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. dkinabq

    Hey CNN, can you get a financial statement from LD$, Inc. Seems other churches and charities post this information but not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. No public accounting for the lds church. How much money comes in and where does the church spend all of it?

    The church just spent 5 Billion dollars on a mall in SLC, UT but tells members to beg somewhere else when they're hungry.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:57 am |
    • dkinabq

      and when you mormons start posting how charitable the church is, I have 2 words... PROVE IT.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:59 am |
    • steelernation

      missed vietnam, and was in france as a minister in his 20;s.... nice gig, if ya could get it

      May 13, 2012 at 4:17 am |
    • Morrison Braddock

      ...and it's ALL tax free. What a modern day SCAM job.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:25 am |
    • Brian


      May 13, 2012 at 4:47 am |
    • dkinabq

      Sorry, your WJS article is not proof.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:31 am |
    • Bill Michaels

      I'd be happy to introduce you to half a dozen families in need who have been directly helped by church aid.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:33 am |
    • LODT

      There are literally millions of eye-witness accounts to the LDS church's charitable donations. Feel free explore the world a little bit and the proof will be evident.

      May 13, 2012 at 6:00 am |
    • Mack

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

      May 13, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Justin

      Genius, members dont have to beg. The Church of Jesus Christ of LDS has its own welfare system and gives out food, even rent for free to struggling members to help them get back on their feet. Yeah, money go's along way when you dont have paid pastors and ministers buying new cars with it. Have you been to that mall, I'm from New Mexico, went there once, its gorgeous, nice clean place, good for them. Do you know of any other churches who actually run their own welfare for people who ask, both members and non members? I am a non member, I know of people who are on their welfare, and its saving their lives while their in a tough spot. Their church also helps pay their college education if they cant afford it. Anything else you wanna say where's the money going? Oh wait, over 10 million a year in Humanitarian aid for country's and people in need, no not members of the church. But anyone in need such as after earthquakes, Katrina, or elsewhere. Wish there were more momon churches and people to help out more and serve people willingly.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Morrison Braddock

      You'll hear lots of propaganda from brainwashed folks like Justin – but you have to forgive him – He's shooting towards having his own planet to rule on day. (Look it up) – Anyway, if you want the real story, talk to some people that have left the church (or tried to) – It will break your heart.

      May 13, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • DeeCee1000

      Everybody should look up Mormon founder, Joseph Smith to see for yourself what he taught his followers about the "Golden Plates", the nonexistent "Book of Abraham", Blacks and why God supposedly "punished" them with dark skin, how the Christian Jesus was REALLY a polygamist, his argument on why he was called by "God" to be a polygamist.

      May 13, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Biopterin

      Mormons do use a CPA firm actually, but don't make the results public. And yes it's tax free, just like every other church and even every other corporation (Google, Apple, and every investment firm uses foreign accounts in Ireland, Netherlands, etc. to avoid paying taxes. The game is all rigged, but that's the status quo so no one changes it.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Solar

      Excellent Morrison, just call someone brainwashed so as to invalidate their entire argument and their entire life experiences. Very easy and very convenient, not at all like method of showing proof and evidence that contradicts his claims. I've been a member all my life and I can bear witness to the truthfulness and accurateness of Justin's comment. But then again you could just sweep away my entire life's experience's by saying that I'm brainwashed.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:58 am |
    • meli

      Don't think u know much about the LDS church. Have you visited any of the bishops store house? Have you seen how the welfare program works? No, I dint' think so...Research you would be surprised!!!

      May 14, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • ReliefSociety

      You want proof? My husband and I have been struggling lately because of this wonderful Obama recovery. We went to our Mormon Bishop and told him about it. Guess what? He helped us fill out a shopping list of what we needed, and we went to the Church-run welfare storehouse and got all the groceries for free. I know people who have gotten help on their mortgages from the church. The church has paid for people in my neighborhood–not members–to get their cars fixed. The church has bought people In my area washing machines, diapers, clothing, etc. For people who need help regardless of whether they are members or not. My family received help to provide Christmas for my daugters, because otherwise my girls would have gotten nothing. I don't know who you are or where you have gotten your information, but if you want to trash my church you're going to have to come up with something better than what they do with their money.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Kristina

      dkinabq–the church's charitable efforts are broadly known and recognized in the US and worldwide. Go do at least a little research before speaking honey. Also, how do you know the church just spent $5B on a mall if they don't release any financial info? Are you aware that all charities are subject to the same financial disclosure requirements to qualify for charitable status under the US Tax Code? Please, educate yourself a bit before shooting off your mouth to avoid looking completely ignorant.

      May 14, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  2. Sheila

    Mormon's have always been political, Brigham Young wanted to have the Western portion what is now the US to found his own mormon country of 'Deseret'. It's one of the things that concerns me about them, actually.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:49 am |
    • Macell Pier

      Echo is the token minority made general authorities, not even member of the highest. If you see the picture of the first presidency, their 12 apostles, there's NO other people than white people. And the funny thing is that most of the mormon population is brown or darker color. That says something.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:11 am |
    • Morrison Braddock

      We should all be concerned if this (relatively) new cult gains a foothold in our government at the presidential level. What people don't realize is that it is impossible for Mitt to put his country BEFORE his own supernatural beliefs or the supernatural beliefs of his elders. He can "say" whatever he likes, but it's impossible.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:24 am |
    • will

      even if he is elected as president you have nothing to worry about you are getting way to paranoid about this

      May 13, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • ReliefSociety

      It's funny that everybody is so scared of Romney. Have you forgotten the Liberal hero, Harry Reid, is also a Mormon? The political beliefs of Romney and Reid couldn't be more opposite, yet they're the same religion. Further proof that the LDS church doesn't dictate to its members what to believe politically.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  3. Don't want it

    L-u-n-a-t-c-i F-r-i-n-g-e. Sheep (as is all religion) just power seeking a vacuum.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:48 am |
  4. peter

    The book of mormon, another testament of jesus christ is not the word of God nor are they part of christendom. The founder of the mormon religion, joeseph smith wrote the book of mormon, another testament of jesus christ, in 1830.
    Mormons and muslims can be moral, educated,loyal and respectful, but that does not make their religion true.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:35 am |
    • evensteven

      What does make a religion true?

      All faiths believe they "are right". It all comes down to one's emotional investment in their beliefs . . .

      May 13, 2012 at 3:52 am |
    • peter

      I'm saying joeseph smith who wrote the book of mormon is not true nor is it another testament of jesus christ, nor is it part of christedom.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:59 am |
    • Macell Pier

      evensteven, Mormons say their church is the only true church on the face of the earth. They claim that either the B of M is true or false. If it is true, then everyone else is false. Their temple ceremony portrays protestant ministers as messengers of don s a t a n

      May 13, 2012 at 4:14 am |
    • Scott White

      The Book of Mormon has helped millions of people to come to Christ and believe in him. It is companion scripture with the bible, written by ancient prophets and translated by Joseph Smith by the power of God. It is a modern day miracle.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:39 am |
    • peter

      scott white–The book of mormon,another testament of jesus christ has brought millions of people into darkness and slavery–The claims of the man joeseph smith is a lie as it has always been since the 1800s.
      Either the book of mormon it the word of God or it is not. I submit to you the one who wrote it is a cursed man.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:55 am |
    • Consequence

      So, who wrote the Book of Deuteronomy? the Song of Solomon? the Book of Acts? All scriptural works were written by the hand of man....what makes them sacred is faith and what makes them canonical is a show of hands. i don't see where the Mormon's Joseph Smith story is any different in kind than the Jew's Moses story and the New Testament's Jesus story. In fact, Joseph Smith's story seems to strongly support both the Moses story and the Jesus story shedding additional light on both. So, was Joseph Smith a prophet or a phoney? Was Moses? Was Jesus the Son of God? – all matters of faith and understanding.

      May 13, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • peter

      consequence-The book of mormon, another testament of jesus christ was written in the 1800s by man named joeseph smith. The Book of mormon is not the word of God. The christ that joeseph smith wrote about and preached about is a curse and a lie. The spirit that told him to write such a book is the evil one.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • meli

      Have you asked God about it?

      May 14, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Joe Harris

      You speak as if you, are anyone else on earth, has the right to decide who is Christian and who is not. Our actions show who we follow and those who have seen us in action know that we are Christians not only in word, but in deed.

      May 15, 2012 at 5:42 am |
    • peter

      joe harris–cursed is the christ that joeseph smith wrote about and preached about in the book of mormon,another testament of jesus christ. cursed is your prophet joeseph smith and the book of mormon,another testament of jesus christ.
      I want you to know that if your fellow mormon loses the election it is because republicans like me sat home in the gen election–However, even if he is elected it will never change the fact of what i said up above.

