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I never met a Mormon I didn't like.
It's true. I have never met a Mormon I didn't like.
Now I have to admit I haven't met that many. Two came in to visit my roommate in the hospital when I was in for an appendectomy, and I interviewed two Mormons living in Forest Park for a story I did for the Review. I spent half an hour in the visitor center in Nauvoo, Ill., talking to an older (my age) Mormon. All of these encounters were very pleasant.
My most vivid picture of Mormons is two clean-cut young men dressed in white shirts and black pants pedaling their bicycles down the street. I always associate that picture with values I hold dear, values like commitment, duty, earnestness, service and piety.
So when the question of Mitt Romney's religion came up, I immediately dismissed it as a non-issue. First, because I never met a Mormon I didn't like. Second, because I thought we answered the religion question for good back when John Kennedy was running for president.
Third, because in this shrinking world, most of us have friends or neighbors who are Jewish or Muslim or folks with lots of other takes on ultimate reality. From experience, we know that some of them are jerks, some "saints" and most are somewhere in between - kind of like most of us. You can't tell a book by its cover.
Fourth, because a person's religion isn't a reliable predictor of their politics. For example, I'm a Lutheran. Right now, there are 18 Lutherans in Congress - 11 are Democrats and seven are Republicans. Another example: Richard Nixon's parents were Quakers, a religion known for being radically pacifist!
So the bottom line for me when choosing who to vote for is the candidate's politics, not his or her religious beliefs.
But as long as we're thinking about the Mormon religion - more precisely, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) - I'd like to hold up one Mormon practice that I greatly admire. At a website called Mormon Mission Prep I read a statement made by the president of the LDS, Thomas S. Monson, in 2010:
"I repeat what prophets have long taught - that every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission. Missionary service is a priesthood duty - an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much. Young men, I admonish you to prepare for service as a missionary. Keep yourselves clean and pure and worthy to represent the Lord."
The expectation is that every young man (and many young women) will devote a year or two of their life to serving, evangelizing, teaching and/or serving. It's sort of like a religious Peace Corps. On top of that, these "missionaries" finance their own time of service.
What a contrast to what I will call "Modern American Therapeutic Religion" in which the whole objective is to feel better. The problem with therapeutic religion is that peace - at least the peace of God that passes understanding - is not something people can get by pursuing it. Rather, that kind of peace is the by-product of serving, surrendering to God's will, loving one's neighbor, etc.
I don't agree with many teachings of the LDS, but I think the Mormons have a handle on something profound here, something the rest of us should pay attention to.