Mormonism and the “only true and living church”

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From October 10 to November 7, we'll be discussing this book each Friday here on the blog.

From October 10 to November 7, we’ll be discussing this book each Friday here on the blog.

I once attended a sacrament meeting in which a young man bore his testimony that he was so glad to be in the “Lord’s true church” on that Sunday, because it was only in that place that he would find truth.

Any other place to be would be a “complete waste” of his time, he said.

I was simmering. Nowhere in his smug testimony was there any sense of humility or an acknowledgment that other religions have truth too — that we have much to learn from them, in fact. That Mormonism is young and untested, however energetic. That we are on a journey that many others have walked and are walking, though we use different language to describe it.

No, this guy’s witness of faith was pure self-congratulations: “We’re in the only right, 100% God-approved place we could be today, folks! YAAAAAAY US!”

Harrumph. I’d like give that arrogant young man some reading material: chapters 7 and 8 of The Crucible of Doubt, the book we’ve been working our way through on Fridays this month. (Here are the discussions for weeks 1, 2, and 3.) Especially in chapter 7 (“Mormons and Monopolies: Holy Persons ‘Ye Know Not Of'”), the authors warn of the dangers of religious conceit:

If Joseph initially thought only Mormons had access to truth or goodness, he was abruptly corrected of his misperception a year into the Church’s founding. In an 1831 revelation, the Lord told him that most of the world was under sin, “except those which I have reserved unto myself, holy men that ye know not of.The words were a poignant indication that while Joseph might be a true prophet, the Lord’s disciples were not limited to those who found themselves in the restored Church. (p 88)

I wouldn’t say that guy’s Mormon arrogance is typical, but it’s not unusual either. I’ve written before about what it felt like to sit in sacrament meeting with my Protestant husband when someone proclaimed from the pulpit that the LDS Church is the “only true and living church on the face of the earth.”

I whispered to Phil that he had better hurry up or he’d be late to services at his false and dead church.

Seriously, what other message did we imagine non-Mormons would hear, being on the receiving end of fully weaponized language like that?

So for this week’s discussion, let’s talk about Mormonism and other religions. Terryl Givens has explained before, quite beautifully, that one of the defining tensions of Mormonism is this balance between the exclusive and the universal. With that in mind . . .

  • What do you think about the idea that early Mormons’ vigorous language about other churches being “abominations” was not directed at Catholicism, as the Church has sometimes subsequently suggested, but against the Protestant teachings of Smith’s own time—namely, that God was impersonal and “unmoved by human suffering”?
  • What ideas and quotes from the Givenses’ book might help us to (politely) counter this misleading idea about Mormonism having a monopoly on the truth?
  • Do you believe this is the “only true and living church on the face of the earth today,” as some Mormon leaders have taught? What do you make of that phrase?
  • The authors quote our LDS scripture about there being “holy men that ye know not of,” noting that God’s true disciples are not limited to members of the LDS Church. When have you personally encountered grace and truth in another faith? In your experience, has the institutional Church historically been as open to truth being found in other religions as these quotes from the earliest LDS leaders might suggest?
  • Chapter 8 continues the theme of universalism and truth being found in many places by encouraging Mormon readers to cultivate spiritual “wells” in many different ways—devotional reading of Mormon and non-Mormon books, listening to music, etc. Do you agree that the Church’s emphasis on efficiency as a worthy goal has resulted in a “dependency” on the part of Mormons, as they come to expect that the Church will have an answer to every issue in life? And where is your own “well” filled?

For next week, we’ll finish up our five-week book club with the last three chapters of the book (9 to 11), with a focus on staying faithful even when God is silent.

  • From my own historical research, I am inclined to agree entirely with the Givenses that most of the vitriol from Mormon presses in the early years was aimed at cessationist Protestants. While it’s probably extreme to call Smith a crypto-Catholic, it seems true to me that Smith and the early Mormons were anti-Protestant reformers who were sympathetic to Catholicism. They were particularly offended at the cessationist consensus among Protestants (the belief that the age of miracles had “ceased” after the New Testament era). It’s nice to back away from the twentieth-century anti-Catholicism, but we are left with the fact that many early Mormons were stridently anti-Protestant. It’s hard to create something new, though, without distinguishing it from what came before. So I understand why the early Latter-day Saints would have been critical of American Protestantism.
    As a contemporary Latter-day Saint, I believe that it’s important to think deeply and sympathetically about the presence of God in the lives of people of other religions (including secularism, that urgently if intermittently religious movement in deep denial about its religiosity while still containing some important spiritual insights). I feel like the abundance of light we receive within the Church provides both the capacity and the inclination to seek out and delight in God’s presence and influence everywhere it can be found.

  • EmJen

    I found it delightful that Chapter 7, which feels heavily written by Fiona since I’ve heard her talk about these issues with such passion, came after Chapter 6, wherein they decry the idea of perfect prophets and plead for generosity in listening to our leaders both past and present. Because I think this is one of the Givens’ biggest frustrations with current church issues: this idea of “only true and living church” as described by past and present leaders can be so damaging as they describe.

    So I really think that Chapter 7 should be required reading for most everyone in the church. While the Givens provide a few examples of the side wherein members and leaders have proclaimed that the Church is the one true church, they show so many good examples of other leaders and members working through this idea in healthy ways.

    Chapter 8, on the other hand, seems a bit pie-in-the-sky. In a time when “study groups” and the institutions associated with those groups are still discouraged at least unofficially by the church, how is it that people can find watering holes? There are so many online communities because people do not feel safe talking about their ideas in church.

  • I agree with Jana and EmJen about how essential Chapter 7 is for many stripes of Mormons, whether they be Mormon absolutists (100% ALL TRUTH ALL THE TIME and NOBODY can come CLOSE!) or someone struggling with the faith. There is great hope in this chapter.

    Jana put a big hole in my theory, though, that Mormon elitism or exceptionalism is a dying generation. The dialogue concerning Mormon exceptionalism has always been around, but it has seemed to die off in the last 20 years, and it seemed like President Hinckley was a bit part of us shifting our focus. But I think we Mormons like to take the acceptance of other faiths, traditions, or whatever else is “good” and view it on our own terms, or something that reaffirms our own belief, instead of opening our eyes to find more goodness and richness that is out there to add to our religious experience (which is another theme I find often in the Givens’ writing).

    Do I believe the LDS Church is the “only true and living church on the face of the earth today”? No. But do I believe the LDS Church is a “true and living church on the face of the earth today?” Absolutely. It’s the qualifier of “only” that I think we Mormons have struggled with, both internally and externally.

  • Cary Martinez

    I agree with Ms. Reiss that this particular doctrine need not be so cavalierly emphasized in a sacrament meeting, and people need to be more careful about how they bear their testimony, so as not to appear boastful or self-righteous. Nevertheless, the doctrine itself is not false, or even questionable. This doctrine was and is taught by church leaders because it is scripture. They are the Lord´s words. Doctrine and Covenants 1:30: And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—.

