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Friday, March 31, 2006

A Rarely Discussed Mormon Doctrine

Deseret News reported today on the first session of a two-day conference held at Utah Valley State College, "Mormonism and the Christian Tradition." According to the report,
"Participants in a panel discussion representing various perspectives shared their thoughts on a host of doctrines that mainstream Christian faiths and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have widely divergent opinions on."

The short news report does not identify the number of participants on the panel, but it does name and quote one Mormon professor from Brigham Young University, Robert Millet.

Dr. Millet spoke about the LDS doctrine of Eternal Progression. Though the article defined Eternal Progression as "the notion that mortals can become like God in the afterlife," a better and fuller definition of the doctrine is found in a famous (among Latter-day Saints) couplet written by Lorenzo Snow, who became the 5th LDS Prophet in 1898:
"As man is, God once was;
As God is, man may become."
(Encyclopedia of Mormonism 4:1474)

Mr. Snow claimed this doctrinal teaching came to him via revelation in 1840. Later, Joseph Smith told him it was a "true gospel doctrine' revealed "from God to you." (LeRoi C. Snow, "Devotion to a Divine Inspiration," Improvement Era, June 1919, page 656)

According to Deseret News, Dr. Millet said doctrines like Eternal Progression are not as frequently discussed now as they were 30 years ago "because we've begun to talk about other things more." In the 1970s,
"…[LDS] church members 'began to become much more literate in the scriptures,' which led to a greater emphasis on redemptive theology through Jesus Christ. The result 'has caused us to focus more on some things and less on other things,' Millet said."

Dr. Millet's comments make it seem as if the doctrine of Eternal Progression is not really an important part of Mormon theology. He doesn't deny or repudiate the teaching, but he shifts attention away from it and points his audience instead to an LDS belief in Christ. However, sitting on my desk I have four issues of Ensign magazine that teach the concept of Eternal Progression as a true and current doctrine of the LDS Church:
  • August 1995: "…our Heavenly Father proposed that all of his spirit children who lived with him in heaven might obtain the same blessings and privileges of Deity he enjoys. The process includes our gradually obtaining a clear understanding of the eternal principles that prepared and placed him in his current exalted condition." ("Learning to Live for Eternal Life," Seventy Carlos H. Amado, page 38)

  • July 1996: "Knowing what we know concerning God our Father--that he is a personal being; that he has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as our own; that he is an exalted and glorified being; that he was once a man and dwelt on an earth…" ("The Eternal Gospel," Robert L. Millet, page 53)

  • February 2002: "God Himself is an exalted man, perfected, enthroned, and supreme. …even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and aeons, of evolving into a God." ("The Origin of Man," First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reprint of November 1909 statement, page 30)

  • January 2006: "…if we are faithful and true to the commandments of the Lord, to become sons and daughters of God, joint heirs with Jesus Christ; and in His presence to go on to a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever, and perhaps through our faithfulness to have the opportunity of building worlds and peopling them." ("Adam's Role in Bringing Us Mortality," President Joseph Fielding Smith, reprint of October 1967 General Conference address, page 52)

Furthermore, though my copies of Ensign don't go back this far, consider one more incidence of the teaching Eternal Progression since the 1970s:
  • July 1982: "It is clear that the teaching of President Lorenzo Snow is both acceptable and accepted doctrine in the Church today." ("I have a question," Gerald Lund, page 38)

In the end it doesn't really matter how often Eternal Progression is discussed in the LDS Church. What matters is that it is a central point of doctrine. This doctrine defines the God that Mormonism calls people to worship; this doctrine constitutes the eternal hope of Latter-day Saints to one day become Gods.

I would say without a doubt that Deseret News got it right. The conference panel absolutely discussed doctrines "that mainstream Christian faiths and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have widely divergent opinions on." To Mormons, Eternal Progression is truth; to Christians, incontrovertible heresy.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Typical Mormon Worship Service

The March 24th Molokai Island Times carried a story about a journalist's first visit to an LDS Sunday service. Following are a few quotes from the article.

  • "First there is a Sacrament Service, where everyone meets together and takes communion, remembering the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. However, in the LDS tradition, water is used instead of wine or grape juice. [My Mormon friend] Aunty Jeanette said they use water instead because the same type of wine that was used in the days of Jesus is no longer available."

  • "'We come to know Christ through the prophet Joseph Smith,' explained a young saint who was asked to speak. Strongly emphasized in the practice of LDS faith is the role of the prophet Joseph Smith, who is said to have, as a young American in the mid-19th Century, experienced visions of Christ."

  • "'This is the only true and Holy Church,' said church member Rosie Davis, who was asked to speak last Sunday."

  • "In recognition of Smith's gift, Mormons sing songs that praise Smith's role in revealing the true Gospel of Jesus Christ."

  • "Meyer gave an instruction [during Sunday school], comparing the lives of Joseph of Egypt, Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ - all of whom began their ministry at the age of 30."

  • "'If we went to the temple everyday, there is so much to take out of the temple through the spirit,' [LDS member and former High Priest Rod Felt] said.' But we're counseled not to share what we learn...if we share it, it will fall on deaf ears.'"

The journalist seems to have recognized the LDS worship service's heavy emphasis on Joseph Smith. I'm glad he included that in his article. I think it's interesting, too, that he chose to quote the last remark: Latter-day Saints are counseled against sharing the deeply spiritual teachings of the temple with non-Mormons. Wouldn't any non-Mormon be puzzled by this? Mormons should not share what they learn?

It's evident in this Molokai Island Times report that, while the name of Jesus crops up here and there, He is not the focus of a typical Sunday morning at the Mormon Church.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Tarred & Feathered

Last Friday I went to the LDS Church sanctioned Joseph Smith web site. The site has a section titled "On This Day…," reporting daily events from the life of Joseph Smith. On Friday it said,
March 24, 1832
Hiram, Ohio. A mob violently tarred and feathered Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon.

This is interesting to me because on my web site, Questioning Mormonism, I have a similar feature that lists daily events in the history of the LDS Church. And for March 24th both the Joseph Smith site and the Questioning Mormonism site list the same bit of history. But the QM site has a little more detail:
"1832 - Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were tarred and feathered by a mob in Ohio due to rumors of Smith's intimacy with Nancy Marinda Johnson. Nancy's brother, Eli, was said to have led the mob."

Interesting how a few additional facts can change the whole tenor of a historic event. Here's the more complete story.

