Among Mitt Romney’s advisers and family members, a debate has continued over whether his Mormon faith is a political negative or positive for him. Among members of his church, there’s little dispute: Having Romney as the Republican presidential nominee has been a boon to their religion.
As Romney and his wife, Ann, sat in church yesterday in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, congregants giving their monthly testimonials spoke about how his candidacy has helped the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by introducing the U.S. public to role models who reflect well on the religion.
“There has never been as much positive publicity about the church,” John Willard “Bill” Marriott, chairman of Marriott International Inc., said during his testimony, “thanks to the wonderful campaign of Mitt Romney and his family.”
In recent weeks, he said, “we see the church coming out of obscurity, and we see that 90 percent of what has been written and said” has been “favorable.”
“That’s a great tribute to Mitt and Ann and their family for living such an exemplary life,” Marriott said. With the new attention, “Everybody is looking at us and saying, ‘Are you as good as the Romneys?’” he said.
Romney’s Mormon religion has been viewed with varying degrees of skepticism by evangelical Christians, some of whom consider it a non-Christian cult. He addressed it in a 2007 speech during his first presidential run, while staying relatively quiet about it this year -- until the Republican National Convention last week when he alluded to his Mormon faith during his nomination acceptance speech and his campaign gave speaking roles to church members who he helped when he was a bishop in the 1980s.
It was part of an effort to humanize Romney, a former private-equity company chief executive, as he introduces himself to a broader swath of voters and to counteract his image as aloof and out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans.
A poll for the Pew Research Center released in July showed 41 percent were comfortable with Romney’s religious faith, with 13 percent saying they were uncomfortable with it. Thirty-two percent said they didn’t know of Romney’s religion, while 14 percent said it didn’t matter.
A church member who followed Marriott’s testimonial yesterday and didn’t identify himself praised the Mormons who spoke about Romney at the convention, saying they “represented us so well, and the teachings and the doctrines of the church.”
He said people often approach him and ask if he knows Romney. “I say, ‘Yeah, he’s the real deal, he really is. You should support him.’ I think he’s a marvelous ambassador of who we are.”
Another man who got up to speak without identifying himself said he was pleased to see people of other churches embrace a Mormon.
“Never in my life did I think I would ever see -- as I’m watching the RNC --I would never see a Catholic get up and say that a Mormon is just as good as any Catholic,” he said, an apparent reference to Romney’s vice presidential running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Ryan said in his acceptance speech last week that while he and Romney go to different churches, they share the same “moral creed.”
Scrutiny of Mormonism hasn’t always been welcome, Marriott said yesterday, noting that when the television news magazine program “60 Minutes” did a special about the religion in the 1990s, there was concern in the church about how public attention would reflect on it. Marriott participated in a 45- minute interview for the program, and he said the only portion that aired concerned the special underwear Mormons wear.
Asked about the temple garments -- which he described as like a t-shirt and boxer shorts -- Marriott related a story about a boating accident in which his polyester pants burned off but the portions of his body protected by his special undergarments were spared.
“Those holy undergarments saved my life,” he said.
A woman calling herself Sister Goodall told about visiting a church member in a nursing home recently and being asked by an employee whether she was a family member of the patient. When Goodall said she was a friend from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the employee’s face brightened and she replied, “Oh, Mormons. Oh, Mitt!”
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