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Those were the words I yelled to my father as we walked through the center of the Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I can’t believe I ever uttered those words. Least of all in the middle of the Mormon capital. I remember that question of mine was followed by my dad physically hushing me and trying to avoid the glares and stares that we received. I was 12 at the time, and I was in Utah because my church’s youth group decided to have a road trip to some other states. We had made a stop at Temple Square so we could “expand our respect and knowledge of other religions”; that was how my youth pastor had put it, but it obviously wasn’t what I was taking from it.I’m glad to say that nearly eight years later I have become less ignorant than I used to be, and I’ve gained a larger understanding of what it means to be Mormon. However, my story isn’t the same as America’s.
Recently, a study was carried out by Dailypolitical.com on what voters thought about Mitt Romney in the political debate and how their knowledge, or lack thereof, of Mormonism affected their opinions.  They reported that while his Mormon religion burdened his campaign overall, Americans didn’t actually know many specifics about the candidate’s choice of religion.

So, that brings me back to the question I asked all those years ago: What does a Mormon look like?  I think we can all agree that they look fairly normal (no antennae or wings or teeth and claws) and that they are a denomination of the Christian faith, which means that they believe in God and Jesus Christ. From there, things can get a tad bit tricky.

According to the website for the Church of Latter-Day Saints, Mormons believe that Jesus came over to North America after rising from the dead, where descendants of a traveling Hebrew had produced the communities of the Nephites and Lamanites hundreds of years beforehand.  There, Jesus preached what he had preached to his disciples in Jerusalem about loving each other as they loved themselves, encouraging peace to the Nephites and Lamanites.  These societies revered Jesus and transcribed his teachings on gold slabs, creating a book of gold leaflets that has come to be known as The Book of Mormon.  About 1,500 years later in 1820, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, had a vision from God, instructing him to be His voice.  Smith agreed and he was led to where the Book of Mormon had been hidden, gaining the ability to translate the foreign language that was written on the gold plates into his own. Thus the Church of Latter-Day Saints was born.

Smith also created what has come to be known as the 13 Articles of Faith.  When I was reading through them, Articles 11 and 12 stuck out to me the most, as they were the most political ones. Article 11 is essentially the Freedom of Religion Amendment in the Bill of Rights; Mormons believe that they have a right to practice what they believe in, and that that same right should be given to everyone else. Article 12 is basically the definition of an upstanding citizen; it charges its practitioners of faith to honor their form of government and the laws created by it.
These sound phenomenal. I can totally understand why some people would get behind Romney, because these core values of Mormonism are very akin to some other core values of what it means to be an American.  But I don’t think this should be part of the debate. This should not be used as a way to win over voters, and it should not be used in any way to deter them.

I didn’t mention what the rest of the Dailypolitical.com survey revealed, and I think it’s a good time that I did. Some may argue that religion can help politicians, and they would be partially correct. In Mitt Romney’s case when people taking the survey learned what Mormonism was, some became more inclined to vote for him than before.  However, it’s a double-edged sword because while a religion may turn some people on, it can just as easily turn others off, and drive a stake into the heart of a campaign. This was evident in Romney’s case too.Dailypolitical.com additionally reported that even though Republicans became more supportive of Romney after they heard some specifics about his religion, there was a second side to this spectrum that became wary of him.

This brings us to my point: religion or anything like it should only be used as a reference point, and not as a tool or weapon, in political debates.  I think that people should be free to look up this information and educate themselves on it so they can make learned decisions when voting, but I think that it is unfair to essentially force this onto people.  It alters people’s opinions and views on candidates and religions because different political parties shape their statements according to the message that they want to send.  This tends to alter the true nature of a religion or belief system. We can use the Dailypolitical.com survey as an example: the majority of the survey takers had a preconceived notion of what Mormonism was, despite the fact that they didn’t actually know anything about it.  And when they were informed about some of its qualities, their views on Romney changed, and opinions swung back and forth.

So don’t just listen to what others say. Get involved and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask something along the lines of “What does a Mormon look like?”. It turns out better than you’d expect.

Alec Snavely is a second-year electrical engineering and English double major. He can be reached at asnavely@uci.edu.

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