Mitt’s Missing Mormonism

Feb 13 2014 @ 9:03am

After watching the Netflix documentary Mitt (seen above), Batya Ungar-Sargon notices that the film barely covers the candidate’s religious life:

It’s no wonder Romney appeared wooden to voters; he had to hide a major part of what motivates him. Yet even here in the hearth of the Romney clan, while glimpses of religion are central to [filmmaker Greg] Whiteley’s portrayal, the family’s Mormonism is hardly on display. It’s surprising how the documentary, whose creator, Whitely, is himself a Mormon, casts a sanitized gloss on the religious moments, all of which are themselves highly unspecific. One could watch this film and never know that Romney is a Mormon (except when he calls himself “the flipping Mormon”), which suggests that even in a film purporting to be an intimate portrait of Romney, some things are still off-limits, and get edited out.

But why?

Did Whiteley fear that the film’s largely sympathetic portrayal of Romney would be compromised by overtly Mormon scenes? How much of this narrative decision was informed by Whiteley’s own Mormon background? Would the intimacy viewers feel watching this lovely portrait of a close-knit family potentially have been disabled by the specifics of the Romney’s Mormon faith? Unfortunately, because Mitt doesn’t deliver on this front, we’ll never know.

In Whiteley’s words:

My initial attraction to Mitt was his Mormonism. I’m Mormon and I remember my dad telling me the story of [Mitt's father] George Romney when I was a little kid. I remember being very surprised to learn that there was an actual presidential candidate — and not just any presidential candidate, but someone that was actually a legitimate contender, a front-runner…

The documentary prompted Alex Beam to speculate that Mormon leaders might have been relieved that Romney didn’t win, since a victory would have brought “another order of exposure entirely” to the church:

While it is true that many wealthy Mormons, such as the Marriott family, or JetBlue founder David Neeleman, donated lots of time or money to Romney’s campaign, the church remained neutral. The church, which takes stands on some political issues, for example, on same-sex marriage, says it doesn’t endorse political candidates, and Romney was no exception.

“No one would ever come out and say it, but I suspect what you are thinking is probably true,” says Matthew Bowman, a Mormon professor of religion and author of “The Mormon People.” “The whole Romney campaign was a shock to the system for a church that generally wants to move very slowly and is used to hashing out things out internally over a long period of time.”

Speaking of Mormon history, Doug Gibson reviews Some Savage Tribe: Race, Legal Violence and the Mormon War of 1838, a new article by T. Ward Frampton in The Journal of Mormon History. Previous Dish on Mitt here and here.