Sunday, April 15, 2012

Interview with a Mormon Couple

Last night I spent time with some old friends I’ve known since high school.  I forgot to ask permission to use their names, so I’ll call them D&J.  D and I sung in choir together throughout high school, and she was the victim of a lot of my Baptist Bible thumping during those years.  Her husband J was on his mission most of that time, and I met him after they were married years later.  They have 4 kids.  D stays home with them, but does piano lessons and volunteers with the LDS church.  J is an accountant.

D&J, as Mormons, view the Godhead differently than Evangelicals do.  They do not believe in the trinity.  Heavenly Father is God, with being Jesus a spiritual brother (I should have asked for more detail here, but I didn’t).  Salvation is achieved through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, but they do not believe in “once saved, always saved.”  Faith is to be lived by the following of the commandments.

One of the things I love about Mormonism is the focus on family, both in this life and the next.  Mormons believe that their earthly family will be with them in heaven, forever.  I sense a very real peace within the family, because they go to sleep at night under the same roof with those that will be with them forever.  They set aside weeknights to participate in family home evening, playing games, learning a lesson, etc..  The church also has home teachers, who visit a certain number of families at their home each month to give assistance as needed, whether it be spiritual or just helping with chores around the house.  In that sense the Mormons have created a true church community, where you don’t just see each other at church.

One thing we spent a lot of time talking about is the Mormon view of heaven.  J said that a lot of people think Mormons don’t believe in heaven and hell, but in reality they believe in a lot MORE heaven and a little bit of hell.  The Mormons believe heaven has glories.  The Celestial kingdom, Terrestrial Kingdom, and Telestial Kingdom.  They don’t believe that a loving God would just “send someone to hell” as easily as Evangelicals do.  The African bushman, for example, who never has the salvation story presented to him.  It would not be loving of God to send him to hell.  For this reason, nearly everyone receives some kind of a glory.  Murderers, thieves, all kinds of criminals, even they would eventually receive a glory within the telestrial kingdom.  Mormons differ on whether or not they think people can move between the levels.

The Mormon version of hell is outer darkness.  They believe very few will end up here.  Outer darkness is where Satan, Satan’s angels, Cain, etc.. will go.  J said that per Joseph Smith, to end up in outer darkness one would have to look directly into the sun, recognize it for what it is, and reject it anyway.  The story of Cain is a good example of this.  There are certainly many people who reject faith entirely, but the distinction for entering outer darkness is one would have to understand and believe the salvation message, but choose to reject it.

Since the plight of homosexuals has become the cause that is important to me, I asked about their views on the issue.  Mormons believe that participation in homosexuality is a sin, just like many other things are sinful.  Gay Mormons are not banned from church (J was once the bishop of a Mormon ward off Hawthorne in Portland, and said they had many gay members).  However, so long as they are not being abstinent, they cannot take on positions of leadership within the church.  This is because the active homosexual is continually in violation of the commandments, and thus is not living the right way.  I did not sense an increased emotional level while discussing this issue like I do when discussing it with my evangelical friends.  It’s a simple matter of scripture, but not anymore grievous than any other sin.

Mormons got a lot of heat for their support of Prop 8 in California.  It is the official position of the LDS church that separation of church and state is extremely important.  The church itself did not, according to J, donate funds from the church coffers to support Prop 8, but it did encourage its members to support it.  J’s theory for this is that while separation of church and state is very important (the church does not donate to candidates, or endorse them), is the government is going to be in the business of defining what marriage is, it leaves the church susceptible to punishment should it refuse to marry gay marriages, or perform them.  They fear losing their tax-exempt status if they refuse to marry gay people, should gay marriage be legal.
I’ve talked with D many times about Mormonism in the past, and I feel like I understand it pretty well, but I’m always surprised by how attractive it is to me, even now as an atheist.  They believe God’s love extends further than Evangelicals do, as evidenced by their view of heaven, the chance to improve one’s spiritual standing in the afterlife, and the eternal family.  If I had to pick a religion solely based on how I would want God to be if God exists, I’d prefer the Mormon vision of God to the evangelical one.

I find myself thinking frequently that the specific, fact-based details of religion don’t seem to be quite as important as the practical use of faith.  For Mormons, the question of why we’re here, what to do while we’re here, what happens we die, and what happens to the family after we die, all these questions have answers.  Additionally, there is much less focus on punishment, since very few will actually experience punishment in the way that Evangelicals believe.  Perhaps that’s why, at least in my experience, Mormons are easier to get along with than your average person.

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