News / USA

    Spotlight Focuses on Romney's Mormon Faith

    At a Salt Lake City theme park that showcases the area's pioneer past, a mother and her daughters duck into a log cabin. Inside, park staff in 19th century dress are talking about the hardships their ancestors faced on the frontier.
     
    Cheryl Quist brought her family to This is the Place Heritage Park to learn their history, and she gets into a discussion about anti-Mormon prejudices. She says Mitt Romney's candidacy for president means Americans are finally learning "what our religion is really about."
     
    Mormons see themselves as fervently patriotic. The U.S. Constitution is sacred according to their beliefs. And their church, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, emphasizes all-American values such as optimism and self-reliance.
     

    But unlike any other religion founded in this country, Mormonism has been met with hatred and persecution - from the murder of its prophet, Joseph Smith Jr. in 1844 - to the waves of attacks that drove his early disciples westward.
     
    Romney is the first Mormon to win a major party's nomination. But some Mormons say the candidate's hesitation to talk about his faith is rooted in the fear that it will be used against him.  
     
    "Mormonism is an easy target because we have so many different ideas than the rest of mainstream Christianity," says Tom Kimball of Signature Books, a Salt Lake City publisher focused on scholarly books about Mormon history.


     
    Biblical story on American soil
     
    In the 1830s, after a series of visions, Joseph Smith said he was given a mission to restore the early Christian church. He preached a theology in which people could become exalted like God, and he published a scripture called the Book of Mormon.
     
    It tells that after his resurrection, Jesus made an appearance in the Americas to remnants of the lost tribes of Israel. Smith also placed the Garden of Eden in present-day Missouri.
     

    There is no historical evidence to back these claims, and the church's early history of polygamy - it was officially banned in 1890 - often inflamed its critics more than anything else.
     
    But Kimball says part of the new faith's appeal was that it brought the biblical story to American soil and made God approachable.
     
    "The cool thing about Mormonism," says Kimball, "is that it was a rational theology that you could put your arms around. And it was a hopeful and exciting theology... we could become exactly like our Father in heaven and live with him.”
     
    Some of the beliefs and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church:

    Scripture - Mormons regard the Christian Bible as the word of God, but have another holy scripture called the Book of Mormon. It talks about Jesus appearing to ancient peoples on the American continent.

    God - Mormons consider Jesus to be Savior and the son of God. However, Mormon chapels do not have crosses because the faith emphasizes the "resurrected Christ."

    Beliefs - Mormons believe all people have a pre-earthly existence with God, and their mortal lives are a test to be able to rejoin Him in the afterlife.

    Worship - Mormons have 139 temples where they hold weddings, posthumous baptisms and endowment ceremonies. However, weekly worship is in a local chapel.

    Practices - Mormons' baptism of deceased ancestors and other non-Mormons has provoked controversy. However, the LDS church says souls in the afterlife are "completely free to accept or reject such a baptism."

    Polygamy - Early followers practiced plural marriage, which was disavowed in 1890 in order for Utah to become a U.S. state. Polygamy continues among some fundamentalist splinter groups.
    Today, Mormonism is one of the world's fasted growing faiths with 14 million adherents, including 6 million in the U.S.  But its theology is taken as heresy by some of the very people who have formed the voter base for the Republican Party - Evangelical Christians.
     
    Mormonism's evangelical critics
     
    Rob Sivulka leads Courageous Christians United, a group that pickets Salt Lake City's Temple Square.  Seat of the Latter-day Saints' world headquarters, Temple Square is to Mormons more or less what Mecca is to Muslims or the Vatican to Roman Catholics.
     
    On a recent evening, as crowds were heading to a public rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Sivulka stood outside the gate and shouted: "Joseph Smith lied when he said you'll all grow up to become gods!"

    Sivulka's primary aim is to convert Mormons, who themselves spend two years of their life proselytizing around the globe. But he says he also needs to protect Christians from Mormon missionaries who say theirs is the true faith.
     
    "I’m concerned about my own Christian brothers and sisters that are getting hoodwinked into joining what I would call a cult," Sivulka said. "It’s something that appears to be very Christian, but turns out to be a pseudo-Christian group."
     
    LDS church leaders reject this. They say Mormons are Christians because they regard the Bible as scripture and believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. And they say their beliefs about the nature of God and man are rooted in the Bible.
     
    But polls in recent years have ranked Mormonism about equal with Islam as the faiths least liked by Americans.
     
    Sivulka concedes that despite his polemics, he generally agrees with Mormons' views on abortion, same-sex marriage and other social values issues. So, he says, he will vote for Romney in November.

    Mormon temples around the world

    • Cardston, Alberta
    • Copenhagen, Denmark
    • Manhattan, New York, USA
    • Guayaquil, Ecuador
    • Manila, Philippines
    • Trujillo, Peru
    • Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    • The Hague, Netherlands
    • Seoul, South Korea
    • Salt Lake, Utah, USA
    • Porto Alegre, Brazil
    • Nukualofa, Tonga
    • Mesa, Arizona, USA
    • Melbourne, Australia
    • Washington, DC, USA

    Why Mormons smile a lot
     
    And lately, the Republican nominee has started to give glimpses of his faith, allowing some reporters into his church several weeks ago. In the early 1980s, Romney became a member of the faith's unpaid clergy, and was later appointed "stake president," or leader of Boston-area congregations.
     
    His image as a caring father and husband, which his campaign has promoted, has a lot to do with the traditional Mormon family lifestyle.
     
    In a suburban home near Salt Lake City, Tami and Tom Larsen gather their children in their living room on Monday evenings for prayer, gospel and games. It is part of a tradition known as Family Home Evening, a time set aside each week to spend time together.
     
    "We believe in eternal families," says Tami Larson, adding that Mormonism is a faith that makes its adherents happy. In fact, its path to salvation is also known as the "Plan of Happiness." And non-Mormons often wonder why Mormons always seem cheerful and smiling.
     
    "I think that the best revenge has always been to be happy," says Kimball, the book publicist. "And as Mormons were persecuted and pushed out of their cities and homes back east, they tried to come here and carve a community - a modern community - out of this desert, in the middle of nowhere."
     
    At his office in one of the oldest houses still standing in Salt Lake City, Kimball says happiness - and success - were ways "to show the world that, 'Hey, here we are, we’re God's people.'"

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 2
        Next 
    by: Bob from: Florida
    September 02, 2012 9:39 AM
    I, as a Christian would never vote for Romney, or a Mormon!
    Romney needs to clarify whether if elected President he would first serve his Church, or the United States!
    The LDS Church would require Romney to first choose his Church, and this would be unacceptable to all Christians, and against the Oath of Office he would have to take if elected President!
    LDS teachings that a Church member would become King of America, and leader of the World under the LDS Church would also be unacceptable to Christians!
    Our country believes in the separation of Church and State, this also is not in line with the LDS Church teachings!
    This is not to say Mormons are not good people, but their Church's use of our Country's tax laws to enrichen itself isn't in line with Christian teachings, or Jesus's teachings on the Mount against Mammon!

    by: Leigh Oats from: Sydney
    August 31, 2012 2:27 AM
    Says this story: "In the 1830s, after a series of visions, Joseph Smith [. . .]."

    Ah. So the said "visions" now amount to historical fact, as reported straight from the fingers of an in-house journalist for VoA below the section-strap "News / USA".

    Good. I'm glad VoA has put an end to that long-running dispute.

    by: Mike from: California
    August 30, 2012 9:04 PM
    There is nothing in the LDS religion which would disqualify Romney as President. In fact, LDS theology states that the U.S. is divinely inspired. Quite an endorsement!

    People should read about LDS theology (just like they should read about Islam) so that they can understand the world around them and not rely on second-hand analysis, like this article. After you do, you should have no problem making-up your own mind.

    by: Brian from: Southern California
    August 30, 2012 8:10 PM
    I would add that the concept of theosis is not unique to Mormonism, and that the nature of God is as complex and theologically difficult to explain in a simple news article as the Trinity is for other Christians. It's simply not simple.

    Also, the early church persecution had very little to do with polygamy. Mormons were driven from Missouri and Illinois long before the practice was introduced. Only a handful of people knew of the practice when Smith was killed, and wasn't openly practiced until years after the Utah migration. In fact, if you read the "extermination order" given by Gov. Boggs, which expelled Mormons from Missouri, it wasn't polygamy that was the issue, but that the Mormons were allowing "free negros" to join their church and settle in their towns.

    by: Leigh Oats from: Sydney
    August 30, 2012 4:58 PM
    This story quotes a Salt Lake City publisher thus: "Mormonism is an easy target because we have so many different ideas than the rest of mainstream Christianity [. . .]."

    He might well have added: "And our own language."

    by: Earthling from: Terrestrial
    August 30, 2012 4:51 PM
    And the Men in the Moon were What?

    by: BL from: Utah
    August 30, 2012 4:36 PM
    Thanks for the even handed, well written article. There aren't many of those found these days. People generally want to know the truth, without bias. Thanks again.

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    August 30, 2012 3:30 PM
    I love them. If I were American, this would have been the chance to campaign for a God-sent man to redeem America from the years of neglect and abandonment of the Faith of The Fathers. Look at the nuns when they were accused of not doing enough to help their faith and reverse America's recourse to demonism vis-a-vis wrong sexuality and abortion - it was just a shame seeing the nun blast the pope. But the Mommons are not about to do that. Instead they want to teach us how to return to family and respect for life. Even the so-called evangelical Christians - alias Pentecostals have failed woefully. If they were alive and kicking, America would not have degenerated the way it has today. I am proud of Mitt Romney.

    by: Laman from: Salt Lake City
    August 30, 2012 3:11 PM
    The One Mighty and Strong is nigh, the White Horse Prophecy soon fulfilled.

    by: JTTomlin from: Oregon
    August 30, 2012 3:08 PM
    And what do Mormons teach about women? Might want to consider it, women, before you vote.

    A Mormon women can only attain the “Celestial Kingdom” by having her husband call her secret name through the veil, and being sealed to him. Then because God creates worlds without number, Billions of spirits must be procreated to populate these worlds by women who spend eternity pregnant and giving birth to “spirit children?”

    And what laws do you suppose Romney is going to support regarding women (or should I say brood mares) and our rights? He has a right to his beliefs as do other Mormons, but we'd do well to take a look at them before voting him into the highest office in the land.
    In Response

    by: GRBriggs from: Utah
    August 31, 2012 5:28 PM
    "... call her secret name through the veil ..."

    Even if that were literally true (hint: everything in the temple is symbolic) if he failed to pull her through, he would also immediately disqualify himself from the "Celestial Kingdom" - since only couples reach the top degree.

    "... spend eternity pregnant ...

    Bumper sticker polemics. Can you explain to me how resurrected, glorified, PHYSICAL beings, in the "Celestial Kingdom" give birth to spirit children, if done in the very literal sense you are suggesting?
    In Response

    by: Mary from: Illinois
    August 31, 2012 10:13 AM
    As a woman and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I have had many opportunities to serve in the church, both in teaching and leadership positions. Women in the church are treated with honor and respect, Opportunities for growth and learning are abundant. Outside of the mountain west, the majority of members are converts who come with a lifetime of established, cultural values. The view of women as "brood mares" does not arise from doctrine or teachings of the Mormon church.
    Comments page of 2
        Next 

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora