Mormonism in the Middle

 

The Putrajaya Masjid in Malaysia
Putrajaya Mosque in Malaysia
(Wikimedia Commons photo by Nazir Amin)

 

In a portion of the manuscript that I posted here a few days ago, I commented that Latter-day Saint theological interactions with Muslims will be easier to the extent that we can say positive things about Muhammad, whom Muslims esteem very, very highly — or, at least, to the degree that we’re not obliged to say negative things about him.  Here, I continue that discussion:

 

Fortunately, we can say good things without cynicism or pre­tense. From its earliest years, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had good things to say about Muhammad. This is one of the things that I am most proud of in the gospel. Let me explain. For many people today, even for religious people, the concept of a “prophet” has so lost its meaning that they are willing to apply the title to any person they regard as good and as having good ideas or standing up for a good cause. Thus, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy have all been called prophets. But this, it is clear from a Latter-day Saint viewpoint, is to lessen the concept of “prophet.” Not, I hasten to add, because of anything particularly wrong with these or similar people to whom the title is often applied, but because they lack the one characteris­tic that distinguishes prophets from other people, even from good and great ones—revelation from God, the capacity to speak authori­tatively in the name of our Heavenly Father.[1]

There is another group of people in our Western society that, unlike the liberals I have just sketched, takes a very high view of prophecy. I am thinking, for example, of certain conservative Prot­estants. The trouble is that, where the first group was too inclusive, and was willing to call almost any good person a prophet, this group is too restrictive. They are quite willing to ascribe the origins of all world religions to the devil, and are even willing to consign all their adherents to hell. (Mormons are often assigned to the same place by the same people.) For these conservative believers, there is no truth outside of their own particular denomination or brand of religion.

I am delighted that Mormonism is in the middle. The gospel of Jesus Christ makes no apology for its claim that it is the truth and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contains all the truths needed to save us. Yet it does not take a bigoted and narrow view of truth. We are willing to accept true insights wherever we find them. “The first and fundamental principle of our holy reli­gion,” the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limita­tion or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men.”[2] President John Taylor was equally enthusiastic. “If there is any truth in heaven, earth, or hell,” he declared, “I want to embrace it, I care not what shape it comes in to me, who brings it, or who believes in it, whether it is popular or unpopular. Truth, eternal truth, I wish to float in and enjoy.”[3]“We believe in all truth,” President Joseph F. Smith agreed,

no matter to what subject it may refer. No sect or religious denomination in the world possesses a single principle of truth that we do not accept or that we will reject. We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure.[4]

 

[1] Of course, God is the source of all truth, so it is perhaps a little harder to separate prophets from truth-speaking non-prophets than might at first glance appear. To the extent that even Caiaphas spoke the divinely-inspired truth, I suppose he was tempo­rarily a kind of prophet. The principles enunciated in Doctrine and Covenants 91 seem to me to have wide application.

[2] Times and Seasons (February 1840), 54.

[3] Journal of Discourses 1:155.

[4] Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine. 5th ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939), 1.

 

 

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