After due consideration the staff of Times and Seasons has selected Mitt Romney as the 2012 Mormon of the Year, our annual designation of the Mormon who had the greatest impact or influence on Mormons and Mormonism during the year.
This past year Romney was named as the Republican nominee for President of the United States, the first time a Mormon has been the nominee of a major political party. While Romney also drew attention to Mormonism during his 2008 attempt to gain the nomination (for which he was named Mormon of the Year 2008), his success in winning the nomination this past year garnered even more attention, both domestically and abroad.
Although Romney generally refused to discuss his Mormon beliefs during the campaign, his Mormonism was nevertheless a topic of discussion, and, at times, a weapon that opponents tried to use against him. Attacks on Romney’s faith came both from supporters of fellow Republicans who were also seeking the Republican presidential nomination and from supporters of President Obama. Remarkably, however, Romney’s Mormonism represented much less of a political issue in 2012 than it did in 2008. While interest in Mormonism soared cover the course of the campaign, the media coverage in the United States was largely positive–ushering in a new so-called “Mormon moment.” The stellar field of Mormon of the Year nominees this year is, in part, a reflection of this increased attention, which elevated the voices of scholars such as Joanna Brooks to national prominence and paved the way for the Church’s wildly successful “I’m a Mormon” campaign. Scores of Mormons across the country, particularly in swing states such as Colorado and Nevada, became more politically and publicly engaged as a result. When religiously-based attacks were leveled against Romney, whether direct or indirect, they were generally muted by both the Romney and Obama campaigns, the mainstream media, and by outside observers who found Mormonism either largely irrelevant to Romney’s candidacy or not something that should be used in a political attack. Toward the end of his campaign, Romney himself began to more publicly embrace his Mormonism, discussing his missionary service in ads and interviews and orchestrating a convention that explicitly highlighted his Church leadership in the Boston-area.
Having a Mormon capture the Republican nomination for president in the United States also served to draw a tremendous amount of attention to the Church abroad. How this attention, politically-intertwined as it is, will ultimately affect the image of the Church globally remains to be seen. Some see it as establishing credibility for Latter-day Saints, concluding that it is harder to write the Church off as a cult or a sect or otherwise persecute it as an institution when its membership includes such prominent U.S. politicians. Others fear that Romney’s candidacy has inadvertently harmed the Church’s outreach efforts overseas because people have begun to associate Romney’s conservative positions and politics with the Church as an institution, particularly when the Church has gone to great lengths to try to shed its image as an “American” church.
While opinions on his candidacy may differ, it is difficult to seriously claim that anyone had a greater impact or influence on the image of Mormons and Mormonism than Romney over the past year.
Times and Seasons has also written about Mitt Romney before. You can see a list of posts that mention Romney here. Given Romney’s apparent good health and wide business and political involvement, it is possible that he will still appear in the news in the future. It will be interesting to see what impact he may still have. Regardless, neither this recognition nor any of our articles should be seen as an endorsement of his political positions or aspirations.
The Mormon of the Year designation is a recognition of the effect that the person or group of persons recognized has had during the past year. It is not a prize or award, so nothing of value is being given to anyone as a result of this designation, and it is not necessarily meant to honor the person or persons recognized, so no effort will be made to contact or notify Romney.
We were very pleased by the interest in selecting the Mormon of the Year. The Times and Seasons readers and staff nominated a total of 12 candidates. We learned a lot from those nominations, especially the range of our readers’ beliefs and feelings and about Mormons who have done significant things and really deserve to be on a list of possible Mormons of the Year.
The LDS Church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were excluded from nominations.
We also appreciate those who dropped by and participated in our online vote, which taught us a lot about the passion that many people have for their friends and those that they admire. Nearly 500 people voted in our poll. We hope that those who dropped by enjoyed Times and Seasons and will drop by again.
Please plan on participating in next year’s Mormon of the Year nominations and designation. I’m sure that many of the nominees will show up next year, and those of us who were unfamiliar with some of the nominees can use that time to become more familiar with them. Certainly we will re-nominate some of them next year.