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What Mormons REALLY Believe – Get Ready for the Anti-Mormon Bigotry Parade

Well, we knew it was coming, but it doesn’t make the bigotry any less ugly when it rears its snarling head, as it did in a Lawrence O’Donnell segment this week. Now that Mitt Romney has the Republican nomination sewn up, the anti-Mormon bigotry parade has assembled and started its long march to the election. You may have seen some of the ugliness lately – it’s not hard to find. Most of it probably leaves fair-minded people scratching their heads, as in “Do Mormons REALLY believe all that?”

The answer is usually no – but I’ll admit: we Mormons believe some rather strange things. For example, we believe God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to a 14-year old boy in upstate New York in 1820. We believe that same boy, with the utterly unremarkable name of Joseph Smith, received engraved plates of gold from an angel and, through revelation, translated those plates, published the translation that is now The Book of Mormon, and established a church with hundreds of adherents – all before he reached the age of 25. We believe in modern prophets and in personal revelation. The practice of our religion makes us objects of ridicule as well. No coffee, tea, tobacco or alcohol? No pre-marital or extramarital sex? Mormons in good standing pay a full tithe? Once polygamy was OK but now it’s not? A previous policy preventing the blacks from receiving the Priesthood that was rescinded by revelation as recently as 1978? Proxy baptisms for our deceased ancestors and other secret (we say sacred) ceremonies inside temples? Ceremonial undergarments as a remembrance of our temple covenants? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

However, the curious and quirky novelty of those beliefs and practices are apparently not enough for those who hate us. They need to twist, distort, and even make up other things to REALLY make us look silly and even sinister. The current God of earth is a married man from the planet Kolob who was given Earth as his own when he died? Mormons are racist? Mormons don’t believe that Jesus is the son of God because Satan and Jesus are brothers? Joseph Smith “got caught having sex with his maid?” Women are inferior to men? Mormons are either polygamists or wish they were? No one but Joseph Smith ever saw the golden plates? Mormons believe that Native Americans are descended from Jews? Mormons are forced to serve missions so they can be brainwashed? Church leaders are rich and powerful? Mormons believe in magic underwear? No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no and no. Red flags for anti-Mormon bigotry – every one of them.

If it seems hard to understand what we believe to those outside the church, it’s because Mormon doctrine is so extraordinarily robust. It’s simple enough to learn the basics – Faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Repentance, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the Laying on of Hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost – in one lesson. And yet the history and doctrines of the church create such a comprehensive worldview that is so far-reaching and controversial that most of us Mormons study the scriptures every day of our entire lives and are still learning more. Yet perhaps the most remarkable thing is how much we Mormons generally see things so similarly and how united and cohesive the church is, especially as an all-volunteer organization with no paid ministry. We attribute it to the operations of the Holy Spirit; cynics attribute it to brainwashing, Borg-like assimilation, a cult mentality, or blind and mindless ignorance. In my experience, such cynics are ignorant and lack experience with the church and its members.

Most Mormons simply do not believe the things we’re often said to believe. The “out-there” things you hear are simply not taught in General Conference or Sunday School. You just never hear them discussed, and it’s not because we’re afraid to. They’re just irrelevant to us. Every Mormon, including respected church historians and Mormon scholars, are free to pursue the truth, too, so it’s not dogmatic consistency imposed and enforced by church leaders. When you hear about Mormons being excommunicated for opposing church doctrine or BYU professors being fired, it’s usually because they not only teach things about the church that aren’t true, but do so publicly to embarrass the church. Just ask Jan Shipps – a non-Mormon – if the Mormons are afraid of the truth. Trust me – most of the really out-there stuff is bigoted nonsense parading as unbiased (“former Mormon”) whistle-blowing. Some of the things you might hear, however – the apparent contradictions or anything hard to wrap your head around – are what we call “mysteries,” which every religion (and even science) has. Eternity itself is a tough concept to grasp – right up there with the idea of this universe existing in the first place.

