January 12, 2015

1967. George Romney Insists Mormon Faith Won't Mar His Liberal Stand

George Romney Combats Racial Segregation; Rejects Political Scrutiny of His Faith
Source: "The governor (shirt sleeves) walking in the first rank of an NAACP march, 600-strong, in protest of housing discrimination, June 1963"

Source: United Press International, published in the Baltimore Afro-American on March 11, 1967, p. 5

Romney Insists Mormon Faith Won't Mar His Liberal Stand

United Press International

In his bid for the 1968 Republican Presidential nomination, Governor George Romney is doing the same thing that John F. Kennedy did in his successful 1960 campaign for the Presidency.

He is confronting head-on a religious issue that could have a serious effect on his candidacy.

In Kennedy's case, the religious issue stemmed from a belief widely held among Protestants that a Roman Catholic President would be subject to undue influence from the hierarchy of his church.

KENNEDY GAVE his answer in a meeting with the protestant Ministerial Association of Houston, Tex., on Sept. 12, 1960. He said:

"Whatever issue may come before me as President—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling—I will make my decision in accordance to what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.

"I do not speak for my church on public matters—and my church does not speak for me."

Kennedy appealed to Americans to "judge me on the basis of my record of 14 years of Congress" rather than on the basis of "carefully selected quotations" from Catholic church leaders about the obedience expected from the laity.

THE RELIGIOUS issues dogging Romney's candidacy steams from a widely held belief that his Mormon Church condones segregation and teaches that colored persons are an inferior race.

Romney challenged this belief in a recent meeting with Catholic and Protestant clergymen in Salt Lake City, Utah—a meeting reminds it of Kennedy's confrontation with the Houston Ministerial Association.

The Michigan governor said there is nothing in the doctrine of Mormon faith that prevents him from doing all in his power to combat racial discrimination and prejudice.

On the contrary, he said, "My faith has influenced me to believe that every human being is a child of God as I am, and should have every opportunity I have."

He added:

"I have fought for 25 years in Michigan to eliminate discrimination. I believe I'm entitled to be judged on the basis of my action, not someone's ideas of what may be the precepts of my church."

KENNEDY'S DECLARATION did not stop some of his opponents from arguing that a Catholic President would "take orders from the Pope." It seems doubtful that Romney's forthright statement will end political discussion of Mormon teachings about race.

Here are some of the facts which may help to keep the debate in perspective:

All Mormon bodies admit colored persons to membership. The reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has a membership of about 170,000 and headquarters at Independence, Mo., ordains black members to its priesthood.

The 2-million member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which has its headquarters in Salt Lake City, and to which Romney belongs, does not accept colored men for its priesthood. The Utah Mormons, commonly referred to as the LDS church, base their policy primarily on a brief passage in a document known as "The Book of Abraham."

THE BOOK of Abraham should not be confused with the Book of Mormon—the scriptures which the Prophet Joseph Smith said he received from the Angel Moroni on plates of gold.

The Book of Abraham is a translation by Smith of the hieroglyphics on an Egyptian papyrus scroll which came into the prophet's hands several years after the Book of Mormon was published.

Interpreting black skin as a mark of divine disfavor, the Book of Abraham speaks of non-whites being "cursed as pertaining to the priesthood."

LDS theologians have connected this terse statement with a Mormon doctrine that every human being receives at birth the station in life to which he is entitled as a result of his deportment in the "spirit world" of pre-mortal existence.

The "curse" which bars colored men from the priesthood is thus understood as punishment for having been less-than-valiant in the spirit world battle between God and the devil.

TO BE barred from the priesthood is, for a Mormon, a serious disability. Mormon doctrine holds that everyone will go to Heaven, but the degree of "exaltation" which an individual can expect in the celestial realm depends on how far he has progressed in his religious development during the state of his mortal existence.

The priesthood, usually conferred on white male children at the age of 12, is an important first step in that development. Thus a person who is ineligible for the priesthood is certain of a low status in the world to come.

Conservative Mormons decline to enter into arguments about the fairness of this doctrine. They regard it as a divine commandment, and say it is not up to men to question the justice of God.

Liberal Mormons, including Romney, are hopeful that their church eventually will place a new interpretation on the brief passage in the Book of Abraham.

Meanwhile, they take their own cue from other texts, including several passages in the Book of Mormon, which assert that God loves all races equally.