Exalting the Mormons

mormon templeNewsweek magazine splashed a story on the growth of the Mormon Church on its cover last week. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints keeps receiving more and more media coverage, and it is handling it quite well, considering some of its more controversial teachings.

Nothing extremely shocking in this piece (and GetReligion has covered some of these issues here, here, here and here), but this is one of the country’s major newsweeklies and an article that will gather quite a number of eyes should not be ignored.

The author, Elise Soukup, seems a bit transfixed by the polygamy issue, but it’s clear that LDS leadership abandoned that teaching a long time ago. It’s old news.

The news too me is LDS teaching on exaltation, but the following few sentences are all that is mentioned on the issue:

However, LDS doctrine holds that some polygamist marriages will exist in the celestial kingdom, the highest tier of heaven. Smith taught that humans (who were spirits in a “pre-existence”) come to earth to get a body and to be tested. After death, everyone is placed into one of three kingdoms, depending on his level of righteousness. Those in the highest degree will dwell with God, their families will be eternal and they’ll even become gods themselves — as God did. Lorenzo Snow, fifth LDS prophet, articulated doctrine when he said, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may be.”

Tmatt tells me that the big question is whether it is prejudice to even write about Mormon doctrine. I see it as quite necessary, if it is indeed an essential holding of the Mormons. And as tmatt showed us, last month this issue could blow up in the face of many conservative Mormon politicians.

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  • tmatt

    Let me clarify.

    There are people who say that reporters who write stories that focus on LDS doctrine are guilty of prejudice — just by raising the questions. I have found that doctrinal stories are always interesting if you let people explain what they mean, tape what they say and then pretty much let folks explain themselves in print.

    Report unto others as you would have them report unto you.

  • http://BOOK Stephen A.

    Bear in mind, the journalist sent to write this story, Elise Soukup, is a Mormon herself. That may be why this is the best, most thorough and perhaps least biased story ever done on the church.

    A fascinating back-and-forth on this story was the online chat she held on MSNBC.com. Check it out:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9624798/site/newsweek/

    About the story, she says, interestingly, “I’ve gotten angry letters on both sides, so I feel that I’m doing my job.”

    Over at Dave’s Mormon Inquiry blog, they are ecstatic about this cover story. Dave says, “The PR department [of the church] couldn’t have done a better job themselves!” and another said it was a “PR coup for the church.”
    http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com/mormon_inquiry/2005/10/newsweek_on_mor.html

  • Dale R. Evans

    The Mormons enjoy a mystic of moral integrity because mainstream America knows so little about them. The focus, however, should be the reality of Mormon culture, not doctrine. The authoritarian family and church structure deprives many children of a strong personal identity, and leaves them excessively vulnerable to peer pressure.
    As for their aspiring politicians . . . a person without a strong personal identity cannot be trusted.

  • ECJ

    “The author, Elise Soukup, seems a bit transfixed by the polygamy issue, but as far as I’m concerned, the [LDS] has abandoned that teaching a long time ago. It’s old news.”

    The Mormons didn’t actually abandon polygamy. They suspended it as a condition for Utah becoming a State. Doctrinaire Mormons who don’t practice plural marriage will still affirm the theory if not the practice. And given the prediliction for the Courts to overturn public restrictions on non-traditional relationships, that might not be necessary too much longer.

    Of course, it has been a long time since Mormon women have had to deal with polygamy. Perhaps this is where Doctrine meets reality.

    ECJ

  • Ry

    Dale Evans
    What personal identity is more important than knowing you are a son or daughter of God? We all believe that and do teach it. Further, we believe that men and women are equals, especially in marriage. Any man who is authoritarian in his domestic obligations or otherwise is abusing and misunderstanding his role as husband and father. We believe that husbands and wives should counsel together in love and understanding. I would refer you to our document on the family entitled “A proclamation to the World”. I would be interested to know if our vulnerability to peer pressure is your opinion or the evidence of some sort of sudy.

  • Stephen A.

    Dale, neither Mitt Romney, Orrin Hatch nor Harry Ried strike me as NOT having strong personal identities. People with little self-identity don’t make it in politics.

  • Stephen A.

    I’ll leave ECJ’s assertion that the LDS church has simply “suspended” polygymy just to get statehood to an LDS member to address, though I don’t believe that’s the case. People are excommunicated today for practicing it.

    Although that reporter addressed it in her chat, saying that if a man’s wife dies, he can marry again and both wives will be recognized in heaven. That’s *kind* of polygymy, but not really what we’re talking about.

    As for the comment about the courts, he’s right. The Mass. Court said, in effect, that government had no right to say who can be married – love trumping any concern governments may have, basically. If that’s the case, this leaves it wide open for a lawsuit by a polygymist.

  • ECJ

    From the Utah State Historical Society.

    http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/statehood_and_the_progressive_era/struggleforstatehood.html

    “One of the developments pivotal in winning much Mormon gratitude and support, even though the Republican party had formerly been a major opponent, was Blaine’s intervention to block passage of the Cullom-Struble Bill, which would have denied the vote even to non-polygamous Mormons, simply because of their beliefs. Part of the negotiations that led to that measure being tabled was an understanding that some change would soon be forthcoming on the church’s stand regarding plural marriage. The so-called Woodruff Manifesto was announced some months later. Among other things, this announcement placed responsibility for the continued practice of polygamy on the individuals involved and maintained that the church would not advocate new plural marriages in defiance of the laws of the land. The church could no longer be regarded as standing in the way of Utah statehood.”

