Is Mormonism a religion?
A basic definition of the word “religion” is “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Based on that definition, all of the major faiths throughout the world could be classified as religious sects. That should also include Mormonism, the doctrines and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church by the media and others), however, there are many people who do not view Mormonism as a “religion” in the Christian sense of the word, but rather they view it as a practicing cult.
Merriam-Webster.com defines the word “cult” as “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious to include its body of adherents.” Another definition of the word “cult” is “a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.” Both of these definitions could adequately describe how many people view The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members, known as Latter-day Saints (but often referred to as Mormons), with the exception that the membership in The Church of Jesus Christ has grown significantly since its inception both in number of members and area covered. In 1830 when the Church of Jesus Christ was just beginning, there were only 6 members, but today there are over 14 million members worldwide. Read more
Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going after I die? Virtually every person who has lived on the earth has asked these questions at one time or another. Many people have sought the answers to these questions through sacred scripture, prophetic utterance, prayer to God, and organized religion. Many people have found the answers to life’s questions through varied systems of religious belief—or churches—and have benefitted by associating with like-minded people who are seeking or have found answers to their questions.
What Is a Church?
A church is both a specific organization of belief and the building where meetings or worship services are held.
The specific organization of belief typically includes belief in a creator, higher power, or governing being. Most call this being God. To many, God is all-knowing (omniscient), present at all times (omnipresent), and all-powerful (omnipotent). Many religious organizations believe that God reveals His will through prophets or messengers. Included in each church organization are patterns, practices, or behaviors to live by. Read more
There are some people who may wonder about the “strange” underclothing or “underwear” that faithful adult members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church by the media and others) wear. They may also wonder if Mormons believe that this “underwear” has any sort of magical powers. Therefore, the question that begs an answer is “What is the underclothing that Mormons wear?”
Historical Background of the Wearing of Special Garments
Throughout the course of history, people of diverse religious convictions and backgrounds have worn special clothing that serve as reminders of their sacred beliefs and commitments that they have made. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ are no different in that regard.
The Holy Bible contains many references of people wearing special garments. In the Old Testament, for example, the Israelites are specifically instructed to turn their garments into personal reminders of their covenants with God. In Numbers 15:37-41 we read:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: and it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: that ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God. I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.
The Mormon Temple Garment
The underclothing, or as derided by some non-Mormons, the “magic underwear”, that some people have questions about is called a temple garment.
The garment is sacred and is revered and not spoken of in casual conversations. The garment is simple white clothing comprised of two pieces – a top piece that is similar to a t-shirt and a bottom piece that is similar to shorts. The garment may also consist of one complete piece. The garment is worn by adult members of The Church of Jesus Christ who have received their endowment. The endowment is something that is personal and is only given in the House of the Lord – the Holy Temple.
In keeping with the basic dictionary definition of an endowment being a gift given by a higher power, the endowment that a person receives is a gift of knowledge consisting of a series of instructions and covenants that enable him to leave the House of the Lord and return to live in the world, but not be of the world, with the Holy Spirit as his constant protection and guide, and an increase in spiritual strength and direction.
The Mormon Temple Garment is a Symbol
Endowed members of The Church of Jesus Christ wear their temple garment as a symbol of the covenants that they have made with the Lord. The temple garment serves as an outward reminder to Latter-day Saints of their commitment to love, worship, and follow Jesus Christ.
The garment is worn under regular clothing, both night and day. The garment should not be removed, either entirely or partially, to do yard work or to wash the car, for example, or to participate in any other activities that can reasonably be done with the garment worn properly beneath the clothing. In the same vein, the garment should not be removed to lounge around the home in swimwear or any type of immodest clothing. In the event that the garment must be removed, such as for swimming, it should be put back on as soon as possible. Also, if the garment consists of two pieces, both pieces must always be worn together.
