Turns out, the Bible says that Protestants should unite with Mormons

Our friend charismatic protestant friend Cal has taken a position– beleaguered  by most non-Mormons here–that Mormons are Christians.  Although no longer a believer, I thought I would try to clearly lay out the argument for Cal’s position aimed at Protestants.

For purposes of the discussion I am assuming the truth of the Five Solae, the Nicene Creed, and the and the Bible.

I propose that these three premises are true:

1. Jesus prayed for and sought as a goal before God the unity of those that believe in him through the testimony of his disciples, i.e. the New Testament. (John 17: 20-23:

 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

2. The New Testament does not make orthodox theology a qualification for inclusion in unity. Jesus was not limiting fellowship or unity to the orthodox.  He is talking about orthodoxy or unity of creed or belief–Jesus established no creed, distilled his message and rarely made it explicit. He warns against false teachers, but Jesus put the focus on distinguishing false teachers based on their fruits– i.e. you will known them by their behavior and effects on the church not (necessarily) their theological errors. 

3.  Mormons believe that the text of the New Testament is the truth.  

Given these premises, my conclusion is that Protestants should embrace Mormons as part of the group that they are challenged by Jesus to be unified with, and seek to come to complete unity.

Notice that I am assuming what Protestant’s believe is orthodoxy to be correct but the strength of the argument holds on a practical and ethical level.  But there is no orthodoxy regarding how unity can and should be achieved. That is an open question.  I suggest that even if the path to reaching unity is unclear– efforts toward unity will lead–ultimately–to a greater prevalence of salvation and faith in Jesus more effectively than efforts toward disunity–which are, generally, the order of the day.  

The Spirit of God — What is it?

Pentecost & The Holy Spirit

Pentecost & The Holy Spirit (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

I have been thinking an awful lot lately about Mormonism, how to explain it, what it is in the grand scheme of things.  I think the most difficult questions surround what the LDS call the Spirit. Nothing is ostensibly more important to Mormons than the Spirit.  Feeling the Spirit is the central experience of Mormonism. It is enshrined as THE only legitimate tool for conversion, it held up as the guide for every decision in life, and is considered the driving force behind the Church and its mission. 

When I was an LDS missionary in California, I participated in the conversion of about two dozen people.  Some of these conversions had an absolutely magical quality to them. I saw dramatic personality transformations. Over and over again, I felt an overwhelming emotional and spiritual response from those I was teaching.  It was like falling in love– an experience equally filled with magic.  It seemed that those I was teaching, my companions, and others involved felt something very real and very similar. The Spirit would seem to fill the room like a thick mist. It was gripping and energizing. The peculiarity and reality of the experiences were unmistakable.  These feelings convinced me of an unseen world and they were the bedrock of my belief in the Church and in Christianity.

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The Curtain Falls on the Mormon Moment

With Mitt Romney’s hopes for the presidency coming to an end last night we not only close out the 2012 election cycle but we also say good bye to “The Mormon Moment.”

I felt certain that Mormonism would be used as a political device against Mitt Romney, specifically the priesthood ban. I was wrong. There certainly were left-leaning writers and opportunist who attempted to promote that angle, but those stories never really made national news. I thought a SuperPAC, unofficially affiliated with Barack Obama would create at least a few television ads attacking Mormonism’s past. Those ads never materialized. I have to say that I think the country is probably better for it. I think John McCain displayed considerable honor by not leveraging Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2008 and President Obama returned the favor in terms of Mormonism in 2012.

Mormonism will continue to gain some national exposure about once every 10 years. But it will likely never receive the kind of media exposure it did over the last year. I don’t think the LDS church made any significant gains in converts or positive public perception, but it likewise did not suffer any large embarrassments.

About the most damaging thing to happen to Mormonism was the release of hidden video of the Endowment Ceremony. Interestingly enough, the publisher of that video, NewNameNoah, had his YouTube account suspended yesterday. If the LDS church had any role to play in that action, I think they couldn’t have chosen a better day than Election Day to make it happen. Any hopes for media coverage of that censorship will be unable to find a voice in the current news cycle. The video will live on and will remain publicly available, but will be much more difficult to find off of YouTube. [update: the account was reactivated the next day]

Second on the list of hits against the LDS church would be the church disciplinary actions against David Twede, the managing editor of MormonThink.com. The church wisely chose to suspend its disciplinary actions and Twede resigned on his own terms. He was able to successfully draw greater attention to his website but I think Twede made a number of missteps in equivocating about his potential excommunication being somehow tied to political comments against Mitt Romney.

Third on my list of problem areas for the church in the national exposure was the rise in prominence of some “non-correlated” Mormons such as Joanna Brooks and John Dehlin. They’ve found courage in their unorthodox views and the church has shown, that at least for the time being, it will not be calling people with such vocal views into disciplinary hearings as it did with the September 6. I think these individuals will be sticking around in the discussion of Mormonism and will be called upon by their new found media contacts to speak on Mormon matters at least as frequently as the official church spokesman. Many would consider this the greatest positive to emerge from this Mormon moment.

Robert Jeffress began the year with a discussion of Mormonism’s cultic status within Christianity. By year’s end Billy Graham was removing the word “cult” from his website not only in reference to Mormonism but toward several other religions as well. This may be the greatest benefit to Mormonism from the Romney campaign. The Evangelical use of the word “cult” as a reference toward heretical, new-religious-movements has probably come to an end. I think moving forward you will see “cult” being exclusively a reference to mind-controlling organizations.

Though a positive for the nation, I think the lack of attention on Mormonism in the outcome of the campaign is actually a negative for Mormonism. It shows that Mormonism (and perhaps religion in general) is largely irrelevant in the national discussion. People simply don’t care beyond a passing curiosity. In terms of future converts, it’s much better for a religion to be hated than to be irrelevant.

I’d wager that the next time a spotlight such as we’ve seen cast on Mormonism in 2012 will be caused by either a large political movement to legalize polygamy or some sort of leadership crisis. I anticipate the former (and for sure decriminalized polygamy) before the latter. Many Mormons may have hoped that a Romney presidency would bring about a long awaited acceptance in American culture. The energy and opportunity for that sort of shift has now ended. In the United States, Mormonism will now return to being a topic of discussion for Mormons, former Mormons, a few curious onlookers and detractors and a shrinking number of potential converts.

Why Mormonism is only for those who desire it, and why it matters.

In our discussion about the LDS temple ritual.  I mentioned that I do not believe the endowment is for everyone, nor was it meant to be.  It is only for those who desire it.

While this seems to be a somewhat technical/semantic point. I think it is important in the context of the “Mormonism-seems-to-be-a-cult-because-it-has-secret-Rituals” discussion. By saying that endowment is ONLY for those that really want it, I underscore how different this position is from any sort of cult-like view of the ritual. Mormons are not forcing people to do weird things against their will. This seems akin to the same fallacious argument that Mormons are somehow disrespectful for performing rituals for the dead or that they disrespect holocaust victims by baptizing them. It makes no sense in context of Mormon thought and doctrine. It seems that among the pervasive misunderstandings and/or misrepresentations regarding the religion are that Mormons are a cult that pushes people or brainwashes them into making crazy commitments and weird secret rituals against their will.  This is unsupportable by the doctrine or the scriptures.

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The disaffected Mormon problem. My 2¢.

There is a recurring question posed on this blog– What can be done about disaffected Mormons who leave Christianity?

I was first attracted to this Blog about five years ago by this post on the subject: We Push Them Into What? followed up with “Challenged by Jesus” among many others.  And it comes up routinely ever since. David Clark had recent suggestions regarding the problem in  “The C & E Problem“, “Be Positive, Be Christian“, “Consider Christianity(Forgive me if I don’t have any other blogosphere references to this topic  but strangely enough, this blog is the only one I read or comment on with any regularity besides cagepotato.com.)

Tim’s most recent thoughts on the problem are found in “More Than a Bible” I thought I would post my thoughts separately because I wanted to propose an alternative view of the nature of the problem from a post-Mormon, not-at-all-traditional follower of Jesus.  (Plus my comment was just way too long.)

In “More than a Bible” Tim pointed out that statistics show that only 11% of former Mormons identify as some other type of Christian.

I can appreciate the problem that these statistics raise for Evangelicals.  Here  you have a stream of Bible educated one-time very faithful people leaving Mormonism and NOT choosing the real Jesus. This seems like a big failure and lost opportunity for Evangelicals.

Tim suggests more pro-bible apologetics and less anti-bible rhetoric is a solution. The argument seems to be that if those leaving Mormonism believed in the Bible more, then they would still believe in Jesus when they leave Mormonism. Thus, the problem is being laid at the feet of the Church, who claims to want to be part of “regular” Christianity, but consistently undermines the sole source of authority of Protestantism.

First, I don’t think most Mormons believe that the Bible has a hard time standing on its own. Although Mormons talk about inconsistencies and problems with the Bible, they rarely do anything other than read it very closely and as authoritative.  (Surprisingly similar to how they view Church leadership.) Mormons hold very reverential, sometimes literal, and sometimes even fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. I think most Mormons think the Bible is true and reliable in all matters of faith, essentially infalliable. The big problem for Mormons is not what is in the, but what is not.