    If you don´t think Joseph Smith was a prophet, then fine, this is just unfounded boasting. If you believe him to be a prophet, then this is doctrine, uncomfortable as it may be. Our dilemma then becomes whether to sweep it under the rug, or speak about it in an unoffensive way as possible.

  • JennyB

    I had a hard time with a couple things in chapter 7 – especially page 87. When the Givens talk about the wording “the only true and living church” and how it has perpetuated a false idea of ‘monopoly on the truth’, they paint that perception as if it is only harbored by a few, ill-informed members:

    “…some members may indeed harbor such unfortunate ideas… …the Lord and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have emphatically indicated a contrary perspective.”

    I must heartily and emphatically disagree with the Givens conclusion here – I have heard a very resolute and resounding message of “We, the LDS church, are the only true and living Church” from leaders and fellow members alike my whole life – that’s what the missionaries are taught to teach the world, that’s what we hear over the pulpit at General Conference and almost weekly in Sacrament Mtg, Sunday School, Priesthood & RS/YW lessons – I don’t think I’m in the minority, really, experiencing this. I’m open to the possibility that I’ve just had a strange experience personally, hearing only mostly dogmatic stances, but I highly doubt it (even a General Authority at our last Stake Conference told us that the Spirit of the Lord ONLY resides in the LDS church and that His Spirit does not exist nor dwell in any other churches – I disagreed personally when he said this – but this was supposed to be the authority above our Bishop and Stake President – a General Authority was preaching this!). I really think it’s a misperception to pretend that whoever thinks our Church is the ‘only true church’ is woefully uninformed or in the minority – the message is EVERYWHERE in our culture – most especially from our leaders.

    I’m extremely disappointed in that misrepresentation. I could grant that the Givens’ personal and local Church experience may have been more expansive and open-minded than mine, but I don’t see any evidence of it from our General leaders – leaders we share/have in common. If anything, this more liberal viewpoint (which I love, and which I wish very much existed within the church widely) is really only to be found in the Bloggernacle and from scholars in academia. It’s not coming from the top down, it’s a ground-swelling coming from the bottom up, and many aren’t convinced that it’s a genuine truth because we’re not hearing it from any leaders with authority – apostles and prophets and other area authorities and Seventy’s. The quotes that came the closest to their (Givens) ideas about universality were from the earliest prophets. More recent quotes from the current Brethren have comforting things to say about wayward children in the eternities and the like, but they’re not saying that ‘one path is as good as another to Christ’ – I’m not hearing it, anyway, not at our church.

    Am I alone in experiencing this? I would very much love for that to be the case. Sadly, I think it isn’t so. And I wish the Givens’ would’ve painted a more accurate picture. The book lost a little credibility with me in Chapter 7.

  • Windy

    “Do you believe this is the “only true and living church on the face of the earth today,” as some Mormon leaders have taught? What do you make of that phrase?”

    Jana, come on! “Some Mormon leaders”? This is in the Doctrine and Covenants! Prophets have repeated in General Conference over and over! It’s in our manuals! Doesn’t this mean anything?

    I want you to know that there really is one true and living church upon the face of the earth. God’s church has been restored to the earth. The keys of the priesthood rest with Thomas S. Monson, the living prophet. Only within the Lord’s church can baptism and other ordinances be properly performed. I promise you that if you read and pray about the Book of Mormon you can become convicted of all of this as well, by the power of God.

  • SanAntonioRob

    Agreed, Cary.

    I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive – (a) believing the LDS Church to be the “only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” and (b) knowing truth can be found and should be explored outside the doctrine of the Church. God who proclaimed to the world through Joseph Smith in D&C 1 that he was “[laying] the foundation of… the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth”. If you believe D&C 49 is God’s word, I think it’s safe to believe D&C 1 is also.

    I would agree there are many in our Church who need to learn humility, especially regarding viewing active members as “in” and others as “out”, or viewing the LDS Church as “good” and other churches as “bad”, or at least “meh”. It’s terrible to have to listen to those sentiments spoken in church. But I don’t believe that humility can or should come through disbelieving God’s own words.

  • Fred M

    In D&C 1:30 the Lord calls this church “the only true and living church on the face of the earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased.” He does not call it “the only true and living church on the face of the earth.” I believe this is an important distinction. It does not eliminate the possibility that there is another true and living church on the face of the earth; it’s merely the Lord stating that the only one he was well-pleased with was this one. If I tell my daughter she’s the only daughter I’m well-pleased with, I’m not saying she’s my only daughter. I’m saying she’s the one I like best! In fact, to say a church is the only true and living church you’re well-pleased with is in fact acknowledging that there are other true and living churches out there!

    I loved Chapter 7. I love what the Givenses are attempting to do here, especially their acknowledgement of the problem, even if I don’t think they completely succeed. I think all their quotes from early church leaders, particularly the two from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, are very powerful and should be shared with the whole church. I think this and chapter 5 should be required reading for all members, personally.

    For me there’s just the nagging issue that underlying all the talk of “there’s room for everyone in heaven” is the concept that sure, members of any faith can attain exaltation–as long as they ultimately convert to what we believe. It is what it is, and I understand it–it just makes me uncomfortable to say, “There are many paths to God–as long as you choose ours in the end.” But what else can the church teach? I just press forward with the faith that God loves his children and will take care of them. My job is to do my best to do what’s right and try to make the world a better place in the meantime.

  • Ancient One

    I’ve had the same thoughts as Fred M. At the time that Joseph recorded this, apparently the “true and living church” was well pleasing to God. There are numerous other times in the D&C where God was not well pleased with the church or its leaders, including Joseph.

    So, I’m lead to conclude that there were other “true and living” churches on the earth with which God was not well pleased.

    If that’s the case, how does God view the LDS church today? Is he “well pleased” with the organization, the collective membership?

    For the record, I am an active member of the LDS church. I love the expansive view of Christ that is contained in the core doctrine.

  • Kyle Kopitke

    Oh…….I have never felt comfortable speaking with a non-member saying that we are the only “true and living Church”; what I usually say is that the original Church that The Lord Jesus The Christ had established while He was on earth during His Mortal Ministry, had been Restored once again to the earth with The Gift of The Holy Ghost, the Priesthood God, Baptism for the Dead, keeping Sunday Holy, Paying of Tithing, Keeping The Ten Commandments all being Restored.

    The saying “True and Living Church” is Mormon culture talk or “speak”; it is not generally for non-members. Sacrament Talks are for Mormons; Yes non-members are invited, but those Talks are mostly geared towards Mormons, or those serious about joining.

    It is all how it is presented; we should present the Message of the Restoration in polite terms and respectful terms. The Holy Ghost, which is the Real Converter, is better felt by peaceful tones and kind words, though I have to say The Spirit selects the When and Where and How.

    Usually the bearing of Pure Testimony brings in The Spirit. After I joined and went on my two year Mission, I found people either felt The Spirit as the read, pondered and prayed over The Book of Mormon, or through the bearing of pure Testimony.

    I do respect that not everyone who reads, ponders and prays over The Book of Mormon receives a Witness; perhaps God has for you, like He did for my dearest Daddy, a different direction and purpose for your life. My Daddy never received the Witness that I did; he followed his(our) Savior Jesus in the Lutheran church.

