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Political commentator and former Mormon bishop’s daughter Tricia Erickson has engaged in discussions on television and in social media about her concerns of her former church as well as the possiblity of a Romney presidency. She is the author of Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters and earlier this year, USA Today Magazine ran an excerpt from her chapter on secret temple ceremonies.
The following is a professor’s response to Erickson’s work:
Tricia Erickson’s writing betrays a knowledge of Mormonism that is so shallow, so juvenile, that one is forced to wonder how this kind of thing is legal. I’m disappointed that a respected publisher such as Thomas Nelson (of which WestBow Press is a subsidiary) would not have exercised an ounce of professional caution, even a pinch of scholarly effort before publishing something that is so out of touch with reality that it ought to be downright embarrassing.
I have taught LDS theology and history for 40 years, 30 of those at Brigham Young University. Let me briefly explain what Mormons really do believe in regard to some of Erickson’s more “colorful” conclusions and warnings.
1. Latter-day Saints believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ (see Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 11:14-18; Alma 7:10). Anything you may have heard to the contrary is inaccurate and does not represent the doctrine of the church.
2. Mormons believe that the purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to enable men and women to mature and develop toward spiritual wholeness (through the atoning work of Christ and by the power of His Spirit); to gradually partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25); and to become as Christ is (Matthew 5:48; 1 John 3:1-2). These concepts are biblical, were declared by the early Christian church fathers, and are a part of Eastern Orthodoxy today. They certainly should not be foreign to any person who knows anything about the Christian faith. Mormons seek to be transformed spiritually here, in this life, so that they and their families can dwell with God in heaven forever. Notions of creating planets or governing universes are folklore and not a part of the doctrine of the church.
3. Latter-day Saints believe that all men and women are created equal, that God is no respecter of persons, and that He invites all to come unto Him, black and white, male and female (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:33). That some Mormons in the past may have said or done things that could now be construed as racist is unfortunate; we are taught to be better than that. But those actions were probably no more racist than any other religious body during the 19th or 20th centuries. That is no excuse for unchristian behavior, only a reminder to us of the need to put things into historical perspective.
4. Latter-day Saints in the United States feel a deep love for their country and that God had a hand in the formation of this land. While some would identify such an attitude as nationalistic, we believe it represents a healthy patriotism. Further, a Latter-day Saint’s highest loyalty and deepest allegiance are to God. Allegiance to country is secondary. I would suppose that such is also the case with every believing and practicing Baptist, Roman Catholic, Jew, or Muslim; God must come first in their spiritual lives. It requires a real stretch to suggest that such persons are divided in their loyalties or that they are seeking to serve two masters.
5. Mormons covenant with God in the temple to be Christ-like, to be charitable and giving, to be chaste and moral, and to devote themselves wholeheartedly to the establishment of God’s kingdom. Please note: no one is put to death for violating those covenants. No one’s life is threatened or taken if they should forsake the faith and become a bitter enemy of the cause. Thomas Nelson Publishers would have been well advised to consult the history: there is not a single instance in LDS history where the church or its leaders was responsible for the death of the disobedient or disloyal. In fact, our book of Doctrine and Covenants states: “We do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or . . . to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them” (Doctrine and Covenants, section 134, verse 10.) That standard has been in effect since it was written in 1835.
Every American is absolutely free to make up his or her own mind in this political season and to vote for whomever they believe to be the best candidates. My sincere hope is that we would weigh the merits of the candidates in terms of their experience and background as leaders in government or business. Let’s focus on what matters.