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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 A previous policy preventing the blacks from receiving the Priesthood that was rescinded by revelation as recently as 1978?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 }
  • Rob 11 Apr 2012, 3:58 pm

    Glad to see someone else is standing up against this guy. I used MSNBC as my primary source of news for years. Because of him I quit. And I’ll keep off of it until he’s off the air. Thank you.

  • Paige 11 Apr 2012, 7:37 pm

    Great post! Very fair, accurate, and non-apologetic. The only thing I would double-check is the list of practicing Mormons, last I knew Aaron Eckhart does not consider himself LDS but is still respectful toward the Church.

    • Dave 13 Apr 2012, 10:28 pm

      Thanks, Paige – you’re right, though, I should have left out Eckhart. I didn’t really know who he was – he just looked good. 🙂

      • Maximiliano 5 Sep 2012, 6:51 am

        Does anyone know if the suirsne accepted his offering? I knew Todd, but not very well. We saw each other socially about once a week for our FHE. Looking back, we actually had a lot in common ie interests, history, religion(although my family was never LDS), similar degrees (i majored in mechanical engineering, him biomechanical engineering), odd behavior I wonder how many people actually understand the reference in his suicide letter. It’s not the ramblings of a maniac. I had no idea that Todd and I had similar taste in literature as well.

  • Hannah 11 Apr 2012, 8:11 pm

    This is very well written. I hope more people get to read it. I laughed that you didn’t list Harry Reid as a respected Mormon. Or Glen Beck.

    • Dave 13 Apr 2012, 10:30 pm

      That was on purpose! Notice the lead-in I used? “well respected” doesn’t seem to fit every famous Mormon I know of. 🙂

    • Marilynn 4 Sep 2012, 5:28 am

      Found you via Weekend Wander on FTLOB :)Religion is always a trciky subject mainly because people put far too much weight on it. I am not religious and I don’t feel lost. I feel happy, I get on with life. I hope you find your ideal place xxTweet me! @othersideofcool

  • John Keightley 12 Apr 2012, 6:09 am

    Dave —

    I really appreciated this post, I think you are absilutely right. As a Catholic, I know some of the stuff we supposedly “believe” sounds down-right nutty, and I don’t deny that some of it has basis in fact/history! It’s just that faith is a complex thing and how any of us relate to the religion we choose is equally complex – so judging any individual based on these generalizations, even the ones that may have more basis in fact than others, is very complicated and a delicate thing to do.

    I do take issue with one thing in your post. At one point you say: “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.” While I do not doubt that these issues will arise in the general election, either explicitly or implicitly, I am not sure it is fair to attribute it to “the left”. If one wants to make assumptions, I think it is equally likely that these concerns will be what keeps some conservatives, who would otherwise support a Republican candidate, from coming out in force for Mr. Romney. I understand that this was stimulated by Mr. O’Donnell’s comments, I just take issue with the notion with the presumption that “the left” will be leading this charge.

    During the last election, whe people questioned whether Mr. Obama was a muslim, my response was, “So what if he is?” In the end, I am still in agreement with you — no one should buy into, or promulgate, religious sterotypes in an effort to scare people off. Thanks again for posting this.

    • Dave 13 Apr 2012, 10:35 pm

      You’re right – the biggest anti-Mormon bigots are far-right Christian fundamentalists and far-left atheists or secularists.

      My assumption, though, was that I think we’ll see a LOT less of the anti-Mormon nonsense coming from the right for some time to come now. I’m glad to know that the bigots on the right will at least need to keep quiet about their bigotry lest it be used against the only candidate left standing who has a chance to defeat Obama.

  • Jason 12 Apr 2012, 8:09 pm

    Really enjoyed this, well thought-out and stated! I can say from personal experience I’ve dealt with this from other non-members too, and luckily the more they get to know me the more their opinion changes. I will say though, that the religious distortion comes at least as often from those on the political right as on the left. Since this is an election year though, at least conservatives will be less vocal since they will be backing one.

    • Dave 13 Apr 2012, 10:43 pm

      I agree, Jason – I find it fascinating that Evangelicals deal with the cognitive dissonance of the “Christian” progressive Obama vs. the “non-Christian Mormon” conservative Romney by asserting either or both falsehoods: that Obama isn’t Christian or Romney isn’t conservative.

