We have heard a lot this election season about the importance of voting in the upcoming election. Many believe that this election is the most important in our nation's history--I agree with them. But we are so focused on wanting to get rid of Barack Obama as President that we have largely ignored our own candidate. People who supported one of the many other Republicans who ran in the GOP primary may feel that they are merely voting for "the lesser of two evils." That feeling, combined with nagging uncertainties that some have about Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith--fears that are being fueled by the Democrats in many cases--leads election observers to conclude that this year we in the RNC are not voting FOR anybody, we are merely voting AGAINST something we don't like--further proof that the GOP has disintegrated into the party of NO.
That is why I am using my final blog posts before the election to write about why I am voting FOR Mitt Romney and not just against Barack Obama. To be sure, I want badly to see Obama lose this election. But I want to see him replaced with a qualified man who can do the job. Today's post is why, as an evangelical Christian, I am voting for Mitt Romney.
I was a supporter of Mitt Romney in the 2008 election cycle. I had subscribed to his text message alerts and gotten on his email list one day before he announced that he was dropping out of the race. I was deeply disappointed when he announced that he was not going to pursue his candidacy for president.
Regular readers of this blog know that in this primary season I actually supported Texas governor Rick Perry. Why? Because in the intervening years between 2008 and 2011, we as a nation had Obamacare forced upon us, and I had a lot of initial concerns that Mitt Romney would not repeal Obamacare. I have since listened carefully to his speeches and statements and I now feel comfortable that he will keep his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act--an action which is going to determine whether small businesses like mine can stay open. But Mitt's Mormonism was never a factor in my support.
My parents were in the Jesus movement in the 1970s, so I grew up in a Southern Evangelical house. Anyone who has read my book, No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen knows that at the age of twelve I entered Brigham Young University, where I graduated with a bachelor's degree at age fifteen. My parents reasons for sending me to BYU are too complicated to go into here, but they believed that God wanted me to go there. I studied the Mormon religion thoroughly--I read all of the doctrinal texts of the church. Dr. Reed Benson, the son of the then President (Prophet) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was my religion professor. All of my brothers and sisters (there are 10 of us) also attended BYU so my association with the school did not end when I graduated. When I was seventeen years old, my father and sister and I were granted an hour long interview with President Ezra Taft Benson in his offices at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was a guest of Dr. Reed Benson and his wife when I spoke at the Utah Home Education Convention. I never converted to the Mormon faith--I remain a Southern Evangelical to this day--but I know a LOT about Mormonism, Mormon culture and life among Mormons. While I disagree completely with the theology of the LDS church, I know that Mitt Romney's culture has been badly mischaracterized in the media. I also know that his background provides him with specific strengths that he will take with him to the White House. Based on my experiences (a total of sixteen years) spent with members of the Mormon community, I am outlining below some of the strengths that Mitt's Mormonism will contribute to his presidency.
- Work Ethic. The symbol of Utah is the beehive. Mormon culture emphasizes hard work as a virtue, a responsibility, and a privilege. Too many people today have an entitlement culture that says that they should not have to work--they should be taken care of. I read this morning a Facebook post by the RNC that quoted from Mitt Romney's book No Apology where he talked about doing the jobs of every day people in Massachusetts while he was running for governor. One such job included being a garbage collector for a day. Mitt would have learned as a child that everyone is expected to work, and no honest, legitimate work is beneath any other honest legitimate work. That is a lesson that all of us could benefit from right now.
- Thriftiness. During the RNC convention I saw the video of Mitt's sons saying that their father was a "cheapskate." Some of his business partners at Bain Capital agreed. But many people do not know that "waste not; want not" is an important part of Mormon culture. The Mormons built a thriving community in a state that had among its most notable features the Great Salt Lake and the Great Salt Flats. Much of Utah is a desolate, foreboding place. They survived there by using and reusing every resource. During one of my last visits to the BYU campus, I saw preparations for the new library that was being built on the campus. The student workers who were prepping the area started by cutting the grass and rolling it up as sod so that it could be reused elsewhere and nothing would be wasted. Our current government which is wasting money and resources with no regard to how we will get more could use the leadership of a man who has been taught the value of frugality.
- Patriotism. When I watched the RNC convention a few weeks ago, I noticed that Mitt Romney knew all of the words to all of the stanzas of "America the Beautiful" and was singing along with the choir. I smiled--I know only the first stanza, but then I recalled that in Mormon culture patriotism is very important. Because of the bachelor's program I graduated from, I spent my summers at BYU rather than my winters. Every year at the Fourth of July, the campus was completely decorated in red, white and blue. (The campus changes all of the flowers with the season so that they can have theme colors.) LDS church meetings (which I attended several times as a student at BYU) include patriotic songs in the hymnal. Mormon culture teaches that the U.S. is a great country with a strong future. I am voting for a man who will be proud to salute the flag--a man who was taught to be proud of his country from birth.
- Respect for life and for family. Much has been made of large Mormon families, but many who are not part of LDS culture do not understand that Mormons adopt large numbers of children. Dr. Reed Benson and his wife had no biological children of their own, but they were adopted parents of nine children. Children are prized and valued in Mormon culture--an attitude that would be a good one for our culture as a whole to adopt.
- Sobriety. I have read comments online that a man who does not drink alcohol is not fit to be president. What nonsense! One reason that my parents were comfortable sending me to BYU is that we do not drink any alcohol. (I do drink both tea and coffee, but I did not do so for the years that I was enrolled as a student in keeping with my pledge that I signed when I was admitted.) Christians have argued among themselves for centuries about whether Christians may drink alcohol and there are prominent Christians on both sides of this debate. But whether you are in the "it's fine; Jesus drank so there's nothing wrong with it," or the "lips that touch wine may never touch mine," camps consider this excerpt from Proverbs 31, "And it is not for kings (the leader of the nation) to drink wine and whiskey. For if they drink they may forget their duties and be unable to give justice to those who are oppressed." In a culture such as ours which frequently uses intoxicants, what a great role model for young people to have a sober man for president who has lived a successful life without getting drunk and high.
- Respect for the rules. At BYU there were lots of rules. I have alluded already to the pledge about not using alcohol, tobacco, tea or coffee while enrolled in the school. One year, one of the sports teams went out and got drunk and the school suspended the entire team for the season. Obeying the rules was more important than winning for the school.
If that seems excessive, consider this: We are a nation of laws. We are supposed to be governed by the Constitution and laws passed by Congress that do not contradict the Constitution--not a series of executive orders issued by a president who thinks he is king. I am voting for man who understands that he is not above the rules.
- At attitude of service. When the media mentions that Mitt Romney was a bishop in his church, they do not mention that these duties were performed without pay. All clergy in the Mormon church are unpaid volunteers. One reason that Mitt Romney has spent so much of his life in volunteer work is that Mormon culture teaches a life of service. The gates of BYU are inscribed with the words, "Enter to learn; go forth to serve." Mormonism teaches that no person is above such service--when I met Dr. Benson I was surprised that he volunteered several shifts a week in the church charities--canning, picking crops in the orchards, etc. Even though his father was the Church leader, he was not exempt from doing all of the work that was required.
The stories of Mitt's kindnesses that we heard during the convention are actually an outgrowth of his faith. Likewise, when Ann Romney made her famous Welsh cookies for the Secret Service, I smiled because I know that as the wife of the bishop she would be accustomed to making food items to take to women in the community who were ill, or grieving or had just had babies, and she would be used to receiving their support during her own illnesses. Service to the community and to others is one of the most important Mormon virtues. It is a stark contrast with our current president and his wife who appear to feel that they are entitled to be on permanent vacation with an entourage.
Finally, Mitt Romney's Mormonism gives him an understanding of what it is to be an outsider. The only people we are allowed to discriminate against in our society are those with whom we disagree ideologically. Mormons have been mocked, marginalized and ridiculed since the church started--the doctrines of the church are currently satirized in the Broadway play The Book of Mormon. (I experienced some of this when No Regrets was published, and I received a letter telling me that I could not possibly be a Christian and have attended BYU.) Yet, Romney does not allow other people's perceptions of him, his family or his church to dictate his life. He has learned how to be okay with being different. That is another good lesson that we could all take from his presidency.
If you are a Christian and have doubts about Mitt Romney based on his Mormon faith, I hope that the seven reasons I have outlined above will help you to view a Romney presidency differently. If you are concerned that he will somehow make the nation Mormon--don't be. As I mentioned at the start of this post, I have nine brothers and sisters--of the ten of us NONE converted to Mormonism. But we took away a lot of good virtues from our time at BYU, and it is those same virtues that I hope that our country can learn from President Romney.
Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at http://www.frontier2000.net.