About Corazon

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Review of the Newly Renovated LDS Church History Museum (the Good, the Bad, the Ugly...and the Inspiring)

This past week I had the opportunity to take my family, while on vacation in Utah, to the newly renovated LDS Church History Museum!  Ever since the proposed renovation in 2014 I have wanted to see what improvements the church would make to its exhibits, and our family vacation provided the perfect excuse.

First off, it is important to understand why the LDS church chose to renovate their history museum to begin with.  To make a very long story short, the motivation behind this renovation came down to two factors: first, the museum was quite old and lacked many of the modern interactive features commonly found in other museums (one of the biggest complaints was that the museum was boring for kids). Second, with the dawn of the Internet Age, new questions regarding church history and doctrine have come under scrutiny.  As Assistant Church Historian Reid Neilson stated:
Every generation asks different questions of our history...We hope to be completely and totally honest about our past, both good and bad...The goal of the Church History Museum is to build the faith of the next generation of Latter-day Saints and to help others outside our faith understand our history.
In short, the goal of this renovation of the Church History Museum is to help the rising generation better engage with the church's history by employing better technology and by addressing some of the most common topics of concern.

So, without further delay, I present to you all my review of the new and improved LDS Church History Museum!  My review will give each individual exhibit an overall grade, after which I will give the museum in general my critique.  I will caution the traditional believing Mormon by stating that some of the issues presented in the museum (and in my review) can be difficult to hear.  I will also caution the skeptic by stating that the church has EVERY RIGHT to put its best foot forward. Yes, historical integrity is important but the church is ultimately a church, not a history class.  The traditional believer may esteem some of my review as being "blasphemous," while the skeptic will see some of it as "propaganda."  Oh well, to each their own I suppose.  Let's get on with the matter at hand...

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THE GOOD

The Book of Mormon Translation Process:
The very first exhibit upon entering the Church History Museum focuses on the translation process of the Book of Mormon.  For many members of the LDS church, this exhibit will present a very different narrative from the one taught in Sunday School and Seminary.  I even had the chance to speak with a church historian who happened to be answering questions at this particular exhibit. She informed me that of all exhibits in the museum, most traditional members found this one to be the most shocking or eye-opening.

And why is that?

Simply put, it is because the traditional LDS explanation for the translation process of the Book of Mormon depicts Joseph Smith, carefully reading over the golden places with the Urim and Thumim, while a scribe listens intently to Smith's dictation.  The scribe would be separated from the places by a sheet of some kind, preventing his/her ability to see the plates for him/herself.  For example (on the left):


From a historical perspective, this depiction is completely inaccurate.  From the records we have (and they are quite clear on the matter), Joseph Smith actually translated the Book of Mormon (at least the majority of it) by placing a seer stone into a hat (the same seer stone he found in 1822 while digging a well for Willard Chase). Smith would sometimes not even reference the golden plates during the translation process (as seen in the pic above on the right).  Below are some pictures I took from the church's new exhibit on the translation process of the Book of Mormon:


According to the church historian present at this exhibit, some of the common questions asked by members are, "If Joseph used a seer stone why then does the church still publish illustrations depicting the translation process as something quite different?"  Skeptics commonly ask questions like, "If prophets and seers need a special stone to receive revelation, then why hasn't any recent prophet used such a stone?"

These questions are certainly fair, but for now I will leave the reader to decide for him/herself the answers. I have my own opinions on the matter but this post isn't the place for that.  I will simply offer my overall grade of this exhibit.

In the end, I believe this exhibit was THE BEST exhibit of the entire museum.  The church has clearly made a serious attempt to address the historical truths regarding Book of Mormon translation. I have little to no critique of this exhibit, and as a result give it a resounding A+.  This exhibit was extremely well done.

The First Vision:
Another issue that is sometimes troubling for members and critics of the church is Joseph Smith's First Vision account.  To make a very long story short, those who find the First Vision troubling will point to the fact that there are nine surviving First Vision accounts, and that each account presents different details that some find contradictory (you can read all nine accounts of the First Vision by clicking here.  You can also read a detailed essay on these accounts that the church has published by clicking here).

The exhibit starts off with a short, seven-minute video that depicts the First Vision in a unique 180 degree surround theater.  I found a YouTube copy of this video that somebody must have taken.  The quality isn't great but you will get the gist of the video presentation:



As you can see, this presentation is somewhat different from the traditionally taught narrative of the First Vision.  As the video states (at the beginning), all nine versions of the story were incorporated to create this depiction of the event.

In reality, everyone should read for themselves all nine accounts of the First Vision in order to better understand the story.  In addition, it is worth noting (because skeptics will point it out) that Joseph Smith claimed to have his First Vision in the spring of 1820.  The first recorded account of the First Vision doesn't appear until 1832.  I will again allow the reader to decide for themselves what this means for the validity of the First Vision story.

As for grading this exhibit, I give it a very solid B+.  The video was certainly the best depiction of the First Vision produced by the church that I have seen.  The church is clearly making strides in terms of its transparency.  They could have given each account of the First Vision somewhere in the exhibit and maybe addressed the issue of waiting twelve years before Smith recorded the event, but in the end I found this exhibit to be quite solid overall.

THE BAD

The Nauvoo Expositor:
Every Mormon knows the story of Joseph Smith being incarcerated at Carthage Jail.  It is the sad location where the Mormon Prophet and his brother, Hyrum, were murdered on June 27, 1844. Surprisingly, however, few know why Joseph was incarcerated to begin with.

Joseph's arrest was primarily the result of his dealings with William Law and the Nauvoo Expositor. The Nauvoo Expositor (the full text of which can be found here) was a local newspaper that essentially exposed some of the ugly practices of the Mormon Saints in Nauvoo.  The primary issue mentioned in the Expositor was the practice of plural marriage (polygamy), which church leaders, to include Joseph Smith, had publicly denied but privately endorsed.  The main author of the Nauvoo Expositor was William Law, the former member of the church's First Presidency, who had fallen out of favor with Joseph Smith.

Below is a video presentation of the Nauvoo Expositor as presented at the Church History Museum:


There are, in my opinion, quite a few problems with this explanation of events.  First off, William Law is made to look like the bad guy who betrayed the church and Joseph Smith.  What the video fails to mention is the fact that William Law had very good reasons for being upset with the church and its prophet.  The biggest issue not mentioned was the allegation that Joseph Smith had propositioned William Law's wife, Jane, to enter into a polyandrous affair with him.  Jane Law later told a friend that, "The Prophet asked her to give him half of her love; she was at liberty to keep the other half for her husband."

