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Mormons do not teach or excuse dishonesty
“Sneaky.” “Dishonest.” “Disingenuous.” “Secret.” “Mormons won’t tell you their REAL beliefs.”
By insinuation or outright accusation, it is common for some commentators to claim that Mormons aren’t honest. This is puzzling to most Mormons, whose convictions are summed up in a straightforward Article of Faith: “We believe in being honest.”
Why, then, the common accusation of dishonesty?
Sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding. Mormons do have sacred rites which they promise not to reveal to others. This isn’t in order to be secretive, and certainly not to hide shameful behavior or beliefs (the rites are uplifting, profound, and centered on the worship of Jesus Christ). Instead, it stems from the conviction that some things are so important that to share them with others who don’t understand, or who would even publicly mock them, would not be beneficial to anyone and would be disrespectful to God. When coupled with solemn covenants of righteousness and belief, it would, to a Mormon, be even more inappropriate to tell someone who was not ready for the great responsibility that comes with the covenant.
This Mormon approach to sacred, “secret” temple rites echoes the Bible account of early Israelite systems of worship: “Thus saith the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary” (Ezekiel 44:9). For Mormons, God’s “sanctuary” is any of the 166 holy temples worldwide.
Even to one who doesn’t share Mormon beliefs about the sacredness of LDS temple rites, it should be possible to respectfully accept that Mormons are not withholding details about their experience out of a desire to deceive.
Sometimes the accusation is that Mormons and particularly missionaries deliberately avoid telling potential members about some doctrines. To believe this requires a few curious leaps of logic–first, that Mormons find such a strategy effective despite the eventual anger and alienation of anyone tricked into joining the church that way, and second that Mormon doctrine could be easily explained and grasped in a short time frame. It is not–many volumes of scholarly output can be and have been written on Mormon theology.
It is quite true that some doctrines are foundational, and these are emphasized to start with, and that others are peripheral, so that it isn’t generally necessary to dwell on them. A good analogy is the difference between biblical teachings on faith, which are central, versus teachings regarding women’s participation in church, which are peripheral. Missionaries are trained to be effective with their time and avoid pointless wrangling of historical curiosities.
It is also true that some practices, like polygamy, are also not emphasized because they have little to do with the lives and beliefs of modern Mormons. Moreover, some topics require a lot of historical knowledge and context to explain, which is difficult for the average member, who is much more comfortable just discussing the basics. All faiths have aspects that average members might not be able to explain well. The choice to prioritize some teachings is based on the need to spend limited time on what is essential, not on a plan to deceive or trick.
Sometimes an individual learns inaccurate “facts” about Mormons from a trusted source, perhaps a publication or a pastor. If a Mormon then denies the truth of the “fact,” dishonesty is assumed. If this happens, one might want to consider–why jump to the conclusion of Mormon dishonesty? Why not consider that the source was mistaken, especially considering the high likelihood of misunderstanding a foreign belief system? That many easily jump to the conclusion of Mormon dishonesty is a facet of the bias and ill-will Mormons often face.
A good example of this is the strange “fact” that Mormons expect to become “gods of their own planets.” This takes a truth–Mormons believe, with ancient Christians, in theosis and eternal progression–and extrapolates a bizarre statement that does not accurately express what most Mormons believe. Many other sensationalized “facts” are repeated often, but that doesn’t make them true, or make Mormon denials dishonest.
A last accusation is the most puzzling. Some other Christians insist, based on insular interpretations of scripture, that Mormons are not Christian. They then insist that Mormons, who profess Christianity, are dishonest in doing so. This is illogical. Mormons do not claim to be Protestant, or Catholic, or creedal trinitarian, or anything other than restorationist believers in the divinity and salvation of Jesus Christ. They are not trying to deceive anyone into believing that they are “just like” other Christians; Mormon truth claims are distinctive and Mormons do not shy away from them. Piling a moral judgment (accusing dishonesty) on top of a logical fallacy (exclusion by self-serving definition) is, one might say, a fairly unchristian thing to do.
Accusing Mormons of dishonesty, as opposed to disapproving the specific behavior of a specific person, is itself dishonest, and often reveals the accuser’s ignorance of Mormons’ beliefs and motives. Such accusations and insinuations have no place in responsible discussion and news coverage.