“What are you doing? You can’t use a calculator!”
My hands froze on the keypad, and I looked to my fellow seventh-grader who had made the statement. We were in math class working on a homework assignment, and I hadn’t realized calculators were prohibited. It looked like all my classmates were tapping away on their electronic math aids. So I asked back, “Why?”
“Aren't you Mormon? You can’t use calculators.”
And that’s when I realized: my classmate thought being a Latter-day Saint was the same as being Amish.
After assuring him that I had arrived at school that morning in a car and that I had plans to use a computer later, I got back to my assignment, calculator in hand.
But that wasn’t the last time I’d hear something strange from one of my classmates, co-workers, or even close friends who had an odd idea about what it meant to be a Latter-day Saint.
From carbonated soda consumption to having horns and tails, here are a few more things people get wrong about us Latter-day Saints—pulled straight from the real-life encounters of our readers.
Remember: While some of these misunderstandings are humorous or downright strange, every time someone tells you something incorrect about your faith, it's a perfect missionary opportunity. Don't ridicule—teach.
1. “But you don’t celebrate Christmas.”
The birth of Christ is definitely something Latter-day Saints do celebrate (since we are Christians). We also observe Thanksgiving. And New Year’s. And other state and national holidays. A recent survey even found that 95% of us celebrate Halloween.
When someone first accused me of not celebrating Christmas in junior high, it took me a few days to realize where he probably got that idea from: Latter-day Saints are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. And we do celebrate holidays—with cake, decorations, presents, and everything.
2. “So, you dig up dead people and baptize them?”
No. I corrected the high school senior who asked me this and explained that “baptisms for the dead” aren’t a literal baptism of a deceased person’s body. This ordinance is done in the names of the deceased and by proxy in temples. And we’re not forcing the deceased person to be baptized—it’s up to that person’s spirit whether or not they accept the baptism on the other side of the veil. But the moral of the story? Latter-day Saints aren’t grave robbers, either.
3. “That must mean you like Jell-O and casseroles.”
Actually, I can assure everyone, including the sweet girl who said this to me my sophomore year in college, that my culinary inclinations (like most peoples’) are not based on where I go to church on Sundays.
What I can say is that Latter-day Saints do tend to have large families, and large families tend to have inexpensive food like casseroles more frequently. But even though I was one of five kids in my home growing up, we almost never ate Jell-O or casseroles. Or Jell-O casseroles. None of that. In fact, based on LDS Living Facebook comments, I’d say that a fair portion of my fellow Latter-day Saints both in and out of Utah would agree with me that the Latter-day Saint and Jell-O connection is rather tenuous.
4. “Are you going to marry your cousin?”
Also no. I think the person who asked me this question thought intra-family marriage was a Latter-day Saint practice from a mixed-up misunderstanding of a few things: the Church’s history with polygamy, our tendency to have large families, and a dash of how members are counseled to date other members.
Today, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don’t have multiple wives, and unless there’s a situation a la Star Wars going down, Latter-day Saints don’t date members of their own families, either. (Just like everybody else.)
5. “How’s Donny Osmond doing?”
If someone asked me this, I'd have no idea how to answer this question. I get that Donny Osmond is a famous Latter-day Saint singer, but any random member of the Church probably isn’t a close enough friend of a celebrity to know how he or she is doing, whether that celebrity is a Latter-day Saint or not. We might have seen Donny's latest show or recently downloaded his app, but the highest hope most of us can aspire to is finding our three degrees of Donny Osmond.
6. “Latter-day Saints don’t dance.”
This funny clip from Cheers has probably planted this question in a few people’s minds:
But as Norm notes, Latter-day Saints are (still) not Amish. And we can dance (and send flowers, too!). We even organize large dances for youth and young single adults that are often held inside our church buildings.
Now, I’m not saying we all dance well, and we are giventhe guideline to avoid “positions or moves that are suggestive of sexual or violent behavior,” but there’s certainly no rule entirely prohibiting us from busting a move on the dance floor.
