Yesterday I wrote about the LDS doctrine of deification as taught by Joseph Smith, and how the Church today seems to want to cover up that “basic belief” of Mormonism. There’s another aspect of that doctrine I’d like to talk about.
As I wrote yesterday, the LDS Church has begun a new series of articles in the Ensign for the purpose of “explaining the basic beliefs of the restored gospel.” The first article, The Nature of the Godhead, appears in the January 2006 issue on pages 50-51.
As with the doctrine on the nature of man that I discussed yesterday, there is something missing from the article regarding the LDS doctrine on the nature of God as well. The Ensign quotes Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse in order to aid in explaining Mormonism’s “basic belief” about the nature of God.
“It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God,…and that He was once a man like us… When you climb a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation.”
But the author of the Ensign article does not include Joseph’s clear teaching “… I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea…”
In the LDS Sunday School book Gospel Principles the “ladder” portion of Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse is quoted. Then the book goes on to say, “This is the way our Heavenly Father became God.” (p. 305)
[A separate issue, but one that I find interesting, is the fact that older editions of Gospel Principles are a bit different from the current edition. In my 1986 edition, page 293, it says, “This is the way our Heavenly Father became a God.” (emphasis mine)]
The reason this captures my attention, apart from the heretical nature of the teaching, is because of some statements made by LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley in 1997.
In April of that year the San Francisco Chronicle’s Religion Writer Don Lattin interviewed President Hinckley (13 April 1997). A portion of the interview went like this:
“Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?”
“A: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’ Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.”
“Q: So you’re saying the church is still struggling to understand this?”
“A: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. Knowledge, learning, is an eternal thing. And for that reason, we stress education. We’re trying to do all we can to make of our people the ablest, best, brightest people that we can.”
A few months later Time Magazine’s cover story was Mormons, Inc., the secrets of America’s most prosperous religion (4 August 1997; only a preview of the article, Kingdom Come, is available online from Time Magazine). Time gave this report of its interview with President Hinckley (page 56):
“On whether his Church still holds that God the Father was once a man, [President Hinckley] sounded uncertain, ‘I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it…I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.”
Well, it looks to me like President Hinckley was either mistaken or trying to hide a basic LDS belief about the nature of God. Perhaps his appeal to ignorance in stating that he didn’t know that the Church taught the doctrine was not a dodge to keep from answering the question asked by Time Magazine. And I suppose it’s possible that Mormons just don’t believe the doctrine so clearly taught by Joseph Smith.
Whatever the reasons for President Hinckley’s statements in 1997, this article in the Ensign should help clear up any confusion. We still don’t know if members believe the doctrine, but we do know that the LDS Church still teaches it as a “basic belief of the restored gospel.”