As a Mormon said on CARM’s Mormonism forum:
“Mary was no longer a virgin after having sex with God the Father. Jesus was born of a virgin, a virtuous young woman, who up to that point, did not have sex with any man.”
Or as an ex-Mormon wrote on the same forum:
“I was LDS. It was explained to me that the spirit overcame Mary and that a sexual union between Elohim and Mary took place (because the spirit overcame her she had no memory of the event). She was still a ‘virgin’ because intercourse did not happen with a human. This is what I was taught and there were plenty of quotes from leaders that were used to support this idea. I was a convert and I required a LOT of teaching about this concept.”
It’s a serious issue. And it still matters.
I talked the night of the above video with a descendant of James Talmage about the mrm.org/virgin-birth issue. He was upset that I was criticizing Young/Pratt/Talmage/McConkie over their denial of the virgin birth. I asked him if he personally believes the New Testament is compatible with the idea of God the Father coming down to have physical relations with Mary and he said he didn’t want to talk about it because the issue was too “sacred”.
Mormons are all over the map on this issue. Some have never heard of it and others have and go either way on it. But more importantly, from my observation when Mormons do hear about it they either practice revisionist history or chalk it up as not important enough to question their allegiance to the Mormon Church. Mormon leaders get a free pass on this one.
All that said, I was very, very surprised how many people I encountered last night who agreed with Young/Pratt/Talmage/McConkie on the issue.
I can understand how some Mormons would vehemently insist they’ve never heard of this issue and that they’re certain almost no one in the Church believes it (or is open to it). But after only a cursory informal surveying of people and a historical study of the issue, it very quickly becomes dishonest not to admit it is a traditional and unrepudiated extant issue that still needs to be dealt with. By “informal surveying” I mean,of course, more than asking the superficial question, “Do you believe in the virgin birth?” I mean probing underneath it and asking meaningful questions.
What kinds of answers you get from Mormons often have to do with geography, age, generation, influences, and most importantly, whether you probe deeply enough. A Mormon who says they believe in the virgin birth in my experience will, a few minutes after probing and prying, sometimes admit either that they are either redefining “virgin” to mean “never had sex with a MORTAL man”, or to mean, “she was a virgin BEFORE the conception of Jesus”, or that they just lean toward the traditional virgin birth position but not strongly enough to outright repudiate the idea that God had sex with Mary.
Like the God Never Sinned issue, there is a spectrum one has to learn to recognize when speaking of the not-so-virgin-birth issue, and not simplistically speak of. That goes for folks on both sides, Mormon and evangelical. Evangelicals shouldn’t stereotype or sloppily generalize Mormons as embracing the views of Young/Pratt/Talmage/McConkie, but neither should Mormons, anxious to defend the image of their Church and people, be in a state of denial over the problem.
PS It’s my birthday today. Celebrate it with me by staying on topic, OK? 🙂
Update: Bored in Vernal wrote a response here over at Mormon Matters. She writes,
“There is no doubt that the idea of physical relations between God and Mary has been clearly advocated in the Church by such authorities as Brigham Young , Orson Pratt , Heber C. Kimball , Joseph F. Smith, , Joseph Fielding Smith , James E. Talmage , Melvin J. Ballard , J. Reuben Clark , Bruce R. McConkie , and Ezra Taft Benson . Mormons believe that Christ was literally the Son of God in the flesh, and he was conceived in a natural, physical way according to eternal law. In explaining this, the aforementioned leaders gave their views on how it was accomplished. Despite this, many members do not agree, are unaware of the idea, or prefer not to discuss it. It is certainly understandable that some feel it is a sacred subject. Some feel that it is merely speculation which does not affect the LDS doctrinal position on the nature of Christ. Others find it distasteful because it conjures up issues of celestial polygamy or spiritual incest. There are those who would like to skirt the issue by postulating that Mary may have been impregnated by some means such as artificial insemination. But I see no reason, if God has a body and parts, that he would not use his parts.”
There is a new Brigham Young “billion dollar bill” tract available at the MRM store here. Here is the text of the tract:
On July 8, 1860, Brigham Young, Mormonism’s second president, said, “That very babe that was cradled in the manger, was begotten, not by Joseph, the husband of Mary, but by another Being… He was begotten by God our heavenly Father” (Journal of Discourses 11:268).
According to Young and other LDS leaders, the seed of Heavenly Father produced Jesus Christ in a literal, physical fashion. Despite being God’s preexistent spirit daughter, “…the Virgin Mary must have been, for the time being, the lawful wife of God the Father” (Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 158). Apostle Bruce McConkie wrote, “Christ was Begotten by an immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers… There is nothing figurative about his paternity: he was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events, for he is the Son of God, and that designation means what it says” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 547,742).
To explain this concept to children, the 1972 Family Home Evening manual—an official LDS Church publication—used an illustration that included silhouettes of a man, woman, and little child. It read, “Daddy + Mommy = You.” A parallel illustration added, “Our Heavenly Father + Mary = Jesus” (p. 126). “So you see,” the article quoted sixth LDS president Joseph F. Smith, “Jesus is the only person who had our Heavenly Father as the father of his body.”
Matthew 1:18 says “Mary was found with child of the Holy Ghost,” contradicting Mormonism’s rendering of the Virgin Birth doctrine. Questions? Disagree? Check out www.mrm.org/virgin-birth or www.gotforgiveness.com.