Category Archives: Mormon

Mitt Romney on the cusp of making major Mormon history

c. 2012 The Salt Lake Tribune
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) With Rick Santorum’s exit from the White House race, Mitt Romney stands on the cusp of history as the first Mormon to appear at the top of a major party ticket in a general presidential election. Romney, a Brigham Young University-educated, Mormon-family scion and beloved Utah figure, is now the inevitable Republican nominee and will take on President Obama this fall.

The news is sure to bring a surge of excitement unseen in Utah since Romney led the triumphant 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and helped usher the state — and the Mormon Church — onto the world stage.

“Romney has family here, he’s lived here, he’s worked here, he went to school here,” says Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who has campaigned this year with the former Massachusetts governor. “It feels like he’s one of us.”

He is the seventh Latter-day Saint to attempt a presidential bid — six others, including former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman this year, and church founder Joseph Smith in 1844, fell short.

Many Latter-day Saints feel connected to Romney, says Darius Gray, former head of the Genesis Group, a support organization for black Mormons, and others will believe that “Mormonism has arrived.”

For so long, Latter-day Saints have had a “sense of being the underdog, due to our history and persecution we’ve experienced in our 182-year history,” Gray said. “For some, (Romney’s nomination) will be a kind of vindication. But with it will come great scrutiny about who we are as a people.”

Gray’s advice to Mormons: Don’t overreact to questions about the faith’s past and its present.

“We should not be thin-skinned,” he said. “It will behoove all of us at all levels to be prepared to answer well and fully questions that are bound to arise.”

Regardless of the fallout, Gray looks forward to “an interesting confrontation between visions of the future — that of Brother Romney and that of President Obama.”

Romney’s quest for the Oval Office already has seen rumblings of anti-Mormon sentiment carry over to the ballot box. He lost much of the evangelical-dominated South. Some prominent pastors have dismissed Mormonism as a cult. Others have questioned the faith’s exclusion of full membership for African-Americans until 1978.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is likely to see more scrutiny than it did during the Olympics — now through a political lens. Ben Park, a Mormon doctoral student at the University of Cambridge in England, said Mormons will face a host of new perspectives.

“Prior to this,” Park wrote in an email, “it’s only been evangelicals and the religious right. … This will be the first time they confront thoughtful secular criticisms — the kind that can’t be shrugged off as anti-Mormon bigotry and will actually cause reflection.”

That may prompt a bit of a pause with some of the Mormon faithful, who find themselves hopeful for a candidate but also wary of the spotlight.

“There is a curious mixture of excitement and apprehension among Mormons, whatever their political persuasion,” said Mormon writer and blogger Jana Riess in Cincinnati. “We are hyperaware of our minority status in America and concerned that increased public scrutiny of our faith will prove painful.”

However faith surfaces in the fall campaign — Obama’s team has said Romney’s Mormonism will be off-limits despite GOP allegations that it won’t be — the candidate’s newfound stature pushes the LDS faith into a new political stratosphere.

Romney’s nomination is “the outcome of the many changes to Mormonism since World War II,” says Jan Shipps, a respected historian of American religions. “It is a key episode in the life of the Utah-based faith.”

That’s true even for non-Romney supporters.

State Sen. Ben McAdams, a Salt Lake City Democrat and devout Mormon, conceded that having a Mormon presidential nominee is an exciting prospect that will create national exposure for the church.

“I’ve long maintained that as America gets to know my faith, they’ll find a lot of virtue and value in who we are, and we have a lot in common with the American people, and we have a lot to bring to the table,” McAdams said. “As Americans will learn during the course of this campaign, Mormons are mainstream America.”

McAdams says he wants a Mormon as president — though he doesn’t want Romney to be that Mormon.

Nationally, nine in 10 Mormons (86 percent) in the GOP-dominated faith give Romney positive marks, according to a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life earlier this year. Even 62 percent of Mormon Democrats have a favorable view of their fellow believer.

Shipps, who is writing about post-World War II Mormonism, is now waiting to see how the presidential showdown ends.

“I can’t finish my book,” she said, “until this plays out.”

(Thomas Burr and Peggy Fletcher Stack write for The Salt Lake Tribune. Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.)

BRIEF: Scotty McCreery and other North Carolina sons featured in new Celebrity Faith Database

American Idol winner Scotty McCreery gets the ...

Did you know Julia Roberts is Hindu? Did you know Gladys Knight is Mormon?

The Internet inspirational website,, recently unveiled a new Celebrity Faith Database.

Native North Carolina sons Andy Griffith and Clay Aiken are in there under Christian. And so is Scotty McCreery, soon to play to sold out Wilmington crowds in concert at 8 p.m. Friday (April 13) during the N.C. Azalea Festival.

– Amanda Greene

“Project Conversion” – A Lumberton man’s year of burying hatred by exploring 12 different faiths

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Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absentmindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 – his year of conversion.

But he’s not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn’t call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.

Not Hindu (January). Not Baha’i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).

Finding faith in God again was not Bowen’s aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.

The hardest decision

Bowen became a Christian in high school and took “a nose dive into fundamentalism,” he said. “It just ignited a furnace in me.”

As a teen, Bowen said he was extremely critical of faiths different from his own. Once when a pair of male Mormon missionaries visited his home, Bowen said he chased them down the street as they retreated on their bicycles.

After high school, Bowen met his wife, Heather, at East Carolina University.

The Bowens had two girls, Shaylie and Nevaeh, and thought their family was complete. But in 2008, Heather’s tubal ligation failed, and she was pregnant with their “miracle baby.”

But the doctors discovered the baby was behind her ovaries, an ectopic pregnancy which threatened Heather’s life.

And Heather and Bowen had to choose to abort the baby, something the couple never dreamed they would do. They were devastated.

“It was a really dark time. I went into a very deep state of depression,” Heather recalled.

Project Conversion

But Heather and her husband dealt with the baby’s death in polar opposite ways.

She bought a devotional Bible and was baptized at a local Baptist church. He plunged into a “two-year stint of just seething hatred toward God.”

The couple fought each time Heather wanted to talk about her growing faith. Still, deep down, Bowen worried his hatred would consume him.

“The best way I can describe it was flying down the road like a bat out of hell toward a wall,” Bowen said. “With any transformation, there’s a fire that has to be applied.”

So Project Conversion was born. He would study and practice one faith each month, guided by a mentor from each belief system. But this was no reality TV stunt.

It was an obsession – his own personal intervention.

“It was 110 percent balls to the walls for me,” Bowen said, describing his dedication to the project.

To find his mentors in late 2010, he had to look outside his tiny, mostly Baptist farm town. His Zoroastrian mentor lives in Chicago. His Jewish mentor lives in Charlotte. His Muslim mentor lives in Fayetteville.

Truthfully, Heather was skeptical about Project Conversion at first.

But she “saw changes in him. He was more patient. There was more of a sense of peace about him,” she said.

His first two weeks each month were spent intensely reading and learning a faith’s tenets and the last half was spent exploring the faith’s practices and rituals and visiting nearby congregations if possible. For his Sikh month, he spent five hours watching YouTube videos on how to tie a turban. During his Jewish month, he spent a weekend visiting different congregations with his Jewish mentor, journalist Michael Solender in Charlotte. He’s filled an entire bookshelf with holy books from his research.

Now as he’s writing a book and speaking about Project Conversion and blogging about the experience for, Bowen is still exploring all he’s learned.

“The most important thing I learned in Buddhism was how to wash dishes. Like there is nothing but this dish. It taught me finally to be quiet,” he said. “With the Mormons, the first thing I did was apologize. It was about humility and being one of them and serving them.”

Islam “showed me how much I was wasting in my life from food to activity. Bowing with the men in the mosque was astounding,” he said.

Catholicism was “a wellspring of expression and arts in worship. It was an ocean I could bury myself in for days and not come up for breath.”

The project also touched the lives of his mentors.

“It was energizing in that it allowed us to really put on the table and discuss conversations my wife and I wouldn’t normally have had with other people,” Solender said.

Bowen was one of the best students of Wicca Greenville resident Melissa Barnhurst has had.

“On the first week, he’d already run into tons of public backlash in the stereotypes against Wicca. But he stuck with it,” she said. “He gave it a lot more than some students who’ve come to wanting to become Wiccan.”

Meanwhile, his wife was still working as a labor and delivery nurse at a local hospital. Things were hard financially, at times, because Bowen wasn’t working.

And then there was November, Jainism and Heather’s least favorite

Andrew Bowen during his Jain month, November 2011. Photo courtesy of Andrew Bowen.

month. Bowen loved becoming a monk, meditating wrapped in his grandmother’s sheets, not bathing and walking with a broom to whisk away any creature in the Jain tradition of respecting all life.

“It was the not bathing or washing your hands,” she said. “The nurse in me was beginning to have a fit.”

Though he admits his experiment caused hardship, the couple had a deal. Bowen put his wife through nursing school. She carried the financial burdens through Project Conversion.

“It was entirely disruptive to our family. We argued more than we ever did, but my kids participated in celebrations, and my wife’s Christianity opened up a whole lot more,” Bowen said.

His wife agrees.

“Faith has become a constant topic in our house,” Heather said. “We may not share a faith. We may never share a faith, but there’s definitely a respect there.”

And now?

Bowen still meditates daily using various prayer books, and he attends Mass occasionally at a Catholic church in Lumberton.

At its essence, Project Conversion was about burying his hatred and learning tolerance.

“For so long, I suffered with ego so now I’m just going to make the faiths of others more beautiful to themselves,” he said. “I don’t think about God now. I just participate.”

Three cheers for Mormons and other “healthy faiths”

By Contributor Cynthia Barnett

The effect of religion on health is probably too huge a question to study easily. Certainly, one short blog can’t provide a full account of what is today being learned. But there are consistent tidbits coming out of contemporary studies that remind those of us who have a spiritual practice the importance of focusing on loving God more than all else and not making anything an idol.

Here’s one example. Many of us know Mormons are taught clear and prudent ways to live. They focus on commitment to both marriage and family stability. They neither smoke nor drink alcohol. And, they don’t use caffeine. It’s also understood they don’t use illegal drugs.

Sound too prissy for you? Listen up, anyone who wants a healthier life. A study by UCLA indicates these choices are direct contributors to improved health and longevity.

According to a Ford Motor Company newsletter on various faiths and religious practices:

1.) A UCLA study revealed that practicing Mormons live longer than most Americans, men by 11 years, and women by eight years.

2.) Utah, arguably the state with the most Mormons, ranks 50th in the nation in smoking, alcohol consumption, drunk driving, heart disease and sick days.

The studyprovides a glimpse, not only into the improvements in


Health (Photo credit: 401K)

individual health, but also to the overall impact of healthcare costs and incalculable suffering and economic impact connected with drunk driving, heart disease and “sick days.”

Studies such as these, tracking the connection between health and religion, offer other interesting insights. One of those is that the benefits of a connection between spirituality and health are not unique to any particular faith practice. For me, as someone who comes out of a Judeo-Christian background, this speaks of the universality of the idea that when we focus on growing our understanding of God (no matter what we call the Divine) and turn away from material things that become idols, we can rest assured of greater well-being.

I’m not in the business of converting folks to religion, not even my own. But as a Christian Scientist whose religion also teaches avoidance of tobacco, alcohol and other harmful habits like gambling and overeating, I can’t help but be grateful for the growing body of evidence which shows that focusing on “mindfulness practices” including spirituality and religion leads to better health and better communities. It’s certainly been my experience for more than 50 years.

Belief Bytes: Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

Purim partying illustration courtesy of RNS archives.

Here is your Religion News Roundup today:

c. Religion News Service 2012
Reprinted with permission

“Happy Purim, Jewish friends! Despite the festive holiday, some Jewish leaders worry about Purim becoming a mix between Halloween and Fat Tuesday, with young yeshiva students imbibing to excess.

Speaking of Fat, or, er Super Tuesday, that was quite a day, huh? Despite winning six of 10 states, Mitt Romney still suffers from the perception (or narrative) that he just can’t seal the deal.

Romney continued his success with Catholic voters, outperforming Rick Santorum with that crucial constituency in closely watched Ohio.

But Romney continues to flounder in heavily evangelical states, which means Mitt’s in for a long March, saith our own Mark Silk.

Read the rest of the article here:

-Samantha Freda, Wilmington Faith and Values news intern

GUEST COMMENTARY: The problem of Daniel Pearl’s Mormon baptism

Editor’s Note: Wilmington’s Sister Cities Association organized a Daniel Pearl tribute concert two years ago and plans to do so again in 2012.

c. 2012 Religion News Service

(RNS) A simmering interreligious controversy resurfaced recently with the news that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had posthumously “baptized” a number of deceased Jews, including Daniel Pearl, Anne Frank, the parents of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, and evidently an unknown number of others.

The case of Mr. Pearl is particularly revealing, and holds important questions for Americans’ ongoing experiment in religious pluralism.

Pearl, while on assignment for The Wall Street Journal, was beheaded in 2002 by a radical Pakistani group connected to al-Qaida. Moments before his death, he declared: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish. My family follows Judaism.”

This personal avowal prompted his parents to edit a book, “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl.” Dozens of contributors wrote how Daniel’s dying testimony deeply resonated with their own Jewish identities.

Pearl’s Mormon “baptism” through a proxy “stand-in” on June 1, 2011 can seem laughable to non-Mormons who find such rituals meaningless. To others, such secretive rituals seem arrogant. For Jews who understand that Jewishness is communal and that the loss of any member is a loss for all Jews, the LDS practice of posthumously baptizing Jews — especially Jews who were murdered while proclaiming their Jewishness — feels like liturgical grave robbing.

The practice has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of Christians because baptism is an initiation into the Christian community based on the free choice of an individual or a child’s parents. At its core, baptism is a public commitment to live a Christian life.

Mormons, who believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, feel their proxy ceremonies give the deceased person one last chance to accept Jesus Christ, even in death. They particularly want to extend this post-mortem “invitation” to their relatives and ancestors.

Mormons explain that while they record the dates of the various rites they perform on behalf of the dead, they don’t really know whether their invitations to Christ have been accepted.

Christians who are aware of the long history of forced Christian baptisms of Jews find the LDS practice disturbingly similar, although Mormons argue that no coercion is involved. Indeed, the practice of posthumous baptism, along with other distinctive beliefs and practices, lead many to conclude that Mormonism should not be considered a Christian community per se but a separate (though related) religious tradition.

Mormonism is a distinctively American religious movement with many admirable features. Yet proxy baptisms wound the American experiment in religious pluralism.

The Constitution enables a diverse array of spiritual traditions to flourish; all can freely exercise their own traditions, so long as they do not infringe on the free exercise of others or threaten the common good. But this American religious pluralism implies the need for different religious communities to respect each other’s boundaries and sensibilities.

Perhaps LDS elders felt this to some degree when they agreed in 1995 to stop posthumously baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims “out of respect for a group of people unique in all of history.”

However, the case of Daniel Pearl shows that the problems of proxy baptism aren’t limited to Holocaust victims. Because of Judaism’s communal sense of identity, performing this ritual for any Jews without their community’s consent raises basic questions of fairness and respect.

It took Christianity five centuries or more to define key doctrines about Jesus Christ, and it took rabbinic Judaism many centuries to become the normative way of being Jewish. The spiritual customs of all living religious traditions evolve over time, and perhaps it is time for Mormons to carefully reassess this particular practice, as it has others in the past.

Or maybe people of faith who proclaim that God is merciful beyond human calculation should simply trust that God’s graciousness is not constrained by ritual ceremonies — either our own or someone else’s.

(Philip A. Cunningham is professor of theology and director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.)

Why do Mormons baptize the dead?

Mormons practice baptism for the dead in special temple baptismal pools to offer salvation to ancestors who may not have had a chance to accept the Mormon faith. RNS photo courtesy LDS Church

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has apologized for a Mormon who baptized the late parents of famed Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. But despite calls this week from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and others to rethink the controversial rite, the church is unlikely to drop it entirely.

Latter-day Saints trace posthumous baptism to the Apostle Paul, who wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:29, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead not rise at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” Mormons believe that Joseph Smith, their faith’s founding prophet, restored the apostolic practice after centuries of neglect by mainstream Christians.

Proxy baptism was also Smith’s answer to a classic Christian conundrum: What happens to people who, through no fault of their own, did not join the church during their lifetime? Should they be barred from heaven?

Mormons believe that vicarious baptisms give the deceased, who exist in the afterlife as conscious spirits, a final chance to join the Mormon fold, and thus gain access to the Celestial Kingdom. To Mormons, only members of the LDS priesthood possess the power to baptize.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Baptist or a Buddhist,” said Kathleen Flake, a Vanderbilt University scholar who has studied the church, “it’s about who has the authority to perform the sacrament.”

Flake said Mormons are encouraged to baptize at least four generations of forebears to seal the family together in the afterlife. So the LDS church has built the world’s most extensive genealogical library in Salt Lake City with 700 employees and more than 2 billion names.

Baptisms need bodies, so young Mormon men and women dressed in white robes stand in for the departed souls in temple ceremonies worldwide. Mormons youths consider it an honor to be immersed in baptismal founts while the names of the deceased are recited.

LDS leaders emphasize that the spirits of the dead must accept the baptism — it cannot be involuntarily imposed. And Mormons are instructed to only baptize family members, particularly after Jewish genealogists discovered in the 1990s that 380,000 Holocaust survivors had been vicariously baptized. In response, the church imposed safeguards and spent $500,000 removing Jewish names from its baptismal registries.

