By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

It depends on what “devout” means

David Kravitz of Blue Mass Group thinks the media may be wrong in describing Mitt Romney as a “devout” Mormon. In a commentary on Jacob Weisberg’s recent Mormon-bashing piece in Slate, Kravitz writes:

Although Romney is routinely described by others as a “devout Mormon,” I could not find (via a couple of Google searches) an instance where he has described himself that way. So, is that description of him truth, or truthiness? Like everything else about what Mitt Romney actually believes, it’s hard to tell.

Oh, David. Try a Google search for “Mitt Romney” and “bishop.” Here are a few examples for you:

  • The Boston Phoenix: “A former venture capitalist and Mormon bishop, Romney unsuccessfully challenged Ted Kennedy in a 1994 Senate campaign and then rescued the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah — the Vatican of Mormonism — from certain disaster before being elected governor here.”
  • Associated Press: “Romney was a bishop — the Mormon equivalent of a pastor — in the early 1980s and served as president of a collection of Boston area churches in the late 80s and early 90s.”
  • Reuters:A devout Mormon and former bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney — the son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney — has several advantages, political analysts say.

Question: Is it possible be a non-devout bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Answer: It’s hard to imagine.

I’m not saying I agree with Weisberg that Romney’s religion should disqualify him from the presidency. But Kravitz shouldn’t kid himself about Romney’s beliefs, any more than he should have kidded himself about the trustworthiness of the Massachusetts Legislature in the recent same-sex-marriage debate.

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16 Comments

  1. johnk

    “Question: Is it possible be a non-devout bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Answer: It’s hard to imagine.”We are talking about Mitt Romney who might have altered a position or two because he was running for President. If Mitt was asked this question, what do you think the answer would be?

  2. mike_b1

    Romney’s foray into national politics will leave him wishing he was still governor of Massachusetts. His religious views are absolutely a public matter, as much as Gary Hart’s philandering and George Bush’s ongoing military AWOL. The issue isn’t whether Romney is just another religious nut with 8 wives. The issue is whether he’s just another nut who was “for it before he was against it.”

  3. Dan Kennedy

    John K: Let’s not forget, too, that Romney has been moving to the right in order to appeal to evangelical Christians — not to square himself with the LDS Church. The Mormons are conservative, to be sure, but they’re not as doctrinaire as most evangelicals. Witness Orrin Hatch’s support for embryonic stem-cell research.

  4. johnk

    I was making a similar point, given his track record on choice, gay rights, guns laws, etc. Would Mitt defend his position? It’s a good question. How could Mitt Romney say he’s not a devout Mormon, while at the same time not conflict with his hard right shift over the past two years. It will be interesting.

  5. Anonymous

    I’m no Romney fan, but as far as your question goes, I think he was probably a “devout” Mormon 15-20 years ago when he served as a bishop, and now it’s probably not accurate to describe him as devout. On the other hand, he reportedly abides by the “clean living” tenets of Mormonism – no caffeine, no nicotine, no booze, etc., so maybe by virtue of that alone he deserves to be considered “devout.”

  6. Anonymous

    Or Harry Reid’s Presidency of the Senate!

  7. Anonymous

    I had read somewhere that every male adult member of the Mormon church was given the appellation “bishop.” I don’t know how true that is, but, if it is true, it tends to suggest that it doesn’t take much to be a “bishop” in the Mormon church.As far as I’m concerned, this “bishop” issue is a red herring. I’d rather stick to the issues. It appears that Romney doesn’t stand for very much, except for his own political ambitions. That is the issue that should be emphasized.–raj

  8. neil

    Drug warrior Hatch is also a friend of the natural supplement industry due to some Mormon tradition of using herbs as “God’s Medicine” (see Scorin’ with Orrin). I remember him on 60 Minutes calling those who seek greater FDA oversight of supplements, “liberals”. Free lamb placentas for anyone who rats out a pot smoker!As to Romney, I’m with Kravitz. We of the Catholic ilk assume bishops to be devout, and of course in Catholic terms that means you work to implement the one true dogma and no doubt expressed. But the associations the word has with Catholicism (or Islam or…) don’t necessarily apply across religions. Who used the word about him? The press. Doesn’t mean it’s a word Mormons themselves use, whether bishops or not. I give Romney the benefit of the doubt that his ideas are his own, as opposed to emanating from the elders, even if he modifies them over time, until someone shows evidence otherwise. Evidence better than that he was appointed a bishop 25 years ago, that is.Reminds me of how the press gives credit for Condoleezza Rice being “fluent” in Russian. “Devout” seems like a similar lazy term. Just because the press repeats a word, doesn’t make it true. Finally, Weisberg should explain why the founding beliefs of Mormonism are more absurd than those of any other religion. The same argument applies to them all, as far as I’m concerned–immaculate conception, angels, reincarnation, 99 virgins upon your death? Please.

