Mitt Romney and the Politics of Passing

Stuart Parker is a postdoctoral fellow with the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He holds a PhD in History from the University of Toronto where he wrote a dissertation entitled, “History As Seen Through Seerstones: Mormon Understandings of the Past, 1890-2000” to be published by Greg Kofford Books. Active in Canadian politics (and a former Green Party leader, the youngest in its history) Stuart is also a former Bushman Fellow at BYU for the Joseph Smith Summer Seminar of 2007.

A recent article, only slightly hyperbolically, characterized Mitt Romney as follows: “Mitt Romney, though, is an insult even to the process of being insulted—a giant, grainy Xerox of a forgery of a human being. The problem voters have with him isn’t that he’s fake; it’s that he’s inauthentically fake…The fakeness is Romney’s all the way down, layers of opaque lacquered bullshit poured onto plexiglass or Lucite or another unnatural transparency.”

I want to suggest, perhaps uncomfortably for some, that Romney’s palpable fakeness arises from his Mormon identity. This is not to generalize his deceptiveness to all Mormons or even to make the case that there is something about Mormonism that magnifies personal inauthenticity. Instead, I want to suggest, that the times and places Romney has found himself in the course of his career have interacted with his Mormonism to produce this uniquely stiff, robotic disingenuousness. As Matthew Bowman has pointed out elsewhere, none of Romney’s stiff, unnatural deportment was evident in fellow LDS GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.

Bowman is very much on the right track in identifying the difference between the two men’s style and deportment as being generational. But whereas Bowman’s piece concentrated on generational differences within the LDS, I would suggest that we might gain more understanding by casting our eyes to generational differences within the larger US culture within which Mormonism is situated.

Although a generation younger, Romney shares something important with my great aunt Connie that may help us to make sense of his startling inauthenticity. The daughter of a black father and a white mother, Connie was abandoned by her mother in the early 1930s after the death of her father and was sent away to reform school. Reform school didn’t just separate Connie from her family; it taught her a number of skills that enabled her to become a professional woman and work as a telephone operator in Chicago, where she lived in a white neighbourhood. In other words, reform school taught my aunt Connie to act white, to take advantage of the improbably white skin that she and I shared, to “pass.”

Many of us today think that the phenomenon of racial passing, which remained a significant black social strategy into the 1980s (and persists today in pockets), was held in place by Jim Crow state laws and corporate policies. But the reality is that passing, concealing one’s membership in a subaltern or underprivileged group, was woven into the cultural fabric of America for more than a century following the Civil War. And that, as America’s most successful gerontocracy, this culture has persisted longer in the LDS Church than elsewhere.

Thomas Monson and his quorum of apostles are not much younger than my great aunt. They too came from a time when passing was an important part of American life. Passing for white was just the riskiest and most rewarding form of passing; until not long ago, passing for straight was common, as was passing for Christian. Jews barred admission to universities passed for white Christians; gay Americans settled down and married people of the opposite sex. Mormons, who academics have variously described as a colonized people, an incipient ethnicity, and a non-Christian religion had as many reasons to pass as anyone and, from the days of resisting federal anti-polygamy policies, they had a cultural tradition of “lying for the Lord” that gave them excellent equipment for passing successfully.

The wave of racial persecution that swept the South following the collapse of Congressional Reconstruction was contemporaneous with the crescendo of anti-polygamy persecution in the Intermountain West. And I would argue that LDS culture responded more self-consciously and thoroughly in adopting passing as a social strategy in the Gilded Age than did black or Jewish Americans. While black and Jewish passing was common, Mormon passing was more systematic.

Passing was not about barefacedly lying about one’s racial, sexual or confessional identity. If things reached the point where one was being questioned about such things, you had already failed to pass. To pass was to so perfectly fit the mold of an upstanding white/straight/Christian American that it would not occur to anyone to even suspect that you were passing. Passing was not about lying in response to questions; it was about conducting oneself in such a way that difficult questions of identity would never be asked, that one’s Christianity or whiteness was a self-evident truth. Populated, as it is by people much like Romney, educated men with prestigious degrees from eastern universities, selected for their business (as opposed to theological) acumen, today’s Mormon decision-making elite is filled of men who have spent significant portions of their lives passing in order to achieve their financial and educational success.

It is for this reason that we see ongoing efforts by Mormons to prove themselves just like their evangelical neighbours and sometime allies. Beginning with Joseph Fielding Smith’s realignment of the LDS with the creationist movement in the 1920s, Mormons elites have sought to pass among conservative evangelicals by immediately joining the next bandwagon to round the corner, hoping that by being more shrill and vehement in their performance of conservative religiosity than Christian fundamentalists, they could blend in with the angry mobs denouncing evolution, communism, miscegenation or gay marriage.

But until his recent alignment with religious conservatism over the past five years, Romney was engaged in a subtler and far less shrill form of passing, the kind that involves strategically segregating one’s social spheres so that Family Home Evening never overlaps with the Board of Trade breakfast meeting, so that one is just the guy who happens not to drink for health reasons when the hiring committee takes an applicant out for drinks. It is this kind of passing that has taken place in the nation’s board rooms, universities and professional conferences that shaped Romney and the Mormon success stories of his generation, the kind that involves extra care to conceal one’s temple garments when changing at the health club.

Bowman speaks of Huntsman moving with ease as a Mormon through a non-Mormon world, an ease that Romney repeatedly tries to convey and fails to. No matter how relaxed one’s exterior, someone who has passed for decades is never really at ease; there is a vigilance to many successful passers that can never be fully disguised. That stated, passing is never a wholly conscious process – because those who pass are more successful than those who do not, many inevitably internalize the host culture’s discriminatory beliefs. Thus, many black people who passed came to believe that the whiteness of one’s skin was a proxy for virtue and competence; their own lives were testimony to this self-evident truth. The vigilance we associate with passing is as much about remembering that one is not straight, white or Christian even as one internalizes the superiority of these identities as it is about remembering to act straight, white or Christian.

Conservative evangelicals are neither crazy nor bigoted for their gut reaction to what Democrats are branding Romney’s lack of a “core.” Tone, body language, cadence – it is these things from which conservative evangelicals are deriving much of their discomfort; what is happening is that they are literally watching Romney pass and not enjoying the experience, because the mask is slipping. And unlike conventional pandering and other more common and accepted forms of political dishonesty, the way that he is now representing himself, after many grueling months of campaigning, has a pervasive defensiveness that Newt Gingrich is masterfully contrasting with his consistently shameless public persona.

Of course that is not to say that much evangelical opposition to Romney’s candidacy is not simply religious discrimination. Among opinion leaders within the South Carolina GOP anonymously polled by CNN two days before the state primary, 13% listed the candidate’s Mormon faith as their main reason for not supporting him. And likely, this number was higher, not lower, amongst rank and file conservative evangelicals, closer to the rates approaching 20-30% rates Gallup and other pollsters have measured.

Unfortunately for him, the Romney campaign does not have the capacity to forcefully hit back against apparent religious bigotry on the part of key opinion leaders in the GOP primaries as in the case of the notorious Robert Jeffress’ denunciation of Mormonism at the Values Voters Summit in the way that the Obama campaign was able to respond to instances of racial prejudice in 2008. This incapacity, I would suggest, arises from the ways in which the culture of passing has infused the LDS Church, especially at the top of its leadership structure.

The greatest act of Mormon political passing in the past generation has not been either of the Romney presidential bids; it was, I would suggest, the notorious 2008 Proposition Eight referendum on gay marriage in California. Strongly backed and well-funded by the LDS Church, the campaign’s supporters were overwhelmingly evangelical Christians and not the tiny Mormon minority in the state. Here was a great opportunity for Mormons to pass politically, as part of the conservative evangelical movement, because if there is one reliably-employed strategy amongst people who are passing, it is to direct the attention of the community in which they are passing towards persecuting or excluding other, more hated, outsiders. By being the most enthusiastic in attacking gay marriage, Mormons not only sought to direct attention away from their own difference but to demonstrate group loyalty by leading the charge against the latest scapegoats, homosexuals, for the persistent imperfection of the American family.

Others have written about the delicious irony of the LDS Church declaring that marriage has always been between one man and one woman and that this eternal order was mandated by God. That his view should be forwarded through the Republican Party, founded to extirpate the “twin relics of barbarism,” slavery and polygamy, through the power of the federal government, is not an accidental irony. Rather, it dates back to the early twentieth century, when the prophet Joseph F. Smith encouraged Mormons to move from the Democrats to the GOP as part of an explicit, programmatic strategy of passing. That Romney, a descendant of polygamous refugees who fled to Mexico to escape the federal government’s persecution, would today support an amendment to the Constitution to define marriage as “between one man and one woman,” is not bizarre or hard to explain but the epitome of rational behaviour by someone habituated to passing.

