2022-02-01
Public Domain / Wikimedia.org

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a religion that makes many people feel curious while also leaving them with questions. It comes off as “strange” and “unorthodox” to many people, which piques their interest even more. People watch television shows like “Sister Wives,” based on a non-Mormon polygamist family in Utah, and imagine Latter-day Saints only care about polygamy or having tons of children. However, there’s much more to Latter-day Saints than prominent families and polygamy. Indeed, polygamy isn’t even practiced by contemporary Latter-day Saints. Like other religions, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints want to celebrate and worship God—even if the various Christian Churches do this in slightly different ways. Those differences often cause misunderstandings, and few know that better than Latter-day Saints. So, here are a few ‘myths about Mormonism’ that have been debunked.”.

"Mormons practice polygamy."

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not practice polygamy today, but it remains part of history. Joseph Smith, the founder of the religion, preached that polygamy was divinely sanctioned. In 1890, more than four decades after Smith’s death, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, yielded to governmental threats and discontinued the practice. Today, members who marry more than one spouse are excommunicated, but some splinter groups continue the tradition.

"Most Mormons are white."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown into a global religion from its American beginnings, with 17 million members worldwide. Fewer than half live in the United States. More LDS Church members live in South America than Utah. There are significant LDS populations in the Philippines, Tonga, Samoa, and other Pacific Islands, and is growing in Africa. In the United States, most converts in recent years have been Latinos. Worldwide, 5.5 million LDS Church members speak Spanish.

"Mormons aren’t Christian."

On Sundays, millions of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world pray in the name of Jesus Christ, receive a bread-and-water sacrament (memorializing the body and blood of Christ), and discuss Christ’s teachings in Sunday school. Latter-day Saints view themselves as Christians. However, many Christian pastors and scholars point to theological technicalities that some argue disqualify them from the mainline tradition. Some evangelicals do not see Latter-day Saints as Christians for reasons rooted in antiquated anti-LDS prejudice. Yet, Latter-day Saints distinguish themselves from other Christians by claiming that their faith offers a “restoration” of doctrines lost to mainstream Christianity during the Great Apostasy. In the end, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints argue that being a “Christian” means that one trusts their salvation to Jesus—and Latter-day Saints emphatically believe the Book of Mormon declaration “that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved” (2 Nephi 10:24). Thus, they emphatically see themselves as Christians, even if some reject them as such.

"Mormon women are second-class citizens."

Outsiders view LDS women as voiceless, mindless members of the faith, while LDS Church spokespeople portray them as uniformly happy with their situation. Neither perspective is necessarily accurate. It is true that LDS doesn’t accord women equal leadership status with men—at least not in the sense that men and women can serve in all of the same callings. In the Church, some callings are reserved for men (e.g., the bishopric or young men’s presidency) and some are reserved for women along (e.g., the presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women’s, and Primary organizations). Women do hold positions of general leadership, presiding over various worldwide organizations of the Church. In addition, women are part of the general leadership boards of the Church, having a position on the Priesthood Executive Council, the Family Executive Council, the Missionary Executive Council, and the Temple and Family History Executive Council. Thus, while the worldwide LDS Church chain of command may appear entirely male organized through ordained priesthood hierarchy, women in the Church do hold positions of authority over parts of their local congregations and over the worldwide general Church. That being said, women cannot be ordained to the priesthood shared by men aged 12 and older. The Church’s “The Family” A Proclamation to the World” declares that men “preside” over their families “in love and righteousness,” it also states that “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” Symbolic language formerly used in the temple, giving a rise to a perception of unequal gender roles, was changed in 2019, when President Russell M. Nelson announced "more inclusive language" as part of the temple ceremonies. Thus, the “equal but different” roles of men and women in the Church have sometimes been seen as “unequal and different” by some within the Church and some without the Church.

"Mormons aren’t supposed to drink caffeinated beverages."

The LDS church’s health code, known as the Word of Wisdom, was issued in 1833 by founder, Joseph Smith. It discourages the use of alcohol, tobacco, and “hot drinks,” which Church leaders have subsequently described only as “coffee and tea.” Many members have presumed it’s because they contain caffeine and thus eschewed any beverages, especially carbonated sodas, with caffeine. The LDS church recently reiterated that the only prohibited drinks were alcohol, coffee, and tea.

"All Mormons live in Utah."

The Beehive State is densely populated with Latter-day Saints, as are some neighboring states. Still, Latter-day Saints are spread across the U.S. in small pockets of believers and congregations. Members also live in more than 100 countries, and their numbers are increasing rapidly in Latin America and Africa. There are more Latter-day Saints outside the U.S. than in the U.S.

"Mormons baptize corpses."

The LDS church does not use dead bodies, but it has live volunteers do proxy baptisms for their deceased ancestors. This ritual, known as “baptism for the dead,” is performed in much the same way for the living, except proxy ordinances are done only in Mormon temples. Standing in a font of water about waist-high, a white-clothed candidate represents the dead person.

They are then immersed after the adult male baptizer (also wearing white) says these words: “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and in behalf of (name of the deceased) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.” These are the exact words said for a living baptism, without the words “for and in behalf of.” A proxy baptism doesn’t mean that a person is automatically a Mormon in heaven. Latter-day Saints believe those who have passed on can choose to accept or reject the rite done in their names.

When it comes to what others believe, misunderstandings and myths abound. This is especially true of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith tradition that may be one of the most misunderstood religions in American history. Life’s all about making relationships with each other and learning to be tolerant — we all can choose what we want to believe.

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