“What do you think of the Republican candidates?” I asked the sound guy at the church where I play organ. He’s a good ol’, salt-of-the-earth farmer type.
He shook his head. “Newt, he’s crazy. Don’t know much about Santorum.”
“What about Romney?” I asked.
“Well, you know he’s a Mormon …”
I won’t claim to be an expert on Mormons. My stereotype of them is that they’re conservative, decent, “good people.” They go to church. They read their Bibles and they have “family night” each week, for Pete’s sake. They vote more conservatively than any other major religious group. Can’t get much more wholesome than that. I know just enough of the wacky stuff to make me dangerous … there’s that weird holy underwear issue, the belief that each male will get his own planet upon death, and of course — Sister Wives!
But how would Romney’s Mormon faith likely affect his actions as president? It’s a valid question: 61% of Democrats hold an unfavorable view of Mormons, as do 45% of Republicans. 25% of the population would never vote for a Mormon as president.
Mormons are a powerful group. Recently, a Swiss rule went into effect which prohibits foreign missionaries from entering the country. This was bad news for Mormons, who send out thousands of missionaries each year. Thirteen Mormon members of Congress sent a letter of protest to the Swiss ambassador. The ruling stood, but it’s an illustration of the way Mormons (though largely under-the-radar) work to advance their cause in even the highest echelons of power.
Grant Hardy, a history professor (who also happens to be Mormon), predicts that a President Romney would be reluctant to appoint many Mormons to high posts, in an effort to appear fair and impartial. He might also be reluctant to work closely with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, since he’s a Mormon as well (I didn’t know that) – although he’d likely not work closely with the outspoken Democrat anyway.
What does Romney himself say?
“I don’t try and distance myself in any way, shape, or form from my faith, but my church doesn’t dictate to me or anyone what political policies we should pursue,” he said during his first run for the White House. “There has never been a time in my four years as governor, that anyone from my church called me or contacted me and asked me to take a position on an issue.”
Back when John F. Kennedy was elected, his Catholic faith was a big impediment to many voters. His wife Jackie famously said something to the effect that “If people knew what a bad Catholic Jack is, they wouldn’t mind him being Catholic.” What about Romney – what kind of Mormon is he?
By all accounts, he’s a devout one. His great-great-grandfather, Miles Romney, began following Mormon religion founder, Joseph Smith, and later trekked to Utah with the early Mormon pioneers. Mitt has served as Bishop of his local congregation, and later as Boston’s stake president (a stake is similar to a Catholic diocese). His family follows the Mormon belief in tithing, and has given millions to Mormon Temple-building projects and other outreach ministries of the church.
As Boston’s highest-ranking Mormon official, Romney offered counsel to congregants seeking it. When a young Mormon who’d transgressed sought Romney’s advice:
“He told me that, as human beings, our work isn’t measured by taking the sum of our good deeds and the sum of our bad deeds and seeing how things even out,” recalled the man, now 37. “He said, ‘The only thing you need to think about is: Are you trying to improve, are you trying to do better? And if you are, then you’re a saint.’ ” I might argue his theology, but Romney sounds like a decent guy.
Utah Mormon higher-ups were highly upset by Romney’s support of abortion rights as Massachusetts governor. Perhaps this is an example of Romney’s refusal to let church teachings influence his governing, even though in this instance, I feel his actions were wrong.
My own feeling is that, however nervous and wrong-minded many of Mormons’ beliefs seem, I’m infinitely more comfortable with a Mormon president than with our current one, who for years attended Jeremiah Wright’s church, with its emphasis on black liberation theology and social justice.
I believe a Mormon president could, and hopefully would, steer our nation in the direction intended by its founders, and away from our current trend towards socialism and perhaps eventually Marxism.
What do you think? Does Romney’s Mormon faith change your feelings about him, either pro or con?