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Everything You Need to Know About Mormonism

Pundits still haven't figured out how to talk about Romney's Mormon religion. Here's everything you need to know.
 
 
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Liberal politicians and pundits, from Brian Schweitzer to Lawrence O'Donnell to Jon Stewart. have begun bringing up -- and stumbling over -- the subject of Mitt Romney's religion. The following is an excerpt from Alex Pareene's e-book,"The Rude Guide to Mitt."It can be purchased at Amazon,Barnes & Noble, iTunes and the Sony Reader Store.

“The precipitous mountain pass that led the [Mormon] pioneers down into the Salt Lake Valley and still is the route of access from the east on Interstate 80, was first explored by my great-grandfather, Parley P. Pratt,” Mitt Romney cheerfully writes in “Turnaround,” the airport bookstore leadership manual he wrote in 2004 while governor of Massachusetts.

“He had worked a road up along ‘Big Canyon Creek’ as an act of speculation when his crop failed in the summer of 1849. He charged tolls to prospectors making their way to California at the height of the Gold Rush and even had a Pony Express station commissioned along his pass.”

Romney doesn’t add — and why should he? — that Pratt was murdered in 1857, by the husband of a woman he took as one of his “plural wives.” (His ninth.) Pratt was in San Francisco proselytizing and promoting polygamy. The woman converted and eloped with Pratt, then pretended to renounce Mormonism in order to get her children from her parents, where her estranged husband had sent them. The husband tracked Pratt from California to Arkansas, and shot him dead when it became clear that he could not have Pratt jailed. This incident contributed to the general sense of apocalyptic paranoia among the Mormon community that led to the Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which Mormon settlers — acting, according to some, on orders from Brigham Young — killed an entire wagon train of families on their way to California. There were rumors, before the Mormon militia attacked the wagon train, that Pratt’s killer was among the mostly wealthy Arkansans in the train. The Mormons attempted to blame the murder of children and women on Indians, though Mark Twain and others believed that the “Indians” were likely Mormons in war paint. (Archaeological evidence — dug up, embarrassingly, during preparations for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics — supports that theory.)

The massacre is the bloodiest and most disturbing moment in Mormon Church history, and also one of the rare moments in the 19th century when the Mormons were the perpetrators and not the victims of violence. Having been kicked out of everywhere they set up camp until they settled at their arid dead sea in Utah, they’ve retained the persecution complex, and some Mormons have a tendency to compare themselves to the Jews — members of the church even refer to non-­Mormons as “Gentiles.” (“I understood a little better what my Jewish friends encounter,” Romney writes in “Turnaround,” after receiving anti-­Mormon hate mail.)

The persecution was due to Victorian hysteria at their marital practices (which became quite bizarre even by our modern, degraded standards) and, to be fair, anger at their anti-­slavery stance, but it was also just because Mormons were weird. They were a strange band of bearded fanatics led by a charismatic autocrat who claimed to have a direct line to God. They practiced what appeared to be a form of polytheism — while professing to be Christians — in a deeply devout country. They stole dudes’ wives.

Polygamy is the reason George Romney was born in Mexico. The Romneys had been Mormons since way back. Carpenter Miles Archibald Romney, along with his family, converted in 1837, after hearing the story of Joseph Smith finding those golden plates in upstate New York. The Romneys moved to Smith’s Mormon community in Nauvoo, Ill., in 1841, and had Miles Park Romney in 1843. Miles Park became a builder, moved to Utah, married one woman, did mission work in England, returned to Utah and married another woman on orders from Brigham Young himself. He became quite prominent in the Mormon community, building Brigham Young’s gigantic home and helping to defeat a congressional anti-polygamy law. Romney and his three wives and various children were then sent to settle St. Johns, Ariz., as part of the church leadership’s plan to settle across the entire American West. St. Johns was not particularly welcoming to the Mormon newcomers, and after various threats to hang the lot of them, the Romney clan was told — ordered, actually — to try Mexico instead.

 
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