Mitt Romney: proudly, quietly Mormon
The former governor of Massachusetts is a Mormon in full. But, facing a wary public, he has played his faith cautiously on the presidential campaign trail.
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"I've given a lot of thought to that issue, and someone like myself who is very much opposed to abortion, as I have always been, struggles with what the role of government ought to be in making that choice," he says. "It's not an easy decision, but when it went from a matter of discussion and a philosophical view to actually making a decision relating to life and death, I as governor concluded I had to come down on the side of life."Skip to next paragraph
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The issue at hand in Massachusetts was embryonic cloning, as Romney has recounted repeatedly. But from that came his change of heart on how government should address abortion. As president, he says, he would like to see the legality of abortion decided state by state.
Given his position on life, why does he favor the death penalty?
"In my view, a person who takes life should be subject to having life taken, in certainly the most extreme cases," he says. "To show respect for life, it is entirely consistent to say [that] somebody who flagrantly and violently and in a heinous manner takes the life of humans should not be given the privilege of being kept alive."
The family religion
The Mormon Church and the Romney family go way back. Mitt Romney's great-great grandfather Miles Romney converted to the LDS faith in 1837, just seven years after Joseph Smith started the religion. At what point in Mitt's life did he know that Mormonism was for him, a doctrine and lifestyle he could embrace as his own?
The answer centers on matters of the heart. While a freshman at Stanford University, he wanted nothing more than to be back home in Michigan with his girlfriend, Ann Davies, who was still in high school. The last thing he wanted to do was go overseas as a church missionary.
"The question had to be reached: Did I really believe my religion, or was it just the family religion?" he recalls. "And so I did a lot of soul-searching that year, and by the time the end of the year came around, I was convinced that God lived, and that Jesus Christ was my savior, and that my responsibilities included service to my church. And I was convinced that my church was right, and so I committed to go on my mission."
After Romney went off to France, Ann decided to convert to Mormonism. But Romney says he would have married her anyway. "Look, I was so completely in love, and she was, that we'd have gotten married no matter what. But as I became a missionary for my church and became more and more a student of the Bible and of the scriptures in our church, I was more and more pleased that she had decided to look into our church herself and decided to join."
Thirty-eight years later, the family commitment to the LDS faith remains whole. Mitt Romney remains a full tithe payer, meaning he donates 10 percent of his income to the church. All five sons graduated from the church-affiliated Brigham Young University, and all five married Mormon women in temple weddings. And even if there's an effective fire wall between Romney and the church leadership in Salt Lake City, Romney has willingly fulfilled whatever he has been called to do in his local parish.
"You pretty much always do what you're asked to do – everything from teaching kids, teaching teenagers, working in Boy Scouts, and … for a few years, I was the adult Sunday School teacher," he says. "I like teaching. I taught the New Testament, I taught church history, I taught the Book of Mormon, I taught the Old Testament, and learned a lot about those."
When the president of the LDS Church decided in 1995 that a temple – a large structure used for certain church rituals – should be built in Belmont, Mass., Romney did his part to see the project through. He met with neighbors to assuage their opposition, spoke at a zoning hearing on the height of the steeple, which exceeded local bylaws, and donated money.
Even today, Romney fulfills a role in the Belmont church, as a "home teacher." Every member is assigned to visit another member once a month to see if anything is needed. According to family friend Grant Bennett, Romney told the current bishop that these days he's around only one day a month, and the bishop said, "Meet your family on that day."
Romney "doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve," says Kirk Jowers, who served as general counsel to Romney's political action committee. "But I know that in his heart, that and his family are the two things that really move him and motivate him."
• Staff writer Ben Arnoldy contributed to this report from Salt Lake City.