George Morgan Stocking, A Forgotten Hero

The first I heard of George Morgan Stocking was when I saw his grave in the Malad, Idaho cemetery on July 4th, 2011. My great grandmother was a Stocking, and her grave is nearby. Since Malad is a small place, I figured George Morgan Stocking was probably kin.

Sure enough, a bit of research revealed George to be my grandmother’s first cousin, although he was born just a few years before my mother. My grandparents, like George, had been born and raised in Malad, but they moved away. My mother was born and raised in another state and never had the chance to meet her older second cousin. In fact, she wasn’t even aware of him.

During World War II, while my mother was in high school, George joined the Marines. At age 19 he fought the Japanese on Peleliu Island. If you’ve ever seen the HBO series, The Pacific, you will have an idea of the horror this young man faced. He was killed in action.

I’ve never met any of my Stocking relations who, for all I know, are ordinary people. But I’m sure George’s family was devastated by his untimely death. Here was a promising young man – the last of six children – who would never marry or have children or enjoy the most satisfying experiences of family life. (Seeing George’s grave also made me think of my own son, currently serving as a Marine in Afghanistan.) My mother, by contrast, has enjoyed a full life. She turned 84 a couple days ago. Last week we had a family reunion for her descendants and more than 40 people attended. It was a wonderful event, made possible in no small part by the freedoms secured by those whose blood has protected this country – patriots whom are easy to forget.

We should try to remember the many George Morgan Stockings who made us free.


Were America’s Founders “Christian?” or “christian”?

From time to time, people say America’s founding fathers were Christians For example, Bryan Fischer asks, “Were the founders Christians?” and answers, “Yep, no doubt about it.”  Fischer cites a University of Dallas study of 55 founding fathers which found only three with religious views that could not be definitely determined. Fischer goes on and provides reasons why he thinks the three exceptions (Benjamin Franklin, Hugh Williamson, and James Wilson) were religious. Ergo, he concludes that all 55 founders were Christians.

I grow concerned when I read stuff like this because some evangelical Christians say only those who believe as they do are qualified for high political office. The typical litmus test used is acceptance of the Nicene Creed — a test that would exclude some Unitarians, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, and a host of other faiths (e.g., Hindus, Scientologists, Wiccans, etc.) that I know little about. These people assert that candidates who adhere to a “false religion” are inherently unfit for office. Although the theme is not (yet) nearly as prevalent this election cycle as last time, it is not unusual for people to argue that politicians like Romney, Huntsman, and Reid should be shunned on account of their Mormon faith. (See for example, Warren Cole Smith.)

I think trying to judge candidates for political office on the basis of their religious beliefs is foolish.
I also think it flawed methodology to equate church affiliation with religious conformity. Does attendance at church constitute complete acceptance of that church’s teachings? That seems to be what Fischer has done. Consider our first three presidents.

According to historians and his peers, George Washington was pretty much a paragon of christian virtue. According to Alf J. Mapp, Jr. (The Faiths of our Fathers) George attended church regularly with his wife Martha and yet is recorded on multiple occasions to have rejected communion. In fact, there is no record of his ever accepting communion. Was Washington religious? Most certainly. Was he a creedal Christian? Probably. Did he accept everything the Anglican church taught in his day? It’s doubtful. According to Mapp, Washington sometimes attended services of other faiths too, including Catholic.

President John Adams read the Bible but was famously impatient with orthodox preachers, including his father-in-law who had unsuccessfully tried to discourage his daughter Abigail from courting the man. (She later asked her minister father to preach a sermon on Luke 7:33: “John came neither eating nor drinking, and ye say, he hath a devil.”) Adams wrote extensively on his views of God and the Bible. Both John and Abigail sent letters to family members in which they explicitly rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. Were the Adams religious? No doubt. Were they creedal Christians? Definitely not.

