The Danger of Mormon Idolatry

Brigham and JosephIn October (2014) Mormon blogger Jana Riess wrote about the “shadow side” of Mormonism: the “tendency to idolize – as in actually make idols of – the men who run our church. An idol is anything we use as a substitute for God,” Dr. Riess wrote, “and I feel that sometimes, we cross that line in Mormon culture.”

Citing the beloved Mormon hymn, “Praise to the Man,” that idolizes Joseph Smith as an intercessor for people in heaven, Dr. Riess admonished, “That is not okay.” Referencing Terryl and Fiona Givens’ book, The Crucible of Doubt, she explained that the Givenses

“beautifully get to the heart of one of the greater dangers of idolatry, that we will surrender our own agency and growth. We are so very eager to avoid making decisions ourselves: ‘too often, we confuse the call to discipleship with the desire to unload responsibility for our spiritual direction onto another. Christ invites us to assume the yoke, but we would rather ride in the cart.’ (p 62)”

Some years ago former Mormon Kathleen Baldwin wrote about what she, as a Christian, missed about being a member of the Mormon Church. This element of Mormon life – that of having someone make decisions for her – figured prominently in her sense of loss. Because Kathleen’s reflections on transitioning from Mormonism to Christianity are filled with valuable insight, I offer them here.

What I Miss About Being a Mormon
by Kathleen Baldwin

This ministry exists to alert people to the spiritually damaging teachings of the LDS Church and hopefully steer them toward saving grace. However, I think it behooves us to take a moment to reflect on the reasons why a Mormon wants to stay Mormon. Sometimes we stand outside and scratch our heads wondering why they won’t listen, why they won’t awaken to the truth, why they don’t rebel against the strictures of their man-made religion? The Mormon Church is compelling. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t present much of a threat. Today I’m going to confess to you some of the things I sincerely miss about my life as an entrenched Mormon.

First and foremost, I miss the sense of belonging. No matter what city I moved to or what part of the country I visited, I knew I would have a branch or ward of the Mormon Church waiting to welcome me with open arms. Instant friends. Friendship is compelling.

Come Let Us Rejoice by Walter Rane

Come Let Us Rejoice by Walter Rane

You might wonder what sort of friends they were, if they would be so instantly accepting? Good friends. Let me explain why. Mormons work very hard. The women, in particular, work extremely hard. When I told my sister that I was leaving the Mormon Church to become a Born-Again Christian, she smacked her hand angrily against the steering wheel and shouted at me, “I feel like you’re abandoning me! Leaving me to work all by myself.”

She was right. I abandoned the Mormon struggle to achieve perfection. I accepted grace and left the impossible work to Jesus Christ.

Common struggle is a powerful binding force. Mormon women labor together in Relief Society, Visiting Teaching, Primary, genealogy, Church Welfare Farms, Mutual, Sunday school. They commiserate with one another in their struggle to achieve perfection within their families and in themselves. They labor under this impossible load together. They lament their failures together. Weep together. Celebrate their triumphs together. These common battles bind them together. Look at the cohesiveness of other support groups: cancer patients, children of alcoholics, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Mormons feel like they are fighting a war together, just like the soldiers in Band of Brothers. Pulling together in this overwhelming struggle creates a nearly unbreakable bond; one that is very hard to leave.

I also miss not having to think so hard. Don’t laugh. It’s true. Now that I am a Christian I must think about everything, discern right from wrong on an hourly basis. Whew! There is something to be said for being told exactly what to do. The Mormon Church dictated everything, from the length of my skirt to what I ought to eat and drink, whether my child could go to a slumber party, or date before age sixteen. Rules placate us. Rules take away the need for exercising thought, or discernment. Ah, but God, He wants us to think, expects us to consult with Him, mull it over, evaluate the situation, consider the individuals involved. It’s much easier to be told exactly what’s expected.

C1657The LDS Church had a master plan for their members’ lives, everything planned to keep them busy, busy, busy, until the grave. It’s no accident that they chose the symbol of the beehive for the Utah state logo; industrious folks, Mormons. Boys go on missions at [eighteen], come back, go to school, marry, obtain productive and lucrative jobs, raise as many children as possible, convert friends, serve as leaders in local wards, work, work, work.

One thing that terrified me when leaving Mormonism might surprise you. Funerals. If someone in my family died, I worried, how I would know what to do? I’d done funerals the Mormon way all my life. I knew exactly how to proceed as a Mormon, but how did other people do it? In the Mormon Church, every ritual has a format that the members are accustomed to. Weddings, births, baptisms and funerals are all handled a certain way. There is comfort in knowing exactly how these big stressful life-passage moments will be conducted. As a Christian, I’ll be winging it.

Speaking of master plans, did you know every Mormon meeting format is the same in New York as it is in Arizona? Yep, everything is conducted uniformly. Even the Church buildings are laid out exactly the same. A ward building in California will have the same layout as a ward building in Maine. There’s comfort in familiarity. You know where the restrooms are without asking.

Elements such as these create confidence in the Mormon Church organization. This produces security. A Mormon has faith in the “Church” rather than in Jesus Christ. This is known as collective faith. The Mormon believes her church is leading her to heaven. She does not have to worry about her personal faith as much. As long as she has confidence that the LDS Church is guiding her correctly, all she has to do is obey. This reduces her need for developing a trusting relationship with God. Her primary trust is in the Church. It’s much easier to trust the tangible than the intangible.

As a Christian, I feel like the lonely pilgrim in The Pilgrim’s Progress. My journey is my own. Sure, I meet friends and have some companionship along the way, but it is largely a journey I make alone. And so it is for every Christian. My relationship with God is unique–individual–as is yours. It does not take the shape of a carefully outlined, step-by-step, pre-organized plan. God plans it. Our Father in Heaven has a unique relationship development plan for every believer, just as you have a unique plan for relationship with each of your children, your friends and family.