You can find more details regarding Jane Law and the allegations of polyandry at the following links:

"Why William and Jane Law Left the Church" by Grant Palmer
"Polygamy Persecution and Power" by Hal Schindler
FAIR Mormon's rebuttal

The other issue in the video deals with the destruction of the printing press itself.  The video suggests that Joseph Smith was "ordered" by the Nauvoo City Council to destroy the press, but there is zero evidence to support such a claim.  In fact, surviving records suggest that it was Joseph Smith himself who issued the order.

In addition, the notion that the Nauvoo City Charter, which granted the authority to suppress anything deemed a nuisance, was sufficient justification to stop the printing of the Expositor is a stretch to say the least.  This is EXTREMELY WEAK justification when juxtaposed with the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  I don't doubt that the men involved in suppressing the Nauvoo Expositor used this as grounds to justify their actions, but they were still absolutely wrong!  The suppression of the Nauvoo Expositor and the subsequent destruction of the press were both illegal actions. Keep in mind, those who didn't want the Expositor published (namely Smith and his supporters) were upset over the fact that polygamy was going to be exposed to the public. The rumors were finally going to be confirmed by men who had once been on the inside.  The Expositor was only a "nuisance" to those who didn't want the truth to be told. In short, to say that a random city charter granted powers that trump the First Amendment of the Constitution is a tough argument to make.

In addition, if you read the Nauvoo Expositor itself, it is quite evident that William Law & Co. got most of their facts right.  There is very little in the Expositor itself that isn't the truth.

In the end, I have no choice but to give this exhibit very low marks.  I give it a generous D+.  It avoids failing completely because I give the church credit for even mentioning this ugly fact of history.  They could have simply avoided the issue altogether.

The Succession Crisis:
Traditionally, Mormons have been taught that following the death of Joseph Smith several men stood to make their claim as the next in line to lead the church as its prophet.  Eventually Brigham Young emerged as the clear and obvious choice, due in part to a number of miraculous events.  Some who witnessed Brigham Young speak for the first time following Smith's death stated that Brigham's voice and demeanor changed to match that of the Prophet Joseph.  This, and other similar accounts, proved to be the needed evidence to justify Brigham Young as Joseph Smith's rightful successor.  The Church History Museum presents the rise of Brigham Young to power in the following manner:


Though the church does depict correctly the rise of Brigham Young, is also omits a tremendous amount of fascinating history regarding what has become known as the "Mormon Succession Crisis." First, it is important to note that no clear successor to Smith had even been named.  This is why the succession crisis happened in the first place.  Sydney Rigdon, who was initially the "front runner," presented a very convincing claim, due to his position in the First Presidency (the only surviving member left) and his having been Smith's vice-Presidential running mate.  James J. Strang, who is relatively unknown to most Mormons, also presented a case that convinced the likes of Lucy Smith (Joseph's mother), William Smith (Joseph's brother), William McLellin and even Book of Mormon Witness Martin Harris (who would later serve as witness to Strang's alleged golden plate record as well).  In addition, it is important to also note that Joseph Smith had suggested, on two occasion, that his successor would be his heir, Joseph, III, who would eventually lead the Reorganized Church.   

In short, the history of the Mormon Succession Crisis is anything but clean cut.  The Museum obviously presents its case that Brigham Young was the rightful successor and I believe they do an admirable job in that endeavor.  It would have been helpful to mention that the accounts of Brigham Young changing (either in voice or person) into Joseph Smith did not exist until Joseph, III's ascension to the presidency of the Reorganized Church, which could cast doubt on the legitimacy of such claims.  In the end, however, I do believe that this exhibit was...ok.  It certainly could have covered more of the history (entire books have been written on the Mormon Succession Crisis) but as I stated at the beginning of this blog post, the church has every right to put its best foot forward.

Overall, I give this exhibit a very ho-hum C-.  It could have been more detailed.

THE UGLY

The Book of Abraham:
When I heard that the church was renovating its museum and that part of the goal would be to address some of the more controversial issues of its history and theology I was ecstatic!  This was FOR SURE a move in the right direction!  And to the church's credit, they have made so many endeavors to be more transparent.  The museum renovation, the church essays on controversial topics, the Joseph Smith Papers Project, etc., etc., etc.  I truly believe that a new day in transparency is upon us.

One of the most controversial topics for the church (and for me personally) has been the Book of Abraham.  In fact, a recent study (that the church itself later looked to when making changes) concluded that the #1 reason why Mormons today choose to leave the faith has to do with historical issues, and the #1 historical issue is the Book of Abraham.

So what does the Church History Museum have to say about the Book of Abraham???

.........

.........

.........

NOTHING!!!  Absolutely nothing!  In fact, this was the ONLY reference to the Book of Abraham in the entire museum:


This was quite disappointing for me, but I can also understand why they didn't include it.  To be perfectly frank, there isn't any good rational explanation for it.  I won't dive into the issues surrounding the Book of Abraham here (you can do that on your own) but I will say that the sheer lack of anything on the Book of Abraham was extremely unfortunate.  As a result, I have to give the museum a big fat F- on this one.

Polygamy:
There was, sadly, very little material on what is obviously the most controversial issue Mormons have faced over the history of its existence.  Polygamy is a difficult topic, and I certainly hoped the museum would do its best to address the issue.  Sadly, there was little more than one small kiosk and the following pictures:


I was very happy to see that the museum provided the hand-written dictation of the revelation that eventually became Doctrine and Covenants Section 132.  This is noteworthy because for too long people have suggested that the New and Everlasting Covenant had nothing to do with polygamy.  I believe this clearly shows otherwise.

Unfortunately, there was no mention of how polygamy was taught as an essential component to salvation.  There are an endless number of quotes to support the teaching that polygamy wasn't some side show Mormon issue...it was THE ISSUE!!!  Early church leaders made it abundantly clear that polygamy was part and parcel to salvation.  The fact that the museum presents the story of polygamy as merely an Abrahamic test is unfortunate to say the least.

As a result, I must give this exhibit a very sad F grade.  It just dodged the issue entirely.


THE INSPIRING

The Artwork, the Relics, the kids:
When it comes to inspiring its patrons, I must say that the Church History Museum did a PHENOMENAL job!  Having seen the old museum many times I can confidently say that the new museum is a TREMENDOUS upgrade.  There is so much in this museum that believer and skeptic alike are going to enjoy.

The museum has dedicated an entire floor to new forms of artwork that are on display.  If you are a fan of art (paintings, sculpture, etc.) you WILL NOT be disappointed. The ambiance is similar to any art gallery and the pieces on display, which come from all over the world, are spectacular.

