With Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, two Mormons, contending for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination this year, the church has come under scrutiny by some Christian leaders who have questioned its religious practices and even compared it to a cult.
To combat such misconceptions, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has launched a national media campaign called “I’m a Mormon.” The campaign, which began in October, includes television spots, billboard advertisement, ads on buses and Internet promotions, that are meant to give the larger public a glimpse into the lives of regular Mormons in their communities.
“I think that in some cases where there are misconceptions, it’s more about education. Maybe just getting the word out about who we are and what we believe in,” said Bishop Robert Walton, pastor of a 400-plus member congregation on Trickum at Sandy Plains roads in east Cobb.
“I think the most common misconception that I see is some people think that we’re not Christians. That’s just not true. We are Christians and members of the church have a devout belief in the Bible; we follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we accept him as our personal savior and redeemer. We’re hopeful that people through the media campaign and Mormon.org can put that behind us.”
Launched in 2001, www.Mormon.org is a site where people can read profiles of Mormons, chat live with representatives about the faith and watch videos about church members.
The website basically gives visitors an opportunity to learn about the church. Visitors can search for people based on demographics, learn church history and about the Book of Mormon, a book of scriptures key to the faith. The campaign was the result of recent research related to how Americans perceive the church and its members, according to the church.
In Cobb County and parts of surrounding counties, there are about 2,000 Mormons from four congregations or wards.
Katie Mildenhall, 29, of east Cobb, was 13 years old when she met a friend who introduced her to the Mormon church. She had attended Catholic and Episcopal churches and a Lutheran church, where she was baptized, but found the Mormon church “refreshing.”
“I really felt like the members there tried to live what they were preaching,” recalled Mildenhall, a stay-at-home mom. “It wasn’t just a Sunday thing, it was something that was a part of their lives that they did every day of the week. I felt like they had a personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ.”
A Utah native, Brady Knudsen of east Cobb, was born into a Mormon family and first moved to the southeast as a graduate student at Duke University and to Cobb nearly two years ago. He said he’s aware of misconceptions people have about the church, such as polygamy, but view it as an opportunity to educate them.
“People are curious about that and I think it’s pretty easy to explain that that’s something that our church doesn’t practice anymore,” said Knudsen, 29. “Anybody who is practicing plural marriage is not actually allowed to be a member of the church.”
Knudsen, who served as a youth missionary in Denver, is married to Larissa and they have two sons, ages 5 and 2. He works as a consultant for Ernst & Young and says church practices have served him well throughout his life.
“Following the commandments and what Jesus taught have brought me happiness,” he said. “It helps me understand what’s most important in life and to certainly avoid pitfalls that would draw you away from Christ or take away that happiness you might have.”
Mildenhall is the mother of two girls and a newborn son with her husband of nine years, Briant Mildenhall, whom she met as a student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She said it was important for her to get married in a Mormon temple, which is reserved for special forms of worship.
“I think we’re a growing church and people still don’t have a lot of information about us,” stated Mildenhall, who said they’re about five other Mormon families at her daughter’s elementary school.
“I think that’s a great reason to have this media imitative for people to find out who we are and that we’re believers of Jesus Christ.”
In addition to the online campaign, people are welcomed to visit a Mormon church to learn more about the church, said Walton, 49, who works fulltime as a packing industry executive and is married with five children.
“Any visitor can come to our meetings and visit with us and see what we’re all about on Sundays. Our services are open to everyone, members and non-members alike.”