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The Anti-Mormon Moment

LDS critics capitalize on Romney's GOP nom

By Eric S. Peterson
 Mitt Romney
Posted // April 18,2012 -

When presidential contender Rick Santorum bowed out of the GOP White House race April 10, it cleared the way for Mitt Romney’s all-but-inevitable nomination. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will for the first time see one of the faithful nominated for president by a major political party.

But while the faithful rejoice, so do the church critics, whose cries of hosanna may be just as loud as LDS members’. For them, Romney’s nomination is an opportunity for the nation to finally pick up on their rebuke of the church’s beliefs and practices, as a wider liberal audience narrows its scrutiny of Romney as the ultimate challenger to Barack Obama in the presidential fall election.

And the LDS Church is bracing itself for scrutiny. Voters across the country are looking to the Internet for answers, which is cause for concern for the church, especially since late 2011, when Reuters news services published an unscripted, audio-recorded talk Elder Marlin Jensen gave to a religious-studies class at Utah State University. In the candid conversation, Jensen—who is a General Authority, in the church’s First Quorum of the Seventy—acknowledged that people were leaving the church en masse, and that since the church’s early history, “We’ve never had a period of—I’ll call it apostasy—like we’re having now.”

Critics say the uncomfortable doctrines of the LDS Church are often what scare members away, and it’s that information they want to get out to the general public.

“I am concerned that most journalists don’t know that much about Mormonism,” says Richard Packham, a spokesman for the ExMormon Foundation, which holds annual conferences for those who have left the LDS flock. He says that in the past few months, he’s been receiving frequent calls from international journalists asking about the church. Packham, in turn, has provided them with his testimony of the Mormon problem.

“First of all, they go to the Mormon church, and the public-relations [staff] give them a sweet, sugary story about how nice it is and how wonderful the church is—and it’s deceptive.” He sees church PR efforts of the past few years as being carefully orchestrated to prepare for this moment of public attention.

“It isn’t coincidental that the church has got this ‘I Am a Mormon’ campaign going and that they are urging members to get on the Internet and spread their testimony,” Packham says of an ad campaign that features videos of members introducing themselves as Mormons. The campaign has featured average Mormons and more well-known Mormons, including Brandon Flowers, lead singer of The Killers.

In 2011, the church hired tech guru and entrepreneur Jesse Stay as a social-media strategist. By May 2011, Stay had helped the LDS Church claim Facebook’s No. 1 ranking for churches and religious organizations—a ranking the church has held as of this issue’s press date, having 587,776 “likes.”

Packham, whose organization runs, which hosts forums for disaffected former church members and other critics, hopes the uncomfortable questions the site has posed over the years will now emerge in the national discourse, thanks to the presidential election.

Packham has even developed questions he offers to reporters to grill Romney about his faith. He suggests asking Romney whether, if the church no longer believes in polygamy, it believes the polygamist wives of church founders still join them in the afterlife.

“Reporters don’t have the sense to ask: ‘Well, Brigham Young was sealed to about 50 wives, do you believe they are with him now in the Celestial Kingdom?’ ” Packham says.

John Dehlin, while a member of the LDS Church,* has for years sought to offer a resource to questioning members that strikes a balance between sites with clear axes to grind and staunch LDS Church apologists.

“I’m talking with reporters from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, CBS—and they don’t know where to get [LDS] interpretations and perspectives from, because so often the church PR just won’t engage with them,” Dehlin says.

His nonprofit Open Stories Foundation features a podcast where he hosts pro and con speakers to talk about hot topics of LDS interest. He says in the past year, his podcasts have more than doubled their downloads, now averaging 25,000 to 35,000 downloads. He hopes sites like his can offer media and other members of the public a neutral LDS resource. As for the impact of dissenting Mormon resources, Dehlin believes more stories are going to come out about the church.

“A lot of reporters have told me they were waiting for Romney to clinch the nomination before they started putting stories out,” Dehlin says. “I think a lot of that stuff is going to be hitting now.”

But others are doubtful. Fred Karger, a former Ronald Reagan staffer and the only gay Republican presidential candidate, has been largely self-financing a costly campaign (he’d spent more than $400,000 as of the end of 2011) aimed largely at sticking it to Romney about his loyalty to the church and the LDS Church’s involvement in campaigning for 2008’s Proposition 8 to repeal same-sex marriage in California.

“I brought up some of my concerns, and they usually land with a thud,” Karger says. “There is a very hesitant feeling from all circles to bring that issue up.”

University of Utah political-science professor Matthew Burbank also doubts anti-Mormon lines of enquiry will tangle up the GOP candidate. Burbank likens church critics assailing Romney to the “birther” movement that tried to discredit Obama’s candidacy in the 2008 election by suggesting he was born in Africa instead of the United States.

Burbank doesn’t see the religious-obedience question resonating with the general public the way financial or sex scandals do. “It’s unlikely at the campaign level that that’s going to be a big issue,” Burbank says.

But even if a difference isn’t felt on Election Day, for Packham, the opportunity is a vital one for Americans—Mormons and non-Mormons—to ask harder questions about the LDS faith; the kind of questions he wishes he would have asked himself earlier in life. Packham, 79, spent the first 25 years of his life as a devout Mormon, having served a mission and been married in the temple. He didn’t scrutinize his own faith until later in his life.

Though his falling away resulted in him separating from his wife of eight years and their three children, he doesn’t regret the questions he’s asked and hopes more will do the same.

“I expect the church leaders aren’t too happy about the [publicity] they’re getting,” Packham says. “They’re concerned about what they call ‘misinformation,’ which is their code word for the unpleasant truths about Mormonism—but it’s got to come out.”

Twitter: @EricSPeterson

*A previous version of this article, which appeared in print, incorrectly stated Dehlin's affiliation with the LDS Church.

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Posted // May 24,2012 at 07:49

"Burbank likens church critics assailing Romney to the “birther” movement".

Then why is fellow Mormon and Romney surrogate Arizona Sec of State threatening to keep Obama off the Arizona ballot over his birther claim.

This is what's wrong with "The Church". It's always do as I say, not as I do and if there is one thing the world will not tolerate, it is religious hypocrisy.



Posted // April 22,2012 at 16:42

I will be content, when not only the LDS faith is but a mere footnote in our worlds history, as well as all organized religion and dogmatic practice. It is the plague of mankind; It is made to pull the wool over your eyes! While your scriptures and bishops, priests, rabbi's shieks preach peace, love, understanding, the true motivation behind any religion is power, greed, corruption and oppression. The only reason why members of any religion are so quick to it's defense is they have been brainwashed and conditioned to think that way their whole lives. You are not free, you are a slave. Look what Christians, Muslims and Jews have done to indigenous cultures for hundreds of years? they have conquered, raped, and pillaged their way of life. We are resound in opposition and will always defend our rights as honourable and noble human beings to deny your teachings, and to force no teachings of our own on others.

To quote on of the former posters on here "get over it!"


Posted // April 20,2012 at 06:07

Why do people have ot tear down others faith?  If you want to believe in the LDS church, then it is the individuals right to follow that faith.  Does anyone question the weight the Catholic church has in political and global affairs?  I come from a family full of LDS, Catholic, Gays, Lesbians, and Protestants, and all of us are human beings who care for each other, whether we believe in the same faith or not.

Another thing,  a lot of the questions that Richard Packman is trying to push can be explained by reading the bible or book of mormon, that is why there is scrpiture, to help answer questions.


Posted // May 18,2012 at 11:19 - Of course we all now how religious Hitler was and the great religious fervour in his campaign to dominate Europe and the great religious leaders of Japan that authorised the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Like anything, people will use whatever excuse they want to obtain their selfish desires. Religions also do a lot of good in the world, but of course news makers never focus on the positive because it doesn't sell, they just propagate the negative because that makes more profit.