In addition, the new historical relics are amazing to say the least.  Everything from personal items from every single church president to the very clothes Hyrum Smith was wearing when murdered at Carthage (to include bullet holes) are on display.  If you are a history geek like me, I promise that this stuff will take your breath away:


Kids will also be thrilled at this new museum.  There are so many interactive kiosks for them to play with (and touching is HIGHLY encouraged for most of them). There is a "Church History Detectives" game they can play as they explore the museum.  Heck, an entire section is specifically dedicated exclusively to the little guys!

It is for these reasons that I give the Church History Museum a very well deserved A+ when it comes to presentation, artwork, relics and kid friendliness.  They simply went above and beyond and are very deserving of the high marks.

So how would I grade the Church History Museum as a whole?  It's difficult to say.  Overall, my family thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The museum is far more interactive and interesting than before.  There is much more to see and do. The use of technology is outstanding.  The history is catching up but is still lacking in certain specific areas.  In the end, I will say that I do HIGHLY RECOMMEND the Church History Museum to both believer and skeptic. As I stated above, I'm sure the believer will find plenty to rejuvenate/affirm their faith, while the skeptic will see plenty of propaganda.  With that all being said, here are my final overall grades:

General Ambiance: A-
Staff Friendliness: A+
Use of Technology: A+
Kid Friendliness: A
Historical Integrity: C-
Faith Promoting: B
Effort to "Get Things Right": B-

If you get the chance, go check out the new and improved LDS Church History Museum.  It's every bit as worthy of your time as Temple Square.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Raging (Mor)Hormones: Mormonism Enters Its Teenage Years

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11).
My dad was my favorite superhero. He did no wrong, he said no wrong, he could leap tall buildings and fix my bike without breaking a sweat. Everything he said was the gospel, everything he did was the coolest and everything he liked became what I liked. He was the strongest, bravest and smartest guy I ever knew...

...and then I became a teenager.

I remember vividly the occasion when I first questioned/doubted my father. I had gone to work with him on a summer day when I had no school. We were discussing basketball over lunch. I had recently completed two basketball camps and was very excited about the upcoming season. While talking basketball I mentioned how I was certain that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player who had or would ever live. There was no doubt in my mind that I was right. After all, it's Michael Jordan I was talking about! My dad, however, was not sold (the year was 1991, so Jordan had not yet become the champion we know him to be today). Instead, my father suggested that Magic Johnson, who had achieved far more (at least at that point in time) was a far greater player than Jordan. I couldn't believe my ears. Blasphemy! This old man actually thinks that Magic Johnson could hold a candle to the great Air Jordan!?! Has he gone mad? To make a long story short, he and I disagreed on the matter. I recall thinking, for the very first time, "Maybe this old man doesn't know everything after all. In fact, maybe I know better!"

And so works the mind of all teenagers! Though I loved and revered my father to his dying day (heck, I still love and revere him, he will always be Superman to me), I, like all teenagers, occasionally succumbed to the delusion that I knew better than my parents (even though Michael was clearly better than Magic). As much as I worshipped my dad as a child, I have no doubt that he, like most fathers, wanted me to grow up and become my own man. To get there, I first had to be a teen.

The teenage stage of life may seem like an endurance challenge for parents, but in reality this is a critical period of development in which the birth of individuality comes to life for the very first time. Though saturated with hormones, peer pressure and delusions of grandeur, the teenage years are essential to the evolution of all humans.

When thinking about human growth and development patterns we usually apply such ideas to individuals; the children we raise/know. We rarely if ever consider collective or institutional development along these same developmental lines. This is unfortunate because like individuals, many institutions experience these same "growing pains" in which similar adolescent, teenage and adulthood stages can be observed over time. This is the purpose of my silly little blog post today. I intend to show how one institution (the Mormon Church to which I belong) is experiencing this same developmental pattern. Having gone through our own critical formative years as an adolescent, it is my contention that Mormonism is currently on the cusp of transitioning to its "teenage" stage. How we make that transition is likely going to determine what we look like as a mature adult faith.

I am a 9th generation member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons). As such, Mormonism has become as big a part of my DNA as the genetic material given to me by my mother and father. I have more polygamist ancestors than Hillary Clinton has missing emails! It is my heritage and I love it.

When it comes to Christian churches, the Mormon faith is extremely young. We have only been on the scene for a little under 200 years. That may seem like a lot but compared to more "mature" faiths, we are very much a new kid on the block. Unlike other religions like Catholicism and many branches of Protestantism, which have already gone though their own adolescence, teenage years and are now mature adult faiths, Mormonism has only barely kicked off the proverbial training wheels.

But we're growing up fast!

Our Adolescent Years

The Mormon religion was born in tough circumstances. As an infant faith, we endured the pains of persecution, migration and entrenchment. In some respects we could compare our earliest years to that of a child forced to grow up witnessing the death of a parent, along with repeated moves from one location to another. It was a tough childhood but eventually we emerged as a healthy and vibrant young faith.

Due to the hard knocks endured in our earliest formative years, Mormonism grew up somewhat paranoid, defensive, exclusive and alarmist. Even after finding a stable home in the West, the fear of further persecution (both real and perceived) caused us to distrust anything deemed "anti-Mormon" or "gentile" in nature. That which wasn't officially "church approved" was oftentimes considered alien, dangerous and toxic, and was subsequently dismissed without much debate. Like an abused dog, Mormonism learned to both hide in a corner and growl while showing its teeth at anything it considered unsafe. As Mormonism grew up, church leadership (like any good parent) hoped to ensure the further growth, protection and development of its young but increasing membership. As a result, leaders established a standardized set of rules, doctrines and teachings (through what has become known as Correlation), which served to codify, simplify and homogenize the Mormon message. The effort to standardize the Mormon faith proved extremely successful as members across the globe studied the same material from the same manuals. The member in Bolivia and in Utah read the same lesson from the same book on the same Sunday. In fact, Correlation became a source of pride for the young Mormon Church. It was common to hear a member proclaim, "No matter where I go, the gospel is the same." Here is a comical take on Correlation and it's impact on the church:


And like any blissful, loving child, Mormons happily gobbled up this easy to digest correlated message as if it had been produced by Gerber. The message was pure, easy to understand and not dependent on further detail/expansion. Correlated Mormonism had all the recommended daily nutrition needed for spiritual life. And even if we wanted more, our parents were always quick to remind us that milk came before meat. In short, Mormonism's youth was inundated with the message that the "church is perfect," "prophets cannot/will not lead you astray," and there is "popcorn popping on the apricot tree." Like a child who is told to eat his/her green beans, wash his/her face and be in bed before Santa comes, the youthful Latter-day Saint faith never had a reason to doubt its parents.

