Monday, July 9, 2012

Mitt Romney, Lies and The Mormon Church 2/3

by Nomad
In Part One, we traced the strange origins of the Mitt Romney's Mormon faith and asked if the entire religion was a hoax perpetrated on 19th century victims. Let’s begin part two with what would seem at first glance to be a question with an obvious answer.

Is lying acceptable to the present-Day Mormon Church?

This is perhaps a more essential question since, no matter how it may have begun, the true value of any religion lies in what it has become and what it teaches its followers. And as far I can tell, no religion officially accepts the practice of lying. (Even Satanists are probably supposed to be truthful to one another, I'd imagine.)

The strongest criticism of the Mormon Church comes, not from other religions, atheists or outsiders, but from ex-Mormons. Former ex-high priest Park Romney, the cousin of the presidential candidate,  has been quite open about this subject. He told BBC,
"There's compelling evidence that the Mormon Church leaders knowingly and willfully misrepresent the historical truth of their origins and of the Church for the purpose of deceiving their members into a state of mind that renders them exploitable."
What that precise evidence was is not mentioned. Outside of the history of the formation of the religion, there are other things that Church leaders would prefer not to reveal.

Former Mormon missionaries have reported that the statements they made in order to convert others were extremely misleading. The alleged practice is called Lying for the Lord, which is summed up best in this way.

For the Mormon, loyalty and the welfare of the church are more important than the principle of honesty, and plausible denials and deception by omission are warranted by an opportunity to have the Mormon organization seen in the best possible light. .. "Lying for the lord" is part of Mormonism's larger deceptive mainstreaming tactics, and conversion numbers would drastically lower if important Mormon beliefs were fully disclosed to investigators.
Naturally the whole idea of Lying for the Lord is disputed by the elders of the Church. It simply doesn't exist, they say, and if missionaries misrepresent the religion is merely because they are a bit too eager or they are not fully versed. Perhaps, that's true.
However, Loren Franck, a full-time Mormon missionary from 1975 to 1977, freely admits that she lied for the church regularly. Some of the lies she listed were simply a matter of doctrinal differences between the traditional Christian Church and the Mormon faith. Others were more serious misrepresentations of the faith.
For decades, the Mormon Church has tried to blend with mainstream Christianity. Accordingly, during my mission a quarter-century ago, I worked hard to convince prospects that Mormons believe in the biblical Jesus.
(As we shall see, her statement conflicts with what Mormon president Gordon B. Hinckley stated categorically- that the Mormon idea of Jesus was unique and unlike the traditional view held by most Christians. He implied that true enlightenment can only come through Joseph Smith and not through the Bible.)
All of this dances around the real question. What is it about the Mormon faith that missionaries feel that they must conceal?

The Principle of Eternal Progression
One staggering fact that Franck mentions that missionaries hide from potential converts is the doctrine that people can become gods. And conversely, God was once a man. Not only that, God was born on a planet called Kolob or at least He has a throne in the neighborhood. (h/t to Nathan.) At least that’s according to the Pearl of Great Price, an early collection of church-recognized doctrines, produced by Smith. It is considered part of the canon of Mormonism

Regarding the God-man relationship, modern Church leaders tend to dissemble about this particular point but this Mormon tenet was taught by all of the early fathers. The book, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith explains: 
After you become a good Mormon, you have the potential of becoming a god.
The fifth LDS President Lorenzo Snow in 1840 reportedly said,
"As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become."
Orson Hyde, a leader in the early Latter Day Saint movement and an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, sketched this unusual image of God:
“Remember that God, our heavenly Father, was perhaps once a child, and mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement; has moved forward and overcome, until He has arrived at the point where He now is.” Franck said, as a missionary, it was understandably not discussed with potential converts.
Given its explosive nature, this tenet was rarely shared with prospective converts. Missionaries try to entice people into Mormonism gradually, and presenting the doctrine of plural gods -and the Lord as a bit too human- is seldom the best way. Several contacts learned the concept from their pastors or read about it on their own, but it was new to most prospects. For most traditional Christians, the concept of God and Man being only a matter of degrees in progression is certainly blasphemous. 
Most Christians would reflexively reject the notion with a shudder. 

Attitudes towards Christianity
Many people who know a little about Mormonism know that, unlike traditional Christian faiths, members of this faith do not use the symbol of the cross. There are many reasons given for this. But the usual one is that they prefer to concentrate on the birth and resurrection of Christ rather than his death on the cross. 
Of all the symbols of Christianity, the cross is the most identifiable. In fact, there are many more important differences between the Christian faith and Mormonism. 
Despite the current public relations campaign  Mormons have long been taught that their religion is superior to all other religions, including Christianity.  
As one source explains:
Mormons teach that the church fell into darkness shortly after Christ’s ascension and was only restored through the person and actions of Joseph Smith, some eighteen hundred years later. The only true Christians in this view are Mormons.
Mormon's 15th president Gordon B.Hinckley, as reported in LDS Church News in 1998, stated that the Christ he believed in is not the same Christ as the one followed by those outside the LDS Church.
"For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this, the Dispensation of the Fulness [sic] of Times. He, together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages"
For Hinckley, Smith's divine visions allowed him access to a a higher truth. The phrase “the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages” could be interpreted as the disciplines of Christ, Paul, Matthew, Luke and the others. In that case, the statement would be very controversial indeed. The whole New Testament would be called into question.

