In February, after losing three states in one day to Rick Santorum, Romney highlighted his pastoral experience to supporters in Atlanta. “In my church,” he said, “we don’t have a professional ministry, and so people are asked to serve as the minister or the pastor of their congregation from time to time, and I had that privilege for over 10 years.”
But Romney clearly prefers to talk about his religion on his own terms.
At an event in Wisconsin in April, a man began asking the candidate about some of the more controversial aspects of Mormonism, including its past ban on blacks in the priesthood.
“I’m sorry, we’re just not going to have a discussion about religion in my view, but if you have a question, I’ll be happy to answer your question,” Romney said.
“I guess my question is, do you believe it’s a sin for a white man to marry and procreate with a black?” the man asked.
“No,” Romney snapped, turning to the other side of the room. “Next question.”
Later at the event, he elaborated: “This gentleman wanted to talk about the doctrines of my religion. I’ll talk about the practices of my faith.’’
Romney has declined to clarify whether he believed that the ban — which was still in effect as he entered the local church hierarchy in Boston — was divine doctrine or flawed teaching. He has refused to comment on the policy beyond expressing relief that it was lifted. A friend of his at Brigham Young University has said that Romney considered it disrespectful to question the word of the church hierarchy and that he bristled against colleges that protested the ban by boycotting athletic competitions with BYU.
But Romney has also demonstrated an aversion to talking about subjects most Mormons proudly discuss, including the religion’s founding story.
“Without the Joseph Smith story, you don’t have a Mormonism,” said Patrick Mason, a professor of Mormon studies and an expert on anti-Mormonism at Claremont Graduate University. “And there is no way, especially given Romney’s church positions, all that I can collect, that he is personally embarrassed by that story. I think what is going on is a political move.”
Romney, who faced degrees of anti-Mormon rhetoric in his unsuccessful 1994 U.S. Senate race and in his winning 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign, has long steered clear of his faith in its entirety.
In 2007, in the full swing of his first presidential bid, he encountered Greg Prince, a prominent Mormon scholar, in the reception line at a Washington fundraiser. Prince, who does not support Romney, was consulting on a PBS documentary about Mormonism and asked the candidate if he’d be willing to sit down and discuss his faith for the cameras.