October 29th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

The shaping of a candidate: A look at Mitt Romney's faith journey

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series of stories looking at the faith of the leading 2012 presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. We also profiled the faith journey of Herman Cain before he suspended his campaign.

(CNN) – A cop arrived at the roadside wreckage of a June 1968 head-on collision in southern France, took one quick look at the Citroën’s unresponsive driver and, according to one of the driver’s friends, scrawled into the young man’s American passport, “Il est mort” - “He is dead.”

The man at the Citroën’s wheel was Mitt Romney, who may have appeared dead but was very much alive – as is his bid today for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Romney was serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the LDS Church, when tragedy struck. It was a time of turmoil both in France and in the United States. Protests against the Vietnam War raged on, as did French disdain for Americans. Robert Kennedy had recently been assassinated, as had Martin Luther King Jr. a couple months earlier. France was still reeling from a May marked by riots, student demonstrations and crippling worker strikes.

There were six people in the car Romney was driving when friends say an oncoming speeding Mercedes, driven by a Catholic priest, veered into his lane. Among the passengers was mission president Duane Anderson – Romney was serving as his assistant – and Anderson’s wife. Anderson was injured, and Leola Anderson, 57, was killed. Like her husband, she’d been a parent figure to the approximate 180 Mormon missionaries in the field - their surrogate mother away from home. Now, she was gone.

“I don’t think [Romney] went around blaming himself, but in talking about it he’d shed some tears,” remembered Dane McBride, a fellow missionary and Romney friend ever since. “It was a very heavy experience for a 21-year-old.”

The mission president left France for six weeks to bury his wife and heal. A gloom spread over the mission field. Conversions dropped along with Latter-day Saint spirits.

These young men and women, who were already deep in a trying spiritual rite of passage, had to grow up and prove themselves in new ways.

In spite of his grief and a broken arm, Romney and a missionary companion – they always work in pairs – took charge. They traveled around the country visiting the others. Romney lifted up deflated missionaries with silly made-up songs. He taught them to visualize all they could accomplish and challenged them to raise their expectations, McBride said.

Romney increased the conversion goal for the year by 40%, believing they could and would recharge. In the end they surpassed Romney’s goal of baptizing 200 new members into the church.

It wasn’t such a stretch, though, for Romney to distinguish himself. Throughout his life, he’s been rooted in a faith that – whether he talks about it or not – helped shape the man and GOP presidential frontrunner he is today.

‘An American running for president’

Romney hopes to get the nod that eluded him four years ago.

Back then, during his first bid for president, he faced opposition from candidates including Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister and favorite of evangelical voters who billed himself as the “Christian leader.”

Romney has faced questions about his faith since first getting into politics in 1994, when he ran for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts against Democratic stalwart Ted Kennedy, whose attack on Romney’s Mormonism failed to gain traction.

Since then Romney, who was later elected Massachusetts governor, has played down his faith on the campaign trail. But he addressed it in a December 2007 speech, hoping to stem voter concerns about his faith and how it might influence him as a president. It was a speech he likened to John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech, when Kennedy was in the running to be America’s first Catholic president.

“Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president,” Romney said. “Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.”

He said, “No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith,” and that if he were to be elected president, he would “serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest.”

“A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States,” he said. “I believe in my Mormon faith, and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs. Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it.”

Whether Romney’s confession of faith did sink him was a subject of debate. He hoped to deflect the focus on his religion while not speaking to doctrine or specific beliefs. In the whole speech, he only mentioned the word Mormon once.

Just days later, Huckabee would stir the pot.

“Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” Huckabee said to a New York Times reporter. Huckabee later apologized for the remark.

This time around, Romney remains strong in the polls and counts among his backers New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who endorsed Romney shortly after saying he wouldn’t join the race.

But Romney also has been distracted by pesky background noise. After introducing Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the recent Values Voter Summit, Pastor Robert Jeffress said Republicans shouldn’t vote for Romney because Mormonism is a “cult.” 

Despite such efforts to instill doubt in voters, a recent CNN/ORC International poll showed that a candidate’s Mormon faith made no difference to 80% of Americans, and that 51% believed Mormonism was a Christian religion.

Beyond condemning Jeffress’s comments and Perry’s association with the pastor, Romney’s campaign has made it adamantly clear that it doesn’t want to discuss his faith. Repeated attempts to speak with the candidate, his wife, his children, his siblings - and, really, just anyone – about Romney’s faith journey were denied by campaign headquarters. Even the reins it has on those outside the inner circle appear tight. A local LDS Church leader in Michigan, contacted in hopes of finding childhood friends, forwarded CNN’s inquiry to campaign headquarters - prompting yet another slap down.

“What makes no sense to me is how you continue to push forward in writing about Gov. Romney’s faith journey when we’ve made it clear in every way possible that this is not a story we want to participate in,” campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul wrote in an email.

Mitt Romney -- with wife Ann to his left -- hopes to become the first Mormon U.S. president.

Without talking to him, it’s impossible to say exactly what Romney believes. But what Mormons generally believe is this:

They count themselves as Christian because they accept Jesus Christ as the son of God and believe people are saved through his atonement. They believe the Bible is the word of God, and that the Book of Mormon (subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”) is, too.

Opinion: Who says Mormons aren't Christian?

They believe The Church of Jesus Christ, which existed long ago, was restored by a prophet named Joseph Smith, who founded the LDS Church in 1830. Central to their belief system is that God still reveals truth to modern-day LDS Church prophets, as well as to individuals – Mormon or otherwise.

Explain it to me: Mormonism | Video: Mormonism defined

They attend weekly services in chapels, also referred to as “wards” or meetinghouses, while their large temples (accessible only to those deemed sufficiently faithful) are utilized for the most important and sacred ceremonies, including baptisms for the dead and celestial marriages - during which couples are “sealed” for eternity. Mormons with temple privileges wear special undergarments as a reminder of their faith, and those who are devoted abstain from alcohol, tea and coffee.

Through faith, prayer and service to others, they strive to be more like Jesus and get closer to God. Latter-day Saints place great emphasis on families, believing that through them – and not alone – people can find a place in the highest level of heavenly society.

Families, Mormons say, can be united forever.

Growing up while abroad

The 19-year-old Mitt Romney who showed up for missionary training was different than the rest.

“Mitt stood out from everyone else,” said Byron Hansen, who flew with Romney to France in July 1966. “He already spoke French pretty darn good, while the rest of us knew ‘bonjour’ and ‘au revoir.’ He immediately jumped out as a leader.”

Romney, like many of the other young men called by church leaders to serve, had finished a year of college before he got his missionary calling. But he’d gone to prestigious Stanford University and came from a privileged and powerful background.

He was worldly, not intimidated, and he was eager to interact with people of different backgrounds, said Hansen, now a car dealer in Brigham City, Utah. “All the rest of us from no-name Utah had never been more than 500 miles away from home.”

Despite the comforts he’d known growing up, Romney wasn’t spoiled. Some apartments that housed missionaries around France lacked heat and water, but had plenty of fleas. Those sorts of conditions likely made Romney appreciate all the more the luxuries of the mission home, located in the ritziest part of Paris, where he worked and lived during the latter part of his two-and-a-half year mission. He and the others there were fed by a Spanish cook and enjoyed the benefits of maids.

What’s more, said fellow missionary and friend Dane McBride, the young men learned what time of day to peer through windows to watch Brigitte Bardot walk her poodles.

The scenery aside, “it was the nicest office I ever worked in,” said McBride, now an allergist and immunologist in Roanoke, Virginia.

Throughout his mission, Romney was the first to get out of bed each morning, forever focused on his goals and the lessons he’d teach, and he stayed gung-ho even when others faltered, Hansen said.

Romney didn’t shy away from approaching anyone. On Saturdays, a free day for missionaries, he’d be done with his laundry by 9 a.m. and coaxing everyone else out the door for bike rides in the mountains, tours in new places or football games.

“He was never one to sit around,” Hansen said. “You had to run to keep up with Mitt.”

He was both pragmatic and creative when it came to sharing Mormon teachings, McBride said.

“Neither of us cared for knocking on doors much,” said McBride, referring to the typical tact for Mormon proselytizing. “But we did it. We did it a lot.”

However, Romney was a big proponent of what McBride called “creative contacting.” In lieu of going door-to-door, he preferred to encourage conversations by building sidewalk kiosks or inviting French locals to play baseball or attend evening parties with American themes – complete with Western wear and guitar strumming.

Being a missionary in largely secular France deepened Romney’s faith because it forced him to wrestle with challenges, steep himself in study and prayer and face plenty of rejection, McBride said. Like others, Romney was no stranger to doors being slammed in his face or getting his behind kicked while heading down apartment stairwells. These sorts of encounters, his friend said, help a person mature and grow.

Establishing a connection with others in the face of adversity is central to the missionary experience, and it’s a skill Romney carries with him today, McBride said.

“Mitt knows how to find common ground with people,” he said. “You learn that being a missionary. … And it’s how you get things done in politics.”

Religious roots that run deep and strong

The groundwork for Romney’s faith journey was laid long before he put on a suit and, armed with his Book of Mormon, boarded a flight for France.

He comes from a long line of Latter-day Saints. Those who like to highlight what makes him different might point to how one of his great-grandfathers fled to Mexico, about 125 years ago, amid U.S. government crackdowns on what Mormons refer to as “plural marriage.” But many multigenerational Mormon families have polygamists in their family tree.

Plural marriage was introduced by church founder Joseph Smith but was officially banned by the church in 1890. Some 38,000 people aligned with fundamentalist offshoots of the LDS Church still practice polygamy, but they are a far cry and completely separate from the 14 million worldwide members in Romney’s church.

Romney’s late father, George Romney, was from modest means. He was born in Mexico to monogamous U.S.-born parents and left during the Mexican Revolution when he was 5. He went on to be CEO and chairman of the now-defunct American Motors Corporation, governor of Michigan and a presidential candidate himself in 1968.

Mitt Romney with his father, George Romney, who made his own mark as a leader in business, the LDS Church and politics.

Growing up Mormon in Michigan made Mitt Romney a member of a distinct minority. There were fewer than 8,000 Mormons in the state in 1945, two years before he was born, according to the LDS Church. It’s been reported that he was the only Mormon in his high school. While Mormon students in Utah could simply stroll across the street from school to attend early morning seminary before the first bell, longtime friend McBride said Romney didn’t have that easy, built-in outlet to strengthen his faith amid peers.

“Neither of us had benefited from that,” said McBride, who also grew up as a Mormon minority in Iowa and North Carolina. “We had been called on in school to defend our faith many times. … I remember from fifth grade on needing to defend my religion.”

Romney’s family, though, was active in the church. In 1952, his father was named Michigan’s first stake president. A stake is comparable to a diocese and has under its umbrella multiple “wards” or congregations, much as a diocese consists of parishes.

The LDS Church does not rely on professional clergy. Instead, church members are called to serve as volunteer leaders while holding down paid jobs. Church leaders rely on other volunteers as advisers. For instance, a ward bishop has two counselors, while a stake president confers with a high council of 12.

Being Michigan’s sole stake president meant Romney’s father – in addition to his full-time corporate work – oversaw ward operations, was the spiritual guide for the Latter-day Saint community and relayed messages from church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

Like many practicing Mormons, the Romneys enjoyed “family home evening” every Monday, a time reserved to pray, study and sing together, McBride said.

Romney has spoken publicly about how his parents took him and his three siblings on mobile American history lessons, McBride said, loading up the family Rambler for cross-country tours to national parks, with stops at places like Mount Rushmore, Valley Forge and Williamsburg.

But McBride said the family also likely visited LDS historical sites, including points along the path westward traveled by Mormon pioneers who followed the call of Joseph Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, and trekked through treacherous conditions to arrive in 1847 in what is now Utah.

While Romney’s parents made sure their children were deeply connected to their country and their faith, Romney didn’t reside in a Mormon bubble. He was part of a bigger and more diverse world.

Ann Davies, the woman he fell for and now calls his wife, was Episcopalian when he met her during high school, and he knew she was the one for him.

After he left for college and then his mission, she began studying Mormonism, attended church with Romney’s parents and converted. He returned from France and proposed to her immediately. After a civil ceremony in Michigan, the two were married and “sealed” for eternity in 1969 during a sacred ceremony in the Salt Lake Temple.

The couple returned to college and began a family at church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, before moving to Boston, where Romney earned law and business degrees at Harvard.

Serving his LDS community

Romney rose in local church leadership while making his corporate mark. Along the way he applied many of the skills he’d displayed earlier, including his knack as a young missionary for turning challenges into possibilities.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, he served as a ward bishop – or part-time pastor – and stake president for the Boston area.

Romney delivered sermons, counseled couples, and made middle-of-the-night hospital runs. He monitored budgets, weighed welfare needs of immigrants and others, and drove outreach to different faith communities. He showed up at the homes of Latter-day Saints in need of help, taking on tasks such as removing bees’ nests.

Philip Barlow, now the chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, served as a one of two counselors to Bishop Romney in the early 1980s.

Each Saturday, the counselors would meet with Romney in his home in Belmont, a suburb northwest of Boston. And while the work was serious, it didn’t mean Romney always was. Barlow recalled the time Romney busted out with a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and did a formidable moonwalk across the floor.

“The media is always reporting that he can come across as too polished,” Barlow said. “But there’s a real person there.”

Romney also was the kind of leader who built bridges with those suspicious of Mormons. When a chapel under construction in Belmont burned to the ground amid ongoing anti-Mormon sentiment, he turned the perceived arson attack into opportunity.

Non-Mormon churches offered their buildings to accommodate the needs of the displaced Latter-day Saints during the chapel’s reconstruction. While it would have been easier to pick one place to call a temporary home for services, classes and meetings, Romney accepted every viable offer he received – thereby forcing a rotation of interaction with different faith communities.

“It was an inspired move,” said Grant Bennett, who at one time served as a counselor to Romney when he was a bishop and later served on the Boston stake’s high council under Romney when he was president.

Experiencing the kindness of strangers offered relief to Mormons who had been feeling “a little under siege,” said Bennett, who first got to know Romney through church in 1978 and worked with him for five years at Bain & Company, a global consulting firm that Romney eventually led as CEO.

“In a religious context, Mormons are very good at serving each other and are often hesitant to accept help,” he said. “I think Mitt had the fundamental insight … that we’d be better off and [the other churches would] be blessed by helping us.”

