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May 12th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

With or without Romney, D.C. a surprising Mormon stronghold

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

Alexandria, Virginia (CNN) – A few hundred Mormons filed into a chapel just outside the Washington Beltway one recent Sunday to hear a somewhat unusual presentation: an Obama administration official recounting his conversion to Mormonism.

“I have never in my life had a more powerful experience than that spiritual moment when the spirit of Christ testified to me that the Book of Mormon is true,” Larry Echo Hawk told the audience, which stretched back through the spacious sanctuary and into a gymnasium in the rear.

Echo Hawk’s tear-stained testimonial stands out for a couple of reasons: The White House normally doesn’t dispatch senior staff to bare their souls, and Mormons hew heavily Republican. It’s not every day a top Democrat speaks from a pulpit owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And yet the presentation by Echo Hawk, then head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, is also a perfect symbol of a phenomenon that could culminate in Mitt Romney’s arrival at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next year: The nation’s capital has become a Mormon stronghold, with Latter-day Saints playing a big and growing role in the Washington establishment.

The well-dressed crowd gathered for Echo Hawk’s speech was dotted with examples of inside-the-beltway Mormon power.

In one pew sits a Mormon stake president – a regional Mormon leader – who came to Washington to write speeches for Ronald Reagan and now runs a lobbying firm downtown.

Behind him in the elegant but plain sanctuary – Mormon chapels are designed with an eye toward functionality and economy – is a retired executive secretary of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A few pews further back, the special assistant to the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan sits next to a local Mormon bishop who came to Washington to work for Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and now leads a congressionally chartered foundation.

Mitt Romney, who would be the first Mormon president if elected, is the son of a Cabinet secretary under Richard Nixon.

“In a Republican administration, there will be even more Mormons here,” whispers the bishop, Lewis Larsen, pointing out prominent Washingtonians around the chapel. “Every Republican administration just loads up with them.”

Regardless of which party controls the White House, Mormonism in Washington has been growing for decades.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

When Larsen arrived in Washington in the early ’80s, there were a just handful of Mormon meetinghouses in northern Virginia, where he lives. Today, there are more than 25, each housing three separate congregations, or wards, as they’re known in the LDS Church.

“There’s been an absolute explosion in Mormon growth inside the beltway,” Larsen says before slipping out of the pew to crank the air conditioning for the swelling crowd.

The LDS Church says there are 13,000 active members within a 10-mile radius of Washington, though the area’s Mormon temple serves a much larger population – 148,000 Latter-day Saints, stretching from parts of South Carolina to New Jersey.

Signs of the local Mormon population boom transcend the walls of the temple and meetinghouses.

Crystal City, a Virginia neighborhood just across the Potomac River from Washington, has become so popular with young Mormons that it’s known as “Little Provo,” after the Utah city that’s home to church-owned Brigham Young University.

Congress now counts 15 Mormon members, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That means the 2% of the country that’s Mormon is slightly overrepresented on Capitol Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, is the highest-placed elected Mormon in Washington.

Even many Latter-day Saints joke about Washington’s “Mormon mafia” – referring to the number of well-placed LDS Church members across town – though they cringe at the thought of being seen as part of some cabal. (Echo Hawk, for his part, left the Obama administration a few weeks after his chapel presentation for a job in the LDS Church hierarchy).

“No one talks about Washington being an Episcopalian stronghold or a Jewish stronghold,” says Richard Bushman, a Mormon scholar at Columbia University. Talk of “Mormon Washington,” he says, “represents a kind of surprise that people who were thought of as provincial have turned up in sophisticated power positions.”

Bushman and other experts note that, despite Mormons’ growing political power, the official church mostly steers clear of politics. It’s hard to point to federal legislation or a White House initiative that bears distinctly Mormon fingerprints, while it’s easy to do the same for other faiths.

For example, the White House’s recent “compromise” on a rule that would have required religious groups to fund contraception for employees was mostly a reaction to pressure from Roman Catholic bishops.

Nonetheless, Mormon success in Washington is a testament to distinctly Mormon values, shedding light into the heart of one of America’s fastest-growing religions.

And though the official church is mostly apolitical, most rank-and-file Mormons have linked arms with the GOP. Romney’s own political evolution mirrors that trend.

Such forces help explain why Mormons’ beltway power is poised to grow even stronger in coming years, whether or not Romney wins the White House.

‘A ton of Mormon contacts’

For many Washington Mormons, religion plays a key role in explaining why they’re here.

Larsen, who sports a brown comb-over and tortoise shell glasses, arrived in Washington in the early 1980s as an intern for Hatch, also a Mormon.

He landed the internship courtesy of Brigham Young University, his alma mater. The Mormon school owns a four-story dorm on Pennsylvania Avenue, not too far from the White House, which houses 120 student interns each year. It’s the school’s largest such program in the nation.

“Part of our church’s tradition is to be connected with civic life, to make our communities better,” says BYU’s Scott Dunaway, who helps place students on Capitol Hill, at the Smithsonian and other Washington institutions. “We don’t believe in being reclusive.”

It’s a perfect characterization of Larsen. He grew up in Provo, in the shadow of BYU, and wanted to prove he could make it outside of Utah.

“Kids growing up in the LDS Church have been told, ‘Go ye out in the world and preach the gospel of Christ - don’t be afraid to be an example,’ ” Larsen said, sitting in the glass-doored conference room of the foundation he runs on K Street.

“So we are on our missions, converting people to Christianity,” he continued. “And coming to Washington, for me and probably for a lot of people, came out of that interest. We see it as our career, but also we’re going out to preach the word of Christ.”

For Larsen, that usually means correcting misinformation about Mormonism or explaining Mormon beliefs and practices – you really don’t drink coffee, ever? – over lunch with co-workers or at business functions, rather than on-the-job proselytizing.

He learned about integrating work and faith from Hatch. He was initially shocked to discover that the senator prays in his office each morning. Larsen and Hatch developed what the bishop calls a “father-son” relationship, with the intern rising up through the ranks to become Hatch’s chief Washington fundraiser.

“We would go on trips, and I’d quiz him on the plane: Why did the church do this? Why didn’t the church do this?” Larsen said. “He was like a tutor to me.”

Now, as the head of a foundation that educates teachers about the U.S. Constitution, the bishop helps other young Mormons with job leads and introductions. Larsen was appointed to the role by Hatch and the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Much of Washington’s Mormon professional network is still anchored by BYU, which operates a handful of big, well-connected alumni groups with major Washington chapters. The most prominent is BYU’s Management Society, a global organization whose biggest chapter is in Washington.

At the chapter’s recent alumni dinner, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was the guest of honor. She has strong ties to the Mormon community and has hired Mormons as top aides. Says Larsen: “Condi’s got a ton of Mormon contacts.”

Patrice Pederson also knows how to work a Rolodex. A lifelong political activist, she moved from Utah to Washington last year and soon tapped into BYU’s local network.

Pederson served as the U.S.-based campaign manager for Yeah Samake, a Mormon running for president in the West African nation of Mali.

Samake traveled frequently to the U.S. to raise money and build political support, so Pederson enlisted the help of BYU’s Management Society and other groups to host events for the candidate.

Both in Washington and across the U.S., many Mormons are watching his candidacy.

“Members of the church on Capital Hill were anxious to introduce the candidate to other members of Congress,” says Pederson, sipping an herbal tea (Mormons eschew black leaf teas) in a strip mall Starbucks near her apartment in Alexandria, Virginia.

“It’s cool to have a member of the church running for president in Africa.”

Beyond making connections, many Washington Mormons say the LDS Church provides an ideal proving ground for careers here.

Unlike most churches, it has no professional clergy; from the bishop to the organist, each role is filled by everyday Mormons, most of whom have other day jobs. As a result, Mormons take church leadership roles at an early age, speaking publicly at Sunday services almost as soon they learn to talk.

“My kids grew up in the church, and we get together for three hours on Sundays, and each member needs to get up and speak,” says U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. “By the time they graduate, they have all these speaking assignments that other teenagers just don’t have.

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, says Mormonism provides ideal training for aspiring politicians.

“For those who grow up in the Mormon church, they are taught skills that allow them to be successful in a tough city like Washington,” says Chaffetz, who converted to Mormonism shortly after college.

Young Mormons also hone leadership skills by serving missions away from home. The missions last from one and half to two years and happen when Mormons are in their late teens and early 20s and often include intensive foreign language training.

“Young Mormons are more formidable in public settings and international settings than others,” says Terryl Givens, a Mormon scholar at the University of Richmond. “Normally you would have to acquire more age and work experience before you feel comfortable and useful at NGOs and think tanks.”

Chaffetz, whose son is serving a mission in Ghana, says the experience is the perfect preparation for political careers.

“They learn rejection early on,” he says. “If you’re going to be in politics, that’s a pretty good attribute.”

Christina Tomlinson served her mission in nonexotic Fresno, California. But working with the Laotian community there, she acquired the foreign language skills that landed her first internship at the U.S. State Department.

“I look back at that and it’s nothing but divine providence,” Tomlinson says one night at an office building-turned-chapel in Crystal City, after a weekly discussion about Mormon teachings. “I would have never made those choices.”

When she arrived at her foreign service orientation in the late 1990s, Tomlinson was surprised to find that a half-dozen of her State Department colleagues were also Mormon. The thriving LDS community at State even runs its own e-mail list server so Latter-day Saints can find each other wherever in the world they’re stationed.

Like former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who used the Mandarin language skills acquired through a Mormon mission to Taiwan to help secure his job as President Barack Obama’s previous ambassador to China, Tomlinson leveraged her mission to get ahead at State, where she now serves as special assistant to the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I’m basically the chief of staff for the president’s representative charged with implementing U.S. foreign policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan,” she e-mailed on a recent plane ride back from the region.

Language skills acquired on a Mormon mission helped Christina Tomlinson get her start at the State Department.

At the point of a bayonet

Like many Mormons, Tomlinson says her professional life is driven by a faith-based patriotism that sounds old-fashioned to modern ears: “I just really wanted to serve my country.”

But that distinctly Mormon patriotism was hard-won. From their very beginning, Mormons had tried to forge a special relationship with Washington. And for decades, they failed.

Joseph Smith, who founded Mormonism in the 1830s, petitioned the U.S. government to protect his fledgling religious community from the violent persecution it was experiencing, even meeting repeatedly with President Martin Van Buren.

But Washington refused, provoking Smith – who Mormons consider their founding prophet – to run for president himself in 1844. He was assassinated by an anti-Mormon mob in Illinois well before Election Day.

In the face of such attacks, Mormons fled west, to the territory that’s now Utah. But they continued to seek ties with Washington, dispatching representatives to the capital to lobby for statehood.

Congress refused to grant it. Instead, Uncle Sam disincorporated the LDS Church and sent the U.S. Army to police Mormon territory.

In the eyes of Washington, Latter-day Saints were flouting federal law by practicing polygamy. The feds saw the LDS Church as an undemocratic rival government that threatened Washington’s power.

Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founding prophet, ran for president in 1844 but was killed before Election Day.

Mormons would eventually ban polygamy, paving the way for Utah statehood in 1896. But Congress nonetheless refused to seat the new state’s Mormon senator, who also served as a top church official.

For four years, the U.S. Senate held hearings to grill U.S. Sen. Reed Smoot and other church leaders, alleging that Mormons continued to practice polygamy despite promises to the contrary.

“The political trial was as much a galvanizing cultural moment as was Watergate,” says Kathleen Flake, a scholar of Mormonism at Vanderbilt University in Tenneessee.

When Smoot was eventually seated – after the LDS Church took further steps to stamp out polygamy – he managed to become a Washington powerbroker. He would chair the Senate Finance Committee and act as a presidential adviser.

“He was Mr. Republican,” says Flake. “For a while there, he was the Republican Party.”

Smoot’s unflagging pursuit of legitimacy in Washington, despite the city’s bias against him and his faith, symbolizes what many call a uniquely Mormon appreciation for American civic life. It helps explain the Mormon fascination with Washington to this day.

It may seen counterintuitive, but Mormons’ early exposure to persecution at the hands of other Americans – aided, Mormons say, by the U.S. government – wound up strengthening their patriotic streak.

In the face of attacks, Mormons clung to the U.S. Constitution and its unprecedented guarantee of religious freedom. They distinguished between the document and those charged with implementing it.

Mormon scripture goes so far as to describe the U.S. Constitution as divinely inspired, establishing a unique environment in which Mormonism could emerge.

“Mormons are superpatriots,” says Columbia University’s Bushman. “Joseph Smith said that if the government was doing its job as laid out in the Constitution, it would protect Mormons from their enemies.”

Mormons began to shed their Utah-only siege mentality and fanned out in the early part of the 20th century. Their patriotic streak, which translated into military enlistments and applications for government jobs, led many to Washington.

That wave included J. Willard Marriott, the hotel chain founder, who launched his business career by opening an A&W root beer stand here. He would go on to forge the kind of deep political connections that would help make Willard “Mitt” Romney his namesake.

Washington’s Mormon community got another boost in the 1950s when President Dwight Eisenhower appointed a top church official, Ezra Taft Benson, as his agriculture secretary.

“Mormons took it as a sign of maybe, just maybe, we’re being accepted,” says Flake. “It signified a cultural acceptance of Mormonism. People thought Mormons believed weird things, but also that they were self-reliant, moral and good neighbors.”

As Mormons became more accepted, they became more upwardly mobile, landing in parts of the country that could sustain careers in commerce, academia and government - another reason Washington was a big draw.

By the time there were enough Mormons in the eastern U.S. to justify the construction of the first Mormon temple east of the Mississippi River, the church chose a site just outside Washington.

The temple opened in 1974, shortly after another high-profile Mormon – George Romney, Mitt’s father – left his post as Richard Nixon’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

“The Washington temple served as a symbol of the triumphant return of Mormonism to the east,” says Givens, the University of Richmond professor. “Mormons left from the point of a bayonet in the 1800s and the temple is this gigantic symbol that says ‘We’re back – and we’re back in the nation’s capital.’ ”

The Mormon temple outside Washington was the first such temple built east of the Mississippi River.

Unlike Mormon meetinghouses, where members meet for Sunday worship, temples are grander buildings reserved for certain rites, such as proxy baptisms for the dead.

To this day, the first monument many Washington visitors see isn’t a federal landmark. It’s the massive Mormon temple, its Georgian marble towers and gold-leafed spires looming above the trees on the Washington Beltway like an otherworldly castle.

The temple houses a J. Willard Marriott-financed mural of Jesus Christ’s second coming, which features a picture of the Washington temple itself in the background.

“Are you implying that the millennium will begin in Washington?” a temple visitor once asked Marriott, referring to Jesus’ return.

Replied Marriott: “What better place is there?”

Good at organizing

These days, the Mormon impulse toward Washington is often as much political as patriotic.

Patrice Pederson - the campaign manager for the Mormon running for president in Mali - made her first foray into politics at 15, hopping the bus from her home in the suburbs of Salt Lake City into town to intern with a Republican candidate for the U.S. House.

“I remember that when Bill Clinton was elected, I wore all black to school that day,” says Pederson, who was in junior high at the time. “I was mourning the death of liberty.”

When then-Vice President Al Gore visited Utah, Pederson protested his speech with a homemade poster that said “Blood, Guts & Gore – Healthcare’94.” (She can’t recall the poster’s exact meaning).

Pederson’s activism as a “total hardcore right-winger” continued into her 20s. She put off college at BYU to start a “pro-family” advocacy group aimed at lobbying foreign governments and the United Nations. The work brought her to Washington so frequently that she decided to relocate last year: “I had more friends here than in Utah.”

Pederson’s path to D.C. speaks to the growing Mormon/Republican alliance since the 1960s, driven largely by the emergence of social issues such as abortion and gay marriage and the rise of the Christian Right.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, Utah became Republican,” says Bushman. “It’s partly about being anti-communist, but it’s also a response to the 1960s and the decay of old-fashioned moral virtues. It’s an anti-1960s movement, and the Republicans seemed to be the party of old-fashioned virtues.”

Pederson’s roommate, Kodie Ruzicka, grew up squarely in that movement, with her mom heading the Utah chapter of Eagle Forum, a conservative Christian group founded by rightwing icon Phyllis Schlafly.

In the 1970s, when the Catholic Schlafly led a successful grassroots campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have made gender-based discrimination unconstitutional, she enlisted the help of Mormons.

To its opponents, including the LDS Church, the ERA was the work of radical feminists who wanted to upend traditional gender roles.

Much of Schlafly’s organizing was among evangelicals, and “given the sometimes hostile evangelical line on Mormons, [Schlafly’s] Mormon outreach was kind of revolutionary,” says Ruzicka, who now works at the Justice Department. “But we’re good at organizing, and we have a lot of useful structures for it, so that was useful to her.”

Today, Mormons head Eagle Forum chapters across the West, including California, Arizona and Nevada, as well as Utah.

Bridge-building between Mormons and the conservative movement helps explain the Reagan administration’s push to hire many Mormons into the White House - which further cemented the alliance. That bond continues to lure Mormons to D.C.

Ruzicka, for one, continued in the political footsteps of her mother, arriving in Washington in her mid-20s to lead a nonprofit that promotes safe haven laws, which allow young mothers to legally abandon young children at fire stations.

Beyond hot-button social issues, U.S. Rep. Chaffetz says the Mormon faith engenders support for limited government.

“The church is very adamant about personal responsibility, and for people to voluntarily participate in service,” the Utah Republican says. “There’s this feeling that service is not something that should be mandated by government.”

The LDS Church, for its part, insists it is politically neutral and that it avoids pressuring Mormon elected officials to tow a church line. “The church’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians,” the church’s website says.

Mormon experts say the church’s support for a relatively strict separation of church and state is born of the U.S. government’s refusal to help Mormons in the face of early persecution.

And after being accused of setting up a rival government around the turn of the last century, the church is loath to be seen giving marching orders to LDS politicians.

The church did, however, play a leading role in passing Prop 8, California’s gay marriage ban, in 2008. Church officials called it a moral cause, not a political one.

Plenty of critics disagree. But neither Mormon bishops nor church officials are known to lead the kind of church-based legislative lobbying efforts that Catholic bishops or evangelical leaders do.

Mitt Romney himself embodies the reluctance of Mormon politicians to connect their religion and their public policy positions, in contrast to politicians of other faiths.

That reluctance also appears to be born of anxiety over Americans’ lingering questions and doubts about Mormonism. When Pew asked Americans last year what word they associated with the Mormon faith, the most common response was “cult.”

In recent weeks, Romney’s newfound position as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has produced a mix of excitement and worry among Mormons. That’s especially true in Washington, where politically savvy Latter-day Saints send out frequent e-mail round-ups of Mormon media coverage to their LDS networks.

“A lot of us know it’s ultimately a good thing, but it’s hard to feel like it’s a good thing because so much of the publicity is about things you wouldn’t talk about in polite company, like my underwear,” says Pederson, referring to the enduring fascination with Mormon undergarments.

Like many conservatives, Pederson is suspicious of Romney.

“I don’t like his waffling, to put it gently, on life and family issues,” she says. “But if it comes down to Romney versus Obama, hand me the pom-poms. I’ll be president of the Romney-Is-the-Best-We-Can-Come-Up-With-for-President Club.”

For now, Pederson is working with the National Right to Life Committee’s political action committee to raise money for the Romney effort, even as she makes up her mind about how actively she wants to promote his candidacy.

Some of her calculus is about weighing political reality against her conservative idealism. And some of it is about her next professional move. It’s a very Washington place to be.

Video by CNN photojournalist Jeremy Moorhead

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • DC • Jon Huntsman • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics

soundoff (3,419 Responses)
  1. Nutley

    No religion is stranger than Scientology....Galatic Confederacy? D-8's flown to earth from outer space and souls dropped off at volcanos? That's more of a stretch than Muhammad's ride on a horse, the burning bush and Joe Smith's golden plates combined. Every religion has its preposterous claims. This phase shall pass one day....humans will quit believing in these silly fairytales

    May 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  2. Rob

    Separation of Church and State... What an illusion... what a joke.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Bush's Brain

      How so?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • prediction

      I once worked in a federal govenment office that was about 90 percent Mormon. The mormons stole my findings and gave it to their brothers. My work won awards and they gave me bad ratings. Every other office I worked in I won all the awards. I won on the spot, team award, individual performance awards in every other office I worked in. I have a whole wall of letters of appreciation. These same Mormons spread lies about my personal life. I would have filed a grievance, but did not take the job to hurt people.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  3. Kenjitheman

    So what some of you are saying is, that one person trying to further their career is trying to get an infiltration into the gov. for the sake of the church? That is just stupid. I am sure mormons need to eat just like the rest of us. They do need to work also. Church only wont put a roof over their heads.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • imeubu

      The article states that Mormons are only slightly over represented in Washington (2%)

      May 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  4. tony

    Why do such strong conservative "christians" so look forward to going to spend eternity in an absolutely totalitarian socialist heaven?

    May 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • MikeB

      Freedom of choice is Totalitarianism?
      Who is forcing people to go to Heaven?
      Satan however imposes himself upon the masses through Punitive Laws, Mandates, and Decrees.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • tony

      Last time I read the Bible, God is in charge in Heaven, you can't take your money with you, you don't health insurance and they don't mention having elections for the next godof your choice every few years.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • prediction

      The republican party knew they had a difficult fight and so they changed their rules to choose a candidate, even at the risk of appearing as if they were parading a circus of clowns. Clowns are all they could get to run, who else they could convince into committing political suicide. Obviously they knew head on it was going to be an embarrassment. They decided to once again hoping to lie and convince the people who tried to buy them a job, they did not waste their money. Sorry Karl, they are just clowns. What did you expect.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • MikeB

      tony – If that's your choice, why would you want to be there. Is there something there you want, but don't want to be of the same mind and purpose as those that are in Heaven?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • mooseknuckle

      MikeB you missed his point. I think what he said was rather enlightening. I don't think God likes either political party and thinks earth is a waste land, otherwise perhaps we are already in hell?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  5. Bush's Brain

    Joseph Smith, cult leader and founder of the Mormon Church prophesied that one day a Mormon would be President and that this would lead to the U.S. government being controlled by the Mormon Church.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • MikeB

      B.S.
      Take a look at their 'Articles of Faith'. In no way are they interesting in imposing upon those that they respect the rights of to worship whatever they may.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • mooseknuckle

      The Mormons are scary totalitarians that excommunicate family members for not believing what they do. That is NOT FREEDOM! That is not righteous. Its a disgusting use of power to control its people! Period. End of story. Mormonism has zero place in American values.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Ted Owens

      Bull!!

      May 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • MikeB

      mooseknuckle – How is it Freedom to mock something that one doesn't believe in? Isn't that a violation of the Freedom of those that have reverence or hold something sacred. If one is a poser then they should not be 'counted' among those that take their faith more seriously. Excommunication removes an individual from the list of those that have chosen to follow the doctrine. If they don't like the doctrine, they should move on or repent.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  6. MikeB

    What we need to stop doing is trying to elect Kings. We need to be electing those that go there to honor their oaths of 'Service' to the "American" people.
    The idea of electing someone to go to D.C. to 'take care of us' is misguided and leaves the door wide open to 'Social Supremacist' and 'Tyrants' to dictate upon us their interpretation of an ideal society; based upon what benefits them. We now have a 'Social Doctrine' imposed upon us in the form of the 'Affordable Care Act'; where appointed clergy define, redefine, mandate, and even get Executive Orders to impose 'compliance' upon the American people. Which all gets churned again when there is a change in controlling Faction in D.C.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • momoya

      Political power (at least among humans) always corrupts.. Good leaders are reluctant leaders, and so you never get one if you make it a popular vote with a mechanism of self-nomination.. The US isn't above such bedrock principles.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  7. billy mathew

    Did this religion get started after the founder had a dream about a fish and "found" a book in the desert.... people will believe anything...

    May 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Prufrock

      Nope. Very, very far off. Go have a cursory look at mormon.org and at least get the basics. It will take you five minutes.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • George

      Speaking of people believing anything, someone has given you a strange and completely inaccurate idea of how the church really started, and you believed it,

      May 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  8. dina

    All religions are cults in many ways. Whether one follows Joseph Smith, Jesus or any other leader is not important. None of therse leaders and all of these leaders do the same thing.They teach people to follow one direction of mythical rules and regulations. All religions want to control the people and they do with their rules whether it is the rules of Orthodox Judaism, the rules of the New testament or the rules of the Koran and Mormonism. Control of the masses is what religion is about and ever person in each sect seems to think their rules are beter than the other's rules. Go figure.

    May 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  9. Karm99

    Like most religions of the past, Mormonism has tied itself together with the political and national thread of a country. So in that respect it is not unusual.

    The thing that is disturbing to me, is the Mormon belief that the USA is the new holy land for Mormons. With that belief comes all the tenets of pushing the Mormon agenda.

    For what I read, and in my personal experience, that agenda includes a deep seated conviction that they (Mormons) are better than others.

    As an example from this article: “Young Mormons are more formidable in public settings and international settings than others,” says Terryl Givens, a Mormon scholar at the University of Richmond.

    What "others" Mr. Givens, you mean non Mormon of course.

    Mitt Romney has shown a propensity of acting, and speaking as if he is better than others. The depth of his conviction must come from his life experiences and values, those values are Mormon.

    I do not believe that the country should be lead by a man who is blinded by such religious convictions. This country needs a man who can empathize and relate to all; to non Mormons, to poor, to blacks, to gays, to liberals, to union workers, to businessmen, to environmentalist, to gun-nuts.........to all.

    To know God is one of humankind's most divine experiences.

    One of the scariest is to hear, "God is on my side"

    May 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • imeubu

      Good point. I couldn't agree more. LDS "executives" often seem haughty or appear to condescend. I've met some good ones but for the most part... they come across as pompous and above it all.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  10. Bush's Brain

    The Mormon Agenda:

    The Mormon Church is obsessed with taking over the U.S. government.

    This means, as Brigham Young stated in the Journal of Discourses, “no more or less than the complete overthrow of the nation, and not only of this nation, but the nations of Europe".

    Believing this goal to materialize sooner, Brigham Young declared, according to historian Bancroft, that “he would himself become President of the United States, or dictate who should be President.”

    May 13, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Jackie

      Mormonism is a worldwide religion. Most Mormons live outside the USA and couldn't care less about "taking over it". Americans can be so self-centered sometimes – everything is always about them.

      Also, the Journal of Discourses is not official doctrine. Quotes from the Journal of Discourses often reflect Brigham Young's personal opinion. Just because one prophet, who has been dead for a REALLY long time, said something doesn't mean that the entire church today believes it, if it hasn't been incorporated as part of official church doctrine.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  11. N.Heller

    I am a member of the LDS church, third generation on both sides of the family. My uncle is an U.S. Senator from Nevada named Dean Heller (Republican). Did you know that since the 1970's All worthy men can get and hold the priesthood, no matter the race/color the man is??? As Mormons we believe in obeying the laws of the land. We also believe in passive-agressively fighting for our rights. I am proud to be an American!!!!! God and Christ bless the U.S.A.!!!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      Then obey the law of the land and keep your religion out of the government.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • mooseknuckle

      Your religion was created by Joseph Smith based on the principles of Masonic rituals. Your so called prophet is a phony, and was killed for treason from the Masonic rite. He tried creating a new religion from Masonic and Christianity. The crossing of the Bering Streit for Mongolian DNA scientifically PROVES the Native Americans have mongolian blood NOT the blood of a so-called tribe of Israel like your mormon book falsley states. You are required by your religion to not believe everything above and to ignore me completely, but thats so that they can control your mind. Think about it. I don't care either way if you are mormon or not, but you involved a cult and will deny it.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Really-O?

      @N.Heller – "passive-agressively fighting for our rights"

      How is passive-aggressive behavior a good thing?
      Also...what Voice of Reason said!

      May 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Bush's Brain

      The founders of the Mormon cult preached that black people are a cursed race and cannot enter heaven. For most of the churches history, this is exactly what was preached.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • ezg437

      Great, so you've made it to the 60's. Now tell me, can a gay person from a gay family unit person (male/femail/any race) ? That's what I thought.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  12. jackvigdor

    Lets be clear about the TRUTH about Mormonism.
    First of all, there is more than one Mormon church. The LDS in Utah are the spiritual descendants of the people who followed Brigham Young. There is anther church in Missouri of people who followed the son and one of the widows of Joseph Smith. There are also other Mormon groups.

