I am a big fan of the HBO series “Big Love”, but the fact of the matter is that it rarely shows what life is like for the average ‘Mormon’ family in America or around the world.

Led on by media depictions of fringe fundamentalists, ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ has gotten a bad name in some circles.

The fact is that the vast majority of the followers of this particular strand of Christianity are regular folks, including many famous people. Donny and Marie Osmond, stars of their own 1970’s variety show as teens and now again thanks to recent appearances on the popular “Dancing With the Stars” program are part of perhaps the most famous American Mormon family.

Others who have either been raised in or converted to the faith include the man recently selected as the best 2nd baseman of the 2000’s, Jeff Kent, who may one day be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. They also include the recent popular “American Idol’ runner-up David Archuleta. And child actor turned adult drama TV star Rick Schroeder converted to the church of which his wife has been a lifelong member.

Perhaps the most important and influential member of the church is former Massachusetts Governor and leading Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. That importance comes from the fact of his legitimacy as a presidential candidate for a major political party.

During the 2008 election cycle, Romney ran a year-long campaign during which he won the Michigan and Nevada primaries among the 11 state primaries and caucuses that he won before dropping out in February of ’08.

There have been some who have criticized Romney’s faith as ‘fraud’ and wondered how, if he truly believes in the LDS (Latter-Day Saints) tenets as a man he can be taken seriously as a candidate. That is ridiculous on it’s face. It’s not like he is worshiping an alien mother ship. And his faith should certainly be no more an obstacle than was that of John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism in 1960 or any other Christian believer.

In running for the presidency and having his Catholicism brought up, Kennedy responded famously: “..if the time should ever come when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office.” Mitt Romney has taken up that challenge and said that he would “no more take orders from Salt Lake City than Kennedy would from Rome.”

That should be the end of that story, unless of course you find something mainstream about Catholicism and crazy about the LDS faith. So what do you know about ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’? It’s time to take a look at some of the key elements of that faith system, explore the legends and the fringe elements, and give you a more realistic picture than what you might have currently in mind.

Let’s start with the word ‘Mormon’ itself, which is generally accepted to mean “more good” and which was described that way first by either Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS movement, or another early church leader. W.W. Phelps. It is also the name of the narrator of the ‘Book of Mormon’, the Bible-esque sacred text of the church first published by Smith in 1830.

The Book of Mormon is widely regarded within the church as not just sacred scripture, but also as a history of God’s relationship with His church in the Americas going back over a 1,000 year period. Smith claims that he received the book from an angel in 1827. It was written on what were called ‘golden plates’, the originals of which Smith had to return to the angel after translation into English.

The main theme of both the book and the faith is described in it’s title page: “convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” The book teaches at one point that after his resurrection, Jesus visited some of the early inhabitants of the Americas.

It goes on to teach that Jesus is: “God himself who shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people, being the Father and the Son — the Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son — and they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.”

Along with solid Christian themes, the book delves into political and philosophical areas, especially in regards to the idea of American exceptionalism. It calls America a “land of promise“, and perhaps in what could be a warning to our current time it teaches that “any righteous society possessing the land would be protected, whereas if they became wicked they would be destroyed and replaced with a more righteous civilization.”

Joseph Smith himself was born in Vermont in 1805. In 1823 he claims to have been visited by the angel ‘Moroni’ who was the guardian of and who first revealed the ‘golden plates’ to Smith, and who eventually allowed Smith to dig them up and translate them. The translation was completed in 1830, and the Book of Mormon was then first published and the ‘Church of Christ’ was first formed.

The church in it’s earliest days under Smith’s leadership grew through periods of drama and scandal spreading from New York through to Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois among other stops.

Many of it’s early leaders who would go on to become legendary figures, such as Brigham Young, came to the church in these years. It was in Illinois in 1844 that Smith met his end, assassinated by an anti-Mormon group inspired in part by his embracing and teaching of polygamy.

One idea that had triggered much hatred towards the Mormons was this introduction of ‘the Principle’ of plural marriage, popularly known as the practice of polygamy. Smith claimed to be inspired to the practice himself, and it is thus still practiced today by fundamentalist Mormons who believe that they should practice the faith in the way that Smith did.

The LDS church officially banned polygamy in 1890 after it was officially declared illegal, and any church member now caught practicing it is excommunicated.

While it is these fundamentalist sects that draw much attention from the government and the sensationalist headline-seeking news media, and while it also is the main story line of “Big Love”, this relatively small segment does not represent mainstream modern day LDS beliefs.

The bottom line is that the LDS church is a Christian church, it has over 13 million members worldwide, is the 2nd-fastest growing church in America, it believes in the divinity of and teachings of Christ, and is as ‘mainstream’ as any other Christian faith.

As most everyone who follows this little blog of mine knows, I am a Catholic through and through, and I would enthusiastically encourage every single member of the LDS church, any other Christian church, and any other faith system at all to closely explore and strongly consider joining what I believe to be God’s one true church.

Catholicism is where I believe the best interpretations of his Word can be found. But for all it’s critics out there, the fact of the matter on the LDS church is that Mormons are Christians too.