Mormons: An all-American success story?

CJ GUNTHER CJ GUNTHER The Boston Temple, Church of the Latter Day Saints in Belmont Massachusetts 18 Nov. 2011. It … Continued



The Boston Temple, Church of the Latter Day Saints in Belmont Massachusetts 18 Nov. 2011.

It is a number that may very well define the outcome of the 2012 presidential race. A June Gallup poll revealed that 18 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon to be president. Breaking this number down between Republicans and Democrats did not improve the picture. The same poll indicated that 10 percent of Republicans and 24 percent of Democrats would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. Gallop also reported that these percentages have remained essentially unchanged since 1967 when the firm first began polling on the issue of Mormons in politics.

Eighteen percent. It could be the most important statistic about voters in 2012 and its meaning is not lost on either political party. Though both presidential campaigns have gone silent on religious issues for now, the cease-fire is unlikely to last. Team Obama is surely waiting in the tall grass to see if its opposition will again invoke religion as a weapon, summoning the specter of Jeremiah Wright and stirring questions about Obama’s brand of faith. If so, its operatives may counter by raising the specter of Mormon oddities. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign is trying to avoid what it likely has decided was a mistake in 2008: allowing Romney to speak too freely about his Mormonism. For both campaigns, the magnetic pull of 18 percent of the electorate will be too great to ignore. Both parties will be forced to–or will be eager to–contend with “the Mormon issue” before the 2012 presidential race concludes.

For many Americans, it is surprising this “issue” was not solved long ago. Mormons are the only American religious group to have been victim of an extermination order; nearly two centuries later the Latter-day Saints have risen not just to cultural acceptance but also to an astonishing level of national prominence. Their members head some of the nation’s most powerful corporations, number among this generation’s most popular authors and artists, and wield greater influence for their numbers–a mere 7 million in the U.S., perhaps 14 million worldwide–than nearly any other American faith.

View Photo Gallery: A look at leadership figures in American business, politics and sports who are Mormon.

As important, the earthly success of Mormons comes not despite their unique spiritual vision but as a result of it. Believing that this life is a proving ground for their ultimate eternal “exaltation,” the Saints devote themselves to family, education, work, investment, and community with the zeal of a people intent upon being found worthy by their Heavenly Father. They stress saving for troubled times, are so industrious they have been called “free market apostles” and they live out a kind of super-patriotism in which the United States and its Constitution are understood as divinely ordained. They also eschew alcohol, drugs, sex outside of marriage and even R-rated movies. In short, they are an all-American religion in every traditional sense and it has made them, in turn, an all-American success story.

Why, then, the suspicions of this 18 percent? They arise, in part, from the belief among some Christians that Mormonism is a cult, as evidenced by the public statements by pastors like Robert Jeffress. This is not meant in the Jim Jones sense of a subculture led by a dynamic leader who controls followers with deception and manipulation. Rather, it is meant in the sense of an organization built upon what is seen as a perversion of traditional doctrine. Mormons entered the world teaching that all prior Christianity was corrupt and an abomination to God. They then taught about a God who was once a man, about how man might one day achieve divinity, and of Jesus Christ. Enter a new scripture and teachings on polygamy. None of this won the Latter-day Saints acceptance by the guardians of the American religious mainstream, the Mormons’ more secular successes aside.

This leads to the charge that stings the average Saint most cruelly: Mormons are not Christians. Even their advocates–like Dr. Jan Shipps, leading non-Mormon historian of Mormonism–suggest that the Latter-day Saints ought to be considered the “fourth Abrahamic faith” after Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But few see the faith as inherently Christian in any traditional sense or believe that it grows organically from historic Judaism as mainstream Christianity does. In short, many if not most Americans view Mormonism as a bizarre brand of spirituality that somehow produces earthly success for its adherents.

This becomes the issue for that 18 percent. They can recognize the admirable achievements of a man like Mitt Romney but they hesitate to allow his peculiar religion to swirl about the White House or more profoundly influence the country. If they remain unconvinced, this alone could determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential race. And it is why, in the coming months, this stubborn Mormon issue will not be moved from our national stage.

Stephen Mansfield is a writer and speaker best known for his books on the role of religion in history, leadership, and modern culture. His most recent is “The Mormonizing of America.”

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  • gasman2408

    How in the world will Obama say anything negative about Mormons when one of his staunchest supporters is Harry Reid, a Mormon himself. And how will the Democratic Party come so close to demonizing one of their own shining stars? I believe that if they do this they will be alienating people like Harry Reid who have given their all for the cause.