On September 2, 1831 Joseph and Emma Smith, along with their 5 month old twins, moved into the John Johnson home in Hiram, Ohio. The Johnson's had four grown sons and a 16-year-old daughter, Nancy Marinda. LDS author Fawn Brodie wrote,
"Fortified by a barrel of whiskey, [the mob] smashed their way into the Johnson home on the night of March 24, 1832 and dragged Joseph from the trundle bed where he had fallen asleep while watching one of the twins. They stripped him, scratched and beat him with savage pleasure, and smeared his bleeding body with tar from head to foot. Ripping a pillow into shreds, they plastered him with feathers. It is said that Eli Johnson demanded that the prophet be castrated, for he suspected Joseph of being too intimate with his sister, Nancy Marinda. But the doctor who had been persuaded to join the mob declined the responsibility at the last moment…" (No Man Knows My History, page119).

Joseph survived the ordeal with injuries that healed over time. But one of Joseph and Emma's twins, who had been suffering from measles and was that night exposed to cold, damp air, died five days later.
LDS author Todd Compton wrote,
"The motivation for this mobbing has been debated. Clark Braden…alleged…that Marinda's brother Eli led a mob against Smith because the prophet had been too intimate with Marinda. This tradition suggests that Smith may have married Marinda at this early time, and some circumstantial factors support such a possibility. The castration attempt might be taken as evidence that the mob felt that Joseph had committed a sexual impropriety; since the attempt is reported by [Marinda's brother who became LDS apostle] Luke Johnson, there is no good reason to doubt it. Also, they had planned the operation in advance, as they brought along a doctor to perform it. The first revelations had been received in 1831, by historian Danel Bachman's dating. Also, Joseph did tend to marry women who had stayed at his house or in whose house he had stayed" (In Sacred Loneliness, page 231).

Thinking that the circumstantial evidence may be lacking in some respects, Mr. Compton suggested the possibility of a different motivation for the mobbing, one of an economic nature rather than a sexual nature. Whatever provided the impetus for the tarring and feathering of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon that night in 1832, the event didn't happen in a vacuum.

A postscript to the Joseph and Nancy allegations: In 1834 Nancy married LDS Church member Orson Hyde. Six years later, in the spring of 1840, Church authorities sent Orson on a three-year mission to Jerusalem. Two years into the mission, while he was away, Joseph Smith was sealed to Orson Hyde's wife, Nancy Marinda. Nancy thus became Joseph's 10th plural wife, though she remained married to Orson as well. In 1870 Nancy divorced Orson after 34 years of marriage, leaving him to his five remaining plural wives.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Preaching Mormonism in Taiwan

The March 11, 2006 issue of LDS Church News reports there will be a "worldwide" commemoration and celebration later this month. Several planned events will mark a "historic milestone"--namely, "The 50th anniversary of the beginning of the preaching of the gospel in Taiwan."

I was surprised to see the claim that the gospel had only been in Taiwan since 1956. This couldn't be right, could it? What of all the stories of missionaries in the Orient during the 19th century? Indeed, Hudson Taylor arrived in China with the gospel in 1854, and he was not the first missionary in that nation. So I did a little research on Christian missionaries in Taiwan. This is what I learned:
"Christianity was first brought to Taiwan by Dutch Protestants and Spanish Roman Catholics in the 17th century…

"In 1860, two British missionaries, the Reverend Carstairs Douglas and Reverend H. L. Mackenzie, arrived in Danshuei and Bangka (present-day Wanhua in Taipei) to preach the gospel. In 1864, Dr. James L. Maxwell was sent to Taiwan by the English Presbyterian Mission to preach Christianity. With Tainan as his base, he concentrated his efforts in southern Taiwan. In 1872, the Canadian Presbyterian Church dispatched Rev. Dr. George L. MacKay to northern Taiwan to do missionary work, choosing Danshuei as his center.

"Prior to the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in 1895, there were 97 Protestant churches, 4,854 believers, and 13 foreign missionaries in Taiwan. …When the Japanese left in 1945, Taiwan had 238 Protestant churches and 60,000 believers." (From the Yearbook of the Republic of China)

Furthermore, the Bible was translated and published in Chinese (Mandarin) back in 1919.

So what's up with this March 30th commemoration of 50 years of the gospel in Taiwan? For Latter-day Saints, the preaching of the historic gospel for three centuries before Mormon missionaries arrived in 1956…well, it just doesn't count.

I love the above statement from the Church News because it tips the LDS hand. No matter how often it is asserted that Mormonism is Christianity, no matter how often the claim is made that the divide between Mormonism and Christianity is narrow, the truth is there for all to see: Mormonism and Christianity proclaim different gospels. What's more, the LDS Church recognizes this fact.

Paul chastened and warned the early Christian church against another gospel. Those words bear repeating:
"I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel,…if we, or an angel from heaven. preach any other gospel to you that what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:6-9)

By time the Mormons arrived in Taiwan there were already 40 Christian denominations there, holding church services and "preaching the gospel." There was a Christian missionary broadcasting the gospel via radio. As mentioned earlier, the Bible had been available in the formal language of the nation for 37 years. And there were hospitals dotting the country which had been founded by Christian missionaries in the 19th century.

So 2006 may mark the 50th anniversary of Mormonism in Taiwan, but it certainly doesn't mark "the beginning of the preaching of the gospel" there. That is something God's people have been faithfully doing for at least 300 years.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Son of Ham: Withholding the LDS Priesthood

I read a press release today about a relatively new book which claims it is "Changing the World's Concept Concerning the People of African Lineage and the Mormon Priesthood." Son of Ham Under the Covenant is written by Latter-day Saint Luckner Huggins. According to the press release,
"Perhaps for the first time in the Church's entire history, Luckner Huggins offers a positive response, based on scriptural evidences as to the real reasons the people of African lineage waited so long for Priesthood inclusion. Presented as a novel, this first book [in the series] explores the roots of voodoo in Haiti, the author's birthplace. During his exploration he found the connection between voodoo and the exclusion of his African ancestors in Church's Priesthood."

