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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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Opposing the church publicly reaps rebuke and possible excommunication. In 1976 and 1977, two prominent LDS church members, Douglas Wallace and Byron Marchant, were excommunicated for issuing public calls to lift priesthood restrictions on blacks.

One individual we spoke with under condition of anonymity said she asked her bishop if she should renounce her good standing because she had a gay friend and homosexuality is considered a mortal sin in the LDS faith. She was told that she could have gay friends, so long as she did not attend, for example, a public rally in favor of gay marriage — an issue the LDS establishment has stridently opposed.

Those with more mainstream American lifestyles might raise an eyebrow over the church's micromanagement, pressure to conform, and harsh system of penance — whose business is it if I wanna dress immodestly in my own home? — but it's certainly covered by our fundamental freedom to worship. As Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger said in the 1972 landmark religious rights decision in Wisconsin v. Yoder: "There can be no assumption that today's majority is 'right' and the Amish or others like them are 'wrong.' A way of life that is odd or even erratic but interferes with no right or interests of others is not to be condemned because it is different."

Not so, say conservative Christian critics. Though Romney claims the firewall between religion and politics would remain impermeable, elements of LDS doctrine give rise to the argument that SLC obedience goes beyond anything Kennedy faced from the Vatican.

Under LDS beliefs, the president, currently Thomas Monson, is also a living prophet with God's personal number on speed dial. The regard for the prophet is supreme; his edicts are considered more relevant than any tenet that may have been printed in a previous religious scripture or spoken by a previous prophet. Among the many principles that Mormons believe are: "The prophet may well advise on civic matters"; and "the prophet and the presidency ... follow them and be blessed — reject them and suffer."

A strict interpretation suggests that the prophet is free to meddle in politics, and that Romney would face damnation in "outer darkness" were he to disobey. However improbable such a scenario may be, the specter of an invisible Mormon chair at the Oval Office briefings has many fundamentalist Christians in knots. "It's just not a chance I'm willing to take with my country," says Keith Walker of San Antonio-based Evidence Ministries. "That's why Romney's religion speech just isn't the same at all as Kennedy's was. Remember, he was a Mormon bishop back when they still had to take blood oaths in the Temple."

Walker, who leads Bible study groups for ex-Mormons, is referring here to pledges made during the rite-of-passage "Temple Endowment" ceremony to, say, slit one's own throat for failing to keep the Covenants, a litany of oaths which include swearing "to consecrate yourselves, your time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which he may bless you, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion."

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