Delving into the substantial library of books and literature here at Château Reachout, I discovered an August 22, 1951 copy of the Watch Tower’s Awake! magazine carrying an article about Mormonism entitled ‘The Mormon Labyrinth.’ This was the era of Nathan Knorr, president from 1948 to 1977, so the article is published anonymously. They all were from Knorr’s time onwards to disguise the fact he didn’t write books and articles like his prolific predecessors Russell and Rutherford.
When I left the Mormon Church some 37 years ago to become a Christian believer a good JW friend remarked, ‘Oh, out of the frying pan into the fire!’ I could say of this magazine article, ‘Here’s the pot calling the kettle black!’ There is rich irony in their declared intention:
‘The purpose of this article is not to discuss the history of [the] organisation, but rather to point out the fundamental doctrines taught by Mormonism. This is in the interest of honest Mormons, as well as others coming into contact with Mormonism, because by a comparison of the Bible with Mormon tenets the sincere seeker of truth may readily ascertain whether Joseph Smith did receive his ‘revelations’ from God or from Satan the Devil, that subtle transformed angel of light.’
(Awake! August 22, 1951, p.12)
Substitute Jehovah’s Witnesses for Mormon and Charles Russell for Joseph Smith and this could almost be a mission statement for Reachout Trust and many other cult ministries. With minor changes we might put this at the head of every article we publish! They entitled the article ‘The Mormon Labyrinth,’ little knowing how labyrinthine the Mormon Church was yet to become.
The Mormon Labyrinth
The article begins its analysis by saying Mormons are best known for the Book of Mormon, that missionaries will hand out a card containing their thirteen Articles of Faith. It is pointed out that neither contains the ‘revelations’ of Joseph Smith. It is true indeed, the fundamental teachings of Mormonism are not found in the Book of Mormon.
Alexandra Stein, PhD (cult expert) points out that cults are hierarchical, with a Charismatic leader, a faithful core, and then front groups. It is these front groups, a soft face, that are presented to the world. The missionaries and the local Mormon Church are the soft face of Mormonism. Mormon missionaries, the Book of Mormon, the Articles of Faith, local Mormons are Mormonism’s face to the world, the start of the Mormon labyrinth.
When I became a Mormon I was baptised before I got my copy of the Doctrine and Covenants, where Joseph Smith’s revelations are recorded. It was waved in front of me as an incentive. I had to further qualify to be initiated into the inner workings of the temple
The Watch Tower quotes Mormon leaders extensively, from Joseph Smith onwards. I will share some of those quotes, along with the anonymous writer’s reaction, before explaining why these quotes from a 71-year-old article have mostly lost their potency as the Mormon labyrinth has grown ever more convoluted.
The first Mormon teaching under scrutiny is the Adam/God doctrine. The article states:
‘Mormonism teaches that there are many gods, that each is polygamous, has procreative powers like man, brings forth sons and daughters and that men may become gods.’
They quote Joseph Smith’s sermon, known as The King Follett Discourse, preached at the grave of a Mormon named King Follett:
‘And you have got to learn how to become Gods yourselves, the same as all Gods have done before you.’ (Journal of Discourses, VI, 4, Comp.283)
Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt, a contemporary of Joseph Smith wrote:
‘In heaven where our spirits were born there are many Gods, each of whom has his own wife, or wives, which were given to him, previous to his redemption while yet in is mortal state.’ (The Seer, Vol.1, Apostle Orson Pratt)
So, there are many polygamous gods, our god having progressed to godhood from a mortal state from which he needed to be redeemed.
The article’s reaction to this is understandable:
‘Now how do you like that? Shocking? It would seem so to any rational individual. Only the Devil ever promised man that he could be ‘like gods’ (Genesis3:1-5) (See also Isaiah 44:6; 45:5; Hosea 11:9; 1 Chronicles 16:26)’
They later quote Doctrine and Covenants section 132, the vision of Joseph Smith commanding polygamy. It is said a man who does a lot of explaining usually has a lot of explaining to do. Certainly here Joseph Smith does an awful lot of explaining for condoning a practice openly condemned in the Book of Mormon. (Jacob 2:23-28) The true reason for such lengthy explanation is in the words here addressed to his wife, Emma:
‘And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all that have been given unto my servant Joseph, and who are virtuous and pure before me…’ (D&C 132:52)
Several verses go on to insist Emma should be obedient, should abide and cleave to Joseph, forgive Joseph’s trespasses so she should be forgiven. What trespasses? You may well ask.
