not a burden.”


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Mormon Church’s Prior Baptism Of Dead Jews Could Raise Concerns For Florida Voters

January 25, 2012

Huffington Post

But as the Republican presidential nomination fight heats up in Florida, a Mormon rite that leaves many Jews seething could prove awkward for the candidate in a state that’s home to more Jewish people than any other besides New York and California.

The religious rite is proxy baptism for the dead. According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church, these posthumous “blessings” are intended to “save” ancestors and others who weren’t baptized in life or were baptized “without proper authority.”

Any Mormon may baptize any person posthumously. Church members have performed the ritual on Buddha, Catholic popes, 9/11 hijackers, William Shakespeare, Joan of Arc, Elvis Presley, President Obama’s mother and even reportedly Jesus Christ. In 2002, the managing director of the Mormon’s family and church history department told The New Yorker magazine that as many as 200 million dead people had been baptized as Mormons.


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Mormons join effort to fight $2B Utah fraud wave that capitalizes on trust built in church

January 25, 2012

The Republic (Indiana)

Concerned about the tidal wave of fraud sweeping over Utah that has reached an estimated $2 billion in purported scams, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is stepping up to participate this year in an event that aims to erect a protective wall.

After skipping the first Fraud College conference in 2010, the church, whose members have been battered as victims of fraud, is sending Managing Director of Public Affairs Michael Otterson to speak at the Feb. 15 conference.

“It’s extremely significant,” said Brent Baker, a Salt Lake City securities attorney and one of the Fraud College organizers. “For the first time we’re going to hear an official statement by the LDS Church other than a diluted message about being good to your fellow man.”


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LDS Church: No Lunch For Lawmakers

January 25, 2012

Salt Lake City Weekly (Utah)

Along with recent revelations that Mitt Romney tithed more than $4 million to the LDS Church over the past two years, we learn that the church will hold off hosting lawmakers at its traditional pre-session “thank you” lunch.

Lawmakers from both parties defend the church’s hosting of the gathering, saying the church is a constituent like any other. Utah’s 75 state representatives and 29 state senators, especially the non-LDS members, no doubt found the meeting helpful in knowing if and when the church was amenable to certain types of legislation.

But this year, the church is stepping back, suggesting a “thank you” lunch is better after the session than before.


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Mormon temple to open in April

January 25, 2012

Kansas City Liberty Tribune (Missouri)

Those who have been watching the new Kansas City Mormon Temple change the skyline don’t have too much longer to wait to take a peek inside.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ temple, perched on a hill at the intersection of Searcy Creek Parkway and Interstate 435, will be open to the public Saturday, April 7, through Saturday, April 21, excluding Sundays. For reservations to take a free tour, go to kansascitymormontemple.org.

Jeremiah Morgan, president of the Liberty LDS stake, said he hopes everyone in the community will come to see what a Mormon temple looks like.

“It’s a once-in-lifetime opportunity, and we invite all to come see,” Morgan said. “… I promise, you will not be disappointed.”


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Mitt Romney taxes: Mormon candidate’s charitable giving related to Mormon church

January 25, 2012

Alaska Dispatch

Part of the reason for the high rate of giving is Romney’s contributions to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon church. According to the church, members are expected to tithe 10 percent of their income. In Romney’s case, in 2010 he gave $1.5 million, closer to 7 percent of his adjusted gross income. In 2011, he gave $2.6 million, or 12.4 percent of his income.

But Romney and his wife also gave a considerable amount of money – some $1.5 million in 2010 and $500,000 in 2011 – to other charities, mainly through the Tyler Charitable Foundation, apparently named for a street Romney and his wife lived on in Belmont, Mass. In 2010, the foundation had more than $10 million in assets.


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A Charitable Interpretation

January 25, 2012

The New Republic

Yes, apparently the right is so scrambled over how to defend Romney’s sub-14 percent federal income tax rate that it is now arguing that his charitable contributions — the vast majority of which went to the Mormon church, which got $4 million from Romney over the past two years — should count as part of his contribution to the common good. So: this April, no need to pay the IRS the full tab. Just let them know about your donations to worthy causes like, say, your needy prep school or Ivy League alma mater or the Heritage Foundation or, as in the case of Romney, a church that spends lots of money on really tall spires and anti-gay marriage referenda, and demonstrates its contribution to society by prohibititing non-members from entering its temples.


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Romney fed the hate

January 25, 2012

Bay Windows

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s charitable foundation gave $35,000 to antigay groups in 2010, including $10,000 to the Massachusetts Family Institute. Massachusetts’ citizens are familiar with the Institute’s efforts to continue discrimination against the transgender community by running ads claiming that the passage of the trans rights bill would lead to crime in public bathrooms. The Massachusetts Family Institute is also the organization that sponsored the 2007 anti-same-sex marriage amendment.

CNN has detailed reports on Romney’s charitable giving and notes that $25,000 from Romney’s foundation went to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Becket Fund defended the Mormon Church against lawsuits after the church’s involvement in financially backing California’s Proposition 8 was revealed.


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Mitt, the Outsider

January 26, 2012

The American Thinker

I’ve read a bit in recent days about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism being an issue for some voters. Religious bigotry is almost as dead as racial bigotry as long as the practitioners of a religion also follow our secular legal system and respect the rights of others. I think the real issue voters have is what the decades he spent living in a culture as alien to Mormon values as modern Massachusetts might have done to Mitt Romney.

For a very long time there was a heavy stigma attached to being a Mormon, though it should be noted that it was not an issue when Romney’s father George was considered a possible early favorite for the 1968 Republican nomination. Mormonism came up only as an aside to the question of whether George Romney was qualified because his parents, both U.S. citizens, were residents in Mexico when George was born, and they moved back to the U.S. when he was three years old. That said, I do recall snide remarks about how many grandmothers, aunts, and uncles George Romney had because the family had moved to Mexico to escape the federal government’s opposition to polygamy.


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John Whitmer left church, but kept testimony of Book of Mormon

January 25, 2012

Deseret News

John Whitmer may be my favorite official witness to the Book of Mormon.

With the rest of the Eight Witnesses, he claimed to have “seen,” “handled” and “hefted” the golden plates in June 1829. Seven years later, he again wrote forcefully of that experience:

“I desire to testify to all that will come to the knowledge of this address, that I have most assuredly seen the plates from whence the Book of Mormon is translated, and that I have handled these plates, and know of a surety that Joseph Smith, Jr., has translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. And in this thing the wisdom of the wise most assuredly has perished. Therefore, know ye, O ye inhabitants of the earth, wherever this address may come, that I have in this thing freed my garments of your blood, whether you believe or disbelieve.”


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LDS singles programs: A model for Jews?

January 25, 2012

Jewish Journal (California)

As I prepare to marry a wonderful girl in the Los Angeles LDS Temple on Saturday, I can’t help but reflect on how my church has striven mightily to bring this about. From singles wards (congregations) at Brigham Young University to singles conferences throughout the world, singles in the LDS dating pool are brought together on a weekly basis to worship, have fun, date, and marry, preferably in a temple. I have not always enjoyed exploring the Mormon singles scene, but am eternally grateful that the church’s singles program encouraged and guided my fiancée and me towards the ultimate goal of a temple marriage. While I love pointing out areas in which Mormons can learn from Jews, in this case I think that Jews could learn a thing or two from Mormons about providing opportunities for singles to marry within the faith.

