Former Mormon: What Americans Need to Know About Mormonism
This post originally appeared inAway Point.
When religious minorities run for public office, people get worried about whether loyalty to their creed or religious hierarchy may affect their ability to perform elected duties. How might Mitt Romney’s faith affect his social, economic or diplomatic priorities? Should Americans be wary at the prospect of a devout Mormon president? Garrett Amini is a Seattle web developer, a past leader in the secular student movement, and former Mormon. He studied the Mormon religion first as an insider and then as a skeptic.
Valerie Tarico: You grew up Mormon, but left the faith as a young adult.
Garrett Amini: I did. I was raised in a devout Mormon family and was highly active in the church in my youth. I began to doubt after going to the temple prior to serving a mission for the church, and spent the next year studying every aspect of the faith I could, eventually concluding that it was false. I still find it fascinating, however, and spend a significant amount of time reading and researching about the faith.
Tarico: How would you describe Mormonism briefly to your average American who has grown up surrounded by Protestant or Catholic Christianity?
Amini: It helps to know a little history. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith in the 1820s in upstate New York. As the teachings go, Smith prayed and asked which branch of Christianity was the right one, receiving a vision telling him that none of them were true to God’s plan and that he should start a new denomination. He was also visited by the angel Moroni, who directed him to find a buried record of a lost ancient civilization of Christians living in the Americas. The records were written on golden plates in what Smith described as “reformed Egyptian,” and Smith was given the ability to translate the records into what we now know as the Book of Mormon.
Mormons believe that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are scriptures from God, and focus upon the atonement of Jesus Christ. They are not trinitarian, and believe Christ and the Holy Ghost to be distinct individuals separate from Heavenly Father. They also believe that there is a living prophet on Earth who continues to receive revelation from God.
The early history of the church is tumultuous – the church moved several times in the eastern states to avoid persecution. Eventually, Smith was killed by a mob at Carthage Jail in Illinois in 1844, and Brigham Young led the church westward to Utah Territory. In part because of the early isolation in Utah, they tend to form close knit communities and extended family networks. The Church places a lot of emphasis on service and on proselytizing, and young Mormons often dedicate two years to serve as missionaries.
Tarico: Do Mormons think of themselves as Christians?
Amini: Yes, absolutely. In fact, it may even be offensive to a Mormon to say that they are not Christians. Mormons define their gospel and teachings to be centered around Jesus.
Tarico: How is Mormonism different than Protestant or Catholic Christianity?
Amini: Mormonism was initially very similar to other protestant faiths – the Book of Mormon itself contains little (doctrinally) that would contradict most forms of Christianity. As Mormonism developed, through ongoing revelation through Joseph Smith, the church became increasingly doctrinally unique. Brigham Young’s presidency in Utah near the end of the 19th Century saw some of the most distinctive doctrines take shape.
Since Mormonism has become less isolated in the past 80 years or so, the doctrine has drifted away from some of the more unique doctrines. Modern Mormon leaders now emphasize doctrinal points that are not far from other Protestant Christian views.