Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

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”

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.

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.

BRIEF: Romney wins WA

By Tracy Simmons

RNS photo courtesy Gage Skidmore.

Mitt Romney has won the Washington state caucuses.

It’s his fourth win in a row. In a statement he said Washington voters, “… want a conservative businessman who understands the private sector and knows how to get the federal government out of the way so that the economy can once again grow vigorously.”

According to the Associated Press, with more than 60 percent of the precinct votes counted by Saturday night, Romney had 36 percent of the vote, followed by Rick Santorum, who had 25 percent. Ron Paul was close behind with 24 percent of the vote and Newt Gingrich had 11 percent.

Should a presidential candidate’s religion matter to voters? Why or why not?

Mitt Romney/RNS Photo

Mitt Romney’s commitment to the Mormon faith is making headlines. Newt Gingrich has been a Baptist, Lutheran and now a Roman Catholic. Muslims are rooting for Ron Paul. Rick Santorum is in hot water after saying equality comes from Christianity only, not from Islam or eastern religions.

Religion has become a hot topic when it comes to the presidential elections. SpokaneFAVS asked our contributors what they thought.

Should a presidential candidate’s religion matter to voters? Why or why not? 

Sr. Teresa Jackson

I suppose like most people, if I am really honest, I think, “yes, as long as their faith is similar to mine!”  But, like most people, I also try to resist that thought and take a more high-minded approach to the question.  But the underlying issue is still there.  We want our political leaders to be people of integrity, courage and values and of course we want to elect the people whose integrity, courage and values reflects our own!

In our society and political discourse we seem to be increasingly unable to compromise for a larger common good, to see that other people’s point of view may have some validity, to discuss political issues with resorting to personal insults.  Perhaps as the level of vitriol in the political discourse rises we increasingly reflect the adage, “we get the government we deserve.”

We claim we don’t want politicians who use their faith to pander to voters but do we mean it?  If someone running for office represents a party or point of view that I don’t agree with and he or she makes strong statements of faith it is easy to dismiss that person.  If, on the other hand, they espouse a set of faith values that I agree with then they are clearly someone of integrity!

For many of us, including many sincere people who run for office, faith is at the core of who we are, it defines our sense of values and identity.  But hopefully for all of us faith of whatever sort also includes compassion, the ability to listen with love, to forgive, to be open, to leave whatever judgment is necessary to God.  To embrace these aspects of our faith, and to tell our elected leaders that we expect the same, in no way compromises our faith.  To say that we expect that everyone in the public arena to treat others with respect is to call all of us to a higher practice of our faith no matter what that might be.

Sr. Teresa Jackson

M.C. Paul

A candidate’s religion certainly does matter to voters. 

Religion is, above all, a personal choice and may be indicative of a person’s worldview. In that way, religious affiliation may offer insights regarding a person’s character. I say “may” because who am I to say what convictions are deeply held and will be acted upon?

Having said that, there are many reasons for choosing to be part of a particular religion. A person may be following the religion of their family, e.g. the ‘Cradle Catholic.’ On the other hand, he or she may have chosen their religious affiliation based on perceived benefits of ‘belonging to’ a particular group.  Either way, voters do well to consider the religious affiliation of a potential president, or any elected official, as a way of gauging how that person will address the pressing issues of our day.

–        M. C. Paul 

Pastor Eric Blauer


I want to know the philosophical and theological underpinnings of a potential leader’s character, way of thinking and value system.

Worldviews are always at work in the formation of leaders; just as education, economics, gender and family background shape a person’s life.

All of this contributes to the person I am being asked to potentially vote for and who will assume one of the most powerful positions in the world.

One’s view of God most often translates into how that person treats humanity. Your source of morality, its teaching and your commitment to exercising that system of belief will be at work in the decisions a president makes.

What you think and believe matters to me.

–       Eric Blauer

Thomas J. Brown

A presidential candidate’s religion should not matter to voters, nor should it matter to the candidate. When making any decision the president will undoubtedly seek guidance from his or her religious beliefs (if he or she has any). As long as the president acts in the best interest of the citizens of this nation it doesn’t matter what he or she believes. Acting in the best interests of the citizens may go against the president’s personal beliefs, and a good president will put aside his or her own preferences and heed the vox populi. Indeed, this should be true of every elected official, as they are elected into office to represent their constituents (a quality sadly lacking in most politicians these days).

Thomas J. Brown

Rev. Bill Ellis

The notion that the electorate should be concerned about the fact that a candidate is Mormon — which, let’s face it, is where this question comes from — or Muslim, or Jew, or Hindu, or Christian or atheist, is silly, as silly as it was when the electorate was concerned about the fact that John F. Kennedy was a Catholic.  The electorate’s job is to judge the merits of the candidates on what we can perceive of their leadership style, philosophy of government, and their stands on the various important issues that are apt to come before the country during their terms in office.     There is however a sense in which a candidate’s religion is relevant.  If a Christian candidate clearly and obviously believed on religious grounds that Muslims and Jews do not deserve the full protection of the law, then that person’s religion matters and I would under no circumstances support such a candidate regardless of other considerations. If a candidate believed on religious grounds that women should not be educated to the same degree as men, and should be barred from certain professions, then I would say that candidate’s religion matters and I would not support such a candidate under any circumstances.  The point is, I have no interest in a candidate’s particular religion, but I do have some interest in that candidate’s interpretation of her religion, where it takes her, what conclusions she draws about people and life from her religion.  I was quite worried, as a matter of fact, during the Reagan administration when our secretary of the interior opined that we needn’t be worried about environmental laws because Jesus was coming back soon and then it wouldn’t matter.  “Whoa, Nelly,” I said, or words to that effect.  This isn’t just bad eschatology — an arguable point, by the way — this is bad eschatology leading to horrible public policy, a case of religious views interfering with the execution of a public trust.  To that extent, and to that extent only, I am interested in a candidate’s religious views, even though I have no interest in any candidate’s actual religion.

Rev. Bill Ellis

Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup: Koshergate, RIP compassionate conservatism; Boykin bounced

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

As Floridians head to the polls today, Newt Gingrich has been subtly playing the religion card.

On Monday, Gingrich accused Mitt Romney of being “extraordinarily insensitive” to religion as governor of Massachusetts because he planned cut to Medicaid funding to Jewish and Catholic health care facilities.

Driving the point home in God’s Waiting Room (aka Florida), Gingrich noted that one program targeted for cuts had served kosher meals to elderly Jews. Buzzfeed illustrates the photo with a hilariously inapt photo of Romney cutting into a pig. Get those editors an Old Testament!

Romney’s response: “It’s really sad. In some respects I think it’s painfully revealing that (Gingrich) is having a really hard time.”

Who says “compassionate conservatism” is dead?

Read full post here.

David Brooks, The Wealth Issue and Bain of Lost Dreams

By Contributor Ernesto Tinajero

Ernesto Tinajero

Below is a poem I wrote in response to “The Wealth Issue,” a recent column by David Brooks of The New York Times.


Hear, oh hear David Brooks proclaim

preach and teach the lessons of our sin

of envy. “Mitt Romney is no spoiled

rich boy. He toils long and hard for his spoils.

Look at his family, ignore that Mormon

part, and see the struggles, which boggle

and hobbles the mind. Google them, I dare

you and you will see that none

of your envy works to be. Admire his industry,

his family’s flight and fight in Mexico,

again ignore the exploitive parcel and part.

He earned the bain of his existence, and any

resentment of his privilege is down right

un-American.” Yes, we hear you David, less

we fall into the pit of envy, one the big seven

sin, you see. But I ask, “Mittens, Mittens

who envies the Mittens?” He slipped down

the poles like incompetent firemen, but,

really, oh great Brooks, only because people

lust after his wealth? Or, maybe the shadow

world private equity that squeezes our bucks

from cruel manipulation of money and not creating

products, services or jobs paints in tainted shades.

Then we find the widow’s mite is more

than the pittance Mitt paid in taxes, follow, then,

his offshore shelters that smack more of Madoff

like sleaze. Especially, think David please,

this after all our Wall Street’s welfare and bailouts.

