12 persistent myths of Mormonism

As Americans cast their ballots and the clock ticks toward midnight in Mitt Romney's presidential quest, this much is clear: Americans didn't know much about the candidate's faith when this "Mormon moment" began.

Now, thousands of headlines, dozens of TV newscasts and one Tony-winning Broadway musical later, Americans still don't know much about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their beliefs.

Here are 12 persistent myths about Mormonism:

1. Mormons practice polygamy

The LDS Church officially gave up polygamy in 1890, when then-President Wilford Woodruff issued a "Manifesto" advising all members not to enter into "any marriage forbidden by the law of the land."

Not all Latter-day Saints complied, so then-President Joseph F. Smith issued a "Second Manifesto" in 1904. Since then, any member practicing or openly advocating polygamy is excommunicated.

Groups that continue plural marriage, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do so outside the 14 million-member Utah-based faith.

2. Mormons are not Christians

LDS theology differs from historic Christians in key teachings, including the nature of God and his relationship to Jesus Christ, revelation and scripture. Traditional Christians believe in the Trinity, that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one substance. Mormons believe God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are separate beings.

3. Mormons aren't supposed to drink caffeinated beverages

The LDS Church's health code was issued in 1833 by Mormon founder Joseph Smith. It condemns alcohol, tobacco and "hot drinks," which church leaders have subsequently described only as "coffee and tea." Caffeinated cold drinks are OK.

4. Mormons don't dance

Dancing is fine. Brigham Young University dance troupes have won international acclaim.

5. All Mormons live in Utah

The Beehive State is indeed densely populated with Mormons (62 percent), as are some neighboring states. Still, Latter-day Saints are spread across the United States in small pockets of believers and congregations. There are more Mormons outside the U.S. (8.2 million) than in it (6.2 million).

6. Women can't be leaders or speak in the LDS Church

While it is true that the church's lay priesthood is restricted to males 12 and older, Mormon women lead the women's, young women's and children's organizations, teach scripture study and other classes, pray in services and preach from the pulpit.

7. All Mormons are Republicans

Nearly 60 percent of Mormons nationwide identify themselves as Republicans, compared with 14 percent who say they are Democrats, according to a 2011 report by researchers from Trinity College in Connecticut.

Mitt Romney, the first Mormon from a major political party to be nominated for president, is a Republican. But the highest-ranking elected Latter-day Saint is a Nevada Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. As an institution, the LDS Church trumpets a strict policy of neutrality in partisan politics.

8. A Mormon U.S. president would be a puppet of the LDS prophet

Mormon scripture addresses this issue directly. Doctrine and Covenants Section 134, adopted by the church in 1835, says Mormons "do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government."

9. Mormons baptize corpses

The LDS Church does not use dead bodies, but it does have living volunteers do vicarious baptisms for their deceased ancestors.

This ritual, known as "baptism for the dead," is performed in much the same way as it is for the living, except proxy ordinances are done only in Mormon temples. A white-clothed candidate, standing in a font of water about waist-high, represents the dead person. He or she is then immersed after the adult male baptizer (also wearing white) says these words: "Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and in behalf of (name of the deceased) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

A proxy baptism doesn't mean that person is automatically a Mormon in heaven. Latter-day Saints believe those who have passed on can choose to accept or reject the rite done in their names.

10. Mormons can't use birth control

LDS families have more children than the average American, but it's not because birth control is forbidden. The church teaches that having children is "the privilege of married couples," but the decision on how many to have or how to space them, according to the faith's Handbook for its leaders, "is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord."

11. Mormons get naked in the temple

LDS temple rituals are not open to the public, which is why there is much fantasy and exaggeration about what happens inside. Members dressed mostly in white participate in a ritual re-enactment of the creation, Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, mortal experiences of the world and the return to God's presence.

12. Mormons don't believe in the Bible


Bible, particularly the King James Version, is part of Mormon canonized scripture. It is one of four such books, including the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. The Bible is used in classroom discussions, quoted in sermons and essential to missionary outreach. An LDS tenet holds that Latter-day Saints "believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly."

Courtesy of The Salt Lake Tribune

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