The Promise of Mormonism
I am deeply Mormon. Not just from a genealogical perspective, but from a personal ideological point of view. That may strike some as hard to understand since I reject some of the more common and surface-level beliefs and structures that dominate contemporary Mormonism. So, I hope to tease some of what I see as the promise of Mormonism, the ways that it speaks to me and resonates with my soul, its fruits and doctrines and teachings and theologies and ideas that taste good. And perhaps you can see what I see as Mormonism’s potential.
I’m intentionally using the word “Mormonism” because it encompasses more than the institutional Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It also signals something related to and overlapping with, but ultimately distinct from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I mean no disrespect to the institutional Church, but my experience with Mormonism is bigger than the institution, so I use language that evokes and represents that broader experiential reality that matches my own life.
Here are the briefest glimpses of some ideas that capture the promise of Mormonism (and that I’ll write full posts on in the near future to explore them in more depth):
1. Theosis. I LOVE the teaching of theosis—that we can become Gods and Goddesses. For me, theosis is bundled with a bunch of other compelling ideas. With theosis, you get the teaching that we are co-eternal with God, that our existence is eternal and that we and God are of the same matter, which is wild and cool and funky and inspiring. I also link teachings of theosis to eternal progression, which radically alters who God is, who we are, and our relationship to one another. God’s like a slightly older version of us, cosmically speaking. He/She/They just figured some things out before we did, but aren’t distinct from us as a matter of kind, just degree. Theosis elevates each and every one of us, challenging me to see more of the divinity within others while simultaneously emphasizing God’s innate humanity, smashing the barrier often placed between God and humans.
Theosis and its accompanying beliefs are some of the most radical within Mormonism and I think, if seriously considered, would alter our everyday interactions with one another. Theosis and eternal progression challenge any sort of final judgment and push towards a universalist salvation, even if it takes eternity. After all, God’s work and glory is to bring to pass the eternal life and immortality of man and God’s work and glory is unceasing and unstoppable.
2. Continuing Revelation. The ninth Article of Faith is a powerful expression of faith and epistemic humility. At once, we witness to our belief that God reveals His/Her/Their truths to humanity and that many great and important things are yet to be revealed. It’s thrilling! We believe in God’s commitment to working with humanity and that we have no idea what’s coming and what it’ll look like. That’s radical. Imagine an institution that fully embraced this idea, particularly with the paradoxes and tensions of revelation coming to leaders and each and every individual. Wild stuff.
3. Embodiment. I’ve been talking about bodies in relation to early Protestant thought in some of my grad work and realizing how theologically radical Mormonism’s emphasis on the body is. Bodies are not just a piece of mortality to overcome, but essential to divinity. God is clothed in flesh and bone (not blood, which depending on which early Church leaders you dig can take you down all sorts of funky speculative theological rabbit holes).
Grounding Mormonism in this belief in the divinity of bodies could I think lead to healthier engagement with sexuality, pleasure, modesty, and all sorts of other teachings. Particularly interesting work needs to be done on how this stressing of the body relates to ableism and the resurrection and all of that, but that’s work for another day.
4. Pacifism. While Mormonism has wedded itself in many ways to political conservatism and a certain brand of militaristic American patriotism, my reading of the Book of Mormon suggests a shockingly robust pacifist theological framework to draw upon. I believe that we need more intelligent, robust arguments for pacifism, particularly from a religious lens and I see huge potential in Mormonism for some of these. Luckily, work is definitely at work here from Patrick Mason and others.
5. Tragedy. I read a profound piece about tragedy within Mormonism that posited that the Mormon re-working of the Fall frames the event as a tragedy, in that partaking of the fruit becomes a choice between two goods, not a choice between evil and good. Essentially, the idea goes that the two commandments were in opposition, but both were commandments, so obeying either one of them would be a “good” choice. Re-interpreting the Fall in this way is quite compelling and I think sends reverberations throughout all of scripture and into our lives.
It also strikes me that The Book of Mormon as a scriptural text is a tragedy, that it ends with the destruction of an entire people. And that Enoch’s encounter with God in the Book of Moses, where God weeps, integrates tragedy into the heart of a Mormon cosmology. While there’s an optimism and hope of this universalist salvation, a careful reading of scripture strikes me as necessitating a full integration of tragedy into the world, even throughout eternity and as God—a perfect being.
I feel invigorated thinking about all of these possibilities. I see immense potential in Mormonism, precisely because of these teachings and others. And that’s at least part of why I’m Mormon through and through.
Let’s explore that promise together, lean into the weirdness that Mormonism provides, and make Mormonism peculiar again setting sail on the sea of endless speculation with no horizon that Orson Pratt was once accused of sailing. Perhaps as we’re sailing on the sea of endless speculation, we’ll find ourselves hieing to Kolob, and out there exploring the worlds without number that God has created we’ll encounter some of the “many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” that God will yet reveal to us all.