Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Mitt Romney

Veteran Boston Globe columnist James Carroll took a look Sunday at "The politics of the Saints" in a column that suggests that the "(Mitt) Romney (presidential) campaign is an epochal moment for Mormons in public life."

Along with this being a critical time for what Carroll calls the LDS Church's "deep engagement in American politics," the columnist says it is also a time when America "is at a threshold — entering, perhaps, a more spacious public understanding of many once-marginal groups."

The column does not mention the long-standing policy of political neutrality that is officially embraced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"The Church's mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians," the policy states. "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics. This applies in all of the many nations in which it is established."

That said, Carroll accurately reminds his readers that individual Latter-day Saints have been involved in politics since the time of Joseph Smith, who ran for the presidency of the United States as an independent candidate in 1844.

Carroll traces different phases of political influence by members of the LDS Church, starting at the turn of the century and continuing through President Ezra Taft Benson's service as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, the extensive public service by members of the Udall family of Arizona, the influence of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada to the current simultaneous presidential hopes of Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr.

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"The politically loaded question — what does Mitt Romney actually believe? — carries an echo of a broader question: What do Mormons actually believe?" Carroll concludes. "But the church's history in the United States suggests a different question still: What do Americans actually believe? Mormonism, it turns out, is a block on which the American idea has stood, even if many of us are only seeing this for the first time."

Just a week earlier, Carroll's column suggested that the LDS Church's organizational philosophy contributes to Mormon successes in business.