How Americans View Mormonism


We spent an hour with Gary Lawrence last night. He was gracious enough to come up to visit our stake in Camarillo from his home in Orange County. Dr. Lawrence is an American opinion pollster who also happens to be a Latter-day Saint. He has been travelling around the church sharing the results of a poll he conducted in the spring of 2007 on American’s perception of Latter-day Saints in the United States.

He published a book in 2008 with the findings of his poll, How Americans View Mormonism: Seven Steps to Improve Our Image. Dr. Lawrence received a PhD in communications psychology from Stanford University in 1972. He said that of over twenty doctoral candidates in his group, he was the only LDS, Republican, conservative hawk among them. So he knows a little about being in the minority.

Lawrence Research

Now if you know anything about recent events in California, you’ll recognize that Gary’s business, Lawrence Research was the opinion polling company that was heavily involved in Proposition 8. Gary was also the state LDS grassroots director for the Protect Marriage coalition. Brother Lawrence, who has served as a bishop has spent over 35 years studying opinions and behaviors of the American public.

From the results of his survey, Dr. Lawrence maintains that the misconceptions, distortions, and untruths being told about Mormons have slowed the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that the average member is best positioned to turn things around. By the way, the name of his next book, due from Deseret Book later this year is “What Part of Our Name Don’t You Understand?”

Survey Results

For me, the most interesting result of the survey was that our perceived image is upside down. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable impression of Mormons. Only thirty-seven percent had a favorable impression. They say that we have weird beliefs and are secretive. Yet they also say we are good neighbors, hard workers, believe in clean living, have high moral standards and help others.

Lawrence said that thirty-seven percent of all Americans do not know a Mormon, and fifty-five percent of all Americans do not know an active Mormon. In fact, those who know one Mormon have a worse opinion of us than those who do not know any Mormons. We are viewed unfavorably more than Jews or Baptists (3.5 to 1) and Catholics (2 to 1). Mormons, less than 1 to 1. That’s a terrible ratio.

Negative Image

Simple ignorance is often blamed for Mormonism’s negative image, but Gary also concludes that it is driven by fear — fear of a supposed political agenda, wealth, organizational ability, unwavering doctrine, and a unique vocabulary that is often misunderstood. He gave some wonderful examples but I’ll have to defer in sharing some of the better ones until I receive his book that I ordered from Deseret Book.

His book explains that individual members in their daily interactions with others are the key. In his presentation, which he has probably delivered dozens of times, he pointed out that friendly and natural conversations, the facts, simple claims, individual latitude, non-threatening invitations and gentle mentoring are the ways Mormons can combat distortions, improve our image, and spread the gospel.

Unique Vocabulary

A central claim of our church is that we have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Gary explained that this phrase is not well understood by those outside our faith. They equate the word restore as something you do to an old car or a piece of old furniture. He suggested that a better phrase to use would be: “We claim to be the re-established Christian Church.” I like that. It is simpler and easier to understand.

He even broke it down for us into three bite-sized pieces: 1) Christ organized a church. 2) Men changed it and 3) It has been brought back. Amazingly, 84 percent of Americans have had exposure to our church, yet only 14 percent can tell you that this is our main differentiating claim from other Christian churches. While people may not agree with our claim, we want and need them to understand it.

Meaning of Gospel

They can then decide for themselves how they will respond to that claim. But if they never get the real message, how can they make a legitimate choice? Naturally, some people will reject the gospel truth once it has been presented to them. And that’s another word that we use differently from the rest of Christianity. To us, the gospel means more than the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter and Paul.

Most Mormons equate gospel to mean the overarching plan of happiness that was presented in our pre-earth life. We have come to see the gospel as more than just a theology, but as a way of life, and that it encompasses all truth that we embrace. But in reality, the gospel is the good news of the doctrine of Christ, that all will be resurrected and that we can be forgiven of sins through repentance and ordinances.

Higher Education

That’s why we can say that the fullness of the gospel is contained in the Book of Mormon even though there are many additional doctrines we believe that are only found outside the Book or Mormon. In fact, some within our church have gone so far as to claim that obtaining a degree of higher education is a part of the gospel. Does that mean that early saints and prophets without a B.A. degree are not saved?

Of course not; that would be a ridiculous example. While we believe in continuing education and encourage our members to get all the education we can, an advanced degree is not a requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. A high school diploma is not required. There is no requirement for any type of certified education to meet God’s conditions to enter into his kingdom; only obedience to his laws.

Mormon Scholars Testify

In our Mormon culture, besides placing great emphasis on education, we also hold those who have received advanced degrees and yet remained faithful in very high esteem. Dr. Lawrence has shared his testimony in greater detail on the website, Mormon Scholars Testify, which was created by another visitor to our stake, Dr. Daniel C. Petersen, speaking about BYU’s involvement in the Dead Sea scrolls.

My fellow blogger Steve Faux introduced me to the site a few years back when he was asked to share his thoughts and feelings about being a believing Mormon who teaches evolution at the University level. I have watched participation grow over the years until there are now more than 200 testimonies recorded there. Compare that to twenty being promoted on the opposing site Ex-Mormon scholars testify.

Opposition in All Things

One of our fundamental doctrines is that we believe there must be opposition in all things. I love the Internet for the very reason that it allows us to see the very best and the very worst of the extremes on just about any issue. I’m not a scholar and will probably never have an advanced degree, but I have come to appreciate both sides of the debate on controversial subjects I have written about over the years.

I can judge for myself when someone is presenting the truth in a distorted manner because I have been counseled over the years to study things out and come to my own conclusions about the truth of an issue. Some things can never be proven and will have to wait until the next life to determine who is right and who is wrong. That’s one of the purposes of life – to exercise faith and choose what we believe.

Choose What We Believe

I recommend you read the testimonies of Dr. Lawrence, Dr. Petersen, S. Faux and any others that you may recognize. They come from a variety of disciplines such as the Arts, Business, Management, Accounting, History, Religion, Social Science, Language, Literature, Law, Medicine, Psychology, Philosophy, Science, Mathematics and Engineering. Yes, Mormons believe in the value of education.

I hope this helps to dispel any misconceptions that Mormons are ignorant, closed-minded, brain-washed or uneducated. We do not follow our leaders blindly, nor do we worship our prophets, living or dead. But we do value loyalty and respect to those who we sustain as prophets and apostles. It is my testimony that they are leading us to Christ. I choose to follow their direction and counsel for my family.

For a great discussion of our image, or rather reputation, listen to what Michael Otterson had to say to Robert Millet on this episode of Mormon Identity on The Mormon Channel.

Come Unto Christ


What a wonderful day it is to consider together our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.  I’m grateful to partake of the sacrament with you and to renew my covenant to remember him and to follow him.  I’m not sure that I really understood the significance of that covenant when I first took it upon myself at age eight.

I’m still trying to understand what it means to really keep that covenant each day.  Some days I do better than others.  Sundays are a joy to me because I spend them in activities that are centered on the mission of the church – to invite all to come unto Christ.  It’s during the week that I sometimes struggle to remember Him.

I suppose it’s a life-long pursuit, isn’t it? – To figure out how to really come unto Christ as we have been commanded to do. As Moroni taught, “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness … love God with all your might, mind and strength …” – Moroni 10:32

Another Book of Mormon prophet taught, “And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him …” – That’s found in Omni 1:26.

I think I understand Moroni’s instruction to deny ourselves of all ungodliness.  I get that.  It means to resist temptation and to do all within our power to control ourselves.  The Holy Ghost helps us with that task, by making it clear what is offensive to the Lord.  To me, knowing what is displeasing to the Lord is half the battle.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost

Like me, I’ll bet you’ve experienced that feeling when the spirit impresses you with an understanding that something you just said or did was not an especially good idea.  I’ve even caught myself saying, “Well, I’ll never do that again!” I then store those feelings somewhere where I’ll remember them in a similar situation.

I’ve always felt the Holy Ghost helping me with this growth process in my life.  I can testify that he is real and that he really does help us.  The Gift of the Holy Ghost is a treasure, one that I deeply appreciate and try to use each day.  In fact, I like to think that the Holy Ghost and I are good friends since we talk so much.

We have running conversations at work.  I tell God what I’m trying to accomplish and how I plan to go about doing it.  Then when I get stuck on some part of my task, I exclaim, sometimes out loud, “Now that didn’t work right, did it?  What should I do?”  And you know, impressions come to me to try a different method.

I have no doubts about the revelatory process.  It has become a very comfortable part of my daily life.  After years of practice, it has become second nature to talk with the Lord and to listen for his answers.  I don’t know if God has assigned a computer-savvy angel to work with me but I do know that someone is helping me.

I hope that you feel the same way and from conversations over the years I know many of you do.  Isn’t that a wonderful gift – to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost?  And it is because of the Sacrament that we are able to have that gift always.  How I love the Sacrament and the promised blessings to be found therein.

Offer your whole soul

It’s that second scripture in Omni that I’ve been pondering lately and trying to understand.  What does it mean to offer your whole soul as an offering unto the Lord?  I’d like to consider that with you today as part of my assigned topic to come unto Christ.  I’ll call upon Elder Bednar and President Eyring to help us along.

But first I’d like to share a story from Sister Nadauld who served as the Young Women General President a few years back.  You may remember this.  It touched me deeply at the time she related it and it still does each time I share it.  Although it is simple, it is a powerful story that introduces our subject in a touching manner.

Sister Nadauld is the mother of seven sons. Two of them, Adam and Aaron are twins.  When they were about five years old they were just learning to ride their bicycles.  Can you think back to those days in your own life?  I can, even though it was a very long time ago.  Of course having home movies helps my memory now.

As their mother glanced out the window to watch her boys, she saw the twins speeding down the street on their bikes going very fast.  “Perhaps they were going too fast for their level of ability because all of a sudden Adam had a terrible crash!  She saw him tangled up in a wreck of handlebars and tires and arms and legs.

“His little twin brother, Aaron saw the whole thing happen and he immediately skidded to a stop and jumped off his bike.  He threw it down and ran to the aid of his brother, whom he loved very much.  These little twins truly were of one heart.  If one hurt, so did the other.  If one got tickled, they both laughed.

“If one started a sentence, the other could complete it. What one felt, the other did also. So it was painful for Aaron to see Adam crash! Adam was a mess. He had skinned knees, he was bleeding from a head wound, his pride was damaged, and he was crying.

“In a fairly gentle, five-year-old way, Aaron helped his brother get untangled from the crash, he checked out the wounds, and then,” related Sister Nadauld, “he did the dearest thing. He picked his brother up and carried him home. Or tried to. This wasn’t very easy because they were the same size, but he tried.

“And as he struggled and lifted and half-dragged, half-carried his brother along, they finally reached the front porch. By this time, Adam, the injured one, was no longer crying, but Aaron, the rescuer, was. When asked, “Why are you crying, Aaron?” he said simply, “Because Adam hurts.”

“And so he had brought him home to help, home to someone who knew what to do, to someone who could cleanse the wounds, bind them up, and make it better—home to love.  Just as one twin helped his brother in need, so might we all be lifted, helped, even carried at times by our beloved Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

He feels what we feel

Sis Nadauld concluded her touching story by pointing our hearts toward the Savior.  “He feels what we feel; He knows our heart. It was His mission to wipe away our tears, cleanse our wounds, and bless us with His healing power. He can carry us home to our Heavenly Father with the strength of His matchless love.”

From this story I have come to understand better one purpose of the Lord’s mission, which is to heal us.  I have felt that healing power many times in my life, and again, it is activated most by my weekly participation in the ordinance of the Sacrament.  I still suffer the pains of life, but feel strengthened by his love for me.

Through a lifetime of experience, I have also come to understand very clearly another important part of the Savior’s mission.  He has cleansed me from the effects of my sins.  Although repentance is an ongoing process that I will use the rest of my life, I have felt the cleansing power of the Savior free me from the devil’s grasp.

There is no doubt that the effects of sin are real.  They have a very debilitating influence upon our spirits.  Sin keeps us from feeling good about ourselves and keeps us from feeling the Lord’s love for us.  He is also unable to bless us with the help that we need in this life when we participate in sin and do not completely repent.

I have long loved this statement from President Harold B. Lee that I first heard in my youth: “If the time comes when you have done all that you can to repent of your sins … then you will want that confirming answer as to whether or not the Lord has accepted of you.”  I have felt this desire to know my standing before the Lord.

I can’t tell you how many times I sought an answer from the Lord to know if I had done enough to repent of my youthful rebellions.  President Lee continued, “In your soul-searching, if you seek for and you find that peace of conscience, by that token you may know that the Lord has accepted of your repentance.”  I love that!

I testify that we can have that promised peace of conscience that comes after doing all we can do to repent.  It is a real experience.

Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

But it is from a powerful Fall 2007 General Conference address by Elder Bednar I learned something that opened my eyes to the need to do more than be cleansed from sin.  He took my understanding of the repentance process to a different level.  He introduced the idea by quoting one of my favorite scriptures from Psalm 24:

“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?  Or who shall stand in his holy place?  He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully.”  He then said, “Brothers and Sisters, it is possible for us to have clean hands but not have a pure heart.”  I had never considered that.

Elder Bednar then taught us so clearly, “Let me suggest that hands are made clean through the process of putting off the natural man and by overcoming sin and the evil influences in our lives through the Savior’s Atonement. Hearts are purified as we receive His strengthening power to do good and become better.”

“All of our worthy desires and good works, as necessary as they are, can never produce clean hands and a pure heart. It is the Atonement of Jesus Christ that provides both a cleansing and redeeming power that helps us to overcome sin and a sanctifying and strengthening power that helps us to become better than we ever could by relying only upon our own strength. The infinite Atonement is for both the sinner and for the saint in each of us.”

Did you catch that last line?  It was an “ah-ha” moment for me when I heard it.  I knew the Lord could heal me and could cleanse me but I had not understood how the atonement makes me a saint.

I know that I am a child of God.  I know that he loves me.  I know that I can be and am happy when I repent and make efforts to put off the natural man.  I feel at peace with God when I fully accept the love Jesus offers me in bridging the gap between my efforts to repent and what is required to be fully cleansed from my mistakes.

But it is the purifying of my heart that has long eluded me.  I know I have a good heart because I am pained by sin and always want to do better, but the strength of the natural man is sometimes so great that it almost overcomes me.  I cry out in my prayers that I just don’t see how I can be the man that I know God wants me to be.

That our Hearts May be Purified

Do you remember what the people in King Benjamin’s day said after they had heard the words of the angel that he shared with them?  “… they all cried aloud with one voice saying: “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified.”

I think most of us get it when we talk about receiving forgiveness.  We know it comes through the atonement of Christ.  But that’s not all that we can receive each week as we partake of the sacrament.  We can also have our nature transformed and our hearts purified.  Our desires to do good and to become a saint can be strengthened.

Do you ever find yourself full of the spirit on Sunday and saying, “I feel great!  I feel so close to my Heavenly Father and my Savior.  I know that they love me.  I’ve been spiritually fed and uplifted at church today.  I can do all those hard things that I know I should.  I’m going to be so much better this week.”  I have.

And then sometime during the week, after an exhausting day at work or an especially trying day with the kids or with the demands of others upon your time, you find yourself saying, “I just can’t do it anymore.  I’ve had it.  I just don’t want to do all the hard things that are asked of me.  It’s too much.  I can’t put up with all these difficult demands.”  What happened to that Sunday determination?

Well, that’s what Elder Bednar was trying to teach us – how to have our very nature changed so that our desires to do good are strengthened.  It is through the ordinance of the Sacrament that we come unto Christ, put off the natural man, and become a saint.  We can have our hearts changed so that we no longer desire evil.

But, and this is my concluding thought, we must offer to the Lord our whole soul in exchange for the purifying of our hearts.  For me, that means determining in my heart and mind before I partake of the sacrament that I am going to do whatever the Lord asks of me that week.  Wow!  That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?  Can I do it?

Must I do everything that I feel prompted of the Lord to do?  Yes, for me, that is what it means to offer my whole soul as an offering to him.  The Tabernacle choir sings a hymn that illustrates this so beautifully for me.  It’s called, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  The line that describes this process goes like this:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.

May God take our offering and purify our hearts is my prayer.

Rachel Esplin video continues to be a hit


Last November, LDS Harvard undergrad Rachel Esplin made viral video news with her incredibly articulate and intelligent responses to some very difficult questions about the Mormon faith. She was asked whether she wears sacred undergarments, if Mormonism is a cult, how she views the role of women in her church, and what her relationship is with Jesus. For not having served a mission, this young 20-year old is an amazing missionary for the LDS faith.

The interview is twenty minutes long and something you may enjoy viewing as part of a Family Home Evening or perhaps even burning it to a DVD and sharing it in a Sunday School lesson about how to share the gospel in today’s media savvy world. Rachel was on the debate team in her high school and her mother teaches at BYU Idaho. But still, this young woman did a better job than I ever could at responding to difficult questions with poise and confidence.

You may also be interested in viewing some of the hundreds of comments that accompanied just one typical news piece covering the popularity of the video as it appeared in the Boston Globe.  I think the very first comment is excellent as it helps us to see how the world perceives us as being closed and secretive.  Especially note the tenor of the comments that focus on the claims of exclusivity.  This continues to be a difficult point for many to deal with both within and without the church.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2120177&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Day of Faith: Personal Quests for a Purpose – 3. Rachel Esplin from Harvard Hillel on Vimeo.

Are Mormons Christians?


I guess I should not be surprised by now. I have heard it and read it so many times that I still wonder how it is that some people don’t know. Of course Mormons are Christians. We are the Church of Jesus Christ.

It has been asked and answered many times in many ways and in many places by many people over the years. Yet it continues to come up day after day. I read it in forums, on blogs, on websites and in news articles.

Perhaps it is just simple curiosity that causes the question to be asked again. I like to think that the questioner is just repeating what they have heard others say and want to be reassured. Yes, Mormons are Christians.

Resources on the Internet

A Google search of the question brings Jeff Lindsay’s FAQ to the top of the list. Read that and you will find that the question is answered affirmatively in several different ways. He links to a great article in the Ensign by Stephen E. Robinson that addresses the topic in great detail.

Brother Robinson even wrote a book answering the question. Elder Holland addressed this most eloquently in the Oct 2007 General Conference. He makes it so clear that our break with conventional Christianity is over the Nicene creed, which is not Biblical in authority.

Maybe if all the LDS bloggers in the world added a post answering the question, people would get the idea that yes, Mormons are Christians. Perhaps then we could get the message across more clearly than some of the other links that come up in the Google search.

The leaders and the members agree

The leaders of the Church have been declaring this message for as long as I can remember. I have never heard a talk or sat in on a lesson in which it was ever said that we are not Christian. It is only in the last twenty or twenty five years that we have been accused of this falsehood.

Elder Ballard has said that the Church does not have the resources or the personnel to answer this question each and every time it comes up. He extended an invitation to members of the Church to get involved in sharing the gospel on the Internet and using the new media to do so.

Many thousands of regular members of the Church have added their witness of Christ in forums, on their own websites and blogs and in comments on many newspaper articles over the years. I too am just a regular member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

My witness of Jesus Christ

On this Easter day, I add my witness that I am a Christian. Yes, Mormons are Christians. We believe in Christ. We worship Christ. I can’t imagine there wasn’t an LDS chapel today where the talks in Sacrament meeting weren’t about the Savior, his atonement and resurrection.

I raised my voice in song today in worship of Jesus Christ. I spent two years as a missionary in Central America declaring the message of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I bore my witness to thousands that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Redeemer of Mankind.

Just because we don’t accept the non-Biblical Nicene creed does not mean that we do not believe in or worship Jesus Christ. We have so much in common with other Christians. We each want to do good in the world. I think it is only some ministers who are stirring up this controversy.

This one minute video clip from an Apostle of Jesus Christ answers the question succinctly:

And a more recent video from Elder Gary Coleman on Mormon Messages: