Monday, 27 April 2009

Testing a Mormon Prophet

“A living prophet directs the Church today”

The most recent prophet of the Mormon Church whose track record may be tested is Gordon B Hinckley. He was prophet from March 1995 until his death in January 2008. In that time he led the saints through a remarkable period of activity and growth, visiting members all over the world, more than doubling the number of temples, and raising the profile of the church. He was the busiest and most productive prophet the church had had for years. How does his record stand as prophet?

Teacher

We are told that a key role of the prophet is teacher. What can president Hinckley teach us about LDS doctrine?

“Brigham Young said if you went to Heaven and saw God it would be Adam and Eve. I don't know what he meant by that.” Pointing to a grim-faced portrait of the Lion of the Lord, as Young was called, Hinckley said, “There he is, right there. I'm not going to worry about what he said about those things.” I asked whether Mormon theology was a form of polytheism. “I don't have the remotest idea what you mean,” Hinckley said impatiently. - Hinckley Interview in "Lives of the Saint", New Yorker, January 2002

Question: “There are some significant differences in your beliefs [and other Christian churches]. For instance, don't Mormons believe that God was once a man?”

Hinckley: “I wouldn't say that. There was a little couplet coined, ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’ Now that's more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about.Interviewing Gordon B. Hinckley, San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1997, p 3/Z1

Question: “Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?”

Hinckley: “I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it. I haven't heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don't know. I don't know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don't know a lot about it and I don't know that others know a lot about it.” Interviewing Gordon B. Hinckley, Time Magazine, Aug 4, 1997

From a interview Jan 29th, 2002 conducted by reporter Helmut Nemetschek, ZDF television, Germany, at Salt Lake City, Utah, in the Church Administration Building:

Question: “Until 1978 no person of color attained the priesthood in your church. Why it took so long time to overcome the racism?”

Hinckley: “I don’t know. I don’t know. (long pause) I can only say that. (long pause) But it’s here now. We’re carrying on a very substantial work on Africa for instance and in Brazil. We’re working among their people developing them.”

Question: “Now, Mr. President, one question which is a little bit complicated for me to understand but I heard it and one colleague asked me to ask you. What will be your position when DNA analysis will show that in history there never had been an immigration from Israel to North America? It could be that scientists will find out?”

GBH: “It hasn’t happened. That hasn’t been determined yet. All I can say is that’s speculative. No one really knows that, the answer to that. Not at this point.” Interview Jan 29th, 2002 conducted by reporter Helmut Nemetschek, ZDF television, Germany, at Salt Lake City, Utah, in the Church Administration Building.

“Beyond the wonderful and descriptive words found in sections 76 and 137 [D&C 76; D&C 137] we know relatively little concerning the celestial kingdom and those who will be there. At least some of the rules of eligibility for acceptance into that kingdom are clearly set forth, but other than that, we are given little understanding.
“The next question you ask is why Eve was created from Adam. I can only respond that an all-wise Creator did it that way....

“Now, Virginia, you call attention to the statement in the scriptures that Adam should rule over Eve. (See Gen. 3:16.) You ask why this is so. I do not know.The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, November 1991 Young Womens Conference, “Daughters of God,” (Ensign, Nov. 1991, Page 97)

Prophet, Seer, Revelator

A prophet is also one who “foretells the future”. What is the record of president Hinckley?

“I hope that prayer will take on a new luster in our lives. None of us knows what lies ahead. We may speculate, but we do not know.” The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, October 2001 General Conference “Till We Meet Again,” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Page 89)

“Now we are at war. Great forces have been mobilized and will continue to be. Political alliances are being forged. We do not know how long this conflict will last. We do not know what it will cost in lives and treasure. We do not know the manner in which it will be carried out. It could impact the work of the Church in various ways.

No one knows how long it will last. No one knows precisely where it will be fought. No one knows what it may entail before it is over. We have launched an undertaking the size and nature of which we cannot see at this time.

