In your discussions with Mormons, they will most often wish to direct the topics presented into those areas where they feel most informed and comfortable. Whether they are the young missionaries at your door or friends or colleagues, they have all been taught several lines of approach and have been drilled in making their points.
We suggest that you take charge of such conversations. Besides acquainting yourself with the basics of Mormon teaching (in addition, of course, to the fundamentals of the Catholic faith), consider presenting the Mormon apologist with a few "stumpers."
"We don’t bash your church, why bash ours?"
Somehow, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have been persuaded by their leaders that they have always been on the receiving end of uncharitable comments and unjust accusations. From the time Joseph Smith began his work in 1820, the Mormon church has gloried in the "fact" that it is a persecuted people. For them, this is a sure sign that it is the Lord’s true church; all opposition comes ultimately from Satan. So, if you do offer a question or a criticism, be prepared for this reaction.
Many Mormons, including their hierarchy, look upon any criticism—regardless of how honest and sincere—as perverseness inspired by the Evil One. But these same individuals ignore their own past (and present) attacks on Christian churches. You might like to point out a few of these to those Mormons who say their church "never attacks other churches."
1. "I was answered that I must join none of them (Christian churches), for they were all wrong…their creeds were an abomination in [God’s] sight; that those professors were all corrupt" (Joseph Smith—History 1:19).
2. "Orthodox Christian views of God are pagan rather than Christian" (Mormon Doctrine of Deity, B. H. Roberts [General Authority], 116).
3. "Are Christians ignorant? Yes, as ignorant of the things of God as the brute beast" (Journal of Discourses, John Taylor [3rd Mormon President], 13:225).
4. "The Roman Catholic, Greek, and Protestant church, is the great corrupt, ecclesiastical power, represented by great Babylon" (Orson Pratt, Writings of an Apostle, Orson Pratt, n. 6, 84).
5. "All the priests who adhere to the sectarian [Christian] religions of the day with all their followers, without one exception, receive their portion with the devil and his angels" (The Elders Journal, Joseph Smith, ed. Vol. 1, n. 4, 60).
6. [Under the heading, "Church of the Devil," Apostle Bruce R. McConkie lists:] "The Roman Catholic Church specifically—singled out, set apart, described, and designated as being ‘most abominable above all other churches’ (I Ne. 13:5)" (Mormon Doctrine, 1958, 129).
7. "Believers in the doctrines of modern Christendom will reap damnation to their souls (Morm. 8; Moro. 8)" (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, Bruce R. McConkie, 177).
Some contemporary Mormons, embarrassed—at least publicly—by McConkie’s ranting, will respond with, "That’s only his opinion." This is disingenuous at best. Keep in mind that McConkie, who died in 1985, was raised to the level of "apostle" in the Mormon church after he had written all these things. And still today, his Mormon Doctrine is published by a church-owned publishing company and remains one of the church’s bestsellers.
"We have no revelation on abortion"
Didn’t you assume Mormons were pro-life? That’s certainly the image their church attempts to broadcast, and most Mormons, in fact, mistakenly believe their church opposes abortion and regards it as an objective evil. But not so.
Indeed, the Mormon church accepts abortion for a number of reasons. The Church Handbook of Instructions, approved in September, 1998, states that abortion may be performed in the following circumstances: pregnancy resulting from rape or incest; a competent physician says the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy; or a competent physician says that the "fetus" has severe defects that will not allow the "baby" to survive beyond birth. In any case, the persons responsible must first consult with their church leader and receive God’s approval in prayer (156).
This same Handbook, the official policies of the Mormon church to be followed by all local church leaders throughout the world, also claims: "It is a fact that a child has life before birth. However, there is no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body" (156). Previous teachings by former Mormon prophets referred to the unborn child as "a child," "a baby," a "human being," and decried abortion as "killing," "a grievous sin," "a damnable practice." Spencer W. Kimball, the prophet who died in 1985, taught, "We have repeatedly affirmed the position of the church in unalterably opposing all abortions" (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 189).
It appears that this "unalterable" position, constantly "affirmed," is just another in a series of doctrinal and moral teachings that Mormons have reworded, reworked, rescinded, or reneged—though never officially renounced. Such is the quality of the Mormon belief in "continuing revelation." Don’t expect dogmatic or ethical consistency. Rather, look for expediency and conformity with "the times."
A further statement in the Handbook says: "The church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion (156)." While the Mormon prophet claims to speak the mind and will of God, he can neither figure out when the unborn child becomes human or if it is God’s desire that we protect the unborn unconditionally.
Your Mormon friend will offer the excuse that his church leaves many decisions to the free agency (free will) of its people, and that abortion is one such concern. You might point out the irony in the fact that the Mormon church has no hesitation or uncertainty in making the following declarations:
1. "The church opposes gambling in any form" (including lotteries). Members are also urged to oppose legislation and government sponsorship of any form of gambling (Handbook, 150).
2. The church also opposes [correctly, of course] pornography in any form (158).
3. Church members are to reject all efforts to legally authorize or support same-sex unions (158).
There is no need for a member to pray for divine guidance or seek church approval for such activities, for there will be no divine or ecclesiastical finessing of morality to permit even an occasional bingo game. A prayerful game of poker, unrepented, will bar the member from the temple and ultimate salvation; a prayerful, by-the-book abortion, unrepented, won’t.
Something’s wrong here
"Only Mormons teach the true nature of God."
Because they believe the Church established by Christ 2,000 years ago fell completely away from his teachings within a century or so of his death, Mormons argue that only a thorough "restoration" (and not a simple "reformation") of the true Church and its holy doctrines would lead man to salvation. Joseph Smith organized this "restored church" in 1830. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints preaches a belief central to most religions: one must know the true nature of God. "It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God" (Teachings of Joseph Smith, 345ff).
No Christian disputes the absolute necessity of knowing the nature of God (to the extent our reason, aided by grace, can apprehend this great mystery). Indeed, the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations have been united in a constant belief in the supreme God as almighty, eternal, and unchanging. Mormons have not been favored by similar clarity from their self-described "prophets" who receive "direct revelation" from the gods.
You may wish to ask your Mormon acquaintance to consider the following authoritative statements by their earlier and present prophets.
1. In an early book of "Scripture" brought forth by Joseph Smith, the creation account consistently refers to the singular when speaking of God and creation: "I, God, caused . . . I, God, created . . . I, God, saw. . . . " The singular is used 50 times in the second and third chapters of the Book of Moses (1831).
2. In another of Smith’s earlier works, the Book of Mormon (1830), there are no references to a plurality of gods. At best, there is a confusion, at times, between the Father and the Son, leading at times to the extreme of modalism (one divine person who reveals himself sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son) or the other extreme of "binitarianism," belief in two persons in God. The Book of Mormon also makes a strong point for God’s spiritual and eternal unity (see Alma 11:44 and 22:10-11, which proclaims that God is the "Great Spirit").
3. Another early work of Smith is the Lectures on Faith (1834-35). There is continual evidence that the first Mormon leader taught a form of bitheism: the Father and the Son are separate gods. The Holy Spirit is merely the "mind" of the two.
4. At about the same time, we begin to see a doctrinal shift. Smith had acquired some mummies and Egyptian papyri. He proclaimed the writings to be those of the patriarch, Abraham, in his own hand, and set out to translate the text. His Book of Abraham records in chapters four and five that "the gods called . . . the gods ordered . . . the gods prepared" some 45 times. Smith thus introduces the notion of a plurality of gods.
5. The clearest exposition of this departure from traditional Christian doctrine is seen in Smith’s tale of a "vision" he had as a boy of 14. Both the Father and the Son appeared to him, he wrote; they were two separate "personages." This story of two gods was not authorized and distributed by the church until 1838, after his Book of Abraham had paved the way for polytheism.
6. Readers will notice that the Father is said to have appeared, along with his resurrected Son. In his final doctrinal message, Smith showed how this was possible.
In the King Follett Discourse (a funeral talk he gave in 1844), Joseph Smith left his church with the clearest statement to date on the nature of God:
"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens[.] That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man. The scriptures inform us that Jesus said, ‘As the Father hath power to himself, even so hath the Son power’—to do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious—in a manner to lay down his body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did, and take it up again. Do you believe it? If you do not believe it, you do not believe the Bible. The scriptures say it and I defy all the learning and wisdom and all the combined powers of earth and hell together to refute it."
As the Mormon church has taught since that time, God the Father was once a man who was created by his God, was born and lived on another earth, learned and lived the "Mormon gospel," died, and was eventually resurrected and made God over this universe. As such, he retains forever his flesh-and-bones body.
7. Aside from some temporary detours (Orson Pratt said the Holy Ghost was a spiritual fluid that filled the universe; Brigham Young taught that Adam is the god of this world), the Mormon church has constantly taught that God the Father is a perfected man with a physical body and parts. Right-living Mormon men may also progress, as did the Father, and eventually become gods themselves. In fact, fifth president, Lorenzo Snow, summed up the Mormon teaching thus: "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be." Snow frequently claimed this summary of the Mormon doctrine on God and man was revealed to him by inspiration. (See Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christian?, 60, note 1.)
8. "Thou shalt not have strange gods before me." What is stranger than a God who starts off as a single Spirit, eternal and all-powerful; who then becomes, perhaps, two gods in one, and then three; who never changes, yet was once born a man, lived, sinned, repented, and died; who was made God the Father of this world by his own God; and who will make his own children gods someday of their own worlds?
That all believing Christians are shocked and disturbed by this blasphemy may—just may—be nudging the Mormon leadership to soften their rhetoric (if not actually change their heresy). A case in point is an interview with current church prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, published in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 13, 1997. When asked: "[D]on’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?" Hinckley demurred. "I wouldn’t say that. There’s 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" (3/Z1).
A surprising admission, as Hinckley seems to disparage the constant teaching of all his prophetic predecessors.
Choose, if you like, any one of these three attacks: on Christians; on the sanctity of life; on God. Ask your Mormon listener to explain the contradictions of his church. Don’t be satisfied with a personal, subjective, emotional "testimony." Demand clarification of confused and contradictory teachings.
When they aren’t forthcoming, be prepared to offer the truth.
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004
IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004