Editor's note: The following story appeared in our special LDS Conference magazine, which offers a preview of the upcoming 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was delivered as part of Saturday's weekend edition of the Daily Herald. The theme of this magazine edition is "Gathering Israel." We will be running the magazine stories online this week in the leadup to conference.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by virtue of the scriptures they uphold, including the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, believe that America is a blessed land and that the Founding Fathers were wise men raised up by God.
The Book of Mormon lays the foundation and understanding for the gathering of Israel and America’s place in that gathering. It is where the New Jerusalem will be built and saints will gather to it, according to church teachings.
Neil Diamond’s song “Coming to America” says it best when talking about gathering to a land blessed above all other lands.
“Far, we’ve been traveling far,
Without a home, but not without a star.
Free, only want to be free,
We huddle close, hang on to a dream.
On the boats and on the planes,
They’re coming to America.
Never looking back again,
They’re coming to America.
... Everywhere around the world,
They’re coming to America.
Every time that flag’s unfurled,
They’re coming to America.”
In the Articles of Faith, a list of 13 beliefs of the LDS Church written by Joseph Smith Jr., the 10th Article of Faith states: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”
The Founding Fathers
In their paper “Wise Men Raised Up,” by Frank W. Fox and Le Grand L. Baker, found on the church’s website http://churchofjesuschrist.org, they indicate while the Founding Fathers were wise men, they were not attached to organized religion and they had a wide range of beliefs as to how the country should be operated.
“Only a minority of the Founders, such as James McHenry, who was president of the first Bible Society in Baltimore, considered themselves ‘religious’ men in the sense that they attended a church. Most of the Convention’s leaders were Deists,” the paper states.
“These men, like (George) Washington, (James) Madison, and (Thomas) Jefferson, believed that the world had been organized by a Divine Creator,” Fox and Baker noted. “They recognized his majesty and glory as reflected in the order and beauty of his creations, but they did not believe that the organized religions of their time represented the omnipotent power, majesty, or wisdom of this great Creator.”
Members and America
Practicing members of the church, whether Republican or Democrat or Independent, also believe that those who possess this land will be blessed as long as they worship the God of the land, which is Jesus Christ, according to scripture.
Hence, LDS elected leaders say they worship the God of the Land, but they do the business of the country.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, section 101:78, the Lord says that he raised up these “wise men” to establish a government which would nurture and defend individual freedom, “that every man may act in doctrine and principle … according to the moral agency which I have given unto him.”
The fundamental philosophy of the Founding Fathers was very consistent with that purpose, according to Fox and Baker.
John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington did not live to see the restoration of Christ’s church on the earth, as LDS Church members believe. In fact, Adams and Jefferson died on the same day, July 4, 1826. But LDS members do believe God was with them in their endeavors of establishing the government.
Just 33 years following the signing of the Constitution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established Smith. He not only had revelations concerning the importance of the United States government and future commotions within in it, but prior to his martyrdom, Smith ran for the U.S. presidency, according to church history.
In 1877, Wilford Woodruff, the fourth president of the church, reportedly had a vision in the newly opened St. George Temple in which several eminent men and women “demanded” to have their temple work completed. Among them were the signers of the Constitution and other Founding Fathers, including George Washington.
Woodruff had their temple work completed and the men received the priesthood, vicariously.
Encouraged to serve
Since Joseph Smith, prophets of the LDS Church, particularly President Ezra Taft Benson, who served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower while serving as an apostle, have called upon members of the church to run for office.
Fast forward 234 years from the signing of the Constitution and we see over time many have heeded those promptings and callings and have thrown their hats into the congressional ring or in their state and local governments. Many have been elected and served.
Notable long-term members of recent times in Congress include Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who served 30 years and was the Senate Majority Leader from 2007 to 2015; and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who served 42 years from 1977-2019. He is the longest-serving Republican U.S. Senator in history and the longest-serving U.S. Senator from Utah. At the time he left the Senate, Hatch was fourth in line to the presidency.
Members currently serving
As of 2021, there are nine members of the LDS Church serving as members of Congress.
The Utah delegation, all of whom are members of the LDS Church, include: Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, and from the House of Representatives are John Curtis, Blake Moore, Burgess Owens and Chris Stewart.
