Category Archives: Election

Before politics, Mitt Romney was a Mormon bishop

Peggy Fletcher Stack
Religion News Service

Former Governor Mitt Romney speaking at CPAC FL in Orlando, Florida. RNS photo by Gage Skidmore

The Mitt Romney whom many Americans see today is often depicted as wealthy, wooden and out of touch with the working class. To some, he seems gaffe prone, detached, even distant.

But that’s not the man Boston Mormons knew in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when many saw him as an eloquent speaker, a compassionate counselor and a creative problem-solver, generous with his money and quick to help any in need.

Are the two guys related?

While Romney was building his career at Bain Capital, he was also a Mormon bishop (equivalent to a pastor) and a stake president (presiding over several area congregations) in suburban Belmont, Mass.

Because the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no paid clergy, Mormon men take turns overseeing wards (congregations) and regional stakes while continuing their full-time careers.

As a religious leader, Romney met weekly with students, teachers, immigrant converts and Utah transplants. He had to learn how to give sermons, advise squabbling couples, organize worship services, manage budgets and address the diverse spiritual needs of more than 1,000 Mormons in the region.

By most accounts, Romney was a good listener, a measured thinker and an innovative manager who considered various positions before making decisions. He was occasionally willing to work around bureaucratic edicts from Salt Lake City, such as allowing divorced men to continue in their leadership positions.

When LDS Family Services refused to place a baby with Brett and Janna Sorensen because Janna planned to return to work, Romney backed the couple. Eventually, the policy against adoptions for working moms changed.

To most members, Bishop Romney was pragmatic and open.

Given Romney’s experience in the working world, friends say, he was attracted to competence. He chose men with keen expertise as his two counselors in the stake presidency.

“I don’t think Mitt cares whether people are male or female, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, old or young,” said Helen Claire Sievers, director of the WorldTeach program housed at Harvard, “but he really cares about their competency.”

Romney was “comfortable in his skin,” recalled Philip Barlow, an expert on Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, who was one of Bishop Romney’s counselors. The future Republican front-runner even showed off his “moon-walking” skills one day, gliding backward in a smooth imitation of Michael Jackson.

Like some Mormon leaders, insiders say, Romney could be insistent on the rightness of his position. He was used to dictating actions, then having the members raise their hands in support. That didn’t work so well with feminists.

The insiders also say that although sometimes progressive in his approach to women’s issues, Romney nonetheless was a product of the church’s male culture of the time. He didn’t initially believe, for example, that there were cases of physical or sexual abuse of women in his stake, though plenty of evidence pointed to it.

As a young bishop, Romney got word that Carroll Shelton, a woman in his ward, was considering an abortion. This was Shelton’s sixth pregnancy. She was in her 40s, had four teenage children and had developed medical complications. Her stake president had already approved the procedure when Romney arrived at the hospital and forcefully counseled her against it.

Peggie Hayes, a single woman with a child, was in Romney’s ward when she became pregnant. She alleges that Romney threatened her with excommunication if she didn’t put up the baby for adoption, Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman write in their book “The Real Romney.”

“Give up your son,” was the message Hayes said she got from Romney, “or give up your God.”

Romney has denied the story, and Ronald Scott, author of the recent “Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics,” doubts it happened that way.

“Local members do not recall a single person who was excommunicated or disfellowshipped while Mitt served as president of a stake that probably has as many religiously rococo and fiercely independent academics, writers and thinkers as any in the church,” Scott said.

Besides, Scott noted, threatening excommunication like that would have been against the rules — and Romney was a rule-follower.

Mormon women in Boston still talk about an extraordinary 1993 meeting Romney called to address the women of the stake. One by one, the more than 250 women called out their issues while he stood at the front with three pads labeled: policies we can’t change, practices we can change, and things we can consider.

“I was really surprised,” Sievers said. “He implemented every single suggestion that I would have.”

Not long after Grant Bennett fell off a ladder and broke his foot while trying to dislodge a hornet’s nest outside his second-story bedroom, Romney came to offer sympathy and show Bennett a smarter way to deal with the festering insects — from inside.

Before Doug Anderson had even finished getting family out of his burning house, Romney showed up with a brigade of neighbors to salvage beloved belongings from the remains.

Barlow, from Utah State, does not support Romney’s politics but believes his former bishop has been unfairly caricatured in the press.

Asking the candidate to “appear more informal is ironically asking him to become less authentic so that he can appear as more authentic,” he said. “We ought to allow him to be who he is and make our judgment on that basis.”

Tony Kimball, who served as executive secretary during Romney’s stint as stake president, saw Romney as “very warm and outgoing.” Although some Mormon feminists back then nicknamed Romney “the plastic man,” that wasn’t Kimball’s experience.

Even so, “the hard-line profile he seems to be pushing is light-years away from where he was when he was stake president.” In this current incarnation, Kimball said, “I have absolutely no clue who this guy is.”

Read SpokaneFAVS contributor Diane Kipp’s related post “Romney knows reality of poverty”

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup: Romney does less bad, Springsteen’s Catholicism, Orthodox abuse

By David Gibson
Religion News Service

As the Jewish victims in the French school shooting were being buried in Israel,police in France laid siege to the house of the suspect, a 24-year-old Islamic militant claiming ties to Al Qaeda.

French Jews and Muslims grapple for answers.

Mitt Romney won big in Illinois last night, and did less bad with conservatives and evangelicals than he has before. He did a lot better than the first Mormon to run for president did in Illinois, a state he didn’t leave alive.

So Romney’s good now, right? Please? CBN’sDavid Brody is already warning Mitt that he has to do more to win evangelical hearts and minds or it’ll be a “hold your nose” vote in the fall: “A standard evangelical turnout won’t do the trick for Romney.”

Illinois was considered a “must win” for Rick Santorum to remain viable. So now it’s on to Santorum’s next “must win,” Louisiana – which he could actually win, despite attempting todistance himself from the rather controversial remarks of Pastor Dennis Terry at a Baptist church service Santorum attended.

Read full post here.

Evangelicals voting in record numbers in GOP primaries

By David Gibson
Religion News Service

Rick Santorum speaks in Spokane/Tracy Simmons -

Making up half of Republican primary voters, evangelicals appear to be turning out to support Rick Santorum’s resurgent campaign in record numbers and are increasingly influencing the shape of the party.

Perhaps just as important, conservative Christians are increasing their crucial financial support and volunteer hours as Santorum tries to keep his momentum heading into Tuesday’s (March 20) Illinois primary.

According to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, headed by longtime evangelical political activist Ralph Reed, evangelical Christians account for just over 50 percent of the turnout so far in the Republican primaries, the highest rate ever and a significant increase over the 44 percent evangelical voting rate in 2008.

Moreover, Santorum has won a third of those votes, compared to Mitt Romney’s 29.74 percent and Newt Gingrich’s 29.65 percent.

Faith and Freedom based its analysis on the entrance and exit polling data from 16 primaries and caucuses. The data show that some 4.29 million evangelical Christian voters have cast ballots so far — or 50.53 percent of the 8.49 million total votes cast.

Reed said the turnout is up across the board, and not just in the South, where conservative Christians helped deliver a two-state primary sweep of Alabama and Mississippi to Santorum last Tuesday.

“Conservative people of faith are playing a larger role in shaping the contours and affecting the trajectory of the Republican presidential nomination contest than at any time since they began pouring out of the pews and into the precincts in the late 1970s,” Reed said.

They are also putting their money where their values are.

Santorum is collecting nearly half of his donations from donors who gave less than $200, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission filings by the Campaign Finance Institute — a higher percentage than any of his Republican rivals.

And while Santorum has trailed his rivals in overall fundraising, he may be catching up fast. Politico reported that Santorum raised $9 million in February compared to Romney’s $11.5 million, Santorum’s best month yet.

Santorum’s campaign also said that in the wake of Southern primary victories, Santorum raised $1 million over a 24-hour period through a grass-roots “money bomb” drive. That is in addition to some $1.8 million pledged by wealthy conservatives, many of them evangelical Christians, at a Santorum fundraiser on March 9 in Houston.

The Susan B. Anthony List also announced on Thursday that it would move its bus tour and mobilization effort for Santorum to Illinois — the kind of “on the ground” efforts that have brought Christian conservatives out for Santorum and upended the predictions of polls and pundits.

“I think there has been a long-term political impact beyond the endorsements” of big-name Christian leaders, said John Green, an expert on religious voting patterns at the University of Akron in Ohio.

Green likened the evangelical support for Santorum to black voters in the 2008 Democratic primaries, who initially backed Hillary Clinton but coalesced around President Obama once he took Iowa and got on a roll.

“There is a pent-up demand for a certain kind of candidate, but that candidate has to demonstrate that they can win,” said Green. Big endorsements, he said, act as a kind of “pump primer” to get voters — in Santorum’s case, Christian conservatives — ready to jump on board.

Whether that can carry Santorum to a win in Illinois on Tuesday is uncertain. The former Pennsylvania senator is close behind Romney in most polls, and Illinois’ downstate Republicans tend to be conservative Christians like those in the deep South.

Ironically, Santorum would get a huge boost by doing something he has not yet done: win the votes of his fellow Catholics. Santorum is often mistaken for an evangelical by GOP voters; a recent Pew Forum survey showed that among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, just 42 percent of Catholics know that Santorum is himself Catholic.

But as James Warren wrote in The Atlantic, Santorum graduated from a Catholic high school in Illinois, Carmel High School outside Chicago. That could give him a leg up in Obama’s home state, and a critical win over Mitt Romney.

“A Santorum victory in Obamaland next week would be stunning — but it wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise,” Warren said.

Political commentator coming to Whitworth

By Tracy Simmons

Three weeks before Americans vote in the 2012 presidential election, Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist George F. Will will share his insights into the election and the country’s political landscape at Whitworth University‘s annual President’s Leadership Breakfast.


“George Will’s appearance will provide up-to-the-minute commentary on the upcoming general election, and I’m sure people will appreciate his thoughtful and experienced perspectives,” said Whitworth President Beck A. Taylor.

The signature Leadership Breakfast series brings  speakers who represent a broad range of voices, perspectives and ideas to Spokane. According to a press release, Whitworth faculty and staff are confident that Christian worldviews and the ideas of Christian thinkers are sharpened by rigorous and open intellectual inquiry and by engagement with the broadest spectrum of thought.

“This confidence motivates Whitworth to lead the way in inviting speakers to Spokane who can help our community engage in critical and careful thinking, civil discourse and effective action,” the release read.

Will is a widely read columnist, known mostly for his conservative commentary. His newspaper column has been syndicated by The Washington Post since 1974, and it appears twice weekly in roughly 400 newspapers in the U.S. and Europe.

The breakfast is sponsored by U.S. Bank and will be held at 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 16 at the Spokane Convention Center. Tickets go on sale this spring. For information call at (509) 777-4250.

Santorum is not the best Christianity has to offer

By Contributor Sam Fletcher

Sam Fletcher

Last week, I attended Rick Santorum’s rally in Spokane Valley as one of a few protestors, a mixed group of Occupy Spokane and local clergy standing up for liberal, pro-humanity values. This article is partially a critique of Santorum, but I’d like to use his values as a springboard to talk about what values would be better than Santorum’s, and the conservative right in general.

At the rally, Santorum offered a philosophical dead end that decried science, education, climate change and values that affirm freedom and enfranchisement of all Americans regardless of gender, creed or income status. In other venues he has called for an end to the separation of church and state, an end to contraception and a hostile stance against the Middle East. He has even spoken against couples enjoying sex for more than procreation.

Santorum, deeply committed to his own faith, may be one of the most extreme in his views, but he is certainly not alone. As a liberal Christian, I think Christian values can contribute greatly to informing and shaping a better society for everyone, without succumbing to the compulsion to dominate and dictate. I believe it is an opportunity and a calling to a new generation of Christian leaders.

Rick Santorum speaks at New Life Church/Tracy Simmons

The tide is already turning, of course, and the conservative “establishment” is painfully aware of it. I believe the vicious return of culture warriors is partially due to the fact that the establishment was not successful in passing its values to the youngest generations, and is fighting a last-resort war, which will be followed by their long, slow decline. Younger generations of America need a plan in place as the cultural shift nears completion.

I invite you to consider my proposals for some of the values that characterize good society.

We will be social. Not as in socialism, but as in social life. In contrast to the “each man is his castle” ideals of libertarians and the GOP presidential candidates, we need to relearn that the only sources of happiness are others. Science shows the only true, lasting happiness comes from a state of connectedness and community with others — not money or material goods. Infrastructural changes such as demolishing sparsely populated areas of urban and (increasingly) suburban blight and rebuilding them into denser areas with integrated areas of local business and local food production would help people not only psychologically and economically, but environmentally as well.

The challenges to overcome are the fear of each other that has been instilled into us for the last half a century; and the fear of “dangerous” ideas. In America, we have given up dense, urban housing and communities for spread-out, walled off enclaves. We have given up dialectal discourse for intellectual echo chambers. Let’s get back to a healthy village life, even if only because it makes us happier and more tolerant.

Our foreign policy will be development, not war. Like many others on the right, Santorum has called for war on Iran, and promoted the idea we are, as a nation, more in danger of foreign threats than ever before. This is simply an egregious factual error. We are actually in a more peaceful time than ever before. Our foreign policy needs to change — and fast — to accommodate this new reality. We simply do not need large, expensive power projection anymore. Let’s spend the money developing resources that advance trade, education and infrastructure such as sewers, banking and clean food and water. This will make us safer. In the words of Jesus, those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. Let’s spend that $700 billion military budget on something more life-affirming and productive.

