Was Mitt Romney a “Pastor”?

Last night, in the final question of the town hall-style debate, the candidates were asked how they’ve been misunderstood as men, and how they’d like to correct that misperception. In his response, Mitt Romney said that he’d served as a “pastor” of a church:

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. I’ve sat across the table from people who were out of work and worked with them to try and find new work or to help them through tough times. [transcript]

I hadn’t heard of a Mormon man being called a “pastor” before, so I tweeted my misgivings. It seemed to me that Romney was attempting the normalize one of the oddities of Mormon church life — that there are no pastor, just bishops. An interesting and illuminating round of tweets with Mormons and ex-Mormons ensued (click on the images to be taken to the actual tweets):

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  • Famous!

    Thanks for the convo last night, y’all. Was in the midst of a Facebook argument in which my brother kept telling me how awesome drone strikes are and how we should really go to war with Iran. Appreciate the distraction!

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  • No one is a pastor.

    • Pastor is a word that meant something completely different in the first century, and is completely unnecessary in our day. Just like a lot of other words that people like to throw around.

  • Ted Seeber

    So Catholic Pastors (who actually carry the title- there might be many priests in a parish but only one of them is “Pastor”) aren’t pastors because under the Ordinary Form they have to give homilies rather than sermons?

  • Pax

    Obvious starting point here: what’s the definition of a pastor? It sounds to me like some are making it synonymous with “preacher”. Wikipedia says “A pastor is usually an ordained leader of a Christian congregation.” I guess if you reject that Mormons are Christians, you could say he wasn’t a pastor on those grounds, but he was the leader of a more local congregation. Perhaps he didn’t want to confuse people who might assume a Mormon bishop is on the same level as bishops of other faiths (which is a position more like an LDS Stake President).

  • toddh

    If it takes that many tweets from church experts to figure it out, then I give Romney a pass for contextualizing it for the bulk of his audience.

  • Jeff Straka

    He was not only a ward (church) bishop (pastor) but a stake president over several wards (similar to a diocese bishop). Pretty well ensconced in Mormonism.

    • Saying that Mitt Romney was a pastor is like saying that David Letterman leads the Paul Shaffer Band. He may be in charge, but he’s not coming up with any material.

  • jay

    If a bishop (an overseer) is not a pastor, what is it?

  • robert smith

    Isn’t the question “why” he referred to himself that way – considering no one in the LDS Church would call themselves a pastor?

    It seemed like a political move to stay away from some of the weird LDS designations. I mean, if he would have said, “I was a Stake President” twitter would have really blown up!

  • Gary

    Yes, staying away from contoversy of Mormon language. Romney would also be a melkezadic (sp) priest, as all adult men are, and maybe a high priest, as some older men are. Also, most wards also have man designated as a patriarch, who actually does give patriarchal blessings to members. Along with their profet, quorum of the 12, and 70’s, plus their temples, very OT per 2000 years ago. That’s one resin they don’t talk details in public.

    • Gary

      Typing on an iPhone is a pain.

  • Carl Gregg

    Thanks, Tony, for making this point. The most interesting article I’ve seen on Romney’s church leadership is from August in The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mitt-romney-as-a-leader-in-mormon-church-became-a-master-of-many-keys/2012/08/19/7c8fe1bc-cf89-11e1-8e56-dffbfbe1bd20_story.html. It’s been a while since I read the full article, but the description, from what I remember, has some parallels to what a bivocational pastor sometimes looks like.

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    Here was my article on this topic: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2012/10/19/mitt-romney-cla/

    In short, as a missionary, ward bishop, and stake president, Romney has abundant experience in pastoral counseling and pastoral leadership, and of course he’s delivered scores of sermons over the course of his lifetime. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call himself a pastor — and actually, I think it’s an important touch-point for Christians. Since Mormons don’t have pastors per se, he’s asserting that he fulfilled many or all of the same functions that a “pastor” serves in a Protestant context. I score this one Mostly True.

  • kww

    I also read that Romney received a special annointing in the Mormon church recently that is only reserved for thos holding a high office in politics like the presidency. There is a mock oval office in the mormon temple in Bethesda that was made for the inevitable mormon president so that he can actually conduct and address the nation from his temple too! Nuts! Mitt Mormoney is off the hook…

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