There are a number of myths about Mormons and their faith which are perpetuated by people who do not fully understand the doctrine and beliefs of adherents to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In addition to being wrong, some of these myths are also harmful, because they make it difficult to have an honest dialog about the faith, and what it means to be Mormon.
For one thing, there are several different branches of Mormonism that diverged from the original church that was restored by Joseph Smith in 1820, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or LDS. In addition to the LDS, there is also the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a sect which split in the mid-20th century. The Community of Christ, Church of Christ, and Church of Jesus Christ all also follow the teachings of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Members of various Mormon sects tend to reject the validity of others.
One of the most-commonly disseminated myths about Mormons is that they are polygamists. While early members of the Church did practice plural marriage, the practice was outlawed in 1890, and in fact polygamy is grounds for excommunication from the Church. Certain members of the FLDS do practice polygamy, but they do not represent the bulk of Mormons worldwide. Like many Christians, most Mormons believe that marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman.
Some people also think that Mormons are not Christians, or that Mormons do not believe in Jesus Christ. This is not true. Like all Christians worldwide, Mormons recognize Jesus Christ, His life, and His works, and they believe in His teachings. They differ with other Christian denominations on some doctrinal issues, rejecting the Catholic concept of the Holy Trinity, for example, but they are most definitely a Christian denomination. Members of the Latter Day Saint Movement are considered “restorationist Christians,” restoring Christianity to its original state and rejecting the “Great Apostasy” of alterations to the Christian faith.
The idea that women are somehow viewed as lesser among adherents to the Mormon church is also wrong. In fact, men and women are treated equally, and the faith places a heavy emphasis on living as a family and working as partners. Marriage is a critical part of the Mormon faith, and some Mormon couples participate in a Temple Sealing, a marriage ceremony which is meant to be eternal, meaning that it persists beyond death. Women historically played a very active role in the church, and they continue to do so, serving at many levels of the Mormon ministry.
One of the more bizarre myths about Mormons is that they baptize the dead. In fact, Mormons hold ceremonies with people known as Temple Proxies who stand in for people who were not able to be baptized into the Church in life. Temple Proxies usually stand in for deceased ancestors. They may also stand as proxies for Temple Sealings for ancestors who were unable to undergo this ceremony in their lifetimes.
A great deal of discussion also swirls around the Temple garment, sometimes slangily referred to as “Mormon underwear.” Mormons do not, in fact, wear “magic underwear,” as some myths about Mormons might have you believe. The Temple garment is worn as a reminder of the individual covenant with God, and specific markings on the garment stand for different things. Temple garments are worn by members of the faith who have undergone an endowment ceremony in a Mormon temple, and while they are encouraged to wear the garments on a regular basis, they are not required to wear them at all times. They are also not a topic for casual conversation among devout Mormons.
One of the best ways to dispel myths about Mormons or members of other religious faiths is to talk directly with adherents of these faiths. Many Mormons are happy to discuss the nature of their faith with people who are curious, and in fact, the Church will even send missionaries to your home by request to talk about their faith.