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Latter-Day Leader

Matthew Bowman, author of The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith, on how religion shapes Mitt Romney’s candidacy.

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What’s Mormon about Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate?
Mormons are progressives in the classic sense, the sense of Jane Addams and Theodore Roosevelt. They have great faith in organization. They’re confident that if we just get the organization right, we can make people better, we can make people more moral, we can make people virtuous. I think Romney really has that pragmatic, moralistic streak in him.

It sounds like you’re describing Mike Bloomberg.
Absolutely. Men in the church are taught that through engineering, through organization, through getting everyone in the room and talking about problems, we can fix anything. This has always been true to some degree, but in the fifties and sixties there was a period called “correlation.” It was when church leaders reorganized the entire church in conscious imitation of American corporations. They even hired consultants from the business world to help. That’s the culture that Romney was weaned on.

So is there any distinction between Romney’s Mormon faith and his faith in corporations?
These cultures are so intertwined it’s hard to separate them. They have built on similar ideas and similar virtues that have been present in American life for quite a long time. You’re supposed to be humble and competent. That’s really in Romney’s bones. It may be why he’s seemingly frustrated a lot of the time—he deeply believes in his own competence and he believes that should be enough.

So why does Romney refuse to address his very American religion?
I don’t agree with the proposition that he is not addressing his religion. Mormonism isn’t really a theological religion; it’s about right practice rather than right belief. I thought the “Faith in America” speech that Romney gave during the 2008 campaign was intensely Mormon. He said over and over, look at the way I’ve lived my life, look at these good values I have, look at the family I have raised, look at how I have practiced my business. In that speech, he’s saying the things that he believes Mormonism is all about. He’s defending his religion.


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