The following is a transcript of Hank Hanegraaff’s interview with Sandra Tanner, co-founder of Utah Lighthouse Ministry aired on 10/10/2011. Sandra is the great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young and a leading expert on the Mormon religion.
HANK HANEGRAAFF: On the line, the great-great granddaughter of Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church; her name’s Sandra Tanner, co-founder of Utah Lighthouse Ministry. We’re talking about Mormonism, it’s in the news, particularly animated today about an article that I read in the Charlotte Observer, in which you had a pastor, a Baptist pastor, come right out and say Mormonism was a cult, and Romney was not a Christian. Then you had Bill Bennett denouncing the pastor for bigotry against Mormons, which of course begs the question, how do we deal with the whole issue of Mormonism in a way that reaches as opposed to repels, and how do we communicate the truth in love to the very people we want to reach? Mormonism is gaining worldwide credibility. I’ve seen that even in my trips to China, where I was asked by officials of the Communist Party—personally asked—about Mormonism, whether Mormonism was in fact an acceptable form of religion that would not disrupt China. Particularly in their case, they were concerned from a sociological perspective. How should we think about Mormonism? Because Mormonism is making inroads in China, just like it is in a lot of places throughout the world.
One of the things we discussed last week on this broadcast, Sandra, was this notion that not only do Mormons communicate that Christ did not exist from all eternity, but they contend that our Lord was conceived in heaven by Heavenly Mother and then came in flesh as the result of Heavenly Father having sex with the Virgin Mary. Now in evidence of that, I quoted quite a few different Mormon authorities, and yet, Mormon callers and communicators in all kinds of venues contacted our ministry and said, “We do not teach that.” Your response—
SANDRA TANNER: Well, the Mormon has usually heard the phrase: Jesus is the literal Son of the Father in the flesh. That’s a common phrase used in Mormonism: literal Son of the Father in the flesh. The question—the problem—is the Mormon doesn’t think through the implications of the statement. Because they believe Heavenly Father once lived on another earth, died and was resurrected, and achieved godhood, that makes God have a physical body. And when they speak of Jesus being the literal Son of the Father in the flesh, their church leaders have said at various times over many years that this was in a natural course of things. That Jesus was begotten and born of Mary in the same way that every mortal man has been fathered and brought forth into mortality. So it has to mean that God had sex with Mary. I don’t understand how the Mormons can understand it any other way. Bruce McConkie, one of their apostles, just within the last twenty years, he said, “There is nothing figurative or hidden or beyond comprehension in our Lord’s coming into mortality. He is the Son of God in the same sense and way that we are the sons of mortal fathers” .
HANK: I might add that Mormon apostle Orson Pratt, who incidentally was an original member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, once explained that “the fleshly body of Jesus required a Mother as well as a Father. Therefore, the Father and Mother of Jesus, according to the flesh, must have been associated together in the capacity of Husband and Wife: Hence, the Virgin Mary must have been, for the time being, the lawful wife of God the Father” . So what we are communicating here is simply what Mormons communicate, but, Sandra, as we talked before, their revelations are ever-changing; it could be that a current revelator in the church changes this doctrine.
SANDRA: Well, there’s no official statement changing it. They just want to skirt around the wording. But they still always say Jesus is the literal Son of the Father in the flesh, and making a distinction between we are all God’s literal children in heaven, we were born to God in this life, in a pre-earth life, and so when they say that Jesus is the literal Son of the Father in the flesh, they mean here in mortality, God was His father, not just God was His father in this pre-earth life, but He was His father here on earth. Their leaders have made it very specific at times that this was a natural act. Now the average Mormon may not have connected the dots on what that all means, but it would be the logical conclusion from all their statements about Jesus being the literal son of a physical resurrected man.
HANK: But what I’m actually alluding to here, Sandra, is something else; what I’m trying to underscore here and get your comment on is that—well, lets use this example: Back in 1978, the President and Prophet Spencer Kimble, he changed official doctrine when it came to men of African descent holding the priesthood. So what I’m suggesting is, if Mormons really don’t like this notion of the Father literally having sex with the Virgin Mary, as a glorified man, if they don’t like that, their current president could, as the revelator in the church currently, he could change that doctrine. So if they don’t like it, change it.
