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And then there is Jon Huntsman. Currently a powerful "area authority," Huntsman may at some point make official church fiscal policy. But right now he is exemplary of the Mormon gift for not only making a buck but also spending it on others. An enthusiastic missionary as a young man, at age 42 he was asked to serve as "mission president" for a group of 220 young proselytizers in Washington. He took leave from his company and moved his wife and nine children with him. When his stint was up, they headed back to Utah, and Huntsman resumed building the $5 billion, 10,000-employee Huntsman Chemical Corp., which he owns outright. Ten years ago, Huntsman shifted his company's mission from pure profit to a three-part priority: pay off debt, be a responsible corporate citizen and relieve human suffering. Thus far, his company has donated $100 million of its profit to a cancer center at the University of Utah. It has also built a concrete plant in Armenia to house those rendered homeless by the 1988 earthquake, and it is active in smaller charities ranging from children's hospitals to food banks. Since the shift, says Huntsman, "we have a far greater spirit of accomplishment and motivation. Our unity and teamwork and corporate enthusiasm have never been higher." And he still puts in his 15 to 20 hours a week as a lay clergyman. He concludes, "I find it impossible to separate life and corporate involvement from my religious convictions."
And that, of course, begs the question: Just what, exactly, is the belief underlying those convictions, the rock upon which faith and empire are built?
Mormon theology recognizes the Christian Bible but adds three holy books of its own. It holds that shortly after his resurrection, Jesus Christ came to America to teach the indigenous people, who were actually a tribe of Israel, but that Christian churches in the Old World fell into apostasy. Then, starting in 1820, God restored his "latter-day" religion by dispatching the angel Moroni to reveal new Scriptures to a simple farm boy named Joseph Smith near Palmyra, N.Y. Although the original tablets, written in what is called Reformed Egyptian, were taken up again to heaven, Smith, who received visits from God the father, Jesus, John the Baptist and saints Peter, James and John, translated and published the Book of Mormon in 1830. He continued to receive divine Scripture and revelations. One of these was that Christ will return to reign on earth and have the headquarters of his kingdom in a Mormon temple in Jackson County, Mo. (Over time, the church has purchased 14,465 acres of land there.)
There is a long list of current Mormon practices foreign to Catholic or Protestant believers. The best known revolve around rituals of the temples, which are barred to outsiders. At "endowment" ceremonies, initiates receive the temple garments, which they must wear beneath their clothing for life. Marriages are "sealed," not only until death doth part, but for eternity. And believers conduct proxy baptisms for the dead: to assure non-Mormon ancestors of an opportunity for salvation, current Mormons may be immersed on their behalf. The importance of baptizing one's progenitors has led the Mormons to amass the fullest genealogical record in the world, the microfilmed equivalent of 7 million books of 300 pages apiece.