One of the things that makes passing such a dangerous yet tantalizing strategy for achievers like Romney is the fact that it undercuts appeals to community solidarity or collective morality; it is a self-centred and individualistic approach to bigotry and inequality. A passer feels that they get by on their merits and their merits alone.

As such, it stands in sharp contrast to the response of the black church to bigotry and persecution.

Cornell West reminds us that the power of the black voices in contemporary America comes from a civil rights heritage in which black people described their efforts at equality as something greater than protecting their community from discrimination. It took on the hue of a transnational, multiracial crusade for a shared freedom that would elevate everyone, including former oppressors. Whereas passing directs shame inwards as passers instinctively absorb the dominant group’s sense of what is shameful about their identity, discourses in the black church do the opposite and direct shame outwards, instilling pride while shaming dominant groups for their bigotry.

In the aftermath of 9/11, discrimination against religious minorities and discrimination on religious grounds has become increasingly acceptable in America. No doubt fearing, at least subconsciously, that resurgent evangelical bigotry could place Mormons in the national crosshairs again, the LDS culture of passing has not permitted Mormons to respond with the necessary moral authority or outrage when they are on the receiving end of religious discrimination. Emblematic of this was senate majority leader Harry Reid’s advice to Muslims associated with the so-called Ground Zero Mosque controversy to halt construction in order to avoid the wrath of their neighbours, despite their constitutional right to proceed. Like Romney, Reid comes from a generation of Mormons for whom passing was synonymous with success.

No matter how bad things get for Romney on the religious front this year, he and his supporters lack the moral authority necessary to denounce whatever bigotry they might suffer. And this lack of authority does not merely stem from his own strategy of passing; it is because his faith community has made passing rather than shaming their response to the rising tide of religious bigotry in America. Indeed, as vigorous campaigners against the Equal Rights Amendment, as a group that sponsored Proposition Eight and whose congregants overwhelmingly support a national constitutional amendment banning both gay marriage and polygamy, and as the last major church in America to admit black people to its hierarchy (fifteen years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act), Mormons would be well-advised to look to the oft-quoted words of Martin Niemöller to understand how few allies Romney will have when Mormonism comes under more serious attack in the next eight months. Passers, at their best, are silent when it is risky to denounce another’s persecution and, just as often, see that persecution as an opportunity to fit in with the bullies. As such, they elicit little sympathy when their time inevitably comes.


  1. Brilliant post. It will go to my file of best analyses of cultural behavior.

  2. Corianne says:

    I think this is part of the reason my particular brand of Mormonism makes my family uncomfortable. I refuse to “pass”, and I refuse to remain silent about the injustices I see in the church.

    This goes to a ridiculous level in Utah, especially Utah County. Most of my time is spent in an environment that is 75% LDS, but to get someone to admit it takes a great deal of prodding, often accompanied by a shy hesitation, as if their Mormon-ness is going to offend the person, probably also a Mormon, that they are talking to.

    This is one of the issues that I see needing to be changed in the Church. I refer to myself as a Demi-active Mormon, but I’m more vocal and open about my faith than those who attend church every week.

  3. Interesting post, Stuart, and certainly worth pondering. It’s great to have guest bloggers share their ideas at Bloggernacle blogs. Just a couple of objections. First, describing the linked Gawker article (just a blog post, really) as only “slightly hyperbolically” mischaracterizing Mitt Romney hardly seems accurate. The blog is self-described as “The official blog of notorious former African dictator Mobutu Sese Seko” and names itself “Et tu, Mr. Destructo?” His style is to ridicule Republican candidates, Romney in particular, whom he labels in another post as “Mormonfuhrer Mit Romenkrieg.” The guy is just a clown (Mr. Destructo, not Romney), one with a special animus against Romney and probably against Mormons in general. The way you quote the article I’m not sure you picked up on that. I’d like to think you can distinguish between people who have something to say and clowns. [And if you are actually the anonymous author of the Mr. Destructo blog, my apologies.]

    Second, the following statement seems like, at best, an overstatement: “… and, from the days of resisting federal anti-polygamy policies, they had a cultural tradition of ‘lying for the Lord’ that gave them excellent equipment for passing successfully.” A cultural tradition of lying from the mid-19th century to now? Any form of passing involves a degree of dissimulation; it’s not clear why LDS passing, if and when it occurs, deserves the particular label “lying for the Lord.” Does any member of a religious group who tells a lie qualify as “lying for the Lord,” or only Latter-day Saints? What about secular liars, are they “lying for the greater good of mankind”? There must be an objective term for describing the behavior you are describing that isn’t unfairly loaded against LDS.

  4. Clark Goble says:

    Wil Wilkerson (a former RLDS as I recall) wrote up something similar for the Economist referring to an interesting take on Romney at GQ. It’s worth checking out.

    WALTER KIRN’S column in GQ on Mitt Romney and Mormonism is to my mind far and away the most interesting meditation on the subject this campaign season. Unlike most commentators, Mr Kirn, who was an observant Mormon for a few years after his family converted to Mormonism when he was a teen, understands that the chipper public face of Mormonism reflects this country’s history of hostility to its most successful native religion, and that Mr Romney’s Mormonism therefore acts as a sort of guarantee of his ideological moderation:


    Mr Kirn brings to our attention the possibility that it is a mistake to think that Mr Romney has struggled because of his perceived inauthenticity. Rather, Mr Romney has survived despite his Mormonism for many of the same reasons he seems a bit fake. A fully authentic Mitt Romney would be a frankly Mormon Mitt Romney, and that guy wouldn’t stand a chance in a Republican primary.

  5. Very insightful, Stuart. I also found the phrase “lying for the Lord” a bit jarring, even though I recognize the truth of it. Joseph F. Smith took some heat for being a bit disingenuous at the Smoot hearings, not about polygamy, but about whether or not he received “revelations.” That heat came from within the church. We had apparently not yet learned how to pass comfortably.

    Back in the 70’s a 80’s, when church members were enthusiastically supporting the Utah Winter Olympics bids, the prevailing thought was that it would help to dismiss the stereotypical “weirdness” of the Church and its’ members. A friend of mine, an attorney in SLC, felt that the opposite was true, and more exposure would only validate that those stereotypes were true, and confirm our weirdness. We always want to fit in, even when we know we really don’t. Partnering with evangelicals on just about anything is fraught with peril that they will only accentuate our peculiarities, in a most uncomfortable fashion.

    For me, the question then is how do we take the high road and turn the “Mormon Moment” into a force for combating religious bigotry from both the social conservatives, and the more liberal elements of the progressive movement?

  6. Wow. This is amazing- it should be jarring- this is our community he is talking about, and we can’t really deny the reflection we see in the mirror he’s holding up. It’s that very disingenuousness that people instinctively feel, even when they don’t know to what it is they’re responding. The final summation is incredibly powerful and uncomfortably real:

    Passers, at their best, are silent when it is risky to denounce another’s persecution and, just as often, see that persecution as an opportunity to fit in with the bullies. As such, they elicit little sympathy when their time inevitably comes.

  7. Sean F. says:

    Josh Marshall thinks that Romney is authentic and convincing when he talks about business issues:

    I don’t think you understand the vast difference in quality and quantity with which Mormonism takes issue with evolution and gay marriage. Reducing Mormon conflicts over all the cultural issues you name to no more than a dishonest attempt to curry favor with evangelicals is grotesque. “Tradition of lying for the Lord?” Where do you get this stuff? I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.

  8. Thanks, Stuart. So much to think about here, not just in terms of Romney but my own daily life and experiences of being Mormon in world that is non-Mormon, and often anti-Mormon. I would put myself on the fairly closeted end of the spectrum (the kind of person Corianne was talking about: “I’m more vocal and open about my faith than those who attend church every week.”), and I find myself always wishing I were less so, but never seeming to quite know how to negotiate my way out.

  9. It sounds like you’re making up stuff out of whole cloth. Maybe I’m just ignorant, but perhaps you could provide some support for things like there being a tradition of lying for the Lord and that the Church’s support for Prop 8 was just because we want to look like Evangelicals.

  10. A very provocative and thoughtful piece, Stuart; lots to chew on here. Like Clark, I too was reminded of akirn’s article.