The temple garment is “an outward expression of an inward covenant and symbolizes Christ-like attributes in one’s mission in life. The white garment symbolizes purity and helps assure modesty and respect for the attributes of God” (What are Latter-day Saint Garments? LDS FAQs, BYU Studies). The garment can also be seen as a symbol by referencing the Apostle Paul’s teaching to take upon us the whole armor of God (See Ephesians 6:13 and Doctrine and Covenants 27:15.)
Wearing the Mormon Temple Garment Bring About Great Blessings
Wearing the temple garments bring about great blessings to those who worthily and faithfully keep the sacred covenants that they have made in the temple.
Once people are endowed, they have the blessing of wearing the temple garment throughout their lives. They are obligated to wear it according to the instructions given in the endowment. Those who have been endowed in the temple must remember that the blessings that are related to this sacred privilege depend on their worthiness and their faithfulness in keeping temple covenants.
The garment provides a constant reminder of the covenants made in the temple. The garment should be treated with respect at all times. It should not be exposed to the view of those who do not understand its significance, and it should not be adjusted to accommodate different styles of clothing. When worn properly, the garment provides protection against temptation and evil. Wearing the garment is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior. (“Gospel Topic: Temples,” Wearing the Temple Garment, LDS.org.)
Who can be saved? The short answer: everyone. The long answer is a bit more involved.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the word “saved” has many meanings. Here’s a brief description of all the ways Mormons use the word “saved”:
- Saved from physical death, or resurrected. Mormons believe that everyone is saved from death, or resurrected. Because of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, everyone who ever lived on the earth will be resurrected. So in that sense, everyone is saved, no matter how righteous or wicked they were on earth. Resurrection is a gift to all people (and all living things) who have ever or will ever live on the earth.
- Saved from sin. Mormons believe that everyone can be saved from sin if they repent and come unto Christ. In the gospel of Jesus Christ, everyone can repent and be forgiven, and thus saved from sin. Unlike resurrection, salvation from sin will only come to us if we do what the Savior has asked. It is still a gift, because it is through the Atonement that we are saved from sin, but we must do our part in order to be saved from sin.
- Saved can mean being born again. Mormons believe that being born again means to be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Again, everyone can be saved by coming to Christ, being baptized, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Read more
Current debate in the public square concerning abortion wonders whether we have an identity at conception, at first heartbeat, or at birth. Current debate in the public square wonders whether religion has any place in human decision-making. And current debate in the public square wonders if what we call “morality” should be a relative term mitigated by tolerance that would have us discard judgment all together. All of these discussions could be decided if we all really knew who we are—sons and daughters of deity, eternal beings with divine potential.
Elaine S. Dalton has served for five years as the General Young Women’s President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often mistakenly called the Mormon Church). This is a five-year term of voluntary service fraught with responsibility, service guided by personal revelation from God. It’s a huge job, especially in times when the world is at such odds with religions beliefs, even though they are eternally true. The Young Women of the Church of Jesus Christ, aged 12 to 18 years of age, are taught to be faithful, loving, service-oriented, pure and chaste. At the beginning of every Sunday young women’s meeting, they recite a theme, which begins, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love Him.” This is the truth Mormons wish to share with the world. We are sons and daughters of God, and we are eternal beings.
Mormon missionaries teach the “Plan of Salvation” to people who are seeking Christ and trying to find out who they are. The Plan of Salvation teaches that we have always existed. We were individual “intelligences” before God the Father organized our spiritual bodies in a realm that pre-existed this earth and our mortality. We dwelt with Him in this pre-mortal state as His literal spirit-children. We were intensely interested in the creation of this earth as our future home. In order to participate in the process that would help us to become like our Father, we were schooled on the benefits of mortality on earth. Mortality is a place to learn, to live by faith, to use our free agency to make choices, and to form relationships with eternal potential.
