paul bennett

Ask a Mormon

Posted on: April 24, 2008

I’m a Mormon. Actually, I’m officially a member of ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints‘.

I joined the church around 12 years ago, at the age of 19, so I’ve a good idea of what it’s like to live both inside and outside “the church” (for want of a better term).

Anything you’ve ever wanted to ask a Mormon but had neither the courage or the opportunity? Ask away – leave a comment and I’ll do my best to reply. I promise to be reasonable 🙂

Go on, I dare you…

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17 Responses to "Ask a Mormon"

How did Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon?

Why did he marry other men’s wives?

Hi Jay.

Good questions, and thanks for linking to your blog. In some ways I’ve been through the same kinds of feelings and doubts as you, but perhaps not so pronounced or lasting so long. I’ll keep an eye on your blog and see if I can help in any way, or at least provide another person for you to bounce ideas off.

It’s likely that you’ll know more about some of these things than I, so excuse me if my answers seem a bit basic – I’m open to correction 🙂

Question 1:
When Joseph Smith found the plates the Book of Mormon was written on, he also found the ‘two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow’ (http://scriptures.lds.org/en/mosiah/28/13#13). Church history records tell us that he started the work of translation by looking through the stones (which I envisage to be like a pair of glasses, but have no concrete references), but as time went on found that he needed to rely less and less on the stones and could translate more freely.

2. I have no reference for this. I am aware of the doctrine of plural marriage – ceased in 1890 , and of Joseph’s reaction to this doctrine as outlined in Truman G. Madsen’s ‘Joseph Smith the Prophet’ (http://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Smith-Prophet-Truman-Madsen/dp/0884947041/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1208994511&sr=1-4)
I’ve read quite a bit from the ‘History of the Church’ and have found no reference to Joseph marrying anyone else, let alone ‘other men’s wives’. I am aware of the practice and that other prophets were involved (ie: from Brigham Young on until the practice was discontinued). Is there any concrete evidence of your statement?

Paul,
It is my policy to be open with people, that’s why I always link to Mormons talk, so people can know where I’m coming from.

In regards to my first question about translation methods, you can read this article. It summarizes a recent lecture given by Daniel Peterson (BYU Professor and well known apologist for the Church). This is what he said that struck me:

“… the Book of Mormon was revealed to Smith through a seer stone. Smith never went through the golden pages of the ancient record, but instead put the seer stone in a hat, then buried his head in the hat to shut out ambient light. The stone lit up a line of text, about 30 words at a time, which Smith then dictated to his scribe.”

http://mormontimes.com/DB_index.php?id=927

Now critics would say why did God have the prophets waste their time writing and preserving golden plates for centuries if all that was needed was a stone and hat? I think that is a very valid point. You can say that he needed the plates as a “help” (Just to know they were real) but that is a very weak answer since he already had seen God why would he need plates as a crutch. This explanation falls apart especially when given the translation process as portrayed by the Church for the last 150 years.

I believe it was Elder Oaks that published an article in the Ensign that acknowledged the stone in the hat translation method. Although he doesn’t say that was the only method used as Peterson so boldly proclaims.

Polyandry (marrying more than one husband at a time) is a little known fact among us LDS members (but widely known among critics of the Church). However, we all at least have a vague understanding of polygyny (marrying more than one wife at a time). Joseph Smith did both as did many after him. You can find the information in the book “In Sacred Loneliness” by Todd Compton. He is an active LDS member and Mormon Scholar. If you want to see a nice summary of his book you can go to

http://wivesofjosephsmith.org/.

I’m not sure who does the site but it is not anti-Mormon, it just states the history.

Polygyny was actually the first thing I learned that caused me to have serious doubt in the Church. It kept me awake at night. I wondered why I had never been taught that it happened. Was it a secret the Church was ashamed of? To me it sounded a lot like adultery and I couldn’t understand (still don’t) how a prophet could be involved in it.

Now, apologists at fairlds.org and FARMS say that they weren’t marriages for this life but for the next. So the fact that the women were already married doesn’t matter. In other words, they were just sealed after this life, Joseph didn’t have sex with them. Knowing Mormon doctrine of eternal marriage I can see where this could be a reasonable explanation. However, there is some evidence that Joseph may have had children from these married women. DNA testing is on going to find out if Joseph Smith had other children besides those he had with Emma. Sylvia Sessions Lyon (One of Joseph’s polygynous wives) told her daughter, Josephine Rosetta Lyon, that she was the daughter of Joseph Smith (this was recorded in her journal and widely accepted by Mormon scholars).

Of course apologists say that she was actually the biological daughter of her first husband and her comment to her daughter (on her death bed) was to let her know that because she was sealed to Joseph Smith she would be his daughter not her biological father’s daughter in eternity. The catch is that her first husband was an active faithful member of the Church who presumably loved his wife.

You will not learn these things from correlated Church material. They are found in the journals of early members. Because the Church doesn’t teach these things (not even I Church history class where it would be appropriate) most members are unaware. If you doubt anything I have told you or would like confirmation of it just go visit fairlds.org. It is a Church friendly site and acknowledges all of this as well as the numerous other problems with LDS history and offers explanations for it all (some far fetched, IMO).

I hope you do comment on Mormons talk. If you see any post old or new feel free to post.

Polygyny was actually the first thing I learned that caused me to have serious doubt in the Church.

Polygyny should be Polyandry. Sorry.

What do you think about the South Park episode?

Also, you don’t need to post this on your blog if you don’t want to antagonize the guy that already commented, feel free to email me…

Hi Kevin,

I haven’t seen the South Park episode. I don’t watch a lot of TV (nothing to do with the church, I just don’t get a lot of time between work, commuting, church and family).

Oh, and it won’t “antagonise” Jay – he’s a good guy with genuine valid questions 🙂

I was looking for a Mormon site that I could ask quetsions to, and so I hope that you do not mind me coming along and doing so.

I was wondering on how Mormons view the trinity. Historically, Christians have always affirmed trinitariaism as being a scriptural doctrine. Also, the church has recognized that belief in the trinity is an essential doctrine that is necessary for salvation. How is it that LDS can not affirm the trinity and still claim to be the “true” church when historically the true church has been defined as trinitarian? Has the church been wrong for 2,000 years?

My second concern with the LDS movement is that they limit the nature and work of the atonement of Jesus Christ. You will say that the work of Christ on the cross and your works merit your final salvation. Yet, doesn’t that imply a deficiency in the work of Christ? That is, Christ’s work on the cross was not sufficient to save you. Doesn’t that elevate man’s works above the work of Christ?

Beliefs in non-trinitarianism and a works system of salvation puts Mormonism outside the pale of orthodoxy.

I’m just curious as to what you might have to say to my questions. I challenge you to think through some of the more challenging questions you might have. It has been my experience with Mormons that they rely more on the subjective than they do objective truth. For example, you will say, “Yes, but the Holy Spirit tells me Mormonism is true.” Yet, is that really a sufficient answer? Doesn’t a religion need a little bit more evidence than that? What about historic Christianity? What about hard facts?

@Matthew,

That was the center of controversy in the 3rd and 4th centuries, and the reason the Nicene Creed came about. Many Christian theologians back then believed in a polytheistic trinity, not the three in one concept taught commonly today.

…and for the record I am not mormon.

@Paul,
Are temple garments worn 24/7 or just to church? Do mormons believe in sex for fun, or just procreation?

I am honestly curious about those questions, and too afraid to ask my new mormon friends.

What is the LDS stance on the end times, and the anti-christ?

@Matthew,

sorry for the delay in posting a reply. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, but I’ve been meaning to reply for a while.

You’ve asked 2 questions / raised 2 points, so I’ll reply addressing one at a time.

1. “I was wondering on how Mormons view the trinity. Historically, Christians have always affirmed trinitariaism as being a scriptural doctrine. Also, the church has recognized that belief in the trinity is an essential doctrine that is necessary for salvation. How is it that LDS can not affirm the trinity and still claim to be the “true” church when historically the true church has been defined as trinitarian? Has the church been wrong for 2,000 years?”

This is not my understanding. My understanding (and please forgive me if I define aspects opf your faith incorrectly) is that the trinity is not a construct of the ancient church as Christ organised or taught. The idea of a ‘holy trinity’ (that God is one God, and that Jesus is not the *literal* Son of God, but a manifestation of God’s love?) is a construct of the Nicene Creed formulated in the 4th century AD (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicean_creed). You claim that that belief in the trinity is an essential doctrine to salvation? The LDS church claims that this doctrine, as formulated by the council in Nicea, was never taught by the Saviour, but is a misunderstanding of scripture. I’m happy to provide many references from the Old and New testaments which offer ample evidence that the belief of the ancient church, and the teachings of the Saviour himself, point to a godhead comprised of 3 seperate beings working in harmony for the salvation of man.

2. “My second concern with the LDS movement is that they limit the nature and work of the atonement of Jesus Christ. You will say that the work of Christ on the cross and your works merit your final salvation. Yet, doesn’t that imply a deficiency in the work of Christ? That is, Christ’s work on the cross was not sufficient to save you. Doesn’t that elevate man’s works above the work of Christ?”

‘Limiting the nature and the work of the atonement of Jesus Christ’ is an interesting way to view this. From this post (http://crossthought.wordpress.com/2008/04/11/some-thoughts-on-limited-atonement-and-election/) on your blog you state the following:

“The Calvinist system does not, however. For we believe that Christ died for all the sins of a few people. That is, only a few will be saved. The atonement, under our system of belief, not only covers “regular” sins, but it also covers the sin of unbelief. The doctrine of limited atonement is actually a doctrine of sufficient atonement. That is, it is sufficient for the removal of sins.

Most Christians (yes, even Arminians) would have to admit that Christ did not die for everybody. For, as we all know, everybody will not be saved.

The question may arise as to why God didn’t, in his own power, send His Son to die for everybody, then. The first thing we need to point out is that we cannot presume that God had to save anybody. We cannot presume that God owes man salvation. The Scripture calls salvation a gift, not a wage. Therefore, since salvation is not owed to any man, then it follows that God does not have to give it to everybody. He may disperse His grace as He wishes.

Let me come up with an example to illustrate. Suppose that I had two friends, Sam and Frank, who both did me wrong. Let’s say they robbed me. Sam robbed me on Monday, and Frank robbed me on Tuesday. Anyway, unbeknownst to me, someone calls the cops, and both are arrested. The judge orders bail to be set at $50,000 for the both of them.

Now let’s say that I decide, out of my own freedom, to bail out Frank and not press charges against him. However, I decide to not bail out Sam and I continue to pursue charges against him. Was I unjust to Sam for not bailing him out? No, I was not. After all, he got what he deserved: jail time. Now let’s say that Sam screams at me and says, “Matthew, that’s not fair that you would bail out Frank and not me!”

What could I say? I would have to say the truth: “No, Sam, what is fair is both of you go to prison. That’s fairness.” ”

Matthew, you believe in a Saviour who died for an elected few, and a God who will extend salvation to someone based on what seems to me like a baseless whim.

Let me explain the LDS view of salvation and grace. Firstly, I believe that Christ died for everyone. His atonement was infinite, covering the sins, sicknesses and grief of literally all humankind. Isaiah 53:6 (for one) states:
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
All. Eeveryone. That is what Latter-Day Saints believe. There is no limit to who can be saved. He has atoned for all.

Will all then be saved? No. The conditions for salvation are clear:
Acts 2:37-38 states
” Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”

Faith in Christ, repentance (turning from sin) and baptism prepare one to receive the Holy Ghost, which – through the power of Christ’s atonement – cleanse one from sin.

The price has been paid. The conditions have been laid down. People are free to accept or reject based upon their freedom of choice, but the price has been paid.

Luke 3:3: “And he [John the Baptist] came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;”

Luke 3:8 “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”

We cannot merit salvation of ourselves – we cannot atone for our own sins. Hence salvation is a gift. To qualify for salvation we come to Christ by believing in his promises, repenting of our sins and witness our willingness to follow Him by making a covenant (baptism) and doing our best tto continue to follow His example. Forgiveness and salvation are granted by God through the sacrifice of His Son.
An LDS view of the atonement is not limited in either scope of availability, in fact quite the opposite is true.

@john – temple garments are worn as much as possible. People will remove them for activities which can’t reasonably be performed with them on. Swimming is a good example.

Sex within marriage. The answer is both:
“…sex has two basic purposes: first, to enable us to have children to fulfill God’s command to “be fruitful, and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), and second, to express that special kind of love shared between a husband and a wife.”

(http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=e1fa5f74db46c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=80fabe335dc20110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&hideNav=1)

Thank you Paul, I really appreciate your answers. I have another when reading your response to Matthew. What happens to the person who never hears about Jesus Christ?

@John,

Good question. Latter-Day Saints believe that those who never had a chance to hear the gospel have an opportunity to be taught after death in the ‘spirit world’ (before resurrection). Those who believe can then accept proxy baptism once it is performed for them and be ‘judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit’. That is the main reason LDS people research their genealogy and perform this work in temples.

There are a couple of New Testament scriptural references which point to this (1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6), and it was these references which caused Joseph F. Smith (an early 20th century Mormon prophet) to think about how this works and receive what we believe as a revelation/vision describing how this spirit world work is organised. You can read about it here (it’s not overly long): Doctrine & Covenants Section 138

Paul,

Sorry I am just now getting back to you. It’s been hectic here as well.

A couple of things strike me about your comments. First, we have to affirm that there is only one God. I think this is explicit throughout Scripture (i.e., the Shema that the ancient Jews would recite). Yet, we have somewhat of a problem when we read the New Testament. John chapter 1 says some things that I think are quite interesting. First, it says that the “Word” (Logos) was in the beginning with God. Next, it says that this Logos was God. Since we have already affirmed that there is one God, we have to say that the Logos–Christ– is God. Some Jehovah’s Witness people will say that the Scripture actually says that the Logos is “a god.” I am familiar with the Greek text, and I can assure you that this is not the case. However, I urge you to research this for yourself.

Again, to recap. Since the Scripures teach there is but one God, we must believe that. And since the Scriptures teach that the Logos is God, we must believe that, too. Here comes the logical loop. If the both of them are one God, then how can they be eternally distinct? In fact, does Christ not say that the “Father is greater than I”? Of course, just because the Father is “greater” than Christ does not imply something inferior about Christ. Submission does not necessarily imply disunity.

It would be a logical contradiction to say that Christians believe in 3 persons who make up one person, or three “Whos” who is really one “who.” This is not what Christians believe. Christians have historically believed that there is three “whos” and one “what.” That is, there are three persons who are eternally distinct, yet are one in essence. This is not a contradiction.

I would like to see what proof you have of the early church fathers not believing in the Trinity. As far as I know, people like Augustine, Polycarp, Irenaeus, et al, all believed in the Trinity. Since this is an historic doctrine, I feel it is incumbent upon the LDS to provide reasons why this is not the case. Personally, I think that would be a hard case to make.

Concerning the atonement. I don’t think you answered any of my objections. You say that Christ died for all men in the same way. Then, I must ask, why doesn’t everyone go to heaven? You replied, “they must repent…” you said the following:

“Firstly, I believe that Christ died for everyone. His atonement was infinite, covering the sins, sicknesses and grief of literally all humankind.”

Again, why doesn’t everyone go to heaven? If everyone’s sins have been atoned for, then what sin is left to be forgiven? Only those who believe–that is, express faith in Christ alone– have their sins atoned for. Everyone else doesn’t. If an unbeliever’s sins were in fact atoned for, then they would go to heaven. So yes, I do believe Christ, in this sense, died for only a select few.

You might say that the reason why unbelievers don’t go to heaven is not because their sins are not atoned for, but because they haven’t repented. Yet, you have contradicted yourself. First you said that ALL of everone’s sins are atoned for, then you say that unrepentance and unbelief keep them from heaven. Wouldn’t have those two sins have been atoned for as well? Do you see the contradiction?

In reference to the Isaiah passage that you mentioned, I don’t think all means “all.” Let me explain. Jesus, somewhere in the New Testament, said that He would “draw all men to himself.” Now, does this mean all will come to Christ? Of course not. So we see there are at least some instances where “all” does not mean “all.”

I personally think this passage, and others like it, mean “all of His elect.” This is the only way around some of these verses. Otherwise, given the verse where Jesus says “all” would come to Him, one would have to commit themselves to a type of universalism–that is, that everyone will be saved. So, it seems that “all” doesn’t always mean “all.”

