President Hinckley contradicts Joseph Smith on whether God was a man

The following is a recent conversation between me and my friend. While it wasn’t quoted in our conversation, the question arises because of a sermon delivered by Joseph Smith and first published on 15 August 1844 called the King Follett Sermon. In it, Joseph Smith teaches that God was once a man like us, and that man can become like God. Of course this doctrine is quite controversial to those who have never thought of such a thing, but Mormons believe this is what life is all about, and that when the scriptures talk of us being “children of God” that this is to be taken quite literally. However, in an article in Time Magazine President Gordon B. Hinckley, the President of the LDS Church, appears to be downplaying this teaching, and critics have used this quote to say that he is backtracking from what is a fundamental doctrine of the church, and that therefore all Mormons are sneaky monkeys and not to be trusted.

Q: When asked in a Time magazine interview if God the Father was once a man, President Gordon Hinckley said, “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it…” (8/4/97, p. 56). Was he telling the truth?

A: Most of what is taught and emphasized in the LDS Church is practical knowledge that is actionable like being charitable, serving others, working through problems and challenges, raising a good family, etc. Most members know about this doctrine and it gets referenced occasionally, but I don’t think it’s something anybody in our church dwells on too much because where do you go with it? God used to be a man, and men can become like God, so what? How does that change what I’m going to do on Monday? So I would agree that from my experience as a member of the church I don’t think it gets taught or emphasized very much, if at all.

Q: What man believes about God is everything. You probably don’t emphasize what Mormonism teaches because it is an embarassing view of god.

What you bring up is actually what I call the “bait and switch” of Mormonism. Elders bring up things in the living room like family home evening, doing good works, the BOM, and perhaps the names of Jesus and God. But thats it.

Then after someone falls for it thay get baptized in to the Mormon church and then its like “Well, we believe god was a man, and Jesus and Satan are brothers and by the way we baptize for the dead, etc.”

The Mormon “Truth” is not explained to peopleup front. it is explained to tme later when they are a part of the Mormon church; when it’s too late.


A: I think you’re confusing “not promoting” with “hiding”. The LDS Church isn’t trying to hide what Mormons believe because they’re embarrassed about anything, but there’s no reason to go out of your way to promote certain things. Why would we go out of our way to teach the things we know people will think are weird when those things aren’t the main focus of our religion anyway? Of course people are baptized into all sorts of religions every day without knowing every detail about those religions, and there’s always a strong possibility that they’ll learn something about that religion that they find strange, don’t agree with, or are just too plain lazy to do. A substantial number of Christ’s followers fell away as they learned more about what was required of them if they really wanted to follow him (see John 6:66).

And it’s not as though it’s ever “too late” to leave the LDS Church. Nobody is forced into it and nobody is forced to stay in it. People leave the church all the time.

Q: On the contrary, think about what you would lose if you left, Josh. You would stand to lose a lot. Friends, Family, connections, and even your wife if she doesn’t decide to go with you. Thats evidence of a cult right there.

A: I don’t know of anyone whose spouse has left them because they left the LDS Church. I’m sure it happens but if it does it’s can’t be too common or I would have heard about it at least once. But I do know of plenty of members of the church who have spouses who have left the church and they’re still together. But the same could be said of someone leaving any group, whether it’s a church, chamber of commerce, or book club. Whenever you lose a group you risk losing friends and connections.

But since baptism for the dead is something every member of the LDS Church learns about within the first year of their membership (if not before they’re baptized) it’s not as though they’ve got the 30 year history that I do.

The best explanation I’ve found of why President Hinckley said was he said can be found in Downplaying the King Follett Discourse.

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