Nominating Mitt Romney

In circles of humility and modesty, no one cycles higher than Tom Sheepandgoats. Far be it from he to blow his own horn, but....hang it all....if you've nailed something, you've nailed it! Why not trumpet it far and wide throughout the blogosphere?

Several months ago I prophesied that Evengelical Born Agains would vote for a pig in heat before they would vote for a Mormon. Some readers were doubtful, and those of scientific bent still demand a pig should run Porkso as to properly test the hypothesis. But everyone else is convinced, having watched in dismay the unfolding of the 2012 Republican Primary race.

Among GOP (Grand Old Party) operatives, Mitt Romney is the guy they'd like to see as Presidential Candidate to run against Barrack Obama. The other wannabe's carry way too much baggage. They all have starry-eyed bases, to be sure, but that's it. In a general election you can't depend upon them to attract one additional vote. But with Romney you probably can, and thus he might conceivably beat Pres Obama, who is not that strong of an incumbent.

Even Romney doesn't positively thrill them, but he can probably get the job done. Why, oh why, they sigh, can't someone like Mitch O'Connell run? The South Dakota Senator gave the Republican response to the State of the Union and he was so reasonable, so reassuring, so competent, so......yawn....isn't there something on another channel?.....so boring. Only flamboyant cowboys run for President today, because folks can't focus on anyone else.

That's what Sesame Street did to us. 2012 2 16 Strong Musuem of Play 101It made us unable to hold a thought longer than two minutes. We have to be razzle-dazzled, awed by charismatic presence, and candidates in recent decades have had that ability in spades, if nothing else. Sesame Street...brought to us by the best and brightest and most well-intentioned of PBS child development experts. They loused us up, just like Dr Spock loused up the generation before. "We have reared a generation of brats,” he acknowledged toward the end of his life. “.....Of course, we did it with the best of intentions. We didn't realize until it was too late how our know-it-all attitude was undermining the self assurance of parents."

But don't let me stray off topic! We're talking about voters, Mormons, and Evangelicals. Romney does fine in eastern, western and northern states. There, he is watered down only by the Evangelical minorities. In the south, however, where Evangelicals prevail, he gets shellacked. He came in 3rd in Alabama and Mississippi, behind Santorum and Gingrich. Yet Romney outspends them 10 to 1! The reason is painfully obvious, though no one will say it lest it appear politically incorrect: Romney is a Mormon. He thinks.....I almost feel sorry for him.....that surely these folks can be won over, swayed by his reason, charm, and ability. I don't think so.

Do a blogoshere search of “Mormon” and “cult” and your server will crash.  Mormonism is a “cult,” the Evangelicals insist, in the same league with devil worship and Jim Jones. Do you think in your wildest dreams Evangelicals are going to vote a cult member into the Presidency? They're not. As Amy Sullivan writes, “it is nearly impossible to overemphasize the problem evangelicals have with Mormonism.” Only one other significant faith draws the 'cult' label.....Jehovah's Witnesses. Actually, I think JWs draw it more, but I could be wrong.

Now, Mormons don't fit the traditional definition of a cult any more than Jehovah's Witnesses do, but they do fit the new refined definition: faiths we don't like. At any rate, pundits, naïve as can be, suggest the real problem is that Romney may not be conservative enough for Evangelicals. Nonsense. What about how Mormons rammed through Proposition 8 in California that banned gay marriage? Call THAT not conservative? What about when Ron Paul suggested the U.S. ought not go picking fights around the world, and Mitt Romney swore that on his watch American military forces would be second to none? Call THAT not conservative? No, believe me, the problem is that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Everyone else can adjust and live with that fact. But Evangelicals? From early years they're indoctrinated to think Mormons are a cult, same as JWs. We wouldn't have a prayer either, were we to run. Fortunately, we never have, save only for Dwight D. Eisenhower, who doesn't count, since by the time of his election he'd long outgrown his JW upbringing.

 

Thinking his trouble might be Northernism, not Mormonism, Romney lays a “Mornin' y'all” on a Mississippi audience one recent morning. He started his day off right, he says, with “a biscuit and some cheesy grits.” Sigh....that's cheese grits, laments poor Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post, who  wants to know why can't he just be himself? Because 'himself' is Mormon, that's why,  and he's playing to an audience intent on re-establishing America as a Christian nation, and a Christian nation is not one led by a Mormon.


Be it Republican or Democrat, each primary race lands more spectacular than the one preceding it. The pattern's held for decades. But this current race takes the cake. Already, wannabes have shot like meteors only to vanish into thin air. Who can forget Rick Perry, an Evangelical like Ron Santorum, vowing in debate that he would eliminate three Federal departments...this one, that one, and um...um....uh....he couldn't think of the last one!....Ron Paul had to help him out. I guess it doesn't matter if you're going to ax them anyway, but voters weren't reassured. And Herman Cain, the GodFather Pizza founder....what pure charisma that fellow has! Alas, it turned out that he likes the women.

Romney will likely emerge with the candidacy, but will he emerge strong enough to beat Obama in November? Kathleen Parker offers advice ('be yourself') but it's inapplicable, because Evangelicals know who he is and don't like it. If he listens to me, however, the election is in the bag. And I offer my advice freely. I am not seeking Vice Presidential office, and will not accept it if drafted. The secret lies in registering dead voters. There's a lot of them. It plays to a Mormon strength. Nobody else has thought of it. And dead voters are not about to contradict you.

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Read ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’    30% free preview

Starting with Prince, a fierce and frolicking defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A riotous romp through their way of life. “We have become a theatrical spectacle in the world, and to angels and to men,” the Bible verse says. That being the case, let’s give them some theater! Let’s skewer the liars who slander the Christ! Let’s pull down the house on the axis lords! Let the seed-pickers unite!**********************

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Tom Irregardless and Me               No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


The New Cool Mormons Get Even Cooler

Careful readers of this blog, and even sloppy ones, know that I have a thing for Mormons. Don't ask me why....I just do. Maybe it's because their guy founded American Motors, manufacturer of the cars I drove as a kid. Maybe it's that Mormons get to be elders at 19 or 20, and can wear nametags to that effect, whereas we can't touch the word until...oh, at least 30....usually later, and even then we don't get nametags. Maybe it's that, for their brief (but intensive) 2 year stint, they're our “competition” in the door to door ministry...nobody else touches that work with any regularity....usually not at all. Occasionally some awkward moments arise, like when I was on a return visit and the doorbell rang. The householder answered, returned with an odd look on her face, and announced: "This ought to be interesting. Jehovah's Witnesses: meet the Mormons!" They'd also called on a return visit!

 So we all chatted for awhile....I was conscious of a certain air of absurdity.....when the younger Mormon launches into some heartfelt, long-winded, emotional diatribe about, I think, creation. I mean, it was all very fine, but it had absolutely nothing to do with anything. Whereupon the senior Mormon turns on him and says "So?!" I thought the poor kid would melt into the floor.

Of course, this is a human story, not really a Mormon story. Sometimes you have to reign in an underling. Didn't Moe do that with Larry and Curly? The same thing could have happened among us. But, as it was, these guys were Mormons.

But this is back in the day when Mormons competed with us on the basis of spirituality. Now, however, they are trying to "out-cool" us, at least if their new ad campaign is anything to go by. Since starting in nine test markets a year ago, I've recently seen the ads online! Does that mean they're everywhere now? If not, I fear they may soon be.

When I first saw that Mormon TV spot ad a year ago...

..... I'm a surfer, I'm a wife, I'm a nurse, I believe that we're all here in life to make a difference.......and I'm a Mormon!

.....I right away telephoned JW headquarters. 'You'd better drop this Bible schtick right away,' I told them, 'and stress how cool we are, otherwise those Mormons are going to pull so far ahead of us we'll never catch up! They ignored me! Oh, they may have played with a prototype or two...

......I hang drywall, I own five suits, I believe sinners are going down......and I'm a Jehovah's Witness!

......but I don't think their hearts were in it. Well, it's too late now! Mormon coolness has gone viral! Just look at this recent Newsweek cover:

Newseek mormon cover 

See?! This is what happens when you drag your feet and dilly-dally, like our people did. And just what are we to do now? Can we really have a Tommy Lee Jones moment like in The Fugitive movie  “......well.....we're cool, too. Yeah.....we're real cool. I mean, those Mormons, how cool can they be? We're cool also”.....I tell you, it's hard to play second fiddle to Mormons after Newsweek puts them on the cover.

But that's not all....winning the Newsweek top spot! No! They've made a musical about Mormons. And not just some schocky low-grade, 3rd rate production, like those ridiculous evangelical movies. The Book of Mormon is the winner of nine Tony awards! The Broadway cast recording is the highest-charting such album in over four decades. The world has gone after these guys, and just like the Pharisees groused about Jesus: “You observe you are getting absolutely nowhere. See! The world has gone after him,” (John 12:19) I'm so jealous I can't stand it! To be sure, that Book of Mormon musical is said to be blasphemous, but what's a little blasphemy on the road to coolness?

Bokk of mormon musical 

Now.....can I be serious here for a moment?

As far as I'm concerned, this all illustrates Jesus words at John 17:19:  “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own.” As soon as those Mormons decided to remake their image to emphasize coolness, fun, and good vibes, the world grew fond of them. Mormons have become the latest fad, and there's nothing the world loves more than fads. As for us, we're stuck with the 2nd part of that John 17:19 verse: “….Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.” I don't think anybody, even among the grousers, would deny that Jehovah's Witnesses are no part of the world. So, they're unpopular, sometimes even hated. But Mormons.....am I wrong in this?.....seem to have embraced the world, perhaps with a view to reforming it. Well....so be it. If that's where we must be, that's where we must be. Christianity, as defined in the Bible, is not the road to popularity with this world.

So firmly is the U.S. in the grip of, as Newsweek put it, the Mormon moment, that, not one, but two Mormons (Jon Huntsman Jr and Mitt Romney) are likely to run for President in 2012 and it seems that......wait a moment....do you think.......you don't suppose that's what's behind this new image-making of theirs, do you? Helping maneuver one of their own into the top seat? I mean, just like backers feared John F Kennedy could never be elected President solely because he was a Catholic, many doubt a Mormon candidate could ever win, solely because he is Mormon. Evangelicals, to take the most extreme example, would vote for a pig in heat before they would vote for a Mormon....a “cultist”, in their eyes, almost as grievous as a JW. And most of mainstream America is also said to have their doubts, but those doubts are not likely so substantial that they can't be assuaged by slick marketing. The most recent ads are better done than the first ones, IMO. Are Mormons eying for themselves a modern-day application of John 6:15? “Therefore Jesus, knowing they were about to come and seize him to make him king, said 'you know, I'd make a pretty good king. But first I must set up a PR campaign so people will know that I'm fun, I'm cool, and I'm not a bit weird!'” (the Sheepandgoats Translation of the Holy Scriptures)

Oh, alright alright! So it doesn't agree with most other translations, which are apt to render the verse along the lines of: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”  (NIV)  Sheesh! How can a guy have any fun with all these sticklers for accuracy around?!

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Read ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’    30% free preview

Starting with Prince, a fierce and frolicking defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A riotous romp through their way of life. “We have become a theatrical spectacle in the world, and to angels and to men,” the Bible verse says. That being the case, let’s give them some theater! Let’s skewer the liars who slander the Christ! Let’s pull down the house on the axis lords! Let the seed-pickers unite!

 


American Motors

“Brakes are a little squishy on the [then 24-year old] Buick,” I said to my wife, Mrs Sheepandgoats. “Would you run it down to the repair shop first thing in the morning?” But she never made it! Backing out the driveway, the brakes failed completely, and she smacked right into a parked car. In front of a police car, no less! The officer emerged. What was that all about, he wanted to know. Upon being told there was no brakes, he, like all guys rescuing the girl, declared he would move the car. A minute later he got out, pale-faced. There's no brakes on this car! he said.

If you've never had brakes fail completely on you, be assured there's no sensation quite like it. It almost seems as though the car speeds up when you hit the pedal. Of course, this doesn't happen anymore, because, in 1965, one American car manufacturer introduced a technological solution, the dual brake master cylinder.

Q: Which American car manufacturer, in 1965, introduced the dual brake master cylinder?

a) General Motors
b) Ford
c) Chrysler

The answer is d: none of the above.

It was tiny American Motors, IMG_0329 out of business since 1985. So says radio mechanics Click and Clack, who used to ridicule the brand mercilessly.

You know, for the longest time I've wanted to write about American Motors, since these are the cars I was too familiar with growing up. Our family owned several of them. To be sure, that desire to write about them is fading, so I better hurry up and post something before it dies completely. After all, isn't it a bit self-indulgent for some aging guy to go rattling on about the cars he had growing up? And who cares, anyway? Moreover, much of the world would consider it unspeakable luxury to be growing up with, not one car, but two, in the family, as our family did. “You Americans are so spoiled,” a visiting African brother said. “Not only does each family member have his own car, but you have garages to put them in. In Africa, four families would live in that garage!” It's an uneven distribution of wealth, that's for sure. But these days Americans are falling behind the material times, while other countries are rapidly up and coming, building highways which immediately fill with cars.

Besides, from time to time, I used to come across old guys in the ministry who would carry on and on about their Studebakers and Desotos and Packards, and what wonderful cars they were, and how they were ahead of their time. They were also ahead of my time, and so I was only vaguely familiar with those makes. But I do know American Motors. Should I now do my bit for automotive history and spill what I recall about the brand? I think so.

I write this post as Toyota grapples with allegations of sticky accelerator pedals. There's been an evolution. At first, they denied everything and attributed all problems to driver error. But then Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota, went before Congress to tearily beg forgiveness for his jackrabbit cars. However, since then, the Massey mine collapsed in Pennsylvania and the BP oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, Akio Toyoda is twice replaced as the World's Evil Businessman. Freed from the glare of adverse scrutiny, Toyota has gone back to its initial tactic in dealing with sticky accelerator pedals....blaming the victim! So says this story, anyway. Trouble is, I'm not at all sure that's not the correct approach. It's impossible to tell. What with lawyers and gold-diggers, you never know if an unsafe spree is genuine or if it's a tiny glitch exploited beyond all bounds by opportunists. No one ever said all Toyotas run away on you.....worst case scenario is an extremely tiny percentage. Now, I work with a woman whose car also accelerated by itself, climbing an embankment, when all she wanted to do was shut it off; the tire tracks are right outside the office to prove it. It's happened several times, she told me. A cynic (or sexist) might suspect the “nut behind the wheel”....can't this woman drive?....but frankly, knowing her, I doubt that's the case. And.....gasp!....her car is not a Toyota! It's a Honda! Moreover, she took it to the dealer, and they, not being the evil businesspersons of the moment, didn't fix it for free, as Toyota would have. They charged her $700!

But in my day, if you bought a clunker, you bought a clunker. Tough luck! There was no such thing as auto recalls. I have vivid memories of my dad repeatedly aligning the front wheels of his 1960 Rambler American, a car he swore must have been built with “spare parts.” He wore out front tire after front tire, and did not succeed until he learned to ignore the company specs and improvise his own alignment! This American was our first “2nd car.” Up till then, we, and virtually every other family, existed on one car per family. But in the early 60's, “compact” cars were introduced, with the marketing notion that a family might actually buy more than one car, and the idea quickly became reality. Of course, our main car, the car supplemented by the Rambler American, was also a Rambler, a 1958 Rambler Classic.

Most of the psychological hangups I have today trace directly to how, as a child, my people drove Ramblers. Classmates tooled around in deliriously long chariots capped with tailfins on which you could impale a buffalo. Me....I was stuck with boxy toasters that got good gas mileage. Getting good gas mileage is a virtue today, but only a wus cared about it in the sixties. However, my mother was short. She couldn't see over the wheel of most cars, but she could in a Rambler, in which you sat up high. So it was nothing but American Motors for us! Forced to drive these cars, is that how I acquired my life-long habit of sticking up for the underdog? Because, as a teenager at school, you had to defend your families' choice of vehicle, even if you secretly longed for them to show some class and buy a Mustang. And like Johnny Cash sang: “I knew you had to grow tough or die!” [A Boy Named Sue], did defending Ramblers make me tough.....willing to ignore popular opinion? I don't think I'd overstate the case, but maybe I shouldn't understate it, either.

And I'll defend them still, even though it's been 25 years since their demise. Even though I know, deep down in my heart of hearts, that they don't really deserve defending, or at best, deserve it only partially.  After all, aren't they Mormon cars?....something I never even suspected until I saw the Mormon missionaries all tooling around in AMC Hornets....whereupon I discovered that founder George Romney (father of 2010 Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney) was a Mormon. So let Mormons defend them. Of course, I don't know for sure that Romney's AMC successors were Mormons, but why else would the church buy a fleet of Hornets?

Despite the recession of 1958, with George Romney at the helm, Rambler sales increased, while every other make decreased. This landed him on the cover of Time Magazine. The following year, sales doubled, and they nearly doubled again in 1960. Romney retired in 1963 to try his hand in politics, and he later commented that the company's undoing was to abandon his focus on economy in a quest to be like the big boys with a full line-up of cars.

To be sure, AMC's perennial lack of financial resources often showed, and the company's full line-up is an odd mixture of innovation and dud.  The Marlin is a good example. Originally a cool idea (see illustrations), the company didn't quite have the resources to pull it off, so they settled for a dud. The same thing happened with the Pacer, which sold like mad in its first year or two, and then virtually stopped.

Some of the handsomest cars in the 60's were by American Motors....I think of the 68 Javelin, for instance.... but also, truth be told, some of the ugliest. Lacking funds for proper retooling, AMC would start with an attractive product, and then add more chrome and crud with each succeeding year till you could barely stand to look at the result. Popular Mechanics, in 1967, quoted someone saying the Rambler Rebel was the best-looking new car around...“hard to believe it's made by American Motors.” But by 1975, just look at the monstrous mess (pictured) they'd turned it into:800px-1975_AMC_Matador_base_Sedan_beige_left-front-550x275   
(And that green 61 Ramber American, pictured above.....Lord, what an ugly car!) Ironically, though, the coupe version of the same car was thoroughy cool.

But some models, ridiculed today in movies like Wayne's World, were, at the time of their introduction, thought cute and innovative.....the Gremlin and the Pacer, for example. The Gremlin actually won top honors at Consumer Reports in its first year, a recommendation most out of character, as the magazine rarely had anything good to say about the brand. (It's competitors, Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto, weren't around yet....tiny American Motors had beaten them to the punch) And the Ambassador, I thought, was downright handsome.....a poor man's Cadillac, someone called it, in the same way an AMX was a poor man's Corvette. I bought a used one of my own while in school.

The fourth Rambler our family owned was a 66 Classic. It's the same model which drove the Beatles onto Shea Stadium the year prior. Now, this makes no sense at all. Why weren't they driven afield in a Cadillac? This was the British Invasion, after all. The Beatles were the sensation of the decade. But later I learned that promoters of the time didn't treat rock stars in the worshipful way they do today. They didn't spend a lot of money on them, though God knows, they made enough off them. That's why you always hear of rock and roll artists of the 50's and 60's going down in plane crashes. Promoters lined up the ricketiest, cheapest airfare available, not the whispering limo-planes you might suppose they would charter. Rock groups were put up in hotels, to be sure, but not really great hotels....just functional ones. Did promoters figure that rock and roll groups were just kids, and you didn't spoil kids? Or were they all just a bunch of amateurs? A Rambler was plenty good enough for them. Incredibly, the Beatles later played centerfield at a St Louis stadium in the pouring rain.....they got drenched....because management didn't want to pay the $400 required to erect an awning for them. They could have been electrocuted. (see The Unseen Beatles, a BBC DVD, 2007) No wonder youthful musicians loathe the music industry.

And get a load of this nutjob, who claims an AMC Hornet was the best Bond car ever. James Bond, you'll remember, drove Aston Martins, and Lotus Espirits, and BMW Z sportsters. You wouldn't think he'd be caught dead in a Rambler. But in the 1974 film Man With the Golden Gun, James Bond jumps a river in his AMC Hornet X, all the while spiraling a complete 360 degrees around. An Astro Spiral Jump! None of those pampered pricey “pretty boy” cars came close to such a stunt. It was plain ol bread n butter American Motors what done the deed. (Be sure to play the YouTubes on the linked-to post)

Actually, I call this fellow a “nutjob” tongue-in-cheek. I like him. I like his blog. In “researching” this post, I found myself again and again searching though his material, almost to the  point of.....why go anywhere else? He freely admits to being a compulsive automotive nerd given to recording trivia of  lackluster vehicles that other authors would sensibly leave to rust in peace. I'm sorely tempted to spend hours and hours and hours perusing his blog, but of course, I don't. I have to write about God.

Long after I left the family home, when I should have known better, and had no plausible excuse, I bought a used 1983 Concord, pictured here in a Bill Vance post. Such was the hold that the AMC cult held over me, a cult I might never have broken away from had not the company been absorbed by Chrysler, which promptly discontinued all AMC cars. The model I bought is the same of which Car and Driver (2/78) once wrote “You have the eerie feeling in steering the Concord down the road that somehow, something isn’t quite right, isn’t quite integrated.” Actually, I didn't notice that. But, in time, the car developed a discouraging habit of stalling on right turns. I did notice that.

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OH NO!!! Cars II, the movie, is due out in June of 2011, and it appears that both Gremlins and Pacers are cast as villains! I tell you, life is unfair, pure and simple.

 ...............................

[Edit 12/12/2010:  Oh, very well. Here it is, the song Little Nash Rambler.]

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Proposition 8, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Joel

Is it really so that Mormons brought us Proposition 8, that 2008 California referendum that banned gay marriage, and that Jehovah's Witnesses overturned? Really? Well.....no, it's not really so. But there is something to it.

Mormons didn't originate that campaign to change the state's constitution. A group called Pro Marriage was responsible. Mormons did, however, rally in a big way to ram it through. “We’ve spoken out on other issues, we’ve spoken out on abortion, we’ve spoken out on those other kinds of things,” said Michael R. Otterson, the managing director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormons are formally called, in Salt Lake City. “But we don’t get involved to the degree we did on this."

Just like politicians before election day, or Jehovah's Witnesses....bless their hearts....any old time, Mormons canvassed California to stoke Proposition 8 support and get those recruits to the polls. 80-90% of all Proposition 8 “foot soldiers” were Mormons, says the New York Times. Their efforts succeeded. Proposition 8 carried 52% of the state's voters; thus gay marriage was banned in the California.

But on Aug 4th, 2010,  U.S. District Court judge Vaughn Walker overturned the ban, asserting it violated the state's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. Jehovah's Witnesses, who within their congregations, also oppose gay relationships, had nothing to do with that, did they? Well, no, they didn't.

But on the other hand, they did. At least a little.

On page 116 of the judge's lengthy judicial opinion is cited West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette. That's the 67 year old Supreme Court ruling stating that the children of Jehovah's Witnesses could not be compelled to salute the flag. It reversed another Court decision, made just three years earlier in the height of wartime fever (1940), which stated they could. Didn't I write about those two cases here?

That rare reversal was the strongest support cited by Justice Walker to establish that the rights of a minority cannot be negated by the majority, no matter how numerous the latter might be. Justice Jackson, who wrote the prevailing opinion of  West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, noted that the "very purpose" of the Bill of Rights was to protect some issues from politics and "place them beyond the reach of majorities." In present day 2010, Justice Walker applied that reasoning to gay marriage. "That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant," he wrote.

Now, it was Joel Engardio, director of Knocking, a 2006 PBS documentary about Jehovah's Witnesses, who first noted the JW connection in Proposition 8's demise. This prompted another blogger, who, as may be discerned from his narrative, has little use for Witnesses, to opine:

The reference by Judge Walker to West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette will have the Watchtower Society scratching their heads. “How did we help those wicked sons and daughters of Sodom and Gomorrah?” they will be asking themselves.

To which I replied: “No they will not.”

Well....... “It was never the intention of the intolerant Witness religion to grant any freedom of expression outside their own narrow view,” he asserts.

“Nor was it their intention to restrict any other group from benefiting from legal precedent they’ve established,” I replied.

Unlike many groups that stand for something, Jehovah’s Witnesses views on homosexuality, or anything else, are theirs alone. They apply them to themselves. They don’t attempt to force them upon general society...say...by writing those views into law, or even resorting to violence. They are respectful of those holding opposing views. To be sure, JWs don't keep those views to themselves. Their door-to-door visits rank right up there with death and taxes as one of the constants of everyday life. But the exercise of free speech is as far as they go, and in today's world, many groups feel sanctioned to go well beyond that. Mr. Engardio has stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses provide an excellent example, perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarized ideas can yet coexist peacefully. Frankly, I am much impressed that he can be so objective, since, as our aforementioned blogger points out, JW beliefs conflict with his own sexual orientation: Mr Engardio is gay. Most people take a position on various issues based solely on their own immediate benefit. He doesn't.

Roam online, and you'll find countless gay websites that absolutely loathe JWs. I've never found any that praise them. Jehovah's Witnesses, after all, make no accommodation for gay relationships within their congregations. How can they? They're a Bible organization and they don't assume the authority to change scriptures. I don’t think they harp on it. I even think they’re sympathetic to those claiming a different sexual orientation, but they are bound to represent scripture, or else change their mandate entirely. It does make it challenging for anyone gay within their ranks....no question about it. Don't they have to do what swimmers do caught in a rip tide? You don't swim against it; you can't, in any conceivably short time, will yourself or even pray yourself straight. You don't swim with the tide, buying into prevailing propaganda that holds ones sexuality is irrevocable and ought be a source of pride. You have to swim parallel to the current, maybe for a long long time, maybe for the duration of this system, with faith that the influence of God's spirit and congregation will, over  time, serve to readjust sexuality. No, it doesn't seem quite fair, does it? That's why I have the greatest respect for anyone following that course, and none whatsoever for Westboro-church types who rail against homosexuals. They've never fought battles the like of which they would have others fight.

But my mention of Joel Engardio prompted a minor skirmish as to his motives. “What could be more transparent about Engardio’s benefit,” shot back my opponent, “he is promoting himself and his film.” Is he?…..well, maybe. But why make such a film in the first place, one that runs directly counter to his immediate interests? Why not use his data and background to make a film bashing Jehovah’s Witnesses? God knows it would find a larger audience than one praising them. To which my adversary  (I'm not sure he's really an adversary, for I've stomped around his blog and there's much I like about him....he advocates for the disabled, for instance, so we overlap somewhat. And how can one not like a guy who appreciates Bob Dylan?) acknowledged: “Engardio is definitely an advocate for freedom of speech and the Jehovah’s Witness court record on winning those rights in the United States is strong.”

It is indeed. Jehovah's Witnesses have tried 50+ cases before the Supreme Court, most notably in the 1940's and 1950's, but as recently as 2002. Aside from the government itself, no group has litigated more often before the Court, and their legal victories have clarified the Bill of Rights for all citizens.  Said U.S Supreme Court Associate Justice Harlan Fiske Stone: "I think the Jehovah's Witnesses ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties." (the same can be said in several other countries)

Advocacy groups of all stripes benefit greatly from the groundwork JWs have prepared. Rather than acknowledge any debt, however, they generally join popular clamor in ridicule or even opposition to the Witnesses. Even Rochester's beloved City Magazine piled on, prompting this rebuke from our own Tom Weedsandsheat.

It's a curious fact ...let us acknowledge it...that the most well-known apologist today for Jehovah's Witnesses is an openly gay man. Who would have thought it? Regularly, you'll find Joel Engardio's writings in mainstream publications such as USA Today and the Washington Post. In many ways, he explains Jehovah's Witnesses better than the Witnesses do themselves, at least from a certain vantage point and to a certain audience. Here he writes about Proposition 8. Here about Russia's persecution of JWs. Here even on Michael Jackson. Here he explains JWs for Beliefnet.com.   

Not to suggest that everything he writes is about Jehovah's Witnesses. By no means. Check out his own page on the ACLU blog:

Jehovah's Witnesses don't have a lot of friends among the well-connected, and they make no effort to court them. They aren't political. They neither buy politicians nor grow their own. Nobody politically connected owes them anything. Besides, they preach that human efforts of self-government are divinely disapproved, destined to failure, and slated for replacement by God. (see Dan 2:44) How's that for a recipe to ingratiate yourselves with today's elite? Mr. Engardio's one of the few who will speak up for them. He's certainly in a unique position to do it, knowing both worlds well.

Joel Engardio states that he was raised a Witness, but left early on, breaking his mother's heart. He broke it again, he adds, when he later confessed he was gay. But sexuality was not the cause of his departure. Rather, he writes, he didn't want to wait for God to set matters straight. He thought he could set them straight now, as a journalist. He explains it all here. He worked his way through the ranks, and by the time I first heard of Knocking, his name was well-known among NPR newspeople.

For the most part, whenever we receive media coverage, we get slammed. Journalists, by and large, come from a different planet. They seldom get their heads around where we're coming from, so they're quick to buy into stereotypes. Knocking was the first fair shake I've ever seen from the media. It won a few awards. Said Anderson Cooper of CNN: "Riveting and illuminating. KNOCKING takes us inside the world of Jehovah's Witnesses in a way that is utterly surprising and moving.”

As to Mr. Engardio's motives, who knows? Maybe, as a journalist, he values JW contributions to Constitutional law enough to override individual concerns about sexuality. Maybe he wants to do his Mama proud. Maybe he simply wants to strike a blow for what's true, without regard for how it works for him personally. We don't have to know everything. His motives are his. Moreover, the 'fat lady' hasn't sung yet. Maybe he'll be like that guy who hauled Jeremiah out of the muck and so made out just fine when the Babylonians stomped in. (Jer 38:7-13) I haven't a clue. But I'll tell you one thing. He writes about us both accurately and respectfully. I do appreciate that.

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[Edit: Joel himself emailed me shortly after the post appeared, to say "......thanks for writing your blog about Prop 8 and me. It was a good read. I wouldn't call myself an "apologist" for JWs (plenty of doctrines I don't agree with), but I certainly value our Constitutional rights to speak, believe and live as we see fit."

I called him an apologist after seeing him described that way on the web. Plainly he doesn't view himself that way, notwithstanding that he's posted plenty of good material about us.]

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More Supreme Court history here and here.

 

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Tom Irregardless and Me           No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


 


 


The New Cool Mormons

The Mormons launched a new PR campaign on local TV.  Two 15 second spots run back to back.  There's a series of them. Each features a young, cool, vivacious person doing young, cool, vivacious things, with voiceover:
 
 I'm a bicyclist, I'm a curator, I'm a husband......and I'm a Mormon!
 
I'm a scateboarder, I'm a student, I'm a musician.......and I'm a Mormon!
 
Toss in some feel-good banal statement, such as “I believe in living every minute of each day as though it was my last,” and the ad is complete:
 
I'm a surfer, I'm a wife, I'm a nurse, I believe that we're all here in life to make a difference.......and I'm a Mormon!
 
Get it? We're cool, just like you. What.....did you hear somewhere that we're weird? Who told you that? No! We're not weird at all! We're just like you, only more so! Please.....love us!
 
Now, can I tell you what I think of this campaign? If I do, it will be a departure for me, because I've said kind things about Mormons on these posts. Besides, I don't want to offend Nate the Mormon, an amiable fellow with whom I sometimes exchange comments, who is these days given to writing movie reviews on off-the-radar films.  I mean, don't get me wrong.....it's not as though I think Mormons and JWs are brethern religions or anything.......we're poles apart spiritually.... but there are several similarities between us and they are good similarities. Both faiths have a public ministry....yes, yes, just a two year stint for the youngsters, but it's intense, and more than anyone else has. Both have a reputation for honesty. Both keep their ranks clean. Both look after their own, and promptly come to the aid of members in times of disaster. Both recognize the value of organization. Neither has members who insist on exercising their own rights to the exclusion of all else. Both even had a child superstar of the 70's: Donny Osmond for them, Michael Jackson for us (who, alas, strayed). No question about it: there's things about Mormons I like.

But I can't stand this new campaign of theirs. It wore out it's welcome the first time I saw it. Is it just a stupid  public relations move from the Mormons, or does it represent what they are? Dunno. But it's so pandering. It is so....oh, please love us.....we're cool, like you! Not the slightest hint of anything spiritual. Instead, absolute emphasis on how Mormons love to have fun, and how they love to do neat things. It's like the Catholics crowing 'we're the place for BINGO! Or “we've chucked those boring masses for guitars!” At least when they embraced those things, they didn't glorify it through PR spots, as though they wished to redefine themselves thereby. I mean, why carry on as if ashamed of what you are? Aren't Mormons supposed to be a faith?
 
Look, I'm not opposed to fun. Or having interesting work. All of those things the various Mormons do....we have people who do them, too. But I can't imagine a campaign in which we identify ourselves by those activities.

Now, it just so happens that the general managers of two Rochester radio stations are Jehovah's Witnesses. Sometimes you'll hear them on the air. That's cool, isn't it? I know both of these guys They're nice people. But there's no way I can imagine a TV spot featuring them in the control room, laughing and chatting into the mike, flipping this switch or that, grilling some recalcitrant newsmaker....so busy, so active, so alive, with the voiceover: I'm Tom Whitepebble. I'm a radio guy. I'm a husband. I'm a golfer. And.......I'm a Jehovah's Witness!
 
For crying out loud, you could make one of those dopey ads about ME! Surround me with the developmentally disabled. See me helping them with this or that project. See the happiness I bring them, their excited, smiling faces. And now listen to the promo:  I'm Tom Sheepandgoats. I'm a community worker for the disabled. I'm a writer. I'm a father. And.......I'm a Jehovah's Witness!

“I'm not weird at all! I'm cool! I don't eat Bible sandwiches! You could be cool, too, and happy, just like me, if you'd just become a Jehovah's Witness!”

I mean, doesn't it just make you want to puke?

Two years ago the Watchtower ran the life story ("Never Forget the Door to Door Ministry") of a Witness who was raised a Mennonite. I know the fellow. I've been to his home. As a Mennonite, he was chased from Russia to Germany. There he studied with Jehovah's Witnesses, was baptized, and again emigrated to Paraguay. He began preaching in a Mennonite colony in Paraguay, where they promptly spread out warnings about the newly arrived "false prophet." With his growing family, he moved here to upstate New York. The article touches upon various spiritual highlights and experiences of his life.
 
What it does not mention at all is that this fellow is now a millionaire. I mean, he must be, unless he gave it all away, which is possible....he's a very generous man. He became one of the area's premiere homebuilders. Tracts of homes bearing his company name are found everywhere. But there's absolutely no mention, in the Watchtower, of his material success. Instead, an exclusive focus on the spiritual. Possibly the next guy featured in the magazine didn't have two nickels to rub together. It's a matter of no importance. Each is defined in terms of spiritual things, not material. The day I hear “I'm Bob the Builder. I'm a homebuilder. I'm a traveler. I'm a millionaire. And......I'm a Jehovah's Witness!” I'm outta here.
 
That the Watchtower does not even mention this fellow's material success makes me very proud indeed to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Finally, a group that sees right through the shallowness of goals society teaches us to slobber over. Finally, a group not awed by social prominance, material success, or “coolness.” When our people are cool, it's incidental. It's not something sought after, and....one might as well say it, we have many who are decidedly uncool. Finally, a group who gets the sense of 1 John 2:15-17:
 
Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world. Furthermore, the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.
 
Of course, 1 John is from the Bible, and Mormons make little use of the Bible. Other than trying to make a few verses point to an Upcoming Modern Revelation, their own Book of Mormon, I don't think they use it at all. But apparently, if this new media campaign is anything to go by, the Book of Mormon repeals 1 John 2:15-17 in favor of avidly pursuing all goals the world deems valuable, being fully part of the world, if you will. It's just not our way.
 
