By Sharon Lindbloom
Note: The following was originally printed in the July/August 2017 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
It’s all the rage these days for some Mormons to champion their religion while denying its dogma. They sense the absence of Christ’s love and grace in the LDS Church. They understand the impossibility of gaining forgiveness and eternal life via the Mormon system. But they hunger for these things, so they recreate Mormonism according to the desires of their hearts.
Take an LDS blogger known as Kate. In March she posted an article explaining her “lifelong wrestle with Mormonism.” In it she described what is actually orthodox LDS belief – the requirement that Mormons obey a litany of rules in order to achieve happiness and, ultimately, eternal life. But, Kate told her readers, “I don’t follow the tenets of Mormonism to perfection… Following the rules to perfection isn’t Mormonism.”
This is Kate’s opinion; this is the desire of Kate’s heart, but if “following the rules to perfection isn’t Mormonism,” she is speaking of a Mormonism of her own making. Mormon prophets, seers, and revelators, the leaders of the LDS Church, are in agreement with doctrine as expressed by these general authorities:
This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 208-209)
According to Mormon Apostle Robert D. Hales,
Everyone who comes to the earth and receives a mortal body will be resurrected, but we have to work to receive the blessing of exaltation through our faithfulness, our agency, our obedience, and our repentance. (Robert D. Hales, “The Savior’s Atonement: Foundation of True Christianity,” Ensign, 4/2017, 25).
This is not Kate’s Mormonism. This Mormonism demands unswerving obedience to the rules. Contrary to the continuous and clear teachings of Mormon prophets, seers, and revelators throughout the Church’s history, Kate has recreated Mormonism (according to the desires of her heart) to be a religion that says, “Christ’s grace saves you, your righteousness does not.”
Consider another LDS author and blogger, Mette Ivie Harrison who sought to determine whether Christ can love her (and others) while they are still in their sins. Again, this Latter-day Saint understood and explained the orthodox Mormon position:
Mormons frequently talk about our need to do “as much as we can do” to improve ourselves, to repent of our sins and to perfect ourselves, before expecting Christ’s Atonement to work on us and for divine grace to make it possible for us to be completely cleansed of sins.
But this didn’t make sense to Mette, and it troubled her. So she told her readers,
Anyone who has lived on this earth for any length of time knows very well that none of us have any real chance of perfecting ourselves in any meaningful way… The point is that Christ must love us in our sins because if He doesn’t, then we will never have any benefits of His love until we don’t need it anymore.
This is Mette’s opinion, this is the desire of Mette’s heart, but if she insists that Mormonism says Christ’s grace is granted to people before they have done all they can do to perfect themselves, she is speaking of a Mormonism of her own making. This is not Mormonism as taught/revealed by LDS prophets and apostles. For example, consider these authoritative LDS teachings:
Even that grace of God promised in the scriptures comes only ‘after all we can do. (Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1995, 19).
Because of what He accomplished by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has the power to prescribe the conditions we must fulfill to qualify for the blessings of His Atonement. That is why we have commandments and ordinances. That is why we make covenants. That is how we qualify for the promised blessings. They all come through the mercy and grace of the Holy One of Israel, “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23) (Dallin Oaks, “Two Lines of Communication,” Ensign, (Conference Edition), November 2010).
This is not Mette’s Mormonism. This Mormonism requires that people qualify for Christ’s grace by keeping the commandments and achieving personal righteousness. Contrary to LDS scripture and the teachings of LDS prophets, seers, and revelators, Mette has recreated Mormonism according to the desires of her heart. In Mette’s Mormonism, “Christ loves me even so. He doesn’t love me because He’s waiting for me to be better. He loves me just as I am, in my pitiful, fallen state.”
The Bible teaches of God’s great mercy and grace that caused Him to move with “great love” for us “when we were dead in our trespasses” and “while we were still sinners” (Ephesians 2:5 and Romans 5:8), but according to Apostle D. Todd Christofferson, “God does not save us ‘just as we are,’ first, because ‘just as we are’ we are unclean, and ‘no unclean thing can dwell … in his presence.’” (“Free Forever, to Act for Themselves,” Ensign, (Conference Edition), November 2014, 17).
Mette has found that she can’t reconcile some of the authoritative teachings of Mormon leaders with what she herself thinks, believes, and perhaps longs for. In another blog article, Mette explained that she rejects the 1982 teachings of Apostle Bruce McConkie wherein he stated that Mormons “worship the Father and him only and no one else. We do not worship the Son, and we do not worship the Holy Ghost.” Calling this apostolic teaching “nonsense,” Mette wrote, “I’m not going to follow Bruce R. McConkie on this…” Mette’s Mormonism allows her to discard doctrine that she doesn’t like. But this is a Mormonism she has recreated for her own comfort.
A hallmark of the LDS Church is its assertion that it is actively led by prophets, seers, and revelators (i.e., the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve). While there is no claim of infallibility, there is an oft-repeated promise that this church cannot be led astray by its leaders; therefore, Mormons cannot go wrong if they listen and obey. Apostle Mark Petersen taught,
If you want to know what the word of God is, go to the Council of the Twelve or the First Presidency. They are the foundation of the Church; they will keep you on the right track so that you will not need to worry (“A Man Must Be Called of God,” as cited in Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual Religion 333, 1982, 30).
Furthermore, everything these leaders teach must be wholly embraced by Church members:
The gospel as restored by Joseph Smith is either true or it is not. To receive all of the promised blessings we must accept the gospel in faith and in full…when you pick up a stick you pick up both ends. And so it is with the gospel. As members of the Church we need to accept all of it (James E. Faust, “Lord, I Believe; Help Thou Mine Unbelief,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2003, 21-22).
Our relationship to living prophets is not one in which their sayings are a smorgasbord from which we may take only that which pleases us. We are to partake of all that is placed before us, including the spinach, and to leave a clean plate! (Neal A. Maxwell, Things As They Really Are, 74)
Kate and Mette, along with other uneasy Latter-day Saints, do not want to pick up both ends of the stick. They want a different Mormonism, a Mormonism that is more comforting, more viable, more hopeful. So, they recreate their religion into something they can live with, and work on convincing themselves (and others) that Mormonism really isn’t so troublesome after all.
But in truth, Mormonism hasn’t changed. The Mormon Church is still dedicated to the worship of a false god, still led by false prophets, and still clinging to a false and hopeless gospel. Christians, when you find your LDS friends recreating Mormonism in an effort to soothe the deep longings of their souls, when they appear to be reaching toward God’s mercy, take heart. Pray like you’ve never prayed before. Because of God’s great love, He may be preparing that field for harvest.