Ross Douthat is troubled that Mitt Romney has not made his Mormon faith more central to his campaign. This passage is certainly hard to dispute:
If Romney were a Presbyterian, Methodist or Jew, this would be an obvious part of his campaign narrative. Like George W. Bush’s midlife conversion or Barack Obama’s tale of “race and inheritance,” Romney’s years as a bishop would be woven into a biography that emphasized his piety and decency, introducing Americans to the Romney who shut down his business to hunt for a colleague’s missing daughter, the Romney who helped build a memorial park when a friend’s son died of cystic fibrosis, the Romney who lent money to renters to help them buy a house he owned, and so on down a list of generous gestures and good deeds.
No doubt! If that’s all there was to it — if Romney’s relationship to his church was truly so anodyne — than he surely would have little to fear by discussing it. But I suspect his hesitation is justified. Were voters were made aware of, say, Romney’s role as president of the Boston stake — well, they just might be uneasy.
Justin Elliott did the spade work on Romney’s decades-ago tenure as bishop of his Belmont, MA congregation “and then as president of the Boston stake of the church, which has been described as the equivalent of a Catholic diocese.”
Elliott recounts a number of unpleasant episodes, any of which could conceivably turn off undecided voters and moderates. For example:
Romney urged church member and divorcee Peggie Hayes to give up her newborn son for adoption, in keeping with church policy against children being raised by single mothers.
“He told me he was a representative of the church and by refusing I was failing to comply with the church’s wishes and I could be excommunicated,” Hayes told the Boston Globe during the ’94 campaign, adding:
“He was saying that because [my son] Dane didn’t have a Mormon father in the home and because of the circumstances of his birth — being born to a single mother — then the expectation of the church was that I give him up for adoption to the church agency so he could be raised by a Mormon couple in good standing.”
Not exactly an inspirational story, and Romney is wise to sidestep it. But as it happens, with Paul Ryan on the ticket Romney may have no choice but address some of these episodes. Voters will soon learn that Ryan is an extremist, not just on economic issues but also social issues (“He believes ending a pregnancy should be illegal even when it results from rape or incest, or endangers a woman’s health.”). I imagine they will want to know just how much daylight exists between the two men, and those long-ago stories may provide some answers.