What this Mormon thinks of Mitt

It is widely assumed that since a Mormon is running for president, other Mormons must all be tickled and thrilled.  Not quite.

It’s true that many of us in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have felt some genuine excitement at the prospects of Romney’s candidacy.  For a faith community driven from Illinois years ago and still often profoundly misunderstood in the U.S. today, there is a sense of validation at having ‘one of us’ as a legitimate candidate for the presidency.  As Catholics must have felt with John F. Kennedy, you can’t be too crazy if one of you runs for president, right?

That, at least, was what we were hoping.  For various reasons, however, the opposite seems to have happened for many observers.  With forceful strokes, Mitt has painted a unique picture of Mormons for the world–one leaving a bad taste in the mouth of millions across the nation…including me.

To be clear, there is much I like about Mitt Romney and what he could do as president.  And I will be voting for him this week.  In view of the impending election, however, I cannot resist articulating some reasons why many Mormons have been dismayed with parts of Mitt’s campaign.  In at least 5 ways, Romney has represented something quite different than the ideals of our faith.

1.  “Children of God”:  At the absolute core of our faith is a conviction that all human beings are children of God–with our spirits literally born of Heavenly Parents.  Needless to say, this view of human identity typically allows real generosity in our interactions with our “brothers and sisters”–no matter their backgrounds.  You won’t hear Mormons, for instance, condemning others to hell –nor trying to tear apart the faith of others.  Instead, a starting point for us is acknowledging a core goodness and “light of Christ” in every human being.

For this reason, I could hardly believe my eyes watching Mitt speak sometimes.  I was struck from the beginning at how little goodness Mitt would acknowledge in Obama–a man that even political enemies could acknowledge had some remarkable qualities.  No matter what Obama did, Romney seemed to have a singular focus in pointing out what was wrong about it.  This was nowhere more apparent than when Obama stepped in to help the Libyan revolution succeed–thereby averting a massacre.  Republicans, including Romney, scorched him for it.

On only one occasion throughout the whole campaign did I ever hear Mitt say anything positive about Barack–a comment at the joke-fest Alfred E. Smith Dinner (Oct 18, 2012) to the effect:  “our 44th president has many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud.” Rather than bad strategy, this kind of acknowledgement throughout the campaign could have been refreshing for all of us to hear.

2.  Exact truth:  I do not believe the democrat narrative of Mitt’s integrity.  Like seemingly everything in presidential politics, the assertions of dishonesty have been blown far out of proportion to an ironically dishonest degree.  If anything, presidential politics itself has a “truthfulness problem” generally–that leads otherwise thoughtful, fair men to regularly say things in a way that deviate from exact truth.  Any observer would agree this happens on both sides.

That being said, I have been sad to see Mitt’s willingness to go there.  The moment where I first realized this was happening was Obama’s “you didn’t build it” remark.  When taken out of context, this quote provided nice fodder for the Romney campaign for months.

The month when this was happening, I was studying in the Book of Mormon and came across the following verse–reflecting what we believe is a prophesy of what will happen in these last days:

“And there shall also be many which shall say:  Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God–he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.  Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines..” (2 Nephi 28:8).

Hold the phone….isn’t this exactly what Mitt was doing in this instance?  Obama had said something, and clearly meant it one way in the context of his remarks.  How could you, then, remove all the context and pretend he meant it another way?  How could you, Mitt?  Isn’t that dishonest?

3.  “Blessed are the peacemakers”:  Like all Christians, Latter-day Saints revere the beatitude teachings of Christ–including his encouragement of peace.  In the Book of Mormon’s account of Jesus’ visit to the Americas, Christ elaborates this point:  “Verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.  Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away”  (3 Nephi 11:29-30).

This is what Mormons believe:  that aggression and fighting, just to fight, is wrong.  For whatever reason, however, there seems to be a prevailing wisdom that what works in presidential politics is negativity and attack.  Surely Mitt could see beyond this, couldn’t he?

The answer is obvious to everyone.  Nope… Whoever’s getting paid the big bucks to advise the Romney campaign has implemented one plan fairly consistently:  Attack, attack, attack.  That’ll get ‘er done.  According to one report, the one debate where Romney really shined resulted because his wife, Anne and son, Tagg rebelled against this campaign tactic and won the battle to just let “Mitt be Mitt.”  When that happened, the attacks melted and some real arguments emerged.

How would the campaign have gone if Mitt had followed the following advice from Joseph Smith–advising leaders on how to influence others:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained [by coercion], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.  Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death (Doctrine & Covenants 121:41-44).

4.  “Not ashamed of the gospel of Christ”:  Like the apostle Paul, Latter-day Saints are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.  Given the need for Americans to understand something about Mitt’s religious background, he has had wonderful opportunities to try and clarify some positions.  But by and large he hasn’t gone there.  Rather than explain some things that could put people at ease, he has settled for general, overly-careful statements that satisfy few.

5.  All humans having tremendous, divine potential:  Mitt’s 47% comment was acknowledged even by himself as an unfortunate frame.  But critics are right to request more explanation.  He might have said something like this, in response:  “To be clear, I believe every human being has an incredible and innate potential to achieve.  This is a core part of my faith–and undergirds how I see America.”

He could have said that–because that’s what Mormons believe!!  But he didn’t.  He didn’t…just like he didn’t say a lot of things.

Instead, he chose to say a lot of other things…things that left lots of us feeling sour–including us Mormons.

Yes, we there are many things we could say about Obama’s campaign–and even my democrat friends, like crazy Phil, have been quick to acknowledge problems there.  But that’s their own discussion to have.

All I can do is speak from where I stand.  And that is Mormonism–fellowship in faith with my brother Mitt.  And all I can say there, is that if Mitt Romney loses this week, it will be his own darn fault.

Once Americans really understand members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many will lose their fear and distrust.  They might, in fact, actually vote for them.  From my perspective, all Mitt Romney had to do was be true to the core principles of his faith; the rest would have taken care of itself.    11/4/12  JZH

2 Responses to “What this Mormon thinks of Mitt”
  1. Aaron Hill says:

    I heard you (for just a second) on this american life and came accross this. As always, your thoughtfulness and sincerity are refreshing and encouraging (I particularly remember thinking this about some things you wrote after a TV program related to Mormonism). By the way, there is a typo in point 1, paragraph 3, line 1: “Romney” should be “Obama.”

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