Here’s the thing about the Mormon Church. Members interact in a very close way with other members in a set geographical area called wards and wards are grouped in set geographical areas called stakes. Members don’t choose which church building they attend or pick and choose their ecclesiastical leaders based on personality, popularity, economic status or geographical fancy. They go to church within the set ward boundary where they live. Thus, in most wards—usually from 200 to 600 people—one can find a large mosaic of people from diverse economic, cultural and educational circumstances, all of whom join in one congregation where they naturally “relate” to one another. They attend worship service and Sunday school together and their children attend primary and youth classes and activities. Men in a ward belong to a priesthood organization with leadership responsibilities that are 100% geared to service. Women in the Church belong to and run the largest and one of the oldest women’s organizations in the world, the Relief Society, which, as evidenced by its very title, is also geared to service. Young men and women ages 19 to 27, as well as thousands of retirees, voluntarily offer two years to missionary service at their own expense. Children, youth, men and women serve one another in their home wards and stakes; they serve the Church as a whole; they serve the community at large.
The Romneys, in spite of their acclaim, participate in all of this along side any other “ordinary” Mormons. In my opinion, one factor that elegantly distinguishes the LDS faith is this: When Mitt and Ann Romney and millions of other members accept callings in any of the Church organizations they do so by the consent and sustaining vote of the entire congregation. There is no class warfare in the Church. No paid clergy. No social climbing. At one time, Mitt Romney may have been the presiding authority in his ward or stake but at other times, he gladly and willingly sustained, supported and served under other leaders who may not have been as smart, rich, handsome or educated as he. That’s the beauty of a church that is led by imperfect people but which nevertheless is one of most highly functioning organizations in the world because of the support and cooperation of the diverse bag of people who make up its membership.
In a lifetime, “average” Mormons—including the Romney family—will do some of the following: They will give dozens of talks from the pulpit, sing in numerous choirs and teach classes ranging from nursery age kids of 18 months and older to three-year-olds to teenagers to adults to centenarians. They will most likely participate in and lead a Boy Scouts troop or young women youth group. They will give up at least a handful of vacations to go with the ward youth camping and on recreational and environmental trips. Every LDS man and woman is asked to take on the special care and interest of at least 3 to 5 families within the ward. These they visit monthly with friendship and aid and comfort when necessary. Together, ward members volunteer to clean chapels and ward buildings. They help indigent, aged, infirm and financially impoverished people put in yards, fix leaky roofs, clean their homes and businesses, repair their vehicles, tend their children and attend one another in hospitals, rest homes and rehab centers. They routinely volunteer at church welfare canneries, factories, bakeries, and farms. (For a real eye opener, check out www.providentliving.org and learn about the Church welfare system, which is second to none worldwide!) They also routinely volunteer in non-Mormon civic, community and disaster relief projects. The beauty of all of this, and the reason the Romneys can relate to “ordinary folk” is because poor and rich alike, including Brother and Sister Romney, work and serve right alongside one another on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.
Mitt Romney has been both a ward bishop and a stake president. As such, he has had many added leadership and ecclesiastical responsibilities above and beyond the “ordinary” member. For at least 15 years when he was in full stride working as a business entrepreneur and political animal—if he was anything like a “typical” bishop and stake president—he was also donating up to 30 hours a week to serve the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor and everyone in between within his church stewardship. This included administering the day to day Church business and overseeing the use of Church funds. He freely gave untold hours to offer spiritual and temporal counseling, assist the unemployed and under-employed find and keep jobs, oversee addiction programs, direct local missionary work, coordinate welfare efforts, bless the sick, conduct marriages and funerals and visit the widowed, divorced and incarcerated. Ann Romney has been a Relief Society President. Ditto on most of the above burden of service and responsibility. Add to this the coordinated delivery of enough loaves of bread, plates of cookies and meals to feed several armies! To my mind, this is the essence of truly effective community organizing.
Explicitly because he was raised in and influenced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mitt Romney can relate to us “ordinary” folk.