    Here is the Woodruff Manifesto from an LDS webpage.

    http://scriptures.lds.org/od/1

    But note especially this from Woodruff’s comments.

    “The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?”

    ECJ

  • Cheryl Christenson

    I think the best part about this article is that it will cause people to ask questions they were otherwise content to keep in check about doctrines of the Church and its history over the past 175 years. In the last few decades, the Church has become more and more public about its doctrines and its past. People who are more curious should look at two websites dedicated to the church, http://www.mormon.org and http://www.lds.org. The first deals with basic beliefs and frequently asked questions about the church, while the second is the official church website and contains an extensive amount of information to answer any question.

  • http://hotstovepolitics.blogspot.com Luke

    This piece is only the tip of the iceberg in the upcoming onslaught of process stories about Mormonism.

    Mass. Governor Mitt Romney is running for President. Governor Romney is a Mormon, and such august conservative journals as the National Review have written glowing articles about him and his LDS faith. While I am surprised that a liberal news outlet such as Newsweek would have written a “positive” piece like this, I will NOT be in the least surprised by LDS coverage by conservative, especially political, media outlets.

  • DP

    Dale,
    That’s what we call bearing false witness.

    Where is your evidence to back it up? On the contrary, studies have shown than Mormon youth are much less susceptible to peer pressure and most of those I know have very strong personal identities.
    See this article for the study:
    http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,600118667,00.html

    How can you just throw out an assumption as if it is fact?
    One correct line in you comment was that you “know little about (Mormons)”

  • http://www.newpantagruel.com DK

    I’m surprised nobody here has mentioned the Newsweek story’s passing reference to Mormonism as “Christian.” There was no further elaboration on the disputes over that description which get into some interesting journalistic territory. E.g., you can in fairness and accuracy note that there are criteria based in historical and doctrinal fact plus a broad ecumenical consensus that make it quite plain that Mormonism is not part of Christianity. (I mean, if every recognized Christian church of note says no, that speaks for itself.)

    But I suspect the MSM tendency is to regard all such “religious” matters as highly subjective as opposed to other kinds of stories. If someone regards themselves as Christian, the attitude is “OK fine, let them have that–who cares.” If they regard themselves as liberals or Democrats who are pro-life, then that’s something else. There is a sliding scale of selectively subjectivized and absolutized orthodoxies.

    On the prejudice by mere description topic, I think only non-Mormon religionists could think that merely describing Mormon beliefs makes them look looney. To non-religionists, all traditional religions with supernatural, transcendental and mystical elements are pretty looney.

    Indeed, only a Christian could see Mormon “exaltation” as incredibly “out there,” but in fairness Christianity has similar things, particularly in its eastern traditions, and the Gnosticisms that emerged in and alongside the church did so to some extent because the Christian scriptures made human divinzation more of a possible inference than in Judaism or other religions. E.g., the Athanasian Creed describes the God-man unity of Christ as the “taking of that manhood into God,” and Christ as a second Adam has generally been taken as a model of what justified, sanctified, and glorified humans will become. Again, the AC: “The Son of God became man, that we might become God.” See the theosis entry in Wikipedia; it details the origins, similarities and differences on the issue among Christians and also Mormons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosis

    For their part, it isn’t uncommon–or wasn’t when I was a kid–to find Revelations’-obsessed free-church evangelical Protestants reading references to some saints receiving crowns in heaven as implying something similar to “exaltation.”

  • http://www.renewal-1.com Dale R. Evans

    Ry & DP
    Numerous Churches & political groups espouse wonderful doctrine. The social reality behind the words reveals person & institutional truth. There are many examples of problem of weak personal identities in the Mormom culture, but not suitable for this forum. Reveal your email. I’ll respond.
    To Stephen A.
    Politicians are most likely to have weak self identities because success requires them to adapt and constantly readjust to the views of others. In fact politicians are most apt to be driven by strong, unsatisfied personal need.

  • http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com Dave

    Since Stephen A linked to my blog post in an earlier comment, I should reply. Yes, I thought the article was surprisingly complimentary. That was before I learned the author of the article was LDS, but I’m not sure that really changes things — articles no doubt go through several levels of editorial review and approval before being published. For what it’s worth, the letters to the editor Newsweek published in response to the article cover the whole spectrum of opinion on the LDS Church, including several pointedly critical letters.

  • http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com Dave

    Since Stephen A linked to my blog post on the Newsweek article, I should respond. Yes, I was surprised by the rather complimentary tone of the article. That was before I learned the author of the article was LDS, but I’m not sure that really changes anything — I’m sure articles go through several levels of editorial review, with plenty of editorial changes, before being published. For what it’s worth, the letters to the editor that Newsweek published in response to the article are all over the map, including several that are pointedly critical of LDS claims and the positive tone of the article.

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  • Ry

    Dale,
    I am interested in what you have to say however, if it can’t be repeated online I would assume that whatever examples you have are exceptions rather than rules.


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