My family and me at the LDS Temple just outside Washington, D.C.
With Mitt Romney on the ballot, there have been quite a few news stories coming out lately about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka, the "Mormon Church." If you've been following my blog for awhile now, you've probably figured out that yes, I'm a Mormon! I decided to take today's Spiritual Sundays post and tell you a little bit about my background in this religion and what it means to me.
Both of my parents are converts to the church. They converted before I was born, so I have grown up in the church. Even with that upbringing, however, my parents have always encouraged me to gain my own faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, quite simply, I don't believe just because they do, and I don't just go to church because I'm used to it. I have a real strong faith that it's the true church.
Some say that our church is a cult. By the popular definition of the word cult, that is untrue. However, if you look at the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of "cult", you could certainly categorize Mormonism under that definition:
1. formal religious veneration
2. a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also its body of adherents3. a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also its body of adherents4. a great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work
I clarify this definition only to point out that virtually any world religion could be labeled a cult, and that Mormonism is really not that different.
So why do people think we're so different? Here are a few questions you might have and some explanations straight from a Mormon!
Q: The "Mormon" label- are Mormons Christians?
A: YES! We are Christians. "Mormons" is really just a nickname derived from a book of holy scripture that is unique to our church, The Book of Mormon.
Q: What's the Book of Mormon?
A: The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. It contains the records of the people living on the American continent a few hundred years before and after Christ's earthly ministry. It also contains a beautiful account of His visit to the people on the American continent after His resurrection.
Q: What about the bible?
A: We believe in the Bible, too!! Old Testament and New Testament, absolutely. We prefer to utilize the King James Version.
Q: So you do believe in Jesus Christ?
A: YES, YES, YES! I cannot emphasize this enough. The name of our church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that He is our Savior and Redeemer, and that it is only through Him that we can be saved. We believe in His atonement and we honor it and renew our covenants to be faithful to Him each Sunday when we partake of the holy sacrament.
Q: No drinking, no smoking, no coffee, no tea...what's with that?
A: We're not trying to be little goody-two-shoes (okay, well, I guess we are) but we follow a code called The Word of Wisdom. This "health code" identifies certain substances that are more addictive and therefore potentially harmful to our bodies. Smoking is a pretty obvious one, and alcohol is addictive enough that it's just not a good idea to even start. Coffee and tea contain high levels of caffeine that are mood-altering and addictive as well.
Q: I heard you have a prophet. Does he think he's like Moses or something?
A: Well, in the sense that he is God's mouthpiece on earth, then yes, he is like Moses. He does not, however, have a long beard and walk around in robes with a big staff. His name is Thomas S. Monson, he wears a suit, is usually smiling (he has a great sense of humor!) and he absolutely exudes love. We believe that God continues to lead and guide his people through modern-day revelation. We don't worship the prophet, we know he is a man, but we listen to what he says, usually gentle reminders that God loves us and that we can be better people.
What's interesting about the fact that we have a prophet on the earth today is that he leads the church much like prophets did in biblical times. We also have 12 apostles, just like then. Our church is organized just as it was by Christ's direction long ago.
If you would like to see and hear the prophet, you can check out his closing talk from our church's semiannual conference a few weeks ago. There's a place in the sidebar that says, "watch" and you can see the video.
Q: What's with all the secret temple stuff?
A: We prefer to refer to the things that happen inside the temple as being "sacred" rather than "secret." What's the difference? Well, because they are sacred they require a certain mindset. If we were to allow people to come in from off the street and watch temple ceremonies, they would most likely be confused and the ceremony would have a very different feeling to it. Before one is allowed to attend the temple for such ceremonies, one must be a baptized member of the church. That's not because it's an exclusive club, it's because when you are baptized you make certain covenants with God, and you promise yourself to His service. Even after you are baptized, you must wait at least a year before entering the temple (and you must be at least 18 years old for most of the ceremonies) and you must have an interview with your bishop (like a pastor) to determine your worthiness to enter the temple. He makes sure that you have been keeping your baptismal covenants and that your heart is dedicated to the Lord. Then, when you enter the temple, you are able to fully understand the ceremonies, and you are surrounded by others with a similar dedication to God. Within that environment, the Spirit of the Lord can be felt and wonderful truths can be learned.
Q: Okay, but what kind of ceremonies?
A: Because they are sacred, I will not go into detail. But let me say that there are no blood sacrifices, no weird chanting or anything like that. The two primary ordinances that take place in the temple are the sealing (marriage) ceremony and the endowment ceremony. They are quiet, teaching experiences as you learn more about who you are, where you came from, and what is in store for you in this life and the life to come. You make special promises to God to keep His commandments, and I always leave the temple feeling uplifted, like I have just experienced a bit of heaven on earth. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit dwells in temples.
Q: So why do you believe it?
A: For me, I believe that God's affirmation of truth is a feeling of pure joy. Joy that is not tied to any earthly desire. The more I learn about this religion (because even now I am still learning!) the more joy I discover. I have the answers to life's questions- Who am I? Where am I going? Why am I here? And I feel the love of God in my life every day. The more I follow the teachings of this gospel, the happier I am.
I love that I don't need a cup of coffee to wake me up in the morning. I love that I never had to worry about STDs or teen pregnancy because I vowed to save myself for my husband. I love that I was able to marry a man who had promised the same thing, and that we both know we're in it for forever, not just till death we do part. I love that my husband celebrates my role as his wife and as a mother to our children, because our church teaches him what a special calling that is. I love that I respect him and honor him as my husband because this religion teaches me what a special duty he has to me and our family. I love that I have a clear moral path that I can teach to my children, about how to live and love as the Savior did. I love that I know that when I keep the promises I made at baptism and in the temple that God will keep His promises to me, and that I can someday live with Him and my family together forever. I know that this life is about much more than my time on earth- that I existed before I came here and I will exist after I die. I am a spiritual daughter of God.
Simply put, I love that I have The Truth. Not a truth, not some truth, but The Truth, all of it, simple and perfect. I can question till I'm blue in the face but there's always an answer that brings me joy.
I hope that this post has helped to answer some questions you might have. If you have any more questions or anything you might be curious about, PLEASE leave a comment or e-mail me if it's something you don't want to share with other readers. I love to answer questions and share my joy! :-)
For more about what I believe as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please visit www.mormon.org.
Linking up to: