Is Mitt Romney Still a Mormon?

This is a guest post by Michael Tracey. He is a journalist in Brooklyn, New York.

***

You may have heard that Mitt Romney “won” the first presidential debate last week. This unmitigated truth was proclaimed far and wide by journalists, pundits, PR strategists, and the rest of the characters who comprise America’s Chattering Class. Romney came off as forceful, bold, and “presidential,” they informed us, while Obama was disengaged and weak. A mere twenty minutes into the debate, expert opinion-shapers declared Romney the clear victor. Obama smirked one too many times, they charged, while Romney maintained his bearings and firm posture. Obama had only one “good line” — when he noted that his rival’s policy proposals tend to be nothing more than vague pablum — while Romney managed to land several effective “zingers”: GameChanger! A whole new ballgame! “Romney Rebound!”

You’ll notice that this species of analysis has absolutely no relation to the substance of either candidates’ claims, i.e., whose arguments were better constructed, who used facts instead of lies, whose vision for the presidency might best help average Americans navigate an endlessly sluggish economy, and so forth. Of course not.

Romney, for instance, may have talked up the virtues of the Massachusetts healthcare law he spearheaded as governor — you know, the same healthcare law which served as the basis for “ObamaCare,” and which Romney relentlessly avoided talking about during the GOP primary season — but who cares? These debates are about style. They are about who has the best talking points. It doesn’t matter that Romney has totally abandoned the rhetoric that colored the previous two years of his anti-Obama message, or that he is now heralding “aspects” of Obama’s healthcare reform package, which the right-wing has argued ad nauseum will bring about horrifying “death panels” — if not outright tyranny. But, meh!

With this being the predominant mode of debate analysis, then, it’s no great surprise that the following line by Romney went virtually unnoticed:

“We are all children of the same God.”

Huh?

Coming from a former Mormon Bishop, how is this an intelligible statement? Is it the view of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in which Romney — again! — served as a Bishop (the highest-ranking Mormon prelate in Boston) that all people, regardless of religious affiliation, are equal before God? Per my understanding, Mormons obtain varying levels of “heavenly power” by partaking in different “endowment” rituals which bring them ever-closer to God. Consequentially, this separates some of “God’s children” from others. (There are currently questions about whether Romney can still enter holy Temples, given that his non-Mormon security detail are not permitted to enter.)

But, as usual, Romney elides all these facts about his professed faith, and instead casts himself as a generic practitioner of “Judeo-Christian” beliefs. This is pernicious for a number of reasons. By positing some mushy, universalist outlook, Romney infantilizes the profound question of how mutually-exclusive religions interface in a pluralistic society; Mormonism is not the same thing as Islam, for example. But because his campaign has relied on incoherent platitudes with respect to addressing almost every issue, it’s no surprise that this strategy should extend to matters of religion.

However, more sincere believers ought to challenge Romney’s obfuscations.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • Anthrosciguy

    I think the way of thinking exhibited by Romney and most other fundamentalist types is that there is a god or gods which is the same for everyone but which must be worshipped in just the right way.  This right way is always of course whatever way the speaker does so.  All who do not worship in this right way will be punished.  So his statement is correct by his lights and just the same sor tof statement other fundamentalists would accept.  The problem being that they all think each other are going to hell.  Certainly they try to downplay that part.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    the following line by Romney went virtually unnoticed:
    “We are all children of the same God.”

    Is it the view of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in which Romney — again! — served as a Bishop (the highest-ranking Mormon prelate in Boston) that all people, regardless of religious affiliation, are equal before God?

    I’m sorry, but it appears you skipped a step. He said “children of the same God” and you are running on about how he thinks “we are all equal before God.” You seem to have read something into his words that is not actually there.

    • http://twitter.com/porlob Patrick Orlob

       Yep. In fact, I’d say “we are all children of the same God” is, if anything, a particularly Mormon way of phrasing things.

