Denial is a river in Utah

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:

  1. Mormons believe in becoming God. Not just a god, or a God, but becoming God.
  2. Mormons believe they will one day rule over their own universes.
  3. 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.”

“Not doctrine.”

“Anti-Mormon lies.”

“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.

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This entry was posted in Ed Decker, exaltation, Gordon B. Hinckley 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.

143 thoughts on “Denial is a river in Utah

  1. Jack,
    I think the difference here is that while these things may have been taught (even in CES manuals), that doesn’t make them mainstream beliefs nor does it make them widely held beliefs. I could, for instance, point out that modalism is a heretical belief in Catholic and Protestant Christianity, but that doesn’t stop people from telling me that God is like ice, water, and steam. When someone first told me that an early Mormon apostle had taught that Jesus was married to Mary and Martha, my initial reaction wasn’t “No way! We don’t teach that;” it was “I don’t see what that has to do with me and my beliefs.”

    Of course, I tend to agree with the jello and wall assessment, so my opinion may not be all that helpful.

  2. A valid complaint and desire. Growing up having very explicitly been taught that deification was part of exaltation in our theology, I’ve also been astounded by the number of people who do not have the same understanding (at least in part because some leaders within the Church seem to dance around the topic, as Pres. Hinckley seemed to), or who themselves tried to gloss over the principle. If we as members believe the principle to be true, we have to end the hemming, downplaying, and circumlocution. We should be willing to defend the principle and stand by it, whatever others may think.

  3. I’m planningon penning my own post that goes into more detail, but I think some of the motivation for Mormons being dodgy about this stuff is the sense that orthodox Christians clearly think it is much bigger deal than Mormons think it should be.

  4. Interesting post, Jack. My experience has been similar. Mormons seem to be either very gung-ho about these doctrines, or very adamant that the Church doesn’t teach them.

  5. As I mentioned in the last thread I read Jaroslav Pelikan’s Credo last year, in the book he is quite charitable and complete in his presentations of doctrinal differences. I think that the best dogmatist is comfortable enough in their faith (objective and subjective) to give an honest and fair presentation of an opposing theology.

  6. I guess one thing that I didn’t realize until a while ago is that, even with correlation, Mormons of different generations essentially learn a different Mormonism.

    There was a great post or two at MSP about this…the idea is that the church just slips doctrines it doesn’t want to teach out of the manuals. It doesn’t reject them. It doesn’t renounce them. It just doesn’t teach them anymore.

    So you have the old generation who insists, “of course we believe that.” And then you have the new generation who insists, “I’ve never heard of that in my life.” Both are completely right, and can coexist without even knowing the other exists.

    (and then of course, it’s not like there are only two or three “generations.” Imagine every time manuals of any sort are changed.)

  7. I guess one thing that I didn’t realize until a while ago is that, even with correlation, Mormons of different generations essentially learn a different Mormonism.

    There was a great post or two at MSP about this…the idea is that the church just slips doctrines it doesn’t want to teach out of the manuals. It doesn’t reject them. It doesn’t renounce them. It just doesn’t teach them anymore.

    So you have the old generation who insists, “of course we believe that.” And then you have the new generation who insists, “I’ve never heard of that in my life.” Both are completely right, and can coexist without even knowing the other exists.

    (and then of course, it’s not like there are only two or three “generations.” Imagine every time manuals of any sort are changed.)

    The ones that baffle me though are the older Mormons who manage to adapt to the changes and always have been at war with Eastasia.

  8. The concept of exaltation and spirit children is in Gospel Principals, too, and has been for at least 28 years, going back to my earliest copy, chapter 47. It says “they will become gods” and then goes on to mention spirit children who have the same relationship with them as we do with Heavenly Father. Though in the 2009 edition “having spirit children” is replaced with “eternal increase”, and the mention of those children having a relationship as we do to Heavenly Father is removed.

    The only differences I see in your summary are the nit-picky “God” versus “a god” or “a God”. As I think of it, “a god” would be “The God” for his/their spirit children in their planet/galaxy/universe.

    Then if you extrapolate backwards, starting at the idea of humans progressing to godhood, and having spirit children, that would make our Heavenly Father a Heavenly Grandfather. Which then raises the question: “Do we have a Heavenly Grandfather.”

    I realize this goes against some of the absolutist statements in the Bible. But, I’ve learned to view apparently absolutist statements as having a scope of both time and space. Hence… There was a time before our time. A time before our universe came into being (or was organized). If our Heavenly Father is the God of this universe, and if this universe is a creation/construction, then all absolutist statements in the scriptures can be read to deal only with _this_ universe and _this_ time.

    We tend to think of time going back infinitely, but that may not be so. For us, it may be that time _started_ at the start of this universe/galaxy, and time will _end_ at the collapse of this universe (or galaxy). So the scriptures can literally talk about “all time” and “forever” and still be limited by the end-points of this universe’s existence.

    Even Revelation mentions of the earth and heavens (plural) been wrapped or collapsed like a scroll. That sounds a bit like the cosmological “big crunch” at the end of the universe/galaxy.

    We can honestly and literally say that God, our Heavenly Father, is indeed the _only_ God of _this_ universe, while allowing for the possibility of other exalted beings having separate co-existing universes. And allow for previous generations of Gods existing in some higher dimension or metaverse.

    In fact, this LDS theology of exaltation and “generations of gods” makes a wonderful bridge or reconciliation between Hawking-like cosmology and Biblical theology. Well, as long as you allow for the idea that the Bible is only talking about _this_ universe, which I don’t think is unreasonable, because the Bible leaves a _lot_ of things unsaid.

    As I understand cosmology, one might be able to substitute “galaxy” for “universe”. Scientists speculate galaxies come into being and then collapse into black holes. It is further speculated that galaxies might be birthed from a “white hole” and expand from there.

    In the cosmos, there is no _absolute_ beginning or end. There are only relative beginnings and endings. A universe is created (or constructed/organized) and time begins. A universe is collapsed, and time ends.

    I can’t find the link, but some have said “Time is a local phenomenom”. I take that to mean that outside of our universe, in the Hawking paradigm of the metaverse, there is no such thing as time. Or, in the LDS terminology, that is “eternity”. In LDS parlance, “eternity” is not the same as “time going on forever”, it’s more of a place/condition totally outside of our framework or dimension. BF Webster wrote a good piece of how a higher dimension God might comprehend all our linear time in one view from the outside much like a 3-dimensional person could see a 2-dimensional space before him.
    http://adventures-in-mormonism.com/2007/06/03/some-thoughts-on-higher-dimensional-realms/

    As I see it, all absolutist scriptural statements can then be viewed as limited to the scope of our universe. Our Heavenly Grandparents might exist outside of this universe, and outside of our time-frame, as in a higher-dimension, or perhaps in a Hawking-like “metaverse”.

    Future gods, those humans who do attain unto exaltation, might then create/organize new universes inside that bigger metaverse. And perhaps they might have their own planets, solar-systems or galaxies in this universe as stepping stones of learning along the way to universe-level.

    So yeah, you don’t need to go all the way to ACM, it’s in GP.

  9. “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.”

    In some ways, though, isn’t this unfair? Most Christian denominations have a wide degree of beliefs and doctrines within church walls, and it isn’t a problem.

    I realize that it’s different with Mormonism because of the claim of a universal doctrine. But perhaps the universal doctrine is much simpler than all the details and all of the details are opinions that we can’t really know at all. Just because a manual says something doesn’t mean that it’s doctrine and that you must believe it or be kicked out of the Celestial Kingdom.

    Does it really matter if God was once a man who progressed? Why? Jesus was a man who progressed. So, don’t YOU believe that God was once a man? Kullervo always thought that, given this doctrine, God would have been the Jesus Christ of His world, thus, still perfect, still God, but doing his time in the body.

    For LDS, or at least, the way that I felt when I was LDS, was that none of the specific, detailed revelations mattered that much to my eternal salvation (although they were interesting). Rather, what mattered was faith, repentance, baptism, keeping the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.

    When you go into your church on Sunday, aren’t there differences of opinion about specific scriptures and what they mean and how they should be applied? Everything isn’t clear cut (otherwise, why bother with your current degree, if everything was so simple?).

    “However, it’s even more frustrating to run into Mormons who know better, but for whatever reason, choose to mislead us.”

    I agree. It’s always frustrating to run into people who choose to mislead.

  10. “Mormons believe women are needed for exaltation so that they can give birth to the spirit children who will populate these universes.”

    Also, I think that, were I Mormon, I would take issue with the “so that” that you put in there. If you said that one of women’s roles in exaltation will be the birthing of spirit children, I would say sure. But saying ‘so that’ implies that it is the sole purpose of having women in the CK, which I don’t think any LDS would ever have agreed with.

    Just like, in this life, women are needed for the birthing of babies. And until men figure out how to, they’re stuck with us. 🙂 Ice cream cravings and all.

  11. My experience has been similar. Mormons seem to be either very gung-ho about these doctrines, or very adamant that the Church doesn’t teach them

    My experience has been similar, but there’s also a third category; Mormons who change their answer depending on who they’re talking to. I’ve been told “NO” more than once and then pressed and pressed and proven that I know what I’m talking about only to be told “YES”.

    The only thing missing from your post was the “milk before meat” phenomena that seems to justify a great many varying answers.

  12. Also, I think that, were I Mormon, I would take issue with the “so that” that you put in there.

    Good point. I missed that in my initial reading. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the sole, or even primary, reason for exalted women is the propogation of spirit children. Even among the segment of the LDS population that believes spiritual reproduction will mirror that of mortal reproduction, I think most would say that women have some role beyond spiritual gestation. And I think most of them would also say that men are needed in exaltation to conceive the spiritual babies who will populate the universe. If their literal model is accurate, neither exalted sex can reproduce without the other.

  13. I appreciate your personal experiences Jack. Some of your experiences mirror my own. I’ve often heard Mormons explain that they have never been taught such and such or never have heard such and such before. In every case, in my experience at least, they are simply honestly relating their experience. This leads to some strange disconnects where a critic will try to explain what Mormons really believe, or what the Church really teaches to a Mormon who has literally never been taught such an idea their ward where they have attended since childhood.

    There are a few scenes from the Matrix of which I am quite fond. Neo gets the knowledge of several martial arts “downloaded” to his brain. Trinity gets a training program for a military B- 212 helicopter “downloaded” to her brain in seconds. But there is no archive labeled “Mormonism” that gets “downloaded” to anyone’s brain by virtue of being Mormon. By this I mean to explain that, for better or for worse, no person in the Church has the collective manuals or memories of every other Church member installed in their brain. There are decades of Mormon history completely unfamiliar to many Mormons today. No Mormon today has heard every sermon given in the history of the religion. Yet, there is an air of uniformity that Mormons think alike, and in some cases they do. In other cases, however, there is wide disagreement. In reality, it is the case that some Mormons in the past and now believe certain things, and that Church manuals now and in the past memorialize the beliefs of these members.

    Mormons, however, tend to self-assert themselves as representative of the movement when conversing with outsiders. That is, they assert what “we Mormons believe” when in reality they can only assert their local experience. Thus, when confronted with an outsider, they step into the role of ambassador, the quintessential Mormon representative. This isn’t bad per se, it is in fact, stepping into the role of missionary. Yet, they may very well be idiosyncratic and atypical in their answers. These very Latter-day Saints, when conversing among other Latter-day Saints may find their ideas and doctrinal stances severely challenged. Having lived in both worlds, conversing with those outside the faith, observing how Mormons respond to the outside world, and participating in discussions of theology and history within Mormon circles, I encounter this dynamic quite often.

    The “anti-Mormon” archetype influences Mormon reactions. Yet, the same statement by a perceived critic or anti-Mormon will be treated differently if coming from a fellow Mormon. I don’t think this is a problem with Mormon culture as it is a problem with human nature. Having lived outside the United States for many years I see similar dynamics. Some Americans are upset when those in other countries ridicule American government or culture, but would tolerate and even openly welcome such criticism from a fellow American. In this way, books on Mormonism are judged not based on the content or the strength of the arguments, but merely on the religious affiliation of the author. I remember learning that people were upset by Helen Whitney’s “The Mormons” because of her decision not to label the religious affiliation of those interviewed. Mormon who never heard of Terryl Givens, for example, had no way of knowing whether he was pro-LDS or not (except for actually listening to what he was saying).

    A few months ago, I was reading Gilbert W. Scharffs’ “The TRUTH About the God Makers.” Scharffs writes “There is no LDS doctrine that claims to know whether the mortal method of producing children is at all like God’s way of producing offspring.” Yet, having just read Young and the Pratt brothers, who unashamedly claimed to know all sorts of things, Scharffs’ explanation sounded very weak. I don’t doubt that Scharffs explanation is a genuine reflection of his personal ecclesiastical experience in Mormonism, but it simply doesn’t reflect 19th century attitudes, or the sum total of Mormon thought.

    I remember a university course I took on the Bible. The professor said that Mormons believe God had intercourse with Mary, and that is how Jesus was born according to the Mormons because Mormons believe God has a physical body. The idea is that you don’t get this doctrine with an immaterial God, but the idea becomes possible when God has a physical body. Of course, I had never heard in any Sunday School lesson or Church talk that God the Father had actual physical relations with Mary and I thought the professor’s argument, while reasonable, didn’t hold true in my experience. However, it is far from clear that Brigham Young, Orson Pratt or Parley P. Pratt would claim agnosticism on this issue.

    While it is true that that critics have distorted Mormonism, in many cases they are pointing out legitimate differences in Mormonism. I read writings by Latter-day Saints that I feel are distortions of Mormonism too. By Mormonism some people mean the sum total of religious thought in this new American religious expression. Yet, I think many Mormons would say Mormonism is what I believe in my particular experience (and of course, what I believe is what every Mormon has believed since Joseph Smith).

