Religion & Spirituality
Becoming Like God, Pt. 1 (Gospel Topics Essay Series)
Hey Fireflies! Welcome to this bonus episode of Outer Brightness: From Mormon to Jesus. The Apostate Paul here. I’m recording a new intro for this episode, because since Matthew the Nuclear Calvinist and I recorded this episode on July 1, the state of affairs has changed. So in this intro, I’m going to provide a quick timeline.
In 2012 or 2013, the LDS Church began publishing Gospel Topics Essays designed to allow church members to learn about difficult topics in LDS Church history and doctrine directly from the Church’s official website, rather than other online sources. These essays have the imprimatur of the First Presidency of the LDS Church and acknowledge the reliance on the work of scholars in crafting the essays.
In the early 2000’s, when I was in the midst of my period of deep questioning and wrestling with my Mormon beliefs—what many call a faith crisis—there were many online apologetics resources, FAIR, SHIELDS, Ask Gramps. I remember that in the discussion boards, if someone posted an article from one of those resources in response to a question, it was often lamented that LDS Church leadership did not put their stamp of approval on those answers. Struggling members wondered if they could trust the apologetic resources. Many surmise that The Gospel Topics Essays were designed to do just that—to inoculate church members against difficult topics.
The relationship of the LDS Church to the essays, however, has been thorny. The essays are not easy to find on the website, and you won’t stumble on them unless you know what you’re looking for. Many who have left over the past 7-8 years have cited the essays as sources that caused them to question their beliefs and noted that when they spoke with local ecclesiastical leaders about the essays and the questions they caused, many local leaders were not even aware of their existence.
On June 23, Fred Anson shared with us that one of the Gospel Topics Essays—the one titled “Becoming Like God”—had disappeared from the LDS Church’s website, but was still available in the Gospel Library app available for mobile devices. Matthew and I had already discussed doing a series of episodes on the essays, so we fast tracked this one. We recorded this episode on July 1st.
At that time, the link for the “Becoming Like God” essay was still on the website: churchofjesuschrist.org, but it redirected to a different essay titled “Are Mormons Christian?” The disappearance of the “Becoming Like God” essay was widely noted in online ex-Mormon communities, and many were speculating that maybe the LDS Church was seeking to distance itself from the doctrines discussed therein—doctrines which perhaps more than any other LDS doctrines place Mormonism outside the mainstream of orthodox Christian beliefs. The fact that the link redirected to an essay aimed at answering the question “are Mormons Christian?” furthered that speculation.
On Tik-Tok, an ex-Mormon named “Exmo Lex” noted that the Frequently Asked Questions section of the Newsroom section of the LDS Church website expressly denies that Latter-day Saint scripture or doctrine teaches that exalted Mormons will get their own planets, even though LDS leaders have taught that as doctrine for almost two centuries and as recently as 2018, when current LDS prophet and president, Russell M. Nelson taught the traditional LDS doctrine on this point when he said,
"A fourth gift from our Savior is actually a promise—a promise of life everlasting. This does not mean simply living for a really, really, really long time. Everyone will live forever after death, regardless of the kingdom or glory for which they may qualify. Everyone will be resurrected and experience immortality, but eternal life is so much more than a designation of time. Eternal life is the kind and quality of life that Heavenly Father and his beloved Son live. When the Father offers us everlasting life he is saying in essence, “If you choose to follow my Son, if your desire is really to become more like him, then in time you may live as we live and preside over worlds and kingdoms as we do."
It seemed odd that the LDS Church would seemingly be distancing itself from this doctrine, but the LDS Church has repudiated core doctrine and practice before.
Over the weekend of July 3 and 4th, the essay in the mobile app began to disappear for those users whose apps had completed content refreshes. On the website no longer rerouted. It simply became circular, such that if you clicked the link for “Becoming Like God” you landed on another page with a link to “Becoming Like God.” It’s almost as if the LDS Church was trolling and the link became like the “eternity mirrors” in the sealing rooms of their temples.
Then on July 7th, the essay appeared back online. I used archive.org’s Wayback Machine to pull a version from May 18th and compared it to the July 7th version to see if edits had been made. The only change was the removal of the original publication date of February 2014.
So for now we close this odd bit of Mormon History still unsure why the essay disappeared for a couple weeks and which declaration of the LDS Church should be taken as doctrine: that made by the LDS Newsroom staff or that made by the current prophet and president of the church.
Even so, Matthew and I read each section of the essay in this episode and discuss it.
Link to “Becoming Like God” Gospel Topics Essay
Link to FAQ’s # 11 & 12
Link to Russell M. Nelson’s 2018 Christmas Devotional Address
Link to referenced podcast episodes about Origen
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