It was the sort of decision perhaps born of being in the minority in Michigan and learning early to honor religious pluralism, said Bennett, now president of CPS Technologies, a high-tech manufacturing firm in the Boston area.

On the campaign trail and with media, Romney hopes to focus on matters other than faith.

In his religious roles, Romney had to delegate and call others to serve. Sometimes he believed in people more than they believed in themselves.

Andy Anderson, a retired researcher and writer in Kaysville, Utah, first got to know Romney amid tragedy. It was Anderson’s mother who was killed in the 1968 car wreck in France, and when his father returned to Paris, Anderson, his wife and children went along.

When Romney later moved to Anderson’s neighborhood in Massachusetts, Anderson said he helped Romney and his family settle in.

In 1989, Anderson said he was minding his own research business when Romney, then the Boston stake president, called him for a meeting. A group of new converts Anderson described as “Cambodian boat people” – united formally as a “branch,” which is smaller and less developed than a ward - had suddenly lost its president without warning.

In shock, he listened as Romney said, “Guess who’s the next branch president?”

Anderson said he’d been raised to accept church callings. But between the language barrier, the cultural differences, the poverty and the responsibility, this one seemed too much. He begged and pleaded with Romney. He told him he was unqualified, that he’d “never been president of anything.” He said, “It sounds like a really bad fit, Mitt.” But Romney wasn’t swayed.

“Andy, you know where this comes from,” Romney answered, referring to the Mormon belief that God can reveal truths to individuals. “It’s not me. You go talk to Him and tell me when you’re ready.”

For the next three years Anderson said he oversaw the poorest people in the Boston stake. The overwhelming task “nearly killed me,” he said. But along the way he not only fell in love with the community, he learned to believe in himself and see that he could be a leader.

“I count Mitt as a friend, and it has been a real pleasure to work under him,” he said. “If he was a real pain to work for, I’d know it. I’ve worked for people in the church I couldn’t stand.”

Women’s view of Romney

The Romney reviews from Latter-day Saint women in the Boston area were more mixed.

In the early 1970s, as the feminist movement gained steam, a group of Mormon women began gathering in Cambridge to explore the history of women in their church. They were looking for role models, stories that would inspire them.

With the help of LDS Church historians, they learned about their female ancestors and wrote a book, “Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah.” They discovered that a women’s newspaper, Women’s Exponent, was published in the late-19th and early-20th centuries and featured women’s writings that Judy Dushku described as “very feminist in their views.”

“We were reading about women we’d never heard of before,” said Dushku, a Suffolk University professor of government with an interest in gender. She and other “founding mothers” were moved to start a new publication, now a quarterly magazine: Exponent II.

That decision, however, was not received well by the LDS Church, Dushku said. She said the fact that it was independent and had no stamp of approval from church higher-ups, all of them men, rubbed some - including Romney - the wrong way.

Dushku said Romney encouraged friends to tell their wives not to participate. He made it clear he didn’t want the women behind the publication holding meetings on church property. Dushku and the others suspected it was under his direction that copies of the magazine displayed in congregations got dumped in wastebaskets.

The LDS Church is patriarchal in nature. Only men can serve as bishops, stake presidents and in higher leadership roles, including the combined post of church president and prophet. Only men are welcome in the priesthood, which in Mormon circles means having the authority, for example, to perform baptisms and offer sacramental blessings.

Dushku decided she could live with this and remains a faithful Mormon.  She said she and the others simply wanted an outlet for women to discuss issues unique to them. And while what they created may have seemed “radical” back then, she says there are Mormon women bloggers today who push boundaries much more than Exponent II ever did.

What got to Dushku about Romney was less his reaction to the magazine and more how she saw him treat women he was in a position to comfort and support as a local church leader.

Dushku has told the story of a woman, a mother of four, who was pressured by then-Bishop Romney to go forward with a pregnancy despite advice from doctors that a medical complication made it too dangerous.

She also recalled the story of a meeting between Romney and a woman whose ex-husband had been excommunicated from the church because of numerous affairs he’d had while serving as a bishop.

The woman asked Dushku to accompany her to the meeting, where Romney encouraged the woman to forgive her philandering ex so he could be re-baptized into the church and marry another woman.

The problem, Dushku said, is that the husband had never bothered to apologize to the wife he’d hurt, a fact she said Romney didn’t seem to care much about.

Since speaking out to media recently, Dushku said she’s been flooded with responses from Facebook friends. Most of the reactions are positive, thanking her for her courage.

But some friends have suggested she back off.

“How can you blame someone who has so many responsibilities?” one friend wrote. “He was young,” said another. “People change.”

Dushku said she affords Romney the possibility he may have changed, that he might handle such situations differently today.

“But compassion is a character quality,” she said. “I doubt he’s much different now.”

Her take on Romney, though, doesn’t jibe with that of Helen Claire Sievers, executive director of Harvard’s WorldTeach program, which brings volunteer teachers to developing countries.