      May 15, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  5. Morrison Braddock

    Anyone who believes that President Romney will put the needs of the American People *over* the needs and desires of his church elders and his god is a fool.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:34 am |
    • dkinabq

      He went on a mission to France instead of fighting in Vietnam, and his sons didn't fight in Iraq. Mitt only cares about Mitt.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:10 am |
    • Morrison Braddock

      But Mitt also knows how powerful money is – and the Mormons are ALL about the money.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:16 am |
    • Brian

      Romeny shut down his company for a week, flew out 30 people to NY to search for a runaway teenager of one of his employees. You can say what you want, but this man is a true Christian in every way that counts. He has my vote.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:52 am |
    • Justin

      You don't understand the church "Elders" as you call them then if you think he'll be told what to do. Members are supposed to pray for enlighment and person guidance. Mormons dont preach politics, its been that way for decades. And Elders as you called them, elders are 16 year old kids in the mormon church. Lol, good one on that. Priests are 13 year old kids. Missionaries that so many of you are afraid of and because they read their bible and talk about Jesus are 19 year old kids living away from home. Maybe you should trying learning more about the faith before you start commenting on it. Thanks

      May 13, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • jonesy243

      Justin, You say to learn about the Mormon Church before you comment on it, but then you say Elders are age 16 (they are not, they must be at least 18 before being ordained an Elder) and Priests are not 13, but are at least 16. I think you need to take your own advice and learn about the Church before commenting on it.

      May 21, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  6. Doug


    May 13, 2012 at 3:33 am |
  7. Papa Joe Smith

    Well, hie me to Kolob! Golden plates and kookie Kolob kool-aid for everyone that signs up!

    May 13, 2012 at 3:33 am |
  8. Howard

    I appreciate the respectful tone and well researched article. Its nice to see journalists who legitimately try to understand their topic and not portray the LDS church as one to be feared and hated. They are largely a genuinely good, peaceful and loving people who serve in many ways, big and small, mostly without recognition. Thanks again!

    May 13, 2012 at 3:32 am |
    • meli

      Very true!

      May 14, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  9. nc1965

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) cannot escape their racist past. For nearly 150 years, the Mormon Church had taught that ALL blacks were cursed. Hence, a b l a c k Mormon male could not hold the highly regarded LDS Priesthood1 because of his dark skin. And since he could not hold this Priesthood, he could not enter the Mormon Temple.

    This doctrine in no way, shape, or form can be substantiated in Scripture. Only in the LDS scriptures does this racist doctrine exist.

    The Gods rejected Lucifer's plan, which resulted in a war between the good spirit children, and the spirit children that sided with Lucifer (a third of them). But there was a group of spirits that were less valiant in this war. Hence, God (the head God) was very displeased with them so He turned their skin b l a c k.

    Source: http://christiandefense.o r g/mor_black.htm

    May 13, 2012 at 3:31 am |
    • Morrison Braddock

      Oh come on now. Every single religion on the planet has piles of BS done under their banner. That's precisely why all religion is pure garbage. It's certainly not exclusive to the Mormon Cult.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:37 am |
    • Macell Pier

      Morrison, not good if they claim to be the only true church on the face of the earth.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:55 am |
    • dkinabq

      Morrison, show me the religious scriptures from these other churches. The lds church claims to be the only true church and the Book of Mormon is the most correct book of scriptures on earth.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:12 am |
    • Morrison Braddock

      dkinabq – every religions claims the throne of "the one true!" and all else is trash. Its ridiculous.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:15 am |
    • Brian

      The "doctrine" you present was never official, and has been rejected. It comes from the "curse of Cain" a common Christian doctrine used to justify slavery. Of course, while Joseph Smith was baptizing blacks an ordaining them as priests, the good Christians were lynching them, but don't let your own racist past stop you from your current bigotry.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:56 am |
    • Joe Harris

      "Only in the LDS scriptures does this racist doctrine exist."

      Really? Where? You speak like you've done some serious research so if the scriptures (which are the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price in case you are confused on what is scripture) actually state what you claim then why don't you list where it says it?
      Here's what the scriptures actually say: Acts 10:34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.
      Doctrine and Covenants 38:16: 16 And for your salvation I give unto you a commandment, for I have heard your prayers, and the poor have complained before me, and the rich have I made, and all flesh is mine, and I am no respecter of persons.
      Doctrine and Covenants 1:34-35:34 And again, verily I say unto you, O inhabitants of the earth: I the Lord am willing to make these things known unto all flesh;
      35 For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion.

