Harry Reid and litmus tests

mormon cantDo you believe in God? Do you promise to follow him and forsake sin? And do you endorse God's one-and-only approved stance on this latest piece of legislation? Then (and only then) may you be counted among the elect! Many evangelicals have been using this approach toward equating political correctness with doctrinal orthodoxy for decades. It's no surprise that Mormons are doing the same, as Thomas Burr of the Salt Lake Tribune reported in "Harry Reid: A Mormon in the middle."

The Temple-recommend-carrying Reid is very active in his church, say fellow members in the Washington area. But that may come as a shock to some Mormon critics who contend that the Senate leader's political stands put him at odds with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The latest round of religiously charged criticism came after Reid told gay rights groups in a private meeting that the LDS Church's efforts to back the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in California was a waste of resources and hurt the faith's missionary efforts.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen posted a news story on that subject on his Facebook page, prompting several conservatives to challenge Reid's Mormon credentials.

Conservative activist and Utah blogger Holly Richardson said she found Reid's comments disconcerting and doesn't see how Reid's far left political beliefs can align with the LDS Church.

"I just don't get how his politics translate to somebody who has LDS beliefs," Richardson says. "He's an embarrassment to me as a Mormon."

Reid, who converted as a college student and regularly attends services, has grown accustomed to the condemnation of conservative Mormons (who make up a majority of the Mormon faithful).

He recalls a time when his grandchildren were trick-or-treating at a local LDS ward event and came upon a poster featuring a picture of the Devil and Reid, and asking "Can you tell the difference?"

"I remember it," Reid says when asked how he deals with the criticism, "but I try not to let people who do not represent the teachings that I have learned interfere with my basic beliefs."

Burr gets quotes from the usual suspects (Pew's John Green) but goes further and deeper by quoting church doctrine and examining recent practice:

The LDS Church declined comment for this story but pointed to its statement on relationships with government.

It says that elected officials who are LDS make their own decisions "and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated church position."

And the church has made efforts in the past to dispel the notion that it sides with conservative politics. In 1998, church General Authority Marlin Jensen stressed that good Mormons can also be good Democrats. The late James E. Faust, a Democrat and then a member of the First Presidency, the church's top governing body, said it was in the church's best interest to have a two-party system.

All faith groups wrestle with how to apply their beliefs to society and politics. Leon Wieseltier explored whether Judaism is essentially conservative or liberal in his Sept. 13 New York Times Book Review review of Norman Podhoretz's Why Are Jews Liberal? I love how Wieseltier put it:

Judaism is not liberal and it is not conservative; it is Jewish.

So, is religion necessarily a "conservative" political force? Some are certain it is. Others are more cautious about espousing a one-size-fits-all link between doctrine and public policy, echoing the sentiments of J. B. Phillips (who wrote the classic book, Your God Is Too Small) or C. S. Lewis, who distinguished between "mere Christianity" and an adulterated form of faith he called "Christianity plus."

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