We cover his ilk tushes to tune of how much?

Maybe, just maybe, open-minded Mr. Brooks,

the mighty Mitt has fallen into disgust out

of the disgrace in our abandonment of our middle class,

by Ronnie Reagan’s lie, that tax breaks, coddling

googooing guys like Romney would bring and

lead to greater wealth for all? Romney renovates

his residence like Nero’s violin, while

the American Dream burns up in ashes.

We have violated the terms of biblical

mandate that to those given much,

much is expected, and this and this

and this is the issues of 99 percent.

Are Mormons Christian? It’s complicated

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

Mormons believe Joseph Smith received personal revelations from Jesus Christ and God the Father — two separate beings in Mormon theology — as seen in this stained glass window.

Ask Mormons if they are Christian, and their answer often starts with a sigh.
Look at our name, they’ll say, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Read The Book of Mormon’s subtitle, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Examine our Articles of Faith, “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved…”
“When we read in the press that some religious person who should know better refers to us as non-Christian, it is baffling to us,” said Michael Otterson, the church’s head of public affairs. “To suggest that we don’t embrace Christ and his sacrifice for all of us is insulting.”
Yet nearly a quarter of Americans remain unconvinced, according to a recent poll conducted by The Salt Lake Tribune. The Vatican and several Protestant churches do not accept Mormon baptisms as legitimate (neither do Mormons recognize theirs), and some conservative evangelicals call Mormonism a “cult.”  Mormons, meanwhile, believe they belong to the one true Christian church.
The theological debate might have remained relegated to Sunday school discussions and interfaith summits were it not for the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon and onetime LDS bishop. While the former Massachusetts governor and current GOP frontrunner has muted religious talk during this campaign, he indirectly addressed the Mormon-Christian issue during his previous White House bid.
“There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked,” he said in a 2007 speech in Texas. “What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind.”
Stressing the similarities between Mormonism and mainstream Christianity makes political sense. Republicans who say Mormons are not Christian are less likely to view Romney favorably or support his campaign, according to a November survey by the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
During the 2007 speech, Romney acknowledged that “my church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths.” But explaining theological arcana is not a politician’s job, he argued. It amounts to a religious test for office, which the Constitution forbids.
Still, the debate lingers around Romney’s campaign: Are he and fellow Mormons Christians? The question seems simple enough, but the answer is quite complicated.

