Thoughts on LDS Reform (Long Winded)
holytheghost Nov. 2012
Official LDS church historian, Elder Marlin K. Jensen (now emeritus) is being candid about the LDS church’s problem of rapidly decreasing membership numbers due to historical issues which are now coming to light
(http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/01/30/uk-mormonchurch-idUKTRE80T1CP20...). These are embarrassing issues that many in the church would rather not have folks hear about. Many people who are interested in following such events (including Elder Jensen) think that a pivotal moment in the development of the church is fast approaching.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a current member of the LDS First Presidency, recently counselled members of the church that there is a difference between raw church growth (numbers on the books), and real growth (active practicing members). This distinction requires that members continue to ask questions and “get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew…" because “as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit.” (http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/62024/President-Dieter-F-Uchtdorf-...).
I cannot offer a reference for this next point, but a few months ago (Summer 2011) I heard rumors (so caution would be appropriate) that Elder Dallin H. Oaks (Apostle, 4th in line for the Presidency of the Church) is not happy with the current activities of LDS apologists, and was about to “crack-down.” Allegedly, he was not happy how, in the process of answering questions regarding difficult theological and historical issues, apologists were inadvertently changing the meanings of, and even creating, doctrines, and Elder Oaks felt that this role ought to be reserved for the Brethren. If the rumors are true (I hope they are), then it could mean that the Brethren are considering addressing some of the thornier issues that plague the Church.
According to Elder Jensen, something like is about to happen, and President Thomas S. Monson is spearheading a “Rescue” that involves significant revisions to teaching manuals so that they include a discussion of some of those difficult issues.
Some people (hopefully including Elders Jensen and Oaks, and Presidents Uchdorf and Monson) think that the church is in need of reform. I am one of those people. In this essay, I suggest a number of ways in which I think the church needs to reform:
1. Policy of Teaching Only Faith-Promoting Aspects of History
Elder Dalin H. Oaks and Elder Boyd K. Packer have advocated the notion that only faith promoting information about the church ought to be disseminated.
Elder Oaks says that information that is not faith promoting ought to be concealed. “My duty as a member of the Council of the Twelve is to protect what is most unique about the LDS church... Everything may be sacrificed in order to maintain the integrity of those essential facts.” (Anderson, 1999, footnote 28, p. xliii).
Elder Packer holds that the role of Church educators is not to present an objective history because for one thing “[i]n an effort to be objective, impartial, and scholarly a writer or a teacher may unwittingly be giving equal time to the adversary.” No, instead of historical facts, the aim in teaching the history of the LDS faith “should be that they [students] will see the hand of the Lord in every hour and every moment of the Church.” Famously, he has said of embarrassing historical information “[s]ome things that are true are not very useful,” and that “[y]ou do not do well to see that it is disseminated” because uninspiring truth about the history of the Church is like a disease: “Do not spread disease germs!"
If the LDS church is to reform, such an attitude ought to be discarded in favor of a more open and honest examination of church history. Elder J. Reuben Clark summed up this attitude succinctly: “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” (found in Quinn, 1983, p. 24; italics added).
There are a number of areas in which the church can be more open, and even places where, as Elder Clark suggests, truths should be told, even if it means bringing harm to the church. Here are a few:
(i) Joseph Smith’s “Marriages”
Founder of the Restored Church (and the various Restorationist movements) or not, Joseph Smith was a flawed man. He was a polygamist—which is news to many members who presume that the practice was instituted by Brigham Young. He practiced polyandry (wife with multiple husbands)—news to almost all members.
According to D&C 132, he was an adulterer:
132:41: Joseph has asked God: “Am I committing adultery?” i.e. he was having sexual relations other than with his legal wife Emma Smith.
132:63: “They are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth.” To “multiply” indicates that the purpose of the union is reproduction. Sex.
132: 51-54: If Emma doesn’t like it, tough, God will destroy her.
132:61: The woman (polygamous wife) must be a virgin and “vowed to no other man”, and wife #1 must consent.
If these conditions are not met, it is adultery. Some of the polygamous wives were married to other men (not virgins, and vowed to other men); Emma most adamantly DID NOT APPROVE. God had to threaten her to get her to comply.
Demonstrating evidence of the lack of assent from Emma to Joseph’s extramarital relations is a hand written note from Joseph to Sarah Anne Whitney in which he says “"the only thing to be careful of, is to find out when Emma comes then you cannot be Safe, but when She is not here, there is the most perfect Safty" also "I think Emma wont come tonight if she dont dont fail to come to night."(http://user.xmission.com/~research/family/strange.htm)
If we look up Adultery on the Church’s website (http://www.lds.org/study/topics/adultery?lang=eng) it simply refers us to “Chastity.” The Law of Chastity, as taught in the Temple ritual, is having sex with anyone other than he or she to whom one is “legally and lawfully wed.” It should be noted that at no point in church history was polygamy ever practiced legally. All polygamous relationships (including Joseph Smith’s) were with someone to whom the participants were not legally and lawfully wed.
Joseph Smith lied about his polygamy for his entire life. A section of the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 101 in the 1835 edition, 109 in the 1844 edition) which contains an explicit lie about polygamy remained in the D&C until 1876. “we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”
All of Joseph Smith’s marriages (other than to Emma) were, according to D&C 132 and the church’s definition, adultery.
(ii) The First Vision
There are multiple versions of the First Vision. They differ on a number of the most important elements of the alleged experience.
• Why did Joseph go to pray?
• When did it happen (how old was he)? There are years in the discrepancies, not months.
• Who appeared to Joseph (if God, Jesus, or both appeared to me, it would be so seared into my brain that my story would never change).
• What did God/Jesus say?
Today the church leadership calls the first vision the “first pillar of our faith... the hinge pin on which this whole cause turns.”
(Howard W, Hunter, Ensign, September 1994)
“If the First Vision did not occur, then we are involved in a great sham. It is just that simple.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, New York Rochester Missionary Meeting, July 12, 1996).
Considering how important and central such an event would be to the newly forming church, it is unfathomable to imagine that during the time the church was being organized, there was no mention of the vision. The canonical version of the vision was written in 1838, two decades after the alleged event and eight years after the church was organized. There is simply no mention of it by anyone during the formative years of the church.
(iii) Book of Abraham
The Book of Abraham was allegedly written by Abraham’s own hand and translated by Joseph Smith. The artifact from which the Book was “translated” has turned out to be a common Egyptian Funerary text. Apologists have put forth a number of possible explanations, none of which are, in the opinions of non-Mormons, even remotely plausible.
The Doctrine and Covenants used to include “The Lectures on Faith”. This section was the “Doctrine” part of the Doctrine and Covenants, but the Lectures were eliminated from LDS scripture in 1921. It might be time to stop defending the Book of Abraham and let it go the way of the Lectures on Faith.
On a tangential note, President David O. McKay believed that Book of Abraham contained the scriptural justification, in fact the only scriptural justification (1:26), for denying blacks the Priesthood (Mormonism and the Negro, part 2, p.19). Blacks now have the Priesthood. According to President McKay, the Book of Abraham was mistaken.
(iv) Book of Mormon
It’s a work of fiction. Admit it. We can believe it to be inspired fiction (as does the RLDS/CoC), but fiction nonetheless. There is no evidence for its historicity. Its epistemology (Alma 32) is fatally flawed (Alma 32: 27 you have to want it to be true, 28-34 act as though it’s all true, 28 don’t not believe, 38-39, if you don’t believe, try harder) and not from God. Its self-contained test of authenticity (Moroni 10: 3-5) is likewise flawed. Moroni asks us to pray to know if it’s true and our emotions will then reveal to us objective truth. But in order to accept that test as legitimate, you need to already accept that the test is legitimate, and therefore that the book is what it claims, otherwise the test is nonsense. This is circular thinking.
The Book of Mormon is wrong in virtually every case that it describes flora and fauna (horses, elephants), and fails to describe the flora and fauna (corn?) that is actually in the location currently believed to be the site of Book of Mormon history. It has been changed to de-emphasise (but not eliminate) racist teachings. It has been changed to reflect the change in Joseph Smith’s view of the nature of God after the BoM’s first publication. It borrows phraseology from Bible passages which had not been written yet at the time the BoM allegedly occurs. Although some passages in the BoM are identical or virtually identical to Bible passages, after the publication of the BoM, Joseph Smith retranslated many passages in the Bible in such a way as to contradict the BoM.
I could go on, (iron, silk, Law of Moses…) but this is intended to be a brief summary.
(v) The Exclusion of Blacks From the Priesthood
Brigham Young said that if Blacks got the Priesthood, then the church was in apostasy (Joint Session of the Legislature Feb. 5th 1852). This WAS church doctrine. Admit it. Admit Brigham Young was wrong, and that the church was wrong to practice it. Considering the church’s claim that there is no salvation outside of Mormonism, it seems extraordinarily cruel to disallow any group of people the temple rituals necessary (in Mormonism) to get into heaven.
"The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said, Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their father‘s rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God.‘ They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be re-moved from the seed of Cain, and receive all the blessings we are entitled to." (Official statement of the First Presidency to BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson, dated August 17, 1951, quoted in John Lewis Lund, The Church and the Negro, p.89).
