Much of what the general public hears about the Mormon faith is the media attention given to certain practitioners of polygamy or plural marriage, which is, in fact, strictly forbidden by the leaders of the Morman Church, according to Mark McBride, Bishop of the Church of Latter-day Saints on James Street in Morris Township.
McBride, leader of the Morris Township Ward or congregation, said those who practice polygamy are not considered members of the Mormon Church and if members were to engage in the practice, they would be excommunicated or ousted from the church.
McBride, a resident of Chatham and 25-year consultant in the pharmaceutical industry, serves as a Bishop, which is similar to the role of a pastor, on a voluntary basis.
He said another common misunderstanding about the Mormon faith is that they are not Christians. “We believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, like the Bible," he said. "It is Holy Scripture, with a form and content similar to the Bible. Both books contain God's guidance as revealed to prophets as well as religious histories of different civilizations."
He said, at the core of the Mormon faith, is the belief that Jesus Christ is the savior and redeemer who suffered and was crucified for the sins of man and faith in Jesus Christ is the key motivator for Mormons to do good works.
“Those who have genuine faith in Jesus Christ will want to follow Him and do the kinds of works that he did, such as helping the poor and needy, caring for the sick, visiting the lonely, and showing good will and love to all people,” McBride said.
Noel Crowley, a Morristown attorney and long time member of the church, views God as a conscious power in the world.
"Our concept of God as a sentient and caring entity who created the world we live in became the literal father of our spirits while we lived with Him during a pre-mortal phase of our existence," Crowley said. "God sent us to Earth with the power to determine through free choice whether to follow a course of righteousness that will permit us to return to His presence at the end of our mortal lives."
Many Christian services require attendance of a one-hour service or mass. The Church of Latter-day Saints requires a much more rigorous three-hour commitment, which includes an hour-long "Sacrament meeting" with prayers, hymns and the sharing of bread and water, which is different from other Christian churches that share bread and wine or grape juice.
McBride said that the Mormon faith abstains from alcohol, tobacco and any other habit-forming foods and beverages such as coffee and tea.
The Sacrament meeting is also very interactive. Instead of the priest or minister offering a sermon, three members of the Ward prepare five to 10 minute talks to share their insights about their faith and lessons from the Gospel.
After the one hour service, two additional hour-long sessions follow, which involve education for adults and children.
Since family is central to the Mormon faith, McBride said that Monday night is designated as a night that families spend time together learning or just enjoying each other’s company.
Crowley said that his chruch has a positive impact on the lives of its members and offers protection through wise leadership against malign influences and eroding standards of behavior prevalent in the secular world.
For him, God is a very real presence in the world. "We don't see God as a disembodied spirit or ill-defined force of nature," he said. "We read the Bible as declaring the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as separate entities bound together by common purpose, and not, as some Christian faiths would have it, as a single entity.
"We also believe that the President of the Church, currently Thomas S. Monson, is a living prophet who like the prophets of old reveals God's word to the people of his time," Crowley added.
Currently the Morris Township Ward has 400 members, which include residents from Morris Township, Morristown, Chatham, Madison, Mendham, Parsippany, Boonton and Morris Plains.
McBride said that Wards are organized geographically so that the Bishop and other members of the church are in close proximity and can support one another and help out in times of need.
According to McBride, in the early 1800s, Joseph Smith was searching for the true Church of Jesus Christ and upon seeing a vision of light above his head as he prayed in a grove of trees, was called to establish a new church, which officially became the Church of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 1830.
He said, as the Church grew, the members were persecuted and driven from the communities where they resided. Eventually, Joseph Smith and some of the Church leaders were killed. Brigham Young was called as prophet after Joseph Smith's death. He led the church members west to escape the persecution. They settled in Utah in the late 1800's and began to establish Salt Lake City and other communities in Utah and the western frontier.
Since the church was organized, the Church has sent missionaries out to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church now has missionaries throughout the world. There are over 14 million members of the Church throughout the world, according to McBride.
For McBride and other devout Mormons, their faith offers strength in turbulence.
“My faith gives me a strong foundation to stand on during these uncertain times," he said. "I know that each of us is part of our Heavenly Father's plan of happiness. Even though there may be difficult times that bring uncertainty into our lives, having faith in Jesus Christ and living the gospel he taught gives me hope and assurance that I can find peace and happiness in this life.”