Why We Can Ask Mitt Romney about His Mormonism

Jeff Weiss responds to the criticism he got last week in his proposed questions to Romney:

The reason I felt particularly justified in posing those questions is why the situations of Romney and Obama are not parallel.

For a decade, Romney was a member of the clergy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He was ward bishop and stake president. … As such he was a recognized authority, expected to understand and agree with official church doctrine and to apply it while working with members of his congregations.

I would only ask these kinds of questions to someone for whom religion is a central part of their public persona. Dick Cheney, for instance, is Methodist but never much talked about it. So it isn’t politically relevant. His former boss, however, famously said that Jesus Christ was his favorite political philosopher.

I count it a signal failure of the national media that candidate George W. Bush was not queried sharply and repeatedly to explain how his understanding of the political philosophy of Jesus would inform his governance.

Read on to see why Weiss says that we can also ask Obama about his faith: RealClearReligion – Yes Obama Can! Talk About God.

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  • ME

    Dick Cheney is a Methodist???? [face palm]

  • Curtis

    Romney, clergy? Yes, except that becoming clergy within the LDS church is considered part of the normal progression of all male members of their church. It is sort of like they take the idea of “priesthood of all believers” and, quite literally, make all men priests if they stick around in the church long enough. Okay, there are more requirements than just “sticking around”, but being a member of the priesthood is something that all young Mormon men are taught to aspire to. It is not as exclusive of an office as typical Christian clergy. I don’t know if Romney qualifies for special treatment for becoming “clergy” when all men in his church are expected to hold that position.

    • Larry Barber

      They do not, however, usually become stake presidents, which is roughly the equivalent of a bishop, although a stake is generally smaller than diocese. A stake president is responsible for a fairly large geographical area that contains several congregations

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Curtis, he was ward bishop and then stake president over about a decade. That’s a step up from the priesthood that many Mormon men become…

    • Curtis

      You may be right. All those layers of hierarchy in the LDS become confusing to me very quick. One thing is sure, from my experience, put a man with a net worth of several hundred million dollars into any church, and he will rise to a level of authority and prestige higher than the clergy pretty fast.

      It still amazes me today how even modern churches are pretty much run via back-room negotiations, where the person with the most money and influence always gets their way. Put Mitt into my congregation and he would be top dog, head and shoulders above even the clergy, very fast. And we’re ELCA Lutheran, not Mormon. It is kind of sad.

  • Rusty

    In many churches leaders are put in due to their prestige in the church and not on their qualifications and theology. I am not opposed to questioning a person about their beliefs but not in this case because it would be too politically motivated. There is no way it wouldn’t turn that way. If it was done in the republican primary in November maybe but to do it now I think would be wrong. I would simply look at his record as governor and speeches and see how his beliefs impact his leadership.

  • Curtis

    My first inclination is to not cross the threshold of confronting a political candidate with questions about church teaching. I think clear separation between church and state is essential. While I personally find LDS teachings sometimes bizarre and dishonest, I wouldn’t hold a candidate’s religious heritage against him or her. In fact, I believe Romney is an incredible talented leader and I’ve sometimes thought Romney would make a better Democratic candidate than Republican candidate, and would seriously consider supporting him if he chose to become a candidate in the Democratic party. But he didn’t.

    However, after considering the prominent role that he has played for decades in the Mormon church, my feelings about the appropriateness of confronting Romney about Mormon teachings is starting to change. After all, how often do we have a political candidate who, for decades, has been able to have direct, close relationships with the highest authorities in his church? Has there ever been a candidate that has been more directly involved in shaping and vetting church doctrine and policy than Mitt Romney? Given his unusually close relationship to the LDS church and LDS leadership, his influence on church doctrine and church policy is not dissimilar to the influence he has had on political and business interests throughout his career. His track record on all of the work in his career should be fair game for questioning.

    Given that new perspective, I can think of a couple questions I’d like to run by Mitt Romney, related to how the policies of his church seem to be in contradiction with the public policy he is supporting.

    First of all, regarding childcare, the LDS church has clearly declared and Romney has often repeated that raising children is the highest human calling on Earth. Given this view, how can Romney justify the severe reduction of funding for the proven, successful Head Start program that is a part of the Ryan budget that Romney supports?

    Second, regarding homosexuality, the leadership of the LDS church has often stated that an affirmed homosexual is inherently incapable of being a positive role model to others, and is not fit to serve in any leadership capacity. How does Romney square this belief that homosexuals are unfit to serve as leaders with his statement that he will not re-instate the ban on homosexuals serving in the U.S. military?

    Just a couple contradictions between LDS teachings and Romney’s public policy. Given Romney’s unique position of simultaneously shaping both church teaching as well as public policy, I’d like to hear if Romney feels any need to resolve these contradictions.

  • Larry Barber

    Can we ask him the “boxers or briefs” question?

    • Curtis

      Sure. But you can google pictures of them, so we pretty much already know the answer.