Mitt Romney's personal history as a Mormon leader has largely escaped scrutiny. Why? In Boston he was far more than a detached or occasional churchgoer, and how he handled his prominent role ought to be considered. Indeed, I would think that anyone so close to the presidency with such a past would see it examined in far more detail -- simply because it tells us much about this man so many find a bit of a mystery.
Beginning at age 30, Romney served in powerful posts, as bishop and then as so-called stake president, overseeing about a dozen congregations with close to 4,000 members altogether. In their book, The Real Romney, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman write that "those positions in the church amounted to his biggest leadership test yet, exposing him to personal and institutional crises, human tragedies, immigrant cultures, social forces, and organizational challenges that he had never before encountered."
Perhaps the most the controversial aspect of Romney's tenure as a Mormon leader involved his choices in upholding traditional and backward church beliefs regarding women.
Michael Kranish and Scott Helman:
"You're not my kind of Mormon," Romney, then Boston stake president, reportedly told Judy Dushku, a member with whom he had clashed over the church's treatment of women. Romney showed callousness toward Dushku when she came seeking his permission to enter a Mormon temple, which had formerly been off-limits to those, like Dushku, who were married to non-Mormons. "I'm coming to you as a member of the church, essentially expecting you to say, 'I'm happy for you,' " Dushku recalls. "I just felt kicked in the stomach."
The authors explore Romney's conflicts with Mormon women and how he was forced to reconcile the demands of liberal women within his Boston stake against the conservative doctrines and practices of Mormonism.
"I needed him. It was very significant that he didn't come," says Peggie Hayes, who had asked Romney to confer a blessing on the out-of-wedlock baby he advised her to give up for adoption. "This is what the church wants you to do, and if you don't, then you could be excommunicated for failing to follow the leadership of the church," she recalls him saying.
Stories like those are worth hearing as the public tries to understand more about the man within striking distance of the White House.
The Romney camp has succeeded in spooking the news media and political foes away from such an exploration, deeming it bigoted to raise any questions about his religion. It should not be off limits.