An Interview With Mormon Blogger Kirk Caudle

Kirk Caudle is a Mormon scholar and blogger. Here is a link to his website:

 

www.feastuponthewordblog.org

 

Q:  What inspired you to start your blog?

A: The inception of www.feastuponthewordblog.org was in 2007 and I was invited to come on board as a permablogger in early 2010. There are many Mormon themed blogs on the internet or the “bloggernacle.” as we affectionately call it), but I was inspired to join the folks at the Feast blog because of its unique nature. While most of the other Mormon blogs deal with politics, the Church, and social issues, we focus on the message of the scriptures and the meanings of difficult and interesting passages. The blog speaks to a wide-range of readers, from the well-versed scholar to the novice.

For those that may not know, Mormons do believe in the Bible (The Old and The New Testaments). However, Mormons also believe in additional books of scripture: The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. Additionally, some Mormons believe that contemporary Apostles and Prophets provide modern-day revelation that provides authority equal to those works.

The blog is great for teachers and students preparing for Sunday School lessons. Lessons notes are posted each week for all adult classes. That is the first thing that hooked me to the blog as a reader.

Q:  What is the most common misconception about Mormonism?

A: The most common misconception about Mormonism, in my eyes, is that Mormons are all the same. Mormons come in all different shapes and sizes. It is becoming harder and harder to pin down exactly how to come up with a picture of a typical Mormon. Once upon a time the Church was predominantly a west coast, and specifically a Utahian, phenomenon. That is changing. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now boasts over 14 million members worldwide, with over half of those coming from outside of the United States of America.

Many people outside of the faith are surprised to learn that American Mormons can be found supporting the Republicans and Democrats, while worldwide members of the Church are made up of Socialists and Capitalists. Some Mormons drink Coke, while others don’t. There are feminists Mormons, homosexual Mormons, intellectuals, and anarchist Mormons. In a nutshell, Mormons run the political gamut, reaching all the way from the far right to the far left. To be fair though, the majority of American Mormons have political views that often mirror those of conservative Evangelical Christians.

Q:  Do you think Mitt Romney’s policies as a governor and agenda as a candidate are consistent with the basic principals of Mormonism?

A: This is hard question. Personally, I do not agree with Romney and his policies and I will not be voting for him in November. However, I cannot in good faith go on record as saying that his political agenda is inconsistent with the principals of Mormonism. The basic principals of Mormonism are found in the fourth Article of Faith (a set of thirteen beliefs, similar to a creed, set out by Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith in 1842). There we find that the basic principals are: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the reception of the Holy Spirit. My problems with Romney are strictly political in nature and have nothing to do with attacking his religious convictions on these four issues.

I am an advocate of “big tent” Mormonism. I believe that there is room enough in the Church for those with a variety of different beliefs (spiritual and political). It is impossible for me to know what is in someone’s heart when they are making decisions. That goes for Mitt Romney as well as Barak Obama. I vehemently oppose Mitt Romney as a Presidential candidate. At the same time I would whole heartily accept Mitt Romney as a member of my congregation.

Q:  The Book Of Mormon is one of Broadway’s biggest hits. How accurate is the song, “I Believe”?

A: Let me preface my answer by saying that I have not seen The Book of Mormon musical. Although, my wife is a huge fan of Broadway musicals and the music in this play is extremely catchy! I just went back and listened again to the song “I Believe.” The song is comedic and boils down very complicated issues into one sentence. Believe it or not, and this might make some Mormons uncomfortable, I think that the song is pretty accurate. There is really only one claim that I readily dispute.

The claim that Jesus has his own planet is not a common teaching of the Mormon Church. In fact, I grew up in the Church and I do not ever remember hearing such a thing taught. Mormons teach that humans lived before this life in a spiritual pre-existence. To become like their parents (a mother and a father God) these spirits needed to come to earth and gain a body. This earth “life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God”(Alma 12:24). After death, some humans will receive deification. The official doctrine on this issue of deification is unclear.

