The most recent entry in the Gospel Topics series at lds.org, “Becoming Like God,” represents the LDS church’s newest attempt to help clarify (for members, media, and those with other interests in Mormonism) often misunderstood or difficult gospel teachings or practices. It, like all the essays in the series, is well-crafted with many scriptural and academic citations that display engagement with scholarship even as it seeks to also maintain a devotional tone.
After a short introduction that grounds the shared idea among many Christians of our being in some way “children of God” as well as the idea that Latter-day Saints see this in far more literal ways than many other faiths, the essay presents several Old and New Testament scriptures and statements from early Christian leaders that use strong familial terms when talking about the relationship between God and humans, as well as places that they identify the human potential to be “like” God. In presenting these texts, the statement acknowledges that all of these are contested among Christians in terms of the authors’ views about whether or not humans might one day become “Gods,” but then claims that “by viewing them through the clarifying lens of revelations received by Joseph Smith, Latter-day Saints see these scriptures as straightforward expressions of humanity’s divine nature and potential.” The statement then describes the ways that teachings about this potential were introduced to and grew to be understood by the Saints, as well as how these teachings are viewed today.
In this episode, panelists Charles Harrell, James McLachlan, and Richard Livingston, join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a thorough overview of the statement, maintaining throughout an overarching interest in questions about whether or not this statement represents a shift in previously held teachings, and, if so, to what degree. Are the sources cited fairly presented? What seems to be the overarching concerns of the church in preparing this statement and in the final form it took? The panel also discusses early reactions among members as well as outside critics to the statement, and the reasons for disappointment that many feel. Has this statement really clarified the matter, or has it simply glossed over how central this teaching had once been and seems now more geared toward outsiders who have caricatured Mormon ideas, attempting to make LDS views sound less sensational and more in line with mainline Christian views?
Further framing the discussion are questions about LDS assumption of doctrinal uniformity throughout time (the persistent idea that even ancient prophets fully understood the teachings that emerged from Joseph Smith) and the problems that assumption poses whenever we find what seem to be definite shifts. Does this statement represent a healthy way to manage changes in church teachings and emphases? Are there alternative approaches that might better match the historical record and lead toward less disorientation and fragility of faith among LDS members when they are confronted with evidences of changing doctrines?
Please listen and then share your thoughts in the comments section below!
“Becoming Like God”, lds.org “Gospel Topics” statement posted March 2014.
Richard Livingston, “Doctrinal Disparity and Fragile Faith,” blogpost, Peculiar People, 10 March 2014
Charles R. Harrell, This Is My Doctrine: The Development of Mormon Theology, Greg Kofford Books, 2011
Blake T. Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought: Vol. 3, Of God and Gods, Greg Kofford Books, 2008