Normal Mormons

A "model minority" blends in

The public affairs department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently noted an uptick in the media's use of the word cult to describe Mormonism, even in august publications such as the New York Times and the Economist. It is probably not coincidental that two Mormons, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, are running for president.

The peculiar place of Mormonism in American culture was made even more evident in a comment by Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt. Speaking in July with two other commentators about the presidential chances of Texas governor Rick Perry, she said she expected that Perry would be able to raise money from the conservative base of the Christian Coalition, especially "with Romney obviously not being a Christian." Her cohosts murmured their assent, as if it were obvious that the Mormon Romney is not a Christian.

That Romney and Huntsman are Mormons is a huge stumbling block to their candidacies. Polling in June by the Los Angeles Times revealed that at least one in five Republican voters said that on principle they would not vote for a Mormon for president. An even higher number of Democrats—27 percent—claim that they would not support a Mormon.

It's not just in the arena of politics that people are suspicious of Mormons. In their 2010 book American Grace, sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell revealed that Mormons rank as the third-most-hated religious group in America, after Muslims (no surprise) and Buddhists (a major surprise). The study's findings also showed, however, that suspicion of minority religions decreases significantly when people have personal interactions or friendships with members of those religions. A conservative evangelical soccer mom may claim to despise Mormonism, but her qualms tend to lessen when she becomes friendly with a Mormon co-worker or neighbor.

Therein lies a problem: unfamiliarity. A 2009 LDS-sponsored study indicated that nearly half of Americans understand next to nothing about Mormons, and many have never known a Mormon personally.

On the other hand, as increasing numbers of Mormons move out of traditionally Mormon-dominated areas in the western U.S., Mormonism should become more accepted and mainstream. The LDS Church has attempted to further that trend with its "I'm a Mormon" ads. The ad campaign began with the church opening its website to members worldwide, inviting them to upload home videos describing themselves and their beliefs. It was an unexpectedly democratic move for a religion that tends to favor top-down authority and a centralized single message.

In June, the church expanded the PR campaign to include "I'm a Mormon" billboards in New York and other cities. This campaign will reach more cities this fall. The ads, which aim to show the racial and ideological diversity that exists in the LDS Church but is not always apparent to outsiders, appear to be working: the church has reported a significant boost in visitors to its website. The ads also seem to have the desired effect of thawing chilly receptions of Mormon missionaries in the cities where they have been launched. The theme of the ads may be described as, "We're normal—in fact, we're just like you!"

But can Americans expand their definition of normal to include a religion that seems so different doctrinally than the forms of Protestantism and Catholicism they're used to? Evangelical Christians, in particular, have been aggressive about pointing to the differences between Mormon and mainstream Christian beliefs. For example, during his 2008 campaign, Mike Huckabee suggested that Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers. In May, writing at Patheos.com, evangelical pastor Warren Cole Smith declared that any candidate who supported a "false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve," adding that a Romney presidency would "normalize the false teachings of Mormonism the world over."

The editorial elicited more than a thousand comments, testifying to the polarizing nature of Mormon beliefs. Some of Smith's fellow evangelicals expressed their deep suspicions of Mormonism, seeing it as a wolf in sheep's clothing, while true-blue Mormons chimed in and smugly asserted a monopoly on religious truth. Atheists and agnostics expressed a snarky wonderment that anyone could subscribe to a religion claiming that a man rose from the dead—and compounded such a fabrication with additional whoppers involving golden plates and the perils of tea drinking.

Many of Mormonism's critics fail to appreciate the ways that Mormon theology has changed through the years, often by way of the guidance that the LDS president claims to receive from God through "continuing revelation." (The teachings of a previous era are almost never explicitly repudiated, however.) For example, the doctrine that African Americans bear the "curse of Cain" is certainly not LDS doctrine today, though it was in the days of Brigham Young.

Some theological teachings are more opaque. For example, Mormon theology has traditionally dictated that human beings will become gods and that God himself was once human. An apparent disclaimer of this early Mormon teaching came when LDS prophet Gordon B. Hinckley appeared on Larry King Live in 1998 and, when asked whether Mormons believe that God was once a man, answered, "I wouldn't say that." He had given similarly vague denials the previous year to reporters from Time and the San Francisco Chronicle.

But what one LDS leader says to the media is not as reliable a gauge of the changing winds of LDS theology as the wording used in the LDS Church's twice-annual General Conference, when many worldwide Mormon leaders address the faithful by satellite or streaming Internet. In that forum, it's been rare to hear leaders talk about godhood recently unless they are quoting earlier leaders on the subject—and even that happens less frequently than it used to.

An investigation of the official LDS website confirms this trend. From 2006 to 2011, the word godhood appeared only ten times in official General Conference talks, church magazines and manuals. Of those cases, two quoted former LDS prophet Spencer W. Kimball about human beings becoming gods; one quoted former prophet David O. McKay on the subject; one cited midcentury leader Hugh B. Brown; and two drew from former apostle Marion G. Romney (a cousin of George Romney, Mitt's father). Two others referred to the "godhood" of Jesus Christ. Only one magazine piece—written anonymously—asserted that human beings "have within us the seeds of godhood," while an article about recovering from romantic breakups mentioned godhood twice as a goal for righteous human beings. Interestingly, that article was not written by a high-ranking international leader.

By comparison, church talks and materials from the 1970s and 1980s employed the concept freely in relation to the eternal destiny of men and women. As then-prophet Spencer W. Kimball said in 1976, "Our Heavenly Father has a plan for man's growth from infancy to godhood."

Does that mean that Mormons no longer believe that they can become gods? It is difficult to say. Many Mormons no longer think about the topic at all; it has become an insignificant aspect of contemporary theological expression. The idea may someday fade away, just as the church's encouragement of plural marriage—once a cornerstone not just of Mormon practice but of its belief system—has faded away.

There's no question that Mormon theology is subtly changing. The real question is how far it will bend to accommodate its host culture and where will it seek to reestablish its distinctiveness. Historians such as Jan Shipps, Thomas Alexander and Kathleen Flake have argued that whenever Mormonism has had to give up something central in order to assimilate into American culture, it has tended to compensate by hardening its position in other areas. For example, when polygamy was jettisoned in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Word of Wisdom (the Mormon dietary code that eschews coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco) assumed a position of prominence. Early generations of saints had adopted a relaxed view of the Word of Wisdom, as is evident in the sanctioned presence of wine at early Mormon temple dedication ceremonies, the appearance of coffee on the list of required provisions for saints undertaking the arduous journey west to Utah, and Brigham Young's decades-long struggle to stop chewing tobacco. But once polygamy was disavowed, the Word of Wisdom became one of the most important markers of LDS identity.

In 1906, the wine of the LDS sacrament (communion) became water in a nod to the broader U.S. temperance movement, and by 1921 strict avoidance of coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco had become not just recommended but required for Mormons seeking entrance to the LDS temple. Coincidentally, Mormons expanded their temple-building efforts abroad, began emphasizing Joseph Smith's "First Vision" and underscored the unique revelatory role of the LDS prophet. It's not that these elements were absent from Mormon theology and practice before the disappearance of polygamy, but that they were rarely front and center.

Mormon history has always revealed a tension between adapting to the surrounding culture and emphasizing distinctiveness. In the past 30 years, Mormons have become more like evangelical Protestants in their political leanings (approximately 65 percent of Latter-day Saints in the U.S. identify themselves as Republicans) and even in their theological formulations. There is far more emphasis on grace and on Christ's atonement among Mormon leaders today than there was two generations ago. However, Protestant and Catholic critics are correct when they say that Mormonism remains theologically distinctive. For example, Mormons reject creedal Christians' doctrine of the Trinity as "extrabiblical."

Mormons today are likely to stress their distinctiveness in the area of personal and family values. Even those who criticize Mormon theology often express a grudging admiration for the LDS Church's focus on family, teetotaling, tithing and missionary service. Mormon spiritual practices serve as bridge-builders even when doctrine is a point of contention. It's not difficult to imagine that some doctrines that have been the greatest sources of division are going to go the way of spotted owls even as the unique Mormon lifestyle continues to win praise.

To some extent this transformation is already occurring. During the very same summer that voters were scrutinizing Romney's Mormonism and finding it wanting, American popular culture fairly exploded with what the media called a "Mormon moment," which presented Mormonism in a generally positive light. The cheeky Book of Mormon musical found itself the toast of Broadway and brought home nine Tony awards; Newsweek published a story titled "Mormons Rock!"; and freshly returned Mormon missionary Elizabeth Smart was lauded for her evolution from kidnapping victim to mature, committed activist—a development she credits to her LDS faith.

Mormons now find themselves in the familiar situation of being on the defensive theologically and politically, but at the same time they are in terra incognita: they are not only a tolerated sect but are viewed as a model minority leading the way in preserving family values. When a group is held up as a model minority, it tells us as much about what the host culture needs as about the minority itself.

Mormonism's new cultural role is apparent in the profane but charming Book of Mormon musical (which, for the record, I saw in previews and found hilarious). Some Mormons have been anxious to clarify that the musical is not really about Mormons but about American culture's idea of Mormons. Historian Richard Bushman recently compared the production to visiting a funhouse Hall of Mirrors at a carnival: you can recognize yourself, yet it's not really you. He is quite correct about that—but the distortion itself is instructive.

Probably the most theologically flawed song in the production is "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream," in which a missionary who has abandoned his companion succumbs to the guilt he feels for breaking the rules and failing in his mission. The lyrics posit a Dantean inferno for the Mormon reprobate: "Down, down to Satan's realm / See where you belong / There is nothing you can do / No escape from Spooky Mormon Hell Dream." Lucifer is there in the Mormon hell, and Catholics and Jews are his minions. Elder Price finds himself confessing his "awful" sins (failing as a missionary, stealing a donut as a child) to his fellow travelers in this nightmarish afterlife: Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer.

