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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. Dana

    It must be make believe day again.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  2. sam johnson

    Ask anyone in Utah if the Mormons believe in separation of church and state. Every law that is passed here must be approved by the Mormon church. Believe me you do not want to live in a country run by Mormons. They truly are a cult with crazy beliefs. Nice folks but absolutely out of touch with reality.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • seedenbetter

      Sounds like all Christians to me.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  3. Tom Turner

    The LDS faith is a worldwide religion. Not just a Utah thing or Western USA thing. For example, there are five temples in Australia.

    The LDS faith is growing at a rate of about a million every 3 years. About 300k new converts every year and about 120K new kids born into it. Subtract out death and people that leave or are ex'ed out, it's about 1 million every three. There are 55K missionaries worldwide.

    The church is one of the largest land owners in America, including the largest land owner in Florida. They have a beef ranch out by Orlando. The number one paid attraction in Hawaii is LDS too, polynesian cultural center. The church owns many for profit businesses in different sectors. But a lot of those industries give what they make to the church welfare program. This provides food for Mormons and NON Mormons.

    The third largest private university is BYU-Provo at 33K students. It's just a few hundred behind USC. And there are 4 BYU's including Utah, Idaho, Hawaii, and Isreal.

    Mormons are here to stay. Get over it people. People can fight us or say this or that. You are stupid. This is the world's next major religion. You can tell by the temple growth rate that the church is entering parts of the world that our distractors could only dream of entering. There will be new temples soon in Philadelphia, Lisbon, Rome, Paris, and Congo. Temples in Hong Kong, Kiev, and South Africa. The next major LDS push will probably be Africa and India. I'm very excited to see the LDS growth in India. I hope it gets a temple soon. Map of current LDS temples. http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/maps/

    Mormons next major challenge isn't from the numb nuts and idiots that fight us and show bigotry toward us. Our next major fight is to stay unique and different. Our next obstacle is to stay temple worthy and different for the right reasons, because we have a testimony in Christ and not because it's a cultural thing to be Mormon for the wrong reasons. We are a people that are special and blessed. But wanting to be part of the main stream and being accepted takes away a big part of what it is to be LDS. We need to value more to follow the voice of a Prophet than trying to be accepted by others and to be mainstream.

    May 13, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • evensteven

      That's quite a testimony Elder . . .

      May 13, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • Epicurus

      You've described a viral epidemic...and not a good one.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • Antoine

      YOU NAILED IT!! Remember not to cast your pearls before swine....which most of the haters are in here!!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Jin

      Plus the Mormon Church is on XM radio 143 with BYU Radio. The church is on many cable and satellite networks with BYUTV. This religion is out there and getting there message out there. If you compare facebook likes on FB. Their religion is number one in likes with about 600,000 likes. Mormons get their message out there and know how to work it.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • martog

      prove it

      May 13, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • just sayin

      You are here. God bless

      May 13, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things
      Proven

      May 13, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • Dana

      It makes you sounds foolish for one thing.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • just sayin

      @dana
      In what way does martog sound foolish ? Is the foolishness in its other posts? God bless

      May 13, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • martog

      Extraordinary claims reqiure Extraordinary proof. Where's your proof? Or yes, it does make you sound foolish

      May 13, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • just sayin

      You provide your own proof martog, you are here. God bless

      May 13, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Chuck

      I prayed hard for Martog to be gone but he's still here.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  5. Elliott Carlin

    It takes a ton more faith to believe our existence just happened than to accept what the Lord says about it all. You darwinians still can't tell us where that first flying piece of matter appeared from all of those mega-trillions of years ago; you also have no arguments against racism, fascism, child abuse et al-its just the survival of the fittest. Your god is much more problematic than mine.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • William

      Their god provides instant gratification with no work.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • Mack

      Is Mormonism a cult? And the Mountain Meadows Massacre??

      May 13, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • martog

      Actually, there is more and more evidence everyday that maybe life isn't so rare in the universe and therefore not so difficult to 'create' from scratch. Not hard to believe at all that BILLIONS of years could to lead us to where we are now.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • Epicurus

      If when you say "faith" you mean "idiocy"...then yes. It does take more "faith" to believe that our existence just happened. In doing so, also throwing away all scientific evidence to the contrary. There is not a single religion that exists today that has had its mantras proven beyond a reasonable doubt. As this is our own country's foundation for its' legal system, I leave it to you to decide. Religion is for those who are insecure in their own thoughts. The idea that "God" is just sitting up there waiting to answer "your" prayers is ludicrous and egocentric. As if the "creator of mankind" wouldn't have better things to do than to wait on each individual to ask for something mundane as "I pray my daughter is safe when she drives to school today".
      Think.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  6. bobhunter

    Another reason Mormonism is popular in Washington: The so-called Whitehorse Prophecy: http://abitibibob.hubpages.com/hub/The-White-Horse-Prophecy-can-a-Mormon-president-save-the-United-States

    May 13, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  7. Lola

    The come from families that teach their children to have character and a work ethic. Not surprising that they would be successful.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  8. Reality

    NEWS ALERT !!!

    Putting the kibosh to all religions:

    ONLY FOR NEWCOMERS

    • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    (PROBABLY- ADVERB- AS CERTAIN AS ONE KNOWS)

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    May 13, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  9. mique

    Mormons love God and the military industrial complex.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • William

      So do I. One provides peace of mind, the other jobs that even an Atheist can do. Seems like a win-Win to me.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  10. martog

    We are ALL born atheists...If we're all born in Gods image doesn't that make god am Atheist?!?!?! Maybe God prefers people that can actually think for themselves. I guess I won't see you when I go party with him!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      Why do you say that religious folk don't think for themselves? I choose my faith of my own free will. I ask questions about it and I study it. Why do you assume that there is no thinking involved?

      May 13, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • William

      Christianity is all about choice. Choice in how you live, what you believe and if you even want to accept it or not. Now we could live in Iran where just converting is a death sentence.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • Mack

      One only need to read the history of "The Mountain Meadows Massacre" to understand who the Mormons really are.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • martog

      I guess I should have said Rational thought. It is irrational to believe in Extraordinary claims that have absulutely no proof, not even any evidence, that they exist. But, yes, you are free to believe it if you like. Atheists are just tired of religious folk trying to push and force their beliefs onto everyone else.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • Reality

      The nitty-gritty:

      “John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident (the randomness) of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

      The Situation Today

      Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed. “ J. Somerville

      It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe, just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions
      *************************************************************************************************************************************

      May 13, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • Dana

      I prefer people that can think for themselves.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • just sayin

      No one is born an atheist. All children come from the throne of God and retain a knowledge of God in their inner being. Life gives us the opportunity to choose God in love and so return to God and the eternity He has prepared for us. Only the extremely foolish reject the opportunity God provides. God bless

      May 13, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Mirosal

      Do you have evidence of where these children came from? Pictures? Docu'mentation? Do you have ANY reliable source for your claim? Or is your head so far up your buybull's ass that that you cannot think for yourself, and all you know how to do is parrot what your pastors told you to think and believe?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • Antoine

      look at Mack he's prettey hung up on the Mountain Meadows Massacre isnt he??? Yah it was a sad incident, but lets just mention the hundreds of other incidents where many mormons were tortured and killed over and over again pal!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  11. george

    Better a future Mormon in the White House than a closet Muslim like Obama.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • cregis

      Interesting that President Obama didn't appoint Muslims to the Supreme Court when he had the chance, but appointed women. I love the President for supporting women, just wish he'd get us out of foreign wars.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  12. Epicurus

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?

    One is only truly free when he has the ability of true free thought.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Sounds like you've been spending time at the local Barnes and Noble there Nostrodamus. Man, since his creation, has always tried to define God in his own terms. Once you start accepting that God is holy, and we aren't, things come into focus a bit better.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • Mirosal

      You're right about one thing. Man DID create the "gods", only because he needed something to explain how the world around him worked. Now we know a lot more about how the world works. No more need for a lot of those "gods" is there? And every day we are finding new answers, and keeping busy by asking new questions, then working on those solutions.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Epicurus

      Right on Mirosal

      May 13, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Moronosal: when you get an opportunity, take a read or listen to what even the smartest of athiests and scientists say: They can't tell you where the first protoplasm came from. And the "we know more now..." line is hardly scientific. Remember, consensus isn't science. it has to be observable....and changes in the earth take place UNDER THE RIGHT CONDITIONS. its why the Grand Canyon didn't form over the period of billions of years as you would suggest. Take a look at the formations after Mt. Saint Helens. Same stuff there. Here's todays' assignment for you: purchase all the parts required to make a simple watch. set on table before you. Stare at it. After about a billion years you'll see the watch slowly come together piece by piece, and after a trillion years, it will start reading time accruately. Sounds silly, but that's what you'd have us believe. AND THAT TAKES A LOT OF FAITH.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  13. brian

    coincidence or not, crack junkies?

    May 13, 2012 at 7:37 am |
  14. William

    Pelosi is a Catholic. Reid is a Mormon. But no focus and slander against them. Romney is a Mormon. Now all kinds of comments come out about him and some are pretty nasty. I see all races and all religions standing in the unemployment lines. I guess the only thing that could have been worse to a Liberal is if he was a Jew.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:37 am |
    • AB207

      Well, you are complaining about Romney, what's the difference between romney and our President, when he ran for office all we could hear everyday was about his pastor Rev. Wright, so get a life!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • William

      I like Romney fine. Now we can go on about Rev, Wright because of what he preaches and what he says. We all know it was nasty and when asked he said Obama sat there every Sunday for 20 years and listened to it. Once in DC, you cant get Obama to cast a shadow on a church. With Romney his religion is a personal matter. For Obama it is political strategy.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  15. rob

    If the Democrats were like the GOP, they'd claim that Romney getting into office was so the Mormons could legalize polygamy. Too bad they won't stoop that low.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • William

      Like the Dems letting people believe that when they are in office weed will be legal. It hasn't happened. Their all politicians. They say what they need to when they need to.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • R. Lynn

      The highest democratic leader in the country is Mormon...you know that. Right?

      May 13, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  16. Mark

    Romney is the only Mormon I know about. If I were to judge all Mormons based on Romney, I would applaud them all as unrelenting true followers. They all do what they are told. They all follow without question their fixed beliefs without question. Without question. They are all fixed thinkers. There is not a leader amongst them. They all have low self esteem, probably because of some innate flaw in their parenting and mentoring.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • Justin

      Moron ... sigh

      May 13, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • LinSea

      Then you don't know very much. Why don't you try looking at mormon.org or attend services at a congregation near you and make an informed decision.

      May 13, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  17. Doobie Doobie Doo

    Atheists sure do love to follow around religious folk like little doggies. Bark Bark Bark!!!! Woof woof woof!!

    May 13, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • William

      To Atheists being anti-religious is their religion. I have heard some that could quote scripture better than a Baptist. I would say they are mostly anti-christian. Not a peep out of them about Islamic beheadings and honor killings but plenty of heartburn about a Christmas tree on the courthouse lawn.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • martog

      Religious folk sure like to HOUND everyone that doesn't believe the same as them. Billboards, Radio stations, TV stations, Churchs everywhere, Knocking on doors, tyring to turn amaerica into a Theocracy,on and on and on.........I don't just bark(woof woof).....I BITE(chomp chomp)!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:40 am |
    • martog

      Top Ten Signs You're a Christian
      10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
      9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
      8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
      7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
      6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
      5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
      4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
      3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
      2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
      1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian

      May 13, 2012 at 7:42 am |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      @martog

      Who "hounds" you? If someone comes to your door with a little pamphlet, does he stay and force his way in when you tell him to leave?

      How can you be offended by something you don't even believe exists? Do unicorns offend you? Does the easter bunny?

      May 13, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • martog

      The Billboards, the people at my door, the radio commercials, the votes againsts gays...they DON"T EXIST?!?!?!?
      You're the one that believes in fairy tales there fella!!! Gawd, jeebuz, the holy roller, santa claus, easter bunnies. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!!!!

      May 13, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  18. dan

    Religion no longer has stronghold in any part of America, particularly Washington, D.C. It has been marginalized the last 30 years. Those who have played a part in destroying it have done a good job of ushering it out, but the America they have created seems to be almost apocalyptic and on the brink, and they really have no explanation or apology. Also, take time to read Romney's commencement speech. It's an inspiring speech. Somewhere, Ronald Reagan must be smiling.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • Doobie Doobie Doo

      You're blaming religion for the state of this country? I'd say it's secularization that's destroying it. Lack of morality.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • martog

      Yea, doobie doo doo,,,christians have such high morals! You must be joking cause you are sure full of poo poo on that one

      May 13, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  19. Mark Taylor

    @OT: I'm not an Obama fan either. I'm just very concerned about the dangers of a President who is beholding to a faith who has at its head a man who receives divine instruction from God and who subscribes to a book that prescribes that a panel of judges administer our freedom (kind of like the setup with the mullahs in Tehran). This is worrisome. Jefferson is spinning in his grave.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • kristie

      The message of the Book of Mormon is about Jesus Christ not about the judges. And how are the judges any different than the current judicial system we have in the U.S. Read 3 Nephi in the book and see really what the book is about. Romney is not running for pastor and chief he is running for commander and chief and has more common sense that the amateur communist Obama

      May 13, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • William

      Kristie- spot on.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • peter

      Kristie–the book of mormon,another testament of jesus christ is not the word of God–The book is a lie as is your prophet the cursed man joeseph smith and the christ he wrote and preached-This republican won't be voting for the mormon or the "amateur communist obama"

      May 13, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • William

      Peter-If you are a Republican than the way you are talking makes you seem like a bitter and bigoted Liberal.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • peter

      william–im a liberal as much as is mr santorum, whom i voted for in the primary. Though you people trashed and lied about the man as being a liberal. I stand with the words i said above.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  20. Areverend

    Well I hope that a mormon gets elected especially if he is from the old school where the mormon church was not so Politically Correct and people could be married to more than one wife and people did not have to hide when they believe in plural marriage. We let GAYS marry and that is 100% against the word of god. Why can't we accept mormon's for their real religion. The only reason they changed it was to calm down the people that did not believe in it.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:27 am |
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About this blog

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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.