A recent interfaith discussion held in Lubbock, Texas recently helped students better understand four faiths. Represented on the panel were Mormons (a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), Baptists, Jews, and Muslims. Each spoke on basic principles of their faith or about famous members of their faith.

Mormons have long held that the best way to dispel prejudice against any group of people is to provide information and personal contact. Studies have shown that people who know practicing, believing Mormons are less likely to hold negative views of the religion or to practice discrimination. When people receive authentic information on Mormon beliefs, rather than the gossip often spread by people who are not qualified to speak on the faith, they generally realize that many Mormon beliefs are not as different from the beliefs of other Christians as they thought and for those beliefs that are different, they are more likely to understand the appeal or even the reason for the beliefs.

Interfaith discussions like the one in Texas are important because they used practicing, believing members of each faith to explain beliefs. This ensures that the beliefs shared are accurate, in context, and presented without shading that would alter the meaning. It is surprisingly difficult to explain the beliefs of a faith you do not personally accept, because the language, the culture, and the context are all difficult to understand. It is also difficult to understand what constitutes a canonized doctrine or to know what sources are considered valid.

As an example, many outsiders who discuss Mormonism use only the Journal of Discourses and Brigham Young as their sources. When they do so, they demonstrate a lack of knowledge about how Mormonism operates. Journal of Discourses is not an official source of information on Mormonism. It is not canonized and is often not accurate. It contains the transcribed records of various talks and prayer that were never submitted to the speakers for verification. Nor do they make it clear whether or not the talk contained official doctrine or the speaker’s opinion. While its publication was approved by the Church, the Church did not publish it. It was a private for-profit project done by Church members, not the Church itself.

In addition, Brigham Young died long ago and is no longer the prophet. Mormons believe in continuing revelation, a concept clearly taught by the Bible. Adam may have been the first man to talk to God, but he was not the last. Throughout the Old and New Testament, we note that there were many prophets. The Old Testament contains the teachings of many different prophets, each teaching things the others did not. Sometimes these teachings changed what was previously taught or added to our knowledge of a subject. In the New Testament, after the Savior Jesus Christ died, his apostles continued on and several are mentioned as being prophets. Peter received a revelation that undid Jesus’ instructions not to teach the gospel to Gentiles and Samaritans. This does not mean Peter was taking on authority he did not have or that it was “convenient.” It meant that God felt the world was ready for the next step in the eternal plan. The Law of Moses stopped being practiced without in any way dishonoring Moses. It was simply no longer needed in God’s plan.

The Bible promises us God will do nothing without informing His prophets. Mormons believe that prophecy has been restored once again—and that the current prophet is the one who outlines God’s current instructions, just as it worked in Biblical times. Since Brigham Young is not the prophet, he is not the final word on any subject.

Finally, those who are not Mormons often do not understand that ever word a prophet speaks is not necessarily official doctrine. God has never revealed every detail of His gospel at once. Where there is no official doctrine, we are free to study the issue and come to our own conclusions. Mormons believe that prophets are people who are entitled to their opinions on non-canonized religion. Today, they are more likely to make clear what is official and what is not, due to the speed of communication. In earlier times, they spoke to the audience in front of them, who knew the context and knew what was official and what was not. Few doctrines had been revealed in Young’s time and he was a man of great intelligence and curiosity, so he had many opinions. Those who do not belong to the faith often mistakenly accept his opinions as doctrines.

Mormons love to talk about their faith. If your community is hosting an interfaith activity that involves the sharing of knowledge and not arguing or debating, you are likely to be able to find a Mormon willing and even eager to share his or her beliefs with your group. Since there is not a professional ministry, you will get a volunteer—but Mormons are known for their enthusiasm for volunteerism.

About Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.

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