The nomination of Mitt Romney as the GOP presidential candidate may have brought the Mormon faith into the mainstream, but Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch believes the religion still has a long way to go.
"People don't think Mormons are Christian," he tells Whispers. "That's totally wrong. [As a Mormon] you can hardly move without hearing the name of Jesus Christ. We're fervent believers in Jesus Christ."
Although there are key differences between Mormonism and mainstream Christian doctrine, such as their understanding of creation, Mormons describe themselves as Christians. And Hatch uses the bible to explain why in his new book, "An American, A Mormon and A Christian."
The Utah senator says he most often hears that Mormons aren't Christian from "our evangelical friends." Despite endorsing Romney for president, Christian evangelist Billy Graham until recently had a Web page calling Mormonism a "cult" and has publicly stated that he did not believe Mormons were Christians.
Hatch hopes that Christians will also start using the church's proper name — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — instead of just Mormon. According to Google Insights, people searched for the term "Mormon" four or more times as often as "Latter-day Saints" over the last year, often in connection with Romney.
While Hatch says it's hard to measure the impact of Romney's run on Mormonism, he believes "people had to conclude that Mitt Romney is a very fine man, and morally upright" in part because of his church missionary work and time spent as a bishop. Early in life, Hatch also served as a missionary for the church in the Great Lakes region, and later as a bishop, presiding over a congregation of 600 people.
"It's hard for us not to proselytize," Hatch tells Whispers, noting that the church has 55,000 missionaries around the world. And despite what he calls "misunderstandings" about the faith, the senator believes those missionary efforts are working like never before.
"For the first time the church is larger outside of the United States than it is inside," he says. "All over the world people are joining the church every day."