Mitt Romney opens up about Mormonism

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. MittRomney pauses as he delivers his concession speech at his election night rally in Boston, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Faith has been a constant in Mitt Romney's life, yet when he ran for president, he was extremely cautious about discussing his Mormon religion. He rarely spoke of God on the campaign trail. Rarer still were any references to Mormonism itself.

But now, six months removed from his unsuccessful bid for the White House, the former Republican nominee is opening up about his Mormon upbringing and his strong belief in a traditional family structure.

In a commencement address at Southern Virginia University last weekend, Romney spoke about his Mormon mission to France in the 1960s, in which he explored the reaches of his faith, and told stories of early settlers in Salt Lake City. Repeatedly citing the Bible, Romney urged graduates to find God, marry young and have many children.

"The Bible is a pearl of wisdom, the distillation of lessons of life," Romney said. "And so when it says 'marry,' listen!" Later, Romney added, "Have a quiver full of kids if you can.”

Romney, a former Mormon ward bishop in the Boston area, told the graduates, “Reach beyond the shallowness of selfishness and complacency and mindless conformity and indulgence. This is the promise: Launch out into the deep and your nets will be filled. How do you do that? Well, getting married is one way of launching into the deep.”

Romney's address at Southern Virginia University -- a small liberal arts college in Buena Vista, Va., where more than nine in 10 students are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- marks a significant departure for the former Massachusetts governor who became the first Mormon to win a major party's presidential nomination.

Throughout the 2012 campaign, Romney shied away from discussing his Mormon faith in public and was conspicuous in how rarely he spoke of God. Often, he declined to confront the suspicions about Mormonism among some in the Republican Party's evangelical base.

At the rare moments when he did talk about spirituality, as in his 2012 commencement address at Liberty University, founded by the late evangelical televangelist Jerry Falwell, Romney spoke broadly about his shared "Christian conscience" and his trust in God, but did not utter the word Mormon.

At a town hall meeting in Wisconsin, when a young man confronted Romney by reading from a book of scripture published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney grew visibly agitated with the man's line of questioning.

"I'm sorry, we're just not going to have a discussion about religion in my view," Romney said. He added that he would talk about the practices of his faith, but not the doctrines of his religion.

Yet as he addressed graduates and their families on the grassy quad at Southern Virginia University in the Shenandoah Valley, Romney read from the diary of an 1800s Mormon pioneer and then from the Bible.

"Children are a heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the loom is his reward," Romney said, quoting scripture. "Happy is the man who hath his quiver full of them."

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