In the various articles, blogs, and comments related to Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, the Mormon honesty problem has come up. “Why didn’t Mitt Romney talk about what Mormons really believe?” asked one writer. “Mormons feel it is okay to lie about their beliefs,” stated a radio caller.
So do Mormons lie about their beliefs?
All practicing Mormons must answer the question, “Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow man?” in the affirmative in order to be able to attend an LDS temple, so they are often puzzled by these statements and questions. But Mormon answers aren’t really the problem. The honesty problem has more to do with what Evangelical Christians are taught about Mormons than with Mormon belief itself.
In a survey done by FAIR, over 65% of responding pastors said that they had sponsored classes at their Church on Mormonism. Most people love their church and their pastors. They have seen their pastor spend countless hours in helping people and doing their best to teach their congregations. But in teaching about Mormonism, only 2% of those pastors actually invited Mormons to explain their beliefs. The rest relied on anti-Mormon ministries and publications for their information.
The goal of these professional anti-Mormon ministries is to keep people away from Mormonism. They want to protect the flock from any Mormon “sheep-stealing” missionaries. To accomplish their goal they sensationalize, distort, misunderstand, misread, and misrepresent LDS doctrine and scripture. It is from this group that we learn that Mormonism is a cult. It is this group that provides most of the information on Mormonism on the Internet. So when Evangelicals start conversations with their Mormon acquaintances, they already “know” Mormons belong to a cult, even if they can’t remember why.
On the other side of this equation, we have the Mormons. Mormons have a completely different way of looking at doctrine. They tend to classify doctrine into that which is important and that which is speculation. The important things are mostly reflected in the temple recommend questions and focus on core doctrines such as Jesus is our Savior, God is our Father, keep the commandments, God speaks to us today, and the Bible and The Book of Mormon are the word of God. Other important beliefs are that we lived with God before this life and after this life we will all be resurrected and enter one of the kingdoms of glory. These are all beliefs that define Mormonism.
Mormon speculation deals with doctrinal areas where there are hints in scripture, but no explanations. These areas are less sure, less defined, and frequently completely unknown. Questions in this area would include: what was it like in the pre-existence? Where did God come from? What exactly will it be like in the afterlife? Because these areas are unknown, a good practicing Mormon is free to believe and say anything he or she wants about them. We have a long history of commenting on these areas, yet most everyone understands that these are areas of personal opinion and speculation.
The honesty problem comes up when the Evangelical world and the Mormon world collide. The questions posed to Mormons come from a basis in anti-Mormonism meant to expose how the Mormons are weird and belong to a cult. Is Jesus Satan’s brother? Is there a God before God? Where does God live? Will you be creating your own planet? While you can find something written by a Mormon somewhere on all these items, these questions fall into the speculative area and are not core doctrines of Mormonism. This means if you ask several different Mormons, you will likely get several different answers. And Mormons have no problem with that.
When the religious issue came up for Mitt Romney, Mormon honesty became a factor. The real truth is that most of the discussions on Mormonism haven’t been about Mormonism at all, but a discussion of speculation, anti-Mormon issues, and bigotry. That is where we need a little more honesty.
Before closing, I would like to turn for a short time to another topic–the passing of President Hinckley. We all knew it was coming; we all knew this day would arrive. That doesn’t change the shock and surprise that comes with hearing the news of his passing, however.
President Hinckley was, to put it mildly, an inspiration for many people, LDS and not. His boundless energy and eternal optimism gave voice to the best to which we, as humans, aspire. He attempted to live his life in concert with the will of his Father, and he showed us how to be like Christ in our everyday lives.
President Hinckley will be dearly missed.