One comment I saw recently, after Senator Bob Bennett lost the Republican nomination to retain his seat, approved the move by the Utah Republican Party, saying that Bennett is a RINO.

Those who discuss and debate politics are likely familiar with this term, which means “Republican in Name Only.” I’ve also heard this type of term, first used for Republicans in the mid 1990s, applied to Democrats (DINO), and even to Mormons (MINO). [The first Internet use I found is in a 2008 comment to a post about Harry Reid.]

I’ve been bothered by this term ever since I first saw it. I particularly dislike the MINO term. It assumes a definition of Mormon that is limiting, as if the only way you can be Mormon is to live our religion perfectly.

Of course, there is a possible accuracy to these terms. Sometimes members of a group are outside of the group norms. And there are certainly valid reasons why some groups have norms for determining who is a member and who is not. Most organizations have ways to define membership and many actively expel members who don’t agree with or don’t act according to the group standards. Mormons are generally familiar with the concept. We expel those who don’t meet specific standards, welcoming back those who change to again meet the standards. However, we also have some standards that, when broken, don’t lead to being expelled: Church members who smoke aren’t usually expelled, but those who join polygamous groups usually are.

Of course, religious organizations and political parties are quite different. While political parties do have some norms for what they believe–the party establishes a platform each election cycle–these norms are never binding as far as I can tell. Political parties have open membership–all you need to do to join a party is register to vote as a member of that party, or switch your registration to that party. These standards even have little or no control over politicians, except when they influence how the electorate votes. And since the electorate rarely has much knowledge of the party platforms, what it means to be a party member is reduced to public perception and is ill-defined, especially on the margins.

Of course, there are general perceptions about how to define a Republican and how to define a Democrat, but between the two, there is a certain overlap–“moderate” Republicans who are more liberal than “conservative” Democrats.

Given all this, can these “–INO” terms really mean anything significant? If anyone can join a political party, or get elected on that party line, and if the definition of the party itself is so fuzzy, how can we know if anyone really is a “RINO?”

Regardless of the definitional problems, it is the use of terms like “RINO” and “DINO” that is the problem. Given the fuzzy definitions of political parties on the margins, it seems nearly impossible to accurately define anyone as a “RINO” or “DINO.” Instead the way that the term is used, its clear that it is a pejorative term — a way of calling people names; of denigrating another. Its “I don’t agree with this fellow party member, so I’m calling him a RINO/DINO to discredit him.” Further, its “instead of arguing the issues, I’m going to call you names.” Perhaps that is typical for the political arena, but I have higher expectations of myself, and of most of my fellow Mormons.

In that religions context, I think calling someone a “MINO” is just as pejorative, although for slightly different reasons. Unlike in the political arena, defining a Mormon by what he should do is much clearer — in most situations the commands we should follow are very clear. Indeed, MINO could be a defined, accurate, clinical term, meaning roughly the same as “inactive” or “less active.” But even these latter the Church has tried to shy away from because of how members feel when they are characterized that way. And “in name only” carries a connotation implying that the person’s membership (Republican, Democrat or Mormon) is deceptive, which seems even more likely to offend.

And is use supports that contention. MINO is rarely used in a clinical, descriptive sense, that of someone who has strayed (unlike “less active,” which is used almost exclusively in a descriptive way.) Instead it carries the connotation that the “MINO” doesn’t belong, that he is less than other Mormons.

To be honest, you could be accused of being MINO simply for calling someone a MINO — because it is not a charitable or kind thing to do. I suspect that we are all MINOs — I doubt very much that anyone really lives up to their religious beliefs. We are all hypocrites. Why should we compound our hypocrisy through verbal attacks about others faithfulness?

Political arena or not, I can’t see any legitimate use for these terms. They aren’t going to change the target, nor will they change anyone’s mind about the target. They can only lead to defensiveness or verbal battles–the kind that no one wins.

I’d have to say that the use of these terms is KINO–kind in name only.

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21 comments for “Saying RINO, DINO, MINO is KINO!

