How Mormons feel about Islam

Muhammad receiving revelation from the angel GabrielJoseph Smith receiving the gold plates from the angel Moroni

A couple of weeks ago, I had the misfortune of watching parts of the hate-filled anti-Muslim film made in the United States and promoted by Pastor Terry Jones—the spark that set off the recent flames of anti-Western rage in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, and elsewhere. Jones, in case you don’t remember, is the same bigot that planned to burn copies of the Qur’an on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The film is horribly offensive. There have been offensive films made about Mormons, too, but nothing quite like this. It is truly trash, both artistically and as an expression of hate against Muslims.

Mormons have much in common with Muslims, and were subject in the 19th century to much of the same kind of ridicule as Muslims. Therefore, I think that Mormons are less likely than many evangelical Christians to join in Muslim-bashing. Also, there are many differences between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity that might tend to make Mormons more tolerant of Muslims.

First, unlike evangelicals, Mormon do not believe that Muslims are destined for hell unless they convert to Christianity and accept Jesus as their savior. To be clear, Mormons do believe that Mormon theology represents an exclusive path to the highest heavenly realm. However, in 1836, the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith said that he had a vision in which he was told, “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it had they been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.” (D&C 137:7). “This gospel” refers to the doctrines of Mormonism. Thus, according to Smith’s 1836 teaching, any Muslim who was not familiar with Mormonism, but would have accepted it had they known about it in their lifetime, would be automatically saved in the heavenly kingdom. Statistics would suggest that there ought to be far more Muslim-born people in that kingdom than Mormon-born.

A few years later in 1840, Joseph Smith introduced the practice of baptism for the dead, by which Mormons could be baptized as proxies for those people, including Muslims, who had died without Mormon baptism. Mormons today understand that in the afterlife, such people will have the choice as to whether or not to accept that baptism done on their behalf.

In Mormonism, all people including Christians are required to accept a Mormon baptism as a condition for salvation. Thus, as far as salvation is concerned, Mormon theology does not fundamentally distinguish between someone who died as a Muslim and someone who died as a Methodist.

Second, although Mormons believe that the “keys” to an effective baptism have been entrusted only to Mormon priests, they are not in generally opposed to the idea of non-Mormon or even non-Christian prophets. Mormon theology teaches that God “is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in.” (Alma 26:37). A very influential early 20th century Mormon scholar and leader named B.H. Roberts wrote in 1907 that Mormonism:

“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”

Muhammad would have been one of these non-Mormon prophets to whom God revealed his truth. In 1978, the LDS Church issued an official statement that Muhammad and other great religious leaders “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.”

Therefore, there is not much excuse within Mormon theology for Islamophobia, and there are enough outward similarities between Islam and Mormonism that one would not expect Mormons to be overly intolerant toward Muslims. Anti-Islam sentiment undoubtedly exists among some Mormons, as in any group, but I really believe it to be rare.


Why are so many modern Mormons conservative (Part I)

A recent Pew poll found what was no surprise, that Mormons are as a whole a highly conservative demographic. They are more likely to be conservative even than white evangelicals. As many as 66% of Mormons identify as conservative, and 74% identify as or lean Republican.

The reason why is a bit of a historical anomaly. Mormonism has its roots in 1820s New England and the frontier regions of the western United States in the 1830s and 40s. Its founder, Joseph Smith, was by no means a conservative. Indeed, he was a
religious communalist. His 1830 publication of scripture, the Book of Mormon, proposed and described an ancient, utopian society of Native Americans who “had all things in common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.” (4 Nephi 1:3) In the 1830s, Smith attempted to establish voluntary communalistic orders in Ohio and Missouri. But ultimately, Smith did not have the right political formula to make such economic structures work in antebellum America.

Smith also had little regard for the social and familial conventions of his day. In the 1840s, he quietly introduced the practice of polygamy, himself marrying as many as 30 or more women. While someone in the 21st century might think of polygamy as a conservative institution, in the 1840s, it was considered a form of libertinism, and a threat to the conservative social order. Though Smith lived before the advent of organized feminism, Smith was something of a protofeminist for his era. Though his faith inherited the patriarchal social conventions of his day, by the 1840s, Smith had invited women to join the Anointed Quorum, his closest group of spiritual advisers, as priestesses on an equal basis as men. He also organized a female fraternal and organization, with dreams of making it a parallel, female Mormon priesthood.

It is difficult to imagine what more Smith could have done to upset the conservative social order of his time. And Brigham Young, his successor, took Smith’s radicalism to the Utah territory in 1847. There, Young tried (and sometimes succeeded) to establish communistic or anarchistic economies, and Mormon women managed and published feminist church publications (e.g., the Woman’s Exponent), and agitated for civil rights and the right to vote.

So how did the average modern Mormon become so conservative? I will explore the answer to that question in Part II.