The song is side-splittingly funny, and it's augmented by sight gags, like a pair of giant dancing Starbucks cups that represent the terrible temptation of coffee. The coffee part is at least accurate. The worldview mocked by the rest of the song is a fiction: Mormons don't believe in any sort of eternal hell that resembles the one depicted in the song. In fact, one of the sticking points between LDS theology and mainstream creedal Christianity is Joseph Smith's near-universalism and his emphasis on the three levels of paradise that the vast majority of humanity will find themselves in after the final judgment. A popular Mormon folk story features Smith's teaching that even the lowest kingdom in heaven is a paradise so divine that anyone who caught a glimpse of it would be tempted to commit suicide to get there sooner. The story is probably apocryphal, but the spiritual point hits home: in the Mormon cosmology, almost everyone attains some version of heaven, even adherents of other religions.

Yet the song's existence illustrates what the host culture now requires. Throughout history, the reasons that Mormonism has been vilified have changed according to the anxieties of the day. In the 19th century, Latter-day Saints were excoriated for an allegedly lascivious sexuality. Mormon men were depicted in cartoons and antipolygamy fiction as sexual predators whose libidos knew no bounds. In the early 21st century, members of the same religion are portrayed as being sexually repressed. The creators of The Book of Mormon production apparently also need them to believe in a sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God variety of eternal punishment. In a strange way, Mormons have become the cultural arbiters of morality: the musical critiques LDS teachings on homosexuality even while showing Mormons to be some of the sweetest people you'll ever meet.

The story of what happens next in Mormonism's careful negotiations with American culture is unwritten, but the past suggests that the church will bend for the sake of assimilation. With two Mormon candidates running for president and Romney among the front-runners, such negotiations have high political stakes.

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Comments

What is Christian?

What both wheelercreek writes on Sep 27, 2011 - 11:43 am and what Ryan Gardner on Sep 27, 2011 - 01:03 pm writes is correct. Mormons are not supposed to be Christian because we have some doctrinal differences with other Christian groups of today. The foundation for the beliefs of these other groups is the creeds of the 4th. 5th, and 6th centuries and so on. The bible is viewed through the lens of these creeds causing certain interpretations to be favored and other biblical teachings to be minimized or ignored. Interestingly, if you look at the doctrines of the early church fathers before the creeds, they are very Mormon-like. In a number of doctrinal areas the early Christians were good Mormons and would be rejected as non-Christian by many Christians of today. See where Jesus taught about man becoming gods (John 10:31-36). He quotes Psalms 86:6 which teaches the same thing. See where Paul taught it in 1 Corinthians 8: 5-6 where he says that there be gods many and lords many but only one of them is our god. He even mentions these gods being in Heaven so he was referring to true gods. See where Paul taught it in Romans 8:14-18. See where John taught it in Revelations 3:21. This is essentially the teaching of Jesus in John chapter 17 which he adds to his very clear statement in John chapter 10. The early church fathers, those early Bishops and Orthodox theologians in early Christianity, taught the same doctrine:
Irenaeus says “If the Word became a man, It was so men may become gods."(Irenaeus, Against Heresies, bk. 5, pref.)
And again Irenaeus: "We were not made gods at our beginning, but first we were made men, then, in the end, gods." (Ibid, also in (Bettenson, H., The Early Christian Fathers, [London: Oxford University Press, 1956,] p. 94.)

Clement of Alexandria: "Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god." (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, 1; Also in Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 1, (8,4), in Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers, p. 244.)

Justin Martyr: men are "thus deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest." (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 124)

Athanasius : “The Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods . Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life." (Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.34.)

St. Jerome, the Pope’s secretary explains Psalms 82:6 saying: “’ That we are gods is not so by nature, but by grace. 'But to as many as receive him he gave power of becoming sons of god.' I made man for that purpose, that from men they may become gods. 'I said: Ye are gods, all of you sons of the Most High.'” (Jerome, The Homilies of Saint Jerome, Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1964 pp 106-107)

Tertullilan quotes Psalms 82:6 and says: “…call to mind along with them the passage where it is written, 'I have said, Ye are gods, and ye are children of the Most High;' and again, 'God standeth in the congregation of the gods:' in order that, if the scripture has not been afraid to designate as gods human beings, who have become sons of God by faith , you may be sure that the same scripture has with greater propriety conferred the name of the Lord on the true and one-only Son of God." (Tertullian, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids Michigan: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1885, vol. 3, p. 608)

Origen: "Everything which…is deified by participation in his godhead, should strictly be called 'God,' not 'the God.'…Since he…is therefore in every way more honored than others besides himself, who are 'gods' of whom God is the God, as it is said, 'God the Lord of gods spoke and called the world.' For it was through his ministry that they became gods, since he drew divinity from God for them to be deified, and of his kindness generously shared it with them. God, then, is the true God, and those who through him are fashioned into gods are copies of the prototype."
He went on to teach: "The Father, then, is proclaimed as the one true God; but besides the true God are many who become gods by participating in God." (Tertullian, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids Michigan: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1885, vol. 3, p. 324)

Agustine: "But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God. 'For he has given them power to become the sons of God' [John 1:12] If then we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods." (Augustine, On the Psalms, 50.2 Augustine insists that such individuals are gods by grace rather than by nature, but they are gods nevertheless.)

There is some real factual and historic backing for the Mormon claim that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is original Christianity restored to the earth.

Dwight

Reply to What Is Christian?

WOW, Dwight! Thanks for the great citations; definitely going in my talk research file. 'Course, I'll have to START one (smile)

Great article!

Not perfect, but sincere and well-reasoned. In fact, the most mature dissertation I have yet seen on my chosen faith written by a non-Mormon. Thank you!

The writer, Jana Riess is LDS

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jana_Riess

Tracy Hall Jr
hthalljr'gmail'com

Re: Jana Reiss is LDS

Hmm; I certainly didn't pick that up from the article. Makes it a bit less credible, given the errors pointed out in other posts, but it's still well-written - much better than I could have produced.

Still some strides to go

The fact that she is LDS suggests that from a humanist and intellectual perspective, she is to be commended for a level headed approach to the topic of the article. The fact that many faithful Mormons couldn't tell that she was a member says volumes for her ability to speak like an "outside".

On the other hand, some of her comments suggest to me (in my opinion and without casting any aspersions) that Ms Reiss has a ways to go yet in grounding her testimony elsewhere than in intellect.

I am reminded of an LDS graduate student with ambitions of teaching at BYU who once overheard me mention that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. He was astonished that with my education and interests I would believe that. I was astonished that with his apparent faithfulness he did not.

There is indeed a variety of faith perspectives within our community, and Ms Reiss' very odd suggestion that the idea of become gods could one day fade away is, while wholly wrong (if the religion is wholly true), no bar to her being a faithful member in good standing.

balanced approach

Actually I think it highlights an important point. Not every Mormon has the same understanding of the doctrines. Sometimes it is not clear in the minds of the Mormons what is doctrine and what is being filled in by tradition and their own minds. For example, the doctrine of deification. I think the reason the President Hinckley seemed to shy away from this was simply because we don't really know all that much about what it means for us to become gods. We ASSUME that means we will create our own worlds, etc., but that is not doctrine. It is funny to see all the posts by different mormons disagreeing about the author's doctrine. The truth is that all of times even Mormons spout out things that our church "believes" that are actually more tradition or conjecture than doctrine. That can really confuse those who aren't Mormon.

I actually thought that this was an excellent balanced article and felt it addressed different sticky doctrinal issues in an appropriate way. It is important for Mormons reading this to remember that Jana is writing this to a mostly non-mormon audience. Her approach was spot on. For evidence, look at the comments. I have been amazed at how few antagonistic comments there have been. That tells me that either the article was fair and thought provoking, or the comments are being heavily filtered. Thanks Jana. Whether you are LDS or not, great article.

Xcellent article, well done

This is a very interesting peice, well done--- I'm forwarding this to all my mormons.

Scary thought: just heard on NPR yesterday how Mitt has no chance for the nomination "because he's a Mormon"...now that's no surprise, but what's chilling is that nobody would outright say a candidate had no chance because they were "a woman" or "an asian" or "a Jew" or "an evangelical" "or a homosexual" --yet it's fashionable to single out one religion and disqualify it... every religious person should take notice of this. If a Mormon can be a target--- anybody with a belief in God (no matter what religion) --will be a future target. I predict that our future politicians will run as fast as they can away from the percieved association with ANY religion, effectively removing religion from American government. Look at Europe.

Mormonism

Very helpful article, but note that formal sociology of religion classes Mormonism as an "established cult" which means it has been around a long time, often seeks to be accepted in society, but retains many cultic aspects. The article charts its evolutions well.

I also object to the author lumping agonostics and atheists in the same category. Atheists are inverted Fundamentalists who strongly BELIEVE there is no God. Agnostics can range from liberals to nonbelievers who leave the question of God open to new ideas and new insights. They are at the opposite end of a polarity that can include all non-dogmatic or non-creedal religionists. I'm an ordained United Methodist and I consider my own position to be largely agnostic, but certainly not atheist which is at the other end of a long spectrum.

Cult

It is informative to remember that based upon sociological uses of the term "cult", Christianity, in Christ's time, was one.

As a pejorative, the use of the word "cult" is uninformed and essentially useless except to fan the flames of aggressive and close minded ignorance.

As a technical term, it applies so broadly to so many religions at certain stages of their development at least, that it really has little beneficial use. Applying it as you do to Mormonism, retaining "many cultic aspects," is not much different than saying of a certain man, "he retains some of the same characteristics he had as a child" including, for example, two arms, two legs and a face. That is to say, for some things the statement elicits a "so what?" and for others a "well, of course" response.

As for your comments on agnosticism and atheism, I agree wholeheartedly.

