The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) has announced a new edition to their scriptures. The changes affect all four of their principal works - the King James Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
Most of the changes are spelling or typographical errors, such as to-day to today and lunatick to lunatic. Of course, this begs the question over why Smith's infallible transcription from the golden plates still requires corrections almost 200 years after the fact, but that's for another post.
Nevertheless, there are notable changes coming to the August 2013 print edition (online versions avaliable now).
Among those notable changes are "Official Declarations" that will be added at the end of Doctrine & Covenants (D&C), a collection of revelations primarily given to Joseph Smith during the early days of Mormonism.
These declarations, written prior to the new edition, are attempts to address controversial issues in Mormon history. The first of the two touches on polygamy while the second tackels the issue of racism.
As Christians, it is wise for us to pay particular attention to any changes the LDS Church makes to their scriptures. Mormonism continues to make a bid for cultural identification as a Christian denomination and it appears the lastest edition to LDS scripture is simply the next step in that process.
POLYGAMY - OFFICIAL DECLARATION 1
"The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise...Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s...After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church."
At face value, this declaration appears to satisfactorily answer any questions regarding pologamy in Mormonism. However, the entire statement is a curious slight of hand. While the Book of Mormon does teach monogamy, this is not inclusive of all Mormon scripture. Latter-day Saints do not find the command for polygamy in the Book of Mormon; rather, it is found in D&C 132.
Of course, as the LDS Church would surly point out, the commentary at the beginning of D&C 132 (the section commanding polygamy) points the reader to Official Declaration 1. So, any reference to polygamy in D&C 132 must be understood in light of the first declaration.
But we cannot forget that D&C 132 does not simply err by way of introducing polygamy. In D&C 132:37 we are told that Abraham's polygamous actions were "accounted unto him as righteousness" and as a result he is now exulted as a god.
This verse directly contradicts Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, and Galatians 3:6 which all attest to Abraham's faith, not his polygamy, as attributing righteousness to him. It also challenges the biblical teaching of monotheism and reinforces the Mormon teaching that humans can become gods as a result of their obedience to Heavenly Father's ordinances in this life (Isaiah 43:10; 45:5, 1 Corinthians 8:6, etc.).
Even so, it is difficult to reconcile D&C 132 with the LDS Church's declaration. Official Declaration 1 implies that the command for polygamy was temporary and only relevant to early Mormonism. However, in context D&C 132:41 clearly states that polygamy is an aspect of "the new and everlasting covenant."
If D&C is truly the word of God, and the LDS Church abolished polygamy in 1890, then either the new covenant spoken of in D&C 132 wasn't actually everlasting or the LDS Church is disobeying their Heavenly Father by not practicing polygamy (something that some fringe Mormon groups would agree with).
So, while the LDS Church may take steps to offer an apology for why Joseph Smith's writings include polygamy, they continue to ignore the glaring unbiblical aspects of the very same work.
RACISM - OFFICIAL DECLARATION 2
"The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church...Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent...[but later] revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood."
The second declaration directly addresses the LDS Church's history of racism which plagued the church for many years. Much to the dismay of modern LDS leadership, at one point in time the church did not allow black men of African ancestry into the ordained priesthood. This, in turn, precluded them from ever achieving the highest level of salvation in the afterlife.
It was only after increased pressure from government and society did LDS President Spencer W. Kimball receive (very timely) revelation from Heavenly Father to remove the racial restriction on ordained priesthood.
To soften this fact, Official Declaration 2 points to a verse from the Book of Mormon as proof that the early LDS Church would not have tolerated such racism. 2 Nephi 26:33 states, "He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."
(If that sounds familiar, it's because the 2 Nephi verse has generously borrowed from Galatians 3:28 which states, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.")
Aside from the obvious plagerism found in 2 Nephi 26:33, what is even more interesting is what the Official Declaration 2 does not address -- why did the LDS Church struggle with racism to begin with?
Of course, the answer could be found in the cultural climate of the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries. The LDS Church was simply a victim of the racism that saturated every other facet of American life for over 200 years.
But, if a verse such as 2 Nephi 26:33 exists, why did it take a revelation from Heavenly Father to allow all races into ordained priesthood?
Perhaps the answer lies in 2 Nephi 5:21 where Mormons are taught that Heavenly Father cursed rebellious white people by causing a "skin of blackness to come upon them."
If people have a "skin of blackness" as a result of a curse from Heavenly Father, then why should they be allowed to join the priesthood?
The fact remains that while the Book of Mormon provided a novel attempt of opening the offering of savlation to all ethnic backgrounds, it also exasperated racism within the Mormon community for decades.
STILL THE SAME OLD TEACHINGS
In offering these two Official Declarations, the LDS Church is simply brushing over deep historical and theological issues within Mormonism. It is my opinion that LDS leadership is hoping that by providing a superficial answer, they will be seen as having "addressed the issue" in public light. If they've publicly addressed the issue, then perhaps critics will leave them alone and the general public will look the other way.
But, at the end of the day, this is still the same old teachings of Joseph Smith. It is clear that he intended for polygamy to be an everlasting covenant and allowed the Book of Mormon to act as an abettor of racism within Mormonism.
Until LDS leaders address the issues of polygamy and racism at a repentant level, no amount of Official Declarations will ever correct the dangerous and false teachings of Joseph Smith.
Kyle Beshears lives in Cambridge, England, is the author of Robot Jesus and Three Other Jesuses You Never Knew and blogs at Dear Ephesus on church issues and apologetics.