Bad Mormon: Mitt Romney's Anti-Immigrant Stance Doesn't Jibe with LDS Teachings
Sitting in the living room of a modest apartment in a working-class section of North Phoenix, Adolfo recounts in rough English his most moving experience as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
For two years, the now-21-year-old pounded pavement in Las Vegas and other parts of Nevada, as well as in nearby areas of Arizona, bringing the Christianity taught by LDS founder Joseph Smith to anyone who would listen.
Such stints are standard for young Mormon men, whom Americans are used to seeing traveling in twos, dressed in white shirts, black ties, and usually on bicycles or on foot — the Book of Mormon at the ready.
One day, Adolfo, then 19, comforted a family whose baby recently had died.
"I had the opportunity to read the Book of Mormon and pray with them," he recalls, a white statue of Jesus Christ peeking over his shoulder from a mantelpiece behind him.
"They read the Book of Mormon, and they felt good. Because they know the family is not just for this life, it's after this life, too."
Adolfo's visit moved the family to become baptized in the LDS faith, a bright spot in a mission generally filled with rejection. His account is not dissimilar to most of the more than 52,000 Mormon missionaries proselytizing in about 120 countries on any given year, save in one significant way.
Adolfo is undocumented, having walked across the Sonoran Desert when he was 16 years old to come to Phoenix and work as a landscaper so he could send money home to an ailing mother in Mexico.
Though raised Roman Catholic, he was baptized Mormon and attends one of the 50 Spanish-speaking congregations, called wards or branches, that exist in Arizona.
Spanish-speaking missionaries here in Phoenix converted him, giving him a Spanish translation of the LDS holy book to read.
"I read the Book of Mormon and prayed, and I knew the Book of Mormon was true," he states.
So much so that he wanted to serve the Lord on a mission. But to attempt to cross a border legally or even to go through security at an airport would mark him for possible apprehension by federal authorities.
Young men are assigned their areas of missionary work by church headquarters in Salt Lake City. They cannot choose where they will be sent.
So Adolfo spoke with his stake president, who presides over several wards in a given geographic area, about his predicament. The church, as it often does in the case of undocumented missionaries, sent him to a place he could reach via car or bus.
The church neither discriminates against the undocumented nor denies them access to a Mormon temple or to any of the ordinances prescribed for adherents of the LDS faith.
People here illegally can be baptized and, if men, can hold the office of the priesthood, which is open to all Mormon males. Illegal immigrants swell the ranks of Mormon wards on Sundays. They are "sealed" as man and wife in LDS temples, are active in their congregations, and sometimes serve as bishops, who in Mormon parlance, act as lay pastors.
This attitude of openness dovetails with the Mormon church's statements on immigration, which argue against restrictive state enforcement measures, such as Arizona's Senate Bill 1070, and against the separation of families.
The church also supports the Utah Compact, a set of guiding principles advocating a humane solution to the immigration problem. In 2011, it supported the passage of a package of laws in Utah that included a state guest-worker program.
Yet in spite of the church's admonition to the faithful to love each other as children of God, no matter what an individual's immigration status, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has copped a hard-line stance on immigration — reviling a pathway to legalization for undocumented individuals as "amnesty" and proposing a plan to make life so difficult for illegal immigrants that they will "self-deport."
In doing so, he's allied himself with nativist politicians, alienating many Latinos. Though the LDS church will not comment on Romney's harsh immigration rhetoric, his immigration stance makes him a wayward saint, a bad Mormon, just as the church continues explosive growth in Latin America and among Spanish-speakers in general.
Which perhaps makes the story of how Adolfo paid for his mission even more extraordinary. Young Mormon men start saving to fund their missions when they are boys. But Adolfo did not have enough to cover the entire tab.
"For part of my mission, the members of my ward, they paid for me," he says. "They help me all the time. Basically, they help me every day."
Adolfo would like to remain in Arizona, obtain legal status, and study to be a paramedic. He does not want to "self-deport," as fellow Mormon Mitt Romney wants him to do.
His girlfriend Charlotte, a 23-year-old Anglo, wants him to stay, as well. She's studying to be a high school Spanish teacher at Arizona State University. A Mormon convert at age 18, she's an ordinance worker at the Mesa temple. There she met a Hispanic family that introduced her to Adolfo.
(Both Adolfo and Charlotte have asked that their real names not be used because of Adolfo's undocumented status.)
The pair plan to be married and have lots of Mormon children. Though women in the church are not obligated to serve missions, they can, and Charlotte did hers in a Spanish-speaking area of Houston.
Before her mission, she never thought about the issue of immigration. But dealing with new arrivals from Latin America changed all that. They told her stories of violence, drug cartels, and stepping over dead bodies in grocery stores. It opened her eyes.
"I gained a very strong opinion that there are some people who need to be here," she says, holding hands with Adolfo. "I think we should be extending help to those people. They're like refugees, escaping circumstances that are unlivable."
She concedes that some illegal immigrants cross the border with bad intentions and become involved in crime, but she believes most here are hard workers who simply want to better their lot and that of their families.
Asked what most Mormons think of the illegal immigrants in their midst, she contends that it depends on personal experience.
"All my friends who served with me [in Texas], we have such a love for the Hispanic people," she says. "They have such a loving, welcoming culture and are so family-oriented."
The Mormon Church has no stats on how many of its members are undocumented, though the former bishop of one local Spanish-language ward estimated that nearly 80 percent of his congregation was illegal.
It is not uncommon to hear an Anglo Mormon tell of an undocumented 19-year-old doing his mission within the United States to avoid detection.
In June 2011, the church issued a statement reiterating that its leadership "has for many years taught that undocumented status should not by itself prevent an otherwise worthy Church member from entering the temple or being ordained to the priesthood."
The statement also admonished church members from "making judgments about fellow members in their congregation."
The dictate came just days before two undocumented LDS men in Utah — one from Guatemala, the other from El Salvador — were deported from the country. Both were former branch presidents. (A branch is somewhat smaller than a Mormon ward.)
The Guatemalan man had been in the States for decades, and was well known as a kids' soccer coach. The man from El Salvador's family was removed with him by immigration.
A spokesman for the LDS church, commenting on the matter for Salt Lake City's Deseret News, stated that the case "reminds us all of the need to address immigration reform."
He continued, "We believe any solution should include the following three principles: The commandment to 'love thy neighbor;' the importance of keeping families intact; and the federal government's obligation to secure its border."
Though former Massachusetts Governor Romney is by all accounts an observant Mormon — who tithes millions of dollars each year to the church, who abstains from alcohol and tobacco, and who has served both as a stake president and a bishop in the Boston area — only the third part of that formula seems to appeal to him as he runs for president.
As he's campaigned for the GOP primary in various states, he's staked out the hardest of hard-line positions on immigration, using the issue to prove his conservative bona fides to primary voters and to portray his competitors as weak-kneed.
He supports a border fence and is opposed to in-state tuition for undocumented college students, no matter what laws a state's Legislature passes.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who unlike Romney actually has experience dealing with border issues, opposed a border fence, calling it impractical.
Perry also defended legislation that he signed into law, which allowed undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, if they met certain requirements and pledged to seek legal status.
Some refer to the law as Texas' version of the DREAM Act, proposed federal legislation that would create a pathway to legal residency for undocumented students brought here by their parents, as long as they attend college or serve in the military.
"If you say we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," Perry declared during a GOP debate in Orlando, Florida.
Romney and other party restrictionists pounced, deriding the plan as a "magnet" for illegal immigration.
Following the debate, Romney insisted that if you're against illegal immigration, "you have a heart and a brain." His campaign soon rolled out a video of the Perry quote along with footage of former Mexican President Vicente Fox praising Perry for the in-state-tuition law for undocumented students.
In the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, Romney exploited Perry's perceived softness on the issue, hitting Iowa voters with a robo-call featuring the voice of anti-immigration poster boy Paul Babeu criticizing the Texan on the border fence and on in-state tuition.
"Rick Perry is part of the illegal immigrant problem," the Pinal County sheriff and congressional candidate insisted in the recorded message.
(Note: Until recently, Babeu served as co-chair of Romney's Arizona campaign. Babeu resigned from that post after New Times published allegations that the sheriff threatened to have a Mexican ex-boyfriend deported. See "Firestorm.")
It's worth pointing out that though Romney has vowed to veto it should he become president and it reaches his desk, the federal DREAM Act is the least controversial of all immigration proposals, outside the far right-wing echo chamber.
From Gallup to Rasmussen, polls consistently have shown that a slim majority of Americans favor some version of the DREAM Act. Among Latinos, the numbers are much higher. A 2012 poll by Latino Decisions found that Hispanics supported the legislation by 85 percent. Another, done by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2011, had 91 percent of Latinos supporting it.
But Romney barely has budged on the issue, despite pressure from some in his own party. In a GOP debate in South Carolina, he labeled the DREAM Act "a mistake." He promised he will not do anything that "opens up another wave of illegal immigration."
At a fundraiser in New York in January, Romney seemed to seal his anti-DREAM Act stance in concrete when an undocumented 19-year-old woman approached him.
Trying to shake his hand, she informed him she was in the country illegally, asking Romney about the DREAM Act and telling him that she has a 4.0 grade point average in college.
"That's wonderful," he said, according to the Huffington Post, which posted a video of Romney repeating his pledge to veto the legislation before getting hustled away by his handlers.
It's difficult to tell from the video, but the woman claimed Romney jerked away his hand from her as soon as she identified herself as undocumented.
Later, during a GOP debate in Florida, a state that's close to 23 percent Hispanic, Romney tweaked his DREAM Act position ever so slightly to match that of South Carolina primary winner Newt Gingrich.
"I would not sign the DREAM Act as it currently exists," Romney told the crowd. "But I would sign the DREAM Act if it were focused on military service."
That's not good enough for Dulce Matuz, an undocumented activist with the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, who along with several other demonstrators protested Romney's recent rally at Mesa Amphitheatre, two weeks before Arizona's GOP primary (as this story is published, the Tuesday primary is five days away).
While erecting a giant banner outside the amphitheater that read, "DREAM ACT NOW," she explained that she came to this country from Mexico when she was 9 to be reunited with her mother.
Since then, she's gone on to graduate from ASU with a degree in electrical engineering, part of the time paying out-of-state tuition, because of Arizona's Prop 300, which bars the undocumented from receiving in-state tuition rates or any public financial assistance.
"I don't want to join the military," Matuz says, "but I do want to use my knowledge to be an engineer in the United States."
Asked about the incident with the New York DREAMer, she figured Romney for a coward.
"I think Mitt Romney actually is afraid to talk to DREAMers, because he knows [supporting the DREAM Act] is the morally right decision to make," she said.
Before joining fellow DREAMers — who later could be heard chanting "Veto Romney, not the DREAM Act" whenever Romney paused during his stump speech — she remarked that, at 27, time was running out for her:
"If the DREAM Act doesn't pass in the next couple of years, I probably won't be eligible for it."
Basking in the adulation of a nearly all-white Mesa crowd, Romney barely mentioned immigration, remarking mostly on his experience as a businessman and a governor, and offering feel-good paeans to the greatness of America, punctuated by partisan jabs at President Barack Obama.
But he did offer one example of his steadfastness in opposing illegal immigration, noting that while Massachusetts governor he signed an agreement with the federal government, allowing state troopers to apprehend illegal immigrants.
"We made sure we enforced immigration laws empowering our state police to have the capacity to work with ICE to get those who are here illegally out of our state," he said, prompting cheers.
It probably would have spoiled the applause line for Romney to further explain that his 2006 move was roundly criticized by the Massachusetts press as pandering on the issue in anticipation of his bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.
Or to point out that he was in his last month of office when he signed the agreement. Incoming Democratic Governor Deval Patrick rescinded the plan after taking over, following the lead of police chiefs and civil rights advocates who criticized the agreement as counterproductive and possibly leading to claims of racial profiling.
Another uncomfortable point that Romney would never raise on his own is that the Boston Globe twice caught him using a landscaping company at his 2.5-acre Belmont, Massachusetts estate that employed illegal immigrants.
In 2006, about two weeks before Romney signed the above-mentioned pact with the feds and just as he was readying to leave office and run for president, Globe reporters broke the story, interviewing some of the Guatemalan illegals who toiled on Romney's property.
The governor claimed no knowledge of the immigration status of the landscaping firm's employees. Nevertheless, he continued to use the company, and in late 2007, as he was railing about the evils of illegal immigration on the campaign trail, Globe reporters once more caught gardeners without papers working at Romney's home.
Romney finally fired the company, but the scandal has reared its head during both of his presidential runs, with his foils blasting him for hypocrisy and for owning, in the words of one, a "sanctuary mansion."
The tale of Romney's Guatemalan hired hands is not the only evidence of his being two-faced when it comes to immigration.
Romney once described as "reasonable" proposed legislation, supported by President George W. Bush, that would have provided a route to legalization for the undocumented.
During his 2007-08 primary bid, he changed course, viciously attacking U.S. Senator John McCain, a sponsor of the bill and the GOP's eventual nominee, for ramming "amnesty" down Americans' throats.
During that campaign cycle, he also scored the endorsement of Hispanic-hunter Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who became an honorary campaign chair and stumped for Romney in Iowa in 2007.
This time around, the Maricopa County sheriff endorsed Perry, and McCain, who has done a 180 on immigration since the failed McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, endorsed Romney.
But when it comes to immigration, Romney's most telling support comes from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, co-author of SB 1070 and of an even harsher law in Alabama, giving local cops the powers of immigration agents, among other anti-immigrant provisions.
Kobach, who works as an unpaid policy adviser to the Romney camp, is closely associated with the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the most powerful nativist organization in the country and one that's been labeled a hate group by civil rights watchdogs.
Despite becoming Kansas' secretary of state in 2010, Kobach still is listed as a counsel for FAIR's legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute.
Both FAIR and Kobach are known for pimping "attrition through enforcement," the idea that if states make life miserable for illegal immigrants, denying them such things as the ability to find work or rent an apartment, they will pack up and head back to their home countries.
SB 1070, which was pushed through the Legislature by notorious Hispanic-basher and recalled State Senate President Russell Pearce, made "attrition through enforcement" public policy for all state and local governments in Arizona.
Romney has embraced the policy, using the catchphrase "self-deportation" to sum it up on the primary trail. His most infamous explanation of the notion came as the answer to a reporter's question during a Florida presidential forum.
"The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can't find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here," he stated to titters in the audience.
The laughter was to be expected. The phrase was the product of a 1994 hoax by Chicano cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz and satirist Esteban Zul, in response to California's Prop 187, the ill-fated measure to bar illegal immigrants from social services, backed by then-California Governor Pete Wilson.
Wilson, who is loathed by Latino activists, is a Romney supporter and serves as an honorary chair of his California campaign.
Kobach reportedly also endorsed and advised Romney during his 2008 primary bid, but that was before 1070 became law, spawning copycat legislation in other states. Romney's embrace of Kobach and his ideas has enraged Latinos, even Republican Latinos.
Two Hispanic GOP groups, Somos Republicans and Cafe Con Leche Republicans, have stridently criticized Romney on the issue. Both have endorsed former House Speaker Gingrich, who has derided self-deportation as an "Obama-level fantasy."
Gingrich has suggested that Latino families with deep roots in America be allowed to stay in the country. In that, Gingrich, a Catholic, is closer to LDS policy on immigration than Romney.
In 2011, the LDS church issued its strongest edict to date, expressing its concern that "any state legislation that only contains enforcement provisions is likely to fall short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God."
Though "as a matter of policy" it discouraged members from overstaying visas or entering a country illegally, it emphasized that a federal solution was necessary, and it condemned efforts to target Latinos for removal.
"The history of mass expulsion or mistreatment of individuals or families is cause for concern especially where race, culture, or religion are involved," reads the statement. "This should give pause to any policy that contemplates targeting any one group, particularly if that group comes mostly from one heritage. "
It was neither the first time the church weighed in nor the last.
In the wake of SB 1070's becoming Arizona law, the LDS church issued a message of support for the Utah Compact, a declaration of five principles meant to guide the immigration debate in Utah and beyond:
• Finding a federal solution to the problem,
• Acknowledging the contributions of immigrants to the economy,
• Not separating families,
• Treating immigrants humanely
• And, significantly, insisting that "local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code."
The church did not sign the compact, but its statement of support was seen as a de facto endorsement, which directly influenced an effort to head off 1070-like legislation in Utah, where 80 percent of state legislators are Mormons.
Ultimately, the Utah Legislature passed a quartet of bills that include both an enforcement measure and a guest-worker bill, which calls for illegal immigrants to be allowed to pay a fine and remain in the state legally.
When Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed the bills, LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton attended the ceremony, telling reporters, "Our presence here testifies to the fact that we are appreciative of what has happened in the Legislature this session."
The church also intervened, albeit reluctantly, in the successful recall last fall of prominent Mormon legislator Russell Pearce from Legislative District 18.
Fighting for his political life in a matchup against former LDS stake president and fellow GOPer Jerry Lewis — who opposed 1070 and supported the Utah Compact — Pearce made a glaring error that cost him precious votes in the Mormon stronghold of west Mesa.
During a packed meeting with LD18 Republicans, Pearce claimed the LDS church had given him a green light on 1070.
"I got hold of the church headquarters in Salt Lake," he avowed in an answer to one query. "And they said they absolutely do not oppose what Arizona is doing."
When video of Pearce making the claim was made public, Channel 12 reporter Brahm Resnik asked the church for comment, and the church slapped down Pearce.
While noting that the LDS church had not taken a stand "on any specific immigration legislation in Arizona," church spokesman Michael Purdy said:
"We have made our position on immigration clear. The church believes that an enforcement-only approach is inadequate."
He also restated basic principles the church already had enunciated, including "the commandment to love thy neighbor."
No exit polls were taken to analyze Pearce's eventual 12-point loss to Lewis. However, an ABC 15/Capitol Times survey released days before the election showed Lewis led Pearce among their fellow Mormons, 47.5 percent to 45 percent.
Many local LDS church leaders privately backed Lewis, who himself had been recruited to run by fellow Republican LDS members.
Lewis, along with other prominent local Mormons, has signed the Arizona Accord, the Grand Canyon State's version of the Utah Compact, which reads almost word-for-word like the original.
The effort is spearheaded by Mesa consultant Scott Higginson, who was raised in the church. He said a group of Mesans, including LDS members, met last year to discuss a statewide effort to follow in the footsteps of the Utah Compact.
"We didn't like the image that our city and our people and our faith were being portrayed as," he said.
Though Higginson has various secular reasons for his anti-restrictionist stance on immigration, religious conviction does inform his position. Romney's self-deportation plan does not comport with his views.
"It's not how we should treat other people," he says. "And I don't believe it's the way the Savior would have us treat other people."
Higginson is a Democrat, and Mormon Democrats are a rarity in Arizona.
In general, Mormons are conservative and self-identify as GOPers. A massive study of Mormons in America, released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, found that 74 percent of LDS members are Republican or lean Republican.
And most of that 74 percent favor Romney, according to a Gallup poll issued in early January. It revealed that 71 percent of GOP Mormons back Romney's candidacy.
But that does not mean that all Republican Mormons follow Romney's nativist stance on immigration.
According to the Pew study, 45 percent of American Mormons said immigrants "strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents" versus 41 percent who described immigrants as a "burden."
Even when the question was narrowed to LDS Republicans, the split favored the restrictionist side only slightly, with 42 percent of LDS GOPers agreeing that immigrants "strengthen" versus 44 percent who find them a "burden."
That's reflected locally in the attitudes of many Republican LDS faithful, including Daryl Williams, a commercial trial attorney who describes himself as "to the right of Genghis Khan."
Williams speaks fluent Spanish and sits on the high council of his Paradise Valley stake. A vocal critic of 1070 and Pearce, he takes a libertarian, free-market approach to the issue, one he's outlined in an influential essay titled simply, "Illegal Immigration."
The essay follows the history of immigration laws and the ebb and flow of the nativist movement in America. It concludes with a discussion of Christian theology and LDS teachings, giving a moral basis for his arguments.
Therein, Williams cites an oft-mentioned LDS Article of Faith emphasizing that Mormons believe in "obeying, honoring and sustaining the law."
He contrasts this with a passage from LDS scripture that suggests crime "should be punished according to the nature of the offense" and that there is a responsibility to bring offenders against "good laws" to justice.
In Williams' view, statutes such as 1070 are "bad laws" because they violate the moral code laid down by Jesus Christ.
"We don't believe you can look at the 12th Article of Faith and say, 'Well, it's the law. We've got to follow it,'" he tells New Times, "any more than Mormons were obligated to support the pogrom in [Nazi] Germany."