In terms of dating, BYU was the promised land for a kid from a small city in central Michigan where he was the only Mormon in his high school class. Student wards had several hundred members, and we worshipped together for three hours on Sundays. On Monday evenings, we were assigned to small Family Home Evening (FHE) groups. FHE is observed churchwide, and usually includes a spiritual lesson followed by a fun activity. As far as I could tell, its primary purpose at BYU was to encourage dating and getting to know the girls in the ward. As an extra bonus, male students who held the priesthood (as almost all men do) were paired up and assigned several girls to visit monthly as part of the church’s worldwide “home teaching” program. Small wonder that such a high percentage of undergrads (22%) and grad students (62%) at the university are married.


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Wednesday Words: The State of the (Mormon) Union and More

January 25, 2012


On the front page of the New York Times dining section today, there is a story about Mormon cuisine, which reporter Julia Moskin describes as “part of a larger Western tradition of hearty meals, seasonal eating and food preservation that is in keeping with modern farm-to-table ideals.” This highfalutin definition is meant to contrast with the stereotype that Mormon fare is all Jell-O, casseroles and mashed/creamed insert-food-here. One might note that many other groups, from Methodists to Midwesterners, also enjoy these dishes (and then need to take naps) at perennial events. On a side note: Aunt Linda, please keep those twice-baked potatoes coming.


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The (Unofficial) Mascot of Sundance

January 26, 2012

Wall Street Journal

This 34-year old bespectacled Mormon from Orem, Utah is the unofficial mascot of the mountain-based film festival. He isn’t at all affiliated with Sundance but he makes himself available to aid festival-goers in need of directions, a taxi number or a helpful arm as they cross a particularly icy stretch of street in inappropriate city slicker shoes.

“I even give restaurant advice to places I’ve never eaten but rich people tell me they like,” Jessop said on Tuesday as he cataloged the many ways he likes to help out-of-towners.


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The Latter-day Saints have come marching into Denver, but some are hipper than others

January 24, 2012

Westword (Colorado)

Which doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it still made more sense than the overkill of another Mormon-related ad that appeared in the Post on Friday: a two full page-plus wrap-around billboard for The Book of Mormon. The musical, penned by Colorado boys and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, opens in Denver on August 14, the first stop on a much-anticipated road tour. So anticipated that no advertising may have been necessary: Tickets for the two-and-a-half-week run sold out within hours. In fact, many would-be theater-goers were left feeling a little apocalyptically despondent themselves since the Denver Center’s online ticketing system essentially shut down due to demand — returning to functionality only after the performances were all sold out. Salvation, it seems, will have to come in the form of ticket gouging on Stub Hub. And yes, just a day later, there were already dozens of Mormon tickets for sale online, ranging in price from $500 to $600 apiece. (While scalping is illegal in Denver, cyberspace extends well beyond city limits. Thanks, Denver Attractions, for handling that so well.)

It will be interesting to see whether there is the same amount of interest in another Mormon, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, when Colorado’s Republican caucuses roll around on February 7. Romney lost South Carolina to Newt Gingrich, despite the fact that Gingrich has had more wives than Romney (yes, we know, aside from Jeffs, the LDS church gave up polygamy a century ago). But Colorado has a significant LDS population because of its proximity to Utah.


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“FAIR Conversations,” Episode 14: Tom Mould on Folklore and Personal Revelation

January 24, 2012


Perhaps the most underrated Mormon-themed book of 2011 was Tom Mould’s Still, the Small Voice: Narrative, Personal Revelation, and the Mormon Folk Tradition. As the title suggests, Mould explores how the Spirit’s “small voice” is still an important part of religious life for Latter-day Saints. The book is a folklorist’s examination of the stories Mormons share about personal revelation.

In this episode of FAIR Conversations, Mould describes some ways revelatory narratives highlight distinctive Mormon beliefs such as stewardship and agency. He highlights the role revelation plays in Mormon decision making, in relieving anxiety, and in dealing with the ambiguities of everyday life. The stories Mormons tell about the revelation we seek and receive suggest important clues about our values. Mould’s work is thought-provoking, challenging, and inspiring, religiously and academically. He brings the perspective of a thoughtful outsider but speaks with an insider’s knowledge.


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