I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often inadvertently called the Mormon Church, when I was sixteen. I had been experiencing a huge emptiness inside and was church-hopping, looking to fill it. Although I enjoyed all the churches I visited, I had an undeniable spiritual experience the second I stepped into a Mormon meetinghouse, witnessing to me that this was the place.
Finding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
I was attending a great high school, lived in a nice area, and wanted for nothing, except that my family was very unhappy—wretchedly so, actually. There was no religion in our house, so I didn’t know how to turn to God for help, until I found the Mormons.
Now that I’ve been a part of The Church of Jesus Christ for many years, and have raised a happy family of my own, I sometimes wonder why I couldn’t be born into Mormonism. Mormons believe we lived in a heavenly spirit realm with our Father in Heaven before we were born with mortal bodies. He knew what kind of family I would be born into, and knowing what I now know, I realize He may have placed me there on purpose. I watch children born to Mormon parents and see how they are nurtured spiritually. They grow up learning the gospel, yes, but they also grow up knowing they have infinite worth and eternal potential.
Sure, I did not grow up orphaned and malnourished in the wilds of Africa. I was born after World War II, the first of the Baby Boomers. We moved to L.A. when I was eight, and that was the center of the universe, with great schools, fine weather (OK, the smog devoured my lungs), the beach, the Beach Boys, Hollywood. They say that if you were a white child in America during the 50’s, you got the best start of any child through all of history and in any location. That’s what I got.
But I had a Jewish mother (although she hid her Jewishness, I should have known), and she had Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I couldn’t do or say anything right. Anyone close to my mother felt battered. She was a dutiful, smart, talented person, but confiding in her was impossible. I used to envy kids with compassionate mothers. A Mormon mother would have been amazing. The Mormon girls I knew loved being with their moms; they told their moms everything.
Learning to Forgive and Being Healed
My husband and I moved our family abroad after about 15 years of marriage, and we enjoyed being far away from our families. I know that sounds strange. We were abroad for about 14 years and didn’t visit home often. The first time my mother met my two youngest girls, the youngest was seven, and her sister, nine. That was OK with me.
I did my best over time to forgive and to understand. A name for her disorder, and the descriptions that came with it, were helpful. When I was sixty, I was healed from the effects of her mothering through the power of the priesthood of The Church of Jesus Christ. Several spiritual experiences enabled my mother to reach me from the afterlife and convey her love.
Now that I’m OK, do I wish I had had a Mormon mom? Yes and no.
The Blessings From Not Having Mormon Parents
Had I had Mormon parents, I would have been in the Church from the beginning, learned the gospel and the children’s songs. (There are eight year old Mormon children with a remarkable grasp on the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.) I would have known how to pray and enjoyed the comfort of the tender mercies of God. I would have been viewed as something even greater than what cumulative education could make of me. I could have made spiritual decisions as well as logical ones. I would have had an example I could rely on in my own mothering. Perhaps I might have been praised, too.
But I have a great heritage and amazing ancestors. My father was a rocket scientist, and I have his love for learning how the earth works, and the cosmos. I have my mother’s artistic eye and way with words. I have learned from my mother’s mistakes and value my marriage so highly, that I have been a “mother bear” towards protecting it. I also have a point of view of the gospel one can only get as a convert. I know what life without it is like. How grateful I am for it. These things are so valuable to me, that I now see the wisdom in placing me in the family I got. It was the only way for me to be what I am now.
I recently read an article in which the author said Mormons worshipped Mormon and Jesus both, which he felt proved Mormons aren’t Christians. The writer hadn’t done his homework. Mormons—a nickname sometimes given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—do not worship Mormon. They believe he was a real person, but he was a prophet, not a god and Mormons think of him in the same way they think of Moses or Noah. His story is an interesting one that illustrates a true Christian life. However, the true name of the Church defines whom we really worship.
The misconception comes from the title of a book of scripture Mormons use in addition to the Bible. It is called the Book of Mormon and is a second witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Because the events described in it largely took place somewhere on the American continent, it helps to prove Jesus really did live and that He really was resurrected, since He visited them after His death. It makes it clear Jesus was not just the Savior of a tiny group of Christians in the Holy Lands, but of all people everywhere.
The book is named after Mormon not because the book is about Him, but because he, and after his death, his son, condensed the writings of the prophets who contributed to the book and put it into the form Joseph Smith received from Mormon’s son Moroni, who was by then an angel. Because the Book of Mormon is so well-known, non-members started calling members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Mormons—and sometimes we do it ourselves, although it isn’t really the correct name.