    While I’m generally intrigued by this idea of “passing,” and I do think it has a strong ring in Romney’s case, I hesitate to place it on broader groups as a whole. Mostly, this is because I’m reluctant to generalize a broader group as inauthentic, as it seems to automatically rob them of genuineness they very well might possess. In the case of Mormons succeeding in the board rooms during the mid to late twentieth century, I’m not to sure that they were putting on a mask and passing for “other” types of people. “Lying for the Lord” is a strong and potent phrase that originated in the nineteenth century, and I think can be an apt descriptor for a lot of what happened, but I think it loses it’s value when placed on a group of people in different circumstances and with a different demeanor, and I even further think it disingenuous for the broad swath you are using it for here.

    In short, I hesitate to cling to “passing” as a useful term for two reasons: as a historian, it seems to present historical actors as incomplete and duplicitous rather than active and genuine agents; on a personal level, it just seems somewhat disingenuous when used in such a broad scope. I guess you can just put me in the category you brilliantly outlined for Richard Bushman, in that I’d like to embrace a hermeneutics of generosity rather than skepticism.

    But, besides my hesitancy over broad demographic “passing,” I loved this and hope to hear more from you this year.

  11. One more thing, Stuart: I think you may be overestimating how much Mormons have acclimated into the broader American culture. In order to “pass,” there should be some readily apparent, if still blurry, barriers between the two cultural groups. I’m not so sure those boundaries are still there, and possibly haven’t been there for quite some while.

  12. Yeah, Ben, I think you are right.

  13. I think Stuart confines the “lying for the Lord” line exclusively to the 19th century polygamy context, which is correct. Meaning, I don’t think he was trying to say that this phenomenon (connected directly to polygamy) persisted into the 20th century in separate contexts. Stuart says, after all, later in the essay, that “passing” was not about lying.

  14. I’m not sure I agree that this is a generational thing. I think Huntsman would have the same presentation had he been a bishop/stake president/regional authority. I see the same veneer in earnest 28 year old EQPs. I also don’t think passing is the right word to describe why Romney and most LDS leaders present themselves like this since we act even more this way among our own. I think a better word is self-consciousness. The sincere and righteous LDS priesthood leader is always aware of himself, always observing himself, always calibrating himself to present the most fully coordinated persona to his ward, to his priesthood leaders and to himself. It is the weight of eternity, or at least the weight of the priesthood leadership mantle that distorts our personalities.

    And if the Gawker guy thinks Romney is bad what would he say about David Bednar?

  15. Ben/J- I think there still are barriers. As a convert and one who navigates an entirely Mormon life on my own, yet straddles secular life when dealing with my entire family, and having my own memories of secular until I was 29, the differences are quite significant. We Mormons like to think we’re like everyone else, and we even feel that way- but its simply not true. Often, we are more different than we even understand.

  16. An interesting post, Stuart. It will be informative to see how many people, like Tracy, see themselves in your analysis, and how many, like Sean, will feel you’re importing an alien analytical category that doesn’t really fit the Mormon experience.

    I have to agree with the other posters that your use of the phrase “lying for the Lord” was jarring and didn’t fit very well with the rest of your analysis. I’m not sure the tradition of overt “lying” survived much beyond the Second Manifesto.

    However, your characterization of passing as “remembering that one is not straight, white or Christian even as one internalizes the superiority of these identities” seems closer to the mark. In the early twentieth century, Mormons made a concerted effort to remake themselves as uber-Americans. I think this mainstreaming was sincere– that is, Mormons genuinely internalized the American and Fundamentalist Christian values they now espoused– yet the sheer deliberateness of the effort also does seem to reflect an acute awareness and about Mormons’ difference from the culture to which they were trying to assimilate. Also, perhaps the reactionary movements to return to historic Mormon theology and practice could be compared to black nationalism.

    The most poignant part of your analysis, I thought, was the part about Mormon activism for Prop 8 being a sort of deliberate effort by the Church to distance itself from its polygamous past. This reminds me a bit of the theory that the most outspoken homophobes are those with homosexual tendencies– those motivated by a measure of self-loathing. You didn’t mention self-loathing in your discussion of “passing”, but I would guess that it’s an important psychological aspect of the phenomenon.

  17. Part of the difficulty with any passing is that most LDS members I know (myself included) have an innate distaste and distrust for Evangelical Christianity. While I do not have experience with passing in other contexts, I wonder if those who pass have such dislike for the culture they are trying to pass in.

    We know that they (Evangelicals) do not trust us, indeed that they cannot trust us because, by their definition, we simply are not Christian and our protestations to the contrary just prove our deceitfulness. We are bound for Hell and, to the extent that we are engaged with, it is always at an arm’s length and with a jaundiced eye. As a result, I think it’s not just about passing, but also about our sense that to be accepted we must simultaneously be assimilated, that passing is not enough for the other side.

    Thus there is always a consciousness of difference: I cannot get together with Evangelical friends and talk about how I have been saved (I still recall the first time I was asked if I had been saved and how I struggled even to parse the question), cannot listen to Christian rock channels without feeling like a phony, and have no desire to take part in the muscular Christianity of the Evangelical Right.

    From the time we are little in the Church we hear about how it was evil preachers that riled up the mobs in Missouri (never hearing about the Mormon scorched earth campaign against the Missourians in some areas that was on par with the action of the “mobsters”), about how we are a persecuted minority opposed because of Satan’s power over our persecutors. The agents of that persecution are usually Evangelicals, such that I suspect many young members conflate modern-day Baptists who invite Ed Decker to speak with the perpetrators of Haun’s Mill and other violent anti-Mormon actions of the past. And as a result, the distrust extends both ways.

    We cannot truly pass, because we do not really want to (if we did, we’d be Evangelical). So we are ambivalent: we want to be more Christian than the Christians, yet, at the same time, we want nothing to do with them. As one (LDS) friend of mine—who dislikes Mitt Romney and doesn’t particularly want to elect LDS leaders—put it, when he heard Mike Huckabee comment about Mormonism being a cult, there was a visceral part of him that wanted to punch the Huckster in the nose and go out campaigning for Romney. So much for passing.

  18. I like this post. But I think part of it is what KLC mentions–many (not by any means all) church members conform to this presentation either before or while holding leadership positions. Those who don’t conform are often not called to those same leadership positions.

  19. Is it true that Canadian PhD’s are pretty much guaranteed jobs for life by the gov’t–very different from US PhD’s?

  20. I echo some of the pushback here, as well as the general praise for a thought-provoking post. Some of it seems to read in motivations that I just can’t see, such as Institutional support of certain doctrines or political movements primarily to curry favor with Protestants.

    I grew up in the midwest, with Evangelical, Catholic, Jewish, and atheist friends, and a handful of Mormons, so questions of identity, social acceptance, self-definition, and boundary maintenance interest me.
    How would you relate “passing” to Mauss LDS application of retrenchment vs. assimilation? Is assimilation “authentic” (I know that’s a loaded word in some fields) but passing a form of deception? Different points along the spectrum? Or incompatible frameworks?

  21. Can someone fix the paragraph spacing? I can’t tell what’s going on.

  22. Kristine says:

    Your wish is my command Tod. As long as all you need is paragraph spacing :)

  23. You missed one K. ;)

  24. Wow it rings true! Very well done! So if you want to pass as a TBM it requires elevating behavior and appearance of behavior over authenticity, that and I suppose the quirky rules makes a peculiar people. I guess some can do it more authentically than others.

  25. This is a very well written and thoughtful post – with which I have multiple issues. I agree with about half of it and disagree with about the other half. The insight into the idea of passing rings true in many ways, but there are so many over-generalizations and misrepresentations, imo, that I kept getting whipsawed from being impressed to being frustrated.

    For example, at the core, if passing includes simply keeping quiet about my differences in situations where I know an understanding of those differences would weaken my ability to do something important – always as a part of nothing more than waiting until someone knows me better and won’t dismiss my thoughts automatically because of those differences, and if that aspect of passing somehow is being labeled as disingenuous or even dishonest and, therefore, wrong in some way . . . I can’t accept that, since I see such actions as nothing more than standard social interaction and a recognition of basic group dynamics. It’s not “passing”; it’s patience.

  26. Nowadays you have to be “authentic” to pass — to keep from being crucified by the nearest group of enlightened post-sixties cronies.

    Look, you’ve found a titillating connection between Romney’s robotics and “passing” but I don’t think your theory will get you through the maze. There are few dead ends in there that are hard to see coming. And one of them might be the idea that some LDS folk “pass” precisely because they ARE in touch with the more esoteric aspects of the gospel.

    Chew on that irony for a while.

  27. #4

    I don’t think I agree with this: “A fully authentic Mitt Romney would be a frankly Mormon Mitt Romney, and that guy wouldn’t stand a chance in a Republican primary.”

  28. Clark Goble says:

    Is it true that Canadian PhD’s are pretty much guaranteed jobs for life by the gov’t


  29. Perhaps the thing that bothers me most about this post, is that I don’t think Mitt Romney has “hid” his Mormon-ness at any point in his life in the way the post presents hiding as a part of passing. He hasn’t had that option. It’s been a well-known fact that he’s Mormon for his entire life, since his father was a well-known Mormon. Thus, I think the “self-consciousness” description is much better than saying he has been passing. He just hasn’t – except, in a way, when he governed MA (but I much prefer to see that as running to represent and then governing according to the wishes of those who elected him).

    Huntsman, otoh, dodged questions about his Mormon-ness regularly – and, as my favorite candidate, I understood that he was able to do so specifically because there already was a front-running Mormon in the race whom everyone knew is Mormon. Given that situation, I just don’t see how Romney is a good example of passing – even if many Mormons certainly are, imo.

  30. Bradley says:

    Excellent analysis. Are we training our children to pass too? We raise them on stories of institutional persecution and stress obedience. Back when Prez Hinckley was alive, he said that the Church was on good terms with the media. He meant it as a good thing, but I took it as a bit of an indictment.

  31. Stuart Parker says:

    I’m overwhelmed by so many responses. As a slacking liberal Episcopalian working to a deadline on another project, I won’t be able to respond to all this excellent stuff until mid-day Sunday. Thanks so much for engaging with this post. I promise to get to everyone’s comments individually this weekend (or sooner if I can manage.

  32. #26: I think Stuart allows for that when he says this is a generational thing. He strongly hints that “passing” is a phenomenon of the older generation, and the younger generation of Mormons feels less pressure to act this way.

  33. One more thing:

    I think a part of Romney’s “fakeness” is a product of many others’ incorrect perceptions of Mormons as much as it is an actual product of his being Mormon. By that, I mean that those who see Mormons as cultists are predisposed to see “fakeness” even when it isn’t there – to see differences as “fake”, “disingenuous” or even “dishonest”, when, in reality, they simply are authentic differences.

    Interestingly, I read this week a very stark, simple analysis of the race thus far that is telling. It said that Romney has won the college-educated, $100,000+ income, moderate, liberal Republican, agnostic, Catholic, non-Christian and non-evangelical vote in every state thus far, while the only “base voters” Santorum has won in any state are the non-college-educated and those who list strong agreement with religious views as their first criterion – i.e., evangelicals. The same is true of Gingrich.

    What is the take-away, relative to this post? (There are others, but speaking only about this post, what is it?)

    Each candidate has won that segment of the population that sees him as most like themselves. I know that could be read as supporting your assertion of passing, but what if, instead, it simply means that, in fact, each segment of the population has voted for the candidate that actually IS most like itself? What if Romney isn’t “passing” in this case? What if he’s being chosen because of who he really is, based on legitimate comparisons? (All candidates distort things in one way or another to get elected, so there is “passing” involved in all campaigns to a degree – but there also ends up being real, true, authentic “being” involved just as much, ime.)

  34. Passing can be a good thing or a bad thing. De-emphasizing differences can be seen as a matter of tact, rather than deception. I have never once broadly announced, when passing up an offer of alcohol or coffee, that I do not imbibe because I am Mormon. I simply decline or ask for something else. I don’t wear my Mormon-ness on my sleeve. Is that passing? Or is that being polite? I get distinctly uncomfortable when people of other faiths or no faith at all emphasize or overemphasize their affiliation or nonaffiliation. Most orthodox Jewish friends who keep kosher do not make a big deal about it–they simply order a kosher meal without making a big public announcement. Vegetarian friends by and large are discreet as well, simply ordering the vegetarian plate without announcing they are vegetarian.
    In terms of Mormon politics, I (and Harry Reid) are probably examples of politically “passing”, not into the religious right, but into the moderate or moderate left political wings. I have written before that my car is almost always the only car in the church parking lot with an Obama sticker. Because I am a democrat, and fairly liberal, many people assume that I am not Mormon (even other Mormons who do not know me well). I am more comfortable with those political views and with people who hold to them, including those who may be secular nonbelievers. That is, as long as they do not wear their nonbelief or atheism on their sleeves in the sense of constantly emphasizing or announcing it loudly and regularly. .

  35. DavidH, well said.

  36. Clark Goble says:

    Ray it is a sad fact of American politics that identity has always mattered far more than ideology.

  37. I think a part of Romney’s “fakeness” is a product of many others’ incorrect perceptions of Mormons as much as it is an actual product of his being Mormon. By that, I mean that those who see Mormons as cultists are predisposed to see “fakeness” even when it isn’t there… Ray I think the fakeness being referred to is his resulting persona.

  38. Russell Frandsen says:


  39. I don’t know how much of a part “passing” has played in Mitt Romney’s life, but it certainly was a part of mine.

    As a 7-year old in 1985, I started a new school and was very eager to fit in. Somehow at that age, I had already acquired an understanding that most people in the community didn’t think highly of Mormons. So when my first friend at the school (who as it so happened was the only other Mormon in the 2nd grade) casually asked if I were Mormon, I made a split-second decision to lie–even though she too was LDS!

    I have since thought a lot about that moment and what prompted the deception. I am not sure, but I do remember the panic I felt when she asked (“Oh no! How did she guess?”) followed by the relief when I saw my way clear. I also remember guilt–both then and later, but it did not override my instinct for social self-preservation.

    Anyway, that initial deception became my m.o. for the next 11 years. At church, I was the model kid who knew all the answers in Primary and won every scripture chase in seminary. But at school I carefully avoided any connection with the Church. The two worlds didn’t overlap much, and I took great pains to keep it that way. I never explained the real reason I couldn’t make it to a Sunday birthday party or group project. I never once raised my hand when a teacher asked if anyone was Mormon (I think I can remember every time they asked: 4th grade social studies, 11th grade history, 9th grade English…). In 7th grade science, I didn’t explain why another kid and I thought Alma was a masculine name. I played dumb whenever the topic of religion came up.

    Above all, I did my best to blend, to never be given a second thought. Occasionally, I had a classmate who was a fellow-Saint I knew from church or an LDS teacher who knew my parents. These situations were cause for some anxiety, but I carefully steered my way to avoid exposure and nothing ever came of them. While we had no explicit agreement to avoid mentioning our religion, the other kids especially seemed to tacitly understand the reasons for a pact of silence. More often than not, we’d act like bare acquaintances at school, even though we had been in the same Sunday School class for years or we saw each other at evening activities several times each week.

    As I grew older, I tactically decided to drop off the grid socially. Being popular only makes it harder to keep a secret. And I didn’t want to be discovered. My feelings were complicated. I was beginning to develop a budding testimony and to feel increasingly guilty about hiding. So I assuaged my conscience by reasoning that I wouldn’t have to lie if I never gave anyone the chance to wonder. It was easier to just disappear from high school life and mark time until I could leave for BYU.

    Of the ~30 kids in my second grade class, at least half of us were together all the way through senior year. At graduation, I don’t think a single one knew I was Mormon. I even lied when during the line up for the processional I was confronted about where I was going to college.

    Significantly, since no one guessed my religious affiliation, over the years I ended up privy to plenty of disparaging comments I’m sure I never would have heard if others had known I was LDS. While such comments were not incredibly frequent, they each burned brightly in my wary mind, cyclically validating my motives for being disingenuous.

    Now, I know my experience is not representative, but perhaps it is not completely unique either. Reading the OP was quite enlightening for me, because it helped me better understand some choices that have puzzled me for years. More than anything, it’s actually kind of a relief to realize I was exhibiting behavior straight out of a classic case study for “passing.”

  40. I think this is a fascinating thesis and one for which I have seen lots of evidence. I’m not sure whether it necessarily explains Romney, though. Rather, I think that his awkwardness may be due to having little practice in non-Mormon *social* settings.

    Still, I like this post (and Julie’s comment). It rings true.

  41. Kristine says:

    Stuart–I find this provocative, but I’m not sure I’m convinced. I think that at least since mid-20th-century, the “every member a missionary” imperative applies some pressure not to “pass,” but to self-consciously perform the most appealing version of Mormonism for a given audience. So even minimizing differences, finding common ground, is ultimately part of the project of being Mormon, preparation for a moment of self-revelation aimed at converting the audience. I think this performative impulse might be a fuller explanation of the perceived (real?) falseness of Mitt (and plenty of the rest of us, probably).

  42. Some Mormons want to pass as conservative evangelicals. Others want a place among leftish academics.

  43. Kevin Barney says:

    Julie, I can remember lying to some casual acquaintances about where I was going to college. (Instead of BYU, where I had already been accepted and was definitely planning on going, I told them the University of Illinois, where my older sister attended and where I would eventually return for law school.) So although I was mostly “out” as a Mormon growing up, I can relate to your experience in a small way.

  44. KaralynZ says:

    Julie, thanks for sharing your story. I was totally open/out about my Mormonism in high school and got enough flack fo r it that when i moved back to the midwest after attending BYU I made the unconscious decision to do exactly what you did. Most of my coworkers don’t know where I went to college and I try not to bring it up. I discuss religion rarely and only in general terms.

  45. Peter LLC says:

    at least since mid-20th-century, the “every member a missionary” imperative applies some pressure not to “pass,” but to self-consciously perform the most appealing version of Mormonism for a given audience.

    It seems to me, however, that the continued emphasis would suggest that if left to our own devices, most of us would prefer to blend in, especially after the harrowing experience of sticking out for the duration of a full-time mission.

  46. I’m not so sure “lying for the Lord” is a remnant of the nineteenth century. (Is it the verb “lying” that is so troublesome?) I suspect one could come up with examples, even very recent ones, where the known facts of history have been parsed (more often than not for P.R. purposes) in ways that effectively render that historical reality almost unrecognizable, or at least foreign to the people who grew up in the midst of that reality. It may be not “lying,” but it’s definitely not being honest.

  47. The quotation marks are the troublesome part. They make it not just some bad thing that we do, but also a little conspiracy that we whisper into the ears of each succeeding generation.

  48. Right up front I will state I am a lifelong Mormon, I am committed to my faith. I am also a Romney supporter. It would have been helpful if the writer had been upfront with his position (biases) instead hidiing behind a fake cloak of academic neutrality – “passing” as someone without biases against anything Mormon. Where did the idea come from that Mormons must announce (confess) their Mormoness to everyone? An alcoholic isn’t expected to confess “No, I am an alcoholic” when declining an offer to drink. Does that mean they are passing? Passing as what? It is politically correct today to “pass” as accepting of every belief without question – except Mormonism. This bigotry against a church effects me as I am personally ridiculed for my faith. So my question to the opinion author is “Why single out Mormons?” Every member of the LDS faith is on their own path through this life. As much as our critics want everyone to believe, church members are not autotrons, brainwashed Stepford people following power-based male dominance. As for Romney being fake. . I will take socially reserved anyday over the false joviality and insincerity demonstrated most often these days by career politicians.

  49. During the three years I spent in law school, I was certainly “passing.” I can count on one hand the number of law school friends who knew I was LDS who weren’t LDS themselves. Part of me is ashamed I wasn’t more open about it, but part of me realizes that outing myself as Mormon would’ve led my classmates to make all kinds of unwarranted assumptions about me. I think I had more friends (and better friends) because I didn’t out myself.

    Really, though, the amount of “passing” we can really do is limited, especially when it comes to an environment like law school. Most of my LDS classmates were married with kids, which already set us apart. Plus, we didn’t drink. That might not be a big deal in some places, but it was a regular social activity where I went to school, including at most law school sponsored events. So my ability to “pass” as normal was severely limited.

  50. Clark Goble says:

    Kristine (41) Stuart–I find this provocative, but I’m not sure I’m convinced. I think that at least since mid-20th-century, the “every member a missionary” imperative applies some pressure not to “pass,” but to self-consciously perform the most appealing version of Mormonism for a given audience.

    I think that’s right Kristine but has the “every member a missionary” program actually been that successful? That is are Mormons actually doing it in reasonable numbers? I don’t think so. It certainly wasn’t the case on my mission. There were a few who did but most didn’t and those who provided names more often or not had the investigator ask and not the member. And I was out at arguably the height of the program when we went to every member family to pressure them to pray for a name.

  51. John wrote; The quotation marks are the troublesome part. They make it not just some bad thing that we do, but also a little conspiracy that we whisper into the ears of each succeeding generation. Not whisper into the ears, model for each to see.

  52. kailiala says:

    Mormons covenanted to be a peculiar people yet sometimes we want to dance with the heathen because they have cooler stuff/lifestyles. There is a reality of ‘fitting in’ that we all must come to grips with whether it is accumulating lots of stuff or fame or power. We bargain with our souls everyday. Passing is a cover term that sounds acceptable in order to ‘fit in’. Yet to me, Passing seems to be more along the lines of increasing self-deception.

    There is no need to back away from being mormon – if there are some evangelicals who view us with suspicion, okay. If there are organizations that don’t like mormons, okay. All I can do is to be the best example possible of a follower of Christ – it seems to me that He didn’t exactly fit in either.

  53. This post doesn’t ring true to me at all. First, I’m not sure the “passing” thing is all that clever or helpful. It is obsessed with identity politics, which is tedious. It implies that social interactions in which people focus on common ground rather than differences are somehow phony. It runs counter to the universalism that permeates Mormon thought. On a practical level, I strongly believe that Mormons *should* frequently interact socially without wearing their Mormonism on their sleeve. Doing so is not a bad thing. It is being human and demanding that others (both Mormons and the rest of the world) recognize our humanity regardless of our similarities or differences.

    Using Mitt as an entre to talk “passing” didn’t work so well either in my view. There is no denying that Mitt comes off as a little stiff. But how one reads Mitt’s stiffness is a highly subjective exercise that reveals as much about the reader as it does about Mitt or Mormonism in general. Many read Mitt’s stiffness as typically Mormon in bigoted, bad-19C-exploitation-fiction, ways. (E.g., they imply that Mitt’s stiffness stems from the fact that Mormons are fundamentally duplicitous.) For me, the post discredited itself from the beginning by relying on a hostile, ridiculously exaggerated, profoundly uncharitable description of a decent Mormon man. This was a chickensh!t move by the way. If the author believes in this description of Mitt, just say so. If not, why perpetuate such slanderous dreck?

    Of course, there are a variety of likely explanations for Mitt’s stiffness that don’t serve the author’s agenda: (1) I believe Mitt is a naturally very private, introverted kind of guy, (2) Mormons don’t get a lot of practice (or social-anxiety easing libations) hanging out at bars with friends, which probably prevented Mitt from learning skills he didn’t come by naturally, (3) Mitt has been wildly successful because he is a data-driven analyst, not a slick people person, and (4) Mitt’s image is filtered through a largely hostile media; I think that makes him very guarded in how he presents himself and particularly his Mormonism.

    The funny thing: I actually see authenticity in Mitt’s stiffness. I find it endearing, even though it is clearly a liability to him as a campaigner. I know lots of Mormons like Mitt: great guys, successful, and a little bit dorky. There are even a few who match this description who post here in the bloggernacle! Those who live in socially-awkward glass houses …

  54. it's a series of tubes says:

    53, if BCC had a like button for posts I would be clicking it for yours.

  55. Wow, a personal attack and patent prejudice based on unfounded generalizations all in one and the best we can do is let it pass? Yeah, we’re all cardboard fakers? I disagree with virtually every generalization in this post — and find it beyond offensive because such generalized judgments are the essence of unjustified bigotry.

    I don’t just take it as given that Romney is a palpable fake — and I deny it since I know the man and how thoughtfully he has considered his positions and the rationale for change. That is beyond a good thing; it is essential to any sensitive individual to grow and learn. Yet this post takes it as evidence of lacking a core, a character and a genuine position. That is just mistaken on so many levels. I don’t accept that Romney is just passing. There are so many unjustified generalizations couched as enlightened observation in this post and the beyond wacko post from which it departs that I could hardly begin a response. Suffice it to say that I won’t pass on pointing out the unjustified judgments that underlie this post — not to mention the underlying antipathy to anyone who thoughtfully changes view based on careful thought and examination.

  56. elizabeth says:

    I am a Mitt Romney supporter, and at the same time, I can clearly see the stiff, carefully constructed, who-is-this-man-really? that much of America sees in him. Fellow Bain employees have said that he was a nice-enough, friendly guy but that they ever really saw the real Mitt Romney. I’ve thought a lot about it and realized he is the same person as many of the men in my ward and neighborhood. I see my psychiatrist, who is a competent, well-respected doctor, who couldn’t answer a couple of simple questions important to my case because (I believe) he doesn’t spend that extra fifteen minutes really considering how he will answer my (or another patient’s) questions next time he sees me. Instead, he hurries home so that he has a few minutes to spend with his wife and kids for a few minutes before he has to rush off to church to spend the rest of the evening in his role as bishop.

    I see my husband, who is well-liked and respected at work, but certainly isn’t going to win awards for dedication or going the extra mile, because throughout each day, he’s trying figure out how to get his work done most efficiently so that he can just get home for dinner and to help me wrangle kids.

    Am I way off base here? I see Romney as a really smart, talented businessmen who felt driven to follow in his dad’s footsteps as a patriot. I see him as an analytical, efficient man who is a lot more lucky/driven than many a dad, but whose end goal each day is to just get home and put his work behind him to spend time with his family.