I do not know what the future holds. I do not wish to sound negative, but I wish to remind you of the warnings of scripture and the teachings of the prophets which we have had constantly before us.”
Now, I do not wish to be an alarmist. I do not wish to be a prophet of doom. I am optimistic. I do not believe the time is here when an all-consuming calamity will overtake us. I earnestly pray that it may not. There is so much of the Lord’s work yet to be done. We, and our children after us, must do it. I can assure you that we who are responsible for the management of the affairs of the Church will be prudent and careful as we have tried to be in the past. The tithes of the Church are sacred.” The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Times in Which We Live,” October 2001 General Conference (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Page 72)

"Months ago I was invited to be interviewed by Mike Wallace, a tough senior reporter for the CBS 60 Minutes program, which is broadcast across America to more than 20 million listeners each week. I recognized that if I were to appear, critics and detractors of the Church would also be invited to participate. I knew we could not expect that the program would be entirely positive for us. ... I concluded that it was better to lean into the stiff wind of opportunity than to simply hunker down and do nothing. It has been an interesting experience..."

"We have no idea what the outcome will be—that is, I don’t. We will discover this this evening when it is aired in this valley. If it turns out to be favorable, I will be grateful. Otherwise, I pledge I’ll never get my foot in that kind of trap again." The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, “Remember Thy Church, O Lord,” Spring 1996 General Conference, Ensign, May 1996, Page 82

The missionaries teach that, “Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom.” What is the Mormon Church of today relying upon?

“At the close of one particularly difficult day, I looked up at a portrait of Brigham Young that hangs on my wall. I asked, "Brother Brigham, what should we do?" I thought I saw him smile a little, and then he seemed to say: ‘In my day, I had problems enough of my own. Don't ask me what to do. This is your watch. Ask the Lord, whose work this really is.’ And this, I assure you, is what we do and must always do.”

“As I reflected on these matters that recent difficult day, I opened my Bible to the first chapter of Joshua and read these words: ‘Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee’ (Joshua 1:9). I said to myself: ‘There is never reason to despair. This is the work of God. Notwithstanding the efforts of all who oppose it, it will go forward as the God of heaven has designed it should do.’” The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, autumn 2003 General Conference, Sunday Morning Session

But I can open my Bible and read what God has to say. I can comfort myself with biblical assurance. The question is “What has the living prophet got to say to me – today”? More to the point, what does God have to say to me today? Would it surprise you to find that the answer is found in the Bible?

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

(2 Timothy 3:14-17)

Go to the Word and seek God’s wisdom (James 1:1-5).

Coming:

The Hinckley Timeline

Previous Posts:

Testing Mormon Prophets

The Mormon Message of prophets

The Changing Face of Mormonism

Who Speaks for Mormonism?

21 Questions about Mormonism

12 comments:

Seth R. said...

Is it really so improbable that God the Father may have simply chosen not to bother revealing those details?

As I mentioned earlier, I think most of the guidance we receive from the living prophet in this church is not so much theological, as it is about practical life in the Gospel.

So no, Gordon B. Hinckley never did clear up the question of whether God was a man or not. But he did do the following:

1. Counsel us to prepare for economic hardship and to get our financial houses in order

2. Call upon the Church to do a better job of welcoming, shepherding, and loving our new members - even at the expense of aggressive proselyting.

3. Oversee the expansion of one of the largest Church building projects in our history - bringing the blessings of the temple to thousands of saints

4. Founding a pay-it-forward model of education lending for LDS in impoverished nations that has been a stunning success with thousands of people otherwise too poor to afford education benefiting themselves and their families and paying back their debt to the program - thus funding further efforts.

5. Moving the LDS Church out of guarded isolation into dialogue with other faiths and urging the Church to be more open with the world in general.

6. Preaching the existing word of God at all times and in all places.

I'm sorry our late prophet didn't entertain you more. But the calling of the LDS prophet is not to provide you with theological entertainment.

Maybe he wasn't prophet-y enough for you.

But he was prophet enough for me. More than enough.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

I am pleased for you that you are satisfied although concerned that you are so easily satisfied, but this is not about you. I find this with Mormons; they always turn it into something personal by insisting that since they are satisfied it is just mischief or malice that makes others unsatisfied. Its the "are you calling me a liar?" defense and it is indefensible.

If you have been following my posts at all you will have realised that I am writing a series that questions the claims of Mormonism to being led by prophets. It is not for you to declare yourself satsified but to defend those claims against critics.

