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Romney's challenge: What Bexar County's primaries could tell America about the anti-Mormon vote

Photo: Photo illustration by Chuck Kerr, License: N/A

Photo illustration by Chuck Kerr

Photo: Steven Gilmore, License: N/A

Steven Gilmore

A new Mormon temple being constructed on Talley Road.

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In town hall meeting after town hall meeting, supporters have called upon Romney to open up his private life and share details of his time as a Mormon bishop. The LDS church and its members, however, still operate behind a curtain of mystery, employing secret handshakes and recondite temple rituals. Over the past decade or so, the internet has thrown the temple doors open (if you know where to look), a result of apostates seeking to rend the veil of mystery. Curiously, this has both prodded the church toward more "acceptable" rituals, on one hand, and, on the other, more transparency in church activities. "In the LDS, nothing's 'secret' anymore," an ex-Mormon told the Current with heavy irony, "but everything's still 'sacred.'"

The Mormon Manual

When it comes to matters of doctrine, the LDS relies on the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and any other number of prophetic writings and revelation.

When it comes to conduct, there is but one text: The Handbook. It consists of more than 400 pages of rules and regulations to be followed by the laity, instructions for the leadership on how to administer the regulations, and detailed procedural guidelines for enforcement and discipline.

Bedrock social issues such as abortion, birth control, and premarital sex are covered, but so are myriad matters of quotidian life, both public and private, from attire to artificial insemination, hypnotism to hedonism, bedroom activities to the Boy Scouts. Though major matters are either forbidden or required, questions of conduct in this hefty lifestyle manual are overwhelmingly simply "encouraged" or "discouraged."

The discouragement speaks softly in print, but carries a big stick in practice. LDS sinners suffer public shame more than any other major U.S. religion. When any member falls out of good standing, the entire congregation knows. Excommunication is the pathway to perdition in the afterlife; the threat of excommunication can be hell on earth for a Mormon.

"I could never admit that I struggled with anything," says Paige Richardson, a San Antonio resident and former LDS follower who has since converted to evangelical Christianity. "Because if you admit it, you lost your leadership positions, you lost your friendships, you're shunned. For instance, this isn't my issue, but say you tell someone about a problem with alcohol or drugs, that you admitted that. Well, you would lose any 'calling' you had in the church. Friends would not support you, they would just say, 'You need to talk to the bishop.' It would spread like wildfire. I saw it happen to people time and time again."

Jenny Clark, a San Antonio resident and also a current evangelical Christian who comes from a long line of Utah heritage Mormons, said she left after her doubts with the church's dominance of her personal life became irrepressible while at Brigham Young University. As an active parishioner, she saw loyal LDS members turn against apostates. When she left the church, she tried to do so quietly. "I didn't really rock the boat, I just kept stuff to myself. As soon as you stop going they start pestering and hounding you, and they start asking questions."

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