    Mark P. Leone once used the term “historylessness” to describe Mormonism. While there is much in Leone’s writings to criticize, in one sense, I think he is right in that the Gospel is viewed as constant and unchanging in both directions of the timeline. Thus, I believe Mormons often feel justified in claiming unity in doctrine. The apologetic drive to protect the truth claims of the Church and the Book of Mormon sometimes, inadvertently I would say, leads to bad history and bad analyses of the Book of Mormon, where all Mormons are fungible at each point in the timeline. The historical record however, simply does not support this view. And while, unfortunately, history has served as the battleground (or playground) for critics and apologists, there is an untold story in how Mormons have understood their world at each point in their history.

  14. KatyJane ~ I don’t think that the same thing occurs when other Christians are asked about their beliefs, because other Christians would probably not deny that some Christians somewhere out there believe XYZ. Rather than “we don’t teach that, we don’t believe that,” you would get “That’s what the Calvinists/Pentecostals/Charismatics/Cessationists/Dispensationalists believe.” There are some exceptions. As my article pointed out, we’re bad at acknowledging historic Christian strains of deification.

    I think a lot of Mormons are uncomfortable acknowledging disagreement amongst themselves on these issues because one of the selling points of the LDS church is supposed to be that the church has taken care of “divisions,” unlike those silly infighting Protestants.

    My understanding of what Mormons teach about the eternal regression of Gods is that souls progress from intelligence to spirit children to mortality to godhood. So even if God the Father was the Savior of his world, there still would have been a point in time when he was not God. It also matters to me because if there are other Gods out there, I want to know about them. If God the Father had a God, I’d like to know about it.

    Re: spirit birth, I wasn’t summarizing what Mormons believe on the matter, I was summarizing what the ACM manual taught about it, which was:

    “[Bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man] involves giving birth to spirit children and setting them on the road to exaltation. And if that is to be done, you must have an exalted man and…'”

    “An exalted woman.”

    “Exactly, an exalted man and woman who have been joined together in an eternal marriage.

    If Mormons want to believe women are needed for more than what the ACM manual implies they’re needed for, that’s fine by me.

  15. It also matters to me because if there are other Gods out there, I want to know about them. If God the Father had a God, I’d like to know about it.

    Why, other than bare curiosity?

    The fact that they exist doesn’t necessarily mean that they are appropriate objects of our worship, or that it is appropriate for us to worship them.

    So mere knowledge about them might be interesting, but I imagine that there are a lot of things you would like to know about but don’t, and for all practical purposes can’t.

  16. Interesting post, Jack. Here’s why I think this discrepancy occurs.

    As you know, Mormonism is a diverse faith community with dozens, if not hundreds or thousands or more, of strains of thought that weave in and out of each other, touching here and diverging there. This creates a complex tapestry, one that is sometimes beautiful, sometimes grotesque, but above all extremely difficult to define. (For the record, this doesn’t really bother me anymore: in fact, it’s something I’ve come to love about Mormonsim.)

    Because of this, I think when you’re dealing with Mormonism, instead of lumping us all together, you need to separate us out into the various strains. Here are three of the more prevalent I see reflected in your post.

    1)–First, you’ve got those who are genuinely unaware that other strains exist, including the claims you’ve mentioned. (Or, if they are aware of the competing strains, they deal with the cognitive dissonance by labeling them “false doctrine.”) But because they probably subscribe to the idea that Mormonism is the “One True Truth” (since this is an extremely common strain), they simply assume that most everyone else agrees with them. I think you can take them at face value when they say that Mormonism does / doesn’t teach this or that — because, from their perspective, it really does / doesn’t.

    2)–Next, I think there’s a segment of people who are trying to protect you and the doctrine. I remember doing this on my mission. I believed that there was One True Truth and that the Mormonism I knew and subscribed to was it, but I was aware that it included some doctrines that were “hard to understand” if you didn’t have a foundation. So I fudged around “deep” doctrinal questions. Please note that I never outright lied — I remember being asked point-blank about polygamy once, and while I was tempted to pretend like it had never happened, I owned up to it (and it cost us a baptism) — but I’d avoid the questions as much as I could, simply because I thought people weren’t “ready” to hear it yet.

    Looking back, I’m not proud of this, but I’d ask you to be charitable toward Mormons who do it, because they really think they’re being helpful.

    3–Finally, there are probably some deceivers out there. I expect that, on occasion, you probably run into people who ARE aware of the various strains of Mormon thought; who know full-well that there are delicate nuances in Mormon teaching and experience; and who could articulate this to you if they wanted — but who still, for whatever reason, choose to be deliberately deceptive. Because I try to believe the best about humanity, I think / hope that this is a small minority. But I’d be naive if I didn’t acknowledge that they are probably there.

  17. Jack,

    The church has been shifting its doctrinal approach over the last 20 or so years, backing away from doctrinally hard positions to defend or supply evidence for, and going to a more moderate, and vague doctrine. That’s closer to traditional Christianity, which also tends not to focus on doctrinal points that are difficult to defend (for instance, and not that I’ve researched this recently, but I cannot explain exactly what Protestants think we’re going to be doing for all eternity in heaven).

    The examples you offer simply show this change. I learned of everything you write about here from church resources and not from anti-Mormon resources. I do think many Mormons are uncomfortable with some of those positions, and it speaks to a weakness in church doctrine and structure, that we’re supposed to treat the words of the Prophets and Apostles as doctrine, except when we’re not.

  18. The ACMM is a treasure trove of True LDS Doctrine.
    You are wise to not credit me, but to go to the undeniable source.

    ACMM, p.3.
    What you are saying is that God became God by obedience to the Gospel program, which culminates in eternal marriage? [answer] Yes.
    ACMM, p.129.
    God is now an exalted man with powers of eternal increase. He lives in an exalted Marriage relationship.
    ACMM, p.129-130.
    We are the literal Children of God, a part of his family unit. We lives with our heavenly parents before coming to earth.
    ACMM, p.4.
    …giving birth to spirit children and setting them on the road to exaltation. And if this is to be done, you must have an exalted man and an exalted woman.
    ACMM, p.235.
    The Lord is now sending the Choicest Spirits to earth. “I see an improvement each few years in the young people of the church. I believe that you are the cream of all the spirits in the hosts of heaven and God has sent you here to do a great work.”óMark E. Peterson (apostle) BYU address.
    ACMM, p.3.
    If God became God by obedience to all of the gospel law with the crowning point being the celestial law of marriage, then that’s the only way I can become a god. [answer] Right!
    ACMM, p.203.
    (12-15) The endowment is the celestial course of instruction…being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the priesthood and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.
    ACMM, pp.131-132.
    (1-12) The Lord commands marriage.
    (1-13) Exaltation is based on celestial marriage.
    (1-14) Then shall they be Gods, because they have no end.
    (1-15) Only resurrected and glorified Beings may become Parents of Spirit Offspring.
    (1-17) Celestial marriage prepares men to be Kings and Priests unto God.
    (1-18) Celestial marriage makes women Queens and Priestesses to their husbands.
    (1-19) Celestial marriage makes it possible for us to claim our moral children in eternity as well as to propagate ourselves throughout eternity.

    Achieving Celestial Marriage/Course Manual CDFR60/61. LDS Church, 1976.

  19. 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.

    I hear you, Jack. The realization about the different strains of Mormon thought is one thing that has helped me, almost more than anything else, to deal with discussing Mormonism in a productive way. That’s because I’ve come to believe that there is literally NO SUCH THING as Mormonism (TM). There are only these various strains.

    You almost have to approach each encounter on its own merits, find out what the person you’re speaking with believes personally, in order to know how to proceed in the conversation. Sure, there are some beliefs you’ll probably run into over and over again, but I’ve learned never to assume anything when you’re talking Mormonism with Mormons.

    (Is it funny that I’m kind of referring to my own dialogue with other Mormons as inter-faith? It’s probably not completely applicable, but it sure feels that way sometimes…) 🙂

  20. Ms. Jack:

    Is this “milk before meat” because the meat is too tough to swallow for outsiders (so the church hides the ball) or is it just that there’s no correct answer? I think it’s the latter.

    Here’s why:

    There are two questions:

    1. Was God a man?

    2. Will man become God?

    If we approach these questions with the right framework then we should be able to see if there’s a clear answer:

    1. What is the scriptural basis for answers to these questions?

    2. Are the answers taught in unison by the Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve?

    3. If there is a conflict amongst members of the Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, what are the answers if I give more weight to answers from more recent leaders over earlier leaders?

    I don’t have the entirety of sources before me but I can’t find anywhere in the scriptures where (1) was clearly taught. I’m sure some church leaders have asserted it, but not recently. And, of course, the Prophet himself distanced himself from this teaching recently.

    (2) is strongly implied in the scriptures, but I think the focus is more on eternal progression than actually becoming God despite what some church sources may say, and eternal progression is frequently spoke of by church leaders.

    So, until I see an approach to these doctrinal questions presenting more evidence than what I know now, I’m going to assume there’s no clear answer to (1) and (2) is more about eternal progression than actually becoming God.

    I’m not sure why the conflicting answers from the church are such a problem. Church doctrine is very similar to our system of common law jurisprudence where disputes work their way up the court system until SCOTUS makes a decision and so far (LDS) SCOTUS has declined to way in on the God/Man circuit split.

    Most Mormons hate that way of thinking about it because we like to pretend we have all the answers but we don’t, not even close.

  21. The ACMM is a treasure trove of True LDS Doctrine.
    You are wise to not credit me, but to go to the undeniable source.

    See, this is what I’m talking about. There’s no such thing as True LDS Doctrine, Ed. It doesn’t exist. There are only various strains of LDS thought.

    Is this a strain? Undeniably so. But it is far from the only one.

    In my opinion, recognizing the strains is probably the most productive way for outsiders to discuss Mormonism amongst themselves.

  22. I wanted to say:

    Recognizing the strains is probably the most productive, accurate, and responsible way for outsiders to discuss Mormonism amongst themselves.

  23. Mormons were backpedaling in Joseph’s day, vascillating between what they had been taught and what they brought with them from their ‘Christian’ background. The process didn’t slow a bit after Joseph’s death, as they sought to take his gospel to the world. There were some things that made missionary work and conversion too difficult. So, those notions or doctrine slowly disappeared from “Mormonism.” In recent decades, this trend has really gained momentum, given that Mormons have sought to minimize their differences with mainstream Christianity in order to aid conversion rates.

    I have a very clear example of these trends that most have never considered. Since I’ve been researching the cosmology that underpinned Joseph’s doctrine, as did Nibley, for 30 years, I’ve clearly seen that process in action in that segment of Mormonism. Joseph taught a very different cosmology than the one Mormons espouse today, and almost none of them know about it; in fact, they are deeply suspicious of it, which is stunningly ironic because it was one of the hallmarks of his doctrine. It was too embarassing for the early church members to be ridiculed by ‘scientists’ and ‘scholars’ for their odd beliefs where cosmology was concerned. So, they stopped talking about them. Of course, the upcoming generation, never having been exposed to these ideas, typically denied that any such thing was ever taught, even though there is voluminous evidence to the contrary, especially in LDS temple iconography and ritual, which is all cosmology-based, just as in the books of Moses and Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. Most of today’s Mormons haven’t a clue as to the genesis or meaning of the cosmological underpinnings of their temple rituals and imagery. Even when presented with irrefutable evidence, they remain incredulous and become defensive. They simply take it to be esoteric, metaphysical information and imagery that can only be understood by prophets or angels, too sacred for mere mortals to understand, let alone contemplate productively.

    So, your observations are only the tip of the iceberg. This is a deeply entrenched tendency among Mormons that has been going on for generations. I doubt that it will change anytime soon.

  24. Katie L. is accurate in saying that ACCM doctrine is but one strain of the LDS thought. I have battled that issue for over 30 years.

    However, we who study Mormonism and report on it, take hard hits because we attempt to be finite.

    Understand that:

    when any corporate organization publishes a manual, or publishes a book or issues a formal statement regarding doctrine, places its copyright on it, releases it through its corporately controlled outlets, the data, accurately reported, is considered binding in any court of law….well. maybe Utah courts perhaps being an exception.

    In reporting, we critics are limited to legally binding materials only and of course, personal testimonies, given and identified as such.

    There seems to be almost as many doctrinal positions in Msm as there are Mormons.

  25. Ed, I understand that and recognize that it makes it more laborious / difficult to talk about Mormonism when it can’t be sewn up into a finite package. I guess what I’d hope for from critics and outsider friends alike is simply an acknowledgement of reality as it is — instead of “The One True Mormon position is XYZ,” perhaps you could say, “a strain of Mormon thought holds XYZ,” or “many Mormons believe XYZ,” or even “some Mormon leaders have taught XYZ.” (Though for accuracy’s sake, it would probably be best to specify that such teachings are either not widely mentioned by today’s leadership.)

    Otherwise, you lead your audience to believe that ALL Mormons believe XYZ (or are “supposed” to believe XYZ), when that just isn’t the case.

  26. I guess what I’d hope for from critics and outsider friends alike is simply an acknowledgement of reality as it is — instead of “The One True Mormon position is XYZ,” perhaps you could say, “a strain of Mormon thought holds XYZ,” or “many Mormons believe XYZ,” or even “some Mormon leaders have taught XYZ.”

    That all makes for a good cumbaya attitude. However, that is all really just another way of saying that the Mormon church holds no official doctrine, has no unified voice, and in the end Mormons can’t teach you anything that is all that certain.

    That’s fine, but then the next question you have to answer is: Why would anyone want to sign up for that? Is it a church or a social club with 10% income dues?

    But to be even more pointed, it’s stretches credulity. LDS members go to the same temple ceremonies, listen to the same GC talks, have the same correlated lessons, etc. Yet, none of that is official doctrine, none of that has to be defended by LDS members? It’s all just some stuff that some people believe at some times, but none of it matters?

    Of course the usual retort is to say that there are official Mormon doctrines. When one asks for the list, the list fits on a 3×5 card and contains nothing uniquely Mormon. One of course goes back to the question, why bother?

    Sorry, I’m cranky tonight.

  27. That is all really just another way of saying that the Mormon church holds no official doctrine, has no unified voice, and in the end Mormons can’t teach you anything that is all that certain.

    I’d agree that the Mormon church holds no (or at least very little) official doctrine, but I don’t know that it stands to reason that as a result there is no unified voice. (I’d agree that Mormons can’t teach you anything that is all that certain, but then again, I’m of the opinion that certainty is utterly impossible and completely overrated in matters spiritual.)

    Anyway, back to your second point: that the position isn’t set in stone doesn’t mean there’s no unification. There are several strains of Mormon thought that are extremely common and almost universally-accepted / taught in today’s church. I think you can certainly make a case that that is about as much unification as you could hope to expect from just about any group of people.

    Why would anyone want to sign up for that? Is it a church or a social club with 10% income dues?

    A couple of reasons. First, I think many Mormons accept the common strain of Mormon thought that there is certainty. They are drawn to what they genuinely believe is the One True Path. Some of us who are a little more wishy-washy on this point remain in the church because we find a lot of value in it, even if certainty isn’t among the spiritual benefits we receive.

    And finally, many DON’T sign up or stick around. We’ve got, like what, a 40% or 50% activity rate worldwide? Seems like many people decide it isn’t worth it after all.

    LDS members go to the same temple ceremonies, listen to the same GC talks, have the same correlated lessons, etc. Yet, none of that is official doctrine, none of that has to be defended by LDS members? It’s all just some stuff that some people believe at some times, but none of it matters?

    Again, that there is no “official” Mormon doctrine doesn’t mean that a)–there is no unity; or b)–it’s all just “some stuff” that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even mean that things don’t need to be defended by LDS members (though I don’t believe that matters of faith generally can be defended, and I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with that).

    But all of this misses the larger point. I think it’s fair for critics of the church to refute and contest various positions and policies, to ask hard questions, to make their cases as passionately as they can. I just think that to be accurate, they should acknowledge that they are refuting a certain strain of Mormon thought, even a very prevalent one, as opposed to some “official” stance. I think this is particularly important when addressing non-Mormons, especially when the material is geared toward your everyday protestant church-goer, who will then go out and interact with their Mormon neighbors based on the information they receive.

    For the record, I always try to afford non-LDS Christians the same respect when I’m speaking of “other faiths” to my Mormon brothers and sisters (I consider myself a Christian before I’m a Mormon, so it’s not “another faith” to me — but whatever). I try to say, “There are many perspectives within Christianity, but one of the more common I’ve heard is XYZ.” Whenever I can, I try to emphasize that not all Christians believe something that many Mormons find offensive (i.e. “cheap grace” or paedobaptism) and emphasize that it’s important for us to have a better understanding of the landscape of Christian beliefs before we start criticizing them all wholesale.

    Sorry, I’m cranky tonight.

    No worries. For all my defending here tonight, and for how much I love Mormons and Mormonism, it sure can make me cranky sometimes too. 🙂

  28. So basically what Katie is saying is that we non-mormins have to be more upfront, honest and insightful about Mormonism than any of the thousands of young people who’ve been trained by the MTC.

  29. In my view, there are a handful of doctrines that the LDS church considers to be official doctrines. These are the things taught by full-time missionaries. There are a bunch of other doctrines that are held by various strains of Mormonism that run the gauntlet. Some of these are held to be true by General Authorities, some are not. Some are held to be true at one time, then change. As has been noted, the LDS church, through its official representatives, rarely recants a position. It simply stops talking about that position, as part of the concept of continuing revelation/being a living church.

    Personally, I think it would be better if a church spokesperson did speak up on a particular issue and make it known to all that position XYZ is not a church doctrine. In the meantime, it would be charitable of those of other faiths to not expect the full-time missionaries to know every folk doctrine that has ever existed in the 150+ years of the LDS church’s history. If it ain’t in PMG or Gospel Principles it isn’t one of the core doctrines these young men and women are sent out to teach.

  30. Katie’s remarks got me thinking while I was reading the rest of the comments here. Even if we say that there is a proliferation of varied strains of LDS thought, is there no sense in which a view promulgated in an official Church publication is normative in some manner that a view never there espoused is not?

  31. David, I think your complaint – while legitimate – fluctuates between two extremes.

    Extreme A: Everything the LDS Church says and publishes is absolute

    or

    Extreme B: You can’t trust anything they say or find use in anything they say.

    I would take issue with this. I don’t think you need to have 100% confidence in everything the LDS Church is publishing for this whole enterprise to be worth it – or even to be what it claims to be – the Restoration.

  32. Kullervo ~ As a teenager who was investigating the church, it mattered because I wanted to know what exactly I was being asked to believe in. Gordon B. Hinckley had said on Larry King Live, “We simply say to people of other Churches, bring all the good that you have and come and let us see if they if we can add to it.” I already believed things about God. I wanted to know how much of that was “good” and could be kept and how much needed to be discarded and added to—which I still think is a pretty fair question.

    The brand of Christianity I believe in at least tries to provide firm answers to the questions of who God is, what is the nature of the universe, and what is the purpose and destiny of humanity. There may be flaws in those answers, but we try to stand by them and we don’t waver on things like creation ex nihilo or the eternal nature of the Trinity just because people are uncomfortable with them. We don’t even back off from notoriously difficult doctrines to explain and defend like ὁμοούσιος or the hypostatic union.

    A universe that’s occupied by a chain of progressing deities stretching back into eternity strikes me as a very different one from a universe occupied by only three persons/deities/beings who are one in purpose. The latter is at least closer to what I already believe as a Christian.

    Of course, Mormons are free to ambiguate their doctrine of God and, instead, focus on “faith, repentance, baptism, keeping the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end,” like KatyJane said. However, I already do the evangelical equivalent of all of those things in my own religion, so if that’s all God really expects from people in the LDS church and he does not care so much what they believe about who he is, I have to wonder why he doesn’t just give the priesthood to all of Christianity so that we can all perform ordinances that are binding and valid in his eyes.

    @ the thread ~ I really appreciate all of the thoughtful, in-depth comments that I’m getting on this thread. I really wish that I had more time to interact with everyone.

  33. Personally, I would prefer commentaries written by Mormons as well to use the kind of precise descriptions that Katie mentions. I certainly don’t mean to say it is never appropriate to speak in sweeping generalities, there is obviously a place for that, but I find it often more useful to delineate sources and to be descriptive.

    For example, to say that “Mormonism teaches that eternal intelligences are begotten spirits in the premortal world” is not false per se, nor would I consider it an egregious error for any commentator on Mormonism. However, it is definitely more precise and informative to write “Beginning with B. H. Roberts, Mormons began to teach that eternal intelligences are begotten spirits in the premortal world.” One is more descriptive and gives the reader much more information.

    On the other hand, some descriptions of doctrine probably do not need precision. One could say “In Mormonism, God creates not out of nothing, but by organizing existing matter” although admittedly others could phrase that more eloquently. This seems fine for all intents and purposes. I’m not aware of any strand of Mormonism that embraces creation out of nothing. Essentially all early Mormon thinkers follow Joseph Smith on this point: Brigham Young, Orson and Parley P. Pratt, etc. Even recognizing that a rejection of creation out of nothing didn’t come full blown in the history of Mormon thought, once it took hold, a kind of naturalism seems inherent in Mormon thought regardless of which Mormon thinker we are talking about. So, I think that doctrinal areas exist where Mormonism is not characterized by various competing strands (although to be sure Mormons will still debate about exactly how to label or categorize these positions). I would encourage a recognition that some areas seem characterized by different perspectives and others areas do not.

    Even though I would suggest avoiding anthropomorphizing “Mormonism” and even “The Book of Mormon” as if these are persons that walk and talk and teach things or say things of themselves, I recognize that this is often how people write and I don’t necessarily see that as problematic in every case. I would prefer “Joseph Smith taught” as opposed to “Mormonism teaches” simply because it is more descriptive and contains more information. Again, these are ideals, and may not be necessary given a particular venue, but I think some ways of describing religious thought are more useful than others.

  34. So basically what Katie is saying is that we non-mormins have to be more upfront, honest and insightful about Mormonism than any of the thousands of young people who’ve been trained by the MTC.

    I’m just saying that we should all be as upfront, honest, and insightful about one another as we can. If, as an outsider, you have a distance to the subject that allows you to be more “fair” and objective than insiders, I think that’s okay — even something to be expected.

    Remember that the thousands of young people trained by the MTC are, for the most part, completely genuine. They don’t (for lack of a better term) know better. But if you know better, or if I know better, we have a responsibility to speak according to our best knowledge and understanding. Otherwise, we are the deceivers. (Note that I am not saying that you or Jack or any of the regulars here are deceptive — I have always been, without exception, impressed and touched by your honesty and sincerity.)

    Even if we say that there is a proliferation of varied strains of LDS thought, is there no sense in which a view promulgated in an official Church publication is normative in some manner that a view never there espoused is not?

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past several hours. To the extent that views promulgated in official church publications influence the beliefs of the membership, and therefore the entire church culture, yes.

    I also think there are some uniquely Mormon concepts that are so widely accepted and expected of church members that you could probably call them more or less “official” Mormon teachings — understanding that, due to the nature of Mormonism, these can change over a period of 5, 10, 20 years.

  35. Seth,

    I agree that my description fluctuates between two extremes. However, it not me doing the fluctuating, it’s the LDS church and its adherents.

    On one hand you are told to go to Sunday School and stick the the manual, go to seminary and stick to the manual, go to Institute and stick to the manual. Listen to the correlated GC talks. Stick to the correlated material on lds.org. Listen to the exact same endowment in any temple. Run the entire church by correlation. No one goes to all that trouble unless they are hell bent on putting out a consistent and official message. So all of this indicates that the official LDS position, judging by their behavior, is that the church is in the business of teaching and promulgating a set of official doctrines.

    On the other hand Mormons will say “He was speaking as a man, not a prophet” or “That’s not official doctrine” or “I don’t know that we teach it, I don’t know that we believe it” at the drop of a hat. When you start talking to Mormon it’s all opinion, it’s not essential to salvation. The words don’t match the actions. If it’s not official, if he’s speaking as a man, then why go through all that trouble to be so damn consistent about promulgating something that you are not sure about and don’t think is important?

  36. The words don’t match the actions. If it’s not official, if he’s speaking as a man, then why go through all that trouble to be so damn consistent about promulgating something that you are not sure about and don’t think is important?

    I don’t normally high-five people, but . . .

    /applause

  37. Jack, paraphrasing the teaching of a now defunct church manual said:

    Mormons believe in becoming God. Not just a god, or a God, but becoming God.

    With all due respect, I believe your paraphrase overstates what the manual (or at least the excerpt that you’ve shared elsewhere) teaches. The context where the phrase “become God” is used involves becoming a God, not in any way displacing the God we already have as your paraphrase suggests.

    Jack also said:

    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. … I told her that I could never accept that God the Father had once been a man who had to progress to become God

    Now make it three separate occasions.

    As you know, I have been a member of the church for well over a decade. I have an attendance record of well over 90 percent for the entire three-hour block, and I regularly “attend” General Conference and read church periodicals.

    I can categorically say that during that time I have never been taught that God was once a mortal man, and only a few times (not more than what I could count on one hand) during a church class have I heard anyone say in a class (a member of the class, not the teacher) that God was once a man (whether he was mortal was unspecified, although that’s probably a fair inference). And I have never heard it said in any class that God had to progress through mortality to become God. Never. I have heard only once (not by a teacher) that our Heavenly Father may have had a Father of his own.

    I have heard such things said in conversations outside of class, so even if I weren’t interested in such matters the fact that church leaders have said such things wouldn’t be a surprise to me. But I can imagine that a member could reach 19 years of age without knowing the famous couplet.

    When President Hinckley said, “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it,” I don’t think he was being deceptive in the least. For all practical purposes, it [that God the Father was once merely a mortal man] isn’t taught at all, at least as far as I have experienced as an active church member.

    As to other beliefs, it is taught frequently that those who are faithful will becomes gods of some sort, although anything beyond that (like having our own universes) is usually seen as likely but still speculative. And there certainly is teaching about entering the celestial kingdom as couples, although I’ve heard almost no talk giving birth in the afterlife.

  38. Katie,

    Don’t get me wrong. I agree with you. I think it’s extremely beneficial and helpful to view Mormonism the way you suggest. It’s just peculiar that you’re calling us to a view of Mormonism and a maturity towards Mormonism that the church doesn’t seem to call its own membership to (or even its officially trained representatives and institute instructors).

    Maybe in the same vein people should lay off of the anti-Mormons and recognize that they might be responding to a vein of Mormonism that is unfamiliar to them. Maybe for every Ed Decker there is a Bruce McConkie and there is a correspondence in the attacks, critiques and attitudes.

    The other problem with your view (which I agree with) is that it deteriorates a major tenet of faith of many Mormons. It sweeps a leg out on the entire reason the church and prophet exists. Like certain elements of Mormon history, “it may be true but it may not be useful” to the ongoing faith of many Mormons.

  39. Well, come on now.

    For the most part, what kind of teachings get the wishy-washy treatment from the church and its members?

    Things that really are no longer emphasized: God was once a man, we’re going to be running our own planets, polygamy, those kinds of things. You don’t hear people saying “I don’t know that we teach that” about the importance of baptism, or the need for the atonement of Christ, or the necessity of “proper priesthood authority,” or the Word of Wisdom, or that families can be together forever.

    I understand that it’s frustrating that the institutional church fluctuates and changes its position. It used to drive me crazy, and it still does get under my skin from time to time. I mean let’s not lie, that can be a little squirrely. Like Alex, I would much rather they come out and say, “This was a mistake,” or “we’re going to repudiate this or that teaching officially.” I think that would be the most responsible and correct thing for the church to do.

    But at least for now, that’s not how the church operates, for good or ill. So it’s something we just have to learn to accept and account for if we want to understand and engage Mormonism on a meaningful level.

