Archive for June, 2010


Why Are We Still Talking about Polygamy?

   Posted by: Rob Bowman    in Mormonism

In the July 2010 issue of Ensign, an official magazine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the LDS apostle M. Russell Ballard has an article entitled “Sharing the Gospel with Confidence.” Ballard’s main point is that Mormons should not get defensive when telling others what they believe. His first suggestion for talking about faith without being defensive is this: “Don’t let irrelevant issues drown out more important subjects.” What would be an example of an irrelevant issue? Ballard’s example is polygamy:

“This ended in the Church as an official practice in 1890. It’s now 2010. Why are we still talking about it? It was a practice. It ended. We moved on. If people ask you about polygamy, just acknowledge that it was once a practice but not now and that people shouldn’t confuse any polygamists with our church” (47).

Why are we still talking about polygamy? Let us count the reasons:

  1. Polygamy was practiced by the founder and supposed first prophet of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith. Joseph had over thirty “wives” in addition to his legal wife Emma. Any “practice” of someone who claims to be a prophet of God and the founder of the only true church on the earth today is fair game.
  2. Joseph Smith lied about polygamy, including lying about it in scripture. Joseph practiced polygamy for several years, engaging in covert sexual relationships with women for years while lying about it, even in his own scripture. In 1835, Joseph had the following statement on marriage placed in Doctrine & Covenants: “Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy; we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.” Yet Joseph had been engaging in extramarital relations under the cover of plural marriage for three or four years. (The statement no longer appears in D&C, of course.) Joseph deceptively denied being a polygamist as late as a month before he died: “What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one” (History of the Church 6:411; see also Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 119).
  3. As practiced by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other LDS leaders, plural marriage was on any reasonable judgment both illegal and grossly immoral. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that polygamy can be an acceptable practice (as many people argue by appealing to the dubious examples of Abraham, David, and Solomon). This doesn’t negate the fact that Joseph’s practice was both illegal and immoral. Both bigamy and adultery were crimes under state laws where Joseph engaged in the practice. The statement on marriage added in 1835 to D&C admits that these behaviors were illegal (“the crime of fornication, and polygamy”). Furthermore, Joseph claimed at least eight women as his wives who were already married to other men. Mormon apologists’ attempts to defend Joseph on this point (he was doing it to test their faith, or only for the women’s celestial salvation, etc.) are unconvincing. In addition to taking other men’s wives, Joseph also took several teenage girls, including several who were as young as 13 or 14 years of age. Plural marriage was not merely “a practice”; it was an immoral, illegal practice that raises serious, troubling questions about the founders of the LDS religion.
  4. LDS Church leaders continued the practice of plural marriage long after their supposedly “officially” ended it. The “Manifesto” of 1890 may have discouraged Mormon men from entering into plural marriages, but it did not stop the practice. In 1891, President Wilford Woodruff, who issued the Manifesto, lied under oath (as did other LDS leaders) by claiming that polygamy had ended when it had not. Only in 1904 did the LDS Church actually stop authorizing new plural marriages and begin excommunicating members who did not comply. Even after that date, most LDS men who had plural wives maintained those relationships until death. The first President of the LDS Church who was not a polygamist was George Albert Smith, whose presidency began in 1945! Polygamy was a reality in the LDS Church for well over a century, and has been completely absent from it for only about sixty years.
  5. It is clear that the LDS Church ended polygamy for pragmatic reasons, not because of any new revelation. Essentially, the United States federal government forced the LDS Church to comply with anti-polygamy laws. After decades of deception and defiance, the LDS leadership very reluctantly acceded to the government because, as Woodruff admitted in the Manifesto, they were afraid of losing their properties and being thrown in jail. In short, the Mormons did not admit to practicing polygamy until they were caught, and they did not stop the practice until they were forced to do so.
  6. Polygamous LDS splinter groups are simply being faithful to the teachings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and John Taylor. Such groups as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (which made national headlines in 2008) and the Apostolic United Brethren make a very strong case that they are simply practicing what their founding prophets both practiced and taught.
  7. Even now, LDS doctrine clearly allows for a return to polygamy, should it become legal. It would actually be more accurate to say that the LDS Church suspended polygamy than that it ended it. The LDS scriptures still contain statements teaching and justifying plural marriage as a divinely authorized institution (D&C 131:2-4; 132:37-39, 60-66).

For these reasons, Mormons cannot plausibly claim that polygamy is an “irrelevant issue.” Polygamy in America is the cultural offspring of the LDS Church, and they cannot divest themselves of their responsibility for it by disowning the child.

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Mormon Forever Families – Too good to be true?

   Posted by: Joel Groat    in ethics, Mormonism

From free balloons handed out at a Cinco de Mayo festival with “Families are Forever” on them in English and Spanish, to Temple Open Houses to Missionary Flip Charts – oh right, flip charts went out with the 90s – the Mormon Church has attracted new converts with the idea of eternal family togetherness. But a careful look at the LDS theological system when it comes to how the hereafter is going to work raises serious questions about whether the Mormon church can deliver on its offer.  Our new article explores the various scenarios for Mormon families and their children and offers an alternative to the Mormon forever family plan – one that actually works.  The full article and some pertinent documentation from LDS sources is here:

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Resurrection for Everyone in LDS Doctrine

   Posted by: Rob Bowman    in Mormonism, theology

On the FAIR Blog—a pro-Mormon blog operated by the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research— Trevor Holyoak has complained that “some critics” of the LDS Church find fault with its teaching that everyone will be resurrected. He points out, correctly, that the Bible does teach this doctrine (John 5:28-29 and Acts 24:15 are applicable) and that the early Church Fathers did so as well. The Bible clearly teaches the resurrection of the righteous and of the wicked. Unfortunately, Mr. Holyoak does not give any examples of critics denying the resurrection of the wicked. Perhaps there are some, but I do not know of any.

What I and other evangelical Christian critics of LDS theology find objectionable (because it is unbiblical) is the claim that everyone will be resurrected to immortality in some glorious heavenly realm. According to the Bible, the wicked will be resurrected to face judgment and will then suffer “the second death,” which is eternal punishment (Rev. 20:6, 10-15; 21:8; see also Matthew 25:41, 46). Their resurrection is, as Jesus said, “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29b). Only the righteous will receive “the resurrection of life” (John 5:29a), the resurrection to immortality of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 15. As I point out in my response to chapter 12 of Gospel Principles, “The Bible uses the words ‘immortality’ (athanasia) and ‘incorruption’ (aphtharsia) to refer only to the nature of God and of the future state of the redeemed (Romans 1:23; 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:42, 50, 52-54; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16; 2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Peter 1:4, 23),” never to the future state of the wicked.

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What Does the Atonement Actually Accomplish?

   Posted by: Rob Bowman    in Mormonism, theology

This past week, Mormons throughout the world were studying the subject of atonement in chapter 12 of their doctrinal manual Gospel Principles. I offer a counterpoint in my response to chapter 12, another installment in IRR’s Gospel Principles Scripture Study Guide.

Perhaps one of the most interesting issues pertaining to this subject is the question of what the atonement actually accomplishes. As I argue in my response to Gospel Principles, LDS theology does not view the atonement as actually accomplishing what the word atonement means—namely, reconciliation with God the Father. The atonement in LDS theology does not reconcile us to God; it does not eliminate spiritual death; and it does not even eliminate the debt we owe because of our sin. Instead, as I try to show in that article, LDS theology views the atonement as merely making it possible for us to repay the debt, overcome spiritual death, and become reconciled to the Father by our good works. If you’re a Mormon, you might find my description of LDS doctrine surprising or even shocking. That’s okay—I was rather taken aback myself. Read the article and see for yourself.

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Apologists for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or LDS Church) frequently take exception to the criticism that they believe in “another Jesus.” A common strategy for refuting this criticism is to list various beliefs that Mormons have about Jesus that agree with the Bible and even with traditional or orthodox Christianity. The LDS apologetics group FAIR, for example, points out that they affirm that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, that Jesus lived a sinless life, that he performed the miracles recorded in the Gospels, and other traditional beliefs about Jesus. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks presented a table in their book that listed twenty points of belief about Jesus where they clearly agree with the Bible and traditional Christianity: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Jesus was Jewish, Jesus’ mother was Mary, Jesus taught in the temple, Jesus held no public office, and more (Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints [Aspen Books, 1992], 58).

I think it is quite reasonable for Mormons to point out that they do share some beliefs about Jesus in common with traditional Christians. If it’s not sufficient for critics to list only the differences, however, it’s also not sufficient for apologists to list only the similarities. Perhaps it would be helpful to list both the similarities and the differences in order to get a more accurate picture of the situation.

That’s what I have tried to do in my response to chapter 11 of Gospel Principles. It’s the latest installment of our Gospel Principles Scripture Study Guide, a free online resource that provides a chapter-by-chapter analysis and response to the LDS doctrinal manual. I explain why Joseph Fielding Smith was correct when he stated that Latter-day Saints “part paths with historical Christianity” in their view of Jesus Christ on a number of crucial issues. I also agree with him that “there is no salvation in the worship of a false Christ.” I list a dozen different issues on which Mormons and orthodox Christians agree, and ten issues on which LDS doctrine differs from the teaching of the Bible.

By the way, I don’t think (and I don’t know anyone else who does, either) that Mormons believe in a literally existing but different Jesus than the one who is the central figure of the New Testament. That is, we don’t think that there’s some other guy out there named Jesus that the Mormons are following by mistake. When Paul warned about those who preach “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4), he was warning about those whose teaching about Jesus fatally distorted the truth about him. In a sense, it’s “the same Jesus,” but a fundamentally different understanding of his identity, nature, work, or message, against which Paul is warning. Likewise, our concern about the LDS Church is that its teaching about Jesus Christ gravely distorts the truth about Jesus.

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