Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Disappointed by Modern Mormon Backpedaling

I'm often disappointed by modern Mormonism's constant attempts to be as safe and bland as possible. The latest example is the following statement on "The Da Vinci Code": "The belief that Christ was married has never been official church doctrine. It is neither sanctioned nor taught by the church. While it is true that a few church leaders in the mid-1800s expressed their opinions on the matter, it was not then, and is not now, church doctrine."

My experience is that this idea was taught in seminary as pseudo-doctrine, and anyway it's something I personally choose to believe, that Jesus did marry and father children. Here's what I wrote about it in "Mormonism For Dummies":

Was Jesus married?

Mormons view marriage as an eternal covenant that all men and women must make in order to be exalted, or become like God (for more on Mormon marriage, see Chapter 7). In addition, Mormons believe that Jesus Christ set a perfect example in all things. According to this logic, the Savior must’ve gotten married at some point.

Some early Mormon leaders speculated that the marriage at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine, was actually his own wedding, which would help explain why he was trying to be a good host. Additionally, some Mormons believe that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children, and they reject the notion that Magdalene was a reformed whore. However, modern Church leaders pretty much publicly avoid this subject altogether.

Here's another example I found of this pattern of backpedaling from our distinctive 19th-century beliefs (the following is my wording from a book proposal I once wrote):

Nineteenth-century prophet John Taylor taught that during premortality, women “chose a kindred spirit whom [they] loved … to be [their] head-stay, husband and protection on earth.” In 1931, future prophet Joseph Fielding Smith said, “It is possible that in some instances it is true, but it would require too great a stretch of the imagination to believe it to be so in all, or even in the majority of cases.” In 1971, the prophet and his counselors stated, “We have no revealed word to the effect that when we were in the preexistent state we chose our parents and our husbands and wives.”

And of course there's President Hinckley's infamous, very disappointing denial of Lorenzo Snow's essential couplet: "As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become." How boring it would be if we just became another mainstream Christian church! Even if the church loses its distinctive identity and flavor, I will do my part to try to keep these beliefs alive.


Map Maker said...

Where can I find Pres. Hinckley's statement about the Lorenzo Snow couplet? I've personally thought that many people take that couplet way too far in explaining God.

Christopher Bigelow said...

Here's a link to Pres. Hinckley's statements to the media, along with some good rebuttal:

Personally, I think the whole Mormon belief system falls apart if you start saying that god never went through a mortal experience like ours. Without that logical understanding, I think I would lose my religion. I'm certain in my heart that Hinckley was just doing PR, not reflecting true doctrine.

Joseph's Left One said...

Even as a nominal exmormon, I'm dismayed, too. It seems to me that if you lose the distinctive doctrines of the restoration, there's not much point to a restoration.

But what do I know? I'm just an apostate. Good post, Chris. And your understanding of the "was Jesus married?" issue is pretty much what I was raised with. It's somewhere between folk belief and quasi-official doctrine.

Rebecca said...

The backpedaling is pretty painful, even for a deconverted Mormon. It makes it nearly impossible for everyone in the church to be on the same page, or even to know what official church beliefs are.

Anonymous said...

I'm certain in my heart that Hinckley was just doing PR, not reflecting true doctrine.

I've always felt Hinckley never does anything BUT PR, and I've always considered him the slimiest of the prophets to run the church since I was born. (I was a big fan of David O McKay and, of course, Spencer W. Kimball, seeing he was from my hometown and all.)

Have to agree that it's disheartening--make that heartbreaking--to see the church turn into just "another mainstream Christian church." This business of becoming less controversial and more palatable is just that: a business. But it started so long ago: the church I was baptized into was not the church I taught people about as a missionary, and neither was the church I left. I still sometimes mourn the church I loved as a young child, but it's long gone. I sometimes find discussions about the contemporary world of Mormonism hard to follow, because the church has changed so much since I stopped attending in 1989--and I can't say I find many of the changes admirable or wise.

Christopher Bigelow said...

Holly, I'm aware of some of President Hinckley's shortcomings, but I like him a LOT better than President Benson, who somehow always really annoyed me even before I learned more about his politics. I was sad that my mission call in 1986 was signed by Benson instead of having the automatic signature machine scrawl Kimball.

And I like Pres. Hinckley a lot better than Pres. Hunter, who always struck me as complete and total milquetoast.

In fact, I think I'll actually shed a tear when Hinckley dies, especially when I think of the two Brethren next in line to follow him...

C. L. Hanson said...

I was taught this same thing about Jesus -- that because of His role as the perfect example, He had to have been married.

I hope you don't mind that your blog has become so popular with the exmo crowd ;-), but like JLO I've posted a follow-up here.

Anonymous said...

Those original, now almost abandoned doctrines are definitely more interesting, but don't forget about the more harmful racist ones that I am glad the Church has moved away from.

My district in the MTC had three "Lamanites" and a really, really, really white guy. I remember the white guy commenting on how the Lamanite elders' skin had gotten lighter during the two months we were there and how it was because of their righteousness and purity in the MTC. (Nevermind the fact that it was winter and we were indoors almost 24 hours a day).

Some doctrines are better ignored.

As for President Hinkley: He was one of my own faith-testers. It was because he was so goal-oriented, made such strides forward, and a great salesman that I began to note that people I thought were super spiritual, were just dynamic personalities. It was because Hinkley so much impressed me that I had to wonder if he was really a prophet.

Anonymous said...

I too am certain in my heart that President Hinckley was just doing PR when he seemed to back pedal on whether or not God was once a mortal man like us. For some reason he is more concerned that the rest of the world not think that we Mormons are weird than any other President of the Church in this dispensation. And it has bothered me quite a lot.

With that said, I believe that he is doing this because the Lord requires it of him. While he was still a counselor to President Benson, the Holy Ghost testified to me of Gordon B. Hinckley, and ever since I have been absolutely certain that he is leading this Church in the way that the Savior wants him to.

Why would the Savior want his church to "kiss up" with the world? I don't know, but I am certain that there must be some good reason for it. More importantly, I am certain that it is the Savior and not only President Hinckley that wants this.

Of course, I don't have to like it. I've notice that God does a lot of things that I don't approve of. LOL

Map Maker said...

I’ve read through the quotes and commentaries and here is my take on it. President Hinckley in no way denied that "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens. That is the great secret... It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God and to know...that he was once a man like us.” In both instances, what it appears to me that he was doing was avoiding a topic that we truly don’t know much about and that enters into areas where there can only be speculation. We know that God went from mortal man to exalted Man and that’s it. We don’t know anything more about his mortal experience and I don’t really think we need to nor does it do us much good to speculate on it. He was not changing the doctrine, brushing it aside or whatever that everyone seems to claim he was doing. I trust President Hinckley and I totally understand if he didn’t want to get into that topic with these interviewers and I trust him to make that call. What he did attempt to make clear was that we don’t know much about it. I personally think that it is encouraging to know that God has followed the same eternal pattern for progression that we are attempting to follow, but I also think we become much to casual about or Father in Heaven. He deserves a great deal more honor, awe, respect and reverence than we give, especially if we become more focused on His mortal past than His present nature and glory. We weren’t really in the picture (other than as intelligences) until after He achieved Godhood. We should honor Him as our Father who gave us life and as our God. I personally find it disrespectful when people end prayers in the name of our brother Jesus Christ. Yes He is our brother, but He is so much more than that. He is our Lord, the great Jehovah, our Savior and Redeemer. If you want to criticize the Lord’s prophet and take the things of God lightly, then I can only pity you. Why spend time “looking beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14) in speculating about God’s mortal life when we can enjoy the plain truth that we are God’s children and that he has a plan that will allow us to enter into celestial glory and gain all that He has.

Bull said...

I find it interesting that what were authoritative doctrinal statements by the living prophets of the 1800s are now just their opinions and were never doctrine. If that is the case, then what value are the "opinions" of the church's current living prophet. How are members supposed to be able to tell what is and is not church doctrine. Apparently even official, signed First Presidency statements can become opinion. Take for example the official statement on the priesthood ban which the church now likes to pretend never happened.