He offers numerous examples of bad laws: harboring Jews in Nazi Germany, segregation in the American South, and laws once used to persecute Mormons, such as a notorious "extermination order" issued by Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs in 1838.
A Republican, Williams said he was leaning toward Gingrich in the primary. He was withering in his assessment of fellow Mormon Romney and his self-deportation plan.
"I think a man who holds the office [of president] should have principles," he said. "And I find it inconsistent that he would take a position which is so contrary to this religion that he espouses."
Republican Mormon Kevin Gibbons agrees. Gibbons ran against Pearce in the 2008 primary for state Senator from LD 18.
He believes Romney's stance is an obvious political calculation "to keep him somewhat to the right of Gingrich." And he thinks Romney knows what he's saying on immigration is wrong from a moral and practical stance.
"Self-deportation doesn't make any sense. You ask [12 million] illegals if they'd like to participate in self-deportation, they'll respond much like M.I.A. did during the halftime show at the Super Bowl," he says in reference to pop star's giving the middle finger to a TV camera.
As far as his faith goes, he contends that it does not support Romney's views.
"There is no way in our church you can tell a family to leave [the country]," he said. "And there's no way you can tell just one of them to leave."
The Romney policy of self-deportation would have the effect of depopulating many wards, and it would reverberate throughout Latin America, where the church has experienced exponential growth over the past few decades.
Church sources are quoted as estimating 5 million members in Latin America. And the church confirms that of its more than 14 million members worldwide, most live outside the Unites States: more than 8 million outside the United States versus more than 6 million within.
Though the church once banned African-Americans from the priesthood, it reversed the policy in 1978.
The modern LDS church embraces diversity and has spent millions on a PR effort featuring billboards and television ads promoting the church's revamped website, mormon.org.
In the TV ads, Latinos, Asians and other ethnicities spout the line, "And I'm a Mormon."
A recent Sunday visit to an LDS meetinghouse in Mesa illustrates the reality behind the commercials.
There, members of the English-language Stewart ward and its Spanish-language sister Barrio Liahona II meet around the same time in the same building every Sunday, trading the use of the chapel and other rooms and facilities.
Adult men of both wards exchange information on church activities in a bilingual get-together during the hours-long church session.
Sunday school for kids and teens is taught in English, with brown, black and white kids learning Bible lessons together.
Pablo Felix teaches one of the classes. He hails from Phoenix, was baptized when he was 17, and once served as bishop of Liahona II.
He says his children and other kids of Latino parents participate in church activities with the Anglo kids, including Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts.
"We go camping together. We do everything together," he says. "I like that. You get everybody's perspective."
Felix's Anglo pal Tyler Montague is a lifelong Mormon and attends a nearby ward, where he chaperones a young men's group. He's fluent in Spanish, having served his mission in Chile when he was 19.
It's there where he, like many missionaries to Latin countries, learned to love the culture, food, and people. He's one of the Mormons who helped recruit Lewis to run against Pearce in the recall.
"I'm not an open-borders [advocate]," he says. "But we could totally solve the problem without ripping apart families."
Though not all Mesa Mormons share his views on immigration reform, the Mesa temple — the center of LDS life in the area — reflects the religion's international appeal, both past and present.
At the temple's state-of-the-art visitors center, young women, called "sister missionaries," act as guides and answer questions. They come from all over the world. You're just as likely to meet one from Mongolia or Pakistan as from Virginia or Utah.
One of the displays features an array of copies of the Book of Mormon translated into everything from Thai and French to Russian and Japanese.
Just outside the center's doors is the stately, flat-topped temple itself, which dates to 1927. Before a temple was dedicated in Mexico City in 1983, Mexican saints would make pilgrimages to the Mesa temple to attend holy rites.
The first temple ceremonies performed in another language were in Spanish at the Mesa temple. Non-Mormon visitors cannot enter the building but can walk the scenic gardens that surround it.
Friezes ringing the top of the temple depict various nationalities leaving their homes for the so-called "gathering of Israel," as prophesied in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah.
There are Dutch and Italians, Polynesians and Native Americans. One panel depicts Mexicans in sombreros, making the trek.
This echo from the past doesn't jibe with Romney's harsh immigration stand and illustrates an observation Williams made about his faith:
"The church's vision is truly universal. And I don't think it makes a difference to our heavenly father that you happen to be born in Mexico rather than the United States."
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