Bob Burney claims to be an informed non-expert as he offers Mormons A Plea for Candid Truth Telling. (Funny, leaders of the LDS church are encouraging the same thing.) The charge seems simple and fair-enough – “You can believe anything you want. . . But tell the truth! If you believe it, be proud of it—don’t try to hide it.” He takes exception to church statements that seem to borrow the language of evangelicals. I would contend that there is a simple explanation for such borrowed language and it’s not so sinister as the deception he seems to infer from those statements. Basically I would ask Mr. Burney if he would expect to be more effective communicating in Moscow by speaking Russian or by speaking Cantonese.
He claims that the church has made a concerted effort to remake its image since 2002 – before which:
I remember a time when it was common for Mormons to be offended if you called them Christian.
Admittedly my public memory only goes back a couple of decades (not counting my childhood when I was blissfully unaware of much outside my immediate world), but that is well before 2002 and I don’t ever recall a time when members of the church would be offended at being called Christian. A more accurate assessment of this very real effort by the LDS church to refine its public image stems from two factors. One, church leaders became aware/concerned with the fact that there were altogether too many members of the church who mistakenly identified more with Joseph Smith than with Jesus Christ. This led people outside our faith to naturally conclude that we worshiped our first prophet.
The second factor was that in 1995 Gordon B. Hinckley became our new prophet and brought with him a lifetime of experience in public affairs. Under his direction the church organization became much more media savvy and conscious of how other people perceived the church. Under his direction they used the publicity of the Olympics as a platform to correct misconceptions. With the current interest in the church stemming from Mitt Romney’s candidacy they are once again trying to make the most of the moment.
As for the specific doctrine in question – the answer given by the church to the charge that Mormons view Satan and Jesus as brothers was apparently unsatisfactory because rather than stating “Yes we do, what of it,” the response was meant to indicate that this apparently heretical idea is not inconsistent with Protestant scripture. Christ repeatedly called himself the Son of God. Isaiah says that Satan had fallen from heaven.
As far as I can tell, the idea that men can become like God is the most radical doctrine of the church (at least from an evangelical perspective – I couldn’t say about other perspectives) but members of the LDS church are not alone in thinking this. C.S. Lewis made this same statement in Mere Christianity (p. 205-6) and he had no connection with the church. (By the way, the idea is not the we make ourselves into gods or that it just comes with time, it is that God has the power and interest to make us into beings like Himself through the Atonement of Christ. Whether you agree or not, it is not so self-aggrandizing as some people make it sound.)
I don’t mean to suggest that the leaders and other public figures in the church handle all these inquiries perfectly – they’re only human – but it would be nice if all the theological pundits out there could ascribe less-than-sinister motives to their every effort.