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.
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.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.