Well, with Mitt Romney running for president, and Jon Hunstman (former governor of Utah) probably running, there is growing chatter in the media about Mormons and what they believe.
I'll tell you a secret: as an active, believing Mormon, I really don't relish this. What it means, in my mind, is that political opponents and the press will kick around some of my most cherished beliefs and then, by focusing on marginal, obscure and unusual elements, make Mormons seem crazy. There will be some who make us seem like lovable, quirky eccentrics, while others will portray us as dangerous lunatics. But either way, it's not something I look forward to.
Here's the thing. Every religion, and I do mean every religion, can be made to look foolish if you want to try. What religion doesn't have doctrinal or historical elements that look strange to those outside the faith? I would add, that you don't even need to be religious. I have heard secular humanists made fun of in the same way. Any belief system or sub-culture can be mocked and made to seem crazy.
My experience, incidentally, is that the kind of stories I am referring to usually pick something that is fairly small in terms of significance, some marginal idea or doctrine, and then frame it in a way that makes it sound like a bigger deal than it is.
At any rate, since I don't like the way Mormons and our beliefs are often portrayed, and since I am the only Mormon many of my friends and associates know, I thought maybe I'd take the chance to explain some of the basic things we believe. I note that I'm focusing on the pillars of belief that inform the daily life of your average, practicing Mormon, not on the more exotic and arcane theological points or historical events that might interest scholars and historians.
Let me start with what we don't believe in and what we are not. First of all, since this is precipitated by two presidential campaigns, let me note that not all Mormons are Republicans. Many are, but I have a great many Mormon friends who identify as moderate to raging liberal, believing fully the doctrines of the Church and participating in full fellowship. It is interesting to note that Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate is an active, believing Mormon. For some reason, that never gets much play.
Another thing. We do not believe in having more than one wife. That ended in 1893. For a relatively short time, some Mormons did have more than one wife. I don't understand why. I've heard a lot of theories over the years, some make sense, some don't, but the point is no one really knows and everyone who was involved has been dead for a very, very long time.
This is a great example of what I was talking about. The day-to-day impact of polygamy on contemporary Mormons is about nil. But it's exotic, mysterious and therefore, it's something people tend to latch on to and it gets a lot of play. To be honest, I don't really like that they did practice polygamy. But it's so far out of anything that is relevant to my life today as to be basically meaningless in practical terms and so I don't spend much time thinking about it. But, others do. I was surprised recently when someone who knows our family well and has been to our house numerous times, asked if we did polygamy.
I note that you canNOT be in the Church and practice polygamy. It is the quickest way to get excommunicated. One hears from time to time about splinter groups in the West, and there have been some TV shows that highlight this practice. Mormons are embarrassed and offended by this stuff. Polygamists are not Mormons and vice versa. Period.
So, what do we believe? Since this post is already longish, I'll make this brief: the main, day-to-day fundamental of my faith is that God lives, that he is real and personal. We believe he is the father of our spirits and that he loves us more perfectly than the most loving earthly father. We believe he is interested in our lives and that he has a plan for us, a plan that encompasses the proximate circumstances of life, but also a plan so expansive it reaches in to eternity. We believe--I believe--that God sent us to earth as a parent on earth sends children to school: to learn and grow, and then return.
One of the most beloved songs in the church today is a very simple children's song called "I Am A Child of God" and I think it says it all:
I am a child of God, and he has sent me here
Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do to live with him some day.
I put a clip of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the song below.
P.S. I'm happy to answer questions people have. I sense sometimes that people I know often want to ask me things but are worried about being offensive. You needn't be worried.
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