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Is a Mormon universalism possible? Or in other words, is it possible for Mormons to envision their faith as one of many efficacious paths to God? I have my doubts, but maybe there is an argument to be made.
The strong statement of Mormon exclusivity would note the many scriptural and authoritative statements affirming the church as the One True Church, and the sole authority for conducting ordinances, and the necessity of such ordinances for salvation. The missionary program and temple ordinances have a real and essential purpose.
A strong statement of universalism might note that God is good, and omnipotent, and loves his children, and surely has something in mind for the billions who never heard about Joseph Smith and never will, or even for the millions who did hear but werenâ€™t all that interested.
Russell takes a much less stark position, in which he recognizes the fundamental correctness of the Christian message and the unique role of Christ, and he also leaves the door open to distinguishing salvation from an exclusive Mormon exaltation, although he seems to come down against doing so. Also in Russellâ€™s favor is that the question has to do with the ultimate fate of human souls, which is a topic of great anxiety but little concrete detail in scripture. We know what we should be doing right now to work out our own salvation, but how things will actually look for everyone is largely a matter of vague impressions and speculation.
A possible avenue of inquiry might consider the role of Jews in Mormon thought. Iâ€™ve never gotten the sense that Mormons adhere to the notion of Christ descending on Israel to wreak an awful vengeance at the Last Day (although some will no doubt quote ancient and modern scripture to that effect). Instead, my impression is that some strands of Mormonism accept a positive eschatological role for Jews as Jews (rather than either as repentant converts or as suffering recalcitrants). If we can imagine the Jews inheriting Canaan as their promised land, can Mormonism analogously imagine, say, the Baptists inheriting Lubbock? That is, can we imagine a place in Godâ€™s plan for non-Mormons where they are not just also-rans who end up in the Terrestrial Kingdom? That our New Jerusalem touches down in Independence or Nauvoo or Provo, while the Episcopalians have their Zion in Banbury?
In the end, I’m somewhat dubious. Mormon claims of exclusive authority are too strong and consistent to leave a viable space for a vigorous universalism. However, I do think it is sufficient to accept â€œMormonism for me.â€ People who see Mormonism as their path should follow it and participate in the conversation of Mormonism, even if theyâ€™re not sure that everyone has to follow in their footsteps. To be a good Mormon, one doesnâ€™t have to demand that everybody be good Mormons.
I’ve opened comments earlier than planned, due to my personal schedule. I still expect comments to be informed and thoughtful.