Byron York wrote yesterday about a report that Mitt Romney “briefed” the top authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the “Church”) about his position on abortion in the 1994 Massachusetts Senate campaign.
The Mormon Lay Ministry
The story York relates makes perfect sense to Mormons, who are steeped in the Church’s organizational makeup. The key to understanding this story is to understand that Mormonism has a lay ministry. Romney was a stake president in 1994. A stake is roughly the Mormon equivalent of a Catholic diocese and usually consists of around 2500 members of the Church in seven or eight wards, which are congregations like parishes. Each ward is presided over by a bishop, who is like a pastor and does all the things pastors do – care for the poor, provide marriage and life counseling, hear confessions, work with the youth. (Romney was a bishop before he was a stake president.) The stake president and the bishops, as well as their counselors and all of the many other members who assist them, are unpaid laity. In other words, they have a day job, and devote 20-40 hours a week or more to their callings and are deeply loved and respected by the members they serve.
The office of stake president is one of the most responsible in the church. Stake presidents are selected by the Church’s highest leaders. They thus are representatives of the Church, both internally and externally. What they say and do in their personal lives matters a great deal to the Church and its members.
So Why Brief the Church’s Leaders?
In 1994 Romney was about to enter a national political race against Ted Kennedy, one of the most famous political figures in the USA, and was a stake president. He learned from his pollsters that he could never win in Massachusetts if he took a pro-life position. York:
How Romney handled that dilemma is described in a new book, “Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics,” by Boston journalist Ronald Scott. A Mormon who admires Romney but has had his share of disagreements with him, Scott knew Romney from local church matters in the late 1980s.
Scott had worked for Time Inc., and in the fall of 1993, he says, Romney asked him for advice on how to handle various issues the media might pursue in a Senate campaign. Scott gave his advice in a couple of phone conversations and a memo. In the course of the conversations, Scott says, Romney outlined his views on the abortion problem….
In light of the polling data, Romney decided to run as a pro-choice candidate, pledging to support Roe v. Wade, while remaining personally pro-life….
In November 1993 … Romney … traveled to Salt Lake City to meet with church elders. Gathering in the Church Administration Building, Romney, in Scott’s words, “laid out for church leaders … what his public position would be on abortion — personally opposed but willing to let others decide for themselves.”
By Scott’s account, Romney wasn’t seeking approval or permission; he was telling the officials what he was going to do. Scott quotes a “senior church leader” saying Romney “didn’t ask what his position should be, nor did he ask the brethren to endorse his position. He came to explain, and his explanation was consistent with church teachings and policies.”
According to Scott, some of the leaders were unhappy with Romney’s plan and let him know it. “I may not have burned bridges, but a few of them were singed and smoking,” Romney told Scott in a phone conversation.
This story tells us something about what Romney’s true feelings on life are. It also tells us something about his independence from the Church when it comes to political matters.
John and I have both met Ron Scott, when we were fellow speakers with Scott on a panel about Romney and religion. I’ve also corresponded with Scott. He is no Romney shill and disagrees with him politically.
The time seems right for this kind of information to come out. In my opinion, it’s helpful to the overall discussion of the role of faith in the candidate’s life. York notes:
By all accounts, Romney did a lot of good in his time as a Mormon official, and that work was a significant part of his life. In the coming campaign, voters will want to know more about it.
From what I’ve seen it seems to me that Romney’s supporters have been hoping he’d do that very thing. Watch this space!
It’s New Year’s Eve and so it seems fitting to close with this from Stewart Schwartz of The American Thinker:
Yes but “he’s a Mormon — he’s in a cult,” another spat, echoing at least one Baptist leader who urged evangelical Christians not to vote for Romney “because he’s a Mormon[.]” Ah, but doing and being make for worship in a way that words and song only begin to express, which makes Mitt Romney as evangelical in walk as Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. Which means this: Evangelicals have three dogs in this hunt. And Mitt, because of his experience and integrity and faith, his potential to lift a nation economically and emotionally reeling from a Democrat-led descent into the leftist swamps — well, that dog’ll hunt!
Mitt Romney, like Perry and Bachmann, lives and breathes faith in a life so authentic that it automatically makes him a political outsider, the real deal in a political world where love and loyalty are measured in nanoseconds. Who is Mitt Romney? New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answered that simply, telling Iowa primary voters of an enduring and intimate love for his family, a love so un-Beltway that it shines in “a guy who is a father and a husband and loves his wife and his kids.”
Mitt Romney not part of the faith-based conservative traditions that power a culture built by American exceptionalism? In the words popularized by that great Catholic theologian, Bing Crosby, “‘Tain’t so, honey, ’tain’t so…” Mitt Romney, in public and private, demonstrates biblical values in walk and talk, in battling an entrenched Beltway class that includes Obama and Newt Gingrich and, he says, is “gutting” a great nation with ”[s]low growth, out-of-control regulation, and chronic uncertainty.”
And so it doesn’t really matter whether Mitt is Christian, Mormon, atheist, or Pescatarian. What does matter is that he is not Barack Obama, that he is not a Beltway insider, and that he does not answer every question with the words “more government.”
Happy New Year!