    Next, Mormon theology depends on a lie. Mormons believe Native Americans are descended from ancient Jews who left Israel after the destruction of the first temple in 586 BCE. The genetic evidence shows that native peoples came over from Asia through a land bridge and have no connection to Jews.

    Next, Mormon rituals and symbols are stolen from Freemasonry. Originally, J. Smith insisted that his male followers be master masons. The symbols on their under garments, their secret handshakes and their oaths all come from Freemasonry.

    Mormons are decent people, good neighbors and have a right to believe what they want. But, I have a right to expose their beliefs as idiotic, false and stolen...Er...borrowed from 19th century freemasonry.

    I respect them as individuals but ridicule their theology. If you care to dispute what I say, email me at jackvigdor (at) gmail (dot) com.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • imeubu

      One of my mentors (a professor of ancient studies) is fluent in 7 ancient languages (hebrew, aramaic, egyptian etc..) and has studied Mormon theology at the knees of some of the World's and America's greatest scholars from Rome to Oxford for the past 40 years. An amazing man with many publications and credential. Surprisingly he reaches the exact opposite conclusions you have. I just attended a three session forum over two days where he cited and exhibited hard data evidence from archeology, geology, geograhpy, biology and several other disciplines to (it seemed from my perspective at least) overwhelmingly convince over 200 attendees (scholars, students and non-denominational backgrounds) that the epistemology of LDS thought is not only reasonable but highly valid. Hmmm... based on your synopsis though... I will have to seriously rethink my position.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • mooseknuckle

      well stated. hopefully mormons will read this and think about it for awhile, instead of just writing it off because they are told to excommunicate anything that keeps them from their current beliefs. Talk about a control-freak religion! If its true, then they wouldn't have to worry about that control, lol.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Nutley

      Great point – very good people, strange beliefs.... Now what?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  13. imeubu

    Wow! A really good article written seemingly from the perspective that Mormons might actually be able to help America. I've never seen this done before... except by Mormon authors.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  14. rh

    This story is only funny because if the same story was published about "Jews in Washington" everyone would be crying anti-Semitism. Somehow, it's okay to point to some kind of Mormon cabal, but not a Jewish cabal.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • tony

      Don't vote for AIPAC sponsored pols then.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  15. Rainer Braendlein

    Billions of people get lost, because they are seduced by false churches, cults and sects and we sit on the couch and operate the remote. Don't let us watch inactively, how the Mormons kill precious souls, loved by God.

    Gradually we should say goodbye to the long-held view that politics would be absolutely secular. This was never possible, because the human being by itself is a religious being and administrations are built by (religious) human beings and therefore most be religious as a whole.

    I don't dare to decide, if any member of a sect or cult should be allowed to become president of a country of the Western World, which has Christian roots.

    Basically I think that all people of a Western country should have the same rights and duties independent from their belief.

    However, it becomes dangerous, if a single sect or cult infiltrates the administration of a country. It would be naive not to assume that such people would not try to promote the interests of their own sect or cult, even if they had sworn to seek the benefit of the whole nation.

    Frederic the Great, the King of Prussia, promoted freedom of religion, but one should consider that at his time in the 18th century there was a great consensus in Europe that Christianity was the true religion, whereby there was a conflict between Protestants and Catholics. Although Frederic the Great supported religious freedom, he finished the rule of the pope in Europe by fighting the Catholic Habsburgians. Frederic the Great promoted the Englightenment (he was a friend of Voltaire), which was among others the end of the rule of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. Frederic the Great was not anti-Christian (he was a Protestant), but aware that wolves in sheep's clothing always tend to use "their" churches, to gain worldly honor, power and riches.

    The problem is that sects, cults and false churches always seek worldly honor, power and riches in contrast to Jesus, who was a meek and humble carpenter, who simply lived a righteous life, which pleases God.

    Our basic problem today is that we have lost the ability to discriminate between cults, sects, false churches and the Christian Church.

    The Christian Church was founded by Jesus himself and has a history, which is meanwhile 2000 years old. True Christian teachers always try to keep the connection to the Early Church. It is a calamity that today any pizza baker takes the Bible and interpretes it according to the thoughts of his own foolish heart. It is clear that such people have to fail and this is the reason for the many Free Churches, cults and sects, we have got today.

    For example, Luther did not simply take the Bible and interpreted it, but he agreed with the Fathers of the Church, whereby he saw the Bible as the most authoritative docu-ment. In fact, through the Fathers of the Church Luther found the right access to the Holy Bible.

    My humble self found the right access to the Bible by Bonhoeffer, who himself refered to Luther and the Early Church. Hence, when I tell a doctrine, it is not my lousy invention or interpretation, but the consensus of the whole Church, which is ruled by the Holy Spirit.

