10 Misconceptions About the Mormons
Unless you live in Utah or other heavy-Mormon area of the country, odds are likely that you don’t know too much about the Mormon church. The Mormon religion didn’t even come to the mainstream in the United States until Mitt Romney was nominated as the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. With someone so heavily in the 24-hour news cycle, other Americans began to wonder about what being Mormon was, and at this point, the truths and misconceptions came to life.
Mormonism is a rather young religion, and it originated in the 1820s during the period of time known as the “Second Great Awakening.” Founder, John Smith, described having a vision from God about starting a new religious faith, and this is known to Mormons as the “First Vision.” During this vision, Smith saw God and Jesus Christ as two different beings, which is a different view from what a traditional Christian believes, and he said he was told that other Christian churches were wrong in their beliefs. Throughout the 1820s, Smith reported that he had several visits from Angels, and by 1830, he said that God had told him to found the true Christian church, and to write the Book of Mormon, the correct word of God.
Over the decades, the Mormon church grew, and pockets of Mormons were found throughout the country. Today, most Mormons live in Utah, but there are also larger populations of Mormons in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Arizona. If you don’t know any Mormons, you may have misconceptions about the religion, and here are the top 10 misconceptions about the religion:
10. Mormons are Not Christian
One of the biggest misconceptions about Mormons is that they are not Christians. However, they are a type of Christian, as they believe in Jesus and read the Bible. Mormons further believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God, that he died to forgive people their sins, and that he was resurrected. This is exactly in line with what Christians believe, too. There are, however, differences between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism
One difference between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism is that Mormons do not believe in the Trinity, yet Christians do. Mormons also reject the ecumenical creeds, which are often said in religions such as Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Anglican.
Other differences between Mormonism and mainstream Christianity include the believe that Jesus began to atone during his time in the garden of Gethsemane, and this continued to the crucifixion. Mainstream Christians believe that the atonement occurred during the crucifixion. Mormon beliefs also differ when it comes to the afterlife. Christians believe in the concept of heaven and hell, but Mormons believe in an afterlife being made up of three degrees of glory. They believe that hell is temporary for those who are wicked, but they will ultimately resurrect when Jesus returns from Heaven to collect the believers. Mormons also believe in a secondary hell, referred to as the “outer darkness” that only a very few of the most wicked people find themselves after death. This version of hell is everlasting, and for those who go into the outer darkness, they will not ever come out of it.
9. Mormons Cannot Ingest Caffeine
Another misconception that people have about Mormons is that they cannot ingest caffeine. According to Mormon doctrine, however, caffeine is OK to ingest, but it is not OK to drink hot drinks, such as tea or coffee. This is why people assume that Mormons cannot have caffeine. Mormons can actually have as much caffeine as they want, including in soft drinks such as Coca-Cola or Pepsi.
The Mormon church has remained cautious, however, about saying caffeine is OK for followers, as many foods with caffeine, such as soft drinks, are not healthy drinks. Some devout Mormons take it upon themselves to avoid all caffeine, but leaders have made it clear that caffeine is not forbidden. In fact, there are caffeinated soft drinks in several church buildings.
Much of the confusion about caffeine comes from the teachings of Joseph Smith, who banned the use of wine, alcohol, tobacco and “hot drinks.” Church leaders later defined this as coffee and tea. Even well-known media outlets, such as the Associated Press and New York Times, have been quoted as saying Mormons do not have caffeine.
Another reason for this misconception is that the Brigham Young University, the university owned by the Mormon Church, the Church of Jesus Christ and Later-Day Saints, does not sell nor serve caffeinated drinks of any kind. However, the university explains that this is a decision made by the dining services at the university because customers did not want the caffeinated beverages based on several evaluations of food service at BYU.
8. All Mormons are Conservative Republicans
Most people also believe that all Mormons are conservative Republicans, and that they are told how to vote in elections. This, too, is false, but there are many Mormons that fall into the Republican party. According to a research study done by Trinity College, most Mormons, almost 60 percent, do identify as Republicans, but 14 percent of Mormons identify as Democrats.
The most well-known Mormon politician is Mitt Romney, so people think, and he, of course, is a Republican. However, there is another very famous politician, Senator Harry Reid, who is a far-left Democrat and the current Senate Minority Leader. As a group, the Mormon church actually has a very strict policy in promoting neutrality in politics, and you will find everything from those who identify as socialists to those who identify as total traditionalists.
