15 Things I Wish The Media Would Get Right About
Mormons and The LDS Church (But Often Don't)
October 27, 2011
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is gaining a higher profile in the media and pop culture. This is due in no small part to publicity surrounding United States presidential candidates, cable TV programs, or bombastic Tony-winning Broadway plays that are a caricaturization Mormons and LDS Church culture.
Unfortunately, the media tends to be loose with their portrayals of the church and church members. The reason this is so problematic is because opinion polls indicate that most people are ignorant about the basics of the LDS Church. Regrettably, misinformation is too often taken as truth.
Writers and producers of print and electronic media adhere to a code of ethics that dictate a commitment to accuracy, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help them Joseph Pulitzer. So if they’re going to write about the church, it’s not too much to ask for them to do a little homework to improve their articles. Granted, there are highly complex issues in the LDS Church that can’t be adequately covered in a limited amount of article space. But flippant sound bytes can be incredibly deceiving, and do a disservice to the readers and the writer’s reliability.
So here are 15 things I’ve read that I wish the media would get right.
#1 Mormons’ Belief in Jesus Christ
Some reporters and columnists are getting better about this, but it’s still perplexing to read an article that purports that Mormons don’t believe in Jesus Christ, or that Mormons aren’t Christian. Granted, Mormons aren’t Catholic or Protestant and we don’t believe in the Triune nature of God as defined by the traditional creeds. Nevertheless, Latter-day Saints firmly believe that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God and Savior of the world. A passage in the Book of Mormon teaches "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." (2 Nephi 25:26)
Jesus Christ is the central point of our faith, and every doctrine and practice in the church points to Him. We believe that Jesus created the Earth under the direction of God The Father, that He was the God of the Old Testament, that He was born of a virgin, that He atoned for our sins, that He died on the cross, and that He was resurrected and will return in glory to the Earth someday.
The source of the erroneous claim in the articles usually comes from Evangelical Protestants. They use the logic, "I’m Protestant, I’m Christian, therefore all Christians are Protestants." This is a fallacy. Not all Christians are Protestants, and not all Christians agree with the broad scope of Protestant theology. Some strict Evangelical Protestants don’t even consider Catholics to be Christians. Go figure. For reporters to be accurate, they ought to write that Mormons are Christian, but are not part of the Protestant or Catholic tradition.
I’m fine with not being a Protestant or a Catholic. I’m fine with them not including us in some of their organizations and groups. But what bothers me, and most Latter-day Saints, is the arrogant dismissal of our faith in Christ. And if there were any doubt about our belief in Christ, the church’s name should dispel any question of this. This is assuming the article gets the name of the church right, which brings us to...
#2 The Name of the Church
You’d assume the name of the church would be easy to get correct. However, we know what happens when you assume, right?
The official name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yes, it’s a mouthful. Yes, it’s long. Nevertheless, that’s the name and we like it. The name tells you exactly who we are, and who we follow. The name has historical importance, too. The LDS Church was the first in post-biblical times to include Jesus’ name in the official name of the church, instead of using the name of a reformer, a practice, or an event.
I’ll often see it shortened in articles after the official name is mentioned to "Latter-day Saints", "LDS Church", or even "Mormon Church" -the church’s nickname. Branding and identity being what it is, I can handle all that. However, I am bothered whenever a writer, either on purpose or out of keystroke laziness, refers to the church only as The Church of Latter-Day Saints. The reason this is irksome is because Jesus Christ is as central to the church as He is to the name. Remove Jesus Christ from either one and all you have is a group of well-dressed people who spend way too much time together on Sundays.
Names matter. Omitting Jesus from the name also perpetuates the misconception that Mormons don’t believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, or that we aren’t Christians. So which part of Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints do writers not want to understand?
It's kind of funny that this is even an issue with print journalists. This topic is explicitly addressed in the AP Writing Style Guide, which sets the standards for citations in journalism. All writers that mess this up need to do is look in their style guide. Unless, of course, it isn't being done in error, but as a slight by a biased writer.
#3 When and Where the Church Was Founded
For some reason a lot of journalists and columnists have a difficult time getting this bit of information correct, despite the information being included in the AP Style Guide.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially organized on April 6, 1830 by Joseph Smith (not John Smith) and six others, in Fayette, New York. Too often I’ll read an article about the church being started by Joseph Smith, or even Brigham Young, in Salt Lake City, Utah. This is wrong on many levels. Brigham Young didn’t join the church until 1832, and Joseph never set foot in Utah. Joseph had already been martyred in Carthage, Illinois three years before Brigham Young lead the Mormon Pioneers from Nauvoo, Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley, in 1847.
#4 Divine Origins of The Church
Many of the articles I read report that the church began after the angel Moroni first appeared to young Joseph Smith and revealed the location of the golden plates. While this is technically accurate, it leaves out an extremely significant event in Joseph Smith’s life that preceded Moroni’s visit by three years and set the foundation for the church that would emerge later. Mormons refer to it as The First Vision.
The overview of the First Vision: When Joseph Smith was 14-years-old, there was a great excitement about religion in his area. He was confused about which church to join because all the various Christian denominations claimed to be true, but taught contradicting doctrines. While reading the Bible, Joseph came across a verse in James that inspired him to pray about which church to join. The next day he went alone into the woods by his farm house to pray to God to ask for his sins to be forgiven and to ask for guidance about which church to join. Joseph testified that during this prayer, God The Eternal Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ appeared to him and basically instructed him not to join any of the churches because their creeds were corrupt. Click on the link to read a more detailed account of The First Vision.
The First Vision is extremely relevant to any article dealing with the foundational history of the LDS Church. It gives context to why the angel Moroni would appear to Joseph Smith three years later in response to another prayer. By omitting the First Vision, writers and reporters either explicitly or implicitly make it seem like Joseph was doing the will of an angelic being, rather than following the will of God. It also falsely portrays the LDS Church as being closer to the Islamic Tradition, which has its origins in an angelic visitation, rather than the Biblical Judeo-Christian prophetic tradition, in which God appears to prophets, which the LDS Church actually falls into.
#5 They’re Golden Plates, Not Gold Tablets
Writers will frequently refer to the golden plates as gold tablets, gold stones or the gold bible. These descriptions are all inaccurate.
The golden plates are a collection of thin, rectangular sheets made of gold ore, bound together by three large metal rings. They weren’t stone tablets like what Moses received.
What’s so important about the golden plates? Latter-Day Saints believe that the plates are an ancient record that primarily spans approximately 600 B.C. to approximately 421 A.D. The plates contain writings of God’s dealings with families that fled Jerusalem and traveled to the Americas. Though these people were Israelites they were not part of the "Lost Ten Tribes of Israel", as is also frequently misreported in the media. The plates give an abridged account of acts of faith, family dynamics, wars, culture, political intrigue, the rise and fall of people, cities and governments, religious practices, and details of Jesus visiting the decedents of these families following His resurrection. We believe that the plates were buried and hidden away by Moroni, the last prophet of these people, to keep them safe until the time came that God had appointed for them to come forth.
We believe that Joseph Smith was chosen by God to translate the writing on the golden plates into a book that is now known as The Book of Mormon, named for the prophet who abridged the plates. Following a series of heavenly visions, Joseph was shown the plates’ location by the angel Moroni, in 1823. Joseph wasn’t allowed to take possession of the plates until 1827. After he finally received them, Joseph was commanded not to show the plates to anyone until authorized. Joseph protected the plates by hiding them in different locations at his father's farm and at homes of friends. Joseph was attacked several times by people trying to steal the plates from him. Due to persecution and continuous attempts to steal the plates, Joseph was forced to move to different towns a lot which slowed the translation process. Translation of the plates didn’t begin until 1828.
Joseph had little formal education, and couldn’t write well. To produce the manuscript Joseph would read the translation aloud, using the Urim and Thummim and other seer devices provided by God for this purpose, and a scribe would write down the words on paper. If Joseph was unable to pronounce a word he would spell the letters out. His wife, Emma, who helped as one of Joseph’s scribes said that Joseph would "dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he could at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him." Actual translation work only took 60 days to complete, but that 60 days was spread out because of all the extenuating circumstances. The translation was published as The Book of Mormon in 1830. After Joseph was done with the golden plates he was commanded to return them to Moroni, the angel. He didn’t just lose the plates, like some suggest.
