Tuesday

Follow Up: President Obama & Governor Romney: Two Sides Of The Same Coin

I am posting this tonight, as the polls close, to remove the notion, as best I can, that my reason for publishing it is political. I assure you my purpose is not political. This is a follow-up to my earlier article President Obama & Governor Romney: Two Sides Of The Same Coin. I will publish it again perhaps tomorrow. No matter how the election turns out I think my observations are extremely relevant. If you are going to comment on or discuss this post please read my first article and this one fully before doing so.

Since publishing that article I have been willingly, and at times unwillingly, engaged in lengthy discussions by every conceivable means: texting, e-mail, social media, and, my old favorite, verbal discussions. I have been amazed, encouraged, disappointed, and sometimes downright disillusioned at much of what I have heard. Mostly I have experienced the latter two.

Let me first say that I, as a supporter of religious liberty, have no problem with someone running for office who doesn't agree with my faith or worships a different god. I also understand that in American politics someone's religious belief will not generally be part of the public debate. I actually thrill at the diversity of my country, and shall pray for God's grace to be upon us and our leaders no matter who is in office. I love my country.

But I am also Christian and a Bible believer. I cannot separate my citizen self from my Christian self, so my faith will influence the level of my support for any candidate. What a candidate believes about God is primary to me. It is the first commandment, the first table of the law, and the ground upon which God judges the people of the earth. This was the premise for my first article.

When it comes to Governor Romney, discovering the detail of his personal religious beliefs has been very difficult. I respect, in some ways, his reticence to discuss his faith while running for office. But he has stated publicly that he knows and believes the major teachings of his church. The most basic teaching of any church is their definition of God.

I don't want to rewrite my previous article, but I must expand my statement about the god of Mormonism. In my article I said that Mormon theology “is a confusing sort of humanistic polytheism (a man-like god and deified men and women)”. Recently I have been reading Mormon theology almost to the point of blindness. I have deliberately avoided non-Mormon writers because I didn't want to be influenced or slanted in my assessment. 

I have been surprised to find Mormon theologians who are openly struggling with their theology and who seem to be aware that there are deep problems. I appreciate and encourage their struggle. But with that being said there are still some hurdles that will probably never be overcome no matter how much struggle takes place. The intractable problem is with the teachings of their early prophets and church hierarchy about their god.

I will state it as simply as I can: the Mormon belief that God the Father and God the Son have eternal, necessary "bodies" is a seemingly impossible theological roadblock to any consideration that Mormons believe in the same God as mainline Christians. Many Mormon theologians seem to agree. This is not a mean-spirited statement, it is clear to me that theologians on both sides of this divide politely agree with that general statement.

Here are a few quotes from James E. Faulconer, professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University, he has a PHD in philosophy from Pennsylvania State University. I don't think anyone can reasonably question his credentials to speak about Mormon theology. I came across his writings while searching a list of Mormon scholars. The article I quote is Divine Embodiment and Transcendence: Propaedeutic Thoughts and Questions as published in the Mormon periodical Element; Spring 2005. The word “propaedeutic” simply means a preliminary or preparatory instruction. Dr. Faulconer struggles in this article with the subject of the body of the Mormon god. I do not use the small g in god as an insult, but to highlight the fact that we disagree on the definition of God. Dr. Faulconer also uses this device. He wrote:

Latter-day Saint doctrine is that the Father and the Son have bodies: "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also" (D&C 130:22). At first glance this seems straightforward: the Father and the Son are embodied. However, it requires very little reflection to begin to wonder what that means. Joseph Smith's first vision tells us that their bodies are able to hover in the air and that they are bright beyond description (Joseph Smith History 1:17). Brigham Young and others taught that, though their bodies are bodies of flesh and bone, they do not have blood (cf. Journal of Discourses 7:163, Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History 5)”

Joseph Smith's most clear statement of God's embodiment comes as part of a denial of Nicean trinitarianism: "That which is without body, parts and passions is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones" (Teachings 181).”

By not defining God as "wholly Other," existing in a realm absolutely transcendent of this world and being the being on which this world absolutely depends, even for its existence, LDS thought makes a radical break with traditional thought.”

Next Dr. Faulconer says the same thing I have said:

The consequences of rejecting onto-theology, in other words, the consequences of believing that God is embodied run deep in our cultural and intellectual heritage, to their very roots. As a result, some of our theological discussions may simply be wrong-headed, trying to speak of God with concepts that do not apply or at least implicitly trying to make our understanding of him fit inappropriate concepts and conceptual structures. Even if we somehow manage to escape those problems, our discussions are likely to be shot through with deep equivocation. These sorts of problems make it easier to be sympathetic to those who accuse Latter-day Saints of not worshiping the God of Christianity. If by "God of Christianity" they mean "God of traditional Christian philosophical theology," then they are right: we do not believe in or worship that god.” (Emphasis mine)

I politely, but firmly, agree with Dr. Faulconer, we do not worship the same God. In his conclusion he wrote:

The scriptures and the teachings of Joseph Smith allow us to say little more about divine embodiment than that God has a body with the same form as ours. From that I think we can also infer that the ontological gulf between ourselves and God cannot be as wide as the tradition assumes, whether the tradition takes God to being itself or to be the Good (and, so, beyond being). Though it is difficult to go confidently beyond that negative conclusion, two things seem to follow: First, the Latter-day Saint understanding of what it means to be in the world is, implicitly, radically different than is the understanding of any other Christian group, though it is not at clear what additionally follows from that difference. Second, our experience of the body, the only standard we have for understanding embodiment, suggests that to say that God has a body is to say that his omniscience and omnipotence must be understood in ways quite different from traditional Christianity because embodiment implies situated openness to a world. In other words, divine embodiment also implies that God is affected by the world and by persons in his world. This means that the belief that God is embodied implies that he encounters the world and that he is, in some ways, passive with respect to that which he encounters, and his passivity may include some notion of unconsciousness.”

Let me be clear. The God of the Bible does not have a body as part of or a necessary extension of His being. Anyone who claims that their god does have an essential body worships a different god than the God who is revealed in the Bible. Furthermore anyone or any church which teaches that their god's body appears to be, is like, or is a human body is clearly included in the list of corrupt theology given in Romans 1:23-25, this passage clearly states that such a belief contributes to the wrath of God falling on a nation and the removal of God's preventative grace as I argued in my earlier article.

Some will argue that the Son Of God in orthodox Christianity has a body. This is a clear misunderstanding of the person of Jesus Christ and orthodox Christianity's teaching concerning Him. The eternal Son existed before the body of Jesus came into existence. Read John chapter 1. In orthodox Christianity the body of Jesus is not a necessary attribute of the being of the eternal Son. The body of Jesus is not God, it is human. God is manifest in it, but is not it.

The truth about the differences between Mormonism, one of the fastest growing religions in the world, and orthodox Christianity has been taught and preached from fundamental and evangelical pulpits throughout this land for years. I have been a witness to this over the last 40 years in ministry. I have sat in conferences where Theology has been declared to the be the highest standard by which we humans are judged by our creator. But, sadly, for some it seems this truth was only valid when it didn't indict a favored political candidate. For that reason more than one commentator has labeled the Christian right as hypocrites.

No matter who is elected today that label will still stick and I think it does not bode well for our country. I have feared the mixing of politics and Christianity that began decades ago would lead to a corruption that might bring us into a direct confrontation with God and I have lived to see it happen... I think. It is my opinion that only God's grace will save us from the fruits of this defection. If you don't understand this then please read my first article.

To my more theologically trained readers please know that I am aware that the use of non-technical words opens me up to extensive clarification and disagreement. The more reasonable among you will understand that I wrote this post for a broad audience. With that said I will not now technically defend my choice of words to those who will take advantage of this non-technical post. I will, most likely, delete comments that attempt to do this. Thanks for reading.

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