Last Sunday, Associated Press writer Kasie Hunt gave newspaper readers a rare look at presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his family attending LDS Church worship services near the Romneys' vacation home in New Hampshire.
"The family's devotion to the Mormon faith is a part of Romney's life that the electorate rarely sees," Hunt wrote. "Romney almost never mentions it in public. And his campaign typically bars the media from seeing him participate in a religion that many American are unfamiliar with."
Although Hunt wasn't invited to go to church with the Romneys during their recent family vacation, the reporter noted in her story that the LDS meetinghouse closest to the Romney vacation home, like all LDS meetinghouses, "is open to visitors and an Associated Press reporter attended the same sacrament service the Romney family attended." Her report of that experience shows a very normal Mormon family during a worship service, singing hymns, wrestling with restless children and providing breakfast cereal from a Ziploc bag to pacify "a grinning blond toddler."
Writing for BuzzFeed, McKay Coppins refers to the AP story and uses it to compare Mitt Romney's approach to his Mormonism with the approach his father, George, took when he was running for president during the 1960s. Quoting from "The Republican Establishment" by David S. Broder and Stephen Hess, Coppins notes that "George Romney essentially kicked off his candidacy by inviting 40 traveling reporters to attend a Sunday morning (LDS) church service in Anchorage, Alaska, during which he and his wife were scheduled to deliver sermons."
According to the Broder-Hess book, "The Romneys were escorted to the platform; the reporters, a bit self-conscious in the strange surroundings, to a front pew. The opening hymn was spirited; George and Lenore (Romney), a handsome couple, sang with gusto about the day 'when all that was promised the Saints would be given.'"
Coppins notes, "The younger Romney has studiously avoided implying any intersection between his religious beliefs and his political positions — and, in fact, has avoided religion altogether on the stump."
On the other hand, Coppins observes, George Romney once told the New York Times, "I am completely the product of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Taking a slightly different approach to the public and political possibilities of Mormonism, Eliza Gray, assistant editor of the New Republic, departs from the Romney family and instead writes with insight about the stunning growth of Mormonism in the Washington, D.C., area, which she calls "a magnet for young, single Mormons."
"The reason for this turns out to be simple," Gray writes. "Washington is a town that rewards networking, and Mormons are some of the best networkers around."
According to Gray, "One reason that the Mormon network is so strong is that its bonds are fortified by a system of mutual assistance — a system that comes in handy in a town where favors are valuable currency."
She points to the church's practice of giving service-oriented assignments to all members, including "callings" such as Sunday School teacher and home teaching assignments for men and visiting teaching assignments for women. She reports that former Republican Senator Robert Bennett of Utah talked about serving in church assignments with a union organizer, and there was "not a bad word" between them. She also notes that "when Rex Lee, father of Utah Senator Mike Lee, served as Ronald Reagan's solicitor general, his family's home teacher was Harry Reid."
Of course, the LDS penchant for networking doesn't appeal to everyone. Gray says that Gen. Brent Scowcroft is proud of his Mormon heritage, but he is no longer active in the faith, at least in part because "they want to engage you in their social activities. I didn't want to be bothered, and I didn't like to turn people down."
"For most Mormons, though, the network remains a powerful asset," Gray says. "When I asked one prominent Republican lobbyist (and a Mormon) if he had any examples of a distinguished Washingtonian humbling himself for the sake of the church, he replied without missing a beat, 'I've got a picture of Orrin Hatch waist deep in a septic tank.' A Mormon neighbor needed help, he explained, and the senator was only too happy to oblige."