In August (2010) Jerry Johnston at Mormon Times wrote about the general negative impression Americans hold in regard to members of the LDS Church. He noted that Mormonism has always been misunderstood, regardless of the Church’s long-standing efforts to put fears about Mormons and Mormonism to rest. Citing Joseph Smith’s Articles of Faith provided to newspaper editor John Wentworth in 1842, Mr. Johnston wrote,
“…behind the lines of most of the Articles of Faith, I hear the subtle message, ‘Don’t fear us. We’re not threatening. We’re a lot like you.’… Despite Joseph’s efforts, of course, the dislike and distrust continued. They continue today.”
Mr. Johnston mused,
“I sometimes wonder what would happen if LDS leaders were to publish a new set of one-sentence declarations that begin with the words ‘We do not believe …’
“‘We do not believe in the practice of polygamy.’
“‘We do not believe in discrimination.’
“‘We do not believe we are above the law.'”
This got me thinking. Maybe a negative list like this isn’t a bad idea.
The three items on Mr. Johnston’s list represent some specific misperceptions that trouble the reputation of Mormonism today. A flat denial of these things, though, does not go very far in alleviating the distrust of non-Mormons. I think it would be more helpful to fill out these denials with a little additional information. My (factual) tongue-in-cheek suggestions are offered here:
“We do not believe in the practice of polygamy. We gave that up over 100 years ago. But until that time, we did not believe a man could achieve the fullness of salvation without multiple wives.”
“We do not believe in discrimination. We gave that up in 1978 when the ban pertaining to people of African decent was lifted and Blacks were allowed full church membership rights. But until that time, we did not believe a person of African decent would overcome that divine curse and receive the fullness of salvation until all non-Black people were already redeemed.”
“We do not believe we are above the law. We gave that up when we realized that we couldn’t win the battle against the U.S. government over polygamy. But until that time, we did not believe the laws of the land could constrain us from ‘living our religion’ (e.g., polygamy, blood atonement, etc.).”
In addition to Mr. Johnston’s points, there are several other items I’d really like to see on an LDS “We do not believe” list. For starters, how about:
- We do not believe in only one true God.
- We do not believe God has been God from all eternity.
- We do not believe Jesus is God, uncreated and eternally God.
- We do not believe in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
- We do not believe the Bible is trustworthy or a sufficient guide to lead people to God.
- We do not believe that Jesus’ sacrifice is able to cleanse people from every kind of sin.
- We do not believe that anyone is saved by the grace of God alone.
- We do not believe salvation can be had without accepting Joseph Smith.
- We do not believe God is “well pleased” with any church other than ours.
I can imagine some Latter-day Saints objecting to this list. And though I followed Mr. Johnston’s lead on this, I don’t claim to know what each individual Mormon believes. Yet, if Mormons object to any items on the list above, we would be required to add one more defining declaration:
- We do not believe the words of our latter-day prophets, seers and revelators.