God is in control of our relationship. The Christian faces the choice of responding to God or not responding. This connection with God becomes a living breathing reality between Father and child. No longer is it a function of performing certain universal tasks to fulfill the requirements laid out by church leaders and thereby appease the Heavenly taskmaster.

Our life’s adventure does not consist of predictable certainties laid out for us by church leaders. It is a walk we take by faith. Predictability, fitting a mold, adhering to a list of rules–these things do not require much faith.

hugWhen I became a Christian, I traded earthly security to keep my eyes on Jesus. And, just like Peter when he tried to walk on water, this requires steadfast faith or I begin to sink. Real relationship ain’t pretty. Those who stay in the boat feel far more secure, and they have the luxury of smugness. They don’t get wet. Jesus doesn’t scold them, saying, “Oh ye of little faith.” No, they remain unchastised, snug and safe on the boat.

Mormons keep their eyes on an earthly man, a “prophet,” a flesh and blood guy they see twice a year at their General Conference. They rely on him to get the latest scoop from God. As a Mormon, I thought all I had to do was listen and obey, and then I’d be all right eternally. Now that’s security. Too bad, it isn’t real security.

Safety is compelling. If safety is of foremost importance to your Mormon friend, she will stay on the boat. She will sit tight and listen to the man she thinks is a prophet. She won’t get sloshed with grimy seawater trying to do something crazy like walk on water. Me, I’m willing to risk it. I’ve got the Son of God out there with me.

Yes, I miss many things about being Mormon, the comradeship of my struggling friends, the sense of security (albeit false), the comfort of sameness and familiar rituals. But there isn’t enough security or comfort in the world to make me re-strap that impossible burden on my back. No earthly friendship could compel me to give up the satisfying relationship I have with my Creator and Savior. Nothing in this world could make me go back to being a slave to the law now that I have been adopted by grace into the freedom of Christ’s family.

 —

Kathleen’s article was originally published in A Word in Season, Winter 2004.

Posted in Joseph Smith, Mormon Culture, Mormon Leaders, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

Music of the Faiths

ThrowbackThurs

It’s Throwback Thursday!
The following blog article originally posted at Mormon Coffee on January 30, 2006.

——————

Today’s Journal and Courier [January 30, 2006] from Lafayette, Indiana reports on that city’s Music of the Faiths hymn sing which took place Sunday afternoon. “The [participating] churches ran the gamut of Christian traditions,” the article states, “including some Catholic, Protestant and Mormon groups.”

Maybe I’m being too picky here, but this statement bothers me. If there’s one thing Mormonism is not, it’s a “Christian tradition.” The basic message of Mormonism is that the tradition of Christianity—which has been in place for nearly 2000 years—is wrong/abominable/corrupt. I object to calling Mormonism a Christian tradition. I imagine the journalist intended only to convey that the choirs participating in the hymn sing did not include Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc., yet I am nevertheless unhappy over the validating label she gave to Mormonism, which is wholly undeserving of it.

The LDS choir sang I Need Thee Every Hour which, of course, is a Christian hymn, not a Mormon hymn. It was written in 1872 by Annie Sherwood Hawks. Annie was a Baptist, a member of one of those “wrong, abominable and corrupt” churches that, according to Mormonism, was the reason for the Restoration. Robert Lowry set Annie’s words to music and added the beautiful refrain “I need Thee, O I need Thee; Ev’ry hour I need Thee! O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee.” Dr. Lowry was Annie’s pastor.

Two years before this Christian hymn was written, John Taylor, later to become the third Prophet of the LDS Church, said this:

“What does the Christian world know about God? Nothing …Why so far as the things of God are concerned, they are the veriest of fools; they know neither God nor the things of God” (Journal of Discourses 13:225, May 6, 1870).

I’m puzzled by the LDS Church choosing to sing (and include in its hymnal) spiritual songs written by those they believe knew absolutely nothing about God and who they believe belonged to the church of the devil (see the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 14:10).

Peggy Bryan, the Indiana state music chairman for the LDS Church, may have shed some light on this question. Remarking on the Music of the Faiths hymn sing she said, “They’re all singing together and it doesn’t matter what we believe because we’re all singing to God.”

I guess Peggy never read what the late LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie wrote:

“The gods of Christendom…are gods who were created by men in the creeds of an apostate people. There is little profit or peace in serving them, and certainly there is no salvation available through them” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, page 545).”And virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ…” (Mormon Doctrine, page 269).

My question for Peggy: To which God were you all singing?

Posted in Christianity, God the Father, Great Apostasy, LDS Church | Tagged , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Faithful Mormons Respond to News of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

ShockWavesShock waves continue to move across the globe as Mormons discover their Church’s recent admissions regarding Joseph Smith’s polygamy. There is much distress evident among Mormons who have always believed (been told) that the kinds of things now disclosed in the Mormon Church essays (i.e., Joseph Smith married up to 40 women, many were quite young, some were married to other living men, Joseph lied to his legal wife, Emma, etc) were anti-Mormon lies. One former Mormon described the scene as his still-LDS family in Latin America realized the news reports were true: “mother in law crying, father in law shell shocked.”

After the tears, what do people do when they find their trusted leaders have repeatedly lied to them? How will Mormons reconcile this new information with what they have been told in the past? How will the Mormon Church react to the burden imposed on it by wounded and angry members? Tim at LDS & Evangelical Conversations proposes five possible institutional (as opposed to individual) responses. I just list them here; Tim goes into more detail on his blog — please do go read it. Tim’s list:

  1. So What?
  2. No Sex.
  3. He [Joseph] Was a Fallen Prophet.
  4. No Religion Is True, So Stick With What You Know.
  5. Repentance.