People question the reality of the plates because they weren’t physically examined by experts. However, suppose Joseph had turned them over to an antiquities expert. What may have happened? Let’s look at the Dead Sea Scrolls as an example. The scrolls were first discovered in 1947, and to date they still haven’t been completely translated. Had Joseph given the golden plates over to scholars they likely would also have been lost in academic limbo for decades and the writings may never have come to the public. It may have made the intellectual community happy, but would have defeated God’s purpose for the plates. Meanwhile, since 1830, there have been 150 million copies of the Book of Mormon printed into 82 languages. More people have read the Book of Mormon than have read the Dead Sea Scrolls. Based on that, it’s my opinion that God’s way was better.
#6 Joseph Smith Showed Other People The Plates
News columnists and opinion writers that don’t do their due diligence will quickly dismiss Joseph Smith’s wild story of finding and translating the golden plates because they believe that no one saw the plates but Joseph. Some will even mockingly write, "Oh, if only Joseph had thought to show the plates to another person. Maybe then..." Oh, if only these same writers had thought to ask a Mormon before writing. Maybe then...
Sarcasm aside, in actuality there were at least 12 other people that physically saw and handled the golden plates, and a few others that felt them while they were covered with a cloth. When Joseph was finally given permission by Jesus to show the plates to a few people he said, "Father, Mother, you do not know how happy I am; the Lord has now caused the plates to be shown to three more besides myself. They have seen an angel, who has testified to them, and they will have to bear witness to the truth of what I have said, for now they know for themselves that I do not go about to deceive the people, and I feel as if I was relieved of a burden which was almost too heavy for me to bear, and it rejoices my soul that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world."
Martin Harris, one of the witnesses, described the plates as being about seven inches wide by eight inches in length. David Whitmer, another witness, said each page felt thick like parchment paper. Emma Smith, who didn’t see the plates but felt them under a cloth, said each page "seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book." Emma and Martin estimated the plates weighed around 60 pounds.
Even though some of the witnesses eventually became disaffected with the church and with Joseph Smith, none of them ever recanted their testimony of the physical reality of the plates. Click on the link to learn more about the golden plates witnesses.
#7 Evidence Supporting The Book of Mormon
LDS Church members believe the Book of Mormon to be scripture that goes hand-in-hand with the Bible. We believe in the Book of Mormon because we receive spiritual confirmation of its authenticity from the Holy Ghost. This is spiritual, rather than scientific proof. Understandably, a subjective spiritual assurance of authenticity does not satisfy the media in today’s science-driven culture. News columnists and commentators will often ask, puzzled, how educated people can believe in the Book of Mormon when there isn’t a shred of evidence to support it. I’ll grant that the specific New World locations covered in the book haven’t been conclusively identified. It is extremely difficult to find a missing city or village if you don’t have a known reference point from which to start looking. Geographical ambiguity aside, that doesn’t mean that there is no evidence to support the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
When the Book of Mormon was first published in 1830, critics and experts were quick to point out that the book made claims about life in the ancient Americas that weren’t supported by research at that time. These anachronisms included claims of ancient transoceanic travel, grains, metallurgy, monetary practices, wars, and animal life. Since then, a significant amount of the claims made by the Book of Mormon have been substantiated. This includes ancient transoceanic travel, ancient American thrones and kings, steel swords and metal plates, barley, cement, highways, and weapons. Even fossils of pre-Spaniard horses have been found.
Furthermore, while New World locations of Book of Mormon events are unknown, researchers are familiar with Old World geography that is mentioned in the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon. Using descriptions of locations in the book’s text, researchers have been able to map out the approximate path Lehi and his family, the initial subjects of the Book of Mormon, traveled after they fled Jerusalem and arrived at the Indian Ocean. Researchers have found locations and relics that correspond with the account in the Book of Mormon. A few of these locations were unknown during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.
That’s a pretty good trick for an illiterate 20-something year-old-man who some reporters and critics alleged made the whole thing up.
If the New World geographic locations are ever definitively discovered then it would be nice, but it won’t change anything. Bible geography and archaeology haven’t made believers out of skeptics. The same will be true of the Book of Mormon. Click on the link to learn more about evidence supporting the Book of Mormon.
#8 Joseph Smith Wasn’t Delusional
Some media writers and commentators summarily dismiss Joseph Smith as a delusional charlatan who made up stories of visions and revelations to deliberately defraud people. Others give him the benefit of a doubt calling him misguided for confusing hallucinations for what he thought were visions, and using his charisma to convince people to follow him.
What these writers usually fail to mention is that other people were involved with several of the key revelations Joseph received, corroborating the actual occurrence. Martin Harris, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery saw the angel, Moroni. Joseph and Oliver Cowdery both interacted with John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John when they appeared to restore the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. During the dedication of the temple in Kirtland, Ohio, Oliver once again shared a vision with Joseph where they saw Moses, Elijah, Elias and Jesus Christ, Himself. Meanwhile, people inside and outside the temple reported seeing angels. When Joseph Smith received the revelation about the Degrees of Glory in the afterlife, Sydney Rigdon simultaneously shared the vision with him, while others in the room watched and listened to them describing what they saw. Furthermore, revelations continued with Joseph’s successors. That would be a hard trick to pull off if Joseph had just made it all up, or was experiencing hallucinations.
#9 Joseph Smith Was Not a Con Artist
Some in the media condescendingly portray Joseph Smith as a slick con-man perpetrating an elaborate scheme. However, all the articles I’ve read never offer specifics of Joseph’s alleged cons. They make the accusation without backing it up. News writers also fail to show how Joseph benefited from his alleged cons. In today’s world of financial and moral impropriety among professional clergy, it’s easy for an ill-informed reader to accept such accusations uncontested. This increases the need for respectable news writers to not make unsupported claims. By simply doing some cursory research, the writers would discover that Joseph was not the deliberate fraudster and charlatan as he is so often accused of being.
The historical evidence supports the fact that Joseph Smith was never arrested, charged, tried, or convicted for fraud, theft or chicanery. That’s not to say he didn’t have legal trouble. As an unpopular public and religious figure, Joseph had several law suits and a few trumped up charges brought against him, such as receiving "pretended angelic visitations" and "casting out a devil." Yes, these were actual charges he was put on trial for, and acquitted of. Enemies and mobs tried every legal maneuver possible to get rid of him and the church he founded. Yet he was never found guilty of any felonies, despite these accusations being tried in extremely hostile courts.
Though Joseph was never charged with fraud, there were a couple of legal actions against him that involved money. In 1826, 16-year-old Joseph Smith was approached by Josiah Stoal to go on a treasure hunting expedition. No treasure was ever found and Joseph eventually talked Josiah into giving up. Josiah’s son, who became disgruntled at their lack of success, tried to have Joseph arrested on charges of being a disorderly person. These charges were dismissed during an initial examination and it never went to trial.
In 1837, Joseph and Sydney Rigdon were found liable for a civil offense after the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society. This was a bank the church leaders attempted to start in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1836, to help finance property, immigration of poor members, missionary work and the Kirtland Temple. After two attempts for approval, the bank was declined for a state charter. The church opened the bank anyway but a year later it failed and closed. The failure of the bank left Joseph with debts of $100,000. This doesn’t exactly sound like the work of a master conman.
The most serious of the charges brought against Joseph weren't money related, but is significant because it facilitated his murder by an Illinois militia. An arrest warrant was issued for Joseph after he and the city council ordered the destruction of the printing press of the Nauvoo Expositor. This was a newspaper that published scurrilous stories about Joseph and the church, and the city council feared the paper would incite mob violence from neighboring towns. Joseph voluntarily surrendered to county authorities in an attempt to keep the peace. Joseph was charged with riot then brought to Carthage Jail. The next day he was released on bail, but to prevent Joseph from leaving the jail a charge of treason was added. Joseph would never make it to his pretrial hearing because just two days later the militia stormed the jail and shot and killed Joseph, along with his brother, Hyrum. The unfounded treason charge had served its purpose.