Look, we have fun, Jehovah's Witnesses do. And we have interesting work, too, some of us anyway. A handful of us are even cool. But if you're main focus on life is to have fun and career fulfillment, don't come to us. That's not what we're all about. We're Bible people. We live it. We teach it. We don't carry on as if ashamed of it.

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Update here

Still more here

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Tom Irregardless and Me   No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Mormons and Jehovah's Witneses on TV

Dear WXXI:

I am writing with regard to the Independent Lens documentary Knocking, which reviews the contributions to society of Jehovah's Witnesses. I had long supposed it would appear, in time, on WXXI.

Tuesday I watched and enjoyed the excellent film The Mormons, and my memory of Knocking was jarred. But it does not appear that WXXI has scheduled the film, at least not for it's national airing date of May 22. That's too bad.

Jehovah's Witnesses' District Conventions fill the Blue Cross Arena for three or four three-day weekends each summer. JWs are thus an active part of the Greater Rochester community and would like to hear their story told. Among the film's contents, I understand, is a review of 46 Supreme Court appearances by Jehovah's Witnesses over the years which have clarified rights of free speech and assembly with benefit to all. No other group has appeared more often before the Court. Knocking sports a long list of awards, highlighted at it's website www.knocking.org

I urge you to schedule the film, if not in time for its national airing, then at least during the rerun season.

Off topic a bit, you may care to know how we used WXXI while raising our kids. Like many parents, we were concerned with the corrosive effects of TV on children. We gave an allowance of  "TV tickets" to the kids. Using them as they saw fit, they could view a maximum of two hours per week of commercial TV. WXXI, however, was unlimited.

Very truly yours,

Mr & Mrs Tom Sheepandgoats

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I admit I've long had a soft spot for Mormons. Fundamentally, of course, we're poles apart, Jehovah's Witnesses rely on the Bible; Mormons have a sacred book absolutely unique to them. Jehovah's Witnesses are politically neutral; Mormons are deeply involved in politics....both a Presidential candidate (Mitt Romney) and Senate majority leader (Harry Reid) are Mormons. Jehovah's Witnesses stress living simply; Mormons (I think this is fair to say) stress career advancement. This may account for the fact that half of all Mormons live in the United States, the mecca of career advancement, whereas only one sixth of Jehovah's Witnesses do so.

Yet on a surface level there are many similarities, and they are good similarities. Mormons are upright and honest. They are the only group besides us in which religious affiliation alone is enough to convey trust. Sure, you can find the occasional clunkerin both groups, but they are clearly anomalies. And honest people can be found throughout the world's religions, without question, yet religious affiliation alone does not guarantee it.

Both groups trace modern day roots to the 19th century United States, Both faiths enjoy unity. Neither faith has paid clergy. Both have highly organized and completely volunteer disaster relief functions; both were in New Orleans after Katrina and repaired homes, generally those of their own people, in no time flat, whereas federal and private agencies whose charter purpose is disaster relief are still fumbling around almost two year later.

Both groups have a public ministry. Both will remove individuals who persistently and unrepentantly violate key tenets of the faith. Membership is about the same; Mormons count 12 million worldwide to our 6 million, yet we count as members only those with active public ministries. Our most heavily attended meeting, the Memorial of Christ's death, last year attracted 17 million.

Both groups present their beliefs as the truth. This, in an era where most faiths have learned to offer beliefs al a carte; take them or spit them out according to your own tastes. This saves hassles. People don't accuse you of dogmatism. Instead, they praise you for enlightenment. But, at the same time, doesn't this stand place your beliefs on the level of pop psychology?

Both Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses even had a child superstar of the 1970's! Mormons had Donny Osmond. We had Michael Jackson. Alas, our guy got weirder and weirder, not like Prince, and in time, left the faith. But maybe he'll come back some day. I'd like that. He never really had a childhood. I always thought the child molestation charges against him unlikely. I mean, when you're going to court, you lead off with your most credible witness. The government used a kid whose family had made false allegations in the past, shaking people down for money.

But in Rochester, at least for the present time, those Mormons got "their" documentary on TV, and we didn't get "ours!" PBS affiliates are all independent, I'm told. They pick and choose. Only 75% have scheduled Knocking.

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From the website www.knocking.org:

Anderson Cooper, CNN --
"Riveting and illuminating. KNOCKING takes us inside the world of Jehovah's Witnesses in a way that is utterly surprising and moving.

Lynn Schofield Clark, Director, Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media, University of Denver --
"Throughout the film, viewers are challenged to think about the relationship of religion, government, discrimination, family life, and civil liberties in unconventional and surprisingly human ways. This film will be useful for classes on freedom of expression, civic engagement and religion. Students will be surprised that Jehovah's Witnesses have played such a key role in establishing and guarding many of the civil liberties we enjoy in the U.S. today."

Arthur Caplan, Chair, Department of Medical Ethics, University of Pennsylvania --
"KNOCKING contains a wonderful surprise: It shows how science and religion, with worldviews that rarely overlap, can reach a common goal - the use of less blood in medicine - even if for very different reasons."

KNOCKING was produced by Joel Engardio and Tom Shepard.