In any event, the differences between Christian and Mormon faiths are routinely glossed over by missionaries. Yet the truth is that Mormon Church considers Christianity (as we know it ) as a corrupted religion.
As one source explains:
Early Mormon leaders were quite candid about the differences between LDS doctrine and Christian doctrine. One example is the 1820 First Vision account Hinckley cited which is also recorded in LDS Scripture. In relating this vision, Mormon Church founder, Joseph Smith, makes a similar point to Hinckley's. Smith said that Jesus told him that all of the creeds of existing Christianity were "an abomination in his sight." These Christian creeds would, of course, include those that describe the essential attributes and identity of the Jesus worshipped by traditional Christians.
The third president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, states:
“There is not nation now that acknowledges that hand of God; there is not a king, potentate, nor ruler that acknowledges his jurisdiction. We talk about Christianity, but it is a perfect pack of nonsense. Men talk about civilization; but I do not want to say much about that, for I have seen enough of it. Myself and hundreds of the Elders around me have seen its pomp, parade, and glory; and what is it? It is a sounding brass and a tinkling symbol; it is as corrupt as hell; and the Devil could not invent a better engine to spread his work that the Christianity of the nineteenth century.”
Another early leader who offered similar opinions was Orson Pratt. Pratt was an original member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, a part of the church hierarchy organized by the movement's founder. He expressed his undisguised dread of the Christian religion in this statement. 
“This class of men, calling themselves Christian, uniting with the various forms of the pagan religion, adopting many of their ceremonies and institutions, became very popular, and finally some of the pagans embraced Christianity and were placed, as it were, upon the throne, and what they termed Christianity became very popular indeed. How long has this order of things existed, this dreadful apostacy, this class of people that pronounced themselves Zion, or Christians, without any of the characteristics of Zion? It has existed for some sixteen or seventeen centuries.”
This is naturally something that missionaries do not openly reveal. Despite the recent assertions to the contrary, Mormons do not consider themselves to be another Christian sect, like say Lutherans, or Methodists. It is, according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, the only form of Christianity and all others are inferior. 
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not see itself as one Christian denomination among many, but rather as God's latter-day restoration of the fullness of Christian faith and practice…Other forms of Christianity…are viewed as incomplete...
This way of thinking is paralleled by followers of Islam who revere (but not worship) Moses, Abraham and Jesus, even Mary. islam added Mohammed as the prophet of their faith and the Mormons added Joseph Smith as their prophet.
The twelfth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1973 until his death in 1985, Spencer Woolley Kimball wrote in his book, Miracle of Forgiveness:
"One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation."
How this can possibly square with Christianity is difficult to comprehend. No other denomination of Christianity could ever make such a statement. The Nicene Creed which established the perimeters of the Christian faith in the year 325 states as a Christian oath:
And [I believe] in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all worlds, light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. . . .
As Minister Anselm Kyongsuk, in the book Dialectic of Salvation: Issues in Theology of Liberation, points out: 
"At the heart of Christian faith is the reality and hope of salvation in Jesus Christ. Christian faith is faith in the God of salvation revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.
It is not an exaggeration then to say that the Mormon religion is essentially un-Christian.
While he does not speak for the Mormon Church, one Mormon, David V. Mason, an associate professor of theater at Rhodes College, frankly admitted this fact. In an op-ed piece published in The New York Times, Mason declares:
"I'm perfectly happy not being a Christian...I want to be on record about this. I'm about as genuine a Mormon as you'll find - a templegoer with a Utah pedigree and an administrative position in a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am also emphatically not a Christian."
He also questioned why anybody would wish to be a Christian.
"Being a Christian so often involves such boorish and mean-spirited behavior that I marvel that any of my Mormon colleagues are so eager to join the fold.
Missionaries and Church leaders would like traditional Christians to believe that the difference between the religions are superficial. However, a Mormon is no more Christian than any follower of  Abrahamic line, like Judaism or Islam.  

Attitudes about Race
If a reason for missionaries to be less than frank is their realization that the Book of Mormon contains many things that a Christian could not accept, there are also things in the book that a non-Christian or secularist outsider would also reject.
One particular example is the early church's racist teaching. The passage from the Mormon holy book appears to explain the reason why some people are black:
2 Nephi 5:21; “And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.”
Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, p. 290, 1859, supports this racist view in clear terms.
"You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all of the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind.
Young connected the mark of Cain as the color of the black skin.
The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race -- that they should be the "servants of servants;" and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree."
According to this discourse by the leader of the Mormon church and successor to Smith, slavery of the Negro was God’s decree, a divine punishment. This was not the only racist remark made by Young. Here’s another quote made in 1863:
“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”
But as it turned out, And as late as 1978, men of African descent were banned from its priesthood by the LDS church. This priestly position was open to nearly all Mormon males and the gateway to sacramental and leadership roles. Additionally the LDS church had also barred black men and women from temple ceremonies that promised access in the afterlife to the highest heaven. Why? Because people of African descent were denied access to heaven, at least until 1978. (It must have been quite a shock for all people in Mormon heaven. They had been promised an exclusive paradise, after all.)

In light of just these points of religious principles, it is no wonder that Mormon missionaries are taught to use deception when speaking to outsiders about their religion. Imagine trying to explain the racist bans to a black Christian.

Here’s an interesting video which appears to show a missionary training seminar conducted by Latter-day Saint author and speaker Bob Millet. The topic is how to answer difficult questions.

So to answer the original: Is lying acceptable in the Mormon faith? 
The answer is like so many answers. No... and Yes. No, not officially. But yes. It is permissible- for a higher good, like conversion- to leave out information that may present a challenge to explain, to spin the truth somewhat, to shape it. Aside from the missionary work, are there any other examples of this? Yes, I could find one other but it is a major one.

And So It Came to Pass (or did it?)
In the opening of this post, I quoted  Gordon B.Hinckley who stated in 1998, the founder Joseph Smith's vision allowed him to see Jesus with greater clarity than all of the previous Christian ministers. 
However, apparently the Church leadership has in recent years begun to question those visions and, in an apparent attempt to mainline their religion into traditional Christian faiths, the leaders have been scratching out the more controversial aspects of Smith's (and Young's) spiritual views.  
Here are a list of the revisions to the Mormon study guide, Gospel Principles. It’s interesting to see what has been added and removed. 

Astoundingly, many of the unique teachings of the LDS Church have been excised. It’s like cutting off the unicorn’s horn for the sake of a pony. For example, there’s this revision.

All good things come from God. Everything that He does is to help His children become like Him—a god.
Additionally all mention of Heavenly parents have been changed to Heavenly Father. In chapter 3 of the manual: 
By following His teachings, we can return to live with him and our heavenly parents Father inherit a place in the celestial kingdom. He was chosen to be our Savior when we all attended the great council with our heavenly parents Father. When he became our Savior, He did His part to help us return to our heavenly home. It is now up to each of us to do our part and become worthy of exaltation.
Why? Because up until recently, all Mormons believed (as they were told) that God was married. Now the Lord is bachelor, it appears. A divorcee or perhaps a widower? God knows.

The problem is, of course, that it will take a lot of revisions and those aspects are deeply woven into the fibre of the faith. All of the early Church leaders made definitive statements and all of those now must be rewritten or deleted.

And this, in turn, calls into question the whole idea of divine revelation. Were Joseph Smith and Brigham Young divinely inspired or were they wrong? It can't be both. After all, can divine revelations actually be revised by later generations for the sake of making the religion more widely acceptable? Isn’t that sacrilege? How can this be explained? And where does it stop? The revisions are not even claiming to be divinely inspired so how can they trump the visions and writings of the original founder and the early church leaders? 

It also begs the question whether all those who came before and believed the "wrong" things have found salvation. How can the faith of then and the faith of now ever be reconciled?

And, for Mormons, it is only fair to ask, after all of the revisions are completed (if ever), what will be left of the faith? How will it be any different than any other Christian denomination, like Presbyterians, for example? How can the LDS leadership expect blind devotion when the principles of the faith can be change every season? 

In George Orwell’s book, Nineteen-Eighty Four, the ruling autocratic government did very much the same thing. One day, everything you thought was true and unshakable, was suddenly dismantled by the Ministry of Truth and its opposite was put in its place. There’s was no outcry because it was all automatically accepted as “the new truth.” (Of course, it was never "new" in any sense. It was actually the replaced, revised truth and the old truth, once replaced, now no longer existed. Not only was the truth replaced but the history of that truth was also added.)
All past mention of the former information was deleted from the official (and sole) record. Truth is what the leadership dictated it to be and there is nothing in the world that can possibly contradict their version. As Orwell writes:
If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened — that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?
The idea is basically that if you can erase all evidence of the past, you can create a new past, cleaned and trouble-free. 
So far the Mormon church has been able to get away with this tactic without much outrage by the congregation. The same strategy has not been a very successful for candidate Mitt Romney.  
In the final post in this series,  for the sake of argument, we ignore all of the evidence to the contrary and agree that the Church does not condone lying. However, if we are prepared to believe this, we are faced then with the challenging problem of Mormon Bishop Mitt Romney's conduct in the 2012 campaign and the sound of silence from Mormon leadership.