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Mitt, Moochers, and Mormonism’s Other Legacy

Mormonism may have fueled Romney's disdain for those who use the safety net, but there's a progressive theology that lurks within the Mormon texts.

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In their nightmare scenarios, harsh punishments await the unbelieving and refractory. McConkie claimed that capital punishment was ordained of God and that sexual “perversions” were “worthy of death.” The fact that Western governments no longer applied such penalties simply attested to their “apostasy.” The God of Mormon scripture stands ready to damn the unbelieving, who are “ripe for destruction.” During the End Times, Jesus will lead God’s army with the “flame of devouring fire” to strike down the wicked, who will be “cast out,” “destroyed”—“the whole vineyard burned”—and become “as stubble.”

End Times talk fosters extremely conservative politics. Every change—in gender roles, in sexual mores, in the religious backdrop of national politics—represents a move toward Satan. This includes constitutional interpretations that allow for a living understanding of its principles. Shrouded in an aura of the Mormon divine, America’s founding documents must be preserved on stone tablets, not allowed to breathe and grow. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “We say that God is true; that the Constitution of the United States is true; that the Bible is true; [and] that the Book of Mormon is true.” 

In its brashest manifestations, End Times thinking gives us  Glenn Beck’s conspiracy theories, with their convoluted reasoning and circuitous connections. What sounds outrageous in the unapologetic, forthright discourse of Beck, however, springs from the unacknowledged or semi-conscious visions of a much larger segment of the population.

I have never met Beck, but I knew him as a child. His name back then was  Cleon Skousen, and we had his books. The two brains think alike. Skousen’s The Naked Communist (1958) presented a paranoid and simplistic case for the worldwide Soviet-Communist conspiracy, with pages of instruction urging parents, teachers, students, and ministers to be ever alert to the stealth communist penetration of society (“education was infiltrated by the Socialist-Communist contingent over thirty-five years ago” and they have “ambitions to eliminate all local control”). From exposing left-leaning bias in the media to taking one’s children to church; being active in the PTA (“If you are not, Communists and centralized planners will take over”); fighting against the separation of church and state in the public schools; and subscribing to U.S. News and World Report; we were all to be vigilant or our children and our nation would soon be lost.

The Naked Communist was written at the urging of the Prophet David O. McKay, who also offered financial support; found a publisher; and recommended it over the airwaves at the 1959 Mormon General Conference (or “Conference”), the most important meetings in the Mormon year.

In Skousen’s follow up, The Naked Capitalist (1970), communists had already infiltrated the government, schools, media, and even the churches. Everyone was in on the conspiracy—especially the Democratic Party, but also Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. He backed his claims by citing the Bible as easily as he did presumed communist insiders, and defended Senator Joseph McCarthy, the “tough, frustrated, American ex-Marine” who was crucified by the “liberal press.”

Skousen casts a long shadow. His work has been praised and promoted not only by Beck, but also by Romney and Rick Perry. At his funeral, Apostle (and now prophet) Thomas S. Monson eulogized him, as did  Senator Orrin Hatch from the Senate floor. On occasion, he overstepped even Mormon bounds, however, and the Church eventually withdrew its active support.

“When the Prophet Speaks, the Debate is Over”

Nothing is pounded into a Mormon’s head more firmly than that the Church cannot steer him wrong. From the Prophet Brigham Young in 1870 (“I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture”) to the Improvement Era magazine of 1945 (“When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan—it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe”), the message is clear. The Apostle N. Eldon Tanner put it succinctly in 1979, “ When the prophet speaks the debate is over.”

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