Posted // April 26,2012 at 11:34 - RE: Carissa Yes, when JFK was running for President there were serious questions about his loyalty to the Catholic Church and the Pope. And people to this day still question the authority of the Catholic Church and the Pope. Time to get over your persecution complex, Mormons are being treated just like every other religion now.


Posted // April 20,2012 at 07:03 - Stating the truth about the LDS church is NOT tearing down another's faith. If the church was truthful to begin with things would be very different. The Catholic church does not teach shunning like Mormons do. They also have no wackier beliefs than other Christians. Mormons just take the weird and wacky to a whole new level. In a perfect world the lds church would practice what they preach in their own articles of faith and not break apart families, counsel members to divorce if their spouse leaves the church. Women are treated like their only purpose in life is to make babies and stay in the kitchen. The mormon church is not open with it's financials. Where does all the tithing money go? The Cathlic church does not hunt down inactive members or demand 10% of your income to get to heaven. They have their own issues but they do not believe in works, you are saved by grace. LDS inc makes it so that you are only saved by works (and 10% of your income at the very least) Tell me of one other faith that does Tithing settlement and will only give a temple recommend if you are paying tithing. They have even demanded people pay back tithing just so they can attend a family members wedding. If you don't pay your 10% then you don't get your recommend. If you don't go to the temple then you cannot go to the Celestial kingdom. No other faith puts teenagers in a room alone with a man and asks them personal sexual questions. If people knew what really went on and how racist and misogynistic the mormon church is they would be horrified. This is not "Anti-Mormon" lies. These are facts. What other faith believes in fortune telling like with the patriarchal blessings. No other faith does proxy marriages and baptisms for the dead. What other faith tells you to pay your tithing instead of bills (cause the lord will provide you with blessings if you pay your dues) and girls are only taught to prepare for motherhood and told not to put it off for schooling. Why was I taught growing up that Joseph Smith only had 1 wife? We know ow that he had dozens (and not proxy marriages after death, either) He married a 14 year old girl. Why was I not told about the Book of Abraham and how it was all lies? Why was I not told about Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon by sticking his head in a hat? Why was I not taught that Joseph was convicted of fraud? Why was I never told about the Kinderhook plates? Why has the church hidden it's real history? Why does it talk about becoming white and delightsome in the Book of Mormon? Why have they changed the BOM to take some of the sting out of the racist doctrine? Why did the church fight against the ERA and why were blacks not allowed to have the priesthood until 1978? Why would God say anyone is more righteous with lighter skin. I could go on and on. The church cannot leave ex members alone and stop teaching shunning of those who have left.


Posted // April 19,2012 at 22:05

Two minor factual corrections in the article:




1. I never served a mission, although I was certainly worthy at that age, and a devout believer;








2. The Exmormon Foundation and the Exmormon website (Recovery from Mormonism) are entirely separate entities, although they have similar goals and generally cooperate with each other. I participate in both, but am involved in managing neither.


Posted // April 21,2012 at 10:48 - Cling2him, It's classic Mormon attitude that a lot of members use when they don't like what they read or hear. "You must be mad or offended" blah blah blah. It couldn't possibly be that people can use their brains and learn the truth about the LDS faith. Nope. It has to be anything but learning the truth. It's intellectually lazy and shallow to sit and say that one must be angry or hurt and accuse them of taking it out on the church. Most ex mormons or those who are disaffected from the church have not left because they were angry or offended. How many times does this need to be said?!!! WE LEARNED THE TRUTH. Also needs to be said that the "Why can't you leave the church alone" is old and has been refuted more times than I can count. You choose to not listen to real people and their real experiences. You choose to have blind faith and no matter what anybody says to you, you will not accept facts. You still need the church because life without it seems terrifying. When I found out I had been lied to my entire life I was angry, yes but that anger left and now I feel pity. I do not blame individual members at all. I blame the General Authorities and the convicted fraudster Joseph Smith. Brigham Young just went on a power trip after the gunfight at Carthage so he has a lot of the blame as well. You still have your blinders on. Take them off and use your brain to think. THINK! You take whatever your leaders say to you and close off your mind to anything else. Thinking for yourself is liberating and makes for a much happier life. Just stop assuming and falsely accusing those who have left (which is a very painful experience) of basically being willing to give up their eternal salvation (your belief) over being offended or angry? Are you serious? You poor misguided soul. Try being loving and understanding with your fellow man for once in your life. I feel so sorry for you. How empty and hollow an existence members like you have. Leaving the controlling grip of the liars at lds inc. life gets better. The world is is color and you see how much you have been missing out on. I hope you can see the color one of these days.


