Good Morning America ran a feature on the religion issues surrounding Romney’s candidacy yesterday. Video is here. While this story does not add a great deal of new material, it does make much of the tightrope Romney is walking in attempting to hold off searching questions from the press and also keep his Mormon flank placated.
For example, GMA cites Romney’s statement (also highlighted in a recent New York Times piece) that he cannot imagine anything more awful than polygamy. It appears that “some” (again, note the looseness of that word) Mormons felt betrayed by that admission- despite the fact that the Mormon church has not condoned or allowed the practice for over a century.
What do Mormons really think? Well, if there are any Mormons within the mainstream of the church that long for a return of the days of plural marriage, I’ve never met them, and they would not fit within the norm of Mormon culture. What you will find in the church is the idea that polygamy was divinely instituted, for a brief moment in the nineteenth century, combined with great relief that it ended a long time ago. From what I can tell of those critical of Romney’s statement on polygamy, they feel betrayed because he appeared to disapprove of the practice (which they feel was implemented for a reason at the time), not because he doesn’t think it sounds great. Commentator John Dehlin alludes to this point on the video clip– it’s about honoring heritage, rather than keeping fingers crossed that this might come round the bend once more. To repeat: To the extent the Good Morning America piece leaves the impression that Mormons view polygamy as a fondly-remembered, desirable practice, it is completely incorrect.
But there’s a larger point implicit in the Good Morning America coverage. That is that Mitt Romney is beholden to Mormons in all that he says. On the contrary, Mitt Romney is allowed to think polygamy sounds awful, and it’s not going to be fatal to the Mormon church (and neither is it an incorrect portrayal of the position of a significant number of Mormons). What’s really at stake is that members of the LDS church want Mitt to speak about the faith exactly as they would, because they feel not only that he’s on stage, but they are.
While this sentiment resonates with me in the sense that I hope the LDS church does not take too much of a beating over this campaign, I would remind other Mormons that this is Mitt Romney’s race, not theirs. And if they want a more perfect representation of their faith on the national stage, they’ll just have to run for president too.