Former Mormons Testify – Program 2

By: Sandra Tanner, Marvin Cowan; ©1982
Are Mormons actually told the truth about what their scriptures teach? Have there been changes in many Mormon scriptures and doctrines since the beginning?

Do Most Mormons Understand Mormon Doctrine?


You have probably heard about the Mormon Church. Their official name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Directing this worldwide church is a prophet who is also the president of the church. He is assisted by two counselors. They believe that just as there were twelve apostles in the primitive church, so today there should be twelve apostles in the Latter-day Saints church. Other leaders assist in administrative work, but altogether these men constitute the general authorities of the church. Their headquarters are in Salt Lake City, Utah. You have heard and marveled as their great choir sings, but what do they teach and believe about God, Jesus, and the Bible?

The guests today on The John Ankerberg Show are both former Mormons. First, Mrs. Sandra Tanner, the great-great granddaughter of Brigham Young. Sandra and her husband Jerald have written the massive book Mormonism–Shadow or Reality?, documenting the contradictions and errors they found in the Mormon scriptures. Sandra will reveal the evidence that led her away from Mormonism to the biblical view of Jesus.

John’s second guest is Marvin Cowan. Marvin was a zealous Mormon who one day was challenged to examine the claims of Mormonism. The evidence he investigated led him out of the Mormon Church and into a personal faith with the historic, biblical Jesus he had not known as a Mormon. He documents the evidence that led him to this conclusion in his book, Mormon Claims Answered.

Tonight, please join John for this exciting program.

[Ed. note: Throughout this series, Sandra Tanner refers to documentation that can be found in her book Mormonism–Shadow or Reality? available from Utah Lighthouse Ministry, PO Box 1884, Salt Lake City, UT 84110]

