The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, April 14, 2022

It’s Thursday, April 14th, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

‘Lowering Temperature on Hot-Button Issues’: Interesting Words at Mormon Conference

Theology is often in the headlines. At least a part of what we try to cover on The Briefing is the fact that theology is basically always there under the headline, if not, explicitly in the headline. There are theological worldview issues always at stake. But sometimes, the theology at stake is not the theology of historic biblical Christianity. Sometimes it’s a very different theology. And that was the case with recent headlines about the twice annual conference of the Mormons, that would be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by their official designation. And this meeting, no surprise was held in Salt Lake City, Utah. The meeting did make headlines.

The headline as was published in a story from the associated press. The edition I saw was in the Orange County Register from California. The headline is, “Temperature lowered on the hot button issues.” Very interesting. As you place Mormonism in the American religious landscape, just in terms of, say liberal conservative issues, most people would almost immediately say the Mormons belong on the conservative side of the ledger. You look at Mormon dominated states, they tend to be red states. You look at Mormon theology, and we’ll talk more about that in just a moment, you’re looking at a particular theology of the family that insinuates or would certainly imply a very conservative understanding of many issues. You take same-sex marriage, it is not imaginable in the current Mormon theology.

But as you’re looking at Mormonism, there’s some huge issues that simply have to be addressed. And since these are in the headlines, this is a good time for us to talk about them. First of all, when you’re talking about the Mormon Church, when you’re talking about Mormon theology, you’re talking about a claim to revelation. And that claim to revelation takes us back, of course, to 1830, the publication of what was known as The Book of Mormon. You’re talking about a young man, late adolescent, young adult man, by the name of Joseph Smith, who in the Burned-Over District of New York, said that he had received angelic visions, particularly a revelation that had come to him. And of course this involves everything from 12 golden plates to a work that would eventually be known as The Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon is not the only Mormon scripture, but it is the central Mormon scripture. 1830 is about the right time to look at the emergence of Mormonism as a movement. And through the history of the Mormon Church, there’s the explanation of its westward movement, that westward movement in the 19th century, eventually leading to what was then the territory of Utah, the Mormons described it as Deseret. It would eventually become a state and that would lead to, well, the issue of revelation.

Because as it turns out, in the course of Mormonism as it was developing in the early years, one of the doctrines that was promulgated was the doctrine of male polygamy. That is to say men with several wives. This led to a huge issue. It went all the way to the Supreme Court. It eventually went all the way to Congress. And eventually the deal was, that if Utah was going to become a state, then Mormonism would have to abandon polygamy. But if polygamy was a part of Mormon theology, by the revelation that had come to Mormon leaders and the prophet, then how could they switch the position? How could they deny what they said was a teaching that had come directly by divine revelation? Well, the answer is, a new divine revelation. And that’s happened since. In the 1970s, a new revelation meant that the Mormon Church, which had not allowed African American men to be a part of the ironic priesthood, you could all of a sudden have a switch because God effectively has changed his mind.

This is very different than saying, “We misread the text.” No, this is a new revelation that replaces an old revelation. But this headline that appeared from the associated press in an article by Sam Metz about this twice annual conference that Mormons hold in Salt Lake City, it was about the Mormon leaders who were in the words of this article, “Lowering the temperature on hot button issues.” You might say frontline cultural issues. Well, that’s a very interesting time for this kind of headline to emerge. Because after all, Utah itself as a state has been very much in controversy over LGBTQ issues, other questions of hot button nature. You could also look at the fact that where Mormons live state after state, you see a consideration of these issues. Not to mention headlines having to do with everything, from Disney to whether or not biological males should be able to compete in sports as females, either as women or as girls. The controversy is basically now coast to coast. We’ve been talking about it, we’ll come back to it again.

But the interesting thing is that the Mormon leadership following its own internal strategy has decided to lower the temperature. Now we’ve seen some interesting moves coming from Mormonism that aren’t after all as conservative as the Mormon reputation might have been. Now, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as it calls itself is adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage. But it’s trying to find some way. You can see an evolving strategy by which the church is trying to soften its image as Mormonism confronts the LGBTQ revolution. And so you have had Mormon authorities who have given support to so-called fairness for all legislation. That is anti-discrimination legislation when it comes to LGBTQ identities, but legislation that would have at least some exemptions. Most importantly, exemptions in Utah, well, for the Mormon Church and for its affiliated corporations.

The issue here, however, as evangelical Christians understand, is that fairness for all is basically a way of trying to adopt an absolute non-discrimination policy when it comes to LGBTQ issues, that’s diversity and inclusion. All that you see as a part of the LGBTQ activist agenda while trying to carve out just very narrow exceptions. Those might include churches denominations, might include Christian schools, might not. But certainly would not include Christians in the workplace, cake bakers, wedding, photographers, medical professionals, you go down the list. There’s simply no way we can make the distinction of the church over against the believer in the world that Mormonism does when it comes to adherence of Mormonism.

When it comes to the issue of revelation, remember that the central claim of revelation of the Mormon Church is not only that The Book of Mormon and other Mormon scriptures came by new revelation. And after all, the central claim of Mormonism is that it is a restorationists movement, that in Joseph Smith and in the Mormon movement, God is moving to restore a church. That means that the Christian Church as it now exists, has to pass away in order that a restored church, that would be Mormonism, would take its place.

The doctrine of revelation, however, extends to the function of the president, the prophet of the church. And that is considered to be an ongoing revelation, which is to say that the current president or prophet of the church, that would be Dr. Russell Nelson, who by the way is 97 years old, that’s pretty remarkable, he is considered to be a living prophet. So some of the headlines coming out of the press office of the Mormon Church simply identify him as the prophet. Nelson’s addressed to the conference basically called upon Mormons to gain spiritual momentum and to avoid contentiousness.

But there were some really interesting statements made in the course of this conference, Dallin H. Oaks who has identified as first counselor in the governing first presidency spoke of the fact that gender is lasting. It’s “an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” For that reason, President Oak said that is important that Mormons would oppose “social and legal pressures to retreat from his doctrine, and that means God’s doctrine of marriage between a man and a woman, and to oppose changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women.” He went on to say that the family proclamation of the church in 1995 was founded on “irrevocable doctrine.” That’s a pretty clear sign that the Mormon Church is saying, “We’re not going to change our basic doctrine. Here’s where evangelical Christians need to understand that even as on the issue of the importance of gender, we are in agreement.” We’re not in agreement about how this has come to be or what it means.

For Mormons, you’re looking at the fact that gender is a part of an ongoing reality that includes the propagation of spirit beings. And this would include a couple, a man and a woman, sealed in a temple ceremony in Mormonism and the spirit progeny that they will throughout eternity produce. But the important thing here to recognize is that that works backwards to the fact that there is not only in Mormon theology, Heavenly Father, there is also Heavenly Mother.

Part II

Heavenly Mother? A Fascinating Window Into Mormon Theology

Now this is where things get really interesting because one of the headlines that came out of the Mormon conference is the fact that one of the most important Mormon leaders gave an address in which the warning was, “Don’t pray in the name of Heavenly Mother.” According to a team of reporters for the Salt Lake Tribune, apostle Dale G. Renlund. He, again, by the way, very interestingly, he, like president Nelson, was formerly a cardiologist. Renlund was actually head of the transplant program there in Salt Lake City. Now identified as a ruling apostle of the church, he spoke of foundational truce as he spoke to a woman session. And then he said this, “Very little has been revealed about Mother in Heaven. But what we do know is summarized in a gospel topic found in our gospel library application.”

He went on to say, “Once you’ve read what is there, you will know everything that I know about the subject. I wish I knew more. You too may still have questions and want to find more answers.” He went on to say that the pattern Jesus had given his disciples that is to pray to the Father in his name. He went on to say that Latter-day Saints “follow this pattern and direct our worship to our Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ and do not pray to Heavenly Mother ever since God appointed prophets. They have been authorized to speak on his behalf, but they do not pronounce doctrines fabricated of their own mind or teach what has not been revealed.”

Again, you’re seeing their claim to revelation here. But notice evangelical Christians. Notice those who are tied to historic biblical Christianity, the very notion of a Heavenly Mother, a mother in heaven. But that’s not an accident. Because even as this particular apostle of the Mormon Church was trying to explain that Mormons don’t know much about Heavenly Mother, the real issue here is that there has been a push for more liberal Mormons for more talk about Heavenly Mother. There’s been a push operating from a pretty obviously feminist agenda to try to say, “Well, if we’re praying to Heavenly Father, we ought also to pray to Heavenly Mother.” Again, remember evangelical Christians, there is no Heavenly Mother. There is no consort to God the Father Almighty. This is something that came by the invention of a late adolescent male in upstate New York in the 19th century.