#10 Joseph Smith's Polygamy Was Not About Womanizing
No religious practice Joseph reintroduced into the modern world was and is more controversial than plural marriage. Historical evidence shows that Joseph was first taught about polygamy in 1831. But he didn’t start actively practicing it and teaching it to the church until around 1841, three years before his death.
Joseph always claimed that God had revealed the principle of plural marriage to him, and that he had been commanded to practice it and teach it to the church. Since most media writers don’t believe Joseph was a prophet they explain polygamy a different way - that Joseph was a dirty womanizer who only wanted to satisfy his carnal lusts by forcing women to marry him.
The Joseph as a sexual Svengali contention has some major flaws in it for anyone that takes the time to actually read about Mormon polygamy in the 1800’s. Here are some of the flaws:
- Joseph waited. If Joseph had such an insatiable sexual appetite then he wouldn’t have been so reluctant to practice serial polygamy.
- Not every marriage was consummated. Many of Joseph's plural marriages were dynastic marriages, meaning that the purpose of the marriage was to tie other families to his. Most of these marriages, along with others of his marriages, were never consummated.
- He didn’t need to marry the women if he just wanted sex. Even in the 1800’s there were plenty of people in American society that took mistresses. Ironically, some of the politicians that were the fiercest polygamy opponents had mistresses. If he was as charismatic and powerful as critics make him seem, he could have just had an affair with any woman he wanted without taking on himself the caretaking obligations that go along with marriage. It would have been cheaper and more expedient to just frequent a brothel.
- Women turned his proposals down. Not every woman he approached about becoming a plural wife took him up on the offer. That he respected the women’s choice shows that he was hardly the lothario some portray him to be.
- He taught plural marriage to others for them to practice. If Joseph really just wanted to line his own bed then it doesn’t make sense for him to teach plural marriage as a religious practice for members of the church to follow. History has shown that self-made, sex-oriented charismatic leaders like to keep all the women to themselves, and generally don’t let other men in on the action.
- Joseph knew it was putting his life at risk. Joseph mentioned on several occasions that he knew if it went public that he and members of the church were practicing plural marriage then he would be killed by mobs. If he was really the salacious person some make him out to be, he wouldn’t risk his life just to get sex.
- Revelatory accounts by others. There are journal accounts by several of the plural wives of various church leaders that talk of them receiving revelations confirming the practice. Vilate Kimball had a revelation about plural marriage before she was even made aware that it was even being practiced.
Click on the link to learn about the visions to plural wives.
The bottom line is that if Joseph had just wanted a lot of sex, there were much easier ways of getting it than concocting a story about polygamy. It’s also important to mention Joseph was never accused of being a womanizer before the Nauvoo polygamy period, not even by any of his harshest enemies. If there had been actual proof of Joseph philandering with women before that time it would have been widely publicized during his lifetime. Contemporary accusations of womanizing are based on speculation and not on actual evidence or scholarship.
#11 Polygamy Not Dropped Just for Statehood
The phrase "polygamy for statehood" is continually repeated in the media as the reason the LDS Church put a moratorium on polygamy. It’s also the most erroneous reason. Polygamy for statehood is a gross oversimplification of a complex issue that doesn’t begin to really tell the whole story.
Polygamy, or plural marriage, was being discreetly practiced by church leaders and some members in Nauvoo, Illinois, from 1841-1846. The threat of mob violence from neighboring towns, and military pressure from the State of Illinois, was reaching a boiling point against the Mormons in Nauvoo. Church leaders knew that public knowledge about polygamy would ignite the smoldering powder keg of potential violence, so they tried to keep it under wraps. The LDS Church did not officially go public with the practice of plural marriage until 1852. By this time the church and its members had been driven by force from Nauvoo and had settled in the Salt Lake Valley. Soon after this public announcement, all the fears the church leaders had were realized.
The United States Government broke all hell loose on the LDS Church and its members. President Buchanan sent the US Army to the Utah Territory to capture church leaders, arrest polygamists and put the Mormons into submission. Political parties were formed to end polygamy and the church. President Buchanan also appointed governors and judges to the Utah Territory that were vehemently antagonistic toward Mormons.