The Dreaded Teens!!!

As sweet as they are, children do not remain children for long. Everyone eventually outgrows their superhero capes and their Flintstone vitamins. Child-like innocence and acceptance is replaced with a healthy sense curiosity and even doubt about everything we see and experience. The days of quietly submitting to the authority of parents is replaced by a desire to assert one's growing sense of individuality.

The same is true of Mormonism. But instead of hormones like testosterone flooding the bloodstream, the church's veins are being bombarded by the chemicals of the information super highway...a.k.a. the dreaded Internet! As Mormonism has entered the 21st century it has been met with a plethora of historical, doctrinal, theological and cultural issues that it never had to deal with during its adolescence. Like a parent trying to educate his/her child about sex, college prospects, etc., Mormon leadership is currently assessing how best to address the mounting issues of doubt, disaffection, etc. As former Church Historian Marlin K Jensen stated:
[S]ince Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having right now...we are trying to create an offering that will address these issues and be available for the public at large and to the church leaders, because many of them don’t have answers either. It can be very disappointing to church members.”
And it is here that we find the nucleus of the problem. The parent (church leadership) is wrestling with how best to address the growing doubts/concerns of their teenager (the member). Unfortunately this process also goes through growing pains. At times, church leadership has resorted to addressing its membership by referencing the old adolescent narrative. This warn out script that employs absolute unquestioning authority in place of inclusive dialogue and effective listening skills has sadly put many on the defensive. "Because I said so" and "Just do what you're told" work well with little children but not so much with a teenager.

It comes as no surprise that the devout within the faith see this change as fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus taught that even "the very elect" would fall away from the church (Matt. 24:24), and that some seeds would fall on the rocks and thorns and be "devoured" or "choked" (Matt 13). And while these arguments hold merit in many specific cases, I contend that it would be foolish for us to lie this down as a blanket explanation for the changes we are currently seeing.

In addition, the doubting membership, often afraid to express themselves, have developed a sense of betrayal (whether real or perceived) when it comes to the church. For many, discovering troubling issues has caused them to question just how trustworthy the current Mormon narrative is. Like a teenager whose pubescent hormones are beginning to swell, these doubts and concerns are gaining momentum. The religion they once esteemed to be perfect, flawless and above reproach, as seen through the eyes of a child, is now seen for what it ultimately is: flawed, imperfect and oftentimes in error. The child no longer believes the parent is Superman, as evidenced by some recent opposition to something as simple as sustaining leaders in General Conference

What we are left with is the perfect breeding ground for mutual frustration. Parent and teen alike are digging in their respective heels and refusing to budge. One feels disrespected, the other unvalued. The parent seeks to control while the teen resorts to defiance. Mom and Dad know they have the high ground of age and wisdom while the child knows it's just a matter of time until he/she is out the door.

And everybody loses.

So how can be prevent mutual defeat? I'm no expert but I want to propose one simple skill that I believe both sides (the parent and teen/the believer and doubter) are missing.

We need to LISTEN to one another.

This probably seems like a no-brainer but if there was one key attribute in successfully raising teenagers (or successfully seeking a meaningful relationship with anyone) it would be listening. As Dr. Aletha Solter, an acclaimed Development Psychologist explains:
Teenagers frequently complain that their parents don't listen and don't understand. This lack of good communication can lead to a feeling of disconnection from parents, which can put teens at risk. Good listening involves reflecting back your teen's feelings so he feels fully heard. This is called "active listening" or "reflective listening."
Active listening and reflective listening are much more than simply hearing sound. It requires sincere interest and a willingness to understand somebody on their terms. In short, good listening requires us to check our egos, biases and even some of our beliefs at the door.

Too often effective listening is one of the first casualties in the battle between believers and skeptics. Both camps (the believer and the doubter) usually end up talking over and past one another. Each feels a deep need to have their opinions/beliefs recognized and legitimized. There is nothing wrong with that. Where we go wrong is when we perceive the "other guy's" position as being hostile to our own. This needs to stop. It's time to start listening to one another. Instead of expounding and exhorting we simply need to open our ears and shut our mouths.

In the wake of the Columbine High School shooting of 1999, parent, teachers and the media at large desperately looked for someone or something to blame for the travesty. What had caused Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two teenage friends, to murder fifteen of their fellow classmates? As the debates raged on everything from video games to gun control was blamed for the tragedy. In addition, rock personality Marilyn Manson received plenty of scorn for his loud brand of music (Manson's music happened to be popular with both Harris and Klebold). In what is perhaps the most ironic twist of all, it was Manson who pinpointed what the real issue had likely been all along:


Could the Columbine tragedy have been prevented if a parent, a teacher, a fellow student had stopped and honestly listened to Harris and/or Klebold's concerns? We'll never know and I certainly don't want to Monday morning quarterback that terrible tragedy. With that being said, I think we can all agree that listening to one another, honestly and sincerely considering what is being said, even if we loathe it, can go a long way toward healing wounds and building bridges.

In his bestselling book, "Just Listen: Discovering the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone" author Mark Goulston states:
Managers, CEO's and salespeople often tell me, "Talking to so-and-so is like hitting a brick wall." When I hear those words, I reply: "Stop hitting the brick wall and look for the loose brick." Find that loose brick -- what the other person really needs from you -- and you can pull down the strongest barriers and connect people in ways you never thought possible.
This advice works not only with managers and CEO's but with parents and teenagers, believers and skeptics. If Mormonism ever hopes to emerge as a vibrant and healthy adult faith we will first have to learn how to listen to one another.

In conclusion, allow me to direct your attention to the world's greatest living listener. He is a man who assumed control of an organization that was literally drowning in scandal and corruption. His position is such that billions of people the world over hang on his every word. His name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, but you probably know him better as Pope Francis:




In his short tenure as Pontiff, Francis has actually not said much. His contributions to the Catholic canon, along with his exhortations to members on specific points of doctrine are relatively small. Yet he is, without question, one of the most beloved popes in the history of Catholicism. Why? I contend it is because Francis LISTENS to people. He shares in their doubts, their concerns, their fears and their frustrations. He doesn't judge but instead serves as best he can. As a result, Catholicism's popularity has gone up, even in the wake of terrible child sex scandals and an ever increasing movement of secularization. Francis understands that it isn't doctrine or history that matter to people when the rubber of life meets the road of affliction. It is that caring, listening hand.

As Mormons we would be very wise to learn from this example. Too often we write off our "apostates" without so much as an afterthought. "They got what they deserved" is the standard salve used to justify our cankered hearts.

Imagine for a moment the progress we would see if we as a church would sincerely listen to one another. If the church as a parent would cease the lecturing of the "teenage" member and choose instead to listen to their concerns without passing judgment, I believe we would see far fewer "teens" electing to leave the flock. Yes, it is much easier to preach, exhort, condemn, chastise and even excommunicate, but where is the growth? In the end everyone loses and everyone fails to progress. There is greater strength to be had when the parent and the teen work together in the spirit of mutual love and respect. As Jesus reminds us, "If ye are not one, ye are not mine."

It's time we shake off the adolescent mentality and embrace being a teenager! After all, who wants to remain forever a "Child of God?" I think he, like my earthly father, wants me to become my own man. It's time for us to work on becoming an "Adult of God."

But first, let's get through our teens...hopefully without too much acne! =)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Why Baseball Should Replace Religion (Or at the Very Least, What Baseball Could Teach Religion)

I am a huge baseball fan.  In my opinion, there is nothing better than spending a summer's day with family and friends at the ballpark.  Just thinking about the game causes my senses to come alive. The sight of an immaculately manicured diamond, the smell of hotdogs and nachos sailing through the air, the sound of the umpire calling balls and strikes behind the plate, and, of course, the spiritual experience of joining 40,000 other fans in singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." 

The reason I love baseball so much is simple.  More than any other sport, baseball celebrates what is perhaps the most fundamental component of the human experience: failure. The mortal deficiencies and limitations of even the game's greatest athletes are revealed on the diamond for the whole world to see. Statistics...endless statistics...accumulated over a 162-game season (a larger sample size than any other professional sport) calculate in a scientific and mathematical way the indisputable faults and shortcomings of every player. The simple fact that the game’s greatest heroes, enshrined forever in Cooperstown (the Baseball Hall of Fame), were only able to get on base 30-40% of the time reveals this truth. Or the fact that only 23 pitchers in the game’s 100+ year history (over 200,000 games played), have thrown the illustrious “perfect game” serves to illustrate how baseball is ultimately a celebration of human imperfection.

Of course, we as humans aren't surprised when we discover the flaws of humanity.  We are all intrinsically aware of our own imperfection and the imperfection of all that is man-made.  Our science, our history, our customs, our creations all contain more than one or two mistakes.  Perhaps this is why we are able to collectively smile when he read the words of Alexander Pope who aptly wrote, "To err is human," or when we see a fellow being, in the wake of his/her own blunder, proclaim "I'm only human."

And though humanity is regularly able to accept the constant collective gaffes of our specie, there is one arena in which many make the silly assumption that absolute perfection can be found.  I speak of the arena we call religion.  For so many, even in the advanced 21st century, religion is that safe and certain place where everything makes perfect sense.  Religion is that strange and exotic locale where scripture, doctrine, leaders, beliefs, creeds, sermons, prophecies, revelations, disciples, fanatics, martyrs, and everything/everyone in between is finally made as flawless and pure as a game winning home run!

And speaking of home runs...

It is, in my estimation, appropriate that we juxtapose the seemingly "perfect" world of religion to the obvious human frailty we find in baseball.  Or put in another (perhaps blasphemous) way, I believe it is appropriate that we make a religion out of baseball.  After all, it seems to me that baseball better captures the true human experience than does religion.  But since it is unlikely that we as a society will choose to worship together at Yankee Stadium or Wrigley field, or partake of the sacrament that is peanuts and Cracker Jacks, perhaps baseball could simply provide a few pointers to the world of religion.

Here now, I give to the world the 9 “innings” (or suggestions) that religion can and should borrow from baseball.  I give them within the context of the Mormon faith, since that is my chosen religion, but these “innings” work equally well with any faith tradition.   

First Inning: Cheer for Your Team, but Don't Become "THAT FAN"

I love the Pittsburgh Pirates!  Ever since I was a kid I have cheered for my Bucs, even when the team endured sixteen consecutive losing seasons.  Hey, that's what a true fan does!  In recent years, however, my Pirates have been one of the best teams in all of baseball. The 2015 season was one of their best in franchise history.  Perhaps that is why it was so hard to see them lose the wild card playoff game to the Cubs. 

Such is the case with being a sports fan.  Rarely does your team ever win it all.  You must learn to be content with coming in second, or third, or dead last.  It's quite common that larger market teams with deeper pockets (the Red Sox, Dodgers or those evil Yankees) find themselves at the top of the standings more often than smaller market teams.  It's a reality all baseball fans must accept. 

In addition, any well adjusted fan knows the value of cheering for other teams. As a Colorado native, my family has embraced the Rockies, even though their 2015 campaign was unremarkable. Despite their losing ways, attending Rockies games was an absolute joy for my family.  By appreciating other teams, one is able to gain a greater appreciation of the game itself.  It's the annoying, jackass fan who refuses to ever see the good in any other team. 

The same can be said of the "game" of religion. 

When it comes to religion my team is Mormonism, and like the Pirates, Mormons are a "small market" franchise.  We simply aren't that big.  Nevertheless, Mormonism has been the team of my fathers for several generations and it has served my family quite well.  It is good to be proud of your religion and to cheer it on towards victory.  Being passionate about one's faith is a good thing. 

The problem, however, arises when member(s) of a particular religious "team" succumb to the delusion that their team is best.  Sadly, I have known many Mormons, who insist that we as a church never lose a game, never miss a play, and always emerge as champions in every possible way. They believe that the only REAL game in town is the Mormon game. They refuse to recognize the solid play of other teams who, in many cases, have made plays and earned wins that Mormonism couldn't even dream of.  In reality, Mormonism is a small market team and we rarely win the pennant.    

This flaw, of course, is not unique to Mormonism.  All religious teams have fans who insist that their team is best.  This is unfortunate because it causes us to lose sight of the game as a whole. As I mentioned above, the Colorado Rockies had a terrible season, yet it was easily the most enjoyable year of baseball my family has ever experienced.  Sometimes the love of the game should come before loyalty to a team.      

Second Inning: Recognize the Talent on Other Teams

My family attended a lot of baseball games last year. We were fortunate enough to see a number of exciting MLB players to include Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Sonny Gray, Nolan Arenado, Andrew McCutchen and many others. Right now, the talent pool in baseball is higher than it has been in decades.