Based on past behavior, it’s likely that the Mormon Church will do its best to retain membership while protecting the institution – which means protecting the Prophet. Among faithful Mormons (individuals), it seems that members don’t get past the first two options – at least when posting publicly.

At the Facebook page “1 Million Mormons on Fb” a member asked, “What do you think about Joseph Smith having 40 wives? I just read about this [this] morning. It makes me cringe”

The 220 responses (as of this writing) are pretty revealing. Even though the information for the question came directly from the LDS Church’s website, some Mormons reacted with denial:

CD: “Be careful of things you read. I have heard of these things too but as for as I know Emma was the only wife Joseph Smith had.”

PFM: “He only had 2 [wives] while alive.”

CP: “You can’t believe everything you read, hear, or even some things you think you have seen. I have never heard such a thing…”

CHR: “Why? Why do members worry or stress over church history and sometimes the facts aren’t even correct?”

Almera Johnson v4Many Mormons acknowledged Joseph Smith’s polygamy but offered up the traditional, typical (but historically untenable) excuses:

EL: “Smith married a lot of the women he did because they did not have a husband who was a worthy member of the church so they did the sealing ceremony so that the wife would be married in the after life”

KLR: “The definition of wives in our day vs back then were different. It was said as wives because there wasn’t enough men to be priesthood holders in the home. It was for priesthood representation… most of them had lost their husbands on the trek.”

NWS: “Imagine living in those times. Imagine being a single woman with no chance of having a husband and or any children because all the men were married. So for your entire life you would have no chance to be married in this life or the next…So it seems to me the soul purpose of polygamy was to have a temple marriage and experience having children.”

WSC: “…polygamy was to grow this church population, and to help women because they had no rights, so if it was true [that Joseph Smith had 40 wives] it was to help theses women.”

MAA: “Polygamy today is typically a fruit of the flesh. However back in Joseph day remember so many lady’s husbands where killed by mobs against the lds church. And back then the law of the land was ladies need husbands or they are worthless and harlets in the eyes of others…Joseph had one wife for this life. Most if not all others where for sealing of all eternity like today’s family sealings.”

Though Tim compiled a list of possible Church responses to the current situation, many individual Mormons follow the same path in their personal reactions. Lot’s of Mormons subscribed to the first idea on Tim’s list, “So what?”

KNC: “Who cares?! Move forward in faith believing in all things and pray that your concerns will go away. Heavenly Father is in charge and that’s all we should worry about!”

EH: “Past is past. Is that still a problem?”

RCB: “I don’t care. Why does it matter?”

RP: “Doesn’t really matter. He was an instrument to bring forth the gospel in these latter days. Polygamy was NOT against the law of the land then either.”

Lot’s of Mormons also embraced the second response on Tim’s list, “No sex.”

AS: “Polygamy then is not like polygamy now. He was not having sex with all of them. It was a commandment that he faithfully obeyed even with how hard it was for him to do. It was a very tough decision for him and Emma.”

SPP: “Remember something here concerning this issue. Just because they had more than one wife doesn’t mean they were having sex with all these women.”

NDH: “I think to a certain extent polygamy was like adoption. Joseph didn’t have kids with all these wives. He took them as wives because their husbands where killed.”

LB: “I have never been convinced that he was married and had sexual relations with these women.”

HAW: “Remember back then it wasn’t to sleep with them or anything. It was to help them. With money and everything else.”

Not a single Mormon commenting on this Facebook thread suggested Joseph Smith could have been a fallen prophet. In fact, many made a point of praising Joseph and his actions:

NWB: “Can you imagine telling your spouse you had to do this? Emma hated the idea. Joseph and Emma went through such trials. I’m so grateful for their service and testimonies”

SO: “Joseph was a great man. Obedient, loving and submissive to the mind and will of the Lord.”

LS: “It doesn’t matter or change how I feel about him. He was a great Prophet then & still is.”

CL: “At least he had a big enough heart and patience to care and love all those woman but his true love will always[s] be Emma”

LFP: “I think he was the most Christ like person who has ever existed”

Talk_to_the_HandFinally, many Mormons did not try to make sense of Joseph Smith’s polygamy/polyandry, nor did they make excuses. For them, it’s all about personal testimony:

JACB: “I think it boils down to having FAITH in the Lord Jesus that he knew what was best for those people at the time. I am 99% sure that Joseph Smith and others would not have done it otherwise. Again, I just want to say it has everything to do with FAITH.”

LC: “We are like little children and Heavenly Father is an adult. Just like parents give instructions to children they don’t understand or agree with so it is with commandments. In 1000 years from now it will make perfect sense because we’ll be different people.”

KM: “We cant judge. We’ve never walked in Josephs shoes. What took place is between him and h[eavenly]f[ather]. What matters is if the holy ghost confirms to us the church is true.”

SS: “Anything that the Lord commands, no matter what it is…doesn’t bother me. We just need 2 have faith & trust that there is a reason 4 all things.”

CSC: “Really? Why are we focusing on this? He was called of God, and commanded to live that life…. If we have Faith in the Lord and his gospel, we have Faith in his plan and commands, and how we would feel about it should not matter…..”

AMM: “I don’t care about his wives I know he was the prophet of the Lord the spirit of God testify to me”

JCC: “that was a commandment from God, Joseph struggled to follow this commandment…as for myself I don’t understand why the Lord directed his servant to abide by this commandment, but it was a commandment non the less…The Lord instructs His prophets in many things that we may not understand…We need to listen to the prophet of our day and trust in the Lord and His ways”

Those of us who have ministered God’s truth among the Mormon people know that denial is the first reaction a Mormon will exhibit when faced with painful truths. Then anger. Then excuses. Then more anger, more denial. And on it goes, often taking years before a true-believing Mormon finds the courage to begin asking questions.

