'NEWSWEEK' GOT IT WRONG
I shouldn’t write about this.
Because I’m not Mormon. And there are people who lose sleep worrying that you will think I am. It’s a big deal to them.
But I was excommunicated from the Mormon church, as I have written before, for bad conduct. It is a fair thing, and I have no complaints. I believe in Mormonism, but I have not lived it, so I was appropriately shown the door.
And none of that matters to you. I only mention it so you’ll know where I’m coming from, or where I’m not coming from.
But “Newsweek” got it wrong.
On its big cover article this week about Mormons, the weekly magazine’s religion editor made a fundamental error in fact. He asserts something that is demonstrably false.
And that’s no good.
Because it’s also damaging.
Because it absolutely distorts the religion’s core belief.
And that is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and savior of mankind, that he was resurrected and that through his atonement all may be saved.
Mormons have believed and taught that without wavering since the movement began in the 1820s.
But instead of reporting that fact, “Newsweek” floats a theory that Mormonism is becoming “more Christian,” that it is changing its doctrines to be more accepted in mainstream society. That it has newly taken up a belief in and emphasis on Jesus.
That makes for an interesting magazine story, but the problem is it’s absurd.
And completely out of sync with the historical record.
Like this statement of belief from the religion’s founder, written in 1842: “We believe that the first principle … of the Gospel (is) … Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Or the “Church of Christ” name officially taken by the Mormons in 1830, or the still-used “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” name adopted in 1838.
In 1835, when the church’s founder’s wife put together the faith’s first hymn book, among the verses selected was the doctrinally clear: “He died! The great Redeemer died … Come, Saints, and drop a tear or two for him who groaned beneath your load. He shed a thousand drops for you, a thousand drops of precious blood.”
That’s pretty Christian.
Just like the 1871 Mormon hymn by Eliza R. Snow, a confidante of early leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young: “How great the wisdom and the love that filled the courts on high and sent the Savior from above to suffer, bleed and die! His precious blood he freely spilt; his life he freely gave, a sinless sacrifice for guilt, a dying world to save.”
And these hymns are typical. The topic of Jesus Christ has dominated Mormon hymn books and lesson books from the earliest days of the church.
I know because I collect them and read them.
And because the leaders of the church have been teaching the same Christ-centered doctrine for more than 170 years.
“I testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world,” Brigham Young said in the mid-1800s. “He is my master, my elder brother. He is the character I look to, and the one I try to serve to the best of my ability.”
His emotion was echoed in 1918 by a Mormon leader named Heber J. Grant, who told a church conference, “Time and time again my heart has been melted, my eyes have wept tears of gratitude for the knowledge that He lives.”
In 1906, Joseph F. Smith – who led the Mormon church for some 18 years and whose uncle founded it – said to another conference, “If any man object to Christ, the Son of God … let him object, and go to hell just as quick as he please.”
Six months later, at another conference, he preached, “Let us follow the footsteps of our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the perfect example of mankind. He is the only infallible rule and law, way and door into everlasting life. Let us follow the Son of God. Make him our exemplar, and our guide.”
Sixty years later, a successor in the presidency, David O. McKay, told the church, “No man can sincerely resolve to apply in his daily life the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth without sensing a change in his whole being.
“The phrase ‘born again’ has a deeper significance than what many people attach to it. This changed feeling may be indescribable, but it is real. Happy is the person who has truly sensed the uplifting, transforming power that comes from nearness to the Savior, this kinship to the living Christ. I am thankful that I know that Christ is my Redeemer.”
Finally, the current president of the Mormon church, Gordon B. Hinckley, has even taken to task those teachers of other religions who have equivocated on the role of Jesus.
“Some modern theologians,” he said, “have attempted to strip the Lord of his divinity, and then they wonder why men do not worship him. They have tried to take from Jesus the mantle of Godhood and have left only a man in the eyes of their followers. They have tried to accommodate him to their own narrow thinking. In the process they have robbed the Lord of his divine sonship and have taken from the world its rightful King.”
I mention these quotes to show that, in fact, “Newsweek” is wrong. The teaching of Christ is not something new to Mormonism – it is Mormonism. It is its very essence and purpose.
And the lone statistical support for the “Newsweek” argument – the relative scarcity of paintings of Jesus in Mormon art until recent decades – is a result of the fact that for a long time Mormon culture held that the Savior was too sacred to be casually depicted. Arnold Friberg, the most prominent living Mormon painter, worked hard to change that custom and has described his struggles to me.
But it was a custom, not a belief, and it changed, and now Mormon homes and churches are all graced by paintings of Jesus.
“Newsweek” is wrong.
And it’s too important an error to ignore.
Mormons believe in Jesus and they always have. They are Christian and always have been. And any of the quotes I’ve included thus far would be at home repeated across any Christian pulpit.
Including this one from the Book of Mormon, published in 1830:
“And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.”
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2001