HOLLIDAYSBURG - From the Broadway stage to the run for the White House, the Mormon religion is in the spotlight, and a local ward has seized the opportunity among the public interest.
The Altoona Ward Meetinghouse of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints located at 778 Brush Mountain Road held an open house for the public Tuesday evening.
Bishop Jere Cross estimated about 50 people showed up within the first half hour of the open house.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Kevin Brady (right)?of Hollidaysburg, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, explains his faith to Anna Marie and Joe Rodkey of Altoona during an open house at the church’s Brush Mountain Road meetinghouse.
Cross said a kind of "Mormon moment" is taking place with the musical, "The Book of Mormon," and Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, running for the presidency.
They wanted to answer questions for people, he said.
Mormons believe in religious freedom and are politically neutral, Cross said. They do not endorse nor oppose Romney, he said.
But that doesn't stop outsiders from associating the religion with the presidential hopeful.
Gary Neuder, who is doing missionary work at the local ward, said someone came up to him and spoke of Romney's honesty. Another person, after noticing a nameplate Neuder was wearing, said, "I want you to know we're praying for him."
Joe and Anna Marie Rodkey of Altoona came to the open house to learn more about the religion of the man they are supporting for president, Joe said.
They had heard, among others, about the cult-like references concerning the religion.
Kendal M. Sheets, who co-wrote the book, "Book of Mormon, Book of Lies," said in an email that the Mormon church has a history of racism, sexism and homophobia. He said Romney needs to address those issues and others.
"It's time for Romney to answer to his faith," he said. "The American people deserve to know where he stands."
Sheets said women cannot join the Mormon priesthood, and that, while President Obama has been clear on where he stands with women, he thinks Romney has not.
Throughout the Hollidaysburg church's hallways hung messages addressing such topics as polygamy, which Cross said hasn't been practiced in 130 years and for which members can be ex-communicated.
The church is not sexist, Cross said. Although they cannot become ordained in priesthood, women serve in leadership roles, as missionaries, teachers and preach from the pulpit.
"We walk side by side with women," Cross said. "We're equal."
Women and men do separate after services and school on Sundays. Women go to the Relief Society, the oldest and largest women's organization worldwide with 5.2 million members in 179 countries today. They learn homemaking skills such as baking bread and canning. Men can go to priesthood training starting at the age of 12. Cross and another woman said it was about self-reliance, and whoever wanted to learn was welcome.
Cross said it would be OK if a man wanted to go to Relief Society and the woman the priesthood training, but no one has ever asked to do so.
Mormons believe marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman, Cross said. But they also believe everyone "should be treated with respect and dignity," a sign said.
They do not believe in pre-marital sex between any of the sexes, he said.
"We don't look down on people who are homosexuals. We know it's a real challenge for them," Cross said. "We believe it's a tendency that shouldn't be acted on."
Sheets said Mormons have a history of large contributions to campaigns against gay marriage, like Proposition 8 in California.
"For a church that claims to be politically neutral, that's a lot of money in clear support of a political issue," Sheets said. "It's another classic case of the LDS Church claiming one thing while doing the exact opposite."
They also deny the accusation of racism within the church.
Cross said 35 years ago the practice of not ordaining African American men ended, and all men were then able to go into the priesthood. It wasn't clear how such a practice got started, he said.
Sheets said church leaders "have remained largely mum on the issue," and it is only a guess as to whether sections of the Book of Mormon referring to "blackness" and black skin in a negative manner led to the church's earlier ban.
The church is "completely against any type of racism or segregation," Cross said. "Everybody's equal."
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.