As Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney prepares to deliver a speech today on religion, Rocky Hulse has his own message to share.
Romney is a Mormon, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Hulse is a former Mormon who directs a controversial Christian apologetics outreach called the Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center. He recently published a book, "When Salt Lake City Calls," that argues through 408 pages heavy with documentation that Mormons in government office would be forced to make decisions or take actions contrary to the nation's interests if the leader of the church told them to do so.
Boiled to its essence, Hulse's accusation is that LDS Church President Gordon Hinckley has Romney's eternal destiny in his hands.
"That makes the Mormon Church the ultimate lobbyist," he said.
Tim Albrecht, Romney's campaign spokesman in Iowa, delivered a curt reply.
"Governor Romney has said repeatedly that he is running for commander in chief, not pastor in chief," Albrecht said.
Hulse bases his contention that the oath Mormons swear to the church holds precedence over those they take when assuming public office, in part, on a portion of scripture in "Doctrines and Covenants," one of the books of the Mormon canon. The passage declares that a member of the priesthood, typically males 12 and older, who breaks the "covenant" of the priesthood "and altogether turneth therefrom shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come."
That puts Mormons working in government in a "doctrinal vice," Hulse said; should they fail to follow leaders within the priesthood, they "could jeopardize their very eternity."
LDS Church spokeswoman Kim Farah declined to respond directly to "When Salt Lake City Calls." Instead, she referenced the statement of political neutrality found on the church's Web site, www.lds.org, which begins, "The church's mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians." The statement also says the church does not "attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader."
"While the Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official," Farah said in an e-mail from her office in Salt Lake City, "it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent."
Asked if a Mormon politician could say no to an order from the church president, Farah said she could not answer a hypothetical question.
Romney's religious life has followed a common chronology for boys born into a Mormon family. According to various published biographies, he was admitted to the lower order Aaronic Priesthood at 12, rose to the higher Melchizedek order at 18, and served a two-and-a-half-year mission in France during college. He was bishop, or lay leader, of his church in Massachusetts for three years in the early 1980s, following that with nine years as "stake" president, a position which gave him authority over about a dozen Boston-area churches.
Hulse wrote his book this fall in a two-month sprint of near round-the-clock effort. The idea, however, germinated nearly two years ago when it became apparent Romney would run for president.
"This book isn't about Mitt. I don't even mention his name," said Hulse, who ordered an initial run of 2,000 copies from the publishing house. "On the flip side of the coin, it's absolutely about Mitt -- not Mitt the person; Mitt the Mormon."
Already a multi-millionaire businessman in Boston, Romney hit the national stage when he was called upon to rescue the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City from a financial scandal. He followed that up by winning the governor's job in the deep blue state of Massachusetts. His religion had been more of a side note than a central issue in the presidential campaign until former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, began creeping up the polls in Iowa.
Powered by support from Christian conservatives, Huckabee finally passed Romney in a statewide poll released over the weekend. His success comes despite spending only about $300,000 in Iowa, compared to the $7 million Romney has exhausted in the state.
Some influential Christian evangelicals, including Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich, have endorsed Romney. Nonetheless, today's speech at the George H.S. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, is his most obvious effort to date to allay the fears some members of his party have about his faith. A Pew Research Center poll in September found a quarter of all Republicans, including 36 percent of white evangelical Protestants, said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon.
Forty-seven years ago, then Sen. John F. Kennedy delivered a speech to Protestant ministers in Houston that effectively overcame the lingering hesitation many voters had to put a Catholic in the White House.
Romney has called Kennedy's address the "definitive speech" on religion and politics in America. In an interview with a Boston radio station, he said his focus will instead be on the nation's religious heritage and the role he believes religion should play in society today.
"I will also talk about how my own values and my own faith will inform my thinking if I were lucky enough to become president of the United States," he said.
Hulse consumed a chapter of his book combating the Kennedy comparison. Where the 35th president in his speech declared his belief in "an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," he writes, Mormon doctrine is "directly at odds with a free and unencumbered politician."
J. Quin Monson offers a countering view. A political science professor at Brigham Young University, Monson points out that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon are all members of the LDS Church.
Reid, a Democrat, has opposed a federal ban on gay marriage that church leaders openly favor.
While Monson was unfamiliar with Hulse or his book, a quick Internet search for the author's name was enough to discredit him in the professor's eyes.
Given the church's political neutrality and absent any allegations that church leaders have interfered with government officials, Monson said, "I don't even understand what the need for the book is."
Romney is hardly the first Mormon to want to be president. His father, George Romney, who was governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969, made a run at the Oval Office. So did Rep. Mo Udall, a Democrat from Arizona.
In fact, the tradition goes all the way back to Joseph Smith, the church's founding prophet, who announced his candidacy for the presidency in February 1844. Four months later, he was killed by a mob outside a jail in Carthage, Ill., just a few miles from Nauvoo.
Still a map speck 168 years after its founding, this town on a bend in the Mississippi River is nonetheless one of the most important sites in church history. Mormons fled here after being run out of earlier homes in New York, Ohio and Missouri, only to uproot themselves again following Smith's assassination.
In the winter of 1846, Brigham Young, Smith's successor, led church members across the frozen river at the start of the journey that would take them -- and the seat of LDS Church power -- to Salt Lake City.
Mormons began returning in force to Nauvoo several years ago and, in 2002, dedicated a new temple nearly identical to the one built in Smith's day.
News of Romney's campaign seems almost to have missed the town, though. Not a single yard sign bearing his name stood along the city's primary streets Wednesday.
At the church-run visitors center, Sister Dawna Stewart, a missionary from Utah, said only one person has asked her about Romney.
"It was a man who was not a member of our church," she said, "but he had good things to say."
So does Stewart. She admires Romney for his morals and his success in tackling Massachusetts' budget deficit. Her support is that of a citizen, however, not as a missionary. The church does not get involved in politics, she said.
To ask whether Romney could say no to the church president really doesn't make sense, Stewart said, because the president would never make demands on a political leader.
That opinion seems remarkably similar to the ones shared by Farah, the LDS Church spokesman, and Monson, the professor at BYU.
Then again, so do the words offered by Merrill Beyeler, a Mormon tourist from Idaho visiting Nauvoo with his wife and two friends.
"We believe," Beyeler said, "that there is a separation between church and state."