Mythbusting, Mormon-Style!

As we recently discussed, Deseret News was lamenting confusion in media news coverage about Mormons and polygamy — while simultaneously helping it along by providing additional confusing misinformation on the subject. I give them irony bonus points for this statement:

And despite confusion in some media coverage, there is no relation between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the LDS Church or Mormons, and the polygamist FLDS or Jeffs.

OK, so the two organizations are not affiliated (or even friendly with one another), but is that quite the same thing as no relation? No wonder the media are confused! Also, the sentence directly implies that only the members CoJCoL-dS — not the FLDS — use the nickname “Mormon” (false). And I had to read it twice to get that they’re not actually claiming that FLDS members are commonly called “Jeffs” — creative!

Then — in a surprising new strategy — Joanna Brooks and the Washington Post decided to try printing accurate information! Or pretty good, anyway. Go read her article, and assess it for yourself, and see if you agree with my grades:

1. Mormons practice polygamy. my grade: A

Brooks’s explanation is probably the clearest and most accurate explanation of polygamy and the modern LDS church that I’ve ever read from a faithful member of the CoJCoL-dS. Deseret News, take note!

2. Mormons arent Christians. my grade: C

Brooks correctly implies that this is a battle that centers around the Religious Right. However, I think she’s missing the boat by not discussing the various possible definitions of “Christianity”. Her explanation seems to chalk the whole dispute up to personal/historical animosity. Special [negative] bonus points for earnestly using the term “anti-Mormon” — without a single mention of how loaded that term is in Mormon circles.

3. Most Mormons are white, English-speaking conservatives. my grade: D

From its American beginnings, Mormonism has grown into a global religion, with 14.1 million members worldwide. Fewer than half live in the United States. More LDS Church members live in South America (about 2.1 million) than Utah (1.9 million).

14.1 million members worldwide? Really? How many of those self-identify as Mormon?

Brooks knows how problematic those numbers are, yet recites them in myth-busting article without a single hint about how far the CoJCoL-dS official numbers differ from reality. Other relevant points that neglected to mention include (1) how the leadership of this extremely hierarchical organization is overwhelmingly dominated by white, English-speaking, conservative men, and (2) active Mormons are the most politically right-wing religious group in the US.

4. Mormon women are second-class citizens. my grade: B

This section is actually pretty good. My biggest beef is with the title. Brooks seems to be implying that women are not second-class citizens in the LDS church. I think she’s using a rather strange definition of “second-class citizen”:

It is true that mainstream Mormonism does not accord women equal status with men. The worldwide LDS Church chain of command including all positions of clerical, institutional and fiscal authority is entirely male. Women cannot hold the lay priesthood shared in by men age 12 and older. The churchs Proclamation on the Family declares that men preside over the household. Unequal gender language is also a part of Mormon temple worship and marriage ceremonies.

5. A Mormon president would blur the line between church and state. my grade: D

Maybe one would, maybe one wouldn’t, but (as in #3) she misses some key points. When making the comparison with Kennedy, she might have also mentioned some differences between Kennedy’s affirmation of the separation of church and state and Romney’s speech about how he’s just as religious as every other good American. Also — even if you think the temple loyalty oath isn’t important — it is a real, legitimate concern, and it’s disingenuous not to even mention it in this context. Then (this is nit-picky, but):

It should be remembered that Mormons have held local, state and federal offices in America for more than a century. Fifteen Mormons now serve in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and few seemed to worry that the LDS Church was influencing his debt-ceiling proposals.

This historical information isn’t very helpful without some discussion of how well the Mormons holding “local, state and federal offices in America for more than a century” did at maintaining the line of separation between church and state.

What do you think?


C. L. Hanson is the friendly Swiss-French-American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! Follow me on mastadon at or see "letters from a broad" for further adventures!!

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93 Responses

  1. Badger says:

    Do folks of the community here think it is OK that MHs IRL identity has been posted without his consent? …but should it be allowed?

