This is the first in what will probably become a collection of articles that debunk some of the fallacies out there that are being perpetuated about LDS (Mormon) beliefs.
Let me explain: Since the beginning of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (as it should properly be called) there has been a tension with other Christian sects. In their zeal to castigate, isolate and drive the "Mormons" from their midst, salacious tales of fabricated acts and beliefs were commonly spread. Some, were true. Most were either taken so out of context as to be unrecognizable to those who believe, and many, many were outright lies.
Strangely, no matter how fervently members of the LDS faith denied these falsehoods, they were branded liars and charlatans and told how they really believe.
Think about that, told how and what they believe. No matter how it is misrepresented, I know what I believe, and only I should have the right to define that. You have every right to disagree with me, but you cannot define what I believe.
Often obscure and isolated passages from talks by church leaders are used as justification for their pronouncements of falsehood. This is often at best a misunderstanding, at worst a misrepresentation of how revelation and doctrine are promulgated in the LDS faith. When these are debunked, often the response is to call those responding liars and to say they are misrepresenting what they believe, while quite the opposite is true.
To have a much better understanding of how any item becomes "official doctrine", I highly recommend you go to this article:
In it Elder D. Todd Christopherson, an Apostle or member of the Quarum of the 12 Apostles, the second highest body in our church leadership, describes how doctrine is established. There is a specific process, and when something is outside that process, it is not official doctrine. As he states it, it is one's "well considered opinion". The actual "doctrine" of the LDS church is very finite, and is very easily accessible on LDS.org.
In fact, one of the best summaries of LDS beliefs is contained in a manual for the Gospel Principles class taught every Sunday at almost every LDS meeting house. You can find it here:
Without that foundation, nothing else that is done in the LDS faith will make any sense, and in some cases can be quite foreign.
One other point that I think is worth noting. Often LDS doctrine is left somewhat vague intentionally. For instance, let's look at tithing. Do you pay on the gross or net of your wages. A strong argument can be made either way. There are members who have a very strong belief that you should pay on the gross, and would never even consider otherwise. "Do you want gross blessings, or net blessings" is their statement. Others say as the commandment is to pay on your increase, and taxes are not part of your increase, to pay on the net is not only acceptable, but well in keeping with even the spirit of the law.
Both are right. This is left to the individual to work out between themselves and God, and should not be interpreted by leadership in any further detail.
Another example would be drinking Coke. Our Word of Wisdom forbids drinking coffee or tea. Some people interpret this to mean that caffeine is bad, and thus include Coke in that category. It is not expressly included though, and because some members have taken this interpretation too far, leaders have actually had to clarify this both privately and more rarely publicly. Now, that doesn't mean that as an individual member you cannot continue to live by that belief, but it does mean that it is inappropriate to judge others either informally or more formally based upon that belief.
Is it good to avoid caffeine? Probably yes. But it is not doctrine, despite the number of people who live by that standard.
As an aside, I drank Coke, and more specifically Dr. Pepper by the gallon for years. I just decided it wasn't healthy and gave up all soda wholesale. My choice, and one I don't impose on others. I pretty much drink water and the occasional glass of milk. Oh, and I do get a cranberry slush from Sonic with some regularity, but who wouldn't?
So with all that said, what I think I will be doing is taking some of the traditional complaints and misconceptions about Mormons, and give my take on it. I cannot speak for the church as a whole, but as a 6th generation member, I have a pretty good idea what is going on and can speak for myself reasonably well. I will try and distinguish between what I believe is "doctrine" and what is my "opinion", but I will attack them to the best of my ability.