Born and raised in Michigan, Mitt Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). His family’s Mormon roots go back at least five generations. Romney’s late father, automobile executive George W. Romney, was a prominent member of the LDS church who served as governor of Michigan and ran for the 1968 GOP presidential nomination.
Growing up in Michigan, Romney was the only Mormon in his school, he wrote in his 2004 book, “Turnaround.” After attending Stanford University for a year, he embarked on a two-and-a-half-year church mission to France. “On a mission, your faith in Jesus Christ either evaporates or it becomes much deeper,” Romney said in a 2007 interview with The New York Times. “For me it became much deeper.” His girlfriend, Ann Davies, who was raised in the Episcopal Church, converted to Mormonism while Romney was abroad, and they were married shortly after his return.
There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.
– Mitt Romney delivering a December 2007 speech titled “Faith in America” in College Station, Texas
Romney transferred to Brigham Young University, an LDS-supported private university in Provo, Utah, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1971. He subsequently earned a law degree and an M.B.A. from Harvard University and began a career in business. Romney helped found Bain Capital, a global private equity firm, and was CEO and president of the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
As an adult, Romney has volunteered in the LDS lay ministry, serving as an unpaid bishop of the Belmont, Mass., ward (congregation) and president of the Boston-area stake (made up of several congregations). He said in a 2007 interview with USA Today that he does not smoke or drink alcohol, tea or coffee. When asked in the same interview whether he disagreed with any aspect of the LDS church, Romney replied, “I love my church. I am not going to pick and choose doctrines and beliefs.” In a January 2012 interview with Fox News Sunday, Romney spoke about another LDS practice – tithing – saying, “I made a commitment to my church a long, long time ago that I would give 10 percent of my income to the church. And I followed through on that commitment.”
Romney garnered media attention during and after his Massachusetts governorship for changing his position on abortion rights. Romney had pledged during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign not to change the state’s status quo on abortion rights and characterized his support for abortion rights as “unequivocal” in a 2002 television interview, as reported in “The Real Romney,” a 2012 biography by Boston Globe reporters. But in a May 2005 interview with USA Today, Romney said he was “in a different place” on the issue and that he was “personally pro-life.” In July 2005, Romney vetoed a Massachusetts bill supporting emergency contraception and defended his decision in an op-ed published by The Boston Globe. In his 2010 book, “No Apology,” Romney wrote he is “unapologetically pro-life,” a position he related to “our Judeo-Christian heritage, which teaches that we are created in the image of God.”
During his runs for the 2008 and 2012 GOP presidential nominations, Romney said that his Mormon faith should not be an issue in the campaign. In 2007, Romney gave a wide-ranging speech on his personal faith and his views on the role of religion in public life. Alluding to John F. Kennedy’s address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, in which Kennedy sought to ease public fears about his Catholic faith during his 1960 presidential campaign, Romney said: “Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.”
Romney went on to state in the speech that if he were elected president, he would “put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.” Addressing what he described as a question he is often asked – what he believes about Jesus Christ – Romney stated, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not the bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance.”
Romney has reiterated the message of his 2007 speech on faith throughout the 2012 campaign. Answering questions in South Carolina before that state’s January primary, Romney said, “I respect [different religious] views and don’t believe those qualify or disqualify people for leadership in our nation. … I think, over time, the great majority of us have decided that this is something that doesn’t determine who should be our president, or our vice president or a governor or our senator.” At a February 2012 town hall meeting in Michigan, Romney referred to himself as “someone who has understood very personally the significance of religious tolerance.”
Romney gave the 2012 commencement speech at Liberty University, a Christian college founded by the late Jerry Falwell, an evangelical pastor, televangelist and conservative commentator. In the speech, Romney did not mention his faith by name but said, “People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology. Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.”
A March 2012 Pew Research Center survey found that 58 percent of all registered voters knew that Romney is a Mormon. That percentage had increased from 48 percent in November 2011.
If elected, Romney would be the first Mormon president.
Updated June 15, 2012; originally published November 8, 2011
Photo Credit: © Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press/Corbis