God's chosen country
This article about Mitt and his devotion to Mormonism should make him pretty happy. In fact, I think it could succeed in making some converts to the faith. This, in particular, has to appeal to a certain subgroup of unaffiliated (or maybe just not strongly affiliated) fervent Christian Patriots:
[T]ake Mr. Romney’s frequent tributes to American exceptionalism. “I refuse to believe that America is just another place on the map with a flag,” he said in announcing his bid for the presidency last June. Every presidential candidate highlights patriotism, but Mr. Romney’s is backed by the Mormon belief that the United States was chosen by God to play a special role in history, its Constitution divinely inspired.
“He is an unabashed, unapologetic believer that America is the Promised Land,” said Douglas D. Anderson, dean of the business school at Utah State University and a friend, and that leading it is “an obligation and responsibility to God.”
In fact, Mormons believe that Jesus literally came to America:
Joseph Smith Jr. said that when he was seventeen years of age an angel of God, named Moroni, appeared to him, and said that a collection of ancient writings, engraved on golden plates by ancient prophets, was buried in a nearby hill in Wayne County, New York. The writings described a people whom God had led from Jerusalem to the Western Hemisphere 600 years before Jesus’ birth. According to the narrative, Moroni was the last prophet among these people and had buried the record, which God had promised to bring forth in the latter days. Smith stated that he was instructed by Moroni to meet at the hill annually each September 22 to receive further instructions and that four years after the initial visit, in 1827, he was allowed to take the plates and was directed to translate them into English...
The books from 1 Nephi to Omni are described as being from "the small plates of Nephi". This account begins in ancient Jerusalem around 600 BC. It tells the story of a man named Lehi, his family, and several others as they are led by God from Jerusalem shortly before the fall of that city to the Babylonians in 586 BC. The book describes their journey across the Arabian peninsula, and then to the promised land, the Americas, by ship. These books recount the group's dealings from approximately 600 BC to about 130 BC, during which time the community grew and split into two main groups, which are called the Nephites and the Lamanites, that frequently warred with each other.
Following this section is the Words of Mormon. This small book, said to be written in AD 385 by Mormon, is a short introduction to the books of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, 3 Nephi, and 4 Nephi. These books are described as being abridged from a large quantity of existing records called "the large plates of Nephi" that detailed the people's history from the time of Omni to Mormon's own life. The book of 3 Nephi is of particular importance within the Book of Mormon because it contains an account of a visit by Jesus from heaven to the Americas sometime after his resurrection and ascension. The text says that during this American visit, he repeated much of the same doctrine and instruction given in the Gospels of the Bible and he established an enlightened, peaceful society which endured for several generations, but which eventually broke into warring factions again.
The book of Mormon is an account of the events during Mormon's life. Mormon is said to have received the charge of taking care of the records that had been hidden, once he was old enough. The book includes an account of the wars, Mormon's leading of portions of the Nephite army, and his retrieving and caring for the records. Mormon is eventually killed in battle after having handed down the records to his son Moroni.
According to the text, Moroni then made an abridgment (called the Book of Ether) of a record from a previous people called the Jaredites. The account describes a group of families led from the Tower of Babel to the Americas, headed by a man named Jared and his brother. The Jaredite civilization is presented as existing on the American continent beginning about 2500 BC, - long before Lehi's family arrived in 600 BC - and as being much larger and more developed. The dating in the text is only an approximation.
The Book of Moroni then details the final destruction of the Nephites and the idolatrous state of the remaining society. It mentions a few spiritual insights and some important doctrinal teachings, then closes with Moroni's testimony and an invitation to pray to God for a confirmation of the truthfulness of the account.
I you truly believe that America is the Promised Land, this is definitely the religion for you.
BTW: I'm not making fun of Mormonism. Most religions have these sorts of tales. I'm just pointing out that if you are one who believes that America was specifically chosen by God to lead the world then Mormonism literally believes that too.
For me, any time someone talks about American Exceptionalism in these terms I get a little bit queasy. It's bad enough that we fetishize the founders (whose revolution was far more steeped in Enlightenment rationalism than sacred texts.) But when people talk about America as the God's Chosen Country, suddenly you can excuse anything. That's not good.