When I was a kid, I used to play a computer game called "Major League Manager."  The game included rosters of teams going all the way back to baseball's inception.  At first, I would pick one team (usually the Pirates) and try my best to lead them to the World Series.  Sadly I failed more than I succeeded.  As a result, I eventually decided to cheat by "forcing" other teams to make ridiculous trades that benefited my team.  I finally emerged with a dream team that went on to win all 162 games and easily cruise to a World Series championship.

But something unexpected happened.  The game became boring.  After all, it was easy to win when my roster included Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Johnny Bench and every other great player.  Eventually I went back to the old way and even challenged myself to lead a crappy team as far as I could. 

In the world of religion, we are sometimes persuaded to believe that our team's players are superior to those of any other team.  Our "dream team" can and should dominate every season, every game, every inning and every at bat.  We never lose.  The thought of fielding a roster that doesn't include the best players at every position is simply absurd.

Doesn't this perspective also seem boring?

Sometimes other teams have better rosters.  As a Mormon, I will happily concede that I wish my team had a Pope Francis, a Dalai Lama, a Malala Yousafzai or even a Joel Osteen.  This isn't to say that I dislike the Mormon roster.  I'm simply saying that I appreciate the talent (and yes, in many ways it's superior talent) that exists outside of Mormonism.  Sometimes we can be too blinded by the "Prophet, Seer and Revelator" titles to believe that any team could possibly have better players.  It is good that we recognize the talent all around us and that we cheer for them when they succeed.  Your team is not always going to have the league MVP.   

Third Inning: Your Team is Going to Lose

As I said at the beginning of this post, the greatest players in the history of baseball failed more than they succeeded.  My dad’s baseball hero growing up was none other than Mickey Mantle.  In his 18-year career, Mantle managed to hit 536 home runs, earn 3 MVP awards and win 7 World Series titles.  With accolades like this, one could easily forget that Mantle also struck out 1710 times and hit below .300 in nearly half of the seasons he played.  Simply put, even the very best to ever play this game failed, sometimes in spectacular fashion.

It's hard to admit failure, especially when the implications are connected to our relationship with the divine.  Reality, however, makes things plain to us.  If we are being honest, all of us will admit that every single religious tradition on earth has, on multiple occasions, struck out when the game was on the line.  In my own faith, I can think of several examples when leaders failed to make the right decision and thus lost the game.  Refusing to grant Black members the priesthood until 1978 was a massive blunder for the Mormon faith.  Try as we might to justify the reason for this idiotic delay (14 years after Civil Rights legislation), the fact remains that racist policies got in the way of our being able to see the ball clearly.  As a result, we as a church struck out and lost the game.  I could go on and provide multiple examples of where my faith (and every faith for that matter) has struck out but you get my point.  We all need to admit where we have gone wrong in our respective faith traditions.  Failing to do so will only result in more losses. The greatest teams/players learn from their past mistakes.    

Fourth Inning: Scandals Will Abound

In 1919, the Chicago White Sox were the premiere team in all of baseball.  Their roster included the likes of Buck Weaver, Lefty Williams, Eddie Cicotte (whose knuckleball was considered devastating even by today’s standards) and the great Shoeless Joe Jackson.  Together, the White Sox went on to dominate the American League and were favorites to win the World Series.  Fate, however, had different plans, as eight White Sox players conspired to intentionally throw the World Series in what became known as the “Black Sox Scandal.”  Almost a century later, dozens of elite players, to include the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens would tarnish the game by using performance enhancing drugs.  As a result, the “Steroid Era” of baseball saw some of the game’s most cherished records tainted with disgrace. 

People make mistakes.  Sometimes we make massive mistakes.  Even the best of us when faced with tribulation or greed will succumb to temptation.  Sometimes those who allegedly speak for God have made such blunders.  King David, the Apostle Peter and Jonah of the Bible certainly come to mind.  In my own faith tradition, scandals such as the Mountain Meadows Massacre or even the controversial practice of polygamy have raised legitimate concerns and questions.   

Scandal is, oftentimes, the undoing of a person’s faith.  After the Black Sox Scandal, baseball experienced a substantial loss in fan support.  The same can be said about the steroid era or the 1994 player strike. In the wake of those scandals, however, baseball saw some of its greatest heroes rise up to save the game and remind us all of why we loved the sport to begin with.  After the disgrace of the Black Sox we saw the rise of Babe Ruth, who changed the game forever.  In addition, fans who had grown tired of billionaire owners arguing with millionaire players during the 1994 strike had their faith renewed by the relentless play of Cal Ripken, whose streak of 2,632 consecutive games played reinvigorated the "never say die" American mentality.

Religious leaders, like baseball owners and players, sometimes create scandal.  They become entitled, egotistical and lose touch with their "fans."  Hey, they're human too.  It was Moses' hubris that prevented him from being able to enter the Promised Land, just as Judas Iscariot's betrayal (and subsequent guilt) of Jesus caused him to commit suicide.  But in the wake of those scandals the world was given Joshua and the Apostle Paul!  Scandals, like the darkness before the dawn, sometimes appear hopeless, but new light is always around the bend.    

Fifth Inning: Cherish Your Shrines, Your Customs and Your Rituals

Baseball is nothing if not beautiful.  There is symmetry to the game that isn’t found in any other sport. At the risk of sounding blasphemous, it is a “sacred” experience when you first walk into a ballpark.  Some of my fondest memories of my children include seeing the awe and wonder on their little faces as they first gazed upon the beauty and majesty of Coors Field.  Every single Major League ballpark is a veritable temple meant to honor the game’s special status as America’s pastime.  The uniqueness of each stadium is a tribute to that team and city’s history and culture.  For example, Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, captures the state’s rugged “purple mountains majesty” in the same way that At&T Park honors the breathtaking beauty of the San Francisco Bay area.     

Baseball is also saturated in custom and ritual.  Players, coaches, fans and umpires all recognize the silly superstitions, funny customs and distinctive traditions that all make the game what it is today.  Whether it be fans sporting their rally caps, players dressed in their “lucky socks” or a team’s unique tradition during the seventh inning stretch, every true baseball fan recognizes the importance of the game’s many rituals.   

The world of religion is no different.  Every faith has its customs, traditions, holidays, and ritual practices.  They are to be celebrated, not laughed to scorn.  Sure, they are the imperfect human representation of a spiritual idea, and as such may seem strange or awkward, but ultimately they are the pillars of that faith’s ballpark.  Mormonism would be a shallow shell without its temples, sacraments and ordinances, just as Fenway Park would lose its distinctiveness without the “Green Monster.” Ritual is how we make the ordinary extraordinary. 

