Jesus Repositioned

Christianity Jesus Christ

In the 1970’s for reasons yet unexplained the Mormon Church suddenly found itself under scrutiny by mainline Protestant denominations. The basic charge was that the Mormon religion is a non-Christian cult. The Mormon’s response was to reposition Jesus in the Mormon display case. There emerged a Jesus consciousness that was unlike anything that had ever existed in the Mormon Church. With the repositioning of Jesus the Churched moved from stage one Jesus to a stage two Jesus.

From the very beginning the role of Jesus has been obscure in the LDs Church. In the officially approved First Vision account God the Father, Elohim, introduced Jesus, Jehovah, telling Joseph to “hear Him.” Jesus took over then. In every way it should be apparent that Jesus is the man. He is the God of the Old Testament to whom the people prayed and who answered their prayers. He is the God of the Book of Mormon, hearing and answering prayers. And his is the voice of the revelations Joseph Smith received, as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants. Yet Mormons don’t address Jesus, they pray to Elohim, and more or less believe that it is He that answers their prayers.

While in Christian religions the primary message was (and is) Jesus Christ and Him crucified, the primary message in Mormonism centered on Joseph Smith the prophet who restored the gospel. He was extolled, acknowledged and celebrated for restoring the only path to salvation and exaltation. In the process of celebrating the man who communed with Jehovah, Jehovah Himself was pushed off to the side. The atonement was acknowledged, but based upon what was heard over the pulpit it was clear that Christ’s atonement was insufficient in of itself to bring about the Mormon version of salvation. Without the restored Church—thank you Joseph—humankind was lost.

Was that doctrine? It is hard to say, but it is what was taught, and is still taught with some modification. The modification found in the second stage, was to celebrate Jesus the Savior of the world. It became fashionable to express one’s love for the Savior and his atoning sacrifice. Coupled with that was the intense effort to convince the doubting world that Mormons truly are Christians. After all, it is the church of Jesus Christ and it is Jesus who stands at the head of the Church. But don’t forget it is God the Father, Elohim, to whom we ask for direction, guidance, and blessings. It is to Elohim that we express our sincere gratitude for the blessing He bestow upon us. When it is said the Lord directs this church, are they referring to God the Father, or God the Son?

The second stage, after nearly fifty years, is giving way to the third stage where Jesus is being repositioned even further. The availability of historical documents, long unavailable, has left many seeing the Prophet Joseph as being quite different from the picture they were exposed to in church. Not only do they see Joseph as having feet of clay, they find his successors equally clay footed. Faced with a challenging historical Joseph, the jello-like status of doctrine/theology, and what looks to many as unbending, rigid leadership, many members are facing what is often labeled a faith crisis.

It is this crisis that is producing the third repositioning of Jesus. What we see are people confessing they aren’t church centered they are Christ centered. Since they are Christ centered and not church centered they claim to have found a way to sidestep those challenging and distracting behaviors, teachings, and practices of past and present leaders. While many in the Church adhere to the council to keep your eyes on Church leaders and you will be safe, this third stage is restating it to keep your eyes on Jesus, and you can look past the human failings of Church leaders.

Initially that may seem to work, but it isn’t without its hurdles. One major hurdle, and there are many, is that it is simply a platitude. Once you get past the surface expression, and ask such questions as what it really means to be Christ centered in the Mormon Church, and how is it manifested in practice; how does being Christ centered in the Mormon Church differ from being Christ centered in any other church; how does a Christ centered Mormon, differ from a church centered Mormon? Once you begin down that road I think you will encounter mostly barren ground.

I suspect, though, that those questions really don’t matter. First off, Christ’s Special Witnesses haven’t been able to position Christ at the center of the Church in any meaningful way. They have as difficult a time explaining Mormon’s trinitarian Christ—Christ the son, Christ the elder brother, Christ the Father, as others do the Trinitarian Godhead. In fact, they haven’t been really clear as to what it means to be a Special Witness.

