Mitt Romney, Meet the Press, And An Enduring Religious-Social Issue

Romney, Russert and Religion

Today’s Meet The Press Interview is now part of the public record, and predictably, Tim Russert dove into religion first. (Here’s the video clip of that portion of the interview, and here’s the transcript.)

One issue that got more attention than I think it has previously in the campaign was the former policy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the “Church”) that denied the Church’s lay priesthood to African-American men. The exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: You, you raise the issue of color of skin. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court, Brown vs. Board of Education, desegregated all our public schools. In 1964 civil rights laws giving full equality to black Americans. And yet it wasn’t till 1978 that the Mormon church decided to allow blacks to participate fully. Here was the headlines in the papers in June of ’78. “Mormon Church Dissolves Black Bias. Citing new revelation from God, the president of the Mormon Church decreed for the first time black males could fully participate in church rites.” You were 31 years old, and your church was excluding blacks from full participation. Didn’t you think, “What am I doing part of an organization that is viewed by many as a racist organization?”

Romney responded:

GOV. ROMNEY: I’m very proud of my faith, and it’s the faith of my fathers, and I certainly believe that it is a, a faith–well, it’s true and I love my faith. And I’m not going to distance myself in any way from my faith. But you can see what I believed and what my family believed by looking at, at our lives. My dad marched with Martin Luther King. My mm was a tireless crusader for civil rights. You may recall that my dad walked out of the Republican convention in 1964 in San Francisco in part because Barry Goldwater, in his speech, gave my dad the impression that he was someone who was going to be weak on civil rights. So my dad’s reputation, my mom’s and my own has always been one of reaching out to people and not discriminating based upon race or anything else. And so those are my fundamental core beliefs, and I was anxious to see a change in, in my church.

I can remember when, when I heard about the change being made. I was driving home from, I think, it was law school, but I was driving home, going through the Fresh Pond rotary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I heard it on the radio, and I pulled over and, and literally wept. Even at this day it’s emotional, and so it’s very deep and fundamental in my, in my life and my most core beliefs that all people are children of God. My faith has always told me that. My faith has also always told me that, in the eyes of God, every individual was, was merited the, the fullest degree of happiness in the hereafter, and I, and I had no question in my mind that African-Americans and, and blacks generally, would have every right and every benefit in the hereafter that anyone else had and that God is no respecter of persons.

MR. RUSSERT: But it was wrong for your faith to exclude it for as long as it did.

GOV. ROMNEY: I’ve told you exactly where I stand. My view is that there–there’s, there’s no discrimination in the eyes of God, and I could not have been more pleased than to see the change that occurred.

If you want to try judging Romney’s sincerity on the racism issue, watch the video clip. (Shorter version here.) I won’t detail my own experience; suffice it to say that like many other adult members of the Church on June 1, 1978, when the change was announced, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. It was like a thunderbolt, and I felt as though a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Thanks to reader Jeff, here’s another account of the events leading up to that day, written by the man who is now President of the Church.

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