When they asked us about the meaning of “penitent” at a church group I was attending the other night, I have to admit that the first thing that came to mind was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when near the end of the movie Indiana is going through various obstacles to get to the Holy Grail. The instruction is that “only the penitent man will pass,” and at the last minute, he realizes he has to kneel in order to avoid having his head chopped off. So when I hear “penitent,” I think, “be humble before God or be decapitated,” which seems like potentially useful information, especially if I ever go on a religious quest that involves elaborate traps.
I’ve been thinking recently about some of the wild theological controversies in Christian history, such as the inclusion of the word filioque in the Nicene Creed (having to do with whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, or from the Father and the Son), which was one of the dividing lines between East and West; the Reformation debate over justification by faith alone; and the meaning of the Eucharist: transubstantiation, or just a symbol? (I recently read about how during a particular historical period in England when anti-Catholic sentiment carried the day, you could be outright imprisoned for elevating the Host.) And I’ve been thinking also about Mormon disputations with other Christians, focused on issues like the nature of God and salvation by grace, as well more internal Mormon controversies over matters such caffeinated drinks, Book of Mormon historicity, and of course all kinds of questions related to gender and sexual orientation.
Those who are deemed on the wrong side of these debates might get the label “heretic.” Bruce R. McConkie famously spoke of “seven deadly heresies”: the doctrine that God is progressing, the theory of evolution, the idea that temple marriage guarantees exaltation, the notion that you can get a “second chance” in the next life, the idea of progression between kingdoms, the infamous Adam-God doctrine, and the teaching that you have to be perfect to be saved. While I might actually believe in some of McConkie’s particular heresies, or at least be open to them, I’m thinking that there are nonetheless certain teachings that I’ve heard regularly which I think are deeply destructive—in my view, much more so than not having the “right” view of the Trinity/Godhead, or even of Book of Mormon historicity. So here’s my list of my own “seven deadly heresies”: Read More
One of the movies produced by the church that I actually rather enjoy is Nora’s Christmas Gift, partly because even though it has its cheesy moments, I like Nora, who is funny and real. But I also appreciate its message, which is one that resonates with me. Nora has to cope with life circumstances that I think most of us would find quite challenging, as age and declining health put her in a position where she finds herself more dependent on others. She has to cope with the unsettling shift from being the person who organized things and offered help to others to being the person in need of help. She quite understandably resents the situation and resists the help. But at the end of the movie, it occurs to her that learning to accept what others offer her—and ultimately what God offers her—is what Christmas is ultimately about: “let earth receive her King,” she says, with a dawning recognition that is it up to her to allow grace to affect her life. Read More