Faith has always played a role in politics, from the founding fathers’ inclusion of God in many of the country’s original documents to modern day where President Barack Obama has had to defend his stance as a Protestant and deflect theories that he is Muslim.
While it may not be as historic as electing the first black president in 2008, Mitt Romney has a chance to break new ground when it comes to faith in the White House by becoming the first Mormon president.
The 2012 race has launched the generally overlooked religion into the national spotlight and with that an opportunity to educate the public and address misconceptions, said local Mormon leader Michael Evans.
Evans, a stake president that serves at the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Sycamore and oversees other regional churches, said the increased attention on the religion has been a great opportunity for members to reach out, but it also shows how little people understand of the religion.
“The biggest misconception that comes up is people think we’re not a Christian church,” Evans said. “That’s amazing to me when the name of the church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”
He said Mormons believe many of the same foundations as other Christians. For example, worshipping Jesus as the son of God and savior of the world, participating in baptism and confirmation and reading the Holy Bible are all part of the faith.
He said many of the differences come from the role of Joseph Smith. Smith is believed to have restored the then-splintered church and discover and translate the Book of Mormon, which is a staple in the religion. However, Mormons do not worship Smith, but view him as a prophet, Evans said.
While explaining the foundations of the faith is a good opportunity, Evans said the increased attention really gives leaders a chance to show Mormons are like any other neighbor. He said Mormons hold many values that would help any community such as restraint from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
“We’re very mainstream, very much the neighbor next door,” he said. “We believe in the same values basically everybody else does.”
There also are many more Mormons than people realize he said. In the DeKalb-Sycamore area, he estimated there are about 500 to 600 practicing Mormons and about 25,000 to 30,000 in the greater Chicago area.
And perhaps the biggest surprise to some, he said, is all of those tens of thousands of Mormons will not vote for Romney. He said one of the core values of the Mormon church is to remain politically neutral and leaders have stressed throughout the election season there is no endorsement.
When Mormon churches have held events during the election season to educate interested people, he said no mention of politics is ever made.
“Our focus has not been on politics or candidates,” he said. “We want to take this opportunity to help people understand our faith and religion and who we are much better.”
He said anyone is welcomed to Sunday services at 9 a.m. at the church on 624 Fox Ave. in Sycamore and a large holiday event with Mormons throughout the region will take place Dec. 1 in Rockford at the Mormon church on 324 University Drive.