Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Are Mormons Christians? Some Facts for "Brax"

"Mormons do not believe Jesus was 'merely a prophet.' They believe he is literally the Son of God. He has the same powers and has reached the same level as his father. The Mormon church (church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) rebuked polygamy back in 1890 with a manifesto to their 3rd modern day prophet, Wilford Woodruff. And the practice was stopped completely in 1910. The ones who still practice polygamy are not members of the LDS faith, rather they have created their own mock religions and have broken away. The church that Romney belongs to DOES NOT PRACTICE POLYGAMY. Do some freakin' research.....a quick google of mormon polygamy manifesto is all you need to do."
"Brax" (4-12-07) concerning Why Christianity (or Mormonism) Does Matter in Voting

NOTE: While this response is addressed to Brax, it also serves as a response to rendersan, another Mormon who commented on this article, as well as the Mormon community in general.

Thanks for writing. First I apologize if I misrepresented your Mormon position on Christ in any way. The views on Christ I used were taken from other Mormons and ex-Latter Day Saints, and apparently do not accurately reflect your own beliefs. However, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints began to splinter, they encountered the same pitfalls of Protestantism where many different doctrinal views leave many members confused. Also, did you ever stop to think that the Mormon group "that broke away and started their own mock religion" in 1910 by keeping polygamy a belief feels the same way as you, only they believe it was you guys who broke away, not they.

You also asked me to do "some freakin' research," (by the way, is "freakin'" your word or an official apologetic term of the latest version of Latter Day Saints? It sounds more like "Motley Crue" than Mitt Romney) and google "mormon polygamy manifesto" to get the real history on LDS and plural marriage. Unfortunately the manifesto search (I used the Utah History Encyclopedia, the first and most widely Google source on this topic) only made matters worse. While it did confirm that Wilford Woodruff, the LDS leader at the time (who too was originally in favor of polygamy), did state October 6th, 1890 that, "I publicly declare that my advice [to members] is to refrain from polygamy," it turned out, according to this source that, "for both the hierarchy and the general membership of the LDS this manifesto inaugurated an ambiguous era in the practice of plural marriage rivaled only by the status of polygamy during the lifetime of Joseph Smith." So as you can see, googling Morman topics (like Woodruff's vague statements) only further muddies the waters. Fortunately for Roman Catholics, the Catechism of the Catholic Church solves this problem by stating policy plainly. Of course, it also helps when you belong to a religion where "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), and the dogmas never change.

As to the question of whether Mormons are Christians—the Dogma of the Trinity was defined from the very beginning of the Church, so to believe the Holy Spirit is God equally with the Father and Son is crucial to what it means to be a Christian. You remind me of the students who come into my class and sit on their desks, and when I tell them to "sit on a chair," they respond, "I am." There are similarities between the two but for a desk to truly become a chair one would have to alter (change or add to) its original definition.

I'll take your word for it that Romney does not believe in polygamy (although his great grandfather did and WAS a polygamist) and is not THAT kind of Mormon. At the same time, it was only about three years ago, that Mitt was pro-abortion. While I am GLAD he has switched positions and is now pro-life, let me ask you, was Romney at odds with the Mormon belief on abortion then or now? If he was a non-conforming Mormon previously, one may wonder if the switch was due not just to a change of heart but to political motives. And if he was in accordance with Mormonism on abortion before and isn't currently following LDS' position, how can we say even what kind of a Mormon Romney really is?

That said, I would still vote for Romney over Kerry (who openly mocks his religion's view on abortion and traditional marriage) or pro-abort Manchurian Candidates Obama or Clinton. Still, I think you can now see my point; that I would much rather support a man like Sam Brownback whose policies and Christianity are far more similar to my own than one whose are not.

As for yourself, one is left to wonder if polygamy is truly a repugnant practice to you personally (and if you truly believe that Christ is both God and Man), why you do not leave this Sect (who has for most of its short history either officially or unofficially supported plural marriage) for a Christian denomination that never has allowed this practice and, indeed, never will? One can only conjecture that it is because you have rejected the Church's history, saints and sacraments and prefer to cling to recent so-called visions such as aniceatheist's, "Mormons believe that Jesus was resurrected instantly and teleported to America...where he preached to huge civilizations of white people that lived here two thousand years ago with walled cities and battles of tens of thousands of soldiers (Of course every trace of them disappeared)." Such visions not only often contradict traditional Christianity, but in the end, Christ (who upon Peter established the one true Church) Himself. I pray that you one day exchange the writings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff for those of Augustine of Hippo, Teresa of Avila and John Paul II, and "In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," I bless your continued quest for Truth.

2 comments :

Anonymous said...

First of all, thanks for the wave. Hello! My comments were directed more at the misconceptions of other posters in the thread than at your original article, but I’m happy to respond to what you’ve written here.

You bring up a few topics that Mormons themselves are uncomfortable with, such as polygamy and the too-frequent use of the word “freakin’” (ouch!) Outsiders to the Mormons faith may be leery about polygamy, and the Mormons themselves are terribly thin-skinned on the issue. We’d love to sweep the whole thing under the rug, and although the concept remains in our doctrine and we haven’t erased any eighteenth-century polygamous marriages from our records, nobody I know wishes that polygamy was still being practiced on Earth, and we’re all glad the whole affair is over and done with. Personally, I think that part of the reason that polygamy was introduced in the Mormon church was precisely to make the church just a little bit unpalatable and to act as a stumbling block or a trial of faith. It is, after all, weird. Is it ultimately wrong, according to God’s law? It is in the Bible, practiced in the time of the patriarchs with little negative connotation, so I don’t think it’s fundamentally wrong, or was wrong when it was practiced (which is why you don’t see many Mormons leaving the church dissatisfied over its history, nor has our doctrine changed despite the change in practice). But I’d like no part of it and I don’t think it belongs in our world today. Since almost no Mormons long for its return, it doesn’t seem fair to lump Romney’s belief in having one wife to his more slippery views about abortion or other current political topics that are not as essential to our faith as they might be to other Christians’.

The problem of schism is also interesting. We of course have our splinter groups, as you have yours except on a much larger scale as Catholicism has a tremendous presence on the historical stage and we are only recent and minor players. I’m always frustrated by history textbooks that imply a tremendous schism in my church at the time of Joseph Smith’s death and that only the largest branch of the Mormon church ever made the trek to Utah, since the real schism of that time was barely a few dozen disaffected and power-seeking individuals that didn’t form their own rival churches until decades later. Later polygamous groups are not mainstreamed here in Utah the way outsiders think they are, and the reason they are not all being actively prosecuted has less to do with tacit Mormon approval of the practice and more to do with the ambiguity of the law in regards to what consenting adults may do and a desire to not send parents of large families to jail simply for defying convention. When the polygamists start marrying off children or abusing the welfare system, we do crack down, but finding people to testify against their own insular communities is also problematic.

The schism of the Protestant sects is also interesting in how it relates to the doctrine of the Trinity. I bit into the Trinity a little in that thread where you posted, and I’ve been tearing at it here and there in other threads lately as well. Although both the Catholic and Protestant doctrines both trace their roots back to the early church, I find that the Catholic position on the doctrine (and just about every other Christian doctrine) is stronger than the claim that Protestants have on the doctrine. After leaving the Catholic church and picking and choosing which doctrines to keep and which to throw away, and then insisting that the Bible is the only reliable source of doctrine, to keep the doctrine of the Trinity around -- a doctrine that is not explicitly stated in the Bible -- seems inconsistent. From the Catholic point of view, however, the line of authority from the apostles remains unbroken, so a later clarification of a doctrine not spelled out in the Bible is not problematic, and is perfectly within the prerogative of the Church.

Mormons downplay the importance of the specifics of the doctrine of the Trinity as it pertains to our classification as Christians, and will instead point to their belief in God the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit that they share with other Christians, although of course we do not have the same beliefs about the relationship between those Three. Whether we belong in the Christian taxonomy from my point of view eventually comes down to semantics, but we do find it hurtful when dismissing our Christianity makes it easier to put other unfair labels on us, like cult. Most of that kind of name-calling comes from the same people that also throw rocks at Catholicism and label it as un-American, which is of course also an unfair assertion. When you can put easy labels on people, it makes it easier for outsiders to believe nonsense like aniceatheist's caricature of our beliefs that you quoted, which is a real twist on what Mormons actually believe.

As far as Mitt Romney goes, I don’t like his position on the war, so although he’s Mormon, I can’t say that he ever had my vote to begin with.

Finally, I’ve got to say I loved your conclusion about the writings of Augustine of Hippo, Teresa of Avila and John Paul II. That’s some great authority you’re appealing to there, and I applaud you for having a solid foundation for your own faith.

-rendersan

Tom O'Toole said...

Dear Rendersan - Thanks for responding to MY Mormon response. It struck me as both thoughtful and thought-provoking. So here are some of Thomas Augustine's thoughts back to you!

True, polygamy was part of the lives of Old Testament patriarchs, but don't you think Jesus effectively eliminated this from Christian relationship consideration? More than anyone in history, Christ raised women to equal status when He revisited the Genesis texts, "for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his WIFE and the TWO shall become one flesh," and then went on to talk about divorce—that He made it clear that marriage should be between one many and one woman? Jesus recast and perfected many Old Testament teachings such as "an eye for an eye" into "turn the other cheek," and for the Christian, it seems the two can never truly be "one flesh" if more than two are intimately involved.

It is true that Catholics were persecuted almost as badly as the Mormons in the United States, and much of it was (and is) from misrepresented teachings. My poem The Blood of the Young Patriots (http://www.fightingirishthomas.net/2006/09/blood-of-young-patriots.html) is a post 9/11 take on this subject; see if you agree with its sentiments. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (who had a top-rated TV show in the 50s) once said that while millions hate the Catholic Church because of what they THINK it teaches, perhaps less than 100 hate it for what it REALLY professes. Is this true of Mormonism too?

I'm glad to hear you're a fan of Augustine, Teresa and JPII. Of course, for sake of space, I listed only three, but I'm just as fond of Thomas Aquinas, Thomas More, Francis de Sales and Francis of Assisi, Therese of Liseux and Mother Teresa of Calcutta ... well you get the idea! While not carrying quite the same weight as papal dogma, you see the consistency in their teachings and heroic lives. For example, the Eucharist—the sacrament Augustine called "The Daily Bread" of the "Our Father"—in my studying the lives and teaching of the saints, I found they ALL believed with all their hearts that Jesus was really present in this sacrament and it was the reception of this sacrament that gave them the strength to always live Christ's sometimes demanding commandments out. Nicknamed "The Sacrament of Unity," the Protestant Reformation immediately attacked it and eventually offered as many (always watered-down) different versions of Holy Communion as there are denominations. If the devil wanted to strike at unity, the unity Christ so desired for His Church, "I pray that they may all be one, as you Father, are in me and I in you," (John 17:20-21), to me it demonstates Satan's genius (and power) that he chose this as the starting point. Still, Christ's Resurrection proves that Good is more powerful than evil, and I am joyful to be blessed to have true Ecumenical dialogues with souls like you. Yet, not being able to share the sacraments (because of our separate beliefs) is a source of profound sadness, so I must ask you the question that the monks asked Luther. "You, Martin, are changing the doctrine of the Eucharist, the belief held since the beginning of the Church, the belief of Polycarp, Ambrose, Gregory and Augustine, Francis, Aquinas, Patrick and Catherine. Are you now saying your wisdom and holiness surpasses all of these? That they all are wrong and you are right?" And Luther could not answer, instead changing the subject (once again) to the abuse of power. So what do you say, Rendersan, is the wisdom or holiness of the recent Latter Day Saints greater than these, and suddenly proves all these saints wrong and the likes of Smith and Young right?

Several years ago, I wrote a book called Champions of Faith. It was about athletes, but I believe it applies to all Christians who seek the truth. I believe you have the heart of a Champion of Faith, and I hope Our Lord continues to give you the time to search... and to keep in touch!

God's grace and Mary's prayers,
Tom