On my last blog, I ran a post offering to answer questions about the Mormon faith. I noted that while the internet is full of information regarding the Mormons, much of it is inaccurate, some even bordering on the completely absurd. So I opened up the comments for questions, then tried my best to answer them. I’ve brought them with me to this blog, and list them here in question and answer form for easier reading. If you have a question not listed, feel free to leave a comment.
Q: Is it true that Mormons believe only a certain number of people will make it to heaven?
A: Mormons do not believe that only a certain number of people will make it to Heaven. We believe that God is a loving, merciful God who is also just in his dealings with men. God knows the hearts of his people and will judge them accordingly, but there is no number, no limit. His grace will reach to all who are willing to accept it.
Q: Is it true that the Bible Mormons use is different than the one Christians use?
A: Mormons use the King James version of the Bible, both the Old and New Testament. We believe the Bible to be the word of God. In addition to the Bible, we also recognize the Book of Mormon as the word of God. The Book of Mormon is a record of Christ’s dealings with the inhabitants of the American continents. It is reasonable to assume that when Christ lived and died in Jerusalem, the people in Israel were not the only people on earth. Jesus taught in the New Testament, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold, them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice…” (John 10:16)The Book of Mormon is a record of those “other sheep”. It was written by ancient prophets, just as the books in the Bible, and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of Christ’s Gospel.
Q: Is there a difference between Mormons and Christians?
A: The full name of the Mormon church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Our faith is centered around Jesus Christ and recognizes the all encompassing atoning sacrifice that He made when he suffered in the Garden of Gethsamane, and then died on the cross. Having been raised in the church, I cannot imagine considering myself anything other than a follower of Christ. If we are not considered Christian, I believe it is by those that do not understand our beliefs.
Q: Doesn’t the Book of Mormon contradict the Bible if the Bible says it is the one and only book?
A: Most often, mentions of a contradiction are making reference to several scriptures in the Bible (Deut.4:2, Rev.22, 18-19) that say “don’t add to this book”(very general paraphrasing). When these scriptures were written, the Bible did not exist as a canonized set of scriptures with a beginning and an end, and all books arranged in order within. It has even been suggested among biblical scholars that the order by which the books in the bible are arranged is not the order in which they were written. Would this not potentially nullify other books within the Bible, written at a later date than Deuteronomy or Revelations? When individual prophets recorded their experiences and the revelations they received from God,I believe they all would have hoped that their words would be left alone, not knowing how or if their words would be compiled into a larger book of scripture. We believe that the Book of Mormon is God’s word, revealed to his prophets. It is ancient scripture simply translated in a modern time. The Book of Mormon and the Bible do not contradict each other, but in fact, are quite complimentary in bearing a joint witness of Jesus Christ and his Divinity.
Q: Is it true that Mormons believe in Polygamy?
A: Mormons do not believe in polygamy. The standard of marriage within the church only allows marriage between one man and one wife. While polygamy was a part of the church’s past, and was practiced by some (certainly not all) members in it’s earliest days, the practice was discontinued in 1890 and is strictly prohibited by the church’s doctrine today. All those that do practice polygamy have nothing whatsoever to do with the Church, regardless of what they or the media claim.I do not know why polygamy was practiced in the early days of the church. Just as I’m not sure why it was practiced in Biblical times. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob each had, after all, more than one wife. My personal belief is that in both cases, it was practiced in an effort to raise up a righteous posterity and develop strength in numbers. When Abraham’s wife was barren, and he had no posterity, he took his wife Sarah’s handmaiden to wife, in order to raise up seed. That isn’t to indicate that every man ever practicing polygamy did so because his first wife was barren. But I do believe it was not practiced for self indulgent, selfish reasons. I take great comfort in knowing that in our day, the church only recognizes, blesses and sanctifies marriage between one man and one woman.
Q: Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series is Mormon. I’ve heard criticism of the books calling them “heavily Mormon.” Do you see Mormon influence in her books?
A: I have read the Twilight books, though it’s been a while. I think I remember thinking a few times that I could tell the author was Mormon, but it was probably only because I knew before reading that Stephenie Meyer IS Mormon. I don’t think there was anything so blatant that anyone could guess Meyer’s religion just from conclusions or parallels drawn from the story. I would imagine, if Meyer is anything like me, her faith influences the way that she does just about everything, including the way that she writes. It’s hard to separate who and what you are from who and what you create, you know? But to call the Twilight series heavily Mormon? It’s about vampires. I think that may be a stretch.
