Mormons on the Rise

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Michael B. Bennett has heard the accusations many times: Mormons are not Christians. But to Bennett, who converted at age 18, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has provided answers he did not find as a Southern Baptist.

Bennett grew up in the heavily Baptist region of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His parents and grandparents had been active Baptists and he was baptized at age 12. He attended youth rallies and Billy Graham crusades. "I was about as active a Baptist as you can be," recalls Bennett, now 39.

Yet he found the behavior of some churchgoers inconsistent. His friends at youth group fervently testified about Christ one week, then smoked dope the next. An adulterous deacon continued to hold office after a hasty confession. Gossip and backbiting preoccupied many churchgoers.

Bennett was ripe for a change. When a high-school friend told him that his church had unpaid leaders, it sparked Bennett's interest. After attending several weekly LDS sacrament meetings and seeing a community that seemed genuinely to care and love, Bennett, now a lawyer in Salt Lake City, felt "compelled by the spirit" to be rebaptized as a Mormon. As a counselor to his congregation's bishop, Bennett devotes 20 hours a week to church activities.

While LDS theology is what separates Mormonism from orthodox Christianity, it had little to do with Bennett's attraction to America's most successful homegrown religion.

Sandra Tanner, 57, codirector of Utah Lighthouse Ministry in Salt Lake City, says, "You join Mormonism because of friendship ties, a sense of belonging, a hope for your deceased family. It is a religion that gives the best of both worlds."

Though evangelicals generally concede that Mormons are good neighbors who promote family ...

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