I cringed when she said it, the young sister missionary exuding “greenness” who stood up in my son’s singles branch and bore her testimony that our church is the “only” one that really knows about Jesus Christ. Her language hurt. It embodied what Terryl and Fiona Givens referred to in The Crucible of Doubt as the”notion that Mormonism has a monopoly on the truth…”1
I immediately thought of the number of people I know who are not Mormons, but who are clearly and, in some cases, emphatically Christian. I thought one of my coworkers, Father Peter, University Archivist and Campus Chaplain at Saint Martin’s University and monk at the Saint Martin’s Abbey. Father Peter has a caring and enthusiastic heart motivated by his belief in Christ. Students, faculty, and staff seem to recognize the goodness of his heart. I thought of Sister Laura, a lecturer in Religious Studies at Saint Martin’s University and former prioress of the Saint Placid Priory. I have gotten to know Sister Laura through working with her and actually plan on taking a class from her sometime soon. I have been inspired in my faith by her recent book on the Beguines, a long-standing affiliation of Catholic lay women all across Europe who
…courageously spoke to power and corruption, never despairing of God’s compassion for humanity,” who “used their business acumen to establish and support ministries that offered education, health care, and other social services to the vulnerable,” and preached “of a loving God who desired a relationship with each individual person while they criticized those who used God’s name for personal gain.2
In reading her book I sometimes wished I could travel back in time and get to know some of the remarkable women she wrote about. I thought of Dr. John D. Roth, a Mennonite professor of history at Goshen College whom I met six and a half years ago at an NEH seminar on the Reformation. He wrote about Christian non-violence, noting
In a world filled with violence, the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ cannot help but bring us face to with Christ’s clear and consistent teachings on love, a love that extends even to the enemy.3
I thought about Jennifer Stadler, a math teacher at the high school where I taught. She made no bones about her faith in Christ and I sometimes referred to her as my “Jesus buddy.” Even though we may not totally see eye-to-eye theologically, each of these people and probably hundreds of others I have met have great trust and faith in the Savior. They not only know about Jesus, they know him as well and I feel blessed by having my path meet up with theirs.
It occurred to me that there is a connection between some Mormons monopolistic truth claims and the ethic that John the Baptist railed against on the shore of the Jordan River:
And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children of Abraham.4
His words were, of course directed at the Pharisses and Sadducees who claimed righteousness and moral superiority by right of their heritage. Their claims to be saved (to use contemporary language) because of their lineage constituted a repugnant ethnocentrism, a kind of cultural arrogance.
I have to admit that I felt a bit of discomfort over over my reaction to the missionary’s comments. After all, I do claim Mormonism as my faith community (as uncomfortable as that can sometimes be), which itself makes large truth claims. I had to ask myself whether I was somehow being “unfaithful” to my religious community. Essentially, by connecting this young woman’s statement and John the Baptist’s, I accuse my own community of a kind of institutional arrogance. Mormons may have subtly different beliefs about Christ from other other denominations, but that does not justify a claim that other conceptions have no significance or validity. On the contrary, other religious communities have a good deal to say to us about Christ, I have long felt.
I was thankful to find a validation of my discomfort in Givens’ book. They note that such claims of exclusivity are rather problematic:
…both the Lord and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have emphatically indicated a contrary perspective. In other words, the idea of Mormonism’s monopoly and God’s inaction during the pre-Restoration centuries would strike Joseph Smith and the likes of John Taylor as absurd…5
John Taylor, speaking of earlier ages, said
There were men [and women] in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world…There were men [and women] who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness.6
Mormons, they observed, “do not have a monopoly on righteousness, truth, or God’s approbation.”7 As a matter of fact, such a conception actually denies a fundamental truth about God, what they call God’s “cosmic generosity.”8
As a mighty God, our Heavenly Father has the capacity to save us all. As a fond Father, He has the desire to do so. That is why, as Joseph taught,”God hath made a provision that every spirit can be ferretted out in that world” that has not deliberately and definitively chosen to resist a grace that is stronger than the cords of death. The idea is certainly a generous one, and it flows naturally from the weeping God of Enoch, the God who has set his heart upon us.9
They quote several other more recent church authorities who taught the same concept. Unfortunately, in the early days of the church, there were members who could not accept this generous view of God.
Brigham Young recorded that “when God revealed to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon that there was a place prepared for all, according to the light they had received and their rejection evil and practice of good, it was a great trial to many, and some apostatized because God was not going to send to everlasting punishment heathens and infants, but had a place of salvation, in due time, for all.”10
There seem to be such Mormons around today, who seem to look forward to watching others burn, but a common concept of Mormonism holds that God is perfectly loving. If we truly believe this, then we cannot claim exclusive understanding of Christ. To do so would be to draw a circle around God no larger than our own limited view of the eternities.
- Givens, T. & Givens, F. (2014). The crucible of doubt: Reflections on the quest for faith. Salt Lake: Deseret Book, p.87.
- Swan, L. (2014). The wisdom of the Beguines: The forgotten story of a Medieval women’s movement. Katonah, NY: BlueBridge, pp. 8-9.
- Roth, J. D. (2002). Choosing against war: A Christian view: “A love stronger than our fears.” Intercourse, PA: Good Books, p. 10.
- Matthew 3: 9 (New International Version)
- The crucible of doubt, pp. 87-88.
- Ibid. pp. 90-91; Sister Laura’s work clearly illustrates this.
- Ibid. p. 91.
- Ibid. p. 93.
- Ibid. p. 92., italics in original.
- Ibid. p. 93.