WASHINGTON, January 7, 2019 – Without even trying very hard, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney has set off new questions among Republicans about Donald Trump.
But with his OpEd in the Washington Post on New Year’s Day, the re-emergence on the national stage of the nation’s Most Prominent Mormon will also inevitably set off new questions about Mormonism’s place in America.
Most political observers know at least something of the back-and-forth relationship between these two more-than-multi-millionaires. Call them both self-made men, with a little help from their fathers.
Trump endorsed Romney in 2012. When the tables were turned, though, Romney excoriated Trump in March 2016. But upon Trump’s victory, Romney issued a congratulatory Tweet. Then Trump embarrassed Romney by dangling an unoffered secretary of state-ship. Then last year, when Romney ran for Senate, he again accepted Trump’s endorsement, avoided all talk of Trump, and appeared to be running a Utah-based campaign.
Except for this tip-off: Romney promised to “bring Utah’s values to Washington.”
What exactly are “Utah values”? You can be as politic as you want, but everyone in Utah knows that means “Mormon values,” or at least the values of a state heavily influenced by (and still 60 percent-inhabited-by) Mormons.
Remember that Utah began its life as a theocracy, with Brigham Young, the second prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ruling spiritually and also politically as the territorial governor.
Before we get too far into “Mormon values,” let’s back up and make something clear. According to the current prophet of the church, we’re not supposed to use the word “Mormon” anymore, even in referring to the church’s members.
The church’s media relations web site goes so far as to say that “the term ‘Mormonism’ is inaccurate and should not be used.” It even downplays the use of the term “Latter-day Saints,” a long-approved secondary name.
This vigorous and even challenging new linguistic emphasis came personally from Russell M. Nelson, the faith’s 94-year-old chief. And it isn’t even among the top three most dramatic changes initiated by Nelson in the year since he was anointed as the faith’s prophet on January 14, 2018.
In April, Nelson presided over his first general conference, an assembly in Salt Lake, and transmitted to millions more gathered over television, radio and the internet. In it, Nelson and the church’s other leaders, the apostles, officially ended a decades-old practice called “home teaching.” The old program heavily relied upon obligation, and called for every male member of the church to visit a set number of congregants each month. A new, replacement program called “ministering” includes women as well as men, girls as well as boys. Mandatory monthly visits are gone, making ministering more of a “spirit of the law” service.
Another big change followed at the October conference. Henceforth, church hours would be reduced. Instead of three hours at church on Sunday (meetings to which both members and non-members are allowed to attend), everyone would now spend only two hours at church. The stated goal is to use that extra hour of time to study religious scriptures in the home.
A third major change, announced January 2, 2019, right as it went into effect, shortened and otherwise modified the faith’s sacred rituals in its members-only temples.
The key message threaded throughout this pace of dizzying changes by church leaders is a loosening of the “letter of the law,” and also a greater emphasis on equal opportunities for women and men, girls and boys.
Nelson’s second-in-command among the church’s apostles, Dallin Oaks, and others have encouraged these and other changes. At a June 2018 celebration commemorating the 40th anniversary of the end of the church’s historic ban on black members receiving the priesthood, Oaks delivered a blunt message to “abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children,” particularly racism, “probably the most familiar source of prejudice today [of which] we are all called to repent.”
Also, at roughly the same time as Donald Trump’s political ascent, the LDS church began to place a greater priority on the need to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees through its “I Was a Stranger” program, which itself was bolstered by Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert’s offer that the state take in more refugees, not less.
While the church doesn’t take partisan stances, it’s impossible not to see that the political culture which Mormons inhabit is becoming – by the standard of today – more liberal, not more conservative.
The Mormon Romney may once have been a “conservative.” But, when asked on CNN why he choose to articulate his character-driven criticisms of Donald Trump, he cited the occasions in which he had already publicly weighed in:
“The Charlottesville response by the President was something that gave me great concern. The support for Roy Moore in the Senate race was something I was very, very concerned about. His attack on the media, I wrote an entire piece about that.”
There you have the reasons for Romney’s core critique of Trumpism: Racism, sexism, and authoritarian impulses. None of those are “conservative” concerns, or at least concerns of Trump-world. Indeed, these liberal democratic norms are all well in keeping with where Romney’s Mormon constituency is increasingly finding itself.
Certainly this politico-religious realignment is no more complete than is the stereotype that Republicans are gun-toting church-goers, and Democrats are tree-hugging agnostics or atheists. There’s even some movement among other Latter-day Saint senators. (And this analysis doesn’t even consider the most powerful Latter-day Saint senator ever: Former Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.)
Utahns consider outgoing Sen. Orrin Hatch to have been Mormonism’s “ambassador” to all things Trump. They indulged his over-the-top support of The Donald as being more in keeping with his inner Republican than any other inner voice.
And Mike Lee, Utah’s other senator – and who, like Romney, refused to vote for Trump – is edging closer by the day to Donald Trump. Even this, though, may be driven by the exception, rather than the rule: Trump’s sudden willingness in December to support the landmark criminal and sentencing reform package long championed by Sen. Lee.
If Romney is stepping into any other Mormon senator’s shoes, it’s those of outgoing Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, whose criticisms of Trump have arguably cost him his political career in the state. Arizona, which is only 5 percent LDS, was more wary of immigration than Utah. And yet – as with last November’s senate victory by the Democrats – even Arizona is increasingly having second thoughts about Donald Trump.
The fight is clearly on for the soul of the conservatism within the Republican Party. And with Mitt Romney’s once again raising the stakes on the unsavory parts of Trumpism, we should see greater discussion about the role that Latter-day Saints are playing in opposition to it.
As States Legalize Medical Marijuana, It’s Crucial to Understand Its Health Benefits and Consequences
Most marijuana-related news focuses on how to invest, tax revenue for states, shops and growers. But there’s a lot missing from this conversation. How are states legalizing marijuana in ways that protect public health based on facts, science, and rational analysis?
As of today, 10 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana use. More than 30 have legal medical marijuana, and both Canada and Mexico have federal approval of medical and recreational usage. With even more states poised to legalize cannabis, ample questions are being raised about governance and regulation, health effects, scientific research, and public health.
In the United States, where the federal government still officially decrees marijuana to be illegal, the federal government continues to be abdicating its role of leading in a world in which there is no natural centralized body for collecting, analyzing, and sharing information and knowledge learned across states – and from our neighbors to the north and south.
It is vital that we as a nation understand the potential benefits and consequences of cannabis legalization, how to create sensible policies/regulations, and how to design effective education programs for clinicians and citizens. Cannabis poses different issues than alcohol or tobacco, and there is an opportunity to learn from those industries about what has worked and what has not. States new to legal cannabis also need support and clarity as they grapple with public debate, public health and safety challenges, and the complexities of designing a state cannabis system.
That’s why the 2019 North American Cannabis Summit is so important to national public health and understanding. This multinational conference offers a neutral forum for stakeholders from all arenas to come together and discuss controversial topics objectively, in the context of respectful dialogue and open exploration.
At the 2017 National Cannabis Summit in Denver, attendees felt they could share and ask questions and receive practical, applicable knowledge and experience to bring back to their states. The 2019 Summit is expanding to include the perspectives and lessons learned from Canada and Mexico, and it’s being held in California—one of the first states to legalize cannabis and the one furthest in the journey of implementation.
There are so many questions, and so many unknowns. How does legalization affect our youth? Our seniors? How about pregnant women and young families? What about cannabis in certain settings, like the workplace, the criminal justice system, personal family homes, and public housing? How are we monitoring and surveilling the results of legalization and sharing data in consistent ways?
Hearing from academics, researchers, policymakers, implementers, and clinicians gives listeners the kind of science-based information they need, whether they are lawmakers, healthcare providers, or other researchers seeking their own answers.
In January, the 2019 North American Cannabis Summit in Los Angeles will explore themes of public health, science, and health equity; public safety; prevention and education; emerging research and epidemiological data; governance, federal law, and emerging policy; health effects; and regulatory issues.
Before we go too much further down this road, let’s make sure we’re paying attention to the collective knowledge we’re gaining from the experience of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Let’s use what we know and learn to inform the emerging cannabis industry, to keep public health and the needs of communities front and center, and to implement legalization in as measured and replicable a way as possible.
Register for the National Cannabis Summit, click here.