Romney Lets his Inner Mormon Out Just in Time for Tampa

As Tampa approaches, Mitt Romney appears to be letting his inner Mormon out—or rather, letting the outside world in to the religious tradition that has played an unquestionably formative role in the life of the presidential candidate. 

Last Sunday, Romney allowed a member of the press pool to attend LDS Church services with him. The reporter on rotation happened to be BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins, who is LDS. Coppins provided this report of the startlingly normal LDS services: hymns, scriptures, a sacrament, and grandchildren in the pews. (We’ve chuckled amongst ourselves, us “Mormon moment” watchers, that the sacrament meeting Romney allowed the press to cover was one that featured a returning missionary from the Marriott family. The Marriotts belong to a cluster of elite Mormon families from the Washington DC area who summer in New Hampshire, as do the Romneys. And W[illard] Mitt Romney was named for Willard Marriott.)

The New York Times also reported on Monday that an actual Mormon may be delivering one of the prayers at the Republican National Convention. Insider speculation quickly ran to Mia Love, a Mormon.org campaign star, Utah suburban mayor, Haitian-American Republican, and upstart congressional candidate. Who better than Love, a black Republican Mormon woman, to push the reset button on all those preconceptions about Mormons and Republicans? But sources close to Love confirm that she will not be praying at the event, though her campaign is still angling to get her a spot on the program. Shouldn’t be too difficult for Mayor Love to find some airtime. Every time I’ve watched the Republican National Convention, the cameras pan again and again to the few people of color in attendance. [UPDATE:  Tuesday morning, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Love will speak at the Convention.] 

Whatever Mormon Republican is tapped to give the prayer (Bay Buchanan? Jason Chaffetz?)—[ADDITIONAL UPDATE:  As of mid-morning Tuesday, sources are saying that Ken Hutchins, a lifelong friend of Mitt Romney who served with Romney in Boston-area LDS Church leadership positions, will deliver a prayer at the RNC.]— folks in the viewing audience will no doubt be stunned by just how startingly normal it sounds. For a preview, allow me to do a little Mormon explaining (Mo-splaining?) of LDS prayer forms.

LDS people are taught to adopt and adapt the general model of the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament for use in personal and family prayers and prayers offered at group events. While set prayers are used for rites like baptism and the weekly sacrament (the LDS term for communion), personal, family, and group event prayers are extemporaneous. Prayers customarily begin with the opening address “Dear Heavenly Father,” which is followed by a litany of thanks for God’s blessings small and large, and then a set of petitions for help, strength, and guidance. Mormons close our prayers “in the name of Jesus Christ” and with an “Amen.” By custom, some Mormons pray using pronouns from Elizabethan English (“thee,” “thy,” and “thou”), which reflects the LDS preference for the King James Bible. Mormon prayers also tend to be more formal, modulated, and understated than evangelical Christian prayers, and in non-ritual settings Mormons customarily pray with eyes closed, arms folded, or hands holding the edges of the pulpit, and heads bowed.

For more insight into how Mormons are taught to pray, you can read pages from an LDS lesson manual here.

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.