Q: What is baptism for the dead? Is it still practiced?
A: Jesus taught in the New Testament that man should, in order to “fulfill all righteousness,” enter into a covenant with Him, by being baptized. Mormons believe that Baptism is one of the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel, an ordinance necessary to our salvation. When you are baptized, you covenant with your Heavenly Father to obey his laws, to exercise faith, and repent of your sins and weaknesses, and thus receive and accept the healing blessing of the atonement. What then, of all the millions of souls that live and die without the opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ? Are they lost simply because they did not have the opportunity to be taught? We believe that God loves all his children, and wants all to hear of his word. Baptism for the dead is an ordinance done by proxy. This means that a person who is living is baptized for, and in behalf of someone else, who is dead; someone that did not have the opportunity to be baptized in this life. It’s important to recognize that the element of choice is still a part of performing baptisms for the dead. Though the ordinance is performed here on earth, we believe that every single soul who has passed on, and has proxy work done for them, has the opportunity to accept or reject the ordinance, just as we do when we are baptized in this life. Baptisms for the dead are still performed, and are considered sacred ordinances that are to be respected and reverenced. For this reason, they are only performed inside Holy Temples that have been consecrated for this work.
Q: Is it true that non-Mormons cannot go inside Mormon temples?
A: Yes, this is true. In fact, not all Mormons can go inside Mormon temples. Temples are lovely, sacred places. The work and the worshiping that goes on inside the temple is sacred and requires the highest levels of respect and reverence. For this reason, the doors of the temple are not open to just anyone, but to those that are prepared to understand the principles taught therein. It is not meant to be exclusive. The hope and desire of the church is that all members will have the opportunity to attend. Attendance in the temple is an event that requires much preparation, but is richly rewarding as well. In many respects, particularly from an outside perspective, I would imagine that temples seem secretive. I think sacred is a better word. It’s also worth noting that when new temples are built, before they are dedicated, an open house is held and anyone, of any faith can enter the temple and tour the entire thing. They are truly remarkable buildings, beautiful both inside and out. If you ever live somewhere when a new temple is being erected, I would absolutely encourage you to go to the open house.
Q: What are the different stages of heaven that Mormons believe in?
A: Mormon theology teaches that we are saved by grace, after all that we can do. A scripture in the Bible, James 2:20 reads “Faith without works is dead.” Indeed, it is through the grace of the atonement that each one of us is saved, but here, in this life, man has the opportunity to make and keep sacred covenants with our Heavenly Father, promising to strive daily to try and follow the example of Jesus Christ, serving others, loving and caring for those around us, thus qualifying for a higher degree of glory in the next life. There are three kingdoms of glory – the celestial, the terrestrial, and the telestial. The glory of the celestial kingdom is received by those that have accepted the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, repented of their sins and made the necessary covenants (such as baptism) with our Heavenly Father to live with Him and receive a fullness of joy. The glory of the terrestrial kingdom is received by those that do not accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ but still live honorable lives. The lowest kingdom, the telestial kingdom is for those that do not repent in this life and continue in their sins.
Q: Is it true that you have to be married within the Mormon church to make it to the top level of heaven?
A: In answering this question, I’m going to assume that you have read my last comment. If you haven’t, please do. I think it’s important to remember when discussing the different kingdoms of heaven that all levels are glorious far beyond anything we can comprehend. It’s heaven. All of it. And well, though I’ve never been there, I would imagine it’s… heavenly! Many elements of Mormon doctrine are difficult to explain without a basic understand of covenants… what they are, and why we make them. Baptism, for example, is a covenant–a two way promise with the Lord. When we are baptized, we promise to obey God’s laws, to willingly accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and to strive daily to live as He lived. In return, the Lord promises to comfort and bless us, to strengthen us and help us. When we make covenants with the Lord, we receive promised blessings in return. Marriage is also a covenant, not just to your spouse, but also to God. Marriage within a Mormon temple is a sacred and wonderful ceremony where man and wife are “sealed” or united together, not just till death do you part, but for all time and eternity. If, as a partnership, the couple honors and respects their marriage covenants and live faithfully, they will continue on as husband and wife in the next life. It is through this eternal union that individuals can receive the fullness of God’s blessings. While baptism is the gate that leads you to the highest degree of God’s glory, it is through an eternal marriage, and the covenants and promises that come with such a union, that one may obtain the highest glory WITHIN that kingdom. It is not meant to be an exclusive opportunity. There is no limited amount of room in the celestial kingdom. All are invited to learn and prepare and make the necessary covenants to attain it. Attending the temple does require a lot of preparation and a large measure of dedication to principles of faith and virtue, but it is worth it. There is little that brings me comfort like my own reflections on the eternal nature of my marriage.