Ankerberg: Sandra and Marvin, we are really glad that you are here. We know that you have spent a lifetime in the Mormon Church yourself. And then, through your own study, you have left the Mormon Church, strictly because of the evidence. And you have come to know Jesus Christ differently, much differently, than you did while you were in the Mormon Church. We want to go back to some of these things before we hear your story. Last week you left us with the fact of Joseph Smith, the founder, the prophet, of the Mormon Church, giving revelations telling Mormons what to believe about God. And we were saying, “Hey, that’s not exactly what we’re used to hearing.” In fact, do most of the Mormons really understand Mormon doctrine? I mean, would the majority know what we are going to divulge right now?
Tanner: Well, that depends on how active they are. A Mormon that is actively going to the Temple, is actively teaching an adult level class, is familiar with the idea of God having a wife, and our pre-existence, and our eventual goal of becoming a God. But a lot of Mormons don’t know that doctrine. I talk to Mormons in Salt Lake that don’t know that doctrine.
Ankerberg: Alright. Let’s start at the beginning here. Christians would say, “God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are one God in three Persons.” What are the Mormons saying?
Cowan: Well, here, for example, on page 370 of The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Smith comes out and flatly says that these three personages constitute three personages and three Gods.
Ankerberg: So they don’t believe in monotheism. They are not believers in one God in the sense that Christians are. When they say they are a believer in one God, they are saying the God of this world. Is that correct?
Cowan: Yes.
Ankerberg: But there are actually many other Gods out there, is that correct?
Cowan: Zillions of them.
Ankerberg: Zillions of them. And there are actually three Gods that are involved with us in this world: One is God the Father; the other is strictly another God all by himself, God the Son, Jesus; and then, God the Holy Spirit. Three separate Gods roaming out there, correct?
Cowan: God the Holy Ghost, not the Holy Spirit.
Ankerberg: They make a differentiation?
Cowan: Well, there’s a differentiation there, yes. The Holy Ghost is a personage, whereas the Holy Spirit is not.
Ankerberg: Okay, what is the Holy Spirit?
Cowan: Well, it’s defined as being more like molecules defused throughout the immensity of space. The Holy Ghost can use the Holy Spirit to accomplish the purposes of God, but the Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit are not one and the same.
Ankerberg: Okay. In terms of these three Gods, you asked me the question last week, “Do I believe that God the Father had a wife?” And I said, “No, I haven’t heard that one lately.” Now, let me ask you this: Is that what they’re saying?
Tanner: Yes.
Ankerberg: Document it for me. Where in the world do they say that?
Tanner: Alright, as I showed you last week, it’s in their Sunday School manual, where it talks about God and his wife in the sense it talks about “heavenly parents.” Did you have a quote on that too?
Cowan: Yes. From The Seer, Apostle Orson Pratt says, “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.
Ankerberg: Hold it, hold it right there a minute. Mary was the….
Tanner: That’s another wife.
Ankerberg: Another wife?
Tanner: Yes. That’s not the “mother wife” I was talking about.
Ankerberg: Hold on now. We’ve got too many wives here. How many wives does God have?
Tanner: Well, if you count Mary, I guess He’s got at least two.
Ankerberg: Okay. Keep going.
Cowan: Well, here he’s saying that we use the term “lawful wife” because it would be blasphemous in the highest degree to say that he overshadowed or begot the Savior unlawfully. Now this is, of course, dealing with the birth of Christ. And he’s married to Mary then, for at least a time, lawfully, and….
Ankerberg: Hold on. Was Mary a pre-existent… what do you call them?
Tanner: Spirit child.
Ankerberg: Spirit child of the Heavenly Father?
Tanner: Right. You see, you have to see that God has at least one wife in Heaven, by which he, in Heaven, gave birth to all the spirits who were going to come to this earth. In that group of spirits there were you, myself, Jesus, Mary. We were all part of that family. Well, then, Mary comes down to earth to be the mother of Jesus. God comes down and becomes her husband to procreate Christ. The Mormons will say to you, “I believe Jesus is the literal Son of the Father.” Then you pin them down: “How do you define literal?” And a lot of Mormons will say literal and don’t even understand what they are saying. But when you take into consideration they believe God is the physical, resurrected man who had an earth experience on another world, was resurrected, earned his salvation, his exaltation, went on to become a God, glorified, got his wife, started his earth. Then, they’re saying this physical, resurrected man came back to Mary, and when they say overshadow, they mean literally had intercourse with Mary to procreate Jesus. So when they say Jesus is the literal Son of the Father, they mean literal. And that can be documented from Bruce McConkie’s book [Mormon Doctrine].
Ankerberg: Okay. And when we talk about these apostles, while you’re looking that up, apostles are actually giving us the truth because, why? Because there’s twelve apostles in the church today, and they are just like the twelve apostles that revolved around Jesus. And if they are actually like that, then what?
Tanner: Then their word should be authoritative just like that.
Ankerberg: Just like the other apostles. They spoke inspired.
Tanner: Peter’s an apostle; Peter’s inspired; Peter’s writings are taken as Scripture. Okay, here’s another apostle, Bruce McConkie, who is alive today[1], and in his book Mormon Doctrine, he says, “Christ was born into the world as the literal Son of this Holy Being. He was born in the same personal, real and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mortal father. There is nothing figurative about his paternity. He was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events. For he is the Son of God and that designation means what it says.”
Ankerberg: Alright. That would contradict right off the bat the fact of the virgin birth and Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, according to Luke. [Luke 1:35]
Tanner: Right.
Ankerberg: Now, why wouldn’t they want the Holy Spirit to conceive Jesus? We’ve got to straighten this out for the folks. It makes sense right now from your reading that. But let’s backtrack. If God the Holy Spirit is a separate God, then in essence it would not be the literal Son, of God the Father. It would be the literal Son of God….
Tanner: …the Holy Ghost.
Ankerberg: …the Holy Ghost. Interesting! What do they do with the Scripture verses in the Bible? Is that one of those verses that has just been “corrupted?”
Tanner: Yes. I have Mormons telling me all the time that the verses attributing it to the Holy Ghost are mistranslated.
Ankerberg: Alright. Let’s take this progression again. You’ve got God the Father, God the heavenly mother; they have sex in Heaven and what they do is the byproduct is all these spirit beings, spirit children, okay? Now, how does a spirit child get to this earth and get born down here? What’s the process?
Tanner: We don’t know the process. It just happens. You’re a full-grown adult spirit body in Heaven. When it comes your time to come to earth, we don’t know what the process is, but some way your material spirit body is compressed….
Ankerberg: Put into the seed and placed….
Tanner: Put into the seed, and it grows in the mother’s womb and you come out. Now your spirit’s encased in a physical body.
Ankerberg: It’s actually compressed down. They don’t know how, but….
Tanner: It’s inside that.
Ankerberg: They say it’s compressed?
Tanner: Well, I don’t know that they would use the word “compressed,” but how else are you going to get a full-sized material spirit body into a baby, or into a cell, for that matter? I mean, it’s got to be compressed.
Ankerberg: And so the physical body and the spiritual body, then, they grow together, is that correct?
Tanner: Yes.
Ankerberg: Now, what is the good of having that spiritual person inside of you or that spiritual body inside of you?
Tanner: Well, these are just the layers that you’ve got to have to go on to godhood. You start out as an intelligence; you become a spirit child; then you are clothed with the physical body. You needed that physical body to go on to godhood. So these are all part of a process.
Ankerberg: So, when they say that we are going on to godhood, what do they mean? We’re going to be like God?
Tanner: You can become a God over an earth exactly like the Father is a God over this earth.
Ankerberg: Now, you’ve got to admit, you know, if you’re talking about reaching for a goal and being ambitious, I mean, without laughing at all, I mean you’ve got to admit that sounds good—if I can actually progress from being a man to be not like God, but to be a God. What do I get to do when I become a God? We’re going to find out how you get there first in a little bit. But when I get to be a God, why am I working so hard to be a God?
Tanner: Well, then you get to run your own earth; you get to be the head man. It’s a power position.
Ankerberg: You actually get to go off and create your own world?
Tanner: Yes.
Ankerberg: You get to populate it?
Tanner: Yes.
Ankerberg: You have your own wife—God the mother—that you choose.
Tanner: Yes. That’s why the Mormons get married in the Temple. That’s the whole reason for the Temple marriage: so that you will have your wife forever with you in Heaven, so that you and your wife can go off and have twenty million children or whatever it takes to make an earth. And you and your wife will have all these babies born in Heaven, raise them to adulthood as spirits, so that you can send them to your earth to go through this process so they can go on to be Gods. Then they will make their earths, and they will become Gods. Of course, they all have to live Mormonism, but that’s the goal.
Ankerberg: Okay. You’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty solid goal.
Tanner: Yes. Now Mormons will say to me, “Mormonism has so much to offer. Why should I leave Mormonism for what you’re talking about?” I say, “Well, I can’t offer you godhood. All I can offer you is salvation. But I represent a company that has a better track record. I can prove my company’s always existed, see, and I’m a little hesitant about the origin of your company.” So, it’s just like when you go to buy insurance. If someone offers you a $20 million policy, if there’s no real insurance company behind the policy, it doesn’t matter what’s written on the paper.
Ankerberg: And you would say that from your research that what you have found is, this is just dead wrong.
Tanner: Right.
Ankerberg: Alright, what is salvation for the Mormons? In other words, actually salvation is we are progressing toward being a God. What are our chances of making it to be a God? What do we have to do? If I want to become a Mormon, what does a Mormon have to do to become a God? What is the process? What do you have to do first?
Cowan: Well, if you’re going to become a God, it starts, of course, when you join the Mormon Church, if you’re talking about here. But it goes back to this pre-existence and the intelligence, the pre-mortal existence; and your earth life and keeping the laws and ordinances of the gospel; doing all the works, including baptism for the dead and your eternal marriage and all of those things.
Ankerberg: Let’s start at “A.” I come to a Mormon and I say, “I want to join the church.” What do I have to do? What do I have to do to become a Mormon? How long does it take?
Tanner: Well, you have to be willing to be baptized; you have to say you will keep the Word of Wisdom, which means you give up coffee, tea, tobacco, liquor….
Ankerberg: What is the Word of Wisdom?
Cowan: It’s section 89 in the Doctrine and Covenants, which is a revelation that you are supposed to obey.
Ankerberg: That I’m supposed to obey. In other words, by revelation I’m supposed to obey the Word of Wisdom, which is: no alcohol, no what?
