The Universalist Pope?!

Pope Francis appears to have a new, dramatic, position on salvation for the non-believer.  Catholic Online  gives a detailed account of the Pope’s sermon yesterday where he stated that even atheists were redeemed by Christ and would go to heaven if they “do good.”

A quote from the article:

Francis explained himself, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart, do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

I recognize that the pope is not really making himself out to be a universalist, but he definitely opens the door to salvation to anyone regardless of belief. If this is a sign of things to come, I think this pope may have ideas that could really unite Christianity.  If the pope believes an atheist can get into heaven, this seems to change the entire dynamic of Christian interaction with the world.  The fundamental missionary act would be to promote and support good conduct–Christian love–rather than merely spreading Christian theology or belief.  Is the pope implying this? Am I reading too much into it? Whether this represents a sea change or is simply warmer rhetoric, I think its a very positive step. Thoughts?

Prophet, Priest, Member, and Disciple– A way to understand Mormon life

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Christianity and religion in general lately. I’m trying to figure out what was going on when I was a full-believing Mormon, and how to compare that to the religious lives of others.   I came up with some simple (i.e. over-simplified) categories of roles people play while involved in an organized religion like Mormonism.  I found them helpful in providing a way of understanding my Mormon experience and comparing it with others without worrying too much about theology.   I see four roles people play in organized religion:

Prophet: receiving spiritual guidance from the Spirit of God.

Priest/Clergy: administering teachings within a community. Teaching, preaching, helping, managing, setting policy, etc.

Member: special attachment, loyalty, and duty to particular community or group

Disciple: a devotee seeking to practice the principles taught by the prophets.

I admit it’s an over-simplified model;  there are a bunch more roles that come into play: e.g.,Saint, Missionary, Theologian, Convert, Skeptic, Monk, Mystic, etc.  And I am probably not using the terms in a  completely standard way.  But for me it’s a start on trying to grasp all the dynamics involved in living a faith.

Continue reading

Be afraid. . . be very afraid.

I saw this video the other day, and I have to say that it struck a deep chord. At first it made me very happy that BYU was finally allow some open social outlet for gay students to socialize.  Then it hit me how big a challenge it will be for Mormons and Evangelicals to deal with the fact of homosexuality.

Listening to these kids stories about how they discovered that they were gay in the context of being active, faithful mormons made me realize, perhaps for the first time, how ridiculously awful it would be to be a 12 year old mormon kid discovering that you were gay.  I remember how religious I was at that age, how devoted, finding out that I was gay would have been the ultimate betrayal and would have ended my spirituality or my connection to the Church.  And the nature of the reaction of my friends and family would be the test of whether Christianity was bunk or not. Perhaps the reason that when I was young, I never saw or heard anything like what I hear in the videos. Because it was not in front of me, it was really easy not to realize the crucible that the believing Mormon gay child is in. If I had, it would have been hard to stay Mormon or Christian at all.

Seeing the kids in the video, still very much engaged in Mormonism on a sincere level, It made my heart hurt. I don’t know really how I would be able to deal with it. My brother, who knew gay friends at BYU, and struggles with depression, told me with all sincerity that he would have certainly killed himself if he was gay. The straight majority in the church simply does not recognize the gravity of the situation.   These kids cannot be both gay and Mormon without seriously twisting something that is part of them.

The fact that homosexuality exists as a natural phenomena among those that are close to God within the faith throws a very powerful curve ball at both Mormons and Evangelicals. Unlike with heterosexuality, which is channeled and controlled, homosexuality must be eliminated, or certain deeply held tenants must be abandoned.

When it comes to Evangelicals or Mormons I don’t know who has the bigger problem. For Mormons, being gay shatters the careful conception of what the pinnacle of life on earth is all about (covenants, eternal marriage, pro-creation). In my experience, People don’t talk about being gay in Mormon Church, it is not accepted, most of what is said about it is by the vocal minority who is firmly anti-gay.    Evangelicals might have an easier time.  I think it may be easier to “sin” and talk about it, and even being an active sexual “sinner” and still feel connected to Evangelicals christianity.  Partly because Mormons may kick you out if you are at all open and unrepentant about it.  However Evangelicals seem to play a lot bigger part in anti-gay activism, because of the sheer size of the group in comparison with Mormonism, and the de-centralized nature, there are a lot more vocal bigots in Evangelicalism.

The problem is that both groups can be deeply un-Christian about how they approach the problem.  The black mark this leaves on Mormonism and Evangelicalism, in the eyes a gay person who embraces their sexuality, or to anybody else who holds their sexuality dear is difficult to overstate.   An institutional stance that is anything short of deeply empathetic and loving makes a church seem like a absurd charade of the love that Jesus spoke of.

The reason why homophobia may be intractable is that Mormons and Evangelicals should be afraid on an institutional level.  The fact of natural homosexuality requires institutional change if either group is to remain followers of Jesus.  It’s hard for me to see how either group provides a satisfying answer to the person who feels God in and through their experiences of sexuality AND openly embraces a “alternative lifestyle”.   Which means, no matter how spiritually compelling either Mormonism or Evangelicalism is, they are going to appear to be very limited or broken for anybody who understands that God wants some people to be gay AND close to Him.   Just as they have to tweak their theology to account for the unfathomable size and complexity of the universe, they are going to have to change in order to get in line with this reality.  Of course this very sort of change may cause foundations to crumble.

I never quite saw this fact before this video. Hearing and seeing the human problem is necessary to make non-gay realize it.  My guess is that more open, honest and loving discussions of homosexuality within Mormonism and Evangelicalism will mean dramatic changes within both, or simply a larger exodus from a faith that has lost touch with the real world.

At this point, if my child was gay, I would actively try to de-convert them from both Evangelicalism and Mormonism because, at least to this child, neither seem to be carrying the torch of Christian love and understanding.

Believers, what can be done?

Faith & Community

When I appeared in Provo, Utah on January 4, 2001, I did not know a single person in the city.

There were a few girls from my high school somewhere on campus, but they had arrived at BYU at the start of the preceding Fall Semester, had already spent four months laughing it up and flirting with RMs, plus they were living in Heritage Halls, the on-campus apartment-style dormitories. I had been assigned to lowly Deseret Towers, 405 U Hall—and telling people that you live in “U-Haul” is about as pathetic as it sounds. The world my friends had shared with me in high school less than a year ago lay far behind us now and looking me up to welcome me wasn’t really on their agenda. I don’t blame them.

A friend from Salt Lake City whom I had met through picked me up from the airport. I’d had plenty of offers from Internet acquaintances to help move me in, including a fundamentalist Mormon who had offered to drive up from Manti, but I had gone with Annelise because she seemed like the least creepy option. In hindsight, I probably should have aimed for some Y chromosomes. I had carefully packed as many of my belongings as possible into a set of four overstuffed, candy-apple red suitcases, and they were heavy.

Continue reading

Save Marriage Now

This sermon has everything you need to know about saving marriage in our contemporary culture.  It also has nothing to say about the debate on same-sex marriage.

It is quite simply a very powerful message about Jesus’ own thoughts on marriage.  It even addresses what Jesus thought of polygamy.  A topic I didn’t even know he specifically spoke about.

Take the time to listen to this sermon.  It will strengthen your marriage and improve our society.

Direct link here.

Kids in church

I’ve done enough guest posts on hard theological subjects. I think I deserve a foray into Mormon Mommy Blog-ism, so here goes.

There’s a lot that I admire about the way LDS sacrament meetings are done in contrast to how evangelical services are usually conducted. I like that members of the ward regularly get the opportunity to address the congregation; in fact, for all my demi-feminist ranting about the LDS gender system, I do find it ironic that, unless yours is the rare evangelical church with a female pastor of some sort on the staff, you’re much more likely to hear a woman address the congregation from the pulpit at an LDS church than an evangelical church. I like that the LDS version of the Lord’s supper is administered weekly, whereas most evangelical congregations do it quarterly or monthly. And on top of that, what could possibly be more awesome than playing Testimony Bingo or Choose the Wife while you’re bored at church?

Continue reading

Mormons believe in a Mother in Heaven

Since Tim is gone, I thought I would back him up by writing a Tim-Style Post.  i.e. throw out a controversial LDS doctrine in sort of a challenging way and then open it up for comments.

Few Mormon doctrines are more radically paradigm-shifting than the believe in the existence of a Heavenly Mother.

What equally interesting to me is what this particular doctrine tells about how Mormonism works.

I think Evangelicals often stand with open-mouth when they read that those crazy Mormon’s believe such things because they are nowhere to be found in the Bible.  Aside from being a radical shift in understanding of God and Man between Protestants and Mormons, the doctrine also shows a fundamental difference in the way Mormons form their personal theology vs. the way Evangelicals seem to go about it.  This is what I want to explore with this post.  To try to explain to bible-focused (limited?) Evangelicals why Mormons believe in a Mother in Heaven, even when its not in the bible.  For this I am going to have to call on the usual bunch of commentators.

Few people, if any, know the ultimate origin of the idea that we have a Mother in Heaven.  Joseph Smith does not seem to have spoken directly about it in his life and there is no reference in the LDS Canon.

The first time we see it in writing comes from a woman, Eliza R. Snow, in a hymn, “O My Father”  President Kimball acknowledged that “O My Father” was a “doctrinal hymn” and dozens of prophets and apostles have reiterated this idea.

President Lorenzo Snow explained that Eliza Snow got the doctrine from Joseph shortly before he was murdered.

President Spencer W. Kimball in a general conference address:

“When we sing that doctrinal hymn … ‘O My Father,’ we get a sense of the ultimate in maternal modesty, of the restrained, queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less?” (Ensign, May 1978, p. 6.)

The doctrine of the hymn is pretty straightforward, there is a mother in heaven and we will return to live with Her and the Father, and that they together sent people on their mission to earth:

I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal

Tells me I’ve a mother there.
Let me come and dwell with you.
With your mutual approbation
All you sent me forth to do,
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?

So there we have it, a revolutionary new way of looking at God and heaven that turns traditional notions on their ear.

Mormons believe it, but I can see the Evangelicals left scratching their heads:

  1. The doctrine is not found in scripture, including Mormon Scripture
  2. The doctrine was not explicitly taught or explained by Joseph Smith (even though it is pretty clear that he was claimed that he originally  taught the doctrine)
  3. It really shifts away from all traditional interpretations of the Bible.

I can see how an Evangelical is probably left dumbfounded:  “You can’t win with those Mormons, how can I teach them correct theology whenthey are going to beleive stuff like this with such slim support or understanding?”

Here we have, in my mind, the genius as well as the vulnerability of  Mormonism. . . our willingness to believe in things that are not in the Bible.  To some Mormons, this doctrine is very uncomfortable.  We sometimes downplay it and even reproach those that make “too much” of it due to the little we “know” about it.  To others, agreeing with Eliza R. Snow, it makes religion make more sense: i.e. “If man is made in the image of God, why wouldn’t there be family in heaven as well as on earth. ”

I think if we can give a good explanation to our Evangelical friends  of why we believe this doctrine, they will be a lot closer to really understanding Mormonism.  (and we might have a clearer way of understanding our own view of how “doctrine” is born).

So Mormons, explain to Evangelicals :

1. Do you believe in a Mother in Heaven? and

2. Why?

3. What is the significance of the doctrine to you, to the Church, and to the world?

Evangelicals, we know you don’t believe it, and we know its not in the Bible, if you try to understand why we believe you may learn a lot about Mormonism in general that will enlighten you on how we do religion in other areas.


My wife and I advocate for adoption through foster care quite a bit. When we encounter those who bristle at the thought of bringing children into their family via adoption, we point out that we are all adopted by God.

In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:5-6)

I’m curious what the standard LDS response is to this verse which states that we are adopted as sons of God (and therefore not naturally-born family members). Anybody got any help? I noticed how clunky the verse is in the KJV, so I wonder if it’s just not noticed all that often in the LDS teaching that we are literal sons and daughters of God. If this is one of those things that’s in some LDS – FAQ, and I missed it, I’d love to see a link.

Changing Focus?

There’s a persistent question that keeps popping up over the last 10 years or so: “is this LDS church attempting to mainstream?” If so, why? Is it just to appear more “acceptable” to the general public? Is it an attempt to reconcile LDS theology with classical Christianity?

We had a new visitor to our blog yesterday that pointed me to his blog. I took great interest to see if what he states in his title is “for real”. Is the LDS church changing focus? If they are, what are they now focusing on? Is there a renewed focus on Jesus Christ and the Bible?

Check out the blog Latter-Day Saints Changing Focus. And tell me what you think (or better yet, tell him what you think). It’s full of quotes and talks by Robert Millet and Blake Ostler (two LDS scholars who I know have spent a great deal of time talking with Evangelical theologians). I think a number of the posts are way too long for blog postings, but I appreciate the effort to make sure these lectures are posted in their entirety somewhere on the internet.

