By Tasha Sotomayor
A national study conducted by the Institute of Jewish & Community Research recently reported 56 percent of respondents viewed Muslims and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as holding values and beliefs dissimilar to their own.
The study, conducted by International Communications Research, was based on responses from 1,103 randomly selected adults nationwide May 2-7, 2002.
John Livingston, associate religion professor in church history and doctrine, said he thinks most Americans are not familiar with Latter-day Saint beliefs and thus don”t recognize the similarities with other faiths.
“We often feel we are in the majority,” Livingstone said. “But we still have a long way to go in helping people understand who we are in an accurate perspective.”
Livingstone currently teaches Intro to Mormonism at BYU. The course is divided into two categories: the gospel and basic church history. The class has the largest percentage of students who are not Latter-day Saints that Livingstone has taught in 5 years.
Livingstone said as he attempts to give students perspective into the Latter-day Saint religion, he addresses the issue of Mormons and Christianity.
“As a mission president in Detroit,” Livingstone said, “I found that people didn”t recognize LDS as the same religion as Mormon.”
Livingstone said he wonders if the study used the word Latter-day Saint or Mormon on the actual survey.
“Our problems throughout the world are not so much that we are misunderstood, but that we are still getting our message out,” Livingstone said.
Livingstone said he believes although the church is working on its public image, it still has a ways to go. When members of the church feel a great responsibility to represent the church, they can sometimes end up sharing their beliefs in an evasive and defensive way, he said. Once members not only become better friends and neighbors, but better representatives, public knowledge will improve, he said.
One of Livingstone”s students, Joseph McDaniel, 18, a freshman from Long Beach, Calif., majoring in business, was introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through a friend from home.
“All I knew about Mormons, was they sounded like they were a cult,” McDaniel said. “I had no idea that Mormons and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were the same thing.”
A student council adviser introduced McDaniel to the church before he came to BYU.
“The more I learned about the church and the more time I spent with my friend”s family, the more I liked their way of life.” McDaniel said. “He had such good relationships with his brothers and sisters and I wanted that for my own family someday.”
When McDaniel was younger, he, like many of his friends, viewed the Latter-day Saint religion as a cult. The majority of people he associated with had negative things to say about the religion because they had no idea what it was about or what Latter-day Saints believed.
“I had no idea that being Mormon and LDS was the same thing,” McDaniel said. “I thought it was very confusing that a religion would say they”re Christian if they really weren”t.”
McDaniel decided to come to BYU to see for himself what Latter-day Saints were all about.
“I knew that Mormons believed in Christ, I just wasn”t sure what they believed about Christ.” McDaniel said. “It is people like my friend and mediums like the Intro to Mormonism class that will really teach me and others about Mormons.”
Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research told the Associated Press it may be that most Americans don”t interact with Latter-day Saints very often so their feelings are based on opinions, beliefs, attitudes or perceptions which have nothing to do with Latter-day Saints.
Abdel Karim Salem Al-lozi, a freshman from Ahman, Jordan, majoring in advertising, is a Muslim, the second religious group that participants in the survey said was starkly dissimilar to their own religions.
Al-lozi is also a student in the Introduction of Mormonism class. The only real difference Al-lozi said he has found between Latter-day Saints and Muslims is who the favorite son of Abraham is.
Kris Carpenter, 18, a freshman from Glendale, Calif., majoring in media arts is Al-lozi”s roommate and said so far the only difference between them is their majors.
“People often view the Muslim religion as violent, but I”ve read the Koran and I found that it espouses peace, just like the Book of Mormon,” Carpenter said. “Karim (Al-lozi) and I get along really well, and I”m finding out that most of the things people think about Muslims are stereotypes based on ignorance of a population, just like Mormons.”
The study also placed atheists at the top of the list, reporting that two out of three American adults feel atheists are unlike them.