Mr. Huggins states in the "Note to the Reader" at the opening of his book,
"…this book does not claim a prophetic revelation, in addition to what God has given in the Holy Scriptures or will provide in the future through His designated latter-day Prophets. Neither is it authorized to do so. I have not been coached by any churches’ ecclesiastical leaders…"

In a section of the book titled "Historical Background On Why This Book Was Written" Mr. Huggins writes,
"Is the question of black people in the Priesthood doomed to eternal speculations, or are there answers waiting to be discovered, like the hidden treasures of a precious mine? Do the Holy Scriptures have answers, and can [the fictional main character] Luke’s story in this book bring them out in the open?…

"In essence, all the civilizations of time have fallen because of wickedness. Why do the critics exclude the people of African lineage from the category of those who have fallen because of wickedness? …Rather than following the pattern of the critics, this book will unfold its own version of who the descendants of Ham really were after Noah’s Flood subsided, and why they became slaves during the dark-ages; as well as the reasons why they waited until 1978 to inherit the Priesthood that God entrusted into Noah’s hands for them…

"…this book will talk about a specific dark image that was hidden among the forefathers of the African lineage. It will unveil what really might have caused their offspring to be withheld from the Priesthood until 1978."

It will unveil what "really might have" caused the curse? Despite Mr. Huggins' disdain of speculation, it appears that he has freely engaged in it himself.

I have not read this book, so perhaps there's something in it that would clear up my question; but I'm left wondering why Mr. Huggins has not considered the pronouncements of previous latter-day Prophets and Apostles regarding this issue. Consider these authoritative LDS teachings:
  • "And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham's wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? Because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God" (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses 22:304).

  • "Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...The present status of the negro rests purely and simply on the foundation of pre-existence" (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, page 527, 1966 edition).

  • "That the negro race, for instance, have been placed under the restrictions because of their attitude in the world of spirits, few will doubt. It cannot be looked upon as just that they should be deprived of the power of the Priesthood without it being a punishment for some act, or acts, performed before they were born" (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, page 43).

  • "There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient; more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less" (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61).

It's clear that whatever caused the withholding of the Priesthood from people of African lineage, these LDS prophets and apostles taught that it happened in the pre-existence. Mr. Huggins apparently thinks otherwise if he's suggesting a connection between his ancestors' practice of voodoo and the curse against those with black skin. I wonder why Mr. Huggins is willing to leave room for God's revelation through future LDS prophets but dismisses the declarations of past LDS prophets.

Monday, March 20, 2006

What Happens When Mormons Reject Core Principles of the LDS Church?

Buckley Jeppson, lifelong member of the LDS Church, has been all over the news this past week. Buckley's 'claim to fame' is his 2004 Toronto wedding to partner Mike Kessler. The Deseret News reports:
"A gay man who is a lifetime member of the LDS Church could be facing disciplinary action and excommunication after legally marrying his partner in Canada.

"Buckley Jeppson, 57, said he's been informed verbally that his life is incompatible with the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that a disciplinary council will address the matter."

Mr. Jeppson says his Stake President has encouraged him to resign his Church membership to avoid disciplinary action. But Mr. Jeppson is not willing to "deny [his] heritage and his faith." According to Deseret News,
"It is believed that if Jeppson is excommunicated, it would be the first time a Latter-day Saint in a legal same-sex marriage would be punished by the church, said Olin Thomas, executive director of Affirmation, an advocacy and education group for gay Latter-day Saints."

The LDS Church does not currently recognize any marriage other than those between one man and one woman; legality has nothing to do with it, according to LDS Church spokesperson Kim Farah.

I would agree, of course, because the biblical model for marriage is monogamous and heterosexual. I support the LDS Church in their commitment to this definition of marriage and uphold their right and duty to withdraw Mr. Jeppson's Church membership. What I find really interesting about this affair is found in a comment from the LDS Church.
"Baptized church members promise to live the principles of the gospel, Farah said.

"'If the person later decides to reject these core principles, they have the right and freedom to do so,' she said. 'However, they cannot reasonably expect to reject the most fundamental teachings of the church and still wrap themselves in the cloak of church membership.'"

But Consider this. The LDS Church rejects "the most fundamental teachings" and "core principles" of the historic Christian faith; yet it still insists on "wrapping [itself] inside the cloak" of Christianity.

Seems to me that if fundamental teachings and core principles are understood as essential in defining what is or is not a Latter-day Saint, there should be no problem using the same sort of criteria to define what is or is not Christianity.

Mormons who object to a doctrinal assessment of their Church, resulting in its classification as non-Christian, don't have a leg to stand on.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Families are Forever; Unless…

I came across an LDS online magazine for teen and young adult women *Jen*. A press release dated March 17th says:
Jen Magazine contains the same kind of articles you would find in the popular women’s magazines except that they match the values of the Latter-Day Saints (and most other Christian denominations). There are articles of a spiritual nature alongside reviews of popular movies, advice columns, beauty and fitness articles, and of course seasonal fashion picks including modest swimwear suggestions since spring is almost here.

As you might guess, the articles "of a spiritual nature" and "advice columns" most interest me. I made a quick tour around the magazine and lighted on the advice column, "Brandy's Spare Change."

Brandy is a 24-year old LDS convert (joined the Mormon Church at 21), was married to her second husband in the Oakland, California temple last summer, and is the mother of one little girl from her first marriage. One of the two questions Brandy addresses in her advice column is from a young non-member woman we'll call Amy.

Amy was raised in a Christian home and calls herself Christian. She has been dating a Mormon boy for 2 years and now wants to join the LDS Church. Her mother is heartbroken and distraught over Amy's desire to leave the Christian faith for a false religion. Amy needs her parents' help to pay for college and to give her a place to live. Though her parents haven't said they would disown Amy or stop paying for her education if she joined the Mormon Church against their wishes, Amy is afraid they might. She has prayed about this, but still doesn't know what to do. Amy wants Brandy's advice:
"…I don't know who to turn to! You are the only adult mormon that i can talk to…you are the only person who might be able to help me."

Brandy is only too happy to help. She was in a very similar situation when she joined the Mormon Church against her family's wishes. Brandy writes:
"I was 21 years old at the time, so my family couldn't stop me, …"

I see that neither of these young women seem to have a very high maturity level. Amy can't think of anyone other than a Mormon advice columnist from whom to seek wise counsel. Brandy seems to flaunt the fact that because she was of legal age she was free to disregard her family's concerns -- and the joke is on them.

Maybe I'm reacting a little strongly to this. But I'm a Christian mom and so my perspective is a bit different than either Amy's or Brandy's.

Brandy's advice to Amy boils down to this:
"The reality of it is that it really doesn't matter what your parents or anyone else thinks about your decision. That may seem like a harsh statement, but I've learned that it is so true."

Brandy suggests that Amy sit down with her mom and explain how important joining the Mormon Church is to her. She suggests that Amy allow her mom to ask questions and that Amy try to find answers for her. I agree with this advice; there is wisdom here. But Brandy's conclusion is:
"Let her know you are doing this for YOU…Sometimes our parents need to be reminded that we are grown ups too and we are perfectly capable of making our own decisions."