But with 13 million Mormons worldwide, the church insists that it cannot control “pranksters or careless persons” who submit Jewish names or famous people such as President Obama’s late mother, Stanley Anne Dunham. And the church considers the ritual too essential to forswear.

“With deepest respect to our Jewish friends, the church cannot abandon fundamental aspects of its religious doctrine and practice,” the church writes on its website, “and it should not be asked to do so.”

Belief Bytes: Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

Courtesy of Religion News Service

Charles Darwin’s birthday, more political conscience wrangling and Christian conservatives angry about the Obama administration’s requirement of employers to provide free birth control – all in Wednesday’s Religion News Service Religion Roundup.

Here’s an excerpt:

“As you’ve probably heard by now, Mitt Romney trounced Newt Gingrich and the rest of the GOP field in Florida.

Romney even edged Gingrich in the “evangelical/born again Christian” vote, 38 percent to 37.

I would have liked to see a breakdown of the Jewish vote after those Kosher robocalls.

Gingrich is still hoping for a Super Tuesday miracle, but as Romney pivots toward the general election, some politicos say his Mormon church’s racial history could pose a problem.

In other news, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia died, just a day after a judged had ruled him competent to testify in a landmark sexual abuse trial.

Sen. Marco Rubio brought a bill to the floor that would repeal health care mandates that he says violate religious freedom or conscience rights.”

Read the rest of the post here.

Send your local church service opportunities to our Christian service blogger

By Contributor Andy Lee

“Until someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
~Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

While manning a table at a local food pantry, I listened as a woman explained her prayer request for a friend who had once been a successful businessman. He is now homeless. Her narrative weaved back and forth between his story and her own.

She had been a nurse. But illness led to losing her job, which was followed by the loss of her home. Her story humbled me and awakened me again to the severity of our economy.

As she told her story, she reminisced of serving with other ministries before she found herself on the other side of the receiving line. I was amazed by the number of shelters and soup kitchens sprinkled through her monologue.

I felt this meeting a divine appointment. Not only had she given great resources to research for future posts, but I realized there are many service ministries in Wilmington I never knew existed.

It’s as if they’re as hidden as the homeless in our community. If you don’t know where to look, you won’t find them. Hidden treasures of hope.

Many of us want to help, but we don’t know where to start. How do you find them? This is the purpose of the Christian Service blog: to cultivate an awareness of service ministries in our community and surrounding area.

Will you help me?

If you are involved with a service ministry such as a food pantry, clothing closet, shelter, etc., email the name of the ministry, web site and some contact information to me: Please place “Service Ministry” in the subject line.

I would also appreciate the names of the unsung heroes of your service ministries. I want to celebrate the good stuff going on in our community.

Just as quickly as my newest acquaintance at the food pantry began to tell her story, she finished writing the prayer request, gathered her things and slipped out the door. I felt helpless, unable to change her situation beyond a bag of food, a blanket and a prayer. But I’m hopeful this blog will draw workers to the cause, and together we can help people get back on their feet, restoring once vibrant lives.

One seed at a time.

Religious leaders: Same-sex marriage threatens religious freedom

c. 2012 Religion News Service
Printed with permission

(RNS) A coalition of nearly 40 religious leaders has published an open letter that seeks to recast the battle against same-sex marriage as a fight on behalf of religious freedom.

The religious leaders, predominantly from conservative Christian churches and Orthodox Judaism, say their concern is not that legalizing gay marriage will force their ministers to perform same-sex weddings; they say they doubt that will happen.

Rather, they wrote Thursday (Jan. 12), allowing same-sex couples to marry would wind up “forcing or pressuring both individuals and religious organizations — throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies — to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct.”

“There is no doubt that the many people and groups whose moral and religious convictions forbid same-sex sexual conduct will resist the compulsion of the law, and church-state conflicts will result,” they warn in the letter, titled “Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together.”

The leaders include Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and H. David Burton, presiding bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The signers note that religious adoption agencies already have been required to place children with same-sex couples and religious institutions are being told to provide insurance benefits to gay partners.

The signatories also argue that their opposition to same-sex marriage has “marked them and their members as bigots, subjecting them to the full arsenal of government punishments and pressures reserved for racists.”

The thrust of the letter is to frame opposition to gay marriage in terms of a battle for religious freedom, an argument that many religious groups believe has a possibility of gaining some traction with an American public, even as Americans increasingly — and perhaps inexorably — grow more accepting of same-sex relationships.

The letter also represents an effort by diverse religious bodies to present a united front in opposition to gay marriage. Other signers include Pentecostal church officials and leaders of conservative Baptist, Lutheran and Anglican denominations.