I realized the Mormon claimed a revelation says that it was instead by an angel that these things came. But nonetheless, here is where we need to remember the apostle Paul, who said, “If I, or even an angel, bring you a contrary doctrine, let him be a cursed.” So that’s a warning that is even in the New Testament. But there’s several things for us to consider here. Number one, when you’re thinking about the larger cultural reality, theology does matter. And in one sense, the very strange theology of Mormonism that includes ongoing reproduction and gender beyond even our Christian understanding of the goodness of gender and creation, that has consequences. And that’s why given the fact that the family is theologically so central, and by the way, the United States as a nation is even very important in terms of Mormon theology in a way it’s not true for historic biblical Christianity. And remember that when Christianity was established, the United States did not exist.

But the important thing for us to recognize is that theological differences aside for a moment, we’re going to find ourselves on the same side on many moral issues as you see Mormonism here. And that’s particularly true the closer you get to marriage, because marriage has a theological significance for Mormonism that is central and essential to their very understanding of the entire religious system. They can’t compromise their own doctrine of marriage without basically unraveling everything of the entire Mormon theology.

But you’ll also note that theology has consequences. And if indeed in your theology you’re going to have a Heavenly Mother along with a Heavenly Father, and by the way, this is going to be about the propagation of spirit beings, then people are going to wonder why does he speak? And is she silent? Understanding Mormon theology helps us to understand these headlines and also helps us to understand the distinction between the Latter-day Saints and historic biblical Christianity. And there is no more graphic example than the Mormon doctrine of Heavenly Mother. The very issue of revelation itself is central, where we understand that when we say that the Bible is the inherent, infallible, verbally inspired word of God, and that the Bible alone is sufficient as God’s revelation, we really do mean alone. We mean the Bible alone. We’re not waiting for any new revelation. We have all the revelation that is needful for life, for salvation, for understanding the world and for awaiting Jesus until he comes.

At the level of common grace, we can be thankful for the fact that there are people, even people of a very different theology who agree with us about how legislation should be arranged in defining something such as marriage. That’s not unimportant. But that particular agreement cannot obscure the larger areas of disagreement and the logic of two very different theological systems works its way out, even when it comes down to some kind of arrangement such as fairness for all. And when it comes to this meeting of the Mormon Church, it’s also very clear that the church wants to lower the temperature on these issues. I don’t believe that’s going to be possible by the way, I don’t believe the world is going to cooperate with lowering the temperature on these issues.

But these headlines also remind us, remind Christians, that we do not live in a theological vacuum and understanding the theology of our neighbors is also important. One thing you know about the Mormons, they make for very good neighbors. They are very kind. It is almost a doctrine of the Mormon Church to be kind. Kindness and graciousness are a couple of things that evangelicals should learn from observing Mormons. Theology? Not so much.

Part III

‘To Be Trans is to Enter a Sacred Journey of Becoming Whole’: A Former Archbishop of Canterbury and the Liberal Enthusiasm for Transgender Ideology

But next, as we are continuing on the theme that theology matters, theology has shown up in other headlines. This one coming from great Britain. This one from the Telegraph, a major newspaper in London. Here’s the headline, “Becoming transgender a sacred journey of becoming whole, says ex-Archbishop of Canterbury.” In this case, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, that means the primate of the Anglican Church particularly, the head of the church of England. He held that position some years ago. He is now in his retirement from that position, Lord Williams of Oystermouth. And yet we’re talking about Rowan Williams. He had for years been very well known as an academic theologian and as someone who has had a rather significant attraction to the east, as an Eastern Orthodoxy, and whose life is represented a considerable reflection upon mysticism.

But in this case, the important theological issue is that the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury, the former head, that is the clerical head, of the church of England, has now described transgender existence as something that is sacred, a sacred journey of becoming whole. This statement came even as there was controversy, we’ll be talking about this next week on The Briefing, controversy in England over the fact that England’s conservative government had planned to hold a major conference on LGBTQ issues, including a consideration of conversion therapy. But it all fell apart when the conservative government there would not extend ban on conversion therapy to the transgender issue.