Temple Ceremony

As a Freemason, I continue to be rankled by the fact that Jos. Smith lifted so much of our temple ceremony from the Masons. Joe was a Mason, and re-worked the ceremonies to transform his church. Much of it WORD FOR WORD. It was recently admitted to by a Mormon of high standing (a General Authority?). Of course, good old Joe explained it away as the Masonic ceremony being a corrupted Christian ritual that he was "putting right". Unfortunately, this habitual fraud didn't realize the Masonic ceremonies only go back to the middle-ages, and have only temporal implications. If most THINKING LDS truly explored their faith, like I have done more than 30 years, they'll see his "testimony" as being ludicrous. What spurred Church cohesiveness and growth was Joseph Smith's "martyrdom". As a side note, as he was shot, Joseph Smith yelled the Masonic phrase: "Is there no hope for the widow's son?" And was using Masonic gestures to try to ingratiate himself to those who murdered him. "Christian"... if they want to self identify themselves as such... but those who have done their research will pass on their cup of Kool-Ade.

Temple

If you study the history of Christianity, you will find the adoption and adaptation of non Christian, and even secular, symbols and rituals is really the norm. If Joseph Smith "lifted" the Masonic rituals to create those of our temples, and if he then recast them with a Christian function and meaning, he did nothing extraordinary, unprecedented or inherently strange.

If Joseph Smith sought to use his Masonic connections to save his life, he did nothing different than when St. Paul used his knowledge of Greek, his Roman citizenship, his Jewish heritage and his pharisaic education, each in turn to win the favour of the mob or the officials he was facing at the time.

It appears to me that you could do with an extra lump of sugar in your Kool-Ade; at least, it is very clear that your 30 years' of exploration of a faith you claim to be your own is lacking in breadth or careful consideration.

By the way, the "admission" you speak about was also made more than a century and a half ago by Heber Kimball, who was a Mason of higher standing and more experience than Joseph Smith. It has never been denied, and has never been a meaningful basis for an attack on LDS faith.

Change?

 

I have found this article and the responses interesting reading. I have been trying to get more familiar with Mormonism. And, I have rarely seen a Century article get so much commentary!

Perhaps one valuable thing from this article is to dispel the our non-Mormon perception of Mormons as having one monolithic view.  This article (by a Mormon academic) and the Mormon commentators clearly differ on some important issues.

As for the author’s contention the LDS Church is changing: it seems hard to tell.  On the hot-button issue of excluding black people from the priesthood and Polygamy: its hard to tell whether the church thinks that God just put these on hiatus in the last 100 years, or if the Church realized it was in error all along and needed to change. If it is the latter, maybe a statement condemning past racism (especially by church Prophets) would help clarify this.  Or, many of the Mormon commentators here state that the LDS Church’s stand on those issues was right all along.  I suspect there are different perspectives on that within the Mormon faithful.  

 

Change

You make some interesting points. I think it really comes down to how we define "change". In the broadest sense, EVERY church, without exception, has changed in some aspect or another. For example, how many churches still follow Paul's counsel that "Women should keep silence in the congregation" Even so, as a Mormon I feel well-informed enough to stated that "change" is actually part of LDS doctrine. That is, we believe in a God who is not blind of the world's changing context. Otherwise, how could Christ's contradictions with the law of Moses be explained? Finally, Mormonism holds that all people, even high-ranking religious leaders, commit sin and error. Therefore, does it threaten the doctrine of Mormonism when individuals in leadership positions make mistakes? No! Indeed, I'd say that such errors actually support Mormonism's stance that ALL people are imperfect.
Jesus Saves! :)

Not a bad article

I'm a Mormon who thought this article was much more fair to Mormonism than others I've read...well done! I appreciated the sociological study which showed that after people actually meet a Mormon, they are much less suspicious of them. In my experience after people ask Mormons to clarify doctrinal beliefs, they no longer seem so strange. Perhaps I can only speak for myself but I'd say that the vast majority of Mormons hold a great deal of respect for all other religions and their adherents. If you still feel suspicion or hatred of Mormons challenge yourself to actually become acquanted with one and ask them sincere, non-contentious questions about Mormonism. If you are not a Mormon and feel that your church or you as a person have been attacked by ignorant Mormons I apologize and please understand that those actions violate our beliefs of understanding, education, and civility.
Peace out!
Chris
P.S. Jesus Saves! :)

Clarify

Jana this is well-written, accurate (mostly), and respectful of the faith of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A few observations to consider:
1. Church leaders have a long history of service before being called to the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency. What they believe and teach over all of that history is not equal to "official church doctrine". Increasingly so, when they rach those levels of leadership, they are more cautious to "teach correct principles" and not speculate in areas that are not well defined and known. No question, as more an more of their teachings are being noticed by all, not just members, our current leaders do a remarkable job of focusing on core doctrines and avoiding speculation. But in past times, leaders did speculate a lot. Sometimes because we use uncommon and non casual titles such as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators for the leading councils of the church, an assumption of perfection accompanies that from members, but even more so by non members. Those titles, however, have never signified perfection. Gods prophets have made mistakes before (like Moses) and will make mistakes going forward. Often, those mistakes have been corrected by God through either direct reproof (at the time) or through clarifying teaching of other prophets.
2. In the area of "Godhood", here is the current teaching of the Church (from the consensus document on the Family given by the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles): a). Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and the Family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children. b). All human beings --male and female-- are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. c). God established a plan by which His children could obtain physical bodies and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. These three statements (and more) teach the overarching principles and doctrines of the Church regarding God and our relationship to Him and the nature of our divine destiny as His heirs. While it may be easy to connect the dots between this and other statements, past, present, and future, and the idea of acheiving Godhood, and we are free in the church and outside the church to do that, when we get too specific about connecting those dots, we are on more and more shaky ground.
3. Similarly, with regards to polygamy, we recognize that God commanded it in Old testament times (and also forbid it in old testament times) and that He commanded it in the Latter days as well (and also forbid it in the current day). Again, to try to explain and defend God's position on polygamy today, and tie that doctrinally to God's plan for our eternal destinies represents shaky ground --and we admit, som past leaders trodded on that shaky ground. But our position today is not that the practice was wrong (For Abraham and Jacob anciently or for Joseph and Brigham more recently), but that God presently does not require it, and even now forbids it.