      • http://art.lismitchell.net Pixelfish

        Ditto. In fact, CS Lewis is particularly beloved of Mormons, and they used to quote the Tash-Aslan bit from the Last Battle, as they explained that we were all God’s children, just with different levels of knowledge.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=565197213 Andrew Chalkley

    Mormons believe all people are children of the same God. They believe it literally. Being a child of God doesn’t mean you’ll be exalted to become a god. They believe all people are saved from a physical death by Jesus’ resurrection, but to be spiritually saved you need to go through the ordinances of the Church, including baptism, and endowment.

    • Hentai

      So, when partners have told me in the past that I’m “well-endowed”, that’s what they meant!

  • kuri

    Mormons believe that everyone (including Jesus and Satan, rather famously I’d thought) is literally a “child of God.” So, yes, it is perfectly “intelligible” for Romney or any other Mormon to say so. And, BTW, a bishop would not be the highest-ranking Mormon official in Boston. A stake president (which Romney also was) is higher and usually supervises several bishops.

    • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

      It’s interesting how many atheists seem to be relatively well-informed on the basics of  what Mormon religion teaches, even if there’s a tendency to make fun of it.

      • chris hirth

         I used to be one — even an apologist in a small way.

        That first video, BTW, is by Evangelical Christians, not atheists, and is about as accurate as a video by Evangelical Christians about the basics of atheism would be.

        • kuri

           Sorry, signed in with the wrong name. That’s me.

        • Deven Kale

           I was raised in a Mormon family myself, and I’ve always thought that video to be pretty accurate. Other than the possible mistake of calling Kolob “Cora” (and I only say possible because it’s hard to tell for sure what they say there) it seems to hit very close to the mark of what I was taught. I’d really like to know which parts of it are factually inaccurate because I’ve used that video more than once to highlight the crazy of Mormonism to others.

          • kuri

            Everything in there is based on something that has been believed and taught by some Mormon leaders at some time or another. OTOH, Some of it was never in the mainstream, some of it is no longer believed, and almost none of it is believed in exactly the way it’s presented.

            Like “spirit children.” Do Mormons believe that God (and his wife or wives, although this is something not much talked about) has “spirit children”? Sure. Do they think of  “spirit children” as babies in diapers? Nope, not at all. The whole video is like that.

            No believing Mormon is going to watch it and say, “Yep, they nailed it. Good job. That’s exactly what I believe.” They’re going to say, “Wow, that’s really distorted.”

            Consider the source, is all I’m saying. It was made by an Evangelical Christian anti-Mormonism ministry. There’s an agenda there, and “an objective perspective on Mormon beliefs” is not part of it.

            Is it “the truth about what Mormons believe”? I’d say no. But it’s
            kind of truthy. There’s certainly some truth in it. It isn’t complete bullshit. But it’s a little
            bullshitty.

            Anyway, I’d recommend MormonThink.com for a more balanced picture of what Mormons believe.

    • Erp

       The bishop mistake stood out for me also since a Mormon bishop is equivalent (though often less trained) to a pastor/priest/minister in most other Christian churches (in LDS speak, a ward); it is also a rotating, unpaid position.  Stake president is higher and is in charge of a Stake which  includes 5-12 wards.   It is also unpaid and rotating.      Massachusetts btw has 4 stakes though it is also the site of a Temple which serves 14 stakes from part of New York to Maine.

      • Robster

        Jees, don’t these christiany types just lurve stakes! There’s baby Jesus’ all over the world nailed to a stake. You might say: Saviour on a stick.

  • Scooby Don’t

    I’m all for getting rid of televised debates. As soon as we get to the televised debates, it’s all about who’s better looking, who has a better speaking cadence, who has better manners, etc. Human are visual creatures. So, let’s remove the visual component and never see the candidates. I guess that’s a little extreme, but I hate that Romney “won” just because he had more razzle dazzle. That’s what the people want? Apparently so, and that’s the problem.

    • Helanna

      What presidential race was it where they held a debate, and everyone who saw it on TV said that one candidate one, and everyone who just heard in on the radio said the other one did? 

      I think that’s why nobody’s talking about the actual issues – because to a lot of people, who ‘won’ depends largely on charisma. 

