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.'"

    Jerome Socolovsky

    Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

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    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
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