Judaism

We’re your friends

We’re your friends, we’re part of the community

In his Utah Policy newsletter, Deseret News columnist LaVarr Webb points out that the Mitt Romney presidential campaign has brought the Church into the national spotlight and asks whether the Church should respond to the increased attacks. “Romney obviously will have to deal with these matters forthrightly and aggressively…but what about the LDS Church?” He answers his own question by giving two suggestions to be implemented by Church members:

Mitt Romney Mormon1. Create an anti-defamation organization.

[P]erhaps some Mormon version of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League could be established. This organization could be more aggressive than the church itself in pointing out error and bigotry. Such an entity could also conduct a grassroots education effort outside the formal church organization.

2. Church members could run ads in their local newspapers.

Local Mormon groups could purchase full-page ads in their local newspapers with a message something like:

“We’re the Mormons. Because so much is being written and discussed about our church, some of it not fully factual, we want to tell you a little about ourselves and who we are. We’re your neighbors. We’re your friends. We’re doctors and plumbers and lawyers and carpenters and business people and housewives and school teachers. We’re part of the community fabric here in Omaha.”

The ads would include names and photos of local Mormons who are leaders in the community and also names and photos of prominent national Mormons, such as major business leaders, sports figures, politicians, entertainers, etc.

Along these lines, the More Good Foundation helped create LDS News Watch to point out inaccuracies in media reporting, and I’ve blogged previously about similarities between anti-Semitism and anti-Mormonism. But the Mormon Anti-Defamation industry is a tough industry to be in, since anti-Mormonism hasn’t been entirely pushed outside the realm of political correctness and we’d have to be careful not to embitter ourselves in a victim mentality. Maybe it could be pulled off, but it would be tough.

On the other hand, I very much like the idea of reaching out as Church members to explain our beliefs. (Sounds like a neighborly thing to do.) Many prominent Church members have already done so — Clayton Christensen, Donny Osmond, Glenn Beck — as well as many “locals” from across the globe.

The Internet is the next frontier of member missionary work.

UPDATE: I should point out, however, that any group effort by Church members may be construed as an official act of the institutional Church, which we may not want. It’s probably best that Church members focus on being good neighbors and on personally sharing the Gospel, including on personal blogs.

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Anti-Mormonism: Good for Mormons?

Today the Wall Street Journal has an article entitled Anti-Semitism: Good for the Jews? that has interesting parallels to Mormonism. Mr. Volokh makes the following points:

Bible and Book of MormonModest amounts of anti-Semitic speech and unfair criticism of Israel, it seems to me, can strengthen American Jews’ self-identity as Jews, and thus indirectly both support the preservation of the American Jewish community as a community, and strengthen support for Israel. Feeling embattled as a group tends to strengthen group solidarity.

If anti-Semitic speech became too common, these community-strengthening effects may be decreased (for instance, if American Jews became afraid to be publicly identified as Jews) or might be swamped by harmful effects (again, such as violence, ostracism, discrimination or fear suffered by individual Jews). But my sense is that at modest levels, the existence of this speech in America is a net positive (not an unalloyed positive, but a net positive) both for Israel and for the American Jewish community. And we are talking these days about such modest levels, if one looks at the big picture of Jewish existence in America today.

Naturally, there are limits to this. Certainly no one should foment anti-Semitic speech or conduct, or blow it out of proportion, or tolerate leaving actual anti-Semitic violence unpunished. Increasing group solidarity is not the most important thing.

But if you think that increasing group solidarity is on balance one important thing (either as an end or as a means), the First Amendment rights of American anti-Semites help you rather than hurt you.

If it doesn’t lead to violence or discrimination (think Mitt Romney), is anti-Mormonism a net positive for increasing Mormon solidarity? On the other hand, should we want more introverted solidarity or more outreach?

Google displays a disclaimer when anyone searches for “Jew,” warning them of potentially disturbing results. Since a similar disclaimer for Mormon search results does not appear to be forthcoming, it becomes us as Church members to raise our voices in support of our faith. We shouldn’t expect or want to silence the voices of our critics, but instead be “anxiously engaged in a good cause.”

Which is more effective: writing a stinging reply to PBS for perceived offenses in The Mormons or writing your testimony online where the world can read it?

I’m not even implying that PBS’s The Mormons was particularly anti-Mormon. Skewed and occasionally inaccurate, yes, but we can actually burn bridges to friends if what comes from our mouth is “biting, acrid, or untamed.” Instead of a cursing, from your mouth — your online mouth — can proceed a blessing.

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