Sievers, who’s been involved with Exponent II on and off since its inception, was the Boston stake activity director when Romney was stake president. She recalled being at a meeting in Dushku’s house in Watertown, outside of Boston, when women began wondering aloud about how their local church might better empower women.

“Often leadership in the Mormon church tends to pull far to the right, to out-orthodox the orthodox,” said Sievers, who later proposed to Romney that he should meet with the Boston LDS women to hear their frustrations and suggestions. Romney was willing to have such a meeting, even though it bucked the comfort level of church headquarters.

“I was really impressed that Mitt felt strongly that even if he could get in trouble with the hierarchy, he really wanted to hear what the women that were under his stewardship had to say so that they would feel as comfortable as possible in church,” Sievers said.

As a result of the meeting, which drew more than 150 participants, Sievers said adjustments were made, including allowing women to say opening prayers at church meetings. Romney didn’t have the power to change church doctrine, but Sievers said he could and did bend the norm to make women feel heard and more respected.

“Many Mormon men wouldn’t make that choice,” she said.

Serving outside the stake and ward

In his fulltime work life, Romney showed that his commitment to serving others extended beyond those in his ward or stake. His religious values came through in business decisions – sometimes trumping opportunities for financial gain.

Robert Gay, who was once a managing partner at Bain Capital, the venture capital firm Romney founded, recalled how Romney refused to put investment dollars into a deal with Artisan Entertainment because he didn’t want to profit from R-rated films.

But of greater note to Gay - who once served on the Boston stake’s high council with Romney - was something Romney did for him in 1996.

After Gay’s 14-year-old daughter went missing for three days in New York, Romney shut down Bain Capital in Boston and flew about 50 employees to New York to help find her.

The girl, who lived with her family in Connecticut, disappeared after going to a concert in Manhattan. Romney and the other Bain Capital executives put their “$1 billion investment firm” on hold, created a “war room” at a hotel, paid to print 200,000 fliers, set up a toll free hotline number and enlisted the help of a private investigator, the Boston Globe reported at the time.

They canvassed streets and talked to runaways. The girl was found in a New Jersey home, “dazed from a disorienting dose of a drug,” the Globe reported.

It’s not a story Gay likes to retell, though he did record a video testimonial about it during Romney’s 2008 presidential bid. Today, Gay would rather offer other insights, including the time another Bain Capital partner suddenly fell very ill and was hospitalized. Romney was the first person to show up for a visit at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Gay now lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, and manages an equity fund with Jon Huntsman Sr., father of another GOP Mormon presidential hopeful. Gay called Romney “a devout Christian,” someone who has always been committed to “leading a good and purposeful life.”

What faith means for future

Romney, like the other prospective candidates for president, will remain under the microscope in the months ahead.

His past will be combed, his policies scrutinized, his record examined.

How much his Mormon faith plays into his political journey remains to be seen. But whether he likes it, whether his campaign can control it, the fact that he may be on track to become the first Mormon president in U.S. history will garner attention.

It’s a reality that Romney friends like McBride acknowledge, even if it disappoints them.

“The issues of his church are not the issues of this country. Those are personal issues,” he said. “I hate to see further articles [about his faith], but, on the other hand, what do you do?”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics

soundoff (2,731 Responses)
  1. LMB123

    It's not outside because its a private and sacred matter between a person and God. It's not for the "world".

    October 31, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  2. Colin

    My favorite Mormon quote is by Bringham Young on mixed marriages:

    "Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so." -Bringham Young.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  3. Andy F

    By your works you shall know them. Never met a Mormon I did't like – and I've known a few. Not perfect, but decent people. They never judged me, why should I judge them? Go MITT!

    October 31, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  4. LMB123

    Colin and Nonimous – The only people who call it "Magic" are derogatory idiots, some of which are pastors in other faiths. They are only a symbol of a promise between God and man. If man keeps his side of the promise then God keeps his which involves some protection. Nothing magical about that. It's just a belief different than yours, which does not automatically mean it's wrong

    October 31, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  5. LoveBoat

    Can't we all just get along? Appears the evangelicals are spreading their hate & lies again to try and get their man Perry elected. Shameful! It will only backfire. People want the truth, not these wacko made-up comments. All aboard!

    October 31, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Jeffrey Root

      Okay. How about some facts. Mormons didn't allow blacks the priesthood until 1978. Mormons practiced polygamy until the 1890's when they stopped in order to gain statehood. They still believe that men will have multiple wives in the celestial kingdom in the afterlife. In the Book of Mormon it says that the Native Americans they call the Lamanits had a mark put on them so that the Nephites could distinguish who the bad tribe was. Towards the end of the Book of Mormon most of them turned bad and there were few righteous left.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • ldean50

      are you saying that people who speak against Romney are evangelical Perry supporters?

