Are Mormons afraid of ghosts? Should they be?

By Sharon Lindbloom
6 November 2017

The Independent, a newspaper out of St. George, Utah, recently published an online article about Marlene Murray, an LDS woman who “dabbles in paranormal investigation.” The title of the article asks an interesting question: “Mormonism and the paranormal: Are LDS folk afraid of ghosts?

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The journalist posits that perhaps any fear among Mormons is because, according to Ms. Murray, these ghosts are not always honest and good — Latter-day Saints don’t want to be led astray. But LDS scripture has an answer to this concern. Doctrine and Covenants 129 says that “the spirit of a just man made perfect” will not shake a human’s hand when asked, and “it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive.” Therefore, if LDS scripture is true, all one needs to do to avoid being deceived by a spirit is to ask the ghost to shake hands. This seems simple enough.

The Independent journalist notes that Mormons are not afraid of “churchy” interactions with the spirit world:

“Central to our faith is a belief in certain supernatural interactions. Should it be a stretch for us to be believers in the paranormal? Why is Moroni okay but not other entities? Heck, anyone who has spent much time doing genealogy or talking to family history buffs has certainly heard tales of long-deceased Grandpa Ira (or the like) making connections to the living. Why, then, are some of us squeamish about other types of ghostly encounters?”

Indeed. The October 2017 Ensign includes excepts from a presentation on temple and family history work given by LDS apostle Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy. In this presentation, Mr. Nelson tells the story of his great-grandfather’s post-mortal visit to his son (Mr. Nelson’s grandfather) in 1891. As reported in the Ensign:

“‘I was in bed when Father entered the room,’ Grandfather Nelson wrote. ‘He came and sat on the side of the bed. He said, “Well, my son, as I had a few spare minutes, I received permission to come and see you for a few minutes…”

Great-grandpa Nelson spoke of all the spirits “anxiously” waiting for their still-living friends and relatives to do their proxy Mormon temple work (ordinances) for them, and confirmed that he, too, wanted his own temple work done soon. The story continues,

“Then Grandfather Nelson asked, ‘Father, is the gospel as taught by this Church true?’

“His father pointed to a picture of the First Presidency hanging on the wall of the bedroom.

“‘My son, just as sure as you see that picture, just as sure is the gospel true. The gospel of Jesus Christ has within it the power of saving every man and woman who will obey it, and in no other way can they ever obtain salvation in the kingdom of God. My son, always cling to the gospel.’” (“Open the Heavens through Temple and Family History Work”)

Please note that the “gospel” of this story is “the gospel as taught by” the LDS Church, not the gospel as presented in the Bible. Mr. Nelson’s grandfather wanted to know if the LDS gospel was true, so he asked a spirit he believed was his deceased father, and was answered in the affirmative. This Mormon-faith-promoting story has been handed down through the generations of Mr. Nelson’s family and is cherished as a “precious” piece of family history.

But Grandfather Nelson disregarded the scriptural safeguards that have been given to keep people from being led astray. This is not a story to cherish, but one from which to learn.

As a Mormon, at the very least Grandfather Nelson should have employed D&C 129, asking the spirit that appeared to him to shake hands. According to the LDS Church, the discerning of spirits is the reason that Joseph Smith received and recorded this revelation. But Grandfather Nelson neglected to follow that simple step. Therefore, the spirit that testified that the LDS gospel is true could very well have been “the devil as an angel of light” (D&C 129:8).

I’m not LDS; I don’t believe D&C 129 is a true revelation from God, so I would not apply Doctrine and Covenants’ “three grand keys by which the correct nature of ministering angels and spirits may be distinguished.” I would look to the Bible instead, a scripture also accepted by Mormons.

The Bible warns against any communication between the living and the dead [Please bear in mind that, unlike LDS teaching, the Bible draws a distinction between spirits/angels and human beings (whether alive or dead)]. Deuteronomy 18:9-12 says,

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.”

In asking his deceased father if the Mormon gospel was true, Grandfather Nelson was “one who inquires of the dead,” thereby becoming “an abomination to the Lord.”

Many more Bible verses against communication with the dead could be cited. Discussing this topic in their book, Mormonism 101, Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson note that “The Old Testament clearly warns against necromancy [i.e., communication with the dead] and conjuring up ‘familiar spirits” (225). In a footnote, the authors provide the following:

“These passages include Leviticus 19:31; 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:10-12; 1 Samuel 28:3-20 (where Saul is reprimanded for dealing with the witch of Endor); 2 Kings 21:6; 23:24 (where familiar spirits are called ‘abominations’ and equated with idols); Isaiah 8:19; 19:3. Even the Book of Mormon warns against familiar spirits in 2 Nephi 18:19.” (footnote 60, 307)

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul warned the Galatians,

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8-9)

The gospel Paul preached is not the gospel Mormonism preaches. The spirit that appeared to Grandfather Nelson affirmed a gospel that is contrary to the gospel preached by the biblical apostles. Therefore, that spirit was “accursed” before God and man. The entity that appeared to Grandfather Nelson was deceitful, declaring as true a false gospel.

1 Timothy 4:1 says,

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.”

In these latter-days, Grandfather Nelson devoted himself to the teachings of a deceitful spirit, passing that misdirected devotion on to his children, his children’s children, and so on through the generations. As noted by Mormon apostle Russell Nelson, “the reason for [the spirit’s] visit was accomplished.”

It’s easy to see why God prohibits communication with the dead; “no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). And in so doing, the apostle Paul wrote, “as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (v. 3). This is how Grandfather Nelson’s communication with the dead played out. He was tricked and led away from true devotion to Christ. He spent his life devoted to a false gospel that has, at its core, a false Christ.

In general, Mormons are not afraid of “churchy” ghosts – but they should be, for these spirits have the power to deceive. And their deceptions tragically lead people away from God’s truth, along the broad way to eternal destruction (Matthew 7:13).

Beloved, do not believe every spirit,
but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,
for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

-1 John 4:1-