He looks like Ken from a “baby-boomer Barbie” play set. From his plastic hair to his plastic smile, Mitt Romney has succeeded in embodying the caricature of the wealthy, detached white man. Forget his business success; it is the coldness of the candidate’s businesslike demeanor that leaves the lasting impression.

As a Mormon, I cringe more than anyone. No other Mormon has ever had such a chance to transform the church’s public image. And Romney is blowing it. It hurts all the more because I believe that the Mitt we see fails to convey a depth of character forged by years of faithful church service.

Ironically, that very church service may be the cause of his awkwardness. The archetypical Mormon leader prefers serenity and efficiency to emotional outbursts — you will never hear a “Halleluiah!” in a Mormon service. Most accuse Mitt of being too much the CEO; really, his fault in fact lies in being too much the bishop.

Mormon men, especially, possess an acute aversion to public displays of emotion. In this patriarchal faith, men are expected to be a stalwart pillar in adverse times. Fathers, according to Mormon doctrine, “provide the necessities of life [and] protection.”

Because mothers retain the role of nurturer, Mormon men, for lack of practice, are less comfortable in emotionally charged environments than they might be in making difficult decisions. As a result, Romney excels in the technical aspect of campaigning — he has far more cash in hand than Obama — but falls short in portraying the raw emotions that define real people.

That said, Mormons — church leaders especially — generally don’t have cold hearts. They really do care, and so does Romney. However, most of their real ministerial work happens behind closed doors.

As Mormon missionaries, for example, Mitt and I have both wept at the struggles of those we served and rejoiced at their successes. But in both cases, we would never think of allowing them to sense our changing emotions. The church trains missionaries to teach and support, not to develop destabilizing emotional attachments. With that in mind, can anyone really fault Mitt for his awkwardness whenever he tries to convey the nobility of his ideals?
For the record, Mormons passionately hope for a better world. We preach that faith is an action principle. The Book of Mormon says, “If ye turn away the needy and the naked … and impart of your substance … to those who stand in need … then ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.”

Romney’s life is a reflection of this deep commitment. It is a well-established fact that he donates a vast sum of his wealth to charity. Perhaps less known is the anecdote that, while serving as a leader of congregations in Boston, Romney bypassed a church policy that forbade spending funds on legal assistance for undocumented workers. Displaying both charity and a bit of cheek, he instead used church funds to pay for all of these workers’ other expenses, which allowed them to use personal funds for legal fees.

Contrary to appearances, Romney and Obama’s hearts both bleed with comparable empathy. Just like Obama, Romney strives for a united America with less poverty and more peace. They differ not in their goals but in their diagnoses and treatments.

To Mormon Mitt, America’s moral decay has generated the bulk of its problems, from fiscal irresponsibility to poverty. Church President Thomas S. Monson once said, “There is no counter-voice to the culture of ‘buy it, spend it, wear it, flaunt it, because you’re worth it.’ The message is that morality is passe, [and] conscience is for wimps.” To an industrious Mormon, irresponsible and selfish laziness oppose righteous behavior.

Romney, shaped by his leadership in local churches, believes that only strengthening families and communities will solve the country’s woes. While Obama favors a top-heavy approach, Mormon Mitt, schooled by a church structure that stresses local empowerment, sees interference of the federal government on social issues as unhelpful.

Furthermore, Romney, like every Mormon, believes that America has a special role in God’s plan of happiness. The Book of Mormon teaches, “Inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God, ye shall prosper in this land [the United States].” To Mormons, America is the Promised Land — literally, a new Jerusalem.

Should Romney be elected president, he would hope history characterizes his tenure, like Kennedy’s or Reagan’s, not by what he did so much as by the magnitude of his faith in the American dream.

Mormons, after all, do not remember our church leaders for what they have done, but for why they did it.

THOMAS CHRISTIANSEN is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He recently spent two years on a Mormon mission in Australia.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *