Some Mormons nostalgic about obscurity
A journalist pool crowded on the back pews of a Mormon chapel in Wolfeboro, N.H., at the beginning of September. It later provided the country a glimpse of a Mormon worship service that could have been the missing first day of the Republican National Convention.
Kasie Hunt of the Associated Press, Sam Youngman of Reuters, Jeremy Peters of The New York Times, among others, issued dispatches describing the meeting.
Mitt and Ann Romney live an "exemplary life," they were told from the Mormon pulpit. Mitt and Ann are "marvelous ambassadors." Mitt and Ann, the news crew reported, are "the real deal" whom "you should support."
"Everybody," said J. W. Marriott, the hereditary chairman of Marriott, Inc., during the meeting, "is looking at us [Mormons] and saying 'Are you as good as the Romneys?'"
This rhetorical question makes this Mormon weep for the by-gone days in which Mormonism was an obscure religion practiced in earnest by wild-eyed radicals in the mountainous hinterlands, who just wanted the stuffed shirts back East to mind their own business. They weren't interested in a cluster of wealthy and TV-ready East-Coast wardrobes using their religious heritage to push a saccharine (and caffeine-free) social and political agenda.
Anyone who asks this Mormon if he's as good as the Romneys will get an earful at J. W. Marriott's expense.
As it happened, the press showed up on the first Sunday of the month, so they were treated to the Mormon equivalent of open-mic night, a legacy of old-timey religion, during which the pulpit is open to the congregation at large so members can say whatever the spirit inspires until time expires.
If the church building is in Wolfeboro ("a venerable resort area," says Wikipedia), and the congregation consists of the Ã¼ber-wealthy whose religious devotion is subsumed in a political ideology and the rear of the chapel is populated by news reporters, it's no wonder that the service would become a paean to The Nominee amongst us.
And, it's no wonder that, despite the media blitz, the country is still scratching its head over Mormonism, as a consequence. Whatever the public-relations rhetoric, when one of its chapels is appropriated to glorify one of its parishioners to such a gooey degree, it's rather easy for an outsider to presume that the Mormon Church ain't your mama's traditional Christian church.
But, lest the rest of Mormondom be forgotten, I have to say that other, less media-advantaged Mormon congregations have other more maudlin concerns than Mitt's and Ann's Mormon perfection.
During the same type of Sunday open-mic meeting at the Mormon church I attend in Memphis, congregants spoke not of the second coming of Mitt, but of broken homes, broken bones, the challenge of schizophrenia, the anguish of poor choices, the frustration and joy of committing, fully, to family. And my fellow Memphis Mormons did not call on Mitt's goodness and glory in their time of need.
My friend James Singleton took advantage of the open mic of our Mormon testimony meeting this week to proclaim to a congregation of the struggling, not that Romney is the real deal, but, in a very traditional vein: "I love me some Jesus!"
In his impromptu sermon, Marriott reportedly asserted that Romney's campaign has contributed to bringing Mormonism "out of obscurity." It does seem in this "Mormon moment" that Mormonism is everywhere. But it's also true that neither Romney nor Marriott are representative Mormons.
The religion that is shining on Mitt Romney's hill does not illuminate the Mormonisms that value collectivist approaches to health care, support reinterpretations of marriage, look suspiciously on government-facilitated economic privileges for the wealthy, or, simply, regard politics, in the eternal scheme of things, as petty squabbles over piles of dirt.
These Mormonisms aren't touted to reporters from New Hampshire pulpits, and they remain very much in obscurity.
Indeed, to the degree to which it appears these days as a Republican tool, we might understand the religion on display in New Hampshire Romney's religion as Mormublicanism.
Mormonism, as such, may yet be lying in the shadows cast by the media light reflecting off The Nominee.
David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of Theatre and Religion on Krishna's Stage and My Mormonism: A primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.