Commentary | In all the extensive media coverage of Mitt Romney, much of it discussing his religion, not a word have I seen about the secrets of Mormonism, the secrets of Romney’s life-long beliefs and practices. The reason, of course, is obvious: nobody can talk about a secret unless they are in on the secret. And few journalists or Christian ministers or anti-Mitt politicians are in on the secret. Only Mormons know the secrets, and they’re not going to tell. And former Mormons, like myself, who were initiated into those same secrets, and afterwards left Mormonism – we know the secrets. Should we tell?
Journalist Frank Rich, in his January 29 article “Who in God’s Name Is Mitt Romney?” in New York Magazine, subtitled it: “His greatest passion is something he’s determined to keep secret.” And that secret is the details of his beliefs and practices as a faithful, life-long Mormon, the same secrets that all good Mormons have vowed to keep secret, even though their life depended on it.
And why does Romney (and his church) want to keep people from knowing those secrets? Most Mormons will claim that they are not “secret,” but merely so “sacred” that they cannot be discussed. That is a quibble, since Mormons hold any number of other aspects of their religion to be “sacred,” and yet they don’t hesitate to discuss them (for example: baptism, conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost, ordination to the priesthood, etc.). In my day, when Mitt and I were initiated into the secrets, we were specifically instructed that we were under “the greatest obligations of secrecy.” Nowadays, the Mormons simply take a solemn oath that they will “never reveal” anything about the rituals. That sounds like a secret to any ordinary person, doesn’t it?
All right. I am going reveal those secrets, since nobody else seems willing and able to do so.
The biggest secrets involve the special lengthy rituals (the Mormons call them “ordinances”) that take place outside of public view in the Mormon temples. The most important of these rituals is called the “endowment” – lasting several hours and taking the Mormon through symbolic washings and anointings (in my day they were actual washings and anointings on the entire naked body), then clothing the Mormon in special clothing and robes (including the notorious “magic underwear,” which Mormons call “the garment”). The Mormon then watches and participates in long dramatizations of key events in the coming of the gospel, beginning with the creation of the world, showing Adam’s fall, the coming of the Christian gospel (but not the crucifixion and resurrection), and ultimately the Mormon’s being admitted into heaven, represented by “passing through the veil (of the temple).” When Romney and I first went through this ceremony, it was a ritualized dramatization with live temple personnel. Nowadays it’s a movie.
Yes, the most sacred worship service in Mormonism involves watching a movie.
Why is that so secret? you may ask. What aren’t the Mormons supposed to reveal? What do they hold so sacred that it’s secret? Quite a lot.
Part of the endowment ritual instructs the Mormons in the four “signs” and “tokens” of the Mormon priesthood. Each also has a “name” (or password). The Mormon must make an oath that he (or she) will never reveal these, outside the temple. The purpose of the signs and tokens, according to Mormon Prophet Brigham Young, is that they will be needed to pass the angels guarding the gates of heaven. The tokens are various handshakes, copied largely from the Masonic initiation rites of the 1830s, when church founder Joseph Smith was initiated into Freemasonry. The signs are various positions of the arms and hands (right arm to the square, for example, is the “first sign of the Aaronic priesthood”).
Before 1990, when Romney and I first went through this ceremony, we were taught that each of the first three signs and tokens also had a “penalty” associated with each one, and we had to mime various ways of taking life to represent the penalty to us if we were to reveal the secret signs and tokens: slitting one’s own throat, ripping open one’s chest, disemboweling oneself. Yes, folks, this was part of the most sacred ritual in Mormonism: pantomiming your own bloody death.
So Mitt Romney, and all other righteous Mormons, can be confident that they know the secret passwords and secret handshakes to get into heaven. Do you see why Romney and his church are reluctant for “unworthy” people (the rest of us, including Mrs. Romney’s parents) to know about this? As Deborah Laake put it in her autobiographical book Secret Ceremonies , (New York 1993):
The actions that were going to guarantee my entrance at the gates [of heaven] would have nothing to do with love or charity or the other teachings of Christ that I’d been raised to believe God valued. In fact, I hadn’t heard a single one of those words spoken today, the most primary day of religious instruction in my entire life. No, I was going to burst into heaven on the basis of mumbo-jumbo. … The mysteries of life were fraternity rituals. … Did all the white-suited glorifiers in the room unquestioningly accept a ritual of nutty gestures from the pseudo-occult as a sacrament? Those were the first moments when I viewed Mormonism with suspicion.
