Why Israelis don't mind a Mormon in the White House

Thursday, October 18, 2012 |  David Lazarus

While US President Barack Obama’s perceived Islamic sympathies have continued to hound him with conservative Christian voters, challenger Mitt Romney’s Mormonism has hardly stirred a prayer. As far as Israel is concerned, many Christians believe that Romney’s support for the Jewish state is stronger than Obama’s. But how might Romney’s Mormon faith influence his policies vis-à-vis Israel?

Mormons teach that they are the direct descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Book of Mormon states that the Israelite tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim were exiled from Jerusalem and settled in America. According to Mormon doctrine, this migration fulfilled the prophecy of Jacob on his son, Joseph: "Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall" (Genesis 49:22). The Book of Mormon also tells of a group from the Tribe of Judah who came to the Americas after its defeat by Babylon around 600 BCE.

On the title page of the scriptures of the Latter-day Saints there is a clear condemnation of anti-Semitism and support for a future Israel. "Yea, and ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews, nor of any remnant of the house of Israel; for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them, and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn." 3 Nephi 29:8

These beliefs may account for the fact that among Jews, Mormons ranked at the very top of the approval list in a report done by the Public Religion Research Institute (Jewish Values Survey, March 2012). Jews viewed Mormons more warmly than any other religious group in the survey. This positive attitude is not only the result of Mormon support for Israel. Christians also love Israel, and yet Jewish people tend to be far more suspicious of evangelical Christians.

According to “Shrbh” (Hebrew initials), a Messianic Jewish scholar in Jerusalem, there is a unique affinity between Mormons and Jews. “I think there is a common feeling of being a minority which has suffered persecution,” he said. “This leads Mormons to a feeling of identity with Jewish suffering.”

This Messianic Jewish scholar supports Romney for president because he believes that “this will provide a platform for a respectful relationship with Jews and Israel as a whole. …This respect will prevent a Mormon president from placing overbearing pressure on Israel to conform to the international community's desires.”

The connection between Jews and Mormons runs deep and could play a significant role in Romney’s support for Israel. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believed unashamedly in the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland in Israel. Israel’s ambassador to the USA, Michael B. Oren, writes about the first Mormon pilgrimage to Jerusalem in his book Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East. In 1841, Smith sent his “personal apostle” Orson Hyde to the ancient Jewish capital. “Climbing the Mount of Olives, Hyde erected an altar and beseeched God to ‘restore the kingdom unto Israel, raise up Jerusalem as its capital, and continue her people a distinct nation and government.’ Mormons would later integrate that prayer into their liturgy and, on the site of Hyde’s altar, build a branch of Brigham Young University.” In terms of Mormon theology, their presence in Jerusalem is far more significant to them than just a university center.

Governor Romney’s commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is well known, although he was quoted in U.S. News & World Report as saying that if elected he would “pledge allegiance to the Constitution, not the Mormon Church.” From 1981-1986 Romney held the position of Bishop over his congregation in Boston, and from 1987-1994 he presided as President over the entire Boston district, which included dozens of congregations and over 4000 members. Romney spent two years after graduating college as a Mormon missionary in France, and he and his family continue to attend a Mormon congregation every Sunday.

Yedidiah, a Messianic Jewish officer in the Israeli army is not convinced that a Mormon president in the White House is good for Israel. “I can’t understand how an intelligent government official can believe all those strange Mormon doctrines,” he said about Romney. In spite of the fact that while visiting Israel in July of this year Romney made it clear that Israel is “the highest national-security priority,” many Israelis are still undecided. “There are too many things about Romney that I don’t know,” the Messianic officer said. “Obama has not been bad for Israel. At least we know where he stands.”

The faith elements of the upcoming US elections are fascinating. Both vice presidential candidates are confessing Catholics, the incumbent president is perceived as a Muslim, and a Mormon is making a serious bid for the White House. Israelis, however, will not be judging Mitt Romney, or any other candidate, on their faith, theology or church attendance. Israelis just don’t have that option. Israel will be looking at the actions of any candidate that shows good faith and understanding of Israel’s predicament. Matters of personal faith they leave to God.

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