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Leap of faith

Mormonism, a religious sect has come under a lot of scrutiny after US Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently spoke about his Mormon faith. Mormonism, popularly described by the media as ‘Mitt Romney’s religion’, has been around for centuries.


All ears: A Sacrament Meeting at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Chevy Chase, Maryland, US. Pic/AFP

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint (LDS Church) was established in the year 1830. Members of the Church are sometimes referred to as Mormons. In India too, the sect has been around for many years.

Prominent mostly in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi, there is a small but significant number of Mormons in Mumbai too. Robert William, Managing Director of the Church of LDS in India, in an email interview from Bangalore said, “There are approximately 9,000 Church members in India.

Our highest membership is in Hyderabad, with other branches in Bangalore, Chennai, Coimbatore, New Delhi, Rajahmundry (in Andhra Pradesh) and Visakhapatnam. We have a very small presence in Mumbai with just one meeting house in Vashi, Mumbai. We have about 30 active members in the city.”

To begin with Mormons in Mumbai used to meet up at each other’s residence. “Some two years ago, a meeting house in Vashi was fixed, where followers of the Church could attend regular meetings,” said William. One of them is Praveen Kumar Sumarajan from Thane. “My elder brother’s friend introduced me to Mormonism.


Candidate: Mitt Romney during a campaign. Pic/AFP

After attending church service and interacting with other members, I was highly influenced by the church and its teachings. Over a period of time, the church has helped me to realize the greater purpose of my life.

It has helped me to develop a better understanding of Jesus and the sacrifice that he made. In addition to that there is also a greater emphasis on family life. My wife, a Protestant by birth, is also a member of LDS Church and we met at a church and decided to get married,” said Sumarajan, a business analyst by profession, who was born into a Protestant family in Hyderabad.

“Initially my parents disagreed when I told them that I wanted to become a member of LDS Church. But over a period of time they understood what the Church stood for. Slowly, they accepted my decision,” added Sumarajan, who underwent an elaborate baptism ritual before formally becoming a member of the Church.
Steven Mudumala, who was raised as a Catholic concurs.

“The religion has helped me to bridge and understand more fully the life of Jesus Christ. I feel more complete after becoming a Mormon,” said Mudumala in a telephonic interview from Bangalore. For Suvarna Kumar Katuka based in Delhi, ‘clarity’ is what convinced him to become a Mormon. “The religion helped me develop a better understanding of doctrinal issues,” said Katuka, an immigration specialist who was born in a Lutheran Christian family.

While critics of Mormonism have said that Mormonism and Christianity are different, often describing the former as some sort of a ‘cult’, its followers believe that Mormonism is very much a part of Christianity. Explained William, “First and foremost we are Christians. We believe in and use the Holy Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.

We also believe in the Book of Mormon and other books of scripture which support and authenticate the Bible and testify of the ministry and divinity of Christ and of God’s on going revelation to man. Indeed, the Book of Mormon is known as ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ.’ Latter-day Saints believe God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to save all mankind from death and their individual sins. Jesus Christ is central to the lives of Church members.


Followers: Steven Mudumala with his family

They seek to follow His example and teachings. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neither Catholic nor Protestant. Rather, it is a restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ as originally established by the Savior as taught in the Bible.” Another significant difference between Christianity and Mormonism is, said William, “We believe the original church that Jesus established has been restored again in our day with the same organization that existed in the early Christian Church, including apostles, prophets, and teachers.

The authority given to man to act in the name of God has been restored as have all necessary ordinances of salvation. Our origins did not spring from protest of any kind; hence, we are not a Protestant denomination.” The faith has been associated with polygamy too but missionaries claim that the LDS church had opposed this practice in the 1800s. “Since the late 1800s the practice of plural marriage has been prohibited among members of the Church. Apparently helping others to know that takes a long time,” added William.

Talking about homosexuality, William said, “though we believe that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife, we reach out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender.”
The Church’s take on contraception is, “that the decision of how many children to have is extremely intimate and private and is left to the couple to prayerfully determine,” explains William.

The headquarters of the Church are in Salt Lake City Utah, USA. However members of the Church arrived in India in the 1850s, “but it was in the late 1960s some Christians in the Coimbatore area became aware of the Church and its teachings and expressed an interest in following the Church. Since then others have done so and the number of congregations has increased.

Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the largest Christian denominations with more that 14 million members in over 165 countries. The Church encourages its members to observe religious activity outside of regular Sunday meetings by daily study of the scriptures and prayer. We are known for what we call ‘The Word of Wisdom,’ meaning we abstain from tea, coffee (as it has caffeine), tobacco, alcohol and other harmful drugs,” added William.

Many believers of the faith claim that the Church never forces its followers to adhere to its beliefs and teachings, but, “we are given time to understand the principles, question and come to our own conclusion. The Church at the same time teaches us to respect each other’s beliefs and differences and that’s why I became a Mormon,” said Katuka.

Mormon church in the US baptises Gandhi
According to researcher Helen Radkey, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), headquartered in Salt Lake City in Utah had baptized Mahatma Gandhi in proxy on March 27, 1996. She claimed that the baptism was confirmed on November 17, 2007 at Sao Paulo Brazil Temple. This revelation had drawn sharp criticism by Gandhiji's family members as well as various Hindu activists.

Mormonism
According to Wikipedia, Mormonism is the religion practiced by Mormons, and is the predominant religious tradition of the Latter Day Saint movement. This movement was founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. beginning in the 1820s as a form of Christian primitivism. During the 1830s and 1840s, Mormonism gradually distinguished itself from traditional Protestantism. Mormonism today represents the new, non-Protestant faith taught by Smith in the 1840s. The term Mormon is derived from the Book of Mormon, one of the faith’s religious texts. Based on the name of that book, early followers of founder Joseph Smith, Jr. were called Mormons, and their faith was called Mormonism.

Highights
On Homosexuality
Though we believe that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife, we reach out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender.

On contraception
The decision of how many children to have is extremely intimate and private and is left to the couple to prayerfully determine.

On Polygamy
Since the late 1800s the practice of plural marriage has been prohibited among members of the Church. Apparently helping others to know that takes a long time.
— Robert William,
Managing director of the Church of LDS in India 

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