Sixth Inning: Play (and More Importantly, Love) Your Position

When I was a child and first began to play little league baseball, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of either Johnny Bench, the greatest catcher to ever play, or Honus Wagner, the “Flying Dutchman” shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  In short, I wanted to play either catcher or shortstop.  There was only one problem: I am left-handed.  When my coach informed me that virtually all in-field positions (with the exception of first base, third base on occasion and pitcher) are typically manned with right-handed players my heart sank.  Never once was I given the opportunity to play catcher or shortstop.  Instead, being the only lefty on my team, my coach decided to make me a pitcher.  After all, we southpaws can be hard to read.  Long story short, my coach’s foresight changed forever my perception of the game.  Lefties may not get the opportunity to play shortstop or catcher, but we do make for crafty pitchers!  And it has been quality pitching that I admire most about baseball.  Whether I’m watching a Clayton Kershaw curveball, an Ardolis Chapman fastball (106 mph, by the way) or a David Price slider (all of whom are lefty pitchers), it is the hurlers on the mound that I admire most.

Each of us possesses special gifts and talents that allow us to play certain positions in life. Some people have a natural sensitivity to matters of faith and spirit, while others take a more cerebral approach.  Some people are natural born leaders while others like to quietly serve on the sidelines. Regardless of the gifts/talents we have been given, it is critical that we learn to love that particular "position."      

Seventh Inning: Celebrate Those Glory Moments

Baseball is unique because the pace and rhythm of the game allow for conversation, reflection and down time.  This is why so many who detest the game label it as being boring (even though they are dead-ass wrong).  But when special moments occur in professional sports, none are more celebrated or remembered than those glory moments found in baseball.  Images of Bill Mazeroski's magical 9th inning home run in the 1960 World Series (especially for us Pirates fans), Lou Gehrig's 1939 farewell speech, or the moment when a Black man wearing the #42 trotted out to First Base for the Dodgers, are images that endure for every generation of baseball fans.  For example, here is one baseball memory that I will not soon forget:



I saw this live and will never forget it.  A man, born with only one hand, achieving something very few would ever consider possible...a NO-HITTER!!! 

But for all the glory moments baseball has to offer, the fact of the matter is most at bats end in an out, most games go down in the books as unremarkable and most players will never come close to the Hall of Fame. For all its glory and hype, baseball can be a relatively uneventful game.    

Such is the game of life.  Most days are "average," most encounters are "typical" and most moments are "mundane."  We tend to mark our lives by those rare and special occasions when the ordinary becomes extraordinary. 

One of the holiest moments within the Mormon faith occurs when a new temple is being dedicated.  Temples have a central role to play in Mormonism, so the dedication of a new temple is anything but ordinary.  In fact, Mormon history records the dedication of the Kirtland Temple (the first temple ever dedicated by early Mormons) as being a Pentecostal moment in which witnesses reported angels allegedly appearing, heavenly choirs singing and rushing of winds filling the halls of the new temple.  A few years later, the Nauvoo Temple was dedicated, with many of the same witnesses attending that event as well.  Their reports, however, were quite different from the Kirtland account.  Witnesses to the Nauvoo dedication reported.......NOTHING!  No angels, no choirs, seemingly no divine intervention of any kind.

There is something to be learned from this.  All of us crave the Kirtland experience but usually end up receiving the Nauvoo moments.  We'd all love to attend a no-hitter or game 7 of the World Series, but we usually end up attending an average ball game. It is rare when we are able to play witness to the miraculous, which is why we must learn to cherish them when they do occur.    

Ladies and gentlemen, the 7th INNING STRETCH!!!!!




Eighth Inning: Support Your Teammates

In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers made history by adding a new first basemen to their roster.  His name: Jackie Robinson.  As we all know, it was Robinson who managed to break the ugly color barrier that had stained baseball for nearly a century.  What many don't know is that Robinson faced terrible persecution and hostility from fans, players and even teammates.  

But one man, whose family history was saturated with racist beliefs towards Blacks, chose to stand with Robinson.  Dodgers star shortstop, Pee Wee Reese, became a vocal supporter and friend of Jackie Robinson. In fact, Reese later claimed that the first time he met Robinson was also the first time he had ever shaken hands with a Black man. The two men became life-long friends and helped to pave the way for the desegregation of baseball. 

All of us have prejudices and biases of one form or another.  They are inevitable and sometimes very hard to recognize and then remove from our lives.  In the Mormon faith, prejudice is, unfortunately, all too common, even amongst the very best of members. Sometimes we can be far too judgemental of those who don't fit what we consider to be the typical "Mormon mold."  Everyone from single parents, new converts not dressed in a suit and tie and even [GASP] Democrats are sometimes marginalized in our congregations.  This is terribly unfortunate because a church's greatest strength (like that of a baseball team) is to be had in the unity found in the "clubhouse."  You can have all the talent in the world, but if you can't stand behind your teammates you are destined to fall apart.  Or as Jesus reminds us, "If ye are not one, ye are not mine."

Ninth Inning: Enjoy the Game!
   
Ultimately baseball is just a game.  There isn't much about it that is philosophical or of intrinsic value to humanity.  Those lucky enough to play the game professionally make ridiculous amounts of money simply because they can throw, catch and hit better than the rest of us.  But baseball doesn't feed the hungry, liberate the captive or educate the illiterate.  It's just a game.

Sometimes we can feel the same way in our own respective lives.  We each go to work, raise children, attend school/church, and do our best each and every day.  But our efforts don't typically feed the hungry, liberate the captive or educate the illiterate.  With 7 billion of us on the Earth, we can easily feel like a very tiny fish in an extremely large pond.

And though it is great when we or others are able to help make humanity better, sometimes we forget that the biggest changes come because of the smallest of efforts.  The most profound verse that I have ever read from the Book of Mormon is 2 Nephi 2:25, which states very simply, "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy."  In other words, the purpose of our life is to find happiness.  Of course, this doesn't mean that our pursuit of happiness should come at the cost of helping others.  But what it does mean is happiness is readily available to us because of the grace of God.  For whatever else God may be, ultimately God is happiness, and this is PRECISELY what makes baseball so great.  Perhaps this is the greatest lesson baseball can teach religion.  After all the doctrine, scripture, preaching, etc., the real question is, "Does your religion make you happy?"  If so, all of the problems and doubts can be damned!

