“I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was.”
—Mitt Romney, February 2012
MITT ROMNEY HAS DESCRIBED his faith as “the single most important influence in his life.” He did not go into details. No one in the political arena has found the right tone with which to draw him out, and it is doubtful voters will learn much more at the Republican convention this week.
Mike Huckabee tried to get the conversation going in 2007 but gummed up the works instead. In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, Huckabee was asked if he considered Mormonism a religion or a cult. ‘‘I think it’s a religion,” he said. “I really don’t know much about it.’’ Then, in what writer Zev Chafets describes as “an innocent voice,” Huckabee asked, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”
It was a nice try, but Huckabee’s gambit came off as disingenuous; the former Arkansas Governor had to apologize to Romney and tell CNN that a discussion of Mormonism should not be part of the campaign. In covering the story, journalists explained some theological differences between Mormon and Christian doctrine — for instance that Christianity believes in a unified trinity, which means that God is made up of three distinct but co-eternal persons, while Mormons believe that God is literally the father of all beings, and that all beings once existed in a “premortal” state as “spirit beings.” No one cared and everyone moved on.
According to the most recent census, Mormons make up two percent of the population, and the rest of the country has probably failed to do much reading on the church’s theology or look beyond the clean-cut friendly face of contemporary Mormonism. But, like any other religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is more than a belief system; it is a culture, and that culture, he has been clear, formed Willard Mitt Romney.
Overlapping with his time at Bain Capital, Romney spent at least a dozen years as a bishop and “stake president,” a kind of spiritual advisor to thousands of New England Mormons. As Michael Kranish and Scott Helman reported in their book The Real Romney, Romney advised a woman named Carrel Hilton Sheldon to carry a baby to term even though her doctors said that doing so could endanger her life. She didn’t take Romney’s advice. Neither did Patricia Hayes, a pregnant single mom who Romney urged to give up her baby to the church, warning her that disobedience would mean ex-communication.
When Romney stepped down as bishop to run for the U.S. Senate against Edward Kennedy in 1994, Carrel Sheldon may have been surprised to learn then that he believed “abortion should be safe and legal in this country.”
In 2002, running for Massachusetts Governor, he pledged to “preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose”
By 2007, running for President, Romney wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade and said he would be “delighted” to sign a bill banning abortion.