Watching "The McLaughlin Group" on Sunday, I was impressed by Lawrence O'Donnell's fearless attack on the origins of Mormonism. I was also surprised to read Jason Linkins' piece, on this very blog, criticizing O'Donnell for a "radical assault on Mormonism" and claiming that he "lost his mind." Linkins seems shocked that someone would be so angry, but I totally understand O'Donnell - racism makes me angry too.
What Linkins completely fails to address is that nothing O'Donnell said about the Mormon faith is incorrect. Let's break down his statements:
...this man stood there and said to you "this is the faith of my fathers." And you, and none of these commentators who liked this speech realized that the faith of his fathers is a racist faith. As of 1978 it was an officially racist faith, and for political convenience in 1978 it switched. And it said "OK, black people can be in this church." He believes, if he believes the faith of his fathers, that black people are black because in heaven they turned away from God, in this demented, Scientology-like notion of what was going on in heaven before the creation of the earth.
None of this is inaccurate. It was assumed that "blacks inherited the curse of Ham and the curse of Cain" and it wasn't until a "divine revelation" in 1978 by LDS Church President Spencer Kimball that they were allowed to be full members of the Mormon church. Mitt Romney was thirty-one years old in 1978; he's been a practicing Mormon all his life ("My faith is the faith of my fathers - I will be true to them and to my beliefs" is what he declared last week), so either he's lying about his commitment to his faith, or he believed this racist nonsense for the first 31 years of his life. What's more, Wikipedia tells us that in the mid-1960s, a full decade before Mormonism's divine racial correction in 1978, "Romney served in France for 30 months as a missionary for LDS Church." As a missionary for the Mormon faith, did Romney fully buy into Mormon doctrine of that time? These are highly pertinent questions for a man who wishes to lead a multiracial United States.
O'Donnell then goes on to claim that Mormonism was founded by a "fraudulent criminal." He's right, of course. Joseph Smith, Jr. was the charlatan who founded Mormonism; he's also a child molester by today's standards (his thirty-plus wives included seven minors: two 14-year-olds, two 16-year-olds and three 17-year-olds). The story of Smith's "revelation" is so bizarre and silly that I won't repeat it; you'd think I was making it up. You can read it all here, as told by Christopher Hitchens, if you have any interest in wading through all the revelations and counter-revelations, angels, gold tablets, and the true origin of Native Americans according to Mormonism (their account of Native American history, incidentally, is yet another horrifying facet of the Mormon doctrine of white supremacy).
Mormons were fairly pro-slavery, with one of their founding members quoted as saying "You must not think, from what I say, that I am opposed to slavery. No! The negro is damned, and is to serve his master till God chooses to remove the curse of Ham..." Those were the words of Brigham Young, who incidentally has a college named after him in Utah, which incidentally graduated a certain Mitt Romney in 1971.
I'll resist dredging further into the swampland of Mormon doctrine; I personally think debating religious doctrine is sort of like trying to decide whether Tim Burton's Batman or Chris Nolan's Batman Begins gets closer to the truth of Batman's "actual origins." (The answer is obviously the latter.)
I don't understand Linkins' desire to defend a church with such a sordid history, a history that was at odds with our vision of American justice and equality as recently as 1978. Their beliefs make me as angry as O'Donnell was, and I'm glad he was gutsy enough to say what he said.
Finally, Linkins ludicrously wonders how O'Donnell gets along with the writers of HBO's Big Love, a show on which O'Donnell plays a recurring role. Since the show itself has probably informed O'Donnell's views, I doubt he'll be "giving up his role" on the show because of them. Anyway, I would assume that he gets along with the Big Love folks just as well as people who think the mafia isn't a good thing would get along with the team behind The Sopranos: in other words, just fine.
(Correction: Linkins has pointed out to me in an e-mail that he went "out of [his] way" to point out what O'Donnell said about the Mormon faith was correct. By "I go out of my way" he means a single sentence and a link. Linkins' correction actually makes my case. The infuriating thing about his post was that he acknowledged that what O'Donnell said was correct. He apparently just didn't like O'Donnell's strident tone (pretty odd objection from a fellow political blogger, I must say). Case in point: the title of Linkins' post was "Lawrence O'Donnell Loses His Ever-Loving Mind on McLaughlin". Linkins' correction perfectly demonstrates that his post was an unwarranted, unfair hit piece on a guy who was telling the truth.)
(Thanks to Joe Drymala for contributing to this post.)