Given the fact that Amy considers Brandy her only hope for good advice, I question whether Amy is equipped to make sound, life-altering decisions at this point. Of course, it's true that Amy can--and probably will--make decisions apart from consideration of her parents' loving input and advice. However, to counsel her to do so is irresponsible and certainly not in keeping with the values of "most…Christian denominations" that recognize parents generally possess wisdom which God calls them to impart to their children (Ephesians 6:1-4; Deuteronomy 11:18-21; Proverbs 1:8, 19:18, 29:15).

Brandy also addresses Amy's concern over her continuing education and support:
As far as the issue with going to college and the support there, try not to focus so much on what you might lose by joining the church…You will have so much love and support from other members of the church you won't even know what to do with yourself!"

In other words, don't worry about losing your family; the Mormon Church will be your new family and will take care of you.

As a Christian I understand the call of Christ to leave father and mother and sisters and brothers to follow Him (Matthew 10:34-39), yet Brandy never counsels Amy to work at reconciliation with her parents. In essence she advises, "Tell your mom that this is important to you and so you're going to do it whether she likes it or not. You can answer her questions, but you won't consider her concerns."

Amy is young. She is under the care and protection of her parents. What if she were to wait; bide her time; recognize that she is still immature and might benefit in many ways from remaining under the loving care of her parents for a season? What if Amy were to talk to her parents and be willing to begin a Bible study with them so they would have an opportunity to explain their concerns about Mormonism from their biblical viewpoint? What if Amy asked her parents to also be willing to meet with LDS missionaries so they can gain an understanding of the LDS Church and ask the questions that weigh on their hearts? What if Amy and her parents researched Mormonism from all available sources and worked through their conclusions together?

Whatever decision Amy ended up making after a scenario like this, whether her parents agreed with the decision or not, it is highly unlikely that she would be forced to drop out of college and replace her family with LDS Church members. Seems that if she worked at reconciliation she might be able to remain on good terms with her parents after having shown them (rather than just announce to them) that she has grown up and is able to make thoughtful and reasoned decisions after considering the whole counsel of God.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Bible in Mormonism

Continuing with my defense against accusations leveled at me by "Trevor," today I want to blog a bit about the LDS view of the Bible. In my previous two posts I have explained Trevor's accusations and dealt with what I perceived to be one of them. For this background, please see Searching for Salvation: The Bible or TV Guide? and After All We Can Do.

Trevor said I repeated "deliberate distortions about what Mormons believe" when I posted a comment to a news web site. He did not elaborate on what these distortions might be, so for today I will suppose that he was upset over this part of my comment:
"Killer" Kane made yet another bad choice when he decided to jettison the Bible in favor of the Book of Mormon…Seems that we humans are prone to dismiss or ignore what God has told us in His Word in favor of having our senses stimulated by something different, something new."

I think Trevor would agree that the Book of Mormon is something different and new. Therefore, I'm guessing that the ideas he considers distortions are these : 1) Mormons "jettison the Bible" in order to embrace the Book of Mormon; and 2) The Book of Mormon is not God's Word.

The second supposed distortion is the quickest to address. It is Trevor's opinion (probably) that the Book of Mormon is the word of God; it is my opinion that it is not. Since it was my opinion that I was sharing in my comment, I could not have been distorting what Mormons believe. Today I'm not going to discuss my reasons for concluding that the Book of Mormon is not the word of God, but if you would like to explore this issue, I encourage you to watch the online videos The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon and DNA vs. The Book of Mormon.

I think Trevor's main concern with my comment left at Willamette Week Online would be summed up in the above point number one. While this is also my opinion, it speaks more directly to the issue of what Mormons believe about the Bible and its place in the LDS canon of scripture.

My use of the word "jettison" was a bit of indulgent hyperbole, yet there is one definition of that word that fits; that definition is "reject." While Mormons include the Bible in their four Standard Works (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price) and even place it first in the Quad (all four volumes bound together in one), in practice the Bible holds an inferior position. This is because Mormonism claims the Bible has been corrupted over time while the other Standard Works have been miraculously translated and preserved in perfection, and have been specifically written for our present day.

Take a look at some authoritative LDS statements on the topic.

"I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book." (Prophet Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:461)

"…the Book of Mormon remains secure, unchanged and unchangeable, …But with the Bible it was not and is not so…it once was in the sole and exclusive care and custody of an abominable organization, founded by the devil himself, likened prophetically unto a great whore, whose great aim and purpose was to destroy the souls of men in the name of religion. In these hands it ceased to be the book it once was." (Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things, pages 12, 13)

"What shall we say then, concerning the Bible's being a sufficient guide? Can we rely upon it in its present known corrupted state, as being a faithful record of God's word? We all know that but a few of the inspired writings have descended to our times,…What few have come down to our day have been mutilated, changed, and corrupted, in such a shameful manner that no two manuscripts agree….Add all this imperfection to the uncertainty of the translation, and who, in his right mind, could, for one moment, suppose the Bible in its present form to be a perfect guide? Who knows that even one verse of the whole Bible has escaped pollution, so as to convey the same sense now that it did in the original?" (Apostle Orson Pratt, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, page 47)

"The Bible, as it has been transmitted over the centuries, has suffered the loss of many plain and precious parts. 'We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God' (The Articles of Faith 1:8.) …the Lord has revealed clearly the doctrines of the gospel in these latter days. The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations." (Letter from the LDS First Presidency: Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson; dated May 22, 1992, printed in Church News, 6/20/1992)

"The Old Testament is the word of God, and even though translations have dimmed some of its meaning, and many 'plain and precious parts' have been deleted, it still is an inspired and miraculous guide to all who will read it. When augmented by modern scripture…it can direct us into the paths of eternal salvation." (Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, quoted in Church News, 1/1/94, page 16)

"Guided by the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Spirit of the Lord, it is not difficult for one to discern the errors in the Bible." (Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith [later the 10th President of the LDS Church], Doctrines of Salvation, 3:191)

"The Book of Mormon clears up the misconceptions about the gospel as presented in the Bible." (Apostle L. Tom Perry, Church News, 11/8/2003, page 3)

"In my judgment there is no book on earth yet come to man as important as the book known as the Doctrine and Covenants, with all due respect to the Book of Mormon, and the Bible, and the Pearl of Great Price, which we say are our standards in doctrine. The book of Doctrine and Covenants to us stands in a peculiar position above them all." (Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith [later the 10th President of the LDS Church], Doctrines of Salvation, 3:198)

