Mormons believe that when they die if they have been good they might wind up on their own personal planet somewhere to be reunited with their families, including generations of their forebears that they are able to bring into the church by proxy baptism. Hence their intense interest in genealogy. They believe that Jesus Christ, after dying and being resurrected in Palestine, was somehow spirited away to the New World where he preached to the Indian tribes who were actually transplanted Israelites, a contention that is completely unsupported by any archeological or historical evidence. But it must be all true because it was written down on a bunch of gold tablets discovered in upstate New York by one Joseph Smith in 1823, tablets that were translated by Smith from the “reformed Egyptian” language and which later were taken back by an angel. All right, so it’s not exactly your orthodox Christianity but it’s not the cult of Kali either. It’s admittedly the typical stuff that goes into many religions.
But there are other things about Mormons that are perhaps more disturbing and which have only been hinted at in the media. Mormons generally perceive themselves as a misunderstood and sometimes persecuted minority. Women are second class citizens who are expected to marry young and bear large numbers of children while playing much more limited roles than men in the church. Polygamy was only abandoned in 1890 when it was a precondition for entering the union as a state. Only in 1978 were blacks admitted to the priesthood. During the Vietnam War many young Mormons used their missionary obligations to avoid the draft, claiming a religious exemption. Mitt Romney was one who did so.
The Latter Day Saints demand absolute obedience from the top down with no questioning of doctrine or practices, enforcing the rules among church members through the use of disciplinary boards. The church’s leader Thomas Monson is regarded as a living prophet, one of several in the church hierarchy, whose word is the word of God and must be obeyed. Many of the church rituals are secret. Non-Mormons cannot be present at a temple wedding between two Mormons, for example.
Mormons are frequently uncomfortable with non-Mormons. They claim to be Christians but do not consider other Christians their equals, referring to them as “gentiles.” Mormon men are brought up spending much of their teenage years preparing for their missionary experience when then go off for two years to convert people to their own faith. This context means that young Mormons spend a great deal of their time with other Mormons. As a result, Mormons vote Mormon, socialize Mormon, go to school with other Mormons and to Mormon universities. Mitt Romney actually transferred from Stanford to attend Brigham Young University. Mormons identify strongly with their religion culturally and socially more than most other confessional groups. In states like Utah non-Mormons have little chance to be elected and Latter Day Saints political solidarity was recently exhibited in the Nevada primary, where Romney benefited from a large Mormon minority voting solidly for him. The Washington Post described the Nevada Mormons as voting “in unison.” It has been also been reported that Romney bused in Mormons from the Washington DC area to create rent-a-crowds for his campaign in South Carolina and he may have done the same to bolster his straw poll numbers at the just concluded annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
In the government, there are numerous Mormons in the intelligence and security services. This is largely due to the fact that many of them speak foreign languages from their missionary years and they are also easy to clear for security since they do not drink, smoke, do drugs, or fornicate. A recent visitor to CIA headquarters noted with some amusement the large numbers of earnest young men walking around carrying the Book of Mormon.
When I worked at the CIA basic training facility the Farm, there were two Mormon instructors. Whenever a Mormon student was to be included in a class both he and they knew about it in advance. When the student appeared the instructors would immediately introduce themselves to him and bond. It was felt by other instructors that the Mormons might do whatever they could to ease their coreligionist through the rigors of the course, though it was impossible to determine whether that was actually the case. The issue of an inappropriate relationship with a student was of some importance as a compliant instructor could reveal surprises or tricks coming up in the various training exercises. Once, when a Mormon student failed the course due to his psychological profile, the Mormon instructors were seen rushing up to him immediately thereafter and explaining to him how he could circumvent the certification problem.
To those who would suggest that the bonding and outreach would have been normal for any ethnic or religious group, I would point out that it was not so. There were a number of Italian, Jewish, Episcopalian, Irish, Black, and Hispanic instructors who did not make any attempt to reach out to their ethnic or religious counterparts among the student body. It was only the Mormons.
Once overseas, Mormons were seldom good intelligence officers because, it was felt, many of them preferred proselytizing to recruiting spies. A Mormon Chief of Station would virtually guarantee that the Station would quickly become a magnet for more Mormons, many of whom would regard their desire to gain new co-religionists as a top priority. Some stations – including Mexico City – were well known for being Mormon fiefdoms. In the FBI there was a major scandal in 1985 when the senior management of a Mormon dominated FBI field office in Los Angeles was found to be engaged in a cover-up to protect a co-religionist agent who was ultimately convicted of espionage. A Hispanic officer who had unsuccessfully tried to get the spy fired described it as a “Mormon Mafia,” noting drily of the cover-up that “I’d seen this happen with Mormons and only with Mormons.” He and other Hispanics in the office later won a cash settlement from the government after proving discrimination. The Mormon special agent in charge who had engineered the cover-up, one Richard Bretzing, subsequently retired and was named managing director of security for the Mormon Church. Mormon Ambassadors likewise have sometimes been criticized for turning their Embassies into adjuncts of the church, hosting visitors from Salt Lake City and providing facilities and support for their co-religionists during their missionary travels.
Mormons characteristically protect and advance the careers of other Mormons and do so far more zealously than other ethnic and religious groups. On commentator describes it as “a religion that is not so much a belief system as a lifestyle, urging its adherents to be ‘in the world but not of the world.’” Believing thus, it is no surprise that some Mormons in government sometimes have a problem in separating their identification with their religion with their responsibility to function impartially and fairly as a civil servant.
So what does all that have to do with Mitt Romney? Well, maybe nothing apart from a reasonable questioning of his credulity. He was a Mormon bishop and later a stake president, perhaps describable as an archbishop, but it has been suggested that he deliberately avoided having too many Mormons in his administration in Massachusetts for fear of a backlash and will likely do the same if he is elected president. But one has to wonder to what extent the high level of internal cohesion that is an adjunct of his faith and its mandate of submission to the authority of its leadership might lead down some interesting byways. His performance as a Mormon bishop in Boston certainly raises some issues. A Washington Post book review of The Real Romney by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman summarizes, “We see him arriving in the home of a pregnant, 23-year-old, single Mormon woman named Peggie Hayes and threatening her with excommunication if she does not agree to give the child up for adoption. The authors show him counseling another woman, whose eight-week pregnancy threatened her health, to bring the fetus to term. (‘As your bishop my concern is with the child,’ he tells her.) When he peevishly signed off on another Mormon woman’s request to visit a temple in Washington (she had been married to a non-Mormon, which meant she needed the church’s institutional permission), he told her: ‘Judy, I don’t understand why you stay in the church. . . . You’re not my kind of Mormon.’”
Judging from his apparent priorities, I would suspect it is a given that Romney would heed his church leaders and work to advance projects favored by his co-religionists, whatever they might be. “Whatever they might be” is of course the key question. In his head, would he be a Mormon first or the president of the United States, or, more importantly, is he capable of maintaining a firewall between the two? Mitt’s second cousin Park, an apostate Mormon, recently wrote that “Obedience to the leadership of the Mormon Church is part of the covenant of the temple’s ordinances to which Mitt Romney is absolutely a party.”
To counter such criticisms, the Mormon church leadership claims that it does not get involved in politics, but it recently obtained the services of 13 Mormon congressmen to put pressure on the Swiss government when Bern passed a law making it illegal for unpaid missionaries to operate anywhere in Switzerland. That episode and the church’s active and almost certainly illegal engagement in proposition 8 in California would appear to suggest that it is indeed politically active when it suits it to be so.
I wonder how many of Mitt’s genuine close advisers are Mormons? What percentage of his political contributions come from Mormon sources? I assume he will be receiving close to 100% of the Mormon vote and how will his self-identification as the ultimate Mormon success story influence his decision making? One realizes that any discussion of religion makes many people uneasy but these are all legitimate questions, not an expression of bigotry, as the man comes out of a culture that is decidedly not mainstream and he wants to be president of the United States. Certainly how Mitt made his fortune and his flip flopping on virtually every issue are more disturbing than his religion, as are his views on military spending and overseas interventions. His lack of warmth, humor, and any understanding of what average Americans have experienced over the past five years make him a colorless candidate who is difficult to like very much. But it is concerns about the idiosyncrasies and autocratic nature of his Mormon faith that will cost him many votes, probably enough to guarantee a Democratic victory. Carrying that baggage, he will almost certainly lose to the vulnerable but more charismatic and religiously orthodox Barack Obama, leaving the Republicans to question why they have failed at yet another opportunity to unseat an unpopular incumbent.