Q: How does the Mormon Church feel about the NIV and New Century Version of the Bible as long as you’ve read the King James version?
A: The Mormon church uses the King James Version of the Bible, because it is the oldest translation and is therefore closest to the original words and text as they were written. In my own opinion, the problem with additional versions of the Bible is that any line of scripture may be interpreted in many different ways. While these interpretations may be well thought out and scholarly in their own right, they are still the opinion of whomever undertook the formidable task of interpreting the Bible. I think more can be gained from prayerfully studying the King James version, seeking God’s understanding and enlightenment as we ponder the words within. Certainly, additional commentaries and historical companions can assist our studying of the scriptures. I’m not sure I would ever understand a word of Isaiah without a little bit of additional insight from those who have spent much more time studying the Bible than I have!
Q: Is it true that Mormons aren’t supposed to drink coffee?
A: Yes, it is true. In 1839, the Lord revealed the Word of Wisdom to the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding what foods are good for us to eat, and what substances are not good for the human body. The Lord also promised health, protection, wisdom and knowledge to those who choose to obey the Word of Wisdom. The Word of Wisdom, briefly summarized, talks about the importance of eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables and meat, sparingly. It counsels the avoidance of alcohol, all tobacco products, coffee, and tea. Interesting story… the revelation was received when Joseph inquired of the Lord after his wife complained about the excessive amounts of tobacco juice she would clean from the floor after the men would gather for meetings. Rightly so, she found it disgusting and took her concern to her husband. He thought mightily on the matter, and then took the concern to the Lord. It was certainly a novel idea at the time. In 1839, it wasn’t widely known how damaging tobacco was to the body. In today’s world, however, the principles of the Word of Wisdom seem very basic… avoid damaging, addictive substances, eat healthy, take care of your body.
Q: How do Mormon’s feel about premarital sex – specifically if your spouse has had sex with someone else before you are married? Does that affect your union in heaven?
A: Premarital sex is definitely discouraged. Our faith teaches the principles of chastity – no sexual relations until you are married. This also means complete fidelity to your spouse once you are married. But… no one is perfect. Our faith also teaches of the Atonement – our Savior’s willingness to suffer all things so that we have the opportunity to be forgiven when we make mistakes. This forgiveness does not stop just short of immorality. It is absolutely possible to go through the cleansing process of repentance and be forgiven. When a person repents, with a sincere heart, there is no reason why an episode of premarital sex should or would interfere with the eternal nature of marriage.
Q: If Mormons are categorized as Christians and embrace another book of God, how come other denominations of Christianity didn’t openly accept this other book of God after it was discovered?
A: The Book of Mormon is, indeed, another book of scripture–another testament of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. I think hesitancy to accept the Book is due in large part, to the fact that its very origin challenges much of what traditional Christianity has always purported–that God no longer speaks to prophets on the earth, that the Bible is “closed” and that nothing should be added or taken away. In this regard, Mormon doctrine is different than traditional Christianity. We believe in a modern day prophet that leads and directs the Church, and we believe in the Book of Mormon, an additional book of scripture that does not take anything away from the Bible, but instead, bears additional testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ. I believe that the Book will always face opposition simply because it is true, and the adversary works mightily to hinder the progression of God’s work. Finally, a direct quote from the Gospel Topics page of LDS.org: “The primary evidence for the authenticity or truth of the Book of Mormon comes from God. As promised in the Book of Mormon, anyone can know of its truth by reading it and asking God with a sincere heart and with real intent to know that it is true (see Moroni 10:3–5). “With real intent” means that those who ask must be willing or committed to act upon a manifestation once it is received. Otherwise, there is no promise. The Holy Ghost confirms the truth by revelation directly to the individual. All other evidences for authenticity of the Book of Mormon are secondary. Millions of people have testified that they have received a personal witness from God by the power of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true.”
Perhaps not everyone has accepted the book because not everyone has asked.
Q: If non-Mormon’s are not able to enter your place of worship, how do you introduce people to your religion? Often with other denominations, it’s easy to invite someone and introduce them to your religion. How do you get someone interested or introduced to your religion?
