But that obviously left a problem for the Romney campaign. Even if his advisors didn't want to get into the weeds with his Mormonism, they did want to "humanize" him. Everyone already knew about his large and loving family. But before Thursday few people probably had much of a sense of his church service. But I wonder what the TV audience at home thought when Bennett explained that Romney was regularly doing 10 or 15 or even 20 hours of work per week for the church. As a bishop he was responsible for overseeing a congregation of a few hundred and as stake president he was responsible for a few thousand. His pastoral responsibilities were those you might imagine for any congregational leader. He counseled people with family problems, with employment problems, financial problems. As other speakers noted, he spent time visiting the sick, helping the elderly, organizing church functions, cleaning up after church functions.
I wonder how many men with full-time jobs and five children at home could imagine finding an extra 20 hours in their week to volunteer. In Sunday's New York Times Style section, a mother laments that children's school wants her to volunteer for bake sales and the like -- probably a two-hour commitment at most. Indeed, the parents I know would have trouble finding two more hours in the week, let alone 20. And yet the members of the LDS church I have interviewed over the years find these demands to be unremarkable. Of course, they don't start out as bishops. The younger members of the church often have "callings" that require five or seven hours of their time. And by the way, the fact that the bishop essentially tells you what he thinks God is calling you to do leaves very little room for people to simply pass. Unlike many church and synagogue meetings where volunteers are requested and the sound of crickets can be heard, the Mormon church puts everyone's hands to use.
The fact that people start young doing church service also means that it is simply built into their lives as a priority. Just as few young adult Mormons worry about tithing. They simply view the money as belonging to the church, so the time needed for their calling is not their own. It belongs to the church. Aside from whether such activities serve to humanize Mitt Romney, his church service should serve as an example.
In her book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, my friend Laura Vanderkam explains how time-use diaries show that people are actually not nearly as busy as they think they are. People who claim to have 70-hour work weeks are really doing closer to 50-hour ones. She also notes that we spend a lot of time watching TV or surfing the web -- perfectly fine activities if that's what you've decided to do. But often we waste untold hours on these things when we never intended to. And our real priorities get shoved to the side.
All of which is to say that we should take a minute to marvel at how much Mitt Romney has managed to do for his community, even while having a successful career and a large family. And while that may not be reason alone to vote for him, we should ask ourselves who was the last man running for president who could make such a claim about the way he has spent his time?