(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here.) The title of this blog may perhaps be a bit flip. It’s a book-sized testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by one of its more prominent members, Utah’s senior-citizen senator, Sen. Orrin Hatch. Published by a small bookseller, Cedar Fort Publishing, Hatch acknowledges that it’s a “short primer” designed for investigators, new converts, missionaries, young people and persons interested in learning about his faith’s history.
While it’s likely destined for a longer shelf life at Deseret Industries than Deseret Book, there is a certain sweetness and sincerity in Hatch’s “An American, a Mormon and a Christian — My Basic Beliefs.” (my review copy is titled “… What I Believe“) It’s his testimony of his faith expanded to 50,000-plus words. Hatch is an old man, and I’ve noticed that very old LDS men, if they have strong beliefs and faith, seem compelled to share that faith more than their peers a generation or two younger do. Perhaps it’s the Mormon admonition of “every member a missionary,” coupled with the concern that life is nearing its close and one must spread the Gospel to as many persons as possible. Secularists may chuckle at this obsession, but it is part of being a Mormon. My father, 81, expends energy several times a year explaining LDS doctrine and bearing his testimony as addenda to the family letter that he has regularly written — on a monthly basis – for a quarter century. The testimonies are sent regularly to our family members in the Southern United States who are not LDS; more recently these testimonies are also, I’m sure, hopefully directed to grandchildren who are no longer active in the Mormon faith.
When you read Hatch’s testimony, it’s easy to picture him as the white-haired elderly, post-75 high priest in the ward who, eyes twinkling, with a big smile on his face, never misses a chance to bear his testimony on Fast Sunday. Indeed, Hatch has been a bishop and a high councilman and is a returned missionary; the book includes anecdotes from his mission.
The book does a thorough job of including chapters on Mormon theology. It starts with “Our Life Before Birth” and ends with “Eternal Marriage” and a last, personal testimony from the author. Hatch has accumulated a vast amount of scriptures from the Bible, and other LDS scriptures, to back more controversial LDS beliefs, such as the pre-existence, a distinct Godhead, Joseph Smith, latter-day prophets, the need for priesthood authority, eternal marriage, etc. I was impressed by Hatch’s “scripture-chasing” abilities. He’s found more biblical quotes than I can muster on defending many elements of my faith’s doctrines. The book would be an ideal help for missionaries who regularly encounter skeptics.
Occasionally there will be a more combative tone. Hatch is contemptuous of the traditional belief that Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three different ingredients of the same substance. He writes, “Some churches teach that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one being, essence, or substance, like water steam, and ice — three different aspects of the same thing. They also teach that God is a spirit without body, parts, or passions. Are these teachings biblically correct? No!”
To defrost some of the dryness of doctrine and constant scripture chasing, Hatch includes a healthy amount of spiritual anecdotes from his life, particularly his mission. One of the better recollections involves Hatch and his companion reassuring a tormented, guilt-riden investigator, whose past included an abortion, that she remained worthy of God’s love and inclusion into His Gospel.
Cedar Fort plans to release the book in September. It will be available on both BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com. It’s not completely unfair to be skeptical of the book’s release timing, just before an election, but it’s a sincere effort. The senator likely hopes that those who respect him for his public service will take the time to learn about his private, religious beliefs, and hopefully choose to join him in a religion he clearly takes very seriously. In that wish he’s no different than millions of his LDS peers.