  • RickH4

    I know lots of Mormons, and while I would agree that they are generally clean-cut and hard workers, and because of their beliefs rarely end up in rehab or trailer parks, I would disagree that they are disporportionately successful. All in all, they are very middle class. Like other social groups, the Mormons who become famous aren’t the average ones, that’s why it could seem like they are all unusually successful, like the Twilight author or Romney or Steven Covey, rest his soul.

    I also found this portion of the article confusing: “Latter-day Saints ought to be considered the “fourth Abrahamic faith” after Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But few see the faith as inherently Christian in any traditional sense or believe that it grows organically from historic Judaism as mainstream Christianity does.”
    I’m unsure what you mean by ‘traditional sense’ of Christian, but if you look at day to day Mormon worship it seems pretty white-bread protestant, which is definitely the prevailing tradition in the US. Additionally, I might argue that Mormonism is MORE, not less, tied to Judaism than protestantism or catholicism is, and I would wager that Mormons would loudly agree- they are very proud of their jewish connections and build temples like Solomon. Calling Mormonism a fourth abrahamic religion is fine, but it seems ignorant to say that it is less related to Judaism than Catholocism is.

  • jade_alpha

    Mormons are decent enough people. Sure they believe silly things without evidence but so do Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, some Buddhist sects, and pretty much every other religion that has ever existed. So, in the end, I judge them like I do all humans by what they do and how they and their beliefs affect humanity.

  • dougtheavenger

    Here is a post by a non-Mormon on another forum

    “This gospel is that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose on the third day, and by faith alone in His sacrifice for the sin of the sinner is justified, and by believing in Him the justified sinner is made eternally alive by the power of His resurrection from the dead. This is the gospel.”

    Here is the Mormon answer to it.

    “With this statement you have undone your whole argument. Hard core critics of the LDS church have had to invent new requirements for salvation that Jesus never mentioned and new contrived definitions of Christianity to exclude Mormons. You have refused in the past to state what beliefs are required for salvation or define Christianity, but you have done so here and clearly Mormons are Christians and saved by this definition.”

    Book of Alma – Chapter 36
    17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
    18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
    19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more
    20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!

  • xexon

    The Mormons were so successful once upon a time, we had to send in the calvary to put them in their place…


  • Curmudgeon6

    I really appreciate the efforts to accurately portray Mormons. This is rare. I’m not saying it’s 100% accurate, but thank you for the effort.
    I want to add that sometimes people are intentionally misled about Mormons. In fact, there seem to be many people employed to do just that in comment sections, and liberal journalists do the same.

    I just want to point out two things: It is not Mormon doctrine that Christianity itself was corrupt. But God did say that certain “professors” in Joseph Smith’s neighborhood were “corrupt” (now they had some interesting practices- “barking up trees” etc) And, while many American Churches taught that Christianity had strayed, and become corrupt in general (Baptists, certain Evangelicals, etc) Mormon scriptures and leaders have taught from the earliest times that Catholics, reformers, etc were moved upon by the Holy Spirit and go to Heaven.

  • DavidJ9

    Typo or intentional pun with cavalry/Calvary?

  • sam38

    “Would you vote for a Mormon” has completely lost its standing as a generic question. The only Mormon running for president is Mitt Romney. The poll question simply ends up as a poll on whether or not people want to vote for this particular Republican Mormon presidential candidate. The 24% of Democrats wouldn’t likely vote for any Repubican, regardless of religion. The 10% of Republicans who say they won’t vote for Romney very likely believe him to be not conservative enough and they may change their mind about voting for a Mormon President when it comes down to a choice between Romney and Obama. The article is good but the author is somewhat grasping at straws as he pretends to know what the poll participants were actually thinking and why.

  • sam38

    Now you’re just making things up. The church directly teaches that lying is unacceptable. People are not “leaving the church in droves.” Any suspicion that persists is because Mormons are so concentrated in Western states instead of living all over the country. Research has shown that, on the whole, people who actually know someone who is a Mormon have a much more favorable view of Mormons than those who have never met one. Frankly, many people really couldn’t tell the difference between Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Amish and Seventh Day Adventists so the idea that minute details of Church history bugs the majority of Americans is unfounded.

  • xexon

    Typo. Sometimes my southern accent gets in the way.


  • Beaker3

    Yes, and the cavalry turned tail and ran. Hence, in spite of government intervention, we see a successful and growing church today.

  • dhrogers1

    Mormons are not supposed to be Christian because we have some doctrinal differences with other Christian groups of today. The foundation for the beliefs of these other groups is the creeds of the 4th. 5th, and 6th centuries and so on.