    Who’s in and Who’s Out? 
    According to “The Atlas of Global Christianity,” there are 41,000 Christian denominations. No definition of Christianity could encompass their doctrinal diversity, said Martin Marty, an emeritus professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School. “I wish there was some official place where you could determine who’s in and who’s out, but there’s not. No one can speak for all of Christianity in all its nuances.”
    The atlas lists Mormonism as a “marginal” Christian group, along with Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, primarily because it deviates from traditional Christian teachings on Jesus and claims sources of revelation beyond the Bible.
    The “marginal” category is not a perfect fit and rings a pejorative tone, said Todd Johnson, editor of the atlas and director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. “It’s not a category that helps you understand what these groups believe. It’s just saying that they have something besides the Bible that is quite significant.”
    For centuries, most Christians have relied a closed canon of scriptures and creeds to draw the circle of membership. Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox Christians and many Protestant churches recite the 4th Century Nicene Creed, for example, which states foundational Christian tenets.
    Mormonism’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith, blasted the Christian canon wide open and cast aside the creeds. At a time when religious revivals engulfed his Upstate New York homestead, a 14-year-old Smith reported a vision of God and Jesus, who told him that the Christian churches had fallen into apostasy.
    A second vision directed Smith to a stack of buried golden plates, according to LDS Church history. The plates, which became The Book of Mormon, told of an ancient society visited by Jesus in North America that was destroyed by warring tribes.
    With the impatience of a prophet, Smith set out to restore the Christian church. He revised the Bible; reported receiving “keys to the priesthood” from John the Baptist; rejected the traditional idea of the Trinity as three-gods-in-one; taught that God was once a flesh-and-blood man, and that men could become gods through purification and obedience to the church.
    They were all — including Smith’s promotion as Prophet of the Restoration — radical departures from centuries of Christian orthodoxy. And intentionally so.
    Smith’s Latter-day Saints consider The Book of Mormon as much a part of God’s word as the Bible, and continue to honor their top leader as “prophet, seer and revelator.”
    “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations,” Smith said, “and where is our religion? We have none.”
    The Fourth Abrahamic Faith?   
    Jan Shipps, the preeminent non-Mormon expert on the LDS church, draws a comparison between the early Christians and Latter-day Saints. Both introduced new scriptures and ideas to established religions, and insisted that their new faith fulfilled the old. Christians added the New Testament to Judaism, and Smith added The Book of Mormon to Christianity.
    Richard Land, an ethicist with the Southern Baptist Convention, goes even further, calling Mormonism “the fourth Abrahamic faith,” after Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Like Islam, Land said, Mormons receive the Old and New Testament as sacred texts, but not as the final divine word. Like Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, Smith is considered an authoritative vessel of God’s word.
    “Whatever it is, Mormonism is not Christianity,” Land said. “They do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, they do not believe in God the Father as he is recognized in the orthodox Christian faith, and they believe that ‘As man now is, God was once.’ The only thing right about that sentence from the orthodox Christian perspective is the punctuation.”
    Evangelicals like Land tend to be the most eager to keep Mormons from the Christian camp. In addition to doctrinal concerns, Johnson said, conservative Christians worry about sheep-stealing Mormon missionaries. “It’s a pragmatic decision to call (Mormons) non-Christian, to protect church members from Mormon evangelism,” he said.
    But even Catholics and more liberal Protestants, such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Methodist Church, do not consider Mormon baptisms valid.
    “The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by self-definition, does not fit within the bounds of the historic, apostolic tradition of Christian faith,” the Methodists wrote in 2000.
    Cherishing Mormon Distinctiveness
    Mormons do not deny their differences with traditional Christianity. According to a recent survey, Mormons are as likely to say their religion resembles Judaism as it does evangelical Protestantism.
    Otterson says Mormons cherish their distinctiveness, much as Catholics or Methodists show special devotion to their traditions. But Mormon leaders have also sought to tie their unique theology to the earliest Christians, using the ancient past to sanction the present.
    For example, arguing that Mormons are not Christians because they do not recite the Nicene Creed would leave Jesus and his disciples outside the Christian fold as well, argues Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the LDS Church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles. And, Holland says, the idea of a flesh-and-blood God should not sound strange to Christians, who, after all, believe in the bodily birth and resurrection of Jesus.
    Christians who insist on a single, closed canon forget that Catholics and Protestants use different versions of the Bible, argues Stephen Robinson, a professor of religion at Mormon-run Brigham Young University in Utah. And didn’t differing interpretations of the Trinity contribute to the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches in 1054?
    Mormon theologian Robert Millet has been laboring to convince Christians that the Mormon idea of deification — humans becoming gods — resembles the mystical union with the divine taught by early church fathers like St. Augustine. But Millet said he worries more about the opinions of Christians in the pews than the specialized scholars who read his books.
    “When people call Mormons non-Christian, they might believe that we do not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and savior, or believe in the New Testament,” Millet said. “We don’t want to fight about this. We just wish people would get it right.”

