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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Mormons & Polygamy

Polygamy and Mormonism are in the news again out in Utah. While I know that the Mormon church renounced polygamy over a century ago, a couple of paragraphs caught my eye:
Although polygamy is illegal, it's believed that tens of thousands of Mormon fundamentalists and others across the West continue the practice. ... The fundamentalist sect split from mainstream Mormonism after the broader church renounced polygamy more than a century ago. The fundamentalist group touts that men must have at least three wives to reach heaven.
And so my question for my Mormon friends is simply this - how do you know you are right and the "fundamentalist group" is wrong? If God's revelation is an open book which is still being written, how do you decide which prophets to listen to and which ones to reject? How would a non-Mormon know which "Mormonism" to convert to?

This is not a flame - I'm genuinely interested in knowing how you'd answer this question.


At 8:31 AM, June 16, 2005, Anonymous Nick said...

I'm actually what some folks call a "recovering mormon," but I think I can still answer your question.

Mormons believe that God's house is "a house of order." There is a proper line of authority and an orderly manner in which the prophetic mantle is passed down from one leader to the next. When one prophet dies, the presidency (a quorum consisting of the prophet and his two counselors) is dissolved, and the quorum of the twelve apostles takes over church leadership until a new president/ prophet is called, by unanimous inspired selection in the quorum of the twelve. Today, this process usually passes in a matter of hours or days.

So anything that stands outside of this process is not of God. The question of an apostate church is not really a question for mainstream Mormons. They believe the LDS church is the stone "cut out of the mountain without hands" in the Book of Daniel, which then grows to fill the entire world, eventually taking out all the kingdoms of men and establishing the kingdom of God on earth. This is to be a continuous, uninterrupted process, and God would never permit his chosen prophet to lead the church astray--nor would he abandon the church to call somebody from outside its established order.

The idea of a prophet "crying from the wilderness" is quaint, but not consistent with the Mormon doctrine that the LDS church is the literal restoration of Christ's authority upon the earth.

Now, if a non-Mormon is thinking of converting, but doesn't know whether he wants to join mainstream Mormonism or one of the various sects and fundamentalist groups--and I'm speaking as a recovering Mormon here, so this view is not orthodox--he or she should probably become acquainted with the different teachings and choose whichever group he or she finds the greatest affinity with. That question is like asking whether one should become a Baptist or an Episcopalian or a Catholic. All are branches of the same religious tradition, but the differences are sufficiently significant as to make it fairly easy for one to decide where one feels most comfortable.

In the case of fundamentalist Mormon sects, another question to ask is whether you will be allowed to join. Some are not particularly open to outsiders / converts -- for obvious reasons.

Hope this helps.

At 8:53 AM, June 16, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Thanks for the response Nick, that is very interesting. Two follow up questions:

1) regarding the house of order theory - how do Mormon's distinguish between competing claims for that line of authority? After all, Catholics claim something very similar for the Pope, and I suspect that fundamentalist Mormons would say something similar.

Perhaps you've already pinpointed the rub - if you are on the outside looking in, the best you can do is pick one that you like best and join that. Not real comforting if one is actually trying to figure out which one is "true" first...

2) You say that you are a "recovering Mormon". From what? To what? And what brought about such change? I'd be very interested in hearing this (but I realize its a little off topic and may be long - so feel free to email me if you'd prefer.)

At 2:08 PM, June 16, 2005, Blogger Ben H said...

Well, the court of final appeal on competing claims to authority is the Holy Spirit, or as James 1:5 puts it, "ask of God". So no, from the outside looking in, just picking whatever you like is not the best you can do. We Mormons seriously believe that if one asks, God will say what is true--the other standby reference of course is Moroni 10:4-5.

If you read the Pope's letter Fides et Ratio you'll see that his account of how one knows the truth is very different. He relies on trusting a chain of human teachers stretching back to Christ. But of course the Mormon belief that a restoration was required implies this trust in a chain of teachers, even teachers who were supposed to be kept "on track" by the Holy Spirit, is not sufficient. Individuals must have access to the Spirit themselves, to know who is God's chosen authority. Another illustrative passage comes to mind: 3 Nephi 11:35-6, where Christ himself appeals to the witness of the Holy Spirit to corroborate his message.

And Mormon leaders today, including the First Presidency, continue to exhort the members of the church to pray for confirmation of their message. James Faust, for example, regularly reminds us that while the chain of authority is real, it is not merely by inspecting a chain of authority that we are to identify God's chosen leaders on Earth, and the truth of what they say, but by the witness of the Holy Spirit.


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