How To Interview Mitt Romney About Sexism

Ask: Could a woman ever be appointed to lead your religion? Should they?

Mitt Romney is sexist. He adheres to a philosophy, Mormonism, which denies women equal rights. Mormon women are not allowed to hold leadership positions within the church and forbidden ordination into the priesthood.

Similarly, before 1978, the Mormon church did not allow black men to hold the priesthood. Had they not changed that position, Mitt Romney would have no chance to run for President; he’d rightly be branded as racist; that he’s not being asked to reconcile his sexism in a similar fashion reveals a troubling double standard.

Sexism isn’t sexy, it appears. Racism? That’s hot. Homophobia? Get a room. However, when it comes to the most dominant form of inequality, many seem complacent.

The foundational Mormon treatise “The Family, A Proclamation To The World” holds:

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.

Mitt Romney’s vision of a healthy society puts men in the boardroom and women in the bedroom

Here’s how the Mormon Church practices this: Women are not allowed to hold the priesthood. Women are not allowed to hold any position of leadership over men. Even within the Mormon organization for women, they are not allowed to set their own budgets or to structure their own teaching materials. Women are not allowed to bless their babies, or even to hold their babies while they are being blessed.

In the Sunday School Manual for Mormon girls, there’s a lesson on Missionary work. It states:

This lesson discusses the responsibilities of full-time missionaries. All young men [at age 19] should serve missions. Unmarried women age twenty-one and older may also serve full-time missions. However, young sisters should not feel obligated and should not be urged unduly to serve full-time missions. A mission should not interfere with a young woman’s opportunity for marriage.*

In Mormon philosophy, men are meant for leadership, women for marriage and family duties.

Mormonism and The Equal Rights Amendment

The Mormon Church has a long history of pushing its agenda into the political realm. In the 1970‘s, it was among the most vocal opponents to the Equal Rights Amendment, which states:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

The State of Utah never ratified the amendment.

Mitt Romney holds as his highest ideal that women are not equal to men.

Before the Mormon church changed its racial policy, there was tremendous outside pressure. For example, in 1969, 14 members of the University of Wyoming football team were suspended when they sought to protest Brigham Young University’s treatment of blacks. Shortly thereafter, Stanford University decided to cease all sports scheduling with the Mormon university. Those actions began to spread, with other schools joining in solidarity.

Where’s the similar outcry over the unequal treatment of women? This year, the University of Wyoming women’s golf team will match up against the BYU Women’s Golf Team. Can you imagine them protesting the match due to sexist policies at BYU? They should. As should all schools whose athletic and academic organizations interact with BYU, male or female.

Mitt Romney is asking to be President of the United States, and just as with his position on blacks, if he can’t simply answer that sexism is unacceptable, that should disqualify him from holding the office.

Mitt Romney’s Jeremiah Wright Moment

In 2008, President Barack Obama had to navigate his own obstacles relative to his personal philosophy when his longtime pastor, Jeremiah Wright, was found to have stated ideas contrary to full faith in the United States. I held then and continue to believe that it is right and appropriate for those questions to be asked of a Candidate for President of the United States.

President Obama was unequivocal in his willingness to denounce the offending remarks, stating clearly:

“I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened by the spectacle that we saw yesterday… [Jeremiah Wright’s] comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church. They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs. And if Reverend Wright thinks that that’s political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn’t know me very well.”

Shortly thereafter, Barack Obama resigned his membership in the church. He left no doubt where he stood.

In contrast, Mitt Romney, during the 2008 Presidential Campaign, stated:

“I’m very proud of [mormonism], and of the faith of my fathers. And I certainly believe it is a faith, uh, well it’s True and I love my faith. And I’m not going to distance myself in any way from my faith.”

The rational way to interpret his statements regarding his core philosophy is that he holds women to be unequal to men.

How will the LDS Church interpret a Mitt Romney Presidency? The answer can be plainly found at the end of the above quoted “Proclamation On The Family.”

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

In the case of Mitt Romney, that’s a very short call. Their vision of a healthy society puts men in the boardroom and women in the bedroom. It’s “Mad Men” realized in modern America, idealized in the heaven of Mormonism.

Does Mitt Romney agree with his Church and their view of women? He’s told us that he will not distance himself in any way from his core faith.

It’s time for the media to ask direct questions of Mitt Romney about his view of women.

*Update: In the October 2012 LDS General Conference, the leaders of the LDS Church announced a change in the age policy for Mormon missionaries. They lowered the age for men to 18 and the age for women t0 19, maintaining an inexplicable difference for men and women.

  • Charles Strouss

    There is no doubt that much of orthodox Christianity, let alone the more controversial branches like Mormonism, is sexist. But we should not assume that everyone who leans to them for a spiritual basis, and is influenced by their ideas, are truly and inherently sexist at heart.