    For example; in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is a non-Biblical creed, we read that “there is but one God, a most holy spirit, without body, parts or passions,” thus denying the resurrected Christ, for if Christ is not risen and we do not believe him when he tells us that he has an immortal body, we can then have no hope of a resurrection (Phil 3:21.)

    Contrary to the creeds, the resurrected Jesus taught: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and ones, as ye see me have.” (Luke 24:39)

    From this passage we know that Jesus had his physical body after the resurrection. We also know that when Christ comes again, he will still have his physical body. (Zech. 14:4; 12:10; 13:6; John 20:24-28, Acts 1:9-11; Rev 1:7; 1 Cor. 15:3-8, 12-20, 35-42; D&C 93:33).

    It is claimed that Mormons are wrong because they believe in extra-Biblical revelation and scripture. Yet much of Christianity believes in extra-Biblical creeds and councils formulated centuries after the time of Christ and the Apostles. Most of the wording formulations in these creeds cannot be found in the Bible. This is often the excuse used to exclude members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) from being Christian. It is well known to historians that Christian doctrine changed over time and across different Christian groups.

    The Bible is then viewed through the lens of these creeds causing certain interpretations to be favored and other biblical teachings to be minimized or ignored. Interestingly, if you look at the doctrines of the early church fathers before the creeds, they are very Mormon-like. In a number of doctrinal areas the early Christians were good Mormons and would be reje

  • dhrogers1

    Reverand Jeffress said. “And I still maintain there are vast differences in theology between Mormons and Christians.”

    This seems to be a common view among many Christians and actually they are right to say that there are some major differences, although there are more similarities than differences. However, there are also vast differences between current Christianity and Early Christianity.

    If Christianity means “historic orthodox mainstream Christianity” of today then I would agree that Mormonism is not historic Christianity; at least not in every doctrine. Although Mormons have much in common with other Christians Mormons also believe differently than historic Christians in some key areas. But the real questions to ask are 1) What is original Christianity? 2) Is mainstream Christianity of today the same as original Christianity? It turns out that Joseph Smith was right. Mormonism is a restoration of Original Christianity. It is not my intent to criticize Christians of today. However, with all the criticism of Mormonism it is important to notice that in many areas of belief Mormons are closer to original Christianity than are most Christians of today.

    Mormons believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost. Our first Article of Faith states: We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. However “Trinity’ is a word that is not found in the Bible. Nor are the definitions and wording formulations in the extra-Biblical creeds found in the Bible. In 325 AD a council of about 300 (out of 1800 serving) bishops gathered in Nicea at the request of the pagan Emperor Constantine and formulated a creed that tried to reconcile the Biblical statements that there three persons called “God” and yet there was “one” God. They then forced all Christians to accept their solution as “gospel”, with varying results. Theological debates and other councils continued to tweak the concept for centuries which produced additional creeds.

  • dhrogers1

    Joseph Smith taught “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it”. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 121).

    The central belief of Mormons is that Christ came into the world as the Son of God. He healed the sick, caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and restored life to the dead. He commissioned twelve Apostles to whom he gave authority. He suffered in Gethsemane, died on the cross, and was resurrected and will come again. He, and only He, provides the means for us to be washed clean in his blood from our sins, which sins we can never correct on our own or through our own works. If that is not Christian I don’t know what is. Christ never taught the need to believe in anything like the creeds. Those came later.

    Mormon belief is very much like the teachings of the earlier Christians – before the creeds – and also matches the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. The further back in time you go the more Mormon-like Christian doctrine becomes. Mormons are often portrayed as non-Christian when we don’t believe in the later extra-Biblical creedal formulations.

  • dhrogers1

    In many areas of belief (probably the majority of areas) Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe the same as most other Christians. It is true that in some limited areas – some very critical ones – the beliefs of Mormons differ from other Christians. Likewise there are some major areas of difference between Catholics and Protestants and likewise between one Protestant group and the next. Every denomination could make the claim that the other groups are not Christian because those other beliefs differ from their own.

  • dhrogers1

    The Book of Mormon was published in the year 1830. Joseph Smith (and Mormons ever since) claim that it is a true historic account that really happened. We will call this claim one.