      October 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Jon

      it is true that African Americans didn't receive the priesthood till the 1970's however! the mormon church has NEVER had a segregated congregation! from the first days of the church in 1830 blacks and whites worshiped together. AND in Missouri Mormon's encouraged freed black slaves to come and live and campaigned to end slavery. which one of the reasons they were run out of the state at gunpoint in the winter and many many Mormons were killed..... so you can't really say they were racist

      October 31, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  6. Matt

    Atheism is a non-prophet organization! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Join us!

    October 31, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Jason

      Nice one. Unfortunately this is not the truth. Atheism is driven by huge profits, particularly by those few leaders who stand to benefit most by forcing it on others (look at the millions killed prior to the USSR, China, etc.).

      October 31, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Matt

      When has anyone killed in the name of atheism? Never! What happened in "atheistic" countries was not because of atheism... It was because of politics... What is happening in Israel/Palestine for example is DEFINITELY religious.

      And also, atheism is not one set group, like religion... I think you are thinking of religion, sorry to tell you...

      October 31, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  7. Colin

    Which of the following is a silly story meant to entertain children and which is a "cherished religious belief" held by 14 million people, and which must never be questioned or criticized?

    Harry Potter stared into the big black hat. Inside were magic gold tablets – which nobody else would ever see- which told Harry the secrets of the Universe, of life, death and the afterlife. They explained to him how, if he wore certain magic underwear, he would be protected from evil spirits in this life and in the end times.

    Joseph Smith stared into the big black hat. Inside were magic gold tablets – which nobody else would ever see- which told Joseph the secrets of the Universe, of life, death and the afterlife. They explained to him how, if he wore certain sacred underwear, he would be protected from evil spirits in this life and in the end times.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Jeffrey Root

      Moses talked to a burning bush that gave him stone tablets with commandments written on them. It's the same old bed time story that people take seriously. Religion is just crazy. Crazy, crazy crazy!

      October 31, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Chris

      Is anything impossible for God? Didn't Moses give the 10 Plagues in Egypt, think about if you didn't put a mark on the door, the destroying angel did what? Or Jesus turning water into wine, or Peter giving sight to the blind, or raising the dead? Hmm... Someone translating a record written on gold or brass plates by a seer stone that was given from God, whether in a hat or by some other means doesn't seem that magical when you look at all the miracles God has performed on the earth.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  8. LMB123

    Bclear - FYI – I'm a Mormon and been one for 35 years, therefore I should know what I and my fellow Mormons believe. (as opposed to "outsiders") There maybe other gods but to us, only our Father in Heaven is the ONLY God we care about and worship. Jesus Christ is His only begotten son and the ONLY Savior of the world. The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost make up the ONE Godhead or God (semantics). Jesus Christ is divine and very much part of God. Don't fall for the dribble that your minister is feeding you. He has a vested interest in keeping you in his flock. After all, that's how he gets paid (unlike Mormon clergy who don't do it for money but for the love of God only).

    October 31, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Colin

      So LMB, do you believe in the whole magic gold plates-hat nonsense, or that Islrealis colonized the USA?

      October 31, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Thayer

      Wow. Good for you. You've followed the teachings of a racist perverted old man who was well known to be a cheat and liar. In fact, he was arrested for fraud at least once. His second in command was also a racist perverted old man who added mass murder to his accolades. Good for you.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • S

      How do you earn your salvation? Why haven't any of the lands, coins, or people of the Book of Mormon been found? Are you prepared to spill your own blood to atone for your sins as preached by Brigham Young? Which of Joseph Smith's 33 wives is your favorite? Which of the 7 variations of the first vision sounds the most plausible? Which verses in the KJV Bible are not translated correctly? How did God manage to let His church go hundreds of years without direction and then need to be "restored" when He said not even the gates of hell would prevail against His church?

      October 31, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • bandgeek1

      Hey LMB123, I'll make you a deal: I won't claim to know much about Mormonism and you don't assume to know anything about how the Protestant churches operate. Frankly, I'd rather have an educated, paid clergy then Joe from down the street standing in the pulpit.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  9. Aleece M

    Obama has brought this nation to it's knees and is un-electable. Romney on the other hand, seems to me a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant pool of GOP candidates. Go MItt!

    October 31, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • v_mag

      Nobody seems to share your opinion. Romney can't get any traction, especially in the South, which is critical for Repugnants. And President Obama does better than any of the Repugnants in hypothetical match ups.

      Don't get me wrong, I think Obama has done a poor job, but he's certainly electable, especially since the Repugs can't get together on a candidate. Romney is a breath of corporate greed, if anything.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  10. Sircuts

    Some patriot...He worships 2 known Traitors who were charged with taking arms against our country, has 5 sons none have served in the Military and was born to Nazi sympathizers...Adolf Hitler was baptized in 1993 by the LDS Church while Romney was a Bishop....I guess a Mormon heaven wouldn't be complete without good old Adolf. what about the thousands who were killed by Mormons for simply "Passing Through" Utah? Did you Baptize them? Is CNN that blind?

    "Martial law is hereby declared to exist in this Territory...and no person shall be allowed to pass or repass into, through or from this territory without a permit from the proper officer." -Bringham Young ... Governor Of Utah before being forced to step down or be convicted of Treason.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Jason

      You have a loose screw man. There is medication for that!

      October 31, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Jason

      He worships God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ..... "traitors"??

      October 31, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  11. TLF

    Wow, one post after another after another . . . all from people who really know NOTHING about Mormons except what they've been told by other people who know nothing about Mormons . . . what ignorance.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Colin

      So, seen Moroni lately? Looking forward to getting your own palnet and harem? Seen any magic gold tablets in a hat lately? Still consider blacks second class humans?

      October 31, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • S

      Many of us have studied the cult of Mormonism. We also know LDS have no problem lying for the Lord.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  12. Brady

    MITT 2012!

    October 31, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  13. Thomas

    and Catholics cut off peoples' heads and burned others at the stake. What does that have to do with anything here? We each will stand to be judged for our own actions, not those of our ancestors. Get a grip.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  14. Sircuts

    "Mormons are anxious to avenge the blood of the prophets" George A. Smith -Mormon Bishop

    October 31, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Dan

      What better "revenge" than living your faith? That's what millions of Mormons do and it's good enough for me.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  15. Kyle D.

    Mormon doctrine teaches that families can be together forever and relationship developed on earth can live on, beyond the grave. God loves all his children, of all colors, creeds, faiths, and nations. His work is to bring us back home.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  16. Joseph

    Loved the article, and will most certainly vote for Romney. He doesn't need to stoop to name calling or finger pointing. His record speaks for itself.

    October 31, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  17. Claire

    I for one like a candidate who loves God and has faith is someone other than himself. Too many of our politicians are self serving. Mr. Romney seems genuine.

    October 31, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Thayer

      Doesn't take away from the fact that he follows the teachings of men who felt they needed 40 wives and especially enjoyed sleeping with children.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • ldean50

      yep. . . genuine . . . like a Stepford.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  18. pam k

    Can anyone explain why the early church members believed Joe Smith? He was a known prevaricator and an utter failure at finding treasure (his claimed profession). He claimed to have interpreted the BOM by using a seeing stone, and never showed anyone the supposed solid gold plates on which it was written in a language that does not exist. Why did the early church believe him? Why do people believe it now? I'm not asking what they believe, so please don't refer me to a Mormon propaganda site. I'm asking why they believe it when the source was so patently not credible.

    October 31, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Colin

      Because, as with the bible, people WANT to believe. they want to believe desperately, so they will refuse to anayse the source objectively. That is one of the poisioning effects of religion – it closes down healthy scpeticism within its sphere of influence. I mean, look at it objectively:

      The belief that an infitely old, all-knowing sky-god, powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, will cause people to survive their own phsical deaths and live happily ever after in heaven, if they follow some random laws laid down in Bronze Age Palestine = Judaism.

      Judaism + a belief that the same god impregnated a virgin with himself to give birth to himself, so he could sacrifice himself to himself to negate a rule he himself made = Christianity.

      Christianity + a belief that aliens from other planets mated with humans who will one day be gods with their own planet, that Jesus and Satan were brothers, that the Israelis colonized America and that magic underwear will protect you = mormonism.

      Outside of the suspended reality of indocrinated religious beliefs, would anybody believe this utter garbage.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • richunix

      Maybe you should direct those question toa christian lay-member, they too suffer from unbelievable storeis that also (during it's time) required to proof.....period!

      October 31, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Jason

      Many early non-Christians (mostly Jews) claimed Jesus was a glutton, a wine-bibber, a known sinner and possessed of the devil. Doesn't make it true or "known." Perhaps there is more than one side to the story.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Cogito ergo Sum

      Faith Pam. It's called faith. Same reason people believe that there is an invisible all powerful being that created everything we know. Same reason people belive that a murderer saw god in a burning bush and received stone tablets with instructions from God and separate the sea waters (agains proven scientific laws). Same reasons people believe that Jesus was born from a virgin and resurrected after being dead for three days. If you are a religious person, you should understand. If you are against religion, I guess it makes it no different from any other religion.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • pam k

      Thanks for the responses, but you aren't the folks I was addressing. I agree that faith informs all religions. But no one in our modern times can impugn the credibility of Moses. Nor do we get our stories about Jesus from one source that has been proven to be unworthy of credulity. There are many records about Christ's existence. One can take his divinity on faith, but not the fact of his existence. Joe Smith lived in a time and place where people could verify what he was saying. His contemporaries knew him as a con-artist. That is my question to the LDS members. Why does that not bother you? Do any of you who are so strong in your faith have the courage to answer?

