Officially neutral, individually excited. That’s how some local Mormons feel as this week’s Republican National Convention shines a light on their faith.
“What’s great about the candidacy, people are asking questions about the church,” said Jeff Lee, president of the Lynnwood Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“The church is politically neutral. We have members not of the Republican persuasion,” said Wayne N. Wilcox Jr., president of the church’s Marysville Stake. “It is an interesting time. It is an opportunity to highlight the church.”
Sheri Flake, who belongs to the Arlington Stake, knows her church has emphasized neutrality during this campaign season, but said “we’re excited to have somebody who is of our faith, no question about that.”
On Thursday, Mitt Romney is scheduled to accept the GOP presidential nomination in Tampa, Fla. A lifelong Mormon, the former Massachusetts governor has been a bishop and stake president in his church. He’ll be the first Mormon presidential nominee from a major political party.
His candidacy is historic in the way John F. Kennedy’s presidency was for Roman Catholics. It’s a first, and a chance for learning.
On a much smaller scale, people in Snohomish County had a window into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after its Harbour Pointe meeting house was destroyed by arson. In January, the public was invited to an open house at the rebuilt church in Mukilteo. The Harbour Pointe and Beverly Park wards, both part of the Lynnwood Stake, use the new building.
At the dedication Jan. 22, Lee thanked other churches that provided worship space after the fire, and expressed gratitude to the community. “There were all the flowers, cards and calls of support,” Lee said at the ceremony.
On Thursday, Lee said Romney’s candidacy has generated curiosity about his faith.
“There’s more interest and questions about the church, even with people I work with,” said Lee, 54, who commutes from Mukilteo to Nordstrom corporate offices in Seattle. Most Mormon church leaders — bishops and stake presidents — are laymen with careers outside the church. “I’m blessed for the time spent. It doesn’t feel like a burden, but it is a juggle sometimes,” Lee said.
“We earn a living for our family, and also go serve the members of our faith. It’s something we are taught while young,” said Wilcox, 59, who balances his job at the Boeing Co. with Marysville Stake leadership.
Ronald Southworth, 61, is a former Marysville Stake president who took over as president of the Arlington Stake when it was created in 2010. As membership grows, he explained, new stakes — made up of smaller wards — are formed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Church headquarters are in Salt Lake City, where President Thomas S. Monson is leader and prophet. Wards are headed by bishops, supervised by stake presidents.
Until recently, Romney’s campaign hasn’t focused much on his faith. Yet on Aug. 19, reporters were invited to a service with Romney at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Wolfeboro, N.H.
According to The New York Times, a Mormon Church member will deliver the invocation before Romney addresses the convention. “Rather than shy away from Mr. Romney’s faith, as some campaign aides have argued he should, they have decided to embrace it,” New York Times political writer Jeremy W. Peters said in an article published Aug. 20.
Mormons here said that while their church is sometimes known for practices that include not drinking alcohol — their health code is known as the “Word of Wisdom” — their faith has much to share with other Christian churches.
“People ask, ‘What is your church about?’ ” Lee said. “The mission is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as he taught it.”
Lee said the Mormon Church differs from other Christian churches in its belief “that there was a deviation from the original church taught by Jesus Christ after Jesus Christ died, an apostasy from the church.”
“What we believe is that the church needed to be restored, and that happened through Joseph Smith,” Lee said.
Mormons believe that the church established by Jesus Christ was restored in revelations brought to Smith in the 1800s, and also that Jesus Christ came to America after his resurrection. To believers, The Book of Mormon is scripture and historical record, telling of the ancient prophets in America.
Joyce Lau, of Edmonds, is a volunteer at the Family History Center in Mountlake Terrace, part of the church’s Shoreline Stake.
She sees many non-Mormons using the library. The church’s family history libraries help people trace their genealogy. “We welcome anybody,” said Lau, who is 61. The church keeps extensive family records, she said, “because we believe the family can be an eternal unit.”
Lau and others are aware that some have called their faith a cult, or have brought up polygamy, which is part of the church’s history. “Polygamy doesn’t exist in the church today,” said Lau, who likened the practice to biblical figures who had many wives.
In the early American West, she added, “a lot of men were killed, women were left by themselves, and back in those days couldn’t own property. That’s something in the past.”
It’s also a misconception that the church is dominated by men, Flake said.
While church authority is passed through men, she said, “women do hold leadership positions.”
Flake, 42, of Camano Island, is president of her ward’s relief society. She and her husband, David, coordinator of the Church Educational System, have a son serving on a Mormon mission in Brazil.
Like Lau, she said that a candidate’s faith is not a reason to vote for them. “Support the candidate who is going to sustain the values you have,” Flake said.
“The one thing I would hope the general population would take away from all this is that as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we want to be good citizens, family oriented and Christ-centered,” Wilcox said.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the church, to learn who we are,” Lau said.
“I hope a positive light is shined on the church,” he said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the official name of what is commonly called the Mormon Church. The church has an educational website explaining basic beliefs: http://mormon.org
The church’s official website is: www.lds.org