It actually is my hope that LDS church is mainstreaming. Not so that it no longer is unique and is just like every other Protestant denomination, but just so that it no longer holds onto heresy. I actually would love to see an LDS church that continues to practice temple ordinances, sealings, and baptisms for the dead. I would love to see an LDS church that continues to teach that families are eternal and that there are degrees of glory and that lay ministry is vital to healthy ministry. All of these things are wonderfully unique elements of LDS worship. I doubt many would have huge complaint against the LDS church if they continued these practices if they also no longer believed in a plurality of gods, or that man can become a god or that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are 3 separate gods instead of 1. I’d even be happy to see them continue to use the Book of Mormon if they discontinued using the Pearl of Great Price and the D&C.

Does God Have Sex?

In the comments section of another post, Jayleen asked:

Personally, I don’t think Satan can create anything. Therefore I must believe that God created sex. While Satan can pervert it, he can’t create it. So my question is this…

Dando, can God create something he has never experienced?

If families are forever but there’s no couples or sex involved in the eternities, and there is no heavenly mother…

Why didn’t he simply create Adam? Why would it not be good that man was alone if ‘femaleness’ isn’t eternal?

What would make God think it wasn’t good that Adam was alone?

Why not just have made everything self replicating instead of making a male and female of things?

What’s wrong with sex when it’s not perverted? Why would’t God have sex?

This question doesn’t really have anything to do with that other post, so I’m turning it into it’s own topic. Katy Jane also asked:

Dando, why do you believe that God doesn’t have a body? And that He doesn’t have a wife?

First off I’d like to clarify and agree with a number of things that Jayleen stated. I don’t believe that Satan has the power to create either. His own power is to twist and corrupt. Also I agree that sex is good (at least in my house).

I don’t understand how it follows that God can only create what he has experienced. There seems to be a chicken and an egg problem here. Does God need to experience something before he creates it? If so, how did He experience something He had not yet created? If it existed prior to His creation then, can you properly say that He created it? Or did someone else?

Even without that conundrum, does God experience his creation the same way we do? I don’t believe that God needs to eat so I don’t think he’s ever eaten a potato. Did He really create potatoes if He doesn’t know the experience of eating them? I don’t believe that God needs to breathe oxygen to live, so why did He create it if He doesn’t need to experience it? The answer to all of these things is that God created sex, potatoes and oxygen FOR US. He’s a good God and He gives us good things. For whatever reason He decided that He wanted to create us with the need and capability to experiencing these things. That’s all up to His own creative license (and I appreciate what a good job he did). God didn’t need to create Eve for Adam, but He chose to because He saw that Adam was lonely and loneliness wasn’t good. Notice that Eve’s creation wasn’t a solution to procreation, it was a solution to loneliness.

So why wasn’t God lonely Himself? I believe that the Bible teaches that God is a self-sufficient being. He doesn’t need anything for his own existence. He is contingent on nothing. God was already (and always) in relationship with Himself. That relationship is expressed in the doctrine of the Trinity; 3 personalities in continual relationship making up 1 essence. God doesn’t need anyone to love because the Father loves the Son loves the Spirit. The Creator doesn’t need his creation like the creation needs its Creator.

I believe that there is only one family that is forever. And that is Adam’s family. We are are all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve and thus will always be in relationship with ALL of our relatives in eternity. Why assume that we will only be limited to relationship with those we happen to be in legal proximity to here on earth? That seems to be selling the beauty of eternity really short to think otherwise. Why would you want to be just with your “family” the way it’s described in temporal terms? I think God’s offering us so much more than the way the LDS church describes “forever families”.

You can read more about my thoughts on this subject here Jesus, the smartest man to ever live and here Don’t You Want to Be With Your Family Forever?

Don’t You Want to Be With Your Family Forever?

One place I see LDS and Evangelicals talking past one another is on the issue of eternal families. LDS longingly look forward to the day in which they can be together with their family for ever. Temple wedding versus chapel wedding — “don’t you want an eternal marriage?” When LDS missionaries ask Evangelicals “don’t you want to be with your family forever?” they often get a quizzical “What? No.” And with that Evangelicals seem to be tossing aside something that is precious to LDS.

It’s not that we Evangelicals don’t want to be with our families for all eternity, it’s just not any part of our focus when we think of heaven. We look forward to spending eternity with Christ (as I’m sure LDS do as well). We actually do believe that we will be with our families forever. But we don’t think our family will be limited to our immediate biological family. We believe that we will be in loving, intimate relationship with EVERYONE in heaven, not just our families. The closeness I share with my wife, I’ll have with everyone, and I’ll have eternity to get to know them. I look forward to catching up with Paul, Michaelangelo, St. Francis and a little boy in Kenya whose name I don’t even know, and listening to them all recount all that Christ did for them.