I continue to read Mark Paredes' blog "Jews and Mormons." Recently he suggested that with two viable Mormon presidential candidates the "theological cheap shots" will continue to occur in media coverage.
To head some of this off and answer anticipated questions, especially for his Jewish audience, Paredes held a question and answer session on his blog. I like all of his answers. Some are worth repeating here though not in their entirety.
Question: Do Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers?
Answer: . . . .we believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers just as we believe that Adolf Hitler and Elie Wiesel are brothers since they are both children of God.Paredes also addresses the polygamy question but notes, "As a frustrated bachelor, I am personally grateful that I am only asked to find one wife, not several." I heard Sheri Dew once remark that if polygamy existed in the Church she would undoubtedly have a husband by now.*
Whenever I try to anticipate questions and think through possible answers ahead of time, so I'll be ready for anything, I always fail. Why? Because I cannot seem to anticipate all the bizarre connections, associations and assumptions people make. They really are "theological cheap shots."
I have prepared answers to the logical, reasonable reactions to my beliefs. I simply cannot anticipate all the illogical, unreasonable ones. What's even more frustrating is that in order to answer some questions I have to think hard about what sort of fundamental underlying assumptions produced the bizarre question in the first place. That takes time.
A dear friend, and fellow professor, once asked for help in sorting out a comment on how Mormons view Christian fundamentalism. Unlike so many others, he wanted a thoughtful answer to something he was sincerely trying to understand. He asked me in confidence with no apparent malice. I struggled to respond and then realized that what he meant by "fundamentalism" was different to him than what it meant to me.
I told him, "To Mormons, "fundamentalism" means one thing and one thing only, polygamy." He responded with, "Ah, that explains it."
This illustrates a common problem for people attempting to judge Mormons, or even understand them. We have a lot of unique terms in Mormondom but many of the words we share with other faiths often mean something very different to Mormons.
The term "Bishop" for example connotes a higher ecclesiastical position in Catholicism than it does in Mormonism. To Mormons a Bishop is the lay leader of a congregation, nothing more.
When people ask why women cannot hold the priesthood in Mormondom, or why Blacks were not allowed to for years, I have to explain the word priesthood.
Nobody trains to be a church leader. No one gets paid to be clergy. No one in a leadership position gets paid to head a congregation. It is not a full time occupation or even an occupation at all. These are all part-time volunteer positions. So, do people even understand what they are trying to criticize? No, but that doesn't stop them.
I agree with Paredes, the "theological cheap shots" will probably heat up with presidential campaign. Grrr . . .
*The address took place in 2001 in Garden City, Kansas at a chapel close to where Dew grew up.