Now we know

December 3, 2007

…and knowing is half the battle.

by the narrator

Just over a decade ago, TIME Magazine published an article on the LDS Church that creating quite a stir concerning a response to a question posed by President Hinckley.

On whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man, he sounded uncertain, “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it … I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.

Thus began the debate. Was President Hinckley unsure about the teaching? According to GBH and the church’s press releases, GBH was misquoted and was not responding to a question about the teaching (both about God once being a man and man’s ability to become a god), but was responding to whether the actual King Follet Sermon was still taught in the church. Of course, TIME responded that there was no misquoting in the article. Personally, I think there was a little of both going on with Hinckley’s pubic relations background coming out and him being weary of presenting such an untraditional and ‘heretical’ belief in a widely read publication.

My first thought as I was purchasing my copy of the new manual at the distribution center was on whether or not the King Follet sermon was going to be included. Not only was it there, but the index included a referenced to our potential to become gods.

So there we have it. GBH and all of us can now be sure that we both teach the King Follet Sermon and what it says.

With that said, there are still many questions that I have and I’m sure will unfold as we go through the manual over the next two year. When I was 6 or 7, I received a children’s book about Joseph Smith which began a life-long love of the prophet. I had read the entirety of the of the D&C years before I finished the Book of Mormon and since then have read 15 or so different biographies of Joseph Smith. Even in my atheist/agnostic days, I still had a deep love for him. I remember finishing Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling in the middle of the night with tears pouring down my eyes – even though I was unsure at the time if there even was a God. As my love for the Prophet has increased, my perception of the Church’s portrayal of him, his teachings, and Church history in general have largely decreased. I left the Church’s sad big screen depiction of him quite bothered. Who was this guy? That wasn’t the Joseph Smith I knew and loved. And why did he fly off into space from the Carthage window instead of dying?

So what Joseph Smith are we going to see in our manual? I know this isn’t a biography, so I don’t expect one. However, how is his theology going to be portrayed? Is it going to be his progressive teachings that often contradicting his previous ones? Or will it be portrayed as some completely cohesive narrative that was there in the beginning and only grew without changes (as the church often portrays it)? Will it be presented as he taught it? Or will it be taught through the systemization of the 20th century (for example, the Jehovah/Elohim distinction was not made until James E. Talmage attempted to standardize the name usage in Jesus the Christ)? I have already noticed that the manual unquestioningly places the restoration of the Melchizedek before the1830 formal establishment of the church, even though most evidence points to it being after. Are other revisions going to be made to form a more cohesive narrative?

I guess we’ll find out.


  1. but the index included a referenced to our potential to become gods.

    This to me is different than the doctrine that God was once a man. I don’t think anyone in the Church, including President Hinckley, disputes the doctrine about our potential to become gods.

  2. m&m,

    you must have read me wrong. I was claiming that both the King Follet Sermon (which teaches that God was once a man) and the idea that humans can become gods were both present in the manual.

  3. Are you saying it includes the entire sermon? That seems strange considering usually they just select quotations on a particular topic. Can you direct us to the place where it mentions God once being a man? The online version is here. After a quick scan I couldn’t find the reference to it, so maybe you can help me out.

  4. Nevermind, I found it myself in chapter 2. I have to say I’m surprised.

  5. Sorry for misunderstanding. 🙂

  6. We still don’t know about this teaching, though. 🙂

  7. Isn’t symbolism wonderful? The “real” Joseph Smith did fly out of the window at Carthage and immediately became the larger-than-life version we have today. In some ways, this is an expected development for the prophet-man who had such an honored place in the Restoration movement. But I have to say I’m glad for historians like Richard Bushman and others who can give us glimpses of other aspects of Joseph’s life.

  8. M&M, how much clearer can you get than, “God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!” And this in a correlated and approved Church manual!

  9. Obviously, BiV, I didn’t make myself clear enough. What I meant, and what I hear Pres. Hinckley say, is that we don’t know much detail about this teaching.

    And at the point of this quote that is included, I don’t know that we had anything like this is any of our manuals or materials. Now we have this blurb, but, still, do we really know much more than what that quote says? No. I do think that it’s interesting that this was in the manual, though.

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