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

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    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.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.