    I know I’m over-generalizing. I know that there are many faithful LDS men and women who are faithful and loyal to their family but put extra time, energy and real passion into their job to serve others and work for the improvement of society and humankind. But I also see a lot of LDS men who felt driven to succeed so that their families are well provided for, but at the end of the day, and throughout the day, they’re just trying to think of how to get home as soon as they can.

    I’ve decided that Mitt is just an introverted guy who wants to get home before sunset so he can take the boat out on the lake for a little while. He just also happens to be the son of a presidential candidate, born into a family with an extra dose of education, privilege, ambition, etc. I see an LDS dad out there campaigning. I see his desire/drive to run for president as an extension of “doing what is right” or a duty, instead of passion. That passion is what Americans are missing. Am I way off base?

  57. Consider the last time you sat in an LDS Sunday School when Abraham and Sarah in Pharaoh’s court came up. Remember all the convolutions your fellow saints offered to square Abraham’s deceptions with his righteousness, instead of feeling comfortable that he lied because he thought his life was in danger and that’s perfectly reasonable and fine for a righteous person to do.

  58. I think to the extent Mormons struggle to be Christlike it causes them considerable dissonance because Mormonism is so strongly focused on sin avoidance through will power complete with ecclesiastic enforcement and ward members in your community watching. While introspection and therapeutic intervention are capable of resolving some of the natural man inclinations thereby reducing this dissonance the church relies on the indoctrination of guilt, shame and will power for social control of behavior even to the point of making YW responsible for the worthiness of YM. When we fall short of the mark many seem to just fake it. To the extent that members consciously or subconsciously attempt to fit in socially there are many social clues they must abide by and display and to some this game is hard to play while others seem to enjoy modeling the general conference look of humility and the Utah accent, most seem to be familiar with the primary voice. In short for many (not all) fitting in means elevating your displayed behavior above you authenticity as a person.

  59. Well, for some that’s easier than coming up with ways to display their authenticity. Footage of a motorcycle crossing the desert has already been taken.

  60. Kristine says:

    Clark (50)–it doesn’t have to be successful to make people feel like they _should_ be doing it. Whether or not members gave names to missionaries is completely irrelevant to the development of the doubled consciousness I’m thinking about.

  61. Is it possible that Romney is stiff because he is trying to ‘pass’ in terms of both religion AND CLASS? The latest primary results show he is clearly connecting to wealthy, urban Republicans but failing to make inroads with rural and poorer Republicans. Perhaps one (of many) explanation is that historically, when Romney has left the confines of Mormonism, it is to ‘pass’ in a world of wealthy businessmen. Obviously he found a way to successfully do this in the business world, but it seems to be a never-ending struggle for him in the non-business world. When he doesn’t have the cloak of a full suit an tie to slide over from Mormonism to business, he struggles.

    This is interesting to me because while Mormons are fairly reasonable in terms of tolerating mixed income congregations (particularly outside of the Mormon corridor), I think it is only because it is assumed that the upper-middle class, white, professional society is the one ALL should be emulating. So, while I don’t doubt that Romney has a ton of experiences ‘relating’ to others not in his uber-rich class through church callings, etc, I don’t think it really prepped him as much as he thought it did to relating to those outside the boardroom.

  62. What 53 said.

  63. Along the lines of Nicole‘s idea above, Romey’s image has some similarity with George H.W. Bush’s out-of-touch, patrician, “splash of coffee” vibe.

  64. Please delete #55. It’s a link to an anti-Mormon site.

  65. When I listen to Mitt, I don’t think about passing, or compartmentalization. I think “Stake Conference.” His public persona is steeped in the careful, measured cadences of LDS leaders speaking in public meetings. It’s not so much fakery as calculated detachment. That detachment is very helpful when you are trying to create “one heart” out of people who have wildly different perspectives, experiences and levels of competence. It comes out all wrong when you’re on the stump.

    There’s another issue here. Mitt’s tendency to make those Montgomery Burns gaffes is an unintended consequence of Church leadership, particularly in urban stakes. High leaders — stake presidents, mission presidents, Area Authority Seventies — tend to be men who are high achievers in their personal lives. Leadership in the Church puts them in social circles they would not normally travel (honestly, how many times has Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich or even President Obama had to sit down and do a Needs and Resources Analysis with a struggling single mom? Mitt, who has been a Church leader for a big chunk of his adult life, had that kind of personal interaction all the time.) Very often, even though they are good and decent and earnest men, leaders’ behavior in those unfamiliar circles takes on a certain anthropological bent, like Margaret Mead observing the Pygmies.

    When Mitt talks about being friends with NASCAR owners, he may be showing his detachment, but he’s also doing what Church leaders often do in unfamiliar social settings: he’s attempting to build a “relationship of trust” with someone completely alien to him.

    The author also glosses over a central conceit of Mormonism — we’re right, and everyone else is wrong. With that as a starting point, any effort to be ecumenical is going to carry a certain insincerity. It’s not that we’re phony, or trying to “pass” in the larger culture: we honestly, truly cannot grasp how they don’t understand things the way that we do. That’s a problem for a guy trying to be the head of a pluralistic democracy.

  66. Good post.

    I think people react to the “stiffness” of Romney, but I’m not sure I see the “passing” or the fakeness in it. He doesn’t shy away from who he is or his religion.

    What politician doesn’t try to pander to the greatest number of people? That’s how to get support.

    I guess different people like different styles, but I like Mitt’s CEO style.

  67. today’s Mormon decision-making elite is filled *with* men who have spent significant portions of their lives passing in order to achieve their financial and educational success.

    That is exceptionally well noted.

    #15 Tracey M and #39 Julie — exactly! OTOH, I just gave up on being socially accepted.

    #25 Ray — you’ve caught the limits on the analysis and reflect well.

    I think a part of Romney’s “fakeness” is a product of many others’ incorrect perceptions of Mormons as much as it is an actual product of his being Mormon. By that, I mean that those who see Mormons as cultists are predisposed to see “fakeness” even when it isn’t there


    I would note I have twice had job offers withdrawn because of my religion and the fact that I did not pass well enough. Both times were hard on me. I still do not pass well.

    At least on one hand. On the other hand, I’m half Greek. I pass as a WASP very well (part of being blond, even if I’m only 5’5″). I’ve watched others go through a good deal of bigotry that I did not experience. Seen the same happen to some Jewish friends.

  68. wreddyornot says:

    I’m tempted to say while reading this — comments included — I passed several time. I enjoyed it very much, and it is such a relief to know it is quite common.

  69. This unnecessarily objectifies Mormons and denies them status as agents. Business success, social conservatism, and all the rest cannot simply be dismissed as a Mormon reflex to Gentile prodding.

  70. If your response to this post begins by presuming that it is arguing that Mormons passing = Mormons are brazenly self-conscious liars, you’ve already given up too much of your intellectual credibility to have your indignation taken seriously…

  71. “This unnecessarily objectifies Mormons and denies them status as agents. Business success, social conservatism, and all the rest cannot simply be dismissed as a Mormon reflex to Gentile prodding.”

    It actually does none of those things. I mean, if it did, that would be a problem, but since it doesn’t, what say we go ahead and engage it on it’s own terms?

  72. Another concern. While I think there’s a basic truth about Mormonism that this post captures, this kind of analysis tends to impute too much coherence and consistent identity to non-Mormon Americans. I’m pretty sure that most of us (most Americans, most humans) engage in grubby little efforts at social accomodation and fitting in. I know I do, but most of them don’t have much to do with my religious beliefs.

    If I had to psychoanalyze Romney from a distance, I’d pick two explanations. First, Romney is typical of goal-oriented people I know (some of then not-Mormon). That is to say, he strikes me as one of those people whose real goal in life is to have a goal and be working superlatively towards it, but where the goal itself may be less important. This is a not uncommon Mormon type, so its possible that his Mormon background may explain his goal orientation.

    Second, Romney strikes me as someone who has a typical business/outsider view of politicians (they are stereotypically cynical, corrupt, willing to do anything, and yet inexplicably get elected by voters who must be stupid and ignorant) and has decided to pretend to be one. I think that at some level he comes across as inauthentic because at some level he thinks of politicians as essentially inauthentic beings.

  73. The post can be differentiated but what’s the point unless your stumping for Romney or it offends your belief system? Doesn’t it make more sense to take a close open minded look at the parts that do fit? For instance why would we or our leaders past or or present lie for the Lord? Is this a form of circling the wagons? Do we need to circle the wagons or is this paranoia or a subconscious defense we learned from watching others? Aren’t these great truths capable of standing on their own??? Did this practice come about at a time the church was in it’s infancy and needed more protection than it does today? Is it because the Spirit told us the church is true but we failed to parse out exactly what about the church is true so we attempt to defend it all even the indefensible or we lie to get around it? What are we protecting and why and where is our integrity when we do it?

