Some Mormons Worry as Faith Comes Under Scrutiny

Mitt Romney's presidential rivals have used Mormonism against him.

ByABC News via via logo

June 19, 2007 — -- In recent weeks, two of Mitt Romney's Republican rivals have apologized after staffers sent out e-mails questioning basic tenets of Mormonism.

As Romney continues his quest for the presidential nomination, his faith is likely to come under increasing scrutiny.

It's not the first time a candidate's faith has been a factor for voters. It happened for Catholics in 1960 when John F. Kennedy ran for president, and it happened for Orthodox Jews when Joe Lieberman ran for vice president in 2000.

Mormonism's moment in the spotlight brings a mixture of pride and anxiety for members of the church.

Some Mormons worry about a resurgence of the type of bigotry the church has faced since it was founded 177 years ago by Joseph Smith, who was later killed by an angry mob.

Perhaps the biggest misconception about Mormons is that they're polygamists, as portrayed in the HBO series "Big Love."

In fact, the church gave up polygamy in 1890. It is now only practiced by a small group of so-called Mormon fundamentalists.

Nonetheless, some Mormons were offended when Romney harshly criticized polygamy on "60 Minutes."

"I must admit, I can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy," Romney said on the TV show.

John Dehlin, a Mormon businessman and journalist who runs a Web site called, said the remark was offensive.

"There are many Mormons who, while they don't practice polygamy, are very proud of their ancestry. So to hear him so summarily dismiss or disparage the practice of polygamy is hurtful," Dehlin said.

Other Mormon beliefs may provoke uncomfortable questions for Romney. For example, Mormons believe God was once a human being. Mormons also believe in symbolically baptizing the dead even if they're members of other religions.

Up until 1978, including a time during which Romney was prominent in the church, black people had second-class status. Mormons used to teach that blacks had dark skin because of a curse from God.

"These past statements haunt our people and they will haunt Mitt Romney," Dehlin said.

Dehlin, who is sometimes critical of the church, points out that Christian politicians aren't often asked about Old Testament passages that condone slavery.

"Every religion has skeletons in its historical closet," Dehlin said. "The only difference is that Mormonism is less familiar."

Some people believe it's unfair for Romney to be forced to essentially become a spokesman for his faith. Others argue that Romney is running for the highest office in the land as a man of faith and that scrutiny comes with the territory.

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