Why has Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith mostly been a non-question in his political life?  John Kennedy was asked if he would obey the Pope or make his own decisions, Jimmy Carter was asked how his Baptist faith would affect his Presidency, and Barack Obama was asked if he agreed with the sermons of his preacher.  Why is the press afraid to ask Mitt Romney if he agrees with the patriarchal teachings of his church and if so, if this affects his views on the rights of women?

Like other patriarchal institutions, the Mormon Church believes that women’s place is in the home.  Every Mormon man is a priest and a patriarch in his own home.  Mormon belief teaches that men are to make the final decisions in the family, that only they can be leaders in the church, and that they are the members of the Mormon community who should speak and act in the public (non-home) dimensions of life.  Traditional Mormons believe that “ [The] LDS [woman is] always [to] accept counsel from her husband, and not as just his opinion, but as God-inspired revelation.” 

The Mormon Church differs from other religions in the degree to which it “deifies” the patriarchal family.  Marriages are sealed in the Temple for all eternity and families are to be reunited in immortal life.  Mormons are taught that the family is the most important part of life.  Current teachings on the family celebrate the self-giving love of mothers, instruct both partners in a marriage to put the other first, and discourage physical disciplining of children.  This “sugar-coating,” which I referred to as “love patriarchalism” in a previous blog, leaves patriarchal dominance intact.  Women are encouraged to have many children and are discouraged from working outside the home.  Mormons are encouraged to marry in their teens or early twenties and to begin having families immediately.  A woman’s education is viewed as secondary to her primary role as a mother. Mormon women are ill-equipped for independence.

As Caroline Kline has discussed on Feminism and Religion, Mormon women have different ways of negotiating their lives within this system of beliefs.  If their parents agree, they can pursue higher education.  If their husbands agree, they may have relatively or even fully egalitarian marriages. If their husbands agree, Mormon women can work outside the home.  There are Mormon feminists working within Mormonism to transform it.  However, public excommunications of prominent Mormon feminists such as Sonia Johnson and Margaret Toscano by male authorities discouraged many Mormon feminists from speaking up and drove others out the door.

As I said in an earlier blog, “when patriarchy trumps love, when push comes, shove often follows.”  While wife-beating is not approved in Mormon family teachings, male dominance is. This means that where husband and wife do not agree, both partners will be counseled to listen to the other, but if they still do not agree, the wife will be counseled to follow the leadership of her husband.  Where women and the church don’t agree, the male leaders of the church have power on their side.

As a Mormon male, Mitt Romney is ordained as a patriarch and a priest, and he has served as a bishop (presiding over a church) and a stake leader (presiding over a group of churches).  In other words, he is not just a member of a congregation who follows the lead of the priests, he is himself a priest and he has taken on roles within his church that make him a leader among priests. 

Wouldn’t it make sense to ask him a few questions?  Here are some suggestions. Do you agree with traditional Mormon teaching that men should be the breadwinners and women should stay in the home whenever possible? If so, how does this affect your commitment to upholding the principle of “equal pay for equal work”?  Do you support tax deductions for child care, maternity and paternity leave policies, and government funding of child care? Do you “listen to women” in your public life? Aside from your wife, what women advise you? Are your views on abortion and homosexuality dictated by your church? If so, why do you believe that you have the right to impose those views on others? And finally, the big one: do you agree with traditional teachings of your church that patriarchy is divinely decreed, and that every effort to transform patriarchy in family and society is equivalent to going against the will of God? 

If religion and politics really were separate these questions would be irrelevant.  One way to ensure that religion and politics are separate is to ask the questions.  All Mitt has to say is that he belives in the full equality of women and does not agree with traditional teachings of his church that men are divinely ordained to lead in family and society.   However, I doubt that this is how he would answer.

Warning: This Man May Not Believe in Women’s Equality!



Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the fields of women and religion and feminist theology. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute.

Author: Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ is a leading feminist historian of religion and theologian who leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, a life transforming tour for women. www.goddessariadne.org


  1. Carol, thank you so much for pointing out the lack of questioning of this and other GOP candidates. Your examples of democratic presidents challenged on religious questions is telling. Gloves off, ladies and gentlemen of the fourth estate–and all of us. Thank you, Carol! Great questions. Mitt, I am waiting to hear your answers!


  2. Carol,
    Thank you for articulating these points so clearly.
    Now that the convention circus is behind us, perhaps intelligent journalists will take on this important topic. These facts should be brought to the attention of U.S. citizens who have a right to know the dictates of the Mormon church and how those dictates impact its members.


    1. One answer is that they don’t want to be viewed as being intolerant of Mormon beliefs, but obviously the same did not apply with regard to being intolerant of black preachers in 2008. Is it the money controlled by Mormons and the Mormon church? Or is it that patriarchal beliefs are still considered normative and unworthy of question?


  3. Carol, I think your questions are fair. I’d love to see Mitt answer a bunch of those myself. And you are right that there is a definite patriarchal strain present in Mormon discourse and practice.

    However, as a practicing Mormon, I know that many of your statements about Mormonism, particularly in the home, are more reflective of Mormonism of the 1950s than today. (Only men should speak and act in public life? Mormons are encouraged to marry in their teens? When spouses disagree, the wife will be counseled to follow the husband’s leadership? These are statements that are not reflective of my experience as a Mormon.) In fact, many Mormons reading your post would not be able to recognize themselves or their faith in some of what you describe.

    For the past three decades or so, Mormon leaders have embraced both egalitarian (“equal partners”) rhetoric and soft patriarchal (“men preside”) rhetoric when talking about family dynamics. (What presiding means is up for debate- usually Mormon leaders today talk about it as men picking which family member should say the prayer over dinner.) Does Mormonism today promote certain gender roles? Definitely. But there’s a lot more nuance about it today than there was several decades ago, and there have been clear attempts by LDS leaders to promote a more equal dynamic between spouses in the home in recent years.

    Is there room for improvement? I sure think so. But I think it’s important to acknowledge the steps forward the LDS Church has made in recent years.


  4. I would love to think Mormonism had changed and Mitt Romney along with it. In my own family my brother and his wife were told at their public Mormon wedding (prior ot the sealing) that the man was patrirach and priest in his own home. This was a reading from the words of a Mormon leader and it was in the late 1980s not the 1950s. At the same time my brother, who is now a leader in the Mormon church, explained to me that marriage could not be egalitarian because one person had to have the final word and the chuch and God had designated the man to be that person. I had been in an egalitarian marrriage that had ended, I tried to argue with him, but he replied that obviously equal rights in a marriage did not work in my case or in general. In his family, his older daughter dropped out of college to marry before completing her first semester and immediately had a child, not in the 1950s, but a few years ago, while the second daughter was not encouraged to go to college. My brother will not let any of his children visit me in Greece, as I would be a bad influence. My brother is a leader in the Mormon church. I would love to read in your blogs that his views are not normative, but as far as I know he is still moving up in the hierarchy

    Ann Romney’s stand by your man speech and her paen to the longsuffering and self-sacrificing mother certainly didn’t suggest that the Romneys have adopted progressive views on sex roles in the Mormon family.


    1. I am annoyed but not surprised to hear that language of patriarchy was used at your brother’s wedding. The rhetoric of patriarchy within the family does persist, unfortunately, though usually nowadays it’s the “husband’s preside” rhetoric that is most common. In my experience, while many Mormons today do use and embrace patriarchy in theory and rhetoric, it is far more common to have egalitarian relationships in practice. I know of no couples in my peer group (people in their thirties) where the husband has the final say in disagreements between spouses. And luckily, the language of egalitarianism has infiltrated official LDS discourse in recent years. Which leaves us with a confusing mix of both patriarchal and egalitarian ideas about family dynamics.

      While in my experience it is rare for Mormon men to assert patriarchal privilege in their relationships with their wives — it’s widely considered bad form for men today to “pull priesthood rank” on their wives when they are disagreeing about something — I very much worry about what the language and theory of patriarchy do to LDS women’s psyches and self-conceptions. What does it do to them to think that God (in theory) wants their husbands to preside over them? I very much hope that as the decades pass, patriarchal rhetoric will become less and less common. I also hope that the very obvious patriarchal institutional structure will one day open itself to women’s leadership and presence. It gives me no end of angst to think of raising my children in a church where their church leaders and spiritual authorities are almost all male.

      At any rate, your experience with Mormonism through your brother and his family and my own experience with it hopefully point to the fact that there is a range of patriarchal practices and ideas within Mormonism. May they be on the wane!


      1. May patriarchal practices and ideas be on the wane everywhere! On this we agree. And I am glad there are women like you working to change Mormonism.