If you don't feel inclined to do that that's alright too but don't put up your own status as a satisfied Mormon as any reason why anyone else should not ask the questions I am asking. You may not be satisfied; you may be complacent for all we know.

I can confidently say that there is no prophetic leading or modern revelation in the Mormon Church for the reasons I have given. If you think otherwise then tell me why but don't suggest that because you are content so should we all be. To answer your points.

It is not improbable that God the Father may have simply chosen to close the canon of Scripture with Brigham Young in 1847 but by that token it becomes more than plausible that he chose to close the canon of Scripture in the 1st century making the latter-day claims of Mormonism bogus.

If a so-called Mormon prophet cannot teach clearly what is the nature of God when Mormonism's founding prophet declared this a fundamental principle and Mormon missionaries routinely teach the the so-called First Vision teaches us clearly about God's nature then surely serious questions have to be asked about the reliability of modern Mormon prophets.

As to the rest of what you have written it is all counsel that can be garnered from many Christian leaders who, in turn, take their lead from the Bible.

Preparedness? The parable of the ten virgins in Matt.25

Mission? The so-called Great Commission in Matt. 28 which Christians have been obeying for some 2,000 years and continue to obey today despite Mormon claims that we "don't believe in works."

Hospitality? The most practical advice given by James in chap.2 of his letter, counsel followed today in Christian Churches all around the world.

Church building? Surely you mean one of the largest "Mormon" Church building projects? Dwarfed by 2,000 years of Christian building from great European cathedrals to modern community based local church buildings designed to be as inclusive as possible.

Education? Christian mission has been founded on educational principles for hundreds of years as missionaries have gone out to improve the education and eternal prospects of countless millions.

Coming out into the word? The Christian Church achieved this in its first three hundred years and is integral to the world around it, being in the world but not of the world.

Preaching? The Christian gospel has been preached continuously and faithfully for two millennia and preaching continues to be fundamental to all we do.

The Mormon Church is teaching its grandmother to suck eggs if they think they have anything to teach us. If anyone wants to know and understand what God requires of them Christians have been faithfully teaching, preaching, inviting, missioning and going into all the world to do it all this time. So what has Mormonism got that is different? Prophecy?

I have tested the claim and found it untrue and that is what you need to address, not whether you are satisfied with the status qo but whether the status quo matches up to the promise of the Mormon message. I say it doesn't.

Seth R. said...

First off Mike, it's unacceptably reductionist to boil my previous point down to "I am satisfied." Perhaps you ignored the rest of my post?

As for the rest, I'm not sure I follow you.

Are you saying that Gordon B. Hinckley would have had to depart from existing scripture before you would take him seriously?

The job of a prophet in the LDS faith is, and always has been to declare the ALREADY EXISTING gospel to the people. So the fact that you can find Bible passages supporting Hinckley's policies is utterly beside the point I was making.

I still think you are merely complaining that our prophets have not provided you with more theological entertainment, and are instead merely preaching the core Gospel of Christ. Is the Gospel not enough for you?

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

I am sorry if you feel I am not taking seriously enough or considering carefully enough your comments. It would be nice however if you could address the issue in hand instead of telling me what I should be satisfied with. Let me explain.

Mormonism is founded on the claim that what I believe is an abomination to God and that I am corrupt because I believe it.

In characterising Christianity as abominable and it's professors corrupt the Mormon faith brings the evidence of a closed canon and then claims that Mormonism has restored authority and revelation which equips Mormons to work from an open canon. Given this incredible claim Mormonism has a lot to live up to.


In other words a comparison is made which contrasts Christianity which doesn't hear from God or add to the canon and Mormonism which hears from God and does add to the canon. On this basis I am comparing and contrasting the claims of Mormonism with people's experience of Mormonism.

If the claims of Christianity are to be judged so harshly then Mormonism must come in for closer scrutiny than do Mormon prophets offer some good advice and teach some good Christian principles.

The Mormon canon is closed therefore the criticism of Christianity for working from a closed canon is hypocritical and the terms kettle and black spring to mind. It is also dishonest since Christians believe and have always believed in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and should not be misrepresented as people who give it their best shot; especially since Mormon prophets do no more than give it their best shot.

