Mark Hemingway: Romney shouldn't have to answer questions about Mormon history

Roundup: Media's Take

[Mark Hemingway is a writer in Washington, D.C.]

... The normally insightful and delightfully irascible Bob Novak published a column Thursday in advance of the debate titled “Will ignoring film mean curtains for Romney?” It’s about how Romney’s candidacy will be hurt by the fact that he won’t comment on a new film about the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

For those of you who don’t know, the Mountain Meadows Massacre is arguably the darkest moment in Mormon history. Fueled by suspicion and facing hostilities from the U.S. government over the issue of polygamy, in 1857 a rogue band of Mormons and Paiute Indians slaughtered 120 settlers passing through Utah and stole their cattle. It was an atrocious crime, no question. Speculation has run rampant since the event that the slaughter was personally ordered by the Mormon prophet Brigham Young himself. Though suggestions of Young’s involvement are not beyond the pale, there is no proof he was involved in the killing.

The film Novak speaks of, September Dawn, takes the historically debatable position that Young ordered the killing personally (In fact, Young is portrayed in the movie by Terence Stamp, who’s made a career out of playing villains and criminals — he was General Zod in Superman II.) All Novak’s column really revealed was that the Mormon Church is downplaying the film’s more controversial claims.

But whether or not the Church feels compelled to answer questions, why should Romney? He’s not running for president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he’s running for president of the country.

Focusing on this one event also ignores the fact that the tensions surrounding the founding of the Mormon Church cut both ways. Novak could have just as easily watched Legacy, a film financed by the Mormon Church about the Haun’s Mill Massacre. In 1838, the governor of Missouri issued an “Extermination Order” against Mormons. A few days later, a band of Missouri militia rode into a Mormon settlement and killed 18 Mormons, including a defenseless ten-year-old boy. A militia man said of the boy’s killing, “Nits will make lice, and if he had lived he would have become a Mormon.”

Not only does the suggestion that a film about the Mountain Meadows Massacre will hurt Romney’s chances lack historical perspective, it seems to ignore the fact that the event is well, history. It happened 150 years ago. The Mormon Church and its leadership are very different now then they were then. ...

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