This is indeed shocking, and is what Mormon watchers were talking about in 1951. More shocking still is the way modern Mormon ‘revelation’ has carefully steered the Mormon Church away from these early, comprehensive, and widely taught Mormon teachings, determined we should talk about something else.
Find more on the Mormon Godhead:
The question of Adam in Christian teaching is pretty straight forward. Adam was the first man. He was created in the image of God to steward the creation, but fell from that exalted position by a devastating act of disobedience, the effects of which are with us today in the sinful nature of mankind. In Mormonism it is not as simple. The Awake! Article writes:
‘Mormonism teaches that Adam was God in heaven, that he came to earth with one of his celestial wives, that he is actually Michael the archangel, that he is really our God, and the father of Jesus Christ, Listen: ‘Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, when our Father Adam came into the Garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He is our Father and our God and the only God with whom we have to do.’ (Brigham Young Sermon, Millennial Star, Vol.15, pp.769, 1853)’
They quote authorities stating Jesus, our elder brother, ‘was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the Garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven…He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. And who is the father? He is the first of the human family. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 4:217-218)’
The Awake! Article calls this, ‘a most blasphemous, ridiculous, demon-inspired revelation.’
As an aside, I simply note we have forgotten how to speak truth like this in the Evangelical Christian Church, with its programmes, events, courses, and therapies. People don’t sin any more, they have issues. People are not called to repentance, they are included, invited. People are not discipled, they are understood, counselled, encouraged.
The article goes on to note, ‘the Bible is most unpopular among Mormon leaders.’
That is true enough. Later they write:
‘Mormonism, like the Pharisees of old, make the Word of God of none effect by its traditions and so-called revelations. Not many of its adherents actually know anything about the Bible…’
Indeed, their eighth Article of Faith states:
‘We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God’
The only book of Scripture Mormons regard as untrustworthy is the Bible. It is also worth noting this Articles of Faith were published in 1842 yet doesn’t mention the Doctrine and Covenants.
Find more on the Adam/God doctrine:
They write about tithing, which I will skip, but they also say something important about priesthood:
‘Mormonism teaches two priesthoods in effect towards Christians, the Aaronic and the Melchizedec, to which they profess to belong, and through which salvation must come’ D&C 104:1-8)
The article points out two very important things about these priesthoods:
1. ‘The Aaronic priesthood was typical and came to an end by Jesus fulfilling the Law.’
2. ‘Only one could ever be a priest after the order of Melchizedec. That one is Jesus Christ, the nevermore dying, immortal King. (See Hebrews 5:1-10)’
Mormon priesthood is fundamental to the whole functioning of the church. Understanding this, and being able to speak intelligently from the Bible about what is temporary and what is eternal in this regard is key to answering Mormon claims to priesthood. Otherwise, we simply affirm them in their belief that we simply don’t understand these things.
To better understand this see:
Mormon Revelation in Abeyance – and contradictory
I wrote back in 2018, ‘The Mormon God doesn’t thunder any more. There was a time when his revelations through Mormon prophets were designed to reverberate across the world…and I anticipate church policy will continue to be channelled through official statements. You can And we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for Mormon Scripture to be added to. Mormon leaders will, no doubt, continue to encourage the saints to ‘keep the faith’ but it will be done through anecdotes, life-building principles, and comforting folk wisdom with which generations of Mormons have become comfortable and familiar.’ (see more here)
There are two things especially to note here:
1. Mormonism is, like every cult, fluid. It can change even what was considered the most fundamental and unassailable doctrines and practices if circumstances demanded change. We don’t talk about Mormonism today in the same way as it is spoken of in this 1951 Awake! Magazine. This is because what was once openly known, understood, and even boasted of in Mormonism is now approached with diffidence, even denial. The spirit of this post-modern, your-truth-my-truth world lends itself to such reinvention.
The role of a Mormon leader today involves a lot of diplomacy, squaring circles, obfuscation, and explaining ‘the current position.’ The history of Mormon prophets, priesthood, and doctrine is a history of contradictions and a frighteningly regular practice of throwing previous generations under the bus. Consider the following changes.
On God having been a man, an interesting exchange took place with then Mormon prophet Gordon B Hinckley:
Q. Just another related question that comes up is the statements in the King Follet discourse by the Prophet.
Q: … about that, God the Father was once a man as we were. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing. Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?
