Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
January 16th, 2012

Myth Busting in the “Mormon Moment”


Since I wrote for Busted Halo about Mitt Romney’s first run for president in 2008, much has changed in the public landscape regarding knowledge and perceptions of Mormonism. Americans today find themselves swept up in a “Mormon Moment,” thanks to Romney’s second run, Jon Huntsman Jr.’s candidacy, and popular media coverage of The Book of Mormon musical. Rather than depending on Big Love for their (inaccurate) understanding of this world religion, Americans can now find informed reports in sources from the Washington Post to NPR. Still, persistent myths and misperceptions blight even the most well-intentioned reporters’ pieces. The following will help give Busted Halo readers the perspective they need to be informed observers of the “Mormon Moment.”

  • Myth #1: Mormons Practice Polygamy
    Polygamy as an acceptable familial structure was banned by the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1890. Yep, that’s 122 years ago. Members of the modern Church who marry more than one spouse concurrently are excommunicated. For current Mormons, aside from the ancestral linkage some have to the small number of original frontier people who practiced it, polygamy has little relevance in day-to-day life.

    Why The Myth Exists: In an era of Victorian morals, polygamy was understandably a shocking and newsworthy characteristic. The confusion persists because extremist groups with similar organizational names continue the practice. The Church’s struggle to move past this titillating trait of its early days and disassociate itself from the extremist splinter groups remains a tremendous public relations challenge. Additionally, because our doctrine currently allows widowed and divorced men to remarry (serially) and thus be married — or “sealed” — for all eternity to more than one wife, we struggle doctrinally to reconcile how these multiple sealings will be honored after earthly life.

  • Myth #2: Mormons Aren’t Christian
    When confronted with the assertion that Mormons aren’t Christian, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints exasperatedly roll their eyes and say, “Just look at the name of our church!” We indeed consider Jesus Christ to be at the center of our worship: We acknowledge him as our personal Savior and Redeemer; we honor the Bible as the word of God; we commemorate his sacrifice every week in our sacramental worship. In fact, our additional scripture, the Book of Mormon, which is itself the reason for some of the “not Christian” allegations, is subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” as it tells of Christ’s visit to the Americas after his resurrection in Judea.

    Why The Myth Exists: The dispute around Mormonism’s kinship with traditional Christian denominations is, at its heart, a theological issue. Mormonism is not a creedal denomination, meaning that our doctrine doesn’t conform to the principles codified in documents such as the Nicene Creed. Specifically, we believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are three separate personages, with God the Father and Jesus Christ having substantive bodies. This runs deeply counter to an understanding of God that uses the Trinity. Some feel our concept of Jesus Christ is so distant from the traditional concept that we should not be claiming membership in the Christian family, but our position is that no group should be excluded from that family if it claims foundation on and adherence to the teachings of the first century Jesus of Nazareth.

  • Some feel our concept of Jesus Christ is so distant from the traditional concept that we should not be claiming membership in the Christian family, but our position is that no group should be excluded from that family if it claims foundation on and adherence to the teachings of the first century Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Myth #3: Mormons Are All The Same
    About two years ago, membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became larger outside of the United States than inside — with over 30,000 congregations in 176 countries, there are 14.1 million members worldwide, about a third of those speaking Spanish. There’s no way we’re all the same. In fact, you may have noticed the advertising campaign, “I’m a Mormon,” which is the Church’s effort to specifically target this myth. In the campaign, Mormons of various professions, interests and experiences from all over the world help build bridges of common ground with those in the general public through video portraits. We’re fond of noting that, while we might be claiming the Republican nominee for president, we can also claim the Democratic Senate Majority Leader.

    Why This Myth Exists: A devoted Mormon’s faith influences what she eats, what she wears, who she marries, how she spends her time. Mormons make these choices not by coercion, but on the belief that they will lead to a happier life and a closer relationship to God. Mormonism professes the continued role of right and wrong and the relevance of commandments. As members, we have to meet certain standards in order to enter our sacred temples and serve in our congregations’ leadership positions. This voluntary obedience, and the possibility of being denied some privileges of worship if we don’t live up to the standards, may appear despotic in this age of self-definition.