We will value education as a currency, and a healthy habitat as wealth. Santorum, Sarah Palin and others on the extreme right have publicly decried education as some sort of corrupting influence on our populace. Quite to the contrary, education is the one thing of value that can never be taken from someone who has it. Education not only affords a better living to individuals, it drives a sustainable, innovative and agile economy. Education also helps to inoculate people against charlatans and demagogues (perhaps why Santorum is so outspoken against it). Think of what life would be like if the uneducated were considered “poor” and the educated considered “wealthy”? With nothing but knowledge to impart, how easy would it be to advance one’s own “wealth portfolio”?

Education is not the only “alternative wealth” we have. Clean air and water, green places and a healthy climate are also valuable to us, and we are rapidly losing them. Christians should reclaim the value of caring for creation, not exploiting it.

We will uphold healthy sexual norms. Folks, it’s time for this. The recent debate over whether contraception should be available to all women, and the resultant “slut shaming” (or, shaming of all women) by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, has highlighted a long-standing injustice. Christians have sadly promulgated much of it. In the good society, sex is a part of life, to be enjoyed and celebrated in healthy, loving relationships. This isn’t to imply the necessity of sex only in marriage, heterosexuality, and sex for the sole purpose of procreation. Those values demonstrate their impracticality by the simple fact that so few practice them. Sex is a biological need, as much as hunger, thirst, shelter and activity. It’s not really an optional thing, and in striving to encourage overall health in our citizens, we need to allow consenting adults to live out their sexual lives in dignity and respect. This includes allowing homosexuals to enjoy the same marriage rights as straight couples.

All human behavior can be subject to pathologies and sex is no exception. But it is time to treat the pathologies and problems with science, compassion, experi and understanding instead of shame and taboo.

We will remember that Earth does not exist for the shareholders. Perhaps this is the most important item on this list. God did not create the world so that the rich may profiteer from its abundance (in fact, Jesus said the rich will have a hard time in the kingdom of heaven.) We are alive on this planet so that we may be happy. Not happy from material things — happy because of experiences, sharing and connections to others. If we look at things this way, money and material goods serve their purpose but are not the overwhelming goal of all existence.

Rick Santorum’s secret army: home-schoolers

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

Rick Santorum signs his autograph for supporters in Spokane Valley/Tracy Simmons -

Strapped for cash and paid staff, Rick Santorum has enlisted a ragtag but politically potent army to keep his campaign afloat: home-schoolers.

Heading into Super Tuesday (March 6), Santorum is urging home-schoolers to organize rallies, to post favorable features on social media and to ring doorbells on his behalf.

“Santorum has been very aggressive in reaching out to the home-schooling community, especially in the last month,” said Rebecca Keliher, the CEO and publisher of Home Educating Family Publishing.

Drawing on his experience as a home-schooling father of seven, the former Pennsylvania senator has also sought to rally enthusiasm by pledging to continue that course in the White House.

“It’s a great sacrifice that my wife, Karen, and I have made to try to give what we think is the best possible opportunity for our children to be successful,” Santorum said during a March 1 campaign stop in Georgia. “Not just economically, but in a whole lot of other areas that we think are important — virtue and character and spirituality.”

Rallying home-schoolers could provide a huge boost to Santorum’s bare-bones campaign. The tightly knit and predominantly Christian communities are famous for furnishing favored candidates with hundreds of steadfast foot soldiers. Studies show that home-schoolers are disproportionately likely to vote, donate and volunteer for campaigns.

“When they find someone who gives credence to the fact that they home-school, they tend to be very loyal and active and engaged,” said Keliher, a home-schooling mother of five in Nashville, Tenn. Many are motivated by the unwelcome prospect of seeing home-schooling critics elected to office.

An estimated 2 million children are home-educated in the U.S., according to Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute. Nearly three-quarters have conservative Christian parents who seek to instill the moral and religious values that they believe are lacking in public schools, according to Ray and other experts.

Despite their growing diversity, home-schoolers also tend to be politically conservative.

“They have an army of volunteers when they want to get behind a candidate,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader, a conservative group in Iowa. “They’re great at door knocking, stuffing mailers and phone calling. They are really the feet on the ground.”

Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said Santorum staffers believe home educators have already provided a “huge” lift to his insurgent campaign. The Santorum campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Farris, a leader in the home-schooling movement, said he will not endorse a candidate during the GOP primary, but he has praised Santorum profusely “for his stalwart defense of life, marriage, and the rights of parents.”

Home-schooling families often use campaigns as real-world civics lessons, with mothers taking their children along on afternoons as they make calls and volunteer at campaign headquarters, Keliher said.

“And you have triple or quadruple the effort when they bring the children,” she added.

Santorum is getting several times that effort with the Duggars, one of the country’s most famous — and largest — home-schooling families. The reality TV stars and their brood of 19 children have been stumping for Santorum across the country in a campaign-style bus.

Like the Duggars, many home-schoolers say Santorum’s staunch opposition to abortion and gay marriage is as important as his experience in home education.

“It’s his willingness to speak up for what’s true and not back down,” said William Estrada, the HSLDA’s federal lobbyist.

Estrada has endorsed Santorum in his private capacity and is helping his campaign network with home-schoolers in Super Tuesday states.

Estrada also runs the HSLDA’s Generation Joshua program for teenagers. A recent post on the group’s blog portrayed “Sir Santorum” as a gallant knight preparing to battle the “Knight of Washington.”

But not all home-schoolers support Santorum. Many have a strong independent streak and favor Texas congressman Ron Paul. “One of the reasons people home-school is they don’t want anyone, especially the government, telling them what to do,” Keliher said.

Some home-schoolers also take issue with Santorum’s Senate vote for the No Child Left Behind Act, which increased federal oversight of local schools.

Others accuse Santorum of enrolling his children in a public cyberschool and sticking Pennsylvania taxpayers with the bill while he lived in Virginia from 2001-2004.

“In spite of all of his rhetoric about the evils of public schooling, Santorum had his children enrolled in a public school but called it ‘home-school,'” Catherine Dreher, a home-schooling mother in St. Charles, Mo., wrote on her blog, “The Tiny Libertarian.”

Still, many home-schoolers see Santorum as the more viable candidate, and have begun rallying to his side in large numbers, said Bruce Eagleson of the National Alliance of Christian Home Education Leadership.

“The key for a candidate is to excite the imagination of home-schoolers,” Eagleson said. “And Santorum has taken charge on that.”

Romney knows realities of poverty

By Contributor Diane Kipp

Diane Kipp

The TV in my bathroom, there so I can be entertained during the boring tasks of hair drying and makeup application, is often set to CNN, where I currently watch the soap opera-like Days of Our Republican Presidential Candidate Hopefuls.  This has led me to an observation about Mormon bishops, which may be relevant to the one person who is a Republican presidential candidate and a (former) Mormon bishop. I do not know said candidate (Mitt Romney) personally and am not endorsing him politically; I am merely making an observation I suspect applies to him.

Conventional wisdom says a rich person cannot understand poorer people and their specific challenges.  While I agree most of us do not really, truly get anything unless we’ve experienced it, it is possible to gain a certain depth of understanding through vicarious life experiences. And I believe for most Mormon bishops, bishoping (a verb I just made up; if you say it to another Mormon, s/he’ll look surprised) gives them some genuine understanding of what it means to be poor.

Mormon bishops are shepherds to their congregational flocks and they have an active and anxious regard for the flock’s well being; helping those who are in financial distress is a prime responsibility. Members who need help obtaining food, housing, employment, money for utilities, etc. meet personally with the bishop. He evaluates their needs, provides appropriate help through the church’s welfare system or through the congregational community, and helps them learn to help themselves. All humans tend to love those they serve (it’s a magic formula) and bishops love their congregations, especially the struggling members who need their help the most.  It’s impossible for a bishop not to have a fairly personal, up-close idea of what it’s like, on a very practical level, to be poor.

Mitt Romney is a former Mormon bishop/Wikipedia photo

This concept generally applies, to a lesser degree, to all Mormons.  Mormon congregations are close communities; virtually all members who attend church regularly are active participants.  We teach each other, perform service together, spend time in each others’ homes as visiting teachers and home teachers (more on that another time), and lend active support during health issues, unemployment, child rearing, death, divorce  — all the challenges of life.  So even those who are financially comfortable-to-wealthy are closely linked to fellow congregation members who are struggling, or worse, financially.

This description of Mormon congregations and Mormon bishops is probably very similar to that of any ecclesiastical leader and his/her congregation or community. My point is not that Mormons are special this way, my point is simply that anyone who has been a Mormon bishop probably has a surprisingly intimate and accurate idea of what it means to be truly poor. Even a very wealthy former bishop, even one whose wife drives two Cadillacs and who can be his own worst foot-in-mouth enemy, is likely not the isolated, “unacquainted with the realities of poverty” person that many assume him to be.