"Not all truths are of equal value, nor are all scriptures of the same worth. What better way to nourish the spirit than to frequently feast from the book which the Prophet Joseph Smith said would get a man 'nearer to God by abiding its precepts than by any other book'" (President Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, page 60)

"The older I get and the closer contact I have with the President of the Church, the more I realize that the greatest of all scripture which we have in the world today is current scripture. What the mouthpiece of God says to his children is scripture. It is his word and his will and his law made manifest through scripture, and I love it more than all other." (Apostle Henry D. Moyle, First Counselor to President David O. McKay, as quoted in Ensign, July 1973, page 18)

"God bless us to use all the scriptures, but in particular the instrument He designed to bring us to Christ—the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion—along with its companion volume, the capstone, the Doctrine and Covenants, the instrument to bring us to Christ's kingdom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." (President Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, page 43)

So "Killer" Kane did not (as far as I know) physically "jettison" the Bible in favor of the Book of Mormon (i.e., throw it away). However, if he believed his LDS leaders—and there's no reason to think he didn't—he rejected much of God's truth by subjugating the Bible to the Book of Mormon, the other Standard Works, and the teachings of latter-day prophets.

I stand by my original statement. "Killer" Kane made a bad choice—as does anyone who rejects God's steadfast Word:
"…for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God…The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever." (1 Peter 1:23-24)

Monday, March 13, 2006

After All We Can Do

Last week I wrote about "Trevor," a man who took issue with a comment I left at a news web site (see Searching for Salvation: The Bible or TV Guide? My comment set Ephesians 2:8-10 ("For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves…") against a Book of Mormon passage, (2 Nephi 25:23: "…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do"). Trevor accused me of deliberately distorting what Mormons believe.

I can only guess at what Mormon beliefs Trevor thought I was distorting, because he gave no particulars. So let's assume for the sake of argument that he thought I distorted the meaning of the Book of Mormon passage.

My proposition was this: In the Bible God offers sinful people eternal life as a free gift through Jesus Christ; the Book of Mormon promises salvation only after all we can do. There is no dispute regarding the wording of the respective passages; one does say we are saved by grace through faith, the other that we are saved by grace after all we can do. The question, then, would be in the interpretation. Therefore, take a look at what some LDS authorities and authors have said about the 2 Nephi passage and the LDS doctrine of salvation:
“What is meant by 'after all we can do'? 'After all we can do' includes extending our best effort. 'After all we can do' includes living His commandments. 'After all we can do' includes loving our fellowmen and praying for those who regard us as their adversary. 'After all we can do' means clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and giving 'succor [to] those who stand in need of [our] succor' (Mosiah 4:15)—remembering that what we do unto one of the least of God's children, we do unto Him. (See Matt. 25:34-40; D&C 42:38.) 'After all we can do' means leading chaste, clean, pure lives, being scrupulously honest in all our dealings and treating others the way we would want to be treated. ("After All We Can Do," Christmas Devotional, Salt Lake City, Utah, Dec. 9, 1982; quoted in Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson.)" ("Savior accomplished atoning sacrifice through His grace," LDS Church News, 02/03/96, page 14.)

“President Harold B. Lee treated the topic of working out one's salvation in one of his books, Stand Ye in Holy Places: 'We hear much from some persons of limited understanding about the possibility of one's being saved by grace alone. But it requires the explanation of another prophet to understand the true doctrine of grace as he explained in these meaningful words: "For," said this prophet, "we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." (2 Ne. 25:23.) Truly we are redeemed by the atoning blood of the Savior of the world, but only after each has done all he can to work out his own salvation.'"("Work out salvation with fear and trembling," LDS Church News, 09/14/91, page 14.)

“As is the case with all gospel principles, the doctrine of individual accountability grows out of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Teaching these principles, Nephi testified that we are saved by grace, but only "after all we can do." (2 Nephi 25:23.) It is by the grace of Christ that we have granted to us the materials of life with which we can build, but God does not do the building for us. The responsibility of building with those materials is ours. The plan of salvation is in a large measure a do-it-yourself project” (Joseph Fielding McConkie, Seeking the Spirit, page 99.)

“In the plan of salvation God does for human beings only what they cannot do for themselves. Man must do all he can for himself. The doctrine is that we are saved by grace, 'after all we can do' (2 Ne. 25:23)” (Robert J. Matthews, A Bible! A Bible!, page 186.)

“To explain how much confidence we should have in God, were I using a term to suit myself, I should say implicit confidence. I have faith in my God, and that faith corresponds with the works I produce. I have no confidence in faith without works. My faith is, when we have done all we can, then the Lord is under obligation, and will not disappoint the faithful; he will perform the rest” (President Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, page 155.)

It's clear from these teachings that the LDS doctrine on salvation is that it is given through grace only after all we can do—which is how I presented it in the Willamette Week comment. It's pretty hard to see how that could be compatible with Ephesians 2:4-9:
"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."

Since I did not "deliberately distort" this point of "what Mormons believe," perhaps Trevor was referring to the comment that Arthur Kane "decided to jettison the Bible in favor of the Book of Mormon." I'll blog about that later this week.

I have previously blogged about the LDS doctrinal claim which states Jesus makes up the difference between our innate or self-achieved righteousness and the righteousness God requires. To read about this take a look at Insurmountable Debt.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Searching for Salvation: The Bible or TV Guide?

There's an LDS film out called New York Doll. By all accounts the movie is a moving portrayal of the story of Arthur "Killer" Kane, the bass guitarist for the '80s glam band, New York Dolls.

Mr. Kane led the stereotypical self-destructive life of a rock star. When he finally hit rock-bottom, he turned to religion and found deliverance through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He thereafter lived a quiet life as a Church employee, but always longed to be on stage again. His dream was realized when he was asked to do a reunion concert with the surviving members of the New York Dolls in 2004.

