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US Mormons Say They are Misunderstood Despite Romney Candidacy

It is story time at the Cook home.  Two-year-old Tristan gets his work-weary father Dave Cook to read him one book after another before going to bed.

As Dave and his wife Andrea sit on the sofa with their two small children on their laps, the Cooks have the look of the all-American family.  But they belong to one of the least understood faiths in America, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon church is officially known.

"Some people know a lot about our church.  Some people don't know anything about our church,” Dave Cook says.  “There's a lot of misperceptions about Mormons."

Mormons make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, around 6 million people.  Another 8 million Mormons live abroad.  But in the United States, some of the misperceptions Dave Cook speaks of are being challenged.

With presidential hopeful and Mormon Mitt Romney gaining momentum in the bid for the Republican Party nomination, many LDS members are excited by the prospect of a president from their faith.  They are also conscious of the attention their faith is getting from media coverage about the award-winning Broadway show, The Book of Mormon.

A new survey by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that Mormons on the whole are satisfied with their lives.  "This is a group that in many ways is thriving,” says researcher Greg Smith.  “And this is a group that in many ways perceives a growing level of acceptance of themselves, of their faith on the part of other Americans."  

But he adds that they are aware of the misgivings many Americans have about their faith.  "Lots of Mormons tell us that Mormons are discriminated against in the United States.  And two thirds of Mormons say they are not accepted, they are not seen as part of mainstream American society," Smith said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in America in the 19th century.  But Mormon prophet Joseph Smith was murdered in 1844 and his followers were persecuted.

Last year, Texas pastor Robert Jeffress made headlines when he suggested that Mitt Romney is not a Christian and that Mormonism is a cult.  The latter comment reflects a view held by about one-third of Americans, mainly evangelical Protestants, according to the Pew Forum.

"To me, it's just mind-boggling why people would be that disrespectful of anyone," says Dave Cook, adding that a Mormon president would be good for America.

"We're very patriotic.  In fact, we even believe that the Founding Fathers [of the United States] were inspired of God to found this country."  

The Pew survey found that three-quarters of Mormon who are registered to vote lean toward the Republican Party and hold conservative social views.  Nearly twice as many Mormons as other Americans prefer a family in which the husband is the wage earner and the wife takes care of the home and children.


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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