Mormonism 101: An Encouraging FAQ

by: Mike S

March 29, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about some aspects of the new Mormonism 101: FAQ that were confusing.  These seemed confusing in the sense that they seemed to change things that I thought were taught as doctrine in the church as I was growing up.  While I pointed out some things I didn’t like in the FAQ, I must admit, there are a number of things I DO like about it.  So here are some of them.  If you want to “read along”, here’s a link to the FAQ.  For the sake of brevity, these are just selections.  If you’d like to read the whole quote in context, they are in the FAQ.

No matter where Mormons live, they find themselves part of a network of mutual concern; in Mormon theology everyone is a minister of a kind, everyone is empowered in some way to do good to others, and to have good done unto them: it is a 21st century covenant of caring. This caring is not limited to Church members alone, but extends far beyond.

For all of the issues that we may bring up with the institution of the Church, I truly do think that the members of the Church are good people.  They are people trying to take care of each other – both within and without the Church.  I am lucky to live in a great ward with a lot of great people (I recently listed Ten Things I Like About My Ward).  And as I’ve traveled around the world, members take care of each other, truly forming a “network of mutual concern”.

As an institution, the Church has the responsibility to publicly and clearly articulate its official teachings.

This is another thing which I really like about the FAQ. As per recent discussions about what actually does and what does not reflect actual doctrine of the Church (ie. blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, etc), it is nice to see the goal of clearly articulating what we DO officially believe.

The founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, wrote, “The fundamental principles of our religion are … concerning Jesus Christ that He died was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; all other things which certain to our religion are only appendages to it.”

I like the fact that the Church reiterated the idea that a focus on Jesus Christ is fundamentally the main thing that is important, and that everything else is an appendage to that basic concept.  It is easy to feel that we are buried under a barrage of programs – home / visiting teaching, callings, YM/YW meetings, food storage requirements, scouting, Duty to God, homemaking, etc.  It is easy to feel inadequate.  While all of these potentially have some role, ultimately a focus on Christ is all that really matters.

Latter-day Saints worship Jesus Christ as their Savior and Redeemer. He is central to the lives of Church members. They accept His grace and mercy; … Although humans make mistakes and sin, Mormons view this mortal life as an opportunity to progress and learn. By following Christ’s teachings, embracing His mercy and accepting baptism and other sacraments, Mormons believe they are cleansed from sin through Christ’s grace and can return to live with God and their families forever.

I really like this section of the FAQ.  There was a time not too many years ago when the pendulum seemed to swing the other way – where works seemed to be more emphasized over grace.  Books like Mormon Doctrine and The Miracle of Forgiveness were stern taskmasters.  It was easy to read these and feel like you would be forever inadequate because you couldn’t “earn” your way back to God.  Books like Believing Christ tried to help correct this and reemphasize the central role of grace and mercy in our lives.  It is nice to see the Church also officially espouse this in this FAQ.

The religious experience of Church members is based on a spiritual witness from God that inspires the heart and mind, creating an interpersonal relationship directly with God. The Church’s role is to help aid its members in their quest to follow Christ’s teachings.

This is one of my favorite parts.  I like the emphasis that the most important thing in our religious experience is the interpersonal relationship directly with God. I also like that the Church’s role is to aid the members in their quest.  It is easy in the LDS Church to spend a lot of time worrying about one’s relationship with the institution as opposed to God.  Elder Poelman talked about the different roles of the church and the gospel in a conference talk back in 1984 that was infamously edited and rerecorded to blur the differences.  In this FAQ, it is nice to see the Church go back and accept the point that Elder Poelman was trying to get across.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Christian church but is neither Catholic nor Protestant. Rather, it is a restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ as originally established by the Savior in the New Testament of the Bible. The Church does not embrace the creeds that developed in the third and fourth centuries that are now central to many other Christian churches.  Latter-day Saints believe God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to save all mankind from death and their individual sins. Jesus Christ is central to the lives of Church members.

I think this is probably the best and most succinct description I have seen of both how we consider ourselves Christian yet how we do have some differences from other Christian faiths.

For Latter-day Saints, mortal existence is seen in the context of a great sweep of history, from a pre-earth life where the spirits of all mankind lived with Heavenly Father to a future life in His presence where continued growth, learning and improving will take place. Life on earth is regarded as a temporary state in which men and women are tried and tested — and where they gain experiences obtainable nowhere else. God knew humans would make mistakes, so He provided a Savior, Jesus Christ, who would take upon Himself the sins of the world. To members of the Church, physical death on earth is not an end but the beginning of the next step in God’s plan for His children.

I also really like this paragraph.  It truly puts everything in context.  It is a magnificent plan, magnificent in scope.  It centralizes Christ’s role in the plan.  It puts birth and death in context.

Most often, revelation unfolds as an ongoing, prayerful dialogue with God: A problem arises, its dimensions are studied out, a question is asked, and if we have sufficient faith, God leads us to answers, either partial or full. Though ultimately a spiritual experience, revelation also requires careful thought. God does not simply hand down information.

I like this description of revelation – both on a personal and an institutional level.  People often ask why blogs like this even exist – why do we spend time talking about “problems” or issues that we see?  The answer is simple – this is how things potentially get changed.  People didn’t agree with the policy of blacks and the priesthood.  It was discussed and “studied out”.  It was ultimately changed.  Other things that have changed through a similar process over the years are women praying in sacrament meeting, the style of garments, the oaths in the temple ceremonies, creation of the 3-hour block, etc.  Who knows  – there will likely even be changed someday in things we are discussing now?  Which ones – I don’t know – but if no one was discussing anything, it is unlikely that much would change at all.

