Mainstream Mormonism is no cult, and Mitt Romney is more fit to be President for his work in the church.
Growing up in New York, my family and best friend, John, visited the Mormon Pavilion at the World’s Fair in 1965. My mother and John filled out a card to learn more, and before long, missionaries—classically attired in white shirt and tie—arrived at our door steps. My mother and I did not have much interest, but John soon began a journey completed by becoming a Mormon at the age of 17.
Impressed by his sincere faith, I made it my business, while attending a secular college, to learn about Mormonism—not from a missionary looking to score a convert—but through courses about religion in society and research papers.
Mormonism is not something I could accept as a faith—you will never get the Catholic out of me, even if I attend an Episcopal Church in Georgetown.
Mormons believe in the salvation story that makes Christianity a separate faith, not merely a separate sect, from Judaism. However, Mormons also believe mortals possess the potential for divinity—to live a life like God in the hereafter—if they live a truly just life here on earth.
The potential for our own divinity sounds far fetched and cult-like to rigid and inflexible Christians, such as Governor Perry supporter Rev. Robert Jeffress, but no more so than did the divinity of Christ and the Christian salvation story to First Century Jews or their Roman rulers. What is more important is what Mormons believe and teach to their children about what God expects from each of us in our relationships with our fellow human beings—or what it takes to live a good life.
Mormons believe, like other Christians, each human being is imperfect but capable, through faith and good deeds, of improving—and is fact responsible to his creator to try. They teach hard work, thrift, respect for human life, and tolerance for the beliefs of others. On issues like the sanctity of marriage and abortion, mainstream Mormon’s positions may not endear them to libertine intellectuals and progressives, but they are hardly out of step with what many conservative Catholics and Protestants believe.
As much as any faith community, Mormons believe each of us is responsible to assist those less fortunate, fallen or beset by troubles—through real gifts of time and resources—and that such acts of charity improve the condition of the man or woman who extends the helping hand as much as the one who receives the lift.
More importantly, Mormonism has imparted on Mitt Romney an indelible imprint that makes him more fit, not less, to be President.
The son of a Michigan Governor and holder of both an MBA and law degree from Harvard, Mr. Romney grew up in privilege and became wealthy in business as founder of Bain Capital, a private equity company. However, the Mormon Church does not have a professional clergy—full-time ministers in the manner of the Catholic and mainstream Protestant clergy—but rather calls on laymen to lead the worship and counsel fellow congregants and those in need.
As a young man, Mitt Romney served as leader of his congregation and later as Boston Stake President—overseeing a region similar to a Catholic or Episcopal diocese. In those capacities, he made remarkable efforts—some successful and others not—to combat urban gangs, reach out to other faith communities and generally administer his church’s welfare system that helps the needy.
He made parish calls, counseled his follow congregants and worked with those that were troubled—in trials of faith and life. Through these experiences, he saw how the other side lives in a manner that many who devote their lives to business or politics never do or try very hard to leave behind.
Mr. Romney has gone to those places in our communities that most of us would prefer to avoid and subcontract to professional clergy, and assuage our guilt by writing checks.
Mr. Romney has visited and worked in those places where the human condition is blighted by poverty, poor personal decisions, drug abuse, deceit, and worse. By the accounts of those who know him—not his own bragging—he performed those tasks with energy, enduring commitment and considerable sacrifice of his own time and money.
Mitt Romney is no mother Theresa—but no one can be her and be a good spouse and parent, businessman, governor, and aspire to be president. However, Mr. Romney lives a faith that teaches the dignity of man, tolerance for human diversity, the power of charity to improves the lives of those that give as well as those that receive, and potential for redemption when we fail—which each of us does in some measure.
If that’s a cult, then maybe Rev. Jeffress should sign up for some lessons.
Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.