Cowan: Tea, coffee, not any meat in times of winter and famine, no smoking….
Ankerberg: Okay. Let’s say that I agreed to do all of that. What else do I have to do? I’m baptized, I…
Tanner: And you have to promise to pay your tithing…
Ankerberg: I have to do my tithes. What else?
Cowan: Temple work.
Ankerberg: What’s Temple work?
Tanner: Well, first you would have to go to the Temple and be married to your wife for all eternity. Then after that you would trace back your genealogy to go back to the Temple to be baptized by proxy for your dead relatives.
Ankerberg: Whoa! Hold it! I’ve got to be married first of all in the Temple for all eternity. What happens there? What is that all about?
Tanner: The secret ceremony that is, I feel, taken from the Masonic ritual.
Ankerberg: The Masons.
Tanner: Yes, from the Masons. The Mormons are taught three specific handshakes, which I feel I can document are directly Masonic handshakes. They learn certain passwords. These are all things that they are supposed to give to get into the celestial kingdom. These handshakes and passwords….
Ankerberg: Where did they pick up the Masonic handshake?
Tanner: Joseph Smith was a Mason in Nauvoo. And after he became a Mason, then he introduced Temple work into Mormon theology. And you can see a direct link in the Temple ceremony from those things that he had just learned as a Mason.
Ankerberg: When you challenge Mormon scholars, do they agree that there is a similarity between the Masonic.…
Tanner: Yes, they will agree there is a similarity; but they say it’s because both of them trace their origins to Solomon’s Temple and that the Masonic ritual is the corrupt form coming down, and the Mormon’s is the true form coming down. The problem being that neither the Mormons nor the Masons can prove that their ceremonies go back to Solomon’s time. The Masons can’t take theirs back past the middle centuries in Europe.
Ankerberg: Okay. In your book, Marvin, though, one of the things that are said, is it at the marriage, the Temple marriage, or is it when the vows are taken or something?
Cowan: Are you talking about the vows?
Ankerberg: Yes.
Cowan: Well, that would be a prerequisite to the eternal marriage, if you’re talking about the endowment ceremony.
Ankerberg: Just read for the folks what some of these people actually say and the threats that go with it. I mean, I was really amazed when I read this. And I assume that many people do not know this. Probably lots of Mormons do, but we that are not Mormons, we’re amazed that this is what goes on in a Temple marriage where, “I’m going to take this woman for ever and ever,” but the kinds of things I have to say while I’m doing it.
Cowan: You wouldn’t read that in any Mormon book. You’d have to get it from somebody who’s been through the ceremony, because they don’t publish the ceremony.
Ankerberg: This is not published.
Cowan: No, they don’t publish the ceremony.
Tanner: Well, the Mormons don’t publish it; we publish it. I have the entire Temple ceremony written out in this book.
Ankerberg: And you got it from witnesses.
Tanner: From a Temple-going Mormon who, after he left Mormonism, wrote the Temple ceremony down for us; and so we printed it—which is, to a Mormon, probably the most blasphemous thing that we could do, because to them it’s such a sacred thing. However, if this is absolutely essential for one’s salvation, then I feel that it ought to be something that could be printed.
Ankerberg: That everybody should know about if we are all going to have salvation. Okay, just give me a little bit of it.
Cowan: You do have to take some vows, and you make certain signs and you do it, for example, putting your thumb under your earlobe and drawing it across your throat and also across your heart and your bowels and so forth.
Tanner: Okay, in here they have a part that’s called “The First Token of the Aaronic Priesthood.” And there’s a man standing at the front of the group giving this instruction. He says,
We are required to give unto you the first token of the Aaronic priesthood. Before doing this, however, we desire to impress upon your minds the sacred character of the first token of the Aaronic priesthood with its accompanying name, sign and penalty together with that of all the other tokens of the holy priesthood with their accompanying names, signs and penalties which you will receive in the temple today. They are most sacred and are guarded by solemn covenants and obligations of secrecy to the effect that under no condition, even at the peril of your life, will you ever divulge them except at certain places that will be shown to you hereafter. The representation of the penalties indicates different ways in which life may be taken. The first token of the Aaronic priesthood is given by clasping the right hands together and by placing the joint of the thumb over the first knuckle of the hand.
So this is the handshake that they are giving that is taken from Masonry. And then they say,
The name of this token is the new name. And then the sign of the first token is made by bringing the right arm to the square of the palm at the hand in the front, the fingers closed together and the thumb extended. The execution of the penalty is represented by placing the thumb under the left ear, the palm of the hand down, and drawing the thumb quickly across the throat to the right ear and dropping the hand to the side.
So, he’s telling you this, and you’re standing there doing what he’s telling you and you put your hand up like this and he says okay, then you drop like this and put it down. Obviously, that means, you know, the penalty is slitting your throat if you reveal the tokens.
Ankerberg: So, in this vow that you take, you have the vow as well as threats that go with it.
Tanner:Yes. Most Mormons do not think about that. Now, when a young couple is getting married and there is a 22-year-old girl standing there, she is not worried about how they told her to put her hand, and she’s not thinking about what that means as she goes [performs the gesture].
Ankerberg: How do you know that that means cutting the throat?
Tanner: Because back in Brigham Young’s day they used to openly talk about it.
