The first thing I ever read about Mormonism

I remember very well the first thing I ever read about Mormonism. It was an entry in a book called Concise Dictionary of Cults and Religions by William Watson. It had a red and gray design on the cover and I had borrowed it from my aunt after one of my visits to her. I knew that there were at least three or four Mormon students in my sophomore health class in high school, and I was curious about what they believed, so I was somewhat surprised to find an entry on Mormonism in this scary book on “cults.” I took the book to class and read from it to them before class began. I asked them if that was what they really believed. I confess, I laughed. It all sounded bizarre, especially the part about men becoming gods. Not one of my better moments.

I found a copy of the book at the TEDS library recently and re-visited that excerpt on Mormonism. I’ve cited the excerpt here for discussion. Tell me what you think.

Concise Dictionary of Cults and Religions by William Watson. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991. p. 155-156

Mormonism (LDS)

Official name is Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Background is Spiritualism, Freemasonry, and fundamental Christianity. The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price are its sources of spiritual authority that guide faith and practice. The Bible is “correct so far as it is correctly translated.” The Book of Mormon is esteemed far more as God’s word.

Mormonism’s view of the Trinity is not the same as that of orthodox Christianity. God “was once as we are now and is an exalted man. The Father has a body of flesh and bone as tangible as man’s.” Every Mormon male can seek to become a god. This doctrine is clearly polytheism. Jesus is one god among many gods; the spirit brother of Lucifer; a polygamist. The Holy Spirit is personage of spirit.

About the doctrine of salvation Mormonism says, “The blood of Christ will never wipe out [sin]. Your own blood must atone for it.” A person is saved by repentance, baptism, faith, and good works. It is not a finished transaction until death; a person can never really be sure of salvation.

The Mormon church is the “true” church. “There is no salvation outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” On the doctrine of the virgin birth, it teaches that “Jesus was not begotten of the Holy Ghost.” Practices baptism for the dead so that non-Mormons who have died will have a chance in the spirit world. More than 100 million baptisms have been performed. Maintains the best collection of genealogical records available anywhere.

Founded by Joseph Smith, Jr., in New York State in 1830. By a gradual migration west, the group moved to the Great Salt Lake in Utah under the leadership of Brigham Young. The current president of the church is Ezra Taft Benson. Its Freeman Institute is called the “Moral Majority of Mormons.” A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, by LeGrand Richards, is used as a public relations tool. The Deseret News Press is its publishing division.

The movie and television series Battlestar Galactica was a portrayal of Mormon theology and its ideas of how man came to earth. A pageant called “City of Joseph” is presented annually in Nauvoo, Illinois, depicting Mormonism in a favorable way to a largely non-Mormon audience. The LDS is also prominent in VISN, the Vision Inter-faith Satellite Network.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Osmond family are some of the more widely known people associated with this cult. The church owns temples and tabernacles all over the world and owns stock in many corporations. Has members in many positions of public office. Currently has more than 20,000 full-time missionaries around the world serving two-year terms. In 1978 a new revelation permitted blacks to be ordained to the priesthood. Since then, the Genesis Group, a “separate but equal” black branch of the church, has been formed with little success.

Other related groups are the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Church of Christ, Temple Lot. Several fundamentalist groups (some practicing polygamy) have spun off: Apostolic United Brethren, the Church of Jesus Christ in Solemn Assembly, the Church of the First Born of the Fulness of Times, and United Order Effort.

These are the sources that the book used or recommended on Mormonism.

General Sources:

Larson, Bob. Larson’s New Book of Cults. Wheaton: Tyndale, 1989. 308-17.

Martin, Walter R. The Kingdom of the Cults. Minneapolis: Bethany, 1985. 166-266.

McDowell, Josh, and Don Stewart. Handbook of Today’s Religions. San Bernardino, Calif.: Campus Crusade, 1983. 64-79.

Passantino, Robert and Gretchen. Answers to the Cultist at Your Door. Eugene, Oreg.: Harvest House, 1981. 87-120.

Robertson, Irvine. What the Cults Believe. Chicago: Moody, 1983, 1991. 29-55.

Starkes, M. Thomas. Cults at the Close of the 80s. Chattanooga, Tenn.: Global, 1987. 17-32.

Tucker, Ruth A. Another Gospel, Grand Rapids: Academie, 1989. 49-92, 389-90.

