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Francis X. Clooney, S.J.October 19, 2012

Cambridge, MA. This is the last of the reflections I am posting on 3 Nephi, the book within the Book of Mormon where Jesus appears three times, shortly after the Resurrection, to a remnant community in a new land that is taken to be (though of course never named as) America. You can find the others by clicking on one, two, three, and four. This study — not my field — has been a rewarding if arduous experience, with a real learning curve indeed. As professors are wont to do, I’ve accumulated new books: several editions of the Book of Mormon (be sure to use Grant Hardy’s The Book of Mormon if you intend to read it); Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon; Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture, edited by Andrew Skinner and Gaye Strathearn, which is a set of lectures and studies by committed Mormon scholars, meant for readers within the Church itself; and for a comparative perspective, Rev. WilliamTaylor’s A Tale of Two Cities: A Comparison between the Mormon and Roman Catholic Religious Experiences.

I’ve also learned from my readers’ comments — your comments. While some were not particularly helpful — a bit too angry, hasty, dismissive, quick to have things over with — for the most part it has been very helpful indeed to have your views - even when you disagree with me - articulated and posted.I particularly appreciate some of the corrections you’ve offered, and were I doing a second edition of my blogs, I would incorporate your suggestions. My blogs are better because everyone can read your comments as well.

I’ve said nothing about this year’s presidential election, the prospect of a first Mormon president, but I think we are better off for knowing what is inside texts such as 3 Nephi before speaking on the topic. Previously I had nothing much to say when asked whether it would be good to have a Mormon president; now I have something to say. Yes, it is true there is much to know about the Latter Day Saints not contained in the Book of Mormon, and yes, one cannot predict the policies of a politician today simply from reading sacred texts or her or his tradition; after all, no Christian president’s policies have been simply the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. But I feel more sure of myself when I find myself in conversation about religion and the elections, now that I know something of substance from within the Mormon tradition. If a President Romney were to serve the American people while conscientiously following the teachings of Jesus in 3 Nephi, we would have a foundation both for understanding Mr Romney's policies, and then, if we have doubts, for shaping a substantive religious-political dialogue — and argument — about those views alongside the many other views that inspire people of faith in today’s America. So think of reading 3 Nephi before you vote.

But I will finish by turning to the closing chapters of 3 Nephi.

After the departure of Jesus and the testimonies of the children at the end of 3 Nephi 26, Jesus appears yet again in chapters 27-28, for a further teaching to the leaders of the community: they are to preach the gospel, be gathered in a church named by the name of Jesus, and remain faithful to the teachings he has given on these three visits. Nine of the twelve apostles are granted the prospect of a swifter end to their ministries on earth, whereas three remain to perform their ministries and preaching for a much longer time. In the end, the fate of these three is rather mysterious, a kind of twilight presence near but not quite in this world, and as if to come again: “And now behold, as I spake concerning those whom the Lord hath chosen, yea, even three who were caught up into the heavens, that I knew not whether they were cleansed from mortality to immortality. But behold, since I wrote, I have inquired of the Lord, and he hath made it manifest unto me that there must needs be a change wrought upon their bodies, or else it needs be that they must taste of death. Therefore, that they might not taste of death there was a change wrought upon their bodies, that they might not suffer pain nor sorrow save it were for the sins of the world. Now this change was not equal to that which shall take place at the last day; but there was a change wrought upon them, insomuch that Satan could have no power over them, that he could not tempt them; and they were sanctified in the flesh, that they were holy, and that the powers of the earth could not hold them. And in this state they were to remain until the judgment day of Christ; and at that day they were to receive a greater change, and to be received into the kingdom of the Father to go no more out, but to dwell with God eternally in the heavens.” (3 Nephi 28.36-40)

In Chapter 29, after the departure of Jesus the third time, Mormon offers his own stern exhortation that all must hear and take to heart all that has been said here. The brief chapter 30 is a final word, an exhortation to the Gentiles to listen and repent: “Hearken, O ye Gentiles, and hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, which he hath commandeth me that I should speak concerning you, for, behold he commandeth me that I should write, saying: ‘Turn, all yet Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel.’” (3 Nephi 30, 1-2)

From a critical theological and spiritual perspective none of this is merely beyond question; we need not merely accept this harsh dismissal of the Gentiles — as if to be a Gentile is to be wicked — and we can disagree and raise questions, but without shifting from accepting everything to rejecting everything. Certainly I learned, from my Jesuit high school and the Jesuit novitiate on, that we honor our own faith and our own scriptures and traditions in part by respectful but insistent questioning. Today, we can similarly honor and respect one another’s traditions by a serious learning across religious borders that nonetheless leaves room for real questions. One might conclude from these last words in 3 Nephi that “the Gentiles” are merely a sinful lot, who need to be saved but have nothing to teach and show. But this is no more a solution to the challenges of religious pluralism than any single Christian judgment on other religions might be. But here too, the conversation, including the challenges and difficult learning, occur after and not before respectful consideration; disagreements are best when they are specific, that one of the very best ways to become specific is to read and study and take to heart the texts that have come down to us. 3 Nephi has much to teach every America reader and, I venture to add, the Latter Day Saints too will benefit when people like you and me pick up 3 Nephi and read it respectfully and intelligently.

