Mitt Romney's run for the White House in 2012 has piqued the interest of many folks here in the good old U.S.A. about the Mormon religion.
It's as American as apple pie, but then again most of us know a little more about apples and pie than Founder Joseph Smith and the 180 year old religion known as Mormonism.
We have heard the term "Mormon Moment" of late and likewise about Mitt's dilemma as to open up, or not, about his faith (seems unlikely).
In 2008, on his first Presidential go round, Mitt invoked our shared patriotism, and ventured to say that our shared God hears the prayers of all of us patriots.
One sympathizer, Richard Land, a prominent Baptist Elder and activist, generously suggested recently that Mormonism could be the fourth major religion stemming from Abraham, after Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
We have also heard and seen breezy radio and tv interviews with savvy and friendly Mormons (and we love all Mormons) defending their religion, but these haven't seemed to give us outsiders much of anything to learn about it.
So in the midst of wanting to know more, I had to get after it and do some more studying for myself.
As I was researching, a devout library lady saw the big Mormon encyclopedias sprawled across the table, and hoping to meet a real live Mormon, she boldly approached with great admiration and asked me if I was one.
She was so keen about it- I felt sort of sorry to tell her that I wasn't.
She shared how sold she is on Mormon family values (keep reading for more), "just like in the 1950s" was the way she put it.
The only thing that outpaced her interest in voting for Governor Romney in November (or meeting a Mormon now) was the present level of dis-esteem she expressed for President Obama.
Anyway, I thought it might serve to share what I learned in my studies.
It's not that I believe this brief foray into the heady and frothy waters of the Mormon belief system will matter to a whole lot to folks in the voting booth, but I offer it anyway as a gesture towards our own shared religious education, and as part of our common cultural due diligence.
The following teachings come from a four volume encyclopedia set with 1500 articles, and 730 scholarly contributors, as commissioned by Brigham Young University: "The History, Scripture, Doctrine, and Procedure of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints" (Macmillan, 1992, Daniel H. Ludlow Editor).
(please note I'm skipping over some material that would otherwise be valid introductory material in that such material has already been published in this space.)
Key Mormon Administrative Church Practices
1. "Temple Ordinances" (p.1444)
These are "instruments of spiritual rebirth" that give a "step by step ascent into the eternal presence" (sort of like the "sacraments" of the Roman Catholic Church).
These include baptisms for the dead, washings and anointings, and Temple endowments such as the sealing of a marriage for eternity.
2. "Temple Recommend"
After faith, repentence, confirmation and adult male ordination to the restored Melquizedek priesthood, a male candidate who wants to rise, and also take on more responsibility, in the church meets with a local bishop and is quizzed as to his faith committment, lifestyle and virtue.
If he passes, he receives this recommend which is also signed by the local Stake President.
A course of study that culminates in Mormon ordinances and covenants, for the spiritually minded (all Mormons?) which are only offerred and conferred in dedicated Mormon Temples.
Endowments (power from on high Luke 24,49) help organize the church according to the laws of God and prepare folks for leadership and mission and have four major aspects:
(a) prepratory ordinances of ceremonial washings and anointings and the conferal thereafter of appropriate dress;
(b) lectures and dramatic and pictorial representations of important moments and milestones from various scriptures and Mormon history;
(c) the making of binding covenants (ie vows?) such as the willingness to observe a life of strict virtue, charity and support the faith;
(d) the fullness of one's portion of the Holy Ghost.
4. "Melchizedek Priesthood"
This is the mother lode portal through which flows the huge volume of the distinct "restorationism" of Mormon practice and theology.
Melchizedek was the native priest who welcomed Abraham to Jerusalem after he defeated in battle the regional kings all round (see Genesis 14,18). Melchizedek offerred Abraham bread and wine, and then blessed Abraham by invoking our one God, the most high.
So the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood, which occurred sometime between May 15, 1829 and August 1830, as given to Founder Joseph Smith (Mormonism's High Priest, First President, and Prophet), allows Mormons to issue vast new channels of revelation and ordinances beyond ordinary scripture, and even identify and restore prior covenants between God and man in that this restored priesthood holds the keys to the kingdom and the power to bind and loose on earth and heaven.
Founder Smith and Oliver Cowdery recieved all this by way of instructions from the Lord and through a vision of the first apostles Peter and James in which these apostles ordained Smith and Cowdery and gave them "the keys to the kingdom, and the dispensation of the fulness of times." (p.886)
P. 883: "the Melchizedek Priesthood provides a revelatory channel through which instructions and doctrines from Christ can be made known." Again, this will sound very similar to folks familiar with Roman Catholicism.
For example, on April 13, 1836, as part of the aforesaid keys and dispensation of the fulness of times, Moses appeared to Joseph Smith and gave him the keys to the ingathering of Israel (p.886).
And for example, on July 12, 1843 Joseph Smith received revelation regarding the restoration of the eternal marriage relationship (as Adam and Eve supposedly had), and so Mormons also seek this higher Temple Ordinance through the restored Melchizedek Priesthood.
Likewise, Elias also gave to Founder Smith the keys to the dispensation of the "Gospel of Abraham." And Elijah, also by way of a vision, also gave the keys for sealing families together in eternity, as promised to Malachi and the Mormon angel Moroni (p. 886).
Key Concepts of Mormon Theology
1. "First Estate" p. 511 "Latter Day Saints believe that all Mankind were begotten as individual spirit children of God [from a heavenly "father" and "mother"], with individual agency, prior to being born into mortality." This is based on Jude v. 6.
(So a Mormon parent could say to his child, about cleaning his room, "hey you agreed to come into this family, and be obedient in it, so get with the program.")
2. "Foreordination" p. 522: "Foreordination is the pre-mortal selection of individuals to come forth in mortality at special times, under certain conditions, and to fulfill predesignated repsonsibilities."
Mormon Elder B.H. Roberts, of the Seventy, explains that leaders on earth will eventually manifest "the strength of that intelligence and nobility to which their spirits had attained in the heavenly kingdom before they took bodies on the earth." (Ibid)
3. Three Degrees of Glory In Heaven (which are also depicted in like named rooms of Mormon Temples)
(a) "Telestial Kingdom:" comprised of unrepentant sinners, who do not enjoy the presence of Jesus;
(b) "Terrestial Kingdom:" comprised of folks in the presence of the Son, but not the Father;
(c) "Celestial Kingdom:" fullest presence of God and Exaltation (see below).
4. "Procreation" p. 488 "It is both a joy and responsibility for parents to bring heavenly spirits into the world."
5. "Exaltation" p. 479 "exaltation is a state that a person can attain in becoming like God."
This state is available only in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, and is reserved only for married couples enjoying eternal marriage, and those who have lived their Mormon faith in the fullest way.
"It means not only living in God's presence, but receiving power to do as God does, including the power to bear children after the resurrection."
6. "Eternal Marriage"
This is based on the idea that Adam and Eve were permanently given in marriage according to Genesis 5,1-2 and based on the new ordinance making power of the restored Melchizedek Priesthood.
Thus, if one lives a good life on earth he or she can look forward to a marriage in eternity, and a sort of ongoing family reunion, sort of a plus, plus, plus version of the 1950s family values mentioned earlier.
So that's our brief introductory jump into the frothy waters of actual Mormon teachings and beliefs.
For some of us it was probably our first experience of them.
Now it's on to the voting booth in November, where, as folks who now know a little about Mormon teaching, we will gladly use our "free agency."
As to whether either President Obama or Governor Romney is "foreordained" in 2012, that's a question outside my present faith system! But then if I was really open minded, I suppose I could take input from a Mormon Democrat and a Mormon Republican, and then go from there.
Or, I know, I'll just ask Jesus.
"Jesus, whom should I vote for in 2012?"
Happy Learning-Happy Asking- Happy Voting
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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.read more...