  1. political name calling comes with the territory mainly because there is no punishment for calling someone names, and in fact has had successes. Of course the cost of using negative tactics is that people eventually get disgusted with politics thus leaving the ruling of the country to lesser minds, like, say a Bill Kristol or a James Carville, who love to muck around in the dirt. This is a weakness of the democratic system (among many other significant weaknesses).

  2. You are right. Perhaps we should call them Jack Republicans and Jack Democrats, instead!

    Seriously, today’s RINO is often tomorrow’s mainstream person. The problem is when there is no standard that remains the same from year to year.

    In the Church, anyone who cannot pass a baptismal or temple recommend interview would not be considered as engaged in the Church. While we hate terms that can potentially insult people, they also can be useful. If the Church were so concerned about how people felt, they would not excommunicate or disfellowship anyone. However, there are some things more important than always being agreeable.

    I do not know how Harry Reid lives his life, so cannot say if he were a MINO or not. I do not think that politics determines a person’s worthiness in the Church, nor should it.

    That said, if I lived in Nevada and voted for him expecting a moderate Democrat, I would definitely be ready to vote him out of office right now, because he’s following Nancy Pelosi’s playbook right now.

  3. Just what, exactly, is Nancy Pelosi’s Playbook? is this something that you see only on Glen Beck, or Fox News? Could it be part of the nefarious “homosexual agenda” since Nancy represents San Francisco? Is she a secret Socialist/Fascist/Maoist/Nazi/Lesiban? I would really like to peruse this playbook for myself. I did see that one of her bills she introduced this year was renaming a Post Office in San Fransisco the “Lim Poon Lee Post Office”. I’m certainly against that, I guess. So Maybe its a good reason to vote against Harry Reid.

  4. Rameumptom,
    “In the Church, anyone who cannot pass a baptismal or temple recommend interview would not be considered as engaged in the Church.”

    I don’t know where you get this from, but it runs totally contrary to my experience. I’ve known plenty of people who attend church, who participate in callings, and who fellowship others who could not pass a baptismal or temple recommend interview. Although following all of the commandments is optimal, there’s nothing about not paying tithing, for example, that prevents a person from being engaged in the Church. Sure, the non-tithe-payer can’t go to the temple, and can’t fully participate, but that doesn’t make him or her any less Mormon, or any less engaged, than a full-tithe-payer.

    I totally agree that such labels in politics are stupid, and in the Church are actively harmful. (Although thank goodness I’ve never heard “MINO” used in any context.)

  5. Since questions of worthiness are discussed in private interviews, it seems the calling of someone MINO is the height of hypocrisy. How would anyone know?

    Since we spend most of our energies trying to get people INTO the church, who in his right mind would use such a term in a gospel setting?

    It’s no surprise to me that in the political arena which sound bites pass for discourse that RINO and DINO are important shorthand for preaching to the choir of contributors who will keep the machine running. And I suppose if someone ran for office on his “Mormoness”, then perhaps he might then be open to having his righteousness (or lack thereof) put on public display by his opponents.

  6. This is the first time I’ve seen the term MINO – or any of the other similar terms, for that matter.

    The way these terms work, it’s obvious they are referring to people.

    It would be easier, I think, to talk about some specific practices or ideas and to label them as Mormon or non-Mormon.

    People are more complicated than that – they may embody contradictory (to Mormonism) characteristics and still be very Mormon. Porter Rockwell for example – he had a rough character and did things that Mormons didn’t typically do – but he was unquestionably Mormon in his loyalties and in his love for the prophet Joseph Smith.

    Still – it’s not unimaginable that a person might be “Mormon in name only” – if a person acted in a manner that was sufficiently contradictory to Mormon values or if someone betrayed the Church in some kind of ultimate/decisive way.

  7. My point on Harry Reid following Pelosi’s agenda has nothing to do with gay marriage or issues like that. It has to do with him originally being a moderate Democrat, but to gain his office as SML had to move far to the left. For example, he was a pro-life Democrat, but changed in order to gain the office.

    And it was Nancy Pelosi who crafted most of the major legislation in the past year. Harry just followed her lead. She may be normal for liberal San Francisco, but she’s very left of the Democrats in most of the central states, etc.

    As for deeming members who cannot pass a baptismal/temple interview as “less engaged” it is true. None can advance in the priesthood. None can be a bishop, elder’s quorum president, or relief society president. They can be very busy in church activities, I suppose. But somewhere you have to determine who is engaged in the full Church program, and those who aren’t doing everything. I’m not calling them bad people. I’m saying they have not yet committed themselves to the level needed to be engaged completely in the things the Church offers.

    For example, how many wards can we form in an area where there are 25,000 attending members, but all either smoke cigarettes or do not pay tithes? The answer: none. How many can go to the temple to do baptisms for the dead, or be sealed in the temple? None. How many can hold a major calling in the ward? None.

    You see where this is going? It is a reality. They cannot be as engaged, simply because they cannot advance.

  8. Rameumpton,
    I see where you’re going. The thing is, you’re predicating your direction on faulty factual assumptions. If the measure of engagement is being bishop, then sure, if you can’t pass a baptismal interview, you can’t be engaged. But how on earth does engagement with the church require being bishop/RS president/EQ president? If that were the standard, we wouldn’t have many engaged members.

    You don’t have to have a temple recommend to teach primary. Or Sunday School. Or the youth. Or to be the ward organist, the emergency prep coordinator, they hymnbook distributor, the choir director, the choir pianist, the Activity Days leader, the ward chorister, &c. &c.

    Would it be good if all of those people had temple recommends? Sure it would. Would it be good if none of us sinned? Yeah. But the fact that I sin, that you sin, and that everybody in the church around us sins and falls short doesn’t mean that we’re not all engaged. Moreover, the fact that somebody couldn’t pass a temple recommend interview, or a baptismal interview, at some point in time doesn’t mean that he or she is not engaged with the Church (and, on the flip side, just because somebody could pass those interviews doesn’t mean that he or she is engaged).

    Unless, of course, by “engaged” you mean “able to be called as bishop.” In which case, I fully agree.

  9. “For example, he was a pro-life Democrat, but changed in order to gain the office.”

    I’m curious about what led you to this conclusion. Reid’s official position is that “abortions should be legal only when the pregnancy resulted from incest, rape, or when the life of the woman is endangered”, which, as I understand it, perfectly mirrors the Church’s position.

    Further, he has an overall 27 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, which, by NARAL’s definition, makes him pro-life.

    Votes in Congress related to abortion are rarely simple black-or-white choices either approving or disapproving of abortion. Reid voted no on restricting UN funding for population control policies, which some have construed as a pro-choice stance. And he voted yes on prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion, which many felt was a pro-life position.

    I think that to imply Reid is no longer pro-life is either disingenuous or ill-informed. But, heck, show me I’m wrong here.

  10. Gee, reading about Harry Reid’s supposed move to the left makes me burn. I hate it when politicians do that. I’m sure glad good Mormon boys like Mitt Romney have enough political integrity not to change horses in mid-stream.

  11. Re: MINO – In my mind, I see “Mormon” as a large tent. I see it somewhat akin to Jewish, which includes orthodox Jews, conservative Jews, reform Jews, and even people born “Jewish” who may never have set foot in a synagogue. So MINO doesn’t make sense.

  12. I think Reid is a lousy majority leader who has directly contributed to the toxic environment in Washington. The man’s mouth is a Superfund site of invective. (Citations readily available.)

    But the MINO card is dangerous ground. The voters of Nevada are authorized to judge him as a Senator. His membership status is none of our business.

  13. It is my understanding that at the recent Utah State Republican Convention that several ultra right wing party planks were passed, including one that all future Republican candidates would have to sign as to their ascent to ALL of the party platform. This was seen as an effort to get rid of all RINOs.