    2. Carol, I am a feminist and a former Mormon woman. I married at 19, (was encouraged to do so) waited 4 years to have a child (and was given grief for waiting too long) and have encountered both subtle and overt sexism (though it is not seen as such by those on the inside) throughout my nearly 30 years in the church. Women in the Mormonism are incredibly ill-equipped to be independent, and are incredibly oppressed. Sadly they are complicit in this, and the majority don’t know any different. I would argue that although the church has changed significantly since the 1950s, it is overwhelmingly male dominated and even misogynistic. I don’t believe that it is a bad church, or that it has ruined my life, but any practicing Mormon woman who truly embraces feminism and egalitarianism has to be able to admit that it is a very oppressive framework for women to living requiring some serious concessions in order to be able to stay within it. For me, I would be afraid that Mitt Romney would not support with any enthusiasm the policies for women that I feel very vital to progress in gender equality in our country.


  5. Patriarchy, if nothing else, is a highly adaptable virus. That is why is continues to flourish worldwide. This meme or virus infects everything that comes its way, but is most deeply rooted in religions. So most religions worldwide adapt and change with the times. Seemingly, this “looks better” than a 1950s version of the same religion, but again, the bottom line is the virus mutating into something to keep women well within the global religion of male supremacy. Women are not priests in their own home, for example, and this priesthood of all men would have a chilling effect on women. It is simple male supremacy, guided of course by men’s “love” of women.

    I hope the press asks mitt all these questions, especially in upcoming debates. It would be good to get his answers on record, just as we have his support of pro-choice on record in 1994. If nothing else, Mitt is highly adaptive too.


  6. To be fair, I don’t think Mormonism needs to be picked on as an exceptionally patriarchal faith. All religions are patriarchal, and all women live under male terror, domination or benign love ideology. Some women are owned in their own homes, others are controlled within male capitalism, still others remain under cult mind control.

    But it is our job as feminists to keep asking these questions, to keep pushing the media to put them front and center. We have two corporately owned candidates, take your pick.


  7. There is in Mormonism a “White Horse Prophecy”:
    “Writers such as Richard Abanes and Elaine Wolff have speculated, on the basis of the prophecy, that Mormons expect the US to eventually become a “Mormon-ruled theocracy divinely ordained to ‘not only direct the political affairs of the Mormon community, but eventually those of the United States and ultimately the world'”,[2] and that “a Mormon, if he were elected president, would take his orders from Salt Lake City.”[3] In addition to many LDS members of the Republican Party, some LDS Democrats have also been inspired to run for office by the White Horse Prophecy.[17]” This supports the idea that as with Kennedy, more questions are in order.

    References listed at Wikipedia.

    Romney recently made the public statement “I am who I am.”
    Given the tone of the popular interpretation of the prophecy, I wondered if this might be a call-out to the faithful. (I am who am).

    Romney has been asked about this but his answers were not clear.

    And apparently, as in Christianity, there are still old-style believers in good number. Mainstream media has not helped us so far to determine which group Romney and his supporters belong to.


      1. Yes. I suspect others will make the connection. Personally, my favorite prophesy comes from the book “Grandmothers Counsel the World.” Those from the center (the elders) will unite the eagle of the North and the Condor o the South. People will come together and share knowledge and save themselves.


  8. Carol, your questions are absolutely right-on and I encourage you to share them with journalists who will have the guts to ask them, moderators of upcoming debates between the candidates, and/or submit this article to the NYTimes or other papers as an Op-Ed piece. Thanks also for sharing your personal experience of the pain of familial ostracism, in which you are forced to bear the costs of truth-speaking. Perhaps your young relations will find their way to visit you in Greece some day, but that does not cancel the present loss of separation.


    1. Excellent suggestion, Martha. (New York Times/Huffington Post/Washington Post?)
      While I respect Caroline’s description of her personal experience as a practicing Mormon, we (U.S. citizens) should know how Romney personally perceives (and applies) the patriarchal foundations of Mormonism. Does he follow those tenets as a belief system, or not?


  9. My daughter was born in 1987. The mormon missionaries we spent the most time with were two young women. They spent over an hour discussing whether they needed to get a MALE member of the church to come to my house so we could all pray about a problem I wanted them to pray with me over. Three women were not good enough to have a group prayer. I left the church when I found out the temple dedication/ ceremony involved men promising to obey God, and women promising to obey their husbands. The mormon church promotes misogyny. They can explain and excuse all they want. Their church rituals tell you all you need to know about them. Saying they want to live in the 1950s is giving them too much credit.


  10. I find your article offensive on so many levels. You have made many misrepresentations and sweeping generalizations that are not accurate about the Mormon faith and doctrines.

    When you say that, ” Mormon belief teaches that men are to make the final decisions in the family” – that is false, both marriage partners work together in making decisions for the good of the family.

    “Your wife is your partner in the leadership of the family and should have full knowledge of and full participation in all decisions..” (Boyd K. Packer, in Conference Report, Apr. 1994, 26; or Ensign, May 1994, 21 ).

    When you say that, ” Only men can be leaders in the church” – that is false, women are leaders in a multitude of roles and capacities within the church.

    When you say that, ” men are the members of the Mormon community who should speak and act in the public (non-home) dimensions of life.” – where in the world do you get your information from…?! These are ridiculous statements that do not reflect the teachings of the Mormon church nor do they reflect the way mormon women lead their lives. We are not silent, subservient women waiting for permission to speak in society.

    The Mormon women I know are strong, intelligent, faithful women who have cherished their families and extended that love and care out to their communities. Many of us are leaders in business, politics, academics and beyond and have raised children that cherish and value a women’s role in society.

    Your information couldn’t be further from my reality of being a Mormon woman.


  11. Carol,
    I find this post to be very accusatory. As a non-Mormon who has taken an extensive amount of classes about Mormonism, I feel that this post revives the anti-Mormonism that does not look at the other issues at play but only accuses and doesn’t work to create reform and change.

    Yes, I have my personal views but actually studying Mormonism, as Caroline noted, gives you another look into the matter. I am not saying I want to “come to Mormonism’s defense,” but we need to look at these issues as full of color rather than just black and white.


  12. Of course we need to look at the full picture. I gave space to Caroline Kine’s views in my post and I made a link to her posts and positions. I guess we have a different definition of the term “accusatory.” I said we should be asking questions of Mitt and Caroline said my questions were “fair.” I do not single out Mormonism in my questioning, I am quite willing to “accuse” all patriarchal religions of being patriarchal and have done so throughout my career. The purpose of this post was not to create reform and change within Mormonism, though it could do that too. I assume religions can change. And I am very happy to know of Caroline’s work to change Mormonism. The purpose of this post was to ask if Romney holds traditional Mormon beliefs are if so, are these going to be imposed on me and other women if he gets elected? Of course I also want to know if Paul Ryan’s Catholic beliefs will be imposed on me if he gets elected. In his case, however, I know the answer because he has made it clear that that is exactly what he intends regarding birth control, abortion, and personhood. And there is no doubt that there are many Protestants who want to impose their beliefs on me too. It does not feel very good to be a woman in the context of Republican politics these days. To ask if and how patrirarchal religion is contributing the “war on women” seems to me to be one way of preventing what could happen from happening.


  13. Reish said: “Saying they want to live in the 1950s is giving them too much credit.”

    LOL, I love it when feminists get clever on us LOL made my day with this comment. Not to pick on Mormons in particular, because saying all male dominated institutions living in the 1950s would be giving way too much credit too. LOL


  14. Carol clearly has an agenda that has biased her report. If readers are genuinely interested in LDS views towards women, this link is a good place to start. Dr. Valerie Hudson Cassler is the Endowed Chair of the George HW Bush School of Government and International Relations at Texas A&M University, and in her words, “..as a feminist, I remain a steadfast member of the LDS Church.” http://mormonscholarstestify.org/1718/valerie-hudson-cassler


    1. Mctoot, I read the column at the link you provided with an open mind, and I agree with Dr. Cassler that the views regarding the story of Eve seem more woman-friendly in Mormonism than in other branches of Christianity. However, I also learned from the same link that LDS is homophobic and believes that heterosexual marriage has a special place in relation to the divine; that the church dictates specific roles as appropriate for women’s behavior as opposed to men’s (as opposed to believing that every woman and man should have full freedom to define their own roles and behavior); and that they think of women’s spiritual identity and value only in terms of motherhood (rather than believing that every woman is a fully spiritual being with her own inherent potential for connection with the divine whether or not she has children). None of this forebodes full equality for women–or LGBT people, for that matter–under a Mormon president. Thanks for a valuable post, Carol.


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