Debunking the Myths About Mormonism

With it now being all but certain that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for President of the United States in 2012, you will no doubt hear a number of interesting myths about the Governor Romney’s religion.  Each of us will have to decide for ourselves how much of an effect a candidate’s religious beliefs should have on who we vote for, but if the candidate’s religious beliefs are going to have any effect at all, then it’s important to understand them.  Unfortunately, Mitt Romney belongs to one of the most misunderstood religious denominations in the United States.

Here are some of the myths about Mormonism that will be addressed here:

Political Myth: Mormons practice polygamy.
Political Myth: If Mitt Romney were to be elected President, he would be required by the the cannons of his faith to obey the President of the LDS Church on public policy matters.
Political Myth: Mormons are not Christians.


Political Myth: Mormons practice polygamy.

Reality: Not since 1890

Explanation

By far the largest “Mormon” denomination is the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints, but as with any other major religious movement, there are “splinter factions,” in addition to the primary “official” Mormon church.  Of course, each “splinter faction” believes that it, rather than the “official” Mormon church is the one true Mormon church, but it is beyond the scope of this article to try and adjudicate the question of who is, and isn’t a “real Mormon.”  Many minor “splinter” factions of Mormonism (e.g. the Latter-Day Church of Christ, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days) do, indeed, practice polygamy, but since Mitt Romney is a member of the larger, “official” Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, that has no bearing on him.

As for the “official”  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — the one that Mitt Romney belongs to — in 1890 Church President Wilford Woodruff issued Official Declaration I, which expressly forbids members of the Church from entering into plural marriages.  That declaration remains in force today.

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Political Myth: If Mitt Romney were to be elected President, he would be required by the the cannons of his faith to obey the President of the LDS Church on public policy matters.

Reality: He expressly denies this, and so does the LDS Church.

Explanation

This concern hearkens back to the Election of 1960, when some voters were concerned that John F. Kennedy, as a Roman Catholic, would be required to take direction from the Pope in executing his duties as President. Kennedy responded to this by tackling the issue head-on, and saying, in a speech he gave to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association:

I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

When essentially the same issue was raised in 2007, Mitt Romney took a page from Kennedy’s playbook and gave a speech of his own, in which he said:

Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints itself has an official policy that states, in relevant part:

The Church does not . . . [a]ttempt to direct or dictate to a government leader.

*  *  *

Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated Church position. While the Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent.

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Political Myth: Mormons are not Christians.

Reality: Mormonism is a type of Christianity

Explanation

There is a great deal of controversy between Christians over the question of who is, and who isn’t, really a Christian.  But here is a small excerpt of what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints has to say about Jesus:

Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the Son of God. He is our Redeemer. The Holy Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ’s mother was Mary, His father on earth was Joseph, that He was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, and labored with Joseph as a carpenter. When he turned 30, He began a three-year ministry of teaching, blessing, and healing the people of the Holy Land. He also organized His Church and gave His apostles “power and authority” (Luke 9:1) to assist in His work.

*   *   *

Jesus Christ is the only way by which we can return to live with our Heavenly Father. Jesus suffered and was crucified for the sins of the world, giving each of God’s children the gift of repentance and forgiveness. Only by His mercy and grace can anyone be saved. . . . Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and He will be our Lord forever.

At first face, those seem like distinctly Christian sentiments.  But yet, there is a segment of the Christian population who seem to think that at least a few of the Mormon’s belief are incompatible with their idea of what a “Christian” is.  The most controversial of those beliefs is that God the Father and Jesus Christ were two separate, flesh and blood people.

In the year 325, shortly after Constantine I became the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, he called together a council of the major theologians of the time to settle some of the major theological disputes of the time. One of those disputes concerned the relationship between Jesus (the son of God), and God the Father. Arius led a faction that argued that God the Father created Jesus — making God the Father and Jesus two different people, while Alexander led a faction that argued that God the Father and Jesus were equally divine and co-eternal (i.e. one did not “create” the other). Alexander won the debate, and the followers of Alexander became Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, while the followers of Arius became “heretics.” Then the Reformation came along in 16th Century, and some of the Roman Catholic followers of Alexander became Protestants — though they continued to follow Alexander. Meanwhile, those who disagreed with Alexander remained “heretics.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

Many churches across the country are so committed to Alexander’s idea that they have incorporated the practice of reciting the Nicean Creed into their worship service. But the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints does not, because they do not agree with the position Alexander took at the First Council of Nicea. They believe, instead, that Jesus was literally the son of God the Father, meaning not only that Jesus and God the Father are two separate people, but that God the Father, in a sense, “outranks” Jesus.

So the question that raises is this: Does the fact that Mormons do not accept the Nicean Creed exclude them from being Christians? If it does, then also excluded from Christianity would be Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, Christian Scientists, the Society of Friends (“Quakers”), and many others. In other words, if Mitt Romney becomes president, his non-trinitarian beliefs would put him in company with such presidents as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Richard Nixon, Dwight D. Eisenhower, William Howard Taft, and Millard Fillmore.

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