    I don’t like it. This sort of question is hard to address in the abstract, unless you have an absolutist “always yes” or “always no” position, which I don’t, although I’m nearer “always no”. I don’t have a general answer to propose, or even any coherent thoughts beyond my immediate subjective reaction to this one instance, which was unhappy. If I weren’t so uninformed I might feel differently. I’m not asking to become better informed via additional comments, just acknowledging my distance from the situation.

  2. Suzanne Neilsen says:

    Is there a more unpardonable sin, then not displaying proper decorum?
    Everyone should realize their station and the appropriate behavior.
    And if, um, certain people can’t sweetly master passive aggressive speech, then they should remain politely silent and stylishly dressed.

  3. Chino Blanco says:

    p.s. to all as a procedural question: Do folks of the community here think it is OK that MHs IRL identity has been posted without his consent? Naturally, I understand the motivation, but should it be allowed? What say you?

    No, I think that info should be moderated out. And I think if I was on a panel and someone cut me off, I’d return the favor on the spot and ask them to let me finish, rather than blog about it later. So, in that spirit, this is me seated next to Holly and tilting my head to the side and muttering, “Jesus, Holly, we’re arguing about Mormonism for chrissakes, not whether or not Child Protective Services needs to be called on a neighbor, so how about not supplying your detractors with ammo? It’s not like the rest of the room isn’t also picking up on how seriously some of these stuffed shirts take themselves. OK?”

    Now I totally regret missing Sunstone. Our family reunion is in Utah next summer, so I’m totally counting on being there for 2012. The Mayans got it right at least as far as some of you Momos are concerned. Hahahaha. *evil grin*

  4. Chino Blanco says:

    @50: That’s why I refuse to take MH’s post seriously. It goes something like this:

    I don’t like people saying mean things about the Mormon church. Not to mention rude people. They’re almost as bad as those anti-Semites. No, really, there was this totally anti-Semitic dude at Sunstone. But, hey, what about that Holly Welker person? Whoa. She said some totally mean things about the Mormon church and ruined Sunstone for me and my friends. Except for my friends who were smart enough to not show up. High fives.

    Here’s a new handle for ya, Perez Priesthood.

  5. chanson says:

    OK, folks, I have deleted one comment and edited another simply to remove real-life identity information that MH did not volunteer to have published. Normally our policy is not to edit or delete people’s comments, but this is one type of case where it may be necessary. If anyone objects to this action, please feel free to add your own opinion below.

  6. Wow, I didn’t realize that Holly and I posted near simultaneously. Once again she can’t seem to master basic social skills that most of us learned in elementary school. Chanson, Thanks for editing the comments. I’m glad some people here have a sense of proper netiquette.

  7. chanson says:

    MH — Thanks for your thanks, but, please, let’s not make this worse. I’d rather not start [or continue…?] a not-so-constructive debate about who has or hasn’t displayed elementary-school-level courtesy through the course of this discussion.

  8. One other thing. Holly’s making up things if she says that I was on some panel at Sunstone, or that Tom mentioned me in his presentation last year.

    I’m sure that JB, Janice, and Margaret didn’t object to Holly as much as I did. But I’m not the only one that had a problem with Holly. Bishop Rick said at W&T,

    I was a little put off when she interrupted Janice during her attempted explanation of why Mother in Heaven was not at the first vision. I thought her job was to moderate the discussion, not sensor it.

  9. Sorry Chanson–didn’t see your comment until it was too late. I’ll bow out, and you can return to your regularly scheduled piece on the Washington Post article.

  10. Chino Blanco says:

    Anyone care to comment on my new ‘nacle handle? Based on some initial focus group feedback, I think I’m gonna start using Pabst Blue Ribbon Defense League.

    By the way, you’re all invited to join my new league, follow the link directly above, and help push back against this latest pile of perfidious prevarication:

    It looks like MSP would have given Brooks better grades if she had affirmed the myths rather than disputing them. So, vis-a-vis the myth problem, it looks like MSP is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Brooks was very candid about disclosing negative information along with her rebuttals to the myths, which is one reason she has some credibility. If those who voice criticism were as candid about the positives of Mormonism, they might have more credibility too.

    So, have fun, but whatever you do, p-o-s-i-t-i-v-i-t-y, people!

  11. Chino Blanco says:

    Oh, and I vote for a full IP block on any traffic coming in from Wheat & Tares unless they can get a handle on this junior high level of post-Sunstone gossip. It’s getting goddam tiresome.

  12. chanson says:

    Chino @60 — I don’t object to Dave making a claim like that as long as he includes a link to my article so people can judge the validity for themselves. Dave may yet correct this oversight, we’ll see.

    And @61, well, we kind of brought it on ourselves by talking about them… 😉

  13. Chino Blanco says:

    I’m chill. As long as Galileo G. there can keep his David Duke pop quiz outta my face.

  14. Chino Blanco says:

    Re Dave’s comments at T&S, here’s the bit that cracks me up:

    So, vis-a-vis the myth problem, it looks like MSP is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    Firstly, you, Chanson, are a stickler for getting stuff right. And more often than not, you do it in very pleasant and easy-to-read fashion.

    Secondly (and here is where Dave loses a bunch of credibility), it doesn’t matter which side of the faith divide you find yourself on, whether you’re upbeat or downbeat, or whatever… if you’re at all familiar with Mormonism, it is undeniably and objectively simply a matter of fact that the LDS church itself is the prime source of the confusion.

    MSP is part of the problem? Wow. Such flattery. All that power, it’s no wonder T&S doesn’t dare risk their readers falling under our sway.

  15. chanson says:

    Thanks, Chino — you’re too sweet! And, true, that’s some high praise from Dave as well!

    I just hope that that little exchange on T&S sends some of the T&S crowd over here to chat with us, because this discussion simply has not been lively enough! 😉

  16. aerin says:

    Do we need to add something to our commenting policy about posting people’s IRL names without their permission? Maybe that’s not necessary…I know other boards (Mormon discussions) have added that as a part of their policy. It does get complicated, however.

  17. Holly says:

    Mormon Heretic

    One other thing. Hollys making up things if she says that I was on some panel at Sunstone, or that Tom mentioned me in his presentation last year.

    I said no such thing. I merely repeated what you said, MH, about the panel you attended last year.

    re: cutting Janice off–she was responding to something I said, not something anyone in the audience said, and she was preparing to take the conversation in a direction I didn’t think was appropriate. I stand by my decision to say to her, “There is no point in talking about that here, now.”

    re: outing Mormon Heretic– now that info regarding MH’s identity has been removed here, I’ll simply see that it is provide somewhere where it can’t be removed. If he’s going to mine social networking sites to include images and information about me, I’m going to do the same. It may not be cool to out him, but using anonymity as a way to increase his ability to be nasty without suffering any consequences isn’t cool either.

  18. chanson says:

    aerin @66 — That might be a good idea. Though, I kind of hesitate to have a hard-and-fast rule because I can imagine situations where it would be appropriate to post IRL information (someone who made threats of violence, for example).

    Personally, I lean towards saying that, in the future, I would try to catch this sort of thing more quickly, and temporarily remove the information while the community decides whether it’s appropriate to let it stand or not.

  19. chanson says:

    Did you see the latest on T&S? They devoted whole new top-level post to counting the ways that I’m wrong to say that citing the “14.1 million Mormons” number is misleading. Yet, they still can’t quite bring themselves to link directly to this oh-so-dangerous article.

    Personally, I’d say that in an ordinary secular newspaper, if you claim that there are X number of members of religion Y, people will assume you mean that there are X number of people whom, if asked “What religion are you?” they will answer “religion Y”. But if the folks from T&S think that’s not the standard assumption, they’re more than welcome to make their case here.

  20. Dave says:

    Chanson, the T&S post about the 14.1 million stat was about the story by Joanna Brooks. It didn’t link to your post here because it wasn’t talking about your post.

    i didn’t link to your post here in my own T&S post about the article by Joanna Brooks because I didn’t talk about your post. I wasn’t even aware of it until one of your own regulars left a comment. That commenter — one of your folks — elected to not link to your post. Perhaps that’s who you should be irritated with. I only addressed your post as a response to the comment left at my T&S post. Sorry if it caused any anxiety for you or your MSP readers.

  21. Andrew S. says:


    At least with respect to Sam’s post, it was directly talking about chanson’s comments. Sam begins by pointing out that the “conversation is getting hung up on whether her citation of 14.1 million members is disengenuous…” But 14 million was first brought up by Pabst Blue Ribbon Defense League and by chanson. He is responding to the discussion first and foremost.

    And I will have you know that I (who did originally post with reference to this article and who did elect not to link to this post) am not “a regular” here or “one of [chanson’s] folks.” I go from site to site attempting to increase inter-group communication sowing the seeds of e-chaos and discord, but my attention more generally is devoted to my own blog or my junior-high-gossip-pals at W&T.

  22. Ms. Jack says:

    #7 Chino ~ Sorry, I missed your earlier comment.

    there are people out there who are actively scheming for our [LDS] young ones. And they are. Theyre predatory, and its offensive to me.

    So Joanna said this at some point in the podcast? I’ll have to give it a listen and maybe comment.

  23. chanson says:

    Dave — don’t worry, you caused me no anxiety, and thanks for coming by to explain.

    The thing is that I’ve had perfectly civil comments of mine sent permanently to the circular file merely for including a relevant link to this site. Now, it’s possible that I may be confusing you guys (@ T&S) with BCC. If it’s actually BCC (and not T&S) that has that policy, then my apologies for mixing you guys up.

    That said, since (as Andrew points out), the second post was in direct response to comments about this post. It would have been a friendly inter-blog gesture for the author of that post to provide a direct link here. However, it is not a big deal. I’m just glad to see you guys are giving this issue some additional attention! 😀

  24. Dave says:

    Andrew, by “your folks” I meant posters and commenters at MSP. You’ve got a badge linked to the MSP-sponsored aggregator at your personal site, which seems to confirm that you support MSP. If I am mistaken and you neither post nor comment here, and your link and badge express no particular approval of or affinity for MSP, then I stand corrected. You are certainly welcome at any blog, regardless of your preferences.

  25. Andrew S. says:


    I got your meaning the first time, and disputed it. I post MSP badges on my site because apparently I am a freaking pariah in the bloggernacle (which is perhaps a vicious cycle related to my association with Outer Blogness, but oh well), so it makes little sense to support the Bloggernacle aggregator visibly as I would. I have not posted here at MSP for a year or more (I haven’t checked that for sure, but it feels like that), and as I said, my attention with respect to commenting are to try to go around everywhere, but I’m most often at my own blog and W&T. But as you can see, that site is just as likely to get chastised for “junior high” gossip here, so I suppose that’s that.

    I am certainly grateful that I’m not (yet) blacklisted at T&S though.

  26. Chino Blanco says:

    Yeah, Jack, here’s the link (you can search comments for references to JB’s remark re your perfidious predation).

    And just muttering to nobody in particular, I dig Dave when he’s in high dudgeon:

    So just be honest that what you want is confusion, not clarity.

    Yeah, because what’s really happening is that evil exmormons and liberal unsavory media types are in cahoots and making people confused about Mormonism on purpose.

    And Andrew S., you know all this W&T trash talk is just that, right? Nothing more. Just speaking for myself, I’d really prefer if the ‘nacle’s smackdown culture could stay over at T&S and BCC and be kept off the threads here at MSP.

  27. Andrew, why would anyone blacklist you?

  28. Andrew S. says:

    because I’m obnoxious and steve evans isn’t having that.

  29. chanson says:

    Andrew S @75 — You should write for us more often! 😀

    Chino @76 — Naturally he accuses others of wanting to create confusion. We had the audacity to claim that the CoJCoL-dS itself is the source of most of the confusion. The simplest way to ignore/deflect that charge is the “I’m rubber and you’re glue” defense.

    Speaking of confusion, though, I think this whole discussion is helping decrease confusion by encouraging people to analyze and discuss the various confusing claims. For example, take this comment:

    Is there actually anybody on the planet who doesnt understand that 14 million is just what the church claims it is? That is, members of record who havent died, resigned, or been excommunicated. Is there somebody who actually makes the claim that all 14,000,000 are active or self-identify as Mormons? The church doesnt tag its membership records as to activity or self-identification (and that would be an impossible task anyway), so it reports the data it has: members of record.

    In all sincerity, I don’t think the average reader of an ordinary paper like the WaPo is going to assume you mean there are 14.1 million “members of record” when you say there are 14.1 million Mormons. I think the average person probably wouldn’t even be familiar with this concept, and would have no idea that you’re counting a whole lot of people who were blessed or baptized by Mormons decades ago but have since joined or returned to other religions.

    Additionally, JB didn’t cite the source for the 14.1 million figure, so people unfamiliar with Mormonism could potentially [mistakenly] assume that the number comes from independent population demographers and/or that independent demographers have come up with approximately the same numbers as the CoJCoL-dS’s self-reported statistics.

    But clearly there are different possible perspectives on this point, so by all means, let’s discuss is.

  30. chanson says:

    Also, with respect to Dave’s comment (cited by Chino @76), it’s possible that Dave actually thinks that exmos and others are cackling with glee when the press mentions Mormon fundamentalist/polygamist groups without pointing out that they’re not affiliated with the most familiar Mormon church (the CoJCoL-dS). But that’s the opposite of what I’m saying in this article. My point is the following:

    If the church insists that press say the FLDS aren’t “Mormons” and/or that Mormon fundamentalists have no business calling themselves “Mormon fundamentalists” (which is false), the press will often simply dismiss the request as irrelevant. Similarly, if the church insists that the press say that there is simply “no relation” between the CoJCoL-dS and the Utah polygamist groups (which is somewhere between confusing and misleading), there is a strong chance, again, of having the request ignored. Whereas, if they make a request that is reasonable and accurate (eg. “please point out that the polygamist branches of the LDS tradition are an offshoot that broke off about a hundred years ago, and are currently not affiliated with or supported by the CoJCoL-dS”), they might have better luck at having their wishes honored.

  31. Chino Blanco says:

    because Im obnoxious and steve evans isnt having that.


  32. chanson says:

    OK, shameless cross-promotion, but this quote made me LMAO:

    Five Myths is a WaPo series and so contributors must choose which five to talk about. A piece about the broader attempt to sort fact from fiction where Mormonism is concerned would probably be titled The Neverending Story.

  33. Kaimi says:

    As an official blogger at That Site, I can confirm that MSP is not on the auto-mod list at T&S.

    A variety of particularly annoying commenters from various venues are on the list, but none of them are MSP regulars, as far as I know. I can say for sure that chanson, Andrew, and Chino are not auto-modded. Hellmut isn’t, either, but for some reason our akismet filter hates him and tends to classify about a third of his comments as spam. I’m not sure whether that’s a bug or a feature. (Kidding!)

    Most cussing (beyond damn or hell) will get you moderated, reflecting community norms; and if you talk about T*xas H*ldem or V*agra, you’ll be moderated, because we get hit by lots of spam-bots and have added a bunch of frequently-spammed terms to the auto-mod list.

  34. Kaimi says:

    Also, we briefly blacklisted all comments about socialism. But that was a technical error:

  35. chanson says:

    Kaimi — Thanks for clarifying!

    I recently posted a long comment, then a quick link to an article at and then followed-up with a comment asking the mods to fish my link comment out of the mod queue (I don’t think they ever did, but the request was visible). However, that clearly must have happened at BCC. So, I’m sorry for getting the two blogs confused and for besmirching T&S’s reputation in the process.

    [You’d think I could keep these blogs straight since my brother’s a perma on one of them… how embarrassing!]