Some Mormons believe that to become like God means to become independent, doing the work of Gods, creating planets and raising spirit children. Other Mormons believe that humans, although receiving all that God has, will eternally be under the jurisdiction of God and are unsure of claims surrounding other issues such as creating planets.

Despite the claims of many of those people that are unfriendly to the Church, Mormons are given relatively little official doctrine concerning issues pertaining to the afterlife. Much of what is said about the afterlife is pure speculation, this goes for Mormons and non-Mormons.

Q:  What was the most challenging question you ever had anyone ask you on your blog?

A: I recall a question concerning Sabbath day observance and whether or not it matters what day the Church decides to observe the Sabbath. Currently, the Mormons set aside Sunday as the Sabbath day.

The time/day of Sabbath observance was debated in early Christianity. In the year 321 A.D., Constantine decreed, “On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed” (Codex Justinianus lib. 3, tit. 12, 3; trans. in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 380, note 1). Constantine ended the debate and Christians started observing their Sabbath worship on Sunday instead of on Saturday.

Interestingly, it appears from New Testament times that Christians meet in groups on Sunday, “on the first day of the week we came together to break bread” (Acts 20:7). However, it is unclear if those early Christians viewed Sunday at the “sabbath” or just a meeting day.

This might seem strange at first, but even in Mormon history members have meet on non-Sabbath days. For many years, adults and children had separate church meetings that were held during the weekdays.

So why do Mormons have a Sunday and not a Saturday Sabbath? I think that Mormons would agree with Dr. Adam Clark, in his
Commentary on Revelation 1: 10, “The Lord’s day” the first day of the week, observed as the Christian Sabbath, because on it Jesus Christ rose from the dead: therefore it was called the Lords day; and has taken place of the Jewish Sabbath, throughout the Christian world.

I’m not sure if that is a great answer, but that is my answer. Then again, if I had a great answer then it would not have been my most challenging question!

Q:  What is your educational background in Mormonism?

A: I received my MA in Interdisciplinary Studies (Spiritual Traditions and Ethics) from Marylhurst University, a small Roman Catholic liberal arts school founded and run by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.. Additionally, I hold a BA degree from Cascade College, a satellite campus of Oklahoma Christian University, in Interdisciplinary Studies (Bible and History). I am active in interfaith dialogue and in presenting papers at academic conferences on Mormonism and other aspects of Religion and Philosophy. My professional teaching experience includes two years teaching New Testament courses as a guest instructor at the Portland LDS institute of Religion and as a New Testament instructor for the BYU Continuing Education program

I wrote my Master’s thesis on, “Joseph Smith and the Eternal Possibilities of the Immortal Soul in Western Philosophical and Theological Thought.” I am an active member of multiple scholarly organizations including the Mormon Scholars in the Humanities, the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, and the American Academy of Religion. The national executive committee of the American Academy of Religion recently named me as a co-chair of the “Mormon Studies” section of the Pacific-Northwest region. I now co-chair this section with Susanna Morrill, associate professor of Religious Studies at Lewis and Clark College.

I am currently looking for teaching positions. If anyone out there is in the know…*hint hint*

Q: I have often heard it said that Mormon’s believe that black people are cursed. Was this ever a doctrine; if so has the doctrine been changed?

A: Every faith tradition has at least one historical black eye. In my opinion, for Mormonism, this is one of them. The idea that the African race was descendants of Cain was a common theological teaching during the ninetieth century for Christianity. Apparently, Brigham Young, Mormonism’s second President and Prophet, agreed with those teachings. Under Young those with males of African decent were denied ordination to the Mormon Priesthood. This was important because this is Priesthood was otherwise available to all worthy males in the Church. Without the Priesthood, black males could not participate in leadership positions in the Church and/or attend Mormon sacred (and essential) temple ceremonies. Joseph Smith never taught such a doctrine about the African race and personally ordained at least one male of African decent (Elijah Abel) to the Priesthood before his death in 1844.

Throughout the years, the leadership of the Church provided various reasons for this Priesthood ban before it was lifted in 1978. Current Church leadership has backed away from justifying the ban on theological or historical grounds. The Church released an official statement after a professor from BYU provided some outdated justification concerning the ban to the Washington post. A letter dated February 29, 2012 reads:

“The Church’s position is clear—we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form.

For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.

We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.”

Now let me get back to your questions. Do Mormons believe that black people are cursed? No, that is not the official doctrine or the official stance of the Church. Was this ever a doctrine? I guess that depends on who you ask, but I would regrettably, and sadly, say yes. If you asked Church leadership that question during the 1950s, I would say that the majority of those leaders that you asked would respond in the affirmative.

Q:  What are the differences between Mormonism and regular Christianity?

A: I get this question a lot. I think that there are two essential differences, the conception of God and the existence of prophets.

Some people say that Mormons are not Christians. Why? Because many Christians do not think that Mormons worship the same version of Jesus Christ as they do. Mormons reject historical Christian creeds created by counsels that define the nature of God. Mormons reject the concept of the Christian Trinity. Mormon doctrine teaches that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, are not made up of one spiritual substance as they are in the Trinity. Rather, Mormons see the Godhead as existing as one in purpose, while still existing separately. Jesus Christ came to earth as the literal Son of the Father and they both possess physical bodies of flesh and bone. In other words, if God the Father and Jesus Christ were to appear to you today you would theoretically be able to touch them.

So are Mormons Christians? I guess that would depend on who you would ask. The majority of Mormons define themselves as Christians. I think that there are at least two ways to define a Christian. (1) A group of people who all agree on the nature of Jesus Christ and stake exclusive claim to the Christian label or (2) A group of people all working towards the same goal of following Jesus Christ while admitting that none of them truly and fully understand Him. These people claim the Christian label only for themselves as individuals and cannot take away or bestow the Christian label on others.

The second essential difference involves prophets. Mormons believe that after the New Testament Apostles died off the Christian church lost the guidance of prophets. In the nineteenth century Joseph Smith arrived as a modern-day Moses, one that spoke directly to God. Mormons believe that ever since Joseph Smith restored the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth there has been an unbroken chain of prophetic authority on the earth. The current Prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Thomas S. Monson.

9. Why is it important for Mormon’s to do missionary work?

As one who is involved in the academic study of religion one question immediately pops into my mind whenever I hear Mormons talk about doing missionary work,“Can’t these people still be just as happy (if not happier) than I am in my church?” I then answer myself, “yes, I think that they can.” I have spent time visiting and worshiping in Hindu and Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques, Catholic masses, and in a host of other places. Through these experiences, I know multiple members of these other congregations that I believe are happier, more content, and often times more spiritual than I am. Yet, I think that I have the“true” gospel and they do not. Given all of this, I must then ask myself, “Why should I preach to them if they are already so happy?” I believe that I must share the gospel with them because what I have to offer has little to do with happiness in this life. What I have to offer has everything to do with happiness in the next life. Anyone can find happiness in this life if they live the “rules” of our institutional church (develop love, exercise charity, make healthy relationship choices, only put good things into your body, etc.). We, as Latter-day Saints, are offering a different sort of happiness; we are offering a happiness that extends past this life.

I believe that every person who is seeking the truth will eventually embrace that truth if given the opportunity, whether that is in this life or the next. One thing that I always tell my students is that only seekers find. The only people that find the key to happiness are the ones that are looking for the key. The irony here is that the key can never be found, it can only be received through grace. All that I am trying to do with missionary work is help those seekers through their own spiritual journeys and allow them to experience something greater than themselves.

10. If you could ask God one question what would it be?

Hmmmm…that is a hard question because I have so many!

I guess if I had to narrow it down it would be something very personal (and perhaps a bit egotistical). Something like, “why am I here? I mean, why was I born at this time and in this location rather than being born 4,000 years ago in China? And if I was, would that even matter in the eternal scheme of things?” That is more than one question I suppose, but I think you get the idea!

 

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)

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