Last night on NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams featured a portion of an interview with Abby Huntsman, daughter of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, about her decision to leave the Mormon church because of her romance and later marriage to a non-Mormon. It’s at minute 12 in the video above. Huntsman related a painful interview with a Mormon bishop who counseled her to stop dating the man.
“He basically said, you will not have the blessings, your children will not have the blessings, if you marry this man… I know that I’m one of many many women that go through experiences like that. And I walked out that door and I couldn’t go back.”
Williams nodded with deep sympathy as Abby Huntsman recounted this story. His decision to excerpt this exchange on the Nightly News (from a Rock Center piece about Mormonism) can only reflect outrage. Andrea Mitchell also covered the story.
This story is in the news justly because Mitt Romney, a Mormon, aspires to the highest office and journalists should be exploring what it means to be Mormon.
I of course think of the Jewish angle. In 2000, I got impatient with all the journalists asking whether Joe Lieberman would work on Saturdays if he were elected vice president — of course he would work on the Sabbath in a crisis; that’s a no brainer, I said– and said that the real issue was whether he tells his children not to marry non-Jews. I pointed to numerous bars on intermarriage inside the Jewish faith, spoke of the pain that these policies had caused many non-Jews and Jews who met and fell in love, and said that while we must tolerate such bars in many segments of our society, because people are tribal, we had a right to ask whether a president or vice president stood by such exclusivities. That was the season when Republican presidential candidates had visited Bob Jones University, which maintained a bar on interracial dating; and it was a big story.
Well twelve years have passed and a bar on intermarriage is denounced on national television. Social attitudes are changing rapidly and dramatically in our post-racial age. We have a black president who is the product of an “interracial” marriage. We just watched an Olympics that was remarkable for the number of “interracial” athletes who were not described as interracial for the simple reason that traditional ideas of race are disappearing and to invoke those ideas would be embarrassing and racist, and who knows what the hell they mean anyway.
Brian Williams’s clucking over Abby Huntsman’s disgraceful treatment by an elder is a sign of this new consciousness, a spirit of inclusion and universalism. American Zionism, which holds that there is a “demographic” threat to Jews and there are “too many Arabs” in Israel, cannot survive this new consciousness, let alone continue to describe itself as “liberal.” It’s an anachronism, as Tony Judt explained in the New York Review of Books 9 years ago. And traditional Jewish attitudes towards intermarriage can’t survive either, especially at a time when we have achieved such privilege– a privilege that many have sought to share.