Whiteshadow

We need not argue amongst eachother what the Mormons view, they are Christians and they have out performed us other Christians. No name calling or insults needed, only education. Instead of putting a Mormon missionary down, ask him a question. Principles in God's kingdom are eternal, but application is different through time. Missionaries go through a lot of persecution of their own, but aren't scrutinized and killed by Roman soldiers. Polygamy was an accepted practice in the Bible by God's chosen people, but he stopped it when it was abused. Same thing with the Mormons.

Glaring Omission

I don't think you can claim that Mormons are a "model minority" when they still engage in sexist practices. Women aren't allowed to go on missions and they can't hold high positions in the church!

Woman in Mormonism

You'd better check your facts before making outrageous statements like that. Woman most decidedly do serve missions for the LDS Church, and have done for many, many, many years. They also can hold high positions.  Our female ministry is as extensive as the male/priesthood ministry.  Woman do not hold the priesthood, it is true; and this means that the chief positions of presidents and apostle are not available to them, but the positions available to and held by women in the Church are both several and significant.

While we continue theological

While we continue theological wars, another less qualified person will run the county. When it comes to politics we agree more than we disagree. We want to focus on the 10% we do not see eye to eye on and then moan the continued decay of our country. It is our divisiveness and arrogance that keeps us down. More Christians need to read "Rules for Radicals" and other movement pieces to learn the rules of engagement. We are seen as more as out of touch, when Jesus our apparent leader was always seen as "in touch" and and stood above the political upheaval. We have so much to learn, but doubt we will.

Mormons Are Christian

I say a Prayer morning noon and night in The Name of Jesus Christ. I partake of the Sacrament once a week to remember and honour the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I regulary discuss the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Sunday school! I bless the sick in the Name of Jesus name which name I do not blaspheme. I cast out devils
in the name of Jesus Christ. I am a Mormon! I believe Jesus when he said to Mary "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."
John 20:16

Are Mormons Christian

Mormons on their website claim that the early church became apostate in the 3rd century; and the true faith was not restored until Joseph Smith. They send missionaries to my door to try and convert me. If they are "Christians too", why do they try to convert Christians to Mormonism?

Evangelical Christians react to Mormons similar to the way Jews react to Messianic Jews (who accept Jesus as the Messiah). A Messianic Jews considers themselves "completed Jews" (which angers Jews; which I understand, even though I agree with the Messanic Jews).

Likewise, when Mormons considers Trinitarians apostate, and themselves the true restored Church; and Christians react similarly. Yet the theological differences between Mormons and Christians are far more profound (especially with respect to the nature of God) that those between Jews and Messianic Jews.

Romney would do better with Christians like me if he acknowledged the differences between our two faiths.

Acknowledge what?

You make a few interesting comments. The implication that LDS see their faith as "completed Christianity" in the way Christian Jews might consider themselves "completed Jews" seems to be a good comparison.

I wonder, though, why Romney should be required to make theological pronouncements (i.e., on the nature of God) to satisfy the egos or insecurities of other Christians. Does a Catholic president have the same requirement? Should a Baptist president have to explain how his denominations differs from the Amish, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, Methodists, Church of God, non-denominationalists, etc.? Is it really a valid qualification for the presidency to require that one be a theologian??

Perhaps "Christians like you" need to get a hold of the real issues that face a president of your country, and make your determination based on such things as proven political track records, economic and social policies, character, and so forth.

I suspect that the mainstream Christian faith of previous presidents has not prevented them from being dishonest or making poor or even stupid choices. Nor should the fact that a president is not of a mainstream Christian faith be a bar to honesty, intelligence or an excellent performance of presidential duties.

Letter from Peter Nord

I  read with some disappointment the October 4 article “Normal Mor­mons.” It is an interesting story that speaks of cultural accommodation as well as the prejudice against Latter-day Saints, but the writer skirted the foundational under­standing of the LDS Church.

This church does not recognize any church but itself as Christian, and I am not aware of any Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Protestant communion that recognizes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as falling within normative Christianity. 

While I wish to honor those who find hope and meaning in faiths other than Christianity, I am not yet willing to accept the claim that the LDS Church is Christian. I wish that the Christian Century offered a deeper discussion of LDS beliefs and theology rather than discussing these issues in the context of cultural tensions.

Peter Nord

Baltimore, Md.