Thomas Jefferson was raised an Anglican but strayed from the tenets of that church as an adult. There is strong evidence he was religious, but he certainly did not embrace the entire theology taught by any church of his day. A strong advocate for religious freedom, he distrusted clerics of all faiths. He published a carefully edited version of the four gospels that studiously omitted all references to the divine nature of Jesus, including his miracles. He also rejected the writings of St. Paul. Was Jefferson religious? Probably. Was he a creedal Christian who accepted the Nicene Creed? We don’t know, but his writings leave room for doubt.

These brief examples illustrate the folly of equating church affiliation with doctrinal acceptance. Religious belief is a complex topic that varies by individual. Attending church does not prove conformity of belief no more than being born in a garage makes one a car. Only God knows what each of the Founders really believed.

I see a big difference between being formally “Christian” (big “C”) and being “christian” (small “c”). I see Christians (big “C”) as those who accept the religious theology of the New Testament. Different churches often contend with each other on what constitutes an authentic Christian (big “C”). As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I consider myself a Christian. But some creedal Christians would refuse me the Christian title because my beliefs differ from theirs. I respect our differences and bear no grudge against them for so doing. I do have problem, however, when some say only creedal Christians (big “C”) are qualified for high office.

Without a doubt, nearly all our founding fathers were “christian” (small “c”) in the sense they prized Biblical qualities of traditional morality, charity, and service. None of them was perfect, but they were doubtless strongly influenced by the teachings of the Bible. Personally, I even think of devout Jewish founders like Haym Salomon in christian (small “c”) terms and do so with the greatest respect for their faith, service, and sacrifice. There’s no question the founders as a group saw a connection between morality, the Golden Rule, and the well-being of our nation. But they held diverse views about God.

It’s wrong to make being creedal Christians (big “C”) a qualification for high office. We’ve already had at least one President (and likely more) who was not creedal Christian (big “C”). The country not only survived, it thrived.

The $1,000,000,000,000 Market Meltdown

I’m still learning about the recent melt down of the subprime market that has led to Congress considering a one trillion dollar commitment of tax payer money to stabilize markets.  But I have a few impressions right now.

First, Americans are rightfully outraged by the regulatory foolishness that contributed to the problem.  For example, I understand the two quasi-government agencies that played a major role in this catastrophe — Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac — offered NINJA loans.  These are loans that required No Income, No Job, and No Assets.  What kind of foolishness was this?  Should we be surprised that many of the recipients of these loans have defaulted?  Should we be surprised when healthy banks are required to buy these mortgages that they become financially sick too?

Second, some of the leaders of lending institutions profited enormously, some might say profanely.  Some leaders are well connected within the Washington DC political class.  They are members of both parties and have made monetary contributions to both parties.  For example, Franklin Raines, now an advisor to Barack Obama, pocketed $50 million (see,2933,423701,00.html)

Third, this problem is of bi-partisan creation.  Members of Congress in both parties pushed the legislation and regulations, which evolved during the administrations of President Bush and past Presidents.  Some people trace the origin of our current regulation back to Bill Clinton’s administration, others as far back as Jimmy Carter. In any case, members of both parties thought the regulations were a good idea.  For this reason, I doubt we will see Enron-type Congressional hearings into this fiasco because it would embarrass sitting members of Congress.

Finally, the mess was made possible by government leaders who acted out of good intentions.  They wanted to make home ownership (‘the American Dream’) more accessible to low-income Americans.  But their good intentions backfired when the system ran amok by offering NINJA loans and other ridiculous practices.

Regardless of where we pin blame, it seems clear that despite America’s enormous wealth our finances are not unlimited.  We simply cannot afford to give everybody anything they want, whether it be cheap home ownership, free health care, free transportation, or whatever.  The solution to poverty is education, not subsided loans or free housing or socialized risk.