      People like you want to point at a few isolated examples and ignore the mountain of actions that prove your accusations to be of no worth. No other church is as welcoming to all people as our church is. The scriptures both modern and ancient teach that God loves all His children and any true Christian does the same regardless of skin color or anything else. We even seek to love those who falsely accuse us. Long experience has shown that it is highly unlikely that you, personally, will change your mind no matter what evidence is shown to you, but hopefully anyone that reads your comment and mine will know which one of us is speaking the truth.

      May 15, 2012 at 5:55 am |
    • jonesy243

      The Mormon Church does NOT have a racist past. Read this, please, from a blog "The Black Mormon" http://www.angelfire.com/mo2/blackmormon/000H1.html

      May 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  10. Everett Wallace

    It does not bother me that you try to censor the TRUTH! "freedom of speech" hogwash, you see when I speak it, 6 billion people hear crystal clear what I am saying. That's the POWer! of the HOLYSPIRIT! so tell me ted, can cnn reach that many people at one time? NOPE!

    May 13, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • Joe Dallape

      how many of the 25 houses of worship are paying taxes...?? its a tax haven, in my experience....

      May 13, 2012 at 3:43 am |
    • dkinabq

      In the UK, mormon temples are taxed, because the worship services are not open to the public.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:16 am |
    • Ben

      for the person that said that the church is not open to the public then why does it say on all mormon church buildings "Visitors Welcome". Here you go, a shot on google maps of an LDS (mormon) chapel in England. http://maps.google.com/maps?q=46-48+Old+Hinckley+Road,+Nuneaton+CV10+0AB+UNITED+KINGDOM+44+2476-370536&hl=en&ll=52.527123,-1.459851&spn=0.011083,0.027874&sll=35.101934,-95.712891&sspn=59.448426,114.169922&t=h&hnear=44+Old+Hinckley+Rd,+Nuneaton+CV10+0AB,+United+Kingdom&z=16&layer=c&cbll=52.52721,-1.4599&panoid=BGGu0E70DF9ODnpTLTCS0w&cbp=12,58.42,,2,4.92

      May 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  11. nc1965

    Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth President and Prophet.

    In 1963, Look magazine interviewed, at that time, the leader of the LDS Church; Joseph Fielding Smith. Concerning n e g r o e s, Smith stated:

    I would not want you to believe that we bear any animosity toward the N e g r o. 'Darkies' are wonderful people, and they have their place in our church (Look magazine, October 22, 1963, 79; emphasis added).

    Smith also taught that "N e g r o e s" were inferior to other races:

    Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was place upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures.

    Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with b l a c k skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fullness of the blessings of the Gospel. These are the descendants of Cain.

    Moreover, they have been made to feel their inferiority and have been separated from the rest of mankind from the beginning… we will also hope that blessings may eventually be given to our N e g r o brethren, for they are our brethren–children of God-notwithstanding their b l a c k covering emblematical of eternal darkness (The Way to Perfection, 101-02; emphasis added).

    Source: http://christiandefense.o r g/mor_black.htm

    May 13, 2012 at 3:27 am |
    • Brian

      At the time, the supposed racist terms you consider offensive were common, and used by all Americans at the time. Stop singling out Mormons for their behaving as everyone else did at the time. It shows true bigotry on your part.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:59 am |
    • jungleboo

      Brian, you are nutty as a fruitcake. Every one of your posts defends some murky tradition, as if everybody was doing it. EVERYBODY WAS NOT DOING IT. And to make allowances for your fable-based religion's past is irresponsible, to say the least. The very reason intelligent people have turned their backs on organized religion is that it is full of indecency. Lose the mask, Brian. Get free of all that guilt. Live your own life, unless you can't imagine something as frightening as that. In that case, keep goose-stepping with those who like trooping off in a gang.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • jonesy243

      The Mormon Church does NOT have a racist past. Read this, please, from a blog "The Black Mormon" http://www.angelfire.com/mo2/blackmormon/000H1.html

      May 21, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  12. boom

    religion is a virus that is being extinguished worldwide.... cept the USA land of the FREE depending on which 'god' u follow

    May 13, 2012 at 3:24 am |
  13. Mike p

    Why they're there? Power. Why else would anyone be in Washington D.C.?

    May 13, 2012 at 3:14 am |
    • HelloHowareyou

      Why are they there?? To serve!! If Mormons were so power hungry, then why is virtually all of the clergy not paid one red cent to do their jobs?? Why does the very large missionary force pay their own way to serve a 2 year mission? Look through the church ranks and you can see that no one gets paid to serve unless they absolutely have to to do their jobs. Bishops, stake presidents, and other authorities are unpaid. Janitors are paid, but members of the church largely clean everything in a building they can as volunteers. Name me a bigger church that does anything close to that.

      Face it, the spirit of volunteering is learned from an early age. Leadership is learned from an early age, and shared among the congregation. Everyone serves and many take turns at leadership in a great many different offices. So is it any wonder that some spread their sights to the leadership of this country? No. It is only a natural extension of the leadership they learn from an early age in church.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:37 am |
    • Bill Fitzgerald

      not so mr. Service to the country is the correct answer. Next question?

      May 13, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  14. Amanda Hugginkiss

    If you're not Mormon, Mitt Romney believes that your religious practices and beliefs are "an abomination in the eyes of God". It is a cornerstone of Mormonism. Don't take my word for it, look it up before you vote...

    May 13, 2012 at 3:07 am |
    • C

      I don't believe that Romney thinks this, and he is more educated than you think. He knows that the original 2 Christian groups that started 2000 years ago are sound, and all other denominations were started only 2 or 3 hundred years ago (Mormon, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc). Now you are wondering what 2 groups I am talking about that started 2000 years ago, and they are the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. You are the real problem by stating untrue facts and being a troll.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:25 am |
    • boom

      if he believed that he wouldnt be a mormon... DUH.... dolt alert

      May 13, 2012 at 3:33 am |
    • evensteven

      I was a Mormon until I was 37 years old. Went on a mission and went to the temple. The LDS believe that they are "The One and Only True Church Upon the Face of the Whole Earth"

      Any Mormon has heard that hundreds if not thousands of times in testimony meeting. The only reason Mormons baptize for the dead is because they believe they are giving the dead an opportunity at a valid baptism performed by the only recognized authority—the Priesthood as held in the LDS faith.

      There's a lot of beauty to be seen in Mormonism as in all faiths, if one is open for it. But when one believes they are "The Chosen People"—whether that be Jews, Mormons, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, etc., what's also being said is that everyone else is "less chosen", "less worthy", "less special" and have something "wrong about them."

      May 13, 2012 at 4:00 am |
    • Brian

      If you really were a good Mormon you would have learned or possibly even memorized the 13 articles of faith. The 11th article of faith says, "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

      This is what Romney believes and what he will protect as president.

      May 13, 2012 at 5:02 am |
    • evensteven

      There are many kind, wonderful Mormons and even some funny ones. There are some real Saints in there that are unconditional and non-judgmental, but there's an element of snobbishness that develops in some Mormons that can come from being "The Chosen People". It's one of the things "The Righteous" are persecuted for . . .

      May 13, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • Bill Fitzgerald

      Where do you get these ideas from?

      May 13, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
    • meli

      I would invite you to attend a Sunday meeting. I would not go to a lawyer to diagnose a stomach ache,,,,so, don't just read any sources,,,,Go to a church and see for yourself,,,I know you will think different after you do so.

      May 14, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  15. ug

    Harriett Reid is a Mormon...by name only...he really is a crook and a liar...

    May 13, 2012 at 3:05 am |
    • evensteven

      You know him personally, or do you just hate all Democrats?

      May 13, 2012 at 4:01 am |
  16. William in GA

    I am an LDS convert of some 35 years, and would like to say that this is a most even handed as well as interesting article. There are a couple of historic facts that I want to correct for those who might be interested. First, Joseph Smith was murdered in Carthage, Illinois, not Missouri. Second, the Church built two temples east of the Mississippi River before it removed to the Salt Lake Valley. The first is in Kirkland, Ohio. It still stands, but is not owned by the LDS Church. The second was in Nauvoo, Illinois, and was destroyed after the Saints left for the West. Thanks for the article.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • matt

      Joseph Smith was a treasure Hunter. He never discovered much of anything worth value so he invented the story of the tablets. To pity they were never seen by another person other than himself.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  17. Colin

    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 an original sin we now all know never happened = Christianity.

