The Articles of Faith
Great and comprehensive commentaries have already been written on these 13 doctrinal gems. In 1899, the Apostle James E. Talmage wrote the book, A study of the Articles of Faith. Shortly before his death in 1985, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote A New Witness for the Articles of Faith which, like Talmage's book, dealt with the doctrine of each article in great detail. What more could we possibly add? Certainly, the student of the gospel has more than enough explanatory material on this subject. In fact, these 13 verses may be the most examined of all Joseph Smith's personal communications. They have been studied, memorized, put to music, and canonized.
While the apostolic commentaries could be copied here for the reader, the volume of material may be prohibitive. It is our intent to provide a slightly different approach than a pure doctrinal treatment. What if we were to look at the Articles of Faith in historical context? What if we were to examine them as one of the first examples of the Prophet dealing with the media? Presenting our beliefs to others, especially the media, is a crucial skill that is time dependent. The newspapers of Joseph Smith's day were interested in different issues than the news media of today. The prevailing religious ideas have morphed over time.
Joseph Smith was always being asked questions about Mormonism. Investigators and reporters would travel great distances to interview the man who claimed to be a modern prophet. Most of these individuals were not seekers of truth but seekers of a story. The questions and interviews were incessant and eventually became tiresome to the Prophet. He felt like he was "repeating the same [thing] a thousand times over and over again." (History of the Church, 3:28-30)
The newspapers of the day were filled with stories about the new and strange religion. Most of these articles were negative and slanderous. The Prophet commissioned others to respond to these falsehoods and on occasion took time to respond to them himself. One way or another, the Prophet was always responding to the media. The Articles of Faith are taken from the famous "Wentworth Letter," the Prophet's response to newspaper editor John Wentworth.
March 1, 1842.-At the request of Mr. John Wentworth, Editor and Proprietor of the Chicago Democrat, I have written the following sketch of the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-day Saints, of which I have the honor, under God, of being the founder. Mr. Wentworth says that he wishes to furnish Mr. Bastow, a friend of his, who is writing the history of New Hampshire, with this document. As Mr. Bastow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information, all that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation (History of the Church, 4:536-541).
The Prophet then wrote a comprehensive history of the rise of the church, including his personal story, the rapid growth of the church, the persecutions endured, the worldwide missionary effort, and finally the 13 articles of faith.
Our canonized Articles of Faith are not the only representation of the Prophet taking time to answer questions. In May of 1838, he took time to write down the most common questions and then give the answers. In essence, it was his media response of 1838:
The Prophet's Answers to Sundry Questions.
Tuesday, 8.-I spent the day with Elder Rigdon in visiting Elder Cahoon at the place he had selected for his residence, and in attending to some of our private, personal affairs; also in the afternoon I answered the questions which were frequently asked me, while on my last journey but one from Kirtland to Missouri, as printed in the Elders' Journal, vol. I, Number 2, pages 28 and 29, as follows:
First-"Do you believe the Bible?"
If we do, we are the only people under heaven that does, for there are none of the religious sects of the day that do.
Second-"Wherein do you differ from other sects?"
In that we believe the Bible, and all other sects profess to believe their interpretations of the Bible, and their creeds.
Third-"Will everybody be damned, but Mormons?"
Yes, and a great portion of them, unless they repent, and work righteousness.
Fourth-"How and where did you obtain the Book of Mormon?"
Moroni, who deposited the plates in a hill in Manchester, Ontario county, New York, being dead and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were, and gave me directions how to obtain them. I obtained them, and the Urim and Thummim with them, by the means of which I translated the plates; and thus came the Book of Mormon.
Fifth-"Do you believe Joseph Smith, Jun., to be a Prophet?"
Yes, and every other man who has the testimony of Jesus. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.-Revelation, 19:10th verse.
Sixth-"Do the Mormons believe in having all things in common?"
Seventh-"Do the Mormons believe in having more wives than one?"
No, not at the same time. But they believe that if their companion dies, they have a right to marry again. But we do disapprove of the custom, which has gained in the world, and has been practiced among us, to our great mortification, in marrying in five or six weeks, or even in two or three months, after the death of their companion. We believe that due respect ought to be had to the memory of the dead, and the feelings of both friends and children.
Eighth-"Can they [the Mormons] raise the dead?"
No, nor can any other people that now lives, or ever did live. But God can raise the dead, through man as an instrument.
Ninth-"What signs does Joseph Smith give of his divine mission?"
The signs which God is pleased to let him give, according as His wisdom thinks best, in order that He may judge the world agreeably to His own plan.
Tenth-"Was not Joseph Smith a money digger?"