  40. Eric said:

    I can categorically say that during that time I have never been taught that God was once a mortal man,

    Eric can I ask, if you had heard that explicitly taught would it make a difference to you? Would you still believe in Mormonism or would you reject it?

    I have been in my church for 8 years now. I have never been taught that God predestines who will be in his Kingdom. If I had, it may not mean a whole lot to me. I have also never been taught that the Easter bunny is real. If I had it would be a very big deal to me. So I’m wondering where this lies for you.

  41. Maybe in the same vein people should lay off of the anti-Mormons and recognize that they might be responding to a vein of Mormonism that is unfamiliar to them. Maybe for every Ed Decker there is a Bruce McConkie and there is a correspondence in the attacks, critiques and attitudes.

    I agree with this, Tim. I cringe every bit as much at some of McConkie’s more vitriolic statements as I do at true anti-Mormon claims.

    It sweeps a leg out on the entire reason the church and prophet exists.

    Yes, to a certain extent, it does — at least the reason that the more common strains of Mormon thought espouse. But then again, I don’t subscribe to those strains. Outsiders don’t, either. Which is why I think they are better equipped to describe Mormonism in this way, so that they can help others (particularly other outsiders) make clearer sense of the otherwise baffling, complex, and nuanced landscape of LDS beliefs.

    Again, note that my primary concern is for material geared toward the “masses,” such as The God Makers, which profoundly influences the way your regular, day-to-day evangelical interacts with your regular, day-to-day Mormon.

  42. David Clark said (and Jack concurred):

    If it’s not official, if he’s speaking as a man, then why go through all that trouble to be so damn consistent about promulgating something that you are not sure about and don’t think is important?

    In fairness, though, the doctrines that are promulgated in a correlated fashion generally don’t involve the issues that have been discussed so much here (nor particularly in the bloggernacle).

    And there are plenty of taught doctrines that contrast with what’s taught in other churches and/or outside Christianity: The corporeal nature of Heavenly Father. The Apostasy. Eternal gender. The need for repentance. I don’t see the Church backing down from those (and many more) and saying that they’re just the views of one man.

    It’s the “uncorrelated” doctrines, the ones that church leaders don’t seem to think are important, that are getting all the attention here.

    Katie L. said:

    Remember that the thousands of young people trained by the MTC are, for the most part, completely genuine. They don’t (for lack of a better term) know better.

    Such has been my experience.

    For what it’s worth, when my oldest son went on his his mission, he did know about many of the historical issues and some of the theological issues that have created controversy. And you know how often they came up on his mission? Almost not at all. These aren’t the issues investigators care about, so if a missionary doesn’t know about them, one reason may be that there is usually little need to.

  43. I don’t think the issue is what is official, authoritative and binding. The issue is what is the function of invoking these terms in our discourse.

    Robert Millet wasn’t the first to try to clarify what constitutes Mormon doctrine. J. Reuben Clark wrote “When are the Writings and Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?” in 1954. But Clark didn’t wake up one morning and decide out of the blue to give this address. There was a cause, a preceding factor. At this time some Church leaders were speaking out on evolution and Clark was desiring to reign in this issue. Thus, within the Mormon community, appealing to what is official, authoritative and binding, seeks to circumscribe doctrinal ideas. People are fond of saying that Mormons do not have a creed, but every religious community has ways to circumscribe the beliefs of that community. Even at the local level this serves as a function of one member saying to another: “I don’t have to believe the same way as you. My beliefs are still a legitimate expression of the Mormon faith.” It serves that function.

    Now, what about when Latter-day Saints interact with those outside the faith? There, it serves a different function. It seems to me that Millet wrote his article with this scenario in mind. Mormons who tell critics that something is not official, authoritative and binding seem to do so in a way that functions to limit the domain of legitimate criticism. It functions to deflect criticism. If the critic quotes something in the Journal of Discourses, it is easier for the person to say that the Journal of Discourses is not official, authoritative and binding. Now, critics don’t like this because it takes away ammunition, and makes the target smaller, but this is the dynamic I see. Members do not trust critics, so the quotation may be incorrect, it could be taken out of context (which does happen), but even if it were completely correct, it can be dismissed on those grounds. But none of this really has to do with what is official, authoritative and binding, it’s a debating strategy.

    But just because it can serve that function, doesn’t mean that it is only used in that way. Mormons appealing to what is official, authoritative and binding among themselves are doing so to either support their views or to show that their views are within the domain of acceptable Mormon belief. They aren’t concerned with proclaiming a unified or official view so much as they are concerned with making sure their views are not excluded within the community. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the modern Church qua Church seeks to present a consistent doctrinal framework (clearly the LDS edition of the scriptures reflects this goal). Yet, the goal isn’t merely to make doctrine consistent. During the evolution debates within Church leadership, the Church decided not to completely set forth an authoritative statement on all points of the evolution debate. At this time the Church gave statements that certain points had not been revealed. Why would the Church do that? Clearly the leadership held a range of views and had felt both sides supported their position well. This is a good case study to show that in some cases, it is beneficial to not dogmatically settle all points of doctrine, but allow people the flexibility of belief.

    I also recognize that many people want more clarity on some of these issues, but I personally think it’s much more edifying to understand these strands, and the underlying rationale. Personally, I don’t think it is necessarily beneficial to eradicate diversity of thought within Mormonism just so that everything is nice and simple (although some Mormons would like that).

    Even where there are various strands of Mormonism, I’m interested in why this is the case. Even where I disagree with certain schools of thought, I can acknowledge the internal logic to those positions within Mormonism, in the same way as as I try to be charitable to historic Christian theology. If I learn from Christian theology and seek to understand how it functions in Christian thought, even if I disagree, I don’t see any reason why I cannot and should not apply this charitable approach as I engage the diversity in my own religious tradition.

  44. But at least for now, that’s not how the church operates, for good or ill. So it’s something we just have to learn to accept and account for if we want to understand and engage Mormonism on a meaningful level.

    Why is that? Invoking my inner Kullervo, why is it that you have to accept it for good or ill, why not just stand up in sacrament meeting during F&T time and call bull[poop]? Why not just get up and say, “You know, I was thinking about polygamy the other day and man is that a load of crap!”

    The answer of course is simple, it’s still official doctrine, it’s still in section 132, and still practiced, at least vicariously. And to say something in an official setting against an official doctrine will get you into trouble and everyone knows this, it’s just fashionable on the internet to claim otherwise. And getting ex’d from the church is the worst nightmare of active Mormons because they don’t engage the church for good or ill, they engage the church because they know that their salvation/exaltation is on the line if they do get ex’d. That’s not engaging for good or ill, it’s engaging it because everyone understands it to be the greatest good around.

  45. aquinas – As always, an extremely insightful analysis, for which I thank you. Attempting to move in this direction, under what circumstances could we legitimately begin a sentence with the words, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches…”?

    Katie L. – Thanks for your remarks.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past several hours. To the extent that views promulgated in official church publications influence the beliefs of the membership, and therefore the entire church culture, yes. I also think there are some uniquely Mormon concepts that are so widely accepted and expected of church members that you could probably call them more or less “official” Mormon teachings — understanding that, due to the nature of Mormonism, these can change over a period of 5, 10, 20 years.

    What would you say some of the teachings in this category are right now? And what would you identify as some of the theoretical ramifications of the radically shifting status of such views?

    Also, would you be willing to say that there’s also a certain normativity in official church publications that pertains even if few members of the church consult them, in that those publications are, in purveying messages from the Church as an institution, uniquely qualified and authorized to textually represent the Church hierarchy as the official and authoritative voice of the LDS mainstream?

    Remember that the thousands of young people trained by the MTC are, for the most part, completely genuine. They don’t (for lack of a better term) know better. But if you know better, or if I know better, we have a responsibility to speak according to our best knowledge and understanding.

    To what extent would you say the Church has the responsibility to give its missionaries an accurately nuanced view of the different strains of LDS thought? What alterations would you make to the MTC programs if you were in a position to do so?

    Alex, I would much rather they come out and say, “This was a mistake,” or “we’re going to repudiate this or that teaching officially.” I think that would be the most responsible and correct thing for the church to do. But at least for now, that’s not how the church operates, for good or ill. So it’s something we just have to learn to accept and account for if we want to understand and engage Mormonism on a meaningful level.

    Agreed. But I think this also can help us to understand why ‘anti-Mormons’ operate in certain ways. I think it stems from the view that if the Church as an institution, through its leaders and official publications, once taught something openly and then never repudiated it when presented with the opportunity, the Church may therefore legitimately be held accountable for those views.

    David Clark – A high-five from me, too. It does seem very difficult to coherently maintain a minimalist view on official teaching when so much effort is expended in making a uniformly coordinated presentation of so many positions on a regular basis.

    EricI can categorically say that during that time I have never been taught that God was once a mortal man, and only a few times (not more than what I could count on one hand) during a church class have I heard anyone say in a class (a member of the class, not the teacher) that God was once a man (whether he was mortal was unspecified, although that’s probably a fair inference). And I have never heard it said in any class that God had to progress through mortality to become God. Never. I have heard only once (not by a teacher) that our Heavenly Father may have had a Father of his own.

    Did you use Gospel Principles in any of your church classes? If so, then it seems that at least some of this would likely have been mentioned by a teacher, given that (at least according to my 1997 edition that I have on hand at the moment) it mentions on page 305 that “our Heavenly Father became God” after having been “once a man like us” who “dwelt on an earth”. How did your classes deal with this paragraph during that lesson?

  46. David —

    Why is that? Invoking my inner Kullervo, why is it that you have to accept it for good or ill, why not just stand up in sacrament meeting during F&T time and call bull[poop]? Why not just get up and say, “You know, I was thinking about polygamy the other day and man is that a load of crap!”

    I wouldn’t do this because it’s just not my nature to call other people’s beliefs bullpoop and because I believe there is value in kindness and respect, even when I disagree with something.

    But even if I did invoke my inner Kullervo, I cannot conceive of a situation where I would be ex’ed from today’s church for publicly and vocally condemning polygamy. I just don’t see it happening. Same with any of the other now-controversial topics we’ve been discussing: God was once a man, even the idea that in exaltation we’ll become gods and inherit our own planets. No one’s getting ex’ed for saying they don’t believe those things, absolutely no one.

  47. To add to my comment above…I suppose we don’t have to just accept these things for good or ill — but I’ve found that accepting things I don’t like causes a lot less heartburn than fighting them tooth and nail.

  48. JB ~ It’s obviously a judgment call and some of it is stylistic. If I’m aware of diversity I try to be more specific, if I don’t sense diversity I feel comfortable speaking in general terms. It’s based on my cumulative experience, and trial and error, but I think it’s just a good start to be aware of it. I appreciate the comment!

  49. I said:

    I can categorically say that during that time I have never been taught that God was once a mortal man,

    To which Tim responded:

    Eric can I ask, if you had heard that explicitly taught would it make a difference to you? Would you still believe in Mormonism or would you reject it?

    That’s an interesting question.

    I was aware to some extent before I joined the Church of the King Follett sermon and of various historical teachings (after all, I’m inquisitive and I spent two years making the decision to join, and I had even seen Decker’s movie at one time). I didn’t dwell a lot on this particular issue; when I asked people what they thought about it, the answer I’d generally get is that we don’t know all what that means or entails. I’m perfectly fine to live with some ambiguity, so that was OK. It just seemed more important to me (and to the people I talked to) what God is now rather than what he may have been in some other universe or time continuum or whatever (and traditional Christianity doesn’t have any explanations that I found particularly satisfying either, so it was a matter of substituting one mystery for another).

    What I tend to accept now is the revisionist interpretation of the King Follett sermon (that God the Father at some unknown point condescended to have a mortal experience much in the way that God the Son did, even though he has always been divine). The idea of God/Heavenly Father at one time being merely a man simply does not make sense to me, or at least it raises more questions than it answers. I understand that many people in the Church believe that, and various high authorities may have even taught it. It doesn’t speak to me, but the Book of Mormon (and Biblical) teaching that God is “infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God” does. So that’s where I come down, believing according to my understanding of the scriptures.

    It’s easy to speculate, of course, about the what-ifs. But to answer your question, if I were required as a condition of church membership to affirm an essential belief that God the Father was once nothing more than an ordinary human, I probably wouldn’t be a member.

  50. So I’ve been thinking about this idea about correlated materials and official doctrines and what not. Eric and Katie have made a very important point: Momons get wishy-washy about speculative teachings that are not doctrines.

    Doctrine: Those who obtain celestial glory will become as God, and will be gods.

    Speculation: Becoming gods means we will create our own planets and rule over them.

    Doctrine: God has a body of flesh and bone, as tangible as a man’s.
    Speculation: God was a Messiah for His Father’s children, in much the same way Jesus was (and is) the Messiah for us.

    19th and early 20th Century Mormonism was full of speculative discourses in general conference, in magazines, etc. This was also before the days of correlated materials. It is unfair to members of the LDS church to hold them accountable for the speculative doctrines taught in the past, even if they have not been repudiated.

    I do not expect the church to repudiate polygamy. It was a binding doctrine with binding practices, but it is not now. I would be happy to hear them repudiate the claims that Joseph Smith taught that there are people living on the moon. But it seems the church leadership chooses to simply ignore those claims rather than publicly renounce them. Bruce R. McConkie publicly taught that Negroes would never hold the Priesthood in this life, or in the life to come. This was renounced, he was instructed to edit his book and republish it, and shortly after the Priesthood ban was lifted.

    If you want to know the official doctrines of the LDS church today, browse through our current manuals. Look at Gospel Principles (2009) and the collection of the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church. If you find in these books the doctrines that you accuse Mormons of being wishy-washy on, you will have much better ground than saying, “Hey, in this manual published back in such-and-such time, it said this! Ha ha!” I’ll admit that even these books have things that make me uncomfortable, such as the infamous passage in the chapter on the Apostasy in GP ’09. But I prefer to believe that that was an oversight that got copied and pasted from the earlier editions, because the rhetoric in General Conference doesn’t match the rhetoric in the book.

  51. JB asked me:

    Did you use Gospel Principles in any of your church classes? If so, then it seems that at least some of this would likely have been mentioned by a teacher, given that (at least according to my 1997 edition that I have on hand at the moment) it mentions on page 305 that “our Heavenly Father became God” after having been “once a man like us” who “dwelt on an earth”. How did your classes deal with this paragraph during that lesson?

    I’ve never been in a class using Gospel Principles until the newest version went into use.

    When we get to chapter 47, I’ll let you know (although that quote would be very easy to miss, as it’s not prominent).

  52. Thanks, Eric. I may have overestimated the frequency with which Gospel Principles is used. At any rate, I just went upstairs to check my 2009 edition, and on the corresponding section (page 279), the part about Heavenly Father becoming God has been stricken but the rest (which is, naturally, a quotation from the King Follett Discourse) remains intact, so far as I could tell. It should be interesting to find how that gets handled during class.

  53. What would you say some of the teachings in this category are right now? And what would you identify as some of the theoretical ramifications of the radically shifting status of such views?

    Hmmm. Teachings in this category include:

    –There was an apostasy and restoration
    –The restoration included “proper priesthood authority”
    –The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three separate personages
    –There are three degrees of glory
    –To make it to the top one, you have to get married in the temple

    There are many more, but there are some examples of teachings that you could reasonably say are “official” church positions.

    I expect that the most important ramification of the idea that any number of these now-official teachings could be repudiated or simply ignored at some point in the future is that it calls into question the reliability of the leadership’s claim to revelation (there are ways to deal with this objection, but it’s a valid question and probably among the contemporary church’s most pressing problems).

    Also, would you be willing to say that there’s also a certain normativity in official church publications that pertains even if few members of the church consult them, in that those publications are, in purveying messages from the Church as an institution, uniquely qualified and authorized to textually represent the Church hierarchy as the official and authoritative voice of the LDS mainstream?

    Sure, but don’t get all bent out of shape when you realize that some / many Mormons don’t believe something the church publishes just because the church published it, because that’s not necessarily the way Mormons roll.

    To what extent would you say the Church has the responsibility to give its missionaries an accurately nuanced view of the different strains of LDS thought? What alterations would you make to the MTC programs if you were in a position to do so?

    Oh, JB. I’m not very missionary-minded at all. If I were in charge of the MTC, I’d get rid of proselyting missions in general and make them all service missions where these kids go into third-world countries and inner cities and teach people how to read, make art, and purify drinking water. If along the way they win some converts, so much the better.

    Reason #7923 why I’ll never be in charge of the MTC. 😉

    I think it stems from the view that if the Church as an institution, through its leaders and official publications, once taught something openly and then never repudiated it when presented with the opportunity, the Church may therefore legitimately be held accountable for those views.

    I understand this and think it might even be reasonable from that perspective; it’s just not all that productive / useful if you’re trying truly understand and interact with Mormons and Mormonism. I guess if all you’re trying to do is be right, go ahead.

  54. So basically what Katie is saying is that we non-mormins have to be more upfront, honest and insightful about Mormonism than any of the thousands of young people who’ve been trained by the MTC.

    I would say that anytime a person is trying to refute someone else’s beliefs, they should go about it in an upfront, honest, and insightful way. You’re going in to shake someone’s world and belief system up… yeah, you should be more knowledgeable and you should understand clearly what you’re trying to dissuade. It only makes sense.

    I think it’s possible that many Mormons realize on some level that they don’t have the theological vocabulary of many other Christians, so when someone comes to them and asks about a certain outdated doctrine, it comes across as an attack or a trap. And let’s face it–it’s an attack. Tim, when you ask someone about, say, whether God was ever a man, you, in some ways, must realize that you are either 1) shocking someone who hasn’t heard about it, 2) trapping someone who has heard about it but isn’t sure if it’s taught or true or just something someone once heard in church (*), or 3) going to get a wishy washy response. Because you KNOW that there isn’t a good answer out there for it. And you can pretend that you are hoping that someone out there will have some definitive answer that solves it all, but at this point, you have to know that really, really, really, nobody does.

    And, frankly, it’s also entirely possible that when you’re having these discussions that you could come across as smug and condescending. Maybe that’s more likely to come across online than in real life, but lots of people in real life have condescending attitudes down to an art form.

    *Note that you can hear a lot of stuff in church that isn’t true… We once sat in a testimony meeting where a guy bore his testimony about how all animals are our spirit brothers and sisters and will receive human bodies in the celestial kingdom and all sorts of crazy crap. Just because someone said it doesn’t make it true. And as a Mormon, where everyone has access to the pulpit, you sort of realize that there is at least a grain of salt out there that you have to take stuff with, especially fringe (and cringe)-worthy stuff.

  55. Invoking my inner Kullervo, why is it that you have to accept it for good or ill, why not just stand up in sacrament meeting during F&T time and call bull[poop]? Why not just get up and say, “You know, I was thinking about polygamy the other day and man is that a load of crap!”

    Because it would be rude and not consistent with the spirit of the gathering. And, ideally, in church, you want to be inviting the Spirit and gathering in Jesus’s name, not spreading your ideal religious doctrines.

    However, I could totally see someone getting up and bearing their testimony that the proclamation (or whatever) that ended polygamous practice was of God.

    I could also totally see someone getting up and bearing their testimony that they are sure that one day we will get to meet the Moon Quakers and how cool will that be?

  56. Let’s also keep something in mind as well – the LDS Church’s primary aim is to administer the COVENANT of God. Not to administer the theology of God (though that is a secondary or tertiary aim).

    I would list the priorities of the structural LDS Church thus:

    1. To provide saving and sanctifying ordinances – biggest one being the Sacrament

    2. To provide a setting where members of the covenant can meet in fellowship and community

    3. To provide a context for Christian service for the members

    4. To teach the doctrines of the Restored Gospel

    And I list them in that order deliberately. Doctrinal purity is fourth on the list for a reason – because all the other items come first in priority. Safeguarding the orthodoxy takes a back seat to them all.

    Note: This does NOT mean that I think that #4 is necessarily less important that the other three list items. But it is fourth in priority for the aims of the structural CHURCH, and what it is meant to provide.

    Study of the doctrines is the primary obligation of the membership. I made this point in an Elders Quorum lesson I taught last week – “your education in the doctrines of the Restored Gospel is not primarily the responsibility of the LDS Church. It is YOUR responsibility.”

  57. To kind of piggy-back off of Seth’s comment, I had a thought the other day related to all this:

    To the typical Latter-day Saint, whether or not God was ever something other than God in the past doesn’t matter. What matters is that He is God now. The parallel connection to our world would be like me working in a school under a superintendent who is the Big Cheese. What he or she says goes. It doesn’t matter that she was once a student teacher, or that he was once a middle school social studies teacher. What matters, in terms of my employment, is that the superintendent is my superintendent now.

    I think Mormons take a very similar approach to our understanding of God. Does God have a God? Who cares? Nor do we care if there are other Gods out there who are being worshiped by their creations. Just as the decisions of the superintendent in the Paxton-Buckley Loda Unit 10 School District has absolutely nothing to do with my employment in the Mahomet-Seymour Community School District 3, so likewise does the existence or nonexistence of other Divine Beings in other universes has no bearing on my covenant relationship with God the Father.

    As a result of this, there is also a lot of speculation on things that God has not revealed, as, since it isn’t of a salvific nature, we tend to ignore the speculations, hear it and shrug it off, or we say, “Well, okay, maybe someone in the church teaches that, but it doesn’t change the saving nature of the ordinances that we believe are necessary for salvation.”

    This is a peculiar LDS practice, but, as Seth said, it is because Latter-day Saints are more concerned with the ordinances and the basic doctrines of the church than they are with the little stuff.

  58. I’d like to add my own perspective on this issue. While it is beneficial to learn that some Mormons do not feel it is necessary to have definite answers to some of these questions, it is equally important for Latter-day Saints to realize that merely saying it isn’t important or that the purpose of the Church isn’t to teach these things is not by itself an explanation. It may be an accurate description of the role of such questions in one’s personal religious practice and daily life. But it begs the question of why Latter-day Saints are not concerned with something so absolutely fundamental as the nature of God.

    Given my observations of Mormon-Evangelical dialogue on this point, I see such responses from the Mormon side to fail to appreciate the inquiry as highly germane. How can Mormons chide the Christian world for believing in a God without body parts or passions and yet argue that whether God was always God really, when all is said and done, doesn’t really matter. Because if these positions don’t really matter in the long run, then why keep them? Why not simply accept for the time being that God has always been God or accept that there are no Gods above God. Take a theological position and decide not to change that position unless one receives sure knowledge to the contrary. Would that be an unreasonable approach?

    From my perspective, those outside of the Mormon tradition aren’t bothered when Mormons don’t have all the answers or haven’t worked out their theology in all details. What many find odd is the attitude that some of the fundamental and profound questions relating to the nature of God are simply deemed not important, while the appeal of Mormonism is that it has answers to the important questions where God is concerned. At the very least, I think Mormons should acknowledge this situation and do better to sympathize and step into the shoes of those outside the tradition.

    I think it is a good thing to recognize that one is not bothered whether God has a God but is bothered if God is immaterial. But trying to explain this by saying one issue is fundamental but another is not seems itself to require an explanation. On what criteria can one say that one issue is fundamental but another is not? I think dialogue would be advanced by simply acknowledging that human beings are selective on which aspects of God they feel are worth inquiring into and which ones they are comfortable leaving unanswered. In addition, I think there is a place for allowing others outside our tradition to prod us to examine certain issues and even to come to some tentative conclusions. Dismissing something as unimportant seems to me to ignore the legitimacy of the inquiry and also seems to shut down dialogue.

  59. I want to clarify here.

    The point of my four-point list was NOT to say that God’s past doesn’t matter. I don’t believe that.

    I think (and I think Tim, Jack and others will agree) that the nature of God, who he is, who he was, and what that means for us is of CRUCIAL importance. The point of my list was not to suggest that these things are not important.

    The point of my list was simply to point out that the LDS Church has taken a modern stance that renders it ill-suited to trailblazing new ground here. It has basically claimed a role for itself and taken on a lot of responsibility in effectively meeting that role.

    The LDS Church’s plate is full so to speak. It has all it can handle trying to balance all four objectives and prioritize them the way it wants to prioritize them. For all else, the LDS Church frankly relies on the membership to take up the slack and pull through for the “kingdom.”

    The Church absolutely counts on the members to take up the responsibility of theological and doctrinal exploration. The “Church” is too busy providing the community and ceremonial framework for the covenant to spend completely sufficient time safeguarding the orthodoxy. Something’s gotta give.

    This makes the LDS Church highly vulnerable to the shortcomings of its membership. When the lay membership isn’t able to advance the theological study as far as they need to, you see deficiencies in the structure.

    You can see this as fair or not fair, as a good idea or bad – I don’t care for our purposes here. But it has always been true that the LDS Church relies on its lay membership a TON. It depends on the membership pulling through. It’s eggs are mostly in that basket. And that can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

  60. Part of the reason I wanted to clarify is that I agree and disagree with Alex’s comment at the same time.

    On the one hand, I think the LDS Church does prioritize and behave as I have outlined above.

    I also think that the membership tends to mirror the stance of the corporate Church on this. They often have a tendency to shrug their shoulders and be dismissive.

    But I think that in at least the case of the membership – this attitude is probably wrong. It abdicates a responsibility that the members are supposed to be fulfilling.

    Now, whether the corporate Church has done an adequate job of making that responsibility clear to the members is another debate. But I will simply state that LDS leadership have constantly been trying to get the members to study more outside of Gospel Doctrine class.

  61. I also both agree and disagree with what Alex said, or at least with the implications of what he said.

    I can understand why I may not care, to take one arbitrary example, whether indeed God has a God. In one sense it doesn’t really affect me. But, looking at the matter from an evangelical perspective, I can see why it might: If I really want to understand God and, in fact, to be like God (or as an evangelical might say, to be Christlike), wouldn’t I want to know everything about God that I can? And wouldn’t I want to make sure my supposed knowledge is correct?

    And to use Alex’s analogy: In one sense, if I’m a teacher, it doesn’t matter a whit about my school superintendent’s background, because he/she is the boss. But in another sense it does: Suppose I have certain goals for my classroom: If I know the superintendent’s background, I might be in a better position to incorporate his/her ideas with my own, or if I submit a grant proposal, I might be in a better position to frame it in such as way that it’s more likely to get the superintendent’s OK. As long as I’m not a robot who does nothing more than carry out the boss’s orders, I’m better off knowing any of the “hidden” information about the superintendent that I can find out. And, perhaps, if I find out information that leads me to conclude that my superintendent is evil incarnate, wouldn’t I want to start looking for a new superintendent?

    I agree with Aquinas’s comment:

    I think dialogue would be advanced by simply acknowledging that human beings are selective on which aspects of God they feel are worth inquiring into and which ones they are comfortable leaving unanswered. In addition, I think there is a place for allowing others outside our tradition to prod us to examine certain issues and even to come to some tentative conclusions. Dismissing something as unimportant seems to me to ignore the legitimacy of the inquiry and also seems to shut down dialogue.

    That comment seems mildly directed a bit more at Mormons, but of course it applies to evangelicals as well. Evangelicals are fond of saying that they believe that if it’s important for us to know, it’s in the Bible. But if Mormons believe something that the Bible is silent (or, more often, ambiguous) about, where’s the harm, why the criticism in our believing it? Is there anything in the Bible that flatly rejects a pre-existence, for example, or even the semi-official LDS belief in a Heavenly Mother? Along that line, evangelicals could contribute to dialogue by acknowledging that some of what they believe (including, I dare say, their concept of the Trinity) is based at least in part on tradition rather than on what the Bible clearly teaches. Both evangelicals and Mormons should recognize the limits of our knowledge and what we can legitimately claim to know even within our own philosophical frameworks.

  62. Aquinas asked, “On what criteria can one say that one issue is fundamental but another is not?”

    My answer would be “the biblical text.” If the Bible specifically says it’s fundamental, it is. If the Bible doesn’t say it is, we can’t say it is.

  63. That formulation raises more questions than it answers. Unless you believe everything that’s in the Bible is fundamental, I’m not sure the Bible says of anything, “This is fundamental.”

  64. “The Church absolutely counts on the members to take up the responsibility of theological and doctrinal exploration. The ‘Church’ is too busy providing the community and ceremonial framework for the covenant to spend completely sufficient time safeguarding the orthodoxy. Something’s gotta give.”

    The ironic thing is Mormon apologists, intellectuals, and bloggers today have to spend time doing damage control over all the facepalm-statements made by leaders (including living ones), who unfortunately had enough time on their hands to delve into theology and defense of orthodoxy to create such a mess.

    I know the Church is true because Mormon bloggers like Seth taught me their leaders are full of rubbish and are not to be taken seriously, especially when they take the time to think about theology.

    Taken back by the ridiculousness of it all,

    Aaron

  65. Eric, glad to hear you agree with early Mormonism’s more classical view of God’s past.

    Doesn’t that put you in the position of believing that God and man are not of the same species? It’s kind of awkward at this point to say that God and man are of the same species, yet our God has always been unchangeably divine, whereas man has from eternity-past been non-divine.

    Also, what do you do with the Sermon in the Grove, where Smith teaches an ancestry of Gods, i.e. that God the Father has a Father?

    If leaders subsequent to Smith can be so wrong about the nature of God, what else could they be wrong about? Should not this significant error made by leaders (which has significantly affected millions of Mormons) be disclosed to potential converts before they get get baptized? Shouldn’t you correct / re-educate fellow Mormons when they speak of prophets never leading people astray (especially given the common understanding of what that means)?

    Again, it’s encouraging that you affirm more of early Mormonism’s view of God’s past.

    Take care,

    Aaron

  66. I don’t see where I ever said not to take leaders seriously on theology Aaron.

    I take them seriously. I consult them regularly in my own studies.

  67. Hebrews 6:1-2 mentions 6 teachings and calls them “the foundation (NIV).”

    I also have a 23-page handout I received from a certain ministry that is practically nothing but a collection of Bible verses that tell us who will be saved.
    Before you get nervous and start thinking it’s harder than you thought it was, let me list a representative sample of the 16 categories that the compiler of the verses put them in:
    1. “Those who do the will of God.”
    4. “Those who forsake all.”
    10. “Those who are ready when Jesus returns.”
    12. “Those who have been born again.”
    13. “Those who have Christ in them.”
    15. “Those who believe in, call on, and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are baptized.”
    16. “Those who are chosen.”

    I think they all boil down to two, really. Most of them describe what’s involved in repentance. Some them simply tell you to continue in the mode of operation that you started when you repented!

  68. Also, it should be noted that what Aaron’s position here really boils down to is:

    Anything less than a doctrine of inerrancy is “not taking things seriously.”

  69. Aaron, perhaps it would have been easier to focus on what you really wanted to convey if you hadn’t decided to get cute at the end of your comment.

  70. Invoking my inner Kullervo, why is it that you have to accept it for good or ill, why not just stand up in sacrament meeting during F&T time and call bull[poop]? Why not just get up and say, “You know, I was thinking about polygamy the other day and man is that a load of crap!”

    Kullervo doesn’t pull swear-word punches like that.

  71. Cal, responding to my comment about the scarcity in the Bible of teachings that are labeled as fundamental, pointed out:

    Hebrews 6:1-2 mentions 6 teachings and calls them “the foundation (NIV).”

    With the possible exception of laying on of hands, a practice often ignored in much of the non-LDS world, yeah, you’re right: Those would be seen as important if not vital by both evangelicals and LDS.

    Aaron said:

    Eric, glad to hear you agree with early Mormonism’s more classical view of God’s past.

    Doesn’t that put you in the position of believing that God and man are not of the same species?

    Not being 100% sure (maybe 87% sure) of what you mean by “early Mormonism’s more classical view,” I would say that my view doesn’t preclude God and humankind of being the same “species.” In some sense, according to the Book of Abraham, humans are eternal too, perhaps something akin to being gods in embryo. Just as at the moment of conception (at least according to most of my evangelical friends) a single united cell is by nature human even though not recognizably so, perhaps we are all godlike creatures in embryo (or in zygote) even though not recognizably so.

    He also asked:

    Also, what do you do with the Sermon in the Grove, where Smith teaches an ancestry of Gods, i.e. that God the Father has a Father?

    I don’t do much of anything with it. First of all, in the context of the entire sermon, I’m not sure that’s what he’s saying, and even if he is it appears to be a matter of speculation rather than teaching and it’s not the main point he’s trying to make. Second, many of the manuscripts we have of sermons by Joseph Smith are of uncertain and possibly unreliable transcription. Third, the sermon has never been canonized, nor was it presented as revelation. Fourth, I’ve never taken the position of Joseph Smith infallibility. Finally, in general I take a prima scriptura approach (I recognize that not all LDS do), so the clear teaching of scripture gets higher credibility with me than do the apparently unscripted comments of a 19th-century prophet. Of course, if I see reason to believe my understanding of the scripture is wrong, I’d reconsider.

    Aaron also asked three more questions in succession:

    If leaders subsequent to Smith can be so wrong about the nature of God, what else could they be wrong about?

    All sorts of things, I suppose. I’ve never claimed they’re infallible, and to the best of my knowledge neither have they (if I’m wrong, I’m sure you’ll correct me).

    Should not this significant error made by leaders (which has significantly affected millions of Mormons) be disclosed to potential converts before they get get baptized?

    In my opinion, potential members of the Church should have their questions answered, period. But it’s not like they can’t find things out if they’re interested. For what it’s worth, I knew about such statements before I joined the Church, and that was before such information was so widely available on the World Wide Web.

    Shouldn’t you correct / re-educate fellow Mormons when they speak of prophets never leading people astray (especially given the common understanding of what that means)?

    I’ve been very open about the fact I don’t believe in ecclesiastical infallibility. What more do you want?

  72. Eric I really appreciate that if you’re asked a direct question you always take the time to answer as openly as you can. Even if it’s difficult. I admire you greatly for that.

  73. “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.”

    You’re having a difficult time “piecing together Mormon theology” when you’ve spent years of your life at BYU, among the heaviest population of Mormons on Earth, married to an active member, all while, periodically, attending LDS Sunday School? Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

    Are you really being sincere when you lump yourself in with “us non-members” or are you just trying to work up a storm? I can’t understand why anybody would really take you seriously when you make statements like this.

    See, I think you do understand, as do many non-members (as you point out in your blog post…”1.75″ years ago). I think, as I’ve said many times, that the problems have very little to do with Theology and much more to do with something more personal. I don’t know what that “personal” thing may be, but I can’t take you seriously when you’ve had as much time and experience with the Mormon faith.

  74. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that some of the “quotes” you’ve so carefully sewn together could paint a picture to many non-members that would be misleading.

    What I have a problem with is the statement that YOU are part of that group as well. You’re clearly not.

    Your final statement tells me you’ve attempted to create an illusion that, “poor Jack is so confused, please help me understand”. By misleading others this way, you attempt to gain populist sympathy over something. In asking for “honesty and openness” from others, you are being dishonest with the question itself.

  75. CF, I can’t take you seriously when you make uncharitable accusations about someone you don’t know.

    I’ve known Jack for a couple of years now, and I can say definitively that she is absolutely sincere when she says what she says.

    Mormonism is a rich, complex, and at times contradictory faith tradition. We have no systematic theology, no creeds. We rely on ongoing revelation, which can trump and overrule revelation from the past. We allow for personal revelation, which means members can “customize” or even ignore general counsel for their specific needs without repercussion or interference from the leadership (within certain bounds).

    Myself, I’m a lifelong member of the Mormon church, and it’s still hard for me to piece together Mormon theology. I’d ask you to take a step back and give people the benefit of the doubt. Not everyone is our enemy. Things aren’t always so cut-and-dried.

  76. CF ~ If you can’t find something to contribute to the discussion other than calling me a liar, then I don’t know what you’re even doing here. The name of the blog is “LDS & Evangelical Conversations,” not “Angry Mormons Calling Evangelicals Names.”

    What I have a problem with is the statement that YOU are part of that group as well. You’re clearly not.

    I don’t even know what that means. Now you think I’m not a non-member? Um, okay.

    I can’t understand why anybody would really take you seriously when you make statements like this.

    Well, truth be told, I don’t know why anyone would take you seriously after you make statements like this.

    But feel free to drop the self-righteous facade and engage my concerns respectfully and thoughtfully at your leisure.

  77. The river of Denial has a lot of flotsum piling up along its banks.

    I have been gratefully following this extremely active and thought provoking thread, really impressed with much of what is said and the openness and honest reflection by those who have been part of the conversation here.

    I even chuckled a bit when I was quoted as a source of some unusual LDS doctrine that was later found to have come from the Achieving Celestial Marriage Manual. Odd that the very same three points referenced are also contained in the animation portion of the God Makers film/video/DVD/ and continual You-tube favorite. Could be we used the same proof sources.

    The point I want to try and make here is that I grow weary of the vitriolic flack I get when I write something about some odd/non-biblical doctrine of Mormonism that takes Mormonism out of the realm of Christian Orthodoxy. My documentation and LDS-only references are carefully studied to be sure I am on strong legal grounds in what I say. I have often offered to legally document any questionable statement or source. With well over a hundred articles on Mormonism on the Saints alive website, the critical response is somewhere like one in two hundred.

    Every one of the LDS quotes are from LDS produced material, LDS Prophets speaking from the pulpit, LDS General Authorities in spoken or written word, either in LDS meetings or LDS published books.

    It is a fool’s comment to say, “Well, Elder XX, was speaking/writing his personal thoughts and that is not the church position.” Then I have to ask, “Is Elder X, an Apostle of the Lord, then a liar or false teacher?”

    If so, Ex-communicate him for lying to a trusting people, if not a liar, then it is part of the LDS doctrine. A leader has spoken.. A leader who supposedly receives revelation from God..

    In one example, the book I co-authored with Christian apologist, Dave Hunt, The Godmakers, went through a lengthy edit process by the publisher who pulled several things that could be considered open to litigation. They then sent the manuscript to a legal firm to determine that the book and all its more than a thousand references could stand up in as court of law, even in Utah. Only then was it published.

    So, let me get to the point I was chewing over in my mind at 3 AM this morning, instead of sleeping. I agree fully that well over half [my guess ..not documentable] of all Mormons have picked and chosen what parts of the LDS “whole” they will carry as their own personal Mormonism .

    This has been the case for over thirty years of my so-called “Ant-Mormonism.” Talking about the errors and changes in the Book of Mormon or the scores of failed prophecies by Joseph Smith is a total waste of time when talking to a convert who has seen a son or daughter lifted up out of a wasted life and now happily living a clean, productive life.

    But, here is the rub. You can pick and chose what doctrines you want, go to the temple once or twice and put its steps to godhood and exaltation onto some private giggle box for cute and quaint things we do as Mormons, but it is still a core doctrine of Mormonism.

    The doctrinal flotsam banging along the river of denial is still part of the whole that makes up the reality of true LDS dogma and unless the Prophet/ First Presidency publically renounces it, it is still LDS doctrine. Pick out what you can live with along that shoreline, but you cannot change the DNA of the whole, no matter how good it feels.

    Further, we critics, especially those of us who ran along that same river of denial with you for our own years of picking and choosing, have every right to pick whatever part of the Mormon experience we want to use in demonstrating the biblical unorthodoxy of the LDS brand of pseudo-Christianity.

    For twenty years, I worked with a mindset that said I, too, could someday become a god. It finally came to the day when I discovered there was only one God and there were no openings for any others that my eyes opened to the reality that I was being a foolish man to believe such a thing.

    Thank you for letting me post this today.

  78. It finally came to the day when I discovered there was only one God and there were no openings for any others that my eyes opened to the reality that I was being a foolish man to believe such a thing.

    I know of quite a few gods and goddesses who would disagree with you strongly.

  79. Cal, your comment was so far off topic I removed it. Your own blog is an excellent place to publish whatever you want to talk about at any time.

  80. Thanks for your response, Eric.

    “I’ve been very open about the fact I don’t believe in ecclesiastical infallibility”

    There’s a world of difference between merely affirming prophetic fallibility and also affirming that a prophet can lead millions astray on the fundamental nature of God.

  81. I just read through all of these comments (been away from the blogs for the past few days due to New Year’s festivities and jury duty), and thought I’d clarify my own earlier comment. I started the comment referring to “typical Mormons” and proceeded from there. At some point, I started channeling that mindset and started writing in first-person plural. I am very aware of how many members of the LDS church think of these topics, and I have talked to family and friends about them, and the response I illustrated was very common to what I’ve heard expressed.

    However, I do not consider myself a “typical” Mormon (whatever that may be in the first place). And so I do think that God’s origins matter (to use the example I gave). But I also think that my views on God are considerably different from the mainstream Christian view and that, as a result, we need, as Jack stated in the OP, to just openly and honestly admit that we do have real differences, but I would also add that those differences are totally okay.

  82. There’s a world of difference between merely affirming prophetic fallibility and also affirming that a prophet can lead millions astray on the fundamental nature of God.

    If I look at the two prophets (or to be precise, the two church presidents) who have served since I have been a member of the Church, I’m not aware of either one of them teaching falsehoods about the “fundamental nature of God” (or, to be more precise, anything about the “fundamental nature of God” that I have difficulty accepting). To be honest, what various leaders have said in the past, assuming it hasn’t become canonical or quasi-canonical, doesn’t concern me all that much. Perhaps it should, but it doesn’t.

  83. Eric, if Brigham Young for example was a false prophet, wouldn’t that have implications for the succession of leaders?

    Also, what Mormon prophets have said in the past perpetuates in a thousand different ways in the hearts of millions of living individual persons. My question to you is: do you care enough about those individuals not to give your past leaders a free pass?

    In principle, just how deeply and horrifically bad can a living prophet’s teaching get before you draw the line and stop giving out free passes? If Thomas Monson taught next in the General Conference that Jesus was a sinner in pre-mortality, would you still give him a free pass?

    G’night.

  84. However, I do not consider myself a “typical” Mormon (whatever that may be in the first place). And so I do think that God’s origins matter (to use the example I gave). But I also think that my views on God are considerably different from the mainstream Christian view and that, as a result, we need, as Jack stated in the OP, to just openly and honestly admit that we do have real differences, but I would also add that those differences are totally okay.

    Yes, though this goes back to my point…what YOU believe as an “atypical” is different from what other Mormons believe — both those who are more “typical” and those who are less so.

    It’s tricky stuff to nail down, Mormonism.

  85. Eric, I wish I could transport you with me back to last June, where I was having a late night milkshake at Miller’s in Manti, Utah with a 19-year-old and his new young wife. The couple was from a local fundamentalist polygamist group, and the 19-year-old guy—in many ways still just a kid—believed in his group’s teachings with blood-earnest sincerity.

    He loved Brigham Young’s teaching on Adam-God. He owned it. He prided himself in it. It wasn’t cute or some weird teaching that crazy ol’ Brigham (conveniently stored away in the attic) once taught. It was a doctrine taught of a prophet of God to be heralded and honored and studied and believed.

    Think about him and his wife next time you shrug your shoulders and say, “no big deal, it’s water under the bridge.”

  86. Aaron S asked:

    In principle, just how deeply and horrifically bad can a living prophet’s teaching get before you draw the line and stop giving out free passes?

    The question begs the question. Who said I give out free passes? I’m not even sure I’m in a position to do so. If Joseph Smith misled people on the the succession of gods, he’s the one who will have to answer for it in eternity. If Brigham Young misled people on the Adam-God doctrine, he’s the one who will have to answer for it in eternity. I don’t believe something simply because Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or Thomas S. Monson said or says it — in fact, Church leaders have explicitly told me I shouldn’t: I have not only the right but the obligation to study every pronouncement that affects me, test it against the scriptures and other teachings, use my own reasoning and go to God in prayer about it. What more am I supposed to do?

    He continued:

    If Thomas Monson taught next in the General Conference that Jesus was a sinner in pre-mortality, would you still give him a free pass?

    My above answer answers that question as well. But come on, now, what would you say the chances of that happening are? Other than general affirmations of LDS doctrine, what has President Monson said recently that even you have much of a problem with?

    Did you listen to or watch his most recent General Conference address?

    The Divine Gift of Gratitude

    Where is he misleading me there? Where’s the harm in what he’s teaching? We can talk about won’t-happen hypotheticals all we want, but I’d rather learn from what the Prophet really has to say.

    And:

    Think about him and his wife next time you shrug your shoulders and say, “no big deal, it’s water under the bridge.”

    I’ve never said that.

  87. Alex said, “But I also think . . . that we do have real differences, but I would also add that those differences are totally okay.”

    Please elaborate on that. What do you mean by “okay”?

    —–
    On the topic of whether a true prophet can make mistakes when listening for the voice of God, 1 Kings 13:18-21 has a story involving someone whom the writer of 1 Kings calls an “old prophet.” For mysterious reasons, this old prophet tells a lie, then gives a true prophecy. I wonder if these verses—quoted below—would provide evidence that true prophets can make mistakes in relaying God’s messages?

    1 Kings 13:18-21:
    The old prophet answered [the man of God], “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the LORD: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.'” (But he was lying to him.)
    So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house.
    While they were sitting at the table, the word of the LORD came to the old prophet who had brought him back.
    He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the LORD says: `You have defied the word of the LORD and have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you.

  88. I asked Eric, “In principle, just how deeply and horrifically bad can a living prophet’s teaching get before you draw the line and stop giving out free passes?”

    Not that you owe me an answer, but I don’t really feel like you answered this question. Implicitly, you seem to have communicated that there really is no line drawn; in princple, there is no limit to how deeply and horrifically bad can a prophet’s teaching can get before you consider them disqualified as a prophet.

    Eric asks, “What more am I supposed to do?”

    The answer in Deuteronomy 13 and 18 is to put false prophets to death. Rather than simply shrugging their shoulders and saying, “God will take care of them; that’s between them and God”, the people had a responsibility to hold their prophets accountable. And today that at the very least means putting false prophets to death in your heart. In other words, Brigham isn’t the only one who has to answer for Adam-God in eternity. You will have to answer for it too, since you embrace a religion which before the world embraces Brigham Young as a true prophet of God.

    I asked you, as a thought experiment, “If Thomas Monson taught next in the General Conference that Jesus was a sinner in pre-mortality, would you still give him a free pass?” And you answered, “My above answer answers that question as well.” I would ask for a more explicit response to this one also. Given your previous response, so far I’m assuming it’s the response of, “it’s not my problem; I’ve been called to treat the teachings of my prophets like a salar bar, and not hold them accountable for any past or future egregious teachings.”

    I’m also still left with the feeling that there is a callous, cold, icy indifference to the thousands of people who still, for example, today take Brigham Young seriously, who believe Adam-God as a basic tenet of their faith. If no one believed Adam-God today, it’d still be appropriate to bring it up. But hypotheticals aren’t entirely necessary on this issue. There are real people, thousands of them, who still believe it. Where is the love for these people? I really do get the impression that the response is, “no big deal, it’s water under the bridge.”

  89. It is a completely academic question.

    Because none of our prophets have crossed the line. Nor do they give any indication of doing so. None of them have been horrifically bad.

    I consider constant demand for bright line tests to be a sign of poor discipleship Aaron.

  90. “I don’t even know what that means. Now you think I’m not a non-member? Um, okay.”

    You know exactly what it means. No, of course I know you are a non-member. Don’t dodge my point.

    Let me say it again: You completely understand the Church’s position on the topic of men attaining Godship, it has been taught religiously in Temples since Nauvoo. You simply choose to lump yourself into the “us non-members who are confused” group.

    For example, you start the post about the idea that Mormons believe that man can become exalted as Gods with quotes from myself and others backing it up. Then, you pull out the statement from President Hinckley where he stated, “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it.”. His response was not to the question of whether we can become Gods, but whether God himself was a man. You are using Hinckely’s response for a completely different question to invent confusion.

    You are not confused about the topic, you simply try to act that way to use populist sophistry as your tool for creating an argument. This is a common debate fallacy. All evidence of your history and experience with mainstream Mormonism is inconsistent with your claim that you’re simply “a confused” non-member.

    I’ll start being honest with my answers to your questions, when you can be honest with yourself. And, please stop with the “you’re calling me a liar?” and accusing me of a, “self-righteous facade” bit.

  91. “none of our prophets have crossed the line”

    That’s not hard to say when the line itself has been removed.

  92. Alex said:
    However, I do not consider myself a “typical” Mormon

    You know I don’t think I’ve met a Mormon yet who considers themselves typical or average in belief or knowledge. Makes me wonder what Mormonism would be like if only . . .

  93. CF ~ You know exactly what it means. No, of course I know you are a non-member. Don’t dodge my point.

    No, you know exactly that I did not know what you meant, which is why you subsequently re-stated your position. Don’t dodge my point.

    You completely understand the Church’s position on the topic of men attaining Godship, it has been taught religiously in Temples since Nauvoo.

    I know what church leaders have taught. It’s the Mormons who deny what church leaders have taught who confuse me, and it’s Mormons like yourself who deny that other Mormons deny these things who further the confusion.

    The example from Hinckley was meant to serve as an example of a Mormon denying something that past church leaders have plainly taught in a similar fashion. I never implied that Hinckley denied exaltation. Now you’re just making stuff up.

    Incidentally, in the very same interview, Ostling noted that Hinckley did seem hesitant to affirm that Mormons believe men can become Gods. From the article I linked to above:

    “At first Hinckley seemed to qualify the idea that men could become gods,” according to Time, “suggesting that ‘it’s of course an ideal. It’s a hope for a wishful thing,’ but later he added, ‘yes, of course they can.'”

    All evidence of your history and experience with mainstream Mormonism is inconsistent with your claim that you’re simply “a confused” non-member.

    You seem to have missed the fact that this post isn’t merely a statement on the here and now, but a reflection of what I went through as a 16-17 year-old when I first began studying the church. My 17 year-old self hadn’t gone to BYU or married a Mormon yet, and my 17 year-old self found it very confusing that Mormons were denying and downplaying the things that were plainly taught by the church elsewhere.

    Are you saying that a 17 year-old girl who had only been learning about the church for a year should have had a handle on all of this? If so, congratulations. Your credibility with me was already in the toilet, but in that case it’s flushed.

    You are not confused about the topic, you simply try to act that way to use populist sophistry as your tool for creating an argument.

    And you’re just engaging in ad hominem because I’ve proven you wrong and you have nothing better to argue.

    I’ll start being honest with my answers to your questions, when you can be honest with yourself.

    I’ve been honest from the beginning, CF. In any case, I didn’t ask you for honesty, I asked you for thoughtfulness and respect. Repeatedly calling me a liar does not qualify.

  94. Glenn at Mormon Expression brought this video up as an excellent example of how “official church teachings” may not be the end-all in understanding Mormonism.

    I see your “Matrix” reference Aquinas and give you one of my favorite movies of all time

  95. Cal –

    We are meant to walk by faith. That means that we have not been given absolute clear-cut proof. If God wanted everyone to believe the exact same thing, He could do it by manifesting Himself plainly to every single person on earth. Instead, He teaches us through the medium of His Spirit, speaking to our understanding and our circumstances. All of this combines to mean that we have a lot of people who believe a lot of things, and God, in His infinite wisdom, knows this.

    I don’t believe He wishes us to engage in the kind of genocidal holy wars that were prevalent in the Old Testament times. I don’t think He wants us to cleanse the promised land of the non-believers. I think He wants us to work together and stop the constant fighting and bickering.

    I absolutely believe that there is Truth. But I also absolutely believe that we won’t know what the Truth is until God Himself tells us.

    Tim – You make an excellent point. I think that goes quite well with what Katie L. and others have been saying all along: Mormonism is a much richer and more nuanced belief system than many, particularly critics of the church, wish it to be.

  96. Aaron S said to me:

    I asked you, as a thought experiment, “If Thomas Monson taught next in the General Conference that Jesus was a sinner in pre-mortality, would you still give him a free pass?” And you answered, “My above answer answers that question as well.” I would ask for a more explicit response to this one also. Given your previous response, so far I’m assuming it’s the response of, “it’s not my problem; I’ve been called to treat the teachings of my prophets like a salad bar, and not hold them accountable for any past or future egregious teachings.”

    If that’s the way you understood my answer, then either you didn’t pay attention to what I was saying or I didn’t say it very well. But I’m not sure I can make my point any better. Sorry.

  97. “No, you know exactly that I did not know what you meant, which is why you subsequently re-stated your position. Don’t dodge my point.”

    Okay, so let me ask you this: Did you honestly believed I thought you were non-member? You’ve obviously seen that I’ve been following your stuff for quite a while if you were able to so easily draw up my past comments on your posts. I think you were, in fact, dodging my point and that you knew that I knew you were indeed a non-member.

    Telling me to simply not “dodge your point” sure is a weak counter-argument isn’t it? Repeat the same words back to your accuser? Nice.

    I restated so you couldn’t squirm your way out of it by ommitting the word “confused” out of the statement, “non-member” when that was my point. Sorry Jack, you’re not getting out of this one.

    “I know what church leaders have taught. It’s the Mormons who deny what church leaders have taught who confuse me, and it’s Mormons like yourself who deny that other Mormons deny these things who further the confusion.”

    Again, I’m not going to be draw myself into a debate over a false premise. I do not believe that you, personally, are confused about this issue. If you want to use the others that you provide as such, in your examples, I’m fine with that.

    “The example from Hinckley was meant to serve as an example of a Mormon denying something that past church leaders have plainly taught in a similar fashion. I never implied that Hinckley denied exaltation. Now you’re just making stuff up.”

    If so, you sure conveniently used his quote in a way (bolded) that made it sound like he was answering your original claims, numbered near the top of your list. Why use his quote at all in your post if it had absolutely nothing to do with your original points about the claim that Mormons believe in become Exalted beings like God?

    “You seem to have missed the fact that this post isn’t merely a statement on the here and now, but a reflection of what I went through as a 16-17 year-old when I first began studying the church. My 17 year-old self hadn’t gone to BYU or married a Mormon yet, and my 17 year-old self found it very confusing that Mormons were denying and downplaying the things that were plainly taught by the church elsewhere.

    Are you saying that a 17 year-old girl who had only been learning about the church for a year should have had a handle on all of this? If so, congratulations. Your credibility with me was already in the toilet, but in that case it’s flushed.”

    Aha, so you admit that -you- are not really “confused” in the “here and now”. If this is the truth (which I believe it is), then you should have stated this in your post, rather than making it sound like this is all current.

    “And you’re just engaging in ad hominem because I’ve proven you wrong and you have nothing better to argue.”

    You’ve proven nothing. Want more proof that you’re not sincere in your questions? Look no further than your final paragraph:

    “I’m sometimes unsure of what exactly it is that I want from Mormons via interfaith dialogue anymore”

    If you admit you do not know what it is that, even, YOU want from asking questions such as this, then you are not being honest. Why are you asking such questions if you don’t even know why you’re asking it? Or is the real purpose simply to stir up the pot a little?

  98. CF ~ Did you honestly believed I thought you were non-member?

    Not really, but I had no idea what on earth it was that you were blabbing about. Angry people usually aren’t the most coherent.

    Sorry Jack, you’re not getting out of this one.

    Ooo, I’m really scared now!

    I do not believe that you, personally, are confused about this issue.

    I am not currently confused about what church leaders teach. It’s Mormon reactions to church leaders that confuse me.

