The following overview of Mormons was written by Religion Transcends writer Jackie Walker for the Spring 2008 issue of Relate magazine. Relate’s mission is to inspire teen girls to pursue their dreams with confidence and to teach them to be an example for others in their speech, life, love, faith and purity. Religion overviews may have Christian overtones to make the content relatable for the Christian teen audience.
More than likely, you’ve heard of Mormons, or maybe you’ve heard something about Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But do you really know who they are? Try this quick quiz:
True or false?
Mormons are not Christians.
Mormon men have multiple wives.
All Mormons live in Utah.
Mormons believe in one Heaven and one Hell.
Mormons do not believe in Christ.
According to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church), commonly known as Mormons, these statements are all false. So if the stereotypes of Mormons are wrong…who are the Mormons?
A history lesson
In 1820, Joseph Smith claimed God told him to restore the Church because all other churches had gone astray in their actions and beliefs. Later, Smith claimed a prophet back from the dead told him he could restore the Church if he could find a long-lost book, authored by a man named Mormon. After some time, Smith said he found the book and translated it into English. Today, Mormons call this the Book of Mormon. It contains a story about two tribes of Israelites who established the “true Church” in the United States after Jesus died and received a visit from Jesus Himself. Smith set out to restore the Church to the way it was at the time of these Israelites. He organized his followers in New York and eventually moved them to Illinois. After facing persecution for his beliefs, Smith was arrested and murdered there in 1844.
Three years later, Brigham Young became president of the community. (Brigham Young University was named after this notable leader.) To escape persecution, Young led Mormons on a pioneer journey out west, eventually settling at their headquarters in present-day Utah. Today, more than 5 million Mormons live in the United States, and they make up about 60 percent of Utah’s population. In addition, almost 10 million Mormons live in another 162 countries throughout the world.
A belief system
Along with the Book of Mormon, Mormons trace their beliefs to three other sacred texts, including Smith’s translation of The Bible. They believe in a Godhead: three completely separate identities including God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. God has a physical body and is the actual father of all humans. Jesus is the human son of Mary and God. Though He is not considered God, Mormons say He saved the world and will come back to America to reign someday. Finally, the Holy Ghost looks like a man and brings God’s good influence to humans.
Like the separate identities that make up the Godhead, Mormons also believe in multiple levels of Heaven:
The lowest level is for those who haven’t accepted Christ as their savior and suffer for their sins until they can move up.
The second level is for those who didn’t learn about Christ on Earth but accepted Him in Heaven or for those who lived honorable lives. In this way, even unbelievers can go to Heaven.
The third level is for those who accepted Christ on Earth and were baptized.
But there’s a way for residents of the third level to get even higher: Most Mormons believe if you marry and follow the commandments (staying away from alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee and following other social commands), you can achieve the highest level. There, a husband and wife can become like gods, creating children and even planets.
Note: That did not read “husband and wives.” While polygamy (men with multiple wives) was once allowed in the LDS Church (Smith had multiple wives), the Church outlawed it in 1890. It is illegal throughout the United States. Still, there are around 30,000 people in Utah and surrounding states who practice polygamy against church law.
A presidential debate
(At the time of this writing, Mitt Romney was a Republican candidate for president). Mitt Romney is a Mormon from Utah. Some voters seemed concerned that his religious background would negatively affect apresidency. Some Christian voters were worried that Romney, as a Mormon, isn’t Christian and would make laws that didn’t follow Christian principles. But Mormons stress that, despite some differences in beliefs, they are indeed Christians who claim Jesus as their savior. Furthermore, Romney emphasized that his campaign was not about being a Mormon; it was about what he would do for Americans. His religion, he stressed, wouldn’t affect the choices he’d make as president.
Thanks to Romney’s candidacy, Mormons seemed to receive more exposure than ever in 2008. Many Mormons contributed to his campaign, hoping his visibility will help Americans (and other Christians) to better understand their lifestyle and beliefs.
Learn more about Mormon beliefs at www.pbs.org/mormons.
Copyright 2009, Religion Transcends.