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Ohio Mormon Roots Spotlighted As Romney Campaigns In State

The Mormon religion is drawing a lot of attention because of the candidacy of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. What role Romney’s faith plays in next month’s Ohio primary remains to be seen, but Ohio played a major role in the development of the Mormon Church. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Mormon faith in Columbus. In the 1830’s the founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith Jr., facing persecution, fled upstate New York. He and his followers settled in the Northeast Ohio community of Kirtland. Professor David Howlett teaches the history of religions including Mormons at Bowdoin College in Maine. Howlett says Joseph Smith Jr. was drawn to Ohio. “Ohio seems now to be the place to go because there are these people who are receptive in what today is Cleveland, and they’ve made converts among them. They’ve almost doubled their membership by those new converts, so it seems to be Joseph Smith feels that God is calling him and his people to go there," says Howlett Howlett says Kirtland, about 20 miles east of Cleveland became a vital link to the Mormon faith. It’s where members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe Smith had a vision of how to organize the church. And Howlett says not many Ohioans know that Smith built the first Mormon temple in this state. “I think they’re aware of a Mormon presence today, but I think even most Ohioans would be surprised that the very first Mormon temple is not in Utah it is in Northern Ohio. It’s still there. It is the original temple, the only temple Joseph Smith built in his own lifetime and completed," says Howlett. Today the Kirtland Temple is owned by followers of the Reorganized Latter Day Saints or who have been known since 2001 as Community of Christ members. They formed the new church after Joseph Smith Junior left Ohio for Nauvoo, Illinois. The RLDS members broke away from the Mormons initially because of their opposition to polygamy. There also were disagreements over who should lead the church. Some who did not leave Ohio became Reorganized LDS members. In Central Ohio today about 14,000 people belong to the Mormon Church. Their 8 meeting houses are divided into 4 stakes, or groups of congregations. Brad Welling is a stake president in Columbus. He says the basis of the Mormon faith mirrors other Christian faiths. “We believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and that all mankind will be saved through their obedience to Jesus Christ laws and commandments and through their faith in Jesus Christ," says Welling. Mormons don’t believe in the traditional Christian Trinity… that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are one. They also follow The Book of Mormon which focuses on God’s dealings with the people who lived in the Americas between 600 BC and 400 AD. Mormon Church historian Ernie Shannon of Columbus says there are still misunderstandings about today’s Mormons because of the faith’s polygamous roots. “We stopped living that in 1890 and so it’s been more than 100 years since polygamy was part of the church. There’s no one living today who has ever practiced polygamy," says Shannon. Columbus Mormons built a temple on the West side of the city in 1999. It’s only the second Latter-Day Temple built in Ohio. It is used for special services like marriages and family eternity seal ceremonies. Mormons who want to use the Temple must be in good standing with the church by following the Ten Commandments, tithing, and getting a recommendation or a pass to enter. Stake President Brad Welling says while the church does not take a position on politics, the candidacy of Mitt Romney who is a Mormon should not be hindered because of his religion. “People are more interested in who I think can be a good President than what their faith is. I think that the character of a person and how faithful they are to what they believe is important as well," says Welling.