BYU professor Robert L. Millet spoke at Education Week in Provo, Utah on Tuesday (August 19, 2008). According to a report on the Deseret News blog Mormon Times, “false ideas” about the LDS Church held by non-members come from “dumb Mormons” who don’t really know what the Church teaches.
Though said in jest, Dr. Millet’s words must sting Latter-day Saints who are trying to do as LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard directed: to use the internet and other forms of new media to engage public discussions about the LDS Church. Mr. Ballard said,
“We cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches.”
Yet, according to Dr. Millet, Church members are ill equipped to explain what the Church teaches. Mormon Times reported:
Church general authorities find the situation frustrating as well. Millet told how, after a question and answer session with non-Mormons, an apostle told him, ‘We have a lot of work to do.’
“That work is to help those who are not LDS to understand its doctrine. It also includes getting members of the LDS Church to know the doctrine. ‘We’ve got to get on the same page,’ Millet said.”
Getting on the same page sounds like a great idea, but I don’t know why there would be any optimism about actually accomplishing that goal. Throughout the history of Mormonism, even the leaders of the LDS Church have been unable to “get on the same page” doctrinally.
For example, in his Education Week lecture Dr. Millet told of an LDS apostle who was asked if Mormons believe they will become gods and “be in charge of universes and planets”:
“According to Millet, the apostle said he didn’t know anything about that planetary stuff, but that the point was for us to strive to become more like God and more like Christ. The apostle quoted several scriptures that indicated the possibility of becoming more like God, including 2 Pet. 1:4 which speaks of partaking of the divine nature. Details of the post mortal condition are sketchy, the apostle said according to Millet, but looking forward to living forever with his family, ‘That’s godhood as I understand it.'”
A student manual produced by the LDS Church for its Church Educational System provides the details of which this apostle seemed to be unaware:
“The Father has promised us that through our faithfulness we shall be blessed with the fullness of his kingdom. In other words, we will have the privilege of becoming like him. To become like him we must have all the powers of godhood; thus a man and his wife when glorified will have spirit children who eventually will go on an earth like this one we are on and pass through the same kind of experiences, being subject to mortal conditions, and if faithful, then they also will receive the fullness of exaltation and partake of the same blessings. There is no end to this development; it will go on forever. We will become gods and have jurisdiction over worlds, and these worlds will be peopled by our own offspring.” (Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:48, quoted in Achieving a Celestial Marriage Student Manual, 132, 1976)
Some LDS leaders can’t even stay on the same page with their own teachings. LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie provides an example of this. In his book The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, Mr. McConkie wrote:
“Salvation is free. Justification is free. Neither of them can be purchased; neither can be earned.” (page 346)
In another book, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Mr. McConkie wrote,
“‘Salvation is free’ (2 Ne. 2:4), but it must also be purchased; and the price is obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” (volume 3, page 426)
Dr. Millet himself has not always been on the same page as LDS leaders. In Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation between a Mormon and an Evangelical, Dr. Millet explained that Christ’s Atonement began in the Garden of Gethsemane, and was finished on the Cross:
“We believe that what began in Gethsemane was completed on the cross, and that Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross are a vital part of His overall atoning mission.”(page 84)
This teaching is at variance with LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie who wrote:
“And as he came out of the Garden, delivering himself voluntarily into the hands of wicked men, the victory had been won. There remained yet the shame and the pain of his arrest, his trials, and his cross. But all these were overshadowed by the agonies and sufferings in Gethsemane. It was on the cross that he ‘suffered death in the flesh,’ even as many have suffered agonizing deaths, but it was in Gethsemane that ‘he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him’” (The Mortal Messiah, pages 127-128).
It seems unreasonable and unfair of Dr. Millet to chastise “dumb Mormons” for not having a firm understanding of LDS Church doctrine when those responsible for formulating and explaining that doctrine apparently don’t understand it either.