The Salt Lake Tribune has an article about Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s days as an LDS bishop. It’s an interesting sidelight on an aspect of the man that many people are curious about – his faith and where he stands.
You might admire his stand on abortion, except for running as a pro-choice candidate in order to get elected in Massachusetts. It’s interesting that people still remember an incident that took place in a hospital room.
Salt Lake Tribune – Mitt and his faith: Remembering when candidate Romney was Bishop Romney
Not everyone shared that positive view of Romney. Though somewhat progressive in his approach, Romney was still a product of LDS male culture of the time. He didn’t initially believe, for example, that there were any cases of physical or sexual abuse of women in the stake, though plenty of evidence pointed to it.
“He’s not a people person,” says Nancy Dredge, “he’s so much an organization man.”
Yet, Dredge says, she’s seen him learn from his mistakes. “He’s in a much better place than he was 20 years ago.”
While a young bishop, for example, Romney got word that a woman in his ward was considering an abortion. This was the sixth pregnancy for the woman in her 40s, who had four teenage children, and she developed some medical complications.
Romney arrived at the hospital and forcefully counseled her against the procedure. She felt Romney misunderstood and mistreated her. The woman later wrote about the experience in Exponent II, a national newspaper for Mormon women that was published in Romney’s Boston stake. Though she didn’t use her name, many church members knew who she was.
The episode came back to haunt Romney when he ran for Massachusetts governor in 1994 as a “pro-choice” candidate. It also reflected some of the ongoing tensions he had with some Exponent II writers during his tenure.
Some context might be necessary to explain some of the issues described in the next few paragraphs:
Regardless, Mormon women in Boston still talk about an extraordinary 1993 meeting Romney called to address the women of the stake.
More than 250 members poured into the Belmont chapel. One by one they called out their issues while he stood at the front with three pads labeled: policies we can’t change, practices we can change, and things we can consider.
Nearly 100 proposals were made that day, including having female leaders give talks in various wards as the men on the high council do; letting women speak last in church; turning the chapels into day-care centers during the week; letting women stand in the circle while blessing newborn babies; recognizing the accomplishment of young women as the church does of Boy Scout advancements; and putting changing tables in the men’s rooms.
Many women left with a new appreciation of Romney’s openness.
He was “so brave,” says Robin Baker, who has worked on Exponent II.
Sievers, who worked with Romney to set up the meeting, was ecstatic.
“I was really surprised,” she says. “He implemented every single suggestion that I would have.”
The LDS church has a lot of proscriptions about the roles women can and can’t fulfill. Some of them are directly based on their sacred texts (in addition to the Bible, the LDS church relies on at least two other texts that have equal or greater weight in their thinking than what we think of as the word of God). These are some the ones that can’t be changed.
There are some rules that are always observed, but they’re more traditions than sacred obligations. Some of them might be negotiable, and some might not. These were the ones that might be changed, or could at least be discussed without risking eternal hell and damnation.
Putting changing tables in the men’s restrooms might not seem a matter of doctrine, but the LDS take gender roles very, very seriously. I don’t know if that one was subject to change, or only for discussion.
The only item on the agenda I can discuss from personal experience is the rather obscure one about the blessing of newborn babies. And I’ve realized that I’m in a position to offer extra perspective on that.
When my youngest great-nephew was born, his health was extremely fragile, and when he was brought home from the hospital, his parents decided they’d better hold the blessing for him at the home of his paternal grandparents rather than at the LDS ward they attend. The rest of the family – all us “nots” and “nons,” were included. But we also felt excluded, because when the blessing was done, all the men in the room (including a lot of rather high-status church leaders) gathered around the baby, who was held by his father. They formed a tight knot, each with their hands on the baby, chest to chest and forming a solid wall around him.
His mother and the other women in the room looked on, passive participants in one of the most important events in her son’s life.
The rest of us watched from the margins, not really understanding the implications, but wondering if the believing women would have liked to be part of the blessing. It seemed the rest of the room was symbolically being shouldered aside as irrelevant.
I guess this is an issue for thinking LDS women, something that I find heartening.
Mitt Romney is a complicated guy. He’s willing to listen to other viewpoints, but he’s a little accommodating in some of his positions for the most conservative, and a little too rigid for the most liberal. He might appeal to the center, but there’s no telling what he’ll think of as “policies we can’t change, practice we can change, and things we can consider.”
[tags]Mitt Romney, Michigan primary, Utah, vote[/tags]