Faith has been a constant in Mitt Romney’s life, yet when he ran for president, he was extremely cautious about discussing his Mormon religion. He rarely spoke of God on the campaign trail. Rarer still were any references to Mormonism itself.
But now, six months removed from his unsuccessful bid for the White House, the former Republican nominee is opening up about his Mormon upbringing and his strong belief in a traditional family structure.
In a commencement address at Southern Virginia University last weekend, Romney spoke about his Mormon mission to France in the 1960s, in which he explored the reaches of his faith, and told stories of early settlers in Salt Lake City. Repeatedly citing the Bible, Romney urged graduates to find God, marry young and have many children.
So, what was the occasion?
Romney’s address at Southern Virginia University — a small liberal arts college in Buena Vista, Va., where more than nine in 10 students are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — marks a significant departure for the former Massachusetts governor who became the first Mormon to win a major party’s presidential nomination.
The story seems to want to make Romney out to be disingenuous somehow:
At the rare moments when he did talk about spirituality, as in his 2012 commencement address at Liberty University, founded by the late evangelical televangelist Jerry Falwell, Romney spoke broadly about his shared “Christian conscience” and his trust in God, but did not utter the word Mormon.
At a town hall meeting in Wisconsin, when a young man confronted Romney by reading from a book of scripture published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney grew visibly agitated with the man’s line of questioning.
“I’m sorry, we’re just not going to have a discussion about religion in my view,” Romney said. He added that he would talk about the practices of his faith, but not the doctrines of his religion.
Yet as he addressed graduates and their families on the grassy quad at Southern Virginia University in the Shenandoah Valley, Romney read from the diary of an 1800s Mormon pioneer and then from the Bible.
“Children are a heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the loom is his reward,” Romney said, quoting scripture. “Happy is the man who hath his quiver full of them.”
I honestly don’t know what to make of all this. First of all, who really cares anymore? With all due respect to Gov. Romney, someone I respect a great deal – this stuff does not matter anymore. Secondly, they are comparing apples and oranges here. Any reasonable speaker is going to tailor their remarks to the crowd in front of them. Hence remarks to a largely Evangelical crowd would sound different than remarks in front of a largely Mormon crowd regardless of who is making the remarks – your truly included. (Having addressed both on multiple occasions.)
But lets go back to why this is appearing even now. Once must presume there is more at play here than simply winning the presidential election. Mitt Romney lost – it’s over. The “not authentic” meme of which the “he never talked about his faith” is part-and-parcel was part of the reason he lost. It worked because it divided the right. Evangelicals tend to find Mormons somehow “inauthentic,” and this meme played on that. And that is why they are still writing this stuff.
They are interested in more than than simply beating Mitt Romney. They are interested in keeping Republicans on the ropes for, well, eternity. But there is more. They are very, very interested in keeping religious people generally out of politics, and making them look like fools. The “not authentic” charge is really a soft form of the “hypocrite” charge that was so commonly aimed at the religious in my youth. They just want to keep us down.
We cannot fall for this bait. Such an argument is not a charge in which we need put stock. This charge stands as little more than a temptation to stop trying. It argues implicitly that there is no sense trying to be better because you’ll never make it and just look like a phony trying. One of the reasons our public influence has waned is because we have bought into this charge and now can barely be distinguished from anyone else.
Leadership demands that we stand apart. It is time we started to do so.