There are some who now claim, contrary to what Brigham Young taught, and the First Presidency officially declared (above) that exclusion of blacks was never doctrine. If not, then why, in 1969, after a majority of the 12 apostles voted to allow blacks the priesthood did President overturn the vote claiming that such a reversal would require a “revelation” (Michael D. Quinn – Mormon Hierarchy Extensions of Power p. 14), and why did it require a revalation in 1978?
It was doctrine. Admit it. Admit wrongdoing. Apologize, move on.
(vi) The Succession Crisis
Is the Salt Lake City based LDS church the (only) legitimate successor to Joseph Smith’s church? If so, why? The other churches seem to make pretty convincing internally coherent cases as well. And if it is the original authentic church, why did they have a “reformation” wherein re-baptisms and re-ordinations were performed?
(vii) The Temple Ceremony and Freemasonry
Joseph learned the Masonic rituals on March 15 & 16, 1842. Then mere weeks later (May 3 & 4), introduced the first version of the Mormon temple ritual. Just admit that it was lifted from Freemasonry. It’s not even debatable. Then either drop the masonic part, or explain it satisfactorily
The job of the apologist is to defend the faith regardless. They know what their conclusion is going to be BEFORE they examine the evidence. Then they have the gall to warn members that critics (even those who examine evidence, then draw conclusions) are less reliable than them. They fail to differentiate between “anti-mormon lies” and legitimate criticism (there is no such thing to them).
One of the most harmful things that apologists do is to posit ad hoc answers. Ad hoc answers only explain that a belief “might be true IF…”, but do not offer any positive evidence. However, apologists do not explain that they are making ad hoc assumptions, and leave the impression that they have given a satisfactory answer.
An ad hoc assumption or ad hoc hypothesis is a way of explaining away your wrongness. It allows you to "save your hypothesis in the face of contradictory evidence. After you discover that you are mistaken, you make an assumption that, if true, allows you to conclude that you were not really mistaken. For example, if I conduct an experiment in which I predict some psychic phenomena, but the results contradict my hypothesis, I can argue that my psychic phenomena still exists, but the problem is that there were skeptics who were observing the experiment, and they sent off bad psi vibes (or some such thing).
Mormon statement: “We believe that Joseph Smith is a mouthpiece for God.”
Observation: “He was wrong about men on the moon.”
Ad hoc assumption: “He was speaking as a man.”
Mormon Statement: “We believe Joseph Smith was a translator.”
Observation: “The Book of Abraham was not correctly translated from the papyri that Joseph Smith claimed to have used.”
Ad hoc assumption: “He didn't literally translate it, it was simply a tool of inspiration.”
Mormon Statement: “We believe we will be blessed for paying tithing.”
Observation: “You are a bankrupt.”
Ad hoc assumption: “God is testing you.”
Mormon Statement: “We believe we can be healed by Priesthood blessings.”
Observation: “Many cases of non-healing after receiving a Priesthood blessing.”
Ad hoc assumption: “The recipient lacks faith.”
Mormon Statement: “We believe that the church uses tithing & offerings for purposes of charity.”
Observation: “There is little evidence that this is true.”
Ad hoc assumption: “The church doesn't want to brag about its charitableness.”
Mormon Statement: “We believe that black people are cursed, and were less valiant in the pre-existence.”
Observation: Since the 1978 revelation, that doctrine seems to have been reversed.”
Ad hoc assumption: “That was simply a policy, never a doctrine.”
Etc., etc., etc.
When Gordon B. Hinckley went on national television to be interviewed by Larry King (Sept. 8th 1998) and said of polygamy “I condemn it as a practice. It is not doctrinal…” he was not being entirely honest. Some considerations regarding plural marriage:
(i) It was not due to a shortage of men, as is commonly taught in the church. There was no shortage of men. D&C 132 says nothing about marrying plural wives due to a lack of men. If it was due to a lack of men then why would Joseph Smith marry women who were already married to other living men? Were hundreds of men being killed by persecution (as is widely believed in the Church), leaving many widows with no one to care for them? While there was never an official tally of members of the church who died from persecution, official (and respected) church historian B. H. Roberts estimates the toll to be 50 (General Conference, October 1907). This is not enough to account for the hundreds of plural wives involved in polygamy at the time.
(ii) Polygamy is, according to D&C 132, intended to be sexual (v. 63). Apologists should stop saying that Joseph Smith probably didn’t have sex with any of his other wives.
(iii) The church still believes and PRACTICES it (temple marriage). Admit it. If I am sealed to my wife and she dies, and then I am sealed to a second woman, then according to Mormonism, I am sealed to both of them. I have two wives, and will have both wives for eternity. So for Hinckley to call it “not doctrinal” is, at the very minimum, misleading. So come clean, and either embrace the polygamy that Mormonism believes in and stop denying it and condemning fundamentalists, or revise the theology, renounce it and admit that earlier prophets were mistaken.
(iv) Brigham Young said that polygamy is necessary for salvation: “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy," (Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, p. 269). Read in context, the blow is softened slightly as it might actually mean that even if you don’t practice it, you need to believe in it in order to get into heaven.
But if this is no longer taught or believed in the church, then renounce it.
3. Transparency of Finances
Having church employed accountants simply assert that everything is in order is not the same as having open books. There are areas where there are significant questions.
(i) Charitable donations. How much of our tithing goes to charity?
(ii) How much is being invested into real estate?
(iii) Which church employees are getting paid, and how much?
These questions need to be addressed and adequately answered.
4. How Do We Know if the Prophet is Speaking As a Man?
Sometimes, when a prophecy proves to be false, we are told, “The Prophet was speaking as a man.” How do we know if what he says is the word of God, or if he is just stating his opinion? Do we have to wait to see if the prophecy is fulfilled or not to make the determination?
The president is supposed to be a prophet like those in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and like Joseph Smith. He is supposed to be God’s mouthpiece on Earth. We are told to be obedient to every word that he speaks. There are plenty of occasions when the President of the Church has been mistaken about something important (Brigham Young on the Blacks, Brigham Young on the Adam-God doctrine, Joseph Smith on moon men). So the apologist has a convenient answer: He may be a prophet, but he has personal opinions as well. In this case he was “speaking as a man,” not as a prophet.
Fair enough. But we are told that obedience is the first law of heaven (Lesson 23: Obedience: The First Law of Heaven,” Preparing for Exaltation: Teacher’s Manual, p. 128). We need to know when to act out of obedience and when the president is speaking as a man.
Brigham Young held that everything he said from the pulpit (so long as he checked the transcription for accuracy) was as good as scripture (Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, pp. 95, 264), and that he had never given counsel that was wrong (not even blood atonement, Adam God, Polygamy, or that Joseph Smith will judge us before we can get into heaven…) (Journal of Discourses, vol. 16, p. 161). So apparently, EVEN THE PROPHET CANNOT DISTINGUISH WHEN HE IS SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF GOD OR NOT. If the prophet who receives the revelation from God cannot tell the difference between opinion and revelation, then what chance do you and I have?
Recent President Gordon B. Hinckley describes his communications from God as “impressions” and “feelings.” (Larry King, December 26, 2004; San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1997). That seems rather un-prophet-like, and not terribly different from what you and I experience. If Brigham Young couldn’t tell the difference, did any of the other “prophets” have some reliable test that told them when their emotions were simply ordinary emotions vs. supernatural or “revelation from God” emotions?
What about the current prophet? If he has some kind of reliable way to know the difference, then he should say something akin to “the talk I’m giving today is God inspired” or “my speech today is me just telling a story about widows and I’m speaking as a man.”
If he does not have such a test, then he is no different from any other person on earth in that regard and perhaps it is time to stop calling him a “prophet” and start simply calling him the President of the Church.
5. Exclusionary Practices Regarding Temple Marriages
The church frequently excludes family members (non-members, the non-righteous, and non-tithe payers) from attending family weddings. This is cruel, and unnecessary and needs to be fixed! The Kirtland temple, the first built by the Mormon movement, was not exclusionary. Anybody could enter and worship in the Kirtland temple.
In some countries, LDS temple ceremonies are not recognized as legal marriages, and so a civil, non-temple ceremony occurs first, followed by a sealing in the temple. In these countries, any and all family members can attend the wedding, leaving the specifically Mormon ritual to the practicing members. If this were adopted as the norm in all countries, nobody’s salvation would be adversely affected, no guilt would be heaped on the young couple for wanting their family members to attend, “worthy” or not, and family relationships would be honored and respected, and love would become paramount as opposed to ostracizing those family members deemed not worthy to attend. If the church were to stop barring family members from attending weddings, it would be an excellent and easily accomplished PR move.
6. The Church’s Relationship to Mainstream Christianity
At the time of writing the first draft of this note, there are two members of the LDS church running for the Presidency of the USA (2nd draft, down to one), and so there has been a lot of attention focused on Mormonism, and one of the first questions asked is regarding whether the LDS church is a Christian religion.
The answer to that question is that Mormonism and the other Christian religions are utterly incompatible. Therefore, if any other religions are Christian, then Mormonism is not; if Mormonism is Christian, then ALL OTHER RELIGIONS are not. This is admittedly a very strong statement to make, but it will be supported below by strictly LDS sources. No allegedly “anti-mormon lies.”
