Archives For Mormonism

Psych, not really.

Yesterday, I posted about the ‘Behind the Veil‘ video making the internet rounds. I commented that I was surprised to hear Mormons baptizing in the name of Trinity, which made me wonder if the video was authentic or a campaign year smear video like the ones out there smearing the President.

So here’s the answer straight from an old friend, Shauna, speaking for all Mormons everywhere, which I guess ironically Mormons can do.

Shauna: Well, I can tell you the video is legit. I couldn’t watch the whole thing A) because I’ve been to the temple and done and seen all those things and don’t need to watch it B)B) the tone of the printed commentary was driving me nuts! Mormons 100% believe in the trinity, just not in the way it’s defined by the Nicene Creed. It is our first Article of Faith – We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

Jason: Except, as you guys define it, it’s no longer the Trinity as Christians have defined it 🙂:) At least I’m pleased to find out A) something I didn’t know before and B)B) it’s not some sort of 2016 Anti Mormon film flying around out there. All of which gets back to my original Billy Graham’s a theologically deficient political opportunist point.

Shauna: As for temple work done for those who have died, three things 1) we don’t “use children” any worthy member over the age of 12 can participate in baptisms for the dead; 2) the church does in fact have very strict policies for submitting names of those who have died, you have to be related, you have to have permission from the closest living relative, and you can’t submit the names of celebrities or Holocaust victims and 3) we believe that the spirits of those who have died maintain their agency; we perform the work for them and they are free to accept it or reject it as they choose, same as they could here on earth

Jason: You should post on my blog sometime.

Shauna: Like a question and answer? The answer I should give is, “Answers to all your questions can be found at mormon.org,” but let me know what you have in mind. You have an interest in understanding, many others do not. I once had a “friend” insist that we worship idols in the temple. He read it somewhere, so of course it must be true, and would not believe me when I told him, other than furniture, there’s nothing to see but lots of flower arrangements and religious paintings (mostly from the Bible). And I have to add that (having known you in high school)I have an impossibly hard time taking you seriously!

Disclaimer:

Let me repeat again what I’ve said elsewhere. I’ve got several Mormon friends. In some ways, I’ve more in common with them than secular friends of mine. Saying Mormonism is different from Christianity is not to call their faith or character into question.

And I don’t care for whom you vote.

Actually more important than the election, for Christians, is the issue of Christian leaders, like Billy Graham, suddenly changing their views on Mormonism out of political expediency. If Christians want to vote for Romney, they should vote Romney because he’s their preferred candidate. Christians don’t need to revise the Nicene Creed in order to vote for someone whose religion is different than theirs.

Stay with me.

Tony Jones, our Scholar in Residence from this summer, has this post on Mormonism and how it diverges from traditional (as defined by the historic creeds) Christianity. Jones says:

I am not on a witch hunt. I am not anti-Romney. I think there is some historical consensus as to what is considered Christianity, and this ceremony does not accord with that consensus.

Some of my friends say, “If a group says they are Christian, then they are Christian. That’s good enough for me.”

Well, that’s not good enough for me. 

The ceremony Jones refers to is this one, from the short doc Behind the Veil. It shows a Mormon baptism ritual for the those who’ve already died. Mormons, after all, baptize in absentia and after the fact.

But here’s my question and my pushback-

As is the problem with anything on You Tube, it’s hard to establish the veracity of the content.

This video may be a snapshot into rituals non-Mormons are forbidden from seeing. But in watching it, I noticed that the baptizer is baptizing, like we do, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Which strikes me as odd (getting back to my point about Billy Graham) since Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity.

So, is this video legit and Mormons do baptize in the name of a doctrine they disbelieve?

Or is this illegit and the name of the Trinity betrays its inauthenticity?

Here’s a thorough piece from The Christian Century on Mormonism and its texts.

A Latter-day Saint friend of mine once invited an evangelical coworker to church. The coworker found much that was familiar in the LDS service: hymn singing, an informal sermon style, robust fellowshiping and scripture-driven Sunday school. But then came the moment when the Sunday school teacher, after beginning with Genesis, said “Let’s now turn to the Book of Moses” and began reading: “The presence of God withdrew from Moses . . . and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.’” I am told that the visitor reflexively searched through his Bible before he realized that he’d never heard of such a book, though of course the story of the burning bush was familiar. And while he didn’t mind the sentiments expressed in the words he’d heard, he knew that they were not in his Bible.