Given the claim of Mormonism that Joseph Smith in one vision learned more about God than all the religious professors in the world and that every prophet stepped into Smith's shoes it is not unreasonable to expect that Hinckley should know what God is like. To come up with some lame excuses and play the injured party doesn't wash and I would have expected better.

Mormonism must either live up to its claims and prove its bona fides or stop telling everyone else how wrong we are and how right they are. Its not about you but about your church; about the bogus claims to modern revelation; about the scandalous lies Mormonism tells about my faith and how Mormonism is built up by tearing down Christianity.

Seth R. said...

I'm not sure what part of your belief you think Mormonism is claiming is corrupt Mike.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

Two questions:

1. Has anything I have written proved even familiar to you even if you haven't agreed with my interpretation of things?

2. This is rather personal and I am not being flippant or backhanded when I ask it but I wonder could you tell me your approximate age? I understand if you would rather not but I feel it is germain to the discussion and might explain why we appear to be talking at cross purposes. As a gesture of good will I offer a sort of quid pro quo - I am in my mid fifties.

To answer your question:

"I'm not sure what part of your belief you think Mormonism is claiming is corrupt Mike."

All of it JSH 1:19

Seth R. said...

Mid thirties, wife and 3 young children - all under age 8.

In light of other quotes Joseph Smith made in life, I seriously doubt your interpretation that he called "all" your beliefs corrupt. Or, from the Mormon perspective, that God claimed they're "all corrupt."

What he did report was that the creeds were corrupt.

What was corrupt about them?

The idea that both Father and Son are divine and part of God?

No, we teach that already.

In fact, I've been through the Nicene Creed and doctrinally, most of it is unobjectionable from a Mormon perspective.

The only thing doctrinally wrong with it is it's attempt to smuggle in neo-platonist philosophical terminology and demands.

"Five-Point Calvinism" exists solely because of that smuggled-in terminology. And yes, I do view that particular world view as "abominable" because of how it degrades humanity and turns God into a monster.

But do you think Joseph viewed contemporary sermons about loving your neighbor from the pastor next door "abominable?"

If you do, I would suggest you haven't really paid much careful attention to the rest of what he wrote. You really think he had a beef with Christian belief in the Sermon on the Mount?

There were plenty of things he agreed on with other Christians and a lot of his other statements about them (and even non-Christians) were remarkably tolerant for his time.

The problem here is that you make the same mistake the rest of Christianity has been making for the last 2000 years.

You equate a bunch of artificial man-made "creeds" as the summum bonum of your "belief." Obviously, when Joseph spoke against the "creeds," he was speaking against everything in your religious life.

This is how traditional Christianity has paralyzed and limited faith and chained the possibilities of God's word.

God left us with a lot more wiggle room than the creedalists ever imagined.

I would actually posit that the "abomination" God spoke of to Joseph was essentially the notion that any creed could bind Him and that this creed should be used as justification for exclusion (and even bloodshed) among the faithful.

The abomination of the creeds was not their theological content, but the fact that they even existed in the first place.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

Thanks for that. The reason I asked is to establish something I suspected, i.e. your formative years as a Mormon were influenced by Gordon B Hinckley (see my latest post to get a picture of the true extent and period of his influence). My own experience of Mormonism as a Mormon ended in 1986 at a time when a new order under Hinckley had begun to develop. The difference in thinking between the two periods is profound with the ending of the McConkie constructionist generation and traditional Mormonism and the beginning of the Hinckley deconstructionist generation and new order Mormonism.

Don’t be misled by my use of the name of McConkie. His approach was not atypical and the only difference with him is that he gained a higher profile and eventually fell out of favour with the Hinckley deconstruction of Mormonism. We are addressing two different Mormon faiths and that is why you feel you know what you are talking about and wondering where I am getting my ideas – and vice versa. I find it incredible that you should offer such a convoluted response to what previous generations was a simple and compelling “truth” but to your generation appears to need no end of interpretation and qualification to explain what JS really meant.

