Hello Again– New Blog

Hello RomneyExperience readers and subscribers.  It’s been a long time since you’ve seen a post here.  But you haven’t been abandoned.  I want to announce my new blog, which I’ve launched with my brother, MormonAmerican.com.  It turns out that even after everything we saw in the last election cycle, people still have plenty of stupid things to say about Mormonism.  At MormonAmerican you’ll find all the same analysis and commentary on the public discussion of Mormonism, plus an added helping of new wit and insight contributed by my brother D.T.  Come find us there.

Thank You and Goodbye

As you may have heard, Mitt Romney ended his campaign for the presidency a few weeks ago.  I’ve done very little on this blog since then, mostly because its purpose was to boost Romney’s candidacy, which is now defunct.  However, I’ve been surprised to see that most of my favorite pro-Romney blogs seem to be carrying on, with plans to continue for the foreseeable future.  I’ve had a few readers inquire whether I have similar plans for RomneyExperience.

While I think it’s commendable that others continue to feel passionate about their support for the former candidate, I confess that the present outlook dampens my blogging spirit for now.  Thus, I just want to announce, for anyone who cares, that RomneyExperience is officially in a state of near-permanent hiatus.

Is it possible that RomneyExperience could come back someday? Absolutely.  The most likely scenario for such an eventuality is a repeat Romney run in 2012.  Other possibilities would include a V.P. nod for Romney, as well as some other Mormon on the GOP ticket (don’t laugh, it’s not impossible).

But for now, please accept my thanks to everyone who read, passed on links, discussed, corresponded, asked questions, and otherwise participated in the RomneyExperience.  This was a lot of fun, and now it’s time to move on.  This site will remain live for the foreseeable future, and if you are interested in knowing about future projects, just keep your subscription live, and I’ll post any news here.

Again, thank you all for all your support and participation.

Best,

Ryan

On Being a Mormon Candidate in America

Not yet twenty-four hours after Mitt Romney announced the end of his campaign, we’ve already seen several people telling him what he did wrong. Most of these post-mortems are limited by their failure to view the race as it was when Romney got in it. The consensus now seems to be that he sealed his fate by running to the right, acting the part of the red-meat conservative instead of the brainy technocrat with the ability to fix our country as if it were a slightly larger version of Dominoes Pizza. But a year ago, when Mitt Romney was receiving raves at the CPAC conference and being hailed as the perfect answer to the inevitability that enveloped Giuliani and McCain (depending on who you asked), that kind of advice would have sounded pathetically misguided.

What the commentators aren’t remembering were both the anonymity of Mitt Romney and the gaping hole on the right end of the GOP field. The man needed a niche to fill, and that niche was there for the taking. One more thoughtful moderate refusing to speak to the base would have flamed out instantly, and Romney was smart enough to know where he could fit in. But he wasn’t smart enough to anticipate the less visible, but far more serious threat to his candidacy- the rise of the “Authentic Christian Leader.”

Long before Mike Huckabee, there was plenty of talk about whether a Mormon could be elected president. Many doubted, and the polls seemed to back them up. But for the optimists (of whom Mitt Romney was one), there was abundant counter-evidence. Those same polls showed voter resistance to a “Mormon candidate” steadily decreasing from spring to summer to fall. Romney saw a corresponding bump in his numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire. For every big story in the mainstream press about nutty Mormon beliefs, there were three or four small-town papers running pieces on the very normal, upstanding Mormons in their own communities. The press became better informed about Romney’s faith, and slowly stopped mentioning it in every story about the “Mormon candidate.” Romney had a chance. (more…)

Mormonism Returns to the Campaign

The presidential campaign of Mitt Romney began under a cloud. When the former governor came on the scene, one question rose above all the others– “Can a Mormon win?” That question waxed and waned as a dominant theme through 2007, with the climax coming in December, as Romney addressed the question head on in his landmark speech on “Faith in America,” and as Mike Huckabee became a real competitor based partly on the contrast his Baptist credentials drew with Romney’s more suspect religion. But as the horserace moved into high gear, with primaries coming every week or so, the press collectively decided that the religion story had lost its luster, and moved on to issues of greater political relevance.

So it is oddly fitting that in the final stages of the campaign, Romney’s religion comes back to the fore, based on events far out of Romney’s control and far-removed from the world of politics. When Gordon B. Hinckley, the longstanding and well-beloved President of the LDS Church, passed away last week, Romney announced immediately that he would attend the funeral. This resulted in some head scratching in the media, as commentators wondered how to interpret Romney’s willingness to be overtly Mormon just two days before the largest primary event of his candidacy. Was his new candor regarding his loyalty to his faith evidence that he had conceded the race? Or was this some kind of new pander to play up his authenticity?