    Here is my example. Some of my best friends are Filipino “Baptists”, which is quite different than American Baptists, many of whom now ordain women. One of my very best friends is a Filipino Baptist Pator, and he is also president of a Christian College there. I have frequently challenged the assumptions of his religious traditions about the proper role of women in the church, and also about issues regarding homosexuality.

    He quotes 2nd Timothy back to me, with some scriptures that strongly suggest women should not be in leadership positions in the church.

    But when I ask him, man to man, if he wouldn’t like it if his eldest daughter, Hannah, could be a Pastor some day, he admits it is a very pleasant idea.

    Now we could get into discussions about what Christianity is, and who Paul (the author of the bulk of the New Testament, clearly a sexist and homophobic man) was, and whether his writings and opinions should be taken as authoritative… but certainly many of his writings convey spiritual values that are almost universally accepted by people who seek divine light…

    But that doesn’t really get us anywhere. Traditional Christianity, like many of the traditional cultural ideals that weigh us down, suggesst certain gender roles.

    But that doesn’t mean that any Christians, or Mormons, or Muslims, or Hindus, or any other religious people whose sexism is tied to their religious roots, are really sexist at heart. It takes all of us time to break free of the bonds of tradition.

  • Thanks for the note, Charles.

    Ultimately, the sexism or racism or homophobia of religion is a symptom of the problem, and not the problem itself (which is not to diminish the real problem of each of these).

    The actual problem is the political philosophy that underpins the religion; if it is authoritarian in nature, it will produce authoritarian communal rule, such as sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. If it does not grant individual rights to its members, if it confers authority in a non democratic way, if it does not recognize pluralism and equality, then the fundamental organizing principle of the religion is corrupt.

    Charles, would you work for a company that prohibited black people from working there? Let’s put you in an equivalent role of your Baptist minister friend. Let’s say you’re on the board or the CEO or a VP. Something with authority.

    If I asked you about the issue, and secretly you confided in me that you thought the policy was off, but did nothing to speak out against such, then I’d count you a racist. Your secret misgivings would pale in comparison to your public stance, to the role you play in perpetuating racism.

    We’re all responsible for where we invest our time and energy, relative to the freedom we have to make a different choice. I would argue that if you freely join or remain associated with an authoritarian communal governing system that is racist, sexist or homophobic, then those positions accrue to you.

    In a pluralistic democracy wherein people are granted rights and means to petition for change, then a person can escape the taint of societal sins insofar as they align themselves with efforts to overturn such.

    Mitt Romney is trying to serve two masters. He claims to love America (a pluralistic secular democracy committed to equality of the people) and wants to be President. And yet, he’s taken a blood oath to support and defend an authoritarian communal governing system called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The political theory of the two organizations are fundamentally at odds, and his support of both is inconsistent.

    He should answer to it.

  • Charles Strouss

    I should preface any further remarks by saying I have no knowledge of whether Mitt Romney personally shares the sexist and homophobic views of the LDS church (and many other religious groups.) I would suggest we might more accurately draw conclusions about his personal views and how they might affect public policy by studying his record as CEO of Massachusetts and Bain Capital.

    I’m speaking from a more abstract level.

    While the principled resignation is one way of making a statement about a group that practices bigotry, I’m not convinced it is always the best way. Many orgaizations, both religious and secular, have changed their policies dramatically in the last few decades, and I believe that much of that change took place due to the internal influence of those who remained to work for gradual change from the inside. In some cases, there were serious denominational divisions over these issues. Without the efforts of these principled people, there would be far fewer choices today.

    Finding a suitable spiritual community can be challenging… it is not reasonable to expect that we will find one that agrees with all of our views. I don’t think it is reasonable to expect people to eschew spiritual community entirely, simply because they cannot find one then are in 100% agreement with.

    Remember there were considerable questions raised during JFK’s presidency… suggesting that if he were elected, the pope would control his political decisions. That turned out to be a groundless fear.

  • Dean Bender

    Wow, nice hit piece! You have no balance. You did no research or you didn’t print it. You just threw feces at the fan.
    You want to really know how sexist he is, ask his former Lt. Governor who is female. Ask the female executives that worked with him when he was Governor or at Bain Capital. Heck, ask his former Relief Society President or better yet the Primary President. Those people will give you a real feel for how he treats women.
    Latter-day Saints who are active don’t consume alcohol but I don’t condem those who do. I certainly don’t stiffle the women in the office I work at who choose to have a career. When I read a balanced article, I see very similar things in Mitt Romney.
    You didn’t mention how early Utah gave women the right to vote which was nullified by the federal government for a few years. You didn’t quote one of the resent President’s of the church that told the men of the church he wanted full and equal marriage partnerships. He did not want some to be limited or silient partners but full partners.
    You quoted part of the Proclamation on the Family but left this part out, “…fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”
    As you point at Mitt Romney and call him names you are showing your true colors. They aren’t pretty.

  • Dean…which organizations, other than the LDS Church, don’t allow women to hold positions of authority, and which you believe are not sexist?