As the Divine Ms. M.Z. noted the other day (and Mark did, as well), many mainstream reporters who are covering the controversies about Mormonism seem to accept, as fact, that disagreements between traditional Christians and Mormon Christians are rooted in misunderstandings or bigotry. Thus, you knew it was only a matter of time before a skilled mainstream reporter attempted to do the impossible, which is to sum up thousands of pages of complex Mormon doctrine in a user-friendly Q&A. Actually, I was afraid that an unskilled reporter would get there first.
However, the editors at the Los Angeles Times assigned this task to Godbeat specialist Stephanie Simon and she took on a few of the obvious questions, in the current climate of GOP tension between Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.
This leads us, quickly, to the following reality. Here's the lede:
Since he entered the race, Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has faced questions about his Mormon faith. Last week, the former Massachusetts governor said the questions had gone too far.
He accused rival Mike Huckabee -- a Southern Baptist minister -- of attacking his religion by suggesting that Mormons believed Satan and Jesus were brothers. Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, promptly apologized.
The key word, clearly, is "suggesting."
Which then leads us to this part of the Simon Q&A:
Do Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers?
Mormon theology holds that the savior and the devil are both sons of God. Therefore, an official church website explains, "Jesus was Lucifer's older brother." But as former Mormon Bishop Scott Gordon points out, the faith also holds that all human beings are sons of God, which would make everyone a sibling of Christ (and of the devil). Mormons believe that Lucifer was not born evil but turned into a power-hungry glory-seeker. He opposed God's plan for mankind and was cast out of heaven.
That leaves a major doctrinal question hanging. What is the difference between the Mormon understanding of Jesus being a son of God, as well as each and every human being, and the creedal Christian doctrine of Jesus being part of a unique Trinity?
That leads us to the heart of the entire controversy, from the point of view of traditional Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians.
What do Mormons believe about God?
Mormons believe the Heavenly Father is the same species as man; he has a body of flesh and bone -- only more perfect than we could imagine. He's married to a Heavenly Mother. Mormons do not accept the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity; they view God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as three separate beings.
What do Mormons believe about heaven?
Mormons believe that men and women can become like God in the afterlife. This does not mean that they will replace God; he remains more perfect and reigns over all. But men and women can achieve some degree of deification and become "joint heirs with Christ," said Gordon, president of a Mormon theology group called FAIR.
This brings us right to the edge of the question that I have been asking all along. What is the status of the Mormon doctrine of "exaltation"? Has it been changed, or merely clarified? Is it still part of Mormon theology, but rarely discussed openly?
The bottom line: I am not sure that Simon has it right, when she states that the God of this earth, of this creation, remains the God who "reigns over all." Does modern Mormonism still teach that dedicated Mormons can become, not "like" God, but, literally, gods or Gods in their own right, with their own creations and worlds?
Back in 1985, I covered the funeral of Mormon President Spencer W. Kimball (left), which included an address by Barbara B. Smith, the 10th general president of the church's powerful Relief Society. In that sermon, she noted, and I quote from her written text:
"In the Colorado Rockies, I asked President Kimball a searching question. 'When you create a world of your own, what will you have in it?' He looked around at those mountains for a few minutes before he answered and then he said, 'I'll have everything just like this world because I love this world and everything in it.' ...
"What is our greatest potential? Is it not to achieve godhood ourselves?"
This text was typed in capital letters, which means that I do not know if that is "Godhood" or "godhood." That may seem like a small matter, but it is not. It's at the heart of the current conflect -- the current doctrinal conflict, as opposed to a political conflict -- that continues to muddy the waters in the current race for the White House.
There's more to the Simon Q&A, and I would be interested in hearing it dissected by Mormon readers and readers who are critics of Mormonism. Clearly, much of her info came from www.lds.org, www.mormon.org and www.fairlds.org. Should she have listed a website for Mormon critics, as well? Take, for example, the North American Mission Board of the powerful Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest non-Catholic flock.
But before you click that "comment" button, please comment only on the contents of the Simon Q&A. Tell us where you think she has done a good job and where you think she has missed the mark, a bit. Let's try not to get into another round of Mormon-bashing or apologetics.