Romney’s Mainstreaming Impulse

Posted by on Oct 17, 2012 in General | 1 comment

I was on the edge of my seat for much of last night’s town hall debate between President Obama and Governor Romney. Aside from the moment or two where I feared (or hoped?) the embroiled discussion would devolve to fisticuffs, my favorite moment of the night came during Gov. Romney’s answer to the final question, on what he considered to be Americans’ biggest misconceptions of him as a person:

“My — my passion probably flows from the fact that I believe in God. And I believe we’re all children of the same God. I believe we have a responsibility to care for one another. I — I served as a missionary for my church. I served as a pastor in my congregation for about 10 years. I’ve sat across the table from people who were out of work and worked with them to try and find new work or to help them through tough times.”

I had been hoping Gov. Romney would mention his faith.  I’m always interested in the tension– seen both in institutional discourse and the narratives of LDS faithful– between differentiating and mainstreaming Mormonism from broader constructions of hegemonic, mainstream Christianity (noted scholar Armaund Mauss calls it retrenchment and assimilation; Terryl Givens clarifies it as a tension resulting from LDS constructs of election and exile).  In practice, this means that while the LDS Church’s raison d’etat is its claim to be the Restoration of Christ’s gospel necessitated by the apostasy of other Christian churches, often the Church downplays its elect status for pragmatic reasons– historically, to avoid persecution; more recently, as most LDS converts are acquired from another Christian denomination, as a marketing strategy (see “I’m a Mormon”).

So it makes sense — historically as well as pragmatically — for Gov. Romney to lean toward mainstreaming when he discusses his faith in the context of a national political contest. The excerpt above (which I’m fairly confident was his only reference to his Mormon faith in last night’s debate) sounds like any committed American Christian, and obfuscates the differences between  Mormonism and other Christian denominations. Gov. Romney’s belief that “we’re all children of the same God” is quite literal: Mormons believe in a preexistence where all people existed as spirit children of Heavenly Parents. But the statement itself is an ecumenical one that many Christians of various persuasions would assent to; in fact, Romney stated in the previous debate “We’re a nation that believes that we’re all children of the same God”.  Few Americans — even among the nonreligious– would likely disagree with the implied sentiment behind the rhetoric, e.g., the “brotherhood of mankind” (or… siblinghood of humankind?  Sheesh.).

Romney’s missionary past is remarkable for a political candidate, to be sure, and is perhaps the most distinctly Mormon-flavored statement of the night.  Of course, many Protestants and Catholics serve short-term missions in their youth, as well.  And any Mormonness highlighted by his missionary service is dampened by his next statement of pastoral service.  “Pastor” isn’t even the correct emic term, but of course that was intentional; the Mormon term “bishop” sounds liturgical, formal, even Catholic; and decidedly out of step with the Evangelical base Gov. Romney’s relying on.

With only weeks left in this contentious campaign season, my  money’s on a continued mainstreaming impulse in Romney’s political discourse; but will Obama’s campaign use Romney’s faith to marginalize the opposition?

1 Comment

  1. Do you think Romney hopes that America will forget his Mormon status? How does the Mormon leadership play a role in future votes on his part? Is he subject to a Mormon “pope”?
    what do we as Christians have to fear from him?
    Should we vote for Obama?

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