Posted // April 20,2012 at 13:25 - Half-truths, generalizations, loaded language, blah blah blah... What happened to you that hurt you or pissed you off so bad that you take it out on the church? Get over it.


Posted // April 19,2012 at 10:47

I believe in the sincerity and obedient faith that Bishop Romney professes, and to a great extent practices. However, that is troubling rather than any comfort. The Mormon (LDS) church was the "faith of my father, and extended family, centered in the town that my ancestors were directed by Brigham Young to help settle in the 1850s, namely Springville. I am no longer a member of the Mormon church because of its corporate, hierarchical structure, its stifling and punishing of sincere dissent and questionning of Church positions and doctrine, and its treatment of GBLT members -- or even members who profess support for organization that promote equal rights, and even same-gender marriage.

In 1974 I formally asked to be excommunicated because I could no longer live my life with integrity by continuing to be "on the rolls of the Church." My spiritual life is robust and challenging as I am a member of 1st Unitarian Church in SLC, even singing in the choirs -- I love to sing, and consider music a very real form of worship and service in our church community. It is very true that there are a great many so-called "apostate" Mormons in SLC. And a significant majority struggle with their consciences because the all-encompassing faith prescribed by the Mormon hierarchy is indeed hard to leave -- unless one finds, as I did, a great gulf between the maze of official beliefs and the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, as documented in the Bible, and with great audacity, the Book of Mormon. In 1970 I was accepted into the Honors Program at BYU even though I never applied to attend that university. On a trip to SLC with my father, who was not a practicing Mormon through my entire childhood, he took me to meet and talk with his former mentor in the Sociology dept. re. my potential admission to BYU, Reed Bradford. Dr. Bradford told me quietly but with great force that, "If you are anything like your father you will not be happy here." After obtaining his Master's degree at BYU my father was accepted into a prestgious PhD program/fellowship at Harvard.

I am troubled by the seemingly blind faith of Bishop Romney, a faith which is all encompassing, and which is both corporate and hierarchical. And a faith that truly demands obedience to LDS leaders and their pronouncements. I see none of the care for the less fortunate, and acceptance of the wide and wonderful diversity in our country. Contrary to his assertion that, "corporations are people too", the real suffering of tens of million people, our fellow citizens, who have borne the brunt of loss of jobs, and relatively soon thereafter the loss if any health insurance for themselves and their families, seems to have eluded his perceptions, let alone his consciousness.



Posted // May 18,2012 at 11:22 - Funny, but people who leave the church, just can't leave it alone


Posted // April 20,2012 at 14:18 - "Take it out on the cult" you mean? Richard Packham has more integrity than your cult witll ever have, this is why you should do your own research into the lies and distortions and outright bs you have been told on the history and pretty much everything else


Posted // April 19,2012 at 15:57 - Just a small comment about Romney's blind faith in the LDS church. I think it is very funny that when someone belongs to the LDS church, they are considered to be blindly following its leaders without thinking or asking questions. For some reason, a devout follower of pretty much any other religion isn't told they have blind faith in it. There are many people, myself included, who have read, thought, asked, questioned and still came to the conclusion that the LDS church is true. It is not necessarily a blind faith thing . . .


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