Mormons do accept other Christians as Christian

Your statement that "This church does not recognize any church but itself as Christian" is entirely untrue.    For example, Dallin H. Oaks, one of the current apostles of the Church, has said, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many beliefs in common with other Christian churches."  Note, he refers to the other churches as "Christian".  Such statements referring to the other churches as "Christian" in articles and sermons which discuss both our similarities and our differences are legion.

Further, to the extent "normative Christianity" arose out of the diversity of the early Church, it is very possible that even from an LDS perspective, it is correct to say we are not part of it, since we believe that Christianity strayed from its correct course fairly early in its history.  But that in and of itself does not make us non-Christian, nor does it imply that we believe others are not Christians.  Indeed, to suppose that the only Christians are those who accept what you might mean by "normative Christianity" or what we call "restored Christianity" is likely to exclude a vast number of early Christians who walked and talked with the apostles of Jesus Christ and shared their faith and sacraments.


Letter from Leo Ryska

May we Christians not respectfully say that Mormons are not Chris­tian? The point of departure for all Christian belief is the Trinity. Mormons do not believe in the traditional and orthodox understanding of this teaching. Rather they posit tritheism or a belief in three gods.

Leo Ryska

Benet Lake, Wis.

Trinitarianism

Of course you can say that.  But saying it does not make it true.

In the first place, it is a contentious (though, I recognize, not original) suggestion that an acceptance of the Trinity is the test for true Christianity.  Several of the early Church Fathers would necessarily have been excluded.  For all you know, so might some of the Apostles.

That is to say, it is not obvious that the "point of departure" for Christianity is the Trinity, a doctrine which took several hundred years after Christ to finally articulate, and one which is not expressed in any one of the kerygma, Apostle's Creed or Didache.

Further, it is potentially inaccurate to exclude Latter-day Saints entirely from the Trinitarian universe.  While it is true that we do not acknowledge the authority of the Creeds of the Medieval Church, we do find agreement with the statements of many of the early Fathers of the Church.  We believe in One Godhead, made up of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  We believe these to be three distinct Persons.  In this regard, I think we are in line with Trinitarian thought.  Do we believe them to be of One Substance?  Well, here the answer becomes more difficult to make clearly.  We certainly have taken that position and speak in that manner.  However, this renders us unable to state with metaphysical clarity (if there is such a thing) what Joseph Smith meant when he spoke of the light of Christ being a light which proceeds from the Father, and yet comes through Christ to light every living thing.  This implies more than simply a unity of purpose, but a unity also of power, light and life.  What does this mean?  I don't think we know.  We also don't think that you or any other Trinitarian Christian can give an adequate answer as to the true nature of God or what you would mean if you tried to explain the unity of substance shared by the three Persons of God.

In short, the exclusion of Latter-day Saints from community with other Christians on the basis of differences with Trinitarian doctrine really only begs the question and does not answer it.

 

Not really Christian

I had no feelings one way or the other about mormons until I moved to Utah for 4 years.  No, I didn't find them to be like me.  I don't find them to be of a Christian theology.  I find they follow the teaching of what they believe Smith professed.  Their number one church holiday is not Easter but Christmas.  It felt very cult-like living there.  I wish I could say that my experience with mormons was that they were 'some of the sweetest people' but I just cannot.  It's not my intent to be anti-mormon, but I found if one were not mormon then there was only so much invitation into a mormon's life;  and it was at arm's length.  And again,  following the perceived verbage of Joseph Smith does not make one a Christian because that's following the teachings of Christ. 

Mormons Christians

I found the opposite to be true, and let me give a little background.

My father, two uncles and my paternal grandfather were pastors in a southern Christian community of churches. I was raised with that, and helped with much of it. All went well until two mormons showed up on bikes one day, and started going door to door in rural neighborhoods, "stirring things up" and for the first time in my life, I saw true anger and hatred of other human beings come into my home. I was about nine at the time, and liked "spy" shows on TV like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. so I fancied myself a spy, and would hide as I would follow my uncles around and write down what they said. One day, I heard something very interesting. My Uncle Paul said, "If the Mormons get a toehold in here, we will lose everything we have." my other uncle nodded and said, "Yep. Mormons have a lay ministry; we'll all lose our jobs." Here is a good link for what they believe: http://www.moroni10.com/Mormon/Bible_References/Unpaid_Priesthood_Ministry.html 

At the time, I thought a "lay ministry" meant they preached from a bed, and couldn't really figure out how that could end the careers of three generations (my oldest brother had by then gone into the ministry) and it wasn't until I was in college that I happened to be travelling through Salt Lake City and discovered the place, people and religion I now call home. 

I appreciate this website and it's open discussion of these topics. In my experience, I have found it to be true in Christianity as much as in any other business: Follow the money. Mainstream Evangelicals and Christians fear one thing above all else: parishioners who will discover Mormons manage to provide for congregations, meeting houses, the poor, and even humanitarian programs throughout the world mainly through a voluntary 10% tithe, with nothing going to pastors, teachers, piano players or nursery workers. Mormons volunteer, and it drives the rest of the Christian community crazy because they can't do as much, even with more money. Mormons know how to organize themselves because they follow the plan established by Jesus Christ Himself. I don't know a single Mormon who has not dedicated their life to serving Jesus Christ (and yes, he's the same Jesus we all know and praise) and I have yet to meet any who worship Joseph Smith or any other prophet. Every mormon I know hates polygamy, and most are opposed to gay marriage because they see it opening floodgates that will make polygamy possible-something no Mormon I know wants to see happen.