A: I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.(See more here)
On Adam/God doctrine has long been referred to as ‘the Adam/God theory’ and denounced by the church, despite the fact it was taught by the second Mormon prophet and believed by more than one generation of Mormons. Brigham Young declared in prophetic tone:
‘Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, when our Father Adam came into the Garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He is our Father and our God and the only God with whom we have to do.’ (Brigham Young Sermon, Millennial Star, Vol.15, pp.769, 1853)’
Mormon prophet Spencer W Kimball, in the October 1976 semi-annual conference of the church said:
‘We hope that you who teach in the various organizations, whether on the campuses or in our chapels, will always teach the orthodox truth. We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some of the General Authorities of past generations. Such, for instance, is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine.’
On the issue of polygamy, the official position of the church is:
“More than a century ago God clearly revealed unto His prophet Wilford Woodruff that the practice of plural marriage should be discontinued, which means that it is now against the law of God. Even in countries where civil or religious law allows polygamy, the Church teaches that marriage must be monogamous and does not accept into its membership those practicing (sic) plural marriage” (“What Are People Asking about Us?” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 71–72).
A law of God was changed in 1890 to accommodate the Mormon Church into the union.
On just being a ‘Mormon!’ The most shocking and recent example is the current prophet’s reversal of his immediate predecessor’s policy on the name ‘Mormon.’ The previous prophet, Thomas M Nelson, spent millions on an advertising campaign, the ‘I’m a Mormon’ programme.
The ‘I’m a Mormon’ campaign featured church members, some famous, from around the world proudly declaring their pride in being a Mormon. People were referred to mormon.org to view thousands of church members smiling into a camera and confidently declaring, ‘I’m a Mormon.’
This initiative was followed by a full-length ‘Meet the Mormons’ documentary that looked at the lives of six Mormons from around the globe. An excited 2011 ‘World Report’ (you have to admire their Chutzpah) the church wrote about ads on television spots, billboards, on buses and on the Internet. Rebranding Mormonism was a big thing just ten years ago. With Mitt Romney on the way to the Whitehouse, even British newspapers were noticing this ‘Mormon moment.’ This was the launch of mainstream Mormonism, and then Russell M Nelson insisted:
‘The name of the Church was given by the Lord Himself when He instructed: “For thus shallmy church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”(Doctrine and Covenants 115:4). To be true to that charge, we are changing the names of many ofthe Church’s global communication channels…’…read more here.
Millions more were spent on another rebranding.
But which Prophet?
As I ask in my article Mormon Prophets Contradict Each Other to which prophet are Mormons to be faithful?
To Joseph Smith, who routinely broke the Word of Wisdom (among other things)?
To Joseph Fielding Smith who said, ‘if you drink coffee or tea, or take tobacco, are you letting a cup of tea or a little tobacco stand in the road and bar you from the celestial kingdom of God, where you might otherwise have received fulness of glory’
To Brigham Young, who condemned to eternal punishment all who speak against plural marriage?
To Wilford Woodruff who ended plural marriage in 1890?
To Gordon B Hinckley, who bizarrely declared polygamous groups in Utah, ‘nothing to do with this church?’
To John Taylor, third Mormon prophet who declared of the first Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893, ‘We talk about Christianity, but it is a perfect pack of nonsense…it is as corrupt as hell; and the devil could not invent a better engine to spread his work than the Christianity of the nineteenth century.’ (Journal of Discourses, vol.6, p167)
To Thomas S Monson who declared, “I would encourage members of the Church wherever they may be to show kindness and respect for all people everywhere. The world in which we live is filled with diversity. We can and should demonstrate respect toward those whose beliefs differ from ours” (April 2008 General Conference address)
To Joseph Fielding Smith, who, in 1935, said Cain became ‘the father of an inferior race,’ and the black man cannot hold the priesthood while time lasts?
To Spencer W Kimball, who, in 1978, said ‘the time has come’ declaring all worthy male members of the church may hold the priesthood?
To Thomas S Monson, who barred the children of LGBT parents from baptism, their parents from full church participation?
To Russell M Nelson, who declared Monsons’ statement a revelation, then announced a revelation reversing the earlier revelation thus contradicting himself?
Find more about Mormon contradictions:
2. The other thing of note is what comes next. There is enormous pressure on Mormon leaders to accept LGBT church members fully into the church…read more here. There is also a movement aimed at liberalising the priesthood of the Mormon Church…read more here.
The question is, which of these, or perhaps any other target of pressure groups, will be next to fall? One thing is certain, when it comes to the Mormon Church, constant change is here to stay.