For a nation enthralled by the weird eccentricities of a church that baptizes the dead and once had members flee to Mexico to keep polygamy going, Romney could go a long way toward curbing the nation’s lust for news of Mormon oddities by inviting the press to church and thereby showing that Mormon services are as boring as any other service held by a mainstream religion.
Mitt Romney has successfully clinched the presidential nomination for the Republican Party. After years of making the rounds since his defeat for the nomination in 2008, Romney has finally emerged as the no-nonsense jobs candidate to lead his party to victory in 2012 against President Barack Obama. Accomplishing such a task has meant displaying a Zen-like discipline to staying on message.
The message that has been the answer to almost every question asked of Romney has always been “jobs,” no matter what the question. For the very private Romney, that has also meant making great pains to avoid any discussion of his lifelong membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Over the holiday weekend, an enterprising AP reporter decided to drop in on Romney as he and his family attended LDS services near their resort home at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.
The article has great imagery, and of the revelations it shows to readers is that, among other things, 1. Romney sang some hymns 2. that his wife had to coordinate who in the family would stay for the post sacrament-meeting and who wouldn’t and 3. that at one point during services, “Romney took charge of a Ziploc bag of colored cereal, offering it to a grinning, blond toddler.”
What’s amazing is that for Americans who have never witnessed an LDS service, there may actually be something noteworthy about all this. But for most LDS and especially Utah Mormons, this really is pretty much par for the course for LDS services: singing hymns and quieting toddlers with Lucky Charms.
While I can’t say I’ve been to a lot of LDS services, having never joined the church, I can say that growing up in Utah County in a family that is half LDS, I’ve been to a lot of LDS services and can bear my testimony that, like any good religious service, they are for the most part pretty uncontroversial affairs. Occasionally, you hear a really great and inspiring talk that would tug at the heartstrings of any person whether they belong to a faith or not. But for the most part, they’re just boring as hell, which I have to say can hardly be a negative and, of course, comes from an outsider’s perspective. Certainly, a devout Mormon would likely say these things aren’t boring but uplifting but, again, a cynical, godless reporter is likely to just spend most of their time trying to keep their eyes open as opposed to filling their notebooks with details of controversial talks, rituals or proclamations.
Controversy really seems to be kept to a minimum when most talks seem centered around generic discussions of things like the importance of faith, missionary work and the example of handcart pioneers, etc. The most controversial I’ve seen church get is when I was invited to speak at my brother’s mission farewell and opened my talk thusly: “I would like to start my talk by sharing a story from the scriptures…but I don’t know any so we’ll skip that; it’s been done to death already.” I thought it got a good laugh but the church shortly thereafter changed rules about who speaks at missionary farewell (I’m sure it was unrelated). But, I digress.
Even in the heart of Utah County, I’ve never heard a church talk that I thought might get so political or even really touch on issues political enough -- gay marriage, religious freedom, etc. -- that would really give a campaign manager any media sweats. This is exactly why Romney should be bringing the press out to more sacrament meetings, even if he never speaks at them—especially if he never speaks at them.
Buzzfeed has a great look back at how Romney’s father openly invited the press to hear him speak at church when George Romney was looking at his own run for the White House and how the elder Romney -- sorry, Romney senior, not missionary Romney -- used the occasion to give a nuanced talk about how his faith informed his opinions against racial discrimination in the country.
Mitt Romney should extend the same invitation to the press now for the opposite reason—to just bore the shit out of the press and deflate their dreams of uncovering the great kooky-Romney-religion story. Hell, if the Romney campaign did that and talked to press afterward, I’m sure reporters would probably be asking the candidate about the Affordable Care Act and the latest job report, as opposed to whether or not he agrees that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that missionary work is important.