I am happy to say that there will be, shortly, an afterword to my series, a post by Professor Grant Hardy, the scholar whose work I have recommended more than once.

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Doug Bundy
11 years 5 months ago
I must say I am impressed, even moved, by this honest venture into the Book of Mormon. Webster Tarpley has just published a truly awful book insisting that Momonism is not a religion, but a political movement, aimed at world domination. Such a position is impossible to understand for those of us who are intimately familiar with the Bible and Book of Mormon.

When we worship and pray and take the sacrament (holy communion), remembering him and taking upon us his name, we experience a sacred sense of peace and joy that cannot be conveyed with our words.

But, having entered this holy place yourself, by allowing your heart to entertain even the possibility that it may not be fiction, you must know something of what we feel.

It is immense. Truly, kings shall shut their mouths, for that which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall the consider.

Thank you. 
Mike Bennion
11 years 5 months ago
I appreciate the time Fr. Clooney took to consider the Book of Mormon.  Perhaps, as a Mormon I can add a few words.  Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints consider the Old and New Testaments to be scripture and they read them as often as the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price (also part of the LDS scriptural canon.)  if one links to lds.org one may find a link to all the Mormon scriptures together with an extensive topical guide that ties all the books together by subject, and a dictionary and a study guide that further elucidate Mormon beliefs.

Mitt Romney's classification of himself as a pastor is simply an attempt to specify the role he played in the congregation.  If he used the word "bishop" many might think of a Protestant or Catholic bishop which holds responsibiliy for many more church members than a Mormon bishop.  A typical Mormon ward (or congregation) consists of roughly 300-500 members.  Most adult males hold the priesthood and any of these may be asked to serve for approximately 5-6 years as the presiding officer or "bishop."  At the end of this time another man will be called and the former bishop will take his place as a congregant.  Romney also served as a "Stake President."  This office presides over about 5-10 wards, perhaps 2,500-3,000 members.  Stake Presidents generally serve for 8-10 years.  Neither of these offices are general presiding offices for the whole church. 
Gerelyn Hollingsworth
11 years 5 months ago
If he used the word ''bishop'' many might think of a Protestant or Catholic bishop which holds responsibiliy for many more church members than a Mormon bishop.


This is an example of what Mikal Gilmore describes in the Rolling Stone article.  

If Romney was afraid that ''many'' non-Mormons might be confused by his use of the Mormon word, why not explain it instead of using a non-Mormon word?  Why is it so important to hide the beliefs and practices and even the language of a religion from non-members?  

A Mormon knows that Protestant and Catholics have bishops, but assumes that Protestants and Catholics do NOT know that Mormons have bishops?  Why the low regard for the intelligence / education of those outside the religion?  
David Pasinski
11 years 5 months ago
I have not read all the posts and expressed my own proablems with the historical claims that negate attempting to look deeper at the texts.

However, I have appreciated this commentary. It has continued to surprise me that there has not been more attention to Mormon beliefs in the mainstream media and I don't know if that is becuase they are irrelevant to Romney's perspectives or just a sense of respect - or that we're now more pluralistic (or secular?) and don't have anywhere near the comparable interst that Kennedy fiath evoked 52 years ago - a lifetime...

I wsa surprised to hear Romney cite his expereince as a "pastor" in his debate summary and that chapter of his life is intersting on many levels, but it will most likely not be explored more at this point.. His humor about being a "designated driver" was clever, I thought..I wonder if devout Mormons read the Book more or less that the rest of the Bible in devotion and worship... . 
Gerelyn Hollingsworth
11 years 5 months ago
I too found it odd that Romney referred to himself as a ''pastor'' instead of a ''bishop'', which is what he was.   (Keeping outsiders in the dark about beliefs, practices, and language is cult-like.)


 Francis, your defensiveness throughout your series of posts about  Mormon scriptures has been consistent.  

  To talk about others being angry and dismissive is odd, too.  You, after all, were the one who talked about ''googling rumors'' and called a poster ''dim.''  

I think those interested in understanding Mitt's Mormonism would enjoy Mikal Gilmore's article in the Oct. 25th Rolling Stone:  ''Mitt Romney and the Ghosts of Mormon History.''  An excellent analysis.

 Preview here:  http://au.zinio.com/article/article.jsp?popularityExcerptId=5381044

Joel Dickson
11 years 5 months ago
Its amazing the degree of pettiness some go to attack any minor comment Mitt Romney makes. A pastor is defined as spiritual overseer; especially : a clergyman serving a local church or parish. That is exactly what a Bishop is in the  Mormon vernacular. Gerelyn H. engages in such microscopic pettiness which tells us more of the smallness of Gerelyn than of any imagined character flaw which can be attributed to Romney by such an innocuous comment. 
Gerelyn Hollingsworth
11 years 5 months ago

''Gosh, darn,'' the NYT article today about Mitt's odd diction is amusing, ''if you will.'' 


And the review of a new book about Brigham Young is  interesting.  


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