NEW YORK — As an ex-Mormon, Arizona Republic editorial cartoonist Steve Benson has strong opinions about current Mormon Mitt Romney. He said the Republican candidate’s recent speech on religion should not be trusted by media people and other Americans.
In his talk, Romney said “I believe in my Mormon faith” while also noting that the church’s “teachings” would not influence his decisions if elected president.
“Yeah, right,” responded Benson, adding that “Romney also believes in misrepresenting what his Mormon Church actually espouses.”
Benson is the grandson of former Mormon leader Ezra Taft Benson.
He told E&P that, in his view, a Mormon believer is required by church doctrine (as dictated by the church’s “living prophet”) to “obey God’s commands” over anything else. He said “Romney, like all ‘temple Mormons,’ made his secret vows using Masonic-derived handshakes, passwords, and symbolic death oaths that he promised in the temple never to reveal to the outside world” — and that Romney also secretly vowed to devote his “time, talents” and more “to the building of the Mormon religion on earth.”
So, said Benson, the only way Romney could be truly independent of the church as U.S. president would be to disavow Mormon doctrine. “He hasn’t done that,” said the Creators Syndicate-distributed cartoonist.
“When Mitt says he belongs to a church that doesn’t tell him what to do, that’s false; it’s a 24/7, do-what-you’re-told-to-do church,” asserted Benson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1993.
That was the year Benson left what he calls the “Mormon cult.” One reason for his decision was disgust with the way Mormon officials tried to fool church members and the general public into believing that Ezra Taft Benson — Steve’s then-94-year-old grandfather and church president — was still capable of leading the church. “He was not mentally or physically in a place where he could make any meaningful decisions,” recalled Benson. “I know it because I saw his condition with my own eyes.”
Benson — who was contacted by E&P for this story — said journalists have basically given Romney a free pass on the “fundamental contradiction” between being an observant Mormon and a U.S. president. “Most journalists don’t know about actual Mormon teachings and practices,” noted the cartoonist, adding that they instead see the religion as perhaps “strange” but “rather benign.”
Romney “needs to face an informed member of the media with ‘cojones’ who has a working and perhaps personal experience with Mormonism,” said Benson. “It would be harder for Romney to do his well-practiced duck and dodge.”
Benson himself drew a post-Romney speech cartoon that pictured John F. Kennedy saying “Ask not what your country can do for you…” followed by Romney saying “…do whatever it takes for me to win Iowa.” (Many people believe Romney gave what he hoped would be a JFK-like speech on religion because he was losing support in Iowa.) But Benson said he hasn’t heavily focused on Romney’s Mormonism in other cartoons. “Religious issues are very touchy,” he said. “I do what I can, but I pick my battles.”
Another reason Benson distrusts the words in Romney’s speech is because the candidate has changed his public positions on issues such as abortion and gay rights to woo conservative GOP voters in states like Iowa rather than the more liberal voters he once courted to become governor of Massachusetts. “He flips and flops like Jesus is coming tomorrow,” said the cartoonist. “It’s like Romney is reading from the Mormon Church playbook.”
Benson explained his last comment by noting that the Mormon Church has also “publicly flipped 180 degrees when it feels it’s necessary for its image, for its financial solvency, and for political expediency.”
He mentioned, by way of example, that black Mormons weren’t allowed into the priesthood until 1978. And while polygamy has been publicly disavowed by the Mormon Church, Benson said “the church still holds that it will be practiced as a matter of eternal doctrine in heaven. The church also currently performs polygamist marriage ‘sealings’ in its temples around the world.”
Benson predicted that Romney will not win the Republican presidential nomination. If Romney is nominated, added the cartoonist, he will not defeat his Democratic opponent.
Voters, said Benson, “are not ready for someone in the Oval Office who has committed to absolute obedience to a religion they feel is extremely odd and not in the American mainstream. I trust the rational U.S. electorate, not the weird Mormon God.”
Dave Astor is a senior editor at Editor & Publisher