Spotlight on Mormonism

Lawrence church members address misconceptions arising in 2008 race

Lawrence Journal-World, Kansas/November 1, 2007

There's a slight sense of understatement in Janet Grant's voice.

"Sometimes," she says, "we're misunderstood."

Grant is a Mormon. She has belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 24 years, since she was 36.

Even today, with a spotlight shining on the church because of the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon, members of the local church say they encounter misunderstandings about their faith on a regular basis.

Just because they're in the spotlight, they say, doesn't mean people are taking the time to learn much about them.


On the surface, looking at the national Web site for the Mormon Church or hearing a member talk about core beliefs, Mormons share many beliefs with other Christian denominations.

Ric Mitchell, who directs the church's Institute of Religion that serves Kansas University students, goes through some of those beliefs:

  • The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate entities.
  • Jesus is the son of God and lived a perfect life.
  • Humans are children of God.

Grant wishes people put more focus on those core beliefs.

"It's kind of a shame we are set apart," she says. "There are so many more similarities than differences (with other Christians). Our core beliefs are very much like other Christian faiths. I wish we could draw more together."


But there certainly are some beliefs that are unique to the church.

Mormons believe the church's founder, Joseph Smith, was visited by God and Jesus Christ in the 1820s and was inspired to translate the Book of Mormon, which was on gold plates. The book remains alongside the Bible as the church's holy texts.

Mitchell says Mormons believe an "apostasy" occurred after the death of Jesus and his apostles, meaning people turned away from God's principles.

"After Christ and the apostles died," Mitchell says, "we believe the keys and authority to act in God's name was lost. With Joseph Smith, when the Father and Son appeared to him, the keys were restored to him again."

Now, the church, which has its headquarters in Salt Lake City, includes nearly 13 million members worldwide. There are four local congregations — called wards — in Lawrence. Three of those meet at 3655 W. 10th St., and the other meets at the institute, 1629 W. 19th St.

There are no paid ministerial staff. Members take turns speaking at Sunday meetings.

They also are encouraged — especially the men — to spend two years doing mission work between the ages of 19 and 25. That usually involves walking door to door, talking about their faith, and doing other volunteer work.

In all, church members estimate there are about 1,000 Mormons in Lawrence. The church says there are about 31,000 in Kansas.

"You'd be surprised as you walk through the grocery store and rub shoulders just how many people are members of the church," church member Kay Rytting says.

'All individuals'

Several church members say they've encountered many misunderstandings through the years.

The first, of course, is the polygamy issue. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has outlawed polygamy since 1890, but certain splinter groups that use the "Mormon" name have perpetuated the practice through the years.

But many other misunderstandings revolve around the church's social prohibitions. Members aren't supposed to drink or smoke, and they're encouraged to eat healthy.

Still, Rytting says, people have asked her if she's supposed to wear makeup.

And Diane Karpowitz, another member, says she's been asked if she's allowed to eat chocolate.

Karpowitz says another misconception is that nonmembers aren't allowed to attend services at local chapels. (They aren't allowed in the 124 Mormon temples.)

"Since only members can go to the temple, some people have heard they can't go to our meetings," Karpowitz says. "That's not true. We want people to know they can come here."

Grant says she's unsure if Romney is her choice for president, though she's enjoyed watching the national attention on her religion. She's sure, though, that Mormons will have many points of view about the election.

"We're all individuals," she says. "We're not encouraged to be the same. We come from all walks of life, and all live the Gospel in our own style."

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