  74. This is a very interesting post, and one that I appreciated reading, because it gave me cause to ponder and reflect. I understand and appreciate Julie’s comments, as well as Kathy’s. However, when contrasting Romney with Huntsman, I began to wonder if the stiffness arises from his upbringing and involvement with others (or lack of such as in team sports or activities where the differences are often brought to a head – it happened to me in college basketball) as contrasted with Huntsman who appeared to be very involved and almost carefree. Being essentially a lifelong member, I have observed those who appear to be passing and those who could care less and mingled well in spite of what others felt. The question is, I guess, has Mitt always been stiff (shy, or whatever applies) or is this a new phenomenon?

  75. Huntsman is a non-socially-awkward Mormon? Really? Did anyone watch the debates before he quit? Because his performance was a stinking pile of bad jokes, Chinese phrases, and condescension. (And I like Huntsman!)

  76. Huntsman can definitely be awkward.

    But what makes him authentic is that he says what he thinks, he holds opinions that aren’t necessarily popular, and he’s his own man. He’s not afraid to be open about some of the strange things about him–his interests, his taste in music, etc. I can’t imagine Romney ever admitting to (or, for that matter, ever listening to) progressive rock, for example. Romney’s only goal seems to be getting elected, and I think he’s suppressed whatever personality he had to get where he is now.

  77. Glass Ceiling says:

    #53 should write a piece on this subject and submit it as an OP. I agree completely, and am a little troubled by the current OP.

    The fact is, if Romney were anything but Mormon, he would fit right in and the Primary would be over. Evangelicals look for things not to like in him because they know it is not socially acceptable to admit hatred of Mormons. So they nitpick and invent.

  78. Midwest Mormon says:

    The same great series on Romney that mentioned his famous car-top kennel family vacation explained his approach to “Every Member a Missionary.” He made sure folks knew he was a Mormon and was a resource for learning more about the gospel if they had interest, but let them know he also had great respect for other belief systems and for their right to make their own choices about the way they wanted to live.

    This 11th Article of Faith approach is common for active Midwest Mormons. It reaches more people more effectively than a more aggressive approach might, and it has nothing to do with “trying to pass.” When we avoid swearing and observe the Word of Wisdom, it’s a little like wearing neon sign that reminds people of what we’ve told them about our religious affiliation.

    As for Romney’s “inauthentic” personality, have you noticed any other CEOs in this country with similar personalities? As a business reporter who has covered Midwest companies for more than 20 years, I can pretty much guarantee that even Romney probably is a little amused at how closely his personality fits the CEO stereotype. His surrogates on the campaign trail need to help him take back the narrative on this and explain that his personality simply shows the business background of a Washington outsider.

  79. This point tries much too hard to connect Romney’s perceived inauthenticity to his Mormonism. Romney grew up in a wealthy and politically powerful home. He is extremely intelligent, analytical, data driven and goal oriented. He has had enormous success as a leader and manager of several organizations and as a business strategist. That is is his world, and he is a true master of that world.

    He is now running for president in a political environment that parses every word and every gesture. His data tells him he must appeal to a portion of the electorate with whom he has little in common. They are less well educated, less affluent and are absolutely driven by a social and economic ideology. Although he is generally aligned with their views, he is not an idealogue and is used to a world of detailed analysis followed by efficient execution and compromise where necessary to achieve a result. This segment of the electorate does not not trust people with Romney’s background and they don’t connect emotionally with him. Furthermore, there are extremely powerful forces at work from the Democratic party and from within the Republican party who are seeking to emphasize Romney’s “otherness” and take advantage of his weaknesses in this area. Romney is trying desperately to counteract all of that and to find a way to appeal to those voters because he knows he can’t win without doing so. This is not something he as ever had to before, and he does not come by it naturally.

    All of his perceived inauthenticity can be explained by these simple facts. We don’t need to appeal to his Mormon identity to explain his inability to connect to much of the electorate. His Mormonism is just one aspect of his background and personality. It is probably a signifcant reason why many voters do not like him, but it does nothing to explain his political shifting and awkwardness. All politicians try to “pass” and he is just one of many examples. He is not particulary good at it, but I am at a loss to see what lying for the Lord, or the church’s attempts to assimilate into mainstream America (real or imagined) have to do with anything.

  80. Gary,
    So Romney is authentic he’s just having trouble condescending to the electorate?

  81. Howard: Define “authentic”. I see that term used a lot in a lot of contexts, but I am not sure what it really means. I think he has taken certain positions for the purpose of appealing to a certain segment of voters that he probably would not have taken had he not been seeking their votes. But I don’t see any connection whatsoever between that and his Mormonism.

    He is definitely having trouble appealing to an idealogically driven segment of the electorate but that is not at all the same thing as condescending and I don’t think that is a fair description.

  82. Gary,
    It’s interesting that you can explain all of his inauthenticity but you’re not sure what authenticity means! Authenticity in psychology refers to the attempt to live one’s life according to the needs of one’s inner being, rather than the demands of society or one’s early conditioning (or one’s church) in other words with minimum dissonance. In your well written comment you paint a picture of Romney; grew up in a wealthy and politically powerful home…enormous success as a leader and manager. Then you say he must appeal to a portion of the electorate with whom he has little in common and you go on to describe them as less and more less and point out that they don’t connect emotionally with him. Isn’t it his job to emotionally connect with them? You’ve described a situation which in your view puts Romney above his electorate thus he must condescend to connect with them.

  83. Authentic people are comfortable in their own skin and for the most part are capable of finding common ground with a broad variety of people. Imagine a loving mother bending down to engage her small child in conversation. She is condescending authentically in the way Christ would to us. Imaging a stereotypical politician campaigning and kissing a baby chances are this is a manipulative inauthentic exchange. Most people know when they are being manipulated, the public will tolerate a certain level of inauthenticity but apparently Romney exceeds their limit.

  84. I have a harder time with Romney playing footloose and free with the BS he slings about the other candidates and about Obama. How can a man of principle say these things? Has he no fundamental core of honesty and rectitude beyond which he will not go? I do not think so. If “passing” means doing or saying anything to further one’s end, then he is doing it in spades.

    So — lying for the Lord. You have to BS to get elected. This is OK because it is what is necessary. After being elected he can quit the BS and do what God wants him to do. (There is a school of thought which says that BS is the ultimate dishonesty because it shows a complete disregard for truth. If you lie, you still have a regard for it, albeit negative.)

    On a personal note about passing:

    Once when I was a kid, a man offered my father a cigarette. He declined saying that he had a cold, which he did. I called him on it (I was, maybe 8). He muttered some excuse about not calling attention to himself (New Jersey, 1948). In 1956 I gave a presentation on Mormonism in my high school social studies class. So much for passing. Maybe I am a bit socially obtuse.

    I have tried not to pass. I tell whomever what the whole truth is, according to my lights. All about polygamy, the dna non-evidence, etc. I tell them it is my post-modern belief system where rationality does not need to enter, all it needs to be is a good story, and that I like Joseph’s humanist vision of heaven. And that I have a deep and abiding connection to Jesus regardless of whatever proof.

    (I have a harder time passing at Church as a liberal than passing in public as a Mormon. This is a really good OP!)

  85. Howard: I asked you to define authenticity because I was not sure how you were using the term. The definition you give is a bit mushy, but it would be a distraction to get into that discussion.

    I don’t know whether I would say that it is Romney’s job to connect with the right wing of the party, but it is probably a political necessity to get the nomination. However, I don’t think my view puts him above the electorate. I am simply making an observation about the differences between them. His attempt to cross transcend those boundaries need not be considered “condescending” at all.

    My real objection to this post is (1) the attempt to connect this political phenomenon to Romney’s Mormonism and (2) the suggestion that the church’s position on Prop 8, the ERA and creationism are examples of “passing” and that this passing means that Romney and the church have surrendered their moral authority to resist religious persecution or to denounce bigotry. I see a bunch of disconnected ideas running through this post, some of which may have some merit on their own, but they are woven together in a way that is almost incoherent to me. We begin with a slanderous political cheap shot and end with dire warnings about how Romney and the church have no moral authority to resist the religious bigotry that is coming, and I am at a loss to understand why the author thinks he has made a persuasive argument about anything at all.

  86. Gary wrote: I see a bunch of disconnected ideas running through this post, some of which may have some merit on their own… I agree and I agree they could be better woven together.