7.“All Latter-day Saints are Republican.”
While the Church will occasionally make official statements about politics based on moral issues, it does not endorse one political party over another. Rather, it encourages members to be informed and politically active and notes that “principles compatible with the gospel may be found in various political parties and candidates.”
8.“The Church is a cult.”
Except that it isn’t. Most Latter-day Saints have heard this before, even if it hasn’t been said to their faces. Let’s clear this error up.
By definition, a cult is “a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, emphasis added).
There are a few problems with classifying the Church as a cult. First is that we’re no “small religious group.” In fact, we’re 15 million members strong—and more than half of those are outside the United States.
Second, we are also part of a “more accepted religion”: Latter-day Saints are Christians, in that we believe in God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Lastly, nothing about Latter-day Saint beliefs is extreme or dangerous. (Unless you count supporting families, improving our communities, and trying to be “honest, true, chaste, benevolent, and virtuous” as extreme or dangerous.)
9.“Where are your horns and tail?”
Well, where are yours? Actually, even though I’ve heard this before, I didn’t think anyone actually believed it. But several LDS Living readers shared their experiences with this myth:
“Did you know that Latter-day Saints have horns? True story! Back in 1977, I was talking to a sailor at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock who honestly thought that.”
“I'm middle-aged and heard the horns and tail story from my mother, who encountered people who wanted to see hers when she was a girl.”
“A kid in third or fourth grade said he heard that we have horns and a tail. We apparently keep our tail hidden and file down our horns so people won't know about them. Even at 8 or 9, I found that so funny that I wasn't mad or embarrassed.”
“I had a guy on a plane get really, really surprised to realize that the person he had been chatting with for a couple of hours (me) was a Latter-day Saint, because he sincerely believed that we all had horns, and I did not. No joke—an educated businessman in the '90s who was heading to Park City to ski, and he was not kidding.”
“I moved to Oklahoma when I was in second grade. The other children in my class asked to feel my horns. I guess they thought that Latter-day Saints had horns that they had to file down to fit in. I let them feel my head, no horns.”
The important thing to remember: Latter-day Saints are people, just like everybody else. Right down to our lack of horns and tails.
10. “You can’t drink carbonated sodas.”
Don’t panic if you see me order a root beer or an Italian soda—Latter-day Saints can drink carbonated beverages. (Choose the Sprite, anyone?)
This misunderstanding doubtless comes from some Latter-day Saints who don’t drink caffeinated sodas. While we are counseled to avoid coffee, imbibing caffeine in other drinks is left for each individual to decide for him- or herself.
► You'll also like: Caffeine: What the Prophets Have Actually Said
11.“Latter-day Saints have to wear name tags and can only ride bicycles.”
If this were true, my commute to work would be a lot longer, but at least I’d be in a lot better shape.
You can easily guess where this misunderstanding comes from: young elders and sisters riding two by two on their missions. Given that the missionaries are the first (and sometimes only) exposure many people have to Latter-day Saints, stories like this from an LDS Living reader might not be too surprising:
“When I was investigating the Church, my very good friend Doug pulled me aside and asked me to not get so involved with the Latter-day Saints that I would give up driving my car. I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He went on to let me know that Latter-day Saints have to wear name tags and can only ride bicycles. Strangely enough, for 6 months of my mission in Japan I drove a car.”
12. “You don’t read the Bible; Latter-day Saints have their own Bible.”
I’m glad you told me this—you just saved me a lot of reading. The truth is, Latter-day Saints do read the Bible and consider it scripture. In fact, this year, Sunday lessons around the world will be teaching about the Old Testament.
In addition to the Bible, though, we also study other scripture which we believe complements (and does not replace) the Bible.
These include the Book of Mormon (where the nickname, “the Mormons,” comes from), modern-day revelation contained in a book called the Doctrine & Covenants, additional scripture including the book of Moses that’s contained in the Pearl of Great Price, and the words of our modern prophets. It’s this belief in continuing revelation from heaven that is part of what sets Latter-day Saints apart from other Christian religions.
