Gordon Monson: Thank God Mike Lee doesn’t speak for the Almighty or even for Latter-day Saints

What the right-leaning Utah senator gets wrong about his condemnation of Burning Man.

Question: Did Mike Lee fall directly out of the Old Testament?

You have to wonder.

Condemning people, as the Utah senator recently did, who attended Burning Man, essentially saying they brought the flooding that took place in the Nevada desert on themselves, reaping the wrath of an angry God because of their raucous behavior, may play well to his conservative base, but it makes him look like an idiot — and a judgmental one at that.

Yeah, I know, I’m judging the judgmental.

But Lee’s schtick is not just a poor reflection on himself but also on his religion. When rational people read his comments on social media, they think his biblical pontification is what those crazy “Mormons” believe. Not unlike what Lee said about Donald Trump, comparing the then-president to Captain Moroni, a hero in the faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon.

That may be what some misguided Latter-day Saints think but certainly not all of them, not the clear-headed ones. When Lee speaks as he sometimes does, it gives folks the impression that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are a bunch of scripture-thumping, censorious critics who actually believe that people who believe differently than they do will get kicked in the head by the Almighty for their beliefs.

(Maxar Technologies via AP) In this satellite photo provided by Maxar Technologies, an overview of Burning Man festival in Black Rock, Nev., on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. Tribune columnist Gordon Monson takes Utah Sen. Mike Lee to task for saying that flooding at the event is the result of God's wrath.

No matter that bad things happen to good people all the time. And good things happen to bad people. Who is Mike Lee to condemn others? If he was such a biblical scholar, he would know the story of Job, from the Old Testament, a righteous man who suffered all sorts of afflictions, to the point that his foes and even his friends figured he must have sinned to have such difficulties put upon him. One of the main points of that yarn is to persuade humans not to do exactly what Lee did in his comments.

When bad things happen to people, it does not mean they themselves are bad.

Not just that, but answer this question: Why would the Utah senator judge and condemn Burning Man attendees while also praising Trump and other political comrades despite their sordid behaviors?

The answer to that question is obvious. His condemnations have more to do with politics than piety or any sense of morality.

But the damage is done when those two things are blended. It’s divisive and confusing to people susceptible to getting swayed by the mixture. Of course, that seems to be the reason Lee says what he says.

It was James Madison who said: “Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

Amen, Brother Jim.

He could have subbed in the word “politics” for “government,” and it would have been equally — if not more — correct.

Maybe the sometimes-volatile potion of religion and politics, especially the partisan type, is why the top leaders of Lee’s faith have adopted a general policy of neutrality on partisan matters.

Here’s the challenge then: If you are a person of faith, Latter-day Saint or otherwise, ignore what Mile Lee says about God and his intentions and machinations. If you are a nonbeliever, you already do.

This is where believers can learn from nonbelievers. It’s a good bet that if politicians use religion in their rhetoric, especially to solidify their base or justify the condemnation of others, they may be breaking one of the Ten Commandments, the one about not lying. But then, telling politicians they shouldn’t bear false witness is a bit like telling a fish it shouldn’t swim.

Am I being judgmental? Guilty as charged.

But at least I’m not asserting that Lee will be punished by God for his absurdity.

It would be nice, though, if he were punished by those who vote him into — and those who have the power to vote him out of — office.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Columnist Gordon Monson.

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