The very foundation of the LDS church requires all other religions to be abominations in the sight of God.
The canonical version of Joseph Smith’s First Vision (written 1838, published 1842, allegedly happened 1820), has Jesus Christ himself calling all other Christian religions “all wrong; and … an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt” (Joseph Smith History 1:18-20).
Later, Jesus again, dictating to Joseph Smith, says that Mormonism is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased” (D&C 1:30-31).
The “only” true and living church? What about the other churches?
[T]here are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth. 1 Nephi 14:10
The sine qua non of Mormonism is that all other faiths are illegitimate: “Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church, v. 1, p. xl).
Prior to 1990, the Mormon Temple ritual portrayed Christian ministers as hirelings of Lucifer, who tells the minister that they will be well paid if they can convert people to the preachers orthodox religion.
Church leaders have likewise said that all non-Mormon Christianity is of the devil. George Q. Cannon, while he was serving as 1st Counselor to Mormon Prophet John Taylor: “We belong, because of our obedience to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, to what is known as the Church of Christ, while those who have not embraced this Gospel and entered into covenant with God, belong to the other church—that is the church which is called in the revelations of God, the whore of all the earth, or the mother of abominations. That is the distinction which exists between the Latter-day Saints and the rest of mankind.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol 25, pp. 362-363).
John Taylor, while an Apostle in the church, said "We talk about Christianity, but it is a perfect pack of nonsense…and what is it? It is a sounding brass and a tinkling symbol; it is as corrupt as hell; and the Devil could not invent a better engine to spread his work than the Christianity of the nineteenth century," (Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, 1858, p. 167). Following which, Brigham Young sealed the deal: “Brother Taylor has just said that the religions of the day were hatched in hell. The eggs were laid in hell, hatched on its borders, and kicked on to the earth.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol 6, pg 176).
Joseph Smith made it quite clear in the temple ceremony that Christian pastors were in the employ of Satan, but he also stated so, explicitly: “What is it that inspires professors of Christianity generally with a hope of salvation? It is that smooth, sophisticated influence of the devil, by which he deceives the whole world" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.270), and that “...all the priests who adhere to the sectarian religions of the day with all their followers, without one exception, receive their portion with the devil and his angels." (The Elders Journal, Joseph Smith Jr., editor, vol.1, no.4, p.60)
What did the fathers of Mormonism think of Christian people? We’ve already seen what the first prophet thought. Was the second prophet’s attitude different? Brigham Young says, “The people called Christians are shrouded in ignorance, and read the Scriptures with darkened understandings.” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, p.333).
Third Prophet John Taylor? “Are Christians ignorant? Yes, as ignorant of the things of God as the brute beast…What does the Christian world know about God? Nothing...Why so far as the things of God are concerned, they are the veriest fools; they know neither God nor the things of God." (Journal of Discourses 13:225). “We talk about Christianity, but it is a perfect pack of nonsense…it is as corrupt as hell; and the Devil could not invent a better engine to spread his …. (Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 167). “The present Christian world…is mother of harlots and abominations of the earth, and it needs no prophetic vision, to unravel such mysteries. The old church is the mother, and the protestants are the lewd daughters…`There is none in all christendom that doeth good; no, not one.” (Times and Seasons, Vol.6, No.1, p.811).
If, as is stated above, the very reason for the foundation of the LDS church was the illegitimacy of Christianity, we might ask if, over the years, the position of the church has changed, and whether Mormonism now accepts the validity of non-Mormon Christian denominations. Sadly, no. And if we look at the statements of recent heads of the church, we see this stated explicitly.
President Spencer W. Kimball (the President/Prophet from 1973-1985) says: “This is the only true church ...This is not a church. This is the Church of Jesus Christ. There are churches of men all over the land and they have great cathedrals, synagogues, and other houses of worship running into the hundreds of millions of dollars. They are churches of men. They teach the doctrines of men, combined with the philosophies and ethics and other ideas and ideals that men have partly developed and partly found in sacred places and interpreted for themselves." (Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.421)
President Kimball’s successor, Ezra Taft Benson (President/Prophet from 1985-1994) likewise says that we are not part of the same category as the Christian churches: "This is not just another Church. This is not just one of a family of Christian churches. This is the Church and kingdom of God, the only true Church upon the face of the earth..." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.164-165).
Apostle Elder Bruce R. McConkie, one of the most respected recent theologians of the church, says it as explicitly as is possible: “Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not Protestants, and the Church itself is not a Protestant Church. The true Church is not a dead branch from a dead tree; it is a living tree planted again by revelation in the vineyard of the Lord, and it shall grow and flourish long after. (Mormon Doctrine, p. 269)
In most Christian faiths, salvation is relatively independent of which church one is a member of; most Episcopalians would not have a problem believing that a Lutheran or Baptist can go to heaven, and vice versa. Not so in Mormonism. In the LDS church, membership in the church is essential for salvation, and “[t]here is no salvation outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" (Mormon Doctrine, p.670).
So what about those who are baptized into other faiths? Will a loving and understanding God not honor these acts of faith? President Charles W. Penrose, who served as a Mormon Apostle and as 1st and 2nd Counselor in the First Presidency of the church lays it out for us: “Every baptism of the Catholic Church, and of the Episcopal Church, and of the Baptist Church, or any other church, if God Almighty did not ordain and authorize the man who performed the ordinance even though he performed it in the right way and used the right words, is null and void…” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 25, p.339)
And the prophet, president Spencer W. Kimball, goes even further: it’s not only meaningless, but “[p]resumptuous and blasphemous are they who purport to baptize, bless, marry, or perform other sacraments in the name of the Lord while in fact lacking the specific authorization.” (found in the horribly misnamed The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 55).
But wait, there’s more. Not only is the Mormon church necessary for salvation, but so is Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith is necessary for the salvation of all. Brigham Young makes it clear that "..no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith...every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p.289), and if you don’t accept this you are anti-christ: “he that confesseth not that Jesus has come in the flesh and sent Joseph Smith with the fullness of the Gospel to this generation, is not of God, but is anti-christ" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p.312).
This is not some quaint 19th century position. It was taught well into the 20th century. President Joseph Fielding Smith said that there can be "no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith. If Joseph Smith was verily a prophet, and if he told the truth...no man can reject that testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, p.190).
Bruce McConkie agrees: "If it had not been for Joseph Smith and the restoration, there would be no salvation. There is no salvation outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" (Mormon Doctrine, p.670).
This principal was taught explicitly as recently as 1988. The 1988 Melchizedek Priesthood Study Guide (p. 142) quotes George Q. Cannon as saying “"If we get our salvation, we shall have to pass by him [Joseph Smith]; if we enter our glory, it will be through the authority he has received. We cannot get around him [Joseph Smith].”
Some critics of Mormonism have tried to argue that the Jesus of Mormonism is not the same Jesus of traditional Christianity. President Gordon B. Hinkley implies that these critics are not entirely off the mark: “They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say… (Ensign, May 2002, p.90).
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explains why. The Jesus of traditional Christianity is mythical: “Virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ" (LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie, in Mormon Doctrine, p.269).
President Hinckley does not mince his words on this matter: “The traditional Christ of whom they [non-Mormons] speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this, the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages." (LDS Church News Week 6/20/98, p.7)
• The sine qua non of Mormonism is that all other Christianity is invalid, an abomination to God.
• All other Christianity is inspired by the devil, the leaders are corrupt, and the followers ignorant.
• There is no salvation in any of the other churches. Their rituals are blasphemy.
• Mormonism is not part of the same category as the traditional Christian churches.
• You have to be a member of the LDS church to get into heaven.
• Joseph Smith has to approve your entry into heaven.
• The Jesus of Mormonism might not be the same “mythical” Jesus of Christianity.
Does this sound like Mormons are Christians? Hence my answer to the question of whether Mormons are Christians: If Mormons are Christians, then NO ONE ELSE IS! If those who call themselves Christian are Christians, then Mormons are not.
In recent years, observers have suggested that Mormonism is softening its position, trying to align itself more with traditional Protestantism. If so, part of this project of mainstreaming needs to include disavowing those doctrines that make Mormonism incompatible with mainstream Protestantism, doctrines like all other churches being an abomination to God, the necessity of LDS membership for salvation, and the necessity of being judged by Joseph Smith.
7. LDS View of Who God is.
This view needs to be clarified.
If you are philosophically inclined, consider the masterful arguments for the existence of God from the theologians St. Anselm and St. Thomas Aquinas.
In St. Anselm’s Ontological argument, an essential premiss is that God is defined as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”
In Aquinas’s Cosmological argument, God is defined as the unmoved mover—because every event must be caused, and the chain of causes cannot be infinite, there must be a first cause, God, the unmoved mover.
My point here is not whether these arguments work or not (honestly, I don’t think that they do…), but rather to point out that even if they work and prove the existence of God, THEY DO NOT APPLY TO THE GOD OF MORMONISM.
The official Church publication, the Ensign, contained the following in the “I have a question” section in February 1982 (pp. 39-40):
“Is President [prophet] Lorenzo Snow’s oft-repeated statement—“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be”—accepted as official doctrine by the Church?”
The answer concludes that “[i]t is clear that the teaching of President Lorenzo Snow is both acceptable and accepted doctrine in the Church today.”
God was not always God, according to Mormonism. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!... I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Arranged by Joseph F. Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), p. 345, 346.)
Bruce R. McConkie explains that “[t]he Father is a glorified, perfected, resurrected, exalted man who worked out his salvation by obedience to the same laws he has given to us so that we may do the same." (LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p.64).
This is not some archaic speculative theology (like some consider the Adam-God doctrine). The prior-mortality of God is taught right up to the present day (see for example, the Ensign, Jan 2005, pp. 48-49).
And although recent prophet President Hinckley claimed, in response to a question regarding whether men become Gods "I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it ... I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.” (Time, August 4th 1997, p. 56), he had only 3 years earlier, been preaching that very thing to a worldwide audience: “…the whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follet sermon (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 342-62); and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become!" - Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, General Conference, October 1994
This is one of the most central beliefs of Mormonism. According to the prophet Joseph:
Here, then, is eternal life--to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves…the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings. and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. And I want you to know that God, in the last days, while certain individuals are proclaiming His name, is not trifling with you or me." (History of the Church, Vol.6, Ch.14, p.305-306)
But not only did God achieve God-ness, “God himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end.” (Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, Vol. Six, , p. 120). If God was omniscient (having infinite knowledge) could He be increasing in knowledge? If God was omnipotent (infinite in power) could He be increasing in power and dominion?
"We believe in a God who is Himself progressive, whose majesty is intelligence; whose perfection consists in eternal advancement -- a Being who has attained His exalted state by a path which now His children are permitted to follow, whose glory it is their heritage to share. In spite of the opposition of the sects, in the face of direct charges of blasphemy, the Church proclaims the eternal truth: 'As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be.’" (LDS Apostle James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, Ch.24, pp. 430-431)
According to Mormonism, the being to whom we refer to as “God” was once in the same position as we are now. We are subject to God, and our God was once mortal and subject to his God, who in turn was mortal and subject to his God, and so on, and so on, ad infinitum.
Furthermore, according to the Book of Mormon, not only did God achieve God-hood, but if God were not just, then “God would cease to be God” (Alma 42:13). God could fail and “cease to be God!!!”
So, to bring the discussion back to St. Anselm and St. Thomas, God, in Mormonism, is not “that than which nothing greater can be conceived” as the Mormon God has a prior God, his creator, who has progressed further in knowledge, power, and dominion.
And God is not the unmoved mover postulated by St. Thomas Aquinas. In Mormon theology, God is just one of an infinite chain of movers/Gods. There is no first in the chain, there is no “unmoved mover.”
So even if the classic arguments for the existence of God work, they do not apply to the LDS God.
The LDS God is not:
Omniscient—His knowledge is contingent, dependent upon learning, and still increasing.
Omnipotent—God can cease to be God.
Omnipresent—He exists in a specific time and space (Abraham 3:3, D&C 130:22).
In sum, the finite and contingent God of Mormonism is not the same being as the infinite God of classical theism.
If the LDS church is to claim a place among the Christian churches, it needs to address the differences in conceptions of what it takes to be God.
The God of Mormonism is not the greatest thing which can be conceived. The Mormon God is not infinite in knowledge.
8. The Mormon Church’s Stance on “Apostates”
Finally, and on a personal note, the church needs to lose the attitude they have about “apostates”. According to Chapter 24 of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, there are apparently no legitimate reasons for not believing in the church anymore. The above lesson offers a very short list of “excuses” that people give for apostatizing—things like being offended, or hiding a secret sin—all things that are a flaw with the leaver, not the church.
In the lesson manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, we learn in Chapter 27 (Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy) that those who leave the church, in addition to hiding secret sins, etc., are cursed and are following Satan: “apostates after turning from the faith of Christ, unless they have speedily repented, have sooner or later fallen into the snares of the wicked one, and have been left destitute of the Spirit of God…”
“the apostate is left naked and destitute of the Spirit of God, and he is, in truth, nigh unto cursing, and his end is to be burned.”
“When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant.”
I cannot voice my opinion on this matter strongly enough! I allow my children to continue to attend services, as it was a good experience for me growing up, my children enjoy it, and the church appears to be maturing into a mainstream protestant church. But if I am going to allow my children to attend services, STOP TELLING MY CHILDREN THAT I AM UNDER THE CONTROL OF SATAN. I didn’t apostatize because I was hiding secret sin, nor was I offended, but telling my children that I am ensnared by Satan IS effing offensive!
If the church is reforming, it needs to lose the “us v. the world” and “everybody is persecuting us” attitude. There is legitimate criticism. If all criticism is characterized as “anti-mormon lies” then how can members recognize legitimate criticisms?
Anderson, R. D. (1999). Inside the Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon. Mind of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, Utah; Signature Books.
Packer, B. K. (1993). All Church Coordinating Council Meeting. http://emp.byui.edu/HUFFR/All%20Church%20Coordinating%20Council--Boyd%20...
Quinn, D. M. (1983). J. Reuben Clark: The Church Years. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press.
Thanks HTG - that was very interesting and well-written
As a nevermo who's still learning, I was particularly interested in your masterfully succinct summary of the differences between the Mormon god and the Christian god.
Although I've been an atheist for most of my life, I was brought up in Christianity (Anglicanism... OK it's Christianity Lite ;-) and the Mormon god is NOTHING like the Christian god.
In particular, the Mormon god seems so petty and, dare I say it, rather stupid - nothing like the universal intelligence which one might infer from Christianity and the theologies developed by most churches.
Mormon god is always laying down conditions and ridiculous rules (signs and tokens, anyone?) before anyone can join in...
Anyway, thanks for this - and thanks for the references allowing further personal research.
Tom in Paris
PS. It IS long, but NOT long-winded. There's nothing superfluous in your text.
Re: Thoughts on LDS Reform
THIS IS EXCELLENT!! Seriously, everyone on RfM should read this
How do you "reform" a falsehood?
The essay excellently describes the church's "difficult issues". Why are they "difficult"? Because they make the church look untrue.
That's because it IS untrue.
The brethren have a dilemma. They're supposed to come clean with problems that falsify the church?
No wonder they drag their feet.
I think coming clean would only work on a finite number of mormons. Remember, many if not most Mormons are ignorant of these issues. Even bishops and stake presidents are routinely unaware of problems. They're still in the paradigm that these are lies made up by antis and Satan. Everyday local Mormonism is still a fairytale. The church CAN'T just totally come clean...because it's tantamount to admitting it's bogus.
The church has nowhere to hide.
"Reform" what? How do you make a lie true?
Mormonism is a controlling sect if not a cult that is, right now, exploiting millions of hapless believers' for their money, manipulating them with age-old religious methods that play on intrinsic psychosocial phenomena.
It's a racket.
It's a travesty.
We're not talking about reform here, we're talking about abolition. Would you reform slavery? Make it fair? Make it right? Can't be done. It's intrinsically wrong. The only right answer was abolition...emancipation.
There is nothing the church can do to rightly reform short of admitting it's bogus and emancipating its members from their supposed obligations to the church.
Re: How do you "reform" a falsehood?
This would be my position. As stated in the original text, church leaders have identified the First Vision and the Book of Mormon as keystones of their faith.
They are clearly frauds.
The rest is PR, cognitive dissonance, and keeping the TBMers busy doing menial tasks masqueraded as charity.
Re: Thoughts on LDS Reform
With all due respect, what part of Mo-ism would you preserve? Every one of your charges amounts to a gutting of the Ism's "exclusive" claims.
If you want to be part of a mainline Protestant religion, convert to one.
Or start your own. Your list of complaints could be the Do Not part of the List.
Why not just acknowledge that religions are human-based power grabs, dispense with them, and serve your fellow beings just because you are one yourself?
You cannot manufacture enough lipstick for the Mormon pig.
Re: Thoughts on LDS Reform
well done! thanks.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a current member of the LDS First Presidency, recently counselled members of the church that there is a difference between raw church growth (numbers on the books), and real growth (active practicing members). This distinction requires that members continue to ask questions and “get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew…" because “as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit.”
This is an oxymoron.
They preach just the opposite.
They have tangled a mess that is near impossible to untangle.
To untangle it all will cause their corporation to fall and they know it.
Holy the Ghost
Re: Thoughts on LDS Reform
I suspect that when the process of reform/mainstreaming is over, there will little similarity with historic mormonism.
Essentially all of the things that make mormonism unique are things that need to be jettisoned if the church is to reform.
There are really only a few possible courses of action.
Continue as is, accept the claims of uniqueness-->If this is the choice, then mainstreaming will fail, and there will be continuation of the exodus of members.
Reform, come clean, mainstream--> there will likely be a sudden massive exodus (like when RLDS became COC) followed by a stable but smaller protestant church.
Keep on changing, and keep on pretending to not change-->I think this is the most likely course. And the most embarrassing. The exodus will continue, will gather steam, then slow once the gradual process of mainstreaming is over.
I vote for the 2nd option. I think it is the most honest, but I don't think it will happen.
Re: How do you "reform" a falsehood?
Makes about as much sense as reforming Bernard Madoff Investments, Inc.
When the founder is a dishonest, repulsive wretch, whither goes the organization?
Into the whirlpool and down the drain ...
"Recovery from Mormonism - www.exmormon.org"