Ankerberg: What did they say in Brigham Young’s day?
Tanner: Well, the covenants were said in such a way that you were promising to forfeit your life; that you were saying, “I’ll let you take my life if I reveal this.” They’ve modified it.
Ankerberg: They actually said that.
Tanner: Yes. They’ve modified the ceremony now to where it’s not quite as drastic.
Ankerberg: So they’ve taken kind of the threat out of the words, but they just go through the motions?
Tanner: The motion is still there, and it still says it’s a penalty.
Ankerberg: And people going through it might not even know that that is what it means.
Tanner: Right.
Ankerberg: Okay. And so you have to have this Temple ceremony, where you are married forever in the Temple. Now, you need to do this, plus your baptism, plus your tithes. What else?
Tanner: And this work for the dead, where you go and stand in proxy in the Temple in your great-grandma’s name or whoever, and are baptized in her name. Then you have to be married in her name so that she’ll have a chance to go to Heaven. So a good Mormon will, besides doing his own Temple work, trace back his genealogies so that he can do all of this work by proxy for his dead relatives.
Ankerberg: And if he does all of that, what can he expect when he dies?
Tanner: He gets to be a God.
Ankerberg: Okay. Now, where do you find a statement that if you do all of that you get to be a God? You don’t find that in the Bible.
Tanner: No. That’s in their writings.
Cowan: It’s in several, actually. It’s alluded to even in Section 132 in the Doctrine and Covenants about being Gods, which is one of their books of scripture. But also here in The Gospel Through the Ages, Milton R. Hunter talks about it, pages 126-129. And he concludes that, as he talks about them getting to the celestial glory, and he says, “There some of them will become angels; others priests and kings, or in other words, Gods.” And that’s how he sums it all up.
Ankerberg: There’s three areas of Heaven, is that correct?
Tanner: Yes. Three.
Ankerberg: There’s three heavens and then in one heaven there’s three areas in that one spot, is that correct?
Tanner: Yes. Right.
Ankerberg: Okay, let’s start with the top one, the top heaven. The best Mormons, if you live a clean track record and you do all of this stuff, you get to be a God when you’re resurrected.
Tanner: Yes.
Ankerberg: Okay. If you are not such a good Mormon, you get the second level. What will you become?
Tanner: You’re an angel.
Cowan: An angel.
Ankerberg: You’re an angel. Not too bad!
Tanner: This is the chart of what the Mormons are talking about in their plan of eternal progression. They believe you start out as an intelligence, you become a spirit child, then you go to earth. When you die you either go to paradise or spirit prison, depending on if you were a Mormon or not. Then you go to judgment. Then you will go to one of these three Heavens. And the top one is the celestial kingdom. And the celestial kingdom is divided into three kingdoms. And the Mormon that’s married in the Temple goes to the top one, but the other two are Mormons that are not quite as active, and so they didn’t make it clear to the top, but they will be servants to those that become Gods.
Ankerberg: Okay, we want to look at some of those other Heavens next week. But before we close this program, is that what the Bible’s teaching?
Tanner: Well, in Isaiah 43:10-11 it says: “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that you may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no god formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no savior.”
Ankerberg: Okay, so they’re in direct contradiction to that passage of Scripture in the Old Testament that there is only one God out there; there’s not thousands. What else are they in contradiction with Scripture in this progression toward godhood?
Tanner: Well, also, the Bible teaches that Christ is eternal; he is sinless; it speaks of him being the Son of the Father. But it doesn’t speak of me as being sinless; I’m sinful. It doesn’t speak of me as having eternal pre-existence; only Christ is mentioned as having pre-existence.
Ankerberg: He’s co-eternal, equal with the Father and Holy Ghost, and he came and he was not the sexual product of the Father and Mary, but was conceived of a virgin by the Holy Ghost and lived a perfect life. And when he went to the cross, he did something for us that I don’t seem to hear in Mormon theology, and what was that?
Tanner: Well, the Mormons believe that Christ died on the cross for them, but it’s what they feel that accomplished that is the problem. They believe Adam fell and brought in physical death, so Christ’s death on the cross was necessary to bring us physical resurrection. But that is just the doorway into Heaven. Everything you get beyond that, you have to earn by your own merits and your good works. It’s sort of like Christ giving you entrance to the university, then you have to study: whether or not you are going to graduate and if you are going to go on to a Ph.D., is all according to your own work.
Ankerberg: And you realized one day that Christ had not just given you the opportunity to work your way up to God, but you realized one day what?
Tanner: Well, that I was a sinner and needed salvation. That I wasn’t inherently good; I wasn’t God material; that I needed some help outside of myself. And as I read different passages in the Scripture, I realized that I needed someone other than myself to get me back to God.
Ankerberg: Alright. Next week we want to come back to right in this area. And we want to talk about why it is that you folks, after being Mormons all your life, and the great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young, how in the world did you come from all of that to a different position. We’ll look at that next week.


  1. Dr. Bruce McConkie died in 1985, after this program was taped.

Read Part 3


  1. […] Read Part 2 […]

  2. Former Mormons Testify - John Ankerberg Show on June 20, 2016 at 2:39 am

    […] Former Mormons Testify – Program 2 By: Sandra Tanner, Marvin Cowan […]

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