      We’re in for a fascinating study in the political / religious dynamic over the coming years. We’ve crossed the Mississippi again, this time going from the west to the east, and sworn enemies will become our allies. The Lord works in mysterious ways…

  • Ben Driggs 12 Apr 2012, 10:14 pm

    The anti-Mormon propaganda today is nothing new to this Church; I just finished a Church History course and anti-Mormon bigotry has been present since the very day the Church was established on April 6th, 1830; even in Nauvoo (a city founded by the Mormons) from 1838 to 1845 the Mormons were attacked politically by people outside and inside the city; the worst anti-Mormon material usually comes from those who were Mormons at one point in their lives; I’m a Mormon, I’ve been a Mormon all my life and will be a Mormon til the day I die!!

    • Dave 13 Apr 2012, 10:48 pm

      Amen, Brother Ben. My 2nd-great-grandfather, Thomas White McBride, was actually murdered by a mob during the Haun’s Mill Massacre – so I’m acutely aware of how far we’ve come. It helps me keep things in perspective when people make ridiculous claims about what we believe. They may hate us, but only rarely these days does anyone kill us or threaten to kill us for our beliefs…

      • Samet 5 Sep 2012, 2:54 am

        Good stuff, Stu! Would that all candidates would stop ruinnng from claiming their faith, and articulating their positions and promises from that perspective, yet in a light with which others can see them as well.

  • Michael 12 Apr 2012, 10:54 pm

    I am a God fearing Jesus saved Christian. The gift God granted me once born again. ( stated in John 3:3 ) was to evangelize, to seek the lost. I may be mis

  • Michael 12 Apr 2012, 11:35 pm

    Sorry for that. I may be misinformed but I beleive it was the prophet himself that clearly stated that god told him ( join none of them, for they are all wrong. All there creeds were an abomination in his sight, that those professors were all corrupt) I myself feel this may be a viable quote to use. To explain the position of many Christians the very reason we beleive it to be so important to reach the lost for the true and living God the one from the bible. The one who never needs to deliver revelation to a man in flesh with the ability if being corruptible. What you wish not to realize is for true born again believers we are called to spread the good news with all who are willing to listen. Makes no difference what you want to label yourself. one thing is true the church will never save someone. in the old testament God only forgave sin with blood sacrifice . To comprehend Gods compassion on us we must understand the sacrafice of the savior. Ephesians 2:8 for by grace you have been saved through faith. AND THIS IS NOT OF YOUR OWN DOING; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. I’m sure if you have listened to some crazy Christian you have heard this scripture. That leads to my last plea, the bible clearly states a literal heaven and hell so as Christians it is of most importance to reach out. As you know Mormons beleive otherwise. I know you have the three levels, and apostates have something different altoghter something I beleive you said they deserve for betraying the church, your not so worried about me because you beleive even if I reject Mormonism in the after life I will still make it to I beleive the second , so sorry to go on but. Well my fiancé has come out of Mormonism and into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, and as I beleive she will be cast into outer darkness, this is strange because she rejected the church but received the savior, she must be punished, please help if I have this wrong. God bless you and I will lift your name up in prayer.

    • Dave 13 Apr 2012, 11:10 pm

      Thank you, Michael, for your kind and caring comment. Honestly, we are not very far apart. Almost everything you say is something that is resonant with me, and consistent with what most Mormons believe. We actually do believe in heaven and hell. I’ll share a personal story to confirm that. I had a daughter, Ashley, who died the day she was born. I know that Ashley, an innocent, is in heaven (i.e. paradise). I had a son, Michael, who died in sin at age 18 of a drug overdose. I know Michael went to hell (i.e. what we call spirit prison). But I also know that Michael was visited in spirit prison by loved ones, including Ashley. He was a loving, good-hearted kid, so for him to stay in hell forever would deny the justice and mercy of a loving God. In fact, I know that the day he was released from spirit prison was on October 26th, 2010, when we did his temple work for him. As for the three degrees of glory, those are for after resurrection.

      Your girlfriend does not need to leave the LDS church to receive Jesus and a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ and the ordinances of salvation, such as baptism, were lost and corrupted during the dark ages. They were restored through Joseph Smith. So everything you love about Jesus Christ and your relationship with him will only be enhanced when you diligently seek to better know Jesus Christ through the witness He has provided to those who love him. It’s called “The Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”

      Just recently, I got a call from a Reverend I had met at the Consumer Electronics Show. He was inviting me to his baptism. Yes, an Evangelical Minister was being baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because his honest searching for Jesus Christ had led him to read The Book of Mormon to prove it wrong and instead he had discovered the restored gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ in the latter-days. Unburden yourself of the false beliefs that have been imposed on you by those with an ax to grind, Michael, and come unto Jesus with all of your heart, might, mind, and strength. I promise, in His holy name, that you’ll discover what the Reverend did – the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in all of its richness and glory.

      Sincerely, your brother Dave.

  • Leo Paur 13 Apr 2012, 3:32 am

    I am happy to be a Mormon. Unfortunately there are too many others who choose to be Morons. But that is their choice … if it makes them happy then I am happy for them. Ignorance is bliss.

  • D Cluver 13 Apr 2012, 8:11 am

    But you don’t believe in the traditional Christian belief in the Trinity, right? As in 3-in-one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, separate, yet totally one. Like an egg, which part is the egg? The shell? The white? The yolk? All 3 are the egg, yet different, but you can’t have one and call it an egg without the other 2 parts. This is a basic fundamental Christian belief, yet Mormons deny the Trinity. This is something I’ve been confused about when Mormons claim Christianity as being the same as Mormonism. Can you help me out here? Because no one has ever been able to explain this satisfactorily for me.
    Thank you

    • Dave 13 Apr 2012, 11:24 pm

      I’ll try. I think the egg analogy better suits our beliefs, because we believe the three members of the Godhead (our word for Trinity) are separate beings.

      I was just reading John 14 yesterday, so I understand why this can all be so confusing. How can the Father dwell in Jesus? How can Jesus dwell in his disciples? Well, as best as I understand, that’s a metaphor of how an earthly father can dwell in their children. I can see myself in my children. Each of God’s children have a spirit, born in godliness, making us children of God, who is the father of our spirit.

      So Christ was God’s son in the flesh. And Christ was therefore God as well. And because the Father and the Son were one in heart and mind and purpose, they are One God. But that does not make them one being, or one soul. The Father, The Son, and the Holy Ghost are one God, but are three distinct personages. And the Father and Son have both eternal body and eternal spirit, but the Holy Ghost is as yet unembodied – a personage of spirit. When Christ was resurrected, he took up his body again, right? Don’t most Trinitarian Christians believe that Christ is now as his Father, a Spirit? If so, when did Christ again forsake his body? And what is the purpose of resurrection if not to re-unite body and spirit? Mormons simply believe Christ still has a body, as does the Father.

      But I suppose many things about the Godhead are still a “mystery” for us Mormons, just as they are for Christians, really. I think it’s important to focus on what we have in common as we strive to understand our differences. Therein lies learning…

      Thanks for your comment – be happy to explore things with you further.

    • Eva Booher 14 Apr 2012, 8:22 am

      I don’t see any quotes from the Bible.? Book of Morman was written by man. Put in Spaulding Manuscript read about the Fraud involved here.

      • Dave 15 Apr 2012, 5:31 pm

        Eva, I know your mind is made up about Mormonism, but guess what? We agree! The Book of Mormon was written by man, namely by men named Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Alma, Mormon, and Moroni. Along with other prophets.

        Seriously, do you honestly think that I’ve never heard of the Spaulding Manuscript? I know far more about it than you do, I’ll guarantee you that. Anyone who accepts the Spaulding-Rigdon theory is desperate for an explanation of The Book of Mormon that fits their existing prejudices. You have to stretch the facts beyond all recognition – which is why there is not one reputable Mormon historian who accepts any form of the Spaulding-Rigdon theory, which is actually an easily disproved conspiracy theory. You see, historically, The Book of Mormon was published before Rigdon even met Joseph Smith. And when you have so many people involved with the church and its miraculous origins, it becomes really difficult to maintain any kind of conspiracy theory that explains all of the hundreds and even thousands of contemporaneous testimonies and witnesses. It’s literally impossible for any honest historian to look at all of the known facts and construct a plausible narrative for the origin of The Book of Mormon other than the two possibilities that fit all of the facts: 1) the origin taught by Joseph Smith and accepted by almost all Mormons, or 2) the explanation espoused by most non-Mormon historians, that Joseph Smith was a religious genius, a savant, and The Book of Mormon sprang from his fertile imagination. Even then, you’re left with a lot of explaining to do – so it’s no wonder that anti-Mormons cling to any strained explanation that fits even a few of the known facts. Like any absurd conspiracy theory (e.g. that Bush orchestrated the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11), the more facts you throw at adherents of the theory, the more they stretch their theory until it just looks ridiculous. And that’s exactly how the Spaulding-Rigdon theory looks to me, and to serious scholars, I might add. Superficially plausible to the uninformed, but totally ridiculous to those who know all of the facts – including the text of the book itself.

        As for quotes from the Bible, I didn’t quote scripture in my post. Is there something in particular you’d like me to clarify or support with passages from the Bible? Somehow, I think you’ll find a way to disagree, but I’d be happy to share our beliefs. Let me know.