Friday, July 6, 2007

Instability in LDS doctrine?

Doctrinal instability?
In his TNR article “The Big Test” Damon Linker wrote about the difficulties he has, and he believes that others will have, with Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. He opined, “It is far more likely, however, that as citizens educate themselves about the political implications of Mormon theology, concerns about the possibility of a Mormon president will actually increase. And these apprehensions will be extremely difficult to dispel--because they will be thoroughly justified.” (here, italics original)

One of the issues Linker believes has political implications is instability in the church’s doctrine. “Mormonism opens the door to prophetically inspired acts and innovations, the content of which cannot be predetermined in any way,” Linker writes.

In many respects Mormon beliefs differ dramatically from those of mainstream Christianity. It was certainly very new when the first LDS congregation was established in 1830 (D&C 21:1-12). So, to answer the question of doctrinal instability the doctrinal evolution--or more appropriately how the doctrine developed through revelation--should be considered.

Line upon line
There is an important principle that Mormons take for granted: line upon line, precept upon precept. That is, God reveals his will gradually. This idea comes from the book of Isaiah: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isa. 28:10); a concept also repeated by Paul, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (1 Cor. 3:2).

Every new religious movement has its own uniqueness and innovations: from a Roman Catholic view Luther was a radical innovator; when the Arminian view emerged in the early 1600’s it was a new innovation that differed markedly from the prevailing Calvinistic view; Henry the Eighth was radical in his innovations in trying to preserve Catholic ritual and the framework of Protestant doctrine within in the Church of England, and also making himself and his successors head of the English church. So whether one is talking about Shakers, Quakers, Puritans, or Anglicans, at one time or another these were new and innovative. And so it was with Mormonism. However, when compared to the prevailing Christian beliefs of the time its innovations were very different. They were revolutionary. (I shall call them innovations only for the sake of argument, not because of personal conviction; innovations are man-made.)

The first innovations come from what Mormons call the First Vision--Joseph Smith’s first revelatory experience. Religion always had some importance to Joseph, and in early spring of 1820 he went to a secluded place to ask God which denomination he should join. According to his account he “saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description…One of them spake..and said, pointing to the other--This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” Joseph was told in this vision that that all the existing denominations were wrong and not to join any of them (JS-History 1:17).

Three radical “innovations” come from this experience. The first is that the Trinitarian view of God is inconsistent with what Joseph saw and heard: the Father and the Son are not “concurring in one Person and one Subsistence.” The second is that Protestant, Roman, and Greek traditions are wrong: while Protestants believe that the primitive church was lost and needed to be reformed; and while the Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox religions believe they have continued the true Apostolic tradition; Mormonism holds that all are deviations from the true path. The third is that dramatic revelations of the kind Paul experienced were not confined to Biblical times--and from hindsight that a restoration was in the offing.

On the night of 21 September 1823 Joseph had another experience with the divine. He was visited by an angel named Moroni who told him of the work that God would require him to do. Joseph also learned of a record written on golden plates--The Book of Mormon--and was shown where they were buried. The following day he visited the place and uncovered the plates. Every September he went back to this spot and was visited there by Moroni. Finally, during Joseph’s yearly visit in 1827 he was allowed to take the plates.

The next developments were additions to the corpus of scripture. By the end of June 1829 the translation of the Book of Mormon had been completed; the printer began typesetting in August; and by late March 1830 the Book of Mormon was for sale. During the translation process several revelations were received; many of which are now included in our scriptures as Doctrine and Covenants sections 2-19. On Tuesday 6 April 1830 the church was organized and (within Mormonism) the Bible, the creeds, and Christian tradition were no longer the infallible rule of Christian belief and practice. There are many more innovations, but a comprehensive list would be beside the point. It’s sufficient to say that more revelations were added, and Mormonism experienced “innovation” upon “innovation”.

But these early revelations only meant that Mormonism was new. One of Linker’s concerns is over Mormonism’s doctrinal instability and unpredictability (so called). It is this notion that I intend to pick apart.

Examples posed as doctrinal instability
In a speech given at Saint Anselm College earlier this year (here) Linker illustrates several examples of what he considers instability in doctrine,

You see this in the fact that the Mormons did use to believe in polygamy, but about a hundred years ago the prophet declared that they will no longer believe in polygamy…The fact that this was at the core of their theology, and then, it wasn’t, speaks to the incredible power of prophecy. Once the prophet said no more plural marriage, it was over. Most Mormons within a few years had abandoned the practice. (24:26-25:19)
LDS prophetic declarations since the late nineteenth century have tended to moderate church teaching, moving the community into greater conformity with mainstream American values: abolishing polygamy, as I said, in 1890 for instance; and opening the Mormon priesthood to black members of the church in 1978, only in 1978. (25:19-27:37)
These limitations have lead some leaders of the church to propose that Mormons should look to the current accepted cannon of scriptures, Mormon scriptures, revealed by Smith as the standard by which to evaluate all future revelations. In the words of Joseph Fielding Smith--not Joseph Smith but a later leader of the church, he’s the tenth president of the church--official LDS scriptural text should be used quote “as the measuring sticks or the balances by which we measure every man’s doctrine.” This moderate and moderating view remains a controversial position in the Mormon church however. And for good reason, none other than Joseph Smith (the original) and his successor prophet Brigham Young seemed to take a different stance toward the authority of revelation. Compared with quote “living oracles” Young declared, canonical works of scriptures are nothing because they quote “do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation.” To which Smith replied quote “Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord and he has told you the truth.” (29:50-31:28)

Time scales of change
Is it long term unpredictability that Linker finds so unnerving? For example, changes on time scales of 100 years? Probably not. Accurate predictions on the state of religion or politics that far out are not possible. After all, who would have thought in 1907 what 2007 would be like. And who could have predicted the intervening historical events. If unpredictability is the problem then all politics, science, and religion are problematic because they involve “acts and innovations, the content of which cannot be predetermined in any way.” So if unpredictability is bothersome to Linker then it must be unpredictability on smaller time scales. And herein is the flaw of his argument: apart from the revelations during Joseph’s lifetime there were no sudden or significant changes in church doctrine.