Women and men are equal in the sight of God. … From the beginning of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints women have played an integral role in the work of the Church… [Women] routinely preach from the pulpit and lead congregational prayers in worship services.

I would like to see an increased role for women in the Church.  I like to see that the Church considers men and women equal, and suggests that women “preach from the pulpit”, etc.  It would be great this General Conference if we heard from equal numbers of men and women.  It would be great if prayers were also shared equally.  Hopefully, this FAQ is an indication of the direction we are going.

Latter-day Saints believe that God wants us to become like Him. But this teaching is often misrepresented by those who caricature the faith [by representing that we can become "Gods"].  The Latter-day Saint belief is no different than the biblical teaching … Through following Christ’s teachings, Latter-day Saints believe all people can become “partakers of the divine nature”

I have a very difficult time thinking I am better than anyone else.  There is always someone smarter than me, more athletic than me, a better writer than me, richer than me, more handsome than me, etc.  Similarly, I have always had a problem with the idea that Mormons were “better” than anyone else.  Active Mormons only represent 0.1%of the world’s population, and I suspect that many, many more people than that will ultimately make it back to God.  So, in reality, the majority of people in the Celestial Kingdom won’t have been LDS in mortality anyway.

Our statements in the past have been much more exclusionary in nature.  McConkie equated the Catholic Church with the “great and abominable Church” or the “mother of harlots”.  It is nice in this FAQ to see a great softening of that exclusionary nature.  Wanting to become “like God”, or “partakers of the divine nature” sounds much more like what other Christians believe.  It even sounds a lot like moksha, or the Hindu concept of ultimately merging of self with God.  In any event, it is much LESS like the idea we once had of ultimately becoming “Gods”, which it doesn’t sound like we teach anymore.

The general standard of marriage in the Church has always been monogamy, as indicated in the Book of Mormon

This is great.  I never liked the idea of polygamy in the next life, something taught as essential by prior prophets and apostles.  I’m glad that’s not our standard.

We do not know exactly where the original site of the Garden of Eden is. While not an important or foundational doctrine…

This is great too.  I always had a hard time with the idea of a “New World” location of the Garden of Eden.  There are thousands of independent points of data that suggest that humans all migrated from a location in the Old World.  There has never been any data whatsoever to suggest that they originated in Missouri.  I’ve always had a hard time reconciling this, so it is good to see that we don’t claim this anymore.

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These are just some of the things I like about the FAQ.  There are others.  If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I’d encourage you to do the same.  Overall, in the FAQ, we don’t seem as much like a “peculiar people”.  Our beliefs seem to be becoming more and more mainstream.  Many of the more obscure teachings that used to be taught by our leaders seem to be being downplayed.  It does make us much more like the “folks next door”.  Is this good?  Is this bad?  See some of the questions below and weigh in…

Questions:

  • Are there things that you like about the FAQ?
  • Does this make us seem more like everyone else?
  • How might this affect missionary work – will it make it MORE successful by getting rid of some of the “stranger” things we used to teach, or will it make it LESS successful by making people wonder if we are so similar – why change?
  • What other things would you address in a FAQ if you were writing it?

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5 Responses to Mormonism 101: An Encouraging FAQ

  1. MH on March 29, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    Are there things that you like about the FAQ?

    Well, I think I know the Mormonism 101 pretty well. I’m a little surprised that you found it worth reading Mike. ;)

    Does this make us seem more like everyone else?

    Yes, I guess so. Were you hoping to make us seem more different?

    How might this affect missionary work – will it make it MORE successful by getting rid of some of the “stranger” things we used to teach, or will it make it LESS successful by making people wonder if we are so similar – why change?

    I don’t think this will have any impact on missionary work. I don’t think virtual missionaries will knock on anybody’s computer, and I don’t think missionaries are handing out this website, are they?

    What other things would you address in a FAQ if you were writing it?

    I haven’t read the FAQ. I know you mentioned the Garden of Eden. Is this really asked about (in order to be considered “Frequently Asked”)?

    In addition to what you’ve highlighted, I would probably talk about the BoM, D&C, the founding of the church, temples, WoW, because these are probably the things that distinguish us from other churches. Is that there?

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  2. Jake on March 29, 2012 at 5:26 PM

    I really like the point that you drew out about the fact that it is encouraging people to have a relationship with God rather then the church. I love Poelman’s talk so to see principles from it appearing in documents like this is really encouraging .

    I also have an issue with the women part of the documentary whilst it does say that Men and Women are equal in the eyes of God. And it does say that women have always been involved in the church, the fact is that they are not equal in the eyes of the church. This is manifest by the fact that women still can not open or close with prayer in General Conference, nor can they hold positions of leadership over anyone but primary children and other women.

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  3. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 29, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    Glad you pointed out the LDS FAQ theosis. Makes me sorry I missed that.

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  4. Mike S on March 30, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    #2 Jake: I also have an issue with the women part of the documentary whilst it does say that Men and Women are equal in the eyes of God. And it does say that women have always been involved in the church, the fact is that they are not equal in the eyes of the church.

    I agree with you. I hope that by putting it in the FAQ, the Church suggests that it plans on implementing it more in practice.

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  5. Mike S on March 30, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    #1 MH: I don’t think this will have any impact on missionary work.

    I don’t know if it will or won’t. I do think that people investigating the Church may potentially stumble upon it. The question then becomes – if it make us sound like “everyone else”, why would someone necessarily change religions if we ultimately believe the same thing? If there are just a bunch of extra behavioral requirements to be Mormon, yet the belief in God and Christ and the essence are still the same, why convert?

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