Guest Commentary: Mormons next door
With The Book of Mormon play on Broadway and now a Mormon presidential candidate, the media has described this point in time in terms of attention and interest as the “Mormon Moment.” For those of us who are Mormons, customarily encountering misperceptions and misunderstanding, this is an unprecedented opportunity to clarify who we are.
First, a little background. I am reaching a stage in my life where I have been a Mormon longer than not. I grew up with a Catholic father, Protestant mother, and attended a college with a predominantly Jewish student body. I respect all who strive to know God, consistent with our 11th Article of Faith: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege.” Sadly, religious tolerance did not greet Mormons during the early years as they fled from the East to the Midwest and finally settled in what was then Indian Territory but is now Utah, to escape mob violence and persecution.
So who are these people who have been willing to face death rather than forsake their beliefs? Well, first of all Mormons are Christians. Serious Christians! Our official name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As perspective, disciples of Christ have been called saints (lower case). Accordingly, we are followers of Jesus Christ in these latter days.
We are not a church founded by Joseph Smith, but rather the same church that existed during the time of Christ that was restored to this earth and organized in 1830 through Joseph Smith who we consider a latter day prophet. Accordingly, like the first Christian church, ours is led by a prophet and apostles, and exercises priesthood keys that we believe were given to Peter but left the earth after the death of the last apostle in ancient times; only to be restored in these latter days.
Why serious Christians? Being a Mormon is not a casual commitment but rather a way of life. We strive to honor the Sabbath. Sunday is a day for church activities, including a three-hour block for sacrament, Sunday School, and instruction for members of all ages. During the school year, our high school students attend early morning scripture study before their classes.
What active Mormons don’t do on the Sabbath is any form of temporal activity such as spending money or playing sports. While not an issue if required for employment (we have our fair share of professional athletes) young people often face the sports “sacrifice.” It can mean not progressing on teams that expect Sunday participation or missing a number of games on teams with more flexible schedules. To the credit of the coaches, parents, and boys in Wilton who have been teammates with my son Joey in the many sports he plays, there has never been any pressure for him to play on Sunday, and in fact virtually universal support that he stick to his beliefs. I wouldn’t expect less from this wonderful town.
Active Mormons also tithe their income, and live the “Word of Wisdom,” which means we do not consume alcohol, tobacco or hot drinks (interpreted as coffee and tea). We do so out of obedience, as the health benefits that we now appreciate were less well known when this counsel was received through revelation about 150 years ago.
Mormons strive to be good citizens and good neighbors. We believe in being self-sufficient and there are many programs geared toward staying connected with our brothers and sisters. Believing we are all children of a loving heavenly Father, we seek opportunities to serve within our communities; and on a global basis are celebrated first responders to crisis situations. Because we consider the United States as a blessed land, it is not surprising that Mormons are patriotic and active citizens.
While our Church is scrupulously neutral from a political standpoint, given our conservative values and the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon, it’s safe to say that most Mormons lean toward the Republican point of view. But not all. For example Mormon Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, is a Democrat. On a more personal level, my wife Deb is vice chair and campaign chair of the Wilton Democratic Town Committee as well as one of the seven members of the Connecticut Electoral College who voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
Oh, and about that play, The Book of Mormon. Our official Church response is: The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.
We consider the Book of Mormon to be divine scripture that complements the Bible which we also cherish. If you want a copy to decide for yourself, I’d be glad to send you one.
Why am I a Mormon? Everyone should decide for themselves, but for me it makes me a better person and a better neighbor.
For additional information about Mormons and our beliefs, visit mormonnewsroom.org or mormon.org.
Jack McFadden is a longtime Wilton resident and area director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is happy to answer questions from readers.