So if you see something that seems on its face to be ridiculous, it probably is and has little to do with our real beliefs. It’s often twisted from something said by a prophet or church leader over 100 years ago. Brigham Young once gave a sermon in the morning session of General Conference and then came back in the afternoon and reversed his morning message, saying “this morning you heard what Brigham Young had to say – now you will hear what the Lord has to say.” You see, we have a sophisticated tolerance for humanity and human error – even when revelation is involved. Revelation is when the divine meets the human, and is therefore prone to the frailties of the flesh, so to speak – so the miracle is how nearly perfect it can be, enabling us to see a glimpse of divine perfection, not a compelling view of man made perfect by interaction with divinity. Where there is perfect knowledge (compelling proof no one can deny), there can be no faith, so providing such proof defeats the purpose of life – to learn by faith. But fundamentalist Christians have no such tolerance for the humanity or human error of any Mormon prophet, and therefore are almost always seriously mistaken when they say “Mormons believe this” or “Mormons believe that” and cite some obscure writings of a dead prophet. To them, the divine origin of the Bible means that it must be word-for-word perfect – never mind that it’s been transcribed, edited, compiled, translated, and published by imperfect humans. The inability to grasp this dichotomy between the human and the divine leaves them vulnerable to misjudgment about divine influence in their own lives and the lives of others. That’s why they can be so insufferably intolerant and hard-headed in defending their religious and political beliefs. They simply have no grasp of anything other than moral absolutes, in spite of the rich Western Judeo-Christian tradition of religious and philosophical depth and complexity.

So almost all of what Mormon antagonists, whether on the extreme left or the extreme right, parade as truth is not even close to it. If I said “Christians believe that a man who was executed as a criminal somehow climbed out of his grave,” how much truth is there in such an outrageously worded claim? Perhaps enough to make it somewhat recognizable, but not enough to keep it from being a bigoted falsehood. That’s a very good parallel to what happens when anti-Mormons try to portray Mormon beliefs and teachings.

But here’s what gets to me: Anti-Mormons argue from the presumption that all Mormons are ignorant and uninformed in believing what they say we believe. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Most Mormons are very well informed about what the church teaches. We have a two-day general conference twice a year where most practicing Mormons listen to 8 hours or more of talks we believe to be inspired. We also have 3 hours of church teachings and meetings every Sunday. I laugh at the assertion that Mormons are mindless robots or dupes, because one of the fundamental teachings is “follow the spirit,” or in other words, each person is an autonomous free agent responsible for making their own choices about how to live their life. Well taught and well informed? Yes, much more so than most churches. Willing to trust and believe the prophets and apostles? Free to choose their personal beliefs? Again, yes. Only those who actively work against the church are excommunicated, as it should be. Brainwashed dupes and zombies? Hardly. Visit a church and see for yourself.

Mitt Romney is extraordinarily smart. He has the same Harvard Law degree President Obama has PLUS an MBA from Harvard. But you know the left will attempt to paint him as a clueless robot because he believes the straw man lies they’ll manufacture as “Mormon beliefs.” Don’t believe everything you hear or read, and as you consider whether to believe the lie that Mormons are brainwashed robots or some variation of that, consider some other intelligent, highly respected, well-known practicing Mormons: Stephen R. Covey – universally respected business guru; Orson Scott Card – science fiction writer; Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame; Harvard professor and author Clayton Christensen, Kim Clark – former Dean of Harvard’s Business School, Columbia historian Richard Bushman, Gladys Knight; the Marriotts; Billy Casper – pro golfer; Dale Murphy – All Star baseball legend; the Osmonds; Jimmer Fredette; NFL Super Bowl MVP Steve Young; college and NBA Basketball star Thurl Bailey, Sports Illustrated high school basketball phenom Jabari Parker, American Idol David Archuleta; comedy actor Jon Heder; NFL Coach Andy Reid, and many, many more you may not have heard of but who have impacted your life, nonetheless – such as the inventor of television (Philo Farnsworth) or the founder of Jet Blue (David Neeleman). And if you really want to blow your mind, consider this: Eldredge Cleaver was baptized and died a Mormon, and both Glenn Beck and Harry Reid are practicing Mormons. So if you think we’re all stupid and brainwashed, you might want to reconsider. If Glenn Beck and Harry Reid were in the same Sunday School class, I guarantee you they wouldn’t be arguing because they’d be focused on those religious beliefs they share, not those political beliefs they don’t. If you want to know what we really believe, just lose the cynicism and ironic post-modernistic arrogance and then ask a Mormon you know in all sincerity, or call the missionaries and invite them over. Remember that if you ask them politely not to come any more, they’ll honor your request. They’re not about high-pressure – what good is a convert who’s not converted?

