Viewing Romney through the lens of the Mormon understanding of history helps explain his ambition, his devotion to personal liberty and his comfort with expediency. —Jon Meacham
Time magazine takes an in-depth look at "The Mormon in Mitt" this week in a 2,800-word story that attempts to explore how growing up as an active, practicing, believing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has impacted Mitt Romney's life and possible presidential policies.
The Time magazine website makes full articles available only to subscribers, although a one-week temporary access is available.
"Observers have long sought clues to Romney's character and worldview in his Mormonism," Jon Meacham writes in the cover story for the magazine's Oct. 8 issue. "There is the optimistic salesmanship, the blindingly pure family values, the can-do spirit. In many ways, Romney is Reagan with children who speak to him, a cheerful leader who has a mystical appreciation of the role America is meant to play in history.
"What is less appreciated," Meacham continues, "is the Mormons' historical sense of siege and of tragedy. By cultural and theological conditioning, Romney expects life to be difficult, even confounding — hence the need for the analytical skills of a management consultant. Mormons are accustomed to conflict and expect persecution. The Mormon sense of destiny gives followers a part in a divine story, a larger saga of the conflict between good and evil, infusing their lives with both great purpose and keen pragmatism.
"Viewing Romney through the lens of the Mormon understanding of history helps explain his ambition, his devotion to personal liberty and his comfort with expediency."
Romney himself has acknowledged with some regularity that his LDS values are at the foundation of his run for the presidency. On NBC's "Meet the Press" last week he told host David Gregory that he thinks his political motivation "comes in part from this Judeo-Christian ethic of service and commitment to one's fellow man."
"The sense of obligation to one's fellow man," Romney continued. "An absolute conviction that we are all sons and daughters of the same God and therefore in a human family ... is one of the reasons I am doing what I'm doing."
The Time magazine cover story, however, goes into more historical depth to explain the foundation of Romney's faith, observing that "the story of Romney's ancestors on the American continent is one of exile and redemption, of blessing and punishment and, perhaps above all, of struggle and endurance amid trial and tribulation."
Meacham traces the historical struggles of Mormonism in general and the Romney family in particular, noting that LDS Church founding prophet Joseph Smith "founded a faith that emphasized America."
"Mormon leaders have long held that American greatness was contingent on the moral choices of its people — choices that were to be made by free will, or what is known as moral agency," Meacham writes. "In the Mormon cosmology, life in this fallen world is a constant struggle between good and evil."
How will that perspective impact a Romney presidency? Meacham doesn't speculate. But he concludes that "one thing is clear: As a devout Mormon leader, Romney knows his church history, and he knows that difficulty and doubt are inherent elements of life."
"The key thing," he continues, "is to remain faithful, to serve, to press ahead — to the next territory that might welcome you, to the next voter who might decide to give you a chance. From the outside, Romney's life looks to have been easy and affluent. There is, however, another angle of vision, one that reveals a deep-seated Romney instinct to survive and thrive in even the worst of storms.
"Whether that part of him can carry the day will determine his destiny — and ours."
The Time article is accompanied by a sidebar about the Washington, D.C., 3rd Ward, the ward to which the Romneys would be assigned should they occupy the large white residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In it, writer Elizabeth Dias asks Bishop Robert Nelson, lay leader of the congregation, "who would bring the requisite casserole to Ann Romney if she were to get the flu in the White House."
"I can imagine wanting to bring the casserole," Bishop Nelson said, chuckling. "But then you have to go through security, and at some point you go, 'The casserole just isn't worth it. Call for carryout.'"
Washington Post reporter Michelle Boorstein recently visited the 3rd Ward and found that there are mixed feelings about the possibility of having Mitt and Ann Romney in the ward.
"I hope he doesn't end up making that move," Corban Tillemann-Dick told Boorstein. "But if he does, I'd welcome him with open arms."
It should be noted that Tilleman-Dick works phone banks for the Barack Obama re-election campaign.
"They're mostly Democrats," Boorstein wrote of the LDS ward that could possibly be the home ward for the Romneys for the next four-to-eight years. "But the 3rd Ward congregants don't seem inclined to hold a grudge."
For example, Tilleman-Dick said he would love to be the Romneys' "home teacher" — an assignment almost all active Mormons have to visit and assist other members in the ward.
"I think the Romneys would be happy in our ward and definitely welcomed," said attorney and ward member Robin Lunt. "But it would be very different."