Los Angeles Times: Mitt Romney's conservative roots may lie in Mormon faith

By Mitchell Landsberg

Los Angeles Times

Published: Sunday, Sept. 23 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

"There was this strong communitarian ethic," Edwards said. "They really, really believed that they were building the kingdom of God on Earth. . These harsh, high desert plains of Utah become pretty fertile agricultural areas, not through individual effort but through community efforts."

To this day, it is possible to walk into a Mormon "bishop's warehouse" just south of the Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles - one of dozens nationwide - and find food grown and canned or packed by the church under the label Deseret (meaning "honeybee"). Behind the warehouse, four grain elevators rise 110 feet high, storing 200,000 bushels of hard red wheat for emergencies.

The communal spirit rests side by side with a strong belief in individual responsibility, and a suspicion of big government going back to U.S. persecution of Mormons over polygamy. It is a family-centered culture that believes strongly in private initiative; has a fierce work ethic; and believes the community - not the government - is best equipped to help the needy and, importantly, set them on the path to self-reliance.

"We don't believe in the dole," said Joel Kasparian, who runs a Mormon employment center next to the Los Angeles food warehouse. "We have a scripture that says the idle 'shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.' So that's pretty strong."

Central to Mormon scripture is the idea that human beings are endowed by God with free agency - the ability to do good or evil. Mormons are taught that Satan offered to "save" mankind at the price of free agency, but God stopped him.

The U.S. Constitution is considered to be divinely inspired, enshrining free agency in a democratic society.

"We're a nation that's bestowed by God," Romney sometimes tells audiences.

For many Mormons, the idea of free agency, with its intrinsic emphasis on individual responsibility, translates into a belief in limited government and an abhorrence of the welfare state, which is seen as crushing individual initiative. This meshes neatly with the ideals of the Republican Party, and was echoed in Romney's recorded comments about Americans who believe they are "victims" and are entitled to help.

"If people can't make choices, they can't advance," said Charles Rich, the Mormon stake president (the overall leader) for Rancho Cucamonga and the great-great-grandson of the Mormon pioneer who founded San Bernardino. "Some people may translate that into a belief in limited government."

Other doctrine dictates Mormon opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. But Mormons are quick to point out that, unlike many evangelical churches, their church allows for exceptions for abortion in the cases of rape, incest, when the life or health of the mother is in danger or when the fetus has such severe defects that it is not expected to survive beyond birth. And they insist that they are not so much opposed to homosexuality (although gay sex is considered sinful) as interested in protecting "traditional" marriage.

The church earned the enmity of many gay rights advocates for its campaign in favor of Proposition 8 in California, outlawing same-sex marriage. (Romney, once known as an advocate of gay rights in Massachusetts, opposes same-sex marriage.)

Mormons tend to be less conservative on immigration than evangelicals, a position some attribute to the fact that so many of its young people serve abroad as missionaries. (On this, though, Romney tends to be more conservative than his co-religionists. During the Republican primaries, he took a hard line on immigration reform and said he believed in policies that would prompt illegal immigrants to "self-deport.")

There are, of course, Mormon liberals. The most famous is Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is held up as the prime example of how the church doesn't try to impose its political will on Mormon politicians.

But Reid is the exception. Romney is closer to the majority, which is one reason he will get overwhelming support from Mormons in November. Liz Anderson, the woman who sought help from her bishop, said political conservatism goes with the territory.

"It just goes back to the values of the church and what we're taught and what we believe," she said.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere