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.
By Dan Merica, CNN
(CNN) – Even though former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, one of two Catholics in the race for the GOP nomination, was helped by an evangelical bump in Iowa on Wednesday, his support among Catholic Republicans is near the bottom of the field, according to a new Gallup survey.
Santorum, who according to the survey gets the support of 3% of all registered Republicans, only gets 4% support – a 1% bump – among his Catholic GOP brethren.
(CNN) – All but one of the Republican presidential candidates made their case to Jewish voters Wednesday, voicing their support for Israel and criticizing Iran while uniformly hitting President Barack Obama's strategy of appeasement on the world stage.
Speaking before the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington, D.C., the candidates stressed the importance of the United States standing with Israel, something they charged Obama has failed to do in his first years in office.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has said he will zero out all foreign aid from the United States if elected president, appeared to fully reverse course on the issue during his remarks.
"Strategic defensive aid in all forms will increase to Israel," Perry said, after calling Israel America's strongest ally in the Middle East.
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
Washington (CNN) - The scene at a Mormon congregation here on a recent Sunday would surprise Americans who think of Mormons as young white missionaries in stiff white shirts, black ties and name tags.
Yes, there are white missionaries handing out bulletins at Washington’s Third Ward - what Mormons call their congregations - but there's also Ruth Williams, an elderly African-American woman, decked out in her Sunday best, doing the same.
White, black, Asian and Hispanic Mormons mingle before the service begins. As it gets under way, an African-American tween plays a video game on his smartphone in one pew as a 30-something white woman across the aisle taps away on her iPad.
How Mitt Romney's Mormon faith helped shape him
On this Sunday, the Sacrament - what Mormons call the remembrance of the Last Supper and what other Christians call Communion - is said in French, a nod to the area's burgeoning West African population.
It is not a special multicultural celebration Sunday. For this growing Mormon congregation in northeast Washington, it's just another weekend.
By the CNN Political Unit
(CNN) –- A pastor of a mega church in Dallas said Friday that Republicans shouldn't vote for White House hopeful Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon and described the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a "cult."
"I think Mitt Romney's a good, moral man, but those of us who are born again followers of Christ should prefer a competent Christian," said Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, which has a congregation of about 10,000.
Jeffress, who's endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry and introduced him at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, told CNN Political Correspondent Jim Acosta that the Southern Baptist Convention "has officially labeled Mormonism as a cult"
"That's why I'm enthusiastic about Perry," Jeffress said, later adding: "I again believe that as Christian, we have the duty to select Christians as our leaders…Between a Rick Perry and a Mitt Romney, I believe evangelicals need to go with Rick Perry."
This isn't the first time the Dallas pastor has hit Romney over his religion. During the 2008 campaign, he made similar comments.
Editor's note: Robert P. Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization specializing in work at the intersection of religion, values and public life.
By Robert P. Jones, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Despite Jon Huntsman’s attempts to speak up during the first few Republican primary debates, the results from a recent straw poll of GOP activists in Florida spell bad news for his campaign: Like the beleaguered former front-runner Michele Bachmann, Huntsman received 2% of the vote.
One of Huntsman’s brightest moments in the campaign so far is his brief Twitter sensation in August when he responded to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s scientific skepticism: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”
(CNN)–America is not ready for a Mormon president, according to Christian author Tricia Erickson. On Wednesday she told CNN's Tom Foreman on In the Arena that she believes a practicing Mormon should not be president because of their theological views on the afterlife and governance.
CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor Eric Marrapodi jumped into the fray on the topic with Foreman as well. He said while religious views shape Mormon politicians on a macro level, there is no evidence Mormon politicians have a "bat phone" to Utah and take orders from the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the church is formally known.
While the U.S. Constitution says "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States," Republican candidates for the White House Mitt Romney and John Huntsman – who are both Mormons – may have more ground to make up on this issue than previously thought.
Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
Republicans like to present themselves as the party of God, Jesus and the Bible, but their recent orgy of oath taking is, in my view, both unchristian and unbiblical.
There are a holy host of practical and historical reasons for opposing the pledges being signed by many Republican presidential candidates: the anti-tax pledge promoted by Americans for Tax Reform and its founder, Grover Norquist; the “Marriage Vow” of the Family Leader organization opposing same-sex marriage and “Sharia Islam”; and the “Pro-Life Leadership Pledge” calling for pro-life appointees to government offices.
First, the practical reasons. Many of these oaths ask politicians to sign onto a lot of silliness that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. The original version of the "Marriage Vow" signed by Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum suggested that African-American families were better off under slavery than they are today. (That language has subsequently been excised.)
By Padmananda Rama, CNN
(CNN)– The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is reminding its leaders to stay away from endorsing political candidates or offering political statements.
In a letter dated June 16. LDS President Thomas S. Monson provided LDS members with "further clarification of the church's position on political neutrality."
The letter comes at the early stages of the 2012 presidential campaign in which two Republican contenders - former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman - both have strong affiliations with the Mormon church.
One of the more intriguing questions posed by Mitt Romney's presidential run is whether a Mormon can win the Oval Office. Now that former Utah governor John Huntsman Jr. (also a Mormon) has announced his candidacy, a new question emerges: What sort of Mormon might be elected president?
As any visitor to Disney World’s “Hall of Presidents” can tell you, Americans prefer their presidents white, male, and Protestant.
Only two presidents have overcome these desiderata (John Kennedy and Barack Obama), and they have run against their religion (in the case of Kennedy) and their race (in the case of Obama), reassuring the American people that they weren’t really all that Catholic or all that black — that they were Americans first, and members of their religious or racial communities second.
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.