“Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” – Southern Baptist preacher (and presidential candidate) Mike Huckabee, 2007
It looks increasingly likely that there will be two serious Mormon candidates (Mitt Romney and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr.) running for president this year. One hopes that they will do a better job handling the religion issue than Mitt did in 2008. If past campaigns with LDS candidates are any guide, we can expect to see theological cheap shots like Mike Huckabee’s being taken by other campaigns, political pundits, and journalists. It is unlikely that substantive answers to questions about Mormonism will be provided by either campaign, so in the interest of providing accurate information to my Jewish readers, I’ve attempted to answer questions about LDS theology posed by public figures and followers of my blog. As Jews know from painful experience, if a religious group doesn’t define its own beliefs, other people with different agendas are more than happy to do so.
Q: So was Huckabee right? Do Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers?
A: His disingenuous question was akin to saying “Don’t Jews believe in mutilating 8-day-old boys?” The answer is yes, but an explanation is necessary. We believe that every human being lived in heaven with our Heavenly Parents before coming to earth. Mormons believe that we are all literally spirit brothers and sisters. The most noble of God’s children was Jesus, while the blackest sheep was Satan, who defied God (his Father) and was cast down from heaven with his followers, forfeiting the chance to come to earth and gain a physical body. While Jesus and Satan share divine parents (along with the rest of us), they are working toward opposite goals and have nothing to do with each other. In other words, we believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers just as we believe that Adolf Hitler and Elie Wiesel are brothers since they are both children of God.
Q: Are Mormons Christians? If so, why do some other Christians have trouble accepting their version of Christianity?
A: By any fair definition, Mormons are Christians. They accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, and their church (official name: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) bears His name. Some Christians believe that anyone who does not accept the Trinity (a three-in-one god, or one-in-three god if you prefer) cannot be a Christian. Like Jews, Mormons reject the Trinity, which was officially affirmed by the same council that initiated state-sponsored anti-Semitism. Other Christians have a problem with our belief in non-biblical scriptures. Mormons believe that God continues to reveal truths to prophets, and lose as much sleep over Evangelicals’ rejection of the Book of Mormon as Jews do over the refusal of Baptists to accept the Talmud.
Q: Bill Maher and Lawrence O’Donnell have stated that Mormons believe that blacks do not have souls. Is this true?
A: With all due respect to a noted atheist pundit and a “practical European Socialist” TV writer, they are as wrong as can be. There is absolutely no truth to this statement. Mormons believe that all people on earth are children of God with souls and divine potential. What Maher and O’Donnell may have intended to refer to is the denial of the LDS priesthood to black males from 1849 to 1978. While black members gave sermons, offered prayers, sang in choirs, and taught Sunday School, black men were not ordained to the priesthood. The reason for this has not been revealed, though many theories abound. Given my biracial ethnicity, I felt the need to pray, fast, and ponder over this issue before leaving on my LDS mission. Without an answer from God, I felt that I could not represent my church to others. Suffice it to say that I went on my mission. A public forum is not the place to discuss what my answer was, but biblical examples like the ancient Israelite restriction of the priesthood to the direct male descendants of Aaron, or Jesus and His apostles’ refusal to take the gospel to the Gentiles until after His death (indeed, we have no scriptural record of a divine appearance to non-Israelites), show that God’s love for all His children is not the only factor in play here. Two other reasons why contemporary Mormons don’t worry too much about the past priesthood denial: 1) the church is growing exponentially in Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean; 2) we don’t believe that God will hold people responsible for privileges that were denied them in this life.
Q: Do Mormons still practice polygamy?
A: No. For Mormons, polygamy is only acceptable when God authorizes it through prophets. The default arrangement is one man with one woman, as appears to have been the case from Adam until Abraham. We believe that God authorized Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David to take additional wives (Mormons believe that Hagar was married to Abraham – D&C 132:34). By the first century CE, the default arrangement was once again in force: bishops had to be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2). As far as we know, the next time that polygamy was authorized was in the 19th century, when LDS Church leaders took multiple wives. In 1890, Church President Wilford Woodruff declared in his “Manifesto” that polygamy was no longer authorized. [A second Manifesto was issued in 1904 in response to the refusal of some church members to comply with the church’s new policy]. Since that time, Mormons who enter into polygamous relationships are excommunicated. Today any “Mormons” who practice polygamy are either on the cast of “Big Love” or members of fundamentalist churches that have no relation to us. As a frustrated bachelor, I am personally grateful that I am only asked to find one wife, not several.
Q: What is The Book of Mormon?
A: It is a book of ancient scripture written for modern times. At the beginning of the book, a prophet named Lehi leaves Jerusalem with his family during the reign of Zedekiah (600 BCE). He is a member of the tribe of Manasseh, and his group is eventually led to the Americas, where his descendants divide themselves into two civilizations. The more righteous of the two groups observed the Law of Moses, read from Isaiah, and built temples. The highlight of the book is the appearance by Jesus in the Americas after His resurrection. The book was translated from gold plates by Joseph Smith, the first prophet in modern times, and Mormons accept it as scripture.
Q: Why can’t non-Mormons enter temples?
A: Mormons worship in chapels on Sundays, and everyone is welcome to attend our services. However, temples are places where Mormons go to make sacred covenants with God. Only people who have made and kept certain covenants with God (including baptism into the LDS Church) are permitted to enter temples. The Abrahamic Covenant is the center of our temple worship, and the ordinances performed there seal families together for eternity. I feel closer to Jews when I am in an LDS temple than in any other place, including the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
I will likely be posting similar Q&A posts in the coming months, so please feel free to write me with your questions.
I will be speaking in San Antonio, TX on April 15 and 16.
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis, Dr. Armand Mauss, and Brett Holbrooke will conduct an LDS-Jewish dialogue at University Synagogue in Irvine, CA on Friday, March 11 @ 8:00 p.m.