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.