      • HughInAz

        What presidential race was it where they held a debate, and everyone who saw it on TV said that one candidate one, and everyone who just heard in on the radio said the other one did?

        JFK vs. Richard Nixon – people who just listened to the radio thought Nixon had won, but people watching TV saw Nixon as sweaty and shifty-eyed.

        • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

          So, score one for TV there then.

    • hentai

      It’d be far more beneficial if they got rid of campaign donations. Take the money out of it, and the media suddenly loses interest. THEN take the media out of it. Along with the privileges of their license, comes the responsibility to cover the elections pro bono. 

      With both the $$$ and the media muzzled, all that’s left are the candidates, and the electorate, like it should be. Let them campaign the old-fashioned way…running around the country ‘pressing the flesh’. No more sound-bytes. No more endless hours of the media’s various ‘talking heads’, and ‘pundit analyses’. They’ve turned it into a circus for us, and a huge moneymaker for them. They orchestrate it to be a horse race now…outcome impossible to dictate to the very last, milking every last ad dollar out of BOTH campaign funds, all the while promoting their own (the media’s, not the candidate’s!) agenda.

      But first, take the money out.

  • http://twitter.com/porlob Patrick Orlob

    While there’s much to criticize Romney on, perhaps the author of this piece should leave analysis of just how “Mormon” Romney is (and it’s certainly a question that could be interesting to ask) to people who know something about the Mormon faith. This piece comes off as woefully ill-informed and built on a strawman.

    Romney never stated that all are equal before God, as the author contends. What he did say, that all are children of the same God, is not only perfectly consistent with Mormonism, but indeed has a particular Mormon “flair,” as Mormon doctrine says that all people are, quite literally, the children of God.

    Furthermore, the position of “bishop” in the LDS church is essentially equal to “pastor,” as the head of an individual congregation. It is not the “highest ranking Mormon prelate” in a city.

    • dcl3500

      Regardless of how accurate or inaccurate Mr. Tracey’s  comments are about what Romney said, Romney, should he win would be leading a nation of many different faiths and non-faiths and should, as leader of those people recognize in his comments and speeches that very fact and not intimate that we are all children of his particular god.

      • Hentai

        And of course if he didn’t, then you’d be screeching about the exclusion. It’s precisely because he DOES recognize the multiculturalism that he’s assuring people of HIS conviction that he sees them/us ALL from a unified perspective…HIS, not yours.

        • dcl3500

          I would be “screeching?”   You don’t know me very well, I am pissed because he lumped us all together under his god and that is all.  He can keep him/she/it whatever and go lump it.  Even if I had had any inclination to vote for him before, he shot any chance he had of getting my vote because he doesn’t recognize the fact that not all of us believe in his god.

          FWIW I can’t see how his comment recognizes any multiculturalism at all.  He recognizes his faith and perhaps christianity and that is about it.

  • jdm8

    Some are lesser children of God than others. Because there’s nothing like a parenting metaphor where the parent picks favorites. Wonderful parent, er god, that he has.

    • Brian Macker

      Some parents are faced with children with vast differences in behavior that may naturally lead to picking favorites. Does Jeffery Dalmers dad have to give him the same inheritance as other siblings to be a good parent? Were did this silly notion originate, I wonder.

      • Patterrssonn

        You don’t think perhaps that your example is a bit of an outlier?

        • hentai

          Yes, a much better comparision would have been Obama’s dad…

          • Patterrssonn

            Well, if we’re dealing with fictional characters, how about Ming the Merciless or Ernst Blofeld’s dad.

  • Aloysius Cranston

    That line is the only thing I distinctly remember from the debate. It prompted me to exclaim, “Oh, shut the f*ck up!” The question was about the role of government. Religion has no place in government, and Obama should have made that point, or at least made a more inclusive statement to show that the majority are not the totality.

    • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who swore out loud at Romney when he said that.

    • Brian Macker

      I’m sure Obama agrees with Romney’s statement, and odds are he’s used the purest himself. He’s not an atheist.

