Mitt Romney's Role as Mormon Bishop Shows His Extremist Religious Beliefs
One winter day, far along into her pregnancy with her second child, 21-year-old Peggy Hayes received a phone call from Willard Mitt Romney. He wanted to talk to her, he said. Could he come over?
Hayes, the divorced, unmarried mother of a 3-year-old daughter, was struggling as a nurse’s aide in a working-class suburb of Boston. She had little in common with the successful Bain executive, but the request wasn’t as odd as it might seem. Hayes was a Mormon. Romney was her bishop. Romney walked into her small apartment, made small talk and then commanded her to give her baby up for adoption after it was born. He was her bishop, and as she knew, Mormonism disapproved of single motherhood. Hayes said no.
“Well, this is what the church wants you to do, and if you don’t then you could be excommunicated for failing to follow the leadership of the church,” Romney said, according to Hayes in an interview with Boston Globe journalists Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. Romney denied he made that threat, although he did not dispute the incident.
Somehow this tale didn’t make it into the Mormon Moment at the Republican National Convention.
Is Mitt Romney a captive of the religious extremists who control the Republican party, or is he one of them? The answer can be found in a subject Romney has been loathe to discuss: his Mormonism.
Now we know that the tin man has a heart. Romney is “a loving father, man of faith, and a caring and compassionate friend,” we learned in Tampa, in genuinely moving stories from Mormons Romney pastored. But there’s another side of Romney’s story that begs to be told. In the wake of Todd Akin’s rape comments and the GOP’s adoption of an extremist platform, voters deserve to hear about how Romney has imposed Mormonism’s retrograde doctrines about women, gays and sex on the people he has authority over.
Given Americans’ limited knowledge about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, let’s begin with an introduction to Mormon mores, where sin-wise “ unchastity is next to murder in seriousness.” The Mormon Church forbids any and all sex outside of heterosexual marriage, including “ necking and petting”; masturbation; pornography; homosexuality; and abortion in almost all circumstances. Gays who act on their “ inclinations” are banned from entering Mormon temples, where many of the most important family events and sacred rituals—marriage, funerals, baptism of the dead—are celebrated. Traditional gender roles are encouraged, and often enforced. Mormonism bars women from the priesthood, enjoins them to have many children, and frowns on mothers working outside the home. In a nation of declining middle-class incomes, there’s not much the hierarchy can do to force mothers back into full-time motherhood and wifedom. Still, the LDS Church doesn’t employ Mormon women with young children or cover birth control for its employees.
In Mormonism, mothers may be exalted, but women sure aren’t equal.
To be sure, the LDS church isn’t impervious to change. It did, after all, end polygamy and eventually allow African American men into the priesthood. Yet when it comes to stepping into the 21st century on women’s equality, gay civil rights and sex—as many ordinary Mormons would prefer-- the Mormon Church has dug in its heels.
And this is where Romney comes in.
In 1981, the 34-year-old Romney was already a fabulously successful consultant at Bain & Company when the LDS hierarchy tasked him to be a lay bishop. The Belmont ward, where Romney’s family worshipped, was a hotbed of Mormon feminism—a sign, from Salt Lake City’s perspective, that the congregation needed a Mr. Turnaround. Romney ultimately spent nearly 14 years as a Mormon clergyman, becoming the highest Mormon Church leader in the Boston region. He resigned in 1994 to run for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy.