SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
— Republican candidate Mitt Romney has avoided mentioning his religion for much of the presidential campaign. But now he is emphasizing the close-knit nature of Mormon families and communities -- in the hope that it will help both him and his faith.
Iconic temples, a world-famous choir, and clean-cut missionaries sent worldwide by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. But a visit to suburban Salt Lake City shows how members of the church, or Mormons, live out their faith at home.
Tami Larsen says family is sacred to Latter-Day Saints. "We believe that we will be a family forever not just until death," says Larsen.
The Larsens go every week to church, where even grownups attend Sunday school.
Mormons spend three hours in church every Sunday. They don't smoke, and don't drink coffee, tea or alcohol.
But there are rewards.
This is "Welfare Square" where food is packaged and sent to enormous "Bishops' storehouses." They in turn supply cashier-less supermarkets like this one for families in need.
Happy occasions can be celebrated at the main temple in Salt Lake City, or one of many others around the world.
"This is now the 139th temple," says the church elder William Walker.
And it was just built in Brigham City. Like all Mormon temples, the lavish interior is supposed to evoke being in heaven.
Mormon temples are modeled after the biblical Temple of Solomon. They are considered so sacred that non-Mormons may not set foot inside. But before this temple was dedicated, the public was allowed to visit. Still, they could not take pictures inside.
These Mormons may look like a portrait of the perfect family - an image the Romneys also present.
But church critic Tom Kimball says the reality is more complex.
"We’re told to have these large families we can’t afford," he says. "And we’re supposed to be happy and supposed to be idealistic, clothes, manicured yards, and when we don’t - and most of us don’t - depression sets in."
Kimball says the image of the Mormon community that the Romney campaign presents is also not entirely true. Several years ago, he began questioning his church leaders' conservative views.
"As soon as I start saying 'no, I have a problem, I'm struggling here.' As soon as you start saying 'no' in the echo chamber, things start to come apart quickly," says Kimball.
He says he is now banned from ceremonially blessing his own children.
Kimball works at a publishing house that is reexamining early church history, when Mormons practiced polygamy.
"Mormons from the 19th century and Mormons now could not have a cogent conversation with each other," says Kimball. "They wouldn't even be able to discuss Mormon topics. They would call each other heretics."
Kimball says the current church leadership is trying hard to align the faith with the American religious mainstream. And it's hard to imagine what would help that effort more than having a Mormon as president of the United States.