Yes, but it was never a very profitable job for him, as he only got fourteen dollars a month for it.
Eleventh-"Did not Joseph Smith steal his wife?"
Ask her, she was of age, she can answer for herself.
Twelfth-"Do the people have to give up their money when they join his Church?"
No other requirement than to bear their proportion of the expenses of the Church, and support the poor.
Thirteenth-"Are the Mormons abolitionists?"
No, unless delivering the people from priestcraft, and the priests from the power of Satan, should be considered abolition. But we do not believe in setting the negroes free.
Fourteenth-"Do they not stir up the Indians to war, and to commit depredations?"
No, and they who reported the story knew it was false when they put it in circulation. These and similar reports are palmed upon the people by the priests, and this is the only reason why we ever thought of answering them.
Fifteenth-"Do the Mormons baptize in the name of 'Joe' Smith?"
No, but if they did, it would be as valid as the baptism administered by the sectarian priests.
Sixteenth-"If the Mormon doctrine is true, what has become of all those who died since the days of the Apostles?"
All those who have not had an opportunity of hearing the Gospel, and being administered unto by an inspired man in the flesh, must have it hereafter, before they can be finally judged.
Seventeenth-"Does not 'Joe' Smith profess to be Jesus Christ?"
No, but he professes to be His brother, as all other Saints have done and now do: Matt., 12:49, 50, "And He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples and said, Behold my mother and my brethren; for whosoever shall do the will of my Father, which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother."
Eighteenth-"Is there anything in the Bible which licenses you to believe in revelation now-a-days?"
Is there anything that does not authorize us to believe so? If there is, we have, as yet, not been able to find it.
Nineteenth-"Is not the canon of the Scriptures full?"
If it is, there is a great defect in the book, or else it would have said so.
Twentieth-"What are the fundamental principles of your religion?"
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth.
I published the foregoing answers to save myself the trouble of repeating the same a thousand times over and over again. (History of the Church, 3:28-30)
Responding to the Media Today
"Members of the Church have an unprecedented opportunity to be a force for good in helping clear up misconceptions about what we are not and to increase others' understanding of who we are and what we believe.
"As people learn more about Latter-day Saint beliefs, they may see some distinct differences and yet find some unexpected common ground on which to build better relationships.
"The Church has created online resources that can be helpful for members to share with those who have questions.
"Assume the Best
"It can be intimidating when someone asks probing questions about our faith. However, for the most part, people are just curious. Don't be defensive.
"Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has taught that the gift of discernment operates best when we are listening. To really understand the question and the intent, ask clarifying questions and be prepared to do as much listening as you do talking.
"All people have God-given moral agency. So we may invite or even persuade-but we should not pressure or coerce.
"Avoid Church Jargon
"Avoid Latter-day Saint terminology or jargon that can sound foreign, like 'ward,' 'family home evening,' or 'Word of Wisdom.' If you use these terms, explain them without waiting to be asked.
"Use the Church's Full Name
"Whenever possible, use the full name of the Church at least once and early in the conversation. There is a power in the name of the Church, so explain it. It says a great deal about who we are." ("Answering Questions About our Faith," Michael Otterson, Managing Director Church Public Affairs Department, http://www.lds.org/study/topics/answering-gospel-questions/about-our-faith)
M. Russell Ballard
Recently I saw some research about how other people see members of the Church. I have long been interested in this subject because I have had somewhat to do with missionary work in my Church assignments. Knowing how people see us is an important part of understanding how best to explain ourselves. This particular piece of research made an interesting observation. It suggested that members of our Church can sometimes appear very defensive to those who are not members of the Church. One respondent went as far as to say that when Mormons are explaining their beliefs, their language is in terms that suggest they are expecting criticism.
This was not the first time I have heard that kind of observation. But the more I have thought about it, the more I understand it. If we are not careful, we may convey a sense of defensiveness in our communications with others...
One of the reasons why this subject is relevant to you today is because the Church is getting stronger. In the United States, we are now the fourth largest church. Latter-day Saints are everywhere, in communities from coast to coast and north to south. While our numbers may be more concentrated in the West, it is becoming more and more common for people in the country to know a Latter-day Saint personally. In addition, many members of the Church have achieved social prominence. A recent Time magazine article about the Church noted this fact and ran several photographs of prominent Latter-day Saints.
This prominence alone ensures that the Church is going to be talked about more and more and that Latter-day Saints are going to find themselves in more and more gospel discussions. That's why I have chosen this subject. You need to be honest, open, forthright, engaging, respectful of others' views and completely nondefensive about your own. (BYU graduation speech, 13 August 2009, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/elder-m-russell-ballard-engaging-without-being-defensive )