Questions of Faith, Part VI


LDS Temple, Salt Lake

Once again we turn our attentions to a branch of Christianity, as Clay gives us the scoop on the LDS Church. (Even though we are moving on, feel free to continue any of the discussions on earlier posts...)

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Here be my answers, as an unofficial representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (you can call us LDS for short; calling us Mormon is in a slight way derogatory and inaccurate, but it is in common use in America).

What faith do you espouse?
The faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Or, to put it more succinctly, I espouse faith in Jesus, the Christ.

Who was the founder of your faith? When did he/she live?
In a general sense, we'd like to think it's God. In a supra-historical sense, we believe it was old testament figures like Adam, Abraham etc that did the earthly part of the religion leading up to the fulfillment and refinement of the religion by Jesus Christ.

In a localized sense, we believe that in this dispensation Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844) was charged to restore the gospel on earth (LDS people believe that the fullness of the gospel and priesthood authority was lost from the earth shortly after Jesus left us and the 12 apostles were murdered/exiled). A timeline of Joseph Smith's achievements compared with U.S. events can be seen here.

What are the sacred texts of your faith?
By LDS reckoning, all holy writings we have received are slightly flawed by the process of translating infinite wisdom and eternal principles to mere human terms. Therefore, I'm not sure that we can consider any texts as literally sacred. However, LDS people look to the Old and New Testaments (the Holy Bible) and the book of Mormon for spiritual guidance. Other works of religious significance, such as the dead sea scrolls, Apocrypha, Bhagavad-Gita etc. also have religious merit and should be studied with a discerning mind.

Bonus question: The Book of Mormon? What's that?
The book of Mormon is considered by LDS people to be the "most right" (read: best translated) book of all the holy books. Joseph Smith has told us that he received directions from an angel as to the location of the plates of brass from which the book of Mormon was translated. The Book of Mormon is a history of what happened in the American region (though how much and where is up to speculation) during ancient times. It tells of two groups that migrated from the middle east to the Americas and their religious struggles.

The main theme of the book can be seen in a cycle where the righteous become prosperous, then proud, then sinful, and fall from grace, and in their humility they start to become righteous again, thus starting anew a cycle that we can see in our own lives.

Perhaps the most significant event in the Book of Mormon is the visitation of the Christ to the Americas (taking place after his Resurrection). Many LDS people see the existence of myths like Quetzaquotal as evidence of this visitation. Of course, physical evidence of Book of Mormon events is scarce and debatable, but what archeologists have found is compelling to the faithful.

Anything else while you're being so longwinded, Clay?
As a matter of fact there is. Joseph Smith provided the LDS faith with continuing revelations and scriptures. He translated Egyptian scrolls he acquired to give us The Pearl of Great Price (which retells the stories of Moses and Abraham, and with some interesting new insights). In addition, the Doctrine and Covenants is a book of latter day revelations that can still be added to, if God so directs (the President of the church would be the one to do this). Typically, LDS people combine the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants into one bound book for their own studies.

One other source of holy writing is found in the transcripts of one's patriarchal blessing. Every LDS person is entitled to get such a blessing from the area's patriarch (we'll discuss that later), and that blessing is written down and kept by the blessed individual for future reference.

What is the central teaching of your faith?
Jesus said: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." If this precept is followed, all others fall into place.

How does your faith define sin? What are the major sins, and how is one absolved?
A distinction should be made here: There is a difference between sin and transgression. Sin is any action that harms another (or yourself for that matter), while transgression is against holy law or mandate. (This is important, because it shows how LDS people do not believe Adam and Eve are sinners, but transgressors, and this helps LDS people to see Eve as a hero who performed a necessary transgression--complicated, I know).

One is absolved of either sin or transgression in many ways, including taking the sacrament and prayer. The absolution process involves recognizing the sin, praying for forgiveness, and mending one's ways.

Roughly how many adherents does your faith have?
15 million and growing by approximately 300,000 per year.

What does your faith teach about the afterlife? Is there heaven, and how do you get there?
Afterlife is a bit of a misnomer. Existence is eternal and time goes infinitely in both directions. Let me clarify, and to do that, I'll have to tell a story...

LDS people have a concept of a period of time called the pre-existence, where all of us existed as spiritual beings before our temporary, earthly existence. At some point, God, who organized our essences from primordial intelligences into spirits, let us know that we had to have an earthly existence if we wanted to be more like Him. He then asked for proposals on salvation. The being that would become known as Lucifer suggested that we should NOT have free will so that we would not risk sin and thus all return to God. The one who would become known as Jesus suggested that humans needed free will, or the ability to choose for themselves if they would disobey God and return to His presence. Lucifer was proud and wrathful, and when God decided that plan of Jesus was wise, Lucifer started an ideological war. Lucifer and his follower were eventually cast into outer darkness. So our Earthly existence is temporary, but we gain wisdom and a physical form that we will carry with us into the eternities. During our current period of time, the earth is a host to both physical and spiritual beings. Those that die during our current period are put into one of two camps, those that knew of and accepted the covenants of the gospel and those that did not accept or have the opportunity two. The first group has ministries among the second group.

However, things change a little with the coming of Judgment Day. After that period the earth will become a perfected being (we believe it has a spirit), as will the entirety of humanity, who will all be resurrected. People will then spend their existence in one of several places:

Outer Darkness: The closest LDS equivalent to hell. Lucifer and his cohorts exist in this sad place, as well as a very miniscule (only a handful) group of humans that dealt with God Himself and yet rejected him. Cain would be the only example we know of. This is not a place of eternal physical torment, but of eternal sorrow and guilt.

There are then three glories that everyone else achieves. You could think of these as different versions of heaven, enlightenment, etc. The glories are as follows:

The Telestial Kingdom: The glory of the stars, this will be the remade earth. While being the lowest of the three glories, is still a place of incomprehensible joy. This is where "bad" people go.

The Terrestrial Kingdom: The glory of the moon. Location unknown (this universe maybe?). This is where the moderately good go.

The Celestial Kingdom: The glory of the sun. Location: Probably extremely hard to define and metaphysical. The best of the best go here. And it is further divided into three strata of goodness levels. It is also often speculated (though the speculation is not by any means doctrine) that those who attain the glory of the Celestial achieve apotheosis, or a state much like it.

It is conceived that LDS families, being sealed together for all time and eternity, experience the post-mortal existence together, but how this figures into the eventuality that some will achieve higher glories than others is unknown.

One other thing should be pointed out. God, in His infinite mercy has decided that only the most virtuous attain his presence. How is this merciful? Because to be in his presence while being unworthy of it would wrack the soul with guilt. Therefore, a person in the Telestial kingdom will feel content and deserving of their eternal lot in infinity.

What are the practices of your faith? (Daily, weekly, etc.)
Daily: Pray upon rising and before sleep, and each meal, and whenever. Read scriptures. It is also beneficial to meditate upon spiritual matters and pay heed to the promptings of the Spirit.

Weekly: Attend church on Sunday and set it aside as a holy day without labors. Take the sacrament.

Monthly: Fast upon the first Sunday of the month and give the money that you would have spent on food to the poor.

How is your faith organized? Are there priests and bishops?
Indeed, but not in a Catholic sense of those words. Typically, at age 12, males are confirmed with the power and responsibility of the priesthood and given the title of deacon. They take care of simple tasks, such as collecting fast offerings (a form of alms mentioned above) and passing the sacrament.

At age 16, they become priests and their responsibilities increase (blessing sacrament, baptizing and so on).

At 19, they become elders, get more responsibility, and generally serve missions. You may notice LDS people call missionaries elders to distinguish them, though many of them, myself included, are actually elders.

A bishop is an elder chosen to serve and watch over a ward (wards are groupings of about 200 members of the faith).

Stake presidents look over and direct stakes, which are the collections of the local wards. They appoint bishops and other offices.

Mission presidents are responsible for the safety and conduct of missionaries in a given area.

The quorum of the seventy is a group in control of church issues on a more global scale. They appoint stake and mission presidents.

The quorum of the twelve is the twelve guys at the top of it all. Big decisions, appointments, and declarations come from these guys. Out of the twelve, the three oldest (in terms of age) members make up the presidency of the church with the Prophet (also known as the president) being the most influential member of these three, not to mention of the church as a whole. The prophet is the mouthpiece of God on earth, and he alone is considered to have all the keys of the priesthood. The process of becoming a prophet is relatively simple: you just have to be the oldest member of the quorum of the twelve.

The patriarch lies outside of these groupings (though he is an elder it should be pointed out). The patriarch is chosen to give patriarchal blessings to members of the stake in which he resides. In terms of power, he has very little power over the organization or direction of the church, but he still fulfills a vital and sacred position.

Are there regular services available to you locally? If so, where?
In Wyoming, there are tons of LDS churches. There are three in this town alone; I usually attend at the church on 13th street, which doubles as an institute of religion (much like a seminary).

How did you come to be a believer?
I had the good fortune to be born to a family with parents that were members of the religion. Like Most LDS people, I took the plunge and became baptized at age 8 (our age of accountability), and became a member.

What do you wish others knew about your faith?
Oh so much. I wish they knew that Mormons espouse Christian virtues. I wish the British didn't believe we have horns on our head. I wish they knew that LDS people are encouraged to explore the concepts of other religions and find their divine merits. I wish people knew that we constantly renew our beliefs and religious reform does happen. I wish people knew that we embrace minorities, and in fact have more members outside the U.S. than within. Not all of the LDS peoples live in Utah (the state in the U.S. with the greatest number of members is in fact California). I wish that people knew the priesthood is not some form of misogynist control, and in fact a bit of a burden to the males. I wish people knew that LDS people believe in a heavenly mother as well as a heavenly father.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

As always, comments are welcome here, or on his blog. If you have a
question of a more personal nature, Email it to the address on my
profile and I will pass it along.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are so deceived and its no coincidence you know so much about hell.

His Sinfulness said...

If you are so convinced of my deceived state, why post anonymously, coward?

Post a Comment