A political hurricane hits Florida today
Jeb Bush warns that Hispanic voters are drifting away from the GOP

What you should know about Mitt Romney and Mormons

Crowley Political Report is packing a lot of infomation about Florida Mormons and Mitt Romney in today's edition of CPR.

We first posted this report in October but with Florida voters ready to go to the polls to vote for a Republican presidential nominee - it worth repeating.

It would also be worth your time to read the Palm Beach Post's Andrew Abramson's interview with Worldwide Christian Center Pastor, Rev. O'Neil Dozier who apparently thinks little Mormons. After hosting a campaign stop by Rick Santorum, Dozier told the Post:

“You can look at the June Gallup poll that shows the people have already spoken – 22 percent of the electorate will not vote for a Mormon,” Dozier said. “The American people will not vote for a Mormon to be president of the United States.”

Dozier, who is black, said a Republican will need at least 10 percent of the black vote to win the presidency.

“Blacks are not going to vote for anyone of the Mormon faith,” Dozier said. “The book of Mormon says the Negro skin is cursed.”

Read more of the Post report here.

In 2007, we watched as Romney was shouted down during a visit to The Villages, a mandatory Florida campaign stop for Republcian candidates, by an angry man who accused him of pretending to be a Christian. The man refused to accept the idea that a Mormon could be a Christian.

That outburst, led to the following 2007 story about Florida Mormons - a story that is even more important today as Romney leads in most polls.

By Brian E. Crowley - Palm Beach Post Politcal Editor

There are always questions.

Some are merely curious: Why do Mormons avoid coffee and tea? Shun tobacco?

Others are more pointed: Are you polygamists? Are you Christians? Are you a cult?

None of this is new to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But what is new is the presidential campaign of Republican former Massachusetts governor and devout Mormon.

Romney has made Florida a key state in his bid to win the GOP nomination, bringing with him a spotlight on his religion and the 125,000 Mormons who live and worship in the Sunshine State.

Members, including more than 15,000 in South Florida, also must deal with this sobering fact: A USA Today/Gallup poll in February found that 24 percent of those asked said they would not vote for a well-qualified Mormon to be president. Among Republicans the number was 30 percent.

"You, sir, are a pretender. You do not know the Lord. You are a Mormon," a man yelled at Romney during a campaign stop last month at The Villages, a retirement community near Ocala.

The man was shouted down by the crowd of more than 800, but he offered a view of the church that is not uncommon. The Southern Baptist Convention describes Latter-day Saints as a cult.

Jacob Weisberg, editor of the online magazine Slate, wrote in December that the religion is based on "a transparent and recent fraud," which is why he would not vote for Romney.

Diversity within church

Shauna Hostetler of Wellington has heard it all.

An event planner and mother of five, Hostetler, 46, said that when Romney became a candidate, some of her non-Mormon friends and acquaintances reacted as if she were part of "some big mass group."

People would say, "I just want to wish your people good luck with Mitt" or "I'm so happy for your people," she said. "I guess there is still a lot of mystery, and people don't understand that we are just normal, average people."

And, Hostetler said, church members will vote their conscience -- Romney, like any other candidate, will have to earn their votes.

Mormons point out that the U.S. Senate majority leader, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, is a Mormon. And they note that Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Mormon, supports the presidential aspirations of Arizona Sen. John McCain, an Episcopalian.

"You should not assume that all of us who are Mormon support Romney," said Randy Nielsen, a GOP campaign consultant and co-founder of the West Palm Beach-based Public Concepts.

A seventh-generation Mormon, Nielsen said the church is composed of "Democrats like my mother," Republicans and independents. "We are a varied bunch who are bound together by our strong faith in Jesus Christ," he said.

Some Evangelical voters dispute the Christianity of Latter-day Saints. They disagree with the belief that God and Jesus Christ appeared to church founder Joseph Smith in 1820.

Smith had visits from other biblical figures and from an angel named Moroni, who led him to gold plates, that he translated into the Book of Mormon. The church was organized in 1830 in New York.

Often at odds with other religious and government leaders, followers fled several states before settling in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

Polygamy an issue from start

The president of the church is considered a prophet and serves for life. The Book of Mormon and other texts are considered Scripture, just like the Bible. Polygamy -- having multiple wives -- was practiced until 1890, when it was banned by the church, in part to help Utah gain statehood.

Smith introduced polygamy to the church, saying the idea came from God. The practice and other tenets of the early church drew sometimes violent reactions from opponents of the religion. When Smith brought his church to Missouri, there were frequent battles with non-Mormons and local authorities, resulting in the so-called Mormon War.

After fleeing, Smith and his brother Hyrum were shot to death in 1844 in Illinois. Smith was 38. Leadership of the church splintered, and eventually the largest group of Latter-day Saints settled in Utah, where today they remain the dominant religion.

Splinter groups include the 250,000-member Community of Christ and the 10,000-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which still believes in polygamy.

Members cringe at the HBO series Big Love, a fictional account of a modern polygamist. There are communities of polygamists in Utah and Arizona who claim to be Mormons, but they are not recognized by the church.

"Everybody still thinks we practice polygamy," said Wellington's Hostetler, who laughs at the idea. "I get asked that question a lot."

Winning converts remains a major part of the religion. Young men are encouraged to spend two years as missionaries.

Hostetler has a son on a mission in Peru. Another son went to Venezuela and a third to Denver.

Many would recognize the missionaries, often seen wearing shirts and ties while bicycling through neighborhoods seeking converts.

Dr. Donald Smarinski, a West Palm Beach dentist, said his conversion from Catholic to Mormon "made me a better person, a better father and a better husband."

But it did not make him a sure vote for Romney. Smarinski, 57, said he wants to know more about Romney's views. A Republican, Smarinski said he voted for Democrat Jim Davis in last year's race for governor.

Jim Long, 64, a retired business executive who lives in Highland Beach, converted from Presbyterian to Mormon when he was 21.

During his 43 years as a practicing Mormon, Long has never heard any kind of directive from church leaders about politics, he said, adding that the church has a tradition of not getting involved in campaigns. The church does oppose gay marriage, he said, but as a matter of faith, not politics.

An opportunity to educate

In 1980, Paula Hawkins, who had been elected to the Florida Public Service Commission, won a seat in the U.S. Senate.

She was the first Republican woman in Florida to win a Senate seat. The fact that she was Mormon was never an issue.

Some Mormons worry that Romney's candidacy will result in a smear campaign where fears about the church are used to create anxiety about having a Mormon as president.

But other church members see it as opportunity to dispel what they believe are myths about the church.

"The biggest misconception people have is that we are not Christians," said John Zowtiak, 53, of Coral Springs. "I would want people to know that we are very much Christians, that we believe very much in Jesus Christ."

As for the 24 percent of voters who would not vote for a Mormon, Zowtiak said, "I don't feel badly about that" because the campaign "gives us a chance to have a discussion and educate people."

A Mormon Q&A

Who are the Mormons?

A: They are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and many prefer to be called Latter-day Saints. Mormon, a common name for members of the church, comes from the Book of Mormon, which the church believes was revealed in 1827 by the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith on a hillside near Palmyra, N.Y. Other revelations from God were recorded as the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.

How big is the church?

A: There are an estimated 12.5 million members worldwide. There are 125,000 members in Florida.

Are they Christians?

A: Yes. Latter-day Saints believe in Jesus Christ, but they also believe that 'divine apostolic authority' was lost after the 'death of the ancient apostles.' They believe the restoration of that authority began with the revelations to Smith. The church believes that God and Christ visited Smith in 1820 in what is known as 'The First Vision.'

Do they believe in the Bible?

A: Latter-day Saints follow the Bible but believe that the Book of Mormon and other texts also are part of Scripture.

Do they believe in God?

A: Yes. Latter-day Saints believe God and Jesus Christ each have a 'human-like body.' They also believe that the resurrected Christ visited 'ancient America' and 'established His church, as in the Old World.'

Who is the leader of the church?

A: Thomas S. Monson, 84, is the president and prophet. The church believes senior church leaders are prophets who may receive revelations from God.

What are some of their beliefs and practices?

A: Latter-day Saints believe that God still speaks to humans on earth and that revelations are made now as they were in biblical times. They believe that family relationships formed in life continue after death. 'Family members who accept the atonement of Jesus Christ and follow His example can be together forever through sacred sealing ordinances performed in God's holy temples.'

They do not drink alcohol, use tobacco, drink tea or coffee and eat meat 'sparingly.' Unmarried men and women are expected to remain chaste until marriage. Many wear a religious garment under their clothes intended to remind them of the need to remain close to God.

Latter-day Saints have numerous churches, often called meetinghouses, in Florida. There is one temple -- in Orlando -- where the most sacred church rites are performed. A temple may be visited by non-church members only when it is first dedicated and there is an 'open house.' After that, 'the temple will be dedicated to the Lord and open only to worthy Church members.'

Where can I learn more?


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It seems that the most intolerant people are among radical Muslims and Evangelical or born again Christians.

To yell at a person simply because he does not believe as you is unacceptable behavior. Especially since Mormonism, perhaps more than any other philosophy, teaches it's members to do good, serve in the community, lead moral lives, sacrifice for those in need and be good neighbors.

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