It’s hard not to be moved by Romney’s answer to Tim Russert’s question on Meet the Press today about the LDS Church’s 1978 shift in position on full spiritual equality for blacks. The testimony to his and his parents’ commitment to civil rights is powerful, but above all what’s striking is seeing Romney’s eyes well up when he describes hearing the news on the radio, pulling his car over, and weeping.
Russert begins his interview with a series of tough questions (transcript here) on Romney’s views of religion–fair enough, given that the candidate had put the subject on the table in his College Station speech. (This was what my students found wanting in comparing JFK’s appearance in the Houston ministers’ lion’s den to the excruciatingly controlled environment of the Bush Library.) At the end, Russert raises the discrimination issue, and concludes by asking, “You were 31 years old, and your church was excluding blacks from full participation. Didn’t you think, ‘What am I doing part of an organization that is viewed by many as a racist organization?'” Romney begins his response by saying:
I’m very proud of my faith, and it’s the faith of my fathers, and I certainly believe that it is a, a faith–well, it’s true and I love my faith. And I’m not going to distance myself in any way from my faith.
This, it seems to me, offers a window into the ethnic dimension of Romney’s Mormon identity that Jan Shipps emphasizes in the latest issue of Religion in the News. Romney himself doesn’t quite say it, but the phrase “faith of my fathers”–which he also used at College Station–makes it clear. Being “part of an organization” does not begin to capture what it means for Romney to be a Mormon.
So imagine the difficulty of belonging to an ethnic group that is also a church whose doctrines you believe to be the product of ongoing divine revelation, when one of those doctrines seems profoundly at odds with one of your own core beliefs. And your relief when a new revelation wipes the doctrine away.