On a public forum like Facebook, Mormons are careful to present a face of strong faith and testimony. But in private, things may be strikingly different — like the “mother-in-law crying and the father-in-law shell-shocked.” Don’t be fooled: despite denials, excuses and faith-promoting testimonies, the LDS Church’s revelations on Joseph Smith’s polygamy have rocked the Mormon world.

hugIn his blog post, Tim calls November 2014 a “watershed moment in the history of Mormonism.” Which way the water will ultimately flow remains to be seen, but this we know: many Mormons are feeling lost, tossed and set adrift right now.

This is Jesus’ time to shine. Just as He rescued Peter from the rough and wind-driven sea (Matthew 14:22-32), He is able to reach out and rescue those Mormons who have become aware that they are spiritually floundering. Please, friends, pray for them. May all God’s people be marked by great compassion for those Mormons who are losing their faith in the Mormon system and beginning to sink. Show them the hope they have if they but call on Jesus. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Please Lord, may it be so for the Mormon people.

Posted in Early Mormonism, Joseph Smith, LDS Church, Mormon Culture, Mormon History, Polygamy, Truth, Honesty, Prayer, and Inquiry | Tagged , , , , | 51 Comments

Mormon Church Posts Essays on Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

Joseph Smith & Plural WifeIt’s all over the news. The Mormon Church has finally “admitted” long-buried facts about Joseph Smith’s polygamy. The new Church essays were actually posted at lds.org sometime around October 22nd (2014), but for some reason the news only hit the big-time mainstream media this week. Once the New York Times picked up the story, many major news outlets jumped on the bandwagon.

MRM’s Viewpoint on Mormonism radio show is currently airing a 12-part series in which Eric Johnson and Bill McKeever discuss the information included – and left out of — these newsworthy “official” essays on Mormon polygamy.

Reactions to the essays have been interesting and varied. Mormon blogger Jana Riess noted,

“ ‘These statements contained some bombshells about Mormonism’s past that will not be news to most students of history but may indeed prove disturbing for some rank-and-file Latter-day Saints.”

Even so, for Dr. Riess the “provisional, hesitant language” of the essays (that is, the liberal use of the word “may”) leaves the understanding of Mormon polygamy in the same place that it’s been for a long time; nothing new here.

Kristy Money describes herself as “a Mormon woman who loves the Church.” Nevertheless, as a psychologist with a Ph.D. from Brigham Young University, Dr. Money would like the LDS Church to revise several parts of its essay series in order to prevent “negative consequences” for Mormon teens. For example, she suggests,

“Ideally, please acknowledge that Joseph may have erred in his practice of polygamy…

“Please excise mollifying language for Joseph’s polygamy and his secrecy surrounding the practice. Consider acknowledging that practicing polygamy while releasing ‘carefully worded’ denials that ‘emphasized that the church practiced no marital law other than monogamy’ (i.e. secrecy toward the public and his wife Emma Smith) was a mistake…

“…given the essay’s obedient tone and assertion that Joseph never erred, their quotes [from Joseph’s younger wives that reveal the young women’s initial revulsion and later acceptance of Smith’s proposals] could actually lead to victims [of sexual abuse] resonating with their initial sorrow and hoping to later find similar joy/peace.”

Author and Mormon historian Gary James Bergera believes the essays on polygamy represent “a good first step in acknowledging the history of the controversial doctrine” as they

“tackle head-on some of the most problematic aspects of the church’s embrace of what it once called ‘celestial marriage.’ This includes church founder Joseph Smith’s marriages to young women, at least one of whom was 14 (the essays characterize her as just shy of 15); Smith’s marriages to other men’s wives (which the essays contend may not have included sexual relations); Smith’s concealing most of his plural marriages from his civil wife, Emma Hale; Smith’s and the church’s carefully worded denials regarding the practice of polygamy; the church’s ‘civil disobedience’ in performing the illegal marriages; and the church’s clandestine attempts to keep plural marriage alive for a decade or more even after publicly disavowing it in 1890.”

Yet, Mr. Bergera believes the essays still fall short in several areas. One is the failure of the essays to mention “some of the most important scholarship on Mormon polygamy.” Another involves the essays’ use of primary source material that is unavailable to the general public. And finally,

“…the essay on polygamy during Joseph Smith’s lifetime reflects an emerging apologetic argument that seeks to portray Smith as a reluctant polygamist who had to be coerced by an angel into engaging in sexual relations with his plural wives. Such a position misrepresents Smith’s zest for life and self-perception as Heaven’s lawgiver, while imposing on him a particular brand of morality that was foreign to him. ‘That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another,’ he taught (History of the church, 5:134). He also stated that there were ‘many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelation of the Holy Ghost to me’ (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 211).”

According to the New York Times,

“Kristine Haglund, the editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, said that while she found the church’s new transparency ‘really hopeful,’ she and other women she had talked with were disturbed that the essays do not address the painful teaching about polygamy in eternity.

“ ‘These are real issues for Mormon women,’ Ms. Haglund said. ‘And because the church has never said definitively that polygamy won’t be practiced in heaven, even very devout and quite conservative women are really troubled by it.’”