One last note. I would highly encourage you to question the claims of your faith. For one (and I mean this in the utmost respect to you), your faith is not historic. The claims of LDS are novel. That is, they are new and different from any other orthodox tradition of Christianity. LDS rejects the complete divinity of Christ. They reject the fact that Christ is God, the Creator of all that is, was, and will be. Further, LDS claims that man can one day be like the Father. This is interesting, for God says there will never be anyone like Him. Ever. He will not share His glory with another at all.

Again, with the utmost respect to you, I think your faith is flawed. Many Mormons that I have encountered rely on more of a subjective feeling as proof that their faith is true. This is unfortunate. Christians have long championed objective truth as the basis for its claims. Our beliefs are rooted and grounded in the historic Jesus, not some made up version of Jesus.

So, I challenge you to have an open heart and mind and see if your faith can answer the tough questions.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Matthew

So, I am curious. Do you accept any body that is not like you? I just moved to Montana from Chicago, and the Mormon population is much higher here, well at least I had never met a mormon person until I moved here. They seem to really try to pressure people into their beliefs, and I compare the people that countlessly knock on my door to salesmen rather then religious folk. I am Catholic, and we don’t go door to door bothering people. Every encounterment I have had with a mormon here has been interesting. It is like their religion is all they talk about and I feel constantly judged by them. I drink and so do my friends, and my neighbor is constantly giving us his two cents- sorry but i think the Mormon religion is not fair, it runs peoples lives, and doesnt primarily act as a foundation of spirituality…weird

Hi Cath,

Thanks for your comment. Uou raise a number of points, so I’ll address them individually.

1. I’m not sure what you mean by “do you accept anybody that is not like you?”
The church has 14 million members in almost every country on the planet, so church members come from a variety of “social classes”, racial backgrounds etc. I assure you there’s a lot of diversity in the church. The church has a standard of behaviour and teachings which members choose to adhere to when they join the church. This, to my knowledge, is no different than many other churches.

2. I’ve never lived in a place where one organised religion had a majority over any other so I’ve never had the experience you’ve had. I think where I live (New Zealand) the members here are on the opposite end of the spectrum – we often talk *less* of our beliefs due to being seen as an unusual minority.
Bear in mind that for many church members, the gospel has made a significant, positive impact on their lives. This, they feel a desire for others to at least learn about it and have the opportunity to have the same or similar experiences. If you feel pressured then let people know and I’m sure they’ll treat your feelings with courtesy.

3. “countlessly knocking on my door” Are you sure these people are all from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? Having people countlessly knocking on your door seems a little out of character. I’ve served as a fulltime missionary in Australia and it was unusual for us to visit the same house more than once every 3 months. Often areas with a higher population of church Mormon members have a lower number of missionaries, so it would seem more likely to me that you’re visited less often in Montana than in other places – can you clarify this statement?

4. I appreciate that Catholics don’t go door to door, but if you take a look at the history of the Catholic church I assure you they’ve undertaken some very zealous and forceful efforts to introduce their beliefs to others. Missionary work of any form is not unique to the Mormon church (or Christianity) and is certainly not new, as the early apostles were commanded by the Saviour to “go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)

5. “the Mormon religion is not fair, it runs peoples lives, and doesnt primarily act as a foundation of spirituality”
That’s pretty blunt!
You’re welcome to your opinion of the church, and members in general but I need to take issue with this statement.

To me, however, it would be at best odd, or at worst pointless to have a religion or belief system that “acts as a foundation of spirituality” without actually altering people’s behaviour.
If I believe something but don’t put that belief into action either that belief is baseless, or I’m a hypocrite.

Respectfully I ask: what is the point or purpose of belief if it doesn’t motivate people to alter their behaviour to live in accordance with it? I don’t see how something can act as a “foundation of spirituality” without affecting how you think, act and speak. Perhaps your understanding is different.

Many church members feel passionately about what they believe and gain peace and happiness from both their personal worship of the Saviour and the service they render in the church. I’m not aware of the exact experiences you’ve had, but perhaps the attempts people are making to share their beliefs with you are driven out of love and concern rather than an attempt to make you feel bad, or disrespect your beliefs.

In any case, you’re free to tell people that you have your own beliefs and would appreciate it if they respected that.

regards,
Paul

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