How would Romney's Mormon faith affect his leadership?
Mitt Romney waves as he arrives with his wife Ann at a campaign rally Oct. 7 in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
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If Mitt Romney is elected president Tuesday, it will be the first time a Mormon -- a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- will inhabit the White House.
And Mr. Romney is not just a member of the Mormon church, he is a leader.
In 1984, when he co-founded Bain Capital, he served as the bishop of his ward, or congregation, and then was made a president of his Boston stake, or region of wards of the Church of Jesus Christ, the church's preferred shorter name.
How will his Mormon faith affect his presidency, if elected, in policy and in practices?
"I look at someone like Mitt Romney and understand the faith and the background he comes from," says Chris Miller, who is serving as the bishop, or the unpaid head, of the Perrysburg, Ohio, ward. "To me it represents a lot of personal integrity, character, and commitment to whatever he applies himself. He cares about people and all those he's in contact with. As president of the United States, the White House is going to care deeply for every individual citizen. It's almost like a family."
While many faiths focus on the individual's life, for the Church of Jesus Christ, the family is the fundamental unit of the church. That is different from many religions, which focus primarily on the individual and on personal salvation.
Calls to the Romney campaign seeking to discuss Mr. Romney's faith and how it would affect his presidency, if elected, were not returned.
That leaves as an open question whether the practices of the Latter-day Saints are so strongly held by Mr. Romney that he might follow them and try to change U.S. law?
The church disapproves of coffee. Like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted restrictions on soda, could Mr. Romney take our coffee?
Mr. Miller says that won't happen. "As members of the church, one of the main principles that we believe in is that we are all given the gift of what we call free agency. We have the ability to make decisions for ourselves. Mitt, if he were president, he has the belief that he follows but that's not meant that he'll dictate that to everyone in the world. Those are his standards and his mandates. He doesn't drink coffee. That doesn't mean that's a mandate for everyone" to give up coffee.
And how might Mr. Romney use the law for his ends? Think of his not joining the military during the Vietnam War era. Mr. Romney received draft deferments as a student and as a Mormon missionary in France.
Mormon males enter the faith's priesthood at age 12, and all men are priests at different levels of succession. Women don't serve in the church's ordained ministry but have more nurturing and care-giving roles, including the Relief Society, serving people in need.
Mormon missionaries perform religious ministry in their assignments, and the minister deferment was considered valid -- using the law, not bending it -- for Mormons doing mission work.
Are the differences of Latter-day Saints from the more traditional faiths significant? When religious stories are told, Latter-day Saints hear familiar Old Testament names, but they also hear names that would not be familiar to Christians. "We are blessed to be led by living prophets -- inspired men called to speak for the Lord, just as Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, Nephi, Mormon and other prophets of the scriptures," states Latter-day Saints doctrine.
Another faith difference is seen in a person's appearance. Mormons are encouraged to dress up to go to church, and to dress modestly in their everyday lives. Some individuals wear special garments under their clothes to remind them of their faith, and those who are admitted to temples will dress in white clothing.
When a Latter-day Saint certifies his or her worthiness to enter the temple, which is open only to those who are recommended by priesthood leaders, and is endowed with sacred gifts, one of the items presented is the temple garment commonly known as Mormon underwear.
"You should not expose it to the view of those who do not understand its significance," an instruction book states. "When you wear it properly, it provides protection against temptation and evil."
Faith differences between Latter-day Saints and those of different beliefs come up, but they also guide the flock.
"The first thing that people need to understand is that we are devout followers of Jesus Christ," Mr. Miller says. "We believe that he is our savior, our redeemer. We follow his teachings and commandments. We have the Book of Mormon as additional testimony of Jesus Christ as our savior and redeemer."
A foundation of the church is family orientation. The church encourages a weekly evening when just the family is together without distractions. There is a family atmosphere within a ward because of the practice of home teachers caring for one another's spiritual, and sometimes other, needs outside the church.
And then there is the perception of celestial families, where baptizing ancestors assures them a place in heaven. The family trees of Mormons get special tending.
Mr. Romney can trace his lineage back to the founding of this truly American religious denomination -- now a worldwide religion -- back to ancestors who worked and worshiped alongside Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-44), the founder and first president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to Brigham Young (1801-77), who moved the church to Salt Lake City.
The families from which Mr. Romney descended don't always have smooth lines from one generation to the next. Born in 1947, he can paint a straightforward picture as head of his family with his wife, Ann, born in 1949. Together they have five children and 18 grandchildren.