The Uses of Adversity

I just finished reading Carlfred Broderick’s The Uses of Adversity published by Deseret Book. It’s only 58 pages long and consists of an address delivered at a BYU Women’s Conference. I knew Dr. Broderick personally. He was my stake president in California and a family friend. He spoke at my father’s funeral. I heard him speak many times, including telling some of the stories in the book. He was genuine, smart, deeply spiritual, and had an unusual and entertaining personality. I’ve never met anyone like him. I was sad when he passed away in 1999.

The book is wonderful and moved me to tears. The stories illustrate what faith in God really is and that ordinary people can have their Job-like trials. I highly recommend it to all my LDS friends.

Rough Waters Ahead for Republicans

The Washington Times has an article noting 28 GOP members of the US House of Representatives are retiring. Democrats already have a 33 vote edge in the House. Given how long it is taking for Republicans to unite behind McCain, it looks like rough going in the near future for the GOP. The party is thus in a rebuilding stage. Since Republicans need all the help they can get, there are plenty of opportunities for committed citizens to get involved and thereby influence the party’s direction. The fierce debate in the primaries underscores the differences in opinions regarding what the Republicans should stand for. If you have or are questioning the GOP’s values, it will never be easier than now to make your voice heard by getting involved.

Trusting the News

The New York Times published a lengthy article this week about John McCain, alleging an “inappropriate relationship” with a female lobbyist, two words that are sufficiently vague to avoid accusing McCain of any specific misdeed and yet pregnant with the possibility of ethics and sexual misconduct. When you boil the story down to the hard facts you are left with suspicions voiced by two disenchanted aids about something they thought might have happened ten years ago. Both the lobbyist and McCain have strongly denied any wrongdoing or any romantic relationship.

This is news?

The article also provides a lengthy rehash of McCain’s involvement in the Keating Five Scandal in which McCain and four other Senators were censured by the Senate in 1991 (the Times fails to mention the others were Democrats). Years ago McCain openly acknowledged his mistakes in the Keating scandal and applied the lessons learned to a renewed commitment to ethics in government.

In my opinion, the Times piece isn’t news but a smear job. The theme is that McCain has an established pattern of making questionable decisions. But only by carefully reading and re-reading the article to dig out the facts do you realize its narrative is based entirely on ancient political history, rumor, and innuendo.

Should we believe everything we read? I learned many years ago to be generally skeptical of journalists, particularly when they report on politics or religion.

As a teenager in 1972, I worked for Richard Nixon’s re-election by delivering campaign literature door to door in my California hometown. I was rewarded by being bused to a rally of young Republicans at a downtown Los Angeles hotel. The rally offered food and music and a chance to mingle with other young people. I think there was something like two thousand of us there. The highlight of the rally for us was President Nixon’s flying in by helicopter and waving to us as he disembarked and entered the hotel. At some point during the event, I got bored and wandered to the front of the hotel with a few other rally attendees. On the opposite side of the street we saw less than a dozen anti-war protestors. A shouting match ensued between us and the protestors, and rally organizers hastily ushered us to the back of the hotel.

The next day, I was eager to see what the Los Angeles Times reported about our rally. After much looking, I finally found a tiny paragraph buried somewhere in the middle of the paper. But to my astonishment, there was a front page story talking about thousands of anti-war protesters choking the streets. Where were these legions of protestors and why had I not seen them?

Since then I’ve been skeptical of journalists, particularly when they have an agenda. It’s amazing how little reporting of direct factual observation occurs, and how much time is devoted to repeating what others said happened, or even more subjectively, what others say an event means. Unfortunately, people are so busy these days that they tend to simply accept what they hear or read without questioning it. We would all do well to ask ourselves, where are the hard facts that support this story?

I’m not a big McCain fan. But this hit piece does more damage to the sagging reputation of The New York Times than it does to John McCain.

Barack Obama and Liberation Theology

Once again, the faith of a Presidential candidate has been called into question. This time it’s Barack Obama. Under question is the political doctrine of the teachings of the Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ (UCC) which Barack and his family have attended for years. Two articles at American Thinker raise concerns about the Liberation Theology preached within the walls of the UCC.

