Mitt Romney has a problem. It’s a Mormon problem. But it’s not the problem you think it is.
When most people think of Mitt’s Mormon problem they think it has something to do with Evangelicals. It’s true that Evangelicals don’t like Mormonism and it seems apparent that Evangelicals would prefer to not vote for a Mormon. But Evangelicals are very pragmatic. When it comes to an election Evangelicals will vote for a Mormon who fits their political values. Most Evangelicals haven’t been faced with that before, but when push comes to shove they’ll do exactly what Evangelicals in Utah, Idaho and Arizona do, pick the candidate that best fits their political worldview.
Mitt has a bigger problem when it comes to the general election and it’s not about Evangelicalism. It’s about Mormonism.
You see, as far back as 1847, the LDS church under Brigham Young denied the priesthood to those of African descent. For the average person, what you need to know is that this meant blacks were second class citizens in the Mormon church. They could join but their involvement was limited. This continued until 1978.
In 1978 Mitt Romney was about 31 years old. Already exhibiting considerable intelligence and leadership skills, not to mention being the son of a prominent Mormon leader; Mitt took on leadership roles in the church from an early age.
That means if a black couple came to Mitt and said “we want to do it right. We want to live out the very best of our religion; we want to get married in the temple for all of time and eternity.” Mitt would have had to say to them, “Sorry wrong skin color.”
If that black family came to Mitt and said “We want our family to be sealed together forever as the Prophet Joseph Smith says can happen. Mitt would have had to say “Sorry, wrong skin color.”
If that same black man came to Mitt Romney and said “I want to baptize my son into the church” Mitt would have had to say “Your son is welcome to be baptized, but you his father can’t do it, Sorry, wrong skin color.”
If that same baby turned 12 years old. He would have seen all his friends take on the new responsibility of serving the sacrament to the rest of the congregation. But to that young man, Mitt would have had to say “Sorry wrong skin color.”
You see, I believe Mitt was excited, like many Mormons when this ban was lifted in 1978. I take his word for it that he and his father advocated for civil rights in the public sphere. But when it came to practicing his faith, — Mitt was entrenched in institutional racism. As a local leader, he was the business end of the church’s policy. It was when black families confronted Mitt Romney that they discovered that all men were created equal, but if you were the wrong skin color, you were less equal than others. If they happened to object, all Mitt could say was “Sorry wrong skin color”.
To make matters worse, this was a policy of the church. Not a doctrine. NO ONE can point to a specific set of Mormon scriptures and say “see this is why Blacks can’t have the priesthood”. It was just a policy set in place by the church’s racist leadership. There was no dictate from God about it. No one said “thus sayeth the Lord”. It just happened because that’s what this bunch of frontier religious entrepreneurs thought was best. By locating themselves in the middle of the desert they very intentionally were isolated from the rest of society. They flourished and grew without much opposition to this policy.
The official church headquarters doesn’t say much about anything controversial. But if you ask the unofficial apologist, many of them professors at BYU, they will tell you that this ban on blacks was a relic of the age. Racism was common back then. Slavery was still legalized. Lots of religious folk were citing the curse of Cain and segregating the races.
That’s true. All of it. The LDS church was not different than many Protestant churches in this regard. Compared to the Southern Baptist church of the 1860’s they were light years ahead on issues of race. But we’re not talking about Brigham Young in 1860. We’re talking about Mitt Romney. In 1978.
Here’s the other thing that makes the issue different for the LDS church. They claim to have God’s one and only true prophet. This man knows the heart of God better than anyone else on the planet. If God is going to speak to any church about matters of faith and practice it’s going to be with this man.
As society moved forward and the injustices of race were highlighted and reformed, the LDS church kept with their ban. By the time 1978 rolled around, the Mormons were practically the only institutional holdouts. Meanwhile, their prophet didn’t do anything to change the church and Mitt Romney didn’t do anything to change the church.
If you go to Mormon.org and ask the missionaries there, why was this ban in place, they’ll say “I don’t know, it hasn’t been revealed”. Talk to Mormons and they’ll tell you we wanted it to be changed, but it couldn’t be changed. God wasn’t talking.
So if we’ve got this straight. They’ve got the one and only true and living Prophet in the whole world. But that guy couldn’t hear God and the rest of society say “this is wrong”. Mitt Romney looked around at the things happening in the world and then in regards to this institutional racism he looked at his prophet and said “I sustain you”. Further when he encountered blacks who want to participate in his faith, he said “I’m willing to be the enforcer, I’m willing to tell them “Okay, but just a little bit, after all; wrong skin color.”
And the maddening thing about this is. . . as savvy Mormon apologist will tell you. . . it wasn’t doctrinal. It was just a racist policy. They didn’t need to hear from God to change this. It wasn’t scriptural. It was policy. Do you know what a church policy is? Things like let’s use a guitar instead of a pipe organ. Let’s meet at 9am instead of 10am. Let’s make the pews mauve instead of teal. You don’t need to hear from God to make policy changes, especially if you have nothing in your scriptures backing them up. But Mitt Romney and his prophet, persisted all the way until 1978.
This is a problem for Mitt Romney in 2012. Because the guy currently serving as President is Barack Hussein Obama. Someone to whom Mitt Romney in 1978 would have had to say “Sorry wrong skin color”.
The LDS church has never apologized for this misstep. They haven’t even sufficiently clarified to their own members that it was a policy, born out of 19th Century racial sentiments, not a doctrine. The missionaries at Mormon.org don’t need to say “we don’t know” when you ask them why blacks were not allowed to get married in their temples. They should do exactly what the prophet Thomas Monson should do. They should say “We were wrong. It shouldn’t have happened. We’re sorry it happened and we’re so glad that it’s not happening anymore because we believe in justice and we failed to live up to our own ideals.”
So when this issue comes up for Mitt Romney he needs to look at Barack Obama and the American people and do more than say “I was glad for the change.” He needs to own his own part in it. He needs to apologize. He needs to say it was wrong. And if his church is unwilling to make a positive step like that, then he needs to prove to all of us that he’s a leader and he needs to lead.