Mitt Romney embraces his Mormonism in public after years of discretion
Christians and Jews are taught that Moses parted the Red Sea and led the Israelites to the promised land. Hindus have Hanuman, the monkey god who carried an entire mountain covered with the sanjivini herb to save the life of Lakshmana. Some take them literally; for others they are metaphors. If they weren't fantastical, there would be precious little to put your faith in.
Mormonism is no different. The religion started with Joseph Smith, a man in western New York who had many visions. During the 1820s he said an angel visited him and lead him to a buried book of golden plates inscribed with a Christian history of ancient American civilizations.
It was one visit among many; he also claimed that the angels of Peter, James, John and John the Baptist visited him and endowed him with a range of priesthood authorities. Claiming that by the "by the gift and power of God" he translated the 500 pages in two months he published the Book of Mormon, organised the Church of Christ and was hailed as a prophet. The president of the church is still considered a prophet and God's spokesman to the world.
Smith's small but growing band of followers were chased out of New York and settled in Kirtland, Ohio, from which they were expelled, pushing them south and west to Jackson County, Missouri. Attempts to lay down roots there were scuppered when the governor issued a "Mormon extermination order" insisting they must "be treated as enemies".
They went north to Illinois where after a few years Smith and his brother were slaughtered by a mob. Brigham Young then took over and lead them westward where they settled in what was then Mexican land and would later become the state of Utah.
"Even though more than a century has passed and we don't face anything like that level of persecution now there's a live nerve ending in the Mormon consciousness that's informed by that history," explains Barlow, "that does make us more sensitive to being misrepresented."
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