With so much discussion about Mormons in the media today, there is a lot of confusion about the religion. What do Mormons believe? Much of what is reported is untrue, taken out of context, or confuses cultural beliefs with canonized doctrine.
“Mormon” is a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons believe in an open canon, meaning they still have prophets and believe God continues to speak to us today, rather than having locked the door on communication after Jesus died. In addition, they have a lay clergy and those who lead did not attend seminaries that trained them for the job. They are simply ordinary people from all walks of life who have volunteered to give their time to God—in addition to having a regular job and a family. Only the very highest levels serve full-time.
In the picture to the left, you’ll see two Mormon missionaries teaching a young man about what Mormons believe. They are priesthood holders, even though they are only young adults. They volunteer their time, at their own expensive, teaching people what Mormons believe.
Mormon leaders are people with their own opinions and viewpoints. Some doctrine has been canonized—made official. Where no official doctrine exists, people, even prophets, are allowed to have their own opinion on the subject and to express it. However, there are times when opinions get taken as fact. Many of the things people write or say about Mormons involves cultural beliefs or folklore—and sometimes even insider jokes—not actual doctrine.
What do Mormons believe? There are several sources of valid information you can explore. One is LDS.org, an official Mormon website meant for Mormons themselves, but where you can read our actual lesson manuals and magazines, and where you can study Mormon beliefs by topic. Another is Mormon.org, meant for people who are not Mormon but want to know what we believe—what we really believe.
One way to answer the question “What do Mormons believe?” is to study the Articles of Faith. The Articles of Faith are thirteen basic core beliefs of Mormonism. They aren’t the fringe beliefs that are the favorites of many uninformed writers, but beliefs that really impact how Mormons live their religions. They were written by Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet, in answer to a question from a journalist.
Thomas S. Monson, the current Mormon prophet, tells a story about the Articles of Faith that will help you understand why they are considered so important to Mormons.
More than forty-five years ago, a businessman named Sharmon Hummel boarded a bus headed for San Francisco. When the bus stopped in Salt Lake City a little girl got on. She was going to Reno, Nevada to visit her aunt and chose the seat next to this man. He noticed a billboard about Mormons on the road and said to the child, “I guess there are a lot of Mormons in Utah, aren’t there?” The girl agreed there were and told him, when asked that she was a Mormon herself. He asked her, “What do Mormons believe?” She responded by reciting for him the first Article of Faith: We believe in God, the eternal Father, in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” Children in the Primary program are expected to memorize all thirteen Articles of Faith before they leave the program at age twelve and this girl already knew them all. She continued to recite until she had given him all thirteen essential points of the Gospel. The man was so impressed that such a young child could do this that when he arrived at his hotel his first action was to look for the church in the phone book. He arranged for two missionaries to visit him. He, his wife, and his children all became Mormons because one little girl knew what the Mormons really believed. (See Thomas S. Monson, “Examples of Great Teachers,” Ensign, June 2007, 74
Why are the Articles of Faith so powerful as a tool for answering the question, “What do Mormons believe?” They summarize what are known as the core doctrines. There are many religious facts that are merely interesting (how many days did it take to create the earth?) and there are those that are critical to our eternal salvation (who created the earth and why?). It is those teachings that are essential to our eternal salvation that are the core doctrines of Mormonism. They are the saving doctrines that have the power to help us return to God someday. If you’re looking for a church to join, you are probably looking for one that can help you understand God and your relationship to Him. You want one that helps you know where you came from, why you’re here, and where you are going when you die. You probably aren’t very worried about history or trivia. This little girl was smart enough to give them man the core saving doctrines and not overload him with trivia that had no power to change his life.
When trying to understand what Mormons believe, begin by reading trustworthy sources. Outsiders do not know what people in a religion believe better than the religious person himself. There is nothing more irritating than to have somebody arguing with you that they know what you believe and you do not. Next, search through everything you learn to evaluate what role such knowledge would have on the individual who believes it. If it’s trivia, ignore it. Try to dig far enough into Mormonism to understand the core beliefs that define the everyday lives of Mormons, including the atonement of Jesus Christ, the sanctity of the family, learning to know God, understanding how to find truth, keeping the commandments, and becoming everything God intended you to become. Only when you focus on these types of teachings can you get to the heart of Mormonism.