Reviewer Steve Kline described viewer's emotions during the film:
Quietly resigned, even as one sits thinking, "Wow, [Kane] can do it. He can achieve stardom; he's on his way. Wow, what a great come back. What a story!" And then [Kane] dutifully returns to Los Angeles, and within days he dies of leukemia--just two hours after his diagnosis! Sad? Yes. Fulfilling? Yes. His dream has come true. His life has been fulfilled. Up from the depths of hell on earth to paradise, his change from booze and nihilism to Mormonism is well, a great story. "It's like LSD--a trip without drugs." That's how "Killer" described being LDS. Unfortunately, "Killer" never further questioned if LDS is similar to LSD--a trip that doesn't fit with reality. (Review of New York Doll by Steve Klein)

Last week, while chasing down news stories connected to Mormonism, I came across another review of New York Doll on Willamette Week Online. I've read several reviews of this film, but something in the Willamette Week review caught my attention. As the reviewer describes the lowest point in the rock star's life, she says that following a fight with his wife, Mr. Kane
"…leaps out the kitchen window and lands on his head. It takes him a year to walk again. One day, while convalescing, he finds himself with a Bible in one hand and a TV Guide in the other. In the TV Guide is an ad for a free copy of the Book of Mormon. He calls the number. So long, rock star. Hello, Latter Day Saint."

The mental picture of Mr. Kane weighing the Bible against TV Guide was just too much for me. I had to leave a comment. I quoted a portion of the excerpt above and wrote:
"I find this to be a sad illustration of human nature. Given a choice between God's Word and Hollywood, we go for the glitz. "Killer" Kane made yet another bad choice when he decided to jettison the Bible in favor of the Book of Mormon, for it is in the Bible that God offers sinful people the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10). Unlike the Bible, The Book of Mormon--"Killer's" choice--promises salvation only "after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23). Seems that we humans are prone to dismiss or ignore what God has told us in His Word in favor of having our senses stimulated by something different, something new. Like "Killer" Kane, we prefer the glitz--and thereby reject our only hope."

I admit that my observation was a bit provocative, but I was still surprised by some of the comments that followed -- pretty much all directed at my post rather than at the story of Killer Kane or the review of New York Doll. One of them is so illustrative of a certain mindset that I want to share it with you here. This is what "Trevor" wrote:
"I was surprised to see his [Kane's] journey of faith being attacked by a latter-day pharisee. Rather than rejoice over the return of a lost sheep Sharon belittles his sincere attempt to grow closer to God by stooping to sectarian point scoring. In doing so she repeats deliberate distortions about what Mormons believe.

"Quite apart from not checking facts, Sharon has no right to speak on Kane's behalf or on behalf of the Mormon church.
"To confirm for yourself what Mormons believe about the Bible and Jesus you can simply visit here: To see that the quoted verses are in harmony visit here to read them in context: and here:

"To get an idea of the depths of Sharon's delusion and personal problems, I dare you to start reading the Book of Mormon and come to a Mormon service and then ask yourself how much 'glitz' and 'stimulation of the senses' is on offer.

"The truly sad illustration of human nature is the fact that after reading this inspirational story Sharon cannot feel happy for Kane - just because he found Jesus in a different church to hers. If bitterness toward others and an ability to spout proof texts for Calvinist dogma is all she gets from the Bible then it is clear that she understands very little about Jesus and his message. Maybe it's time for Sharon and her fellow Bible-worshippers to set aside their prejudices and have a look at something new."

I am baffled by Trevor's comments. I don't know what he's talking about. I have several questions:

  • What is a "latter-day pharisee" and what did I say to be labeled as one?
  • What is the "sectarian point scoring" to which I stooped?
  • How did I deliberately distort what Mormons believe?
  • What facts did I get wrong because I didn't check them?
  • In what way did I speak on behalf of Mr. Kane and the Mormon Church?
  • What did I say regarding "what Mormons believe about the Bible and Jesus"?
  • What delusions and personal problems do I have, about which Trevor wants people enlightened?
  • Where did I indicate that I did not, on any level, "feel happy" for Mr. Kane?
  • How did I demonstrate "bitterness toward others"?
  • Where did I "spout proof texts for Calvinist dogma"?
  • What is the basis for the accusation that I am a "Bible-worshipper"?

Trevor seems to have drawn quite a few conclusions about me from a mere 130 word post.

So what made Trevor lash out at me, hurling accusations and shame about like he was searching for deals at a bargain basement sale? The comment I posted at Willamette Week included one Bible verse, one Book of Mormon verse, and a personal observation about human nature. But Trevor saw it as an attack; he said I attacked Mr. Kane's faith journey, but I wonder if Trevor thought I had also attacked him.

The way I see it--or the way I meant it--my post was a type of Gospel message: human beings, left to their own devices, don't want God. We want what we want and we're perfectly happy not knowing what God says about it. In fact, we prefer it that way. Though we may couch our rebellion in religious terms, it is, nevertheless, rebellion to accept as truth that which is not truth, that which is opposed to God's revealed Word. Yet God still "offers sinful people the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10)."

The Bible says that the message of salvation is perceived by the world as foolishness and as a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23). The apostle Peter wrote:
"Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,' and 'A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense'" (1 Peter 1:7-8).

Was Trevor offended by the message of the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ? I don't know. Maybe. Or maybe his sharp response just came at the end of a very bad day. But isn't it interesting that when all is said and done, Trevor's solution to my "problem" is a validation of my post?

Trevor suggested I should "set aside [my] prejudices" (which in context I believe means my understanding of the Bible) and "have a look at something new" (i.e., the Book of Mormon). This, of course, is exactly what Mr. Kane did, and precisely what my post described as our sad but natural human proclivity. Trevor wants me to dismiss what God has said in the Bible and go for the "glitz" of something new and different.

There's another aspect to Trevor's post that I would like to discuss, and that is his accusation regarding my alleged distortion of "what Mormons believe." Next week on Mormon Coffee I'll look at 2 Nephi 25:23 to see how LDS leaders understand the Book of Mormon teaching that we are saved by grace "after all we can do."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Mormon "Alternative"

Back on November 1st, 2005 the Today Show ran a week-long series focusing on "Mysterious Faiths." The first faith they examined was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had not heard about this Today Show segment until today; even though it's "old news," I want to make one observation relative to the interview Matt Lauer did with Brent Belnap, the Manhattan Stake President for the LDS Church.

The six-plus minute interview was about what would be expected, with a skillful spin to make the LDS Church appealing to a non-Mormon audience. But in doing this, Mr. Belnap has come as close to crossing the line of dishonesty as a person can get. Some of you might think he did cross the line. Here is the portion I want to discuss, which I transcribed from a podcast that includes the interview:
Matt Lauer: When you're in those developing nations preaching the message of the missionary chur--of, of the Mormon Church, are you saying that the church of Latter-day Saints is the only path to God and salvation? Or are you presenting it as an alternative?

