Allow me to expose some of the LDS beliefs and doctrines that don’t get spoken of very much in public.
LDS members believe that angels, God, and man are the same kind of thing. God is literally our father, angels are simply messengers sent by God (and may come as spirits, or resurrected beings, or mortal beings living around you). We all possess the ability to become like God, just like a child can grow into an adult. To us this is a self-evident and obvious from a plain reading of the Bible. I do not understand why people get so worked up about this, and why they insist in putting God and men and angels in separate boxes. I find Jesus’ teachings on this particular subject to be extraordinarily clear and precise.
The priesthood is when a man (male or female) takes upon themselves the attributes of God, and actively engages in the work of God on this earth. There are, of course, official ordinations and offices and assignments and callings as part of this, and they are absolutely necessary, but there is a great deal a man or woman can do in the priesthood without much more authority than you have as simply being a member of the church.
The opposite of priesthood is priestcraft. Priestcraft are simply people who treat doing God’s work as a day job. We have people practicing priestcraft within our church, of course, and they are condemned for it. (Sunday Mormons are not Mormons at all.) There are also those who exercise priestcraft outside of the church. I know this cuts deep into other religions, and is probably the reason why established, profitable churches despise Mormons, but it must be said. If you’re doing priestcraft, you’re working for the other guy.
LDS members claim rights to the priesthood; this is true. What people do not talk about is what we intend to do with our unique power and authority. We intend, simply, to baptize the entire world, bring them into our temples, and have them covenant with God for time and all eternity in unbreakable covenants that seal their families together forever. We intend to be the mechanism whereby the entire earth can be redeemed and live with God and like God in eternal bliss. In more immediate terms, we foresee a disaster. When Jesus returns to earth, all the wicked will be burnt as stubble. If we have our way, there will be no one wicked at the time of his coming. That means there will be no wars, no inequality, in any part of the world. That is our grand Mormon conspiracy.
(Priesthood authority also exists with the tribe of Levi and the sons of Aaron. We admit this. We know of no other existing priesthood lines on the earth than ours and theirs.)
LDS make sacred covenants and oaths in the temple. Among these are promises to obey the law and gospel of Christ, to avoid excess and to dedicate our lives and property to the church. This may sound nefarious to some, but the church mission is as I described above. Greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for his brother, so spake the Savior himself. We have covenanted to lay down our lives for the church, whose mission is to bring people to Christ. In other words, we are sacrificing our lives to bring people to Christ, both within and without the church, the living and the dead.
There is no secret doctrine or teaching in the temple. The lessons we teach and the ordinances we perform are already found scattered in the Bible. I will not point it out to you, but suffice it to say that it is there and you can find it yourself. If you study the Bible and the publicly available writings on Mormon doctrine (official church doctrine, not the book Mormon Doctrine which is not official), you will have exactly no surprises when you enter the temple and see for yourself.
Our temples are open to the world. However, they are a “clean room”, similar to the clean rooms we manufacture microchips in. You must go through a purification process that lasts at least a year. This starts with the ordinance of baptism, and requires that one obey a certain minimum standard and live spiritually for a year. If you entered the temple prematurely, you will miss the message because you will fail to receive the proper spiritual promptings and you will miss the deeper meaning of the symbols found in and around the temple. In short, if you want to experience the temple for yourself, get baptized, live according to our commandments for a year, and then you will understand.
We freely admit that the members of the church are far from perfect, but the structure and priesthood organization is of God. The church is still under a curse that Joseph Smith pronounced long ago. We have not yet been lifted from that curse. The curse is that we have not used the Book of Mormon as it was meant to be used, and so we are held back from certain doctrines and teachings. When we begin to use the Book of Mormon the way it was intended, we will be freed from the curse and have available to us greater spiritual knowledge and insight.
We embrace imperfection. We love you as you are. We know that inside of you is something much, much greater held back by your sins. Many members of the church are not perfect and do not embrace imperfection; it makes me sad to hear about someone who encounters these people. I hope they repent of their pride and learn to love people for who they are. I vow to be your close friend, even if you sin differently than I do.
