A guide to Mormonism
By Katrina Fleet
Founded over 200 years ago in the US, it’s now one of the country’s fastest growing religions, and one of its members could be the next President. But what exactly is Mormonism?
With the overwhelming amount of activity in the news surrounding the ongoing 2012 election campaigns, you would have to be living under a rock on some remote nature reserve to not have heard about it. And, if you’ve been following the campaign, you may well have heard references to Mitt Romney’s religion – Mormonism.
To outsiders, the traditional image of a Mormon is one of white shirts, abstinence from tea and coffee and multiple wives. But, the first thing a Mormon is likely to point out, is the word itself. “Mormon” takes its name from the ancient prophet Mormon, who is believed to have recorded the teachings of Jesus which form the belief of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
Ten years ago, to be called a Mormon was insulting to some members of the church. “It’s just a nickname,” says Don Carpenter, a Church Elder and Mormon missionary. “We still like to be called Latter Day Saints. It’s really not a stigma, because we’re known that way and if you look in London, you’ll see all the signs that say ‘the Mormons are coming! The Mormons are coming!’”
You might also think that The Book of Mormon, the musical satirising the church, would really get their backs up. “It’s really not respectful, but hey! The Mormons have been here 175 years in England, and they’re here to stay and it does raise attention to the church. All we would say is, read the book.”
What is “the book”? Mormons read the Book of Mormon, and believe that members of a church founded by Jesus Christ were living in America between 2200BC and 421AD and inscribed teachings on golden plates. The last of these scriptures, by a prophet named Moroni, was then buried on a hill in New York. Then, in 1827, Moroni returned to Earth as an angel, appearing to a man named Joseph Smith. Smith was instructed to unearth the plates, translate them and spread the teachings on them to restore Christ’s true Church.
14 million and counting
Historically, Mormons have been persecuted, sometimes violently, painted by critics as naïve or even stupid for their belief in The Book of Mormon. But still, the church continued to grow, with some surprising statistics.
“There are more members outside of The [United] States than there are in the United States,” said Roland Elvige, UK Director for Public Affairs of the Church. “[It] was established in 1830, and 175 years ago, the first missionaries came to this country. It grew from here. In fact, in 1860, there were more members of the Church here than in America.”
Today, there are an estimated 14 million Mormons worldwide, higher even, than the world Jewish population.
Strange, then, that so little is known about their beliefs and doctrines, and what is known tends to border on the unusual or downright controversial.
One of the central pillars of any Mormon’s existence is family.
“The family, we recognise, is one of the fundamental bedrocks of our society,” says Roland. “The marriage between a husband and wife provides an environment where children can be bought up in a home where values are taught, where principles are adhered to and nurture an environment for children.”
Because of their strong family ideals and morals, Mormons are not so keen on same-sex marriage, or abortion. Mormons also do not drink tea or coffee.
“Where there are large groups of members of the church, you generally find that the life expectancy of those people is 10 or 12 years longer than those who may indulge in things that we don’t,” says Roland. “We don’t believe in things that may addict the body, we don’t take drugs. We don’t smoke. We don’t drink tea. We don’t drink alcohol. We try to take into our bodies things that are wholesome because we believe our bodies are sacred.”
So will Mormons be celebrating a Romney victory? “The Church is neutral politically. The Church does not endorse candidates. We’re in the business of teaching about Jesus Christ. But more knowledge about the Church because of prominent people within the Church, not just Mitt Romney, helps missionary work.”
Watch part of the exclusive interview with Don Carpenter, elder in The London Temple Newchapel.