Mormonism Sources:

Decker, Ed, and Dave Hunt. The God Makers. Eugene, Oreg.: Harvest House, 1984.

Martin, Walter R. The Maze of Mormonism. Ventura, Calif.: Regal, 1979.

Tanner, Jerald, and Sandra. The Changing World of Mormonism. Chicago: Moody, 1981.

_____. Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm, 1987.

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This entry was posted in cult, Mormonism by Bridget Jack Jeffries. Bookmark the permalink.

About Bridget Jack Jeffries

Bridget Jack Jeffries is a human resources professional living in Chicago. She holds a BA in classics from Brigham Young University with a minor in Hebrew and an MA in American religious history from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She is a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church and a single mother of two. You can read more of her writings at www.Weighted-Glory.com.

29 thoughts on “The first thing I ever read about Mormonism

  1. Setting aside the traditional juicy repudiated doctrine quotes, this is obviously out of date on some things. It vastly overstates Battlestar Galactica’s relationship to Mormonism (not that there wasn’t one, just that BSG was hardly a canonical presentation of Mormon doctrine). Mischaracterizes the Genesis Group. “This doctrine is clearly polytheism” puts a way-too simplistic gloss on a complex theological issue (Muslims and Jews think the trinity is “clearly polytheism”).

  2. For it’s time and brevity I don’t think it’s too bad. I would NOT use it myself. Jack you should follow the format and write a corrected version.

  3. I think a more contemporary version would be interesting. I would like to see fewer outdated statements treated as present doctrine (unless you want a sentence that says that there are a lot of past proclamations by Church ELaders that the present Church has either repudiated or apparently let lapse, with a zinger in there if you like about the resulting unreliablility of Mormon prophets on matters of doctrine). Some statements about the Church’s involvement in social-issue politics, the Church’s treatment of dissenters, a mention of BYU and its academic freedom problems. Something about the Church’s welfare system, maybe a little more about temples, in what countries the Church is particularly prominent, something about the two priesthoods, a brief, one-or-two sentence summary of the Plan of Salvation, a mention of the correlation committee, tithing, the word of wisdom.

    I’d keep the bits in there about God being an exalted man, and man’s capacity to become like God (but maybe a not to GBH’s “I don’t know that we teach that”). A bit about grace versus works makes sense, but without it depending on BY’s blood atonement–it’s worth mentioning as one extreme in Mormon thought, but not accurate to use it to describe what Mormons monolithically believe.

  4. Sorry to be sarcastic… but I guess it’s the culture that’s the real zinger to me most of the time. But Jack knows that about me by now.

  5. Except that I think you’ll find that green jello and scrapbooking are pretty common in a lot fo American religious groups. Just saying.

  6. <blockquote

    Dumb Evangelical idea #1.
    I really don’t understand Evangelicals who seem to imply there’s something wrong with the first statement. Is it really God’s word when it is translated incorrectly? Has God really promised that it can’t be translated incorrectly?

    Dumb Evangelical idea #2. Call for references, why is the BoM MORE of God’s word than the Bible? This has been hashed and rehashed.

    Dumb Evangelical idea #3. Only quote old Mormon leaders out of context, and only read anti-Mormon literature. Don’t list LDS scripture as a citation (as clearly, it was never consulted, and probably couldn’t have been understood by the author).

    Dumb Evangelical idea #4.

    On the doctrine of the virgin birth, it teaches that “Jesus was not begotten of the Holy Ghost.”

    As opposed to the Bible which clearly states that Jesus was begotten of the Holy Ghost somewhere? The utter lack of context leaves any clueless Evangelical (as only clueless ones would use this as a text about Mormonism. Note, this isn’t a dig at Jack, she already pretty much admitted being clueless when she read it) unable to determine if Joseph was Jesus’ father or if Jesus was the Only Begotten of the Father as LDS doctrine official states, and how that is understood (officially and unofficially).

    Dumb Evangelical idea #5. Don’t know how they characterize Genesis as “separate but equal”. Sounds like their following K-dawgs example of blowing smoke out of his Kullervo-hole.

    Tim. For it’s time? When has it ever been OK to write about a group in such a way that no logical member can see themselve represented in the group. This writing is clearly a lie, clearly deceptive, clearly incorrect, clearly bearing false witness against a neighbor, clearly a sin, and by Blombergs standard is terrible. Sorry Tim, Paul wrote 2 millenia ago about bearing the truth in love. If your only excuses for this bozo is, “well his sources are bad”, who held a gun to his head and told him to use lame sources? Lame sources are used when idiots aren’t smart enough to choose good ones. It is incumbent on you, Tim, if you want to look NOT like an idiot to repudiate stupidity. I have a feeling Jack is eventually going to get around to repudiating the stupidity. She better. I expect her to, just like she expects me (and Seth) to repudiate stupidity we see even today. None of these lame excuses like, for the time that stupidity was acceptable. LAME.

  7. I had no idea Battlestar Galactica was an effort to promote Mormonism. Maybe I’ll actually watch it now… * rolls eyes *

    What do I think? I think that anything that publishes an absurd synopsis of Mormonism in a book about cults is not to be taken seriously.

  8. By the way, the first thing my parents learned about Mormonism came from a Protestant minister in their apartment building when they were first married. He knew they were Catholic, and he came up to them one evening and said, “Have you heard of this Book of Mormon? It says your church is the whore of the whole earth!”

    /sigh

  9. I had no idea Battlestar Galactica was an effort to promote Mormonism. Maybe I’ll actually watch it now… * rolls eyes *

    The series from the 1970’s was chock full of Mormonism. But unfortunately–and unrelatedly–it is not very good.

    The new “remimagined” series has less Mormonism (still some!), and is the greatest television show ever produced, period.

    Just saying, don;t watch BSG because it’s Mormoniffic. Watch it because your life is actually meaningless without it.

  10. Wait… you’re telling me that BSG isn’t a mirror for my religion? (Well, aside from the fact that the womyn kick a**?) I may need to rethink things.

  11. For its time and brevity I don’t think it’s too bad.

    Yes it is. It’s not as overtly inflammatory as much that was written during that time period, but that’s still no excuse.

    That sort of thing was very typical of the material I ran across before I started looking into the Church in the 1990s. And you know how long it took before I realized that what I had been told or read about Mormonism nearly all my life was a lie? Not long. Information wasn’t as accessible on the Internet then as it is today, but even so, I quickly concluded that the evangelicals calling Mormonism a cult didn’t really care much about the truth. There were so many half-truths that the anti-Mormon apologists lost all credibility. Worse than the half-truths was that they set standards for the LDS-specific scriptures that the Bible itself couldn’t meet.

    And when these same people complained about lack of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon yet claimed that science proves the Earth is, less than 10,000 years old, I knew that they weren’t being intellectually honest. (For the record, I realize that not all evangelicals make that claim. But most of the Mormonism-is-a-cult crowd at the time were Biblical literalists.)

    Fortunately, there are some evangelicals today who have some credibility when they talk about Mormonism. That wasn’t so much the case in 1991, so I’ll grant that the selection wasn’t as bad as it might have been.

    Kullervo said:

    The series from the 1970’s was chock full of Mormonism. But unfortunately–and unrelatedly–it is not very good.

    The new “remimagined” series has less Mormonism (still some!), and is the greatest television show ever produced, period.

    I agree on all accounts, although I’m waiting for the finale of Lost to determine if that might be better. BSG was extremely well-done.

  12. And when these same people complained about lack of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon yet claimed that science proves the Earth is, less than 10,000 years old, I knew that they weren’t being intellectually honest.

    ZING!

    I’m waiting for the finale of Lost to determine if that might be better.

    Impossible. Lost is clearly the second best television show ever produced, but BSG has the lead by a fair margin.

  13. I’m not going to be pushed in to being an apologist for the description. I don’t think it’s a good one. The “time” it was created in was not a good one for Evangelical descriptions of Mormonism. I don’t expect anything from that era to be of great quality.

    But it didn’t go out of it’s way to make Mormonism into a boogey-man. It’s mis-characterizations are understandable given that no actual Mormon sources were used. (and let me clearly state that is a terrible way to go about such a project). I want Evangelicals to aspire to something much better, but given that we weren’t at the time, I don’t think it’s too bad.

    It’s like saying “for being an alcoholic, he didn’t get too drunk.” That doesn’t mean I don’t think alcoholism and drunkenness aren’t bad. I don’t hold previous Mormon racist statements to any different standard.

  14. I’m trying to remember the first thing I ever read about other churches growing up LDS. I can’t say for sure, but I think this is it (JSH 1:19):

    I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

    So, other churches are full of corrupt leaders, they believe in abominable creeds, they are full of hypocrites, and they deny the power of God. And these are the verbatim words of God! It seems that God can dish it out just as good as can William Watson.

