Public Domain / Wikimedia.org

Mormonism 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 Mormon family in Utah, and imagine Mormons only care about polygamy or many children. However, there’s much more to Mormons than prominent families and polygamy. Like other religions, Mormons want to celebrate God and worship Him, just differently from Christians, Catholics, and other faiths worshipping their higher power. Here are some myths about Mormonism that have been debunked.

"Mormons practice polygamy."

Mainstream Mormons do not practice polygamy today, but it remains part of history and theology. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, married at least 33 women, often without the consent of his first wife, Emma, and 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, the mainstream Mormon Church, yielded to political pressure and phased out the practice. Today, members who marry more than one spouse are excommunicated, but ultra-orthodox splinter groups continue the tradition.

Polygamy remains a source of tension for mainstream Mormons. Mormon public figures routinely play down the polygamous history, saying that only a tiny percentage of 19th-century Mormon families were polygamous. Historians say it was 20 to 30 percent. Still, the LDS Church, which teaches that marriages performed in its temples are eternal, has never disputed elements of Mormon theology suggesting that Mormons may practice polygamy in heaven. Church policy permits widowed and some divorced men to be sealed to more than one wife for all eternity, while Mormon women may not marry more than one husband. Consequently, some mainstream LDS Church members anticipate polygamy as part of eternity, while others reject it.

"Most Mormons are white."

Mormonism has grown into a global religion from its American beginnings, with 14.1 million members worldwide. Fewer than half live in the United States. More LDS Church members live in South America than Utah. There are significant Mormon populations in the Philippines, Tonga, Samoa, and other Pacific Islands, and the church is growing in Africa. In the United States, most converts in recent years have been Latinos. Worldwide, 4.5 million LDS Church members speak Spanish. American Mormonism has earned a reputation as conservative, partly because of Mormon figures such as Glenn Beck. However, the influx of Latino Mormons has led the church to adopt more progressive stances on immigration reform.

"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. Mormons view themselves as Christians. However, many Christian pastors and scholars point to theological technicalities that disqualify them from the mainline tradition. Some evangelicals do not see Mormons as Christians for reasons rooted in antiquated anti-Mormon prejudice. Yet, Mormons distance themselves from other Christians by claiming that their faith offers a “restoration” of doctrines lost to mainstream Christianity during the Great Apostasy.

"Mormon women are second-class citizens."

Outsiders view Mormon women as voiceless, mindless members of our faith; LDS Church spokespeople portray them as uniformly happy with their situation. Neither perspective is accurate. It is true that mainstream Mormonism doesn’t accord women equal leadership status with men. The worldwide LDS Church chain of command, including all clerical, institutional and fiscal authority positions, is entirely male organized through ordained priesthood hierarchy. Women cannot be ordained to the priesthood shared by men aged 12 and older. The church’s Proclamation on the Family declares that men “preside” over the household. Unequal gender language was also a part of Mormon temple worship and marriage ceremonies until 2019, when President Nelson announced "more inclusive language" as part of the temple ceremonies.

"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 Mormon founder Joseph Smith. It condemns alcohol, tobacco, and “hot drinks,” which church leaders have subsequently described only as “coffee and tea.” They say nothing about reasons for singling out those two drinks. 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. That left church-owned Brigham Young University having to explain why it did not serve or sell caffeinated colas. “There’s no customer demand,” school spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. BYU students then launched a petition drive to exhibit the demand.

"All Mormons live in Utah."

The Beehive State is densely populated with Mormons, 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 Mormons outside the U.S. at 8.2 million than in it at 6.2 million.

"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.

Mormonism may be irregular to most people, but they’re just worshipping God and practicing their religion to Mormons. It’s not meant for others to understand. As long as you have a pure and everlasting relationship with God, that’s all that matters. The only judgment that people should care about is what they will get from God in the last days. Until then, people should live their lives and continue to practice their religion of choice.

more from beliefnet and our partners