Last week Massachusetts Senator John Kerry took a lot of heat from all sides for a comment he made about education. He told a group of students at Pasadena City College that if they study hard, do their homework, and make an effort to be smart, they will do well. If you don’t, Kerry said, “you get stuck in Iraq.” His comment naturally offended a number of people who felt he was slamming our military (again?). Kerry has since apologized for what he calls a “botched joke” that was really meant to criticize President Bush.This reminds me of a comment made by BYU professor Stephen E. Robinson that appeared in his book, Are Mormons Christians? On pages 19-20 Robinson was trying to fend off criticism toward second LDS President Brigham Young regarding his infamous “Adam-God” sermon. In a conference message on April 9, 1852, Young stated that the first man, Adam, was our Father and our God, and the only with whom we have to do.” Said Robinson:
During the latter half of the nineteenth century Brigham Young made some remarks about the relationship between Adam and God that the Latter-day Saints have never been able to understand. The reported statements conflict with LDS teachings before and after Brigham Young, as well as with statements of President Young himself during the same period of time. So how do Latter-day Saints deal with the phenomenon? We don’t; we simply set it aside. It is an anomaly. On occasion my colleagues and I at Brigham Young University have tried to figure out what Brigham Young might have actually said and what it might have meant, but the attempts have always failed. The reported statements simply do not compute-we cannot make sense out of them. This is not a matter of believing it or disbelieving it; we simply don’t know what “it” is. If Brigham Young were here we could ask him what he actually said and what he meant by it, but he is not here, and even expert students of his thought are left to wonder whether he was misquoted, whether he meant to say one thing and actually said another, whether he was somehow joking with or testing the Saints, or whether some vital element that would make sense out of the reports has been omitted.
First of all, to say Latter-day Saints “have never been able to understand” Young’s remarks is totally ridiculous. They may not like what Young said, but it is inaccurate to conclude that he was not understood. Young’s meaning was certainly not lost on Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie who admitted in a letter dated February 19, 1981, that Young did indeed teach that Adam was the Father of our spirits. Can we really take Robinson’s explanation seriously and somehow assume Young was perhaps “joking”? I don’t think so when we take into consideration how Young ended this conference message:
Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation.
If this is meant to be taken as a joke, I fail to see the humor. Perhaps it is just me, but I don’t see threatening people with damnation as something that is funny. Millions of Latter-day Saints believe Young was a modern-day prophet, yet at the same time, they, like Robinson, are reluctant to believe that Adam is God. If the former premise is true, wouldn’t it be safer for Latter-day Saints to concede that Young’s warning might also be true? If so, isn’t it also logical to conclude that most Latter-day Saints are in danger of eternal peril?
Before Mormons run to their keyboard and insist, “Yeah, but this teaching was never ‘official’ doctrine,” they might wish to think more deeply about the matter. Young’s teaching (as erroneous as it is) meets the criteria of being an LDS doctrine even by today’s LDS standards.
1. It was taught by a living prophet (last I checked Young was alive when he said it).
2. Young himself called it a doctrine (not a “theory” as most LDS apologists suppose).
3. It was taught in Conference.
4. Young’s connection between Adam and God is found in LDS scripture when the D&C (27:1; 116:1; 138:38) states that Adam is the “Ancient of Days” (the term “Ancient of Days” is an Old Testament reference to God in Daniel 7:9, 13, 22).
5. It was accepted as true by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve (though Orson Pratt admittedly had serious reservations).
6. It was actually a part of the temple endowment ceremony for a time (Mormon historian David John Beurger wrote, “The St. George Temple endowment included a revised thirty-minute ‘lecture at the veil’ which summarized important theological concepts taught in the endowment and also contained references to the Adam-God doctrine”).
Few things in Mormonism get more “official” than that.