Mormons Believe _________________.

A guest submission by B. Bowen, a good friend of BCC.

That Mormonism has been placed under the contemporary American microscope is old news. First the Olympics. Then “Under the Banner of Heaven” and Warren Jeffs. Harry Reid’s assumption of the role of minority and then majority leader in the Senate. The Napoleon Dynamite phenomenon. And, of course, the Romney campaign has provided bountiful fodder for bloggers, pundits, and mainstream media outlets for months now (speaking of which, Battlefield Earth? What have you been smoking, Mitt?).

Much of the chatter surrounding Romney has focused on questions regarding what Mormonism is really all about and what it would mean if a Mormon became President. How authoritarian is it? Where are Mormons’ loyalties really centered? Will the prophet control the White House if Romney is elected? (Aside: these are similar questions to those asked regarding the Reed Smoot Senate hearings — what does that say, if anything, about the Church’s progress in the public eye?)

As we all know, this week PBS aired a comprehensive Frontline documentary on Mormonism that sought, in part, to answer for the broader public the question behind the “Mitt questions”: what is this Mormonism, really? Indeed, in the program’s teaser ads that aired prior to Monday, the phrase “Mormons Believe ____________.” flashed momentarily on the screen, followed by a voice-over saying something to the effect of “it’s time to find out the truth about the Mormons.”

Of course, as the documentary makes clear, it is far easier to ask the question, to draw up the blank space that follows “Mormons believe” than to fill it in. The inherent difficulty of categorizing, labeling or even describing a faith system to which millions of individuals direct varying levels of allegiance renders even the very attempt to fill in that blank unreliable, subjective, and inexorably misleading.

But folks tend not to like complexity. And even those who do must use shorthand to communicate effectively. So when the Church is discussed, particularly in the media — and even more particularly in online media, where comments from readers are invited and facilitated — the question of what Mormons believe is answered with surprising (at least to me) felicity and regularity. “Mormons believe that the Indians are actually Jews.” “Mormons believe that everyone will be Mormon in the afterlife.” “Mormons believe that before 1978, God prohibited Blacks from holding the priesthood.” Et cetera. And when the blank is filled in, whether by a respected author, a random Joe Commentor, or by some church authority or celebrity, I find myself cringing and, almost as often, thinking to myself, “I don’t believe that.” Granted, I’m a confessed heretic of the highest order, but even in my most orthodox moments I bristle at the suggestion that as a Mormon I, by definition, believe such-and-such a thing.

The Church, of course, has numerous reasons to define what it thinks Mormons believe, and it often does so. General Conference is a cornucopia of “this is what we (read:you) believe.” The last time I attended church the Elders’ Quorum president was extolling the virtues of some handbook I’d never heard of that explains how LDS families should function. You can’t go more than one or two sacrament services without hearing about the Proclamation on the Family. And thanks to Lavina Fielding Anderson and Dialogue, I recently learned that the Church, ever true to form, has even published a new Encyclopedia-of-Mormonism-esque handbook of LDS beliefs, conveniently arranged alphabetically from “Aaronic Priesthood” to “Zion.” (Her summary of the handbook, with commentary, appears in the Winter 2006 issue.)

The media’s use of shorthand and the Church’s correlation efforts notwithstanding, the question still remains, for me, somewhat unanswered. Among the wide variety of doctrines associated with the faith, which among them do Mormons actually believe, and which do they just let sit out there in the ether, without ever fully incorporating them into their personal belief systems? Perhaps better stated, what teachings don’t Mormons believe, despite the fact that the Church (or conventional wisdom) says that they should? Put yet another way, when someone says “Mormons believe _____________,” what blank-filler makes you cringe?

Comments

  1. Mormons believe women are servants to men.

    Ugh. Have heard this line of thinking multiple times talking to non-member friends, family, and classmates.

  2. Mormons believe only Mormons will make it to heaven.

    That makes me cringe, because it is said with perfectly straight faces by people who turn around and say that Mormons (and Catholics and Jews and Buddhists and Muslims ad infinitum) won’t make it to heaven because only other Christians who believe like they do are saved. First, nobody saying it understands our theology well enough to know how incorrect it is; second, nobody saying it recognizes the irony. It’s maddening to me.

  3. B. Bowen, you’re going to get as many answers to this question as there are people out there. As for myself:

    Mormons beleive that being gay is a choice and they can be ‘rehabilitated’.. Like a mouthful of glass. Ugh.

  4. The devil is Jesus’ brother.

  5. Bro. Jones says:

    Mormons believe that Joseph Smith will sit in judgment of all mankind at the right hand of God the Father. [sigh]

    Also: Mormons believe that sex/kissing/physical intimacy are bad.

  6. The one that makes me cringe: “Mormons believe they are saved by their works.”

  7. Aside from the beauties listed above, Mormons can’t drink hot chocolate or chew gum (because some gum may contain caffeine).

  8. Peter LLC says:

    I don’t know if this quite fits, but a friend was convinced that Mormons are cheapskates. We’ve got to make up for the body blow tithing strikes at our wallets somewhere.

  9. Yeechang Lee says:

    [A] friend was convinced that Mormons are cheapskates.

    And what’s wrong with being cheapskates? That’s a virtue on balance, not a vice.

  10. lamonte says:

    My friends who know me best will not be surprised to see my least favorite:

    All Mormons are Republicans.

    But then again I find that as many church members as non-members are saying that one but usually it’s changed a little:

    All GOOD Mormons are Republicans.

    I feel my skin crawling!

  11. Steve Evans says:

    Mormonss believe that drinking Coke is wrong.

  12. cj douglass says:

    Mormons don’t believe in Christmas or Santa Clause

    Mormons believe God had sex with Mary.

  13. Mormons believe that post-1700 technology is of the devil/that one should never get into a fight/that eating meat is sinful/anything else that gets us confused with Quakers or the Amish.

  14. Norbert says:

    Something I heard at the post office in California: ‘Mormons don’t believe in driving cars — that’s why they’re always riding bikes.’

  15. lamonte says:

    In my freshman year of college I was the only Mormon in my small dormitory. Early in the year, I had become acquainted with a fellow named Jim and he knew I was LDS. One night in the rec room some of us were playing pool and the discussion started about weird practices of different religions. One of the guys there said, “I heard Mormons don’t have zippers in their pants.” My new acquaintance piped up and said “Well he’s a Mormon and he has a zipper.”

  16. Mark B. says:

    “How many wives do you have?”

  17. mormons consummate their marriages on the temple alter. used to hear this all the time. not so much recently…

  18. Mormons believe they will become Gods having endless Celestial sex to populate their own worlds.

    It just doesn’t get more ridiculing and insulting than that little twisted gem.

  19. Melanie says:

    Mormons don’t believe in the same Jesus that we do.

    Ouch.

  20. These are all interesting responses. Thanks, everyone.

    Any further response to some of the other questions? Are there settled doctrines (as opposed to external misconceptions) that Mormons ignore? Teachings you view as doctrinal but just don’t accept in your personal worldview?

  21. One more – I remember this from Cheers years ago.
    Rebecca: I wish more men sent flowers.
    Sam: Mormons can’t send flowers?
    Rebecca: I said “more men”!
    Sam: Oh, that’s right, Mormons can’t dance.

    But I guess after the PBS film, everyone knows that Mormons are dancin’ fools!

  22. molly bennion says:

    I cringe at the apparently settled doctrine that Mormons should not publicly discuss or write about at least some doctrinal differences or draw attention to seemingly incorrect or improper teachings or actions of church leaders.

  23. Ivan Wolfe says:

    speaking of which, Battlefield Earth? What have you been smoking, Mitt?

    He hasn’t been smoking anything. See my comments here:
    http://millennialstar.org/index.php/2007/05/01/mitt_romney_s_favorite_book_likes_battle

  24. B. Bowen says:

    sorry, from a PR perspective it’s an indefensible answer. actually, it’s indefensible at any level.

  25. Ivan Wolfe says:

    Bowen -

    Don’t be a jerk about it. It’s an honest answer, is what I’m guessing. The book is fine. Hardly high art, but it’s a fun read. To say it’s indefensible makes you sound like a rather snooty elitsit snob, or something.

    Demanding Romney cater to your literary tastes is pointless. He likes what he likes, and I doubt he cares what the rest of us think.

    Heck, I’m just impressed a busy guy like him had time to plow through the 1000+ pages.

  26. R. Bishop says:

    I don’t understand your puzzlement concerning what Mormons believe. I presume you are after what our doctrine is because Mormons believe much that is not doctrinal. We have been told from the best source that continues to be a problem. My grandmother believes frogs cause warts. Is that what Mormons believe?

    Virtually every religion has procedures in establishing official doctrine. Did you forget ours?

  27. B. Bowen says:

    FIrst, I’m not sure the Church’s procedures for establishing official doctrine are nearly as clear as you assert. Is doctrine established (only) by official statements from the First Presidency? Are statements made in General Conference talks doctrinal? Is the Correlation Committee the final arbiter of doctrine?

    In any event, I’m less interested in what the doctrine is (by that I presume you mean “what the institutional LDS Church proclaims its doctrine is,” rather than the far more elusive “what Mormonism teaches”) than in which doctrines, if any, are quietly rejected, or at least unreceived or ignored by significant numbers of the members. I suspect there are a handful.

  28. D. Allen says:

    I’ve faced a few bizarre questions when I mentioned being Mormon, such as:

    “Does this mean you don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter?”
    “Don’t you go to church on Saturday?”
    “Does it mean you don’t stand for the pledge/national anthem?”
    And of course, the usual question “Does it mean you have more than one wife?” to which I respond “Nah. The Church relieved us of the burden of having multiple mother-in-laws.”

    This reminds me of the episode of “All in the Family” when Gloria and Meathead got married.

    Meathead: I’m an atheist.
    Archie: What does that mean?
    Edith: I think that means he wants a Rabbi.

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