  9. mike_b1

    neil, I think Weisberg addressed that when he wrote, “Mormonism is different because it is based on such a transparent and recent fraud. … The world’s greater religions have had time to splinter, moderate, and turn their myths into metaphor.” So my guess is Weisberg would group anyone who thinks Joseph and Mary didn’t do the nasty as “someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism.” As would I — and I survived 8 years of parochial school.(I didn’t see Weisberg’s column as Mormon bashing so much as it was Romney bashing.)

  10. MeTheSheeple

    Anon 1:39: I think you’re a bit confused. Nearly every adult Mormon is an elder, but I suspect bishops are relatively rare.I used to tend bar in a frat basement with a Mormon elder who drank like a fish. Something tells me he wouldn’t be properly called a bishop, or devout.

  11. MeTheSheeple

    Hrm. Just found MormonWiki, which says a Mormon bishop is more akin to a pastor in other denominations.That’d count as “devout,” at least at the time he was a bishop, in my book.

  12. Tracy Hall

    Romney has been both a bishop and a stake president in the Boston area. A bishop is somehat comparable to a pastor — except that bishops don’t get paid. It is indeed a very responsible position, and one doesn’t get called to be a bishop unless he’s very devout. A bishop typically serves for about five years.A stake president presides over a stake — a group of wards, and is an even greater responsibility. Also unpaid, the LDS “stake president” is more comparable to a Catholic bishop.You don’t see Romney’s service to his church plastered all over the web because he is modest about that service. Don’t expect him to wear his religion on his sleeve, nor expect him to ever try to force his beliefs on others.hthalljr’gmail’com

  13. Justin Hart

    Hillarious. Romney is absolutely a dedicated Mormon.The Mormon issue? Silly and irrelevant.And more and more the issue is less and less of an issue.http://www.mymanmitt.com/2007/01/mittcast-big-thaw-evangelicals-and.asp

  14. Anonymous

    A bishop serves for 5 years and a stake president usually 10. One of the main functions of these roles is to consistently interview people to determine their level of devotion. He is devout. If he wasn’t people in Utah wouldn’t give him a dime.

  15. Anonymous

    good point about utah giving a dime anom. i dont mean to get caught up in his religious beliefs because i dont think that matters in his candidacy unless it makes a negative affect on his presidential choices; but, i saw in the blog a comment that said Romneys “absurd” mormon beliefs need to be focused on. i live in a highly mormon populated area and i have many mormon friends. most of the rumors you hear about mormon beliefs simply aren’t true. A mormon’s central beliefs are that Christ is the saviour of mankind, and through only him, can men be saved. so to state that mormons have “fruad” beliefs would be stating that baptists or catholics have fruad beliefs.

  16. justamere10

    There are a lot of anti-Mormon posts in political blogs and comments that are written by those who seem to think that the church a presidential candidate has chosen to be a member of should be a factor in the campaign. Disagreements about points of religious doctrine will probably always exist as long as there are humans on this planet. Those discussions should not be part of the process of electing the most qualified person to the highest TEMPORAL office in our nation. They more properly belong on “apologetic” sites such as the “FAIR” website http://www.fairlds.org and others that seek to address misunderstandings about THEIR OWN doctrinal beliefs rather than to attack the beliefs of other Americans.I think it’s best to leave to the hate-filled terrorists the attempt to force others to believe one’s own way! For those sincere Christians who think their pastors should be focusing on teaching them more about their own church’s doctrine and how to live better, kinder, happier, service-oriented Christ-filled lives, instead of bashing the members of other churches, they can learn the truth about the Mormons directly from the Mormons. Once they do that they may never again be so bigoted, and may never again so blindly follow the urgings of biased paid pastors to attack the beliefs of others and support the huge lucrative Mormon-bashing industry.Here are some of the official Mormon websites:http://www.mormon.org – what the Mormons believe. http://www.lds.org – the main Latter-day Saint website. http://www.familysearch.org/ – research family roots free. http://www.providentliving.org – health, budgeting, preparedness. http://fatherwork.byu.edu/ – ideas for fathers. http://www.josephsmith.net/ – about Joseph Smith.http://scriptures.lds.org/en/a_of_f/1 – the “Articles of Faith”.http://fairlds.org – what Mormons have to say about specific attacks on their beliefs.

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