“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Christian denomination, wholly committed to the New Testament account of the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of mankind.”
In connection with the Preston Temple open house in May the Mormon Church issued a ‘media pack.’ It paints a wholesome and attractive picture of the “restored” church. A list of beliefs puts the above statement first and foremost.
This raisesthe question: If Mormons are a Christian denomination, why do they seek to convert those who declare themselves to be Christians already? The Christianity with which they are so eager to be identified was declared by Mormon president John Taylor to be,
“… a perfect pack of nonsense …a sounding brass and a tinkling symbol; it is as corrupt as hell; and the devil could not invent a better engine to spread his work…” – Journal of Discourses vol.6, p.167.
Joseph Smith claimed that he was commanded in a vision of God and Jesus not to join any church:
… for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof. – Joseph Smith – History 1:19.
So in 1820 all Christian creeds were an abomination in the sight of God, but since 1998 the Mormon Church is now one of them. Presumably, since the Mormon Church is not now to be considered an abomination, it must mean that the Christian church has now become acceptable. Many people, Jerald and Sandra Tanner especially, have documented the changes in Mormon doctrine over the years, but one thing that has not been noted is any shift towards orthodox Christianity.
In truth, they regard the Bible as unreliable and corrupted by apostate Christendom. One early Mormon leader stated,
The Bible …is not the word of God, but the word of uninspired translators – Pamphlets of Orson Pratt pp.70-71.
Joseph Smith declared that the Book of Mormon is, “the most correct of any book on earth …and a man would get nearer God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
The Book of Mormon itself has this to say about the Bible:
… for behold they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. – 1 Nephi 13:26-27.
The Christ whose name they so eagerly appropriate, far from being the Christ of the New Testament, is the brother of Satan and the son of a polygamous god, who is an exalted man. He is a Christ, of whom Joseph Smith declared,
I have more to boast of than any man had. I am the only man who has been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam… The followers of Jesus ran away from him, but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet. – JS History of the Church, vol.5, p.467.
The Mormons are claiming that they are “wholly committed to the New Testament account of …Jesus Christ,” yet their leaders have insisted that he was married and had children, even that he was polygamously married. They insist that he was conceived by physical sex between God and Mary, so that God was literally his father. The Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie said,
The Only Begotten of the Father. (Moses 5:9). These name titles all signify that our Lord is the only Son of the Father in the flesh. Each of the words is to be understood literally. Only means only; Begotten means begotten; and Son means son. Christ was begotten by an Immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers. – Mormon Doctrine, pp.546-47./p>
The Mormon Church is no longer a backwoods, isolationist group, they are a major corporate empire, and seeking acceptance on all fronts. Their public relations staff are working hard to promote the image of the church as wholesome, family-oriented, righteous people. Claiming to be Christian is a way to get under the guard of those they contact. Those seeking God will see them as another alternative when looking for a local church.
Is 20th Century Mormonism Dying?
It has long been apparent that the phenomenal success of the Mormon Church is in no small measure due to it’s ability to change and adapt. Mormon leaders have long been image conscious and anxious to own the correct reputation. Such concerns have been the driving force behind some remarkable changes in policy and practice over the years. The nineteenth century Mormon Church was isolationist and aggressive, much in the traditional style of new religious movements. Speeches and statements from church leaders frequently reflected inflated ambitions to “rule every nation.” In that rare atmosphere of triumphalism all sorts of wild statements of doctrine and belief were made, leaders never imagining that the world would change so much as to be able to put Mormon claims to the test. One classic example is the following extract from a contemporary journal:
Inhabitants of the Moon are more of a uniform size than the inhabitants of the Earth, being about 6 feet in height. They dress very much like the quaker Style & are quite general in style, or the one fashion of dress. They live to be very old; comeing [sic] generally, near a thousand years. This is the description of them given by Joseph the Seer, and he could “See” whatever he asked the Father in the name of Jesus to see. – Journal of Oliver B. Huntington.
Again, from the Journal of Discourses we have this from Brigham Young:
Who can tell us of the inhabitants of this little planet that shines of an evening, called the moon?… when you inquire about the inhabitants of that sphere you find that the most learned are as ignorant in regard to them as the ignorant of their fellows. So it is in regard to the inhabitants of the sun. Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it. It was not made in vain. – Journal of Discourses, vol.13, p.271.
Thinking that their 19th century world-view would endure they never imagined that one day “the most learned” would land on the moon and find it barren and uninhabited. Trusting in their splendid isolation amongst the Rocky Mountains they defied the world and developed many of the doctrines and practices for which they are still famous. One notorious teaching was Brigham Young’s Adam/God doctrine. Young stated on April 9th, 1852:
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 Michael, the Archangel, the Ancient of Days!… He is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do. – Journal of Discourses, vol.1, pp.50-51.
Today what the church calls the Adam/God ‘theory’ is stridently denied and those who teach it are excommunicated. Along with polygamy, blood atonement (the murder of ‘apostates’ and other offenders in fulfilment of temple oaths), and men on the moon, Adam/God was dropped, and the church buried its 19th century mistakes with its 19th century dead. One commentator observed that
“The [Mormon] Church entered the twentieth century in anxious pursuit of respectability.”
This century, however, has also seen the Mormon Church face controversy. One notable hangover from the days of Brigham and Joseph has been the church’s stance on Negroes. One noted Mormon leader stated:
As a result of his rebellion [in a pre-mortal existence], Cain was cursed with a dark skin; he became the father of the Negroes, and those spirits who were not worthy to receive the priesthood are born through his lineage. – Bruce R McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p 102.<
Another leader declared:
Is there any reason then why the type of birth we receive in this life is not a reflection of the worthiness or lack of it in the pre-existent life?… We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in the pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Latter-day Saints. These are rewards and punishments. – Mark E Peterson, Race Problems – As They Affect the Church.
According to performance in a pre-mortal state men and women are born into different races. The Negro is the lowest of these and not deserving of Mormon priesthood blessing. Clearly to be born White, Anglo-Saxon and LDS puts a person at the top of this caste system.
In 1978 the then prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, announced that “all worthy male members of the church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard to race or color,” claiming to have received revelation on the matter. This has opened a whole new mission field to the church, which is now expanding at a phenomenal rate amongst African nations.
More recently the current prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, deftly handled a potentially difficult question put to him in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, published April 13th 1997:
Q. Don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?
A. I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Now that’s more a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.
This ‘deep theology’ that has proved so clouded in mystery for the modern prophet was clear as day and boldly stated by Joseph Smith:
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man. – Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.345.
>And again from another early church leader:
The Gods… have been redeemed from the grave in a world which existed before the foundations of this earth were laid… they were exalted also, from fallen men to Celestial Gods. – Orson Pratt, The Seer, January 1853.
In the November 1997 General Conference Gordon Hinckley referred to the newspaper interview:
I have been… in a few instances misquoted and misunderstood… You need not worry that I do not understand some matters of doctrine. I think I understand them thoroughly, and it is unfortunate that the reporting may not make this clear. I hope you will never look to the public press as the authority on the doctrines of the church. – Ensign magazine, Nov.1997, p.4.
The San Francisco Chronicle published the complete interview in response to show that no such misrepresentation occurred. Notably there was no effort to correct the report or to clarify the doctrine. It would have been a good opportunity. It is, after all, one of the most public platforms the prophet has. Mormons like to think that the eyes of the world are on the tabernacle where he speaks.
It was in the March 1998 Ensign magazine, however, that Gordon Hinckley chose to “clarify” his understanding of the Godhead, almost a year after the article was published. Notably, while he wrote about God having “a body of flesh and bones”, there was no clear reference to God having been a man. Nor was there any overt teaching concerning men becoming god although both are implied. However the reader would have to know what to look for. Faithful Mormons would, of course, understand perfectly and, with a wink and a nod, the world is hoodwinked and the faithful are in on the joke. It is clear that these things are being played down in an effort to convince the world that Mormons are, indeed, a “Christian denomination”.
Once again, the Mormons are digging graves for past mistakes. Notable amongst the ‘dear departed’ of recent years is the controversial bar to Negroes. Also dead and gone are key portions of the temple ceremony. Notably the blood oaths were removed in 1990, and a controversial section portraying the typical Christian clergyman as a lackey of Satan, who taught a “ridiculous and incomprehensible” philosophy, which he called “orthodox religion”, was removed.
The Journal of Discourses, an encyclopaedic work containing most of the sermons of early church leaders, was once a key source of doctrine. It has recently been demoted to the position of interesting but uninspired teachings, which may, or may not, be reliable. Many of the problems they are trying to bury are from this, once unimpeachable, source. If any Mormons deny this try citing it as a source as we have here.
In light of all this, plus Gordon Hinckley’s recent handling of the question of where God came from, we ask the question again, is 20th century Mormonism dying? As with the prophets of the nineteenth century, the Mormons seem to be burying their 20th century mistakes with their 20th century dead. What will the Mormon Church of the 21st century look like?
This article appeared originally in the Summer 1998 Reachout Quarterly