    I see in some of the posts, some comments about perceived arrogance among the Mormons; the Mormon Prophet Ezra Taft Benson counseled the Saints to beware of pride, and that each of us must have a Spiritual Testimony, not just a social testimony. He stated we should share the Gospel of Jesus The Christ in humility, yet in firmness as to what The Spirit has borne witness to us.

    When I made my Indie movie, “Sisters Go Ye trailer 2” (on Youtube), I tried to share the message of the Restoration with Faith, Hope, Respect and Kindness.

    Peace to all the Brothers and Sisters in Christ in the different Christian Churches.

    Praise The Lord,
    Numbers 6:22-27
    Brother Kyle

  • Jeff P

    Ch 7:
    I had the same experience Jana’s husband did, on my visit to an LDS Church not too long ago. After a wonderful event put on by the local members, it was explained to us by a slick church film shown us by some 20-year-old kids that my church long ago stopped following Jesus Christ and, preaches a false gospel.

    I really appreciate what the Givens’ are trying to accomplish in chapters 7 and 8.

    The Givens don’t mention that Catholics and Protestants have largely (but not entirely) ‘buried the hatchet’, and both have explicitly renounced the polemical statements of the past. In the Presbyterian Book of Confessions (creeds), for example, some of the hostile language has been removed, and the preface contains a caution explaining that we don’t mean it any more.

    How do Mormons view the rest of us Christians? Are we part of the ‘Body of Christ’? Or, are we outsiders looking in, enemies? As a non-Mormon who has lived much of my life in areas blessed with many Mormons, I get very mixed-messages. Some LDS friends and acquaintances are wonderfully accepting and supportive of us, and seem to see us as brothers in Christ. However, the institutional church sometimes seems disdainful, even hostile toward of us, as do some individuals. We enjoy some wonderful programming on BYUTV, but then read on LDS website that we are ‘mostly pagan’. Polemical language, and exclusivist theology don’t strike us as abandoned relics of the past, as the Givens’ imply, rather, they seem like current thinking.

    For example: Just last week, on the very front of the LDS website (where I went to lookup some things the Givens mentioned) is a prominent link to learn about Joseph Smith. The article is about a visit God made to earth to warn Joseph Smith about Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists, telling him that “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt”; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’ “. (‘Twible’ version: “G. to Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists: you stink. ”) I also ran across Chapter 16 of the ‘Gospel Principles manual’, which a friend tells me is the LDS basic course in theology. It states that our beliefs are ‘mostly pagan’, and our churches are not Christian churches.

    The term ‘Apostate’ has a specific and very hard meaning: it refers to someone who has rejected the Christian faith, and is now in active opposition to that faith. And we all know what ‘Pagan’ means. As I understood them, even the Givens in Chapter 3 said that not not having access to LDS sacraments, Protestants/Catholic/Orthodox won’t be graced to spend eternity with God (in our theology, that means we won’t go to ‘heaven’). This language and these concepts can be offensive and hurtful, especially to those who like and respect Mormon friends and might otherwise be open to finding inspiration in LDS resources.

    I very much regret the rude comments Mormons have to endure. I have seen it, am embarrassed by it, and I know its hurtful, and I wish Mormons didn’t have to suffer from it. I would hope that someday the LDS Church would realize how divisive it is to tell us that our foundational statement of faith, the Apostles Creed, is an ‘abomination’ to our Lord. Its regrettable to hear that God views all our Seminary Professors, such as those at Princeton Theological Seminary where my pastor was educated, as ‘corrupt’.

    I really like what the Given’s are saying, and what they are trying to do in ‘Crucible of Doubt’. Although, I really appreciate their ecumenical tone, and the value they acknowledge in others.

  • Jeff P


    When I was reading the Book of Mormon recently (I’m a Protestant), I ran across an episode in Alma 31. Alma Jr. was on a mission to re-evangelize the Zoramites.
    He ran into some people who thought that they were the only people elected by God, who said to themselves “And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people” (Alma 31:18). Alma condemns their views as ‘wicked and perverse’ in verse 24. So, it seems to me that at least one Book of Mormon prophet is uncomfortable with the idea that one small group of people would hold themselves out as the only ‘chosen and holy people’.

  • Jeff P

    Regarding Jana’s last question, and Chapter 8 (I’m sorry to be so long winded here – these chapters hit kinda close to home)

    I was really taken by this quote from ch 8:
    “Since we can recognize a bond we share with him and all those committed to defending the Good, the True, and the Beautiful and find inspiration in their discipleship. Churchill we can feel at home, not just in our own Mormon community of airing saints, but in the large church without walls, peopled by the devout, the holy, and the exemplary from myriad times and traditions”.

    I have been enormously blessed by people outside my mainline Protestant tradition. I came to Christ largely because of the witness of some Catholic and Quaker saints. I admire some things I see in the Mormon community.

    The Givens’ open attitude is something we need more of, more of an appreciation for the strengths and gifts that we each have to offer each other, and a call to humility in recognizing our own limitations and weaknesses. In a world where faith in God is rapidly disappearing, a world which is hurting and has so much suffering and so many needs, we desperately need to be making a common witness for the love of Christ, and work together to serve the hurting, and not be insulting each other either ‘cults’, or ‘apostates’.

  • Karla

    Bible is very clear that what the mormons preach/teach is not Biblical/Truth!
    Jesus said many will say to Me Lord,Lord and not enter heaven so people
    need to Repent/trust Christ to be saved. Luke 13 talks about how we must
    bear good fruit and that fruit is fruit of Repentance not good works because
    good works don’t save plus many non-believers do good works. We all must
    Repent/trust in Christ to be saved. Joseph Smith got fooled by the devil and
    it’s cause he followed his own heart/sinful desires not the Lord Jesus Christ.
    Bible says Repent and believe the Gospel to be saved! We must Repent!

  • Jeff

    Frankly the LDS Church should be viewed as a meeting point between the Old Messianic Jews who followed the Messiah Yeshua and who like their leader and founder as well as his Apostles were Strict Jewish Followers of Torah and the later Romanized Christian Church which today takes the form of modern “Christianity”….at least if you study the doctrine of each. Otherwise what would be the point of our patriarchal blessing informing us what Tribe of Israel we are a part of. Jews but not Jews, Christian but Not Christian or both or something else….Mormons.

  • StokedMormon

    As a young missionary, I repeatedly taught that the LDS Church was THE One True Church. In fact, I found it frustrating when investigators would tell us that they believed our church was true, but that their own church was also true. At the time, I didn’t feel like you could have it both ways.

    Many years later, I now feel very grateful for all the truth that can be found in other faith traditions, as well as from other sources like art and scholarship. I feel like the search for my own spiritual growth has required me to step out from behind the LDS lens and strive to see things from other points of view. The Givenses’ statement that “sources of inspiration are sprinkled indiscriminately throughout time and place” resonates very strongly with me.

