Monday, October 24, 2011

Why The Priesthood Ban Matters

I highly recommend Margaret Blair Young's 3 part series at By Common Consent:
"All God's Critters:  Some Thoughts on the Priesthood Restriction and Differing Opinions"

In part two she writes:

"But why should the origin of the ban matter at all, given that the LDS Church was part of a racist nation and that most religions in the 19th Century had some racialist policies? Isn’t all that history merely a sad footnote in the LDS story which was resolved in 1978?
I would say that it is a mere footnote. The central tenet of our faith is the atonement, and nothing else compares in significance. But that footnote does matter because it still affects us, our missionary efforts, and the retention of converts. The folklore which undergirded the philosophy has lingered. As recently as 2009, an African missionary in the Congo had his Anglo companion ask Elder Holland, who was dedicating the country of Cameroon, if it was true that blacks had been “less valiant” than others in the pre-existence. Elder Holland denounced the idea with characteristic boldness, and said that everyone on Earth was valiant in the pre-mortal world—or they wouldn’t be here. Other families of African lineage, or parents of adopted black children, have also felt the sting of the folklore, and continue to deal with a view which casts them as cursed. There are still Mormons who believe such things, which leads them to unthinkingly denigrate people of color (many colors), and to behave in a way which President Hinckley called antithetical to being “a true disciple of Christ” (April Conference 2006). That’s why it matters."

Part one is here
Part two is here
Part three is here

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ethan Allen: Jehovah's Witness

Context:  Teaching about the Revolutionary War and how Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British:

Teacher (me):  "In rushing up the stairs to the officer's quarters, Ethan Allen banged on the door and demanded the surrender of the fort.  The British captain was awakened and demanded to know by what authority the fort was being attacked.  Allen replied "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!".

8th grade male student:  "What was he, a Jehovah's Witness or something?"

Me:  "What?"

Student:  "Well, you know, knocking on the door and talking about Jehovah..."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Letter to Local Journalist Who Wrote About Mormonism

Good afternoon Mr. Levy.  As a local San Antonio reader of the Express-News I noticed your front page article "GOP race has put the spotlight on Mormonism" Sunday morning.  However, I felt there was one line in particular which obfuscates what Mormons believe and might give a false impression to your readers.  While most people probably couldn't care less, I consider myself a very ecumenically minded Mormon and thus know that many do care, and therefore think a clarification is in order.

I refer to these two sentences: "The doctrine also breaks from the standard Christian belief that Jesus always was God.  He began as a spirit child, perfecting himself later into becoming God in a process also available to humanity in the hereafter."

There is actually quite a nuanced diversity within Mormon thought concerning the three points you mentioned in those two sentences above, and I write to you because I (as a Mormon) certainly don't wish to be lumped into an unnecessary stereotype that confuses what I believe (even if some Mormons believe it), but also because if I were you I would appreciate being notified where my writing could be stronger.  The three unsettled points in Mormon thought are listed below:

1. Whether Jesus has always been God or at some point zillions of years ago became God.  (I'm one of many Mormons who believes Jesus was always God, and thus strongly object anytime people say it's a "doctrine" or tenet of our faith that it's otherwise.  The truth is, there's much speculation that sometimes gets confused as standard doctrine (both within and without the church).  There's always room for interpretation, but it is indeed a fact that the title page of The Book of Mormon states that "Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God".

2.  Whether we were born/created as spirit children or whether we were uncreated/pre-existing spirits adopted by God.  See, for example, "God, Self, and Spiritual Birth: Two Perspectives"
Many Mormons thus believe that Jesus was uncreated and thus didn't "beg[i]n as a spirit child".

3.  What the process of theosis/exaltation means, in terms of becoming LIKE God (or a god) or "becoming God".  There are huge ramifications here.  Mormons do not (or at least should not) believe that they will somehow supplant God as if we are on the same track as God.  While some might believe that, Mormons more often speak of becoming "one" with God.  There is not a well defined doctrine, but rather a wide spectrum of Mormon thought in regards to what it means to become "gods" (with a lowercase g)  because God (the one and only uppercase "G") through his grace has the power to exalt His children.  Clearly, there is a difference between future exalted beings and the Exalted One we will always worship.   One helpful clarification about the idea that we can become like God was given by the Church in response to an interview by Fox News during the last election season:

"We believe that the apostle Peter's biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul's reference to being 'joint heirs with Christ' reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way. Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes."

I hope this helps sheds light on some of the nuances that are often missed when reporting on Mormonism, so that people don't assume all Mormons believe many of these tangential (and oft-debated) ideas are core elements of our faith.  (See, for example, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine" on the Church website:

Monday, October 10, 2011