This article originally appeared in NBCLatino
Today immigration has become the most visible tie that binds Latinos and Mormons. The Church of Latter-day Saints and many of its prominent members have been at the forefront of promoting sensible and humane immigration policies.
However, the linkage between the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and Latinos is far deeper than a common policy interest. There is a theological linkage between the two that stretches back to the founding of the Mormon Church. In other words, for Mitt Romney the linkage between his faith and Latinos is much more nuanced than that of his father being born in Chihuahua.
Latin America has the highest growth of Mormons in the world. In Mexico there are over one million members and a total of 12 temples. There are Mormons and accompanying religious structures throughout Latin America with the exception of Cuba. Within the United States, Latinos now make up the fastest growing segment within the Church. From 2000 to 2010 the number of Spanish language congregations more than doubled from 377 to 760.
From a doctrinal point of view, the LDS Church has had an interest in Latinos since the very beginning. The Book of Mormon is based on tablets that the founder of the Church, Joseph Smith, found through a celestial revelation in the 1820s. According to the LDS Church these tablets are an account of people who had come to the Americas long ago and how Jesus Christ came to them and taught him his gospel.
These people who inhabited the Americans were recognized as pre-Columbian persons and are known as Lamanites within the Book of Mormon. The Lamanites are considered special children of God by LDS members because of their interaction with Jesus Christ. Upon the discovery of the Book of Mormon scriptures Joseph Smith and his early followers recognized that indigenous persons here in the Americas were descendants of the Lamanites. By extension, today many Latinos, because of their indigenous ancestry, are considered descendants of the Lamanites.
The very year that Joseph Smith founded the LDS Church, 1830, he experienced a revelation that he was to build a church among the Lamanites. As a result he sent forth a group of his early followers to take the gospel and the message of the Book of Mormon to the Indians of the Americas. Joseph Smith and his followers since they went first to New York then down in the Midwest, sought Lamanites, but they turned out to be North American Indians. Over the coming decades the fulfillment of bringing the church to the Lamanites would extend into the whole of the Americas along with other regions of the world.
The Mormon Church emphasis on family unity provides an additional intersection with Latinos. The sanctity of the family has under grid the advocacy of the Church to prevent deportations and immigration laws from separating families. But beyond value commonalities and sheer demographic growth the expansion of the Mormon religion among Latinos and Latin Americans is underpinned by a specific doctrinal call within the Book of Mormon, to take the gospel to the Lamanites.
So we should not be surprised to find Mitt Romney’s extended family living in Mexico. What is peculiar, is Romney’s departure from the Mormon teachings when it comes to immigration, given Mormons believe in supporting immigrants and keeping families intact. Let’s see if the LDS Church will hold Romney’s feet to the fire on immigration reform in the coming presidential election.