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Members of the church celebrate the Lord's Supper with water rather than wine or grape juice. They believe their President is a prophet who receives new revelations from God. These can supplant older revelations, as in the case of the church's historically most controversial doctrine: Smith himself received God's sanctioning of polygamy in 1831, but 49 years later, the church's President announced its recision. Similarly, an explicit policy barring black men from holding even the lowest church offices was overturned by a new revelation in 1978, opening the way to huge missionary activity in Africa and Brazil.
Mormons reject the label polytheistic pinned on them by other Christians; they believe that humans deal with only one God. Yet they allow for other deities presiding over other worlds. Smith stated that God was once a humanlike being who had a wife and in fact still has a body of "flesh and bones." Mormons also believe that men, in a process known as deification, may become God-like. Lorenzo Snow, an early President and Prophet, famously aphorized, "As man is now, God once was; as God now is, man may become." Mormonism excludes original sin, whose expiation most Christians understand as Christ's great gift to humankind in dying on the Cross.
All this has led to some withering denominational sniping. In 1995 the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued national guidelines stating that the Mormons were not "within the historic apostolic tradition of the Christian Church." A more sharply edged report by the Presbyterians' Utah subunit concluded that the Latter-day Saints "must be regarded as heretical." The Mormons have responded to such challenges by downplaying their differences with the mainstream. In 1982 an additional subtitle appeared on the covers of all editions of the Book of Mormon: "Another Testament of Jesus Christ." In 1995 the words Jesus Christ on the official letterhead of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were enlarged until they were three times the size of the rest of the text. In Salt Lake City's Temple Square, the guides' patter, once full of proud references to Smith, is almost entirely Christological. "We talk about Christ a lot more than we used to," says magazine editor Peck, whose journal's outspokenness has earned him an edgy relationship with the church. "We want to show the converts we are Christians."
And not just the converts. In an interview with TIME, President Hinckley seemed intent on downplaying his faith's distinctiveness. The church's message, he explained, "is a message of Christ. Our church is Christ-centered. He's our leader. He's our head. His name is the name of our church." At first, Hinckley seemed to qualify the idea that men could become gods, suggesting that "it's of course an ideal. It's a hope for a wishful thing," but later affirmed that "yes, of course they can." (He added that women could too, "as companions to their husbands. They can't conceive a king without a queen.") On whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man, he sounded uncertain, "I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it... I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don't know a lot about it, and I don't think others know a lot about it."