Gawker's substantial Mormon readership has come through for us: Two readers have sent us confirmation that Edward Davies, Mitt Romney's militantly atheist father-in-law, was indeed posthumously converted to Mormonism by his family, despite the fact that when he was alive he regarded all religions as "hogwash." UPDATE: Romney's brother-in-law responds below.
As we mentioned yesterday, Ann Romney's Welsh-born father (who Mitt mentioned in last night's debate to shore up his pro-immigrant bona fides) was an engineer, inventor, and resolute atheist who disdained all organized religion and raised his children accordingly. Davies, his son Roderick told the Boston Globe in 2007, regarded the faithful as "weak in the knees." But when Mitt began seeing Davies' daughter Ann, the Romney family launched a concerted effort to convert not only Ann but her entire family to Mormonism. And they were wildly successful: Within a year of meeting Ann, Mitt and his father had converted all three of Edward Davies' children. Days before she died in 1993, Ann Romney's mother asked to be converted as well. Edward Davies was the only member of his clan whose soul the Romneys never claimed for their church.
Until he died. According to this entry in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' genealogical database, Davies was baptized as a Mormon at a "special family meeting" 14 months after his death: "All ordinances except sealing to spouse performed in Salt Lake Temple on 19 Nov 1993 in special family meeting," the entry says. (When we previously asked the church whether Davies had been baptized, a spokesperson told us that the information was available only to his family and church members. But it's apparently right there on the internet for those who know what to look for.)
According to our tipster, the "ordinances" performed on Davies' spectral remnants included the following:
[A] canonical series of rituals that Mormons undergo (in life or death) in order to qualify for admission to heaven, including baptism, confirmation, "washings and anointings," endowment, and, in the case of men, ordination to two levels of priesthood. The description seems to indicate that certain family members were present for all these rituals, in which a living male would have stood in "for and in behalf of" the late Mr. Davies.
A little under a year after the posthumous baptism, according to this entry at Ancestry.com, a Utah-based genealogical registry linked to the Mormon church, Edward Davies was "sealed" to his spouse for eternity in a ceremony that appears to have been performed in Atlanta, Ga.
Of course this is all empty superstition, as Davies realized. Being dead, he wasn't particularly in a place to care about whatever voodoo was performed in his name. But it's an exceedingly odd way for the Romney family to honor the memory of a man who was committed, for his entire life, to the notion that organized religion is a fraud.
The Mormon church has repeatedly been criticized for its practice of trawling for dead souls to convert to the faith. Catholic and Jewish organizations have expressed outrage when the names of dead popes and Holocaust victims have turned up on Mormon lists of the baptized. In 1995, the church pledged to "discontinue any future baptisms of deceased Jews" except for direct descendents of living Mormons, tacitly acknowledging that its creepy and weird to claim the souls of people who had no interest in Mormonism for their own. It's strange that the Romney and Davies families didn't accord Edward Davies' memory the same respect.
UPDATE: Edward Davies' son Jim has written Gawker Media owner Nick Denton to say that his father was not an atheist. According to Jim, his father "had faith in God, or a higher power, or something much bigger than himself, but saw organized religion as something man-made." My claim that he was an atheist was based on the following:
- Earlier this month, the Telegraph reported that "Mr. Davies, who also served as mayor of the wealthy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, rebelled against his strict upbringing as a Welsh Congregationalist and became strongly opposed to all organized religion. 'He would say: 'I'm a scientist, show me the proof',' recalled [a former colleague]."
- In 2007, the Boston Globe quoted Edward's son Roderick saying that "Dad considered people who were religious to be weak in the knees.'' The Globe further reported that Edward had "absolutely no use for religion," regarded it as "drudgery and hogwash," and "insisted [that his wife] give up organized religion" before marrying her.
For the record, I spent a great deal of time several years ago trying to get Romney or a representative to answer questions about Edward Davies and his posthumous baptism. Romney never responded, and the Mormon Church declined to answer my questions.
I'm not sure about the law's position on slander or libel vis a vis someone who is dead, but my father's reputation matters a great deal to me, and your correspondent's contention that my father was an atheist is blatantly false. I demand that the record be corrected and that you print a retraction. If you or someone would care to contact me on the issue I will be happy to give you the facts. Dad had faith in God, or a higher power, or something much bigger than himself, but saw organized religion as something man-made. Does that sound like a "committed atheist" or a "resolute atheist"? We had numerous conversations on the topic. I am truly astonished at the irresponsibility and callousness of your publication.
In addition to these inaccuracies, he worked on the Apollo program, not Gemini. There is so much conjecture and outright fantasy in these contentions, I am absolutely astonished. If I were this sloppy in my work as an ophthalmologist there is no way I could maintain a credible practice—or maintain a license to practice.
It is also beyond my comprehension (and I presume that you view your "Gawker" as a legitimate source for "news") that your reporter would not even make the effort to make a phone call to confirm a story that is bound to get so much play in the media. Or, is it possible that you and yours are agenda-driven, and that your intent is to smear a candidate?
[Photo-illustration by Jim Cooke; image via Getty]