Friday, October 12, 2012

The Softer and Gentler Mitt Romney? Testimony from the Mormon Community

And, again, not unrelated to the excerpts I have just posted from Joanna Brooks's The Book of Mormon Girl and Margaret Farley's Just Love: Geoffrey Dunn's article at Huffington Post yesterday reporting on what various Mormon women for whom Mitt Romney has been a pastoral leader have to say about him and his pastoral leadership is must-read testimony.  Dunn discusses the case of Carrel Hilton Sheldon, a Mormon woman in Massachusetts whose doctor informed her in 1983 that her life was at stake if she continued her pregnancy.  She was 8 weeks pregnant at the time.

Sheldon sought the counsel of the LDS stake leader in Massachusetts, a Harvard-trained physician named Dr. Gordon Williams, who told her, "Of course you should have the abortion."  And then her bishop, one Mitt Romney, got wind of what was happening and visited Sheldon in her hospital room, to inform her that "as your bishop, my concern is with your child."  

And here's what ensued, according to Dunn: 

There was no empathy forthcoming from Romney, according to Sheldon, no warmth or sympathy. Moreover, Sheldon contends, Romney cast doubt on her story about the stake president's approval. He simply didn't believe her. He threatened to call him and track him down. "At a time when I would have appreciated nurturing and support from spiritual leaders and friends," Sheldon wrote, "I got judgment, criticism, prejudicial advice, and rejection." 
Indeed, Romney was so agitated about the matter that he confronted Sheldon's parents about her decision as well. According to R. B. Scott, author of the insightful Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics,* Romney's only concern was for the unborn fetus. Last year, Scott, who is also a Mormon, interviewed Sheldon's 90-year-old father, Phil Hilton, who remembered the incident quite vividly. "I have never been so upset about anything in my life," he told Scott. "[Romney] is an authoritative type fellow who thinks he is in charge of the world." 
Back at the hospital, a distraught Carrel Hilton Sheldon assented to her doctor's advice and terminated her life-threatening pregnancy. She recovered from her medical crisis, moved to the West Coast, and continued to raise her four children.

One of the people Dunn interviews about this story is Judith Dushku, a lifelong Mormon who's an associate professor of government at Suffolk University.  Dushku, who has known Romney since the early 1970s, states bluntly that Romney can appear "almost heartless" at times.  She is a close friend of Carrel Hilton Sheldon, and has the following to say about Sheldon's interaction with Romney as bishop:

"We were all terribly worried about her health," she says of Sheldon's close circle of women friends. "She had had severe medical difficulties, and the idea that she would carry the child to birth was terrifying to us. We loved her. We all expected that Mitt would support the decision of his ecclesiastical superior [the stake president] and when he denounced her and essentially shouted at her that she was wrong--that she was immoral and selfish--I thought, are you kidding me? I couldn't imagine that he would do that. I couldn't imagine anyone doing that." 

And here's how Dushku sums Romney up:

"Romney just doesn't have any sensitivity to women's issues in general," says Dushku. "But even more than that, he genuinely believes he's always right, that he's never made a mistake. He can never say, 'I might have made a mistake, I didn't understand that.' In Mitt's view, no one else has anything else to offer. He's always right." 


"He's not a man who has anything like a moral core," she says. "He's very loyal to the Mormon church, pays his tithing, is faithful to his wife, and so on, but he doesn't have a set of core values you can count on. I've known him for nearly 40 years. He may have a different suit on, but he hasn't changed. His experience hasn't changed. His performance  [i.e., in the recent debate] was very consistent with the Mitt I knew back then. He can't relate to average working women--teachers and nurses and care givers. He's still coming from a place of privilege and entitlement." 

In my view, we would be extremely foolish to ignore this testimony of Mormons who have known Mr. Romney for a long time and have experienced his style of pastoral leadership in the LDS church--the testimony of Carrel Hilton Sheldon, her father Phil Hilton, and Judith Dushku.  My ears perk up, too, when lifelong Mormon and scholar of Mormonism Joanna Brooks tells me today at Religion Dispatches to beware of the "softer side" of Mitt Romney that the mainstream media have been discovering this week.

I trust Brooks's testimony, because I believe she knows very well whereof she speaks.

*Dunn's article contains a link to an Amazon page for this book which appears not to be working, so I have not included the link.

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