Mitt Romney at BYU: Beyond Politics
About 20,000 members of the BYU community had the opportunity November 18 to hear from honored alum and twice-unsuccessful presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (I was lightly acquainted with the Romneys decades ago, when I was in graduate school and Mitt probably still hadn’t made his first 10 million. He was liked and trusted by all who knew him, in my experience.) I was respectfully curious to hear what he might have to say. I had been a luke-warm fan of his candidacies, both as a citizen (because of his political baggage and his positions) and as a Mormon (because I doubted it would be good for Mormons to have a Mormon President). But I must say that hearing him in the Marriott Center that Tuesday morning confirmed my sense that he is an admirable human being; certainly it was hard not to wish (as growing numbers of people far from Provo now do) that this was the man in the White House.
His opening jokes were pretty good, and quite well delivered. To be sure, this conventional bit of self-deprecation regarding his two losses was not exactly a rare gem: “I’d prefer to say that I won the silver medal.” But this opening joke referring to recent publicity surrounding LDS founder Joseph Smith was pretty good, and I thought really quite daring before a conservative Mormon crowd that included BYU and Church authorities:
It seems like only a few years ago that I sat where you are sitting. Things were different then: the Beatles were the only boy band, Ma Bell was the only phone company, BYU cafeteria food was the only choice at the Cougareat, and Emma Smith was Joseph Smith’s only wife.
After referring to some welcome support he got on the campaign trail from a Mormon congregation, Romney gave some good basic advice about contributing to one’s community:
There may be times in your life when you may feel that it is a bit of a burden being a member of the Church. Some folks will think you’re not Christian, some may be insulted that you don’t drink, and others will think you’re trying to be better than them by not swearing. But I can affirm this: your fellow members of the Church will be a blessing to you that far more than compensates. They will bless you when you are sick, lift you up when you fall, help you raise a teenager, counsel you about a job, and yes, even move your unpacked junk. We are not perfect. As a matter of fact, in many things we are probably no better than anyone else. But we are remarkably good at reaching out our hands to one another in need. Decide to be one of those who does just that.
He then warned against the Mormon version of the Protestant Ethic, a common enough syndrome, one would have to say:
I can’t tell you how many members of the church I’ve spoken with who think God will help their business succeed, or get them a promotion, or make their investments profitable. I just don’t think God will intervene to help you get rich. There may be exceptions, but I wouldn’t count on it. What He does guarantee is written in D&C 90:24. “Search diligently, pray always and be believing and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewithal ye have covenanted one with another.
Telling of the remarkable people he had been able to meet as a presidential candidate, he passed on this wisdom from a Lutheran former bishop of Stockholm:
His counsel on judging other religions was instructive. He said he had three rules for understanding another faith. First, learn about that faith from one of its adherents, not from one of its detractors. Second, compare the best of one religion with the best of another, not the best of one with the worst of the other. And third, leave room for religion jealousy. I inquired what he meant by that. He explained that in every religion he has encountered, there is something he wishes were also part of his religion.
Mitt gave good advice about getting good advice: “I can assure you, finding someone who cares enough about you to tell you the truth and then taking time to gain their counsel and their coaching, is invaluable.” His wife Anne fulfilled this role best, he confided.
What most struck me, though, were the remarks of this uber-wealthy businessman and prominent politician on the limits of secular success.
Living life can become self-consuming: Who you are can be overshadowed by what you do, or what you have done. If you allow this to happen, the inevitable twists and turns of secular life can warp your self-confidence, limit your ambition, test your faith, and depress your happiness. You are not defined by secular measures.
Easy for him to say, you might well be thinking. But I could see he meant it. Mitt Romney never really thought being President was the most important thing. Maybe that doomed him, and so hurt our country. But this trans-political advice is clearly good for his soul, and for ours:
You are a child of a Heavenly Father who loves you, you are His work and His glory. This statement confirms your incomparable worth. This statement also informs your life’s most important work: to lift others, to lift your family and spouse if you marry, and to remain true and faithful to the Almighty.