TAMPA, Fla. — Thursday night's final session of the Republican National Convention may not have been exactly like LDS general conference, but there were enough "Mormon moments" to elicit a few hearty "amens" from those who are believers in both Mitt Romney and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The evening started with an invocation from Ken Hutchins, a 71-year-old retired police chief who replaced Romney as the president the LDS Church's Boston Massachusetts Stake. Hutchins is battling lymphoma, and is recovering from chemotherapy treatments that put his ability to travel to Tampa for the convention in doubt up until the last minute. But he walked steadily, if slowly, to the podium, and with a strong voice he opened the convention's final session with a prayer that was at once decidedly Christian (with its "Lord's Prayer" structure, its thankful reference to the Atonement of Jesus Christ and its closure in the name of Jesus Christ) and distinctly Mormon (with references to "the gift of the Holy Ghost, the testator of truth" and to the ability to worship "according to the dictates of our own conscience").
A few minutes after the prayer, a returned Mormon missionary, Romney's youngest son, Craig, used the language he learned during his LDS mission to Chile to share a message about his father in Spanish. Craig has also drawn on the language of his mission to speak in behalf of his father in Spanish-language television and radio ads.
Although Romney has avoided talking about his faith during the current presidential campaign, it was clear that a strategic decision was made to focus on his faith during the Thursday night program as part of an effort to introduce him to the viewing audience. A section of the program focused on Romney's service as an unpaid LDS clergyman in the Boston area during the 1980s.
Grant Bennett, who served as a counselor to Romney when he was an LDS bishop (Bennett used the term "pastor" to be more clear about the position to the vast majority of convention attendees and viewers who are not LDS). He spoke about the vast amount of time Romney spent ministering to the members of his congregation. "He had a listening ear and a helping hand," Bennett said.
"Mitt challenged each of us to find our life by losing it in the service of others," he said. "And Mitt did what he challenged us to do. He led by example."
Three former members of Romney's congregation also spoke to the convention crowd about specific acts of service he performed in their behalf as their bishop. Ted and Pat Oparowski told about his ministry to their family as their son, David, was dying of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
"You cannot measure a man's character based on the words he utters before adoring crowds during happy times," Ted said. "The true measure of a man is revealed in his actions during times of trouble. The quiet hospital room of a dying boy, with no cameras and no reporters — that is the time to make an assessment."
According to Pat, Mitt visited David frequently, bringing him gifts, helping him to write a will and eventually, speaking at his funeral.
"Mitt brought joy to a young boy who hadn't experienced any for too long," she said.
Pam Finlayson spoke of how Romney and his family served her family when her daughter was born prematurely and had to spend weeks in the hospital, including providing Thanksgiving dinner for them while they were making frequent trips back and forth to the hospital.19 comments on this story
"When the world looks at Mitt Romney, they see him as the founder of a successful business, the leader of the Olympics, or a governor," Finlayson said. "When I see Mitt, I know him to be a loving father, a man of faith and a caring and compassionate friend."
For many, however, the most entertaining "Mormon moment" of the evening came late, while Romney was presenting what some pundits said would be "the most important speech of his life." He was speaking of the early days of Bain Capital, the company he helped to found, which struggled during its infancy. He became so desperate for clients, he said, "I thought about getting my church's pension fund to invest."
"But I didn't," he said. "I figured it was bad enough that I might lose my investor's money. But I didn't want to go to hell, too."
He added: "One of my partners got the Episcopal Church fund to invest, and today there are a lot of happy retired priests who thank him."