Why Mitt Romney can’t be the Mormon JFK

By talking about his Mormonism, Mitt Romney would call attention to his Mormonism. Politically speaking, that's a huge risk. Many Americans, and Republicans in particular, tend to consider Mormonism a “cult” — or “super spooky-wooky!” as Broadway's hit musical, The Book of Mormon, puts it.

Are Mormons Christian? It’s complicated

(RNS) Ask Mormons if they are Christian, and their answer often starts with a sigh. Look at our name, they'll say, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Read The Book of Mormon's subtitle, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” Examine our Articles of Faith, “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved…” “When we read in the press that some religious person who should know better refers to us as non-Christian, it is baffling to us,” said Michael Otterson, the church's head of public affairs.

Mitt Romney’s evangelical problem starts with theology

(RNS) The good news for Mitt Romney: he won the Iowa caucuses. The bad news for Romney: evangelicals remain reluctant to support him. Romney bested former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum by a mere eight votes in Tuesday's (Jan. 3) first-in-the-nation voting. But just 14 percent of evangelicals supported the former Massachusetts governor, according to entrance polls, a third less than he won during his 2008 campaign.

Anti-Mormon bias persistent in presidential politics

(RNS) On June 27, 1844, vigilantes cornered a man who claimed to receive messages from God and gunned him down in an Illinois jail after his arrest. At the time of his death, Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was an announced candidate for president of the United States. Today, 167 years later, as two of Smith's adherents eye the nation's highest office, religious discrimination remains an obstacle for Mormon political candidates for president and a vexation for church members. Two Republican contenders — former governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Jon Huntsman of Utah — have sought to downplay the prejudice in presidential politics. But a potential problem is hard to ignore: More than 1 in 5 Americans say they would not vote for a Mormon — a figure that has changed only slightly since the question was first asked in 1967, according to Gallup polls.

Mormons launch group to defend against media attacks

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) With two Mormons in the presidential campaign and a hit Broadway show about LDS missionaries, a group of church loyalists felt the time was ripe to begin scrutinizing media reports for inaccuracies about the Utah-based faith. On Thursday (Aug.4) the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) announced that it was launching the Mormon Defense League (MDL) to help journalists “get it right,” said Scott Gordon, FAIR's president, who will direct the new project. If the MDL notices a misstatement or mischaracterization, the group will first contact the journalist, Gordon said. But if a pattern of misrepresentation emerges, the defense league will “go after the writer” by posting the piece or pieces on its website (mdl.org) and pointing out the errors. In this effort, the MDL will mirror the work of the church's own Public Affairs Department.

Mormon leaders told to stay out of politics

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) Mormon officials are telling their top, full-time leaders that they and their spouses should not participate in political campaigns, including making donations or endorsing candidates. However, part-time leaders — including local and regional congregational leaders — are still allowed to do that, but are cautioned to make clear they are acting as individuals and do not represent the church. Local leaders are also told not to engage in political fundraising or campaigning focused on members of congregations they oversee. The new, clarified written policy was sent in a June 16 letter from the church's First Presidency over the past week to church leaders. It comes as two Mormon Republicans are running for U.S. president — Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman — and amid division among some rank-and-file Mormons about church involvement in a Utah immigration bill and California's Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage.

`The Book of Mormon’ wins nine Tonys

(RNS) The irreverent and hilarious “The Book of Mormon” musical dominated the 65th annual Tony Awards on Sunday (June 12), winning the award for Best Musical and becoming one of the most honored productions in Broadway history. Broadway neophytes Trey Parker and Matt Stone thanked their “South Park” fans and the audiences who are packing the show. “You guys made this show what it is,” Parker said. “And therefore, you're going to have to atone for it one day.” He went on to jokingly thank the “co-writer who passed away.

Temple weddings leave some on outside, hurting inside

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) You see them on Temple Square nearly every day, pacing nervously or strolling aimlessly, staring down at the tulips or up at the spires. They are parents, siblings, cousins and friends of Mormon couples being wed inside the LDS sanctuary. But, for one reason or another, they are not allowed inside. Maybe they are non-Mormons, former Mormons or lapsed Mormons who don't qualify for a “temple recommend” to enter the iconic structure. Whatever the reason, their exclusion can divide families at a time when weddings usually unite them.