Outside of Utah, there are three members serving in Congress: Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), and Representatives Andy Biggs (R-Arizona) and Mike Simpson (R-Idaho).
With the gathering of Israel being the most important work members of the LDS Church are to be engaged in, according to President Russell M. Nelson, and the important roles in government leadership, the two callings to serve have an important space in the lives of the current leaders from Utah in Washington.
Each representative has had experiences or opportunities to see how gathering Israel is a part of their Washington experience.
Senator Mike Lee
“Every time I think of the gathering of Israel, I reflect on the dedicatory prayer of Orson Hyde,” said Mike Lee. Hyde gave a dedicatory prayer in 1841 in the Holy Land and dedicated the land for the return of the Jews; a gathering place for the tribe of Judah.
Hyde was one of the first members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and was sent by Joseph Smith to the Holy Land. He preached from April 1841 to December 1842, and proselyted in Palestine.
Lee said the words of the prayer reflected the physical gathering and also the spiritual gathering of Israel.
“In many ways, his (Hyde’s) words have come to pass that are quite stunning,” Lee said. “In 180 years, it’s quite remarkable what’s happened in the Holy Land.”
One of the stories Lee shared was about a dinner he and his wife had as a senator with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lee’s wife had attended school at the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center, which was a point of discussion.
“When we told him (Netanyahu) that my wife was a direct descendant of Orson Hyde his face lit up,” Lee said. “He said, ‘You’re related to Orson Hyde?’ ”
“We were surprised he had heard of him,” Lee added. “He (Netanyahu) said ‘he had a profound effect on our Zionist movement.”
It was then Lee was able to share an excerpt of Hyde’s dedicatory prayer with the Prime Minister.
Lee acknowledged that as a Latter-day Saint, he’s not in the majority on Capitol Hill. But his faith is a part of him and that goes with him even into the halls of Congress.
“I can’t imagine my faith not being a part of anything I do,” Lee said. “The Lord established the Constitution by hands of men he raised up for that purpose. I firmly believe that is church doctrine. That knowledge brings a sense of urgency.”
Ezra Taft Benson was the president of the church when Lee was in college. “He’d tell us it’s our job to know the Constitution and defend it,” Lee said.
Lee said one thing his dad (former BYU President Rex E. Lee) taught him and his siblings was to defend the Constitution. “That doesn’t mean the document wasn’t infallible, it’s not divine like scripture is divine.”
His father pointed out there should be a shared commitment to its importance.
Senator Mitt Romney
Perhaps one of the most well-known members of the church in Congress is Sen. Mitt Romney. His faith and belief in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints played a major role in public perception during his first bid for the presidency in 2008. He ran again in 2012 through the primaries.
“The ability of our church to share its message in the world is incredible,” Romney said. “The message of our membership is directly related to democracy and human rights. Those working to foster these conditions are spreading the gospel.”
Romney says he has seen the horrific signs around the world of the need for people to be gathered.
“I recognize the challenges of war, pestilence and human tragedy will only be overcome with acceptance of the gospel,” Romney said. “I do everything in my power to improve the conditions and preserve the qualities of life.”
While serving his state and country, Romney said he looks inward to find strength.
“I endeavor to abide by the covenants I’ve made in my personal conduct,” Romney said. “The principles of the church are universal and should be accepted worldwide.”
While he isn’t in Congress to be a missionary for the church, people he meets are always curious about his faith and the church he belongs to.
“It is very normal with my interactions with leaders around the world to discuss my faith,” Romney said. “Our faith is respected and I share my respect for theirs. Our common foundation breaks down walls.”
Rep. John Curtis
Curtis has had many interesting opportunities to see the gathering of Israel from his vantage point on the Foreign Affairs Committee. “It has taken us places where the church is growing and flourishing,” he said.
“In a very humble way, I say I am a piece of a very large puzzle, a piece as a member of Congress where I have a role,” Curtis said.
Curtis shared a unique and highly unexpected opportunity while visiting Rwanda.
Prior to leaving, he spoke with a representative of the church if there were any concerns he should bring up.
One of the issues Curtis was told about was a newly passed law that said unless a person had a college degree they could not lead religious congregations and religious groups must worship in a building with specific requirements.
This law would be devastating for members of the church in Rwanda.
“As it turned out, they scheduled an unscheduled (dinner) meeting with the president of Rwanda at his home,” Curtis said. “Speaking with him goes in line of seniority. I was the youngest in the group in seniority.”
Curtis said he wasn’t sure how or why he was seated at the president’s table because it was a breach of protocol, but he was. And that gave him an opportunity to bring up the law that would affect members of the church who meet in homes and without being degreed.
“I see the hand of God around the world,” Curtis said. “The work moves on.”
In January, when Congress was in its darkest hours and trying to get a bipartisan vote on the COVID-19 bill, Curtis said he was walking through the rotunda of the Capitol late at night and he had a special moment realizing that he was serving in there. “How cool is that?” Curtis said to himself.
“One of my beliefs is in the beauty of the Constitution. It is far more resilient than what we give it credit,” Curtis said. “There have been a lot of things that have stretched that fabric, the Civil War, Watergate, etc. We’re in an era where it is being stretched. In an era where we see and feel more contention.
“It is amazing the founders built in the Constitution a self-healing government,” Curtis said. “It’s bigger than any man or any cause, it’s amazing. We’ll emerge from this era stronger.”
He also believes that we will continue to see the gathering of Israel and that individuals will need to take a role in the success of this nation.
Rep. Blake Moore
Rep. Blake Moore is new to the congressional scene. He was elected in November and began serving in January. He represents District 1, which includes his hometown of Ogden. He says he believes his role in congress is to be truthful and genuine.
“I am, who I am. I have spent over 40 years trying to do good in life,” Moore said. “I have a family that has taught me Christ-like principles, including building relationships that are built on common ground.
“I don’t get too doctrinal here (in Congress), but focus on Christ-like living,” Moore said.
Moore hasn’t seen much yet from around the world in his assignments, but he does believe the strength of the nation and the Constitution is an influence in bringing people to this land.
“I would probably look to my belief in the Constitution and looking for a better life found in that founding document,” Moore said.
Moore says his office is focused on aspirational, pro-growth politics. He would like to bring more people to those core principles. He adds that Utah does some very important things.
“We are fiscally responsible and philanthropic,” Moore said. He believes that is why many people are drawn to the state.
As for the influence his faith has in his life, Moore said, “I make prayerful thoughtful decisions. I have a testimony of God’s influence in our lives.”
Rep. Burgess Owens
Rep. Burgess Owens is also a junior Congressman, having been elected in November and beginning his term in January. He represents the 4th District.
Owens was not raised in the LDS Church, but converted in 1983. In 1984, he received his patriarchal blessing. A patriarchal blessing is given to individuals for their own personal use and members of the LDS Church believe it is personal revelation from God to them.
Owens said his blessing indicated that he would work with and influence the youth of the world. That is what he has done. When he came to Utah he had already served 30-plus years with youth. He said he felt he could do something different in Utah.
“I felt like I had a chance to do something for Utah and our country,” Owens said.
Owens say he sees the attack on families and freedom, and is grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ in his life. When it comes to the gathering of Zion, he said members need to keep worshipping their faith.
“We need to get back to teaching of heavenly faith,” Owens said. “We need to fight back at what’s coming at us. Americans are taking freedom for granted.
“I want to be a uniter,” Owens added. “As long as we have the same end game. No matter how we worship, let’s dig into our faith.”
Owens said he encourages those concerned to have faith, “American people are good.”
Rep. Chris Stewart
Rep. Chris Stewart has served the longest of the Utah delegation. He began serving in January 2013.
Stewart’s congressional office was contacted on several occasions over the past two months for this article, but calls and inquiries were not returned.
Stewart served an LDS Mission in Texas, followed by graduating from Utah State University. He went on to spend 14 years in the Air Force, where he flew rescue helicopters, jet aircraft and eventually the B-1 bomber.
After returning to private life, Stewart was the president and CEO of the Shipley Group, and served as a consultant on energy and environmental projects and issues. The company also was involved with government anti-terrorism training, security and preparedness. He gave up his portion of the company when he was elected to Congress.
Stewart is also the author of 17 best-selling books.