Rich LaRocco

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Ruminations on my religion
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am accustomed to hearing misrepresentations, inaccuracies, exaggerations and outright lies about my religion. To set the record straight, I share the belief with all devout Mormons that Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God and atoned for all the sins of mankind through his suffering and death.

My church is not a non-Christian cult as some religious bigots are prone to say. We are not polygamists (at least for the past 122 years), and we abhor racism. Most Americans are misinformed about Mormon beliefs, but that is hardly surprising because the mass media seldom get things right when reporting about our church and its teachings.

I took this photo of The Christus, an 11-foot replica of the original statue by Bertel Thorvaldsen, as it stands before a mural of the universe in the Temple Square North Visitors' Center in Salt Lake City. Not a bad image for a little Kodak digital. Click on the image for a larger photo.

Some critics seem to delight in regurgitating mischaracterizations and falsehoods about Mormonism. I've come to expect from most reporters, pundits and politicians not only misleading details and wild inaccuracies about my faith but also quotes taken out of context, attempts to rewrite history and malicious falsehoods. Many of those who would discredit our religion demonstrate no regard for accuracy. Others are simply misinformed because they have been exposed to nothing but anti-Mormon propaganda.

If you want to know what Mormons believe, don't go by what our critics or even disgruntled former members say. Instead, either ask an active member of the LDS Church or visit one of its official websites, and

You're always welcome to drop in unannounced for Sunday services. A "visitors welcome" sign is posted prominently on all our chapels, most of which are connected to a "cultural hall" that doubles as a basketball gymnasium.

You don't need to announce that you're not a Mormon yourself. Just say, "I'm visiting today." It won't take you long to discover that devout members of my church center their lives on Christ and try hard to live according to the principles of the Gospel. We believe in the freedom of religion, a basic tenet of our Thirteen Articles of Faith, one of which states, "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege."

We believe in spreading our message to others so that they may enjoy the blessings that come from living a Christ-centered life, but we do not believe in forcing our beliefs on others.

The church does not endorse political parties or political candidates and does not tell its members how to vote. Occasionally, however, church leaders take positions on issues when they feel morally obligated to do so. For example, the church is opposed to abortion except in cases of incest or rape.

As a worldwide church (there are more members outside than inside the United States), the church is hesitant to get involved in controversial political debate. A couple of major exceptions have been its stance against the so-called Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and its defense of traditional heterosexual marriage, a position for which it has taken a great deal of criticism, especially when it publicly supported Proposition 8 in California (where there are more LDS members than in Utah).

You might be interested to know that the church does not oppose the rights of gay couples in such issues as hospitalization and medical care, fair housing, probate and employment "so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference."

My father-in-law, David Wilson, at the statue of Joseph Smith in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, October 2011.

Some ministers have preached that Mormons reject the Bible. That is the opposite of true. We accept both the Old and New Testaments and consider them to be the word of God insofar as they are translated correctly.

Any serious student of the Bible knows it contains inconsistencies and that there are important differences between various translations. The Bible itself refers to scriptures that are missing from the collection of books and writings that have come to be known as the Bible. The LDS Church uses the King James version of the Bible and publishes the KJV as the largest part of its canon of scriptures.

My son-in-law, Brinton Frisby, just before baptizing my oldest granddaughter, the lovely June 2011. Brinton served an LDS mission to Peru and is now an expert computer programmer.

The LDS Church is usually called a young religion because it was organized in 1830, but Mormons consider it to be the restored religion of the Bible, not a new religion. We believe in the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus Christ. But we believe that the authority that Christ left with his apostles was lost and his doctrine corrupted. Unlike many Christian sects, we reject the Nicean Creed and the other statements of faith that were the result of political maneuvering, compromise and electioneering. In other words, we are First Century Christians but not Fourth Century Christians.

Mormons honor the Christian martyrs such as William Tyndale, who was strangled and burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English. We honor the major actors of the Great Reformation, who realized that Christian teachings had become corrupt and that priests and bishops were favoring philosophy over the teachings of the Bible. Recently the church helped to sponsor a superb historical video series about the reformation and the birth of the King James Bible. I highly recommend it. If you have satellite TV, do a search for "Fires of Faith" and watch all three episodes.

Members of the LDS Church honor Joseph Smith, born in 1805, as a modern prophet through whom the priesthood authority and the fullness of the Gospel were restored. Though he was an imperfect man, we believe he did more, save Jesus only, to bring men and women to Christ than anyone who ever lived. He was killed by a mob in 1844. We do not worship him but honor him in the same way we respect and honor the ancient prophets, such as Isaiah, Elijah, John the Baptist, Moses and Noah.

Members of the LDS Church do not consider themselves to be superior to other people (although I'm sure there are exceptions). On the other hand, like the members of all religions, we realize that we are merely humans and, hence, are prone to make mistakes, and we consider our failings to be even more serious because we believe we should know better and behave better.

Although devout Mormons believe that God reveals his will to the church's president, whom we call a prophet, seer and revelator, we do not consider him to be infallible. We do not believe he would be allowed by God to lead his flock to damnation, however, and so we strive to follow prophetic advice and to avoid sin.

Please don't judge the LDS Church by those among us who fail miserably at that. But consider that despite our human failings, most Mormons do their best to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs. It's hard to live that way, and some of us just give up, while others risk being called hypocrites for continually trying and failing and trying again.

In general, however, devout Mormons are known for avoiding tobacco and alcohol, drugs and tattoos, mohawks and revealing clothing, riotous living and wild partying, Sunday recreating and uncontrolled gambling. But as one who has lived most of my life in areas where many of my neighbors and friends have been Mormon, I can testify that even among the Latter-day Saints many have needed to repent of such behavior and rely upon the grace of God for redemption.

My hope is that most of my fellow Mormons stay out of the news for their shortcomings and attract attention instead for their good fruits — fidelity in marriage, devotion to family, caring for the homeless and poor, aiding the victims of natural disasters, volunteering in their communities, serving in office and keeping their homes and their families in order. I, too, hope my failings are forgotten and that I will be remembered for the kindnesses I have shown and the good deeds I have performed. All of us would do well to remember that Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God and to love our neighbors.

Please read the links within "Ruminations on my religion."

How Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes was 'ambushed' by a Mormon president

New independent Pew survey shows attitudes of Mormons

LDS Church's official position on racism

Unique Mormon beliefs

The Trinity doctrine/dogma exposed

Are Mormons Christian?