      • Aloysius Cranston

        I know he’s not an atheist, but the point is Obama acknowledges the existence of people in this country who do not believe in a god or gods, as well as people who believe in other gods than the one Romney thinks fathered this nation. You don’t have to be an atheist to uphold the concept of state/church separation, or to realize that not everyone holds the same beliefs as you do.

        • hentai

          And nothing Romney said indicates he doesn’t share at least AS much of that same awareness as Obama. Stop using this comment board as your campaign poster for Obama. Lots of other places for it.

          • Deven Kale

            “Stop using this comment board as your campaign poster for Obama. Lots of other places for it.”

            So says the man who, ironically and hypocritically, is failing at subtly hinting we should be voting for Romney.

          • http://www.twitter.com/alcrans Aloysius Cranston

            I’m not trying to convince anybody to vote for Obama. I’m most likely voting for Jill Stein, anyway. She’s not going to win, of course, but it would be remiss of me not to vote for an agnostic Jew who shares so many of my values.

      • Brian Macker

        Autocorrect of typo changed phrase to purist.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Religion has no place in government, and Obama should have made that point

      Uh, sure. Right after he closes down the office of faith-based initiatives which he expanded.

      • http://www.twitter.com/alcrans Aloysius Cranston

        That would be lovely. It was a stretch to say he should have stated something along the lines of “religion has no place in government,” but for him to make an inclusive statement would have been entirely within his character. I’m disappointed that he didn’t speak up, and also about the expansion of Faith-Based Initiatives. He’s not the perfect candidate, but he’s certainly the one who has a better understanding of the diversity of this nation.

        • hentaisolaris

          Obama is an expert at the divisiveness of this nation, not the diversity. Obama makes Bush look like The Great Unifier.

          • NoDoubtAboutIt

            You are a complete and total moron, and anti-American trash on top.  Get RIAF.

    • hentai

      And yet religion has been the framework from which government originally was born. Methinks thou doth protest too much.

      And there is no MORE “inclusive” statement to be made than Romney’s, that we are all children of the same God. Everything else beyond that, regarding this article, and these comments, are projections of either the author or the posters.

      • dcl3500

        The whole thing is though, there are so many that do not believe we are all children of the same god, or any god, or any gods, therefor, his statement is not inclusive but instead, quite the opposite, it is incredibly divisive.  You personally appear to be a believer in his god, but so many aren’t and his comments should have recognized.

  • http://art.lismitchell.net Pixelfish

    A bishop in the LDS church is not a prelate, and does not have power equivilant to a prelate.  LDS church clergy is almost entirely lay clergy and unpaid up to a certain point. 

    The LDS Priesthood is divided into two orders: Aaronic and Melchizedek . Aaronic is the lower hierarchically, and boys as young as 12 are ordained to it, gaining the titles: Deacon (age 12), Teacher (age 14), and Priest (age 16). At 18 boys get the Melchizedek priesthood if they go on a mission, and gain the title Elder. Most men in the LDS church retain this title. 

    Above that, there is the Bishop and his assistants, the First and Second Counselors. They run the ward, which is a congregation level. They serve 3-5 years on average. 

    Above the ward, there is the Stake, which is a geographical grouping of 6-8 wards. The Stake President and his counselors run this, and meet with a selection of High Priests, dudes who make up the selection pool for potential bishops.  Also at this level is a Stake Patriarch, who confers the Patriarchal blessing but has no real oversight into anything else. 
    Above this are those in the Quorum of the Seventy, the regional dudes, and above them are the Apostles (12 dudes plus the 3 in the Presidency) and above that is the President/Prophet of the LDS church. It’s only at this level that the LDS clergy begins to be compensated, but generally they pick dudes from wealthy families or successful businessmen. You never see some poor schlub being elevated to anything above Stake President. Anyway, the term bishop being easily confused with the Catholic version leads a lot of folks to think that Romney has more power inside the Church than he probably does. Any influence he has comes largely from his famous family and wealth rather than the position he attained as a bishop. And nothing he’s said recently would qualify him for being booted from the church. 

