Back on November 1st, 2005 the Today Show ran a week-long series focusing on “Mysterious Faiths.” The first faith they examined was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had not heard about this Today Show segment until today; even though it’s “old news,” I want to make one observation relative to the interview Matt Lauer did with Brent Belnap, the Manhattan Stake President for the LDS Church.
The six-plus minute interview was about what would be expected, with a skillful spin to make the LDS Church appealing to a non-Mormon audience. But in doing this, Mr. Belnap has come as close to crossing the line of dishonesty as a person can get. Some of you might think he did cross the line. Here is the portion I want to discuss, which I transcribed from a podcast that includes the interview:
Matt Lauer: When you’re in those developing nations preaching the message of the missionary chur–of, of the Mormon Church, are you saying that the church of Latter-day Saints is the only path to God and salvation? Or are you presenting it as an alternative?
Brent Belnap: You know, I think it’s more as an alternative. We give people the opportunity to choose just as any other religion should have the ability to go out and share its message and give people that same opportunity. We do say that, and do believe that everybody will resurrect because of Jesus Christ. There are those who will also be exalted in the hereafter if they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and repent of their mistakes. But, uh, that’s a choice that every individual should make.
Let’s paraphrase the specific question: Is the message of the LDS Church, as preached by missionaries, that Mormonism is the only path to God and salvation, or is the LDS path presented as merely an alternative?
Notice Mr. Belnap’s specific answer: It’s an alternative.
So how are we to understand Mr. Belnap’s remark? I see only four options:
1. The LDS Church has abandoned the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and many LDS prophets which all clearly teach that the Mormon Church is the only true Church and the only vehicle through which people can attain eternity in the presence of God (the common understanding of “salvation”).
2. While the LDS Church maintains that salvation is only available through the Mormon Church, they conceal that doctrine from prospective converts.
3. Mr. Belnap has assigned a specialized definition to the word “salvation” without enlightening his audience.
4. Mr. Belnap’s answer was not true.
Three of the four options above are reprehensible. The only honorable option isn’t really an option at all.
And Latter-day Saints wonder why people criticize their Church.
I think it is likely that President Belnap is somewhat uncomfortable in his faith, and feared sharing it not because of what potential converts would think of it, but because of what other Mormons would think if he were to come out and say it. Sort of a peer-fear. Being in such a calling in the Church, you are watched pretty closely by both your superiors and those over whom you preside. I think it is a sad downward spiral where the beliefs get more and more watered down the further along the Church goes and the more “popular” it gets.