By MICHELLE BEARDEN | The Tampa Tribune | January 22, 2012
For a religious denomination that claims about 2 percent of the American population, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is getting a lot of attention these days.
There’s the award-winning Broadway play “The Book of Mormon.” There’s the Mormon author of the popular “Twilight” vampire series, Stephenie Meyer. And Donny and Marie Osmond are still performing to sold-out crowds at the Flamingo Las Vegas.
Everyday people have gotten their moment, too, thanks to a 2010 church-funded national advertising campaign called “I’m a Mormon.”
But the spotlight has been shining brightest lately in the world of politics. On Jan. 31, Florida Republicans will be voting in a primary with a Mormon on the ballot — front-runner Mitt Romney, who served as a bishop in the church and governor of Massachusetts. There would have been two Mormons to choose from, but Jon Huntsman, a former Utah governor, dropped out last week.
Victor Patrick of Tampa, a retired lawyer and father of eight, welcomes the focus on his faith, even if it isn’t always in the best light.
“Any attention gives us a chance to tell others about ourselves,” he says. “Yes, we would rather it be all positive. But we find that the more people get to know us, they learn we are a lot more like them than not.”
What many Mormons such as Patrick say, according to a new survey, is that Americans know little or nothing about their religion. Mormons don’t think they are seen as part of the cultural mainstream, and many concede that outsiders consider their faith a “cult.”
Despite this, a majoritysaid the country is ready for a Mormon president and that acceptance of their faith is rising.
Those findings were released this month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in what is considered the largest survey of its kind about Mormons by a non-LDS research organization. Called “Mormons in America: Certain in Society but Uncertain of Their Place in Society,” it covered a wide spectrum of issues, from religious beliefs and practices to social and political views.
Luis Lugo, Pew Research Center director, emphasized that the survey was not “solely or even chiefly” about politics. However, its timing comes when Americans are making a decision whether to let a presidential candidate’s religious beliefs be a factor in voting for him.
Patrick, president of the Tampa Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which includes about 3,600 members in eight wards, thinks the more Romney succeeds in the primaries, the less voters will be concerned about his church.
“They’re going to see him more as a person than a stereotype,” Patrick says. “Here’s what they will learn: Mormons are regular people with jobs, who love their families and get involved in their local communities. We’re not some wide-eyed cultists planning some nefarious plot.”
The 1,019 respondents in the Pew survey, conducted between Oct. 25 and Nov. 16, identified themselves as Mormons. It did not include people who were no longer active in the church.
The findings reveal a group of believers that is satisfied with the way things are going in their lives (87 percent) and had a strong commitment to the teachings and practices of their faith. Eight in 10 say that religion is very important in their lives, and upward of three-quarters say they attend worship services at least once a week. Pew researchers noted that Mormons exhibit a “higher level of religious commitment” than many other groups, including white evangelical Protestants.
What are the most important elements of being a good Mormon? Eighty percent say the belief that founder Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ is essential; working to help the poor came in a close second at 72 percent. Less than half believed that following certain church revelations — such as not watching R-rated movies or drinking coffee and tea — were as important.
And more than half said “family home evening,” where the clan gathers one night a week to pray and play together, is an essential part of the faith.