In elementary school in the 1950’s, we used to be given as “enrichment” a little news magazine called the Weekly Reader tailored toward stories on current events that would appeal to children. The only one of its stories I still remember concerned the son and daughter of England’s Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Princess Anne — both of whom were nearly my age.
The article showed me that Charles played with toys just like me. But he was going to grow up to be King of England (though he’s still waiting). When I messed up, my mother would make sure I knew about it. When he messed up, his mother’s position would ensure that eventually the whole world knew about it.
Born aristocrats just can not do certain things, at least not publicly. The future job twists the boy into the form expected. In Charles’ case, as the Academy Award-winning The King’s Speech chronicles, the Windsor family dynamic earlier had twisted his own grandfather (and certainly shaped his mother Elizabeth) in ways that required almost heroic self-control simply to function under the job’s expectations.
So, now we come to Mitt Romney. How did knowing he’s supposed to grow up being part of a religious aristocracy affect his ability to connect with everyday people? And make no mistake about it. Mitt Romney was born into a religious aristocracy. He has always known — even as a young boy — that anything less than stellar performance according to the standards that are applied to High Priests would be letting down his family and his priesthood responsibilities. How high do you have to climb in the church to avoid being seen as a failure? Bishop? Stake President?
And I think this was key; he knew he was a future “churchman” even before he knew he was a future politician. I suspect he testified that he was sure that Jesus was the Son of God, that the church was true, and that the priesthood was of God at about the age of accountability — and that would have been several years before his father George entered Michigan politics. George would have been just trying to turn around –interesting, that — American Motors.
And for those of you too young to know how hard that turn-around was, they used to make pop songs that joked about the “little Nash Rambler” having to share the roads with the big, high power GM cars. No wonder they elected George Romney governor of Michigan.
Of course, Catholicism has nothing comparable to this family molding process. If you are a Catholic boy, your uncle might be a priest, but chances are that your father isn’t! So, having you become a priest is probably only a secret dream by your mother, if that, and not an expectation that’s been drilled into you as a measure of your life’s success.
So this is another thing that Americans may not understand about Mormon men, and that mainstream media commentators may mistake for Romney’s lack of “fire in the belly”, or his awkwardness as a politician. A Mormon man born in the church is being raised as a “preacher’s kid” in a denomination that doesn’t go in much for fire and brimstone sermons.
Billy Graham has been speaking at revivals for so long that most adults in America would probably recognize his speech patterns and mannerisms as the archetype of an Evangelical minister. He has been accepted as a legitimate adviser to Presidents of both parties for decades. Franklin Graham, his son and organizational successor, has been subjected to criticism over the last few years, on the other hand, when he’s made statements that did not match the expectation of the archetype. His statements are too overtly theological — usually stressing the necessity of accepting Christ as a personal savior to receive salvation — and insufficiently pastoral and inclusive to pass muster in the American public arena, despite any actual charitable works Graham has performed.
The American religious scene is too diverse to be fully covered with any reasonable number of examples, but my point is this: few American denominations mass produce their future religious leaders by drilling that expectation into them from the nursery.
Mormon boys who are raised with the expectation of eventual important callings to High Priest, on the other hand, are going to have mannerisms that will be strange to most Americans, even when observers don’t know enough about the religion to associate the mannerism with Mormonism.
A Mormon High Priest can care deeply about people, but a Mormon High Priest is not a pastor, and gets into trouble when he tries to sound like one. He is supposed to meet pastoral care needs through good management of established programs, like a technocrat. Even behind-the-scenes actions will follow administrative channels and protocols. A Mormon High Priest may be fully aware of theological and ethical issues, but will never use the language of a theologian, and so will not be accepted as one. And he must always be detached enough to stand ready as a “judge in Israel”, because judgement is part of the job description, too. How does that not come off as awkward and out of touch with normal people?
Discuss: how do you think the Mormon concept of priesthood for all worthy males affects the style of Mormon men who run for national office?