Category Archives: Mormon

Spokane’s religion wrap-up: Easter baskets, genealogy, Passover and Tutu

By Tracy Simmons

For kids, the best part of Easter is getting a basket filled with bunny-shaped chocolates and plastic eggs filled with coins. But when was the last time mom got an Easter basket? This year Christ Kitchen is selling ‘grown-up Easter baskets’ filled with soups, breads and other home-made goodies. You can order online.

(By the way, you still have time to get your Easter listings turned in to SpokaneFAVS, but better hurry).

Since we’re on the topic of family — are you interested in learning more about your genealogy? The Spokane West Stake will host a Family Search Symposium from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 28. It’s free and you can register online here.

Flickr photo of Passover seder by Suzie T

Let’s not forget that Easter isn’t the only sacred holiday on next weekend’s calendar. Passover begins April 7 and continues through April 13. Passover is a time to commemorate the freedom of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses, who was directed by God. Traditionally on the first two nights of Passover, it is traditional for a Jewish family to gather for a special dinner called a seder in which the story of the Exodus is retold.

In this month’s newsletter from the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, the director of evangelical mission writes an interesting reflection on missional leadership. Helga Jansens writes, “Being missional means worrying less about ourselves: a self-denying forgetfulness about our congregational  size and resources. It is to be concerned with what God is already doing and what God wants to have done in  the community.” She offers some ideas in her piece about how to be more missional-minded.

Finally, you probably know Desmond Tutu is coming to Spokane later this year. But did you know his visit isn’t without controversy. The Inlander did a nice job explaining this story here.

Have something you think should be included in next week’s wrap-up? Email it to

Before politics, Mitt Romney was a Mormon bishop

Peggy Fletcher Stack
Religion News Service

Former Governor Mitt Romney speaking at CPAC FL in Orlando, Florida. RNS photo by Gage Skidmore

The Mitt Romney whom many Americans see today is often depicted as wealthy, wooden and out of touch with the working class. To some, he seems gaffe prone, detached, even distant.

But that’s not the man Boston Mormons knew in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when many saw him as an eloquent speaker, a compassionate counselor and a creative problem-solver, generous with his money and quick to help any in need.

Are the two guys related?

While Romney was building his career at Bain Capital, he was also a Mormon bishop (equivalent to a pastor) and a stake president (presiding over several area congregations) in suburban Belmont, Mass.

Because the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no paid clergy, Mormon men take turns overseeing wards (congregations) and regional stakes while continuing their full-time careers.

As a religious leader, Romney met weekly with students, teachers, immigrant converts and Utah transplants. He had to learn how to give sermons, advise squabbling couples, organize worship services, manage budgets and address the diverse spiritual needs of more than 1,000 Mormons in the region.

By most accounts, Romney was a good listener, a measured thinker and an innovative manager who considered various positions before making decisions. He was occasionally willing to work around bureaucratic edicts from Salt Lake City, such as allowing divorced men to continue in their leadership positions.

When LDS Family Services refused to place a baby with Brett and Janna Sorensen because Janna planned to return to work, Romney backed the couple. Eventually, the policy against adoptions for working moms changed.

To most members, Bishop Romney was pragmatic and open.

Given Romney’s experience in the working world, friends say, he was attracted to competence. He chose men with keen expertise as his two counselors in the stake presidency.

“I don’t think Mitt cares whether people are male or female, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, old or young,” said Helen Claire Sievers, director of the WorldTeach program housed at Harvard, “but he really cares about their competency.”

Romney was “comfortable in his skin,” recalled Philip Barlow, an expert on Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, who was one of Bishop Romney’s counselors. The future Republican front-runner even showed off his “moon-walking” skills one day, gliding backward in a smooth imitation of Michael Jackson.

Like some Mormon leaders, insiders say, Romney could be insistent on the rightness of his position. He was used to dictating actions, then having the members raise their hands in support. That didn’t work so well with feminists.

The insiders also say that although sometimes progressive in his approach to women’s issues, Romney nonetheless was a product of the church’s male culture of the time. He didn’t initially believe, for example, that there were cases of physical or sexual abuse of women in his stake, though plenty of evidence pointed to it.