  87. Mitt Romney’s Mexican father, hmmmmm…….Are the simple minded “BIRTHERS”, going to ask Romney for his birth certificate? We all know this was never about a birth certificate, if it was then these same people would be asking Romney for his. It’s about small minded people who hate African Americans and do not have the brains to review a President’s policy so they make something up.

    Lets be clear none of these dullards have won a case in the “U.S. Courts”, maybe in their simple minds (if they have any) but not in our “U.S. Courts”, so unless Birthers/ teabaggers, whatever you want to be called, win a court case, we will continue to see as dullards, liars or racist or maybe all three. Deal with that baby!

  88. In its way, this post highlights one of the problems with the concept of authenticity. Even if it exists, it could all too easily serve as a tool for insiders to reject outsiders who have complied with the insiders ostensible requirements for insiderdom. To be one of us, you have to be authentic, and the fact that you’ve tried to be one of us shows that you’re not authentic, etc.

    In my readings of old British stuff, there is this undercurrent that born aristocrats are easy, unaffected, and natural while social climbers and upwardly mobile middle class folks are stiff and awkward.

    That said, I don’t think the dynamic of ‘authenticity’ being used by old elites to beat back new elites is a dynamic that accounts for most of the Mitt Romney awkwardness.

  89. Agreed, Adam. Authenticity is a way of concealing what is actually essentialism. Pundits see in Romney what they think they should see in a Rich Mormon Republican.

    Also: I think deploying passing as a conceptual model is problematic because of the very strong markers that Mormons in the 20th century who took part in the meritocracy of post-WWII America still displayed, in particular, adherence to the Word of Wisdom and the wearing of the temple garment (especially relevant to military service in WWII, Korea and Vietnam). In addition, there was the fact that so many of those who were involved in the outmigration either grew up in Utah or went to college there. This means that in most cases Mormons have not passed, they have not been able to or bothered to hide their status as a Mormon — rather they have been identified as (or proactively self-identified) as LDS in almost all situations but the most superficial. What they have done in response to that is emphasize shared interests, attitudes, politics, goals, cultural products, etc. Thus the use of the term assimilation in Kristine’s follow up post seems much more apropos to me.

  90. Stuart, I disagree both that Romney is inauthentic or fake and that he has made a career of “passing” in order to have a successful management consulting and private equity career.


    Second, believe me, I wasn’t there but I guarantee you that everyone in Romney’s firm knew he was a Mormon — everyone in every one of his circles or experiences has known this. Everyone at Harvard Law School and Business School knew it. Everyone at Bain knew it when he came into the firm as an analyst and everyone who worked under him at Bain Capital knew it while they worked for him.

    To the extent Romney ever “passed”, it was because he probably didn’t discuss religion with co-workers. A lot of Mormons do this. This characteristic of shying away from religious discussion at work or with co-workers might be a mild form of passing but it also might just be showing respect for co-workers or being extra conscious of a line that one shouldn’t cross at work, this heightened consciousness about such a line being a result of being a religious minority with years of missionary experience.

    However, I doubt that Romney was particularly closed mouth about his Mormonism while at Bain. I doubt he initiated conversations about it but he probably was open about the demands that being a bishop and stake president were putting on his time.

    If the Church contributes to Mormons being inauthentic, I suggest that it is not because Mormon are engaged in “passing” in the sense you have described, i.e. trying to fit into American culture. Rather, I would think it is a result of “passing” in Church culture, i.e. Mormons erasing anything controversial about themselves, no matter how trivial, such as having a bad day, and putting on a brave face that people receive as false. So the result of our passing invites people to describe us as Stepfordian. But this is entirely different from the kind of passing that you are describing. It is much more banal and less Dan-Brown-esque than your “passing”. So yours is cooler.

  91. Sorry — it was Armand’s follow-up post. For some reason I got in my head that it was Kristine who wrote it.

  92. Wow, what a disgusting piece of tripe…you people certainly have a sordid and conflated sense of oppression…comparing mormons’ need to “pass” with blacks and gays….

  93. Keila,
    the author isn’t a Mormon

    I wonder if a better example of passing might be someone like Brandon Flowers used (?) to be.

  94. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 92
    I disagree keila, and I am a gay man so I have some street cred on this one. For a long time I have observed that there are actually quite a few similarities between the Mormon and gay subcultures in terms how each group is feared and loathed by the Christian majority in America. The two groups have responded to this oppression very differently, though. It’s fascinating and worthy of a separate post if I ever get around to writing it.

  95. #94 – I would love to read that post, Mike.

  96. MikeInWeHo says:

    I’ll work on it, Ray. Watching Romney’s difficulties in the Republican primary have given me cause to think more about the topic. It amazes me that Mormons can watch what’s happening to him with the party base and still deny that he’s being rejected by religious conservatives because of his faith. CLUE: The changing views and voting records of the alternate candidates they have cycled through in a desperate attempt to choose ‘anyone-but-Romney.’ If you don’t see that it’s really ‘anyone-but-the-Mormon’ you are in a bit of denial, in my opinion.

  97. Amen, Mike – and it’s more than just obvious, imo.

    When Santorum and Gingrich are winning states . . .

  98. I don’t feel the need to discuss my faith when I turn down a drink. My common line is “I’m over 21, so anything I touch is an adult beverage!”

    I have two family members who have closely worked with Romney. One claims that *is* being authentic and the other can’t figure out why he’s hiding his personality. My SP is a Bain guy and seems to have the same personality – is it a Bain thing?

  99. MrRoivas says:

    “Unfortunately for him, the Romney campaign does not have the capacity to forcefully hit back against apparent religious bigotry on the part of key opinion leaders in the GOP primaries as in the case of the notorious Robert Jeffress’ denunciation of Mormonism at the Values Voters Summit in the way that the Obama campaign was able to respond to instances of racial prejudice in 2008.”

    While in general this is an excellent piece, there is an aspect that I think you overlook. Namely the reason why Romney cannot denounce such bigotry is because the base whose votes he has to win believe that religious bigotry is not only acceptable, but mandatory. Witness Santorum “puking” at the thought of the government not being allowed to privilege certain religious groups over others.

  100. There will be a very small evangelical problem for Romney this year. The reason for this is Glenn Beck. He has done as good a job as anybody at “passing” as an Evangelical. Glenn had been supporting Santorum but last night he said it is time to rally around Romney. Glenn Beck will be able to do the bulk of the work Romney needs to do to get Evangelicals behind him. It is because of Glenn’s relationship with Billy Graham that his son Franklin Graham is keeping his lip zipped about Mormons. I don’t doubt for a second that Mitt Romney will be at Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Love” event in the new Dallas Cowboy stadium on June 28th.

  101. Meldrum the Less says:

    I am so confused. This discussion sounds so erudite from many perspectives and seems so far above me.
    i can’t figure out what parts of what comments I agree with and what I disagree with. Maybe I should just do the Mormon thing and shut up (and “pass” on this one). i tried for several days but couldn’t. Sorry.

    Randon thoughts that might be relevant to this discussion:

    Normal is stiff.

    All the candidates who are acting smooth are acting. They are the ones with an authenticity problem, which is generally all politicans.

    I think all elected officials should have mandatory jail sentences after their terms are finished. To be suspended only by 2/3 majority vote of their constituents.

    When skillful detectives interrogate me, they can tell when I am lying by certain unconscious mannerisms. These observations are not as reliable in three groups of people: actors, lawyers, and politicians.This is because these people practice contrived communication to the point that they can trick the best detectives.

    So maybe Mitt isn’t a real politician, but an authentic businessman/church guy? So that makes him more or does it make him less electable? More or less qualified to be president? Confused. Do we want politicians to run for office, or not?

    Everyone I know thinks the evangelicals dislike Mitt because he is Mormon. I don’t know anyone who is pretending otherwise. What is odd is that of the millions of evangelicals in this country (hundreds with at least as much experience and qualification as President Obama had when he ran) not a single acceptable atternative to Mitt has emerged. Where are the authentic evangelical alternatives? Saintly Santorium is a northern Yankee Catholic and Grinch Gingrich is the devil we all know who came up from Georgia.

    Lost in this conversation is that our country is in one hell of a fix. We need better leadership. I don’t care which side of the aisle it comes from. Aside from trivial personal imperfections (compared to Clinton’s Monication) does Mitt or one of the others have the capacity to better solve the problems facing us OR is more of President Obama going to be the better way? I really don’t care whether Mitt is a geek or good old boy or anything else.

    In fairness, how does this same analysis work on President Obama? Doesn’t he have some of the same aloof and falsely regal tendencies? Was he passing as a Muslim or Christian or both? Is President Obama authentic?

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