Because opposition is an indispensable aspect of free choice, we knew we would sometimes make bad choices. God promised us a Savior who would take upon Himself our sins and also overcome physical and spiritual death brought upon the world by the fall of Adam and Eve. All of us supported Jesus Christ, through whom all the worlds were made, as our Savior. Those who did not, chose to follow Lucifer and were cast out of heaven. Their progress stopped, and they never will gain mortal or immortal bodies.
All of us were born on earth imbued with the Light of Christ, our natural and inborn guidance system to help us know right from wrong. As we draw closer to Christ, it burns more brightly, but as we turn away, it begins to fade. The Holy Ghost connects us even more with Our Father in Heaven and helps us on our journey toward Eternal Life. Those who are saved into God’s presence after their mortal journey ends continue to increase forever until they become like God, one with Christ.
Because of this plan and our own eternal history, we have identity even before we are conceived. We have identity, divine identity, even after we pass from this life and for eternity. When we find out who we are, we find out that we were unique before we came into mortality, and that some of us were asked to perform certain acts of service during our mortal lives. We always have our freedom of choice, but we may have gifts to perform certain things with eternal import for our families and for God’s work. Communing with God through the Holy Ghost helps us to find out what our earthly callings are.
Once a person finds out that he or she is an eternal being whom God loves like the real Father that He is, his or her view of life changes immensely. We are no longer completely defined by the family or culture we were born to on earth. We can transcend any negative thing that the world burdens us with. We can commune with our Father in Heaven and receive revelation from Him that can guide us back into His presence to inherit eternal glory. Then we can continue to progress in knowledge, talent, power, and service for eternity. We can become like Him.
Said Sister Dalton of the Mormon Young Women she meets:
It is not only an affirmation of our identity—who we are—but also an acknowledgment of whose we are. We are daughters of an exalted being!
In every country and on every continent, I have met confident, articulate young women, filled with light, refined by hard work and trial, possessing pure and simple faith. They are virtuous. They are covenant keepers who “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.”2 They know who they are and that they have a significant role to play in building the kingdom of God.
May we all discover our own role in God’s eternal plan. May we discover our eternal worth and our Father in Heaven’s love for us each as His individual children.
There is much about the sin of murder in the scriptures. Beginning in Genesis, with the murder of innocent Abel by his brother Cain, we see this most grievous sin. Mormons believe there is only one sin more serious than murder, and that is “the sin against the Holy Ghost.” The sin against the Holy Ghost is to see Christ and therefore, to gain a perfect knowledge of Him that transcends faith, and then to deny Him, thus putting Him to open shame. This is akin to assenting to His crucifixion, like crucifying Him anew. The few people who actually commit this sin become “sons of perdition,” and they are the only ones who will not inherit a kingdom of glory in heaven, but will be cast out into “outer darkness” with Satan and his angels. All others, even those who reject Christ, will be saved into a kingdom of heaven. Understand, however, that those who do reject the Savior, must suffer for their own sins; for them, it is as if the atonement never happened. This suffering takes place before the resurrection and final judgment.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of modern revelations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often mistakenly called the Mormon Church), it says this about murder, and these are the words of Christ Himself, given by revelation:
And now, behold, I speak unto the church. Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come (Doctrine and Covenants 42:18).
It is important to understand how repentance works in Mormonism. One must recognize his or her sin and feel “godly sorrow,” which is the kind of sorrow that results from the realization that one has offended God. One must confess to God that one has sinned and prayerfully seek for forgiveness. Serious sins must also be confessed to one’s bishop (the head of the congregation), and church discipline could be enacted. Then the person must forsake the sin, turn to God and fully keep His commandments. The person should also make restitution for whatever he has taken or damaged by restoring what he can to the person or people he has offended. And here is the reason why blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, murder, abortion, and adultery are the most serious sins — restitution is nearly impossible, so repentance can never be completed. To be forgiven means to go through this process of repentance with utmost faith in Christ. Through the grace of Christ, then, our sins are forgiven, and we need not suffer for them, as Christ has suffered for us. When a sin cannot be forgiven, it means that we must suffer ourselves for that sin, not only in this world, but in the afterlife.
