Washington DC is a Mormon stronghold
On a recent Sunday, a few hundred members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered in an LDS chapel just outside the Washington D.C. beltway, in Alexandria Virginia, to listen to an Obama administration official recount his conversion to Mormonism.
The speaker was Larry Echo Hawk. Echo Hawk was born on 2 August 1948 in Cody Wyoming. He and his family joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was 14. He is an attorney, legal scholar and politician. He is also a member of the Pawnee Nation. He was sustained by Church members as a General Authority and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy on 31 March 2012. Prior to becoming a General Authority, he was the United States Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs. On 20 May 2009 he joined the administration of President Barack Obama as the head of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. Echo Hawk also served as Attorney General of Idaho from 1991 to 1995. At the time he was elected State Attorney General of Idaho he was serving as a member of the board of trustees of LDS Social Services. His other Church callings have included: President of a student Stake on the campus of Brigham Young University, Bishop, and Stake High Council member. He resigned from his position in the Obama administration a few weeks after his presentation in Alexandria Virginia.
Echo Hawk told the audience, ““I have never in my life had a more powerful experience than that spiritual moment when the spirit of Christ testified to me that the Book of Mormon is true.” The fact that Echo Hawk, a Democrat, was at the pulpit of a Latter-day Saint chapel bearing his testimony is noteworthy for a couple of reasons: (1) the White House does not normally send out its officials as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ to bear their testimonies, and (2) the majority of Mormons are Republican.
It appears that Washington D.C. has become a Mormon stronghold as more and more Latter-day Saints become more actively involved in the Washington establishment. The presentation given by Echo Hawk could well be a key indicator of what Americans can expect if Mitt Romney, the son of a Cabinet Secretary under Richard Nixon, is elected the next President of the United States in 2013 and arrives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Seated within the congregation on that particular Sunday were representatives of inside-the-beltway Mormon power. In attendance were such people as: (1) a Mormon Stake President who came to Washington to write speeches for Ronald Reagan, and now runs a lobbying firm in downtown Washington D.C., (2) a retired secretary to the U.S. Supreme Court, (3) the special assistant to the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and (4) a local Mormon Bishop who came to Washington to work for Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and now leads a congressionally chartered foundation.
Regardless of which party ends up controlling the White House, Mormonism will continue to grow as it has for decades. The LDS Church says that there are 13,000 active members within a 10-mile radius of Washington D.C. However, the Washington D.C. Mormon Temple serves a much larger population, as many as 148,000 Latter-day Saints, reaching from parts of South Carolina to New Jersey. Crystal City, a Virginia neighborhood just across the Potomac River from Washington, has become so popular with young Mormons that it has become known as “Little Provo,” – Provo Utah being the home of church-owned Brigham Young University. There are presently 15 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serving in congress indicating that the 2% Mormon population of the country is slightly overrepresented on Capitol Hill.
Lewis Larsen, a local Bishop, has stated:
Kids growing up in the LDS Church have been told, ‘Go ye out in the world and preach the gospel of Christ – don’t be afraid to be an example,’ . . . So we are on our missions, converting people to Christianity . . . .And coming to Washington, for me and probably for a lot of people, came out of that interest. We see it as our career, but also we’re going out to preach the word of Christ. (Dan Gilgoff; CNN.com Religion Editor; “With or without Romney, D.C. a surprising Mormon Stronghold”; http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/12/hfr-with-or-without-romney-d-c-a-surprising-mormon-stronghold/)
These days, the Mormon impulse toward Washington is often as much political as patriotic. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for its part, is politically neutral and avoids pressuring Mormon elected officials to tow a Church line. The official stand of the Church is that, “The church’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians.”
Despite the growing political power of Latter-day Saints in Washington, the official Church stance is to remain clear of politics. Furthermore, in spite of any perceptions that may exist amongst the general populace, Mormons are not in Washington with an objective to take over the U.S. government, but rather they are in Washington to live and pursue their careers just like anyone else. Young Mormon single adults choose to come to Washington because they are able to associate with the already growing population of young Mormon single adults that live in Washington and the surrounding areas as they attend school and/or pursue their own careers. As the Mormon faith continues to grow, the success of Mormons in Washington serves as a testament of their high moral values and their willingness to be that light that shines on Capitol Hill.