It's not at all like Mark Twain portrayed . . . people were so kind. ~ Jorge Luis Borges on visiting Latter-day Saints in Utah[i]
In 1872, American humorist Mark Twain published an account of his brief travels among the Latter-day Saints. As one might expect, Twain's description was less about relaying fact than spinning a good yarn. Likely prejudiced by this and other similar accounts, sitting U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant decided to visit the Mormons in Utah for himself. After being favorably impressed there, Grant declared in self-reproach, "I've been deceived with regard to these people."[ii]
Recent media attention is catalyzing society's deeper acquaintance with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a result, some people are getting to know us for the first time. Like President Grant, their misperceptions are being allayed, and many are coming to see Latter-day Saints as a pro-social people of profound faith.
Indeed, recent studies have noted the high rate of Latter-day Saint volunteerism and charitable giving.[iii] Others have underscored the devout nature of Mormon worship.[iv] Still more have recognized the faith's strong emphasis on the family.[v]
Unfortunately, despite society's progress in understanding who we are, some surveys show that the general public still doesn't know what we believe. Late-night television personality Conan O'Brien made this all too clear when he humorously sang:
Oh Mormons, Mormons, Mormons,
We haven't got a clue
Of what you folks believe in,
Or think or drink or do.[vi]
As a Church we can surely do a better job of helping others understand our beliefs. For example, we can more clearly articulate why Mormons are Christians. While the Church is neither Catholic nor Protestant, Jesus Christ has always been at the heart of Latter-day Saint doctrine and worship.
One Catholic professor of religion has recently called Mormon theology "Christology unbound," noting that "everything it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and expand faith in him."[vii] The founder of the Church, Joseph Smith, put it this way: "The fundamental principles of our religion are . . . concerning Jesus Christ that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it."[viii]
Not only do we believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the Son of a loving Heavenly Father, we also believe that through His grace mankind may be saved from their sins and return to live with God and their families forever. We seek to follow Jesus Christ's example by being baptized (see Matthew 3:13-17), praying in His holy name (see Matthew 6:9-13), partaking of the sacrament (see Luke 22:19-20), doing good to others (see Acts 10:38), and bearing witness of Him through both word and deed (see James 2:26). We differ from other Christians in believing that Christ's original Church in the New Testament was lost for a time, but has been restored in our day. Furthermore, while we believe the Holy Bible is the word of God, we also believe the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ.
Today people have ample opportunities to get to know Latter-day Saints and learn about our faith. In fact, Church websites like mormonnewsroom.org and mormon.org provide resources (see "Mormonism 101: FAQ") specifically designed to help news media, opinion leaders, and curious visitors understand our teachings and practices. Any and all are welcome to attend Sunday worship services at one of our 18,000 chapel meetinghouses around the globe.
As neighbors make the effort to get to know one another, they revise stereotypes and reevaluate mistaken characterizations. Those who truly take the time to learn about Latter-day Saints might be pleasantly surprised by who we are. Consequently, as misinformation abates and myths evanesce, people will no longer feel "deceived with regard to these people." Instead, individuals of all walks of life will come to see Mormons as true followers of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
[i] Quoted in Thomas Edgar Lyon Jr., "An Interview with Jorge Luis Borges: Conversation and Commentary on Art, Strength, and Religion," BYU Studies 34, no.1 (1994), 76.