And study for yourself. I’ve never understood how anyone could reject The Book of Mormon without reading it and studying and thoughtfully pondering it’s contents. Also, if you want to read the best documented, most fair and accurate account of Joseph Smith’s life, read the comprehensive and fascinating historical work by Richard L. Bushman, “Rough Stone Rolling.” Bushman is the Gouvernor Morris Professor of History, Emeritus, at Columbia University and “Rough Stone Rolling” is far and away the most respected biography of Joseph Smith available today.

The people who are really being duped are those who give any credence to the cess pool of anti-Mormon propaganda put out by those who profit enormously from feeding the tremendous amount of anti-Mormon bigotry and ignorance in this country. Sad to say, but the biggest promoters of anti-Mormon information is those with the most to gain or lose – book sellers and preachers. But one things besides death and taxes is certain: we’ll be seeing a LOT of anti-Mormon bigotry over the coming seven months.

My best advice? Be wise and careful in what you choose to believe. Be wise and careful in what you choose to reject. And be VERY wise in choosing what to put on the shelf until you can research it better and decide for yourself. How will you know when you’ve chosen correctly? Easy. You’ll be at peace, you won’t be bitter, and you won’t feel an urgent need to tell the entire world that you know what the Mormons REALLY believe, contrary to what they say they believe, if they all weren’t such liars and hypocrites…

{ 33 comments… add one }

  • Pete Campbell 14 Apr 2012, 8:11 pm

    Well written article, to paraphrase someone way more succinct than me, people expect man to be perfect when they profess to be of God’s true church, but imperfect as they may be doesn’t make the truths any different.

  • Jeff 14 Apr 2012, 11:46 pm

    Just wanted to inform you that Aaron Eckhart is no longer a practicing member of the LDS faith.

  • Michael 18 Apr 2012, 9:42 pm

    Dave thank you for this dialog
    I’ll just try and continue this conversation with questions. I know it’s your position that I need to come to the book of Mormon to be completely enlightened, so I guess we will agree to disagree. Can you answer this puzzling state of affairs for me. Recently or in an on going happen stance the church has had it come out that it has done babtisms for holocaust victims, in good faith I beleive they said It would cease, we know that it happened again, and as I have heard the church issued a warning that if anyone was doing any more of these babtisms there would be reprocussions. However I think for Jews to ask Mormons to change there teachings is quite arrogant, but is seems strange to me that if Mormons truly beleive that these babtisms could in the after life help someone in to heaven( regardless of level) how could they knowing what these people went through here on earth alter this practice. so as to not upset this Jewish resistance, is this the case. So let me go further, some have all ready been babtized for, they have received your gospel, but living Mormon leaders have moved to reject this and have there names removed, so what for these Jews who have died and been babtized for, I know you don’t answer for the after life but really scripture is scripture practice is practice, the church would not alter this for the common folk, who show no sign of influence, no strong lawyer to defend themselves from something they disagree with, really your church is doing proxy babtisms, can your church pick and choose who and who does not get the (your words true gospel) preached to them. One reason that I find the Bible to be the( infallible repository of redemptive revaluation)not my words. Is it has never changed it will never change. Like the God who wrote it.

    • Dave 28 Apr 2012, 6:50 pm

      I really appreciate the depth of thought and respect inherent in your sincere questions, Michael.

      To answer, God’s time is not our time. This life is not the same as eternal life or even the next life. Our perspectives are limited, and our situation is far less than ideal. God’s plan for His children is perfect, but this life is far from perfect. We experience suffering, injustice, pain, travesties, evil, sickness, etc. etc. – which is precisely why we need a Savior. He alone can help us transcend the evil and injustice of our current state, and climb out of the pit into which we voluntarily climbed, so to speak, that we might be able to know good from evil. In our innocent, pre-existent state, all we knew was Goodness, Love, Peace, Beauty, and Godliness. This life lets us learn to choose the good from the evil, but it’s a seriously long process that continues after death.

