In three short months, Joseph Smith would be dead — murdered at the hands of an angry mob. But on this day in April of 1844, his followers were assembled in a lush grove to pay homage to one who had already passed beyond the veil. The crowds settled into the wooden benches surrounded by a line of trees, and fell silent. All eyes followed the Prophet as he stood up, walked to the fore, and began to deliver a sermon that would be etched deeply into the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS).
Smith proclaimed: "That he [God] was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did. . . . Here, then, is eternal life - to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Press, 1938], 343, 345-346).
And so went the King Follett Discourse, named after the Latter-Day Saint whose death they were gathered to remember. It’s unknown how the crowd reacted to the Prophet’s words. There seems to have been no great disturbance - not surprising, since the teachings were, for Mormons, nothing new. For Catholics, though, these claims are shocking if not offensive. This raises an important question: What is the Mormon view of God and how does it compare with that of classical Christianity? The answer may surprise you.
The late B.H. Roberts, the most influential scholar in the history of the LDS church, boiled the main differences down to three:
“First, we believe that God is a being with a body in form like man’s; that he possesses body, parts and passions; that in a word, God is an exalted, perfected man. Second, we believe in a plurality of Gods. Third, we believe that somewhere and some time in the ages to come, through development, through enlargement, through purification until perfection is attained, man at last, may become like God - a God” (Mormon Doctrine of Deity [Infobase Collector’s Library, Infobases, Inc.], chapter 1). Let’s examine the three points.
One god, two god, three god, four. . .
It’s a big universe out there - plenty of room for a plurality of gods. Well, at least that’s what LDS would have us believe. One of the central tenets of Mormonism is that while this world has but one God (Heavenly Father), there are countless other gods out there, each governing his own world or system of worlds. This position can be best labeled “henotheism,” that is, the belief in many gods, coupled with the worship of only one. The idea of a plurality of gods is found clearly in the Book of Abraham, one of Mormonism’s inspired writings. In it, the Genesis creation story is restated, with a significant modification:
“And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light; and there was light; And they (the Gods) comprehended the light, for it was bright. . . . And the Gods called the light Day, and the darkness they called Night” (Abraham 4:3-5). It goes on from there, adding “Gods” to every action in the original Genesis account. . . . (continue reading)