This mix of the familiar and the strange is a common experience for any who have spent even minimal time with the Latter-day Saints. The greatest contributing factor to this mix is Mormonism’s dependence on and sophisticated redaction of the Bible. All of Mormonism, even its most unfamiliar tenants, rests in some element of the biblical narrative. Academics would explain this in terms of intertextuality, noting that the meanings of Mormonism, even its unique scriptures, are achieved within the larger complex of the Christian canon. You don’t need to be a scholar to recognize this. You need only open and read the first words you see in any one of Mormonism’s unique scriptures.

The Latter-day Saint canon consists of four books: the Bible and three other texts—the Book of Mormon, the Book of Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Each reads very much like the Bible in type and breadth of thematic concerns and literary forms (history, law, psalm). Even the rhetorical stance of each canon is biblical: God is speaking to prophets faced with temporal crises of spiritual significance. In terms of the authority granted these four texts, all have equal weight, including both Bible testaments, as historical witnesses to God’s promise of salvation, enacted by covenant with the Israelites and fulfilled in the atonement of Jesus Christ as the only begotten of the Father.

The LDS Church’s confidence in the authority and historicity of the Bible is mitigated only by scruples regarding the Bible’s history as a book. The Bible is “the word of God insofar as it is translated correctly.” The other three Latter-day Saint scriptures are also believed to be historical witnesses to God’s promise of salvation. Considered translations by or direct revelation to Joseph Smith, the church’s founding prophet, they are considered correct in their representation of God’s will and word, though they possibly contain flaws resulting from “the mistakes of men.” What follows is a brief description of these three texts and a few examples of how they reshape Christian tradition and influence Latter-day Saint belief and practice.

The Book of Mormon is the narrative of a prophet-led people’s experience with God over a thousand-year period, beginning with the flight of two Israelite families from Jerusalem in the sixth century BCE on the eve of Babylonian captivity. The people of God eventually create a complex civilization in the Western Hemisphere. The story is a cautionary tale of cycles of conversion and backsliding. It concludes in approximately the fourth century CE with an account of wickedness and consequent destruction. The climax of the narrative occurs midway with the appearance of Jesus Christ immediately after his resurrection to a chastened remnant in the Americas who are taught by him to repent, embrace the gospel and establish a church. Thus, the Book of Mormon not only echoes the narrative style and certain contents of the Bible, such as the Beatitudes, but also functions as second witness to the Bible’s testimony that Jesus is the source of salvation for all.

The Book of Mormon clearly deviates from Christian tradition by not limiting Christ’s ministry to a particular people and time. The rejection of such limitations is one of the book’s main points. The claim that “we need no more Bible” is made the object of God’s rebuke: “Know ye not that there are more nations than one? . . . because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another.” Clearly, the Book of Mormon’s purpose is not only to second the biblical witness but also to evidence the ongoing revelation of the gospel. Notwithstanding its orthodox representation of that gospel, the Book of Mormon takes a position on certain historic theological questions. For example, while teaching the reality and catastrophe of the Fall, the prophets of the Book of Mormon reject notions of human creatureliness and depravity. Humans are not utterly foreign to God’s being. They are inherently made capable of acting for good, though only through Christ’s sacrifice is this capacity liberated from the enslaving effect of the Fall on human will. It is “by grace we are saved after all we can do.” Thus in Mormonism God’s economy of salvation is broad, though not universal in its promise of glory. Humans are prone to sin, free to reject grace and may fall from grace. Nevertheless, grace is freely given to those who in faith repent.

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My wife calls them ‘man crushes,’ the undying but (un)homoerotic affinity I have for certain male auteurs: Russell Crowe, David Bentley Hart, Jeff Bridges, and Cormac McCarthy. I’ve long contested that I have anything that could be termed a ‘man crush’ and the existence of such a list has been a matter of much dispute in our home. Having said that, if such a fixation and corresponding list does indeed exist then I will add Ross Douthat to the mix. He’s a writer for the NY Times. A traditionalist Catholic with a right-leaning bent. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything he writes, religious or political, he writes with an acerbic wit that is both wondrously sarcastic and fairly charitable. He’s a man, and a believer, after my own heart in other words. 