  • Myth #4: Mormon Beliefs Are Way Weirder Than Any Other Religion’s
    You’ve probably read something about Mormons over the past few months that raised an eyebrow: Mormons get their own planets! God is actually a man! Joseph Smith was a treasure seeker! While Mormonism is a religion requiring a heightened but willing suspension of disbelief — or, in other words, faith — believers are rewarded with a thorough cosmic vision of where we came from, why we’re here and where we are going that is beautiful and satisfying. And while our claims of angels, buried scripture and Christ on the American continent do sound farfetched to outsiders, we consider them meaningful enhancements to an eternal plan that includes other “farfetched” but more familiar claims, such as resurrection, grace and the virgin birth.

    Why The Myth Exists: While some outlandish statements by the media are bogus, many are distortions rooted in truth that make way more sense when put in context. This makes clarifying them a formidable and complex task. Because Mormon beliefs have their foundations in America’s Judeo-Christian orientation, the concepts and vocabulary are recognizable but uncomfortably distinct to Westerners, and thus some may find them more threatening than other cultures’ faiths, such as Eastern religions, that don’t hit nearly so close to home.

A Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey released last week did something that hasn’t been done very often before: rather than asking Americans what they think of Mormons, the survey asked Mormons what they think of themselves. According to the study, 62 percent of American Mormons believe the rest of the country knows little or nothing about their faith. Armed with the preceding myth-busters, Busted Halo students of the Mormon Moment can sift judiciously through the media reports and glean a more accurate understanding of this major religious movement.

The Author : Neylan McBaine
Neylan McBaine grew up Mormon in New York City and attended Yale University. She has been published in Newsweek, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Segullah, Meridian Magazine and BustedHalo.com. She is the author of a collection of personal essays — How to Be a Twenty-First Century Pioneer Woman (2008) — and the founder and editor-in-chief of The Mormon Women Project, a library of interviews with LDS women found at mormonwomenproject.com. She blogs at neylanmcbaine.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Sarah

    There is no reason that a Catholic-sponsored website should contain an article stating that Mormons are Christian. The official stance of the Catholic Church is that Mormons are not Christian, primarily because of their rejection of Trinitarian theology. A group’s claim to be Christian does not make that group Christian. The Branch Davidians and other controversial groups have also considered themselves Christian, but this claim does not make it so. I am not judging the Mormons by saying this: I am not making a statement about the possibility of their salvation, the goodness of their intentions, the commitment many have to their faith, etc. I am simply stating that Mormon theology is radically different from Christian (especially Catholic) theology, and the fact that Mormons consider themselves Christian is irrelevant.

  • Jacqui

    Ephesians 2:8 – 9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

  • Patrick

    Does the LDS Church believe that Jesus Christ is truly and fully God and truly and fully human? (a basic tenet of Christianity)
    Is there a Heavenly Mother that goes along with the Heavenly Father?
    What are “spirit babies”?
    How did Jesus come to be?
    Do some members of the LDS Church wear specific and particular undergarments? Why?

  • annika

    i agree with Kathy W — i am also surprised that busted halo would publish this article. Mormons at heart are not christian basically for many reasons such as believing Jesus was a man, Jesus and the devil were brothers, etc. also i agree they are good people and have good values. their doctrines are way out there (becoming a god of your planet in the future) from mainstream christianity. as for the mormons, i dont want to hurt your feelings and you are free to believe what you want. if you want to consider yourself christian then go ahead but objectively you are not. Raymond Moon, Michael, Rev Val Zdilla, Kathy W — well said!!

  • Patricia

    I am LDS and I am Christian. I have dedicated my life to walking as closely as I can to the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who by his death on the cross, atoned for my sins and the sins of the world. I am not polygamous, noone who is can rightly be calledLatter Dat Saints. I am dismayed for my brothers and Sistersin Christ who should stumble by judging me and other members of my denomination.

  • Amie

    I am a devout Roman Catholic and I had a former roommate who was a devout Mormon. I would wholeheartedly consider her Christian. Living together really strengthened both of our faith lives and we learned so much from one another. We prayed together and listened to hymns on Sundays afternoons together. All intricacies of church doctrine aside, I am greatful for the strong values and strong sense of morality that is emphasized in the LDS faith. One of my daily prayers is that all faith denominations will work together in strengthening our spirituality and embracing our differences instead of letting them constantly divide us. Thank you for publishing this article.