The AP’s Glen Johnson sees the new openness as a mere artifact of the low religious tension in the upcoming primary states, as opposed to that in past primary states like Iowa and South Carolina. USA Today has Jan Shipps, an oft-quoted academic with an expertise in Mormonism saying that “[Romney’s] in a bind. If he goes (to the funeral) people will say, ‘Oh, his religion is more important than his campaign.’ If he doesn’t go, people will say, ‘He doesn’t care about his religion, he cares about politics.'” The same story also quotes a University of Utah Political Science professor saying that Romney “could not not be there. Given the world of (Mormon) political insiders, this is an absolute must-attend.” In other words, attending President Hinckley’s funeral was a political necessity, in the eyes of some.

Yet others found a suspicious evasiveness in the candidate’s funeral plans. Salon Magazine’s Mike Madden is put off by the campaign’s privacy about Romney’s plans while in Salt Lake, as if one might expect him to set up a press conference with the funeral cortege passing slowly by in the background. In fact, you could almost smell a hint of suspicion in the Salon article that the LDS Church was itself complicit in helping Romney escape attention, by avoiding any religious ritual that could highlight the Mormon-ness of the affair. On the contrary, while it was conducted at an enormous scale to accommodate the huge masses interested in the event, the funeral was a very typical Mormon funeral in terms of content. The sincere speeches and sedate hymns, while anything but rewarding to a reporter looking for a thrill on Temple Square, were familiar displays of Mormon-ness, a lifestyle that is maligned for its strange eccentricity at the same time that the critics gripe about how boring the whole scene can be.

But in the midst of all this coverage, there’s a different story, about a 97-year old man who died this week, a man held by some 13 million people as a prophet and great spiritual leader.  His funeral was attended by 21,000 people that cared very little for the political implications of the day, but wanted only to pay their respects to a leader who had lived a thoroughly exemplary life.  Yet few in the press corps were willing to consider that Mitt Romney may have been driven by the same motive as the rest of those attendees.  It is no coincidence that the most insightful and probing story in the mainstream press about the funeral (kudos to Newsweek) both ignored Mitt Romney, and was written by a Mormon.

Ultimately, no motive or calculation should be imputed to Romney for spending crucial campaigning minutes in devotion and contemplation besides a simple desire to be himself and life the life of the Mormon he is. This is most easily proven by how impossible it would be for his advisors to calculate the effect of such a move, for which there is not even a hint of a script, even if they had tried. This weekend, Mitt Romney, the man, went to the funeral of another man, whom he knew a little, and whom he revered as a prophet. The media clearly lacked a script as well, and that’s as it should be. It is difficult to find public meaning in moments this private. And true to his core, which is so famously thought not to exist at all, Mitt Romney navigated the unscripted moment with grace and humility, failing to score points or protect himself from the barbs of his critics. Whatever else the world may want him to be, Romney is neither a hollow shell nor a secret cultist. He is a man of faith that sometimes needs a moment to live out that faith. Even two days before Super-Tuesday.

Retraction Regarding Williams’ ‘Lie’

UPDATE: Lowell Brown at Article VI Blog has a new post explaining the somewhat understandable confusion that inspired his original post on this topic, including a breakdown of the legitimate criticisms of Williams’ question.  Lowell admits, as do I, that the confusion doesn’t justify our jumping the gun on this story.

Article VI Blog has updated its post on the Brian Williams ‘Mormon President’ question. In their original post, they reviewed a copy of the poll to which MSNBC had linked, which did not include any question regarding Mormonism. It appears now that there was such a question (though it showed that more respondents were nervous about a Baptist Minister’s ability to unite the country than that of a Mormon), which was not visible in the version published by MSNBC.

I should have done more to verify this story, and apologize for both my error and the accusation that Williams “lied.”

Romney- the Real Christian Leader

Dave Sundwall of A Soft Answer alerted me last week to a very informative article in the Salt Lake Tribune about Mitt Romney’s religious ministry. As has been well documented, Romney served for several years as a leader in the Boston area Mormon Church, first as a Bishop, or leader of his local congregation, and then as a Stake President, or the higher-level leader of a collection of congregations.  But while these titles have appeared in many biographical profiles of the candidate, their meaning may have flown silently over the heads of most readers, who likely do not understand the depth of commitment and discipleship these roles require of anyone who takes them on.

Earlier this year, Richard John Neuhaus wrote that while he does not consider Mormonism to be a Christian faith, he is open to the possibility that many Mormons could be Christians. This likely means that setting aside strictly theological questions, those who lead lives fully of charity and Christlike compassion may be thought of as Christians in a broad sense. The picture of Mitt Romney painted in the Salt Lake Tribune portrays someone who fully deserves that distinction. Here are a few pertinent excerpts:

Regardless, Mormon women in Boston still talk about an extraordinary 1993 meeting Romney called to address the women of the stake.

More than 250 members poured into the Belmont chapel. One by one they called out their issues while he stood at the front with three pads labeled: policies we can’t change, practices we can change, and things we can consider.

Nearly 100 proposals were made that day, including having female leaders give talks in various wards as the men on the high council do; letting women speak last in church; turning the chapels into day-care centers during the week; letting women stand in the circle while blessing newborn babies; recognizing the accomplishment of young women as the church does of Boy Scout advancements; and putting changing tables in the men’s rooms.

Many women left with a new appreciation of Romney’s openness.

He was “so brave,” says Robin Baker, who has worked on Exponent II.

Sievers, who worked with Romney to set up the meeting, was ecstatic.

“I was really surprised,” she says. “He implemented every single suggestion that I would have.”

***

Not long after Grant Bennett fell off a ladder while trying to dislodge a hornet’s nest outside his second-story bedroom, Romney came to offer sympathy and show Bennett a smarter way to deal with the festering insects – from inside.

Before Doug Anderson had even finished getting family out of his burning house, Romney showed up with a brigade of neighbors to salvage beloved belongings from the remains.

Several Mormons affectionately describe him as a man who can’t remember names and can’t tell a joke, but did preach inspiring sermons.

“We loved hearing him speak,” recalls Bennett’s wife, Colleen. “He was so smooth yet so connecting.”

(By the way, for those worried that Romney would be too beholden to Mormon dogma or policy to govern independently, that meeting regarding the concerns of women should go a long way toward settling the concern. That Romney even held the meeting shows a departure from how many other Mormons leaders would have dealt with these issues; that he was so open to wide-ranging, and sometimes heterodox proposals shows that he was far from a blind follower even as a church officer. He could hardly be expected to be less independent as the nation’s president).

While these anecdotes don’t give the full view of what it means to be a Mormon bishop or stake president, they do indicate that Romney’s service must have required a real depth of spirituality and humanity, attributes he is not often assumed to possess. In order to give a better sense of what those positions required, I asked my older brother, a Mormon Bishop in the Bible Belt to describe his duties. I believe that Romney’s job description as bishop would have been very similar to the following:

As a Mormon Bishop, I am the leader of the local congregation. That means I am ultimately answerable for the physical, emotional and especially spiritual welfare of the members. This involves a great deal of time spent counseling those with serious issues such as marital problems, addictions, or emotional problems. I also spend time working with those who are seeking a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God.

Because we have no paid, full-time clergy, leadership at every local level is composed of volunteers. As Bishop, I oversee their efforts and coordinate with other congregational leaders, those who work with the children, the youth, as well as the men’s and women’s ministries. I am also responsible for the administrative matters–overseeing budgets, collecting and depositing offerings, the maintenance and use of the building and so forth. The church operates a large welfare program that assists struggling members with their needs, and that is also administered by the Bishop. Occasionally, I am given special assignments as well, for example, I am the designated contact person for transients passing through the Metropolitan area and am responsible to assess their needs and provide them with such help as may be prudent and useful.

Among Mormons, it is well-known that to be called as a Bishop means the end of one’s free time, and calls for huge sacrifices from one’s family. Bishops give great amounts of time to very complex and emotional problems with no pay and very limited training. If you find it impossible to picture Mitt Romney selflessly giving such personal, Christian service, then maybe you need to reevaluate what you think you know about Mitt Romney.

McLaughlin Group Reactions

A friendly reader sent along this link.  It will take you to the webpage for PBS’s ombudsman, which I understand is the place for sending all your complaints regarding Lawrence O’Donnell’s miserable rant against Mormonism on the McLaughlin Group a few weeks ago.  PBS has given no real response to this episode yet, so it might be good to flood them with complaints.  You know, just for fun.

Are Mormons Racists?

