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Mormon in the Ozarks

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Mormons have been in Arkansas since around 1835. The Peppas family arrived in the 1980s, moving to Arkansas from Illinois when Josh Peppas was five. He's 31 now.

Peppas grew up in Ozark, attended a Mormon church in Clarksville, served as a missionary in Italy in 1996-98, and graduated from the University of the Ozarks at Clarksville in 2000. He's now the university's sports information director. All his life, people have asked questions about his religion.

“I've never encountered hostility, but people are curious,” Peppas said. “They want to know what we believe, and why we believe it.” Some people seem to think that Mormons still practice polygamy, he said, and things like the recent trial of Warren Jeffs in Utah help perpetuate the error. “He wasn't a member of the church, but people get confused by that.” Jeffs claimed to be a “fundamentalist Mormon.” The Mormon Church says there is no such thing.

Some people ask if Mormons are Christians. (They are.) “That's the one that surprises me the most,” Peppas said. “You'd think people would understand that a little better.” Nobody asked about the Mountain Meadows Massacre when he was growing up. “I think most people didn't know about it.” A couple of PBS programs and the current movie “September Dawn” have exposed the story to a wider audience. Peppas said he hadn't seen the movie and had no interest in doing so. As for Mountain Meadows itself, when he's asked about it now, he says, “It's unfortunate. I'm sorry it happened. I don't know if anyone knows all the details.”

While the Mormon Church won't endorse Mitt Romney, or any other candidate, Romney's religion does make a difference to Peppas — and probably to most Mormons, he said. “He'll get my vote if he gets on the ticket.” But it won't be a winning vote, he believes. “I think people will oppose him because of his religion, particularly in the South. He won't win in the South. And he can't win without the South.”

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