Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

What Mormons Are Willing to Believe

Posted by BrianJ on March 25, 2009

I attended a training meeting/fireside with Stephen Harper last week. He said something interesting about what Mormons are willing to believe.

Point 1: Fireside

In the fireside that followed the training session, Harper discussed all of the known accounts of Joseph’s First Vision—from those written by Joseph to those recorded by others who heard Joseph tell it. Of particular interest is an account by John Alger recorded in the Diary of Charles Lowell Walker:

Br. John Alger said…he heard the Prophet Joseph relate his vision of seeing The Father and the Son, That God touched his eyes with his finger and said ‘Joseph this is my beloved Son hear him.’ As soon as the Lord had touched his eyes with his finger he immediately saw the Savior.

Aside from the interesting differences between this account of the First Vision and others is the detail about God the Father having a tangible finger that could touch Joseph’s eyes. Surely most Christians would not be too astonished to hear an account demonstrating that the resurrected Jesus has a physical body—we have New Testament accounts of that—but God the Father?

Harper’s point in bringing this up was not to question the accuracy of the account or its implications on Mormon theology. Rather, he found it useful as an example of things “Mormons were willing to believe.” According to Alger, Joseph told this story when Alger was “a small boy”; i.e., sometime in the early 1830’s (Alger was born in 1820). Thus, rather early in the history of the Church, Mormons were willing to believe that God the Father has a physical body. Again, theological implications aside, that is interesting just in trying to piece together the history and development of Joseph’s teachings.

Point 2: Training Session

In the training session, Harper brought up what he believes is a common misinterpretation of something Joseph Smith said. “The telestial kingdom is so wonderful,” the saying goes, “that Joseph said that if you saw even a glimpse of it you’d kill yourself to get there.” Harper contends that, no, that is not what Joseph taught. What he really taught is that God put the fear of death in us so that we would not kill ourselves and go to the telestial kingdom.

Harper didn’t go into more detail about this Certified Mormon Rumor™, as his point in bringing it up in a teacher training session was to admonish teachers to avoid discussing rumorish, fringe doctrine and focus on core doctrines.

Point 3: Others?

Like Harper, I’m not particularly interested in discussing the accuracy of the claims in either Point 1 or Point 2; I’m interested in what they say about what Mormons are willing to believe. My apologies to Harper, since this is not what he intended at all, but I was struck by the juxtaposition of his two points. Certainly it depends on the group of Mormons you’re talking to, but from an outsider’s perspective here are just a few crazy things many/most Mormons believe or have believed in the past:

  1. God the Father has a body—but no blood
  2. Polygamy is practiced in heaven and will be practiced again in the Church on earth
  3. People born as Africans on earth were less valiant in the premortal existence than those born as other races
  4. We can become exactly like God in power, glory, knowledge, etc.
  5. The wine in the New Testament was non-alcoholic; i.e., grape juice
  6. We have a Heavenly Mother who is married to our Heavenly Father
  7. Jesus is our brother
  8. Lucifer is our brother
  9. Brigham Young said some crazy things, so only some of what he said is authoritative
  10. Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon into English from Reformed Egyptian
  11. God the Father was once a mortal man, and before that he was a spirit who followed his Heavenly Father’s plan
  12. Jesus is God and we worship him
  13. Want to add some of your own?

Some things on that list I believe and some I don’t. Some I’m agnostic about and some I downright reject. This is likely true for you too, although what you accept and reject is probably different. In that light, here are a few questions:

  • Why is there such diversity of belief among Mormons? (Note that most items on my list are Big Deals.) Is this is desirable?
  • How do you, as a teacher, identify what is “core doctrine” so you teach only that, seeing that we disagree on doctrines with profound implications?
  • How do you respond to other Mormons when they voice a belief that you reject—when you are the teacher? when you are the student? when you are in a casual (i.e., non Church) setting?
  • How do you teach these “non-unanimous topics” to your children? Do you teach them the truth-as-you-know-it-period or do you acknowledge the diversity of thought? Is this different than how you teach in the classroom? Why?

11 Responses to “What Mormons Are Willing to Believe”

  1. Bob W said

    The church/priesthood will step in and save the constitution and the United States.

  2. Why is there such diversity of belief among Mormons? (Note that most items on my list are Big Deals.) Is this is desirable?

    We only have the narrative theology of the scriptures, and not a systematic theology. How to piece the narrative together is no easy task. And yes, this is very desireable. It is the only way to be if you are to base your beliefs on what is accepted revelation than on man-made creeds.

    How do you, as a teacher, identify what is “core doctrine” so you teach only that, seeing that we disagree on doctrines with profound implications?

    I try and stick to the scriptures and official sources (tttf, lds.org) when I am in a teaching capacity.

    How do you respond to other Mormons when they voice a belief that you reject—when you are the teacher? when you are the student? when you are in a casual (i.e., non Church) setting?

    I might ask them where this belief is supported in scripture. I might go as far as suggesting a resonable opposing view that is about as well supported. I might point out why I think the belief is ‘flawed’.

    How do you teach these “non-unanimous topics” to your children? Do you teach them the truth-as-you-know-it-period or do you acknowledge the diversity of thought? Is this different than how you teach in the classroom? Why?

    I usually teach them what I believe and why. I may tell them that I don’t really know all the details.

  3. Way to make me feel bad for skipping that one.

  4. kodos said

    I’ve never understood why the first vision proves that God the Father “has a body.”

    Couldn’t it just be that God chose to appear in the form of a man for some reason, perhaps so Joseph would find the experience more comprehensible? God appeared to Moses as a burning bush, but that doesn’t mean God physically has leaves or branches or is on fire.

  5. Floyd the Wonderdog said

    Our RS pres claims that she received Priesthood Keys when she was set apart.

    She also claims that the lost 10 tribes are riding around in UFOs. She prayed about it, so it must be true.

  6. BrianJ said

    Steve: my sole purpose in blogging is to make you feel bad.

  7. Kodos:

    Check out D&C 130:22

  8. Dawn said

    Who is Stephen Harper?
    The Prime Minsiter of Canada is named Stephen Harper.
    I assume that’s not the same Stephen Harper you’re referring to.

  9. NathanG said

    Here’s my take on what Mormon’s are willing to believe, for better or for worse.
    I think we get used to believing things that are different, and that we even enjoy that we believe things differently, particularly as we relate to other Christian denominations. When something else comes up that may be new and different, I think our tendency may be to believe it first (true doctrine until proven otherwise). Isn’t this what having faith should entail? If it can be presented as possibly being attributed to a general authority, then it’s true and you better not reject it.

    “Why is there such diversity of belief among Mormons? (Note that most items on my list are Big Deals.) Is this is desirable?”
    Lay ministry. I like Eric’s comment about the scriptures in #2.

    “How do you, as a teacher, identify what is “core doctrine” so you teach only that, seeing that we disagree on doctrines with profound implications?”
    I try to stick to concepts that are centered on Christ and scripturally based. As little as I like the teacher’s manual, I think it can assist in identifying “core doctrine”. Interestingly in D&C manual I couldn’t find any discussion of polygamy. Big issue, but the church seems to want to table the issue for now, at least in Gospel Doctrine. I will comply.

    “How do you respond to other Mormons when they voice a belief that you reject—when you are the teacher? when you are the student? when you are in a casual (i.e., non Church) setting?”
    Teacher? I try to anticipate some of the more common thoughts that I don’t agree with and just ask additional questions that may help people consider other ways to look at the topic. I may skip the questions and just present a secondary way to look at things, but I have not found it necessary to say, “No, that is wrong, this is right.”
    Student? Depends on how open the classroom discussion is. In my CES training class our teacher brought up a doctrine concerning Kolob I had never heard of. He presented it in a way that nobody would really want to comment on it. (“Most of the church doesn’t know this, but I know all of you already know that Kolob…) I was really bothered by my teacher for that. First thing I did was go home and start search for a reason he might believe that, then I asked people who I trusted a little more, and then I talked with classmates to share what I had learned.
    Casual setting? I prefer that people think through their position, so I usually ask questions, do you really mean this? or this?

    “How do you teach these “non-unanimous topics” to your children? Do you teach them the truth-as-you-know-it-period or do you acknowledge the diversity of thought? Is this different than how you teach in the classroom? Why?”
    I don’t think I have talked much about some of the non-unanimous topics with my kids. They are still young. I would like to think that I’ll share different things that they may here and share what my stance is, particularly if it’s in the realm of being agnostic about it.

  10. Matthew said

    Today, is there really anyone out there who believes #3? I don’t think so…except maybe a few really racist people who also happen to have slept through the last 30 years. If any of you are out there, wake up! When something isn’t merely wrong, but also offensive, it is all of our responsibility to take a position against it. That’s something I certainly can do (and hope to do) a better job of in gospel doctrine class in the future.

    #5, on the other, is at the opposite end of the wrong spectrum, i.e. it is harmless. I just chalk it up to naivete and a lack of having read the scriptures much. When I’m teaching (though I’m not a gospel doctrine teacher) I don’t usually address such issues head on, if they come up. Sometimes I’ll make a side comment like “different people have different views on that one” and move on. I don’t see my job as teacher to expose the “shocking truths” of the gospel. Of course it shouldn’t be shocking that Jesus drank alcoholic wine or, as it seems to me from D&C 27:5, that the saints will drink alcoholic wine with Jesus at the second coming, but I don’t feel that Gospel Doctrine class or Elder’s Quorum is the place to set out my case for such beliefs. Further I worry about the risk of offending one of the saints. And I think that some of the discussion on various blogs related to Mormon teachings (this blog being no exception) show just how excited people can get over a discussion about such topics. I actually think such discussions should take place somewhere, but not during our Sunday Church Meetings. So the risk/reward payoff in correcting such errors doesn’t make it seem to me worth addressing typically.

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