  14. Marjorie, that’s just crazy, and I can’t help but wonder if it is politically wise. Unless you are certain that you have the majority of the electorate, actively throwing people out of your group leads eventually to losing elections. Most parties are looking to reach out to the moderates and the center in a 2-party system.

  15. Marjorie: It is my understanding that at the recent Utah State Republican Convention that several ultra right wing party planks were passed, including one that all future Republican candidates would have to sign as to their ascent to ALL of the party platform.

    As a matter of fact, only one platform amendment passed in the 2010 Utah Republican Convention, on the topic of illegal immigration and border control. It amends the platform in favor of securing the border, opposing illegal immigration, opposing amnesty for those in the country illegally, and changing the law not to grant automatic U.S. citizenship to children born in the United States to parents not in the country legally.

    On a national scale those are all relatively controversial positions, but I wouldn’t call them “ultra” right wing, unless you generally conclude that positions supported by 50% to 60% of the American populace may be so qualified.

    Now it is true that candidates are required to file platform support disclosure statements with the party stating areas (if any) where they disagree with the party platform. And if a candidate neglects to do so, he or she suffers the extraordinarily severe penalty of having that failure to file announced to the delegates. There were a couple of candidates who failed to file such disclosures this year. Their names were not removed from the ballot.

  16. I was not at this convention, in fact I am an avowed Mugwump politically. My information comes from several delegates who were there, including a couple who are probably considered RINOs and at least a couple who were in favor of disenfranchising the RINOS. The next day at Church I heard some comments expressing real excitement that there was now a real chance to get rid of the RINOs. While there were multiple issues surrounding the ouster of Bennett, at least one issue was that he was not conservative enough and therefore a RINO, even though on the national scene he is viewed as quite conservative. At minimum there seems to have been an effort to intimidate and marginalize all but one faction of the party. Kent is correct that if this movement even substantially succeeds the party as a whole will eventually marginalize itself.

  17. My information comes from several delegates who were there

    I don’t doubt that there are moderate leaning delegates who are disappointed at the conservative turn in Utah Republican politics, and the opposition of many delegates to the re-election of politicians like Senators Bennett and Hatch. And certainly if Republicans start losing statewide races in Utah the evidence that perhaps the party has moved too far to the right will be ready at hand.

    Either way, it would be helpful for public discourse if commentators would at least get their facts straight. You can go to the Utah Republican party web site and read the party constitution, bylaws, and recently passed amendments and resolutions for yourself. There is no requirement that candidates assent to the entire platform. There is a requirement that candidates declare areas where they may disagree, one with no substantive penalties.

    In an area where a preponderance of Republicans disagree with some part of the party platform or another (a platform as a whole which is really pretty unremarkable) such disclosure should be an asset, not a liability, a means for those who disagree to know who to vote for. In other more conservative areas, it is certainly reasonable for people to have an idea about the basic political positions of those running, especially as party delegates.

  18. “Our leaders have consistently counseled us “to live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies.” It is equally important that we be loving and kind to members of our own faith, regardless of their level of commitment or activity. The Savior has made it clear that we are not to judge each other.”

  19. Paul #5:

    Since questions of worthiness are discussed in private interviews, it seems the calling of someone MINO is the height of hypocrisy. How would anyone know?

    Questions of worthiness are hardly confined to bishop’s offices.

    I had a friend in college (I was at BYU, he was not) who was a returned missionary. He bragged about his fairly regular trips to the “chicken ranch” in Nevada. All the while he went to church on Sunday. He bragged about his sexual prowess with his girlfriend (at the same time he was trotting off to Nevada). He also drank and did a few other problematic-to-lds things.

    I moved to a new apartment and didn’t see him for about two months. Then I got a wedding invitation. For his temple wedding.

    Sure, labels are imperfect and debatable and the lines are always arbitrary. But sometimes behavior is far enough outside the group’s accepted mores that it’s not unreasonable (nor does it require hypocrisy) to make a distinction between that behavior and devout or trying-to-be-devout behavior.

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