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Why Mitt Romney Should Open Up About His Mormon Story

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MSNBC is airing "Mitt Romney: The Making of a Candidate," a one-hour documentary featuring an exclusive one-on-one interview with the presidential candidate himself.

The program comes at a time when many media voices are calling on Gov. Romney to tell the story of his Mormonism with more candor. After remaining tight-lipped throughout the campaign, he now appears more willing to oblige, even by incorporating stories from his faith life into his presentation at the Republican National Convention.

As a Mormon, I am glad Romney will share a bit more of his Mormon story because his avoidance of the subject has given off the impression that Mormonism is something to be ashamed of.

I know Mitt Romney doesn't feel that way about his faith. Neither do I.

Still, the fact remains that many LDS people are ambivalent when it comes to talking about our religion with non-Mormons. Sometimes we proselytize; sometimes we circle the wagons defensively, a habit we've learned in response to the curiosity, ridicule and even antagonism that have been a fact of Mormon experience since the faith's founding in the 1830s. In response, non-Mormons often interpret our guardedness to mean that Mormons are being less than candid about our history and doctrine.

What's missing from the public conversation are more stories from the lives of everyday Mormons -- stories focused not on points of doctrine but on the human dimensions of living this demanding faith.

I've hungered for those stories too. Growing up in an observant Mormon household in Southern California, I was a voracious reader who fell asleep pointing a flashlight at a book under the covers. But I never encountered books about Mormon girls like me -- girls who inhabited a world of Book of Mormon stories, Utah vacations, interminable church meetings, bench-seated family vans and home-baked bread. I turned, instead, to the Little House on the Prairie books, silently imagining through their feisty and flawed heroine Laura Ingalls Wilder what life must have been like for my Mormon pioneer ancestors as they crossed the American plains.

As a tween-aged volunteer at the local public library, I discovered painfully tender puberty sagas like "Deenie" by Judy Blume. I even stumbled into experimental works of African-American literature like Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide and absorbed its stories of grown-woman heartbreaks with wide-eyed amazement. Books like these were quite a departure from the volumes of just-for-teenagers short stories I found at LDS Church-owned bookstores. Those Mormon stories always seemed to end with Sunday-School-perfect answers, but I didn't care: I was so hungry for Mormon content that I was even willing to swallow a little saccharine.

As an adult, I've made books my profession. I've studied inspiring and heart-stopping life writing from every conceivable American era, region, race and culture. Yet I've seen the "Mormonism" shelf at the bookstore stacked with breathless confessionals or sensational exposes written by non-Mormons, with stories written by everyday Mormons about our regular lives few and far between.

That's why I wrote "The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith," putting onto paper my own Mormon story of growing up an ordinary American girl in an extraordinary American faith and of confronting big questions about belief and belonging -- as all people of faith do.

I wrote this book because I believe that one person tells his or her story with honesty, humor and tenderness it encourages others to do the same as well. More Mormons need to start writing and telling our own stories -- stories that spare none of the hard parts and reflect the deeply human yearnings and flaws we share with people of other faiths, and no faith at all.

Mitt Romney is not the one to lead that charge. He is, after all, running for president, and has some pretty serious challenges on his plate. But if he does decide to reveal a bit more of his Mormon story at the Convention and during the last weeks of the campaign, he will show by example that Mormons have nothing to be ashamed of in sharing our stories more openly, and nothing to fear.