Mormon Reckoning

America is entering a Mormon moment as a former bishop of the Latter-Day Saints, Mitt Romney, takes front-runner place in the race for the Republican nomination for the presidency.  I welcome the religious reckoning that is bound to result.  Mormonism shines an ultraviolet light on Christianity in America, revealing features that are unseen under the rest of the spectrum. 

In the last few years, I have become acquainted with the progressive theological and social movement within the Mormon world.  It’s much bigger than the public perceives, if it is perceived at all.  There is a wide range of thought within the membership of the LDS on matters religious and political.  There is a loyal opposition to its leadership’s positions on same-sex marriage, homosexuality, women’s limited roles, and other issues.  The online Mormon “bloggernacle” on these topics includes dropout (or “Jack”) Mormons, temple-ready, tithe-paying Mormons, Mormons who take the Book of Mormon literally, Mormons who don’t, Mormon Democrats, and Mormon Republicans.  Journals like Dialogue and Sunstone make space for respectful but critical viewpoints about the church.

This lively contrarian community within the LDS world results in part from the fact that the Mormon church has a theology, but few theologians.  The top leaders of the church, some of whom I had the occasion to meet a few months ago in Salt Lake City, are chosen primarily for their gifts as managers, not as scholars.  There is no LDS seminary, and there is little scholarship within the church to compare to what is found in the Catholic or mainline Protestant traditions.  An integral part of Mormon theology is the principle of personal revelation.  Each Mormon is expected to come up with his or her own “testimony” that the Church is “true”.  And while there are clear Mormon doctrines, the LDS Church is not preoccupied with interpreting them.  That task is largely left to the personal relationship between the individual Mormon and God.

As a result, a substantial number of Mormons have quietly consulted with their Maker and concluded that the Book of Mormon is mythical.  And they have found a way to hold that view while staying loyal to their church.  Their church is “true” for them in ways that might not be “true” for other Latter-Day Saints. 

It’s not hard to see how they arrive at that conclusion.  The text and Joseph Smith’s account of its discovery are fantastic.  He claimed to have translated the text from the “Reformed Egyptian” – a language that never existed – into English, using “peep stones” called Urim and Thummim.  The book suggests that Jews settled in Meso-America and that Jesus visited this continent after his resurrection.  There is no sound archaeological or historical evidence for any of these claims.  The book was written in grammatically incorrect King James English, long after that version of the language had become antique.  While there are a few pearls of wisdom in it, and its vision of a Christianity indigenous to America is intriguing, a leap of faith as wide as the Grand Canyon is required to take it literally.  (Check out the LDS Church’s own list of most cherished Book of Mormon passages, to get a sense of how many cups of non-Mormon beverages you’d need to finish the whole book.)  Consequently, many Mormons cherish the book as part of their cultural and religious heritage, while understanding that it cannot be taken as an historical record of the events it describes.

For evangelicals to argue that the Book of Mormon is a false gospel, they must give the same kinds of reasons that theologically progressive Christians present for not taking the Bible literally.  Smith’s story of the appearance of the golden plates of the text of the Book of Mormon is no more fabulous than it is to take the miracle stories in the Bible as facts.  Non-Mormon Christians have been in the habit of taking the Bible literally a lot longer than Mormons have been doing it with their book.  But the duration of an obsolete belief system is no argument for maintaining it.

Many evangelicals are outraged that Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity, and that they believe that God was a (married) man who became divine.  But what’s any weirder about these doctrines than the arcane doctrine of the Trinity?  How do you explain the difference such theological disputes make in everyday life in 2012?  Plenty of loyal Mormons take their church’s doctrine with a grain of salt. 

Richard Mouw, president of the evangelical Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA, recently wrote in the LA Times that “I do not believe Mormonism is a cult. However, I am not convinced that Mormon theology deserves to be classified as Christian in the historic sense of that word. I have serious disagreements with my Mormon friends about basic issues of faith that have eternal consequences. These include issues regarding the nature of God, the doctrine of the Trinity and the character of the afterlife. But I have also learned that in some matters we are not quite as far apart as I once thought. In any case, such theological differences don’t preclude a Mormon from being a viable presidential candidate, in my view.” 

I don’t find the term “cult” useful in describing any religious groups.  But apparently Mouw does, and if Mormonism doesn’t fit his definition, why?  Just because they’ve become “mainstream”, as he says, in business and culture?  He fudges a bit about whether or not Mormons are really Christians, and he only hints at hellfire as a possible consequence of their beliefs.  Does he agree with the oft-cited phrase that a cult is just a religious group without political or financial clout?

In the interests of maintaining a conservative alliance, many evangelicals will be challenged to follow Mouw’s example and downplay theological issues for the sake of promoting a common political agenda which has no biblical basis.  Already for many evangelicals, political purity trumps theological purity.  Notice the peace they have made with the Catholic Church, which they used to vilify.  Rick Santorum, an uber-Catholic, has become an honorary evangelical!  For the sake of teaming up with Mormons to fight abortion rights and same-sex marriage, topics about which Jesus said nothing, will evangelicals cut Mormons slack on matters theological?  They do so at their own doctrinal peril. 

If Romney becomes the nominee for the Republican Party, count on a national year-long teach-in about the Mormon faith.  Republicans will have to make Mormonism look good, and that’s going to make Republicans look bad to the millions of fundamentalist Christians who are convinced that it is a terrible heresy.  Some fundamentalists will take a break from politics altogether, seeing how it co-opts and trumps religion.  Other conservative Christians will be nudged toward a more pluralistic, less dogmatic stance.  (See how it plays in the Seventh Day Adventist Church in this article by my friend and colleague Loren Seibold.)  Romney’s Mormonism is going to result in a healthy confusion among conservative Americans.

So there’s good news for progressive Christianity in America’s imminent reckoning with Mormonism.  Romney’s candidacy is going to make people ask questions.  Do political and social agendas matter more or less than theological doctrines?  If America is a Christian nation as defined by evangelicals, can it be governed by a Mormon?  Can any one religion or sect claim to be superior to all others?  More people will question whether the Bible should be taken literally, as they see how hard it is to take the Book of Mormon factually.  People will ponder whether their critiques of Mormonism might apply to their own religious beliefs.  And progressive Mormons will be connected with the larger progressive Christian community, leading to fruitful friendships.   

About Jim Burklo

Rev. Jim Burklo is the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. An ordained United Church of Christ pastor, he is the author of three books in print, OPEN CHRISTIANITY (2000), BIRDLIKE AND BARNLESS (2008), and HITCH-HIKING TO ALASKA: THE WAY OF SOULFUL SERVICE (2013). See more about him at jimburklo.com .

  • https://profiles.google.com/DuwayneAnderson/about Duwayne Anderson

    Couple of points:

    1) In order for a Mormon to go to the temple, they must affirm their belief that the Mormon leadership are the only men on earth with “authority from god” to perform saving blessings of salvation. If you find a Mormon who says they are “contrary” with regard to the the church leadership, they either don’t have a temple recommend (license to go to the temple) or they lied during the recommend interview.

    To see what Mormons *really* think about following their leaders, read the article at the link below (from the official Internet site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints):

    http://lds.org/liahona/1981/06/fourteen-fundamentals-in-following-the-prophet?lang=eng&query=follow+prophet

    2) Mormons are *not* politically diverse. If you meet a Mormon, it’s pretty certain they are a Republican. In fact, odds are they are a very “conservative” Republican. In fact, of all the major religions in America today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is *the* most conservative, and least politically diverse religion, according to a January 9 Gallup Poll (see the link below):

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/125021/mormons-conservative-major-religious-group.aspx

    Duwayne Anderson
    Author of “Farewell to Eden: Coming to terms with Mormonism and science”

  • Anew Perspective

    “While there are clear Mormon doctrines, the LDS Church is not preoccupied with interpreting them. That task is largely left to the personal relationship between the individual Mormon and God.” – Jim Burklo.

    “Smith’s story of the appearance of the golden plates of the text of the Book of Mormon is no more fabulous than it is to take the miracle stories in the Bible as facts.” – Jim Burklo

    “Do political and social agendas matter more or less than theological doctrines?” – Jim Burklo.

    Fairly decent write-up Jim:

    However, also consider that of the 43 unique Presidents of the United States,

    With 13 having acknowledged different religious affiliations; Episcopalian, Unitarian, Congregationalist, Anglican, Unitarian, Deist, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Baptist, Quaker, Roman Catholic.

    And 6 non-denominational affiliations professing no belief in divinity of Jesus Christ. Along with one professed Atheist…

    That Romney’s continual lead might also include the fact that a United States President has more to do with the individual him/herself – than the color of their skin, or church/religion one belongs to.

  • Jed

    I like your ultraviolet analogy and that you note the Church is not preoccupied with interpreting doctrine, but leaves it to members. Well said.

    I disagree with a few other things you conclude as if they were fact. There is substantial archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, and I could point you to at least seven two hour documentaries on the subject. I suggest Journey of Faith and Journey of Faith: The New World to start, but also consider these:

    On Sacred Ground
    Evidences of the Book of Mormon
    The Book of Mormon and New World DNA
    DNA Evidences of the Book of Mormon
    Book of Mormon Archaeology in North America

    These may or may not improve your relationship with God, but from personal experience I can say The Book of Mormon does, as does the Bible.

    The implication of evidence of The Book of Mormon history being true is that the Bible must also be, on the balance, true as well.

    So don’t count your atheist chickens before they’ve hatched! :)

  • http://lds.org Landon

    Interesting article, but it brought to mind this article I read some time ago:

    Mormon Apologetic Scholarship and Evangelical Neglect:
    Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?

    Carl Mosser and Paul Owen
    1997 Evangelical Theological Society Far West Annual Meeting

    Here is the first Google result of the text: http://www.cometozarahemla.org/others/mosser-owen.html

  • Ryan

    As a practicing Mormon part of the “contrarian community” I want to thank you for well-thought out and nuanced piece on the Mormon moment in politics. I agree that a Mitt nomination will require both Mormons and many Christians of all stripes to come to grips with the nexus between faith and politics. As a Mormon who watched Prop-8 and our activities in relation to it with great sadness, it made me question whether our church understands how the power which politics with its attendant power and money can exert on a religious organization. The influence goes both ways. It can be a bitter bargain.

    Let me also just endorse your description of the LDS membership for non-LDS readers. In my view you hit the nail on the head – from consequences of managers as opposed to theologians as our leaders to the axis of diversity in our views of the Book of Mormon. It is one of the articles that made me feel very “understood”. You have a good grasp of the dynamics of what is going on inside our church. And I definitely hope that progressive Mormons will build bridges to the larger progressive Christian community. I believe this is our more natural “theological home” than with the conservative evangelicals and the related political machine. If you divorce Mormonism from its turn toward conservative politics I think progressive Christians would find a lot to like in Mormon theology and praxis. The Book of Mormon and our other scripture have many elements that tangibly support things like environmental stewardship, liberation theology, and social justice.

    Thanks again!

  • http://MormonsAreChristian.blogspot.com Mormons Are Christian

    Mitt Romney’s theology is based on New Testament Christianity, not Fourth Century Creeds. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) views on Baptism, Lay Ministry, the Trinity, Theosis, Grace vs. Works, the Divinity of Jesus Christ comport more closely with Early Christianity than any other denomination. And Mormons’ teenagers have been judged to “top the charts” in Christian Characteristics by a UNC-Chapel Hill study. Read about it here:

    http://MormonsAreChristian.blogspot.com

    Those who question if the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is a Christian denomination usually are mis-informed because New Testament Christianity is closer to Jesus Christ’s teachings than Fourth Century Creeds. Mormons have a better understanding of Christianity than any other denomination, according to a 2010 Pew Forum poll:

    http://www.pewforum.org/Other-Beliefs-and-Practices/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx

    11 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (including several presidents) were non-Trinitarian Christians. Those who now insist on their narrow Trinitarian and salvation only by grace definition of Christianity for candidates for public office are doing our Republic an injustice.

  • Marian

    This is a very helpful article. I had been wondering if there were any Mormons who consider themselves still part of the church but disagree with the official anti-gay, anti-abortion stand. It is good to learn that there is substantial nuance and diversity among believers.

    I am very curious as to the circumstances under which Romney’s consecration as Bishop was revoked. Did he renounce his call voluntarily? If not, why was he removed? If there was some impropriety, I think it is important for voters to know that. Thank you.

    • Nigel

      Hi Marian,

      Your second paragraph poses very understandable questions – perhaps some of them will be answered nationally as the article suggests.

      But, just for you. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints does not have a paid ministry. Most active members will serve in several positions through their church life (callings). All faithful male members will receive the priesthood. As men and women maintain their households and work in their jobs they serve in their church and community. Perhaps you have had a role in your community that you could no longer fill, or just came to an end?

      A bishop and stake president (roles which press reports have identified with Mitt Romney’s life) normally serve a maximum of 5 and 9 years respectively. Then they are released and often receive another calling.

      Out of interest we also apply the Law of Common Consent. After a person has been selected (prayer is part of the process for those selecting), then interviewed, their names are put forward in a meeting to the members for a sustaining vote. Members are also asked if any are opposed (normally this would be a worthiness issue rather than ability – we often grow into these positions). When I sustain my fellow member it means that I will help and support them as required.

      Mitt Romney was a Bishop and a Stake President (and I am sure other things too – including a missionary in France) for a limited period of time.

      As you see a little different from the traditional process, but I hope I have explained clearly enough to make some sense and answer your very natural question.

    • LowellDS

      Marian,
      As you may know, the LDS Church is organized using a lay clergy. Each congregation (called a ward or branch, depending on size) is presided over by a volunteer member of that congregation, called a bishop, and two counselors who assist him. They are “called” to the leadership position by more senior, also volunteer, church leaders. Most bishops serve no more than five years at a time, then they are “released” from the position and somebody else is called to the position.
      The same system applies to all jobs within a congregation, from bishop to Sunday School teacher, to members of an activites committee. Because of the way that it works, a person might serve as bishop for five years and then be called to teach five year olds in the Sunday School. During these periods of service, members keep their regular jobs and do not receive any payment of compensation from the church.
      So, Romney was simply released at the end of his period of service as bishop and he would have then moved on to whatever new assignment he was given at that time.
      Hope this is helpful!

    • http://mormon.org Tracy Hall

      Mormon bishops typically serve about five years. In Romney’s case, he was released as bishop in order to fulfill a weightier responsibility, as stake president over a number of congregations. He resigned from that position when he entered politics in the race against Ted Kennedy.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    It is nice that you feel comfortable with some Mormons. Just remember that the ones who don’t take the Book of Mormon as a real history are a distinct minority within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are correct that the Church leadership is more concerned with Mormons living as Mormons rather than enforcing a detailed theological formulation. The fact is that Mormons believe that by living a principle, one gains a spiritual conviction or “testimony” of its truth and divine origin, and experiences one has as one lives the Gospel with other Latter-day Saints evoke the Spirit and can reignite a slumbering enthusiasm. For that reason, the spiritual convictions of Mormons can change over time, either becoming more vague and less rooted, or sharply delineated as part of essential reality. So long as a Mormon stays engaged in the Church, the opportunity to attain or return to that clear conviction is always a possibility.

    Saying that the “reformed Egyptian” script in which the Book of Mormon original was written is not a “real” language only means it is not one of the known languages of modern scholarship. It has only been two centuries since the Rosetta Stone enabled the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs for the first time in a thousand years. The ancient scripts of Meso-America that are known have been preserved in a very small number of examples, and a language that was only used by a limited number of priestly scribes, and ceased a thousand years before Columbus is unlikely to be preserved in many other examples. But just because there is an absence of evidence currently does not mean that is evidence of absence. We should remember that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered after having been hidden for two thousand years, and the Nag Hamadi library was found about the same time dating from only a couple of hundred years later. Other ancient texts have been discovered in the crannies of ancient monasteries.

    Consider one point. When Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon in 1830, it was basically the only claim that ancient religious records were inscribed on metal plates for the purpose of preservation through time. Smith’s claim was ridiculed as unprecedented. Yet there are now literally hundreds of such metal records catalogued in libraries and museums, including a bronze tablet from ancient Italy inscribed in Etruscan and two other scripts of the region, shown in a National Geographic article about how Rome came to dominate Italy, published three years ago. Why would Smith make such an obviously absurd claim, when he could have claimed it was pure inspiration (as Mohammad did)?

    How absurd is the IDEA of a “reformed Egyptian”? The hieratic and demotic scripts are simplifications of the hieroglyphs, and were further adapted by the Phoenicians to create a “phonetic alphabet”, whose characters were erach adaptations of Egyptian writing symbols. We are still writing in a script that is a direct descendant from that first Egyptian-derived alphabet. Among the archeological finds of the last half century are scripts written using Egyptian characters but transliterating Hebrew sentences, one of the conjecture configurations that appears to be what the Book of Mormon claims for itself, “the writing of the Egyptians and the learning of the Jews”.

