Mormon Pageant Unites Hundreds

"We've got about 26 people, men and women who are working to get people costumed and the beards and the wigs and those things," said Steele. "It's a big job. During the pageant we do about six loads of laundry, just so that we're keeping up to speed."

After they're dressed and before the show starts, the cast members mingle with the tens of thousands of people who come to see the show, both to socialize and evangelize.

"There's one thing that is so unique about this religion," said Steele. "We just say to people, 'Just pray. Ask the heavenly father, and you will know. You'll know if it's true.'"

Romney Attention Welcomed by Faithful

Many of the Mormons at the pageant were keenly aware of the fact that the questions about their faith are likely to increase exponentially as Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign gains more momentum.

Romney himself seems tired of the questions about his religion. This past week, as seen on a widespread video, Romney became increasingly agitated with a radio host's questions regarding Mormonism.

By contrast, many of the Mormons at the pageant said they welcome the attention.

"Personally, I think it's a good thing because I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about the church," said Tuttle. "And just with people, there's a lot of misinformation … disseminated out there and a lot of people have, I think, very legitimate questions about the church."

Steele agrees. "Often people will say, 'You know, I heard this and this about your church. Well, what's the deal? Do you really believe this?' And then it gives people the opportunity to explain and have open dialogue and to let them know, 'No, that's not exactly what we believe.'"

The most common questions are about polygamy, even though the practice was banned in 1890, and the Mormon secret temple rituals, which still exist today.

"The temple is a very sacred place, and we hold it in special reverence," said Tuttle. "But we also tell everybody 'anyone is welcome to come to the temple if they meet the requirements. …' So it's not closed to Mormons, or closed to non-Mormons, but it's closed to just people who are not prepared to enter therein."

A Community Thrives Despite the Scrutiny

It's so very sacred, so deeply spiritual, and so transcendent," said Stankiewicz. "These are very important and very sacred things, and that they do have to be approached with a level of deep spiritual maturity. … You don't just sort of flippantly take on these big covenants that you're making with God."

"There's really a lot of anti-Mormon sentiment that's happening, and that makes people curious too," said Steele. "Why are so may people against this religion? We're not out fighting against any other religion."

After the performance ends and the audience goes home, the cast meets for a late-night prayer session. The families all worship and sing together, even teenagers who ought to be at the peak of their surliness.

And as Mormons head into a period of sometimes very tough scrutiny, this is the image they want to project.

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