    Christianity + a belief that aliens from other planets mated with humans who will one day be gods, that performing baptisms for dead people will allow them to enter heaven, that the Israelis colonized America and that magic underwear will protect you = mormonism.

    I sometimes wonder if we really are advancing as a species or just layering our silly superst.itions.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Bob

      Interesting comment, Colin. It seems to me that some of us advance, often in significant spurts, but some who might advance get clawed back by those who hang on to the old supersti-tions. I'm not putting down the value of history, but I shudder when I see dogma taking precendence over reason.

      Well, likely nothing I said is any news to you.


      May 12, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Bob


      It has been a long day...

      May 12, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Seth


      Interesting tidbit, I am curious as to where you received all this mistaken information that you would pass of as truth through the protection of an anonymous online ID. There is not an actively believing member of the Jewish, Nicenean-Christian, or Non-Nicenearn Christian believer that would agree with your false trivialization of these beliefs. In the words of Jim Calhoun "Get some facts, and then [come back and post on here]". Seriously, why the hate?

      May 13, 2012 at 2:52 am |
    • SkepticRina

      I loved this! It made me laugh and so true

      May 13, 2012 at 2:56 am |
    • boom

      religions only purpose were the educated to control the dolts.....
      As science exposes everything to be just silly more people are understanding it.... and more books written by man to control man r changed to try and think up OTHER explanations for the silliness.... U can NOT fertilize an egg without a male seeding it. if u rise from the dead u r a ZOMBIE. mittens goal Theocratic States of America... No Hope Just Shame.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:32 am |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Interesting tidbit, I am curious as to where you received all this mistaken information that you would pass of as truth through the protection of an anonymous online ID."
      You've got some rational argument to rebut what Colin wrote, or are you simply hoping that you'll convince anybody by just saying that he is wrong? (@Colin, I'm assuming here that you are a "he" based on the use of a masculine handle)

      You said, "There is not an actively believing member of the Jewish, Nicenean-Christian, or Non-Nicenearn Christian believer that would agree with your false trivialization of these beliefs."
      Of course not. That would mean that they would actually think about it and probably shed it as complete and utter nonsense. It is impossible to critically and rationally evaluate your religious beliefs, and remain a believer.

      You said, "In the words of Jim Calhoun "Get some facts, and then [come back and post on here]". Seriously, why the hate?"
      Pointing out the silliness of religion isn't hate.

      May 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  18. joelcannon

    Dan Gilgoff, thank you for the well researched and written article about members of the LDS Church in Washington DC. I found it informative and interesting. I thought the video was also well done.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  19. Dandini

    You media/jounalistic guys crack me up... always poor with your research and accuracy...

    Hawk did not leave for a job with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was "called" to a church position just as any member of the LDS Church is called...

    We know that there are many members of the Church who are hired to work in government jobs... they are highly sought after because of their honesty, loyalty, strong work ethic, high level of education... too many good reasons...

    May 12, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • joelcannon

      Dandini, the distinction is subtle – especially considering that Echo Hawk's calling is full-time and prevents him from serving in both positions at once As a General Authority, Echo Hawk has the option of receiving a modest living allowance, so I do not think it is misleading to use the word "job" and certainly easier for a non-LDS reader to understand. I was not familiar with Echo Hawk and found his wikipedia biography to be very impressive.

      May 12, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • boom

      "honesty, loyalty, strong work ethic, high level of education.."
      by that statement mittens is a bad mormon. when u lies about everything u r asked about u r not honest or loyal. when u buy companies pay yourself immense profits then close it down, u r not honest u r not loyal, u do not have a strong work ethic, when u have no original opinions only ones to matcht he people around u u r not honest u r not loyal u r not of a high level of education.

      May 13, 2012 at 3:28 am |
  20. Margaret Whitestone

    They're preparing for when they have to take over and save America as foretold in the White Horse Prophecy.

    May 12, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Jill

      Don't obfuscate the primary prenuptials with rasberries. Often, the pertinent cat presents fabled necessities in the parking chamfer. Realize your net precedent.

      May 12, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • Dandini

      So you believe the White Horse Prophecy is true??? I don't know of any mormons that believe it... least of all those who are active members...

      May 12, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Margaret Whitest

      Jill I can't understand tha

      May 13, 2012 at 12:03 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.