For Mormons, what does `follow the Prophet’ really mean?

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) Mormon President Thomas S. Monson, his two right-hand men and 12 apostles will take to the podium at this weekend's (April 2-3) General Conference and offer sermons that many Mormons will treat like faxes from God. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints consider these 15 men “prophets, seers and revelators” and look to them for divine guidance on issues as profound as the role of the Holy Spirit and as seemingly trivial as using “thee” and “thy” in prayers. Mormons don't use the term “infallibility” to refer to their leaders and readily acknowledge that they are imperfect men. In practice, though, Mormon belief comes awfully close to that standard. “We pay lip service to the prophet's fallibility,” said Edward Kimball, son of late church President Spencer W. Kimball.

‘Book of Mormon’ musical called surprisingly sweet

NEW YORK (RNS) A Ugandan villager in the new Broadway musical from the creators of “South Park” offers a plaintive love song about paradise — and the object of her yearning is none other than Utah's capital. “Salvation has a name – Salt Lake-y City,” croons Nabalungi (played by Nikki M. James) in “The Book of Mormon,” which opened for previews at the Eugene O'Neill Theater in February and ended with a standing ovation. The lyrics are ironic, of course, as is much of the story written and directed by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, in conjunction with Robert Lopez, who helped compose the award-winning musical “Avenue Q.” Sure enough, the production, which opens March 24, is bawdy and irreverent. Many believers would see it as a blasphemous assault on scriptures, much like the pair's animated TV series.

When marriages are eternal, single and divorced Mormons struggle

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) To many Americans, religious or not, chastity before marriage is a quaint tradition at best and emotionally damaging at worst. After all, more than 90 percent of men and women, according to Guttmacher Institute surveys during the past 50 years, have reported engaging in premarital sex. And the older a single person becomes, many people believe, the more ridiculous it seems to forgo physical intimacy. That's the perspective of Mormon poet Nicole Hardy, who, in a New York Times essay last month, described her decision to join the rest of the modern world. “As I grew older, I had the distinct sense of remaining a child in a woman's body; virginity brought with it arrested development on the level of a handicapping condition,” Hardy writes.

Will Romney, Huntsman help or hurt Mormons?

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) Amid the prospect of presidential runs by Jon Huntsman Jr. and Mitt Romney, reporters are bombarding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with calls about the potential candidates and their Mormon faith. So much so, in fact, that the Utah-based LDS Church decided it needed to reiterate its longstanding stance of political neutrality. “The church is strictly neutral in matters of party politics and will not comment at all on the personalities and platforms of candidates, whether or not they are members of the church and irrespective of their party affiliation,” the church said in a statement released Feb. 1. The novelty of two high-profile Mormons possibly competing for the nation's highest office guarantees the 14 million-member faith a place in the national spotlight.

Mormons lift the veil on official `handbook’ of teachings

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) For Mormons — or anyone else — who might be wondering, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes no stand on drinking Coca-Cola. The church opposes gambling, guns in churches, euthanasia, Satan worship and hypnotism for entertainment. It also “strongly discourages” surrogacy, sperm donation and vasectomies. These and other positions are spelled out in what Mormons commonly refer to as “the handbook” — a newly published two-volume set of instructions for regional leaders, bishops and other local LDS leaders. Until now, the handbook was available only to these church leaders.

Mormons catch a glimpse of life in the big leagues

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) Mormons have been making headlines across the nation — from HBO's “Big Love” to California's Proposition 8, from American Idol wannabe David Archuleta to “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer, from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to conservative icon Glenn Beck. Church spokesman Michael Otterson writes essays for The Washington Post and Mormonism is included in an important new book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.” Two more universities are poised to launch “Mormon Studies” courses. It's all given the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a glimpse of playing in religion's big leagues. Indeed, says Mormon blogger Jana Riess in Cincinnati, Mormonism is becoming part of the “mainstream national conversation in a way that it wasn't 10 years ago.”