For example the polygamy issue. By the 1850’s Mormons (to the disgust of most Americans) were openly practicing polygamy. Congress responded in 1862 with the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act (here). This act reads, “every person having a husband or wife living, who shall marry any other person, whether married or single, in a Territory of the United States…, shall,…be adjudged guilty of bigamy, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars, and by imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.” This act had no real effect on the practice of polygamy. In 1882 the Edmunds act was passed (here). Section eight states “no polygamist, bigamist, or any person cohabiting with more than one woman, and no woman cohabiting with any of the persons described as aforesaid in this section…shall be entitled to vote at any election held in any such Territory or other place.” Section 3 further made cohabiting with more than one woman a misdemeanor; making a misdemeanor cause to revoked one’s right to vote. In 1887 even more pressure was applied with the Edmunds-Tucker Act (here). This law made adultery and fornication a crime (section 3-5) and also stated “it shall not be lawful for any female to vote at any election hereafter held in the Territory of Utah for any public purpose whatever” (sec 20); thus women who hitherto had the right to vote lost it. But passing coercive laws was not restricted to Congress. In 1885 the territory of Idaho passed a law designed to prevent any believing Mormon from voting. Section two says,

No person…who is a bigamist or polygamist, or who teaches, advises, counsels or encourages any person or persons to become bigamists or polygamist,…or to enter into what is known as plural or celestial marriage, or who is a member of any order, organization, or association which teaches, advises, counsels, or encourages its members or devotees, or any other persons, to commit the crime of bigamy or polygamy, or any other crime defined by law, either as a rite or ceremony of such order, organization or association, or otherwise, shall be permitted to vote at any election, or to hold any position or office of honor, trust or profit, within this Territory. (here)

This was upheld as constitutional by the United States Supreme Court. Among many other things the Morrill, Edmunds, and Edmunds-Tucker acts permitted the government to seize large amounts of church property. By the late 1880’s the Church was feeling the pressure and was facing a very real threat of extinction. At this point the president of the church Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal, “I have arrived at a point in the history of my life as the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where I am under the necessity of acting for the temporal salvation of the church” (Comprehensive History, vol. 6, p. 220). And in 1890 polygamy was officially abandoned.

Linker’s statement that “The fact that this was at the core of their theology, and then, [pause] it wasn’t, speaks to the incredible power of prophecy” (listen to his rather dramatic presentation here) reveals that he knows little about the history of Mormon polygamy. It took 28 years, the elimination of women’s suffrage, making adultery and fornication crimes punishable by imprisonment and fine, confiscation of church property, and denying people the right to vote because of their church membership to compel the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to abandon polygamy. This speaks more to the power of the United States Government than to anything else. Further, had the United States not gone to this extreme polygamy would never have been abandoned. So, contrary to Linker’s interpretation, this is evidential of a very deep and abiding resistance to change.

Blacks and the priesthood
It is well known that prior to 1978 the church did not ordain black men to its priesthood. While this might be construed as supporting a here-today-gone-tomorrow view of prophecy, it doesn’t. Naturally there is history behind it. (Read my own thoughts on this issue here.) The purpose of addressing this issue is not to justify it, only to illustrate its evolution.

On this subject the Encyclopedia of Mormonism reads, “Although several blacks were ordained to the priesthood in the 1830s, there is no evidence that Joseph Smith authorized new ordinations in the 1840s, and between 1847 and 1852 Church leaders maintained that blacks should be denied the priesthood because of their lineage” (“Blacks”, Encyclopedia of Mormonism), By the 1850’s it was clearly the policy of the church not to ordain black men to the priesthood. But that this ban was subject to a theoretical possibility of change can be illustrated from these two excerpts from sermons given by Brigham Young,

When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain [black people] and his posterity (JD 2:143).

When all the rest of the [Adam’s] children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to. (JD 11:272)

In the 1950’s President David O. McKay narrowed the priesthood ban to apply only to those of black African descent, thus opening ordination to Fijians, Australian aborigines, and Egyptians. In the 1960’s there was an expectation of change but the position of the Church was that it would take a revelation to do it. This expectation is found in President Kimball’s 1978 Official Declaration which changed the priesthood policy: “[God] has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood” (OD 2:8, italics mine).

The history of this issue is one of gradual change, finally building up to President Kimball’s 1978 revelation. Change occurred over large time intervals and was gradual. In fact, one could argue that the attitude of Mormons toward African Americans evolved coordinate with that of the nations, which would only further invalidate Linker’s concern of sudden changes.

Existing scripture as tradition
Linker mentions a statement by Joseph Fielding Smith that says scriptures should be used to evaluate doctrine. However, “This moderate and moderating view remains a controversial position in the Mormon church,” he says. Actually it isn’t. The compete statement by Joseph Fielding Smith is this,

It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teaching of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine. (Doctrines of Salvation, p. 203)

Linker’s counter claim is made by a statement from Joseph Smith (“the original”) and Brigham Young. The complete statement follows.

Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down: and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said, “There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day.” “And now,” said he “when compared with the living oracles, those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.” That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation: “Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth” (Conference Report, October 1897, pp. 18-19; taken from General Conference 1 October 1963 p. 15, address by Apostle Ezra Taft Benson)

Linker said, “It is impossible to know how Mormons will resolve this significant tension over the coming years.” However, the two statements quoted above are not inconsistent with one another. The statement of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young was made early in the history of the church, when new revelations were common. The statement from Joseph Fielding Smith was from the middle of the twentieth century, after tradition and scripture had been established for more than one hundred years. It is true the Mormons believe the living prophet is more important than scripture; and so I agree with Joseph Smith, “Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.” Such a statement, however, does not necessitate that future revelations will be inconsistent with past revelations. In fact Joseph Fielding Smith’s statement suggests otherwise. So, in the mind of a Mormon there is no “significant tension” to be overcome.

Extrapolating even a reasonably accurate prediction of the state of any political or religious organization 100 years out is not possible. Therefore, there can be no rational objection to unpredictability on that kind of time scale. The examples Linker posed involve changes on time scales of more than 100 years in the case of the priesthood issue, and at least 28 years in the case of abandoning polygamy which only happened because of enormous government pressure. Linker seems to think that unpredictability means the possibility of contradiction with the past. Reasonable evidence for this notion, however, is lacking. This is illustrated by a closer examination of the examples he posed, which in fact strongly support that evolution in the church is slow and resistance to change is strong.

There is no significant tension in the Mormon community between using the scriptures as “yardsticks…by which we measure every man’s doctrine” and affirming the importance of modern prophets to our day.

Linker said, “Religion matters. It’s important. Examining and evaluating various religious views is a way of treating those views with utmost seriousness” (15:23-16:50). And also, “What we need most of all is hard sober thinking” (03:56-03:42).

I must say, I agree.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Strategy against Romney

Lately I have been thinking about whom is more opposed to Mormonism: liberals or the evangelical right? Liberals object to the conservative stands on social issues common among Mormons; but they also object to conservative Christians on that same count. (Though liberals would probably object a little more to a Mormon.) Conservatives in turn would not vote for a liberal candidate. But many would not vote for a Mormon either. The evangelical right might agree with Mormons on many social issues, but they object to the overall teachings of Mormonism. While Mormons have supported non-Mormon presidential candidates, the evangelical right has a problem supporting a Mormon one.

At least for liberals there is some symmetry in their objections to Mormons and to evangelicals: liberals probably wouldn’t vote for any conservative. However this cannot be said for the Christian right. Amy Sullivan (an editor of The Washington Monthly) wrote of some of these difficulties. In her article “Mitt Romney’s Evangelical Problem” (here) she writes of her first exposure to Mormonism:

The first time I ever heard about Mormons was in fifth grade, sitting in a basement classroom of my Baptist church, watching a filmstrip about cults. Our Sunday school class was covering a special month-long unit on false religions; in the mailorder curriculum, Mormonism came somewhere between devil worshippers and Jim Jones. Although most of the particulars are lost to me now, one of the images remains in my mind: a cartoon of human figures floating in outer space (an apparent reference to the Mormon doctrine of "eternal progression") that appeared on the screen next to our pull-down map of Israel. Even at age 10, the take-away message was clear. Mormons were not like us, they were not Christian.

Amy Sullivan has some nice things to say about Romney. Her article explores, in a very realistic way, the difficulties a Mormon will face in getting the evangelical vote. She quotes one “longtime political observer” as saying, “Publicly, it’s not an issue. Privately, it’s a big damn issue.”

These objections go very deep. Like many other Mormons I did two years of LDS missionary work. During that time a liberal never Bible bashed (argued over doctrine) with me or told me my religion is Satanic. Such things only came from the evangelical types. Their motivation is nothing less than to prevent the eternal damnation of the human race. Therefore, they must oppose all false churches and doctrine at every turn. Such an objection is very different from the objections that liberals have toward conservatives.

On the other side of the political divide, the left objects to the right on many issues. One concern that many liberals have is that religious belief rather than reason is being used to justify positions on important political issues. Andrew Sullivan (who is liberal on social issues) has no objections to a belief in God or to organized religion: his objections are focused on all forms of religious absolutism. In his article “When Not Seeing is Believing” (Time Magazine, 2 October 2006, here) he writes, “Can you engage in a rational dialogue with a man like Ahmadinejad, who believes that Armageddon is near and that it is his duty to accelerate it? How can Israel negotiate with people who are certain their instructions come from heaven and so decree that Israel must not exist in Muslim lands? Equally, of course, how can one negotiate with fundamentalist Jews who claim that the West Bank is theirs forever by biblical mandate? Or with Fundamentalist Christians who believe that Israel’s expansion is a biblical necessity rather than a strategic judgment?” His objections cover a wide range of extremism in religious traditions: Moslem, Jewish, and Fundamentalist Christian.

Liberals might object to Mormonism because of their differences with Mormons on social and economic issues. But evangelicals object to Mormonism because (they believe) it is a cult. But this is not to say there isn’t an interaction effect between liberals and evangelicals on the Mormon question.

Damon Linker--who’s The New Republic article “The Big Test” provoked my response here--stated in a correspondence with some TNR readers, “[to the] contention that, in my view, ‘[r]eligion is only dangerous in the hands of conservative Republicans,’ I unapologetically plead guilty, at least if we limit ourselves to the present moment in U.S. political history” (here). So Linker won’t vote for a conservative, whether he be Mormon or otherwise. So I wonder, what was the purpose of his “Big Test” article? Liberals already won’t vote for a conservative Mormon. So to whom was he writing? Is he building a case for the left to use against (what he believes is) an extreme religion? Probably. But he seems to be doing more than preaching to the converted.

In his article “The Big Test” Linker takes care to create a marked distinction between Mormons and the rest of Christianity. He writes “Mormons differ from mainstream Christians in another respect as well: their emphasis on the centrality of prophecy.” Linker is bothered by the fact that the LDS cannon of scripture is open. He writes, “Mormonism opens the door to prophetically inspired acts and innovations, the content of which cannot be predetermined in any way.” One solution he proposes is for “the LDS Church to follow the lead of the Catholic Church in developing a tradition of philosophical reflection on natural law.” Here are some other quotes from the same article.

Christianity in both the Catholic and Protestant traditions holds that direct revelation ended many centuries ago, before the scriptural canon was closed in the late fourth century…but Mormonism is unique in the emphasis it places on prophetic utterances.
Unlike the God of Catholics and Protestants--who is usually portrayed as the transcendent, all-powerful, all-good, and all-wise creator of the temporal universe out of nothingness--Smith's God is a finite being who evolved into his present state of divinity from a condition very much like our own and then merely “organized” preexisting matter in order to form the world.
Yet the fact remains that, as it is currently constituted, Mormonism lacks the intellectual or spiritual resources to challenge a declaration of the prophet who runs the church.
Under modern conditions, some religions--Protestantism, post-Vatican II Catholicism, Judaism--have spawned liberal traditions that treat faith primarily as a repository of moral wisdom instead of as a source of absolute truth. Other religions, by contrast, have tended to require believers to accept everything or nothing at all. Mormonism (like Islam, another faith founded in prophecy) is one of the latter, binary religions.

Even in his correspondence with Richard Bushman (over the “Big Test”) he emphasized how unchristian Mormon beliefs seem to non-Mormons:

Smith denied the creation of the universe ex nihilo, proposed that God has a body, and suggested that human beings can evolve into Gods themselves. More remarkable still, he persuaded large numbers of people to accept these heterodox beliefs and to risk (and, in many cases, to lose) their lives defending their right to affirm them.

However odd Mormon beliefs may sound to orthodox Christians and doctrinaire secularists, these critics need to recognize that the LDS Church proclaims a vision of the world and God that speaks to something noble in the souls of millions of Mormons and the thousands of people who convert to the Church every year. (here)

In his article Linker mentions that Mormons believe the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri, that Mormons do not believe in creation ex nihilo, and he talks of how the Mormon view of God differs from the mainstream Christian view. These things are of little interest to secular liberals and have no bearing on political issues; but they are of great doctrinal import to non-Mormon Christian conservatives.

Hugh Hewitt said of the left’s opposition to Romney, “they want to get the knives into the back of Romney, and they want America to believe the evangelicals put them there” (here). It appears that a hands off approach is one way of doing this; they are trying to feed arguments to the evangelical right to provoke them into doing the their dirty work. Because of evangelical opposition to Mormonism the pieces are already in place. A Gallup poll conducted in February (here) shows that while conservatives would vote for a Catholic (94%), an African American (92%), a Jew (91%), a woman (82%), and a Hispanic (84%) only 66% would vote for a Mormon. While 75% of liberals and 77% of moderates would vote for a Mormon.

Linker is well aware of the difficulties that a Mormon will face in getting the support of evangelicals. However, from his article “A Bigger Tent” (Slate, 11 October 2006) he clearly believes that Romney has a good shot at it:

And yet Mitt Romney’s undeclared candidacy has so far managed to inspire a remarkable degree of enthusiasm among right-wing Christians. Conservative Catholics have a proven track record of voting for non-Catholic candidates who support the issues they care about Among evangelicals, some clearly admire the stands Romney has taken against gay marriage, abortion, and stem-cell research in liberal Massachusetts and hope that he’ll come to be seen as a viable alternative to McCain and Giuliani, both of whom fall to Romney's left on social issues Even Falwell has admitted that it’s the issues that will matter in the next presidential contest. (here)

What Linker has done with his “Big Test” article is posed arguments with which a person on the religious right can use against Mormonism; and he presented them in such a way that one would feel justified in their attack.

So far I have found only one case where his arguments are being used by a conservative Christian against Romney. A blogger by the name of Dwayna Litz writes in a post titled “Inventing a Mormon President: A response to Hugh Hewitt’s A Mormon in the White House?” of her disagreements with some of Hewitt’s conclusions (here). She opens with this statement: “I am a fan of radio personality Hugh Hewitt, the author of A Mormon in the White House? I am in full agreement with him that faith is under attack by American secularists, and in politics there are many who would exclude believers from elected office.” From her blog entry it is obvious that she views Mormonism as an evil cult. She writes, “[Hugh Hewitt] shows no signs of detecting any problems with people that he himself recognizes is teaching heresy. Where in the history of the church have heretics been found to be trustworthy?” And she mentions the Linker article:

An equally disturbing problem is presented by Damon Linker, in New Republic (January 2007), “Mormonism opens the door to prophetically inspired acts and innovations, the content of which cannot be predetermined in any way.” This unknown factor needs to be addressed. Romney’s avoidance of these issues makes unknown what will happen should he be elected.

The political campaigning is just starting to gather momentum. And, it is true that political candidates are never treated fairly. However, the unfair treatment is not equally distributed. It’s a little early to determine if Linker’s arguments will be widely used by the religious right. But I suspect a few more evangelicals will take the bait.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More on Romney and the Second Coming of Jesus

Here is an excerpt from an interview of Mitt Romney by George Stephanopoulos. (The complete interview here.)

I just have one more question about this and it has to do with the Muslim world. In your faith, if I understand it correctly, it teaches that Jesus will return probably to the United States and reign on earth for 1,000 years. And I wonder how that would be viewed in the Muslim world. Have you thought about how the Muslim world will react to that and whether it would make it more difficult, if you were president, to build alliances with the Muslim world?

Mitt Romney:
Well, I'm not a spokesman for my church. I'm not running for pastor in chief. I'm running for commander in chief. So the best place to go for my church's doctrines would be my church.

But I'm talking about how they will take it, how they will perceive it.

Mitt Romney:
I understand, but that doesn't happen to be a doctrine of my church. Our belief is just as it says in the Bible, that the messiah will come to Jerusalem, stand on the Mount of Olives and that the Mount of Olives will be the place for the great gathering and so forth. It's the same as the other Christian tradition. But that being said, how do Muslims feel about Christian doctrines? They don't agree with them. There are differences between doctrines of churches. But the values at the core of the Christian faith, the Jewish faith and many other religions are very, very similar and it's that common basis that we have to support and find ability to draw people to rather than to point out the differences between our faiths. The differences are less pronounced than the common base that can lead to the peace and the acceptability and the brother and sisterhood of humankind.

But your church does teach that Jesus will reign on earth for the millennium, right?

Mitt Romney:

What Mitt Romney said about Jesus appearance at the Mount of Olives is correct. However, what he says about Christ not ruling in the United States is incorrect. Of this he says, “I understand, but that doesn't happen to be a doctrine of my church.”

In the YouTube video
Stephanopoulos says a Actually we checked with a Mormon spokesman who said that is not exactly true. They believe that the New Jerusalem is here in the United States in Missouri, and that's where Jesus is gonna come. See this post for information on the doctrinal aspects of the Second Coming and why it is a non-issue for a President Romney.

YouTube interview

Later Stephanopoulos got it right, that there will be at least two appearances (here).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The second coming of Jesus Christ and Mitt Romney

To properly understand Mormon beliefs require knowledge of context and background; and few non-Mormons have the background necessary to properly our beliefs. One common misunderstanding is that we believe Christ’s Second Coming will be somewhere in the United States. Such a notion is not so much wrong as it is incomplete.

In an interview of Mitt Romney, George Stephanopoulos brought up the LDS idea of the Second Coming. He asked Romney, “In your faith, if I understand it correctly, it teaches that Jesus will return probably to the United States and reign on earth for 1,000 years” (here).

Damon Linker brought his concern that Mormon beliefs teach Jesus’ Second Coming will be in the state of Missouri. In his Here and Now interview (here) he says: “[Mormons] believe not only, like many Evangelicals and Catholics, that when Christ returns he’ll do so in the Middle East. They believe that he might also come and rule the world from the territory of the United States…What would happen if some faction of the Mormon Church became convinced that Christ had already returned and was living in Missouri for instance? Would Romney dismiss this? Or is this something that he’d have to take very seriously?” Thus if it was believed that Jesus was hiding out somewhere in Missouri a President Romney might be obliged to prepare the way for a theocratic Kingdom of God. However, Linker’s understanding of the LDS view of the Second Coming is incomplete, and the part about Romney is a little paranoid.

This post will help clarify the LDS view of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Four appearances
LDS beliefs hold that there are four main appearances of Jesus Christ: his appearance at the New Jerusalem (to be built in Independence Missouri); his appearance at a place called Adam-ondi-Ahman (near Independence Missouri); his appearance at the Mount of Olives (at Jerusalem in Israel); and finally his appearance to the world (at Armageddon).[1]

Christ’s appearance at the Mount of Olives (at Jerusalem in Israel)
The Bible prophesies that after an army has captured Jerusalem and is about to destroy the Jewish people the Messiah (for Christians this is Jesus) will come and save them.

I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. (NIV, Zech. 14:2-5)

Of these verses the Protestant scholars Johann Keil and Franz Delitzsch wrote in their famous commentary on the Old Testament, “The Lord will then take charge of His people; He will appear upon the Mount of Olives, and by splitting this mountain, prepare a safe way for the rescue of those that remain, and come with all His saints to complete His kingdom (Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament).

Christ’s appearance at Armageddon
Another Biblical prophecy of the Second Coming is Christ’s appearance at the battle of Armageddon, called “that great day of God Almighty” in Revelation 16:14. Of this appearance Revelation 19 reads,

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. (KJV, Rev. 19:11-16)

His appearance to the wicked is also mentioned in The Doctrine and Covenants:

Who is this that cometh down from God in heaven with dyed garments; yea, from the regions which are not known, clothed in his glorious apparel, traveling in the greatness of his strength?…And the Lord shall be red in his apparel, and his garments like him that treadeth in the wine-vat. And so great shall be the glory of his presence that the sun shall hide his face in shame, and the moon shall withhold its light, and the stars shall be hurled from their places. And his voice shall be heard: I have trodden the wine-press alone, and have brought judgment upon all people; and none were with me; And I have trampled them in my fury, and I did tread upon them in mine anger, and their blood have I sprinkled upon my garments, and stained all my raiment; for this was the day of vengeance which was in my heart. (D&C 133:46-51)

Christ’s appearance at the city of New Jerusalem (to be build in Independence Missouri)
(Please note that the Missouri New Jerusalem is distinct from the heavenly one mentioned in Revelation 3:12 and 21:2.[2])

And it shall come to pass that I will establish my people, O house of Israel. And behold, this people will I establish in this land [the Americas], unto the fulfilling of the covenant which I made with your father Jacob; and it shall be a New Jerusalem. And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people; yea, even I will be in the midst of you. (3 Nephi 20:21-22)

The late Apostle Charles W. Penrose said of Christ’s appearance at the New Jerusalem, “that appearance will be unknown to the rest of mankind. He will come to the Temple prepared for him, and his faithful people will behold his face, hear his voice, and gaze upon his glory. From his own lips they will receive further instructions for the development and beautifying of Zion and for the extension and sure stability of his Kingdom” (Millennial Star, 10 Sept. 1859, pp. 582-583, taken from Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, H-10, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

The location of the New Jerusalem temple is to be Independence Missouri (D&C 57:3). The city itself is to be dedicated to God. At the center of the city will be a temple (actually a temple complex). When Elder Penrose says “He will come to the Temple prepared for him” he is referring to the temple in the New Jerusalem. There is little distinction made between the temple and the city. The city New Jerusalem will be built before Christ’s appearance there.

Christ’s appearance at Adam-ondi-Ahman
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (later became an Apostle) wrote in his book Mormon Doctrine:

Before the great and dreadful day when the Lord is to return…there is to be an appearance at a place called Adam-ondi-Ahman. There Adam, the Ancient of Days, will sit in council with his children; there Christ will come, and to him shall be given “dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (Dan. 7.) The place where this gathering will take place has been specified by revelation. (D&C 116.) (“Signs of the times”, Mormon Doctrine)

[It should be pointed out that in LDS teachings Adam is known as the Ancient of Days and also as Michael the Archangel (D&C 27:11). See Adam-God theory]

At this meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahman a proclamation probably similar to this one will be made, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever…We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned” (Rev. 11:15-17).

The order of appearances
The order of these appearances is not known exactly. Generally it is believed that Christs New Jerusalem appearance will be first, followed by his Mount of Olives appearance, and finally his appearance at Armageddon. The Adam-ondi-Ahman appearance is closely connected to the New Jerusalem one, and will probably be either just before or after the New Jerusalem appearance. Since (Mormons believe) the New Jerusalem and the Palestine Jerusalem are the two world capitols from which Christ will rule during the Millennium, it would make sense that the New Jerusalem would be built before Christ is proclaimed king. Thus the Adam-ondi-Ahman appearance will probably be after the New Jerusalem is constructed.

To a Mormon the world capitols of New Jerusalem (Zion) and old Jerusalem are what Isaiah is referring to when he writes “out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:3).

Jesus has said, “behold, I am coming quickly” (NASB, Rev. 22:12), so it is anticipated that his four appearances will be relatively close together in time.

A little mentioned appearance
Jesus’ appearances at the Mount of Olives and at Armageddon are widely accepted by Christians. However there is a third appearance mentioned in the New Testament, which, for whatever reason, is often taken to mean Jesus’ appearance at Armageddon or the Mount of Olives. There is an appearance described in the book of Acts:

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (NIV, Acts 1:9-11)

This was a peaceful event with only Jesus and his followers present. As the two angels explain, Christ will come as they saw him go, in a very peaceful way: no ten thousand saints riding on horses, no battle of Armageddon; and no earthquakes, splitting mountains, or trumpets. Thus Jesus will make a personal appearance to his followers. I interpret this as Christ’s appearance at New Jerusalem or Adam-ondi-Ahman. Naturally this can be disputed.

Should people be concerned?
I suppose some people might find the New Jerusalem and Adam-ondi-Ahman appearance bothersome. What if the Mormon President announced that we must begin construction of the New Jerusalem? Would President Romney be obligated to give his assistance? After all, Mormons who have been through the temple have made a covenant to build up the kingdom of God and establish Zion. And Mitt Romney has been through the temple and made this covenant. (Some people refer to having been through the temple as being a “Temple” Mormon.)

For this concern to be addressed the backdrop of the New Jerusalem and the last days must be understood.

The backdrop
It is believed that the New Jerusalem will be build during the last days before Christ’s coming to the world. Jesus taught that in the last days, “ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars…For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:6-8). Of the New Jerusalem it is recorded in LDS scriptures,

And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God; And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion. And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety. And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another. (D&C 45:66-69)

The city New Jerusalem is to exist during a time of tremendous war and destruction. It will be built only after a watershed event that will determine the fate of the nation “either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds” (1 Nephi 14:7). In the Book of Mormon Jesus explains what will happen if we, as a nation, repent.

I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land [the Americas] for their inheritance; And they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem. And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem. And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst. (3 Nephi 21:22-25)

But if we do not repent,

Then shall ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, go forth among them; and ye shall be in the midst of them who shall be many; and ye shall be among them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, and as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he goeth through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver. (3 Nephi 20:16)

When Jesus says “ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob” he means those to whom he was speaking, the Nephites and the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon. It is almost universally held among Latter-day Saints that this means Native Americans and their descendants, primarily Latin America.[3] It might seem strange to some that the New Jerusalem is prophesied to be built primarily by “the remnant of Jacob”; especially since Mormons are stereotyped as being whites of Northern European descent. However, the prophecy states that the city will be built by (probably) a coalition of Anglo-Latin Mormons and also non-Mormons.

More than four
There are, however, more than four appearances of Christ: “For behold, he shall stand upon the mount of Olivet, and upon the mighty ocean, even the great deep, and upon the islands of the sea, and upon the land of Zion. And he shall utter his voice out of Zion, and he shall speak from Jerusalem, and his voice shall be heard among all people” (D&C 133:20-21).

Constitutional crisis
There are several instances where early church leaders mention a future Constitutional crisis, where the constitution will hang by “a thread” or “a hair”. It is recorded that Joseph Smith said, “Even this nation will be on the verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground and when the Constitution is on the brink of ruin this people will be the staff upon which the nation shall lean and they shall bear the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction” (Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Historical Archives, Box 1, March 10, 1844; taken from Ensign, June 1976, pp. 64-65). On January 3, 1858 Apostle Orson Hyde said,

It is said that brother Joseph in his lifetime declared that the Elders of this Church should step forth at a particular time when the Constitution should be in danger, and rescue it, and save it. This may be so; but I do not recollect that he said exactly so. I believe he said something like this--that the time would come when the Constitution and the country would be in danger of an overthrow; and said he, If the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the Elders of this Church. I believe this is about the language, as nearly as I can recollect it. (JD 6:152)

This idea of the Constitution hanging by a thread has also been repeated by current leaders of the Church. In 1972 Neil A. Maxwell (then Commissioner of the Church Educational System, now an Apostle) wrote,

Preston Nibley, in an article written nearly a quarter of a century ago, describes the transmission of the words of the Prophet about the Constitution of the United States and its coming to peril point eventually. There is some question, because of failures to record and memory differences, as to whether or not the Constitution (which in all versions would be in jeopardy) would be saved by the “elders” of this Church, or whether “if the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the elders of this Church.” Whatever version is correct, we do seem to have rendezvous with history concerning the American Constitution. (Neal A. Maxwell (July 1972), The Lonely Sentinels of Democracy, New Era, p. 50; here).

In 1987 the President of the church, Ezra Taft Benson (who held the view that the Constitution will be saved), said,

I have faith that the Constitution will be saved as prophesied by Joseph Smith. It will be saved by the citizens of this nation who love and cherish freedom. It will be saved by enlightened members of this Church—men and women who will subscribe to and abide the principles of the Constitution.

I reverence the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document. To me its words are akin to the revelations of God, for God has placed His stamp of approval on the Constitution of this land.

I testify that the God of heaven sent some of His choicest spirits to lay the foundation of this government, and He has sent other choice spirits to preserve it. We, the blessed beneficiaries, face difficult days in this beloved land, “a land which is choice above all other lands.” (Ether 2:10.) It may also cost us blood before we are through. It is my conviction, however, that when the Lord comes, the Stars and Stripes will be floating on the breeze over this people. May it be so, and may God give us the faith and the courage exhibited by those patriots who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor that we might be free, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. (Ezra Taft Benson (Sept. 1987), The Constitution—A Glorious Standard, Ensign, p. 11; here)

It is not known if this crisis will precede or follow the building of the New Jerusalem. Though I would have to say it would likely precede its construction. Also, it is not certain if the war with “the remnant of Jacob” (which can be avoided) will be linked to this Constitutional crisis. But one would be hard pressed to imagine these events as unconnected. But for now, “this is not yet, but by and by” (D&C 63:35).

In the Book of Mormon the New Jerusalem is built after (or after avoiding) a war with “the remnant of Jacob”. It is believed that after this crisis they will convert en masse. [4]

Final comments
Is any of this likely to materialize during a President Romney’s tenure? The New Jerusalem is intimately connected to the idea of Christ’s political kingdom. In the book of Revelation John the Beloved said that after the millennium the heavenly New Jerusalem would descend from God, “I…saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband….Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev. 21:2-3). This image of the heavenly New Jerusalem as a bride adorned for Christ, and that Christ will rule from his city, parallels the importance of the earthy New Jerusalem. (See footnote [2].) It must be built before there is any political kingdom of God; further, circumstances surrounding its establishment are extraordinary: It will be build by a collation of Mormons and non-Mormons; the times in which it is constructed are such that the city shall be “a city of refuge” (D&C 45:66); and “every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety” (D&C 45:68); and “it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another” (D&C 45:69).

One important fact that would prevent the construction of the New Jerusalem anytime soon is that the site for the New Jerusalem temple ([5] or here for temple site) is not owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most of the site is own by a branch of the Latter Day Saint movement called the Community of Christ. (Formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or RLDS; here for official website, here for Wikipedia.) In 1994 they dedicated a “temple” on the temple lot which they believe fulfills a prophecy given by Joseph Smith. The actual temple site, where the corner stones were placed, is owned by another church called the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) (here for Wikipedia). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns a small visitor center on the larger temple lot. The Community of Christ and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) have owned these sites for more than 100 years and are not likely to recede ownership anytime soon.

One of Linker’s concerns is that Romney might feel obligated to follow some “morally outrageous” proclamation of the LDS Prophet. A proclamation that might somehow be linked to a belief that Christ has come. Such a notion stems from Linker’s lack of understanding of the finer points of Mormon beliefs. The answer to his question “What would happen if some faction of the Mormon Church became convinced that Christ had already returned and was living in Missouri for instance? Would Romney dismiss this? Or is this something that he’d have to take very seriously?” becomes obvious once Mormon beliefs are correctly understood. Mitt Romney would not have to take it seriously, and probably wouldnt

So, whatever the case may be with Romeny and his faith, the issues of the Second Coming of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, and New Jerusalem would be a non-issue during his tenure as President.

[1] For a more detailed description of these four appearances see Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, Enrichment section H-10.

[2] The heavenly New Jerusalem is the prototype of the earthy one. After the millennium “the holy city, new Jerusalem, [shall come] down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). In the Book of Mormon the prophet Ether saw that the heavenly New Jerusalem would descend from God and become established in this hemisphere. Then he mentions another New Jerusalem to be constructed, also in this hemisphere: “[North America is] the place of the New Jerusalem, which should come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord. Behold, Ether saw the days of Christ, and he spake concerning a New Jerusalem upon this land” (Ether 13:3-4, italics mine). Notice that the heavenly New Jerusalem is “the New Jerusalem” while the constructed one is “a New Jerusalem”.

[3] “The history of this American continent also gives evidence that the Lamanites have risen up in their anger and vexed the Gentiles. This warfare may not be over. It has been the fault of people in the United States to think that this prophetic saying has reference to the Indians in the United States, but we must remember that there are millions of the ‘remnant’ in Mexico, Central and South America. It was during our Civil War that the Indians in Mexico rose up and gained their freedom from the tyranny which Napoleon endeavored to inflict upon them contrary to the prediction of Jacob in the Book of Mormon, that there should be no kings among the Gentiles on this land. The independence of Mexico and other nations to the south has been accomplished by the uprising of the ‘remnant’ upon the land. However, let us not think that this prophecy has completely been fulfilled” (Church History and Modern Revelation, Salt Lake City, Utah: published by The Council of The Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1946).

A proclamation of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1845 says, “He will assemble the Natives, the remnants of Joseph in America; and make them a great, and strong, and powerful nation: and he will civilize and enlighten them, and will establish a holy city, and temple and seat of government among them, which shall be called Zion” (taken from “New Jerusalem”, Encyclopedia of Mormonism).

[4] It is prophesied in the Book of Mormon that the native Americans (Lamanites) and their descendants (both native and mestizo) would become prosperous and, by enlarge, convert to the church. Their prosperity is described as “blossoming as a rose”.

About this LDS scripture says, “But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose. Zion shall flourish upon the hills and rejoice upon the mountains, and shall be assembled together unto the place which I have appointed” (D&C 49:24-25).

Apostle Wilford Woodruff (became president of the Church in 1889) said in 1873, “The Lamanites will blossom as the rose on the mountains. I am willing to say here that, though I believe this, when I see the power of the nation destroying them from the face of the earth, the fulfillment of that prophecy is perhaps harder for me to believe than any revelation of God that I ever read. It looks as though there would not be enough left to receive the Gospel; but notwithstanding this dark picture, every word that God has ever said of them will have its fulfillment, and they, by and by, will receive the Gospel” (JD 15:282).

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi said, “And then shall the remnant of our seed know concerning us, how that we came out from Jerusalem, and that they are descendants of the Jews. And the gospel of Jesus Christ shall be declared among them; wherefore, they shall be restored unto the knowledge of their fathers, and also to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which was had among their fathers” (2 Nephi 30:4–5).

[5] A satellite image of the New Jerusalem temple site in Independence Missouri. The steel spiral building and the large oval building are owned by the Community of Christ. They own most of the temple site (here for more information about the lot).

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Doctrinal Certainty

Levels of Doctrinal Confidence
Damon Linker has tried to paint the picture that, in the Mormon faith, when the prophet speaks everyone falls into line. He made the presumptive assertion that all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are “consummate company [men].” This was done to create an impression of blind obedience among church leaders. And if the prophet made a morally outrageous declaration that it would be enforced and obeyed without question. So that the question non-Mormons would wrestle with is, “How Mormon are the Mormons?”

There’s a point to be made here, and that is to what extent is the word of the prophet taken to be the word of God. Doctrine and Covenants section 1 says, “whether by [God's] own voice or by the voice of [His] servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). And in section 21 “For [the prophet’s] word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:5). This would seem to support Linkers hypothesis; however, in reality the true Mormon experience does not conform to Linker’s simple model. Though no formal doctrine exists, there is what can be called degrees of doctrinal confidence. Not everything the prophet speaks is the word of God. What follows is a general explanation of these various levels.

Revelations of the Prophet Sustained by the Church
The highest level of doctrinal confidence is scripture; and only the president of the church can establish doctrine and receive revelation for the church. A revelation can become part of the cannon of scripture if it goes through the sustaining process. What then is sustaining? When a person is called to a church position, whether in a congregation or to the Apostleship, that person must be sustained. If it is a congregation position then the congregation will sustain that person. If it is an Apostleship then the church as a whole will do the sustaining. It goes like this--using the president of the church as an example. During General Conference one of the Apostles will say, “It is proposed that we sustain Gordon Bitner Hinckley as prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those in favor, please manifest it. [Pause] Those opposed may manifest it. [Pause].” (here) Those who are willing to sustain the president will raise their right hand. If any persons object they will raise their hand. In practice objections are exceedingly rare. This is not an election. When we sustain someone we are obligated to sustain that person. In other words we are giving that person our confidence and taking upon ourselves an obligation to help that person succeed. Those who sustain the prophet take upon themselves the obligation to hearken unto his counsel.

Revelation received by the prophet can be brought before the church and sustained. For example, when President Kimball received the revelation to change the church’s policy on priesthood ordination it was submitted to the church for sustaining. On on September 30, 1978 this was read during General Conference: “Recognizing Spencer W. Kimball as the prophet, seer, and revelator, and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is proposed that we as a constituent assembly accept this revelation as the word and will of the Lord. All in favor please signify by raising your right hand. Any opposed by the same sign” (OD 2). Anything accepted by the church in this way is binding upon all its members and is considered scripture.

The tradition surrounding this process is this. The president of the church would fist discuss a new revelation with his counselors in the First Presidency. After they accept it, it would be submitted to the Council of the Twelve Apostles. After the twelve accept it, it would be submitted to all other General Authorities. Then, after the General Authorities accept it, it would be submitted to the church for sustaining. Only then can it become scripture. President Kimball's revelation regarding priesthood ordination is a good illustration of this process. (It is included in the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 2.) It reads, “[President Kimball] presented it to his counselors, who accepted it and approved it. It was then presented to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who unanimously approved it, and was subsequently presented to all other General Authorities, who likewise approved it unanimously” (OD 2). Finally during General Conference it was presented to the church and was accepted. If the voting among the Twelve is not unanimous it will never be presented to the church--and the church would never know about it.

Would a revelation become scripture if some of the members objected? Yes. When a person sustains he is primarily taking an obligation upon himself, not granting permission. If a person objects then he is rejecting the council of the prophet. However, I suppose that if half the church rejected a revelation it might not become part of the cannon, though it would still be revelation.

Statements of the First Presidency (not submitted for sustaining)
Often the First Presidency will make official statements. These are usually policy statements, clarification on doctrine, statements of the church’s position on important issues, or instruction to the members regarding something currently important to the church. They are considered inspired and taken very seriously. But, because circumstances change, what was important 100 years ago might not be as important today. Some statements can become dated. Thus what the living prophet says today is more important to the Saints that what Brigham Young said 150 years ago--naturally this does not apply to scripture. If a member does not follow through with something that the First Presidency requested he will not be disciplined. One possible exception would be if a person in a leadership position opposed the prophet. In that case he would be corrected and possibly released from his calling.

The Words of the Prophet
Something said in one context does not have the same force as the same thing said in another context. A statement by the president of the church to a reporter is not binding for the church, though many Mormons would take it seriously. For example, during an interview Mike Wallace asked President Hinckley “No alcohol, no tobacco, no coffee, no tea, not even caffeinated soft drinks...?” President Hinckley responded, “Right.” I know many Mormons who took this as confirmation that the church bans caffeinated soft drinks. Precision cannot be expected in an interview situation where several questions get asked together; however, if he had said the same thing in conference it would be taken very seriously.

In addition to what the prophet says in public he can also write books. This is a different level of doctrinal confidence. Something written in a book is still not as binding as the same thing said in General Conference. However, it would be taken seriously because he would have naturally put a good deal of thought into it. Also, a book written by the prophet when he was a Seventy could be considered less authoritative than a book written when he was the prophet. As far as print goes there are three levels of confidence: books or magazines published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, books printed by Deseret Book (a publishing company owned by the church), and books published by another publisher.

The Apostles
Every member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is considered a prophet, seer, and revelator. The words of the twelve apostles are considered inspired and taken very seriously, but context should be applied to what they say. Apostles also give interviews and write books. The kinds of officialism that apply to the president of the church also apply to them.

Other General Authorities
Twice a year we have General Conference and listen to talks from members of the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Seventy, other General Authorities, the Relief Society Presidency, Area Authority Seventies, and others. What General Authorities say in General Conference is taken very seriously. In other circumstances, such as being interviewed by a reporter, they would also be considered authoritative. However, if a Seventy and an Apostle are interviewed together that would give greater emphasis to what they say.

No Especial Preference
In Mormon beliefs anything that is said “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation” (D&C 68:4). I have never gotten the sense that what one person says in conference is doctrinally preferable to what another person says. When it comes to explaining doctrine and scripture they all have equal authority. Each member of the church has his or her favorite sermons, but there isn’t any ranking of importance--unless the prophet is speaking. For example, if someone were preparing a talk for his congregation he would likely favor things said by the prophet or the twelve. But most members would not hesitate to quote a member of the Relief Society Presidency or any General Authority. Anything said in General Conference is very OK.

There is another level of doctrinal certainty, and this one is probably the most important. It is the certainty that comes with repetition. If the prophet says something very different from anything revealed before, and it is never repeated by him or by anyone else, it might last for a while but eventually there would be little sense of obligation toward it. This is especially true if what was said is bizarre. For example, in a sermon given on April 9, 1852 Brigham Young said, “[Adam] is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, pp. 50-51). This is a truly bizarre statement and at face value is not consistent with Mormon teachings--though with some theological gymnastics one could make some sense of it. However, we do not believe that Adam is God the Father, something Brigham Young makes clear in other sermons. (See Adam-God theory.) The quote above is the only one of its kind; I have never heard it from other church leaders; neither have I seen it in any material published by the church--except with reference to what anti-Mormon writes say about it. Personally I don’t feel feel obligated to believe it.

The Relationship of the First Presidency, Twelve, and Seventy
The Doctrine and Covenants states that the quorum of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are equal to each other in power and authority (D&C 107:23-24). The quorum of the Seventy are equal in authority, but not power, to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (D&C 107:25-26). The Twelve Apostles act under the direction of the First Presidency (D&C 107:33) and the Seventy act under the direction of the Twelve Apostles (D&C 107:34). For a decision to be binding all decisions respective to these quorums must have a unanimous vote (D&C 107:27).

When Gordon B. Hinckley was First Counselor in the First Presidency he said this,

No decision emanates from the deliberations of the First Presidency and the Twelve without total unanimity among all concerned. At the outset in considering matters, there may be differences of opinion. These are to be expected. These men come from different backgrounds. They are men who think for themselves. But before a final decision is reached, there comes a unanimity of mind and voice…I add by way of personal testimony that during the twenty years I served as a member of the Council of the Twelve and during the nearly thirteen years that I have served in the First Presidency, there has never been a major action taken where this procedure was not observed. I have seen differences of opinion presented in these deliberations. Out of this very process of men speaking their minds has come a sifting and winnowing of ideas and concepts. But I have never observed serious discord or personal enmity among my Brethren. I have, rather, observed a beautiful and remarkable thing--the coming together, under the directing influence of the Holy Spirit and under the power of revelation, of divergent views until there is total harmony and full agreement. Only then is implementation made. That, I testify, represents the spirit of revelation manifested again and again in directing this the Lord’s work. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “God Is at the Helm,” Ensign, May 1994, 53; here)

Succession in the Church
Succession in the church can help to illustrate the relationship between the prophet and the Apostles. When a president of the church dies his presidency is automatically dissolved and the Twelve Apostles then preside over the church. Tradition has dictated that the person who has been in the Apostleship the longest is automatically the next president of the church. The Twelve select this person and he then selects two counselors. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles then ordain this man to be President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Ensign, Nov. 1979, pp. 43–44; here.)

Is There Ever Tension?
I don’t have an insider’s view of tension between General Authorities. But there are a few known cases.

During David O McKay’s tenure as president of the church, Joseph Fielding Smith, who was president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and next in line to become president of the church, published a book called Man His Origin and Destiny, which has a strong anti-evolution stance. In it President Smith wrote, “This brings us to the discussion of what I believe to be the most pernicious doctrine ever entering the mind of man: the theory that man evolved from the lower from of life” (p. 133). Apostle Mark E. Peterson wrote the foreword and in it mentions that he and others encouraged Smith to write the book. Since it was supported by some of the Apostles, and because it was published by Deseret Book, it carries with it a sense of authorization. However it does not state the church’s position on evolution. During a meeting with members of the staff of the Institute of Religion at the University of Utah President David O. McKay said, “that book should be treated as merely the views of one man…It is true that [this] one man is President of the Twelve, and [that] makes it more or less authoritative, but it is no more to be taken as the word of the Church than any other unauthorized book” (David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, p. 47).

In 1958 a book called Mormon Doctrine (written by Bruce R. McConkie, then a Seventy) was published. In this book McConkie stated that “The Roman Catholic Church specifically--singled out, set apart, described, and designated as being most abominable above all other churches’” (p. 129, italics original). The First Presidency learned of the book only after it was published. They asked Elder McConkie to remove that reference and change several other things that were not accepted doctrine. Naturally McConkie complied and the changes were made. (Mormon Doctrine is not published by the church or by Deseret Book.)

General Authorities can make statements and write books; they can argue for what they believe is correct; but only the president of the church can establish doctrine.

For a revelation to become part of the cannon of scripture it must come from the president of the church and have the approval of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. But there is nothing that says that the president must submit revelation to them before revealing it to the church. Considering precedent and tradition it seems unlikely that this would happen. However, the prophet is his own person and if inspired he could announce a revelation without first informing the twelve. This was the case with President Joseph F. Smith who, in 1918, received a revelation which eventually became part of the cannon (D&C section 138). The heading to this revelation reads,

A vision, given to President Joseph F. Smith in Salt Lake City, Utah, on October 3, 1918. In his opening address at the eighty-ninth Semiannual General Conference of the Church, on October 4, 1918, President Smith declared that he had received several divine communications during the previous months…It was written immediately following the close of the conference; on October 31, 1918, it was submitted to the counselors in the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, and the Patriarch, and it was unanimously accepted by them. (here)

Though President Smith apparently did not reveal the revelation to the other Apostles before he revealed it to the church, it had to be submitted to them before it could be included as part of the LDS cannon of scripture.

Morally Outrageous? And Conclusions
From what Linker has said and written I can identify only two clear cases of what he considers to be morally outrageous: if the prophet commanded the Saints to commit murder (from The Big Test) and the church’s opposition to gay marriage (from his Here and Now interview). The probability of the first happening is vanishingly small and can be dismissed as fantasy. The second is not morally outrageous. And so here is the truth about Linker’s fears, that they are focused on moral and political issues--He can’t seriously believe that the prophet might order the Mormons to commit murder. What Mr. Linker objects to is the church’s conservative stand on moral issues.

If the prophet makes a declaration a Mormon could ask himself these questions. Did it contain the words “thus saith the Lord”? Was it a vision? Was it endorsed by the First Presidency, the Twelve Apostles, and all other General Authorities? What it said in General Conference? Or during an informal gathering of important Mormons? Was it said only once? Was it a speech to college students? Or at a seminary conference? Or some other kind of gathering? To whom was he speaking? Was it something that is binding forever? Or is it intended for present circumstances? Was it sustained by the church? Was it a proclamation? Or an official declaration? If in a book, was it when he was a Seventy, an Apostle, or as president of the church? What it published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Or Deseret Book? Or some other publishing company? Was it published for a specific group, such as the Genealogical Society? If it is something from a past prophet, was it declared publicly or, for example, written in his diary? Was it read by the bishops to their congregations? Was it published on the church’s website? Was it published in the Ensign magazine? If an interview, was the interviewer a member of the Church’s Public Affairs staff or someone unaffiliated with the church?

No matter how the prophet says something it is always taken seriously by the members of the church. Many would take his utterances to be doctrine no matter what the context. However there is no doctrine which states that the president of the church is free from the possibility of error. Which is why the support of the General Authorities is so important.

Some Example of Degrees of Authorization
The Newsroom on the church’s website ( says about embryonic stem cell research: The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not taken a position regarding the use of embryonic stem cells for research purposes. The absence of a position should not be interpreted as support for or opposition to any other statement made by Church members, whether they are for or against embryonic stem cell research. (here)

This statement was read to General Relief Society Meeting and was published in the Ensign magazine: We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children… (here)

A revelation received thy Joseph Smith begins, VERILY, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am. (here)

On October 3, 1918 President Joseph F. Smith received a revelation: ...the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. (D&C 138:11)

President Hinckley speaking in General Conference: I believe that I am a child of God, endowed with a divine birthright. I believe that there is something of divinity within me and within each of you. I believe that we have a godly inheritance and that it is our responsibility, our obligation, and our opportunity to cultivate and nurture the very best of these qualities within us. (here)

President Hinckley said this at an address delivered at Brigham Young University: We are witnessing in society tremendous business failures to a degree and an extent we have not seen in a long while. Many of these are the fruits of imprudent borrowing, of debts so large they cannot be paid…Reasonable debt for the purchase of an affordable home and perhaps for a few other necessary things is acceptable. But from where I sit, I see in a very vivid way the terrible tragedies of many who have unwisely borrowed for things they really do not need. (here; this was later published in a church magazine.)

An interview about same-gender attraction: The following interview was conducted with Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church, and Elder Lance B. Wickman, a member of the Seventy. These senior Church leaders responded to questions from two members of the Church’s Public Affairs staff. The transcript of the interview appears below in order to help clarify the Church’s stand on these important, complex and sensitive issues. (here)

The preface to Mormon Doctrine reads, For the work itself, I assume sole and full responsibility. Observant students, however, will note that the standard works of the Church are the chief sources of authority quoted and that literally tens of thousands of scriptural quotations and citations are woven into the test material. (Note: Mormon Doctrine really is a very good source of information.)

McConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958.

Prince, Gregory A., and Wright, Robert Wm. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005.

Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith. Man His Origin and Destiny. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1954.