    Anyway, maybe next the BCC guys will show up here and explain their policy! That would be cool, since this wacky discussion appears to have died down a bit. 😉

  36. Chino Blanco says:

    As far as I can tell, that T&S crew are good sports. Lots of respect from this side for any ‘nacle blog that puts up with our antics rather than immediately assuming the fetal position like that other Mormony group blog.

  37. aerin says:

    I may write a top level post (with what time!) about why the 14 million number matters, or doesn’t. I wasn’t able to leave a comment on T&S before comments were closed.

    Aside from having some independently verified figures (and counting people who self -identify, which I agree with)…the number itself doesn’t matter. Just like any corporation, it’s the narrative or story that matters. You can’t claim the fastest growing or diversity without those numbers. As a business, you can claim profits and growth, but if the numbers aren’t there, you will lose money or be investigated for fraud.

    As a religion (as we’ve discussed before), the LDS church doesn’t have to justify its actions to anyone but its members. And presumably the IRS. I think the church is being run like a business and has been for some time. It’s simply distasteful (just like with other faiths) when there are claims of modesty and piety which may not be true.

  38. Chino Blanco says:

    I hope you write it, Aerin. Without that 14M figure, Otterson’s latest WaPo piece makes no sense. LDSPA needs it, which is why they pretend so hard that it doesn’t matter, hoping outsiders won’t call them on it. Esp. check the visual aids in Otterson’s Aug. 5 piece. Like you say, the story they tell falls apart w/o the inflated S. American numbers (or, in my part of the world, the equally inflated Philippines stats). If you want to get a visual of who Mormons are, where they are, you’d get a more accurate picture looking at the distribution of LDS temples.

  39. And if, um, certain people cant sweetly master passive aggressive speech, then they should remain politely silent and stylishly dressed.

    I’m pretty sure being stylishly dressed is a different denomination.

    The FLDS and the LDS are related in the same way the Baptists and the Catholics are (or, perhaps better, the way the Catholics and Anglicans are — except we don’t recognize each others ordinations or baptisms — so less than the Baptists and Catholics who are half way there).

    historical information isnt very helpful without some discussion — I think she did well within the word count available, all in all. I think being a Republican affects Romney more than being LDS, compare him as governor to his presidential candidacy. But that gets into snarking.

  40. Chino, the numbers are about as inflated as all other religious body membership reporting. Which is both good and bad. Kind of like why they keep track not only of what percentage of the population is registered with which political party but also how the population blocks vote — which is significantly different sometimes.

  41. chanson says:

    @91 & @91 Yes, I mentioned in my comment on the T&S post that I understand that she has space constraints. However, I feel like she could have done better anyway.

    Regarding Mormons in politics, I agree with Badger that she would have been better off making a comparison with Orrin Hatch than invoking local Utah politics. I also agree with Roger Hansen:

    As for point 5, all you need to do is look at Utahs internal politics and the “Prop-8” campaign, and the public has a right to be concerned.

    Regarding the 14.1 million figure, I’m not convinced that other religions do exaggerate their numbers like the CoJCoL-dS does, but that’s not really the problem. When you say “There are 14.1 million Mormons” — without specifying a source — a typical reader might easily assume that that number came from independent demographers or pollsters. It’s misleading not to mention the source considering that numbers from independent sources don’t come anywhere near the CoCJoL-dS’s claimed numbers. It would have been very easy to write the phrase in a manner that is both clear and concise, for example, like this:

    Maybe a few dozen of these groups still exist today, the largest being The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with its claims to 14.1 million people on the rolls. The second largest is the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, with some 250,000 members.

  1. August 14, 2011

    […] Joanna Brooks wrote a Washington Post article tackling five myths about Mormonism. I then analyzed her analysis, as did Times & Seasons, which led to further discussion about the CoJCoL-dS’s claims […]

  2. March 22, 2012

    […] Dispatches and her Ask Mormon Girl blog, not to mention writing for the Washington Post (which had a few questionable points, but was cool […]

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