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Former Mormon: What Americans Need to Know About Mormonism

How might Mitt Romney’s faith affect his social, economic or diplomatic priorities?

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One key difference between Mormonism and other forms of Christianity is that Mormonism is highly bureaucratic and centralized in its authority. Modern Mormon teachings are shaped by a group called the Correlation Committee, consisting of the leaders of the church. All written or taught materials are run through the committee, which takes great care to craft the message and tone. These materials have significantly de-emphasized the more controversial doctrines in recent years.

Tarico: So what Mormon teachings would be controversial to other Christians?

Amini: One example is a doctrine known as the God cycle, which was put as a couplet by past Mormon prophet and president Lorenzo Snow: “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” In short, God once had a body on an Earth, was tested, and became edified and the God of our world. If we are righteous, we may also be able to fulfill that divine potential. Interestingly enough, while this doctrine was taught and re-taught by Joseph Smith and later prophets, the church has begun to de-emphasize this doctrine. Gordon B. Hinckley, prophet and president of the church last decade, was asked about this doctrine on an interview with Larry King, and replied “I don’t know that we teach that; I don’t know that we emphasize it.”

There are other doctrines that are controversial that are no longer taught, such as polygamy. Polygamy was practiced by Joseph Smith in secret, and Brigham Young solidified the doctrine and made it public, even going so far as to declare that having multiple wives is a prerequisite to attaining the highest level of paradise in the next life, and to become a god.

Young taught a number of unique doctrines, including one called the Adam-God theory. Young taught that God Himself came down to Earth in the form of Adam and started the human race. Christian opponents of Mormonism will often bring up doctrines such as the Adam-God theory, but that hasn’t really been taught since the time of Brigham Young.

The church also officially discriminated against anyone who had “even one drop of Negro blood” until 1979. Prior to that, black men were not allowed to have any authority within the church, interracial marriages were not permitted in the temple, and black people could not lead a prayer in church, among other things.

Tarico: How did it come to be OK to be Black and Mormon?

Amini: In 1979, it was overturned according to a revelation to Spencer Kimball, who was president of the church at that time. I’m actually rather surprised it took place that early – Ezra Taft Benson, who later became president of the church, once said over the pulpit at a church General Conference that the Civil Rights movement was a communist plot.

Tarico: From the outside the beliefs you listed sound strange.

Amini: They do, but I don’t think they’re really that much stranger than any other faith – we’re just used to our own flavors of strange. Mormonism even resolves and answers some of the odder quandaries of Christianity, such as why God would create the world in the first place, what happens in the next life, the issue of hell, and the concept of the Trinity.

Tarico: When we talk about Romney in the presidency, it brings up some of the same fears Kennedy faced—that his first loyalty will be to the Church authorities.

Amini: It is reminiscent of the Kennedy election, but since Mormonism is less well-known than Catholicism, that fear is reinforced by ignorance.

 
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