Local Latter-day Saints discuss their faith

DONNIE BRYANT donnie.bryant@empiretribune.com
The Millars shared insight into their faith in a recent interview. Pictured are Hudson, Greg, Bailey, Morgan, Heather and Harper. DONNIE BRYANT/E-T

According to Reuters’ May 1 report of this year, the number of Mormons whose formal name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew by 45 percent to 6.1 million in 2010, as calculated by the U.S. census.

With the Republican nominee being a member of the church, many Americans are turning their focus to that religious institution. Unfortunately for Latter-day Saints, many people base their assumptions about the faith upon reality television personalities and news reports of offshoot sects adhering to the practice of polygamy.

Heather and Greg Millar were both born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and agreed to visit with E-T in order to bring truths about their church to light.

When asked what misconceptions trouble them most, they had two.

As a husband and father to four children, Greg is particularly bothered by the mistaken belief that members of the church practice polygamy.

“Some people think that we still have multiple wives,” he said. “Especially with some of the things that happened out in West Texas with people out there who were practicing polygamy.”

According to www.lds.org, the church officially discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890. But with the popularity of The Learning Channel's reality series Sister Wives, many on the outside erroneously suspect reality star Kody Brown and his four wives are a norm in the church rather than an extreme exception.

“That affects us because it keeps the misrepresentation going that it’s something still allowed in our faith,” Greg said. “There’s a group who call themselves the Fundamentalists Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and some of them practice polygamy.”

“But they are not in any way connected to our church,” Heather said.

Addressing them only as Mormons is another issue for the couple.

“We often get asked if we believe in Jesus,” Heather said. “By calling us Mormons you miss the whole name of our church, which is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

In regard to Jesus, www.lds.org says: “We believe first and foremost that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the Son of God.”

“We prefer to be called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Heather added. “Mormon is a nickname because we believe the Book of Mormon to be scripture.”

The church's official website describes the book as being written by a fourth-century prophet named Mormon who lived in the Americas and wrote the historical and religious records of his people. This record was translated by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founder Joseph Smith and subsequently published in the United States during the early 1800s as the Book of Mormon.

According to Bishop Rick Graff of the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whose grandfather four generations ago was a close friend to Smith, the Book of Mormon speaks of a post resurrected Jesus who came to the Americas.

“Jesus said, 'And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold,’” Graff explained. “We believe Jesus came to the American continent after the resurrection to the people who lived here 2,000 years ago.

“The Book of Mormon is used along with the Bible. It is a history of the people on the American continent just as the Bible is a history of those in the area of Jerusalem. We use them both together.”

The church website reported a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints place an unusually high priority on family life. Being a good parent and having a successful marriage are high priorities.

And so is good health.

“We are instructed to avoid coffee, tea, tobacco and alcohol,” Greg said. “It's sort of like laws. It's called the Word of Wisdom.”

According to the church's website, the Word of Wisdom is the law of health revealed by the Lord for the physical and spiritual benefit of his children.

The UCLA press release on their latest study of Mormon longevity summarized: “If you want to live a long healthy life, you may want to take a tip from the Mormons…. a group of actively practicing Mormons in California, followed for a 25-year period, had the lowest total death rates and the longest life expectancies ever documented in a well-defined U.S. cohort. The authors believe the findings suggest a model for substantial disease prevention in the general population.”

In a nutshell, Heather wants the public to know her church has nothing to hide.

“There are no secrets,” she said. “We are who we are. We would love for anyone to come and see what we are about.”

In a bid to invite the community to ask questions about the church, the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened its doors to the public for an open house Sunday.

“The purpose of the open house was to give the community an opportunity to get to know us and some of the things we believe,” Greg said. “There are things that have been said in the media that has been viewed by some to be a little negative. But we want to let everyone know what we are about.”