Karen Sorenson, 29, is a public relations executive in Los Angeles. She’s also a Mormon, one of the fast-growing denomination’s 14-million members.
“Where I was grew up (in San Diego) there weren’t many Mormons,” she tells Metro. “Kids in school would ask me questions like, ‘How many moms do you have?’ I had no idea why they’d ask such a thing until I realized that many people believed Mormons still practise polygamy.”
Now, says Sorenson, things are very different: “I don’t get questions about polygamy anymore. When people hear that I don’t drink or smoke because I’m a Mormon, their reaction is usually, ‘Wow, I could never do that.’ My being a Mormon isn’t a deal-breaker for them. It’s like being a vegetarian.”
Mormons are officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Only half of Americans consider Mormonism a Christian religion, and some Evangelicals call it a cult.
“Mitt Romney is a good, moral person, but that does not make him a Christian,” Baptist leader Robert Jeffress recently said. But according to a new survey by Pew, 63 per cent of Mormons say that acceptance is rising.
“In the academic environment of Boston, there’s very little direct bias against us,” says Patrick Turley, a 26-year-old PhD student at Harvard. “Sometimes people attribute beliefs to me that aren’t true, but usually a short conversation clears it up.”
“Romney has made us feel more mainstream,” says Derek Morton, a 30-year-old realtor in Utah. As a teenager, Morton rebelled against his faith. “I felt like, ‘I want to order beer, too,’” he says. “But now I feel that giving up things like alcohol has given me more freedom. I don’t have to worry about going to jail for drunk driving.”
Fifteen members of the United States Congress are Mormons. So are many business leaders, including Credit Suisse CEO Eric Varvel and JetBlue founder David Neeleman.
Behind the success: An army of more than 50,000 young Mormons who spend two years preaching their faith around the world, under often challenging circumstances. Even outsiders credit the Mormon missionary program. BusinessWeek calls it “God’s MBA.”
Romney was a missionary in France; Neeleman in Brazil. (Turley served in France and Sorenson in Lithuania.) Today the faith is growing especially fast in Latin America.
Whether Romney wins or not, says Corwin Smidt, a professor of political science at Calvin College in Michigan, he’ll have done for Mormons what John F. Kennedy did for Catholics: Create greater social and political acceptance.
And Sorenson adds that being a Mormon doesn’t necessarily mean voting for Romney: “I see him as just another person running for president. My family are Democrats.”