But go back in time past his parents, former Michigan Gov. George Wilcken Romney (1907-95) and Lenora LaFount Romney (1908-98) and their seven children, and some guessing is necessary. A major complicating factor is marriage, or more specifically plural marriage.
Some of Mr. Romney's great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents took part in a practice of Smith, Young and others early Mormons that still at times overshadows the faith, a practice that was officially ended by the church in 1890 -- polygamy, or plural marriage.
"It gets a little bit into some doctrinal areas, but as members of the church it's our belief that the president of the church is a prophet of God," Mr. Miller said. "He receives revelations from God. [Regarding plural marriage] there was direction from God that that was something that was needed at that time, but that was eliminated over 100 years ago through revelation.
"The prophet at that time eliminated plural marriage. That was not a part of the church, and no one in the church practices that and has not for well over 100 years," said Mr. Miller.
Mr. Romney's forefathers helped to build the Church of Jesus Christ.
They advised Smith and Young. They took Mormonism to Mexico when the United States would not accept the polygamy of early Latter-day Saints years, from 1852 to 1890.
Smith did not practice open polygamy -- the church went public about multiple marriage after Smith's death -- but he is said to have had more than one wife, to have married three sets of sisters, even, and to have at least 11 children.
Brigham Young had 27 wives and 56 children. With those numbers, genealogical research can produce "six degrees of separation"-type ties between people and between early church families.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might possess the world's largest collection of genealogical resources, but it also respects family privacy. The church referred all questions related to Romney genealogy to the Romney family and campaign.
Polygamy remains a very strong topic of discussion more than a century after the hierarchy of the Latter-day Saints banned the practice.
Polygamy was public for the church and became a political and religious issue, affecting when Utah would join the United States, in 1896.
Mr. Romney's great-great-grandfather, Parley Parker Pratt (1807-57), had 12 wives and 31 children; great-grandfather Helaman Pratt (1846-1909) had five wives and four children.
For many people, it seems rare to trace family trees with simple arithmetic; complex geometry is called for because of remarriages, affairs producing children, and even, as in Mr. Romney's ancestry, church-sanctioned polygamy.
Half-siblings, cousins once removed, and step-parents seem simple compared with tracing the paths of Mr. Romney's great-grandfather Miles Park Romney's five wives and 27 children.
As a young member of the Church of Jesus Christ -- when he was a primary -- Mitt Romney learned the beliefs that were "revealed" by Joseph Smith Jr. in the 1800s.
Latter-day Saints believe that when Smith was 14 and living in Palmyra, N.Y., he was visited by God and Jesus and was instructed not to join any existing church.
Three years later, according to the Church of Jesus Christ, it came to pass that an angel named Moroni told Smith about buried golden plates on which was written the Book of Mormon.
Smith had annual visits from Moroni until at age 18 when Moroni told him where to find the plates -- a stack six inches high and eight inches square -- and two special stones to be used to translate the language on them into English.
Smith is said to have used the stones to dictate the Book of Mormon to his scribe, Oliver Cowdery.
Included among those beliefs are that the church is Christian, but that Mr. Smith's discovery was divine direction to restore the church of Jesus, a church that Latter-day Saints say has gone away from Jesus' teachings.
Mormons say that original teachings of Christianity were lost or adapted since Jesus' time, and the Latter-day Saints' religion is based on Jesus' original teachings.
Also, while mainline Christians believe that their "Holy Trinity" of father God, son Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one heavenly being, Latter-day Saints believe that the three are individuals, not one entity.
When a newspaper editor asked Joseph Smith about his religion in 1842, Smith wrote 13 points, which have come to be known as the Latter-day Saints' articles of faith. Among the beliefs Smith stated are:
"We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost."
Smith included the book he uncovered: "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God."
Smith wrote of the future and a particular place: "We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory."
There is also a point of openness to others, kind of a live-and-let-live advocacy: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where or what they may."
In other words, though Smith's church is strong in missionaries converting people to this faith, he recognized that people will continue to have different beliefs and not all be one church.
By Mitt Romney's religious work and other actions, he demonstrates the present faith of the Latter-day Saints as formed in part by earlier generations of his family, even if he talks about it very little in his presidential campaign, said Mr. Miller.
"You can only imagine the excitement of members in the church with someone as close to the White House as Mitt Romney is," Mr. Miller said. "I just hope, if he is elected, that he's a great leader. Everything that he's been involved in shows what a great leader he is."
First Published November 4, 2012 12:00 am