    • Gus Snarp

      I was going to comment that “bishop” in the LDS is not the same as “bishop” in the Catholic Church and that Romney’s having been a bishop didn’t mean much. But I see you’ve covered that. However, there’s a bit more going on. Romney was not just a bishop, he was the president of the Boston Stake, so he did have a bit more significant leadership role within the LDS. I do wish that if people were going to attack Romney for his religion, as Mr. Tracey does, that they would get their facts straight, as Mr. Tracey  has shown he has difficulty doing.

      Romney believes some crazy things if he fully believes in Mormonism, which I see no reason to think he doesn’t. Obama believes some crazy things if he truly believes the teachings of his evangelical faith, which I have some reason to find a bit unlikely. Ryan and Biden believe some crazy things if they believe the doctrines of Catholicism, which I again see no reason to doubt. But none of that makes any one of them a better candidate than another. The question with regards to Mitt’s religion is one of authority and where he believes it lies. It borders on conspiracy thinking to believe Mitt is just trying to get into office to begin implementing a Mormon theocracy. Just compare it to those who claim Obama is just waiting to implement Sharia or to outlaw religion. The only credibility difference is that Romney is actually a Mormon. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to question how LDS teachings and leadership will affect his judgment in office. 

      While I hope that religious fundamentalists in this country will remain consistent in their refusal to vote for a non-Christian by their definitions and remain home on election day, I see no reason to write poorly researched blog posts spreading the religious hatred that the fundamentalist right traffics in. Is there anyone here who is going to be convinced by this hate to vote differently? Is this blog post going to reach the Christian right voters who might? I think not. Let’s leave the dog whistle politics to the right and focus on substantive issues. This kind of post reduces our credibility over all and and the credibility of substantive investigations into Mormon theology and its role in Mitt Romney’s life.

      • hentai

        Yeah, some of Romney’s nuttier mormon beliefs are almost as outrageous as some atheists’ beliefs that everything in Creation has come about by accident. I swear to God, what some people believe just beggars the imagination!

  • Carla

    In the debate I was watching, he said “WE ALL BELIEVE we’re children of the same god.” He was making a statement about what he believes to be a foundational value of America. He was not making a statement of his own personal belief in god’s workings, but about his beliefs about the American peoples’ values. To me, that’s way more important and terrifying than caring what he personally believes about where people came from and what happens after they die.
    But, even if it was a personal statement of belief in our origins, why would that not be compatible with a belief in parental preference? When you’re giving birth to millions of children, it’s inevitable that you’re going to like the select few who suck up to you the most. Doesn’t mean you didn’t birth the others. This article is meaningless.

    • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

      The full quote was ““We’re a nation that believes that we’re all children of the same God.”  That’s probably why people are remembering it the other way.

    • hentai

      It also doesn’t mean you’re going to neglect the others.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Thanks to Mr Tracey for exposing the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the American Right. Nearly 100% of this movement is made up of Christians, who — as a religious grouping — consider theirs to be “‘the’ sole Truth” delivered by “‘the’ lone Almighty deity” and that all other religions are, by definition, “false” in every regard. Moreover, the vast majority of these are themselves members of Christian sects who believe themselves to be practicing “‘the’ sole True Version” of ‘the’ sole Truth” delivered by “‘the’ lone Almighty deity” and that all other Christian sects are, by definition, “false” in every regard.

    … and yet, in spite of all their many deep differences of belief and rite, they nevertheless have welded themselves into what they view as a single, coherent, organic whole … solely in order to acquire and maintain political power. In other words, all of their religious differences, many of which are extremely deep, are centuries old, and previously caused no small amount of terrible violence (e.g. the Catholic-Protestant schism) no longer mean anything to them. What makes them members of their own distinct Christian sects, doesn’t matter any more. Ostensibly, one would assume they ought long ago to have dispensed with all of their sectarian differentiation.

    … and yet, they haven’t done any such thing! They all remain clearly divided into their own distinct churches and sects. Each remains convinced s/he and his/her sect is unassailably right, and all others are desperately wrong. Hence, this article condemning one Christian sect (e.g. Mormonism) by a member of another.

    It’s time for America’s Christians to make up their freaking minds already. Are they all members of the same unitary Christian Church? Or are they Catholics and Baptists and Mormons and Lutherans and Orthodox and Methodists and Quakers and yada yada yada? Which is it? Do their own sectarian divisions have meaning? Or are they no longer of any account? It has to be one or the other. It can’t be both.

    Moreover, they’ve demonstrated another kind of intellectual and moral bankruptcy, by building themselves a political empire in the name of a man who very clearly and explicitly disavowed any kind of polity or statecraft. They should read their gospels again, paying particular attention to verses such as Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, and Luke 20:25. Jesus didn’t come to build a state, or do anything else grounded in the physical realm; instead, he taught about and concerned himself with the Kingdom of God. Governments have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. America’s Rightists already know that; now they need to grow up and start acting that way instead of bludgeoning everyone else with their Jesus and ordering everyone around in his name.

    • hentai

      In the name of Jesus, go to Hell. :-)

      • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

        Thanks. I plan to. According to a cadre of fundies I used to know (because I was once one of them!).

  • Tom_Nightingale

    Wow, please come back and write here again!

  • TheEcoDude

    “You’ll notice that this species of analysis has absolutely no relation to the substance of either candidates’ claims…”

    Sorta like this article.

    • amycas

       I agree with you there.

  • Dan

    Hemant,

    I really wish you’d stop giving Michael Tracey a forum. In his few posts he’s now badly misquoted Romney, propagated false information about how Mormon leadership is set up, bizarrely claimed the trinity was clearly taught in the Bible, and made a bunch of ridiculous claims about how all true Christians believe in the trinity (despite many of the early Christians, Quakers, Christian Unitarians, Modalists, Oneness Pentecostals, etc not believing in the trinity). When most of his claims have been shown to be false he has still defended them.

    It’s your right to ask whomever you want to write here, but Tracey’s arguments are a bad reflection on this otherwise excellent website. If you ask someone to write about Mormonism and Christian theology please get someone who knows at least a something about the Bible, Mormonism, or Christian history and theology (or at a minimum get a journalist who will at least quote other people accurately).

    I love Jessica’s posts, and would like to request that maybe she be given Michael Tracey’s space on this blog

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Thanks for the input, Dan. I’m always trying to experiment with new things here, so that’s why I wanted Michael to provide a few posts. If I think it’s not working, we’ll stop. Sometimes, it takes a few posts to figure that out!

  • Chris Kilroy

    I like the diction but Mr. Tracy needs to more directly address his main point. The “god” of Mormonism is not very much at all like the god of Christianity. I understand that most journalists are shy about really digging into religious issues but it should be pointed out that Mormons believe in a god who lives on another planet. Also, it should be brought forward that Mormons perpetrate a quasi-polytheistic view in teaching that men who meet certain criteria can be elevated to godlike status as well. This is not the same god that mainstream Christianity, Judaism or Islam teaches about. The Jesus of Mormonism is also different in nuanced ways (that I won’t profess to fully understand) from the Jesus of mainstream Christianity.
    This doesn’t even then get into the other things wrong with Romney’s statement. Namely, that it leaves out people from any other faiths such as Bhuddism, Shintoism, Zorastrianism, Wicca, or secularists such as most of the readers of this blog. 

    • hentai

      There was absolutely nothing wrong with Romney’s statement, because it was HIS, not yours.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    I’ve known quite a few Mormons and LDS over the years, in a variety of workplace settings, and my observation is that you can do pretty much anything you want, and as long as you are still tithing, the flock will consider you a Mormon.

    “varying levels of heavenly power” – sounds like Scientology, or “some animals are more equal than others.”

    • hentai

      How is Romney’s comment that “we are all children of the same god” any more offensive than Obama’s communistic remark during HIS closing statement that “we just want to make sure everyone GETS their fair share”…which he quickly rephrased to “…everyone DOES their fair share”?

  • Lagalmor

    I do not know if Romney is still a Mormon.

    I do know however, that he is still a moron.

    • hentai

      Your attempt at cleverness reveals you to be the same.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X