Mitt’s Mormon Predicament

Appearances Politics

When Mitt Romney ran against Ed Kennedy for United States Senator in 1994, the adventure ended in double-heartache. Not only did Romney loose but within a week of his defeat, his religious leaders chose to censor him publicly.

Instead of being celebrated the champion of his people for taking on Ed Kennedy in the liberal lion’s den Massachusetts, President James Faust, second counselor of Mormon prophet Gordon Hinckley, accused Mitt Romney in all but in name of fearing to insult the devil.

During the televised debate with Kennedy, Romney pointed out that he had strong believes but that he would not impose his beliefs on other people and that is why he supported the right to abortion although he would discourage anyone from having one. During the same debate, Mitt Romney also acknowledged the humanity of gays and lesbians and promised to be an effective voice for their interests among his Republican colleagues in Washington, DC.

The junkies in the political science department watched the debate life, appreciated Romney’s constraints in face of a liberal constituency, and admired his ability to deal with abortion and homosexuality effectively. When Ted Kennedy accused Romney of being multiple choice on abortion, we were moved by Mitt’s sincerity when he referred to his cousin who had died of an illegal abortion.

(I apologize for the propagandistic elements in this video. The alternatives were even worse. Please, discount the manipulative elements to appreciate the candidate’s own words).

As soon as Romney had lost the election, Faust appeared at a BYU devotional and accused Romney of Trying to Serve the Lord Without Offending the Devil.

It might be difficult to appreciate for non-Mormons what it means for the scion of a prominent Mormon family to be censored by a member of the First Presidency in front of twenty thousand BYU students during a televised devotional. During the same campaign, Mitt’s father George Romney had cried during a press conference when Joseph Kennedy attacked Mormonism to undermine Mitt’s candidacy. It must have been doubly hard on the Romney family when a member of the First Presidency was attacking their son for being too cozy with the devil.

To be sure, James Faust had every right, if not the obligation, to disagree with Mitt Romney about public policy. It should have been possible, however, to reassert Mormon doctrine in the minds of BYU students without implying that Mitt Romney was guilty of pleasing the devil.

Fortunately, Mitt Romney could restore his reputation when Utah elites had to rely on his services to restore the good name of the winter olympics. However, I am wondering if this statement in his controversial speech about faith is not a response to Faust’s 1994 criticism:

There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers – I will be true to them and to my beliefs.

Four days before the Iowa caucus, it is impossible to predict how Mitt Romney will be faring in the race for United States President. Should Romney fail, I hope that Mormons and their religious leaders will not stigmatize him again.

In some ways, Mitt Romney has been extraordinarily effective. Fund raising and a well managed campaign organization come to mind. In some other ways, there is a lot to criticize about how Romney has conducted himself. Regardless, Mitt Romney does not deserve to become our scape goat to make ourselves feel better should a fellow Mormon be rejected by the Republican selectorate or the American people.

13 thoughts on “Mitt’s Mormon Predicament

  1. The GAs (Faust) just don’t know when to STFU, do they?

    Is it any wonder we’re saying … they have diluted the important elements of the gospel, exaggerate the periphery. Faust shows us he’s a company guy.
    Barf

  2. I’m not sure how this speech is tied to Multiple Choice Mitt. He isn’t mentioned in it – though the source text was by Marion G. Romney, the former apostle and First Presidency member. It seems more directed at media and intellectuals/scholars than politicians. Topics such as vice laws, abortion and homosexuality aren’t new to Mitt’s campaign, and BYU talks are more driven by western events than senatorial campaigns on an opposite coast.

  3. Good to see you, Greg. In 1994, Mitt’s senate race was a huge deal on campus, at least for everyone who had any interest in politics at all. There were several debate watching parties on campus.

    Elder Faust’s talk was one week after the election. At the time, it was clear to every member of BYU’s political science department that Faust was responding to the debate.

    May be, you are right and Faust was not thinking about Mitt Romney at all. But even if that was the case, in light of the timing Romney has to assume that his actions gave rise to Faust’s talk.

  4. I know I’m going to get hammered for this, but isn’t this exactly the type of thing that makes you wonder whether Mitt could really be President and not serve the dictates of the MORG? I didn’t know about this story – I was still in high school at this point and didn’t follow the news at all. But I still hadn’t heard about this Faustian criticism. I’m surprised the mainstream press hasn’t picked up on this. I’d love to see a reporter ask Mitt about this and see how he responds.

    Reporter: “Governor Romney, I heard that in 1994 you were criticized by the leadership of your religion for getting cozy with the devil. Would you care to comment about that and describe what you would do if that were to happen if you became president?”
    Romney: “Well, I’ve tried hard to have positions that won’t get me reprimanded. So, I don’t envision that being a problem. Of course, that does mean my religion does influence my politics, but then we all knew that, right?”

  5. Hellmut,

    Slightly off topic. What place do the GA’s hold in the BYU Hierarchy?

    I have always assumed that they have a lot of say over what goes on there. For example: when Brian Evenson was kicked out for his book, Altmanns Tongue, it was assumed ( at least by all the liberal exmos I knew in SLC) it was the church and not necessarily the school.

  6. Hi Wayne, BYU is governed by a Board of Trustees. Gordon B. Hinckley is chairing it. Several apostles are also on the Board of Trustees.

    Does anyone have a link to the Board, please?

  7. Exmoron, that’s why I think that Faust’s message was inappropriate. It is important that LDS officers can disagree with elected officials even if those officials are Mormon. But one should not suggest that elected officials or candidates are somehow associated with the devil.

    That’s language that should be reserved for the most extreme cases.

  8. Wayne: HYN..
    If one looks at the word/concept of politicians being the mechanism whereby the will of the people is enacted – put into effect…Does that lower the temperature?
    I don’t thing GAs/COB would ever denigrate ‘representative democracy’ in general or politicians; they’re ‘just the cogs in the wheel’.
    Politicians are the induviduals who occupy limited tennancies in those capacities, just like ppl who serve in church callings. How can govt work without a certain level of democracy? (or, go to anarchy)

  9. Harper’s had an excellent article abt MR last(?) month, said (in agreement with DB)that MR has surrendured any credibility he might have had to be nominated/elected. IMHO this managerial mentality is rampant in society and in the church. I further believe the “I / we know better than you do” mentality has about run its course, it is almost the ultimate arrogance/insult, isn’t it?
    btw, I have long predicted that MR would implode…

  10. Instead of being celebrated the champion of his people for taking on Ed Kennedy in the liberal lion’s den Massachusetts, President James Faust, second counselor of Mormon prophet Gordon Hinckley, accused Mitt Romney in all but in name of fearing to insult the devil.

    Hellmut, if it is true that President Faust was referring to Mitt Romney then isn’t this a great example of the idea that the Church does not endorse candidates, even if they are members of the Church? As you said, rather than celebrating “the champion of his people”, President Faust spoke critically. It looks like there is not much to fear about a President who happens to be a Mormon being a “Mormon President”, at least no more so than a Catholic who is President being a “Catholic President” or a Jew who is President being the “Jewish President”. Latter-day Saints in the United States, for the most part, understand their role as citizens of the country and have even elevated the Constitution of this country, including all of its constraints and checks and balances, including with relation to the establishment of religion, to quasi-scriptural status.

    Your post is interesting and you point out some fun parallels and speculation but you miss the mark in criticizing the Church based on Mitt Romney’s 1994 Senate race. There is plenty to criticize in the Church without inventing stuff like this, isn’t there?

    To be sure, James Faust had every right, if not the obligation, to disagree with Mitt Romney about public policy. It should have been possible, however, to reassert Mormon doctrine in the minds of BYU students without implying that Mitt Romney was guilty of pleasing the devil.

    It seems like the crux of your argument really is Faust’s use of the word “devil” (even though it is only speculative that there is any relation between Faust’s speech, which is generic and oft-repeated counsel from Church leadership). Words seem very important to you and from my observation it has often been a tactic of yours to criticize the words used by Church leaders or members of the Church as an element in your overall condemnation of the Church. Your prioritization of the avoidance of hurtful words when criticizing things that are doctrinally discouraged by the Church (such as Faust’s use of the word “devil” in a religious speech that roughly coincided with Romney’s failed Senate bid and can only tenuously be framed as to be a response to Romney’s debate with Ted Kennedy) calls into question the words you use in reference to the Church, its leaders, and its members. It would seem consistent to expect the same avoidance of hurtful words, statements, and descriptions from you, would it not, given that it is a staple of your case against the Church, e.g. describing rhetoric from the Church as “acts of violence”?

    Fortunately, Mitt Romney could restore his reputation when Utah elites had to rely on his services to restore the good name of the winter olympics. However, I am wondering if this statement in his controversial speech about faith is not a response to Faust’s 1994 criticism:

    There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers – I will be true to them and to my beliefs.

    It seems that this statement quoted from Mitt Romney’s December 2007 speech was directed at people, such as the anonymous author of today’s post “Romney and Religion” here at your blog, who would require Romney to leave or distance himself from his faith in order to be a viable candidate for president. In fact, it does not seem outrageous to think that even the politically unsavvy realize that this part of the speech and much of the speech itself was directed particularly at Evangelical creedalists who view Romney’s religion as a basis in and of itself for disqualifying him for the Presidency. Thus, it is surprising to see you, with your political insights, speculating along these lines.

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