October 15, 2012 at 2:15 pm
In the last couple of months, Robin Volsky has gotten more questions about his faith than ever before.
The 58-year-old Vero Beach resident has been a Mormon for 33 years.
“At this particular time, there’s been a significant amount of people trying to understand the church,” said Volsky, who handles public affairs at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Vero Beach. He invited Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers last month to a worship service and tour of the temple, one of three in our region.
Mormon and presidential candidate Mitt Romney has turned the spotlight to Volsky and the more than 6 million Mormons in the United States, including about 3,000 in the Stuart Stake of the LDS Church, which includes the Treasure Coast and some of Palm Beach and Okeechobee counties. Romney has declared his faith but stayed tight-lipped about it throughout his campaign, piquing the public’s curiosity about the religion.
The search-term “Mormon” is five times more popular in 2012 than it was in 2010, according to data from Google Trends.
So it’s no surprise to Volsky when people ask about his faith. He doesn’t mind skeptics’ common inquiries: Do you practice polygamy? Is Mormonism a cult? Is it really a Christian denomination?
“I tell people we’re regular folks like anyone else,” Volsky said. “We are doctors, teachers, lawyers, (people) who go to the gym, are interested in art and culture and participate in the community. Our religion is the way we worship our heavenly Father, and people are curious about it right now, so they ask.
“I do my best to explain,” he added, “because this is a vulnerable time for misconceptions about something that is new or different to many people out there.”
Inside a Mormon church
The gospel art was the first thing I noticed after walking through the double doors of the Vero Beach temple.
The large framed paintings on every wall detail Mormon history, such as Christ in the Americas. Mormon belief is that after Jesus resurrected, he appeared in North America to heal the sick, teach the gospel and call 12 disciples to organize the church. The art, which came from a temple in Atlanta, is popular and very similar to that in most Mormon temples, Volsky told me as we started our tour of the church.
The church’s bishop, Charles Hauber, and other members joined us. We first dropped by the genealogy library, which is open several days a week for public use. The library’s computers give free access to genealogy websites that require a paid subscription.
The Mormon church is known to have the most extensive genealogical archive in the world because Mormons believe families are eternal. Tracing family history and linking people puts forth the belief we all are true families, true brothers and sisters, Hauber said.
Our next stop, the church’s cultural center, surprised me. The center is a large indoor basketball court.
“It looks like a gym or something, doesn’t it?” Volsky said. “Most (Mormon) churches even have a stage built into theirs.”
The center is the spot for the weekly Zumba classes, youth night, church dances and concerts, and basketball and volleyball tournaments had within the Stuart stake. It also is a county drop-off point for hurricane relief supplies.
“We find it important to exercise the body and spirit,” Volsky said. “This is the place we get together to be active and have fun.”
The rest of the church has classrooms for learning seminars and rooms for such church groups as the women’s club. The rooms surround the church’s worship hall, where services, or “sacrament meetings,” are every Sunday.
Unlike many other Christian denominations, where a clergy member leads a sermon, the Mormon church has various members speak on a scriptural topic each week. There is no paid clergy, and church responsibilities are divided among members and the church’s bishop.
Mid-service, the ordinance of the sacrament is performed by the blessing and passing of bread and water to the congregation. At this time, the doors to the worship hall are closed and are not to be opened.
The sacrament meeting is the first portion of a three-hour block. The Sunday meeting is followed by an hour-long Bible study class and an hour-long regroup for discussion between the men and women of the church, called the priesthood and sisterhood.
“We do it that way to keep all of our gatherings together, on Sunday,” Hauber said. “It makes it easier.”
Misconceptions about the Latter-day Saints church are common. A survey this year by the Pew Research Center showed that more half of surveyed Mormons cite something related to misconceptions or discrimination about their faith as one of the most important problems they face.
“There are organizations that are very anti-the church, and will go out of their way to promote fear in people about the church,” Hauber said. “There is a big group of former members who have felt the church has strayed from the original beliefs, like plural marriage. They’ve withdrawn from the church and started a very vocal campaign against it.”
The things people should know, but rarely ask, about the LDS church are its focus on family, history and community service, Hauber said.
Every year, the local churches host a “Day of Service” in April, in which hundreds of interfaith volunteers spend the day helping more than 20 Treasure Coast churches and faith-based organizations.
“We’re really not that different from anyone else in a lot of respects,” Hauber said. “We may have beliefs that are not the same as other Christian churches, but I think there is more in common that there is that separates us. People should just sit down and talk to us, so they can see that.”
And that’s why Volsky is so patient and willing to answer questions about his faith.
Volsky is quick to point out, for example, that he has been married for 13 years. To one wife. Not five, or six, or seven.
“I’m not in favor of polygamy,” he said after our tour of the temple. “Neither is the church — it hasn’t been for more than 100 years. There are, of course, splinters of the original church that may still practice polygamy, but they are not recognized as members of the church.”
The LDS church publicly practiced plural marriage — as the “Lord commanded some of the early Saints” to do so — until 1890, according to Mormon.org. That was when the church’s fourth president “received a revelation that the leaders of the Church should cease teaching the practice of plural marriage.”
Volsky also said he is not part of a “cult.”
“The word ‘cult’ is such an easy label to fall back on when you are not familiar with a religion and want to categorize it,” Volsky said. “When you consider that we have more than 14 million members worldwide and are a group that studies to the best of its ability the life of Jesus Christ and strives to be more like Him, I think that pretty much kills the concept of a cult.”
Lastly, Volsky is, in fact, Christian, he said.
“If anyone goes into our building and attends services, they’ll realize Jesus is the center of this religion.”
–Zaimarie De Guzman, TCPalm