The scene Tuesday night at the home of Ron and Kim Schnackenberg consisted of people gathered to share food, stories and laughter.
Members of one of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' three wards in Craig, the Schnackenbergs hosted an open house for members of the community to come and ask questions about their religion.
They acknowledged there is plenty of speculation surrounding their faith, and with presidential candidate Mitt Romney being a member of the LDS church questions have been raised as to the misconceptions and truths regarding the faith better known as Mormonism.
The Schnackenbergs, along with Bishop Forrest Luke, missionaries Elder Smith and Elder Campbell, and other members of the church, fielded questions and explained their beliefs over the course of the evening.
Ron Schnackenberg said he believes the biggest misconception about his faith is that LDS members are not Christian.
“We are a Christian church, we believe Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and that he died for our sins,” Schnackenberg said.
Pastor Loren Pankratz, of the non-denominational Bridge Community Church in Centerville, Utah, said he believes it depends on the definition of Christian being used.
“If you mean Christ follower then yeah, but no traditional Christian would say they’re Christian under that definition,” Pankratz said. “It’s more than you follow Jesus.”
Pankratz earned a master's of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and did his dissertation on differences between the LDS understanding of grace and the understanding taught by other Christian denominations.
He lives in an area where about 85 percent of the residents are members of the LDS church. And although they may differ in their beliefs, Pankratz praised LDS members for their commitment to community and family.
Pankratz said when strong winds wrought destruction in Utah last year, LDS church members were some of the first to respond.
“Mormonism is more of a culture than a simple faith, and they do community really well,” Pankratz said. “When the winds came last year, the LDS church responded amazingly. They organized a clean up drive and cancelled church and told everyone to go help.”
Living a good life is a major cornerstone of the faith, but Elder Robbie Smith, a missionary working in Colorado and currently based in Craig, said another misconception people have is thinking Mormons believe you must work your way into heaven.
Although important to the religion, works are not the way to gain entrance into heaven, he said.
“No matter how much you work, you’re not going to do it alone,” Smith said.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about the LDS church involves the practice of polygamy.
“That they’re OK with it or practice, it isn’t true,” Pankratz said. “They distanced themselves from that in 1890. They stepped away from it.”
Pankratz said if the church found one of their members practicing, they would probably disavow them, or throw them out. He also said mainstream media, through shows like Big Love and Sister Wives, perpetuate the misconception, and said although groups like the ones portrayed in the TV shows might consider themselves Mormon, they are not LDS.
Overall, Ron Schnackenberg said the church believes in constant progression and that Jesus set the perfect example for which members should strive. He also said God is the ultimate judge, and will base his judgment on the way one tried to live.
The 13 Articles of Faith, passed down from the prophet Joseph Smith, founder of the religion, all relate to living a life pleasing to God.
Article 13 states that LDS members believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous and in doing good to all men. It also says church members are interested in anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.
The head of the church is president and prophet Thomas Monson. Along with two counselors, the three apostles make up the First Presidency.
Monson is considered by church members to be the current authorized prophet of God.
Underneath the First Presidency are 12 apostles, then quorums of 70 throughout the world. At a more local level are stakes, which house wards and branches.
Wards and branches are decided by geographic distribution of church members. There are three wards in Craig, each led by a Bishop. All three are part of the Meeker stake.
Bishop Luke said he has about 400 members in his ward.
Other unique parts of the faith include the way it functions solely on volunteers — not a single position is paid and all clergy members are lay— and that LDS members believe in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon as the word of God.
Ron Schnackenberg, a convert to the religion later in life, said the openness and quality of life promoted by the religion is what drew him to it.
“The thing that impressed me was that they taught the principles, then told you to pray about it,” Schnackenberg said. “There was no coercion.”
Pastor Len Browning, of the Journey at First Baptist in Craig, said he believed the average Mormon to be really tolerant and accepting of Christianity in many forms, and said he thinks “Mormonism has been good and wholesome and healthy and very good for creating a wholesome family.”
However, Browning doesn’t view Mormonism as another denomination of Christianity.
“I’ve asked members of the LDS church, ‘Why don’t you come over to my church Sunday morning then?’" Browning said. "There are obviously some core differences.”
Despite those differences, LDS members are taught to respect other religions, with one of the 13 articles allowing for all men to worship how, where and what they want to.
“We don’t believe in forcing people, rather offering an opportunity,” Schnackenberg said.
“Someone won’t go to hell if they don’t believe it.”
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