Despite his completely unblemished personal record on race relations, it’s become clear that some want answers from Mitt Romney regarding the racial stances of the LDS Church. Romney will never give such answers, nor should he. The focus by some on the question of Mormon racism is an attempt to smear a good, progressive, modern man with a few quotations and stories from others of his faith, a means of slurring-by-association that should not be accepted. I’ve noted before that there’s not a hint of any basis on which to allege that Mitt Romney is himself a racist, and that should end the inquiry. Still, I’ve seen a number of sensible people who seem to agree with the less-sensible Mssrs. Hitchens and O’Donnell, that Romney ought to answer these questions. So it’s worth delving into the topic in order to kill the continuing chatter about Mormon “racism.”

Two threshold questions ought to be raised before delving into the history. First, is there any reason to believe that the present-day Mormon Church is racist today? Second, is there any reason to tie Mitt Romney to any charge of Mormon racism? The answer to both questions is an unqualified “NO”. The modern day Mormon Church is a huge global organization, with members representing every race, and congregations in approximately 170 countries. Many hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saints are black, living in places like Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. I am told that Brigham Young University, owned by the LDS Church, is the most diverse university in the country, measured by the number of nationalities represented there (I have seen this claim myself but cannot find documentation. If you can, send it to me). There is nothing preached in the Church that approaches, justifies, or encourages racist thought. Indeed, national polling data in recent times has shown that Mormons are actually less likely than other Americans to hold racist attitudes. Anyone wishing to smear the LDS Church with claims of present-day racism simply does not know the LDS Church. (Further points in this regard are offered in a thoughtful post at ColTakashi).

As for Romney, he comes from a racially progressive family that championed civil rights. Mitt’s father George marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. at a time when such actions were not uncontroversial in the Republican party, and Mitt celebrated the LDS Church’s reversal of its policy against black priests. Romney has a pristine record on race relations, and so questions regarding the racial stances of his faith should remain just that- targeted at his faith, not him. So, on to the larger question regarding Mormonism and race:

The Priesthood Ban

It’s important to understand what the LDS Church’s Priesthood ban entails, beginning with an understanding of the Mormon concept of Priesthood. (more…)

Reader Email: Romney only said “Mormon” once? Who cares

I enjoyed these comments from reader Shawn:

One of the earliest and most prevalent criticisms of Governor Romney’s speech yesterday is that he only mentioned the word “Mormon” once, while Kennedy said the word “Catholic” some 20 times in his speech.  They say this as if Romney is still trying to distance himself from the church.  This should be unbelievable to anybody who actually saw or read the speech, especially based on his statement that “Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it.”  These are hardly words of somebody trying to distance himself from his church in pursuit of the presidency.

In addition, this criticism is horrible based on the fact that the purpose of Mitt Romney‘s speech was very different than JFK‘s speech.  Romney’s speech was obviously about uniting all faiths, and about celebrating the diversity (or “symphony”) of faiths that we enjoy in this country.  And he did this in the context of the founding and history of our nation.  The country needed this speech much more than Mitt Romney needed this speech.  In the Five Brothers Blog, Governor Romney’s son Matt said that whether or not this will help him, his dad “felt it needed to be said.”  Not to take away from the power of JFK‘s speech, but his purpose was simply to debunk the idea that he would take orders from the Vatican.

Lastly, it’s quite interesting to note that although Governor Romney only said “Mormon” once, he said “my church” or “ my faith” eleven times.  When he did say “Mormon” he said, “…my Mormon faith” in profession of his belief in it.  Comparatively, JFK only used “my church” two times.  The consistent use of the word “my” does anything but distance Romney from his faith.  It shows his embrace of it, his love of it, and his devotion to it.  It shows that he has taken personal ownership of his beliefs.

Hear hear.  How idiotic is it that we’re breaking down a speech based on control-f word searches?  Is this the best our commentariat can do?  If the vaunted “word search critique” suggests that Romney distanced himself from his faith, shouldn’t it be cross-checked against, you know, the actual message of the speech?  Pathetic.

Do you have a take on the Speech or the media reaction to it?  I’d love to hear.  Ryan at romneyexperience dot com .

More reactions

Forgive my continuing linkage to the reactions of others, but it’s a little hard to just sit on praise this high:

James Dobson:  “Governor Romney’s speech was a magnificent reminder of the role religious faith must play in government and public policy.  His delivery was passionate and his message was inspirational.”

Pat Buchanan: “It was a magnificent speech, splendidly delivered, it was moving. I don’t know how he could have done it better. I mean I was very moved.”

Richard Land:  “I thought it was a remarkable speech, it was an eloquent speech. . . Kennedy-esque.”

The Hill leads with the headline “Romney’s speech earns mostly positive reviews.”  I think that sums it up pretty well.