Romney, Mormonism and Christians

Luther in one of his more famous quotes (and very shocking for the time) said, “I’d rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian.”

I’ve read two stories about Mr. Romney lately that were surprising. The first from Megan McArdle’s Atlantic blog (by a guest writer).

[O]ur family had out-grown our small home, so we found a larger one and put the word out that we would appreciate any help in loading and unloading our rented moving truck. Among those who showed up that morning was Mitt Romney, now the governor of Massachusetts, who had just completed his unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. Mitt had a broken collarbone, but for two hours traipsed between our home and the truck, carrying out whatever he could manage with his one good arm.

The second from the NYT through Rod Dreher.

Nearly two decades ago, Randy and Janna Sorensen approached Mr. Romney, then a church official, for help: unable to have a baby on their own, they wanted to adopt but could not do so through the church, which did not facilitate adoptions for mothers who worked outside the home.

Devastated, they told Mr. Romney that the rule was unjust and that they needed two incomes to live in Boston. Mr. Romney helped, but not by challenging church authorities. He took a calculator to the Sorensen household budget and showed how with a few sacrifices, Ms. Sorensen could quit her job. Their children are now grown, and Mr. Sorensen said they were so grateful that they had considered naming a child Mitt. (The church has since relaxed its prohibition on adoption for women who work outside the home.)

What both of those stories tell me, and let’s be clear these are not from right-wing sources seeking to put a halo on Mr. Romney, what they tell me is about something at the core of the man. For a guy who seems to be open the the charge of “there is no there, there”, both of those stories tell me there is a significant there, there. Think about that first one for a second. Mormonism isn’t exactly a big thing in Massachusetts. This article says that Mitt’s stake (what mormon’s might call a circuit or a district in lutheran speak) was about 1000 members all told. Those 1000 members would have been distributed over 5 – 10 individual congregations. So, Mr. Romney’s own congregation was probably similar in size or maybe a little bigger than St. Mark’s. It was not a mega-church outpost. The sitting governor of your state, who has broken a collarbone and just lost a senate campaign, shows up to move furniture. That is an outrageous use of time from a utilitarian standpoint. Then Gov. Romney could probably have paid a couple of college kids to do it and still been dollars ahead. Heck, he could have sent a couple of intern staffers. But, he saw something about his church community that it was more valuable to express community by his own person showing up.

The second story is about how Mr. Romney approached what my be labeled as a typical “feelings” story. Church doctrine said something: families are important enough to have in a quaint term a homemaker. The church would not place a child into a home that did not have one. That doctrine created a conflict with a felt need. The parishoner had a felt need to adopt a child. Anyone who has been part of at least mainline churches in the last 30 years knows that when a doctrine meets a felt need, the doctrine collapses like a house of cards. What do we need to honor these dusty rules for, people are hurting!

What Mr. Romney did was: a) uphold the doctrine as both good and proper, and b) put himself on the line to show how it might be followed and actually help one’s life. Folding the doctrine was the easy way out. Mr. Romney himself was not going to change it immediately to help his person. It would have been very easy to agree with the felt need, write a stern note about how it should be changed, commiserate with the parishoner about the heartless church and point her to secular sources. But instead of painting himself as the emotional good guy, Mr. Romney did the hard thing. He taught and built and sustained a mature relationship.

I say this completely as a Lutheran minister. While I think the Mormon doctrine is a dangerous Christian heresy, the most attractive thing about Mr. Romney is his Mormonism and how he lives it. The wisdom shown in those two stories is deep. Luther’s quote I started with is a shocking application of the Two-Kingdom’s theology. What is needed in the kingdom of the left, the political kingdom of the here and now, is not necessarily piety but wisdom. Not that piety is bad, but one can be a pious fool. That person should be kept far away from the sword of government. (As was said of King Steven – “a good man who did no justice”.) The Mr. Romney in those two vignettes would easily qualify as a wise Turk.

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