At the beginning of this year, feeding the words Mormon and Romney into a simultaneous Google search yielded around 16,000 hits. The same search today brings up more than a million.
It’s this astonishing increase in visibility for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that has led some journalists to describe the current news coverage as a “Mormon Moment” for the Church.
This is especially ironic considering the partisan political neutrality of the Church, which does not endorse candidates or party platforms, does not put out voter guides and has some of the strictest rules of any church in America in forbidding use of its buildings and membership rolls for political purposes.
While the institutional church has worked consistently to keep out of the political debate, individual Latter-day Saints are encouraged to take an interest, to be involved in their communities and to vote as part of the democratic process. When some members do that and achieve high office — as in the case of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or former governor Mitt Romney — the Church does not distance itself from them or their active Church membership. It simply recognizes that they do not speak for the Church any more than the Church speaks for government. As individuals responsible to their constituencies, they are free to support or oppose whatever political platform or policy they choose.
Meanwhile, Church Public Affairs staff have walked a narrow but very distinct line — unwilling to discuss political issues but very willing to talk to the news media and others about the Church itself. There have been plenty of opportunities to respond to questions, especially from journalists whose regular beats do not include religion.
In breaking the Church’s messages down to their simplest form, this is what journalists are learning:
First, there is much common ground with other Christians. Like most other Christians, Latter-day Saints believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of the world and their personal Savior. They commemorate this belief in Sunday worship services with what they call “the sacrament” — somewhat equivalent to communion in other churches. They try to model their lives on Christ’s teachings. They also believe in the Holy Bible and regularly teach from it. The Church frequently joins with other faiths to address humanitarian and other needs around the world.
There are also significant differences between Latter-day Saint doctrine and that of Christian faiths rooted in the creeds developed by the early Christian fathers. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox but holds a unique place in the Christian world as restored New Testament Christianity. The “latter-day” Church, like the ancient church in Christ’s day, is also led by apostles and served by a lay ministry and sends out missionaries two by two.
In addition to the Bible, Mormons use other scriptures, including the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which supports the Bible and serves as an additional witness to the ministry of Christ. Mormons believe these additional scriptures have given them deeper understanding of why people are born into mortality, where they came from and what awaits them in the next life. Similarly, they have a view of the nature of God and the eternal progression of His children that is found in no other Christian faith.
Journalists and researchers are also being encouraged to deepen their understanding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by getting to know its members, by visiting a regular Sunday service and by witnessing firsthand the effects of faith in individual lives. Whatever their social or economic background, and wherever they are from — from Harlem to Helsinki, or Peru to Papua New Guinea — members are taught to live the principles taught by Jesus Christ, including personal trustworthiness and integrity, a commitment to strong marriages and families, service and compassion for the needy.