    Joseph Smith, the founder of LDS, once saw a demon (he regarded it as God), which told him that he was not allowed to cooperate with the currently existing churches. This fact alone is a clear proof that the Mormons must be a cult, because the true Church always keeps the tradition of the Early Church. The mainline churches of today have their roots in the Early Church, because they keep the one holy sacramental baptism, which is not allowed to be repeated. It is only that the mainline churches need a new reform, because they have forgotten that baptism is a divine call for discipleship. Baptism is the gateway to a Christian life, but not a free ticket for heaven. We will only enter heaven, if we live as Chrisitian day by day in the power of the divine call, which is the sacramental baptism, which refers to Christ's sacrifice.

    We need a free international council of the Protestant Churches and Orthodox Churches (the pope-rat should not be allowed to participate), in order to outline again the true, good old doctrine, which is teached for 2000 years. It is really possible to assess this doctrine by theological and historical means. Then this doctrine should be teached in the Anglican Church, the German Evangelical Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, Orthodox Churches, etc..

    This would be a great progress for the mankind, if people could certainly know, where they could find health for their soul. It is a calamity that billions of people today are entrapped by lousy cults, sects and false churches and will finally get lost. The soul's health can be found only in the true Church.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • rh

      But I don't understand – who do we send money to?

      May 13, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • tony

      Jesus was clearly too Liberal to be allowed to keep control of any US Christian Church. Heck, we'd all have to become good Samaritans, instead of hoarding our tax dollars to prevent anyone else getting undeserved health care.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • jackvigdor

      By your very same logic, one could claim that Paul encountered a Demon on the road to Damascus which he mistook for the risen Jesus. That being the case, not only is Christianity a cruel joke, but Mormonsim is a double cruel double joke.

      Deuteronomy 10:1-13 both predicts and condemns Christianity and Mormonism.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • imeubu

      Unbelievable! Seek help my friend... seek help. It has nothing to do with whether one Religion is better than another. It is simply good versus bad. You declare yourself when you identify with one side or the other on any issue. Most of us can do better... reading your rant... I think I've identified a few issues you may want to reconsider. Probably the most outlandish summary I've ever read.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @jackvictor

      There is a parallel between lousy Muhammad and Jospeh Smith. They both received their revelation in solitude without witnesses. In contrast, St. Paul was accompanied by witnesses, when the resurrected Christ encountered him on his way to Damascus. Furthermore St. Paul was admitted by the 12 Apostles of Christ, which we can read in acts. We can imply that the 12 Apostles examined exactly, if their former Jewish enemy, which wanted to kill them, was now a beloved brother in Christ.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @imeubu

      What is your point?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Mary

      I think you have a problem, and that would be that you are so over taken by your religious ideals that you cannot separate fact from fiction and opinion from truth. If you are going to write out a long statement, I suggest you do some reading before ou state things as facts. Jesus didn't found the christian church. He was Jewish and preached accordingly. He never asked for anyone to worship him. It wasn't till about a hundred years later that Christianity was founded as a radical sect of Jewish faith. It was persecuted for a long time as being kind of like a cult. You are thrashing others beliefs as being unfit for government while at the same time, touting your own as the only one fit for leadership. i will say that this is very the very definition of bigotry. "Stubborn and intolerant of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own."
      While I do think that Mormonism is far out there for seeming obscure. I also hold the opinion that the christian church as is it today is just as eccentric and aberrant. Doesn't Christianity preach virtue in being humble? Get off your high horse.

      May 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Shardik

      "In contrast, St. Paul was accompanied by witnesses, when the resurrected Christ encountered him on his way to Damascus."

      Really, what were their names?

      May 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  16. tony

    In Genesis Chapter I, God gives all mankind all the Earth, and its creatures, herbs, etc. So why does Big Oil and Monsanto, etc., OWN so much of it INSTEAD of us?

    May 13, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • MikeB

      Ask the public sector 1% that is living it up on our tax dollars and campaign dollars from those that buy influence.
      Influence is for sell because "We the People" fail to fulfill our responsibility to choose and elect 'representation'. Leaving it to factions and activist to choose our representation has failed us miserably.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  17. Really?

    This guy Mittens Rumney is such a do uche bag.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  18. jocko

    I think the statement "mormonism provides ideal training for aspiring politicians" tells you all you need to know about mormonism.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • tony

      But HEAVEN IS A SOCIALIST ENVIROMENT!!

      May 13, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  19. SuFiSm iS dIfFeReNt

    Nephi would not recognize this brand of his creation, I feel he would have disavowed them. the bloodline "may have" come a long way from Egypt and they are certainly NOT the creation of Nephi, but they are of John Smith.

    May 13, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  20. trex

    .............What a quaint notion.............Separation of Church and State.......................I once heard that was a Founding Father's core belief...........How quaint................I wounder what ever happened to it?

    May 13, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • tony

      It went the same way as the record of Jesus being the ultimate liberal

      May 13, 2012 at 11:39 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.