We embrace imperfection, but we strive to eliminate it within ourselves. We teach each other often and freely, but we are very self-focused when it comes to working out our salvation and eliminating our imperfection. Say you have a problem smoking. You are free to come to our meetings and associate with us even as you maintain the habit. We will, hopefully, never take you aside and say, “Br. so-and-so, it’s time to give up smoking.” Instead, we will teach you our doctrine, and eventually, the spirit will prick your heart and you’ll say, “I believe God wants me to give up smoking.” At that point, we’ll do whatever we can to help you change your life, especially in providing spiritual help and a circle of friends you feel comfortable associating with.
Let me sum up what the priesthood is all about with a story. A young woman listened to the missionaries, received a spiritual witness, and decided to get baptized. In her former life, she had an abortion, which is a gross sin. Imagine her feelings and thoughts as she approached the baptismal interview. A young, 20-year-old missionary asked her the questions about her faith and preparation. When she expressed that she had an abortion, the interviewer excused himself to make the requisite phone call. The mission president answered the call, and told the young missionary, “Make sure she understands that the Lord loves her and forgives her, and make sure she forgives herself.” Satan would have us believe the priesthood is about holding people back, but it’s all about building people up, lifting them over the things that hold us back from God. Without the priesthood, there would be no one who could speak with absolute spiritual authority on behalf of Christ’s sacrifice to drive away all fear and doubt and guilt from that young woman’s heart.
We believe Thomas S. Monsen is a prophet of God, formally, a prophet, seer, and revelator, as well as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This means if God is going to reveal something to the world, it will be through him. This also means that he can see into the future, past, or present, and understand what is really happening behind the scenes. However, the president delegates his priesthood authority all the way down to the lowliest of church members. His calling is not to lord over the earth as God’s representative, but to empower everyone who wants to to serve the Lord in a similar capacity.
It is true that women in our church do not receive the laying on of hands for the priesthood, and do not hold certain offices such as bishop, apostle or prophet. Given what I described above, it is trivial to see how women are just as much a part of the priesthood as the men. Although we have not been perfect in this regard, I can state with absolute authority that women in the church today are equal co-partners in the work we do. They hold authority comparable to the men. We joke sometimes that the Relief Society President (a position exclusive to women) is the third counselor in the bishopric (positions exclusive to men.) We freely acknowledge that a ward only functions when the bishop and relief society presidents, along with other ward leaders, male and female, are working cooperatively towards the same goals, sharing all the responsibility for the salvation of mankind among themselves without regard to gender.
When the church makes a press release detailing some of our beliefs, it has never been in contradiction to our actual beliefs. Some people accuse us of saying one thing and then doing another. Individuals within our church are mortal and prone to error, but organizationally, we strive to be consistent with what our leaders tell us to do. What we say we do with baptisms and with politics is what we actually do.
If you see a member of my church behaving in a way that is incongruent with our teachings, let them know. We hold ourselves to the highest standards imaginable. We should also admit our imperfection, and welcome criticism and strive to do better constantly. If it is a gross incongruity, such as dishonesty, theft, slander, adultery or murder, or even a profession in contradiction to our basic doctrines, let members of the church know. We do not want to keep people in our church who do not wish to be a part of it.
The priesthood operates exclusively by persuasion. If anyone tries to use the priesthood to force people to do things, as our doctrine says, “AMEN” to his authority and power. The powers of the priesthood are only present when the actor is living righteously. Translation: if someone wants to use the priesthood to do something, it must be done with persuasion, and the person must rely on their own righteousness, not bullying or force or coercion.
Joseph Smith’s teachings on the Law of Consecration detail how to build a Zion community where there is no poor or inequality among the people. Several attempts were made in Joseph Smith’s time, all of which ended in disaster and failure because the members of the Zion communities were not right in their hearts. Joseph Smith declared that no further attempts should be made until a time that would be revealed later. We understand that Zion begins within one’s own heart, and you can create a Zion environment in your own home. In Zion, property rights are established and protected; the bishop would administer donated surplus to those in need; substance would be shared freely among people according to their needs and wants. We believe that Zion will bring unprecedented wealth, prosperity, and happiness to people who practice it correctly. This is not related to Communism at all, which tends to work from the outside in, top-down, and relies on coercion rather than persuasion. In fact, Communism can be considered as a complete opposition to the Law of Consecration. The Law of Consecration is capitalism unbound because the people’s hearts are actually right and not set upon their substance.