Murder violates the sanctity of life and cuts off the ability of its victims to “work out their destiny” (Benson, p. 355). Moreover, because “man cannot restore life,” and restoration or restitution is a necessary step for repentance, obtaining forgiveness for murder is impossible (Kimball, 1969, p. 129; D&C 42:18-19). Murder wrenches all lives connected to the victim, and ultimately the perpetrator of this crime suffers even more than the victims. “For Cain suffered far more than did Abel, and murder is far more serious to him who commits it than to him who suffers from it” (Kimball, 1982, p. 188 — as quoted in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism).
Mormon doctrine holds that murderers should be dealt with according to the laws of the land where it occurs; Mormons are law-abiding citizens and do not have as doctrine any certain form of earthly punishment for murder. However, they admit that the death penalty may be acceptable punishment for murderers. “Those who have been convicted of, or have confessed to, homicide cannot be baptized without clearance from the First Presidency [of the Church of Jesus Christ], and excommunication of members guilty of murder is mandatory. Joseph Fielding Smith, as an apostle, indicated that vicarious temple work should not be done for deceased murderers” (DS 2:192) (Encyclopedia of Mormonism).
Note that “murder” can have all sorts of variations, and what we are talking about is premeditated murder, not self-defense, murders that occur in the process of war, or negligent homicide. Only God can judge what murders might qualify for forgiveness, or not.
If only those who commit the sin against the Holy Ghost are condemned to outer darkness in the afterlife, what then becomes of murderers? The answer lies in the fact that there is a difference between an unforgivable sin and an “unpardonable sin.” The sin against the Holy Ghost is both unforgivable and unpardonable.
Spencer W. Kimball, the twelfth LDS Prophet said, “Even the murderer is justified in repenting and mending his ways and building up a credit balance in his favor” (The Miracle of Forgiveness,
p. 131). Explaining this is easiest when using King David of old as an example. David began to repent of his two very serious sins — committing adultery with Bathsheba after having her husband Uriah killed — the minute the prophet Nathan exposed him. He repented all the rest of his life, and he is still repenting. He is suffering for his own sins, since forgiveness cannot come to him through the atonement of Christ, because murder is unforgivable. He will continue to suffer until the last resurrection, which will occur after Christ has finished His work on the earth, after His millennial reign.
God revealed to Joseph Smith, the prophet, that because of David’s repentance and suffering, he will be saved into the Terrestrial Kingdom, which is second in glory to the Celestial Kingdom of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:40-42). (See also Doctrine and Covenants 132:39 .) David received a promise that the Lord would not leave his soul in hell—which is the process of suffering for one’s own sins in the Spirit World before resurrection and final judgment. Thus, David has not been forgiven, but will be pardoned. Thus, murder is not forgivable, but it is pardonable. Murderers will suffer for their own sins, meaning they are unforgiven, but they will not be completely cast outside the influence of God’s glory in the life to come, if they do try to repent.
When people ask me if I’m Mormon, I usually want to say something like, “Well, depending on how you’re using the term, my answer will either be ‘Yes,’ or ‘Yes, with a few clarifications.’” The reason for that somewhat strange and unconventional response is I have met many people throughout the years that have said, “Oh, so you’re Mormon and you believe . . .” and then they go on to describe some bizarre rite that I don’t believe in and neither does any other member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that is in full fellowship.
“And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.” (Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 27:8)
Jeffery R. Holland, a modern Apostle, has said that the Book of Mormon “should be considered the most remarkable and important religious text to be revealed since the writings of the New Testament were compiled nearly two millennia ago. Indeed, in its role of restoring plain and precious biblical truths that had been lost, while adding scores of new truths about Jesus Christ and preparing the way for the complete restoration of his gospel and the triumphant day of his millennial return, the Book of Mormon may be considered the most remarkable and important religious text ever given to the world.” (Christ and the New Covenant, 9-10)