What does it mean to be Mormon?

“We just want to know what it means to be a Mormon, beyond the official name that we seem to come up against whenever we ask.”

So began my interview with an Italian news crew today in Salt Lake City for a few days hoping to get a glimpse of Mormonism. And when the reporter asked, I was honestly taken aback for a moment. What does it mean to be a Mormon? As the “I’m a Mormon” campaign illustrates, being a Mormon encompasses a whole gamut of activities, hobbies, interests.

But what of the faith? Of belief? I struggled to explain that Mormons can be ultra-faithful on one end to those holding onto their faith or traditions by a thread or even perhaps those who do leave, but to use the annoying phrase, can’t leave it alone on the other end, with many different individual faith interpretations in between. I explained that belief-wise, it can also vary, but the core doctrines of priesthood, baptism, the hoped-for forever-ness of families, and a belief in the Savior are requirements.*

As we finished the interview she turned to the temple and asked about it, saying that she imagined the inside being a grand cathedral-like space. I said, “Well there are larger rooms inside, ornately decorated in 19th century style, but it is mostly ordinance rooms for marriages and such with a few chapel-like spaces. Although there might be a large space in the topmost floor, since I’ve never been there, I wouldn’t know.”

So Mormondom really is still a mystery to outsiders. I hope I did a bit in dispelling some of it today for the Italian audience, but even as we all tire of this Mormon moment, I realize that we still have a long way to go.

*I’m not overly pleased with my answer, but hopefully the most important thing I conveyed was that Mormonism encompasses much more than perhaps first thought.


  1. That’s a great question!

    To me, being a Mormon means knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ has reached forth his hand in these latter-days to restore his priesthood authority for saving ordinances for the benefit of all mankind.

  2. to me, Mormonism is a culture with a framework that allows different sub-frameworks to fit into, being a mormon thus becomes the reshaping of values/concepts to fit into the core concerts you have just outlined above (God,Savior, Priesthood,Family,Temple,etc).

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Emily, I can relate to being caught off guard by a broad question like that:


  4. “she imagined the inside being a grand cathedral-like space.” It surprised me, but a lot of non-LDS think that.

  5. whizzbang says:

    IIRC Lowell L. Bennion gave either a fantastic BYU Talk or General Conference address about this subject!!

  6. Some beautiful answers, I’ll be better prepared for next time. And I’ll have to look up that Bennion address.

    And Kevin, as I wrote this, I thought, this sounds like something Kevin Barney would write…now I know why!

  7. Meldrum the Less says:

    I think I know where the center of Mormonness is located. Its articulation is interesting and can be beautiful.

    What I wonder about are the fringes. Where is the edge?
    The Ensign is Mormon but is Sunstone? Or the Sugarbeet? Is FARMS still Mormon and what about the Tanners?
    If you were raised in it but don’t believe, but still go to a few meetings for some other reason, are you still Mormon?
    What about the Fundies? Or the Community of Christ (former RLDS)?
    What about the darker side of the bloggernacle? How much of the lunatic fringe is included? Even those in the state pen for life? (Hoffman, Lafferty, Mitchell, Bundy-now executed).
    When does an inactive Mormon cease being Mormon? (This is a big question since it probably includes about 3/4 of the 14 million members reported.) When the membership record is put into the lost members file? If he or she was baptized and only attended a few weeks and 30 years have passed? Do you have to remember being Mormon or be consciously aware of it?

  8. I once gave a talk on this, and I found that 15 minutes was entirely too little time to adequately answer the question. I think that if I were to (try to) sum up this question into 1-2 sentences, it would be the following:

    To me, being Mormon means that my life is not my own; that I am ever-increasingly Christ’s through His saving ordinances and that I must do whatever He wishes of me.

    Something like that.

  9. Completely off-topic, but does anyone else get a weird sense that the preview screen for the movie was spliced together? There’s a line that starts between the first and second couch cushions (from the left) and seems to continue down the girl’s hair, jacket, his cuff, and a wrinkle in her jeans. I think it’s just an optical illusion, but I have a hard time looking at it and not seeing that line.

    On topic, I have no idea how I would even start answering that question, and would probably look like an idiot while my mind raced through all the possibilities and tried to shrink it into a nutshell. I would probably end up with something like “We believe in Christ, we follow His commandments, we belong to His church.” (Followed by me thinking of a million other things I should have said after I’ve gone my way.)

  10. Margaret wrote an amazing post about this exact question here at BCC back in 2007. I can’t say it better:

    “To the Pastor” (https://bycommonconsent.com/2007/05/03/to-the-pastor/)

  11. Having said that, here is a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to address a little of the “big picture” answer to that question:

    “Mormonism’s God Really Isn’t the God of Mainline, Protestant Christianity” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2012/10/mormonisms-god-really-isnt-god-of.html)

  12. I’m curious to hear how the report turned out. From my limited experience, European media outlets have been pretty atrocious when reporting on the Church.

  13. Back when I first started blogging (on my personal site, not at BCC), one of my readers admitted that she just couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that I was Mormon, since the only Mormons she’d ever known were very rigid and, I guess, rather humorless too. She asked how I, with my personality and outlook, could fit in to this church. (And she wasn’t trying to be hostile toward the church–she’d almost married a Mormon boy, I think–but her experience with Mormons did not prepare her for meeting a Mormon like me. And I don’t think I’m all that radical!) The church culture really does vary widely from place to place. And there are so many different kinds of Mormons, but even those of us who struggle with the culture (and in some cases even the doctrines) feel that Mormonism is our home (which is why we stay). I think that to be a Mormon is to feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself–not just the church, not just the church community, but an eternal heavenly family–not just your personal ancestors, but a vast network of all the human souls.

  14. Like JT, please let us know how the report turns out…if you can.

    Thanks for bringing a bit of Italy to me today–I lived there for a number of years and miss its craziness and beauty. I loved Marco’s smile and that his teacher was perplexed why he was smiling in school one day. Very sweet.

  15. Rechabite says:

    EmJen, definitely let us know if you hear how the tv report turned out. I liked your response to the question. I must ponder my own answer to that question…but right now I’m too distracted by how beautiful Marco and his family are.

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