Worrying Sign: Most of Romney's "Charity" Went to the Mormon Church and Its Projects

Romney's tax returns raise serious questions about where his loyalties lie.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Lori Howard

Is anyone really surprised that Mitt Romney’s latest federal tax return shows most of his charitable giving has gone to the Mormon church and related organizations?

These includes Mormon organizations that in recent years cannot charitably be described as anything but homophobic—whether funneling big bucks into state ballot measures to oppose gay marriage or into ‘re-education’ to turn gays into straights. These stances are not very different from the Catholic Church, which, like Mormons, also opposed the Equal Right Amendment for women.

What’s most intriguing about Romney’s charitable giving is not that he writes big checks as some conservative pundits have exclaimed—forgetting he is very wealthy, but that almost all of his giving has gone to his church. That raises a question that Romney’s campaign sought to dispense of months ago: how would his religion steer his presidency?

There are plenty of church members who have written how the Mormon church has tried hard in recent years to appear to take stances that are more acceptable to the American mainstream, such as tempering its still-intemperate view of homosexuality.

It’s uncomfortable to criticize or attack anyone in politics—or private life—for religious views. But Romney’s loyalty to his church is affirmed by his taxes and charitable giving. It raises the question of how the church’s teachings have shaped his personal values, emotional temperament and his philosophy in business and politics.

The author of this blog on Romney and Mormonism posts a very intriguing link to a sermon by Ezra Taft Benson, the 13th President of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, a Secretary of Agriculture under President Dwight Eisenhower and great grandson to one of the church’s founding apostles. Romney’s life is similar to Benson’s biography—a family deeply tied to the faith’s founders, early missionary work followed by higher education and then a public life.

This Benson sermon at Brigham Young University in 1980 discusses “Fourteen Fundamentals In Following The Prophet.” What’s notable is many of these attributes of pious Mormons seem to describe Romney’s composure in the 2012 campaign—especially lately, when one wonders how he can maintain a sunny disposition and confidence despite clumsy public statements and falling polls.

Look at numbers four through ten on Benson’s list. Substitute ‘Romney’ for the ‘living prophet’ and ask, ‘Do you see this temperamant in Romney on the campaign trail?’

“In conclusion let us summarize this grand key, these “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet”, for our salvation depends on them.

1. The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.

2. The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.

3. The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.

4. The prophet will never lead the church astray.

5. The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.

6. The prophet does not have to say “Thus Saith the Lord,” to give us scripture.

7. The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.

8. The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.

9. The prophet can receive revelation on any matter, temporal or spiritual.

10. The prophet may advise on civic matters.

11. The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.

12. The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.

13. The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency—the highest quorum in the Church.

14. The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the First Presidency—follow them and be blessed—reject them and suffer.

Throughout the campaign, many people—voters, pundits, pollsters, members of the GOP and Democrats, elected officials—have asked, ‘who is the real Romney?’

Perhaps the release of his 2011 income taxes reminds us that the real Romney is the man his campaign has sought to hide—but whose character and composure were forged inside the highest echelons of the Mormon church. Perhaps Benson’s characterization of the “living prophet,” a man who has inner knowledge, inner confidence, doesn’t have to explain himself, knows he is on a sacred path, knows he will be unpopular, etc., is a Mormon archetype and one that has deeply emprinted itself on Romney’s soul.

It may be irresponsible and intolerant to paint Romney in broad strokes colored by his religion. But his 2011 tax returns underscore his deep ties to his church. If we take the word of other Mormon writers and follow their online links and pointers, it may be that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is the key to understanding his character and values, and internal compass that he would bring to the White House.

At the very least, it suggets that a question that the Romney campaign sought to dispose of early on in 2012’s primaries should be revisited before the November election.      

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).