Brent Belnap: You know, I think it's more as an alternative. We give people the opportunity to choose just as any other religion should have the ability to go out and share its message and give people that same opportunity. We do say that, and do believe that everybody will resurrect because of Jesus Christ. There are those who will also be exalted in the hereafter if they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and repent of their mistakes. But, uh, that's a choice that every individual should make.

Let's paraphrase the specific question: Is the message of the LDS Church, as preached by missionaries, that Mormonism is the only path to God and salvation, or is the LDS path presented as merely an alternative?

Notice Mr. Belnap's specific answer: It's an alternative.

So how are we to understand Mr. Belnap's remark? I see only four options:

1. The LDS Church has abandoned the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and many LDS prophets which all clearly teach that the Mormon Church is the only true Church and the only vehicle through which people can attain eternity in the presence of God (the common understanding of "salvation").

2. While the LDS Church maintains that salvation is only available through the Mormon Church, they conceal that doctrine from prospective converts.

3. Mr. Belnap has assigned a specialized definition to the word "salvation" without enlightening his audience.

4. Mr. Belnap's answer was not true.

Three of the four options above are reprehensible. The only honorable option isn't really an option at all.

And Latter-day Saints wonder why people criticize their Church.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Bruce McConkie vs. Brigham Young

I was reading an article in the Deseret News on Saturday that discusses the history of "The Seven Deadly Sins." At the end of the article the journalist mentions a fireside talk the late LDS Apostle Bruce R, McConkie gave back in 1980 titled "The Seven Deadly Heresies" I'm sure I've read that talk before, but out of curiosity I read it again today. There are many things of interest in Mr. McConkie's talk, and I may address more of them in the future; but today I thought we could look at just two of the heresies Mr. McConkie was concerned had "crept in among us [Latter-day Saints]."

To set the stage, so to speak, and to put his address in authoritative context, Bruce McConkie began his talk this way:
"I have sought and do now seek that guidance and enlightenment which comes from the Holy Spirit of God. I desire to speak by the power Of the Holy Ghost so that my words will be true and wise and proper. When any of us speak by the power of the Spirit, we say what the Lord wants said, or, better, what he would say if he were here in person."

Important for the context of what was to follow, Mr. McConkie said,
"I shall speak on some matters that some may consider to be controversial, though they ought not to be. They are things on which we ought to be united, and to the extent we are all guided and enlightened from on high we will be. If we are so united-and there will be no disagreement among those who believe and understand the revealed word-we will progress and advance and grow in the things of the Spirit; we will prepare ourselves for a life of peace and happiness and joy here and now, and for an eventual eternal reward in the kingdom of our Father."

Please keep this in mind.

Mr. McConkie began with the first heresy on his list:
"Heresy #1: There are those who say that God is progressing in knowledge and is learning new truths.

"This is false--utterly, totally, and completely. There is not one sliver of truth in it. It grows out of a wholly twisted and incorrect view of the King Follett Sermon and of what is meant by eternal progression…

"I have been sorely tempted to say at this point that any who so suppose have the intellect of an ant, and the understanding of a clod of miry clay in a primordial swamp. But, of course, I would never say a thing like that." (Mr. McConkie meant this last statement as a joke and it was understood as such by his audience. I've included it here because, though said with a smile, it illustrates the idea that faithful Latter-day Saints would never believe such nonsense. Please note that most internet sources for Mr. McConkie's speech have edited this portion out of the text.)

Though Mr. McConkie claims the doctrine that God is progressing in knowledge is heresy, the prophets that laid the foundation of the LDS Church in the early days taught it was true.
"Brother Orson Pratt, has in theory, bounded the capacity of God. According to his theory, God can progress no further in knowledge and power; but the God that I serve is progressing eternally, and so are his children: they will increase to all eternity, if they are faithful" (President Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:286, 1867).

"God himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end. It is just so with us" (President Wilford Woodruff, Apostle, Journal of Discourses 6:120, 1857).

Mr. McConkie's sixth heresy:
"Heresy #6: There are those who believe or say they believe that Adam is our father and our god, that he is the father of our spirits and our bodies, and that he is the one we worship…

"Anyone who has read the Book of Moses, and anyone who has received the temple endowment, and who yet believes the 'Adam-God Theory' does not deserve to saved."

This heresy was taught by Mormonism's second Prophet for more than 20 years. For example, Brigham Young taught in 1852:
"Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and sinner! When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken--HE is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom WE have to do…"

"Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven. Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation" (President Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:50-51. Italics and capitalization retained from the original.).

And in 1873:
"How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which is revealed to them, and which God revealed to me -- namely that Adam is our father and God...Our Father Adam is the man who stands at the gate and holds the keys of everlasting life and salvation to all his children who have or ever will come upon the earth" (Sermon delivered on June 8, 1873. Printed in the Deseret Weekly News, June 18, 1873.).

If a Latter-day Saint believes Apostle Bruce McConkie, LDS Prophet Brigham Young had "the intellect of an ant, and the understanding of a clod of miry clay in a primordial swamp [and] does not deserve to be saved." But if a Latter-day Saint believes LDS Prophet Brigham Young and other early Mormon leaders, he is laboring under condemnation from one of his apostles.

I'm glad I'm not a Mormon. As a Christian I am bound by the Word of God found in the Bible, which does not change. I can believe it, or I can reject it and face the consequences, but there is no equivocation.

Mormons, on the other hand, must follow their prophets, seers, and revelators; a group to which both Brigham Young and Bruce McConkie belong. If they reject either man's authoritative teachings they have, in effect, rejected the Lord. As Apostle Russell M. Nelson said during the April 1997 General Conference of the LDS Church:
"Loyalty to the Lord carries an obligation of loyalty to those called by the Lord to lead His Church. He has empowered that men be ordained to speak in His holy name. As they guide His unsinkable boat safely toward the shore of salvation, we would do well to stay on board with them" (Ensign, May 1997, page 72).

But what happens, as in this case, when the leaders aren't on the same boat?

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Friday, March 03, 2006

The Official Mormon View on Evolution

Deseret News recently carried an article titled "No definitive LDS stance on evolution, study finds" The article describes the findings of two Mormon scientists who have recently published a book titled Mormonism and Evolution: the Authoritative LDS Statements.

The Deseret News report was centered on a lecture that was given the day after the Utah legislators struck down a bill that would have required science curriculum to stress that evolution is a theory and is not empirically proven. The article states:
"Despite characterizations by some Latter-day Saints that their theology eschews the theory of evolution, two LDS scientists say their church has no definitive position on whether humans evolved from earlier life forms.

"William Evenson and Duane Jeffery told dozens of people gathered at Utah Valley State College on Tuesday that what definitely has evolved over time is the position taken by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the issue.

"They came to that conclusion after dissecting the history of statements made by past LDS leaders…"

This is interesting to me because in November of 1909 the First Presidency of the Mormon Church (then comprised of Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder and Anthon H. Lund) released an official statement that addressed this issue: "The Origin of Man." The Statement begins,
"Inquiries arise from time to time respecting the attitude of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints upon questions which, though not vital from a doctrinal standpoint, are closely connected with the fundamental principles of salvation. The latest inquiry of this kind that has reached us is in relation to the origin of man. It is believed that a statement of the position held by the Church upon this important subject will be timely and productive of good."

Note that while the issue is not doctrinally "vital," it is nevertheless "connected with the fundamental principles of salvation."

The Statement continues,
"In presenting the statement that follows we are not conscious of putting forth anything essentially new; neither is it our desire so to do. Truth is what we wish to present, and truth-eternal truth-is fundamentally old. A restatement of the original attitude of the Church relative to this matter is all that will be attempted here. To tell the truth as God has revealed it, and commend it to the acceptance of those who need to conform their opinions thereto, is the sole purpose of this presentation."

So the First Presidency set forth a statement of "eternal truth…as God has revealed it" so that it could be accepted by "those who need to conform their opinions" to the position of God and the LDS Church.

The position statement that follows basically argues against scientific evolution based on the fact that, according to Mormonism, men are created in God's bodily image and therefore could not have evolved from a lower life form/a non-human body. Of course, the Statement makes clear that Mormonism does not discount evolution altogether, for it says,
"Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes, and even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and eons, of evolving into a God."

In September of 1925 a new First Presidency (Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins and Charles W. Nibley) reiterated the Church's position when they issued a condensed version of "The Origin of Man" titled "'Mormon' View of Evolution." So far so good.

But in 1931, amidst continuing debate, this same First Presidency altered their "official" position. Deseret News reports:
"In the following years [after 1925], LDS apostles, including B.H. Roberts and James E. Talmage, wrote about the issue and presented their findings to the First Presidency with a leaning toward scientific theory, while junior apostle Joseph Fielding Smith vehemently opposed their views in his own writings and presentations to the First Presidency… Much of their disagreement came over whether 'pre-Adamites' walked the Earth before God created Adam, and whether death of any species had occurred prior to Adam. The debate became so heated that on April 7, 1931, the First Presidency called all the general authorities together and distributed a seven-page memo that 'said straight out the church has no position on pre-Adamites or death before the fall of Adam,' [Duane] Jeffery said."

According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, the First Presidency minutes from that 1931 meeting state:
"Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church."

An earlier First Presidency said this issue was "connected with the fundamental principles of salvation" and it was therefore important to state the LDS Church's position "as God has revealed it" so that people could basically conform their thinking to God's truth. Just a few years later a new First Presidency says it doesn't matter anymore.

I would think this would be an easy thing for the LDS Church to put to rest once and for all. Indeed, it should have been settled in 1909 with the official statement from the First Presidency. According to the LDS Student Manual Teachings of the Living Prophets,
"…the First Presidency form the highest council of the Church and are the final authority on all matters" (page 23).

"…what the presidency say as a presidency is what the Lord would say if he were here, and it is scripture. It should be studied, understood, and followed…" (page 25).

I don't know why the Prophets of the Church haven't sought or received a more recent clarifying revelation on this since there seems to be so much confusion surrounding the issue. The fact that former First Presidencies have made official statements on the topic several times establishes the weightiness of the ideas connected to evolution and creation.

Though he has claimed no revelation, the current living Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley has given his authoritative opinion on the matter, which should bring comfort to wondering Latter-day Saints:
"'What the church requires is only belief "that Adam was the first man of what we would call the human race.'" President Hinckley added that scientists can speculate on the rest, and recalled his own study of anthropology and geology, saying, 'Studied all about it. Didn't worry me then. Doesn't worry me now.'"

Whew. I'm glad that's settled.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Did Mormon Leaders Concoct The Da Vinci Code?

Random House, publisher of The Da Vinci Code is being sued in Great Britain for a type of copyright infringement. According to the New York Times:
"Speaking before a packed courtroom in London's High Court, Jonathan Rayner James, the lawyer for the aggrieved authors, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, said that Mr. [Dan] Brown had 'appropriated' the 'architecture' and central argument of their book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982) in The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003."

A central theme in the question is the assertion, found in both The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982) and The Da Vinci Code, that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. Random House affirms that Dan Brown consulted The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail before he published The Da Vinci Code. However,
"Random House's lawyers argue that The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail is just one of many sources Mr. Brown consulted, and that it was relatively unimportant to his research. Furthermore, they say, many of the basic ideas put forward in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail were not original, anyway, but had been around for years in other sources."

Indeed, the claim that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene has been around at least since the early days of Mormonism.

LDS Apostles Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt were outspoken on this subject in the 19th century. One example:
"It will be borne in mind that once on a time, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and on a careful reading of that transaction, it will be discovered that no less a person than Jesus Christ was married on that occasion. If he was never married, his intimacy with Mary and Martha, and the other Mary also whom Jesus loved, must have been highly unbecoming and improper to say the best of it." (Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses 4:259).

Wilford Woodruff, then an LDS Apostle, recorded the teaching of President Joseph F. Smith, who later became the 4th LDS Prophet:
"Evening Meeting. Prayer By E Stephenson. Joseph F Smith spoke One hour & 25 M. He spoke upon the Marriage in Cana at Galilee. He thought Jesus was the Bridgegroom and Mary & Martha the brides. He also refered to Luke 10 ch. 38 to 42 verse, Also John 11 ch. 2 & 5 vers John 12 Ch 3d vers, John 20 8 to 18. Joseph Smith spoke upon these passages to show that Mary & Martha manifested much Closer relationship than Merely A Believer which looks Consistet. He did not think that Jesus who decended throug Poligamous families from Abraham down & who fulfilled all the Law even baptism by immersion would have lived and died without being married." (Wilford Woodruff's Journal 8:187, July 22, 1883. Spelling, etc., retained from the original).

Even Brigham Young endorsed the idea that Jesus was married. Responding to the charge that polygamy was one of the "relics of barbarism," Brigham Young said,
"Yes, one of the relics of Adam, of Enoch, of Noah, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of Moses, David, Solomon, the Prophets, of Jesus, and his Apostles" (Journal of Discourses 11:328).