Or as summarized by a young Mormon missionary:“If we told investigators [prospective converts] about that, they wouldn’t join, because it’s too weird!”
But wait! you are saying. You haven’t revealed anything. You’ve just told us that there is stuff to reveal. So reveal it!
Right. The four secret passwords that will get you into heaven:
The first one is the “new name” that you get with your garment. Mine is “Enoch” and you can borrow it when the time comes. The angel won’t know. If you’re female, you can use my ex-wife’s new name: “Mary.” (She would kill me if she knew I gave her sacred new name away!)
The second password is easy: your own given first name.
The third password: “The Son,” meaning “the Son of God.”
The fourth one is so sacred that you don’t get it until the very last moment in the ceremony, at the veil, from God Himself (or an old guy standing behind the curtain who is pretending to be God). And it’s very long, but you have to memorize it or you don’t get in:
Health in the navel, marrow in the bones, strength in the loins and in the sinews. Power in the priesthood be upon me and upon my posterity through all generations of time and throughout all eternity.
(If you watched “Big Love” faithfully, one episode showed this part of the ceremony.)
And what about the secret (oops! that should be “sacred”) handshakes? Rather than describe them, I will suggest you simply do an Internet search for “mormon handshake” images. They’ll be right at the top.
Anything else? Yes, there are more secrets.
During the endowment, Mormons are required to take secret oaths that they will obey various “laws.” The “law of obedience” requires them to obey “the law of God and keep his commandments.” They don’t specify what the “law of God” is, but Mormons understand that the Mormon church is the only true source of God’s law and commandments. So they are taking an oath to obey their church.
The “law of sacrifice” requires them to “covenant to sacrifice all that we possess, even our own lives if necessary, in sustaining and defending the Kingdom of God.” Mormons understand “the kingdom of God” to be the Mormon church.
The “law of the gospel” is accompanied by a charge to avoid “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed [church leaders]” as well as avoiding “light-mindedness, loud laughter, taking the Lord’s name in vain” and every “unholy and impure practice” (not specified).
The “law of chastity” is to abstain from sexual relations except with one’s lawful spouse. That one does make sense. That’s one of the Ten Commandments, after all.
The last law is the “law of consecration.” It requires the Mormons to
…consecrate yourselves, your time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.
A couple of terms need explanation. The “Kingdom of God on the earth” and “Zion” mean, to Mormons, not just their church, but ultimately the theocracy that will replace the non-religious civil government. They believe, of course, that Christ will come to run this government, using faithful Mormons as administrators.
The pressing question for Mitt Romney, and for the Mormons who are supporting his candidacy, is: Would Romney consider the Presidency to be something that God had “blessed” him with, and which, pursuant to his secret oath, he should “consecrate” to his church for establishing a theocracy? If he is elected, will he kneel down and thank his God for blessing him with the presidency? And what is he supposed to do, according to his secret oath, with “everything” God has blessed him with? That’s right: he is to use it for the benefit of the Mormon church.
Now wait a minute, you may be thinking. It doesn’t really mean that! The Mormon church doesn’t expect that from its members, does it? Oh, yes, it does! Remember California’s Proposition 8? The Mormon church pulled out all the stops to pass that proposition, which would forbid same-sex marriage, and it called upon all Mormons to cough up and donate, even those who were not California voters. Those who were hesitant to do so (often the amounts demanded were thousands of dollars per family) were simply and subtly reminded of their “temple covenants.” And they all understood that the church was calling in the chits on the oaths to obey, to sacrifice, and to consecrate whatever the church demanded of them.
How would a President who was also a good Mormon obey those secret oaths?
It wouldn’t even take a phone call from church headquarters to the White House. Mitt, being a well-trained Mormon, knows “in his heart” what God would want (which is the same thing that the church wants, of course) and doesn’t need to be told. That’s the way it works already in the only American theocracy in existence today (Utah). The Mormon politicians who run that state – the judiciary, the legislature, the executive branch – don’t have to ask church leaders for direction. They know what they should do, without asking specifically (usually).
The question for American voters is: knowing that Romney has taken this secret oath, that he is a faithful Mormon, do you want him to answer the question “Would you feel bound by your sacred oath to obey the law of consecration that you made in the endowment ceremony and use the power of the presidency to benefit the Mormon church?”
Should it make a difference to you, the voter?