Congress passed a series of anti-polygamy laws: The Morrill Anti-Bigamy Law of 1862, the 1882 Edmunds act, and the Edmunds-Tucker act of 1887. These laws stripped the Mormons of all their constitutional rights, disenfranchised their votes, and also gave the government authority to seize all the LDS Church’s chapels, tabernacles, temples, finances and property. Congress also tried to block the immigration of European Mormons to the US.
In Mormon polygamist trials, court evidentiary rules were basically suspended. A simple accusation was sufficient evidence for a conviction and prison sentence. It even became a crime for men to financially support plural wives they weren’t cohabitating with. Mormon men were forced to choose between either going into hiding or being thrown in to prison for years. Either choice left families without a means of support.
As thousands of men were convicted and imprisoned, women were also being jailed for refusing to testify against their husbands, leaving whole families in tatters. All the general church leadership were scattered or in hiding. The LDS Church's third President, John Taylor, died while on the lam from federal marshals.
The LDS Church, while continuing its practice of civil disobedience in support of their religious belief, fought the matter in the legal system all the way to the US Supreme Court. In the 1878 landmark case, Reynolds v. United States, the Supreme Court sided against the church. In their ruling the court wrote the opinion that the constitution guaranteed someone the right to believe what they wanted, but they didn’t have the right to practice those beliefs.
After the Supreme Court case, the church tried to compromise by not solemnizing plural marriages in the US, and by having plural spouses live apart from each other. But Federal and State governments continued their aggressive campaign against the Mormons. In 1890, the church finally relented on their civil disobedience campaign. President Wilford Woodruff issued what’s become known as The Manifesto, and the church ceased to officially practice plural marriage.
Wilford Woodruff said, "The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?"
Statehood was officially granted to Utah six years later, and 44 years after the US had effectively declared war on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The government maelstrom unleashed on the Mormons during this period was unprecedented, and nothing like it has happened since. Yes, statehood was a result of abandoning the practice of polygamy, but it wasn’t the Church's primary reason for ending the practice. The reason was the long-term survival of the church.
Click on the link to learn more about the cessation of plural marriage.
#12 Black People Have Always Been Allowed Membership
From the mid 1830’s to 1978, it was a policy of the LDS Church that men of African descent were prohibited from holding the priesthood. This has caused a lot of misconceptions in the media that black men and women were/are not allowed to be members of the LDS church. This has never been true. Unlike some Protestant Churches, blacks have never been barred from church membership and there has never been a separate denomination of the LDS Church specifically for black people. There have been black members of the church since the early 1830’s, most notably Elijah Abel. Part of the friction the people of Missouri had with the Mormons was that the church is anti-slavery. There were even black pioneers that came across the plains to Utah.
In 1978, LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, received a revelation in response to their prayer that that the time had come to end the prohibition and allow all worthy men to hold the priesthood. Some writers accuse the church of finally allowing black men to hold the priesthood because of political and social pressure. But most of this pressure had died down years earlier. Also, church president David O. McKay had been considering lifting the ban since the early 1960’s, but every time he prayed about it he either didn't receive an answer, or when he did the answer was "not yet".
Since 1980, LDS Church membership has been growing exponentially in Africa, Central and South America and the South Pacific.
Click on the links to learn more about black membership in the LDS Church, the LDS Church and Race Issues, and contemporary black Mormons.
This dovetails into the next topic, which is ...
#13 Revelations Aren't Just God Changing His Mind
The LDS Church believes in continuing revelation. One of our articles of faith teaches that we believe that God does now reveal and will yet reveal many great and important things. Because of this belief in on-going revelation, many writers and media commentators suggest that the church just makes up revelations as a convenient way to change what they believe to conform to social pressure or to improve their public image. A more cynical commentator will snidely remark that God changes his mind a lot.
To support their supposition writers always cite the same two examples in the church’s 180+ year history--the ending of polygamy and lifting the priesthood prohibition on men of African descent. They write "God changed his mind about polygamy, and God changed his mind about blacks." However, when a writer actually has time to do their research, they usually see how a charge of convenience or calling God fickle is a mischaracterization. The revelation about polygamy was an issue of survival; the revelation about the priesthood ended a policy that was always believed to be temporary.
