Amid Romney's rise, Bay Area Mormons hope for more acceptance


One in 10 U.S. Mormons lives in California, giving the state the largest Mormon population outside Utah. The Bay Area is a Mormon hub, home to an estimated 100,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and one of its oldest operating temples.
The East Bay had a burgeoning Mormon congregation in 1924, when a prophet and former church president is said to have looked over the bay from a San Francisco hotel and envisioned a "great white temple of the Lord" in the Oakland hills.

 dd Dedicated in 1964, the five-spire Oakland Temple remains a regional center of Mormon life.
"I love the Bay Area for its tolerance and respect of all types of people. In many respects, this is the ideal environment, not only for Mormons but people of any faith, or nonfaith," said Richard Kopf, a corporate attorney from Alamo who converted to Mormonism in the 1960s and is the church's regional spokesman.

At a 6 a.m. class Wednesday in central Hayward, Carol Welch stood in front of a map of the Holy Land, a King James Bible in her hand and eight tired teenagers in front of her.

The class, known as seminary, meets every weekday, and this year the focus is on the Old Testament. In another year, if they haven't already, the teenagers will get to the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, the document that adherents believe was written by ancient prophets and translated by Joseph Smith in the early 19th century.

Growing up Episcopalian in Alameda, Welch converted to Mormonism in the late 1980s. She wanted to raise her children in a religious tradition but wasn't sure which one until two suited missionaries appeared on her Fremont doorstep.

"I was the world's biggest skeptic," Welch said. "When friends found out I was joining the Mormon church, they were shocked."

The 63-year-old said she is regularly countering misconceptions. Mormons are nearly unanimous in describing themselves as Christian and believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, according to the Pew study, but Welch said many people still think Mormons aren't Christian.

"There are so many religions that have been ridiculed over time," she said.

Far more socially and politically conservative than the public, according to the Pew survey, some Mormons clashed with Bay Area gays and lesbians during the battle over Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage passed by voters in 2008.

Hawker, who teaches critical thinking and argumentation at San Jose State, stayed out of the fray.
"I don't think Mormons are being singled out any more than any other group, but Prop. 8 did not help many people's perceptions of Mormons," she said.

A political moderate, Hawker prefers former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Mormon, over front-runner Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and also a Mormon.
About 86 percent of all Mormon voters view Romney favorably, and even Mormon Democrats approve of Romney as much as the average Republican voter, says the Pew study.

  • 94 percent of Mormons believe that God and Jesus Christ are separate, physical beings
  • 94 percent believe that the president of the church is a prophet of God
  • 95 percent believe families can be bound together eternally in temple ceremonies
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