CNN journalist Daniel Burke takes a mildly critical tone in his reporting. Mr. Burke notes that “until recently Mormon leaders had taken pains to present its founding prophet as happily married to one woman.” He also points out that, while Joseph Smith saw Mormonism as a restoration of the “ancient principles” of biblical prophets who had multiple wives, “Smith’s first wife [Emma], however, was not amused.” While most news media articles has included the information that Joseph Smith had a wife as young as 14 years old, Mr. Burke is one of the few journalists to mention the Mormon Church’s baffling (my word) defense of this particular marriage:

“Most of the women Smith married were between 20 and 40, the church said, but one was as old as 56 and one as young as 14.

“ ‘Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens,’ the church said in its online essay.”

I find this defense baffling in that the Mormon Church essay appeals to the legality of a girl in her mid-teens marrying “in that era,” while ignoring the elephant in the room: It was most certainly not legal “in that era” (or any other in America) for a 14-year-old girl to marry a man who had over two dozen additional wives, some of whom had additional husbands as well. I find the Church’s assertion to be a rather strange defense of Joseph Smith’s marriage to a child bride.

At any rate, these are interesting times in the life of the Mormon Church. The New York Times reports that Church historian and leader Steven Snow explains,

“ ‘There is so much out there on the Internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history.

“ ‘We need to be truthful, and we need to understand our history,’ Elder Snow said. ‘I believe our history is full of stories of faith and devotion and sacrifice, but these people weren’t perfect.’”

Nor are those who are now charged with presenting “faith-promoting information” on Mormonism’s controversial history. One of the Church essays explains that

“rumors prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy but were silent about what Joseph Smith and others saw as divinely mandated ‘celestial’ plural marriage.”

I believe the Church’s new essays should be approached with thoughtful discernment; “carefully worded denials” coupled with selective “silence” might be regarded just as appropriate today as it was 175 years ago.

Posted in Early Mormonism, Family, Joseph Smith, LDS Church, Mormon History, Nauvoo, Polygamy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

A mediator between God and man

The other day I was invited to attend LDS seminary classes at the public high school my youngest daughter attends. Seminary, for those who don’t know, is a four-year program put together by the LDS Church for their high school students. The one-year topics are Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants (church history), which is this year’s emphasis.

ProvoSeminaryMormon students throughout the United States typically meet before or after school at the local LDS chapel. In Utah, however, most high schools have a dedicated building located next door for the students to attend during the school day in a program called “release time.” The majority of this school’s student body—of the school’s 1,800 students, 1,000 attend seminary—are enrolled at this seminary, which is located directly behind the school. My middle child who attended a middle school in 9th grade five years ago told me how LDS students publicly bragged about attending these voluntary classes. She said such attitudes served as barriers with other students. Those Latter-day Saints who didn’t attend were shamed; those who weren’t LDS didn’t seem to matter.

A pastor friend and I are trying right now to begin an Evangelical Christian “seminary” class beginning next year. With 17 years of teaching experience, including my service as the Bible department head at a large Southern California Christian high school, we have an idea of what we want to do. Thus, we have been doing research to find out exactly what takes place in these seminary classes. The seminary’s principal and five teachers have been very accommodating. One teacher, whom I now consider a friend, even told me that he would have his 180 students get the word out to their non-LDS friends when our class begins in January. “Anything that leads people to Christ is worth promoting,” he told me. I told him I appreciated the offer; we’ll see where that goes.

first_vision_1838As I walked into this teacher’s room during his prep period, I was immediately struck by a large poster on his wall listing the scriptural memory verse for the first quarter, Joseph Smith-History 1:15-20 found in the Pearl of Great Price. Specifically, it deals with the all-important First Vision. Let me quote verses 18-20a to give you an idea of Joseph Smith’s account:

18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.  19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”  20 He again forbade me to join with any of them.

An interesting set of verses to memorize, wouldn’t you think? More than half of my daughter’s friends (probably closer to 80%) are going to be reciting these verses in the upcoming weeks. Do the students realize the take-home message? I find this passage a fascinating choice for memorization.

The instructors are given freedom to teach the assigned material, the same across the board for all seminary classes this year. Doing their best to engage the students, the attitude of these five men (professional teachers who are paid a wage by the LDS Church that is equal to their public school counterparts) reminded me why I remained in Christian education for so long.

The lesson for this particular day covered D&C 1, emphasizing the importance of the LDS leadership. In fact, the journal assigned by one teacher asked, “Look around this room and see the different pictures. Who would you choose to eat dinner with and why?” On one wall were the individual photos of the three men comprising the First Presidency as well as the twelve apostles. In addition, pictures of each of the sixteen prophets, beginning with Joseph Smith, were displayed in the back of the room.

When the students were done with the assignment, they were allowed to share their choices with the class. One boy picked Brigham Young, a man he said was vital for the early growth of the church. Another girl chose Gordon B. Hinckley, an obvious pick for someone who was a child at the time when Hinckley was wrapping up his life. Nobody picked Jesus, even though there were two pictures of Him in the room. This would have been my choice, I suppose, if I had been given the assignment.

SeminaryIllustrationAn illustration epitomized for me the difference between Mormonism and Christianity. The teacher drew two stick-people figures on the white board and added a tall wall between them. He explained how human beings were represented by the figure on the right. On the left, he said, stood God the Father. The wall was symbolic of the inability for communication to take place between God and man. My brain’s juices were flowing. Certainly this wall must represent sin! (Rom 3:23; 6:23) Then he drew a third person standing on top of the wall, with arrows pointing up and down to the two lower figures. He said that this figure represented our mediator with God. In my mind, I thought, “What a great illustration! Yes, this is Jesus.” After all, 1 Timothy 2:5 says,For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.”

Unfortunately, this was not the pick of the seminary teacher. Instead, he explained how this figure represented the prophets…embodied today in the current prophet Thomas S. Monson. What was the take-home message? God has given humanity a living prophet to bridge the gap for humans to have access to God the Father.

On a street outside the Ogden temple last month, a Mormon said I was splitting hairs when I said the beliefs of Mormonism and my Christianity contradicted. They are really the same, I was told. “No ma’am,” I replied, “no hairs are split.” This illustration is the difference between truth and error, orthodoxy and heresy.

Posted in LDS Church, Mormon Culture | Tagged , , , , | 114 Comments

Mormon Prophecy: Trying to Keep Up

In September (2014) the Rexburg Standard Journal enjoyed an exclusive interview with Mormon apostle Jeffry Holland. Journalist Emmilie Whitlock reported on Elder Holland’s remarks. One topic the Mormon apostle discussed was the “challenging times” in which we live, especially in regards to the family.

“ ‘One thing that is truly unique in our time is the assault on the family, and it may be a true characteristic and indicator of what we would say is the “last days,” the “last dispensation,” that the adversary would seem to be attacking the family in a way that probably hasn’t been known down through the ages of time and the dispensations of the gospel and the chapters of human history,’ Holland said.

JHolland“This requires attentiveness, he said.

“Holland said it is interesting that 20 years ago, the men and women in leadership positions in the church talked about the importance and role of family even though no one was questioning the nuclear family unit.

“ ‘It was common practice and accepted by everyone,’ Holland said. ‘Well now, it isn’t common practice. It isn’t accepted. And that’s just evidence of revelation, prophesy if you will, of the Lord speaking well before the problem.’

“And prophesy has always been the Lord’s way, he said.

“ ‘It’s a little bit like Noah building a boat when it’s a perfectly gorgeous day out,’ he said. ‘I’m glad those things are in place. We would be scrambling trying to get that kind of message out 20 years too late.’”

Elder Holland is mistaken in his timeline. For example, Christian author and psychologist James Dobson began his ministry, Focus on the Family, nearly 20 years before the “men and women in leadership positions in the Church” were talking about the topic. Well before the mid-1990s (Elder Holland’s date) Focus on the Family radio broadcasts and publications were reaching around the world, alerting people to the importance of the role of the family and warning of the consequences of the “breakdown of the traditional family and its negative effects on the culture at large.”

en2006lp.nfo-o-117Also, it’s interesting that in the mid-1990s the LDS Church published “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” This is touted within the Mormon Church as “a prophetic document,” “that came from God,” written in “prophetic language,” “inspired, revealed direction from the Lord,” that “fits the Lord’s promise when he said, ‘Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same’ (D&C 1:38).” Yet it has recently been pointed out at the exmormon reddit forum that the Proclamation was drafted with the assistance of the Church’s attorneys at the law firm of Kirton McConkie. It was produced for use in an amicus brief that the Church filed in response to a 1994 challenge to traditional marriage in Hawaii. Contradicting Elder Holland’s claim, 20 years ago people were actively “questioning the nuclear family unit.”

In Mormonism, this kind of get-on-the-band-wagon prophecy is nothing new. Before the 1833 Mormon revelation on health was proclaimed, the Temperance Movement was sweeping across America. People everywhere were talking about the detrimental health effects of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea. Joseph Smith added his voice to the others in the form of his revelation now called the Word of Wisdom.

Likewise, Joseph Smith’s 1832 Civil War Prophecy was proclaimed in the midst of public discussion regarding the tensions between the northern and southern states, and followed closely on the heels of a nearby newspaper’s reprint of a New York Courier article that spoke specifically about South Carolina’s discontent and the “probabilities of dismemberment” as a result. Again, Joseph Smith’s revelation was but another voice weighing in on a topic that had already captured the public’s interest.

Similarly, the 1978 revelation now known as “Official Declaration 2” (which removed the long-standing Mormon Church restrictions against people of African descent) came in the midst of strong and vocal public opinion that rejected discrimination against African Americans. Beginning in the 1950s, the American Civil Rights Movement had put racism at the forefront of American society; great strides were made toward ending racial CTR Ringsegregation in the United States. While the Mormon Church was a hold-out, it finally got on the bandwagon with Spencer W. Kimball’s 1978 revelation/announcement granting equal Church rights to “worthy” people of African descent.

The Mormon Church has a funny way of defining prophecy and revelation. But I’m glad that on some issues it eventually decided to choose the right.

Posted in LDS Church, Mormon Leaders, Prophets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Mormonism’s Sacred Temple Garments

In a move that has surprised Mormons and critics alike, in mid-October the LDS Church’s Newsroom site posted a video that literally looks at Mormonism’s “Sacred Temple Clothing.” Both temple robes (the outer clothing worn by Mormons during a temple endowment ceremony, known as “the robes of the holy priesthood”), and temple garments (worn by endowed Mormons underneath regular clothing), are discussed and displayed.

TempleApronThe video builds a context of various world religions and their uses of religious vestments, gestures, and rituals in which to frame Mormonism’s temple clothing.

“The nun’s habit. The priest’s cassock. The Jewish prayer shawl. The Muslim’s skullcap. The saffron robes of the Buddhist monk. All are part of a rich tapestry of human devotion to God.”

The video suggests another superficial parallel, one between Mormon temple robes and the Bible:

“The simple vestments combine religious symbolism with echoes of antiquity reflected in ancient writings from the book of Exodus.”

The video explains that Mormon temple garments (that are sometimes referred to as “magic underwear”) have “deep religious significance” to Latter-day Saints and represent “the sacred and personal aspect of their relationship with God and their commitment to live good, honorable lives.”

While it is surprising that the Mormon Church posted video footage of temple garments, it is not surprising that it actually said very little about the unique aspects of these garments.