This simply compounds the problem for Mormonism and strengthens my own argument in that it raises the significant question of which “interpretation”, constructionist or deconstructionist, is Mormonism? Which prophets are right and which wrong? If any are so wrong then can any be trusted at all? A classic example of this is the McConkie statement following the 1978 policy change regarding Negroes and the priesthood. It was a major volt face by the Mormon Church but people were simply expected to accept it because a prophet spoke “ex cathedra” so to speak. In a public statement McConkie, who had been strident in preaching the Mark of Cain doctrine, told people to “forget everything I have said before on this issue.” But this is ridiculous! Generations of people had been led by the Mormon leadership to believe this teaching (including me so it wasn’t a 19th century aberration). The implications of such a change are profound and telling people to forget all that had gone before in a church that claimed to be led by prophets is an insult to people’s intelligence. I don’t intend to discuss this particular doctrine but use it to illustrate my point.

I don’t believe for a moment that Joseph Smith was referring to the “Creeds” as you describe him. There is plenty of polemic by early Mormon prophets against the Christian Church but no specific engagement with the creeds as such; just a general and visceral condemnation of Christianity from the so-called First Vision I quoted through to the Christian minister in the pay of Satan portrayed in the temple film until 1990.

I am happy to engage with your own deconstructionist view of Mormonism as long as you realise that I, a Christian, will take seriously and literally the plain meaning of what your leaders say while you, a Mormon, will apparently continue to reinterpret, reshape and reconstruct the prophets of Mormonism according to your own lights.

Seth R. said...

If you are looking for a model of prophet that allows you to abdicate any responsibility for your own thinking, I think you'll be disappointed in Mormonism. As are many ex-Mormons today who wanted certainty in area where God never claimed to offer any.

People make progress. And as Paul said, there comes a time to put away childish things.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

I am sorry this conversation is beyond you. It is always disappointing but seldom surprising to find that any attempt to engage with Mormonism on an intelligent level ends sooner rather than later with the Mormon making ad homenim arguments. You will never be free until you learn to engage with the issues instead of resorting to the Mormon habit of meeting every criticism with such unworthy remarks.

Seth R. said...

I suppose the tone left something to be desired. But it still addresses the issue.

People have assumed that God has promised more than he actually has. This leads to an unrealistic expectation of what a prophet should do.

Human beings move on. Human institutions move on as well. We make progress hopefully. The Church, as a human institution is not exempt from this reality.

We've moved beyond McConkie in some ways. And thankfully so. I don't think a Church that is incapable of adaptation and progress has any right to lay claim to possessing the "LIVING Gospel."

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

It is not a question of people's expectations but of what the Mormon Church has encouraged people to expect. I have written that it is not about you and I should say it is not about me; it is about Mormonism and it's claims so let's talk about Mormonism.

The most fundamental claim of the Mormon Church is that no one knew the true nature of God until Joseph Smith and Mormonism came along. All our creeds were abominable and we corrupt for subscribing to them. If this is true (and I don't admit it for a moment) then we must look to Mormonism to correct us and teach us aright.

It is quite wrong then that a so-called modern prophet cannot tell us what previous Mormon propehts meant when they spoke about God. If you cannot at least see the sense in this question I cannot take you seriously.

Generations of Mormons have believed the Mormon idea of an infinite regress of gods for no other reason that that is what they were taught. "We don't believe that anymore" doesn't begin to explain the remarkable change you have described in your comments and if you cannot see that I hardly know how to get you to see it.

Mormonism to this day castigates Christians for working from a closed canon and boldly claims that it has reopened the canon. If you cannot see how serious it is that Mormonism cannot offer the world an open canon then I don't see how to progress.

These are not periferral issues but fundamental and coming up with a "well, the things we used to believe back in the day" doesn't begin to cover it. It wasn't "back in the day" but within living memory - my living memory - and it is what Mormonism taught and not what people made of what Mormonism taught.

It is not good enough to caricature former Mormons as malcontents; it is too easy and it is cheap.

It is not enough to say that Mormons have "moved on"; it is important to explain why you have moved on as you have when what you have moved on from was taught authoritatively and people were excommunicated for not being faithful to it.

The Mormonism you appear to eschew is what the missionary discussions cover. If Mormon prophets cannot tell us about God, or prophecy, or add to the canon why should anyone believe the claims of Mormonism as they are taught by missionaries to this day?