In addition, the Mormon Church is the proclaimed Kingdom of God, and that means it is institutionally centered. The gospel and the church are one and the same, members have been told. You simply can’t eliminate the challenges by announcing you are Christ centered, while e actively participating in a culture that is institutionally bound. You are going to have to find another way to deal with the challenges.

18 thoughts on “Jesus Repositioned

  1. But don’t forget it is God the Father, Elohim, to whom we ask for direction, guidance, and blessings. It is to Elohim that we express our sincere gratitude for the blessing He bestow upon us…. Christ’s Special Witnesses haven’t been able to position Christ at the center of the Church in any meaningful way.

    This was certainly my sense of things. As an active Momron, I just found Jesus boring and strangely beside the point. OK, he made this big sacrifice. But he was so clearly the envoy, the second in command, the proxy. And he lived so long ago and had experiences so different from mine–but I was supposed to accept that he understood me in some deep, unique and special way?

    It never worked for me.

    A lot of people I know really care about all the ways that science contradicts claims of the Bible and wonder why I don’t care about that at all. But even if science supported every single claim in the Bible about how the earth was created or how the physical world operates, it wouldn’t make any difference to me, because the interpersonal, emotional, and psychological dimensions of the gospel made and make no sense to me. And I didn’t need any special knowledge to figure that out. I just needed to make it to junior high and start looking at the authority figures around me and start evaluating what I thought of them.

  2. I grew up around the “leaders” in SLC and frankly they don’t know as much about religion as they do about business and law. Maybe this is why they fail so miserably on the religious issues. To them, it is more about selling religion and tithing receipts than looking at it deeply.

  3. As an active Mormon, I just found Jesus boring and strangely beside the point.

    I felt kind of the same way. And this repositioning of putting more focus on Christ always felt like the kind of mainstreaming that is motivated by the philosophy that “the more we can be like mainstream Christians, the better.”

  4. BYU professor Bruce Young is quoted at W&T on placing Christ at the center. The quote is below. I think this is a good illustration that in the institution always is at the center.

    “My conclusion is that Latter-day Saints must of course make Christ the center of their faith and seek to be his disciples. But to be in any sense Latter-day Saint followers of Christ, it makes sense for us also to believe in the reality of prophetic calling and inspiration and in priesthood authority and the importance of ordinances and to “receive”—listen to and accept counsel from—the Church’s leaders. It also makes sense for us to accept the Book of Mormon as a witness of Christ and the Doctrine and Covenants as containing the voice of Christ. Since I believe—not with blind faith but after careful consideration and with what I believe is strong spiritual confirmation—that the things I’ve listed are true and real, I believe that truly following Christ also means accepting them. If others don’t believe these things but want to follow Christ, I certainly think that is better than not seeking to follow Christ at all—and I hope they find a way to support that effort that makes Christ a living reality for them and not just a subjective ideal.”

    So much of it is built on beliefs–what a person believes to be true, and that belief, that opinion, somehow becomes a fact in their world view.

  5. @4 Wow, that is really wild. It makes it look like this “Christ-centered” trend in Mormonism is essentially a question of positioning and spin.

  6. @4: This takes the question “What would Jesus do?” and makes clear that the right answer is “adhere rigidly to the LDS status quo,”

    Cuz you know, Jesus was so about rigidly adhering to status quos.

  7. The church, especially the PH, wants to be above Jesus. Or at least try. The PH righteously judges, via blessings, uses PH power because HF can’t be there to act. Mormons pray in Jesus name but not to Jesus. After all Jesus is our older brother. I guess Mormons are like the OT second brother, always usurping the older brother. Humankind can’t accept being second.

  8. When the god of the OT strolled around the Garden of Eden in the cool of the evening, and discovered Adam and Eve naked, did his response seem like that of an older brother who would scold and advise, or a father who could punish and declare a divine time-out? The older brother concept simply doesn’t work for the god of the Mormon Standard Works. It only works in testimony meetings.

  9. The older brother concept simply doesn’t work for the god of the Mormon Standard Works.

    The older brother concept doesn’t work for most of Mormon theology. It especially doesn’t work for Mother in Heaven. Hinckley said we don’t pray to Mother in Heaven because Jesus said not to. Since when does Big Brother get to tell police and dictate all his other sblings’ interaction with Mom?

    If Jesus can tell humanity not to pray to Heavenly Mother, then she not only subordinate to Heavenly Father, she’s subordinate to Big Brother.

    Which, I think, is how the guys in SLC actually want it. They just can’t say that, because it makes women unhappy.

  10. The strange thing about this new wave of Christ centeredness, including repositioning grace in the Mormon theology (or attempting to reinterpret the “after all you can do” so Mormon’s are less “works” centered) is that these advocates don’t seem to realize that what they are calling for is what the Community of Christ (formerly Reorganized LDS) has already done.

    It is ironic that we have people in the only true church wanting it to be more like the off-shoot pretend church.

  11. In the SLTrib there is a piece by a BYU female teacher of creative writing who is predicting changes in the LDS Church in the next several years. One of which is: “The LDS Church will become ‘more Christ centered’ with less hero-worshipping of Mormon prophets and other leaders.”

  12. Here’s the Patheos piece the trib article is about. The predictions make more sense when you consider that they’re from someone who wrote this:

    We have lost many members over the past five years, but this kind of autumnal change is actually part of the Church’s evolution. Those tied to the past either by immutable hagiography or by the constant shadow of cynicism will continue leaving Mormonism as its leaders reveal their human foibles and Mormon history unearths more ugly skeletons. But the core of the gospel as seen through the Mormon lens is a glorious thing, including the most expansive imaginings of mortal and immortal purpose and progress.

    No, it’s not. The core of the gospel is hideous. It asks humanity to worship as all-loving a father-god who will cast them from his presence and damn them for all eternity unless they embrace the torment, torture and execution of his favorite son–because of course an all-loving god still has a favorite.

    And I don’t think “being tied to the past by cynicism” is the main reason people are leaving.

  13. I really don’t know how you sidestep the obvious that the core of the Mormon gospel is setting it’s prophet, seers, and revelators on a pedestal. To remove them from the pedestal will require reformulating not only the “gospel,” but the 200 year old story. There may be a little room to claim “our leaders are only human,” but there is no room for actual exposed “human foibles” in the present church story, which equals “gospel.”

  14. Holy 12: The bizarreness just continues like a rough stone rolling. Read the Trib article “Mormon reaction to Joseph Smith’s seer stone.” There you will find that the common misconception that Joseph used the U and T, was due to artist’s depiction of the translation process, and not because church leadership was attempting to hide anything.

    In time Mormon’s will view the seer stone in a hat as the equivalent of an ipad, and it won’t be a big deal. Furthermore, the Mormon seer stone is God’s own way–it is religion at its best, whereas tarot cards, for example or just plain superstition, and Mormons won’t have anything to do with such superstitions silliness.

  15. But the core of the gospel as seen through the Mormon lens is a glorious thing, including the most expansive imaginings of mortal and immortal purpose and progress.

    Isn’t this a reference to eternal progression? I thought that was one of the doctrines that get de-emphasized when Mormons try to be “Christ-centered”.

    Eternal progression is another Mormon doctrine where the whole Jesus-as-older-brother idea doesn’t fit. I mean, if the top winners of our current universe are going to be exalted and become gods of our own universes, what about Jesus? Does he move on to be the father god of his own universe? But he’s already a god in this one…

  16. @15

    In time Mormon’s will view the seer stone in a hat as the equivalent of an ipad

    I’ve already seen exactly that comparison from people besides Bushman.

  17. @16:

    Isn’t this a reference to eternal progression? I thought that was one of the doctrines that get de-emphasized when Mormons try to be “Christ-centered”.

    Huh. I didn’t see the conflict–I thought eternal progression was made possible by the atonement. Without that, we’d all just be damned.

    But yeah, the “we’ll all get our own planets” thing has joined the idea that God was once a man in being a core doctrine that the leaders are no longer sure we believe.

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