Freedom of religion is probably the most important foundational cornerstone of the United States of America, and it’s certainly a good idea to build a country on. But, with that freedom comes a whole host of unique institutions and ideas. If every Tom, Dick, and Harry can come up with whatever philosophy they want and call it a religion, then you can encounter some pretty wild stuff. But while most of the Peoples Temples and Branch Davidians rise and fall within a generation, occasionally you find a new religious sect that sticks (and clearly not getting all of your followers killed is a plus on that front). Mormonism only began in the 1800’s, but now it’s one of the most common minority religions in the country. Not only has the religion ballooned to have millions of followers, it has also managed to convince those followers of some pretty “out there” ideas and restrictions. But what exactly are the weirdest rules that Mormons follow?
15. Missionaries Aren’t Allowed To Swim, Because Satan Controls Lakes And Rivers
The interpretation of this interesting “revelation” is a bit of a debate within the Mormon community, but the idea that Satan has dominion over the water is a pretty commonly accepted belief among Mormon adherents. This superstition probably stemmed from one of the early church elders. An elder named William Phelps apparently saw a vision of “the destroyer” in the Missouri River (which has caused some to ask whether the devil controls all bodies of water or if it’s just the Missouri River), and the rest of the group apparently heard whatever Phelps saw, but didn’t see it themselves. But luckily the lord blessed Joseph Smith with some handy dandy water-related revelations not long after, essentially confirming what Phelps witnessed as religious fact and giving future Mormons a delightfully vague warning about the water being an unsafe place at some point in the future for some people, which was still enough to put some Mormons off of swimming for life.
14. Mormons Aren’t Allowed To Drink Alcohol… Or Anything Hot
Why? Because Joseph Smith says that God says so. The booze ban isn’t much of a surprise, considering how many religions discourage or outright forbid their followers from drinking, but the hot stuff is one that we definitely hadn’t heard before. The official church interpretation of this revelation (which once again can be found in one of the handbooks) is that tea and coffee is forbidden, but according to actual written revelation, all hot drinks are forbidden, and they’re forbidden because God told the prophet that they are. There’s no specific temperature change during which a drink goes from good to evil, though. Some Mormons have speculated that coffee and tea were banned because some early followers used them as a replacement for alcohol, but apparently Joseph Smith was not a fan of hot drinks in general so they (and we) can never really say for sure what’s being banned here and why.
13. There Are No Tattoos Allowed
Your body is a temple, and a tattoo is basically graffiti on that temple. There’s actually no specific Mormon doctrine against tattoos, but it’s pretty well known within Mormon culture that tattoos are strongly looked down upon. They find them so objectionable that even people who convert to Mormonism after they’ve gotten tattoos are encouraged to get them removed, and while getting a tattoo if you are a Mormon won’t directly lead to excommunication, it can and often does prevent someone from moving up in the ranks of their church, which can be a heavy price to pay in a community where religion is everything. There has been some push back from young Mormons to relax the strict judgments against certain types of dress or styling, but tattoos have had a tougher time being accepted than things like beards and long hair for men, or more than one ear piercing for women.
12. Before 1978 Just One Drop Of African Blood Barred You From Priesthood
We are sure you’ll all be shocked and appalled to learn that a bunch of ultra-religious people who looked down on men having beards and women exposing their very tempting kneecaps to the world could also be racist as hell, but alas, the Mormon church was. And, somewhat unsurprisingly, this rule against priests of color was not something commanded by Joseph Smith, but by Brigham Young. In the mid-1800s Brigham Young declared that black men or any men of African descent were forbidden from becoming ordained priests, with the caveat that someday in the future black people might enjoy the same rights as white people in the Mormon church. Given America’s history with slavery and race, this isn’t the most shocking restriction imaginable, but it is more than a little ridiculous that it took the Mormon church over a century after the emancipation proclamation to reverse course on it. And still the church refuses to admit any wrongdoing when it came to discrimination in the past, which at least most other American religious denominations have admitted.
11. They Cannot Question The Prophet
Their reluctance to condemn past decisions the church has made is not much of a surprise. Their “prophet,” which is something like the pope of the Mormon church, is meant to lead their church and is considered a messenger of God. They are seen as supremely righteous and are meant to denounce sin, so to contradict their revelations is to contradict God and Jesus Christ himself. Luckily, as the world has grown more even-handed, the mainstream Mormon church has had to come with it, but clearly having a religious leader whose word is seen as the word of God can have disastrous consequences. The most well-known prophet outside of the Mormon community is probably Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (a sect that the mainstream Mormon church has thankfully disowned), a super creep currently serving a life sentence for two counts of s*xual assault of a child. And yes, he claims God told him to do it.
10. Men Are Prohibited From Having More Than One Wife… Now
Fundamentalist Mormons still adhere to what they refer to as the principle of plural marriage, but the mainstream Mormon church no longer endorses polygamy, despite the fact that Joseph Smith believed that it was a true principle of the Mormon religion. Early followers of Smith have said that he began teaching plural marriage privately in the early 1830s while condemning it publicly, but Smith and other church leaders were practicing polygamy by the 1840s. But the United States has never looked too kindly on bigamy, so the Mormons and Utah territory encountered a lot of problems with the American government until the Mormon church officially banned polygamy in 1890. Wilford Woodruff (the prophet who banned plural marriage) actually had at least nine wives himself, but made an official statement against it for political benefit. And presumably because by that time, at least someone had come to the realization that the math wasn’t going to work out for them in the long run.
9. But Mormon Women Need A Husband To Reach Their Highest Attainable Salvation
And their notion of “salvation” for women is pretty intense all on its own. No woman can enter the “celestial kingdom” without being escorted by her husband, or she’ll be escorted into the ultimate Mormon heaven to become a servant instead. And if she’s lucky enough to tie the knot with a Mormon man in her lifetime on earth, she’s allowed to become his goddess wife when he dies and inherits and becomes the God of an entire world to himself, and she gets to populate this world by popping out his spirit children for the rest of eternity. This is actually a pretty good selling point for the whole polygamy thing because holy hell, giving birth to an entire PLANET worth of babies does not sound like a good time. And what would this world of Mormon spirits do? Spend their eternity worshiping God, of course! So the great reward for climbing the Aggro Crag of Mormonism is getting to do exactly what Mormons are supposed to be in life, forever. Okay.
8. Couples Must Marry In The Mormon Temple Or Else They Won’t Be Together In The Afterlife
A run-of-the-mill marriage isn’t enough to get your own personal Mormon party planet, though. Only a Mormon marriage allows husbands and wives to reunite in the afterlife. Mormons believe that civil marriages cease to exist after death, so if any faithful adherents want to be married eternally, their marriage has to be “sealed” officially by the church. The church does recognize legal unions as legitimate, but believes that they only last so long as the united couple is alive, and if a Mormon couple wishes to have both ceremonies then they have to wait a year after the civil ceremony for the official sealing ceremony. Sealing can also be done between parents and children, and sealing can be done for a relationship between people who are already dead, so at least Mormons have a pretty solid “no man left behind” code within their own families when it comes to everyone reaching the highest state of heaven they can.
7. Only Men Who Have Served A Mission Are Supposed To Marry
Young Mormon women are allowed to serve a mission for the church, but for men it is expected. For Mormon men the serving of a two year mission of spreading the Mormon faith is considered a testament to their goodness and faithfulness, and it’s the first necessary step for adult men to start moving up the ranks of the Mormon church. So it’s not an explicit commandment that only returned missionary men can marry, but Mormon women are often counseled to not even consider someone as a mate if they haven’t gone on a mission. Interestingly, young Mormon men statistically leave the Mormon church at a much higher rate than young women, and many have speculated that the ostracism that comes along with simply not devoting at least two years of your life to the spread of the Mormon religion could be a significant contributing factor to that, especially since the same expectation isn’t placed on women.
6. Men Have To Pay For Their Own Missions, And They Can Only Talk To Their Families Twice A Year While On A Mission
That’s right, pal. If you’re lucky enough to be born with XY chromosomes, you not only need to devote two years of your life to the spread of Mormonism, you essentially have to abandon your current life in order to do that, and you can only contact your family twice a year. After attending a missionary training center, the church assigns the missionaries to whatever state or even country they choose, and the missionaries have no say in that either. During this time, contact with families is severely limited, with a few letters a year allowed and phone calls for special occasions, and they’re supposed to avoid pretty much anything entertaining that could distract from their mission. Female missionaries are also subject to the same rules and expectations, but the standard women’s mission is 18 months long while a man’s is 24 months, and women can at least ditch their 18 month God-a-thon without becoming pariahs of their community.
5. Mormons Can’t Date Until They’re Sixteen, And Even Then They’re Only Permitted Group Dates
Mormon rules for dating are pretty complex. It’s understandable since Mormon marriage is literally supposed to last for eternity, and clearly if you’re going to have a billion magic spirit babies with someone, you want to make sure you can actually stand them. So what better time in life is there to look for your eternal life partner than when you’re sixteen years old, an age that is notorious for clear thinking and solid judgment. But honestly, the description of Mormon “dating” sounds a lot like teenagers just being able to hang out with each other, because there’s no touching, no exclusivity, and they’re really not supposed to do it alone. The real path to Mormon marriage is courtship, which is strongly discouraged among most Mormon teens. Courtship is kind of like being in an exclusive relationship with a bubble boy; you consider yourselves to be together and moving towards marriage, but aren’t supposed to touch each other in a romantic way until you’re actually married.
4. They Must Be Interviewed By The Church Once A Year To Prove They’re Worthy
Mormonism ain’t like a drivers license, where you just pass the test once and you’re golden. You need to be able to prove your faith to the church every year in order to get a temple recommend card. A literal Mormon license. But these temple cards expire after two years and need to be renewed by the card holder, and the interview is the pathway to renewal. In order to obtain the renewal a Mormon needs to be interviewed by their bishop and their stake president (a stake president is essentially the leader of their group of church congregations and a bishop is one rank below them). The bar that needs to be passed is relatively low. Essentially the church just wants to ensure that only good and true Mormons are a part of the church, but that seems a like a whole lot of clergy time and energy on passing the Mormon litmus test.
3. Women Must Dress Modestly
This isn’t much of a shocker given, that this rule seems to be a favorite of all religions, but considering the relative youth of Mormonism, it seems a little ridiculous, and especially cruel since they themselves decided to settle in the desert. There’s no specific dress code for Mormons, but some highlights in their general standards are nothing that reveals your stomach, chest, or even shoulders, skirts that are below the knee, and up until earlier this year women working on behalf of the church weren’t even supposed to wear pants. Anything sheer or tight is a no-no as well, and anything that is too bright, shiny, and attention getting is not considered modest either. And while modesty isn’t strictly defined, anything that either women or men wear should be able to cover temple garments without adjustment, and basically if you can see any body part that should be unseen when you sit, reach up, bend over, etc. then it’s considered immodest. Similar standards apply to men too, but almost any typical men’s fashion can meet the standard.
2. All Mormons Are Supposed To Go To Missouri Before The Second Coming, Because Missouri Was The Garden Of Eden
Jackson County, Missouri was the garden of Eden, if you want to get specific. Mormons have yet to nail down when exactly Jesus’ Second Coming is actually happening, but at least they know where: in the birthplace of humankind, which is Missouri. But maybe Jesus likes to mess around with Mormons too, because Missouri in general has not been too friendly to them. In fact, when a significant chunk of Mormon followers were living in Missouri, the Missourians tried to violently throw them out of the state, and at one point the Governor of Missouri actually enacted an “extermination order” where Mormons were to be removed from the state by any means necessary. This order wasn’t fully rescinded until 1976, and was certainly one of the contributing factors for the Mormons settling in the west. And in comparison to Utah, Missouri might just look like the garden of Eden.
1. They Wear Magic Underwear To Protect Themselves From Evil… And That Includes People Like You
Out of all of Mormonism’s wildest rules, this is probably the most well known. This underwear, known as “temple garments” within the church, is a physical symbol of what Mormon adherents have promised to God and to the church. According to one of the Mormon handbooks (yes, they have literal handbooks), the undergarments are meant to protect the wearer from evil and temptation, and that evil and temptation can be pretty much anything under the sun that isn’t explicitly Mormon. The underwear is almost always white but marked with Mormon holy symbols, including a V and a reversed L on the chest of the garments and a horizontal slash over the knee. If the owner of the temple garments want to ditch them for a shiny new pair, they’re actually expected to cut the holy symbols out before disposing of them, because the symbols are what give the underwear their mojo. And since you never know when evil is going to come for you, temple garments are meant to be worn almost 24/7.
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