You felt "at arm's length" because you put yourself there. If you had taken a step forward, as I did, you may have found sweetness you've never experienced anywhere else in your life.    

 

The Four Pillars of the Kingdom

As a Christian, what makes your faith different than that of a Muslim, a Hindu, or even the “non-faith” of an atheist? Are we able to properly explain our faith to each other, let alone someone who is desperately in need of the healing power of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ? an attempt to help us do just that by laying the groundwork, in an accessible manner, of what it means to be a Christian. The pillar of belief: why do we believe as we do? The pillar of knowledge: how we obtain our knowledge through scripture, prayer and even praise. The pillar of life: what is the proper Christian life and how our actions represent Christ to the rest of the world. And the pillar of love: how all love comes from God and should flow from us to those around us. The Four Pillars of the Kingdom will challenge your relationship with Jesus but, in doing so; make it stronger and closer than you ever thought possible . Available now on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats. http://bit.ly/joesbookshelf

Thank you, Sister Reiss

This is another of Jana Reiss' signal accomplishments in explaining Mormon beliefs and experiences to those nopt familiar with us. She is uniquely qualified to do so, based on her own conversion when she was studying for the ministry in another church, and her work as an editor of books in the field of religion. She has a great writing style, and I love her new book, Flunking Sainthood, which is full of both humor and heartwarming moments that cause us to reflect on our relationship with God. As a Mormon just turned 62, I would suggest that a more accurate way to characterize the evolution of Mormon STATEMENTS about our beliefs, rather than the core of our beliefs themselves, is that we have been in constant dialogue with the larger world and are constantly seeking to explain ourselves so we can be understood. In my personal experience, as I have read more about the beliefs of Catholics and Protestants, I have tried to use language that is meaningful to both of us and does not assume a unique Mormon meaning for words used in other senses by other denominations. I have profited from the efforts by Bob Millet, Stephen Robinson and others who have made serious efforts to conduct a dialogue with serious students of other faiths so we can accurately see and explain not only our differences, but also our deep similarities. One of the things that has developed among some of the Protestant theologians who have had dialogues with Mormon scholars is the understanding that the Book of Mormon is a book deeply and thoroughly devoted to the doctrine fo Christ as the Savior of mankind, to the point where some of them have expressed the view that Mormons are not nearly as "Christ centered" as this book that we regard as a companion scripture to the Bible. One thing that is definitely true is that, especially with the accession of Ezra Taft Benson to the presidency of the LDS Church in the 1980s, a greater emphasis on study of the Book of Mormon has led to a greater emphasis on the atonement of Christ, simply out of sheer concentration on the message of the book. Benson taught that this was where the Lord wanted us to be all along. A deeper appreciation for the error in thinking that we can ever place God in our debt is unavoidable when we rerad the sermon of King Benjamin in the Book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon. Benjamin reminds us that we are always beggars when we come before the throne of God, because he is constantly blessing us for every rightesous effort we make, and we cannot be redeemed without humbling ourselves and declaring our dependence on the atonement wrought by Christ. While many in the world understand the idea that we believe in having living prophets at the head of our church, they totally miss the more important point that we also believe that every member is entitled to revelation that guides our own lives, and the lives of our families. That belief in revelation sustains Mormons, and we attest to miraculous things being taught to us beyond what we ourselves could know. The distribution of leadership authority down to the lowest levels of Mormon organization attests to this trust by ourselves and our most senior leaders that millions of amateurs can actually administer a church of 14 million people, because we are confident in the guidance of the Holy Ghost in making our decisions. That is the key difference between Mormons and many other Christians: We believe that God is aware of our lives and is not only willing to produce miracles in our lives, but also to give us literal knowledge beyond what is in the Bible or a creedal statement. The blessing we feel from this renewable steream of revelation and reassurance is precisely what motivates us to devote two years of our lives as young adults, and added years of our lives as retirees, sharing what we believe with others. It is a literal affinity with a member of the Godhead that we experience, and offer to others. It is an assurance of the reality of God and Christ that is a fire burning in the hearts of even the most learned and intellectual of the Latter-day Saints. It is knowledge of God, not by deduction but by firsthand experience. Now I can see how other Christians are taken aback at the additions that Mormonism makes to traditional Christianity. But the question I would ask them is this: Don't you believe that Christ will come again? When he does, don't you look forward to learning things about the ways of God that will exceed your present capacity to to take in? If you could know that Christ had already begun the process leading up to his return in the unavoidable and undeniable glory of his status as Jehovah, wouldn't you hunger for that experience with Christ? Those who are joining the Latter-day Saints are those who love the Bible so much that they want to hear additional words from their Savior.

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