    The anti-Mormons claim that the Book of Mormon is false and that it was fabricated by Joseph Smith and/or some of Joseph’s associates. We will call this claim two. Let us, therefore, set up a very simple and common sense guideline for evaluating these two positions:

    If the claim one is true, then we would expect, over time, that science and various branches of archeology, language studies, cultural studies, etc… would produce a convergence of data and evidence that supports the book. Even if there was no, or little, evidence to support the Book of Mormon in 1830, we would expect now, after 181 years, that at least some significant discoveries would have been made which verify or support different parts of the Book of Mormon. These would have to be discoveries or information that was not available to Joseph Smith in 1830 which were discovered since that time and which verify or support various parts of the Book of Mormon. These would be things that an author, who was fabricating a book, could not get right by guessing

    If claim two is true then we would expect the opposite of the above. We would expect that more and more details in the Book of Mormon would be shown to be false as more discoveries in archeology and other fields are made.

    It turns out that the longer we go, the more evidence is discovered which confirms parts of the Book of Mormon. There are literally scores and scores, probably several hundred, Book of Mormon details that are now confirmed or supported by evidence that was not available in Joseph Smith’s time. Because of the large amount of evidence which has been discovered we can only look at a small amount at any one time.

  • dhrogers1

    There is a growing body of evidence from New World archaeology that supports the Book of Mormon. Dr. John Clark of the New World Archaeological Foundation has compiled a list of sixty items mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The list includes items such as “steel swords,” “barley,” “cement,” “thrones,” and literacy.

    In 1842, only eight (or 13.3%) of those sixty items were confirmed by archaeological evidence. Thus, in the mid-nineteenth century, archaeology did not generally support the claims made by the Book of Mormon. By 2005 forty-five of those sixty items (75%) have been confirmed. Therefore, as things stand at the moment, current New World archaeological evidence tends to verify the claims made by the Book of Mormon. (John Clark, “Debating the Foundations of Mormonism: Archaeology and the Book of Mormon”, presentation at the 2005 FAIR Apologetics Conference (August 2005). Co-presenters, Wade Ardern and Matthew Roper. S. Kent Brown, “New Light: ‘The Place That Was Called Nahom”: New Light from Ancient Yemen,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8, no. 1 (1999): 66-68.)

  • Tornogal

    LOL, DH. And the “New World Archaeological Foundation” is part of Brigham Young University. The same Brigham Young University that fires people who do not support Mormon doctrine.

    Please, DH, show us one single non-Mormon source that agrees the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be: The literal record of people in the western hemisphere. Please. Just one.

    And please, show us real evidence of steel swords and barley.

  • SixMom

    It’s not whether it comes from BYU or not, it’s whether it is peer-reviewed and if the scholarship is worthy. Please DH show us just one objective third party without your bias who has peer reviewed and discounted what that University has found using validated scholarship…just one.

    And since there is no non-Mormon source that has taken on the challenge of proving the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be, your dare is merely word play. Please DH show us just one non-Mormon source which has taken on the challenge of proving the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be and failed. Whoops, doesn’t exist either way.

  • Chops2

    Genetics prved the native americans came from Asia not the middle east. This whole thing is a fantasy and Smith is a fraud.

    Its christianity for Americans, thats all it is.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    “As far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the historicity of The Book of Mormon, and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group”.

    – Michael D. Coe, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University

  • aby

    Those who do consider the Mormon Church as a cult base their belief on a number of practices that deviate from the main Christian faith, Foremost amongst them are the one time practice of polygamy, belief in a prophet who received a message from God through an angel, and the content of the message is engraved in a golden plate and transcribed in a holy book. This is suspiciously similar to claims made by another religion whose “prophet” predated Joseph Smith by six hundred years.

  • aby

    Correction to my earlier post: “whose”prohet” predated Joseph Smith by twelve hundred years”, and not six hundred years.

  • MinnesotaMormon

    Well said; Mitt Romney does not represent all Mormons, just like Harry Reid does not represent all Mormons!

  • jawright

    I find it interesting that your examples of ‘deviations from the main Christian faith’ are all principles taught in the Bible at some point. Specifically polygamy, profets, and new scripture. Not that this makes Mormonism true, but hardly good examples of why it must now be false.

  • jawright

    Please, show us one single non-Christian source that agrees the Bible is what it claims to be. Please. Just one.

    Just because non Christians don’t believe the Bible, doesn’t make it so. Likewise the Book of Mormon

  • jawright

    Are you referring to:
    1. The Haun’s Mill Massacre, where the ‘army’ attacked unarmed citizens, told them to go into the cabins for safety, then shot through the cracks till all the kids were dead, or
    2. Sending the army to Utah territory, know at the time as “Buchanan’s Folly”, because he was a fool who sent the army cross country to put out a rebellion which never existed. They never fired a shot, sold all the goods for pennies, and then high-tailed it back east. Buchanan never lived it down

    which event proves Mormons where not successful, and the US Government knows best?