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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Is the Mormon Church a Cult?

While significant differences still remain that seperate Mormonism from being defined as anything close to mainstream orthodox Christianity, Jana Reiss explores the distinct possibility that Mormons might be moving to become more mainstream....

"In their 2010 book American Grace, sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell revealed that Mormons rank as the third-most-hated religious group in America, after Muslims (no surprise) and Buddhists (a major surprise). The study's findings also showed, however, that suspicion of minority religions decreases significantly when people have personal interactions or friendships with members of those religions. A conservative evangelical soccer mom may claim to despise Mormonism, but her qualms tend to lessen when she becomes friendly with a Mormon co-worker or neighbor.

Therein lies a problem: unfamiliarity. A 2009 LDS-sponsored study indicated that nearly half of Americans understand next to nothing about Mormons, and many have never known a Mormon personally...

Many of Mormonism's critics fail to appreciate the ways that Mormon theology has changed through the years, often by way of the guidance that the LDS president claims to receive from God through "continuing revelation." (The teachings of a previous era are almost never explicitly repudiated, however.) For example, the doctrine that African Americans bear the "curse of Cain" is certainly not LDS doctrine today, though it was in the days of Brigham Young.

Some theological teachings are more opaque. For example, Mormon theology has traditionally dictated that human beings will become gods and that God himself was once human. An apparent disclaimer of this early Mormon teaching came when LDS prophet Gordon B. Hinckley appeared on Larry King Live in 1998 and, when asked whether Mormons believe that God was once a man, answered, "I wouldn't say that." He had given similarly vague denials the previous year to reporters from Time and the San Francisco Chronicle.

But what one LDS leader says to the media is not as reliable a gauge of the changing winds of LDS theology as the wording used in the LDS Church's twice-annual General Conference, when many worldwide Mormon leaders address the faithful by satellite or streaming Internet. In that forum, it's been rare to hear leaders talk about godhood recently unless they are quoting earlier leaders on the subject—and even that happens less frequently than it used to.

An investigation of the official LDS website confirms this trend. From 2006 to 2011, the word godhood appeared only ten times in official General Conference talks, church magazines and manuals. Of those cases, two quoted former LDS prophet Spencer W. Kimball about human beings becoming gods; one quoted former prophet David O. McKay on the subject; one cited midcentury leader Hugh B. Brown; and two drew from former apostle Marion G. Romney (a cousin of George Romney, Mitt's father). Two others referred to the "godhood" of Jesus Christ. Only one magazine piece—written anonymously—asserted that human beings "have within us the seeds of godhood," while an article about recovering from romantic breakups mentioned godhood twice as a goal for righteous human beings. Interestingly, that article was not written by a high-ranking international leader.

By comparison, church talks and materials from the 1970s and 1980s employed the concept freely in relation to the eternal destiny of men and women. As then-prophet Spencer W. Kimball said in 1976, "Our Heavenly Father has a plan for man's growth from infancy to godhood."

Does that mean that Mormons no longer believe that they can become gods? It is difficult to say. Many Mormons no longer think about the topic at all; it has become an insignificant aspect of contemporary theological expression. The idea may someday fade away, just as the church's encouragement of plural marriage—once a cornerstone not just of Mormon practice but of its belief system—has faded away."

The entire article is a good read and if you have the chance, click on the above link to check out the author's thoughts on how Mormons are helping to shape the political and cultural debates of our time.

I personally applaud such changes within their church and I think that mainline churches would do well if they could achieve what Mormons have insofar as attendance and tithing. But I don't know if Mormonism will ever be accepted as a member of the orthodox community as long as they adhere to the idea that such works as The Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price are viewed as being 'inspired'. It's a bitter pill for a religion to swallow to accept that that their foundational documents aren't God-breathed and I doubt if these obstacles could be overcome anytime soon, if ever.


GentleSkeptic said...

It's a bitter pill for a religion to swallow to accept that that their foundational documents aren't God-breathed

Must … withhold … snark …


Speedy G said...

Ah, give it a couple of thousand years... despite what GS has read in the newspapers, credibility INCREASES with age. Just look at the "feet" of the French.... ;)

...and yeah, that IS GS on the Left.

Stormbringer said...

LDS insists on being the One True Church, much to the dismay of Charles Taze Russel, Judge Rutherford, Mary Baker Eddy, Ellen White &c.

It's simple. Their documents cannot withstand textual and historical criticisms that validate the Bible. That makes the charge of "cult" stronger for me, aside from massive inconsistencies between their leaders and what their scared texts say. (Yes, that misspelling was deliberate.)

Me, quoting: "As God once was, we are. As God is, we shall become".

Mormon "missionaries": We don't believe that.

Me: Here's the quote and it's origin by your "prophet".

It would be nice if they didn't hide their peculiarities from the general LDS population, and also be nice if the LDS members actually bothered to look up what they allegedly believe.

Wait 'till they get to the part that God is actually Adam, and he is from another planet...

GentleSkeptic said...

credibility INCREASES with age

Never said otherwise. Just look at Christianity!

Speedy G said...

Nietzsche, "Gay Science" 110

The strength of conceptions does not, therefore, depend on their degree of truth, but on their antiquity, their embodiment, their character as conditions of life.