    How historically and geographically rooted in reality is the Book of Mormon? The travels of a man named Lehi and his family from Jerusalem and across the Arabian Peninsula, to an oasis on the coast of the Indian Ocean from which they sailed to the Americas, have accurately described obscure facts of Arabian geography that were unknown to Smith and his contemporaries. Lehi is described as camping in a valley which leads to the shore of the Red Sea, with firm mountains on either side and a perpetual stream of water flowing into the sea. A unique small canyon matching that description exists crossing the mountain range that otherwise blocks access between the Red Sea and the interior, and it is the “three days journey form Jerusalem” that the Book of Mormon claims.

    The party is described as traveling souotheast parallel to the Red Sea, which turns out is the ancient Frankincense Trail through Medina and Mecca. then the narrative states that one of the party dies and is buried in “a place called Nahom”. It has been just a decade since French arcvheologists found two stone altars inscribed with the name of the tribe “NHM” in ancient Arabic, in a location matching the Book of Mormon description with ancient burial mounds, and marking the place where the party turned eastward.

    Following a trail east from NHM, one reaches an anomaly, the only naturally green area on the Indian Ocean coast of the Arabian Peninsula, in current Oman. The Book of Mormon calls it “Bountiful”. Monsoon rains water the plateau, and the groundwater makes the coastal area vibrant with plants and honeybees, another feature of the Book of Mormon. One of the more interesting points is that the Book of Mormon claims that the party found iron ore to use for making nails with which they assembled a ship. Geologists from BYU recently found two outcroppings of iron ore in the area, the only ones of their kind in the entire peninsula. these were all features of Arabian geography that were unknown, let alone guessed at, in 1830. How did Smith, an uneducated farmer on the American frontier, know about them? Certainly none of his contemporaries knew enough about Arabia to claim that Smith had just collected known geography to give his story verisimilitude, and that has continued through to the present. Only Mormons have had enough interest to actually go check out the narrative against the reality on the ground. And it all fits.

    The internal literary evidence of the Book of Mormon is also intriguing. In 1967, a schoarly Mormon missionary named Jack Welch attended a lecture in Germany by a Bible scholar who explained how the use of “chiasmus”–an inverted parallelism–in the Gospel of Matthew demonstrated the Hebraic roots of the text, such as in Matthew 13. Welch started looking for chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, and found many significant examples, such as the entirety of Chapter 36 of the book of Alma. Welch is now a professor of both law and ancient literature at BYU, and a founder of the Maxwell Institute which has sponsored mcuh of the modern scholarly research on the Book of Mormon. Smith surely did not know he had incorporated this form of Hebrew literature, since he never mentioned. If he had fabricated it to give an air of verisimilitude, why didn’t he exploit it? It was only found 137 years later.

    Professor Royal Skousen has been spending the last decade reviewing the tow earliest manuscripts of the Book of Mormon to discover precisely what Smith dictated to his scribes. As you noted, the Book of Mormon is NOT written in the vocabulary of Smith and his 1830 contemporaries. Rather, it is a version of 16th Century English, with peculiar word choices that belong to that era. How in the world did Smith do that? WHY would he do that? HOW did he do that?

    The most fundamental question is, if the Book of Mormon was created by Smith, WHY did he go to so much trouble? No one was clamoring for a new book of scripture longer than the New Testament. The various other people in New York State who claimed to have visionary experiences started their own denominiations without the burden of dictating, and then publishinig, a 500 page book, which was mostly an object of ridicule. Smith had gifts which he could have used to establish himself as a popular preacher ini a more conventional setting, and become rich and influential as they were. But instead he affronted all of the established churches with his book, first thing out of the gate.

    It is difficult for most people to read through the first time without assistance and encouragement. The placement of a huge swath of quotations from Isaiah seems like a first class mistake for anyone wanting to establish a following. Why place such a huge burden on yourself, delay getting anything else done for a year, sink huge capital into its printing, and not make any visible profit ever?

    And if any other person of his time had actually written the book, why didn’t they publish it themselves and claim the glory? Why did they let Smith run with it, when they could have declared him a fraud and the whole thing a clever fiction done to show the credulousness of American frontiersmen? The truth is, Smith lacked any visible abilities to have CREATED the book, and had no MOTIVE to do so. The motive for anyone else in America was even less. It is just too big and complicated, yet internally consistent with flashbacks in time and quotations verbatim or in literary parallel of passages two hundred pages before. And there is the troubling matter of it actually matching Arabian geography and Hebrew literary forms. If it is not what it claims to be, WHY does it even exist? It is an obtuse way to gather followers for a new church. Why not cut to the chase and just give out new revelations? Why do you need 500 pages of a thousand years worth of OLD revelations form prophets no one ever heard of? How does that help you establish your bona fides? It’s just a big fat target for your critics.

    Professor Grant Hardy’s recent book, Understanding the Book of Mormon, addressed many of these questions, even as it demonstrates what a complex literary production the book is. Almost 200 years after its publications, scholars are just beginning to appreciate its intricacyand intentionality. Yet witnesses affirmed that Smith dictated the entire text to other people acting as scribes, with no visible manuscript in English available, no backtracking or revising, just pushing straight through, not even checking the Bible as he quoted it. Yet it is not slapdash and disjointed. It is several complex narratives, some of them running parallel in time, seamlessly and consistently joined together. NO one can explain how he did it. Harold Bloom explains it by calling Smith a true religious genius, but that is descriptive, not explanatory. He might as well say it was magic.

    • Pastrami

      Brother Swenson, thank you for sharing your knowledge of the Restored Gospel. I really appreciate your posts. I have read some of your comments on other blogs responding to some of the ad hominem attacks that I expect will grow in frequency and intensity over the coming years. Your testimony and Christ-like attitude shine forth in the responses I have read.

      • http://wadhome.org Ray Wadsworth

        Wow, what a great article!! I might add, that in, what turned out to be, the last hours of Joseph’s life, he and the others in Carthage jail, read aloud from the pages of the Book of Mormon for comfort and inspiration. They knew it was the word of God…. strangely enough, I know it also.

  • Keat

    Jim makes some interesting points. I can see that we have lost some of our intellectuals in our heirarchy to the more Corporate styled leaders. I miss them. Some of Jim’s comments are not in total accurate….
    for example:
    >>>”There is no LDS seminary, and there is little scholarship within the church to compare to what is found in the Catholic or mainline Protestant traditions.”<<>>a substantial number of Mormons have quietly consulted with their Maker and concluded that the Book of Mormon is mythical…..many Mormons cherish the book as part of their cultural and religious heritage, while understanding that it cannot be taken as an historical record of the events it describes.<<<<
    This one is really a stretch. I don't know of any active Latter Day Saint that doesn't fully embrace the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and furthermore the Book of Mormon when read with the spirit is a life changing kind of experience and not the snooze as you indicate. The threshold of committment is too high. You either accept Joseph Smith as touched by God or not at all. Where did Jim find that one?

    Lastly to Marian….The office of Bishop is a lifetime office but not a lifetime calling. It requires tremendous sacrifice and commitment. The calling is to shepherd over a congregation over a number of years with both temporal & spiritual needs. There is no financial compensation but is a very big 2nd job. Within a congregations, callings which are numerous are rotated on a regular basis …sometimes out of inspiration and perhaps sometimes out of desperation.

  • Keat

    a portion was missing from the first version…
    Jim makes some interesting points. I can see that we have lost some of our intellectuals in our hierarchy to the more Corporate styled leaders. I miss them. Some of Jim’s comments are not in total accurate….
    for example:
    >>>”There is no LDS seminary, and there is little scholarship within the church to compare to what is found in the Catholic or mainline Protestant traditions.”<>a substantial number of Mormons have quietly consulted with their Maker and concluded that the Book of Mormon is mythical…..many Mormons cherish the book as part of their cultural and religious heritage, while understanding that it cannot be taken as an historical record of the events it describes.<<<<
    This one is really a stretch. I don't know of one active Latter Day Saint that doesn't fully embrace the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and furthermore the Book of Mormon when read with the spirit is a life changing kind of experience and not the snooze as you indicate. The threshold of committment is too high. You either accept Joseph Smith as touched by God or not at all. Where did Jim find that one?

    Lastly to Marian….The office of Bishop is a lifetime office but not a lifetime calling. It requires tremendous sacrifice and commitment. The calling is to shepherd over a congregation over a number of years with both temporal & spiritual needs. There is no financial compensation but is a very big 2nd job. Within a congregations, callings which are numerous are rotated on a regular basis …sometimes out of inspiration and perhaps sometimes out of desperation.

  • Sean Borzea

    I don’t know. I sort of feel like you’re holding up 2% of the church and making it more than it is. People in the LDS church know the gig – the Book of Mormon is the word of God, we must follow the living prophet just as the Children of Israel followed theirs, etc. There are many black and white doctrines and moral distinctions. Either the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be or it is a fraud, as with Joseph Smith. When you pick up a stick, you pick up both ends. God doesn’t say, “here’s a buffet of beliefs and practices. See what you think and pick what suits your personality.” He never operated that was on earth, or in heaven I suppose. He gives the law and does what he does, we can follow or not. If we play games with picking and choosing what to believe and follow, or try to be a part of some supposed underground movement opposing certain views of the living prophet, well, this is precisely the sandy foundation Christ warned of in 3 Nephi 11. When the storms come, the building falls. In accepting the program offered by God, there is clarity, safety, and unity, which brings peace and power. I see no need to feel like some independent intellectual, my own man, anti-mindless sheep type stuff. Sure, we are all individuals, united in Christ.

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  • Cal Hunter

    This article is an outrageous overplay of a few people who can’t decide whether to embrace the doctrine of the Church, or “go their own way.” President Hinckley said in a conference address (in effect – not a direct quote) that either the Book of Mormon is true, or the entire church is a fraud. It is the thing that separates us from the Nicene Creed believing Protestants and Evangelicals, and the Catholics as well. Those who have a belief in the Book of Mormon as a “nice story” are akin to those “Christians” who say the resurrection of Christ is a nice story, but impossible. In other words, they’re not really true adherents and followers of Jesus… they just like a few of the things he had to say… and they like the teachings of the Book of Mormon but dismiss it’s divine origin or historicity. To such I can only say “you are neither fish nor fowl… and THAT is impossible”. The Book of Mormon is a real record. The resurrection is real and actually occurred. if you do not believe it, that’s all right and certainly your choice. But Christians realize the miracle of the resurrection definitively defines Christ as the literal Son of God… And “Mormons” believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God. If you don’t, then you’re not. And enough of this Prop 8 bashing. The Church did the right thing. If you wish to “build a bridge” to more liberal Protestantism, head on over! There’s already a place for you. The former RLDS… the Community of Christ. But a word of warning. They adhere to the Book of Mormon and Bible teachings… you might need to try and re-write THEIR doctrine in your image as well.

    • Dan Maloy

      Nice job, Cal! The Church really IS ‘true’ and the wonderful caravan moves on!

  • Gramajane

    Wow – using the logic of the author of this article – there must be an amazing number of Mormons that can leap the Grand Canyon
    ( I should try out for the Olympics ;)?)
    Or just maybe his perception is distorted/confused and there is no such huge leap of faith required to believe the Book of Mormon AND/OR the Bible?
    Be careful Evangelicals (or any believers or even non believers) as the sabotage weapons this author wields may appear rational but as one who has studied my own and other religions in some depth for years– his
    cannon appears to be loose as if you will look carefully though his main target appears to be Mormons– his aim also would attempt to take down the Bible too.
    It is amazing to me how he supposedly is able to count some large hidden ( but The author can see them!) group in LDS who are willing to spend time in service projects, Sunday School classes, pay tithing, refrain from what the world considers fun ( alcohol, coffee, tea, extramarital sex ETC) plus be ridiculed, persecuted for beliefs they supposedly don’t believe?
    — in my book it is exactly the type of person who would “drop out” !
    It is hard enough to live the standards of the church, plus have weekly Family Home Evening, read scriptures daily, prayers night and morning plus over every meal, serve in the church and do your visiting or home teaching when you TOTALLY DO have a testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith!! I can’t imagine doing all that ( and more too!) if you didn’t have a testimony– though I have found the closer I am in following the guidelines of the church, the happier and more peaceful my life is. sure, we will all still have trials as that is why we came to this boarding school called Earth
    ( to learn and grow from our experiences, to “become perfect even as our
    Father in Heaven is”)
    From which I hope to return to our Father in heaven with “a good report
    card” when I die. Of course none of us can be perfect but we are to work for that as we are blessed to be saved from our Sins by the atonement of Jesus Christ, when we repent of and forsake our sins in working to obey the commandments of God.
    Some of the main ones are to Love one another- so LDS are certainly boy “anti-gay” but work to hel those with same sex attraction to heal from it, and they can have respected positions in the church if they do not ACT on their attraction ( just like spouses should not have relations outside of their marriage partner). We think they should have legal rights which do not include forcing others to support their choices of actions.
    LDS believe when the life of the mother is in direct danger, the mother has priority and in cases of incest or rape that abortion MAY be appropriate but not automatically so – case by case with careful consideration. Counseling for the mother is MOST needed, as many suffer the second violent act of killing the unborn baby and are much worse off emotionally – suffering for the rest of their lives if they don’t get help.
    Please if any want to know what Mormons believe- go to Mormon.org. So much in the media is so distorted- it offends and disgusts LDS .

  • Gramajane

    That was written on this IPhone and has some typos — sorry.

  • Sue Allen

    My son is currently serving as a Bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is also a very busy Family Practice Doctor, husband and father of seven children. He has been serving as a Bishop for almost 2 years and many weeks have found him giving at least 30 hours to his ward in service, counseling, and meetings. He and his family feel it is a very special opportunity and it couldn’t happen without God’s help. Six of my nine children were missionaries for our Church, serving around the world. None of them could have left home, friends, college, work….a typical young adult life without a testimony that what they were going out to teach was true….that the Book of Mormon is what it claims and that Joseph Smith restored the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • Sue Allen

    Oh, by the way……he doesn’t get paid for any of his time…..

  • Jean

    I don’t doubt that there are people who pick and choose what they want to believe within the LDS religion, just like there are within most religions. But I also know that there is a growing group who seek to know both by faith and understanding; to study doctrines and historical research more closely in search of greater light and knowledge.
    The most prominent groups that facilitate these searches are FAIR-LDS and the BYU Maxwell Institute, though there are many others, such as Square Two and Meridian online magazine. Through their research and careful thoughts many points of faith become even more clear and glorious.
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints both encourages and nurtures members who seek to know the Lord and his Son more fully. Their faith based pursuits can lead to greater unfolding of God’s truths. The LDS people are told to seek knowledge, study things out in our minds, then to go to the Lord for further light and knowledge. Further light and knowledge can come in the form of insights from various knowledge sources, inspired writings, and personal revelation.

  • Sean Borzea

    Good reminders (past few posts) on freedom to learn and believe as we wish. I wonder if we just need to be wary of extremes – either just doing whatever someone says without any thought on our part (really just laziness or foolishness) or not doing anything unless it squares with our personal approach. Somewhere in between, there’s a way to study, pray, and learn for ourselves. There are essential doctrines and moral standards one must accept to be a member of the church (as in the baptism interview, go to the temple, etc.) such as accepting Christ as the Son of God, Thomas Monson as the prophet, live the law of chastity, etc. Our public preaching and teaching has to line up here, basically with what’s in the scriptures, Gospel Principles book, and teaching of the Latter-day Prophets. Then there are other things we can wonder about, and we are free to learn and believe as we wish there.

  • Sean Borzea

    “If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.” – Joseph Smith

  • Steve Drown

    I’m not sure the seminary point was addressed. The Church does indeed have a seminary for all of its young men and women. All 6 of my children are graduates of the LDS seminary. They attended seminary every morning of the school year before their regular high school classes for all 4 years of high school. Many young people going on to college also enroll in the Chruch’s Institute program for a couple of hours per week to continue their seminary training. In addition, Church schools such as Brigham Young University include ecclesiastical training as part of the curriculum. Young people and retired members preparing to service full-time missions also attend a missionary training center for 8 or more weeks. Members of the Church who choose to be are therefore very well educated in doctrine and very well prepared to for the opportunities to be lay leaders in the Church.

    • Dan Maloy

      Steve –

      I believe when the author used the word “seminary” they meant a professional, college-type style of instruction to study what the leaders of that seminary believe to be God’s truths and then, after graduating from that seminary, to be granted the authority to carry out the work of God, ie, to become a preacher. In this respect, we (the LDS church) most certainly do NOT have a ‘seminary’ because we know that the authority to act in God’s name does NOT come from any college/man-made institution but instead flows straight from God. The idea of a worthy 12-year old boy having sacred Priesthood authority, including the right to the ministering of angels, is wonderful simply because it shows the wisdom of God compared to the puny understanding of man, ie, does it matter if something seems silly to man but yet makes sense to God?

