Media discovers Mormon views on sex

I'm going to break some news to you. It's very difficult and you've probably never heard about it. Certainly the Washington Post hasn't. Are you sitting down? I hope you're sitting down. OK. Well, some religions include teachings on sex. Actual doctrines.

There, there, I knew that this would be difficult. I'm so sorry I had to be the one to tell you.

OK, here's the lede of a huge story in the Washington Post today:

ARLINGTON, Mass. — Three decades ago, Carolyn Caci, a recently divorced Mormon convert, joined a congregation here presided over by a young church leader named Mitt Romney. As the local bishop, Romney conducted annual interviews with all the members of his flock, and he used his time with the newcomer to express both his disapproval of divorce and to remind the middle-aged woman, who had begun dating again, about the church’s opposition to premarital sex.

“I got awfully mad,” said Caci, now 80. “I told him it was none of his business and he said it was.” Romney persisted, she said, and also warned her to avoid consorting with a group of devout but independent Mormon women who had eased her transition into the church. Caci said she reported her “run-in” with Romney to those women, who published a Mormon feminist journal titled Exponent II.

This story reminds me very much of the time a classmate told me that my dad, our pastor, had told her mom that she was damned to hell. Now, this doesn't quite sound like my dad -- ok, it sounds nothing like my dad -- but my friend was convinced that during a private meeting with her mother, he'd told her nothing other than that she was going straight to eternal damnation. Why? My friend didn't know but she sure thought it was mean. I was no more there than my classmate was, but my dad explained that he'd simply been talking to her about how she was living with someone and what the church has to say about such arrangements. That does sound like something my dad would do.

The fact is that Jesus talked a fair amount about sex and about how sex relates to marriage. That is not something that the mainstream media or popular culture seem to understand, much less agree with, but that's not really something that binds many religious leaders. What we're told Romney did is something that many congregational leaders do all the time.

The story goes on to say that the woman was "appalled at the fact that he was harassing me," and left the church. That this interaction "marked a low point" in Romney's engagement with feminists.

And I'm not joking that it was painful at this point for me to even try to read the rest of the article. I mean, the Washington Post wants me to accept the premise that a (completely unverifiable) account from one former Mormon in which he reminds her of the church's teaching on sex is somehow scandalous. I don't. It actually insults me.

The piece goes on for a while with an explanation of how awesome the feminist tide in Mormonism was, both around the turn of the century and again around the Equal Rights Amendment times. We're told that the mean, bad Mormons fought the ERA and that Romney, in particular, "proved remarkably impervious to the larger cultural tides washing over the church." Oh nos! The horror!

I thought the author's perspective was interesting. For instance, I thought this second item was the most serious charge in the piece:

But on a more personal level, Romney had a harder time connecting. During one meeting with the church’s women’s relief society, he encouraged the wives of his peers to look after less fortunate families in the congregation, but advised that the culture shock might be difficult for them. “‘Sometimes, people are wearing polyester in Medford,’ ” [Nancy] Dredge recalled Romney as saying. “I thought, ‘Oh my.’ ”

Romney’s most strained exchanges occurred with the women of Exponent II.

“Mitt was very anti-Exponent II,” Taylor said. “He thought we were just a bunch of bored, unhappy housewives trying to stir up trouble.”

In 1982, soon after his warning to Caci, an anti-Mormon movie called “The God Makers” made its way through the Bible Belt and to the East Coast. The church sent a copy of the movie to its public relations representatives around the country, so that they could prepare their congregations to answer its attacks. The Boston area’s contact happened to belong to Exponent II, and she proposed that the group view the film to prepare for any inquiries it might prompt

“Mitt found out about this and essentially forbade us to show this movie,” said Taylor, adding that Romney feared some of the women would be vulnerable to the film’s anti-Mormon sentiments. The screening went forward but, she said, “there were a couple of people who didn’t come because they felt intimidated.”

But right after that, the reporter says "There were more serious criticisms, too." He goes on to say that Romney discouraged a woman from having an abortion and we're told that she was counseled to have one because she had a blood clot. Just interesting how these things are prioritized by the reporter.

Anyway, the story is just unhinged in its lack of balance. Early on we're told that Romney refused to talk for this story. (You don't say!) But there is no one in the story who can explain non-feminist Mormonism or give insight into Romney's leadership style. The only people we hear from are feminists -- with maybe one other person saying something fairly anodyne. I mean, this is silly. It's not good journalism.

After this week, where two emotive moms were given an entire story to complain about something that the vast majority of Catholics in their parish are fine with, and this completely one-sided attack on Romney that ignores the perspective of the average Mormon, I'm wondering if the best thing that could happen is if I simply shared my Rolodex with the Washington Post.

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