New book debunks myths about Mormonism

Mormons Believe … What?!
by Gary Lawrence
225 pages. The Parameter Foundation.

“Are you kidding? He’s a Mormon. Do you know what those guys believe? Why would you want to help him get an administration job?”

That’s what an acquaintance told a friend of mine after my friend asked him to put in a good word for me with the White House (at the time, I was up for an appointment as a senior official).

The acquaintance went on to say that we Mormons believe we get our own planets if we make it to heaven — a common misconception. I’d actually never heard that one before, but I’ve since heard it many times, along with other weird ideas that I never learned about in Sunday school.

It’s enough to make one wish there were a book answering a few simple questions about what Mormons do and do not believe. Gary Lawrence has given us that book. In “Mormons Believe … What?!: Fact and Fiction About a Rising Religion,” Lawrence uses humor and straight talk to answer questions about polygamy (“Yes we did and no we don’t”); traditional and non-traditional beliefs; temples and meetinghouses; why Mormons claim to be Christian but don’t use crosses; and the relationship between Mormons’ faith and Mormons’ political influence. This is the book for anyone who has ever felt simple curiosity about some aspect of the faith but didn’t want a visit from a couple of clean-cut young men in white shirts and ties.

A listing of some of the chapter headings gives us an idea of the general tone of the book. Most are presented as myths that Lawrence then debunks, such as the following: “Mormons Aren’t Christians”; “Mormons Worship a Different Jesus”; “Mormons Believe They Can Have Their Own Planet”; “Mormons Have Secret Temples and Magic Underwear” (you’ll have to read it for the answer to that one); “Mormons are Racist”; and perhaps the most relevant to some readers in the current political season: “Mormons Want to Take Over the Government.”

Lawrence takes great pains to deconstruct each myth by stating in simple terms what Mormons believe about each topic, and he gives his best guess about what aspect of the faith may have given rise to the accusation. He pulls no punches in his approach, charging that although some of these myths arose from misunderstandings, others are the result of deliberate disinformation created by those who bear a grudge against the faith. He lays out the most basic belief of the Church, the one that is overlooked by even some of the best-informed observers: Mormons claim to be the re-established original Christian Church.

The book grew out of Lawrence’s previous experience conducting polling and focus groups nationwide, gauging American attitudes toward The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Surprised by some of the responses he got to open-ended questions, he delved more deeply into what Americans believe about Mormons, and wound up amused, frustrated, and even a little irritated. His approach is simple: “People have a right to their own opinions about Mormonism, but they do not have a right to their own facts.”