20 July 2011 (updated 29 April 2023)
The Mormonism that has inspired me from childhood is the ecumenical Mormonism. It doesn’t pretend to exclusive access to God. And it welcomes truth from any source, whether it be Mormon, non-Mormon, or non-religious.
Too many Mormons, like many persons of most other religions, are sectarian in their outlook. They tend to see evil everywhere. And they tend to deprecate or altogether ignore the positive contributions of persons outside their religion.
This saddens and sometimes angers me. It creates unnecessary divisions, inefficient social interactions, and weakens us as a human family.
That’s not to say we should avoid voicing disagreements. To the contrary, let’s voice and argue them passionately, yet constructively and humbly, recognizing that we are each limited and expect continually to learn from others.
Book of Mormon
I love how the Book of Mormon expresses the idea of God’s inspiration going out to, through, and from all of humanity:
“Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?
“Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?
“Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.
“And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.
“Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
“For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.” (2 Nephi 29: 6-11)
Doctrine and Covenants
Extending from teachings in the Book of Mormon, we read elsewhere in Mormon scripture that God inspires everyone in the world:
“And I now give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life.
“For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.
“For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
“And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.
“And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.
“And the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you, which is confirmed upon you for your sakes, and not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world.” (D&C 84: 43-48)
Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, repeatedly taught about the importance of love, unity, and friendship among all people, regardless of their beliefs. He esteemed all religions to have some truth mixed with error. And he asserted that “true Mormons” would seek to “gather all the good and true principles in the world.”
Joseph also advocated for peaceful and respectful dialogue between different denominations, aspiring to end war and contention. His thoughts on this were partly incorporated into Mormon scripture as the Ninth Article of Faith:
“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience and allow men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
Here is one of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith:
“Father, forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me, for I freely forgive all men. If we would secure and cultivate the love of others, we must love others, even our enemies as well as friends.
“Sectarian priests cry out concerning me, and ask, ‘Why is it this babbler gains so many followers, and retains them?’ I answer, it is because I possess the principle of love. All I can offer the world is a good heart and a good hand.
“The Saints can testify whether I am willing to lay down my life for my brethren. If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon,’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denominations who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.
“It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul – civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race. Love of liberty was diffused into my soul by my grandfathers while they dandled me on their knees; and shall I want friends? No.
“The inquiry is frequently made of me. ‘Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views?’ In reality and essence we do not differ so far in our religious views, but that we could all drink into one principle of love. One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.
“We believe in the Great Elohim who sits enthroned in yonder heavens. So do the Presbyterians. If a skilful mechanic, in taking a welding heat, uses borax, alum, etc., and succeeds in welding together iron or steel more perfectly than any other mechanic, is he not deserving of praise? And if by the principles of truth I succeed in uniting men of all denominations in the bonds of love, shall I not have attained a good object?
“If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which he revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the millennium can be ushered in and Christ takes possession of His kingdom.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 313)
Here is another of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith:
“I see no faults in the Church, and therefore let me be resurrected with the Saints, whether I ascend to heaven or descend to hell, or go to any other place. And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society. What do we care where we are, if the society be good? I don’t care what a man’s character is; if he’s my friend – a true friend, I will be a friend to him, and preach the Gospel of salvation to him, and give him good counsel, helping him out of his difficulties.
“Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’; [it is designed] to revolutionize and civilize the world, and cause wars and contentions to cease and men to become friends and brothers. Even the wolf and the lamb shall dwell together; the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf, the young lion and the fatling; and a little child shall lead them; the bear and the cow shall lie down together, and the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall play on the cockatrice’s den; and they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord of hosts.
“It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love – show forth our kindness unto all mankind, and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase; cast our bread upon the waters and we shall receive it after many days, increased to a hundredfold. Friendship is like Brother Turley in his blacksmith shop welding iron to iron; it unites the human family with its happy influence.
“I do not dwell upon your faults, and you shall not upon mine. Charity, which is love, covereth a multitude of sins, and I have often covered up all the faults among you; but the prettiest thing is to have no faults at all. We should cultivate a meek, quiet and peaceable spirit.
“Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes. They all have a little truth mixed with error. We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true ‘Mormons’.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 316)
Early Mormon Leaders
Early Mormon apostle Orson Whitney (recently quoted on the LDS Church newsroom web site) provided a constructive assessment of the relation between Mormonism and other religions. Essentially, he suggested that there are individuals outside of the Church who can help advance its cause as well as individuals inside the Church. And he acknowledged that God works through all people.
“Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. And the same is true of the priesthood and its auxiliaries inside the Church. Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted – for the present; the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.” (April 1928 Conference Report)
This perspective can provoke questions about passages of Mormon scripture that refer to “the true church.” In response to such questions, another early Mormon apostle, B H Roberts, had valuable insights to share. He clarified that the Church does not denounce other churches as being the church of Satan, but instead recognizes that all untruth and unrighteousness constitutes the church of Satan, while all truth and righteousness constitutes the church of Christ.
“Among the things important for the Saints of God to understand, among the things important for the world to understand respecting the Latter-day Saints, is the relationship that we sustain to the religious world; and I do not know that there is anything to which I could devote the few minutes at my disposal to better advantage than in pointing out that relationship, if I can obtain, through your faith and mine, the liberty that comes from the possession of the Spirit of the Lord. …
“This descriptive phrase, ‘the church of the devil,’ is also used in the Book of Mormon; and while in attendance at a conference in one of the border stakes of Zion, a question was propounded to me in relation to its meaning. The passage occurs in the writings of the first Nephi. An angel of the Lord is represented as saying to Nephi, ‘Behold, there are save two churches only: the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil.’ The question submitted to me was, ‘Is the Catholic church the church here referred to – the church of the devil?’ …
“‘Well,’ said I, in answer, ‘I would not like to take that position, because it would leave me with a lot of churches on my hands that I might not then be able to classify.’ So far as the Catholic church is concerned, I believe that there is just as much truth, nay, personally I believe it has retained even more truth than other divisions of so-called Christendom; and there is just as much virtue in the Roman Catholic church as there is in Protestant Christendom; and I am sure there is more strength. …
“I would not like; therefore, to designate the Catholic church as the church of the devil. Neither would I like to designate any one or all of the various divisions and subdivisions of Protestant Christendom combined as such church; nor the Greek Catholic church; nor the Buddhist sects; nor the followers of Confucius; nor the followers of Mohammed; nor would I like to designate even the societies formed by deists and atheists as constituting the church of the devil.
“The Book of Mormon text ought to be read in connection with its context – with the chapter that precedes it and the remaining portions of the chapter in which the expression is found – then, I think, those who study it in that manner will be forced to the conclusion that the prophet here has in mind no particular church, no particular division of Christendom, but he has in mind, as just stated, the whole empire of Satan; and perhaps the thought of the passage would be more nearly expressed if we use the term ‘the Kingdom of Evil’ as constituting the church of the devil. …
“I understand the injunction to Oliver Cowdery to ‘contend against no church, save it be the church of the devil,’ to mean that he should contend against evil, against untruth, against all combinations of wicked men. They constitute the church of the devil, the kingdom of evil, a federation of unrighteousness; and the servants of God have a right to contend against that which is evil, let it appear where it will, in Catholic or in Protestant Christendom, among the philosophical societies of deists and atheists, and even within the Church of Christ, if, unhappily, it should make its appearance there.
“But, let it be understood, we are not brought necessarily into antagonism with the various sects of Christianity as such. So far as they have retained fragments of Christian truth – and each of them has some measure of truth – that far they are acceptable unto the Lord; and it would be poor policy for us to contend against them without discrimination. Wherever we find truth, whether it exists in complete form or only in fragments, we recognize that truth as part of that sacred whole of which the Church of Jesus Christ is the custodian; and I repeat that our relationship to the religious world is not one that calls for the denunciation of sectarian churches as composing the church of the devil.
“All that makes for untruth, for unrighteousness constitutes the kingdom of evil – the church of the devil. All that makes for truth, for righteousness, is of God; it constitutes the kingdom of righteousness – the empire of Jehovah; and, in a certain sense at least, constitutes the Church of Christ. With the latter – the kingdom of righteousness – we have no warfare. On the contrary both the spirit of the Lord’s commandments to his servants and the dictates of right reason would suggest that we seek to enlarge this kingdom of righteousness both by recognizing such truths as it possesses and seeking the friendship and co-operation of the righteous men and women who constitute its membership.” (Defense of the Faith and the Saints 1: 26-34)
Summarizing his perspective on other churches and religions, B H Roberts wrote:
“While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men; and it is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. … All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them.” (Defense of the Faith and the Saints 1: 512-513)
In 1978, the First Presidency of the LDS Church, under the direction of Spencer Kimball, released a statement about other religions and beliefs. I like the statement in general, although I don’t think it sufficiently recognizes the limitations of the Church. While we may claim the fullness of the Gospel of Christ, we certainly don’t claim the fullness of truth. Like everyone else, we too have only a portion of God’s light.
“Based upon ancient and modern revelation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from mortal progenitors, but also as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father.
“The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.
“The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel.
“Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all people sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.
“We also declare that the gospel of Jesus Christ, restored to his Church in our day, provides the only way to a mortal life of happiness and a fullness of joy forever. For those who have not received this gospel, the opportunity will come to them in the life hereafter if not in this life.
“Our message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are the sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.”
Like most Mormons, I’ve found much inspiration both within and beyond my own religion. But, of course, there’s still so much to learn from each other. So let’s keep working to accept all truth, come from whence it may. And let’s gather up all the good and true principles in the world, that we may come out true Mormons.