Study portrays Mormons as outsiders looking in

     In some ways, Mormonism is the ultimate American religion. Born in America, it was unveiled by an American prophet who believed the Constitution was divinely inspired and the Garden of Eden bloomed in Independence, Mo.
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown from six members gathered around a charismatic New Yorker named Joseph Smith in 1830 to nearly six million believers in the U.S. alone. Richard Ostling, a religion expert and co-author of the book “Mormon America,” calls it “the most successful faith ever born on American soil.”
    But even as a devout Mormon leads the GOP field for the presidential nomination and the award-winning musical  “Book of Mormon” plays to overflow crowds on Broadway, a new survey portrays Mormons as strangers in their own land.
    The vast majority of Mormons believe that Americans do not embrace Mormonism as part of mainstream society, and most say Americans know little about their religion. More than half worry about discrimination, according to a survey released Thursday (Jan. 12) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
    “Clearly this is a population that sees itself as outsiders looking in,” said Gregory Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Forum.
     The survey — called the first of its kind conducted by a non-Mormon organization — interviewed 1,000 American Mormons between Oct. 25 and Nov. 16, 2011, by telephone, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
    “I wish the public could see us for our day-to-day doctrines, devotions and practices, which are just like other devout religions,” said George Robinson, 63, a cardiovascular surgeon and local LDS leader in Gadsden, Ala.  “Instead, the public either hears pejoratives about us, or focuses on differences, many of which are rarely brought up as part of our religion.”
    Still, Robinson and many other Mormons remain upbeat, saying that American attitudes toward their faith are changing for the better.
    Nearly nine in 10 Mormons say they are happy with their lives and judge their communities as excellent or good places to live. More than half say the country is ready for a Mormon president.
    But most Mormons also say that popular entertainment damages their public image. In recent years, a number of TV shows, such as HBO’s “Big Love” and TLC’s “Sister Wives” have featured polygamous families who belong to offshoots of Mormonism. According to the Pew survey, 86 percent of Mormons believe that polygamy, which the LDS Church banned in 1890, is morally wrong.
    Perceptions of anti-Mormons animus are likely also fed by the presidential candidacy of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, despite his front-runner status.
    While three in four Mormon voters identify as Republican or lean conservative, less than 40 percent believe the GOP is friendly towards Mormons, the Pew survey found. The hostility directed at Romney’s Mormonism by some evangelicals — a key GOP constituency — reinforces that perception, Smith said.
    Most evangelicals do not believe Mormonism falls within the Christian fold, according to a separate Pew poll, and some have been outspoken about opposing Romney’s candidacy on those grounds. Half of Mormons, according to the Pew survey released Thursday, pick up an unfriendly vibe from evangelicals.
   “It’s frustrating that some people are trying to build a hedge of deceit around the church so that people won’t decide to take a look for themselves and find out what our church is all about,” Robinson said.
    Most Mormons do not deny the differences between their faith and mainstream Christianity, the survey found. While 97 percent of Mormons believe their faith to be a Christian religion, less than half say it is similar to Catholicism or evangelical Protestantism.
    And yet, Mormons remain firm in their religious commitments, even to practices and beliefs that set them apart from mainstream Christianity.
    For example, 94 percent believe that the president of the LDS Church is a prophet of God, and that ancient prophets wrote the Book of Mormon. Nearly the same percentage believe that families can be eternally bound in temple ceremonies, and that God the Father and Jesus are separate beings. (Traditional Christianity calls them unified, along with the Holy Spirit.)
    “Mormons want acceptance, but not assimilation,” LDS spokesman Michael Otterson wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday.  “No church leader I have ever heard preach has suggested that Mormons should drop their distinctiveness  — the very characteristics that the Pew study identifies — in order to become more popular with the world at large.”
    In fact, Mormons are among the most committed religious groups in America, according to the Pew survey. More than 8 in 10 say they pray daily; three-quarters attend weekly religious services; and 82 percent say religion is very important in their lives. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses approach Mormons’ religiosity, Smith said.

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup: Romney wins, Shariah ban loses, a rooftop “sexperiment”

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

Is it all over now but the counting?

As you probably already know, Mitt Romney crushed it in New Hampshire yesterday, becoming the first non-incumbent to win Iowa and the Granite State since our modern primary process began in 1976. Ron Paul finished second with about 23 percent of the vote.

The NYT says South Carolina will provide a bigger test for Romney because of its many conservative evangelicals and Tea Partiers.

“For most Christians, Mormonism is an issue and he has a hurdle here that he’s going to have to jump over and navigate around if he can,”Franklin Graham told the Old Grey Lady.

Romney actually won a plurality of evangelicals (30 percent) in N.H. Santorum came in second with 23 percent of the evangelical vote, but won just 8 percent of Catholics, in one of the more interesting entrance/exit poll findings.

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