By James W. Ure, award winning author of Leaving the Fold: Candid Conversations with Inactive Mormons.
Who is Mitt Romney?
He admitted in 2011 it was a question that had plagued him over the 18 years he has run for office.
As Timothy Eagan wrote in a New York Times (August 15, 2012), “In focus groups he’s described as a tin man, a shell, an empty suit, vacuous, a multi-millionaire in mom jeans. And that’s from supporters.”
We’re not supposed to be talking about religion this campaign, but Mormonism is the fabric from which Romney is entirely woven.
This fact cannot be ignored: Mormonism is Mitt’s barrier to self-realization.
Mitt Romney is a Mormon first and a Mormon last, shaped by a veiled and shifting philosophy that has triggered Mormonism’s persistent reinvention of itself over its 182 year history.
Romney’s flip-flopping and obfuscation are modeled on his Mormonism. The church has shifted its positions on polygamy, blacks holding the priesthood and many of the doctrines first set down by its founder, Joseph Smith.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has changed its position so many times that a kind of false honesty hangs in the air like fog.
From childhood, devotion to Mormonism was ingrained in Mitt. So was the need proselytize—to sell the church to convert new members. The church believes its claims of growth legitimize it. Romney longs for the numbers that will legitimize him.
As a young missionary in Paris, Romney was taught how to avoid or deflect the sticky questions that have haunted the Mormon Church since its founding in 1830 in Fayette, New York.
Missionaries are trained to make palatable the roots of the religion, which can be a tough sell: Joseph Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon from “reformed Egyptian” written on golden plates. An angel gave him the plates on Sept. 22, 1827, along with stone spectacles called the Urim and Thummim, which allowed him to see the hieroglyphics in modern English.
It was also best that as a missionary Mitt avoid certain facts, i.e., Joseph Smith had a conviction for disturbing the peace in 1826 in Bainbridge, NY, based on his own admission for indulging in magic arts and organizing hunts for buried gold.
A scholarly criticism of Smith and his founding of Mormonism written by Fawn McKay Brodie, (No Man Knows My History, Knopf, 1945), still haunts Mormonism. The church has attempted to refute documented history by issuing a blizzard of pamphlets and faith-based rebuttals over the ensuing 67 years.
Some of the church’s revisionism in brief:
The issue of blacks holding the priesthood serves as an example of the church as it sways: In 1833 Mormons were told, “No man should be held in bondage.” Blacks had full membership. By 1852 the message was that blacks are marked by the “Curse of Cain” and not allowed to hold the priesthood. In 1978: Revelation by the president of the Mormon Church allowed blacks to hold the priesthood.
Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker of August 13, and 20, 2012, quotes church official Bruce McConkie saying “It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody said about the Negro matter before the first day of June, 1978.”
Polygamy: It was practiced by Joseph Smith on a sub rosa basis from 1831 or 1832 (possibly because he was caught by his wife with another woman). Polygamy was accepted as doctrine in 1852 and was ended by proclamation in 1890 when the outcry against it became overwhelming. It continues today by breakaway sects and the church promises its restoration at some future time. Mormon doctrine says polygamy is being practiced in heaven now.
If I were to become active again, I could now drink Coke in public. The Word of Wisdom (1833) preaches abstinence from tobacco, coffee, tea and alcohol. When I was a kid caffeine was wicked and even cola drinks were proscribed by my bishop (equivalent of the priest in charge of a parish). A Coke at Boy Scout camp was confiscated.
Now only hot caffeinated drinks are proscribed, and Big Gulps filled with Coke or Pepsi abound at the church offices in downtown Salt Lake City.
The Mormon Church, like Romney, is still defining itself. And this is the template Mitt Romney uses as he runs for president: change on demand. There comes a point at which he must step up and describe for all who he is, if he can.