A Public Conversation about Mormonism

My view, a view that I think is shared by a number of other LDS thinkers, is that as a church we are not particularly hung up on theology. We can take it or leave it. (I've said some things about that here, here, here, and also here, particularly the last part.) As a result, the decision to accept the belief as Joseph Smith taught it or to accept part or none of it has no official consequences.

Pick three Mormons: She straightforwardly believes what was taught in the 19th century. I believe that God was never a human being, but that we can become like him by receiving a fullness of his grace (as is suggested by passages such as John 17:20-23 and Romans 8:17). He believes neither that God was once a human being nor that we can become gods.

Bully for us all. But the questions we will be asked by our congregational leader (we call him a bishop) are about whether we are living a Christian life as understood in Mormonism. He is more interested in whether we are keeping covenant with God, our families, and the Church than he is in what goes on inside our heads when we do.

Some of the bishop's questions will be about belief. It is, after all, not irrelevant even if it isn't the most important thread of Mormon religious practice: Do you believe in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost? Do you believe that the LDS Church is led by a prophet? But most of the things he will ask will be about how we live our lives: Do you do your duties within the Church, taking on the responsibilities to which the bishop has called you? Do you live a chaste and honest life? Are you kind to those in your family? . . . He will almost never ask about theological particulars.

We have theologies, but they don't have the resonance that they have for some other churches.

Nevertheless, Mormons believe, as Simon points out, that there was a council of the Gods before the creation of the world. (See Abraham 4 and 5.) That's not only a consequence of Joseph Smith's interpretation of "In the beginning" in Genesis 1:1. It is also, and more importantly, a consequence of a series of revelations or translations that Smith received, the Book of Abraham.

But in that book it isn't clear that the council of the Gods includes any more than the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost along with, perhaps, various angels associated with this creation. Some of Smith's uncanonized later sermons suggest more, and more was certainly taught from the 19th century into the 20th. But Mormon scripture doesn't demand that one subscribe to all of that "more," nor does Mormon history or ecclesiastical authority.

Simon made only one glaring error. He said that women cannot be priests, and that is true. Mormon women do not have the priesthood. But Simon added to that a denial that women cannot aspire to divinity, which isn't true.

Neither women nor men who have not been "sealed" in an LDS temple (something available either in this life or by proxy in the life to come) can aspire to divinity. Divinity is granted only to male-female couples. Indeed, we have a hymn, "O My Father," which speaks of our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother.

Mormon feminists are not satisfied with the current state of our acknowledgment of Heavenly Mother, but even the most conservative, patriarchal Mormon man would not deny that there is such a being or that women as well as men can be divinized. The multiplicity of God for Mormons is more than Simon has imagined, though he has seen a good deal of that multiplicity in our thought.

9/19/2012 4:00:00 AM