  • Kathy W

    I am surprised Busted Halo published this article. It is full of errors. Mormons are not Christian. They do not believe in the concept of the Trinity as mainstream Christians believe in it, and until recently, espoused that Jesus was a prophet. They follow a book that is not the Bible, and beleive that God was a person before God was God. Yes, they believe in God, but they are not Christians according to the way we define Christianity.

  • Alan B

    The only one who has the right to say who is and who isn’t Christian is Jesus. I honestly don’t see what good it does for other non-lds Christian churches and non-lds Christians to make these “They aren’t Christian” claims. It helps no one and hurts many.

  • Bill Newton

    While I certainly understand that a lot of misinformation is flying around about the LDS Church, I do have to take issue with the format of your article. A Myth, then rebuttal only works for factual objective statements.

    Something more subjective, like the definition of who is or is not a Christian is not an objective statement, but rather subjective. You can’t disprove a subjective statement.

    Also, #4 you are using the word “weird” instead of what most critics say “non-orthodox”. Its pretty obvious that weird is obviously subjective, but orthodox can have a pretty clear definition. I think its pretty obvious and my LDS friends would agree that their faith is very different than that of a first century Christian.

  • andrew

    Neylan – great article and very informative, I just wish you had addressed more myths and facts. Can you (or someone) please answer/verify these questions and points for me:

    1) Mormons don’t strictly believe in the Trinity, right?

    2) Since Mormons have additional (separate and distinct) scriptures than other Christian faiths, that the Mormon church believes restored Christianity to it’s true path, what do Mormons think of other non-Mormon Christians? Do they believe other faiths have it wrong?

    3) Since Mormons believe God gives them every opportunity to the higher life that God possesses, does this mean that Mormons believe they too will some day (hopefully) attain divinity, or become gods themselves?

    Thank you!

  • Michael

    I suppose it all depends on what is meant by the term Christian. If by ‘Christian’ we only mean that one who accepts and promotes the moral values as taught by Jesus, then a certain number more groups could be called ‘Christian.’ But historically, this is not what Christianity has taught as the meaning of being ‘Christian.’ It’s not merely following what Jesus taught. It’s professing who Jesus is and what he revealed to us, especially of who the Father is. Jesus is the incarnate Word of God; God in the flesh. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three Persons; one God. And God the Father does not have a substantive body. Jesus is not Lucifer’s brother. The person says that he feels that no group should be excluded from the family of ‘Christian’, yet have not the Mormons done exactly that by proclaiming that the Catholic Church and traditional Christianity is apostate. So clearly there is a difference in definition here. And I as a faithful Catholic am not offended by what the Mormons teach. I just think they are wrong just as they think I am wrong. But let’s not confuse the issue by saying that we really are practically the same.

  • Raymond Moon

    One only needs to read the Mormon’s own Doctrine &Covenants to see they are outside of the mainstream of Christianity. Jesus and Lucifer are brothers? God was once as Adam is now? That is progressive divinity, I would say heresy to ANY mainstream Protestant or ANY Catholic. Walter Martin has a good doctrinal discourse on the LDS church in his Kingdom of the Cults. If those in the Busted Halo community want to really see what the LDS church teaches, read their doctrines, don’t listen to someone sugarcoat the Mormon History. Two last comments, there is absolutely no archeological evidence of the culture that is portrayed in the Book of Mormon found ANYWHERE in the world, let alone in the Americas. Secondly, recall the Apostle Paul’s admonition to be wary of anyone preaching another gospel, even if it is an angel!

    Mormons are really nice people, very family oriented, and very good citizens, but their doctrines are not Christian.

  • Alex

    Well said, Joe. Anyone willing to exercise rational thought should come to the conclusion that Mormons are people too. We shouldn’t let ignorance lead us into sin by labeling them as “crazies.” It’s better to understand what they really believe and why they believe it. When we can do that with humility, then we can begin to discuss Truth, the ultimate foundation for every conversion experience.

  • CraigMan

    You know I’ve always been impressed by Mormons zeal for the faith. They evangelize way better than Catholics. I guess since they are Christian I can start going to their church, right?

  • Rev. Val Zdilla

    Sally, I apologize for being a bit rude in my first post. I also respect all religions but fundamentally disagree and reject the LDS claim that all of us are somehow defective and the apostasy thing is a proven fallacy. None of the church fathers who followed the apostles and never once mentioned an “end” of the Catholic Christian Church. Now I will admit many errors of our institutions, some sinfully shameful, but the facts of the history of Christianity are there for all to research. But I will agrees with you and Glen about tolerance. But if any religion that is rather new states as doctrine that 2000 years of Christianity is somehow wrong, and somehow they got it right without one verified ancient text, well it demands a response. Again I do respect your religion and much of what you teach, its the theology that I cannot accept.

  • Joe

    My sister and her family are devout Mormons & so are some good friends of ours. Mormons are good people in general and not quite the “cult” some would make us believe, but unfortunately they are not Christian and have gone through many doctrinal changes over the decades. The Vatican made very clear a couple of years ago that Mormon baptisms are not valid and that Catholic churches are not to share genealogy records with them for fear of proxy baptisms for the dead. Their late president Gordon B. Hinckley admitted that the Mormon community preaches in a different gospel and do not believe in the same Jesus that other Christians do. Former Mormon and descendant of Mormon pioneers turned Catholic Thomas Smith talks about this in his books and audio lectures. Mormons believe Jesus is a lesser god and they only worship the Father. This is how they get around the charge of polytheism- they believe in the possibility of many gods and profess that three gods are over our universe but they only worship one technically. This contradicts the Book of Mormon which states there are no other gods except the true God. Mormonism also believes that the Church completely disappeared from the earth after the apostles died yet they have no evidence for it. They ignore that the Catholic Church can show its existence in both Scripture and twenty centuries of history, but merely say that we interpret a false view of first century Christianity. Often they counter this with the idea that faith is separate from reason. While faith is above reason the Catholic Church teaches that faith cannot contradict it because truth can’t contradict truth. So the suspension of disbelief they ask of their members is against what the Church teaches about rational faith (see Vatican 1- 1870). Mormons also teach that public revelation can change whereas Catholics teach that revelation is closed. Our knowledge as Church can deepen but not change the essential truths. Mormons however wiggle out of doctrinal confusion by using this changeable doctrine feature of their faith. Polygamy was perfectly legal by command of God for them but they outlawed it once the U.S. threatened to not recognize Utah’s’ statehood. In summary, good folks…yes…equivocal about their faith and how different it is and how it changes…yes also.

  • Glenn Jones

    To answer questions about #1 Mormons practice polygamy, #2 Mormons are not Christians, #3 Mormons are all the same and #4 Mormon beliefs are weirder than other religion’s does not do anyone, including the LDS church a favor and seem a bit insulting to most people’s intelligence. Frankly, Big Love seems to have done pretty well in disproving these myths and expressing the LDS position. Rather than the hard-sell approach that “we’re really not that different from you,” let’s all accept the fact that there are fundamental differences and focus on how to treat each other with respect and dignity regardless of our opinions.

  • Sally

    Whatever happened to the saying “judge not, lest ye be judged”? To Rev Val Zdilla; yes the Church believe that the world fell into apostasy after the death of Christ. But as for you saying “Christians have a universal and shared belief” what are you talking about????? Christians are;

    Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
    Relating to or derived from Jesus or Jesus’s teachings.
    Manifesting the qualities or spirit of Jesus; Christlike.
    Relating to or characteristic of Christianity or its adherents.
    Showing a loving concern for others; humane.

    One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
    One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus. ”
    So Mormon’s ARE CHRISTIAN.
    You are not being honest in trying to decieve people to believe otherwise. Try to do what Jesus would do; and have tollerance of people and their beliefs.

  • Rev Val Zdilla

    Since they claim the Church fell into apostasy after the death of the last apostle, meaning the Catholic Church, they are absolutely bogus. Just trying to look Christian. Chrsitians have universal and shared beliefs. They use parts of Christianity and their own scriptures as do Muslims. At least Muslims are honest. Beware of deception. Mormons are great folks, just not Christian. We have the writings and tradition to prove. And they are not “hidden”

  • Jessica Harrison

    Thank you for this. It was really informative and did answer some of my questions about the Mormon faith.

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