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Latter-day Saints and Anti-Mormons

Part I: A lie is a lie, even if it’s about something you don’t like

Latter-day Saints and Anti-Mormons

Well, technically they’re called ‘garments’. I’m not sure if they come in Nomex / Larry D. Curtis via KUTV

Iwas raised in a family that were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints[1] and like other children of Latter-day Saint families, I was baptized at the age of 8. My mother was also raised in a Latter-day Saint family, and my father was a convert to the Church in his 20’s.

Growing up, my family was very active in the Church. We attended meetings regularly—rarely missing a Sunday—and participated in most (if not all) other church-sponsored activities. My father served as the bishop of our ward[2] when I was around 12 years old, and I was active in the Boy Scout troop that our ward sponsored[3] with my parents both playing active roles at various times in its leadership.

I remained active in the Church until high school graduation, and completed 4 years of seminary.[4] I must admit however, that by my senior year of high school, my involvement in church activities was due more to parental mandate, rather than any feelings of religious conviction, willingness or desire. I was beginning to have serious doubts and reservations about the Church (and religion in general) by this point in my life, and I haven’t been active in any religion or church for about 15 years now.

Why do I bring this up? Well, throughout the years, I’ve noticed something, especially as my friends and acquaintances shifted from being predominately Latter-day Saints to people who are not. I frequently interact with many people who know very little about the Church, or in some cases, who’ve never even heard of it until very recently. What most people know about it comes from entertainment and media (such as The Book Of Mormon Broadway musical or episodes of South Park), and things they hear from others. Some of them know or have met Latter-day Saints. Others haven’t. The thing I’ve noticed is that what people know about the religion varies from very accurate, to somewhat accurate albeit historically outdated, to downright false and blatant lies.

I’ve never really understood the people who go out of their way to actively harass members who are happy in the Church.

There’s a bunch of malarkey out there about the Church and a lot of it is spread by overly-zealous ‘anti-Mormon’ types who have taken it upon themselves to ‘save’ people from the Church, which I don’t entirely understand. If it’s not your thing, fine—just walk away from it like I did. However, I’ve never really understood the people who go out of their way to actively harass members who are happy in the Church. Why stand on street corners and yell at them as they walk to their churches? This sort of thing just seems like a poor use of one’s time. It’s sort of like the trope of the ‘obnoxious high school jock’ who is often depicted teasing bullying the ‘Dungeon & Dragons / Magic the Gathering’ table at lunch. If you’re not into it, cool, but why harass them simply because they enjoy a hobby you don’t?

I encountered this first-hand when I made the mistake of mentioning my Latter-day Saint upbringing to my next door neighbor in Alabama. Suddenly, a bunch of ‘anti-Mormon’ literature showed up on my doorstep, and he incessantly pestered me to read it all and ‘save myself’. The fact that I hadn’t been active in the church for a few years at this point I guess didn’t register in his mind. I was a student in flight school at the time and had more than enough to read without bothering with this stuff, but I did thumb through some of it out of mild curiosity and it was mostly lies and garbage.

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in Latter-day Saint theology or church history by any means, and maybe some of this literature contained valid analysis of historical inconsistencies here and there. There are plenty of valid criticisms of the Church and its history in my opinion. However, the vast bulk of this guy’s ‘anti-Mormon’ literature was just vile, malicious, offensive, and blatantly inaccurate slander. Furthermore, I got the sense that the purpose of this literature had less to do with ‘educating’ or ‘saving’, and far more to do with asserting the correctness of a different denomination by criticising another. Ultimately, it was just propaganda from (and for) some other church that I had no interest in.

I now try to make an effort to gently correct others’ false notions of the Latter-day Saint faith when I encounter them by drawing on my own experience, even though I no longer choose to be involved with the Church (or any church/religion for that matter). I do this not in an attempt to ‘convert’ anyone to join the Church, but merely to try to counter many of the blatant lies and untruths that seem to be in circulation that I know to be false. A lie is a lie, even if it’s about someone or something you don’t agree with or practice yourself.

The intent of this misleading rhetoric is to build up one idea by tearing down another.

As I’ve made a foray into reading and studying more about politics and socialism in particular, I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon. There seems to be a lot of myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings of what socialism actually is, largely circulated by those who have vested interests in maintaining the status quo or promoting alternate systems. Like my ‘anti-Mormon’ neighbor’s literature, it seems to me that the intent of this misleading rhetoric is to build up one idea by tearing down another. I’ve come to the realization that most people are not going to be persuaded away from deeply-held convictions and beliefs, at least not readily by others, and especially not on the internet. I personally think that most people that end up changing their minds on important beliefs (as I have done over the years) end up doing so because their own experiences have led them to re-evaluate their beliefs and seek out new knowledge over time—not because someone ‘convinced’ them on the internet in one article, video, or social media post.

I have decided to proceed with writing this series with that in mind. The goal isn’t to change your mind. Likely, your mind cannot be changed that easily, if at all (and in fact you might even wear this fact as a badge of pride). I understand this. Like religion, political beliefs and ideas on how best to organize a society are deeply ingrained in people, steeped in emotion, and even part of their identity. However, it’s cathartic for me to clear my conscience by at least attempting to put forth some corrections and clarifications to what I’ve come to believe are untruthful, yet common myths and misconceptions about socialism.

Next, I’ll address some misconceptions caused by poorly-named things, and people claiming to be things they truly are not.

Ryli Dunlap

  1. ↩︎ Members of the Church have colloquially been called (and have called themselves) ‘Mormons’ in the past due to their belief in The Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ. Recently the church has issued guidance to refrain from using that moniker as it incorrectly suggests that the Church is Mormon’s (a prophet from The Book of Mormon) church rather than Jesus Christ’s restored gospel. I’ve attempted to adhere to this style guide. I will use ‘Latter-day Saints’ instead of ‘Mormons’ to refer to members in this series as requested.

  2. ↩︎ Unlike many other denominations, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have paid clergy. Members are assigned to serve in various ‘callings’ and leadership positions in addition to any other full-time jobs they might have outside of church functions. A ward is an organizational unit of the Church typically consisting of 150-500 members, and a bishop presides over the ward, similar to perhaps a priest of a Catholic parish or a pastor in other denominations.

  3. ↩︎ The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ended its relationship with Boy Scouts of America at the end of 2019.

  4. ↩︎ Latter-day Saint seminary is basically scripture study and religion classes for high-school aged students. In many places, this is conducted early in the morning before school. In areas with a high Latter-day Saint population (like in Idaho and Utah), these classes often occur during school hours in buildings or facilities near high school campuses. Latter-day Saint high school students in areas with daytime seminary leave a free period in their school class schedules to walk a short distance off campus to attend these religion and scripture study classes. A graduation ceremony is held for students who complete the seminary curriculum during their high school years, which is typically 4 courses, 1 per year.