    Unfortunately, I feel like Mormons are taught to resist looking outside the Church for truth. As a result, our understanding of others is inevitably limited. Church classes where truly fresh insights are shared are more often the exception than the rule. Furthermore, I have heard many people defend the frequent repetition of certain topics on the basis that they represent the fundamentals, which we clearly have not mastered. In any other pursuit in life, our teachers do not expect us to achieve perfection with fundamental skills before attempting more advanced ones. Personal growth comes as we challenge ourselves, as we struggle with tasks or ideas that make us uncomfortable. In a religious setting, this principle is what keeps us from “being imprisoned within the outline of any single dogmatic system,” as Samuel Taylor Coleridge is quoted as saying.

    I love the Church for all the things that the Givenses rightly credit it for providing: a framework for service, an occasion for community, a place to worship, and, perhaps especially, a place to learn to get along with people we might not choose as neighbors or family. All of these provide important opportunities to be strengthened through spiritual exercise. But I feel like I have experienced more personal growth from trying to explore the full breadth and depth of human experience than I ever could have within the narrow confines of typical Mormon discourse.

  • Art

    Jesus said: John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”.
    I don’t know about all the other writings but this seems clear. Good luck Mormons!

  • Sam, thanks for this. One question, though. I felt when I read chapter 7 that the early Mormons’ critique of Protestantism was something of a strawman. The idea that the “abomination” referred to in the First Vision was actually because of Protestants’ depersonalization of God seems based on a pretty flawed view those Mormons may have had about Protestantism — namely, that it was so effectively depersonalized by the Enlightenment that God emerged without body, parts, or passions . . .

    I think a historical case can be made that God was disembodied in this time period, and that the notion of God having a physical form had become anathema. (This was not new, however.) I don’t agree that a similarly strong case can be made for the Protestant God lacking emotion or empathy. We’re still talking about the Second Great Awakening here! Many Protestants were emphasizing the deep emotional heart of God. So for Mormons to say they weren’t (or to paint all Protestant traditions with the same broad brush in the first place) feels like a caricature.

  • Fred M. wrote:

    In D&C 1:30 the Lord calls this church “the only true and living church on the face of the earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased.” He does not call it “the only true and living church on the face of the earth.” I believe this is an important distinction.

    I agree, and I’d take it one step further. There is a conditionality to the original statement that seems lost in our retellings. The verse does not say that God will *always* be well pleased with this church, or that the church can never do wrong. In fact, the words that immediately follow seem to suggest that the church is being addressed as a collective, as an institution rather than as individuals — and that if those who have light and truth then fall into sin, what light they had been given could be removed.

  • JeffP, I don’t have an answer for you, but I’m very glad that you’re part of this discussion. Your experiences as a Protestant who is trying to understand Mormonism are instructive.

    (Also, I loved your Twible version of the First Vision.)

  • Karla, do you have anything to add that would pertain to the discussion of this particular issue and/or this particular book? This is the second generic comment you’ve thrown in here to let everyone know that Mormonism is a false religion, Joseph Smith was a false prophet, Mormons believe in works righteousness, etc.

    We have heard all this before. Please stay on topic or your comments will be deleted.

  • Kevin Barney

    Sam, I agree with your instinct here. I blogged on this idea once:

  • From a personal perspective (and as a gay Mormon), I’ve been kind of ‘forced’ to do what I call “diversify my spiritual portfolio.” That’s been a tremendous blessing to me, but it wasn’t easy. Yes, we do as Mormons have a propensity to believe that good things will come only from the Church, which I think has been reinforced by well meaning individuals inside the Church itself—but I also think that’s made us a little spiritual lazy. Meaning, we expect our spiritual well-being to be handed to us often, without having to do the actual work of forging a personal path alongside our Savior.

    I spend a good deal of time with interfaith friends. Our group tends to leave judgments of other faiths at the door, which gives us the freedom and flexibility to genuinely learn from one another. My own spiritual path has broadened and my relationship with my Savior has deepened as I’ve incorporated other tools to get closer to Him. One of my all-time favorites is my God Box practice. (You can learn more about it here:

    I’ve also added a healthy dose of meditation every week—we don’t talk about it much inside Mormonism, but I’ve kind of come to the conclusion it’s the second part in prayer. Prayer is where I communicate with my Savior and ask for the guidance I need; meditation is where I sit still and listen for His response. As someone who has a hard time sitting still, meditation is not easy—I’ve found it helpful to attend Buddhist meditation meetings in my area as a way of helping me cultivate this skill.

    Yes, our Savior and Heavenly Parents have planted goodness all around us—they do not hide solely behind the walls of the Mormon Church. When we make the mistake of becoming spiritually lazy, and want to be told what to do, when to do it, and what to wear when we’re doing it—we miss out on many great and wonderful truths to be found all over, and in the process give short shrift to our own spiritual paths and personal relationships with our Savior.

    Our Savior doesn’t just require an open heart. He also requires an open mind—not one that’s locked firmly shut behind the iron gate of what we think we already know. (channeling Pres. Uchtdorf there!)

  • Robert Couch

    Amen to these comments on how D&C 1:30 might(/ought to) be interpreted in ways that aren’t so self-serving and self-congratulatory.

    I’d add that the condemnation of the Church in D&C 84:55ff might be understood as a sort of withdrawal of the praise offered in D&C 1:30.

    (I’ve only read chapter 7 so far. I really like the main point of this chapter, though it felt a bit heavy on GA quotes — but what great quotes! — and a bit thin in terms of developing the ideas. That is, this chapter felt like it was sounding the same note via multiple quotes, rather than developing the point in rich, more in-depth, subtle, and/or insightful ways, such as some of the directions some of the comments here have suggested….)

  • Robert Couch

    Oh, one more thought: I was a mildly disappointed that the chapter didn’t address the common metaphors used in today’s Church (by countless missionaries, is my sense) of the partial vs. complete truth.

    My own experience is that Mormons these days have fairly respectful attitudes toward other religious followers (of course I hear Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Buddhist bashing from time to time, but not that often), but there’s usually an undertone that these other religions have only part of the truth, and should be commended for following what light and knowledge they have. And sometime there’s an expression of admiration for the exemplary examples of faith or goodness of those in other religions. But seldom is there any acknowledgement that those in other religions have actual insight or knowledge that Mormons could benefit from.

    Chapter 7 seemed to do little to counter this particular concern, and in so doing I worry that the chapter will serve to — at least in some subtle ways — reinforce this attitude of admiring the moral examples of those in other religions, but not taking this respect to the next level where insights and understandings about God or spirituality could be gained by studying others’ religions.

    (Perhaps part of this concern of mine will be touched on in chapter 8? Also, I want to reiterate that I really like the main point of chapter 7 — I just can’t help looking for weakness on which I hope subsequent work, by the Givenses or other Mormon writers, can build!)

  • I am enjoying the discussion. On many other forums I have applauded the Givens’ effort and ideas. I am also glad they have found a way to create a faith place for themselves in Mormonism. I thought I had, too, but as the years roll on I am less secure in it, probably because my spouse has already left and the family divide is painful.