FemaleTempleGarmentThe video states that temple garments are “similar in design to ordinary modest underclothing” yet neglects to mention that Mormon garments are distinct in that they are made with Masonic-like markings sewn into the cloth. In the Church’s video these markings are indistinguishable, but in this photo of women’s temple garments (at right) the sewn-in white markings have been highlighted in red to make them visible for the photo.

The video does not explain this, but the four markings on the temple garment correspond to markings also found on the veil in the temple endowment ceremony. On the garment they are “the mark of the square” (over the right breast), “the mark of the compass” over the left breast, “the navel mark” over the navel, and “the knee mark” over the knee cap of the right leg (the compass, square and level are prominent symbols used in Freemasonry). According to the Church’s Handbook of instructions for bishops and stake presidents, it is these markings that make the temple garment sacred.

The video states, “there is nothing magical or mystical about temple garments,” but avoids any discussion of the “protective” nature of these garments – another attribute that sets temple garments apart from spiritually significant clothing worn in other religions. Mormon assertions of the garments’ supernatural protection have led to the common (but disrespectful) nickname of “magic underwear,” an offensive reference to the sacred clothing that the video hopes to squelch. The official Church Handbook explains that properly worn temple garments protect members from “temptation and evil,” but members themselves believe the garments also protect them from physical harm, freely testifying of times when the garments have saved them from injury and death.

Another aspect of Mormonism’s sacred temple clothing that is unique in the greater context of world religions and their religious vestments is the specificity of official mandates that come with owning and wearing temple garments. The Church Handbook provides these explicit instructions:

Wearing and Caring for the Garment

Church members who have been clothed with the garment in a temple have taken upon themselves a covenant obligation to wear it according to the instructions given in the endowment. When issuing temple recommends, priesthood leaders should teach the importance of wearing the garment properly. Leaders also emphasize the blessings that are related to this sacred privilege. These blessings are conditioned on worthiness and faithfulness in keeping temple covenants.

The garment provides a constant reminder of the covenants made in a temple. When properly worn, it provides protection against temptation and evil. Wearing the garment is also an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior.

Endowed members should wear the temple garment both day and night. They should not remove it, either entirely or partially, to work in the yard or for other activities that can reasonably be done with the garment worn properly beneath the clothing. Nor should they remove it to lounge around the home in swimwear or immodest clothing. When they must remove the garment, such as for swimming, they should put it back on as soon as possible.

Members should not adjust the garment or wear it contrary to instructions in order to accommodate different styles of clothing. Nor should they alter the garment from its authorized design. When two-piece garments are used, both pieces should always be worn.

The garment is sacred and should be treated with respect at all times. Garments should be kept off the floor. They should also be kept clean and mended. After garments are washed, they should not be hung in public areas to dry. Nor should they be displayed or exposed to the view of people who do not understand their significance.

Members who have made covenants in the temple should be guided by the Holy Spirit to answer for themselves personal questions about wearing the garment…

Disposing of Garments and Temple Ceremonial Clothing

To dispose of worn out temple garments, members should cut out and destroy the marks. Members then cut up the remaining fabric so it cannot be identified as a garment. Once the marks are removed, the fabric is not considered sacred.

To dispose of worn-out temple ceremonial clothing, members should destroy the clothing by cutting it up so the original use cannot be recognized. (LDS Church Handbook of Instructions, Handbook 1, Stake President and Bishops 2010, page 15)

It has been noted on various online forums that the fact that Mormons wear religious clothing is not “weird.” Even the form that this clothing takes (i.e., underwear) is not really noteworthy. But “cultic weirdness” comes into the picture via the fact that if you are an endowed adult Mormon “someone else is telling you what sort of underwear you should be wearing, when you must wear it, how you must wear it, and when you are not worthy enough to wear it. And [then] checking up on whether or not you do as you are told. That’s the cultish part.”

Mormon temple garments (like Mormonism itself) fit comfortably into the very broad and superficial context of spiritual expression of religious devotion. But when we consider what makes Mormon temple garments unique we quickly come to the point where a comfortable fit ends. We discover once again that Mormonism is, in fact, a distinctly peculiar religion.

Posted in LDS Church, Mormon Culture, Mormon Temple, Worthiness | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 79 Comments

If Mormon missionaries were straightforward about Mormonism…

Though done in a lighthearted manner, this 4-minute video is a fairly accurate depiction of standard Mormon doctrine. It would be nice if Mormon missionaries explained Mormonism as clearly as the characters in this video do, but I imagine that would not foster strong LDS Church growth.

Mormon Secrets: What the Missionaries Don’t Tell
By Saved XMormon

Posted in Authority and Doctrine, God the Father, Great Apostasy, LDS Church, Mormon Missionaries, Mormon Temple, Prophets, Truth, Honesty, Prayer, and Inquiry | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Early Mormon Marriages: Tangled Webs to Sort Out in the Eternities

Many people are aware of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. A subset of those people are also aware that some of Joseph’s plural wives were married to other men at the same time they were married to Joseph. Many of these folks think Joseph Smith was the only Mormon leader to engage in these strange polyandrous plural marriages. The Utah District Court said as much in its 2013 ruling on polygamy when it said polyandry, “was unknown outside of a few instances involving LDS Church founder Joseph Smith.” The “few instance” involving Joseph Smith refers to the Prophet’s eleven polyandrous plural marriages; but Mormonism’s second prophet followed in Joseph’s footsteps.

According to biographer John Turner, “Brigham Young also married a goodly number of already married women.”

