Approximately 1.75 years ago, I published my second guest-post at this blog, a little number entitled “Evangelicals, Theosis & Exaltation.” Quite unexpectedly, that post sparked an immense discussion that got to 281 comments, brought in numerous first-time commentators, and seemed well-received by most. In February of this year, I was contacted by the Mormonism portal gatekeeper at Patheos with a request that it be re-published there, and after making some minor modifications, it was.
As you may recall, I used something of a gimmick at one point in the article. I quoted a lengthy excerpt which I attributed to The God Makers film by Ed Decker. This excerpt taught that:
- Mormons believe in becoming God. Not just a god, or a God, but becoming God.
- Mormons believe they will one day rule over their own universes.
- Mormons believe women are needed for exaltation so that they can give birth to the spirit children who will populate these universes.
After citing this excerpt, I pulled a “just kidding” and came clean that the dialogue comes from an LDS Institute manual called Achieving a Celestial Marriage, and I did not get it from Ed Decker or any anti-Mormons. I purchased it from the Distribution Center in the basement of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on Temple Square during my first trip to Utah in August 1999.
I had my reasons for this ploy. I did not view The God Makers movie in full until some time in the early part of 2006, and I first read The God Makers book in December 1999, several months after my trip to Temple Square. However, when I first began studying the LDS church in the fall of 1998, I quickly learned from miscellaneous anti-Mormon sources that Mormons believed in all of the points I listed above. I confronted my LDS friends with this information, as well as some of the LDS apologists I was acquainted with. I was particularly upset about the idea of an afterlife where women gave birth for eternity.
The reactions I got?
“We don’t believe anything like that, Jack.”
“Sure, we believe in becoming gods, but so did C. S. Lewis and so do the Eastern Orthodox.”
I don’t remember anyone confirming to me that the Church has taught that women will be giving birth to spirit children for eternity, or pointing out that there were very real differences between Mormon exaltation and Eastern Orthodox theosis and what C. S. Lewis believed, or affirming that getting your own planet was a part of the deal.
So when I picked up the ACM manual at Temple Square and saw the Church teaching all of those things in a pretty direct fashion, I was stunned. Had my LDS acquaintances truly been ignorant of the Church’s teachings in this regard? Or had they downplayed them in a misguided attempt to soothe my discomfort with the subject matter?
This was my reason for pretending that the dialogue I cited was from The God Makers instead of the Church itself.
The Patheos Reaction: Denying Denial
When my article was published at Patheos, my God Makers ploy drew several comments from people who were adamant that Mormons would never be less than forthcoming about these things.
Jettboy said (2/17/2010):
Your assumption is that the above teachings are rejected by Mormons, and they are definitely not!
Ed Dart said (2/24/2010):
That was funny, I never saw “The God Makers” so as I was reading this I was thinking “Wow this is just what we believe”.
Mormons do not down play this doctrine in any way.
CF said (2/25/2010):
Yeah, I’m a life-long Mormon, and I’m not sure where Jack got the idea that we don’t believe every bit of that quote. In fact, I didn’t get the whole, “I’m going to trick you into believing this came out of ‘The God Makers’ bit”, because it is pretty sound LDS doctrine.
So now my observation that Mormons often reject, downplay, or minimize common LDS teachings when questioned on them by outsiders was, ironically, being rejected and downplayed.
“I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it.”
I’m pretty stunned that anyone would express disbelief in my own experiences when we have a fairly recent Mormon prophet—Gordon B. Hinckley—on record denying several common LDS teachings when asked about them during interviews for major media outlets. In an interview for Time magazine in 1997, President Hinckley was asked by reporter Richard N. Ostling, “Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?” To this, President Hinckley responded, “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.”
The Office of the First Presidency would later claim that President Hinckley was misquoted. Ostling responded by producing the entire transcript of the interview. (See article here.)
There was another 1997 incident with the San Francisco Chronicle where President Hinckley downplayed the idea that God was once a man, stating that the famous Lorenzo Snow couplet was “more of a couplet than anything else.” And on his Larry King Live interview in 1998, President Hinckley claimed that he condemns polygamy “as a practice because . . . it is not doctrinal.”
Please note that I have little interest in discussing President Hinckley’s motivations for downplaying these doctrines. I don’t care if you think he was just trying to keep from casting his pearls before swine, or if you think he was deliberately trying to deceive people about what Mormons believe. The point is that the President of the Mormon church downplayed and even rejected these teachings in front of a national audience of outsiders. If that can happen, why is it so hard to believe that average Mormons would reject or downplay exaltation and spirit birth to a single teenage investigator?
FMH: A Different Reaction
A few days ago, Nat Kelly of fMh published a post called, “Wait…. we get planets?!” wherein she covered the fact that she grew up never hearing this teaching from Mormons. In my first comment, I posted the exact same dialogue from the ACM manual to show that the Church has taught it. I mentioned anti-Mormons and linked to my Patheos article, but said nothing about Ed Decker or The God Makers.
And then, someone entered the thread and accused me of lifting that dialogue from The God Makers. Richard K. said (12/29/2010):
Ms. Jack #16: The dialog you quoted is actually found in the patently anti-Mormon movie “The God Makers” by Ed Decker.
I simply cannot explain your claim that it was taken from pp 4-5 of “an Institute manual called _Achieving a Celestial Marriage_ that [you] picked up at the Distribution Center on Temple Square.”
I’m not sure what was unclear to Richard K. about my source. Achieving a Celestial Marriage is a real manual that was produced by the church from 1976 until 2001, when it was replaced by the Eternal Marriage Student Manual and discontinued. You can still buy it used at the Amazon.com marketplace here.
Incidentally, there are about 50 minutes of The God Makers film posted on YouTube. I reviewed that much of the film and did not hear this excerpt quoted anywhere, and the film had already moved past the material it used to establish these points, so I rather doubt the exact ACM dialogue does appear verbatim in the film. But perhaps the people who couldn’t see how anyone would ever mistake the excerpt I quoted from ACM for The God Makers will understand now.
Denial by Ignorance
I wanted to close by pointing out that I don’t believe all Mormons who deny major LDS teachings are doing so when they know better. I have, on two separate occasions, had Mormons adamantly deny having ever been taught that God the Father was once a mortal man, and they seemed sincere about having not heard this.
The first person to do this was a resident assistant in Deseret Towers that I met during my very first semester at BYU. She asked me why I wasn’t a member of the church, and seemed almost horrified when I told her that I could never accept that God the Father had once been a man who had to progress to become God. She was very adamant that she had been a member of the church her entire life and she had never heard anything like that.
Six years later, almost the exact same scenario played out with a missionary in my living room. Only this time, my LDS husband and the missionary’s companion were there, and they took my side and confirmed that it was LDS doctrine. (I don’t remember as clearly, but I think the unknowing missionary may have been a teenage convert.)
It’s frustrating when us non-members who are just trying to piece Mormon theology together run into long-time Mormons who have honestly never heard of these things. However, it’s even more frustrating to run into Mormons who know better, but for whatever reason, choose to mislead us.
I’m sometimes unsure of what exactly it is that I want from Mormons via interfaith dialogue anymore, but openness and honesty about the real differences between us is definitely on the list.