13. “How does it feel to be an oppressed Latter-day Saint woman?”
Let me just hand the mic to renowned Latter-day Saint author and CEO of Deseret Book, Sheri Dew, on this one:
If you're not inclined to watch, here's a quick summary:
Dew says that it seems easy to draw the conclusion that because women are not ordained to the priesthood that somehow we've been given less. But here are just a few things women in the Church get:
We pray in public meetings. We speak. We expound scripture. We teach the doctrine. We lead organizations for all the women and young women and children of the Church. We teach the gospel on missions. In the temple, women participate in ordinances of a priesthood character.
Women receive revelation, gain testimonies, and stand in equality with men before the Lord in matters pertaining to godliness and holiness. We have the gift and power of the Holy Ghost. We receive an endowment of knowledge and power. We have spiritual gifts, including charity, spiritual intuition, and moral courage. We receive all the blessings of the Atonement.
Women are at the very center of the plan of salvation; every person comes to earth through the courage and strength of a woman.
We get everything.
She concludes, “Does it sound like the Church is holding me back?”
And that’s just scratching the surface. Check out more about Latter-day Saint women and the priesthood.
14. “You can’t use mirrors.”
Doing my hair would certainly be a lot harder if this myth were true. Thankfully, mirrors are definitely something Latter-day Saints can use.
This misunderstanding doesn’t actually come from confusion with a vampire legend like you might think. An LDS Living reader who heard this myth explains:
“It came from the person seeing missionaries backing . . . up [a car] and the assumption that they did this because they could not use their rearview mirrors or something like that. It would seem they could back up without the mirrors, but I don't think the person thought of that.”
15. “Isn’t that the religion that has five wives?”
I should say not. But as an LDS Living reader pointed out, “Most of the comments I get as a recent convert are 'Isn't that the religion that has fives wives?' Very frustrating how uneducated most people are.”
It seems like there’s been a resurgence of this misunderstanding with the popularity of reality TV shows like My Five Wives and Sister Wives. Admittedly, Latter-day Saints have a history with plural marriage, but that practice officially ended in 1890. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not associated with the splinter groups that are the focus of these shows, and today we do not practice or promote plural marriage.
► You'll also like: LDS.org Topic Pages Focus on Beginning and End of Plural Marriage
16. “Why are you wearing make-up?”
Because I want to—it makes me feel more confident and beautiful. (But to each their own.) My decision to wear mascara is an entirely personal one that has nothing to do with my religion, even if that's what some people mistakenly think:
“In high school, I was told that if I was a Latter-day Saint I was not allowed to wear makeup and that I was supposed to wear a long, black dress. When I told this girl she was mistaken, she insisted that she was right and told me, 'Go home and ask your mom.'”
“I've also gotten: we aren’t allowed to color our hair, paint our nails, or wear makeup, [and] we make our own clothes.”
This sort of misunderstanding doubtless stems, once again, from confusing Latter-day Saints with the Amish.
17.“Why do you put holes in your underwear?”
Maybe I’ve taken to heart the adage, “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.” But I definitely consider underwear with holes in it “worn out!”
Here’s what one LDS Living reader had to say about this misconception:
“I work in healthcare, and when I was a student, one of my mentors at a fieldwork site kindly and respectfully asked me if she could ask me a question about being a Latter-day Saint. I said okay. Her question was that she had heard Latter-day Saints put holes in their underclothes and she was curious why! I corrected her misunderstanding, explained where I thought that misconception evolved from, and used that to teach her and educate in case she ever had a Latter-day Saint patient in the future.”
But what could be the reasoning behind this myth? Another reader shared their experience:
“A few months ago my chiropractor asked me if it was true that our 'underwear' had holes in it in the same place Joseph Smith was shot.”
Myths about the temple garment are plentiful—and luckily, the Church has released a video to clear up misunderstandings like this one: