Mormon Professors Confuse Doctrine and Rumor

If I want to know what Mormonism teaches about human beings becoming Gods and creating worlds, should I ask a Mormon? Last month (October 2011) New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asked the planet question of two Mormons: Richard Bushman, the Visiting Professor in Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, and Kent P. Jackson, associate dean of religion at Brigham Young University.

Dr. Bushman called the idea of devout Mormons having their own planets in eternity “Mormon lore” that stems from the Mormon belief that humans can become like God. He suggested that if Mormons can become like God, they might then be able to run a bit of God’s universe. Tagging the belief as “lore,” Dr. Bushman relegated the idea to the arena of mere tradition passed from person to person within the Mormon community by word of mouth.

Dr. Jackson went a step further. He said the idea of faithful Mormons being rewarded with their own planets in eternity is a “canard”; that is, “an unfounded rumor or story.” Nothing further needs to be said. End of discussion.

Maureen Dowd asked her question of two prominent Mormons in-the-know about LDS doctrine. She did exactly what most Mormons say non-Mormons need to do if they want to learn the truth about Mormonism. I’m not sure what Maureen Dowd learned the truth about, but it wasn’t the truth about Mormonism.

In a 2007 blog I provided teachings from LDS authorities on this topic (“…prophets, apostles, a Church-produced student manual and a doctrinal exposition by the First Presidency and the Twelve of the LDS Church all teaching ‘that those who attain exaltation become gods of their own planets and give birth to spirit children who pass from preexistence through corporeal life to the afterlife’”); I won’t repeat them here. Some Mormons like to apply the that-was-then-this-is-now disclaimer to that list of historic LDS teachings, but what of the current authoritative LDS teachings on the topic?

As is pointed out in an article at mrm.org, while serving as Prophet and President of the LDS Church, Spencer W. Kimball taught,

“Each one of you has it within the realm of his possibility to develop a kingdom over which you will preside as its king and god. You will need to develop yourself and grow in ability and power and worthiness, to govern such a world with all of its people.” (“’…the Matter of Marriage’” [address delivered at University of Utah Institute of Religion, 22 Oct. 1976], 2).

That was then–35 years ago. But this is now: President Kimball’s statement is quoted in three current LDS manuals. The manuals are produced by the Mormon Church for the purpose of teaching children (Chapter 4: Teaching Children: from Four to Eleven Years,” A Parent’s Guide), high schoolers (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual – Introduction), and college students (Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual 430 and 431, 29 [Chapter 10]).

Shortly before his death in 1901, fifth LDS Prophet and President Lorenzo Snow watched kindergarten children forming clay into spheres. President Snow turned to his companion and observed,

“…these children are now at play, making mud worlds, the time will come when some of these boys, through their faithfulness to the gospel, will progress and develop in knowledge, intelligence and power, in future eternities, until they shall be able to go out into space where there is unorganized matter and call together the necessary elements, and through their knowledge of and control over the laws and powers of nature, to organize matter into worlds on which their posterity may dwell, and over which they shall rule as gods.’” (Improvement Era, June 1919, 658–59)

That was then—110 years ago. But this is now: President Snow’s comment is included in a current LDS manual prepared by the Church Educational System to be used in teaching Mormon college students (Presidents of the Church: Student Manual Religion 345, p.90).

In his 1981 book, President Kimball Speaks Out, then-prophet Spencer W. Kimball wrote,

“Peter and John had little secular learning, being termed ignorant. But they knew the vital things of life, that God lives and that the crucified, resurrected Lord is the Son of God. They knew the path to eternal life. This they learned in a few decades of their mortal life. Their righteous lives opened the door to godhood for them and creation of worlds with eternal increase.” (91)

That was then—30 years ago. But this is now: President Kimball’s words are found quoted by Mormon Apostle Tom L. Perry in the August 2011 Ensign magazine (“The Tradition of a Balanced, Righteous Life,” 51).  Additionally, though it was 14 years ago, Mr. Perry cited this same quote in his October 1997 General Conference address titled “Receive Truth” (Ensign, November 1997, 60).

So back to my original question: If I want to know what Mormonism teaches about human beings becoming Gods and creating worlds, should I ask a Mormon? Should I ask LDS professors? Or should I consult the teachings of LDS prophets and apostles? Mormon professor Kent Jackson says the doctrine is nothing but a canard — an unfounded rumor — while Mormon prophets and apostles continue to proclaim the doctrine with clarity via official Church venues and publications. Which source is the best and most trustworthy source for learning the truth about Mormonism? And just as importantly, why don’t these sources agree?

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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19 Responses to Mormon Professors Confuse Doctrine and Rumor

  1. spartacus says:

    Kudos on a very concise and strongly supported post Sharon. Your question about who do you ask to get answers is about authority- authoritative answers. LDS are all about authority. Christians try to go along with this and hold that authority accountable by evaluating the teachings of all LDS prophets, apostles, etc. When Christians do this LDS say that those older prophet teachings were opinion or recorded incorrectly or are being warped by critics. Usually this is said about the older teachings and LDS want you to consider what they believe/teach now. But if you claim authority for the line of prophets then the line should be consistently authoritative and authoritatively consistent. This is why Christians continually speak about JS, BY, et al.

    I understand that LDS want people to ask them questions to find out what they believe, but what one LDS believes is not what the LDS Church teaches. And, as opposed to some LDS views, the majority of Christians aren’t out to attack LDS people but falsehood claiming to be truth, thus the LDS church’s teachings are the appropriate subject for scrutiny.

    As you have listed the teachings of the previous prophets are continued in the LDS church’s official teaching tools. I can’t remember, and considering the two informed LDS persons questioned in the article, it does not appear to be the case that this planet/eternal increase teaching is in the standard works. The SWs are the standard of doctrine for many LDS. This would seem to leave everything else opinion, but in that case the LDS church seems to be teaching the opinions of prophets and apostles.

    cont.d.

  2. Mike R says:

    Concerning the claim of Mormonism to be the one true church with the true followers of
    Jesus and led by the men that Jesus has personally picked to be the channel that He uses to
    dispense spiritual truths through, I would think these men could be trusted . But since much
    of what they teach is actually only ” the precepts of men” [ 2Nephi28:31] , which is then
    presented as accurate spiritual guidance, it then becomes necessary for many of their followers
    to deny or downplay much of what these leaders have taught. This thread topic is a good example
    of this behavior. May the Mormon people exchange their General Authorities for more a more
    trustworthy group of men, those that Jesus used to spread His gospel through. We have their
    message in the New Testament , and it is still relevant and sufficient to lead us to a right
    relationship with God .

  3. spartacus says:

    cont.d.

    As LDS often use the excuse that prophets and apostles are men and their opinions can be wrong, we seem to have a clear instance of LDS church either teaching the opinions of men as doctrine or doctrine out of the SW and otherwise unconfirmed officially by the LDS membership. Either way we have issues for the authority of the LDS church and its teachings or LDS claims about what is authoritative.

  4. Brian says:

    Dear Sharon,

    As usual, you’ve written us quite an article. Such clarity. Amazing quotes, too, from Spencer Kimball and Lorenzo Snow. The quotes give us a picture of the past: “That was then.” Yet the quotes appear in current LDS publications. “This is now.”

    “Lore and Unfounded Rumors”
    You have asked us which source is most trustworthy for learning about Mormonism? Its prophets or its professors? I would have to think its prophets. Why don’t the two agree? I really don’t know. Perhaps its professors don’t believe its prophets? For its professors are saying, in effect, that LDS leaders have taught “lore” and “unfounded rumors” in the past, and do so to this day.

    I believe Isaiah 43:10 is in agreement with the professors.

  5. Mike R says:

    When the topic of how worthy Mormon males can become Almighty Gods and rule over their
    own kingdoms on another world is brought up , it needs to be mentioned that since this doctrine
    is uncomfortable for Mormons to discuss in public that sometimes they resort to denying it
    altogether or they attempt to deny that any “planets” will be involved. I think this rationalizing
    is evident in Prof. Jacksons response . Most any excuse will do in order to deny, downplay, or
    dodge this false doctrine that has come through God’s sole appointed channel of communication
    headquartered in Salt Lake City. But Jesus said , Beware of false prophets–Matt24:11

  6. Dale says:

    The last time I spoke to an LDS man, he said that the media portrayed the church in the wrong light and most people expected him to have two wives. I told him that most LDS don’t even know their own history, let alone anyone else.

    We see many examples here at Mormon Coffee of LDS people wanting to defend their beliefs and history, but when confronted with evidence regarding the truth of polygamy, they quickly try to discredit the information or outright ignore it.

    Addressing what Mormons really believe is problematic because 1) Some Mormons truly don’t know, just as some Christians don’t know their own doctrine 2) Mormons who have never been to the temple are going to be ignorant of various Mormon practices and beliefs 3) the LDS Church changes its mind and/or isn’t upfront with numerous beliefs.

    Just look at the example I posted in the polygamy thread where various LDS prophets praised Polygamy, and then in an LDS magazine of the same era, Mormons are saying the church never practiced polygamy at all.

    It’s hard to learn all the doctrines of any church. This is exponentially harder when your church changes its doctrine and/or makes half of it secret.

  7. Mike R says:

    Dale, you brought up a valid point concerning the behavior of how too many Mormons
    simply dismiss some of the important doctrines of their leaders. It’s not just the rank and file
    members,it’s even BYU professors . The rank and file members to many times simply mimic
    those in higher positions than them . Prof. Jackson’s response was calculated because he walks
    a fine line as a employee at Church owned BYU. If the Church heirarchy wants to downplay a
    certain long held doctrine then he has to watch what he says etc. I wish he would just admit
    that this doctrine was taught but not anymore ; I could respect that type of reply , but the fact
    that it is still taught then by calling it a “canard” is ridiculous .
    God help the Mormon people . They are striving to serve God but they’ve be detoured into
    false doctrine by their General Authorities. 2 Cor.11:3-4 ; 1Tim 4:6

  8. spartacus says:

    If the LDS church is teaching things not contained in the Standard Works, the best possibility is a revelation that has not been made official scripture/doctrine by vote of the membership. But then, what is that? The point of a revelation is to be revealed and accepted by those to whom it was revealed. However, this leads to an interesting problem for the whole “vote on it” standard for scripture/doctrine.

    When does a prophet’s pronouncement graduate from possible prophecy/possible opinion to accepted doctrinal revelation? Do all revelations have to wait in limbo before they can be stamped with the approval of the members?

    This may be another way to look at the claims of LDS that certain controversial teachings were just opinion. It’s not just that what appears to be a revelation is claimed to be an opinion. It is that all statements of LDS “prophets” are to be held as mere opinion until a sufficient number of LDS have received the revelation that the statement is a revelation. But this would make the regular members the real prophets. If not – and the prophet is the prophet-then his statement of doctrine, as well as his tools of teaching truth are doctrine.

    This means two things: 1) these Professors are in apostacy and 2) Christians are shown in this roundabout way to be totally correct in taking the teachings of the prophets seriously. 1 means that people who deny teachings b/c they are being “downplayed” (aka-lying) are saying apostatic things per the leaders’ instruction…

    There’s so many problems with all this…

    -leadership/religion culture instructing, explicitly or implicitly, that others make apostatic statements
    -members are prophets, not the “prophet”
    -personal revelation is the only effective revelation
    -more and more

    … it would take too many posts.

  9. Mike R says:

    Spartacus, I think you summed up the conundrum created by Mormon leaders with which the
    decent , sincere, individual Mormon has to live with : ” there are so many problems with this”.
    The Mormon people deserve better. I read in Mormon publications where the claim is made
    that Mormon prophets are the one source for pure doctrine . Yet far from being pure wholesome
    spiritual food much of what Mormon prophets have served up is laced with artificial ingredients ,
    man-made additives . As the Mormon church has sought more and more to be accepted as a
    christian church in American Society they ‘ve been faced at how to explain some of their “unique”
    doctrines. Most of the time the path chosen , when some of these doctrines have come up in
    public conversation with prominent Mormons , is that of denying, or downplaying them . This is
    rather unfortunate behavior. The Mormon people deserve a more reliable group of spiritual
    leaders , ones who can feed them more consistently healthy spiritual food , food that does’nt
    have be denied or downplayed to the public. These trustworthy leaders have been feeding
    people for a long time, their servings are readily available and can be found in the New Testament.

  10. spartacus says:

    This is a bit off topic, but from thinking about the Nauvoo piece and this one about prophets, I just had an interesting thoughts – what if (given the claims of the practice of polygamy’s eternal principleness – which are many and varied seemingly preventing all possibility of it being legitimately suspended)… what if the LDS church had not stopped polygamy, or even better, what if Joseph Smith had not kept polygamy secret from the church membership (his whole life but rather when he started it in the church’s infancy) and God had been given the opportunity to show his “true church” persevere through societal outrage and governmental seizure? To an extent, this outrage and perhaps even seizure occurred, but what if the real persecution was allowed by continuing and living unashamed/fearful about the reaction (from within and outside the church) to polygamy? How could God have shown Himself and the LDS church “True” by carrying the church through extreme governmental persecution and societal backlash (say if they never escaped to the West)? It reminds me of Rome and martyrs by the hundreds if not thousands.

  11. Dale says:

    That is an interesting insight, Spartacus. Your basic premise seems like “What if the Mormons were up front with their beliefs and did not change their minds?” It’s an interesting question.

  12. liv4jc says:

    Spartacus, why wrestle with giving the benefit of the doubt to apparent contradictions between official church teachings and what lay-members are led to believe, deny, or hide? The truth is exactly what MRM and so many other ministries are dedicated to proclaiming: The LDS church is built on a foundation of lies by a charismatic confidence man who began his career bilking others out of money by claiming he could find buried treasure with a rock in his hat. His next scam, the BoM, was intended to be a history of the inhabitants of this continent that he intended to sell for personal profit. He chose to do this by claiming to have a long hidden record written by those former inhabitants. But how does one convince people that you possess something that does not actually exist? By claiming that if anyone but you looks at it they will die, or that it cannot be seen at all unless one has enough “faith”. And how does one translate a language unknown to them? Why by the “gift and power of God”, of course (even if this gift manifests itself by looking at a rock in a hat). Boiled down, this is the true origin of Mormonism. The revelations got more fanciful as time went on and pretty soon everyone got into the revelation game (which is pretty easy to do when gullible people actually believe you’re speaking for God). Now the LDS church faithful are paying for the lies of their past prophets and apostles by running to and fro, and lying themselves, trying to cover up embarrassing teachings. There is no other way to justify the disconnect. If non-LDS can figure this out I know actual Mormons have to see it even more clearly. So why stay LDS?

  13. grindael says:

    When this article (by Maureen Dowd) first came out, we posted it on our Facebook Page, and one Mormon apologist told us that the doctrine of getting a “planet” was never taught. I was puzzled and stated that I knew the doctrine was taught. He then sprang his “trap”. He said, that those apologists who were quoted by Dowd, were correct that when people said Mormons would get their own “planet” (singular) that that. was a myth. He adamantly stuck to his guns, that no Mormon authority ever taught that Mormons would get their own world/earth/planet,(singular). He said that is why they call it misquoting, or a “myth”. He was most likely only familiar with quotes like this one from Brigham Young:

    “All those who are counted worthy to be exalted and to become Gods, even the sons of God, will go forth and have earths and worlds like those who framed this and millions on millions of others.” (Journal of Discourses 17:143)

    This would be the “correct” teaching, I guess. The apologist gave up in frustration after I posted the quotes below, that showed he was very much mistaken. So the simple dropping of an “s” to make the plural a singular, was enough to propel the whole doctrine into the “myth” category. Such is the logic of Mormon apologists.

    But I didn’t want to let it go at that, because I was sure that there were statements that emphasized the singular, (one world/earth/planet), that the newbie ‘gods’ of the Mormon Universe would get as possibly a “starter planet”, and I found some:

    “If we are ever exalted and crowned in the presence of God we shall become saviors of a world which we shall create & people. ” (Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff Journals, May 12, 1867.)

  14. grindael says:

    “The Christian world read of, and thing much about, St. Paul, also St. Peter, the chief of the Apostles. These men were faithful to and magnified the priesthood while on the earth. Now, where will be the mystery, after they have passed through all the ordeals, and have been crowned and exalted, and received their inheritances in the eternal worlds of glory, for them to be sent forth, as the Gods have been for ever and ever, with the command–”Make yourselves an earth and people it with your own children?” (B.Young,1873, Deseret News, Vol. 22, No. 308)

    “But I expect, if I am faithful with yourselves, that I shall see the time with yourselves that we shall know how to prepare to organize an earth like this—know how to people that earth, how to redeem it, how to sanctify it, and how to glorify it, with those who live upon it who hearken to our counsels.” (Brigham Young, J. D. 6:274-75)

    “Yes, suppose the Lord were to appoint to you a kingdom; suppose he were to say to you, “Son, yonder are materials which you may organize by my power into a world; and you may place upon it your own offspring, as I did my offspring upon the world upon which you dwelt.” What kind of person would you be if you had no experience? What? Go and create a world, and then people that world with your own offspring, and not know the difference between good and evil, between sickness and health, between pain and happiness, having no knowledge of these by experience. I think that such a one would not be fit, to be entrusted with a world that was to undergo and pass through the same ordeals that our creation is now experiencing.” (Orson Pratt, J.D. 19:289)

  15. grindael says:

    “Let me here say a word to console the feelings and hearts of all who belong to this Church. Many of the sisters grieve because they are not blessed with offspring. You will see the time when you will have millions of children around you. If you are faithful to your covenants, you will be mothers of nations. You will become Eves to earths like this; and when you have assisted in peopling one earth, there are millions of earths still in the course of creation. And when they have endured a thousand million times longer than this earth, it is only as it were the beginning of your creations.” (Brigham Young, J.D. Vol. 8, p.208)

    Like I said, after quoting these few, he gave up and slinked off my page in frustration. But what is a “myth”? It is defined as “any invented story, idea, or concept: His account of the event is pure myth.” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/myth)

    Is this then, an “invented story”? Well, we can sure see by the quotes above, that it is not. And Sharon has graciously supplied us with some more, to debunk the idea that this teaching is a Mormon “myth”.

    The big question is, why are these Mormon apologists making these claims? Why would the apologist that I spoke with, go to all that trouble to set a “trap” for me, thinking that there was no way that I could support the credible claim that this was taught by Mormon authorities, as an integral part of Mormon doctrine? But I think I have an answer as to why these guys think that this is a “myth”. Going back to the dictionary we read under myth:

  16. grindael says:

    “a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature”, and “an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution.”

    This exactly explains the story of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and the origins of all Mormon doctrines. I had found my answer at last. Mormon apologists were just confused. They must have been talking about the whole myth that is called Mormonism. _johnny

  17. Mike R says:

    Grindael, great job as always. It would be nice if those who establish doctrine in the Mormon
    church ( the apostles) would step forward and declare this doctrine to be only “lore” or a
    “canard” if they feel that it is indeed such . Instead they seem to let BYU professors and others
    do their job . I learned 30 yrs ago that the behavior of Mormon leaders was something that I
    could never take seriously , I could never become a Mormon. Their claims of being trustworthy
    guides in some very important spiritual truths is the “canard” here. My heart goes out to the
    rank and file Mormons who follow these guides in order to gain God’s favor. What a trap.
    May the Mormon people exchange their prophets and apostles for more reliable ones, the ones
    who knew Jesus personally and were sent out by Him to teach us all—- Jn17: 18-20 ; 1Jn 1:1-4

  18. Dale says:

    grindael, thanks for sharing your great research.

    This is something I find frustrating when it comes to Mormonism. Many LDS people comment in Utah papers (and in person) that certain doctrines are made up by “anti’s” when they were clearly taught in the church. How many people just buy the “Well, my LDS friend said that’s not true, so it’s not true” argument rather than doing research. I suspect it’s MOST people.

    It’s ironic that the LDS insist Brigham Young is the true and only successor to Smith, but–at the exact same time–hide or deny much of what he taught.

  19. Mike R says:

    Dale, the fact that most Mormons simply dismiss what non-Mormons might say about what
    their leaders have taught on certain doctrines is that they trust their leaders to be directed
    personally by Jesus in teaching spiritual truth. Factor into this is the warning that to doubt /
    criticize the spiritual guidance these men provide is to play into Satan’s hands. Then add to
    this the fact that Mormons are so busy with their religious duties, service, that many simply will
    not even take the time to check things out . If the Mormon people could see how important it
    is to take Jesus’ warning in Matt.7:15; 24:11 seriously enough to test their leaders teachings
    with the scriptures–1Jn.4:1. The Bible ( and BofM) address the danger of false religious leaders.
    False prophets mislead people because most people seem to think of them as violet or immoral
    individuals, yet some can be moral and patriotic type men who dress well and are polite. Notice
    John’s warning: ” These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.”
    [ 1Jn2:26]
    I share your frustration in ministering to those who follow false prophets . These decent people
    need to be set free , Jesus has already done that for multitudes of such people. Heb.7:25
    Jesus is so incredible !

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