After issuing The Manifesto, the declaration that put a moratorium on plural marriages, President Wilford Woodruff spoke the following to the members in Logan, Utah:
"The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it, you would have had no use for ... any of the men in this temple at Logan; for all ordinances would be stopped throughout the land of Zion. Confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice. Now, the question is, whether it should be stopped in this manner, or in the way the Lord has manifested to us, and leave our Prophets and Apostles and fathers free men, and the temples in the hands of the people, ... I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do."
God never changed His mind about polygamy. The practice was simply ceased so the entire church could continue on and flourish across the globe. Modern polygamist sects that have been marginalized to the fringes of society and are irrelevant outside their closed communities, offer a good example of what would have happened had the LDS Church not ceased the practice. Perhaps if polygamy is decriminalized in enough countries then the practice will be reinstated again.
God didn’t change His mind about blacks either. It was always believed that a time would come when the prohibition would end. Even President Brigham Young said as much in 1863. Things are done on God’s time table, and not on man’s. Otherwise, President David O. McKay would have ended the restriction in the early 1960’s.
Most revelations come as a response to necessity or inquiry, not contrivance or invention. LDS Prophets don't invent revelations, especially revelations whose only aim is to make the church more popular. The fact that the LDS Church continues to proclaim controversial beliefs and practices, and is often at odds with public opinion, is proof that PR doesn’t inspire revelation or church doctrine.
#14 Church Leaders Are Not Rubes
Some writers and columnists portray the church leadership as ignorant rubes that are fresh off the farm, or that are a bunch of old men that are out of touch with the world around them. Nothing could be further from the truth. No one can be elected, campaign for, or set a career path to become a bishop, stake president, seventy, apostle or church president. Therefore, no one knows if they will be part of the church’s hierarchy until they’re called to that priesthood office. Local ecclesiastical leaders, such as bishops and stake presidents, are lay clergy members that have full time jobs that are independent of their church leadership position. Local leaders live in the community they preside over. They are not insulated. Local leaders will regularly report on the local issues facing church members and the general community to the general authorities of the church.
The governing body of the church is comprised of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and The First Presidency, which are the Church President and his 2 Counselors. They travel across the globe to meet with local members and church leaders, as well as government dignitaries. Apostles and church presidents from Brigham Young on have had normal vocations or careers until they were called as an apostle. Among the current 12 apostles, some have been doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists and businessmen. Some went to college at BYU, others went to Harvard. The current church president, Thomas Monson, worked in the newspaper business. These are not ignorant men who are out of touch with reality or the world around them. They have families, reared children, suffered hardships, enjoyed blessings, failed at times, succeeded at times, and have experienced the trials of life first hand. They are astute servants of God.
For some reason the media seems fascinated with the undergarments worn by Mormons after they attend the temple. With all the grandiose regalia, priestly vestments, robes, headwear, jewelry, or collars worn by religious leaders of various churches, it surprises me that a white t-shirt and white knee-length bottoms would be such a curiosity; especially with the more wild and exotic underwear that is being sold these days. Yet it seems like an article about the LDS Church will without fail mention garments by calling them Mormon underwear, funny underwear or magic underwear.
Though simple in appearance, the garments are significant to Mormons because they are a symbolic of a person’s commitment to God and the covenants made with God in the temple. They are also designed to promote modesty. Adherents to all religions have some kind of clothing or trinket they wear that symbolizes their faith, whether it’s a yarmulke, a cross, a crucifix, a burka, etc. The difference is that Mormons wear ours under our clothing instead of conspicuously.
Mormons believe that obedience to the covenants made, which includes wearing the garments, will bring protection from temptation and the power of Satan. There have been cases of people who were blessed by God by receiving physical protection for wearing the garments. It’s a belief in this protection that caused the derisive nickname "magic underwear", yet no one refers to the Bible as a "magic book" when stories circulate of servicemen being saved by a bullet-stopping Bible.
Mormons don’t talk about the garments much because, outside of a few celebrities, who really wants to have a conversation about their underwear?
Click on the link to learn more about Mormon garments.