Here’s a piece he just did on Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. As I’ve already written here before, I may see many divergences between Mormonism and Christianity but that’s not to say one’s religious beliefs or personal experience shouldn’t be welcomed in the public conversation. I’ve got about zero opinion on Mitt Romney but I do think Douthat presents a compelling reason for why Romney’s faith story could be an important piece of his profile.

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THERE’S an interesting dilemma facing the filmmakers who are presumably hard at work, in some well-hidden editing room, on the biographical movie that will play just before Mitt Romney accepts his party’s nomination: What should the movie say about Romney’s Mormonism?

So far, Romney has said very little about his faith in this campaign, which is clearly how he likes it. Indeed, his campaign has pushed back vigorously against even innocuous press coverage of Mormon folkways and beliefs, on the theory that trying to explain a much-distrusted, much-misunderstood religion could only distract from the economic message.

But across a long summer of negative attacks, the Obama campaign has succeeded in weakening that message, and turning the conversation to Romney’s character instead. This means the Republican convention can’t just offer an extended indictment of the Obama record; it also needs to reintroduce Romney in a more thoroughgoing way. And if his faith ends up on the cutting-room floor, this reintroduction will be missing something that’s not only essential to the candidate’s life story, but also helps makes the case for his worldview.

Start with Romney the man, so often dismissed as hollow, cynical and inauthentic. His various political reinventions notwithstanding, Romney clearly does have deep convictions: the evidence is in his intense commitment to his church, as a local leader and as a philanthropist. Between the endless hours of unpaid, “love thy neighbor” efforts required of a Mormon bishop and the scope of his private generosity, the caricature of the Republican candidate as a conviction-free mannequin mostly collapses.

If Romney were a Presbyterian, Methodist or Jew, this would be an obvious part of his campaign narrative. Like George W. Bush’s midlife conversion or Barack Obama’s tale of “race and inheritance,” Romney’s years as a bishop would be woven into a biography that emphasized his piety and decency, introducing Americans to the Romney who shut down his business to hunt for a colleague’s missing daughter, the Romney who helped build a memorial park when a friend’s son died of cystic fibrosis, the Romney who lent money to renters to help them buy a house he owned, and so on down a list of generous gestures and good deeds.

The broader Mormon experience, meanwhile, could help make the case for his philosophy as well as illuminate his human core. The presumptive Republican nominee is not naturally ideological, but he’s running as a critic of Obama’s expansive liberalism, and as a standard-bearer for a conservative alternative.

Conservatism sometimes makes an idol of the rugged individual, but at its richest and deepest it valorizes local community instead — defending the family and the neighborhood, the civic association and the church. And there is no population in America that lives out this vision of the good society quite like the Latter-day Saints.

Mormonism is a worldlier, more business-friendly religion than traditional Christianity, but it does not glorify wealth for wealth’s sake, in the style of many contemporary prosperity preachers. Instead, as Walter Kirn suggested in an essay in The New Republic, Mormonism represents “our country’s longest experiment with communitarian idealism, promoting an ethic of frontier-era burden-sharing that has been lost in contemporary America.”

To spend some time in Salt Lake City and its environs, as I did earlier this summer, is to enter a world where faith, family and neighborliness really do seem to fill the role that liberals usually assign to the state. There you can tour the church-run welfare centers, with supermarkets filled with (Mormon-brand) products available to the poor of any faith and assembly lines where Mormon neurosurgeons and lawyers volunteer to can goods or run a bread machine. You can visit inner-city congregations where bank vice presidents from the suburbs spend their weekends helping drifters find steady work, and tour the missionary training center where Mormons from every background share a small-d democratic coming-of-age experience.

And then you can read the statistics: the life expectancy numbers showing that Mormons live much longer than other Americans, the extraordinary rate at which they volunteer and donate, theirhigh marriage rates and low out-of-wedlock birthrates — even the recent Gallup survey showing Utah leading all other states in a range of measures of livability.

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