Well, first off, I should say that I no longer consider myself a member of the LDS church (much to my parents’ and many relative’s shame) but that doesn’t mean I don’t still relate with them or that I’m not appreciative of what the church taught me. Because, in some aspects, I really am grateful for what I retained during my adolescent (like how to sew and crotchet… as well as how to make at least three real meals that include vegetables). But whenever the topic of religion comes up (shudder) my Mormon past is always inevitably touched upon and it’s always the same set of questions that quite honestly, are surprising. I figured people would become more aware of the things Mormons actually believed as I got older, but from my experience, it’s only gotten worse (despite Mitt Romney being Mormon all over the place). In this article I shall attempt to shed a little light.
1. They do not practice polygamy
By God if every kid in my middle school didn’t tease me about having a dozen moms and one dad. Which I guess is kind of expected from twelve year olds, what I didn’t expect was the continued projection of this misconception into my educated adulthood. Here’s the deal, peeps; according to Mormon beliefs there was a time in early church history, after they had settled in Utah, that God wanted the church to procreate with and support a much larger community of women by instituting plural marriage. They supported this doctrine by inducing practices which were upheld during biblical times (specifically, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon). This wasn’t a practice that was largely adhered to and it was carefully controlled by the church, meaning, that all participants had to be interviewed and willing before such a ceremony was implemented. Any plural marriages not performed under the explicit permission of the leadership of the church were not condoned.
Long story short, the United States Government, whom had been pretty pissed about the Mormons before hand, were not very keen on the whole idea. The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act was eventually passed prohibiting polygamy in all the United States and its territories, the Mormons, however, believed they were protected by the first amendment. This led to a decade of strained ties between Utah and the federal government. Eventually the Prophet (at this time Wilford Woodruff) abolished the practice and Utah was even, eventually, allowed to become a state.
I myself am a product of polygamy through my ancestors in the Mormon Mexican Colonies which were eventually driven out; I have some pretty interesting family history from that particular blood line.
Present day, any member of the LDS church found to be practicing Polygamy is excommunicated, meaning they are removed from the church registries and are no longer considered active members.
There are, however, divergent sects who do still uphold the practice, such as the Mormon Fundamentalists, which I won’t go into here other than to say they are not considered by the LDS church itself as true Mormons.
In total, polygamy was practiced from 1852 to 1890. As in not 2014, can we let it go now, please?
2. They do not, in fact, worship Joseph Smith
I get this one a lot, “Don’t they, like, pray to that Joseph Smith guy or something?” No, I promise, they do not. Not even a little bit.
Joseph Smith is viewed by Mormons as another of God’s prophets, akin to those in the Old Testament. They believe that it was Smith who restored the truest form of Christ’s gospel to the earth after Jesus’ death by translating ancient texts with the help of angels. I get that this sounds crazy (it probably is), but step outside yourself for a moment and consider, is that anymore crazy than what any other Christian religion professes? I mean, seas parted, the plagues of Egypt, reviving the dead, a woman impregnated by ‘the holy spirit,’ come-on. Is the idea of God speaking to a young man through angels really that unbelievable in such context?
Personally, it’s all fantasy to me, but Mormon beliefs are no more fantastic, in my opinion, than any other religion. And hey, at least they didn’t send little boys to fight the Muslims on a holy quest to die by the thousands or burn ‘witches’ at the stake.
Anyway, I digress. Mormons do not in any fashion worship Joseph Smith or any of the other Prophets. Yes, they still have Prophets in the present day, they have one right now. His name is Thomas S. Monson and below him are the twelve Apostles (seeing a Biblical trend here?). They believe God calls a new Prophet following the death of the previous one, kind of like the Pope minus the sweet ass car and the secret super rich city. They turn to their Prophet for guidance but ultimately, members are encouraged to communicate with God on their own to ascertain the truth of the Church and it’s teachings themselves.
3. They actually are Christian, sorry.
1Chris·tian (noun) \ˈkris-chən, ˈkrish-\ : a person who believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ
The above definition is one that I painstakingly Googled and stole from the internet. It was rough guys. So, anyway, something you may not know is that ‘Mormon’ is not the actual name of the church but in fact references the Book of Mormon (which is one of the ancient texts Smith translated and one in which they hold in equal regard with the Bible) and was also the name of one of the Prophets within the text itself. He was also, allegedly, the angel whom visited Smith and helped him to translate The Book of Mormon.
The real name of the church is ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,’ or LDS (not to be confused with LSD). Pretty much the only deciding factor of Christianity is that someone believes the teachings of Christ, which as a practicing member during my earliest childhood to early adulthood, is exactly what Mormons do. Sure, they like to throw a bunch of extra crap in there like not drinking coffee (probably the main reason I could never go back) or alcohol, but at the very core of their religion are the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Whether or not they are a ‘cult’ is a totally different matter. I would point out, however, that during the earliest days of Christianity (before anyone called it that) the Jews thought the followers of Christ were part of a giant heretic cult, hence why they hung him from a cross. It’s really all a matter of perspective. Although, the amount of time I had to spend at church as a kid was downright fanatical, so I can see how people might see that as ‘cultish.’ To me it was mostly a lot of boring talking and waaaaaaay too much singing.
