the larger project of Romney’s “speech”
… “In the 1980s, however, superconservative Evangelicals turned their attention to Mormon theology,” writes Jan Shipps in a Christian Science Monitor article titled What made Romney’s big speech so Mormon; His tent vision fits his church’s bid to enter the religious mainstream …
Along with some articulate ex-Mormons, they tried to convince the world that Mormonism is a cult whose members are not Christian.
In response, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) added “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” as a subtitle to the Book of Mormon. And the church changed its logo to place more emphasis on the Jesus Christ part of its name. Additionally, Christendom’s founding stories became standard fare in virtually all materials published by the church.
For well over a half century, common cause in Christ has been the leitmotif in the Mormon song to Protestant and Roman Catholic America. It was heard again in Romney’s speech. “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind,” he declared. Going further, the candidate moved beyond his own faith tradition to envision a capacious religious tent.
The tent image is familiar in Mormon circles. Local Mormon congregations (known as wards) are gathered into stakes “in Zion’s tent.” Lay clerics serve as the bishops (pastors) of Mormon wards; lay clerics who administer Mormon stakes are called stake presidents.
Romney has served his church both as bishop and stake president. As a husband, father of five sons, and rising star in the corporate world, he became very familiar with the formidable multitasking that such church callings involve. That means he is very familiar with the stakes in the tent of Zion metaphor. Romney did not use this particular expression Thursday. But the notion of Zion’s tent was manifested in his description of a religious tent supported by a Catholic stake; Evangelical and Pentecostal stakes; a Lutheran (hence Protestant mainstream) stake; a Jewish stake; and even a Muslim stake. Naturally, his Zionic pavilion has a place for Mormons, as well as for all the faith communities that are a part of the Abrahamic tradition.
In fashioning this image, Romney positioned the LDS church as a part of the American religious mainstream as well as an important stake in Zion’s tent. This is smart politics, both for Romney and for his church. And it’s a long way from the “one true church” talk of the 1830s.
Shipps locates Romney’s “speech”—both in its argument and in its line—within the LDS church’s project of drawing itself into the American religious mainstream … etc.
Romney’s co-religionists agree:
“Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) — Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion is enough of an obstacle for him among some voters that the Republican presidential candidate was prompted to give a much- advertised speech on faith last week,” writes Jonathan D. Salant in an article for bloomberg.com titled Romney’s Campaign Motivates Fellow Mormons to Dip Into Pockets
There is one area, however, where the former Massachusetts governor’s religious affiliation gives him an important advantage: money. Fellow Mormons are pouring millions into his candidacy and promoting his campaign.
Residents of Utah, where members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are a majority of the population, donated $4.5 million to Romney’s campaign in the first nine months of the year. That’s almost as much as the $5.4 million that Utahans gave to all federal candidates and the political parties during the 2004 presidential campaign.
Interviews with Romney’s Mormon contributors show that their common faith is an important element of their support.
“He was a leader in the church. Those people are really trusted and full of integrity,” said lawyer Chad Taylor of Arlington, Virginia, who has set up a Web site to promote Romney’s campaign. “In that sense, it makes me have a little bit of an insight into him.”
David Alvord, a dentist from South Jordan, Utah, said that in addition to agreeing with Romney’s positions, he believes his candidacy will help clear up misconceptions about Mormons.
“When people see that our president has one wife, they can no longer wonder, `Are Mormons polygamous?”’ Alvord, keeper of a blog about Romney, said … etc.
Our conclusion: if Romney issues theological claims and pursues the larger Mormon project using the GOP as his instrument—as Romney himself admits—then it follows that close and intense discussions of the Mormon confession are relevant to any consideration of the Romney candidacy or its positions.
Romney himself has opened the door.