      We believe that all must be baptized, and that the baptisms must occur on this earth, and that all WILL be baptized in due time, which means that the eternal justice of God allows for we the living to be baptized for our ancestors and others until the work is completed (which will happen during the reign of Christ on earth). So that gives us all a long time to accomplish it, and in the meantime, the spirits in the next life, even those in spirit prison, are able, I believe, to continue to learn at their own pace and rate of acceptance – just as in this life.

      One thing I’ve observed, is that God values agency (freedom to choose our own beliefs) far more than any of us comprehend. Even though he provides us with plenty of evidence and witnesses, he does not seem to every provide irrefutable “proof” that would deny someone the ability to choose what they will believe. It’s part of the reason we learn faith. So that doesn’t change in the next life.

      So the church isn’t doing the picking and choosing – church leaders provide us with guidance and the members decide which names to submit. That’s why the problems have arisen. Some well-meaning church members got carried away and thought they were doing what’s right in submitting the names of people other than their own ancestors. Part of that stems from our anecdotal belief that the Founding Fathers appeared to Wilford Woodruff in the St. George temple and requested that he do their temple work. But I think wisdom dictates that we should turn our hearts to our fathers and focus on doing their work and leave the work of others for their descendants to do at some unknown time in the future. What matters is that the work is done, not who does it or when.

      And I respect your love of the Bible – I love it too. Have you considered all of the scriptures that prophesy of the Restoration, and witness to it? Such as I Corinthians 15:29, since we’re speaking of baptisms for the dead? I once went to a Christian scripture study with a friend, and they were reading that chapter, so I asked a minister about it, and he would only say that it’s “problematic.” Well, maybe, but not to Mormons. :-)

  • Patrick 10 Aug 2012, 5:42 am

    Do you believe Joseph Smith shot a man while trying to escape from jail and then being shot himself?
    Do you believe that Mormons under Brigham Young (a polygamist) were involved in the largest domestic terrotist act ever in America, killing over 200 innocent men, women
    and children (the Mountain Meadows Massacre)?
    Do you believe Joseph Smith would predict the future by looking at stones in a hat”
    Do you believe that there was a great battle in America centuries ago that killed millions, while there is mo physical evidence of this occuring, or that genteics disproves and settlers of a lost tribe in America from the Middle East, Africa, or Europe?
    Do you believe we will all have our own planet after death?
    Do you believe in Joseph Smith’s interpretation of Egyptian Heiroglyphics when it has been proven wrong by the actual scietnitsts decoding the Egyptian writings well after Smith’s death?
    Do you believe that Joseph Smith borrowed heavily from freemasonry to come up with his rituals practivced by Mormons?
    Ican go on, must must I to prove the Mormon religion is a farce, right there in the ball park with the Jehovah Witnesses>

    • Gilbert 5 Sep 2012, 6:31 am

      Caroline The pride Rand prescribes has (in her view) esnaitselly no downside in her novels or ideology (FYI I love the novels, but the ideology as a whole meh. Like most things elements of truth, but a lot of garbage.).While this seems at first a glaring flaw in her thinking (to me, at least), I’ve found that the way Rand defines pride, and the way, say, President Benson defined it, are very different. In Rand’s view, pride is more of a catch-all term for personal integrity, honor, respect, satisfaction for a job well done, commitment, etc although it does also incorporate some of the self-congratulatory smugness that ETB (implicitly) warned against.In short, I think that Rand is partially right integrity, self-respect, and an unwillingness to sacrifice your principles are great things. When these lead to contempt for your neighbor, well Her novels also have very strong feminist underpinnings, though the definition of feminism may differ from that which is accepted by a bunch of Mormon gals. In particular, all of her novels are centered around an extremely intelligent, powerful woman lead whose views of gender roles, sexuality, and love clash with all but a few members (the other protagonists) of society.

  • Patrick 10 Aug 2012, 5:47 am

    Oh yes …, and do you believe I am a bigot because I challenge the veracity of the Mormon religion’s beginnings under a charlatan named Jospeh Smith?

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