It was Adam's (and Eve's) FAILURE that allowed joy to enter the world, and it is baseball's magnification of human failure that makes it the greatest game ever invented. Without our failures, we humans would be boring, predictable and without that joy God wants for us.  This is why baseball ultimately deserves to be considered a religion.  Nothing on earth better captures our imperfections and constant struggles.  Here's hoping my religion, and all religions, will accept baseball and its lessons, which are sometimes the greatest of sermons.       

As Sister Wynona Carr reminds us, "Life is a Ball Game."   

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Could Mitt Romney Be the Next President? Yes, and Here's How

In 1824, Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and William Crawford all competed to become the next President of the United States.  It was also the first time in history that the popular vote was taken and recorded for history. It was a brutal contest between all four men in which each candidate maintained control over a specific portion of the country and ended up carrying a significant portion of the Electoral College vote.  In the end, it was Andrew Jackson who emerged with the most electoral and popular votes.  Jackson, however, would not become the next president.  Why you ask?  Because he did not win a MAJORITY of the available electoral votes.  Though he did win the most electoral votes (99 votes), his opponents (Adams: 84 votes, Crawford: 41 votes and Clay: 37 votes) had prevented Jackson from winning the required majority.  As a result, the election went to the House of Representatives (as prescribed in the 12th Amendment of our Constitution).  Once there, Representatives casted their lots for Adams, who eventually emerged at the nation's 6th president.

Fast forward to 1876 and one of the most (if not the most) controversial presidential elections ever. Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio found himself in a virtual dead heat with rival Samuel Tilden, the governor of New York. After a first count of votes, Tildon held a small lead of 184 electoral votes, compared to Hayes' 165.  Twenty electoral votes (from Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina) remained unaccounted for.  To make matters worse, Democrat and Republican officials in each of those states told their respective candidate that they had won those 20 remaining votes.  Needless to say, contention irrupted.  Though in the lead, Tildon did not have the required votes he needed to become president.  In what has become one of the most controversial moves in presidential election history, Hayes and Republicans negotiated a deal behind closed doors that essentially gave him the remaining 20 electoral votes.  In exchange, Democrats secured the promise of troop withdrawals from southern states, thereby allowing racial tensions to once again enter into the equation.  Hayes had his presidency, defeating Tildon 185-184, while the South had the beginnings of Jim Crow.  No wonder why contemporaries of the time referred to their new president as RutherFRAUD Hayes!

Once again our fair nation enters yet another presidential election season.  You don't need to be a scholar of politics or history to see that 2016 will likely be remembered for extreme partisanship. Battle lines have been drawn and only a few key states remain open to the sway of remaining candidates.  As things stand now (March 17th, 2016), Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have a clear leg up on the competition.  Clinton is likely to get the nomination for the Democratic Party.  The GOP nomination, however, is still uncertain.  Though Trump holds a lead and will likely get the nod, establishment Republicans within the party have expressed deep concern over Trump becoming their party's candidate.  As a result, several have taken to the idea of implementing some sort of strategy that would replace Trump with a candidate more to their liking.

One of the suggested plans hearkens back to some of the drama already mentioned in the elections of 1824 and 1876.  If the GOP members who oppose Trump are unable to block him at their convention, one likely scenario that has been tossed about is to introduce a third candidate (somebody of moderate Republican leanings) into the race.  Enter Mitt Romney.

As most already know, Romney is no fan of The Donald.  He has, on multiple occasions, expressed his disdain and concern over the possibility of a Trump White House.  In addition, Romney has been approached by several establishment members of his party to convince him of a potential run for the White House.

Obviously Romney would be late to the party and clearly in the rear of the pack if he were to emerge as a potential candidate.  That being said, he wouldn't have to win very much in order to have a legitimate shot at the White House.  This is where the drama gets REALLY interesting!

Let us assume for the sake of argument that Donald Trump wins the nomination.  Establishment Republicans prove unable to oppose or replace him at their convention yet are still petrified of the Trumpster.  They convince Mitt Romney that running as a third candidate is not some desperate endeavor but a strategy that employs a serious game plan with a real chance of success.  How could they defeat both Hillary and Trump?  Especially this late to the game?  I'm glad you asked.

Romney and his supporters would be more than aware of the fact that they could never beat Trump or Clinton in a heads up match in the Electoral College.  They are too far behind with too little time left of the clock for that.  As a result, their game plan becomes quite simple: they play the role of spoiler. As we discussed above, to win the presidency requires winning a MAJORITY of the Electoral College.  In short, this means winning 270 electoral votes.  The 12th Amendment states that if a candidate is unable to win a majority of the Electoral College, the House of Representatives elects the president. The GOP controls the House by a good margin.  Most of those representatives are establishment Republicans, meaning they probably are not major Trump fans.  And there's also the wild card of the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who just happens to be Mitt's former running mate and good friend.  So Mitt Romney's game is simple: prevent both Trump and Clinton from reaching 270 and let the House (potentially) give him the nod.

The question now is, could Mitt play the role of spoiler effectively enough to prevent Clinton and Trump from winning 270 electoral votes?  It's a tough road but not entirely impossible.  Let's look at a few potential scenarios:

First off, let us consider the Electoral College map as it currently stands (based on historical trends and polling data).  As you can see, there are approximately six battleground states up for grabs.  This assumes that Hillary Clinton wins Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which is quite likely based on past voting trends of those states and current polling data.


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

In the following scenario, we give Trump Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire and Colorado (a tall order to be sure), while Hillary wins Nevada and Virginia.  In addition, we give Romney Utah, which is certainly a likely outcome for the very Mormon state.  As you can see, Hillary and Donald remain deadlocked at 266 each, with Mitt controlling a whopping 6 electoral votes.


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

In this scenario, we have Trump winning Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire and Virginia. Clinton takes Colorado and Nevada.  Again, Romney wins Utah.


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

And finally we have this scenario where Trump wins Iowa, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and Florida, while Clinton takes Ohio.  Mitt Romney again wins Utah and New Hampshire doesn't really matter (either Trump or Clinton could win that state and still not reach 269).


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

Based on these scenarios a few recurring trends become quite obvious:

1.) Trump MUST win both Florida and Ohio to have much of a chance.
2.) Clinton has a clear advantage in the Electoral College.
3.) If things line up correctly, Mitt Romney could, potentially, become President by winning one single state.

Obviously this is speculation and there are a number of potential variables that could arise and derail this whole scenario.  But what I hope people take away is the fact that even in our democracy the will of the people doesn't always win out.  Keep in mind that we have had 4 presidential elections (1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000) in which the candidate with the most popular votes lost the election.  This stuff isn't without precedent.

Personally, I would love to see a 269-269 tie someday.  The implications are crazy.  For more on that, click here.