Thursday, December 06, 2007

What Is A Mormon??

I found this article today--on of all places, Yahoo. I thought it was excellently written--and so have put it in it's entirety here. If you notice some "Blue" writing--that's me, talking back to the article itself!

If you've ever wanted to know anything about Mormons--without having to ask someone, this is a pretty good article. Enjoy!

Theology divides Mormons, evangelicals

By JENNIFER DOBNER, Associated Press Writer Wed Dec 5, 5:34 PM ET

SALT LAKE CITY - Polygamy, missionaries on bicycles and the Osmonds

What most people know or think they know about Mormons might be summed up in those few words. The renowned Tabernacle Choir and, perhaps, quarterback Steve Young could also fit on that list.

Despite 170 years of history, much about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the church of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney — remains a mystery to most.

Questions about his faith, which some mainline religious groups discount as a non-Christian cult, have dogged Romney throughout his campaign, and on Thursday he'll tackle the issue at the George H.W. Bush Library on the campus of Texas A&M University.

Romney isn't expected to focus on the details of Mormonism, but it's in those details that evangelicals and other Christians sometimes break with Latter-day Saints.

The fundamental issue: the nature of God.

"Christians and Jews have always held that there is a great gap between creator and creature. God is God and we're not," said Richard Mouw, head of the Pasadena, Calif., Fuller Theological Seminary. "Mormons believe that God and humans are of the same species. In our eyes they have tried to bridge that gap in ways that really is a fundamental violation."

Mormons also disavow belief in the Trinity — that the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one — instead believing the three to be individuals united in a single purpose.

Many non-Mormons dispute claims that the faith's central text, the Book of Mormon, is a valid account of Jesus' dealings with ancient Americans. Mormons believe the book was translated through revelation by founder Joseph Smith from a set of buried golden plates. It's one of three texts from Smith, who also drafted his own version of the Bible, altering many of its passages in light of what he said were errors that had crept into modern translations.

"The Bible has almost a talismanic significance to evangelicals and they simply don't like the idea of anybody changing it," said Randall Balmer, professor of religion at Columbia University. "Here you've got an additional testament of Jesus Christ and a source of continuing, authoritative revelation. It simply rubs evangelicals the wrong way." (I love the bible--I read from it OFTEN. It is the word of God. I've read both the Old and New Testaments...many times (once in Japanese--although I didn't understand much--so we won't count that one. I share Bible stories with my children. I have like 20 Nativity scenes. The Bible plays a huge role in our religion. The Book of Mormon doesn't take anything away from the Bible at all. In fact, it backs it up. I was telling a non-Mormon friend the other day, if you read the Book of Mormon and follow it's teachings--you will live a more Christlike life. Even if the book was written by a madman (which it wasn't) the teachings are correct. It teaches humility, charity, honesty, virtue. Mostly it teaches the divinity of Jesus Christ--and any book that does that is a pretty great book in my eyes. If you've ever wanted to know what the Book of Mormon is like without actually reading it--or what we stand for as the Book of Ephesians in the New Testament. From how members of the church should strive to avoid uncleanliness and walk uprightly before God--on down to fidelity in marriage. So...go read Ephesians if you'd like a little peek!)

Smith founded the church in 1830, 10 years after a vision near his family home in Palmyra, N.Y. The original church had just six members, mostly members of Smith's family. Today the church claims nearly 13 million members worldwide and is rapidly growing. With about 5.7 million members in the United States, it is the nation's fourth-largest church.

Culturally, socially and politically, Mormons and evangelical Christians should have no trouble finding common ground.

Mormon culture centers on faith and family, with church activities and callings — from teaching Sunday School to leading Boy Scout troops — filling the calendar.

A patriarchal society, Mormons hold up the traditional family as the ideal, with women encouraged to raise children instead of work outside the home. ( I am a stay at home mom, but not because 'The Church' required it, or asked for it. It's all I've wanted to be since I was little. My parents divorced when I was four--bio-dad abandoned us, so my mom went to work. My two brothers and I went to daycare. When I was 9 my mom married Prince Charming (truly) and she was able to stay home with us. Because I've had it both ways--I knew which way I liked better--and wanted that for my kids. It isn't anything a woman is forced to do by the church. In fact, many MANY women work outside of the home, and are very successful in the workplace. As with any religion--to each their own.)

Healthy lifestyles are promoted through the faith's "Word of Wisdom," which warns against the use of alcohol, tobacco and "hot drinks," including coffee and tea. (ah, so there's the secret as to why I remained sober at Tao!!)

Mormons tithe 10 percent of their incomes to their church and are encouraged to serve proselytizing missions. (If you've ever wondered why the title of my Blog is in Japanese, it's because I served a proselyting mission to Nagoya, Japan. I served for 18 months, paid for it myself. Learned to speak, read and write Japanese fluently.)

Mormons oppose gay marriage and denounce gambling. They've largely supported the war in Iraq and twice voted overwhelmingly for President Bush. The church opposes abortion, except when the health of the mother is at risk. (Again, for a non-drinking, non-gambling gal---Vegas was just a normal place for me at Postie-Con--but still so much fun! They fail to mention that Utah is the only state in the country where Bill Clinton came in third behind Ross Perot in both elections. For some strange reason--I take GREAT PRIDE in that!)

Officially, the church is politically neutral. It doesn't endorse candidates,and it encourages members to vote their consciences. (I have never been pressured to vote any certain way, I vote the way I want to live my life--and that wouldn't change whether I was Mormon, Catholic or Baptist. My religion is a big part of who I am, but I'm not a mindless drone--I study up on policies and hot button issues--I've never turned to the church to decide how to vote.)

From the beginning, Mormonism set itself apart from other faiths in both culture and doctrine. Modern leaders don't dispute the differences — a church Web site says the faith is "not Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox but holds a unique place in the Christian world as restored New Testament Christianity."

"We believe (the church) was lost after the times of Christ and his apostles and required to be restored through a prophet," said M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Mormon church's second-tier of leadership, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. "Think in terms of Abraham and Moses ... Joseph Smith to us is just the Moses of our day."

But the debate over the church's place in Christianity remains a sore spot for leaders who in 1995 altered the church logo to place more emphasis on the words "Jesus Christ" in its name. (Funnily enough, we never changed any part of our name or logo. The name of the church is, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Yes, most people know the terms Mormon, or LDS as well--but that never affected the name of the church.)

The problem is that most evangelical Christians see Mormon doctrine, which stems from Smith, as "un-Biblical," said Robert Millet, a professor of religion at the church-owned Brigham Young University.

Aside from continuing revelation, there are a host of Mormon beliefs that evangelicals find hard to swallow. Mormons, for example, believe in a Heavenly Mother — God's female partner — a pre-existence in heaven before birth, a hereafter that includes a three-level heavenly kingdom. They wear religious undergarments that some say possess protective powers; they bar non-Mormons from entering their temples; practice posthumous baptism and believe that man can progress to a God-like state in Heaven. (Posthumous baptism...that's a big word. I believe it was Peter, in the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians, that pure and simple calls it Baptism for the Dead.)

Millet, who has spent much of the past decade working alongside evangelicals, said of those non-Mormons: "They would say, 'Look, it's not a bad idea, but it's not biblical. My comeback would be, the real question is whether or not it's true."

Other Christians also don't accept the Mormon contention that they are members of the "one true church," the authentic version of Christianity that Smith claimed to have restored to Earth at God's own direction.

Even language adds to the divide. Mormons refer to all non-Mormons, including Jews, as gentiles and call God "'Heavenly Father' as if 'Heavenly' were his first name," Balmer said. "Evangelicals just don't do that." (I'm not sure we use Heavenly as though it's his first name--we know his first name--but it's where he dwells--and as we have an earthly father--we also have a 'Heavenly' one as well. )

Another concern for some: that Mormon church presidents are held out as prophets with revelatory power that can alter the church's direction and beliefs. (I don't understand how people find it so hard to believe that we believe that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. If he spoke to prophets in olden times--why in the world would he stop talking? Especially in the world we live in today when we need him the most. )

Such revelations discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890 and, in 1978, ended a ban on giving black men priesthood authority.

Said Mouw, "That notion that things can just get changed is scary for a lot of people who worry that a church with a very strong authority center could influence a public leader by suddenly getting a new revelation that has an impact on public policy." (As for the church interfering in the political world...let's take a moment to realize...Orrin Hatch is a Mormon. Very strong Republican. Very conservative, very vocal about HIS ideas. Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader Democrat from Nevada is a Mormon as well. He is also a Very strong Democrat. Very liberal, very vocal about HIS ideas. You have two men that believe in the same church--follow the same church doctrine in their personal lives--but live on vastly different ends of the political spectrum. If the church were really "interfering in Public Policy" wouldn't these two men be a whole lot more alike than they are? The church plays a part in who these men are--how they live their lives--but 100% their politics are their own. Just as it would be with Mitt Romney!)

Among non-Mormons, 62 percent think Mormonism is very different from their own religion, according to polling this summer by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center and Pew Forum. Some 53 percent said they had a favorable view of Mormons, compared with 76 percent who had favorable feelings toward Jews and Catholics, 60 percent for evangelical Christians, 43 percent for Muslims and 35 percent for atheists. (My thoughts on other religions are these...if your religion draws you closer to your God, makes you a better person and member of society, teaches you to love others and be's a pretty darn good religion whatever it is. My best friend here in Illinois is Jewish. Her children are my kids best friends. Yesterday was the first day of Hanukkah, my kids have been over to their house when they light the Menorah, tell of the miracle behind the holiday. We hold no bias against anyone based on their religion. My in laws and my husband are Catholic, as well as his entire family. I love these people. I'm thrilled that they find joy in their religion, just as I find joy in mine.)

Fifty-two percent said they think Mormons are Christian. (We as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are Christians when it comes to the dictionary definition. We believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of this earth. It is only through him, and his perfection that we will ever be able to attain exaltation. We pray to God through Jesus Christ. We don't pray to Joseph Smith nor do we worship him or any prophet that has followed him. We love them all...don't get me wrong--but we don't worship Joseph. We worship God, and his son, Jesus Christ. As for any other definition of just what makes a "Christian" that may be open to personal opinion. We love our families--they are the center of our religion. Our hope in this world is to raise our children to become responsible, contributing and upstanding members of society. We live our lives striving to be more like Christ, and honestly--I don't think there is anything more Christian than that!)

Oh, and a funny side note just from me...when I lived in Japan we were teaching a woman about our church and she started asking some really strange questions. Why don't Mormons use electricity? Are women allowed to be educated? Do we all live on farms? I was extremely confused as to where these questions were coming from. Turns out, she had watched the Harrison Ford movie "Witness" and all throughout the movie they kept translating the word Amish into Mormon. So for many movie going Japanese people--we were Amish!


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