The last few weeks before 6 November, stories about Mitt Romney and the LDS Church made headlines in mainstream publications as well as in alternative media outlets, probing not only Romney’s connection to his faith but also controversial aspects of Mormonism such as disciplinary practices and the meaning and use of temple garments.
According to a 3 November article in the New York Times, campaign officials scored a major victory for Romney by recruiting Tea Party favorite, and fellow Mormon, Glenn Beck—who last year stated that he didn’t trust Romney—to hold rallies and fundraisers on Romney’s behalf.
Romney scored a second victory, not just for his candidacy but also for the LDS Church, by persuading evangelical heavyweight Billy Graham to endorse Romney and to remove Mormonism from a list of cults on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website.
“Can an evangelical Christian vote for a Mormon?” Graham wrote in a recent USA Today column. “My answer is yes, for if a biblically faithful evangelical could only vote for a candidate who was perfectly aligned theologically, he or she would be unable to cast a vote for president on November 6.”
In a cover story for Time, Jon Meacham proposed a connection between Mitt Romney’s “pragmatism” and the history of the LDS Church, which “grew more pragmatic over time” and eventually abandoned polygamy.
“It is possible that Mitt Romney’s tendency to conform to the world immediately around him is at least partly rooted in the history of his family and of this church,” Meacham wrote. “Romney’s commitment to liberty and individualism as organizing American principles also have Mormon rings.”
In a piece posted on the Vanity Fair website, D. Michael Quinn catalogued ways in which the LDS Church has attempted to influence politics and politicians—both in Utah and nationally—for over a century. “Is Mitt Romney an unwavering statesman who is resistant to such pressures?” Quinn asks. “Only time will tell, if America’s voters elect him.”
At the left-leaning Huffington Post, documentary filmmaker Helen Whitney and LDS author Greg Prince asked five questions which suggested their skepticism about Romney’s political independence from the LDS Church. “What would be the relationship between a President Romney and the LDS Church hierarchy in Salt Lake City?” they asked. “Has Governor Romney resuscitated the long-disavowed Mormon tradition of ‘Lying for the Lord’?”
FAST, NON-FAST, AND COUNTER-FAST SUNDAY
LDS reporter McKay Coppins reported on BuzzFeed news of an email that was circulating among Mormon supporters of Romney shortly before the first presidential debate. “I am asking you to join me and my family on Sunday Sept. 30 by fasting and praying for Mitt Romney,” the email reads. “I know that seems like such a small thing but I believe ‘from small things, great things can come about.’”
Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley responded to the story with a cartoon showing a Mormon family in their Sunday best ready to go to church—except for the youngest child, who’s serving himself a large bowl of cereal in his pajamas while gleefully proclaiming, “I’m voting for Obama!”
Right before the first Sunday of November, Catherine Jeppsen, a college sociology instructor from Provo, Utah, posted an entry on the Washington Post’s Voices blog explaining that on 4 November “many Mormons will be fasting for Romney,” but added that she would instead fast and pray that “hearts will soften toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.” Her fast was part of a Facebook campaign promoted by attendees of the “Circling the Wagons” conference being held that weekend in Salt Lake City by gay Mormons and their allies.
“Because of these hopes, one of my prayers on Sunday will be that Romney doesn’t win the election,” she added. “Although I respect his beliefs and recognize that they likely reflect those of most Mormons, his statements on LGBTQ rights do not reflect my values, my faith, or the principles I hold dear as a Mormon woman.”
THE DAVID TWEDE CONTROVERSY
David Twede, the managing editor of MormonThink.com, a website that focuses on controversial aspects of LDS history, announced in September that he had been summoned to a disciplinary council after posting a blog entry about Romney—a story that was covered by the New York Times, CNN’s blog, and other media outlets. The headline in a story from The Daily Beast read, “Mormons Want to Excommunicate Romney Critic.”
“They didn’t like that I was writing a blog critical of the church, and they were upset by the fact that I was discussing the temple, which is connected to Mitt Romney in my article,” Twede told The Daily Beast. “I revealed things about the temple, and secrecy, and other things that they just don’t want anyone to talk about.”
LDS spokesperson Michael Purdy promptly issued in response, “It is patently false for someone to suggest they face Church discipline for having questions or for expressing a political view. The Church is an advocate of individual choice.”
Twede later told the Salt Lake Tribune that he did not intend for the story to imply that he was being disciplined for criticizing Romney.
On 27 September, Twede’s stake president announced that the disciplinary council had been postponed due to scheduling conflicts. Three weeks later, Twede resigned his Church membership during an open mic session at the annual conference of the Ex-Mormon Foundation in Salt Lake City.
“While I’ve been in serious doubt about the veracity of LDS claims for some time,” Twede wrote in a 22 October email, “I had become so disillusioned with how my situation was handled that I just wanted to be free.”
“IS ANN ROMNEY WEARING HER GARMENT?“
An appearance by Ann Romney on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, for which she wore a short skirt, generated media stories about temple garments and a debate over whether or not the aspirant First Lady wears them. Jezebel, an online magazine focusing on celebrities, sex, and fashion, reported on a discussion that had occurred on a Mormon women’s chat forum.
