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The politics of the Saints

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WITH MITT Romney’s candidacy for president, the Mormon church approaches an epochal moment in its deep engagement with American politics. The nation, too, is at a threshold - entering, perhaps, a more spacious public understanding of many once-marginal groups.

In the Mormon case, it’s been a long time coming. Romney may be a front-runner for the Republican nomination, and his father George may once have been a serious candidate for president, but the first Mormon to run for president was the first Mormon himself.

In 1844, as the head of a burgeoning new religious movement that identified the US Constitution as a sacred text inspired by God, Joseph Smith saw politics as a mode of missionizing. He was the mayor of the Mormon enclave in Nauvoo, Ill., where he proposed, to cite one position, that the freedom of slaves be bought with sums raised by the auctioning of public lands. But Smith’s real concern had to be the protection of his own movement from harassment by mobs, which were abetted by local and federal authorities.

Read the rest of this story at boston.com