“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” – Moroni 10:4
Moroni 10:4 is the famous “Burning in the Bosom” passage of the Book of Mormon. Whenever you sit down with Mormon missionaries, they will inevitably close the conversation by bearing testimony (“I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, I know that the Book of Mormon is God’s word”) and inviting you to put the Book of Mormon to the test that it presents in the verse above. The idea is this: If you read through the Book of Mormon (not necessarily all of it) and then ask God if the things in the book are true, then the Holy Ghost will confirm its truthfulness through some sort of supernatural experience.
And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.” - Isaiah 29:12
Both Mormonism and Islam claim that a new prophet arrived after the time of Christ and delivered new scripture to the world. Both Mormons and Muslims claim that contradictory teachings between their faiths and the bible are the result of corruptions in the biblical text (the Quran itself doesn’t actually support this position, but that’s another discussion). Both Mormons and Muslims have tried to validate their respective prophets by pointing to supposed prophecies in the bible foretelling their founders.
On September 18th, 2017, Deseret News ran an article wherein Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church “invites young adults to study the Bible with him.” President Nelson reported that “he is seeking to learn how the inspired and holy ancient record predicted the coming of the Book of Mormon.” He said, “I want to find its prophecies about the Restoration of the gospel in its fullness in these latter days.” The article recounts a conversation that Nelson had with an unnamed Protestant minister. In this conversation, he appeals to Isaiah 29 and Ezekiel 37 as prophecies foretelling Joseph’s delivery of new scripture. I find it interesting that the article does not recount said Protestant minister’s response to these supposed prophecies about the Book of Mormon, but I can only speculate as to why and such speculations would be pointless at best and uncharitable at worst.
While the concept of a female divine being is neither unique nor new, it has historically been something attributed to the ancient pagan mythologies or eastern religions like Hinduism. In a modern western context, it is largely confined to the anything-goes, “salad bar” approach of Wicca and the New Age Movement, but completely foreign to the faiths of the Abrahamic tradition and its offshoots. It’s for this reason that it often surprises the uninitiated when they first hear about Mormonism’s concept of a “Heavenly Mother”. According to LDS doctrine, not only do we have a Heavenly Father (God), but we also have a Heavenly Mother that was also once a mortal woman living in a different world.
The details surrounding this doctrine are fuzzy at best, primarily because the concept – by LDS leaders’ admission – is not found in any of the LDS scriptures, including the bible. She is given no name, it is unclear if there is only one Heavenly Mother or if God is a polygamist with many exalted wives, it is assumed that she (or they) achieved exaltation in the same manner as the Mormon Heavenly Father did, but I admit that I don’t know if that’s absolutely necessary. Since LDS men are supposed to call their wives out of the graves and into exaltation during the resurrection, what happens if the husband was living Celestial Law but his wife had some secret sin that she held on to or perhaps died before she could fully cleanse herself of all ungodliness? There’s a lot of speculation here simply because LDS scriptures are silent.
Several months ago, I was with my family taking a flight out of JFK in New York. Now, as anyone who has spent time in New York can tell you, there’s a significant population of Orthodox Jews in the area and it’s not uncommon to see men with the uncut sideburns, beards, and top-hats that so easily marks them as those who are trying to keep the Mosaic Law. As we were walking through the airport, I saw an older Jewish man with his son who looked to be maybe three or four years old. He was wearing a yamaka with his dress shirt and slacks and both he and his son had the long, curly sideburns hanging down even though the rest of the son’s hair was quite short.
Needless to say, the young boy looked a bit odd to a Californian like myself who sees Orthodox Jews about as often as I see snow. Immediately, I felt a sense of pity for the small boy. Not because, as a Christian, I want to see Jewish people come to faith in their Messiah and recognize Jesus as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (though that was part of it), but because I know how cruel most children can be in the way they treat anyone or anything “different.” Perhaps I’m exaggerating the actual experience of growing up as an Orthodox Jew in my mind and expecting kids to be crueler than they are, but I instantly envisioned the boy in elementary and middle school being constantly teased or picked on for being different.
However, on further reflection, I began to see that there’s something important that I can learn from these people as a Christian parent.
I spent my weekend helping out with a large-scale evangelistic event in the area. Held every year, it has become a staple of the local Christian community and something many look forward to. For the most part, it is always a positive experience with thousands of people coming to Christ, good music, and a small glimpse of heaven when we see dozens of churches working together for the sake of the gospel and joining together in communal worship. However, what has become equally common is the… well, embarrassing side of the church coming out as well.
Every year, we see that same group of protestors coming out with their signs trying to keep people from entering. Every year, we get Adventist street preachers railing against the leadership because we don’t focus on sabbath-keeping. Last year we saw the addition of a pro-life group that shows up with large, pool-table-sized pictures of bloodied, aborted babies and photoshopped pictures of crying children on fire as they’re sacrificed to Molech (Lev. 18:21, Jer. 32:35). They like to stand right at the entrance so I always have to shield my 7-year-old’s eyes or distract him as we walk by. I understand what they’re trying to do, but there’s a time and a place for grotesque imagery in the abortion debate and a family-oriented event is not one of them. Furthermore, I can’t imagine why they feel the need to protest abortion at an event organized and attended largely by people who are already pro-life. This year I came across an older man wearing a t-shirt that said, “Hetero Pride” in large, bold letters and had a crossed-out picture of stick-figure men having sex. Very classy. For whatever reason, these events always bring out the best and the worst in the church.
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Note: Unless specifically stated, “Smith” in this post always refers to Ethan Smith, author of View of the Hebrews, and not Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS Church.
One cannot read the Book of Mormon without very quickly noticing that it makes a unique historical claim – a claim that forms the basis for the entire Mormon narrative. In fact, we do not even need to look further than the introduction:
According to Mormonism, a Hebrew family fled Israel shortly before Jerusalem was attacked and the Jews were led away into the Babylonian Exile. This family sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and established a new life for themselves in the Americas. Over many generations, this family was divided between the two patriarch brothers – Nephi and Laman – and their descendants until a great war erupted between them and the Nephites were wiped out. The Lamanites, now the primary inhabitants of the land, continued on until they came into contact with European settlers and came to be known as the American Indians.
Naturally, the truth of Mormonism is tied directly to Joseph Smith’s status as a legitimate prophet of God. Both biblically and logically, the question of whether or not he was genuinely called by God to be a messenger to the world determines whether or not we should heed what he taught at all. If Joseph was not a true prophet, then he was a fraud and Mormonism is false. If he was a true prophet commissioned by the Almighty, then Mormonism – and everything it entails – is true. It is no surprise, therefore, that many volumes have been written in the interest of either debunking or proving his claims to prophethood.
I don’t wish to get too far afield on this, but it should not be a surprise that this topic also comes up in in Christian-Muslim discussions. If Muhammad was a genuine prophet of God, then Islam is true. If he wasn’t, then it is false.
What I find interesting is that both Muslims and Mormons will point to aspects of the life of Muhammad or Joseph Smith in order to justify their position. Muslims, for instance, will argue that Muhammad was the “Prophet like Moses” prophesied in Deuteronomy 18 [?]. They point out that, like Moses, Muhammad was a great political leader, commanded armies, set down rules and regulations for civil society as well as religious practices, etc., all of which are things that Jesus did not do. Recently, I came across an interview with LDS historian and co-editor of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, Mason Allred. This interview is not exactly new, being published by Mormon Channel Daily, a podcast produced by the LDS Church, back in July of 2016, but I still think it’s worth examining. Like the Muslim approach of pointing to the ways Muhammad was a prophet “like Moses”, the episode focuses on the similarities between Joseph Smith and the Old Testament prophets.
While I realize that other faiths, particularly Islam and Jehovah’s Witnesses, will disagree with this point and assert firmly that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is a form of polytheism, any informed Christian will tell you in the strongest of terms that the existence of only a single God is absolutely foundational to the core of Christianity. In fact, it was this point of contention which created so much of the strife between the early church and the Roman empire it was subject to during the first few centuries. Romans were essentially pluralistic, affirming the existence of multiple gods and often content to let their subjects believe whatever they wanted, that is, so long as they were willing to give the token affirmations of the Caesar’s deity. For the Romans, it was simple: if you want to worship Zeus, worship Zeus and say Caesar is lord. If you want to worship Mithras, worship Mithras and say Caesar is lord. If you want to worship Athena or Aphrodite or Mars or whoever, that’s fine as long as you say Caesar is lord. Christians, however, were unwilling to do that. Because of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles that we are to submit to the government God has placed over us as long as their commands or edicts do not conflict with the expressed commands of God, early Christians did not see themselves as political zealots or social reformers, but also recognized that they ultimately answered to God. The persecution of Christians under Nero and Diocletian and others was initially spurred by their resolute refusal to admit the deity of anyone other than Jesus. “Caesar is Lord” would not pass the lips of early Christians. Oddly enough, Christians were actually being accused of atheism by their Roman rulers because of their refusal to affirm the Greco-Roman deities of their day, which led to the story of the church father Polycarp, a student of the Apostle John, who was brought before a Roman council and given the chance to save his own life by simply declaring, “Away with the atheists”, referring to his fellow believers. He complied, but with a sweeping gesture to the Romans in the room. The crowd perfectly understood his meaning and he was martyred.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.