One article by Lee Cary states Obama’s spiritual mentor was Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright who in turn was heavily influenced by Dr. James H. Cone, a strong proponent of Africentric theology and radical Black Power. Cary wants the public to understand that “while Barack is the softer, social justice side of black liberation theology, Michelle is the harder anti-white-supremacy side.” Cary thus associates Michelle Obama with black hardliners who fundamentally distrust and devalue whites and anything they may have accomplished. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain and the liberation of Kuwait are allegedly dismissed as the victories of (white) racist capitalist America over other equally corrupt systems. The evidence cited for Mrs. Obama’s views is a recent public comment that “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.”

Another article by Kyle-Anne Shiver quotes The Audacity of Hope, in which Obama states,

…whatever preconceived notions white Americans may continue to hold, the overwhelming majority of them these days are able – if given the time – to look beyond race in making their judgments of people.

Shiver then states, “The question now… [is] whether Obama can measure up to the same standard he sets for white people.” Shiver shares her impressions of a personal visit to Trinity UCC in Chicago. Shiver found (as did Cary) that the sermons and bookstore were exclusively Afro-Centric. Shiver not only questions why a candidate for President does not worship in a congregation that includes all races, she implicitly questions whether Trinity UCC is too overtly politicized to be considered a religious organization at all. (I also heard comments to this effect in a radio interview with her this afternoon in Seattle.) Shriver notes:

Now, I have worshipped hand-in-hand with my black brothers and sisters in my own Catholic Church, as well as in predominantly black congregations of protestant denominations. It is our one faith in our one Lord that holds sway in our hearts and minds.

I would like to respond to these two articles. First of all, I’m white, Mormon, and tend to vote Republican. I don’t have a dog in this fight except for the idea some might consider me a racist due purely to the fact that I am a white, Mormon, Republican. There is no point trying to reason with people who think that way, and that’s not the issue I want to address here anyhow.

I would like to respond to the idea that there is something alarming about a political candidate who attends a church that relegates God to the back of the bus in favor of radical, social activism.

It is reasonable to ask whether the candidate adopts the political teachings of an organization such as the UCC. For example, does Barack see the world through the lens of class-warfare such that whites are the source of all evil? How should the government address racism? What responsibilities do all races have for combating the problem? Those are legitimate questions that I hope Barack answers. In the meantime, I acknowledge that his remark about whites looking beyond race strikes me as positive, not negative. Acknowledging prejudice to be a human problem (not just a white problem) is being realistic. And acknowledging racism as an issue for a black Presidential candidate is not the same as pinning all the world’s problems on white oppression.

But some people are raising another question which I think is wrong. That is: Can a candidate who belongs to a political-activist-centered church really have God in his or her heart? I assert that this question is politically irrelevant.  Isn’t weighing a candidate’s faith just another way of judging the candidate’s religion against the yardstick of our own? “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) I take that to mean humans are not good judges of religious purity. Our founding fathers wisely inserted Constitutional stipulations against religious correctness for office holders.

Mitt Romney’s candidacy was at times driven to distraction by comments and questions about Mormonism. On the political left were some of the very people who claimed Bill Clinton’s extra-marital affairs had no bearing on his performance in office, and yet they suddenly insisted on discussing details of Mormon theology and history. And on the political right were some very people who worry about surrendering US sovereignty to a one-world-government, and yet they seem to expect other Americans to conform their relationship to God to some kind of majority rule.

Let’s not repeat such irrelevant, foolish and un-American behavior.

When looking at a candidate’s religious background, it is important to consider universal qualities such as honesty, fidelity, a sense of justice, and guiding principles of political ideology. I would be alarmed about Barack’s religion if he encouraged voters to think he was God’s chosen candidate. Thankfully, he doesn’t.  And I don’t care whether he believes in God in exactly the same way as I do. What matters is how the teachings of his faith would most likely influence his actions in government.