On April 1, 2006 Elder Stephen Kerr, a native of Dundee was sustained as an Area Seventy in the Europe West Area of the Mormon Church. A fourth generation Mormon on his mother’s side, after serving a mission he went on to serve as stake president, counsellor to a stake president, branch president, mission president and counsellor in the presidency of the Edinburgh mission.
In the September Ensign Elder Kerr addressed the youth of the Mormon Church. He confesses a passion for books and writes of the list of things young Mormons might want to do while they are still young. Three things are especially important, 1) Being worthy to go to the temple, 2) Seminary and institute classes to learn more about the faith, 3) The companionship of the Holy Ghost (sic) and receiving revelation.
Is this the same Stephen Kerr to whom I wrote in 1998 following his appearance in one of a series of TV programmes that looked at various faiths? A panel quizzed him and another Mormon about their faith. Of particular interest was the question of Negroes and the priesthood. We have addressed this issue before and I need only say that, until 1978, Negroes were disbarred from full involvement in the Mormon Church because the colour of their skin marked them out as “unworthy”. In 1978 this changed under enormous pressure from the wider society. This is common knowledge and I don’t imagine that I am telling you anything you don’t already know. If you wish to know more see this helpful article, The Mormon Secret Doctrine.
Imagine my astonishment when I heard Stephen Kerr, a fourth generation Mormon, a lover of books, a priesthood leader of long standing and someone who encourages youth to learn more about their faith – imagine my astonishment when I heard him deny any understanding of this teaching. He would have been 18 years old at the time of those momentous changes in 1978, when the official declaration announced from Mormon pulpits across the world that, “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color (sic)”. He would have been preparing for his mission, if not already serving, and this would have had a profound effect on the way missionaries responded to coloured people on the door.
He was challenged repeatedly and, repeatedly, he said, “I don’t know why this was so, nobody knows why.” It might be argued that I am in no position to know what he knew or didn’t know. That is right. It might be argued that I couldn’t prove that he was being disingenuous in his answers. That is correct. It might be said that I must take the man at face value and accept that he spoke in good faith. That is something I struggle with simply because it is not true that “nobody knows”. It is common knowledge.
This is doctrine of recent memory, practised by Mormons of my generation. Especially poignant was the fact that his Mormon companion was a young Negro woman who, I feel, was quite innocent in her endorsement of Elder Kerr’s claim to ignorance. My generation and his would have been taught as a matter of course the story of skin colour being a curse. Hers would have been denied such understanding as new opportunities opened up, post 1978, for Mormonism in Africa and among African communities across the world. Now a new generation of young church members is deliberately kept ignorant of their own heritage.
Follow the Prophet
Stephen Kerr is, of course, only following the example of his leaders, notably Gordon B Hinckley who, as we saw in the last edition, was challenged with the same question in 2002 for German television:
Question: “Until 1978 no person of color (sic) attained the priesthood in your church. Why it took so long time to overcome the racism?”
Hinckley: “I don’t know. I don’t know. (long pause) I can only say that. (long pause) But it’s here now. We’re carrying on a very substantial work on Africa for instance and in Brazil. We’re working among their people developing them.”
“I don’t know” has become a stock answer under this president, parroted by the rising generation eager to ‘progress’ in the Mormon Church. Jude begins his short letter by urging Christians to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (v.3). He later characterised the deceivers against whom we contend:
These men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals – these are the very things that destroy them” (v.10)
Genetic Memory or base Instinct?
People speak sometimes of genetic memory, describing those instincts that we inherit from our forebears and that contribute to making us what we are. I wonder if there can also be a genetic forgetfulness that can rob us of any memory of inconvenient truths. It would explain why something that is so obviously true and widely known could be plausibly denied in Mormon circles. A group dynamic and consciousness, in which a follow-the-leader mentality, without reflection, simply believes, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
Whatever the case Scripture makes clear that there is a base instinct that drives the unregenerate person. It is unreasoning, animalistic and majors on preservation of self. It only values those things that serve its own purposes and speaks abusively against the truth it doesn’t understand. There is an urgent need for Christians to contend for the faith against such instincts and those who act on them. How often we have heard Christians declare that they had spoken to Mormons and found that they found so much common ground. The fact is we cannot simply be decent and civilised, not make a fuss and take people on face value. If individuals do not consciously lie then cults do lie through them as they mimic their leaders, toe the party line, and convince perhaps even themselves to accept the lie as the truth.
Mormon Lies that can blind us
“We believe in the same God as you. ‘We believe in God the eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost’ (First Article of Faith)”
Although it has the appearance of a Trinitarian confession this does not come close to what Mormons believe about God. Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of Mormonism, said:
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God…and that he was once a man like us…and you have got to learn to be Gods yourselves…the same as all Gods before you. (King Follett Discourse)
“Of course we trust and believe in the Bible” This, again, is a disingenuous answer. The Eighth Article of faith of Mormonism declares:
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 Bible is the only book of Scripture in Mormonism that is regarded as unreliable and its content is only respected so far as it appears to confirm the Mormon message. The message of Mormonism, such as their teaching on the nature of God, is brought to the Bible and if the Bible does not agree then it is considered wanting. While the Book of Mormon is considered the book of the restoration the Bible is regarded as the book of the apostasy.
“We are Christians and respect other Christian denominations. We would never attack other churches as some attack us.” The Book of Mormon however declares:
Behold, there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great and abominable church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth (1 Nephi 14:10)
There doesn’t appear to be any room for “other denominations” here and it might be worthwhile asking a Mormon which church you belong to.
“Of course Mormons aren’t polygamists. We renounced polygamy in the nineteenth century and those who practice it today have nothing to do with us.”
Two things worthy of note:
1. Polygamy is still an integral part of Mormon Scripture. Mormons might argue that the practice of circumcision is part of Christian Scripture but is no longer practised. This is comparing apples and oranges because circumcision was a mark of the Old Covenant which was superseded by baptism under the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. Polygamy, however, is taught as an eternal principle and regarded as the order of heaven. It is described as the “new and everlasting covenant”:
And again, verily, I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant…they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation. Then shall they be gods. (D&C 132)
The reference to Mormons becoming gods by the “new and everlasting covenant” is instructive in light of what we have already seen of the teaching that men become gods. While the familiar Salt Lake City Mormons do not currently practise polygamy, it seems it will be reinstated, if not in this life then in glory.
2. That being the case it might be said that today’s polygamists are simply keeping the practice warm for the day when all Mormons return to the principle. Further, it seems less than honest to deny liability when the very texts that teach polygamy still form an integral part of Mormon “Scripture”.
As we meet Mormons we need to build bridges but we must take care that we do not fall for the lie that the bridge is not needed, that Mormons are true biblical Christians, that in meeting Mormonism there is no need to “contend for the faith”.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2006/7 Reachout Quarterly