  15. for consistency I’ll confess that it’s not too bad for its’ time.

    (I enjoyed BSG but only got half way through the third season, still looking for a cheap/free way to finish it).

  16. The middle of the third season has some slow bits, I think. But the end of season three melted my face off, it was so face-flayingly awesome. And season 4 was made of perfect win.

  17. It’s like saying “for being an alcoholic, he didn’t get too drunk.”

    Yeah, if that’s the standard you’re going to set, not bad. 🙂

    I enjoyed BSG but only got half way through the third season, still looking for a cheap/free way to finish it.

    I saw every episode via Netflix, streaming video for some of the early ones, DVD by mail for the others. I didn’t start watching it until it had finished its TV run, and I knew too many people who said what Kullervo said, so I had to start watching it. I was hooked from the beginning. I’d agree that the third season was probably the weakest.

    Unfortunately, the prequel now showing (Caprica) doesn’t come close.

  18. I’d agree that the third season was probably the weakest.

    But only the in-between bits. The beginning on New Caprica is really awesome, and the Eye of Jupiter bit in the very middle is good, and the very end with the trial of Gaius Baltar and the associated revelations was so awesome that my entire body blew up into atoms. But there are some sort of disconnected episodes in between those that I didn;t love as much. They were good, just they bogged the momentum down.

    For the record, I am so confident that BSG is amazing that I’m not even a tiny bit worried that I’m going to talk it up too much.

    Unfortunately, the prequel now showing (Caprica) doesn’t come close.

    It’s a good show and worth watching, but I definitely have to agree.

  19. I was not dismissive of BSG. I was dismissive of the idea that I would watch it because it is supposedly Mormoniffic (sure, we’ll roll with that word).

    The reason I have not yet watched BSG is that I am young and have had limited resources to this point in my life. Other shows that I must watch in their entirety include Dr. Who and 24.

  20. The reason I have not yet watched BSG is that I am young and have had limited resources to this point in my life. Other shows that I must watch in their entirety include Dr. Who and 24.

    Doctor Who is a great show, and 24 is decent, but they’re not even in the running.

    BSG is worth selling an organ for.

  21. Sorry for taking a while to get back to this post.

    I think it’s a poorly done article, even for its time. Hardly surprising given that books by Walter Martin and Ed Decker were among the sources used, and my money says that all four of those general sources that have the word “cults” in the title probably used Decker and/or Martin as sources, too.

    There’s lots of sentences in it which are just bad in and of themselves. The attempt to make blood atonement the main feature of Mormon salvation and the statement about Jesus not being conceived by the Holy Ghost both stand out to me as extremely misleading. I mean, the latter doesn’t even actually get into the usual counter-cult complaint about LDS leaders teaching that God had sex with Mary. A person who knew little about Mormonism would have no clue.

    The real surprise for me on the list of sources was Ruth A. Tucker, one of my favorite egalitarian authors. She’s a top-notch scholar and I find it difficult to believe that she would do a shoddy job with this topic, so I’m going to have to check out her essay on Mormonism.

    As far as re-writing the essay goes, this excerpt was 534 words long. There’s an 859-word essay on Mormonism in the ESV Study Bible, written by Ron Rhodes. It’s better, though there are still numerous things that I would change. Maybe I’ll post that for discussion. I’d rather re-write that than try to save this.

    Rob Bowman is listed as the “Cults Consultant” on the ESV Study Bible contributors list, but I don’t know if he had any hand in the article.

    Also, David brings up an excellent point about Mormons getting their first look into other religions from the First Vision. That certainly is problematic.

  22. 21st Century BSG is like a bowl of M&M’s; I could not stop consuming it. The ending of the 4th season was completely satisfying to me.

    20th Century BSG had catch phrases and amalgams of Utah Mormonism (which was really all there was in the late 70’s, I know) which just made it fun for me, and sci-fi strange for everyone else. It Should Not Have Been Cancelled, but whatever, ’cause Netflix has it all in its campy 70’s fun-ness, and that’s good enough for me.

    Speaking directly to Watson’s essay, the full essay describes a religious group which I’m not a part of. I’m a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by deliberate choice, and a Mormon by cultural circumstance. Watson misses the mark on both accounts too widely to be fair to us.

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