      October 31, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Jon

      Mormons believe that eight people in addition to Smith say the plates that the Book of Mormon was translated from. They are listed in the front of every copy of the Book of Mormon.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Jon

      The pharoh thought Moses was a con-artist.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • fred

      I would think that someone of your intellect would notice atheists lack a significant sense that 92% of the population in the U.S. has refined to one degree or another. Just as star athletes honed their skill set so have some believers such as Mitt. Obama like many other former presidents simple carry a big Bible for show but do not really bother to work out their “sense of awe”. This basic sense has varying degrees from simply knowing deep inside something greater than ourselves exists to a full blown worship and love of God.
      People reject God because they either lack this basic sense or their pride overrides what they know is true. Your constant ridicule of God and believers should make you wonder why if there is no possibility of God must you fight so hard against it. The wise thing would be to test yourself and see whether it is pride or birth defect (politically we should call this spiritually challenged).
      The test is easy, simply acknowledge that you’re a sinner and you need forgiveness. If you cannot do this in earnest then the problem is pride. If you can do this and actually feel remorse / need to repent and need for true forgiveness then a possibility for a balanced view of life awaits.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • pammyk

      Actually Jon, those eight people in the BOM are "witnesses," but never actually saw the plates. They were allowed to lift the box in which JS put the plates. In a town with hundreds of citizens, one wonders why only eight were invited to lift the box, and none were allowed to inspect the plates themselves.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Gary

      Hi Pam,

      The tone of your post sounds like you really don't want the answers, but here you go: You're wrong on all counts. Joseph Smith was never known to be a liar, and in fact, all court cases point out that those who brought him to trial were the prevaricators. There has been much spurious research and false conclusions drawn by those known as "anti-Mormons" to lead people to a bad impression of a man who was about as good a man who ever lived - save Jesus, of course. Before you judge him, you need to read what his friends - both LDS and those not of his faith - wrote and said about him. Jesus was also brought to court on spurious charges; do you believe what his detractors said about him?

      As for seeking treasure ... that was a popular profession of the day when he was a teenager. There was a lot of treasure being unearthed all around New York and Pennsylvania, left by the Native Americans. People hired the young Joseph because he had a knack for where to start digging. Archaeologists get paid to do the same today.

      As for those who saw the plates: There are three witnesses who saw and held the gold plates, and they never denied this, even though all three had left the church later. Their testimony is written in the Book of Mormon. Also, Joseph's mother saw the plates and writes about it in her autobiography.

      As for "credibility"... We as Mormons believe it because we asked God in sincere prayer, and He revealed the truth of it through His Holy Spirit. There's absolutely nothing more credible than an answer from God. That, in essence, is the message the missionaries and all good Mormons give their friends: Pray about it, and ask God if it is true. Read James 1:5,6: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God ..." Through prayer, I found that God lives, that Jesus is my Savior, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet, just like Moses, Abraham, Noah, John the Baptist, Peter, etc. Oh, and in case you don't know, all of those prophets and our Savior, Jesus Christ, had enemies who said awful things about them, too. Some, like Joseph, were also martyred. Yes, even our Savior, Jesus Christ.

      October 31, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  19. LMB123

    VegasRage – What kind of person would make fun of a Catholic Priest's collar, a jew's head covering, a muslim's veil? Your comments on mormon's "undies" as you put it, say a lot about the kind of person you are. I could call you a nasty name...but I think everybody is already thinking it. ....Open mouth insert foot.

    October 31, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Colin

      In fairness LMB123 none of the others claim their garments have magic protective powers.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Nonimus

      ... and most don't try to hide their symbolic attire.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Cogito ergo Sum

      Jason, "mormons" don't claim their garments are "magic". That's what people who don't understand their doctrine like to say to make fun of them.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • pammyk

      Actually Cogito, the LDS does teach that the garment protects the wearer from all manner of physical harm. The LDS may recently have toned that down to look less weird, but for as long as I can remember! LDS members sincerely believed that.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Gary

      The Church itself never professed that garments possessed magical power from physical harm. What you've heard are folk tales that some Mormons believe are true. The Church says the garments will be a protection from the sins of the world; they serve as a reminder of the covenants we made to live our lives as the Savior would want us to. I guess some sins can be physical ... if that's what you mean.

      October 31, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  20. Sircuts

    Mormon doctrine teaches that the Second Coming of Jesus was imminent,[48] and that God would soon exact punishment against the United States for persecuting Mormons and martyring Joseph Smith, Jr., Hyrum Smith, Patten and Pratt, all of whom were considered by Mormons to be prophets. They still call them Martyrs despite their cromes of Treason, Child Molestation and thefti

    October 31, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • abinadi

      Oh, Sircuts, please. What is your problem?

      October 31, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Sircuts

      You seriously have to ask what my problem is? Maybe a "religion" based on crimes of Treason, Child Molestation, Murder, theft, Mind Control

      October 31, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • abinadi

      Are you a minister afraid we'll take some of your flock and reduce your salary? Well, sorry. But, don't your people have the right to decide for themselves?

      October 31, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • abinadi

      I have no idea what you're talking about.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
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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.