Mormon Cultist Warren Jeffs vs. Mitt Romney: Sex Sells! (But Anti-Black Hatred Stays Unmentioned)
OK, Warren Jeffs has been convicted of being an accomplice to rape. As the modern leader and Prophet of the largest offshoot Mormon polygamist sect in America (the "Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," founded in the 1930s), he forced a 14 year old girl to marry one of his adult male followers against her will. He's done it before.

All the news coverage about him, however, concerns sex, sex, sex. It's always about the polygamy. Yes, forcing an underage girl to marry is illegal, as it should be. Yes, she's a victim, as are any who've suffered the same fate.

But the guy spent years on the FBI's Most Wanted list, yet no major media outlet has spent much time (if any) exploring his history of preaching about race and how black people are evil, and how these views have long been part of mainstream Mormon orthodoxy.

Sex sells, and thus the only thing CNN covers, the only thing the general public knows, is the salacious stuff. There is so much more.

In dusty West Texas, just outside the small town of Eldorado, the followers of the Jeffs group (estimated at 10,000) have built a large compound on 2,000 guarded acres they bought a few years ago. Think David Koresh and the Branch Davidians on steroids. Unlike the town of Colorado City, Arizona, where the group has been for generations, their Eldorado outpost doesn't have 90 years of inhabiting the citizen gene pool and the elected officials, police and media. Blessedly, the local newspaper, The Eldorado Success, has the independence to post audio clips of his racist rants.

According to Jeffs:

The Negro race, which he calls the "seed of Cain," survived the flood of Noah because Noah's son Ham was married to "a wife of that seed" which he identified as being black. Jeffs claims it was necessary for the black race to be preserved "because it was necessary that the Devil should have a representation upon the Earth as well as God."

Jeffs also teaches us about rock and roll music. He says the Beatles were nothing until they learned at the feet of an unnamed homosexual black man who was a drug user, and then they became famous. Rock and roll music, he says,

will "rot the soul and lead the person to immorality, to corruption, to forget their prayers, to forget God. Thus the whole world has partaken of the spirit of the Negro race."

These sermons about race are ultimately more invidious because they go largely unexamined and, as free speech, are not illegal. His thousands of followers obviously believe what he says. It's the Kool-Aid that gets guzzled, and it then spreads like kudzu through the society.

Since Jeffs' group is a Mormon offshoot, and since the definition of offshoot is "outgrowth: a natural consequence of development," how deep-rooted are his frightfully racist views among the broader flock?

The main Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints abandoned polygamy in 1890, yet didn't disown the Jeffs clan over that issue for decades. Today, while the Salt Lake-based Mother Church has moved past multiple marriage, she nonetheless has very few members of color among her American flock (the singer Gladys Knight a notable exception.) The faith claims only 5.5 million total U.S. adherents, with scant evidence of African-Americans in the pews, no doubt due to historic Mormon doctrine (or perhaps a dearth of decent jazz clubs in Utah.)

Amazingly, black men couldn't be ordained into the church's all-male lay priesthood until a 1978 "revelation" by their president ended that policy. 1978! Original Mormon doctrine refers to all people who are not pale white as "Lamanites," including Polynesians, Hispanics, Africans, Asians with dark skin, etc. Certain categories of Lamanites, like Native American Indians, become Nephites (white) if they sufficiently embrace Mormon culture. This was all in "The Book of Mormon" by founder Joseph Smith, who invented the religion out of whole cloth in the 1820's.

This is certainly wild stuff, but it's not meant as religion bashing. It's actually about choosing a leader in the 21st Century.

As the Boston Globe reported in June of this year, the church got handsome White House hopeful Mitt Romney a deferment from the draft as a Mormon "minister of religion" in the 1960's to conduct his "missionary work" in France, which lasted two and a half years. This is how the Iraq War supporter Romney avoided Vietnam, and all five of his strapping sons later chose the same path in lieu of military service.

Missionary work means recruiting others into the faith, right? Just what are those proselytizing talking points?

The church outlawed polygamy over a century ago, and the federal government before that. Frankly, I couldn't care less what consenting adults do in their personal lives, but Warren Jeffs and his band of happy campers don't exist in a vacuum and were not created in a Petri dish. It seems to me a study of Mormon teachings and philosophy beyond the polygamy issue is a worthwhile endeavor, particularly as we scan the 2008 presidential field.

After all, Republican politicians now wear their religion on their sleeve as part of their campaign platforms. It infects their real-world thinking on everything from evolutionary biology to biblical Armageddon. Hey, this matters to all of us.

Think of how we've changed in less than five short decades: when JFK ran for president in 1960, protestant America's fear of Europeans forced him to famously convince the voters that he wouldn't be overly beholden to his Catholic faith. Today, on the other hand, Republican candidates can't be beholden enough to their faith. Rudy Giuliani notwithstanding, that's a sea change.

It's also their choice, even though they're running for president, not pastor. So let's put it on the table and under the microscope, free of fearmongering. It deserves to be explored.
Originally published September 27, 2007