In 2013, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz made a statement reaffirming their support of same-sex marriage. Though the actual quote was far less controversial than it was made out to be by various news outlets, the situation still set off a series of boycotts from those such as myself who were opposed to the movement that would ultimately lead to the Obergefell vs. Hodge supreme court ruling in 2015. Personally, I haven’t spent a penny at Starbucks ever since.
In April of 2016, Target announced a new transgender-friendly bathroom policy that would allow any of their customers to use whichever bathroom matched the gender they identify as rather than their biological sex. Again, a massive boycott ensued including an online pledge that roared past 700,000 signatures within days and eventually climbed to almost 1.5 million. I haven’t set foot inside the store or bought anything from them online ever since, and I won’t as long as their bathroom policy remains in effect. Neither will I go to any business that lets men share a bathroom with my nine-year-old daughter.
I don’t bring this up to flex my conservative muscles and impress people with my boycotting skills. I bring it up because, over time, I’ve started to see a return of Target bags and Starbucks cups in the hands of people that I know were among the first to call for the boycott. What used to be “I’ll never go there again” has slowly devolved to “I’ll go, but I won’t take my kids”, and then to “I’ll take the kids, but I won’t use their bathrooms”. Why? Because we need our third-daily Venti Mocha fix. Because Wal-Mart is an extra two miles away. Because the only Coffee Bean nearby is in the mall and not a drive-thru.
Whenever I bring up Mormonism with fellow Christians or those who otherwise don’t follow Joseph Smith, the first doctrine that comes up will be something like “Don’t they believe they’ll become gods?” or “Don’t they believe they get their own planet when they die?” or perhaps even something about the gold plates that Joseph Smith claimed to have. However, while those aspects of Mormonism are important to understand, they do not comprise what I believe to be the most significant point of departure from Christian orthodoxy that the LDS Church holds to. Christians certainly don’t believe that we will become gods in the afterlife, but there’s no question that Christians believe we will be granted a state of glory in heaven. C.S. Lewis even commented that, if we were to see ourselves today as we will be then, we would be tempted to fall down and worship ourselves as John did when confronted by the angel in Revelation. Likewise, in his book Heaven, Christian author Randy Alcorn speculates that God may create and give to each of us our own planet to rule over as part of our ruling and reigning with Christ in the new creation, something that starts to sound suspiciously like Mormonism at first glance. To be sure, there are significant differences between the views of Lewis and Alcorn and the Mormon concept of Exaltation. Both Lewis and Alcorn would say that there is no ontological shift for us in eternity, we remain fully human but sinless. Likewise, Alcorn’s speculation about receiving and caretaking a planet as a steward under the authority of a King is a far cry from the Mormon concept of ruling over people as a god. Even so, there does seem to be some minor strains of similarity between the two faiths on these points.
Every faith system has a core belief or set of beliefs that form the basis and reference point for everything else. In Christianity, it is the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:14). In Islam, it is the greatness and omnipotence of Allah, who is unconstrained even by logic or his own commands. In Mormonism, it is Eternal Progression.
Rather than a single statement or belief, such as the resurrection of Jesus, the Mormon doctrine of Eternal Progression includes several concepts that are wholly unique to the LDS Church and, as such, cannot be stated as briefly or succinctly as others. The fifth president or prophet of the LDS Church, Lorenzo Snow, did as well as could be expected when he coined his now-famous couplet, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become”, but even that statement given without some background knowledge of Mormonism tends to invite more questions than answers. After all, the historic branches of Christianity (Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Protestantism), all affirm that we are to become more like God throughout our lives. We often refer to each other as “Godly” men and women or refer to specific actions as “Christlike”. Could this be what the Mormons mean when they talk of becoming like God? Actually, not at all. While the Christian concept of conforming our image to that of Christ speaks of changing our attitudes, behaviors, thinking and lifestyles to match those of Jesus, the Mormon concept of becoming like God is far more fundamental, even ontological.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.