  • LMA

    This is a terrific, thoughtful article. As a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (I was raised an evangelical and then turned toward atheism, remaining of that view until 15 years into my marriage to the love of my life, herself a Mormon), it is distressing to me to read all of the really horrible things said about our Church and our faith by my own former co-religionists. It is true that there is discomfort among some Mormon intellectuals regarding tenets of the faith, but what I read the article to be saying is that this is not at all unusual in any branch of religious belief. And surely it is not. Nor is any branch of religious belief free from questions concerning historicity or other truth claims. It is appalling when evangelicals and others attack the uniquely Mormon text on grounds to which the Bible is also subject, especially when one finds them to be so poorly informed about those problems. I might differ with the article a bit regarding whether Mormonism has a well developed theology – or well developed theologians! – because I think that both are about where they should be in historical terms, bearing in mind the relative youth of our Church. The Prophet, Apostles and General Authorities of the Church do a very fair job of articulating LDS theology, and they are backed up by some very bright and thoughtful people at BYU and elsewhere. I have been impressed with the richness of Mormon theology, as well as by the diversity of thought mentioned in the article. Speaking again as a former evangelical AND as a former atheist, I can say with some confidence that if we’re going to have a religion at all (and there are lots of reasons why we would want to), this is a good one to have.

  • Dan Maloy

    The Book of Mormon, whether doubters and nay-sayers in the LDS church or out of the LDS church believe it to be of God or not, is “true”, meaning, it is of God. The Book of Mormon is the translated record of God’s dealings and commandments with ancient civilizations who once lived generations ago in the American contintent. Through God’s interactions with His children in the American continent we have revealed to us (from God to His ancient servants known as “prophets”) God’s commandments and His teachings; we know God’s true doctrines, philosophies and judgements. Ancient prophets wrote these words and teachings down and another ancient prophet, a man named ‘Mormon’ compiled (or ‘abridged’) these numerous records into one single record. This single record was later delivered to (comparatively speaking) a ‘modern’ prophet named Joseph Smith in 1827. With the inspiration and assistance of God, Joseph Smith was able to translate this ancient record into the English language. It is true and I know it to be true because God has told me it is true. And God told me this not just once, but twice. I know this through the priceless gift of personal revelation from God to me. (Go read James 1:5 for yourself). I feel sorry for those who don’t yet know the Book of Mormon truly is what it claims to be, especially for those few LDS members who quietly sit beside me in church but secretly scorn it’s sacred truths. Someday ALL the world will see I and other LDS members on this message board have spoken the truth. May God bless all good people EVERYWHERE…there is simply too much evil in the world to not work together. God bless!

  • Ron

    Jim,

    Everyone has a right to their opinions, all I can say is that you take the time to really study the gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints one more time.

    When you do study further, I sincerely hope you feel the spirit of the lord and listen to his teachings.

    Church members will always respect your personal choices, we hope you study and find the truth soon.

    good luck in your life, Ron

  • Barry Wood

    For those who doubt the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the text still has what I would consider far more than just a few “pearls of wisdom,” as suggested in Mr. Burklo’s fifth paragraph. Merely scratching the surface, one would have to consider Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life (1 Nephi chapter 8), the exposition on the necessity of opposition in 2 Nephi 2, the sermon of King Benjamin in Mosiah 2 ff, the prediction of a “God is dead” theology in 2 Nephi 28:3-6; the development and rebuttal of agnostic Darwinism in Alma 30:13-17, Moroni’s warning against the Communist & Nazi conspiracies (Ether 8:22-26), etc. etc.

    I concur with all of the points made by Bro. Swenson. It’s easy to say that there is inadequate “proof” of the historical accuracy of the account of the Book of Mormon. However, if one takes the position that it is “myth,” then one is compelled to explain how it came to be at all.

    How did an unschooled farm boy not yet 24 years old dictate its 500+ pages in two months, without editing, and have anyone take it seriously at all if it was merely something he made up? How could he have delivered the perfect mise-en-scene for a 6th century story about a visionary, desert-dwelling Israelite? (See Hugh Nibley’s study “Lehi in the Desert.”) How did Joseph Smith manage to describe in perfect geographic detail a route across the Arabian peninsula, when neither Joseph nor anyone he knew had the slightest idea of the subject, and when no one in all of the Americas was acquainted with the place called Nahom/Nahum, or the tiny fertile corner of Oman that the Book of Mormon calls Bountiful?

    More generally, it’s important to remember that “the just shall live by faith.” If archaeologists were to discover a number of ancient MesoAmerican text in the characters of the Anthon transcript of the Book of Mormon, or an ancient writing that, when translated, matched some portion of the text of the Book, who at that point could deny the miracle of the Book’s appearance through Joseph Smith? Yet I sense that God does not want a Church full of people who have based their membership on conviction gained through cold tangible artifacts. Rather, it appears that He is interested in gathering those whose souls resonate with the witness of the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, the evidence in the Book’s favor is just enough to give confirmation to those who have spiritual testimonies of its validity, and not enough to compel acceptance by those who are not amenable to a spiritual witness.

    I also agree with the commenters who express the view that those who reject the authenticity of the Book of Mormon are a small minority of the active members of the Church. Often the more virulent and officious doubters are people who first committed some serious transgression and THEN looked for justification by casting doubt on the received version of their faith.

    As to critics outside the Church — The venom with which some others attack Mormonism for the LDS rejection of the homoousian (Nicene) construct of the Trinity is disconcerting. Considering that Christ prayed that He and His disciples would be “one” as He and the Father were one — i.e., united in purpose, belief, action and affection but separate in substance. Ironically, a principal reason for my disaffection with the Methodist Church of my youth was that my pastor, when pressed on the subject, rejected the divinity of Jesus Christ. He wouldn’t say so in public, but in the privacy of his study I found that he was more Arian than any Mormon. Yet he and other Protestant clergy like him were and are seldom denounced as “Antichrist” in the manner that some of the more intense Evangelical opponents of Mormonism seem to enjoy doing in attacking the LDS faith. They should realize that what believing Mormons have in common with those who take the Biblical Christ seriously is much greater than the points of division.

  • http://wadhome.org Ray Wadsworth

    Jim, where do you get this stuff? “a substantial number of Mormons have quietly consulted with their Maker and concluded that the Book of Mormon is mythical.” It is true that there are some Mormons in name only, who don’t pray, don’t attend church meetings, don’t read any scriptures at all, smoke and drink, take drugs, have no morals regarding marriage and family, but these have probably not “consulted their maker” on the subject! It is likely that the only reference they make to their maker is in curse words.
    Here is the story, there will always be some who will fall away. It even happened with one apostle who walked and talked with Jesus himself, but to say “a substantial number” is just yellow journalism (in my view).
    I’ve been a member all my life, served a mission in Brazil, married in the temple, all 5 kids served missions as well, and all are married in the temple and we are blessed with 17 grandkids and counting. Here is the point, It has been made known to me (by some power I don’t fully understand) that the Book of Mormon is true. And, I have come to know that Jesus is our Savior from reading the Book of Mormon and the New testament of the Bible. It wouldn’t make any difference if I got to thumb through the gold plates, or the original writings of Paul, the conviction is strong enough to help me live, what I believe to be a more Christlike
    life… anyway, thought I would share that….

  • http://patheos.com S G Buck

    Can you imagine early Christians having a debate about Jesus and saying things like we must wait until the New Testament is written (the NT was canonized abt. 350 AD) before we can possible accept what Peter or John are verbally telling us about Him? Or would they have said we must wait until we get a professional clergy to lead us.
    Those early members were encouraged to read the Old Testament to further understand Christ’s mission but if you think they only consulted the Scripture on hand at the time for a testimony of Christ’s sacrifice I believe you have not read the New Testament thoughtfully.
    The members then relied on the testimonies of their leaders who knew the truth and delivered it to them by the Holy Ghost. (1Cor.2:4-16)
    Their closeness to Christ also came thru personal and private pray. They were encouraged to ask God for knowledge beyond the scriptures. (James 1:2, 1 John 5:14-15 and Phil. 4:6-7. They did not have to wait for a professional clergy to come and instruct them.
    They were taught that no man can say Jesus is the Christ but by the Holy Ghost. (1Cor.12) Just think the learning a professional clergy with years of formal study was not the secret of knowing it was the Holy Ghost.
    The Bible speaks of three methods of determining and knowing the truth about Christ’s gospel, they were: 1. The Scriptures 2. The Holy Ghost and 3. Authorized spiritual leaders who received revelation to guide the people of the Church. (See Acts 10).
    This is why LDS members are encouraged to gain a personal testimony about Christ’s church. It is the Biblical thing to do.
    Consider the following scriptures and you will see LDS members are taught just as the Bible taught about knowing and understanding how a person knows God:
    Lk.24:28-32; 1Cor. 2:4; Ps. 51:10-13; 1Cor.1:4-7; 2Cor.2:2-3; 2Cor. 4:6; Gal. 4:6.

  • http://MormonsAreChristian.blogspot.com Mormons Are Christian

    Here are the characteristics of a cult:
    • Small? The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) has 14 million members in 132 countries. In America, there are more Mormons than there are Presbyterians or Jews.
    • Excessive devotion? Mormons are devoted to the Savior, but in appropriate measure He would approve of.
    • Unethical techniques? Ask the pie-throwers to name one.
    • Control by isolation? Even if Mormons wanted to, this would be impossible with 14 million members in 28,000 congregations throughout the world.
    • Control by threats? Again, evidence? Mormon missionaries may be exuberant, but do not threaten.
    • Dependency on the group? The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is just the opposite. Mormons want members to be self-reliant and independent so they in turn can help others.
    • Powerful group pressure? Only if that’s the way the critics prefer to define love.
    • Strange? Guilty as charged. Mormons plead guilty to all the strange things that were done by Christians in New Testament times that were lost during the great falling away in the aptly named Dark Ages, among them temple worship, baptism by immersion by the father of the family, vicarious baptism for the dead, definition of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as separate but united in purpose, salvation requiring both grace and obedience to commandments, prophets and apostles, unpaid clergy, and continual revelation to guide His Church.

  • john

    If Mitt Romney becomes the President of the United States that says a lot for the openness of the people of the US to the principle of the 1st amendment of the constitution.

  • CA “Jack” Mormon

    Mormonism has already lost some of its uniqueness in its effort to appear more mainstream than it really is. Current General Authorities have pushed the Church toward a sort of bland homogeneity that somewhat hides the internal uniqueness of the faith. This seen in the recent publishing of carefully screened and selected teachings of the various past prophets of the Church. All unique and divergent thought of the various past prophets has been edited away into a bland sameness that frankly lacks flavor or interest. Having grown up with unlimited access to the raw, historically correct and usually politically incorrect writings of the same men, I find the edited versions of their writings lacking in interest. The core beliefs have not been tampered with, just the stray remarks that give personality and interest to the readings. It is the Mormon equivalent to all the imposed fig leaves in place of bared genitals in Vatican art. The newer versions are perhaps more religiously pure but also a whole lot less interesting than the original art. My one hope for the greater scrutiny of Mormonism that may be brought on by Romney as nominee and/or president is for the Church to quit trying to look so very mainstream and so less unique than it really is. Who knows, it might even inspire me to start going back to church.

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