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Romney as a Religious Leader

In College Station, Texas, this morning, former Governor Mitt Romney delivers a much anticipated address on religion in America.

Romney, who is a Mormon, has been trying to win over evangelical Christians for two years on the campaign trail. But recently he's been losing ground in the Iowa polls to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

WBUR's Fred Thys reports on that story, and examines Romney's role in his local church in Belmont.

TEXT OF STORY:

FRED THYS: Mike Huckabee is campaigning in Iowa as a Christian leader. Some members of the press have said that if he's elected, Huckabee would be the first minister to become president, but Mitt Romney, too, has been a pastor and a church leader. Grant Bennett is a member of Romney's congregation in Belmont.

GRANT BENNETT: In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we don't have paid ministers, but that doesn't mean we don't have ministers.

THYS: For several years, in the early 1980s, Romney served as the pastor, or bishop, of the Belmont congregation. Bennett says Romney planned Sunday services and organized Sunday school, visited people at hospitals, conducted funerals, and provided individual help.

BENNETT: Perhaps some marriage counseling, perhaps some financial counseling, perhaps just being there to listen when someone needs help, and he had that responsibility, and in that capacity, as a member of this congregation, let me just say that he was a wonderful pastor, that he knows how to listen. He deeply cares, and he provided confidential individual help to hundreds of individuals in his role as pastor of the congregation.

THYS: Bennett says Romney would arrive home from work and find a line of people waiting for his advice. He was Spencer Nam's bishop.

SPENCER NAM: I was a little young. I was a teenager then. I was 14, 15 years old. He was a very busy guy, so I didn't have a lot of chance to interact with him.

THYS: Nam says Romney came across as businesslike, but was surprisingly caring and fun to talk to. He says you felt like an old friend, because he remembered who you were.

In the mid-1980s, Romney became the ecclesiastical leader of the Boston stake, which is roughly the Mormon equivalent of being the bishop of a diocese. He managed this while maintaining his own successful career as a consultant and venture capitalist. If the church asks him, he could serve as bishop, or pastor, again.

Romney may not refer to any of these experiences in his speech of this morning. He has said that he would not address his own religion, only the role of faith in public life.

This program aired on December 6, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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