Mormon Tradition

The Things That Make Reform Mormonism “Mormon”

Reform Mormonism is a progression beyond Orthodox LDS Mormonism, in much the same way that Mormonism is a progression beyond Orthodox Christianity. Just as Orthodox Christians can have a difficult time understanding why the LDS consider themselves “Christian” when so much of the LDS doctrine seems heretical to them, the LDS often have a hard time understanding why Reform Mormons consider themselves “Mormon” when so much RefMo doctrine seems beyond those things with which they are familiar.

The truth is that Reform Mormon doctrines do go beyond normal LDS Orthodoxy, just as LDS doctrines go beyond Christian Orthodoxy. Given that so much of the LDS doctrine is non-Orthodox Christian, it has always fallen to the LDS to explain why they consider themselves Christian – and the attempt has been somewhat successful (note that the LDS Church is almost always categorized as “Christian” in directories) though not without disagreement from the most Orthodox Christian apologists, who insist the LDS definition of God places Mormonism clearly outside their limits.

When Reform Judaism began in 1825, those who chose to practice as Reform Jews did not abandon their heritage and traditions. While the nature of reform is to embrace change and more rapidly progress, reform does not always involve a complete separation from behaviors, ideas, and history. This quote, from the Reform Judaism website, helps explain their approach: “The great contribution of Reform Judaism is that it has enabled the Jewish people to introduce innovation while preserving tradition, to embrace diversity while asserting commonality, to affirm beliefs without rejecting those who doubt, and to bring faith to sacred texts without sacrificing critical scholarship.”

Reform Mormonism’s approach can be summarized in much the same way: an organization of Mormons who are interested in preserving tradition without sacrificing scholarship; innovation; diversity while asserting commonality (we’re all Mormons – black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, etc.); to affirm our beliefs without rejecting those who doubt – in fact, as Reform Mormons, those who doubt form an important springboard for further exploration, an important tenet of Reform Mormonism – so we embrace and eagerly accept those who question as outstanding members!

The Reform Judaism example seems obvious enough; still, while the LDS have the responsibility to explain why they call themselves Christian, it falls to us as Reform Mormons to explain why we consider ourselves “Mormon,” and as Reform Mormonism is a new movement, some specifics are in order.

Here are some aspects of Mormonism’s history, traditions, behaviors and doctrines, that Reform Mormons consider part of our own tradition and history.


Reform Mormons lay claim to the history – as accurately as it can be told – of the church formation in 1830, the successions of various splinter groups, and to varying degrees the westward migration and settlement of Deseret, and the evolution of the modern LDS church. This history is our history – for better or for worse – and the accurate exploration and analysis of it belongs as much to us as to any Mormon group.


Mormon religious distinction includes emphasis on knowledge acquisition, and the idea that the glory of God is intelligence. Reform Mormon tenets are firmly rooted in this concept.


LDS temple practices have grown out of the concept of ordinances necessary for exaltation – a form of superior “salvation” in the next life, which includes the opportunity to become a God, or like God. Temple ordinances have the power to “seal” promises made in our present existence (time and space) for efficacy in the next life (eternity.) Reform Mormons continue to refine our understanding of this existence as it compares to an eternal existence; our basis for these refinements are the core Mormon concepts of time and eternity. As such, the sealing ordinances become an important practical tradition and distinction.


Mormons have been classified as a “happy, go-ahead people.” Reform Mormons share this outlook on life.


Though Mormons have no corner on morality, they are generally known as honest people who do what they say they will do. Reform Mormons follow this same line of morality and accountability.


Reform Mormons consider Joseph Smith a prophet. However, we’re quick to point out that our definition of a “prophet” and the LDS definition are different. Our definition of a prophet is more dictionary-based than Bible-based. Consider this dictionary definition of the word, and how it relates to Joseph Smith:

1. A person who speaks by divine inspiration or as the interpreter through whom the will of a god is expressed.
Was Joseph Smith inspired? Sure. All of the time? No – he said so himself. Was everything he said the “will of God?” Again, no. Does this mean that some of what he said can/should be discounted? Absolutely.
2. A person gifted with profound moral insight and exceptional powers of expression.
Joseph Smith qualifies on both points – through many would argue, with solid evidence and sometimes convincing passion – that his moral judgement was clouded – even severely mistaken – at times.
3. A predictor; a soothsayer.
He did both. Were all of his predictions accurate? No. Was he a soothsayer (seer?) Sure. There are lots of seers in the world – we needn’t be stingy giving Joseph Smith his due.
4. The chief spokesperson of a movement or cause.
From its founding to 1844, there is no question that he was the main force – chief spokesperson – of Mormonism. He remains a potent force within modern Mormonism.

Qualification on any of these points would entitle him to be called a prophet. As Reform Mormons we recognize that consistent application of our approach to these definitions would label many people as prophets. That is our position: there are many prophets in the world. Joseph Smith is a special prophet to Mormons because of what he organized. We reject the notion that all of his sayings, ideas, and writings must be considered correct – they are no more absolutely correct than any other human writings. In addition, we reject the idea that “if he was a prophet, the church must be true” as non-causal, false dichotomous marketing.


We believe that God continues to communicate with people today. While our method of accepting and interacting with this revelation is more personal and less organizational than larger Mormon sects, we nevertheless claim this classic Mormon concept as part of our history, tradition, and experience.


Classic Mormon theology includes the concept of the history of God: that God was once a human, and progressed to the present state. It also includes the promise of individual opportunity to progress – like God – to a state of Godhood. Reform Mormons believe in this progression. While we may disagree with our LDS friends regarding the methods by which this progression occurs (unlike them, we do not believe it occurs by obedience to commandment, but rather by increased intelligence) we do warmly embrace the concept, and are not reticent to state it as a tenet of our religion. This concept alone places us firmly outside the boundaries of Orthodox Christianity and squarely in the modern Mormon view.


Reform Mormons do not necessarily follow modern LDS traditions of adherence to the Word of Wisdom (no alcohol, tobacco, hot drinks, etc.) Neither are we known for adherence to the modern LDS sexual codes or historical marital codes involving polygamy.

We rely on our belief in morality as an individual determination of right and wrong, and accountability for the consequences of our actions. Because we believe that individual choice is a creative act, a similitude of God’s creative act, and therefore an ongoing learning opportunity, we believe in making choices that foster our growth, demonstrate respect for others, and that are within the law.


Reform Mormons have a much broader view of scripture than most people. Because we would include classic Mormon texts as scripture, whereas an Orthodox Christian would not, we are clearly within the Mormon camp. However, we view all scripture as man-made. This means it is not inerrant, or necessarily the “Word of God.” We also are willing to include many texts under the banner of “scripture” based upon our understanding of its role in our life. This places us beyond the Orthodox LDS camp, but clearly from it.


Reform Mormons are proud of their religious views and their distinction. They are also proud of their freedom to explore without corporate dictate or control, and their individual freedom. The history, idiosyncrasies, and marvelous concepts of Mormonism are invigorating and challenging. Although we have distinguished ourselves from the Orthodox LDS, we are nevertheless Mormon and proud of it.

By reforming, we have redefined our involvement with Mormon thought and practice without abandoning our history and tradition. This is our right and obligation.

Read next: The Freedom To Explore and The Insecurity of Independence