As a young bishop, Romney got word that Carroll Shelton, a woman in his ward, was considering an abortion. This was Shelton’s sixth pregnancy. She was in her 40s, had four teenage children and had developed medical complications. Her stake president had already approved the procedure when Romney arrived at the hospital and forcefully counseled her against it.

Peggie Hayes, a single woman with a child, was in Romney’s ward when she became pregnant. She alleges that Romney threatened her with excommunication if she didn’t put up the baby for adoption, Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman write in their book “The Real Romney.”

“Give up your son,” was the message Hayes said she got from Romney, “or give up your God.”

Romney has denied the story, and Ronald Scott, author of the recent “Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics,” doubts it happened that way.

“Local members do not recall a single person who was excommunicated or disfellowshipped while Mitt served as president of a stake that probably has as many religiously rococo and fiercely independent academics, writers and thinkers as any in the church,” Scott said.

Besides, Scott noted, threatening excommunication like that would have been against the rules — and Romney was a rule-follower.

Mormon women in Boston still talk about an extraordinary 1993 meeting Romney called to address the women of the stake. One by one, the more than 250 women called out their issues while he stood at the front with three pads labeled: policies we can’t change, practices we can change, and things we can consider.

“I was really surprised,” Sievers said. “He implemented every single suggestion that I would have.”

Not long after Grant Bennett fell off a ladder and broke his foot while trying to dislodge a hornet’s nest outside his second-story bedroom, Romney came to offer sympathy and show Bennett a smarter way to deal with the festering insects — from inside.

Before Doug Anderson had even finished getting family out of his burning house, Romney showed up with a brigade of neighbors to salvage beloved belongings from the remains.

Barlow, from Utah State, does not support Romney’s politics but believes his former bishop has been unfairly caricatured in the press.

Asking the candidate to “appear more informal is ironically asking him to become less authentic so that he can appear as more authentic,” he said. “We ought to allow him to be who he is and make our judgment on that basis.”

Tony Kimball, who served as executive secretary during Romney’s stint as stake president, saw Romney as “very warm and outgoing.” Although some Mormon feminists back then nicknamed Romney “the plastic man,” that wasn’t Kimball’s experience.

Even so, “the hard-line profile he seems to be pushing is light-years away from where he was when he was stake president.” In this current incarnation, Kimball said, “I have absolutely no clue who this guy is.”

Read SpokaneFAVS contributor Diane Kipp’s related post “Romney knows reality of poverty”

Understanding reverence

By Contributor Matt Wise

Matt Wise

One Sunday I was reminiscing about my time in Japan. I really came to love and admire parts of the Japanese culture and their small expressions to each other. I feel like the Japanese people were a good example of reverence.
There’s certain things you just don’t do in public in Japan. And there are certain things you are expected to do. While some may see these things just as customs, it seems all of these small things come together to create a sense of community and respect  people have for each other and the values they share.

After my time in Japan, coming back to America, surprisingly, I had a bit of culture shock. It was louder, more chaotic and people seemed to care less about each other and their community. While part of me always remembered Japan, after a while I slowly became re-Americanized, you could say.

It’s not that Japan is perfect, they have their own set of issues to deal with. But it really did cause me to question everything about America and our culture. But that’s the thing; I’ve come to realize that in America it’s not really a question of “our” culture but a question of “which” culture.

It’s interesting. Maybe I’m just getting older, but it increasing seems that as the music, movies, entertainment and news media get louder and louder, I’m more and more drawn in the opposite direction. I find myself enjoying more classical music, nature documentary’s and thoughtful and quit conversations.

Reverence seems like such a simple and small thing, but it also seems to affect the way we treat many things such as our body, mind, spirit, family, neighbors and community. It also seems to be connected to many valuable attributes such as humility, gratitude, awareness, discipline and ultimately love. Because of that it’s hard to put a delicate feeling or sense into words sometimes. Here is my try at it:

Reverence is realizing the delicate nature of love and life, and actually respecting and standing in awe of that delicate balance.

After much questioning I’ve found a sense of optimism for America though. I believe  many people here are willing to learn, innovate and improve for the better here. I hope for the benefit of our community’s and our future that we won’t undervalue or over look profound yet simple things as cultivating reverence in our lives and in our community’s.

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup: Romney does less bad, Springsteen’s Catholicism, Orthodox abuse

By David Gibson
Religion News Service

As the Jewish victims in the French school shooting were being buried in Israel,police in France laid siege to the house of the suspect, a 24-year-old Islamic militant claiming ties to Al Qaeda.

French Jews and Muslims grapple for answers.

Mitt Romney won big in Illinois last night, and did less bad with conservatives and evangelicals than he has before. He did a lot better than the first Mormon to run for president did in Illinois, a state he didn’t leave alive.

So Romney’s good now, right? Please? CBN’sDavid Brody is already warning Mitt that he has to do more to win evangelical hearts and minds or it’ll be a “hold your nose” vote in the fall: “A standard evangelical turnout won’t do the trick for Romney.”

Illinois was considered a “must win” for Rick Santorum to remain viable. So now it’s on to Santorum’s next “must win,” Louisiana – which he could actually win, despite attempting todistance himself from the rather controversial remarks of Pastor Dennis Terry at a Baptist church service Santorum attended.

Read full post here.

Porn business not something to be proud of

By Contributor Diane Kipp

Diane Kipp

Rick Santorum is concerned about pornography and its affects on Americans. His website states he, “believes that federal obscenity laws should be vigorously enforced,” and, if he is elected president,  he vows to appoint an attorney general who will do just that.

According to Chris Moody, in an article on Yahoo’s “The Ticket” some of the main producers of American pornography claim not to be concerned about Santorum’s ability to impact their industry. Indeed, they seem to strongly disapprove of  Santorum’s plans, apparently based on their deeply held philosophical beliefs.

One Porn Titan (a title used in the headline of the article), obviously an earnest student of American political history who possibly minored in psychology, offers this insight, “This is not what the Founding Fathers envisioned. This is what Rick Santorum envisions. And I think the guy is crazy.” Does the Porn Titan think anything he produces is what the Founding Fathers envisioned? Does he imagine any of the Founding Fathers would feel satisfaction in knowing pornographers  appropriate the freedoms and protections of the United States Constitution to further their industry?

Another Porn Titan believes that even if Santorum wins the election and directs prosecutions of those in the pornography industry, the industry will prevail because, “People are more comfortable with hardcore pornography than ever before.” (Yay for us!  And yes, I’m being sarcastic.) An attorney for the pornography industry agrees, “Fortunately, we become a more tolerant society over time . . . we don’t want others telling us what we can and can’t do.”

Has our prevailing characteristic as a people become “neener neener, you can’t make me?” We will tolerate an epidemic of filth wallowing and all its subsequent consequences, we will look at the addictive, misogynistic face of pornography and say, “that’s ok, it can stay,” rather than have someone else “tell us what to do”?!  Is that the price we are willing to pay in order to have the satisfaction of stamping our little feet, sticking out our tongues, and yelling “you can’t make me”?  Of all the values I associate with the American people, that is not one I would choose to define us or to be a determiner in where we are headed as a nation and as a people. Would you?

LDS volunteers celebrate Humanitarian Day

By Tracy Simmons

Creative amphibian creatures were just part of the agenda at the East Stake Humanitarian Day/Courtesy of the Latter-day Sentinel

Last month more than 200 Mormon volunteers spent the day serving the Spokane community.

On Humanitarian Day (Feb. 25) members of The Spokane East Stake Relief Society created “wish list” items for 15 area organizations, including toys, pictures books and quilts.

“I love the origin of this day. Instead of our sisters creating projects that we would find homes for, the Humanitarian Leader, Jill Woolf, went to organizations and schools and asked them, ‘What is on your wish list?’ They gave several ideas which we took to our sisters and they decided what they wanted to sponsor. The thrill of the day was in being able grant wishes. It’s not often that we get to do that,” said  Stake Relief Society President Karen Spear.

Check out the Latter-day Sentinel to read more about this story.

PANEL: Did your faith change in college? How and why?

By Tracy Simmons

In February Rick Santorum told an ABC reporter that conservative students are singled out in college because most campuses are liberal. Then he said, “Sixty two percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.”

He admitted the statistic was a bit dated, even though he used the stat in a January interview as well.

The Social Science Research Council, however, show that Santorum is incorrect. In fact, those not attending a college institution are the ones who are likely to stop attending worship services.

We asked SpokaneFAVS panelists about this.

Did your faith change in college? How and why?

Rev. Bill Ellis

My faith changed in college more dramatically than at any time before or since. Prior to college it seemed to me Christianity was a prescription for how to live one’s life, and faith was the intellectual assent to the value of that prescription together with an attempt to live according to that prescription.

During college I realized Christianity is in fact far better understood as a description of the predicament of humanity in the face of an otherwise incomprehensible universe.  The Judeo Christian tradition, as I came to understand it, is the refutation of the human attempt to cloud the truth of our finitude, limitation and mortality in the haze created by the human striving for security in an insecure universe, and power when in fact we are ultimately powerless.  Faith is therefore the positive response to that description, the realization that real and true life, as opposed to the denial of life, happens precisely when we abandon our attempts at gaining power and security, and live in accordance with the truth our powerlessness.  Such a life necessarily leads us to abandon the dehumanizing things we do to each other and to ourselves, and I might add, to the earth, because when we are no longer competing for a false sense of power and security the destructive and dehumanizing things that make perfect sense in the world of the denial of our finitude no longer make any sense at all.

Rev. Bill Ellis

Gracie Kiernan

Many atheists and agnostics will say that they “lost” faith in college. I stopped believing in God while in college, but that’s when my spirituality began to coalesce. I read more than ever before. I conversed with people with whom I did not agree, but still respected. I was exposed to philosophies and mindsets I’d never encountered. I soaked up knowledge like a sponge.

As this glut of information sifted itself out, the important concepts remained on my mind. Some aspects of the religion I was born into started to seem a little far-fetched. The things I’d looked to God or religion for in the past (such as compassion, a sense of community and faith) were still being fulfilled, but not by God. In college, I became active in social causes, honing my compassion for those who suffer. College gave me access to a supportive community.

I learned in college that faith doesn’t mean blind following, nor does it require a lack of intellect. Faith isn’t something your parents give you at birth. Faith is most effectively built when you learn about how the world works and you love it anyway.

Gracie Kiernan

Daya Goldschlag

My faith, or actually my belief in formal religion, changed way before college.  I must have been about 7 or 8 years old when I noticed that on the Jewish high holy days my neighbors and family got all dressed up and headed to shule (synagogue), but the emphasis seemed to be on their new outfits rather than any  religious interaction or teaching.  At that point I began to doubt the need for religion.

When I was even younger, probably around 6 years old, I asked my father what God was.  Because I was so young my father answered simply.  He said, “Some people think there is someone up in the sky who looks after all of us and some people think God is in everyone, in all the rocks and trees and animals and everything.”  I responded, “That’s what I believe.”  He said that was fine.  All these years later, that is basically what I still believe.  So, I guess my faith is still strong but it is not based on a particular religious belief system.

Daya Goldschlag

Rev. Alan Eschenbacher

I was a lifelong Lutheran when I enrolled at a Jesuit university (Gonzaga) and in 1978 most Gonzaga students were Catholic, the school was much smaller — around 1,500 or so. My faith was changed in college. It was strengthened. I think I understood grace a little better than my Catholic friends, good thing since I was in need of it A LOT!

Some of my Catholic friends stressed about going to private confession. After they went, they would come back with their “assignment” as I called it (say five Our Fathers and 10 Hail Mary’s etc.) Meanwhile I prayed with my community and church family in “corporate” confession every Sunday and was reminded of the promise of God’s grace and love and forgiveness. My friends said it was like cheating and I wouldn’t remember it since I didn’t have to “do” anything. I said, “exactly right,” Jesus did it for me, I am a sinner, and I sin boldly, as Luther suggested, but I believe in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness he brings even more boldly! College experience with roommates and friends strengthened this for me through practical everyday experience.

Rev. Alan Eschenbacher

Matt Wise

Yes, I feel like it became deeper and more mature. By the way, my college was BYU-Idaho and it was a great experience.

I think my faith grew as I took responsibility for training and developing the gifts I have been blessed with. Also having a community of peer’s to be involved with, sharing and growing together by hearing of each others spiritual experiences and witnesses of the gospel really did improve and broaden my understanding of the gospel and the various aspects in which it effects people’s lives.

Matt Wise

M.C. Paul

Growing up in a non-denominational church in the south, authority to interpret Scripture was given to the congregation’s minister; a man who more often than not, had little or no formal training in theology.

When I attended a Presbyterian college for my undergraduate degree, I suddenly found myself required to attend chapel regularly and take core courses in biblical studies. It was in that first course that I discovered exegesis. The world opened up to me in a new way once I had been given a methodology for approaching Scripture in a critical way.

Before college, my faith could have been said to be inherited from my family of origin — with little more than the minister’s word for what I should believe. During and after college, I found myself doubting everything I had been taught in my faith tradition, then rebuilding my faith on more solid ground; faith seeing understanding of the principles on which that faith was built.

Many years later I attended a Jesuit university and found myself again doubting, questioning, and affirming, in my own theological spiral. That is a place I continue to find myself  today, and I am forever grateful to my teachers who taught me to think critically and seek understanding.

M.C. Paul

Do you have a question for the SpokaneFAVS panelists? Email it to


Go toward the light

By Contributor Laura Kipp

Laura Kipp

A near death experience, or NDE, is a rare occurrence but a common source of fascination. Someone who nearly dies commonly experiences: feeling at peace, separating from their body, seeing a bright light, seeing a tunnel, seeing deceased relatives, entering a heavenly domain or having life review.

NDEs and Religion

The phenomenon happens universally to both spiritual and (previously) non-spiritual people.  In the book, “What Happens When We Die,” by Dr. Sam Parnia, it reads, “Although having a religious theme, NDEs didn’t seem to correlate directly with traditional religious views of the afterlife … people often seemed to interpret their NDE based on their own underlying thought processes. So, for example, a Christian who saw a being of light would identify it as Jesus, while someone of a different faith, would describe it as being a religious figure related to their own faith, while someone of a different faith would describe it as being God himself, and others simply called it a ‘luminous being’ …they (however) seemed to be describing the same concept.”

Are They Real?

Commonly people experiencing a NDE will say they had an out-of -body-experience; they will float above themselves and observe emergency medical procedures being done to them, and when they wake up, they can accurately say what happened to them. Parnia, of the Horizon Research Foundation, is conducting an exciting ongoing study that includes placing a hidden target on the ceilings of hospital rooms that patients might later report if they had an out-of-body-experience.

There are scientific arguments on either side, but skeptics point to biological functions that happen during the dying process that could account for some NDEs. When the heart stops beating, C02 levels rise and fall.  On study found that increased C02 was the only common factor amongst patients who experienced NDEs, but not everyone who had increased C02 had a near death experience. Increased C02 has been associated with hallucinations, including bright lights.

Time slowing, being met by deceased family members and feeling love are commonly reported features of NDEs.  In religious environments, I have definitely heard people share stories about coming close to death, or watching a loved one die, and being aware of deceased family members present, including family members the person never met in life. I have also heard of feeling the love of God, more intense than we would imagine.

Does consciousness stop when the brain stops? Is consciousness completely dependent on, or just related to, the brain? Are near death experiences simply hallucinations? I’m not entirely sure I want to find out.  But the symbolism of going toward the light intrigues me. I want to live in the light of God right now.  

Romney knows realities of poverty

By Contributor Diane Kipp

Diane Kipp

The TV in my bathroom, there so I can be entertained during the boring tasks of hair drying and makeup application, is often set to CNN, where I currently watch the soap opera-like Days of Our Republican Presidential Candidate Hopefuls.  This has led me to an observation about Mormon bishops, which may be relevant to the one person who is a Republican presidential candidate and a (former) Mormon bishop. I do not know said candidate (Mitt Romney) personally and am not endorsing him politically; I am merely making an observation I suspect applies to him.

Conventional wisdom says a rich person cannot understand poorer people and their specific challenges.  While I agree most of us do not really, truly get anything unless we’ve experienced it, it is possible to gain a certain depth of understanding through vicarious life experiences. And I believe for most Mormon bishops, bishoping (a verb I just made up; if you say it to another Mormon, s/he’ll look surprised) gives them some genuine understanding of what it means to be poor.

Mormon bishops are shepherds to their congregational flocks and they have an active and anxious regard for the flock’s well being; helping those who are in financial distress is a prime responsibility. Members who need help obtaining food, housing, employment, money for utilities, etc. meet personally with the bishop. He evaluates their needs, provides appropriate help through the church’s welfare system or through the congregational community, and helps them learn to help themselves. All humans tend to love those they serve (it’s a magic formula) and bishops love their congregations, especially the struggling members who need their help the most.  It’s impossible for a bishop not to have a fairly personal, up-close idea of what it’s like, on a very practical level, to be poor.

Mitt Romney is a former Mormon bishop/Wikipedia photo

This concept generally applies, to a lesser degree, to all Mormons.  Mormon congregations are close communities; virtually all members who attend church regularly are active participants.  We teach each other, perform service together, spend time in each others’ homes as visiting teachers and home teachers (more on that another time), and lend active support during health issues, unemployment, child rearing, death, divorce  — all the challenges of life.  So even those who are financially comfortable-to-wealthy are closely linked to fellow congregation members who are struggling, or worse, financially.

This description of Mormon congregations and Mormon bishops is probably very similar to that of any ecclesiastical leader and his/her congregation or community. My point is not that Mormons are special this way, my point is simply that anyone who has been a Mormon bishop probably has a surprisingly intimate and accurate idea of what it means to be truly poor. Even a very wealthy former bishop, even one whose wife drives two Cadillacs and who can be his own worst foot-in-mouth enemy, is likely not the isolated, “unacquainted with the realities of poverty” person that many assume him to be.

Spokane’s Religion News Roundup: Feb. 24

By Tracy Simmons 

Rev. Marvin Harada speaks at Buddhist convention/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS

Since you’re a dedicated SpokaneFAVS reader you already know more than 300 Buddhists swarmed to the city last weekend for the 65th annual Northwest Buddhist Convention. But did you know that it was a convention for Shin Buddhists? Do you even know what a Shin Buddhist is? You can find out next week when the Spokane Buddhist Temple’s Introduction to Jodo Shinshu Buddhism class starts.

Last week Washington became the seventh state to legalize gay marriage. The story’s a week old, but it’s still a hot topic. Actually, it’s scorching. Bishop James E. Waggoner of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane isn’t shying away from the contentious legislation and said he, “welcome[d] the decision and am grateful that it recognizes the reality of relationships already being lived out faithfully and lovingly. The validation of legal status and related rights, including benefits, is overdue.” You can read about how Waggoner and the state’s other Episcopal bishops getting involved here.

In Catholic news, Bishop Blase Cupich of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane has gotten national attention for his column in America: The National Catholic Weekly. While many bishops are not happy with Obama’s contraception coverage mandate accommodation, Cupich’s been praised for his optimistic outlook and call for civility:

“I believe that an even greater opportunity is before us, namely to have a deeper and on a more prolonged basis a fundamental dialogue about the role of religion in society in general and the nature of religious liberty, especially as it applies to faith-based charitable, health and social service ministries in the United States, in particular. I also believe that the president, relying on his personal experience with church, which he cited once again this week, has not only the potential but also the responsibility to make a significant contribution to this more sustained and expansive discussion.”

Speaking of Catholics, Gonzaga made big news last week when the university announced Archbishop Desmond Tutu (not a Catholic) would be the keynote speaker for the undergraduate commencement ceremony in May. But you better be attached to a graduate if you want to go — space is limited.

Local Lutherans are using this Lenten season as a reminder of the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod’s commitment to an Anti-Malaria Campaign. You can read Bishop Martin Wells’ Lenten reflection here.

Finally, a shout-out to the Latter-day Sentinel for highlighting the Coeur d’Alene First Ward for their work in fighting homelessness.

Have something you think should be included in next week’s roundup? Email it to