Romney’s tithing and the case of the Mormon Blue Blood

Seriously? So Romney doesn’t want to disclose his financial returns because he feels that the amount of tithing he pays to the church should be private?  Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s  rationale is that  Romney’s desire for tithing privacy is meant to save the recipients of his tithing largesse from the embarrassing position of having their financial need nationally publicised?

Bollocks!!  Unless, as a big donor, he has the inside running on where his money is spent by the Corporation of the President, he won’t have a clue where his pingers are going.  We Mormons have been lead to believe that like everyone else’s money, Romney’s $millions go into a big huge tithing pot along with the $hundreds donated by that sweet super-annuitant couple who faithfully show up to church in their Nissan Micra.

On the other hand if this were true it would indicate that despite the supposedly and much trumpeted egalitarian nature of tithing, someone with a big cheque for LDS inc. gets a degree of economic power in the church that is denied everyone else.  Either way he needs to fire his communications advisor because the stupidity on his stump is monstrous.   What about this from the Salt Lake Tribune?:

“I love tithing,” Ann Romney tells the magazine. “When Mitt and I give that check, I actually cry.”

What a piffle!  I simply can’t imagine Mitt and Ann, on the eve of the Sabbath weepingly pouring over their checkbook as they fill in the stump with their weekly $76,923.07  in anticipation of handing it onto a member of the Bishopric at church the next day.   People like Mitt  would most likely wire their tithing straight to church headquarters.  Theoretically anyone can do this, but it’s the preferred option for those with means.  It keeps their contributions private from the local clerks because clearly their personal net worth shouldn’t be too, too obvious to us lesser folk.

There can only be one of four credible explanations for Romney’s reticence to disclose:

  1. He hasn’t paid a full tithe.  This would undermine the credibility of his church leadership and indeed his ‘worthiness.  I don’t really care how much he has paid but  I’m fairly confident that someone like Mitt will be concerned that his tithe be understood as a ‘gross’ and anything that comes short of that would, at least among the orthodox, come across as a spiritual shortfall.
  2. He’s paid too much and he’s embarrassed by his personal generosity.   Its possible, but who would know?
  3. Tithing is his straw-man.   He wants the US electorate to say, ‘Aww – what a sweet-heart, leave the poor chap alone – and here’s my vote Mitt’  (hence the need to fire his communications advisor).
  4. He’s a Mormon blue blood – through and through.


I want to clarify what I mean by point 4.

In my late adolescence I was romantically ensconced with one of these young Mormon blue bloods.  This was a pedigree that reached the heavens through the First Presidency, with a good dose of intergenerational wealth thrown in for good measure.  The family was impeccable, their manners were flawless, their hospitality was legendary, their morals beyond reproach.    They even looked good.   Everything about this family made my paltry attempts at exaltation look positively mediocre because I couldn’t dress it up with the upper middle-class accoutrements that made their Mormonism look divine.  The fact that their beautiful son had taken up with a working class bastard indigene with a bit of ‘history’ made them slightly ‘uneasy’.  Not that they said so – they would never be that rude, but there was always a palpable sense of discomfit that I could read on the air.  Don’t get me wrong, they were always kind, and pleasant and kept their concerns to themselves – sort of.

I recall one day wandering the leafy streets of Christchurch hand in hand with my beloved when I began a course altering interchange with said Mormon Prince.  I’d had enough of his regaling  me with all kinds of impressive anecdotes about millionaire siblings,  plains-crossing stalwarts,  the brilliance and beauty of the inner circle, and his brushes with LDS greatness and their small intermarried gene pool.  So in retaliation I retorted with my own story.

“My Great, Great Grandfather Te Hau Takiri Wharepapa was a renown Ngā Puhi chief who went to England in 1863 to meet Queen Victoria”.

I did all that I could do to inflate the import of my ancestor and his offspring in order to meet this boy eye to eye.  In actual fact Wharepapa was quite the man but in this moment some extrapolations were necessary because I was  tired of being made to feel spiritually second-class.  At least in this place, Aotearoa/New Zealand,  I had a whakapapa, a genealogy that made me proud– they may not have been Mormon blue blood bones – but they were good people who survived a brutal colonial incursion with grace and dignity.

I was surprised when he grew irritated with me.  I can’t exactly pin down what set him off but I am guessing that this challenge to his singular pedigree had him in a tizz.  He was usually very articulate but in this moment when all of the words to provide a rational retort for his obvious genetic superiority evaded him, he grew peevish and cranky.  What I believe he was trying to say was, “But my pedigree is better than yours.”  I’m confident that that was what he meant because he was in the habit of reminding me that the fortunate circumstances as to the conditions of his birth were consequent to his pre-earth faithfulness.  Of course the implied binary was glaring and reflected rather badly upon my obvious ante-mortal naughtiness.   It was in that moment that I knew in my heart of hearts that I would never, could never marry him.

So what does this have to do with Romney?   This Mormon inner ‘wealthier than wealthy’ sanctum is so small and smug that Romney and his ilk  have been deprived of the kind of worlds, and words to help them make sense of themselves.  Rather than explore the social, economic, cultural and political trajectories that lead him to his fortune and fame, he has likely defaulted to the myopic language of the Mormon blue bloods.  “God ordained this – I am his special servant – He needs me  (and my money).”  Beyond this explicit and implied language there are few resources with which to respond and explain one’s privilege.

In any other sphere this might be considered a symptom of social narcissism, but in Mormonism our fundamentalist roots has spawned a dazzling strain of self-importance with a huge dose of theology to accompany it.  So when it comes to his confessions of humility around his donor giving Romney has deployed a predictable rhetorical strategy to meet this challenge and confrontation.  He has drawn upon the language of his Mormon patrology to provide a sacralized version of his impeccable financial ethics.  Not only this, in his attempt to do so he screams resoundingly to the low-dollar-donors – “The context of my giving is superior to yours”.

If you want an explanation for why Romney’s vacillation between silence and his inappropriate extemporaneous ejaculations  – this is the reason.  The language of Romney’s brand of upper-class  elitist Mormonism is tidy, but it’s tiny.  Romney’s singular Mormon world will teach him to be gracious, impeccable, charming and restrained.  But it will never, ever challenge him to think beyond an imperialistic, haughty, superior, elitist culturally constructed theology that renders him, utterly, absolutely and unashamedly entitled.  His world has likely never given him the language to express a complex and a thoughtful faith,  to know and understand the struggles of others outside of some simple paternalistic  binaries and the service project, he has never had to know other’s truths, other’s stories of suffering beyond the confession.  It is entirely possible that his elitist rarefied Mormon world has inoculated him from a searing, critical and personal assault on his entitlement that forces him to look at social inequality as a systemic problem rather than a feature of some daft bugger’s poor, Godless decision making!

Clearly, I’m exercised about this, and as a New Zealander my opinion on Romney is (at least electorally speaking) meaningless.  But the US has in the past delivered its fair share of moron Presidents who have had a lasting, even fatal impact upon the rest of the world.   So I’m begging anyone who will listen – not Romney – please.  By all means have a Mormon as the US President – but not this kind of Mormon.

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