When Mormon was ten years old, a prophet named Ammaron hid the records in a hill. Each prophet had been required to write a history of his people and their dealings with God. Now a war was about to start and they needed to keep the records safe. Ammaron went to Mormon and said, “I perceive that thou art a sober child, and art quick to observe.” He instructed Mormon to retrieve the records from their hiding place when he was twenty-four years old. In the meantime, he was to pay attention to the history of his people so that when he got the records, he could add to them. Since these records were kept only by prophets, this was effectively his call to be the next prophet. However, he was only to take one set of records and leave the rest. These records were engraved on brass plates.
At the time Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, it was believed ancient people had not kept records on metal plates. Today, records kept on metal plates have been found and dated into ancient times.
When Mormon was eleven, his family moved to a place called Zarahemla. The wars began and the people became very wicked. At age fifteen, Mormon, still a serious young man, wanted to preach to the wicked, but God would not allow it. They were too wicked and would not have listened to him. In fact, such preaching might have put him in danger and prevented him from carrying out God’s plan for Him.
The next year, even though he was only sixteen, he was chosen to lead his people in battle. He was tall for his age and an imposing figure. The battles didn’t always go well. The people had been promised they would always be protected when they obeyed God, but Mormon’s people, the Nephites, did not, so their enemies, the Lamanites were able to experience some success. Mormon worked to get all the Nephites gathered into one place so it would be easier to protect them.
In time, the Nephites became frightened by the wickedness of the world and began to express sadness over the ways of the world. Mormon was overjoyed by this, being not just their military leader, but also a spiritual leader. He hoped, with the optimism of youth, that they were sad for their own contributions to the world’s evil, but he soon realized they were only unhappy God wasn’t protecting them in their wickedness. They were not interested in repenting, only in getting protection they didn’t deserve any more than their enemies did. They wanted God to make them happy while they continued to sin.
In time, they were forced to flee, and as Mormon reached the age of twenty-four, the age he was commanded to retrieve some of the records, he found himself near their hiding place. He dug up the records and recorded the wickedness and trials of his people.
He continued to lead his people in battle, but he noted that they were rejecting the opportunity to have God’s help. However, they eventually managed to work out a treaty with the Lamanites and regain some of their lands and did so with God’s help, despite their unworthiness. With a ten-year break in the fighting, Mormon helped them prepare for the next battles, and tried to help them understand they survived only because God stepped in. They didn’t see things that way, however.
When war began again and the people began bragging they were winning entirely due to their own brilliance, Mormon decided he’d had enough. He refused to lead them any longer. They were unwilling to repent and to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Year after year, the Nephites battled the Lamanites. Finally, when Mormon, still an observer and their prophet, even though they were ignoring him, saw the city was about to be overtaken, he returned to the hill and retrieved all the records to protect them. At this point, Mormon agreed to once again be their military leader.
At this time, a great battle was scheduled between the two groups. Mormon, now growing old, understood it would be the final battle and the end of a once-great civilization. He was, remember, a prophet. He completed the records and hid them in the Hill Cumorah because God had commanded him to protect them from the Lamanites, who wanted to destroy them. He gave a few plates to his son, Moroni, but the rest were hidden.
The majority of the Nephites, once God’s people, were killed in this battle. Those who survived were forced into hiding, but one by one, they were found and killed. Eventually, Mormon was killed.
In time, his son, Moroni, was the last remaining Nephite, the only good person left in his part of the world. The Lamanites had become evil beyond measure and were focused entirely on murder, even of their own people. Hidden away, the teenage Moroni worked to condense the records to manageable size and then hid them away. He fled and traveled for many years. Eventually he secretly returned and added more to the record before again hiding them and leaving. His story, which he shares in the Book of Mormon, is one of the most moving stories ever written, that of a teenager who has lost his entire family and all his friends and who remains alive only to do God’s work.
Although you might not have heard of Moroni, you may have seen the angel of the statue that appears atop most Mormon temples. This is a representation of Moroni, who would return as an angel to tutor Joseph Smith prior to the restoration of the gospel and who would lead Joseph to the records for which he paid such a great price.
Filed under: Basic Beliefs of Mormons, Gospel Principles, Practices & Precepts, Jesus Christ
The media is calling this a Mormon Moment because the Mormons are suddenly getting a lot of attention. Two Mormons are running for president with one considered a front-runner. There is a Mormon musical on Broadway—not a nice one—and in general, Mormons seem to be in the news. Despite all this attention, however, there seems to be a lot of question about just what a Mormon is or is not. Mormon is a nickname applied to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
First, let’s start with a few “is nots.” A Mormon is not a polygamist today. That was discontinued more than one hundred years ago. There are polygamists today, but they aren’t part of the Mormon religion, even if they sometimes use the name. In fact, any Mormon man who decides to practice polygamy, or any woman who marries into a polygamous marriage will be excommunicated. Polygamy, while approved for some people during Biblical and early restoration times, is only allowed when commanded by God and there is no need for polygamy in modern times.
Mormons are also not all white, all Republican, or all….well, not much all of anything. As the Mormon Church grows and moves throughout the world, it is increasingly diverse, as is typical of any group that grows beyond a local movement. Today, Mormons are found world-wide. They are of all nationalities and all races and are more politically diverse, particularly outside what is commonly called the Mormon belt (Utah and neighboring western United States region) and among converts. There are Mormon politicians in both major U.S. parties, including Harry Reid, who is a Democrat and Orrin Hatch, who is a Republican.
In 2009, Pew Forum study of Mormonism found the Mormon population was comparable to that of the Jewish population in the United States. Currently, there are more than fourteen million Mormons world-wide.
Now, on to the important things. What do Mormons believe?
Mormons are Christians, but they are not Protestant, Jewish, or Catholic. They are considered by most to be restorationists, meaning Mormons believe Christian doctrine was corrupted after the death of Jesus and His apostles and that God restored it to its former perfection through a modern prophet.
Mormon Christianity is based on New Testament Christianity and rejects the Greek influences, as well as the voted-upon doctrines of the various ancient councils.
Read more on the Hellenization of Christianity.
A Mormon believes that God is literally our Father in Heaven. Mormon beliefs teach that God created our spirits and allowed us to live with Him for a time as spirits before being sent to Earth to live. This concept is made clear in several Bible verses, including Jeremiah 1:5. God explained to Jeremiah that He knew Jeremiah before he was born and knew him so well he knew he’d make a good prophet once he grew up on earth. In Ecclesiastes 12:7, we learn that our spirits will return to God, teaching us what form we were in while in that premortal existence. We cannot, of course, return to a place we’ve never been.
Mormons also believe in Jesus Christ. However, they do not accept the trinity, which is a post-Biblical idea. The Bible itself regularly demonstrates that God has a body and is not the same being as Jesus or the Holy Ghost. When Jesus was baptized, all three members were individually present at the baptism. In Acts 7:55, Steven saw Jesus sitting on the right hand of God, demonstrating that they are individuals and also that God has a physical existence and is not just a shadowy being without form. Perhaps more importantly, the story of the creation says we were created in the image of God, making it clear God made our bodies to look and be like His, although unperfected and glorified, a symbol of how much love He has for us.
A Mormon also believes in the Holy Ghost and believes, as the Bible teaches, that all knowledge of truth comes through the Holy Ghost. A Mormon learns from childhood the gospel of Jesus Christ and is taught to pray to know what is true. Although some faiths currently teach that prayer cannot be trusted as a source of truth, a Mormon is taught to believe the ancient Biblical teachings found in multiple scriptures, including James 1:5. God promised that if we ask him for wisdom and knowledge, with faith and a promise to act on the knowledge given, He will give it to us through the Holy Ghost. Mormons trust God to do this and to make it clear to us who is speaking. God always keeps His promises.
A Mormon puts a strong emphasis on family life. God created the family to be a central part of His plan of salvation and intended for it to continue into the eternities. This knowledge, that marriage and family do not end in forced divorce at death, causes Mormons to work particular hard on their family lives. They want to create a family worthy of eternity.
Mormons are also taught to be self-sufficient as far as possible. They are encouraged to put away a year’s worth of income, food, and other commodities, not as a doomsday preparation but for ordinary emergencies such as unemployment, floods, or other situations that make it difficult to get to a store or to afford supplies. By doing so, families are also able to buy on sale or in bulk to save money on purchases. They rotate their storage so they can use it before it goes bad. When emergencies arise, they are often able to get through them without government assistance. When they have exhausted their resources, their families are taught to step in. The church will assist in short-term help when those resources are gone. As a result, Mormons seldom need to rely on government assistance.
A Mormon is a Mormon because he or she has gained a personal testimony of Jesus Christ and of His Church. When a person is considering conversion, and even when children are preparing for baptism at age eight, they are instructed to pray and to ask God if the Mormon Church is true before joining. Children receive extensive education in the basics of their religion and in prayer prior to baptism. Potential converts receive an introduction to the religion and training in how to pray to know what is true. After baptism, they continue their religious education, always encouraged to pray about what they’re learning. As a result, when you find a Mormon who has actually done this and received an answer, he will have a very firm testimony. It is firm because it is based entirely on answers from God. Answers from God are the only ones we can be certain are correct. People who enjoy witnessing to Mormons often find their targets bored by the usual intellectual, philosophical, or inaccurate argument techniques simply because they find anything a human can offer them as a reason to switch is inferior to that which God has offered them as a reason to stay.
What is a Mormon? A Mormon is someone who knows he is a child of a Heavenly Father who loves Him and is actively involved in his life. He has faith that his family will be eternal and that his relationship with God will be eternal. He knows who he is and why he matters. He has a purpose to his life that is more than just succeeding in worldly pursuits. His goals are eternal. He has faith in the atoning grace of Jesus Christ and understands that God gave him commandments that he must keep in order to receive the full blessings of what God and Jesus Christ have to offer. While grace is given to all, there are, as the Bible said, consequences for our choices. This gives a Mormon a sense of well-being because he knows just what God expects of him. Mormons believe they must go through life with God at their side.
What is a Mormon? Chances are, he’s one of your neighbors or co-workers.
Filed under: Basic Beliefs of Mormons, Church Organization, LDS Practices, LDS Q&A, Prophets
In this series of articles, we are studying the principles taught in a talk by Ezra Taft Benson. At the time the talk was given to students at Brigham Young University, he was an apostle, one of twelve men who form a governing body of the church. They lead with the First Presidency, which consists of the prophet, who is also the president of the Church, and his two counselors. The First Presidency is the highest ranking leadership in the Church and the apostles are just below them. In time, Ezra Taft Benson would become the president of the Church. As an apostle, he was called Elder Benson, so that is how I will refer to him in this article.
Read the introductory article in this series: Follow the Prophet: An Introduction
Read called Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.
The first principle The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.Every person has a right to receive revelation for his own life and for any area in which he has responsibility. For instance, a person might have inspiration in choosing a career that will fulfill God’s plan for her. That person can also receive personal revelation pertaining to raising his or her own children. However, a man who thought he knew a better way to run his Mormon ward (congregation) could not announce he had received revelation concerning this unless he was the bishop (lay pastor) because it is not his responsibility to run the ward. A bishop could not receive revelation for the entire church, but could receive it for his own ward.
The Mormon Church has several governing bodies, each with its own sphere of responsibility. Members of those bodies can receive revelation only for the governing offices they personally hold.
The Mormon Church has at its head a prophet who also serves as the president of the Church. He alone receives revelation for the entire church. New doctrine must come through him. He is assisted by two counselors and together these three are known as the First Presidency. Below them is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Since members of the First Presidency are also apostles, there are actually fifteen apostles, but only twelve operate in the Quorum.
The Church is a theocracy with God at its head. God selects certain people to act in His name and with His authority. We see this in the Bible, where Moses, Abraham, Noah and others were chosen not by men, but by God. No man can decide for himself to become a prophet. He must receive that calling from God. Every person is then free to either accept or reject that prophet. We saw in Noah’s time that many chose to reject Noah. This was their right, but of course, it came with a terrible price. They were warned of the price and could have chosen to accept Noah, thus gaining a place on the ark. The same is true today. Each person has the right and responsibility to pray and find out if someone who says he is a prophet really is one. Not doing so puts us on a plane with the people of Noah’s time. Since there can only be one prophet on the earth, it is important to find out who that prophet is.
Throughout history, many religious leaders, including Protestant leaders, have sought for a prophet and called for one. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland discussed some early reformers who spoke longingly of the need for a prophet:
“One of the most famous of the New England preachers, Jonathan Edwards, said, “It seems to me a[n] … unreasonable thing, to suppose that there should be a God … that has so much concern [for us], … and yet that he should never speak, … that there should be no word [from him].” [Source: 9. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 18, The “Miscellanies” 501–832, ed. Ava Chamberlain (2000), 89–90.]
Later, the incomparable Ralph Waldo Emerson rocked the very foundations of New England ecclesiastical orthodoxy when he said to the Divinity School at Harvard: “It is my duty to say to you that the need was never greater [for] new revelation than now.” “The doctrine of inspiration is lost. … Miracles, prophecy, … the holy life, exist as ancient history [only]. … Men have come to speak of … revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead. … It is the office of a true teacher,” he warned, “to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake.” In essence, Mr. Emerson was saying, “If you persist in handing out stones when people ask for bread, they will eventually stop coming to the bakery.” [Source: 10. The Complete Essays and Other Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Brooks Atkinson (1940), 75, 71, 80.] (See Jeffrey R. Holland, “Prophets, Seers, and Revelators,” Ensign, Nov 2004, 6).
The prophet is given the keys of authority over the church. These are not literal keys. They represent the right to direct the Church and operate through the priesthood. The prophet holds all the keys and may completely use them. The apostles are also given all the keys but can use only those delegated to them by the prophet. So, the apostles, called as special witnesses of Jesus Christ, operate under the direction of the prophet and the prophet operates under the direction of God. The Mormon prophet may not do anything himself just because he wants to. He may want a specific revelation, but he can’t just announce it, no matter how badly he wants it. He can plead with God for it but must wait for the revelation to come before acting on his desire. If he doesn’t receive it, he can’t act.
This rule that there can be only one prophet allows God’s church to operate smoothly and without confusion. Everyone knows who the prophet is and who they should listen to. There is no discord as several prophets compete to lead the Church.
This pattern of authority is repeated in every level of the Church. I assist in the toddler nursery. I can make suggestions to the nursery leader, but I can’t decide to make any changes without her permission, except within my own specific responsibility. Nursery-wide changes are her perogative. This prevents any type of conflict or confusion. There is only one person in charge.
“Speaking as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Harold B. Lee said:
“It [any item under consideration] becomes our business when the President of the Church delegates to us some of the keys which he holds in fulness. Until he gives us the authority, it is not our business and we do not have the right to take his place.” (“The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge to Religious Educators, p. 108.)
In performing the duties given them by the President of the Church, the Twelve, as prophets, seers, and revelators, are entitled to receive revelation and guidance from the Holy Ghost as needed for the proper completion of their assignments. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
“There is only one man at a time who holds the keys of revelation for the Church [see D&C 43:3–7]. The Twelve Apostles may receive revelation to guide them in their labors and to assist them in setting in order the priesthood and organizations of the Church. When they are sent out into a stake by authority they have all the power to receive revelation, to make changes, and to conduct the affairs according to the will of the Lord. But they do not receive revelations for the guidance of the whole Church, only wherein one of them may succeed to the Presidency” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:156–57) (from “Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual.”)
Filed under: Basic Beliefs of Mormons, Basic LDS Beliefs, Church Organization, Counsel from Church Leaders, Finding Truth, Gospel Principles, Practices & Precepts, LDS Q&A, Prophets, The Restoration
In June of 1981, Ezra Taft Benson, who was then a Mormon apostle, gave an often-quoted talk called Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet. It outlined what Mormons and non-Mormons need to understand about Mormonism and what it means to follow a prophet. In this series, we will evaluate each of the fourteen points in more detail. In this first article, I will first introduce the concept of modern-day prophecy and what Mormons mean when they say they follow a prophet.
As a child, I visited many churches because my parents had decided I should choose my own religion. I quickly became confused because every church claimed to be teaching God’s word and yet each denomination contradicted the others, even on important topics. I soon felt there ought to be a better way to know what is true than to listen to a lot of people taking guesses. One summer I attended vacation Bible school in my neighborhood. The theme was Judaism and the Old Testament. (This was a Protestant Church.) When I learned about the Old Testament prophets, I became very excited. This was it—the solution to the whole problem. One person, a modern-day Moses, could go ask God what was true and then come back and tell us, just as Moses delivered the Ten Commandments to his people. I excitedly asked who the prophet today was and was told that after Jesus came, there was no more need for prophets. Read more
Filed under: Discussion of General Relief Society Meetings, History, Joseph Smith: Mormon Prophet, Mormon Women's History, Women, Women's Issues
During the General Relief Society Meeting held for Mormon women recently, it was announced that next year, the Relief Society would be making available a history of Mormon women. The General Relief Society President (over all the adult Mormon women worldwide), Julie Beck, explained:
“We study our history because it unites faithful women. The history of Relief Society is a Spirit-filled story of strong, faithful, purposeful women. As a part of the Lord’s restored Church, Relief Society can now be found in nearly 170 nations. Everywhere in the world adult women in the Lord’s Church can be given serious and important responsibilities.” (Daughters in My Kingdom”: The History and Work of Relief Society, Julie B. Beck, Relief Society General President)
She suggested that studying the history of the Relief Society will help us to better understand what God wants us to do and to be. When the Relief Society was first organized in the early days of the Church, there were many benevolent societies. Joseph Smith agreed that serving others was an appropriate sphere for women but he felt they could become more than just that, more than just a social club. They could have an important role to play in the growth of the Lord’s Kingdom, and so he made them more than just a club or society. He organized them to work under the direction of the priesthood, but also in the pattern of the priesthood. He, like other leaders since then, allowed the women to run their own organization and to choose which projects they felt were best suited to their needs. Of course, from time to time they are asked to take on certain projects, but Gordon B. Hinkley joked that the way the Mormons handle their women is to get out of their way and look at all the good they can do. Read more