Romney's presidential bid shines light on 'Mormon moment'

CINCINNATI - For presidential candidate Mitt Romney, voters aren't just discussing his plans or his politics.

His faith, Mormonism, is also a topic of discussion.

If you go to Google and type in "Mormon," questions often come up like, what do they believe? Are they Christian?

But when we talked to local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints , it wasn't about defining the entire religion, or the people in it.

Here's the message they gave us. Yes, we're Christian and just like you, we're all different.

For Wesley and Anna Foister of Hamilton, who they vote for is a private decision and one they'll make partially based on family values. The Foisters have seven children and one on the way. Wesley is a bishop at the Hamilton congregation.

Wesley's family converted to the LDS church when he was a child.

"It wasn't easy but it has been so good for our family. We had a lot of friends who no longer wanted to be friends with us, they felt like we were making a mistake. But it has brought more joy into our lives than is imaginable," he said.

LDS members we talked to said they're used to getting, "you're a Mormon?" when talking to people.

Dr. Jana Riess of Hyde Park wrote the book "Mormonism for Dummies." She said the "you don't seem Mormon" response really hit home during a business dinner.

"One time I was sitting at this business dinner next to this wonderful guy and we talked for probably 45 minutes about books and politics, the news and all of this stuff. Then the waiter came to bring the evening coffee. I declined the coffee and I had also declined the wine and he said something like, 'What are you, a Mormon?'"

"I said, 'Yeah, I actually am.' And you know that expression about jaw dropping? I think his jaw actually hit the floor. It was astonishing how astonished he was. It just wasn't on his radar that a woman could have a PhD, be fun to talk to and be a Mormon," Riess said.

Dr. Riess says the "Mormon moment" is more like a Mormon decade.

"If I traced to when it began I would say fall of 2001 when people were gearing up for the Salt Lake City Olympics. In 2003, the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. Mormonism was very much in the news at that time. Then in 2008, Mitt Romney runs for president and it's pretty much been non-stop since then," she said.

She says the biggest misconception is still that LDS members practice polygamy. That hasn't been authorized since 1890. But with shows like HBO's "Big Love" and fringe Mormon groups who still believe in multiple wives, it's a topic that hasn't gone away.

As far as how she'll vote in November, Dr. Riess says, "Mormons don't agree on everything, for example I'm not voting for Mitt Romney. His politics are just not my politics."

So why don't Mormons drink alcohol, tea or coffee? There's a focus on health and in what Mormons call the "Word of Wisdom" doctrine and covenants on how to live. Kevin Stanford of Madeira has friends of different faiths and says it all comes down to respect. Respecting his choices and his beliefs.

"I don't drink alcohol. I never have. I never plan to. My friends aren't the ones saying 'we're going get smashed, come out with us.' They say, 'hey we're doing this thing you probably don't want to go, but if you do we could use a designated driver,'" said Stanford.

While the LDS churches are open to everyone, The Temple is so sacred not everyone, not even all Mormons, are allowed in. You have to be in good standing, which means following the Word of Wisdom and tithing 10 percent of your income... faithfully.

There's no Mormon Temple in Cincinnati, but there is one in Columbus and Louisville.

Another topic that often comes up is race relations. The church says it doesn't have exact numbers on how many Mormons are African-American, but for 150 years it denied priesthood to its black members.

Matthew White grew up in South Carolina and says he felt welcomed and embraced the first time he visited an LDS Church. He says he often finds himself explaining his religion and his politics to other black people the most. White voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, but says he's undecided between Romney and President Obama.

LDS is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Right now there are almost 10,000 members spread out over 26 congregations in the Tri-State.

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