Nearly all of us follow or adhere to some sort of faith or belief system. It’s what sustains us in times like 9/11 and provides us with joy during our respective holidays. It’s reflected in our values as a nation; in how we live our daily lives, how we worship, how we choose our close friends and business partners, and how we vote. We like to feel comfortable with our choices and our choices usually are reflections of who we are and what we stand for.
There are a few of us who are still skeptical of President Obama’s faith. In fact, 25% of us still believe he is Muslim. There are also a number of us who have questions and wonder about Mitt Romney’s faith, Mormonism.
Over the next several days, broken up in several parts, this writer will look at the faith of the Republican frontrunner, Mitt Romney, and that of the President, Barack Obama, and discuss the role of faith in the 2012 Presidential election. We will look into Romney’s background with his faith; compare Christianity with Mormonism doctrinally; and look at President Obama’s faith and how he has used it to guide him as he has governed our nation.
Mitt Romney is a devout and committed Mormon. He has devoted his entire life to the teachings of Mormonism and indeed, has never left or strayed from the faith. In fact, if you listen closely and carefully to him in his campaign speeches he alludes to his faith by saying things like, “Look at my life and how I have lived it” or “Look at my family.” This is about as close as we will come this year to hearing what Romney has to say about his faith. Faith, to Romney, is less theology than it is lifestyle. Yes, Mormonism has doctrines and we will cover them later but the centrality of its belief system is how well you live your life as opposed to the Christian standard of living by faith not works.
Romney was born into a family of faithful followers; the Romney’s form a long line of Mormons or Latter Day Saints, as they are also known as. In fact, one of his great-grandfathers fled to Mexico about 125 years ago, amid a government crackdown of polygamous marriages. It should be noted that many multi-generational Mormon families have polygamists in their family tree. Polygamy, by the way, is the practice of having more than one wife at the same time. Polygamy was introduced by Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith but was later banned by the church in 1890. Today, some 38,000 people aligned with the more fundamentalist fringe of the Mormon Church still practice polygamy.
Romney’s father, George, was born in Mexico but fled the when he was 5 due to the Mexican Revolution. George later became the CEO and Chairman of American Motors, Governor of Michigan, and a Presidential candidate himself in 1968. George was also very active in the Mormon Church, serving as Michigan’s first stake president. A stake president is comparable to a diocese in that it has multiple congregations.
As devout as he was, Mitt married outside the church. He found Ann, an Episcopalian, in high school. After high school, he left her behind and went off to college and on his Mormon mission trip, which was to France. While he was gone, Ann converted to Mormonism and they were wedded upon his return.
As Jessica Ravitz points out in her excellent article, The shaping of Mitt Romney, a look at his faith journey, Romney served as ‘A ward Bishop—or part-time pastor—and stake president for the Boston area in the 1980s and early 1990s.’
The question that many of us have is why Romney is so unwilling to discuss his Mormon faith while on the campaign trail? Could it be that the Mormons make unusual claims or have outrageous beliefs that many Americans would consider too extreme to accept?
One example of an outrageous belief is that Mormons believe there are 3 levels of Heaven. The first level is called Telestial for the bad people of the world. Yes, the Mormons believe they will be saved and go to Heaven. The second, or middle level, is for the good people. It’s called Terrestrial. Right, the Baptists, Hindus, Muslims, doesn’t matter what your religion is, if you’re a good moral person, then you go here. But the Mormon’s aim is the Celestial Kingdom. In order to have the Mormon concept of eternal life – which to them is different from being saved – to have eternal life means you can progress to be a god over your world someday. So all of this temple ritual they go through, this work for the dead, it’s all with the hope that this will add up to qualify them to have the reward of eternal life, where the Christian looks to Christ for eternal life through the grace of Christ that’s given to us – not because of any merit of our own, but because of the merit of Christ. Mormonism says “Well, yes, Christ’s atonement was necessary to get us into Heaven, but to get to that top-level and become a god, we have to achieve that. That is our reward for our faithfulness as a Mormon.” And only Mormons receive eternal life; the rest of us get some sort of sub-heaven and are never in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
Perhaps it is that but it could also be the Mormon belief that Jesus will rule, after the second coming, during the millennium in two places: Jerusalem and Independence, Missouri. Attached to this article, in the sidebar, is an interview in which Mitt Romney states that very fact.
These two examples alone are outside of mainstream Biblical thought. It really is no wonder that Romney remains silent about the one thing he cares most deeply about, his faith.
To be continued…