But what you’re seeing here is that the former Archbishop of Canterbury is appalled by that and decided that on theological grounds, he wanted to speak out. What did he say? He said, “Conversion to Christianity is the event or process by which a person responds joyfully to the glorious embrace of the eternally loving and ever merciful God. It has nothing to do with so-called conversion therapy.” He said, “Pressure put by one person on another to fit their expectations, the attempt to induce vulnerable and isolated people to deny who they truly are.”

I simply want to stop here for a moment. Here you have the former clerical theological head of the church of England. Here you have the former Archbishop of Canterbury speaking in order to use the language of identity politics. Not only that, but modern psychology in order to say, “You look within to find out who you are.” You’ll notice here again the language is about people knowing or denying, for that matter, who they truly are. He then said this, “To be trans is to enter a sacred journey of becoming whole. Precious, honored, and loved by yourself, by others, and by God.” It’s an amazing statement for it to come from anyone but particularly coming from someone who at one point held the theological stewardship of the church of England and at least by extension of the larger Anglican communion worldwide. But then again, Rowan Williams was Archbishop of Canterbury during the years that church basically, at least in pastoral ministry, nearly completely capitulated to the LGBTQ agenda. So there’s really no surprise that it’s this particular ex-Archbishop of Canterbury making this kind of language.

But it is important when we recognize that there are people who are longing for, looking for, demanding that religious leaders make this kind of statement. It’s a statement that is directly contrary to of the word of God, by which we are told here that to be trans again, is to enter a sacred journey of becoming whole. Now that raises a crucial question. Just how whole are we? Just how whole is any man? Just how whole is any woman? When it comes to spiritual wholeness, we are not whole without Christ. Period. He is the only one who can make us whole. But as you think about embodiment, as you think about being male or female, wholeness in the sense of creation can’t mean denying how God has made us and claiming that our own self-identity trumps the divine purpose, or saying that somehow there was a mistake made and the divine purpose supposedly is something disclose to us but denied by our bodies.

But again, let’s just consider as we close on this issue that theology matters and it really matters in a case like this, because this isn’t a matter just of some kind of theological discussion in some seminar room, in some theological institution. This is a public statement made by someone who had held major public responsibility in an historic Christian Church, and he basically here is offering a theology that is directly contrary to scripture and he is doing so believing that the message that he is bringing will lead to human happiness, wholeness, and flourishing. It really presents a test to evangelical Christians. Are we absolutely certain that the theology revealed in scripture the truth of God’s word, is actually that which leads to human wholeness and happiness, human flourishing? Well, brothers and sisters, either we believe that or we don’t. If we do believe that, we can’t possibly go with the former arch-stewardship of Canterbury. But we also can’t let his comments go without our consideration.

Part IV

Theological Liberalism and Accommodation to the Modern World: Oldest Jewish Seminary in the U.S. Will End Its Rabbinical Training

But finally for today, another news story of theological consequence. In this case, the theology is Judaism. And not just Judaism, but a very liberal form of Judaism. It turns out that the oldest Jewish seminary in the United States is going to end its program of Rabbinic training, simply because of the fall-off in enrollment. As of this current year, they only have about 27 rabbinical students, not enough to keep the institution alive. The institution is Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. Here’s, what’s so fascinating. This takes us back to 1875. Just think about Judaism in the 19th century, in the United States, 1875. Most people don’t recognize that the actual first Jewish seminary was established in the United States there in Cincinnati, Ohio. On the Ohio river, in the Heartland of the United States. Only later would reform Judaism established schools in York and in Los Angeles, they’re going to continue by the way, also with declining enrollment.

But the big issue here is that reform Judaism of the three branches of Judaism is the most liberal. You would have Orthodox Judaism, more conservative; Conservative Judaism, in the middle, by the way not so conservative; and Reform Judaism, the most liberal. It’s just fascinating that it was reformed Judaism that established this very first Jewish seminary in the United States in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Final thought about this? The very idea of reform Judaism as it was known was to accommodate or adjust Judaism to the realities of the modern world. In this case, the modern world defined by the year 1875, basically by the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s at the very same time that Protestant liberals are making the very same argument about making Christianity. Reformulating, restructuring, redefining Christianity so to make Christianity at home in the modern world.

But any way you look at it, theological liberalism may have its heyday as theological liberalism certainly did in cities like New York and elsewhere in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But you look now and those massive churches are largely empty. And their institutions, as in this case, are actually closing. There will be people who will argue that the big issue here is economics or perhaps sociology, but as Christians, we always have to remember that the big issue here in the big picture is theology. It always is. It always will be.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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