I am a presidential debate junkie. Predictable as they are in parts, they’re also the best political theater that American politics has to offer. No one expected Mitt Romney to clean Barack Obama’s clock in the first debate. I didn’t expect Mitt Romney to clean his own clock in the second half of last night’s debate. Why bring up “binders of women?” Why interrupt a discussion about immigration to remind Barack Obama that his (much smaller) portfolio also invests in China? But that’s not the point of this brief post.
Once again, Romney was the candidate to mention God, and, surprisingly, he discussed his church service:
My — my — my passion probably flows from the fact that I believe in God, and I believe we’re all children of the same God. I believe we have a responsibility to care for one another. I — I served as a missionary for my church. I served as a pastor in my congregation for about 10 years.
In Romney’s case, I thought reminding people of his past work as a missionary and pastor (bishop) was a bit risky. Many Americans regard missionaries as zealous, radical proponents of their faith. And I wouldn’t think any wavering evangelicals (say, in Ohio) would be reassured about Romney’s Mormonism by such talk. At the very least, to make a reference like that work, and in a way that might resonate with voters, Romney could talk about the fact that he’s willing to stick to his principles, even if they don’t meet with much of a popular reception. It takes some fortitude to contend for the Restored Gospel in France. [See this PBS Choice “artifact” on Romney’s missionary service]. It would require more story-telling than a brief reference.
Also, while I think most Americans would take little issue with Romney’s rather bland and inclusive appeals to religion, I’m not so sure they would be thrilled at the idea of a Mormon pastor (lay leader would almost be a better parallel term for a Mormon bishop) running for office.
If I were Obama, I’d at least mention my faith on occasion. By my recollection, he did so on a number of occasions in 2008.
In other Mormon-related election news of sorts, see this video on an LDS family in Athens, Ohio, produced by the Soul of Athens project at Ohio University (and brought to my attention by Michael Altman at Religion in American History).
Finally, this NYT piece on Mormonism and the Boy Scouts details an unusual cultural convergence.