Let's be honest: Mitt Romney isn't exactly giving reporters many religion angles for reporters to pitch. He doesn't talk about his faith much, so you won't necessarily see how it explicitly plays out his policies. What's a reporter to do? Write about his Mormonism, all the time, it seems.
Thankfully, we do have an interesting piece from the Associated Press about what that means, exactly. It's not couched in polls about whether it'll hurt him. It merely shows what practicing Mormonism looks like by following the Romney family to church in New Hampshire.
The Romney clan has attended the church in Wolfeboro many times before — only now the family patriarch carries the distinction of being President Barack Obama's Republican challenger.
Not that church leaders or worshippers mentioned the new reality as, one by one, they stood at a podium to offer testimony, a custom in Mormon churches on the first Sunday of every month. Among those testifying: one of the many Romney grandchildren.
"My name is Chloe Romney and I'm visiting here from California," the candidate's middle-school-age granddaughter said from the church's lectern, a pink flower in her hair. "I know that my family loves me and I like to go to church."
I'm not sure whether the reporter actually expected the congregation to note Romney's political work, but I did like the mention of the granddaughter's testimony.
The family's devotion to the Mormon faith is a part of Romney's life that the electorate rarely sees. Romney almost never mentions it in public. And his campaign typically bars the media from seeing him participate in a religion that many Americans are unfamiliar with. But it's a part of his life that could help him connect with a public that's just now getting to get to know him — one that includes many church-goers.
What's interesting is that what I observed was that Romney was much more open about his faith before 2008 (and obviously made his notable religion speech back then). It seems weird to almost suggest he could connect with the public by using his faith, almost as a political tool only and not as a legitimate way of explaining how his faith influences his policy. And just because the electorate includes church-goers, that doesn't mean they'll love the fact that Romney goes to church, especially if they think he goes to the wrong one.
Romney's campaign doesn't tell reporters when Romney is going to church. But the Wolfeboro branch is open to visitors and an Associated Press reporter attended the same sacrament service the Romney family attended. It featured bread with water instead of wine, a variation on communion that allows for the Mormon prohibition on drinking alcohol.
I like that the AP took the initiative to track his church down, going out of their way to not necessarily eat up whatever the campaign hands them. What I don't understand is the mention of the bread and water, given that it's not terribly unusual for any church to not offer wine (think Baptist church). The reporter seems to have some sort of expectation of what communion looks like.
During his presidential campaign, the demands of Romney's faith can dictate how he spends his time; it requires as many as three hours nearly every Sunday for services. According to people familiar with his private schedule, Romney goes to church nearly every week. His faith also helps drive his fundraising; a significant amount of money comes from wealthy Mormon donors. And Mormon households across the country often housed campaign aides as they moved from state to state during the GOP primary.
Is there any ballpark number on the percentage of donations coming from Mormons specifically?
Some of the "color" the reporter uses to describe how the Romney family acted at church (Romney giving cereal to one of his grandkids), read like your average church service, though I'm guessing a few lines in this section would make those less eager for civil religion nervous.
As the first section of the service concluded, Romney and the congregation sang all the verses of "America the Beautiful," a song he often quotes on the campaign trail. Many attendees departed while others prepared for the second portion of the service, a Sunday school for adults. While church leaders moved to close partitions to prepare for the school, Romney chatted at length with others who had come to the service, including several who wore "Romney" pins on their lapels.
The story itself is fairly lengthy for the AP, so I know there wasn't likely room for much more. However, I thought it would be useful to mention at least briefly the fact that the Obama administration is ironically almost opposite from Romney. 1) throughout his term, Obama didn't really have an official church affiliation 2) his press aides do send out reports when he goes to church (holidays and such). I'm not making a value statement, but I think the contrast is worth mentioning, if we're going to discuss faith practices of the presidential candidates.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.