As for the voting practices of Mormons, the church does not encourage its members to vote as the church wants them to, nor to vote based on how other members of the church choose to vote. Instead, Mormons are instructed by church leaders to simply get out and vote. In other words, there isn’t as much of a concern about who church members vote for, but the concern is that the members actually vote.
7. Mormons are Banned from Using Birth Control
Many people also believe that married Mormon couples are banned from using birth control. Again, this is a misconception about the religion. To understand where this misconception comes from, you must understand the churches belief on procreation.
The general belief of Mormons is that bearing children is a privilege, and the number of children a couple has is between themselves and God. Therefore, if the couple believes that they should stop having children after a certain point, or if they want to space children out a bit, birth control is allowed according to church leadership. The church does not believe that the sole purpose of a marriage is to have children, nor does it teach that sex is only for procreation. Instead, they leave it to the couple to decide what is right for them, and teach that physical intimacy between a husband and wife is a way to strengthen the relationship and to express their love for each other.
Mormon couples tend to have a lot of children because the church teaches that members should replenish the earth with believers. Some couples seek out family planning counseling with church leaders to discuss having children, and these leaders are instructed in ways to help the couple decide what is right for them when it comes to their offspring.
Though abstinence is one method that couples can use for birth control, the church acknowledges that this can cause discourse between a couple, so other forms of birth control, such as the birth control pill, are all acceptable according to the teachings of the Mormon church.
6. The Mormon Church is Rich
If you go to a mainstream Christian church, you probably know that churches are constantly asking their members for money. Whether it is a bake sale to improve the look of the church, or a special offering to buy flowers for landscaping, there is a lot that most churches ask their members for.
When people look at the Mormon church, however, they often see grand temples and buildings, and make an assumption that the Mormon Church is rich and has money coming in all of the time. This, however, is untrue, too; all of the money the church gets is from its members, and the church runs as a non-profit.
The Mormon church is small when compared to other religious groups, and they have about 15 million members across the world. Clergy who work for the church are not paid a salary, but elder leaders are given a certain amount of money for their cost of living. Members of the church follow the commandment that they should pay a 10 percent tithe to the church, but if they cannot do this, there are no penalties. The funds from tithing go to the upkeep of the church building and temples and all of the funds go into one account. So, a member at one temple may give the church $30, but that $30 might go towards the upkeep of a temple in another state. These funds are also spent on missionary work and other needs of the church.
5. Mormons Earn Their Way to Heaven Through Good Work
People also believe that Mormons earn their way to heaven through good work. However, this too, is a misconception. The truth is, Mormons believe that they will earn a place in heaven thought the mercy and grace of Jesus, which coincidentally, is the same thing that mainstream Christians believe.
The Book of Mormon, the main doctrine of Mormonism, along with the Bible, says that man simply cannot get to heaven without the help of Jesus. However, to do this, the Mormons also believe that people must emulate the work of Jesus, and this is where this misconception originates. If you have ever read the Bible, you would know that Jesus was a man who did a lot of charity, took care of others, catered to the poor, and all of the things that the good people of the world do. As Mormons, they believe that they should also do this to show their love of Jesus, but not to earn their way into heaven.
Additionally, to show this love and to ultimately get to heaven, Mormons believe that they should confess their sins, that they should repent when they do wrong, and that they should be baptized. This is no different than what mainstream Christians believe in, and all of these deeds are mentioned in the Bible.
So, Mormons do not “work themselves into heaven,” but instead, they follow the teachings of the Bible, show their love for Jesus, and this is how they believe they can get to heaven.
4. Mormons do Not Allow Women to Lead in the Church
There is also a misconception in the Mormon church that women are not allowed to be leaders in the church. Though women are not currently allowed to serve in the Mormon priesthood, similar to other religions, such as Catholicism, women do serve as lay clergy in the Mormon church, and they take on a number of leadership positions. For instance, Mormon women lead different organizations within the church, they take the lead in teaching scripture, they teach classes throughout the church, pray during services, and they preach from the pulpit, just as the men do.
In the family, women and men take on equal roles, and according to Mormon doctrine, men and women are “equally important” in the family. The role of women in the family is to nurture the children, but both mothers and fathers are expected to treat each other as equal partners and should take equal roles in child rearing. Both parents must be involved in the discipline and care of the children, and are supposed to be unified in their family goals.
If parents are not in harmony with these goals, the church teaches that this will lead to confusion in their children, and that these children will lose confidence in the parents. Mormons are taught that both mothers and fathers must by intimately involved in the raising of their children.
3. Crazy Rituals Occur In Mormon Temples
There is a lot of mystery surrounding what happens in Mormon temples, and this perpetuates the misconception about the crazy rituals that occur in the temple. The truth is, Mormon temple rituals are not open to the public, but nothing crazy ever happens in there. Traditional Mormon services are open to the public, such as Sunday worship, but the temple rituals are not.
The main temple ritual is the “endowment,” and it is a recreation of stories such as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. There are also “sealing” rituals, in which couples are sealed to each other for eternity in marriage and children are sealed to parents for eternity as a family unit. In both of these instances, the church members must be in good standing with the church and must wear the correct dress, which is white ceremonial clothing. This adds to the complexity and richness of these rites.
Mormons also perform rituals during funerals. In this case, the deceased is buried in their white temple ritual clothing, but those who are not Mormon are permitted at the service. There is an emphasis on the life of the person who died at the funeral, and much of the service is dedicated to the Mormon believe that there is an eternal family relationship. There is also a prayer said to ask God to protect the deceased grave and the occupant until the time that Jesus comes again.
2. Mormons Hold Joseph Smith as High as God and Jesus
Even those who are not familiar with the Mormon faith have likely heard the name Joseph Smith, and might believe that Mormons worship him just as they worship God or Jesus. This, however, is not true, either.
Mormon’s consider Joseph Smith to be their founder and prophet, but they do not consider him to be a god or angel, or even holy. The church acknowledges that they believe the church should be led by a prophet, but they do not believe that prophets should be perfect. Only Jesus was perfect, Joseph Smith was not.
The Covenants and Doctrine of the Mormon church have many examples of when God had to inform Joseph Smith that he needed to repent for the things he did, and even threatened to remove him as the leader of the church. Today, leaders agree that Joseph Smith should never be put on a pedestal that is equal to Jesus. Prophets are earthly men, they are fallible, and they have been called for a holy responsibility. Mormons believe that when prophets speak, they are speaking by the authority of God. They also believe that prophets are good men that are worthy of their emulation, but they are never to be worshiped like gods.
As for Joseph Smith, obviously Mormons hold the prophet and founder in great respect, and that he was willing to die as a martyr for his beliefs. Saying that Mormons worship Joseph Smith would be just as ridiculous as people saying that Catholics worship the Pope, that Lutherans worship Martin Luther or that evangelists worship Billy Graham.
1. All Mormons Practice Polygamy
Finally, the biggest misconception about Mormons is that all Mormons practice polygamy. Polygamy, the practice of a man marrying more than one woman, is illegal in most areas, and mainstream Mormons, those who belong to the Church of Latter Day Saints, do not practice polygamy, and do not believe in polygamy. This accounts for 99 percent of all Mormons. However, there are sects of Mormons, who the LDS church do not consider to be Mormons, who do practice polygamy, the most notable being the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS.
There are approximately 8,000 to 10,000 members of the FLDS church, which pales in comparison to the 15 million members of the LDS church. So why are the members of the FLDS church and their polygamy practices so well known? Television. The public is fascinated by the practice of polygamy, and tune into these television shows, such as “Sister Wives,” and believe that all Mormons are like these families. However, mainstream LDS members do not even consider the FLDS families as part of the same church, and they often make this well known when people talk about polygamy with an LDS member.
Here’s where it gets tricky, however. The Doctrine and Covenants, one of the documents the LDS church, or mainstream Mormons, still use says that the practice of polygamy should still be done and that by practicing polygamy, it gets a man closer to God. Mormons get around this by saying that they will practice polygamy in the afterlife, so they don’t have to do it in this life.
With so much confusion surrounding the Mormon church, there is no surprise that there is so many misconceptions. Though Mormons believe in the same God that mainstream Christians do, the way they worship this God is very different. Many mainstream Christians, and the rest of us, have a hard time understanding how Mormons work, especially because we are inundated with information about Mormon sects, which is only a very small number of Mormons, in the media. Because of this information, we make the assumption that all Mormons are like those we see on television. However, these Mormons only make up a very small number of Mormons worldwide.
There is much to be said about the Mormon religion, and there is a lot to be learned by outsiders about what makes Mormons different from mainstream Christians. However, by taking the time to attempt to learn about the religion and to take a look at the common misconceptions of the religion, it is much easier to separate fact from fiction. At a basic level, Mormons widely have the same beliefs that other Christians do, they simply go about these beliefs in a different way.