“As Joseph Smith had done on many occasions, Young also married women who already had husbands. Out of his approximately fifty-three plural wives, around fifteen women were legally married to other men at the time of their sealings to Young. Some of these prior marriages had failed, others were in the process of failing, but others persisted for many decades.” (John G. Turner, Brigham Young Pioneer Prophet, 136)

One of Brigham Young’s polyandrous wives was Zina Huntington. John Turner tells her story:

011“Zina Huntington, her parents, and most of her siblings had been devoted members of the church since the mid-1830s. Her father and brothers were priesthood leaders, and Zina – a slender, dark-haired woman with piercing eyes – maintained a firm testimony of Mormonism’s truth, spoke in tongues, and joined Nauvoo’s Female Relief Society. After marrying Henry Jacobs in 1841, Zina – following a long period of anguished prayer and searching – accepted Joseph Smith’s offer of plural marriage. She continued to live with Henry, and two months after her sealing to Smith, she gave birth to a son.

“On an unknown date, likely in the spring of 1845 [after Joseph Smith’s death], Brigham Young was sealed to Zina. His wife’s second plural marriage apparently troubled Henry. Doubts nagged at Zina as well. ‘The thoughts of my heart or emotions of my minde causes my very head to acke,’ she wrote in her diary in early May 1845. A week later, she prayed that God would comfort ‘Henry in his trouble, for he has not repined a word.’ Zina provided no details of their sorrows, but she recorded one month later that ‘Henry went to see Pres. B. Young to be counceled upon his and his families situation.’ If these sparse entries do indeed chronicle the couple’s agonized response to Zina’s second plural sealing, Henry manifested his peace with the latest development in his marital saga by witnessing Zina’s early February 1846 temple sealing, in which a ceremony sealed her to Smith for eternity and as ‘husband & wife for time’ to Young. ‘Henry B. Jacobs expressed his willingness that it should be so,’ recorded the temple clerk. He still lived with Zina, who was visibly pregnant with what would be the couple’s second son.” (136-137)

Todd Compton tells a bit more about Zina’s “long period of anguished prayer” following Joseph Smith’s proposal of plural marriage. She had been struggling with the issue since late 1840 or early 1841:

“Zina remained conflicted until a day in October [1841], apparently, when Joseph sent [her brother] Dimick to her with a message: an angel with a drawn sword had stood over Smith and told him that if he did not establish polygamy he would ‘lose his position in life.’ Zina, faced with the responsibility for his position as prophet, and even perhaps his life, finally acquiesced.” (In Sacred Loneliness, 80-81)

Joseph and Zina were married on October 27. Interestingly, though Joseph persuaded Zina to become his plural wife by convincing her that she would be responsible for his failure if he did not establish polygamy as he claimed he’d been commanded to do, Zina was not the Prophet’s first plural wife, but his fourth. (A few weeks later Joseph married Zina’s older sister, also a woman with a living husband.)

Compton records Zina’s hesitancy over Brigham Young’s proposal as well. Again Zina had to be persuaded to enter into a polyandrous marriage. Compton wrote that according to family tradition, “President Young told Zina D. if she would marry him she would be in a higher glory.” (84)

Spider WebZina continued to live with her legal husband, Henry, until 1847. As they were moving west across Iowa during the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo, Brigham Young sent Henry on a mission to England. While he was away, Zina began living with Brigham.

“The final episode in in Henry’s marriage to Zina was approaching. Zina now knew that she was going to live as Brigham Young’s earthly wife, not as Henry’s, but Henry apparently did not understand this fully. On June 20 she wrote a letter to [her sister-in-law]…Mary Neal Huntington…she apparently told Mary that she was living with Brigham Young and was no longer married to Henry…Henry was left feeling depressed and resigned…

“Before this Henry may have seen Zina’s marriage to Brigham Young as ritual only; she would continue to live with him. Now he probably realized that she had in effect divorced him completely. However one might understand Zina preferring Brigham to Henry, one has to sympathize with Henry, considering how the divorce was effected – while he was far away, and after the polyandrous ‘second’ husband himself had sent him on a mission.” (Compton, 91-92)

Though Zina “effectively” divorced Henry, no legal divorce was obtained. In a General Conference address on October 8, 1861 Brigham Young explained,

“There was another way – in which a woman could leave a man – if the woman preferred – another man higher in authority & he is willing to take her. & her husband gives her up – there is no Bill of divorce required in the case it is right in the sight of God.” (Quoted in Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, 45)

Though Henry’s wife and children then belonged to Brigham Young, Henry never stopped loving them and hoped for a future where all would be made right.

In their lifetimes, Brigham Young had fifty-three wives, Henry Jacobs had four wives, and Zina Huntington Jacobs Smith Young had three husbands. As difficult as these plural and polyandrous unions are for us to keep straight, according to Mormonism, many of these marriages continue on into the next life – “families are forever.” But Henry, at least, wasn’t concerned about that. Todd Compton noted,

“As Henry had remarked, God would sort out the tangled webs of our earthly relationships in the eternities.” (113)

Posted in Brigham Young, Early Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Mormon History, Polygamy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Lorenzo Snow couplet’s subordination & dependence dilemma for Mormons

Given both halves of the Lorenzo Snow couplet:

“As man now is, God once was.
As God now is, man may be.”

(a) If we will forever be dependent on and subordinate to our God, then it stands to reason that God himself remains dependent on and subordinate to his own God (our Heavenly Grandfather).

(b) If God is no longer dependent on and subordinate to his own God, then it stands to reason that we can someday become Gods who are independent of, and no longer subordinate to, our own God.

Yet the theistic conscience wants to affirm that both:

(c) God is independent of, and not subordinate to, any other Gods.

(d) We will forever remain dependent on, and subordinate to, our God.

With Biblical Christianity, (c) and (d) are compatible. With traditional Mormonism, they are incompatible.

Posted in God the Father, Lorenzo Snow, Nature of God | Tagged , , , | 79 Comments