I belong to a current events discussion group. Once a week, we get together in the back room of a bar and talk about the week’s news. It’s generally non-partisan — they are an international and politically diverse group united largely by the fact that they all read several news sources a day, mostly in several languages. Many work or have worked as diplomats.
A few weeks ago, we were talking about the American presidential race. One participant turned to me and said, ‘As a Mormon, what can you tell us about Romney that is hard to understand otherwise?’ (Of course everyone knows I’m Mormon as I sip my Coke Zeros in the presence of beer and cider enthusiasts week after week.)
It’s a tempting question, and in a way was meant as a gift: in the group, the opportunity to explain the inexplicable from an informed position is rare and coveted. But I drew a complete blank.
The trouble is this: Romney’s Mormonism doesn’t explain him to me in any way whatsoever. I suppose his tendency to espouse conservative positions makes him seem more like the High Priests in my dad’s ward, but that’s less his Mormonism and more the state of the Republican Party.
I’ve watched the campaign fairly carefully, and I’ve consciously watched Romney for some sort of General Conference cadence or a Build Relationships of Trust moment, but at no moment have I uttered, ‘Ah!’ or ‘O-ho!’ and given my computer screen a knowing wink.
I’m not casting any aspersions on Romney’s status as a Mormon, and I’m sure that if I met Brother Romney in the right circumstances we would trade Mormonisms in typical foyer-speak, but I’m not getting anything clear on my Mormon radar.
It would probably be pretty easy to cobble together a bit of punditry. Take, for instance, Romney’s defiant refusal to release his tax returns. His ‘I have nothing to hide so I won’t show you anything’ position might seem roughly parallel to the stance the church takes on its own dealings and history from time to time. I can see that, and it’s a tempting piece of fruit, just hanging there. But really, is that Mormonism? In my experience, does the institutional tendency toward secrecy really trickle down into the lives of the members? I’m not talking about the temple or anything: are Mormons as a general group of people worldwide more likely to refuse to share information about themselves or the work that they do? Do I?
Romney has lots of experiences that might have created his sense that he need not explain himself in this manner: being the son of a public figure, working in the highest levels of the world of finance, being involved with a public event like the Olympics. And to what extent is that decision even his own rather than his advisors?
It’s entirely possible that Mormonism, despite its conspicuous cultural and lifestyle markers, does not define our lives as much as we might think. Maybe it is one element of what makes us who we appear to be in our workaday lives, but only one element, and not always the most significant.