By robert j. Morris 司徒毅 jd, PhD

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My scholarly interest in religion began with my upbringing in a Mormon family. I came of age as a young missionary with the church in the Greater China area, and there I first confronted the issues surrounding the importation of a Western religion into a non-Western culture. The fundamental question was: “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”1
This was in the 1960s amid the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, so I am a product of the expansive and even radical thinking of that era. The books I read included the seminal Fail-Safe, The Ugly American, and A Nation of Sheep. The movie Judgment at Nuremburg was playing. The center of political conflict in Southeast Asia was shifting from the unrest in Indonesia to the war in Vietnam, while Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (无产阶级文化大革命) was going on in China.
By going to Taiwan, I plunged into the middle of one of the most complicated political situations in the world. It was a crucial time at the incipient moments of so many movements and forces that have played out in Asia during the ensuing 50 years—including the incipient democracy of Taiwan. Being there forced me to begin thinking seriously about civics vis-à-vis theology, and that has become a lifelong study. It includes the sensitive subject of “church and state”2 but is broader than that. It is a study that has become crucial with the global rise of modern militant fundamentalism and sectarianism. It is, at its heart, about constitutionalism and the rule of law. It is asking yourself the question, “Do you love the law?”
In Taiwan I first read Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s (孫中山醫師) Three Principles of the People三民主義》and learned from him that 「天下為公」—The world is for everyone. Taiwan was where I first heard the story of the amazing life of the Buddha (the Nepalese prince, Siddhārtha Gautama सिद्धार्थ गौतम), and read Hermann Hesse’s great novel, Siddhartha. It is where I began my studies of Confucius (孔夫子) and Laozi (老子). All of these influences became the foundation of my interest in the possibilities of comparative studies—comparative religion, comparative philosophy, comparative culture—and, ultimately, of course, comparative law. “There are, it may be,” says St. Paul, “so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.”3
In all this matrix of issues and ideas, my interest has grown, and taken new directions, in proportion to the Mormon church’s involvement, in coalition with other right-wing religions, in US politics starting in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, when the church projected its influence and opposition into the national debate about the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). What I did not fully perceive until more than a decade later is that this was primarily a prelude to its larger campaign, then already underway, against gay rights, and in particular same-sex marriage. This came to fruition in the 1990s in Hawai‘i, and was perfected in the campaign for Proposition 8 in California in 2008. This is amply revealed in the 2010 documentary film, 8: The Mormon Proposition.
I have found this difficult to understand, much less to accept. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, famously said: “I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights. The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground.”4 His successor, Brigham Young, said: “God speed everybody that is for freedom and equal rights!”5 I differ from the church primarily regarding the meaning of Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state” and the effect of Madison’s First Amendment. My favorite movie about the dangers of blending church and state is the 1986 film, The Mission. It illustrates how one cannot serve the two masters faithfully at the same time.
1966 sub nom. Van Therald, “On Either Side,” 8(2) Voice of the Saints / 《聖徒之聲》 35-38; in Chinese and English; full English transcript available online at .
1969 “Middle Buddha,” 4(1) Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 43; full text available online at .
1970 “Some Problems of Translating Mormon Thought into Chinese,” 10(2) BYU Studies 173; full text available online at .
1977 Book review essay of Alfons L. Korn, News from Molokai: Letters Between Peter Kaeo and Queen Emma, 1873-1876, 17(3) BYU Studies 379; full text available at .
1980 Robert J. Morris, “The Crossroads of the Pacific: The Development of Multicultural Families in Hawai‘i,” paper delivered at The World Conference on Records, “Preserving Our Heritage,” August 12-15, 1980, Salt Lake City, Utah (Series 815); .
1997 “‘What Though Our Rights Have Been Assailed?’ Mormons, Politics, Same-Sex Marriage, and Cultural Abuse in the Sandwich Islands (Hawai‘i),” 18(2) Women's Rights Law Reporter 129-204.

2005 “Both ‘New’ and ‘Everlasting’: Law and Religion in the Creation of Neo-Mormon Doctrine on (Homo)sexuality” 6 Rutgers Journal of Law & Religion (PDF online):


January 15, 2012

1 Old Testament, Psalm 137:4.

2 See the link on this Web page to my monograph on the “separation of church and state.”

3 New Testament, 1 Corinthians 14:10. See other links on this Web page for further information.

4 Joseph Fielding Smith (ed), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), p. 326 (Oct. 15, 1843); emphasis added. The primary source for this statement is Joseph Smith’s own seven-volume History of the Church or History of Joseph Smith (nicknamed “Documentary History of the Church [DHC]”) (Salt Lake City: LDS Church, vol 6, 1858), pp. 56-59.

5 Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 13:274 (July 24, 1870).

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