Writers, online posts seek to make Mormonism's unknown known

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 29 2012 8:44 a.m. MDT

Actor Jon Voight arrives on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.

Associated Press

The Washington Post reports that actor Jon Voight dropped in on the Virginia delegation to the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Monday and shared a story about the long romance of Mitt and Ann Romney. According to Voight, the couple first met in grade school, but when they met again in high school, Voight said Romney told him that he saw Ann in a different way.

"I don't know what that means for Mormons," Voight said.

There seems to be a lot of that — not knowing about Mormons — going around these days. And a few writers — both LDS and otherwise — are stepping up to correct misinformation in an attempt to make the unknown known.

Kelly Foss of Examiner.com responded to a comment made by Fox News political analyst Juan Williams last week, in which he wondered why "a person could walk into a black church and see what is going on but he couldn't do that in a Mormon Temple."

"In fairness," Foss noted, "he's not the only person who still doesn't understand the distinction between regular church and temples in the Mormon faith. Hopefully if he did, he wouldn't have been so condemning of the church on national TV."

Foss, who is LDS, explains that Mormon meetinghouses are "where weekly worship services plus weekday family and community activities take place."

"These buildings are open to the public and many visitors stop by," Foss wrote. "There are thousands of them in the USA, they're easy to find and nearly every one of them has a worship service Sunday morning starting at 9 local time."

He referred his readers to an official LDS Church explanation of Mormon worship services on mormon.org.

Foss also explained that LDS temples are different than LDS meetinghouses. Although the public is invited to tour temples prior to their dedication, as is currently ongoing with the church's new Brigham City Utah Temple, "after a temple is dedicated … it becomes a sacred place in the Mormon faith and it is closed to the public. From then on, only the Mormon faithful are allowed to enter."

Having sacred places as part of a faith tradition is not unusual, Foss notes, and he points out a number of different examples from the world of faith.

"Sacredness," he said, "should be a part of faith."

Appreciation for the sacred is also at the heart of the explanation of LDS temple garments provided by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, managing editor of The Moderate Voice and a devoted Catholic.

Although the Internet posting includes a photograph of LDS temple garments, which some Mormons may consider to be disrespectful or even offensive, Estes' story is respectful in its attempt to explain the temple garment to readers who don't understand what they are and what they mean to Latter-day Saints.

Referring to other items of sacred or ceremonial clothing worn by other faith groups, Estes writes that the LDS garment exists "to remind (wearers) of the covenants made … (and) also as protection against what I'd call 'the worldly world.’ ” She brusquely calls references to them as "magic underwear" and other pejoratives "derisive."

Although she is not LDS, she expresses admiration for "the purest hearts that daily strive to remain so" with reminders from these "material manifestations of cloth and thread" as "a way of remembering Who is Who, and who is who."

She quotes the late LDS general authority Elder Carlos E. Asay, who said that the garment "strengthens the wearer to resist temptation, fend off evil influences and stand firmly for the right."

Bruce D. Jones, a local LDS Church leader in Morristown, N.J., similarly tried to help people know a little more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by writing as a guest columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger about "five myths about Mormons." The five "myths" that he addressed were:

All Mormons live in Utah ("More than half of its 14 million members live outside the United States," Jones wrote. "You could attend services in Mexico, Mongolia or Mozambique.")

Mormons do not believe in Christ ("Detractors may debate what it means to be Christian, but we simply follow Jesus Christ," Jones said. "If you were to attend church services in any of our seven congregations in northwestern New Jersey, you would be hard-pressed to find evidence to the contrary.")

Mormons vote as they are told ("Certainly, our members share values, but those values do not dictate political affiliation," said Jones, who is president of the LDS Church's Morristown New Jersey Stake. "Our church easily accommodates both the Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.")

Mormons shun the outside world ("Many misinterpret our strong sense of community with a desire to exclude," he said, adding, "Our Sunday services are open to all. We seek to build community. And we aid those around us, particularly during disasters.")

Mormons have many wives (Although the church officially discontinued polygamy more than 120 years ago, Jones said, "this myth persists, even among my most educated acquaintances.")

"In the coming weeks, campaign rhetoric will increase," Jones said. "As Americans scrutinize the Republican candidate, you may hear the less informed repeat these myths. No matter whom you support, please keep these myths from perpetuating."

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