    I wish the Givens’ vision of Mormonism, existed, less people would feel hurt. However – they are not in charge of the church and the main body of the LDS church that surrounds me would choke on the ideas in these chapters. Like others have mentioned here, it isn’t a minimal group. For most practicing members – it is the One True Church, with the only infallible leadership on the earth – everything and everyone else is good, but not complete.

    The other part that breaks my heart about the lovely ideals in the Givens’ books is the realization that only struggling members who already have to shift their paradigm should they choose to stay, will ever read the books. Traditional faithful practicing members have no doubts – the title on the cover won’t even grab them. Someone, somewhere needs to write a book to the believer and help them realize what it feels like from the other side.

  • Jeff P


    You address a question that has been on my mind this whole book:
    Where does the Givens’ thinking fit-in in relation to the larger church. Are they describing things as most people see them? Or, are they advocating a different way of seeing things, different from prevailing opinion?
    Just from the little reading I have done on the LDS website, and from growing-up around LDS communities, I have gotten the impression that, as you say, they are rather more ‘expansive’ than the official church. I am curious what you and others would say about that.

  • Tom&Larissa

    The Mormon vision is that truth can be found in many religions and places. Many hymns, for example, sung in LDS meetings were written by good people of other faiths. BUT the question is really where can be found all of the authority, teachings, and ordinances necessary to obtain the highest blessings of Heaven? Mormons call this the “fullness of the gospel.” It is sometimes said that Mormons have three heavens. While the first two seem open to honorable people of all faiths, the highest requires that whatever faith people may begin in there is only one in which they may end.

    Doctrine and Covenants 132: 6-8 And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God. 7 And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead. 8 Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.”

    In D&C 76 others will partake of God’s glory, but not the fullness. God has not appointed numerous competing agents and authorities to represent him on earth. Mormons who understand their doctrine understand that all the ordinances, sacraments,commandments, and authority necessary to secure the highest blessings of heaven are vested in but one church, guided by the single prophet chosen at any one time by God under the direction of Christ. Those interested in securing the glory of God have many choices for religions. Those interested in securing the fullness of his glory have but one–the one place where all necessary things may be found. The Bible confirms one Lord, one faith, on baptism, and that there will be apostles and prophets until we all come in the unity of the faith.

    The temptation to lawyer the meaning of a verse in the Doctrine and Covenants into a meaning contrary to what the appointed prophets and apostles have said it means, and contrary to the other Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, should be avoided.

    In short, it IS the only Church that both carries the name of Christ, is organized as Christ organized his Church with a quorum of 12 apostles, etc., which has the sealing authority to bind on earth and in Heaven and given to the prophet Peter, is directed by continuing revelation from Christ, and has all necessary teachings to the highest salvation.

  • Jeff P

    I think you’ll like chapter 8 – they talk about how to actually approach drinking from ‘other wells’, and the benefit of doing so.

    In your first sentence, you refer to ‘metaphors’ in common use. Do you feel that some of the ‘only true church’ language is actually metaphorical? Would you elaborate?

    I think your second point it a good one, and I got that same impression from Chapter 7: that devout non-Mormon individuals in history seemed to have arrived at their state in isolation, almost in spite of their traditions.. I am not sure if they are saying that, but I disagree with that idea. People, even great saints, don’t develop in a vacuum. They are partly influenced and conditioned by their faith tradition. The Givens quote from Willimon and Hauerwas opening chapter 3 says this:
    “Saints are nothing without a community of memory…To be a communion of saints makes saints possible”. So, if we see a Julian of Norwich, or an Elizabeth Ann Seton , we have to know that they didn’t get where they were without a little moulding, inspiration, training, and guidance of their Catholic tradition. They weren’t saints ‘in spite of’ being Catholic, their Catholic church was part of (but only part) infusing them with a selfless love of God, and others.

  • Jeff P

    Thanks Jana:
    I have enjoyed it – although the Givens assume more LDS theology than I understand, many of the issues are things all Christians struggle with, including myself.

    Oh, as for the Twible:
    I am reading wonderful commentary on the Wisdom Literature, by Ellen Davis, that I found from referring to your Twible bibliography . I have just finished her commentary on Ecclesiastes, and its wonderful – I’ve gotten SO much more out of Ecclesiastes.

  • Robert Couch

    Jeff P., I had in mind the two metaphors that are — in my experience — extremely common among missionaries (at least they were common when I was a missionary about 20 years ago): truth is like a piano or a mirror, and other churches have some keys or shards of truth, but Mormonism has all of them.

    (Thanks for the heads up on ch. 8 — this is the second week in a row I’ve embarrassed myself and that the Givenses have anticipated my concerns in one chapter by addressing them in the very next chapter!)

  • Rosalynde Welch

    Discussing prophetic fallibility last week, I worried that the Givens’s liberalized approach, while solving some problems, would unintentionally cause others by undermining the sacerdotal meaning at work in the temple.

    This week I have no such worries. I loved the authors’ contextualizing, unpacking, and ultimately neutralizing of the “one true church” item. I don’t think this particular update to old-school Mormonism is likely to undermine other core teachings or practices, and I don’t think letting go of competitive denominationalism — once an important draw in proselytizing — will affect missionary efforts in any significant way. People just don’t care what the “true church” is anymore — they don’t think in those terms, and the question isn’t urgent in anybody’s spiritual life. Instead, they are drawn to teachings that situate them, connect them, and secure them in an insecure world. So goodbye and farewell to an idea that is no longer even a useful fiction.

    The authors’ contention that the fiery denominational language was largely directed at Protestants, not Catholics, is an interesting one. To complicate the matter, the “whore of Babylon” imagery in the Book of Mormon owes a lot to Protestant anti-popery rhetoric during the Reformation. Mormonism, then as now, was deeply involved in its surrounding culture, fiercely critical of some aspects of the “world” even as it unconsciously absorbs much of its language.

    If I were to make a criticism of this week’s readings, I suppose it would be in ch 8, p 103, where the authors suggest that a too-facile division of culture from doctrine — the former corrupt and retrograde, the latter pure and eternal — is unsatisfactory, and that they will propose a better model. I fully agree– both that the culture/doctrine divide doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, and that we need a better model — but if they proposed an alternative, I missed it. We need *some* way to make it okay for us to leave behind particular teachings and practices, but relegating those after-the-fact to “culture” doesn’t work. (I for one believe it may be historically-situated, socially-constructed culture all the way down.)

  • Robert Couch

    Jeff, my own sense of the relatively recent history of this issue is that from the 1970s, or so, the Catholic Church was, for all intents and purposes, understood as “the great and abominable church” mentioned in Nephi’s apocalyptic visions of the last days — and this belief seems to have propagated the insular and exclusivist ideas of previous generations of Mormons (which, as has been mentioned, were more understandably trying to establish differences with Catholics and Protestants).

    I think this essentially anti-Catholic view was pretty common among Mormons, due in part to Bruce R. McConkie’s book title Mormon Doctrine (Bruce R. McConkie was a member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles from 1972-1985, and he wrote several books that became quite popular and influential).

    In 1978 the Church issued this fairly ecumenical statement that praises “Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others.” Since that time, there have been several references in General Conference that build upon this ecumenical view (and I think Alma 29:8 confirms this, where God’s word is said to be among all nations in their own tongue).

    Also, starting in the 1980s there was a concerted effort by several BYU professors (esp. Stephen Robinson, Robert Millet, and David Paulsen) to dialogue with Protestant pastors and theologians about similar teachings (and mutual respect regarding differences), esp. regarding the doctrine of grace. (My sense is that Mormons prior to this frequently bashed Protestants for teaching cheap grace — a tendency that is probably still fairly common among Mormons, is my sense.)

    Note, however, the conspicuous omission of Catholic names or references in the 1978 statement. Also, there’s no question that these improved attitudes among Mormons toward other Christians has been quite slow. This is partly b/c several closely related and only subtly different ideas continue within Mormonism today (regarding Priesthood as a unique claim to authority, rivaling only Catholicism’s claim back to St. Peter for priesthood authority, and the closely related idea that only a Mormon baptism is effectively salvific, etc.). And it’s partly b/c Mormon culture has tended to change very, very slowly….

  • ron

    Zenos’ s parable in jacob describes quite well why other religions have portions of truth. As the branches grew and decayed the lord cut and grafted branches in the nether most parts of the garden. These distant branches have the truth they took with them as they were cut from the tree and then regrafted. As the lord is now gathering these branches from the distances of the earth for the last time it would be normal to expect truths from other religious traditions to be re-found by mormons.

    Speaking to the phrase the “one true church” can mean many more things than its literal translation. It could mean that the church is the legal administrator of the ordinances or it could also mean the lords acceptance of our church collectively obviously or it could mean that our church is the organization that is collecting all truths as both brigham young and gordon b hinkley said bring the good you have and lets add to it.

    Dont let what other people say in their testimony get you in a fit. The words people use can mean many literal or esoteric things and getting all huff and puff only limits your growth not someone elses.

  • Dave

    “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”” – Joseph Smith, History

    It should be clear then that any religion that is seeking to follow God and obtain His power is a true as ours. In fact, seeing that we now reject revelation, I’d say we’re on the same level as any other church. After all, we don’t add to the D&C, have no clue what to do about things like women and the priesthood, polygamy, etc so we too draw close with our lips while denying the very power Smith enjoyed that day.

  • To add a little bit to Jana’s mention that the end of D&C 1:30 talks of the Lord speaking to the church “collectively and not individually,” I tend to always think here that in this instance (and perhaps the whole verse and even section) should be read in terms of the wider view of “church” that is often found in the scriptures. After all, the very first verse in the section is a call to “Hearken, O ye people of my church…” and who it says some are from afar and others are upon the isles of the sea. I don’t think in this case he is referring to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but rather the larger “church” (community–after all, we call ourselves “members” far more often that “believers”). One place where we can get a sense of this wider usage is in D&C 10:67 (a revelation given in 1828, nearly two years before the LDS Church was even organized) it says “Whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.” In the Book of Mormon (1 Ne 14:10), an angel tells Nephi that there are “two churches only” (church of the Lamb of God and church of the devil), and surely there the angel is not talking about an organization such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but rather people who either line up in their desires to come unto God/become godlike or not. We have other places in scripture where someone can hold the priesthood and yet because of their acting out of alignment with Spirit the revelation will say “amen to the priesthood” of that person. In ways like this, being “in” the church of God or out of it is a fluid matter. And that is what I think might be what is hinted at at the end of D&C 1:30, that it is the collective of the wider body of believers with whom God is well pleased.

  • There hasn’t been nearly as much discussion of Chapter 8 as there has been 7, so let me highlight one part of 8 which really resonated with me. It’s in the text of the testimony from a woman who had been feeling marginalized (pages 104-06). In the part where she shared about not really having gotten to know the bishop before the previous fast Sunday, she says, “I realized that I had never given my bishop the opportunity to get to know me or understand my frame of mind. I have been guarded and aloof in every interaction I have ever had with him . . . . I have never told anyone in my ward anything about my thoughts and feelings and I have kept myself a safe distance from personal interaction because I have been afraid of the judgment and marginalization that might occur should they discover my true feelings about things.”

    Her mention of being “guarded and aloof” when around ward members who didn’t know her completely matches my own way of attending church for several years during the early stages of my faith transition. I gave off anything but an “I’m happy to be here and I’d like to get to know you” vibe. Partly my aloofness came because I had not yet learned how to speak of my still-reeling faith from various wrecking balls that had shattered much of my belief system. Partly, though, it came from a sense of superiority I felt for knowing certain things about Mormonism’s messy history or the unreliability of scriptural narratives that “they” didn’t know but I was sure they’d reject if I tried to share anything about it with them.

    One of the biggest shifts for me came when I simply decided I’d try smiling at people instead of looking away when they were walking toward me. When that started to pay off in terms of folks saying hello and asking how I was (totally generic but at least chances to say words and be a normal human being around them) I found myself softening towards them. Maybe they have goodness and other things to teach me/remind me about even if they “haven’t read all that I’ve read.” Soon I started making actual friends and found myself looking forward to church, not so much to be taught anything about God or to hear really insightful spiritual thoughts, but to see them. The more I relaxed into relationships and greater ward life, the more those other things came. I learned a lot from them and found in return that they were interested in much that I had to share. Of course, I could only broach difficult subjects in small doses (more so in outside-of-church conversations with people), I learned to see the wisdom of that. I didn’t shift overnight, so how or why could they? And I certainly didn’t yet have my own spiritual journey together enough to really teach anything deep or profound that could serve as an attractor for someone else to be drawn towards.

    Eventually my “rejections” of past formulations of Mormonism became “embracings” of things I was gaining from interacting with people and being reminded that it isn’t always about “being right” about stuff, but also (as Chapter 8 is about) from my own wider spiritual readings (some LDS, but most not) and active inner life. Now, years later, I’m my full unorthodox self with close friends, 75 percent open about all my spiritual adventuring to another group of folks in my ward or former wards who know me well, and for the rest of my ward I don’t think there is anyone who wouldn’t have gathered that I’m pretty unorthodox, but who would also know I’m friendly, always willing to listen, and that I show up for projects and people. Some I’m sure think I’m a bit dangerous because of all the study I’ve done and occasionally share bits and pieces of and the do not want to get too close to me, but I think they still see me as “faithful,” still want me around.

    I highly recommend smiling over projecting “guarded and aloof.” Even if it is scary and we open ourselves to possible rejection, it’s also the only way we can really ever be known, which is what I think we all crave more than anything.

  • SanAntonioRob

    I actually think the grammar points to the exact opposite. It says the “only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth[comma] with which I, the Lord, am well pleased”. Now I am admittedly not an English major, but it seems to me if you were meaning to say there are other true and living churches but you are only pleased with this one, you would say “only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth[no comma] with which I, the Lord, am well pleased”. Or perhaps you could just be more direct and say there are other true and living churches. From my perspective, putting a comma there ends one thought (only true and living church), while indicating God is pleased with the church.

    Now, whether other true and living churches are now in existence or whether the LDS church stopped being true and living is another argument altogether.

    And I don’t think belief that God called the LDS church the “only true and living church” is either self-serving or self-congratulatory. After all, as has been pointed out already, God clarifies He is not indicating His pleasure with individual people – so no kudos to me or anybody else.

  • Hannah

    My daughter just showed me this article this morning, This article is followed by a family activity page ( suggesting that we learn to respect other cultures and religions and it seems to fit with the above discussion. My daughter was anxious to show me the article and she said, “Look, Mom. The Church is teaching that there is good in other churches!”

  • Robert Couch

    Dan, thanks for sharing this experience — I think it’s a a very profound example for many of us, and it’s a particularly good reminder for me right now.

  • Robert Couch

    There’s a lot that I like in chapter 8, but I confess a gnawing feeling of disappointment that I’m not sure I can quite put my finger on.

    I really like how the Givenses argue that finding spiritual nourishment is a personal/private understanding that can’t take place only once a week. And I like the distinction between culture and the Gospel, and that the cultural aspects of the Gospel are something we can take responsibility for and improve.

    One aspect of my disappointment is rooted, I think, in the relative weakness of the spiritual nourishment metaphor. As I expressed above, before reading this chapter, I was worried that the Givenses aren’t really providing an argument for actually learning from other religions. If we’re only receiving spiritual nourishment (the “watering place”) from those of other religions, this suggests (at least to me) something other than actual learning.

    Also, perhaps some of my disappointment is that the Givenses aren’t really providing much discussion of doubt itself (and/or an account of their opposite, such as what it means to exercise faith or hope in the presence of uncertainty). There are several hints and gestures in this direction about the nature of faith and hope, including the really moving testimony quoted at the end of the chapter. But I found it difficult to see the relation between this testimony and the themes being developed earlier in the chapter.

    Maybe I just need to sit back and ponder the connections between the various ideas in this chapter more, and/or reread it in order to understand more clearly what the Givenses are saying. Or maybe others can help me: as I’m currently understanding the chapter, we’re supposed to take responsibility by exercising our agency to spiritually nourish ourselves by being patient as our faith develops and grows, by participating in our wards, and by reading good poetry and literature. Is this a good summary of the chapter, or am I misunderstanding something, or otherwise missing something important? (Thanks in advance for any help!)

  • Amisoz

    Does it seem like the Givens are employing the ‘motte and bailey’ tactic throughout the book, or at least represent the ‘motte’ portion of the tactic? A motte and bailey refers to a type of castle during medieval times. The motte was a large mound with a small castle on top that wasn’t very nice to live in. The bailey was the surrounding fields, which were nice to live in and produced enough to make a living. The whole thing was surrounded by a ditch.

    When an enemy comes, people retreat to the motte and shoot them with arrows until they leave. But as soon as they leave, the defenders go back down to the bailey so they can live comfortably and do their thing. So when using the motte and bailey tactic, one will make a strong and indefensible statement, and when challenged, retreat to something that doesn’t mean much, but is more defensible.

    It seems that the Givens represent the more defensible position. “The Church is the only true and living church upon the face of the earth.” (bailey). Yes, but I’ve found a lot of truth and goodness outside of the Church. And the church has been completely wrong on previous issues that make me question that claim. “But the Church doesn’t have a monopoly on truth. God loves all of his children, and he will save them because he is a just God.” (motte). Of course that’s defensible, but *that’s* not the Church that I was taught to believe in, or that I go to sometimes, or that the Prophet says it is in General Conference, etc. When you don’t challenge it, the Church goes back to preaching that it has a monopoly on truth and salvation.

  • HarryStamper

    Speaking of being offended at church. Luke chapter 4:16-30….is about Jesus Christ going back to Nazareth the hometown of His youth, He preached and read from the scriptures in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The men in the temple proclaimed…”Is not this Joseph’s son?”…He explained the scriptures to them basically calling the men of the temple false and hypocrites…..their response..??? “And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.”

    Basically they tried to kill Jesus, friends and neighbors from where He grew up were so offended. Perhaps hearing talks and testimonies that are “hard” to hear or accept is part of representing the Savior.

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  • I think your understanding of chapter 8 is pretty accurate. It does feel like the authors opened the door to a general notion of what it might look like to benefit from the teachings of other faiths, but there’s not much that is concrete. Maybe that’s because they’re truly encouraging us as readers to go and do this for ourselves, and they resist giving specific examples of models because they want us to avoid the idea that got us into trouble in the first place: imagining there’s only one right way to go about it.

    Still, I would have liked to hear more personal stories of the “holy envy” they harbor for other religions. For example, in a few weeks I’m going to publish a companion volume to “Flunking Sainthood” — a daily devotional called “Flunking Sainthood Every Day.” Out of 365 devotions only a few are from Latter-day Saints. The others are culled from the writers whose words have brought me to life: Richard Foster, Madeleine L’Engle, Kathleen Norris, and many more. I would have liked to include more Mormon thinkers and writers but, frankly, there’s very little that isn’t self-referential or self-congratulatory. Too many Mormon leaders make points by quoting each other rather than drawing from wells of common human experience.

  • Fred M

    I actually was an English major, but comma rules still confuse me! I’m not sure there is a conclusive answer to what that comma means–because from what I know of grammar rules, the sentence is actually grammatically incorrect with that comma placement. It’s a very awkward way of expressing the idea which is the standard interpretation. Because of that to me it makes sense to ignore the comma (the way most of us in the church ignore that inconvenient comma in section 89!). But I may very well just be interpreting it the way that makes me feel the most comfortable (again, the way we do section 89).

  • JennyB

    From Jeff P. “Jenny: You address a question that has been on my mind this whole book: Where does the Givens’ thinking fit-in in relation to the larger church. Are they describing things as most people see them? Or, are they advocating a different way of seeing things, different from prevailing opinion?”

    Hi Jeff P. I have started & then stopped several replies to you over the last few days. I think it boils down to me not being able to speak for the “larger church” (or even know quite how to define “larger church” or “prevailing opinion”).

    The “official” Church as an institution/corporation is easier to assess – but I still run into some difficulty – Do I include correlated teaching and study materials? Rogue General Authority comments? Nothing but ‘Official Declarations, Proclamations, or Statements’? Any way you slice it, it’s STILL messy. (Contrary to what one might suppose, I think that messiness is a good thing. I find absolute certainty about things to be something of a red flag. No one learns anything when they think they already know it.)

    But stating how accurately even an official church statement matches an individual’s personal faith journey is something I think I ought to avoid. I’d like to be more open to listening to differing narratives – so I don’t want to presume I know the place the Givens’ thinking belongs in relation to prevailing opinion.

    But if you’re curious about my own opinion & experience, it is this: I don’t hear anything close to the Given’s descriptions (about universality, about the LDS church NOT being the One and Only true church) at my local LDS church services. Things the Givens say in their book would, as Carrie (Nov. 2, @ 7:57 pm) put it, be “choked on” in my own congregation.

    And re: Jana’s example:

    “a young man bore his testimony that he was so glad to be in the ‘Lord’s true church’ on that Sunday, because it was only in that place that he would find truth… I wouldn’t say that guy’s Mormon arrogance is typical, but it’s not unusual either.”

    To me the scenario and language IS typical. I hear it all the time at church. (It’s not always marinating in outright arrogance- but the exclusive language is there).

    I think it’s also telling, that the “fairly ecumenical statement” Robert Couch links to (Nov 3, @12:09 am) includes this phrase “We also declare that the gospel of Jesus Christ, restored to his Church in our day, provides the *only* way to a mortal life of happiness and a fullness of joy forever. For those who have not received this gospel, the opportunity will come to them in the life hereafter if not in this life.” (1978 Official First Presidency Statement, emphasis mine.)

    I have not heard anything from official sources refuting the “only” in that 1978 statement. (Which is why I commented on this blog in the first place. The Givens’ assertion that Church leaders have “emphatically indicated a contrary perspective” to the One and Only narrative blew me away because I could not disagree more.)

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what the Givens are saying (and I’m open to that – if I am misconstruing what they’re saying, I would love to hear about it.) In my view they are skating on this razor’s edge, wanting it both ways. [No, we are not the one and only true church (but yes, follow the asterisk and read the fine print legalese at the bottom. “We, the LDS church are the custodians of the rituals – and the authority needed for said rituals, ordinances, covenants – necessary for salvation.”) But we don’t want to say that too much, so let’s just downplay/quasi-ignore that pesky technicality.]

    Don’t get me wrong – I actually LOVE the ideas the Givens are setting forth – I just am not seeing it the way they describe it. I think it’s telling that when President Uchtdorf mentioned the Church making mistakes over the pulpit in General Conference a couple years ago (“there have been SOME things said and done that COULD cause people to question… there MAY have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine” – emphasis mine) – it was HUGE news. I remember exactly where I was sitting in my house when I heard him say this. It was earth shattering – a member of the First Presidency just admitted publicly that the Church & its leaders *may* have made mistakes!!! Wow! We’ve never heard the official institutional church admit such a thing! This talk hit the New York Times it was so radical & “news”. Yet, the Givens write about prophetic fallibility as if it’s an “Of course!”. Maybe a lot of people thought “Of Course!” when President Uchtdorf mentioned the Church’s fallibility, but it also stunned many people that it was spoken outright. (Before that it was, in my own experience, a “don’t say this out loud” kind of admitting, if admitted at all.)

    I also found it fascinating that the TBM’s (Mormon’s who are all-or-nothing, Truth with a capital T, no doubts, no questions) didn’t really hear that part of Uchtdorf’s talk – they just heard him say “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith” – and thus ensued an onslaught of weaponized memes all over the web (“Doubt your doubts people!”) seeming to condemn doubt as wrong/bad/sinning/off-track, what have you. People often hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see.

    Which brings me back to my opinion – it is mine – I’m sure it doesn’t speak for the larger church or prevailing opinion. If I sound a mite too passionate about this subject it’s because I am. I married into an all-or-nothing Mormon family and half of them have left the church (including my spouse). I would love for EVERYONE to read the Given’s book about the Crucible of Doubt. Some of my family members think that “not questioning” is the highest form of faith to be displayed. (They also have Joseph Smith family DNA in their blood and genes, it’s understandable that this is more than a religion to them, it is their heritage, their family literally, their story, their legacy – I do get it – or I try to.) But I also get how divisive black and white thinking is, and how damaging it can be to a fractured faith and a family fractured in faith – there is pain, deep deep pain on ALL sides of this – it’s deeply painful to be a faithful LDS & think that half your family is deceived by Satan & is going to hell. It’s deeply painful to feel you’ve been betrayed by an institution you have put your whole heart and soul (and money and time) into, only to realize things didn’t happen the way you were taught (whitewashed history). It’s deeply painful to be somewhere in between those 2 stances – a believer who doubts, a faithful member with questions, watching the polarizing scene unfold, with all its blame and side-taking and elephant-in-the-room stress.

    It’s a heckuva time to be in this Church, Jeff P. Thanks for asking.

  • Robert Couch

    Amen to what JennyB has said. My experience has been somewhat different, but I have admittedly lived in relatively liberal wards (or at least wards with a fair number of fairly open-minded people). I’ve encountered the attitudes Jenny has described frequently enough to believe them to be quite widespread (still).

    So, I agree that the Givenses are making more of a prescriptive rather than descriptive gesture here: we ought to understand Mormonism as open to learning (or at least open to being inspired by) other faiths (even if particular claims to truth and/or exclusive priesthood authority are preserved…). And, as I understand them, the Givenses are quoting early Church authorities in order to suggest that this openness is something fundamental to Mormonism, even if we moved (esp. culturally) a fair ways away from this kind of openness toward learning from other religions in subsequent time periods (esp. early and mid 20th century).

    I would nevertheless reiterate that I think Church leaders made a fairly big step forward in this direction over the pulpit in recent decades, maybe most obviously when the Olympics came to SLC (I esp. remember Elder Ballard’s talk on the “Doctrine of Inclusion” around that time — I also noticed what seems to be an uptick in General Conference talks citing Confucius, Mohammed, Plato, Aristotle, and Da Vinci in an approving way since that time).

    And I think this progress was furthered with Pres. Hinckley who was always pretty savvy with PR stuff (and having a play-nice attitude toward other faiths is, of course, a good PR move), and then again when Mitt Romney ran for president.

    But I imagine recent General Conference talks could also be found that take a more exclusivist tone also during this time period, so I fully admit to cherry-picking examples here. And it bears repeating again that Mormon culture moves extremely slowly — so even if my point about Church leaders talking a bit more about openness in recent decades is granted, that doesn’t imply that attitudes among general Church membership have improved significantly in this regard (though I confess I harbor real hope that Gen Y Mormons are significantly better in this respect than the older generations).

  • Jeff P

    Hi JennyB:

    I can really feel your anguish over the conflict in your family caused by this issue. It seems like such a black-and-white dividing line between ‘inside’ the church and ‘outside’ the church can contribute to divisiveness and hurt. It is especially tragic that the body of christ would be the cause of family hostility and estrangement. One thing I really value about the mainline Protestant tradition is the embracement of ‘mystery’, and the openness to questioning (within limits) and people struggling with doubts. Now, of course this has a downside too.

    I appreciate your experiences, and the way you acknowledge your experiences as compared to church ‘teaching’.

    I get very much the same impression that you describe, about the Given’s being unusually ‘open’, which is why I was curious if I was reading the situation correctly As I mentioned in another post, like you, I sense a big difference between what the Givens’ are saying, and what I read on the LDS website (I’m thinking of where I just saw non-Mormon Christians called ‘mostly pagan’).
    I have gotten the strong impression, both from the comments here, and the very cautious way the Givens talk about this (as well as what they don’t say), that indeed the church leaders do think that the LDS Church is the ‘one and only Church of Jesus Christ’, and the rest of Christianity is ‘mostly pagan’. Even Jana seems very cautious with her words here.

    Like you, I really appreciate what they are trying to do.

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