A: Mormons have traditional meeting houses all over the world – regular church buildings where weekly meetings are held. These buildings are open to everyone! They are much like church buildings in other faiths – they have a Chapel, many classrooms for Sunday School meetings, even a cultural hall for social gatherings of all different kinds. Anyone is welcome to attend these regular meetings, and to enter these regular buildings. The doors are open to everyone, both Mormon and non-Mormon alike. By attending regular Sunday meetings, interacting with members, and meeting with missionaries, one can learn a great deal about the Mormon faith. There are plenty of really wonderful sources of information out there. The website, mormon.org is a great place to start, and can also refer you to the missionaries serving in your area if you are interested in learning more. The temple, on the other hand, is very different than our regular meetinghouses. A few questions up, I talk a great deal about the temple and the reasons why admittance to the temple is limited. Regular Sunday meetings are not held inside the temple. Attendance at the temple requires a great deal of preparation and is only open to someone that has been actively preparing themselves for the covenants that are made therein. One is required to be an active member of the church for at least a year before attending the temple.
Q: I have been reading about Mormonism because I appreciate the family centered-ness of the denomination. However I am a little hesitant about the race issue. Are Black people really accepted? Have you noticed a change since you were a child? I remember reading somewhere that Black men couldn’t hold some leadership position until the late 70s. Is that true?
A: In the 32 years that I have been a member of the church, I have never personally encountered any episodes of racism. My husband attended college in Columbia, South Carolina where our congregation of members was very diverse and included many black members. These members were accepted and loved and were among my very good friends. I imagine that many situations exist where someone has felt slighted or mistreated because of race, within the context of the church. If this has occurred, it must be attributed to the ill opinions and convictions of the individuals involved and not the doctrinal opinions of the church as a whole. Having said that, it is true that until 1978 priesthood authority was withheld from men of African decent. This is a difficult thing for many members of our faith to understand. I don’t know why it was withheld, but I do know that it was with great joy that President Spencer W. Kimball, then President of the Church extended the blessings of the priesthood to all worthy men, regardless of lineage or race. The Gospel of today is one of love and acceptance for all. We are all children of God and are loved just the same. Because this is such a complex issue, I’m linking over to a useful and informative site that may provide some additional insight to your question. This site is not church owned or operated, but is written and updated by a regular member just like me. Except, he’s a great deal smarter than I am. Jeff Lindsay’s Page on Mormons, Blacks, and the Issues of Race. There is also a website created by the LDS Church to address this topic which I find particularly insightful: BlackLDS.org
I’ll conclude with this thought: There are many things in the history of this nation that don’t necessarily make me proud. I’m not proud that here in the south, there was a time when black and white children had to drink from different water fountains, or eat in different restaurants, or use different books at school. But I am proud of how far our country has come. I still gladly call myself an American, even though there are parts of America’s history that I don’t understand, that I’m not proud of. The same holds true for my faith. I don’t understand why the priesthood was withheld, but I’m so grateful, so proud that we are in a place today where it is no longer an issue. I believe that God is perfect–that his Gospel is perfect. But those of us that are in it, even those that are leading it on the earth, are still human, flawed and imperfect. But I do believe we are doing the best we can, and that we are moving in the right direction–the direction that God wants us to go.
Q: Tell me more about the undergarments. Do you wear it all the time? At what age do you start wearing them? Are they the same for men and women? Does it kind of look like a wetsuit, but made out of cotton? Is it true it can’t touch the ground?
A: Before I answer this question, please understand that garments are sacred in nature, and are thus not discussed at great length. I’ll answer generally though, to give you a clearer understanding of what they are, and why we wear them. Adult members of the church that have attended the temple wear an undergarment, called “garments”, as a representation of the covenants they have made within the temple. These garments serve as a reminder – an outward sign of an inward commitment that has been made to follow the Savior, to try and live our lives worthy of Him. They are comfortable to wear, and should be worn at all times, except when activities require more practical clothing. I don’t wear mine when I exercise or when I swim. (I mean really. Does anyone wear underwear when they swim?) Because they represent something so significant, they should be treated with respect, and cared for as you would care for any article of clothing that is special to you. Garments for men and women are the same in that they hold the same significance, but are different enough to accommodate, well, the obvious differences between men and women. It’s worn as underwear – and men’s and women’s underwear is always cut a bit differently, yes?
Q: A friend told me that Mormons believe they can become a God. Is that true?