“Romney’s fellow LDS members speculated about whether Romney was wearing hers at all, if they had been shortened, or if they were just, I don’t know, rendered invisible,” wrote Erin Gloria Ryan. “Her skirt appears too short to conceal the garments, said some. Others remarked that Ann Romney is 5’8”, and temple garments for ladies tend to come in a standard issue size that covers different amount [sic] of flesh on women of different heights. And one applauded her apparent hike-up job, remarking, ‘Thank God for Ann. This is a cry to all the LDS women in the world: ‘It is okay to raise the hemline!’”
The story was picked by Utah’s TV channel ABC4. Reporter Brian Carlson went to Temple Square with a picture from the Tonight Show and asked a number of passers-by, “Do you think Ann is wearing her garment?” While some Mormons obligingly weighed in on the matter, others said they found the question “weird” or “inappropriate.”
On 6 October, blogger Justin McAffee posted on The Nevada View a picture of Ann Romney sitting crossed-legged with her upper thigh exposed and seemingly naked—“more evidence that Ann Romney [is not] wearing Mormon garments.”
“People are curious about this because Mormons are supposed to wear temple garments, and the Romneys are supposedly the ‘face of Mormonism,’” McAffee wrote. “That’s the bottom line. Obviously this isn’t some revelation that should affect your vote. It’s just an observation.”
Just when it might have seemed that the story had run its course, the LA Times published a story recounting the Ann Romney garment controversy and announcing the launching of MormonSecret.com, a site that sells “Mormon underwear copies.”
The site’s founder, an ex-Mormon who goes by the alias “Ann Jackson,” told the Times that the fabric blend and the manufacturing process are identical to the Church’s. “Jackson assembles the underwear in China,” the story explains, “then has the stitching and Masonic symbols sewn on in the U.S.”
“The intent behind a site like this should be obvious to anyone who sees it,” Church spokesperson Eric Hawkins told the Times. “There will always be those who want to ridicule and demean something meaningful to another. Hopefully, we might yet reach a point in society where that is not acceptable.”
TEMPLE WORSHIP EXPLAINED
On 1 November, Joanna Brooks, who had used a recent post at her Religion Dispatches blog to explain the meaning of temple garments, wrote another entry, this time in response to a YouTube video which included surreptitious footage of an LDS temple ceremony. The video, publicized by The Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan on 29 October, has been viewed over a million times.
“Many may object to my posting video footage of the kind of ceremony that Romney will be extremely familiar with, but which even many Mormons do not get to see,” Sullivan wrote in defense of his posting. “My view is that if you are running for president, transparency is essential. We have seen countless videos of Obama’s church services; and we have not been barred from seeing any religious services that previous presidential nominees have attended.”
Joanna Brooks responded on 1 November with a column criticizing Sullivan and explaining some of the meaning and history of the temple ordinances. “In his depiction of LDS temple worship, Andrew Sullivan situates exposé-style footage within prose that sensationalizes (and sometimes misstates) Mormon beliefs as repugnantly different,” Brooks wrote. “Sullivan says his goal is ‘transparency,’ but his presentation is designed to make Romney (and Mormons) look menacingly alien.”
“WHAT IF . . . ?”
Some reporters speculated about what signs of Mormonness might accompany an LDS President.
“This could be Romney’s church in DC,” proclaimed a 29 September headline in the Washington Post. The accompanying photo showed a new LDS meetinghouse located at 16th and Emerson streets NW.
“Folks at the Third Ward on 16th Street NW are already revved up with excitement,” wrote Michelle Boorstein for the Post. “Well, kind of . . . . They’re mostly Democrats.”
“I hope he doesn’t end up making that move [to the White House], but if he does, I’d welcome him with open arms,” Third Ward member Corban Tillemann-Dick told the Post, adding that he certainly wouldn’t mind being picked as the new president’s home teacher.
On the CNN religion blog, reporter Jessica Ravitz posted to a story titled, “What Would a Mormon White House Look Like?” wondering if the Romneys might display artwork featuring Jesus, President Thomas S. Monson, or the Salt Lake Temple, where Mitt and Ann married.
In Ravitz’s story, LDS author Jana Riess dismissed the notion that Romney might place his hand on a Book of Mormon at his swearing-in ceremony. “I’m not aware of any Mormon who has sworn on the Book of Mormon instead of the Bible for national office,” Riess told Ravitz. “I’m not aware of any local officials who have done this either.”
Ravitz also took up the question of whether Romney, as president, would attend the Washington D.C. Temple, located ten miles north of the White House.
“As president, Romney couldn’t go there, let alone anywhere else, without Secret Service,” Ravitz wrote. “So if he wanted to go, would he be able to? Even Secret Service agents would be turned away from the temple without the right access card.”
Randall Balmer, chair of the Department of Religion at Dartmouth College, told Ravitz that finding qualified agents would be easy.
“It’s well-known that the CIA, FBI and, by extension, he said he assumes, the Secret Service recruit at LDS Church-run Brigham Young University,” Ravitz reported of her conversation with Balmer. “All these agencies, Balmer said, are ‘looking for people who are good, loyal, patriotic Americans,’ and many Latter-day Saints, who believe in the divinity of the U.S. Constitution, fit that bill.”