SANDRA: Yes, they could change—they could any of their doctrines. They started out condemning polygamy, then Joseph went into polygamy and they for fifty years or so they preached it was the only way you got exaltation in the celestial kingdom, and then in 1890 they said nope, we’re doing away with that; we’re not going to practice polygamy anymore. That has been another issue that’s changed. Just like on the Blacks, before ‘78 a Black couldn’t hold priesthood, then in ‘78 God evidently told the prophet that now they can. We see many changes through all of Mormon history of an evolution of thought. Through Joseph Smith’s lifetime, I can show they’ve changed over a fourteen-year period. He changed his view of God. He changed his view of marriage. He changed his view of polygamy. He changed his view on Masonry. He introduced new temple rituals that weren’t part of Mormonism in the beginning. There is this constant flux of change, but to the Mormon, they say, “Well, he’s God’s prophet, so yes, we can have change. That’s not a problem.” But then, how can you say that Mormonism is supposedly a restoration of New Testament Christianity? You can’t say something is a restoration and also keep changing it.
HANK: And we’re talking about the difference between the Mormon authority and the Christian authority. When we look at our authority, we say that the Bible is the infallible authority of redemptive revelation, and, therefore, it becomes the final court of arbitration. There are no new revelations; all revelations in the present must be ultimately judged by the revelation that God has already given us.
In the remaining moments, Sandra, I want to deal with the most salient issue, and that is what Mormons look forward to in eternity. You’ve touched on this, but I want to unpack this a little more, because Mormons contend that they will appear before Heavenly Father dressed in fig-leaf aprons, holding good works in their hands, and according to the Latter-day Saints virtually everyone qualifies for heaven. Talk about their plan of salvation, and their concept of eternity, and the distinction with that given through orthodox Christianity.
SANDRA: Well, in Christianity, we look to Jesus’ words, that in the end times, the sheep will be separated from the goats, and there’s a narrow way and a broad way, and the Christian understanding was that the narrow way led to heaven and the broad way led to hell. Mormons have reversed this, so that the broad way leads to heaven, almost everyone’s going to go there, and just a few people go to hell. In their theology, it’s almost a universalism. Everybody, practically everybody, is going to go to some level of heaven. But the Mormon hopes for more than heaven. He hopes for the highest level of the Mormon heavens. They have it three tiered: telestial for bad people of the world, they’ll still go to heaven and be saved. Then the terrestrial where the good people of the world like you and all nice Muslims, Baptists, Hindus, doesn’t matter what your religion is, if you’re a good moral person, then you can go to the terrestrial, the middle kingdom. But the Mormon’s aim is celestial kingdom. In order to have the Mormon concept of the eternal life—which to them is different than being saved—to have eternal life means you can progress to be a god over your world someday. So all this temple ritual they go through, this work for the dead, it’s all with the hope that this will add up to enough to qualify them to have the reward of eternal life, whereas the Christian looks to Christ for eternal life through the grace of Christ that’s given to us—not because of any merit of our own, but because of the merit of Christ. Mormonism says, “Well, yes, Christ’s atonement was necessary to get us into heaven, but in order to go to that top level and become a god, we have to achieve that. That is a reward for our faithfulness as a Mormon.” And only Mormons receive eternal life; the rest of us get some sort of sub-heaven and are not in the presence of Heavenly Father.
HANK: Talking to Sandra Tanner. Sandra is co-founder of Utah Lighthouse Ministry, and we appreciate your ministry and certainly appreciate your contribution to the Bible Answer Man broadcast today.
SANDRA: Thank you.
HANK: God bless you, Sandra Tanner. Again, Sandra Tanner is the great-great granddaughter of Brigham Young, the second president to the Mormon Church. She is an authority on Mormonism, and we’ll call upon her from time to time as the war for the rhetoric for words continues to heat up. Again, some strong words in the paper today, chronicled from a conference, and once again underscores the fact that we need to be ready always to give an answer, a reason for the hope that lies within us with gentleness and respect.
1. cf. Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, Inc., 1966), 742.
2. Orson Pratt, The Seer (Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1853–54), 158–59.