4. They are not the same as Jehovah Witnesses
I won’t go into too much depth here other than to say that Mormons do celebrate holidays; they don’t believe sins are transmitted through blood, many join the military and will still put their hands over their hearts during the pledge of allegiance and they don’t believe associating with people outside their religion is sinful.
Both Mormons and Jehovahs do have door to door ‘salesmen’ though, which I guess leads back to the original confusion between the two. But I did love all the fun questions kids would ask me in high school like, “Hey it’s raining, won’t you melt?” or “Um, isn’t it against your religion to eat Chinese food?” or my favorite, “Don’t you have to wear special underwear so you never see yourself naked?” All of these people were dead serious, by the way. I probably shouldn’t have gone along with and agreed to all of them, but hey, you have to get your kicks somewhere. Which leads me to…
5. The infamous magical underwear
Here’s where my education falls a little flat, I’m afraid. Mormons who wear the magical underwear, or ‘garments,’ have undergone special instruction inside one of the Mormon Temples, which they hold explicitly holy and only a ‘worthy member’ (one who doesn’t drink coffee or whom lives with their fiancé… heh) can enter. Upon getting married, or after being interviewed by one’s Bishop (kind of like a Catholic Priest minus a paycheck and cool robes), you enter into covenants with God; or so devout church members believe. These covenants are held so sacred that they are not even taught within the church lessons themselves. All I was ever told about garments growing up was that they are meant to be a symbol and reminder of the promises a person made to God and are worn at all times except for bathing, swimming, certain sports or… you know, sexy time. Also, they make awesome whips to hit your little sister with when it’s your turn to fold the laundry.
I’m sure that someone could actually go online and research this topic (many disavowed Mormons have spoken out about it, I’m sure), I am simply expressing things as I was taught as a past member myself. Not saying it’s perfect by any means, but it is true.
A selection of other random facts:
- They do not believe in shopping, traveling or engaging in activities outside of the home on Sundays.
- Facial hair is generally frowned upon, especially in offices of leadership. My father was recently ‘called’ (chosen from the congregation) as a councilor in the church and was asked to shave off his mustache, which he’d had my entire life. He looks freaky.
- Women cannot attain positions of spiritual leadership within the church (such as Bishops, Apostles or Prophets).
- They do not believe in watching rated R movies, drinking tea or any other overly caffeinated beverages, they also do not condone tattoos or piercings aside from ears on women (none for dudes). They also believe in dressing ‘modestly,’ meaning no shorts above fingertip length, nothing that reveals the mid section and no sleeveless or strapless dresses or shirts (this suuuuucked during an Arizona summer, by the way).
- They believe that families married or ‘sealed’ together in the Temple will live on together into the afterlife.
- They do not believe children are born into ‘original sin.’
- There are three tiers of heaven; Celestial (best), Terrestrial (second best) and Telestial (worst; but still considered part of heaven). Mormon hell is called ‘Outer Darkness’ and you have to be pretty awful to go there. Think Hitler… or Ann Coulter (Bazinga!).
- The idea that if you are righteous enough you can basically be the ruler of some other world or planet is not widely taught and fairly controversial within the church itself. It certainly was not something that was taught in my Sunday school classes.
- There are no paid clergy within the church; it is all volunteer based until you get to the higher echelon with the Apostles and Prophet himself whom are, apparently, provided only what they need to live simply and comfortably.
- They perform something called ‘baptisms for the dead’ (which I participated in several times after reaching the required age of twelve) that doesn’t actually mean they exhume dead bodies and dunk them underwater. I wish that were the case, it have been pretty freakishly cool. Basically, since they believe you have to be baptized Mormon to go to heaven, they baptize their members in the spiritual place of the unfortunately dead person whom did not have the chance to be baptized on earth.
- Some famous people they have done this for (causing varying degrees of outrage): Elvis Presley, Anne Frank, Princess Diana, Gandhi, and, allegedly (sources vary here), Adolf Hitler. I tried to get baptized for Mark Twain when I was fourteen… apparently someone had beaten me to it. Bastards. They claim this practice is endorsed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:29.
- Prior to a Temple being ‘dedicated’ the general public is invited to tour the building. They’re actually pretty kickass inside, seriously beautiful, and I would encourage anyone to go check them out if they get the opportunity.
- The CIA and the FBI have Mormon recruitment programs. The CIA in particular has a skewed amount of LDS employees.
- Men, around the age of 18 (women around 19) who go on missions are away from home for about two years living off the required amount of money they saved prior and are asked not to return home unless a close family member has died. They have restricted phone and internet use (if they have it at all) and are encouraged to write letters instead. My dad went to the Dominican Republic and my mother went to Milan, Italy.
Mormons, like any other religion, are filled with wonderful, understanding and compassionate people as well as those whom are judgmental, harsh and unkind; the latter of which are far less common in my experience. I appreciate my childhood within the church and sometimes I even miss the general kinship I felt and their focus on the humble serving of their fellow man, something I wish more people would embrace. Mormonism, or any other religion, is not for me personally, but I do hope that this article has helped shed some light on the actual beliefs of church members and that maybe you have a better understanding of that really big family down the street who are always inviting you over to dinner or some sort of church function. Hey, they always have awesome food at those things, trust me.