A: We believe that through the atonement of Christ, mankind has the opportunity to be saved from physical death, be resurrected and receive exaltation. What is exaltation? It is “eternal life, the kind of life God lives. He lives in great glory. He is perfect. He possesses all knowledge and all wisdom. He is the Father of spirit children. He is a creator. We can become like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation.” Gospel Principles, p. 276. The goal is to dwell with our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ – to live forever in Their presence. But being a perfected being, living in God’s presence does not change the Supreme nature of God the Father. He is the one true God. He is the Almighty, the creator of all things, the one God we will forever worship, in this life, and the next.
Q: Can Mormons divorce and remarry? What happens to the eternal union?
A: Mormons can divorce and remarry. Divorce rates are generally much lower among those married in the temple, but it does happen. An eternal union is based on worthiness. If a breaking of covenants leads to divorce, adultery for example, the union is dissolved so as not to hinder the progression of the offended spouse. When covenants have not been broken, temple divorce isn’t quite as easy to come by as a civil divorce. But it is, in some circumstances, possible.
Q: Would Mormon’s be open to attending a church service of another denomination?
A: One of the most important things that takes place in our Sunday meetings is the taking of the Sacrament – bread and water taken in remembrance of the blood and body of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The sacrament is an ordinance – an opportunity for us to renew the covenants and promises that we made with our Heavenly Father when we were baptized. It is a time for us to repent, to be forgiven of our many mistakes and errors made throughout the week. I can only answer for myself in this regard, but the sacrament is what makes it so important for me to attend my own church whenever possible. Having said that, there is no rule that prevents Mormons from attending or not attending other churches with friends or family. If there was a good reason, a positive benefit from doing so, I see no reason not too. For me personally though, it would be difficult to do so if it meant missing meetings at my own church. They’re pretty important to me – a highlight, in many ways, of my entire week.
Q: Do you attend church while on vacation?
The decision to attend church while on vacation is a personal one. For my family, when it’s possible to attend church when we are away from home, we always do. Sometimes, it isn’t possible and we do the best we can to keep the Sabbath day holy in light of whatever our circumstances are at the time. One of the things I love the most about my church is that the doctrines and teachings are universal. On any given Sunday, if you attend a Mormon church in North Carolina, or in California, in Paris, France or a tiny island in the South Pacific, you’re generally going to get the same Sunday School lesson. People are different, cultures are different, but the truths of the Gospel are the same, no matter where you go.
Q: Do Mormons believe in Hell?
A: The short answer to this question is yes. Mormons do believe in hell. The word, however, depending on context, refers to two different places. Let me explain. We believe that everyone, whether in this life, or the next will have the opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ and accept his teachings. For those spirits that do no have the opportunity to do so in this life, or who live in a manner unbecoming of Christ’s teachings, a temporary spirit prison exists where these spirits will dwell until the Second Coming of Christ and the Resurrection. In the scriptures, this place is often referred to as hell. The difference from traditional Protestant belief is that we believe that from this hell, man can be taught principles of the Gospel and accept Jesus Christ and be redeemed from their miserable state. The scriptures teach us the conditions upon which we may gain eternal life and live with our Father in heaven forever. We must know and accept his Son, Jesus Christ. I find it comforting to know that the way is not lost for those that do not have the opportunity to learn of him in this life. They can still be taught, can still accept Him and receive the blessings of the Atonement. In other instances, Hell refers to outer darkness – the realm of the devil and his angels. It is a place for those that cannot be redeemed by the Atonement because they committed the unpardonable sin – that of denying the Holy Spirit after having received it, and “having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame.” (Doctrine and Covenants, 76:35) From this Hell, there is no redemption, no end to eternal suffering.
Q: If one of your children grew up to regret the Mormon church, how would that affect your relationship?
A: This is a tough question. My children are still young. It’s hard to imagine how I might feel. What I do know is that my children are my children, no matter the choices they make in life. I hope that I will always maintain relationships of love and trust and understanding, even if they eventually make choices that I do not agree with. We spend a great deal of time teaching our children to study and ponder the scriptures on their own, to pray to their Heavenly Father for wisdom and insight. We teach them about filling their own lamps with oil. They may stand and enjoy the light of their parents’ lamps for only so long before they need to know for themselves, before they will need to have their own light to live by. I hope and pray that they will grow to love the Gospel as I do – that they will realize the blessings, the peace and joy that come from living as a disciple of Jesus Christ. But they will have to know for themselves. In our home, the Gospel is something that makes it easier for us to love one another, to express that love, and to understand our purpose here, in this life, as a family. It is not something that forces extra rules or pressures uncomfortably. I hope, for that reason, that even if my children choose to live differently, regret is not a word they will ever use.
Do you have a question I haven’t answered here? If you do, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll add your question to the list.