Mormonism 101: FAQ
The LDS Newsroom’s new FAQ has a somewhat defensive tone. This is probably due to scandals as of late for the Church, an annoyance that certain issues won’t go away. The Newsroom has created paragraphs of text perhaps in hopes to roundly cut off future scandals at the pass, but I don’t think it’ll help that much.
There are a number of answers that are worth responding to, but I’ll just respond to three here:
Do Mormon women lead in the Church?
Yes. All women are daughters of a loving Heavenly Father. Women and men are equal in the sight of God. The Bible says, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). In the family, a wife and a husband form an equal partnership in leading and raising a family.
From the beginning of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints women have played an integral role in the work of the Church. While worthy men hold the priesthood, worthy women serve as leaders, counselors, missionaries, teachers, and in many other responsibilities they routinely preach from the pulpit and lead congregational prayers in worship services. They serve both in the Church and in their local communities and contribute to the world as leaders in a variety of professions. Their vital and unique contribution to raising children is considered an important responsibility and a special privilege of equal importance to priesthood responsibilities.
So, basically, what they’re saying is, Mormon women lead in the Church, but they cannot lead the Church. This will continue to be a sticking point for anyone interested in female ministry.
Do Latter-day Saints practice polygamy?
No. There are more than 14 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and not one of them is a polygamist. The practice of polygamy is strictly prohibited in the Church. The general standard of marriage in the Church has always been monogamy, as indicated in the Book of Mormon (see Jacob 2:27). For periods in the Bible polygamy was practiced by the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, as well as kings David and Solomon. It was again practiced by a minority of Latter-day Saints in the early years of the Church. Polygamy was officially discontinued in 1890 122 years ago. Those who practice polygamy today have nothing whatsoever to do with the Church.
I’ve written on why stripping a Mormon identity from the FLDS is wrong. There are Catholics who engage in voodoo, but you don’t see the Catholic Church going to great lengths to ensure such people don’t get to identify as Catholic.
Why does the Church act so immaturely about polygamy and the polygamy of its past? Do they fear it makes Joseph Smith’s vision less believable when people think about how many wives he had? If the Church wants to fully shed the albatross of polygamy, it’ll have to shed Joseph Smith and the rest of the 19th century. Otherwise, historical honesty requires mentioning the fact that Emma wasn’t Smith’s only wife.
Also, the sentence — “Those who practice polygamy today have nothing whatsoever to do with the Church” — strikes me as having an Islamophobic tone if a person were to read it without any knowledge of what context the FAQ is addressing.
What is the position of the Church regarding race relations?
The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. The Book of Mormon states, Black and white, bond and free, male and female; all are alike unto God (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Churchs official teaching.
People of all races have always been welcomed and baptized into the Church since its beginning. In fact, by the end of his life in 1844 Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opposed slavery. During this time some black males were ordained to the priesthood. At some point the Church stopped ordaining male members of African descent, although there were a few exceptions. It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church, but it has ended. Church leaders sought divine guidance regarding the issue and more than three decades ago extended the priesthood to all worthy male members. The Church immediately began ordaining members to priesthood offices wherever they attended throughout the world.
The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. In 2006, then Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.
We’ve discussed this subject at length recently given the scandal with the BYU professor of religion who stated blacks weren’t “mature” enough to hold the priesthood.
It is known precisely why, how or when this restriction began, but to speak of it would require vilifying a Mormon prophet: Brigham Young. Smith is already potentially made a “bad guy” with polygamy, so the Church is interested in saving Young from similar mass scrutiny, since all the Church’s prophets have to be maintained as honorable or else their prophet status is chipped away at.
Unlike the ban on polygamy, which has time on its side, the ban on black ordination ending more than “three decades ago” is not as significant as the fact that it was in place for thirteen decades, more than half the life of the Church. But then, that language wouldn’t be as flattering.
“Welcoming and baptism for all races” immediately followed by “In fact, Smith opposed slavery” is a little odd. The suggestion is that Smith was somehow before his time in terms of morality. But black slaves were often baptized in white churches (“bond and free”); if you put Christianity in the context of colonialism and the slave trade, the stripping of “dark” indigenous theologies, one can see how baptism and slavery have been hand-in-hand in some respects. Mormons chose a unique route during the Civil War era, solidifying with theology that freed black men couldn’t be priests in their church. I say “theology” because the ban couldn’t be removed without top-level revelation over a century later. Plenty of scholars have written on how this fits into the overall story of American race relations. If indeed the Church were in a post-racial place (which I’m not even sure what that means as a goal), it would be comfortable with exploring its racial past, rather than trying to erase it with vagueness and feigned ignorance. It seems the Newsroom still has a lot to learn about “whiteness.”