    As a teenager trying to learn about the church, I was confused about what the church teaches because of the confusing denials I got from members.

    Now, which part of that do you not believe?

    If so, you sure conveniently used his quote in a way (bolded) that made it sound like he was answering your original claims, numbered near the top of your list.

    No, I didn’t.

    Why use his quote at all in your post if it had absolutely nothing to do with your original points about the claim that Mormons believe in become Exalted beings like God?

    From the post itself:

    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. [SNIP] The point is that the President of the Mormon church downplayed and even rejected [polygamy & eternal regression of Gods] 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?

    That’s why. In the future, you might try reading my posts in their entirety before commenting, not just the bolded sub-headings.

    If this is the truth (which I believe it is), then you should have stated this in your post, rather than making it sound like this is all current.

    I referred to my experiences as a teenager at length in the opening section of the post and referred back to that throughout the post. Again, please read my posts in their entirety before commenting.

    You’ve proven nothing.

    Wrong. I provided clear examples of Mormons denying widely-accepted LDS doctrines and accusing me of pulling material from The God Makers when I was really quoting official church materials. You can no longer say that you have no idea where I would get the idea that Mormons would downplay the teachings found in ACMM. Get over it.

    If you admit you do not know what it is that, even, YOU want from asking questions such as this, then you are not being honest. Why are you asking such questions if you don’t even know why you’re asking it? Or is the real purpose simply to stir up the pot a little?

    This paragraph is so full of abortive logic, ad hominem, and non sequiturs that it easily qualifies as one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read on a blog. At no point in this incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on this blog is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

  99. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen anyone say “A-ha” in a blog comment. Clearly a game of “gotcha” being played here.

  100. CF, you seem awfully worked up about Jack’s frame of mind (confused? not confused? OMGIDON’TKNOW!!!!!). But you have been hugely entertaining, since my daily dose of crankypants dropped significantly after PC made his glorious exit forever.

  101. The truth sets us free, Jesus said. Mormon falsehoods, past or present, do the opposite.
    Non-Mormons better watch out. If we get more obsessed with Mormon falsehoods than the Mormons are, the Mormon’s may pass right by us in spiritual maturity—if they haven’t already!

  102. “I know what church leaders have taught. It’s the Mormons who deny what church leaders have taught who confuse me, and it’s Mormons like yourself who deny that other Mormons deny these things who further the confusion.”

    Again, I’m not going to be draw myself into a debate over a false premise.

    Not sure how Jack has presented a false premise. I had a mission companion who insisted that Joseph Smith himself never practiced plural marriage. It took me several days and a few passages from the History of the Church to convince him otherwise. And that is just on a historical point. There were doctrinal points which he denied, or denied that they were taught by modern church leaders, even when shown them in the Ensign.

    Ah well. At least we finally had an Adam Sandler reference. That definitely brightened the end of my day!

  103. Is it possible that Mormon apostles downplay certain bazaar statements by Joseph Smith because they sense by the Holy Spirit that these statements of Joseph’s (which we know to be false) don’t edify—that they don’t help one’s spiritual progress?

    Whatever their motives, I’m glad they do downplay them, or store them in an infrequently accessed closet. Hopefully, they will stay in the closet long enough to be forgotten.

  104. Is it possible that Mormon apostles downplay certain bazaar statements by Joseph Smith because they sense by the Holy Spirit that these statements of Joseph’s (which we know to be false) don’t edify—that they don’t help one’s spiritual progress?

    Book of Mormons! Book of Mormons! The finest Book of Mormons in Zarahemla! Book of Mormons!

    Oh yes, effendi, I see you are a truly discerning man–the Book of Mormon you hold is a rare jewel of a book, translated by the power of an angel! I do not usually tell other people this, but that particular Book of Mormon was once a part of the library of one of the Moon Quakers! Yes! Seven feet tall! Dressed in the Quaker style!

    I could not possibly part with this Book of Mormon for less than six silver onties, but for such a refined and discerning man as yourself, I would be willing to sell this Book of Mormon for the recklessly low price of three ezroms.

    A senum? You rob me, effendi. You insult me with your offer. Look at the script! Look at the binding! Look at the inscription: that is the name of no less than a quaker of the moon! This Book of Mormon has travelled across the very gulfs of space and you offer me one senum? I would starve if I sold my books for senums. The lowest I could give this to you for, and understand that I would be making no profit at all, but I see how much you love this particular volume, the lowest I could imagine going would be one ezrom.

    One amnor? One amnor? You offer me one quarter of the lowest price I could offer? I cannot do this. Wait, wait, do not leave. I will sell you this Book of Mormon, though I will regret it surely, for three amnors. Two amnors? Done. Peace be upon you effendi!

  105. Mormons downplay differences and strangeness because they are driven to fit in. Mormon culture is split between those who are happy and proud to be different and those that desperately want to fit in with the mainstream of conservative Christians.

    As an active member it was very disconcerting thing to see the cop-outs and sell-outs, intellectual dishonesty and willful ignorance. Of course its hard to say that these impulses are Mormon alone. There are plenty of evangelical preachers that make a lot of hay about calling out the conformist elements of protestantism. Of course that is the ultimate strength of protestantism, you can always start up your own church or ministry.

    Unfortunately, for a long while now the LDS church doesn’t have the luxury of the critical insider. Nobody is going to call out GBH for unjustifiably distancing the church from the doctrines of polygamy and deification. But the LDS church makes it work because like an army it is somewhat of an anti-intellectual organization. I think intellectuals will always find it hard to stomach the way the church operates.

    Because the church has not nailed down its doctrine, and has not been consistent, there are always going to be “interesting” positions to embarrass the conformists. Adam-God and polygamy will always be with us. . . . Those sorts of things will always hold back those who wish the church could crawl back into protestantism.

  106. I will sell you a fully nailed down doctrine for the mind-shatteringly low price of three limnahs! Three limnahs! What a paltry sum to pay for such a doctrine! Look at the solid, sturdy premises! The internal consistency! Effendi, docttines like this are simply not made anymore. This is truly a beautiful thing of the past, and although I can not bear to part with it, I know that you will aprpeciate it so much that I will sell it to you for two limnahs. It is like I am giving you a gift, it is a price so low.

  107. Kullervo, I will not pay for such a doctrine, as enticing men in suits will gladly deliver it for free to my doorstep. Observe as I walk away to the fig stand where I shall haggle for delicious figs.

  108. One limnah! Those figs are worthless! Look at this doctrine! This is solid! Not like the flimsy doctrines delivered by missionaries! Look at this quality! How can you pass this by! I will give it to you for three seons! Three seons! My sons will starve at this price! You cannot walk away! Two seons! Three senines! Three senines! What figs can you buy for three senines, and I sell you this ancient and revered, fully-functioning religious doctrine! And I will throw in a covenant! A covenant! A doctrine and a covenant for only three senines! You are a hard bargainer, too hard for this poor prophet-merchant. I am only an illiterate farm boy, and you take advantage of me at this price of three senines.

  109. Perhaps I am totally off base, but I feel like the Bible and LDS scriptures emphasize that doctrine and human functionality can shift slightly over time within certain bounds while still being God’s message, plan, and gospel.

    We all know that Christ is the same today, yesterday, and forever (Hebrews 13:8); he also understands that people need to learn certain lessons that they need to learn and certain needs that need to be met. The biggest and most obvious example of this is the transition from the Jewish Law of Moses (including sacrifices and health codes, such as eating practices) to Christ’s law after his life here on Earth.

    I find it strange that so many Evangelicals, in my own experience, criticize Mormons for their practice of polygamy or withholding of the priesthood from blacks in its history, but there are numerous reasons that only God knows for these commandments.

    I personally think that, for a time there was a need for women to be married to men who could take care of them when their husbands died or there were not enough men around to whom they could marry. The Doctrine and Covenants teach that the practice of polygamy was a commandment, and the early members of the LDS church obeyed the commandments they were given. With regards to the priesthood and blacks, I think it was more of an issue that some non-black members of the church were not mature enough for them to be fully integrated into the congregations and membership of the church.

    Where am I going with this? The teachings and practices of the church can be altered slightly as they need to be in order to meet the needs of the people so long as these changes are brought about via divine inspiration and revelation. We believe in a living prophet not because it’s cool to have someone like Moses sitting around writing magazine articles and being a sweet old man who addresses us a few times a year; we believe in a living prophet because we believe he is a revelator for all of us living on the Earth today–an instrument in God’s hands.

    I personally think that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young’s comments that are often quoted as evidence of their “false prophet-age” are taken out of the context for the situation in which they were appropriate. Additionally, we have to remember that all of God’s prophets are and always have been human beings. Moses killed a man, ran away, was poor in speech, and sometimes wavered in his faith even after his calling to be a prophet. The prophet Jonah today is known entirely for the story of his disobedience to God’s calling to preach to the city of Nineveh. There are numerous other examples throughout the Bible, whether it be David, Solomon, Christ’s apostles–the list goes on. These men do have the capability to make mistakes, but they were still prophets.

  110. Mormons downplay differences and strangeness because they are driven to fit in. Mormon culture is split between those who are happy and proud to be different and those that desperately want to fit in with the mainstream of conservative Christians.

    What I think is interesting is that this dichotomy is often found in the same person. For example, just this weekend I hung out with a very kind and earnest recent RM who, to his credit, had read a lot about some of our most challenging history. On the one hand, he maintained that things like Joseph Smith’s involvement in magic, polygamy, and the masonry-influenced temple ceremony were of God, even though they might seem “strange” to modern audiences…yet on the other hand, he made comments such as: “Every time I see things in Mormon pop culture, I think, ‘What would a non-member say about this? Would it make them want to know more?'”

    I think this kind of “split personality” comes from the top. We are presented with conflicting messages regularly: be a peculiar people; be in the world but not of it; we are not like “everyone else” and that’s what makes us important — but in the same breath we’re told to be examples; that people are always watching us; that we need to dress and act just so in order to give people the “right ideas” about us.

  111. Peter said:

    With regards to the priesthood and blacks, I think it was more of an issue that some non-black members of the church were not mature enough for them to be fully integrated into the congregations and membership of the church.

    Give me a break. Billy Graham was integrating his crusades long before it became the politically correct thing to do — starting in 1953, even before Brown v. Board of Education.

    This sort of apologetics does us no favors.

  112. I find it strange that so many Evangelicals, in my own experience, criticize Mormons for their practice of polygamy or withholding of the priesthood from blacks in its history, but there are numerous reasons that only God knows for these commandments.

    Peter, I don’t mean to pick on you, but I think this kind of speaks to Aaron’s — and even, dare I say it — Ed Decker’s point.

    So we have these bummer teachings (polygamy, blacks and priesthood) whose likelihood of being actually inspired by God is, in my estimation, quite small. (I never rule anything out, but I find it 1000% more likely that God allowed, as opposed to commanded, these things.)

    But because there is no official repudiation of the teachings on an institutional level, and because leadership continues to perpetuate ideas about themselves that lead people to believe they have a batphone to heaven, the teachings persist in the minds of people who are trying to “reconcile” what is most likely just plain old bad doctrine.

    It’s problematic and troubling. There’s no way around it. It might just be the biggest problem facing the church right now.

  113. I find it strange that so many Evangelicals, in my own experience, criticize Mormons for their practice of polygamy or withholding of the priesthood from blacks in its history, but there are numerous reasons that only God knows for these commandments.

    Wait–you’re saying you think Evangelical criticism of Mormon doctrines is “strange” because only God knows the reasons for those doctrines?

  114. Peter is a high schooler, just so everyone responds to him in his proper context.

    Peter, I encourage you to study the origins of both polygamy and the priesthood ban. I think you’ve been given a number of sunday school answers that, while faith promoting, aren’t entirely accurate. Upon further study it becomes clear that neither were set up for the reasons you stated. A simple google search will set you on your way.

  115. Oh! Peter, I was interested in these sorts of things, too, when I was your age (still am, obviously). Good luck to you. Faith can be complicated, but I admire you for asking questions and trying to piece things together. I don’t believe there are always easy answers to these sorts of things, but I believe we are better off for having searched them out.

    I’m sorry if anything I said seemed harsh. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for engaging these issues with us!

  116. I will sell you a high schooler for three antions. Three antions! Two! Two antions! Look at the teeth on this high schooler! Look at the muscuklature! He plays sports, gets good grades, and does not do drugs! Ever! At two antions, you are robbing me blind! I cannot even see you–I am blind from you robbing me. If you only paid me four shiblons I might not even be able to tell! Four shiblons! Four shiblons for a high schooler of this quality!

  117. Peter — Ditto what Katie L said. Also what Tim said (although you can’t believe everything you find using Google, but there are good LDS-sympathetic and non-LDS sources that provide good information).

    The only thing I “knew” about Mormonism when I was your age is that it was an evil cult that Satan was using to deceive people. I’m glad that research later in life helped cause me to change my mind.

  118. Ten shiblons! I will wither and die at such prices. I will starve, and my children will starve. Effendi, surely you must be willing to give me at least an ezrom.

  119. I am 47 years old, a lifetime member of the Church, and I’ve recently realized that I am schizophrenic in my thought process about the doctrines of my church. Even two of my teenage daughters have realized this Mormon Schizophrenia, having heard from stake leaders last Sunday that we must be “worthy” before we can go to Christ and ask for help. My 14 year old daughter raised her hand and said, “I thought any of us with sins could pray and ask for His help?” The stake leader said yes, we could, but for more and better help, then you have to prove your worthiness. Help, I’m a Mormon schizophrenic, and so am I!

  120. KevinR, I don’t know what you mean by “schizophrenic,” but I think you’re well within the bounds of established Mormon thought to believe that you don’t need to be “worthy” to “merit” help from God.

    There are other strains of thought that claim otherwise, but yours is a perfectly reasonable interpretation and nothing that should prevent you from feeling solidly Mormon.

    Good luck to you. And for what it’s worth, I think your stake leader is full of crap. 😀

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