Even if rhetoric that undermined Biblical validity was common, I can make these observations that may explain the phenomena better:

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Top 10 Anti-Mormon Comments of 2011?

I spotted this article in the Deseret news which referenced Mormonvoices.org’s article naming 2011′s “Top” Anti-Mormon statements.   I will quote the entire list and explanation here because the original does not allow for comments.

1. “By any standard, Mormonism is more ridiculous than any other religion.” Bill Maher, October 15, 2011, George Washington University, as reported by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, October 18, 2011.

2. “[Mormonism is] one of the most egregious groups operating on American soil.” Christopher Hitchens, Slate, October 17, 2011.

3. “The theology comes across as totally barmy. We can become gods with our own planets! And the practices strike me as creepy. No coffee and tea is bad enough. But the underwear!” Michael Ruse, Chronicle of Higher Education, November 30, 2011.

4. “The current head of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson, known to his followers as ‘prophet, seer and revelator,’ is indistinguishable from the secular plutocratic oligarchs who exercise power in our supposed democracy…” Harold Bloom, The New York Times, November 12, 2011.

5. “That is a mainstream view, that Mormonism is a cult…Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” Robert Jeffress, Values Voter Summit, October 7, 2011.

6. “I believe a candidate who either by intent or effect promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve. Mitt Romney has said it is not his intent to promote Mormonism. Yet there can be little doubt that the effect of his candidacy—whether or not this is his intent—will be to promote Mormonism.” Warren Cole Smith, Patheos.com, May 24, 2011.

7. “Yes, it is my opinion that an indoctrinated Mormon should never be elected as President of the United States of America.” Tricia Erickson, CNN.com, July 7, 2011.

8. “Mormonism is not an orthodox Christian faith. It just is not…it’s very clear that the founding fathers did not intend to preserve automatically religious liberty for non-Christian faiths.” Bryan Fischer, Focal Point radio show, September 2011.

9. “Can you name the candidate that’s running for president that believes that if he’s a good person in his religion he will receive his own planet?…Would you vote for someone for president who believes in their religion, if he’s a good person, he’ll get his own planet?…Do you want to get your own planet?” Ben Ferguson, Fox 13 News, Memphis TN, July 6, 2011.

10. “The Christian coalition, I think [another candidate] could get a lot of money from that, because Romney, obviously, not being a Christian…” Ainsley Earhart, Fox and Friends, July 17, 2011.

Mormonvoices explains:

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An Evangelical Review of “The Book of Mammon”

I recently finished reading “The Book of Mammon by Daymon Smith. David provides an excellent summary and I suggest you read his review rather than mine. My comments are too long to fit under David’s review, so I’m regrettably posting them here as its own post.

The book is funny. It unfortunately is nearly impossible to answer “What’s so funny?” when you’re reading the book. The book is dense, layered and self-referential and so are the best jokes.

About 20% of the book is a complaint against Human Resources. Anyone who’s worked in any sort of American corporation will know exactly what he’s talking about and I have to say, I don’t think these parts really hit their mark as hard as the rest. His complaints are valid and likely accurate but they’re the same everywhere. The thing that makes them cogent to the book is that they are always wrapped in the language of the church and frequently make use of the “Inspired” trump card. Being exactly the same as every other American corporation that makes them even more insidious.

Another 10-15% of the book is clearly an attempt to put the book into the catalogs of Anti-Mormon literature. Because the COB(LDS Corporate Headquarters), as presented in the book, is more devoted to Mammon than the things of God, I can see why Smith calls this Anti-Mammonism rather than Anti-Mormonism. If the LDS church is not devoted to Mammon, then there is no threat to it from this book. If it is, it deserves to have it’s dirty laundry waived. Seriously, as “Anti-Mormon” as anything else out there (but no more revealing than “Rough Stone Rolling”). Pretty early in the book I thought “there’s no way this guy is an active Mormon.”

These are the two biggest things I think anyone in the COB should be concerned about:

1) The COB is an absolute echo chamber and no one wants it any other way. I doubt a successful marketing campaign has been created by the LDS church in 20 years. There was a lot of talk in the bloggernacle about how the “I am a Mormon” ad series seems to target Mormons more than anyone else; intentionally or not, that’s probably the case. The producing departments only care about one thing; making the sponsoring departments happy so that can justify their own positions by invoicing for cob-cash. The sponsoring departments don’t seem to have the tools or the interest in knowing if their “products” are actually fulfilling their goals. “Inspiration” and priesthood hierarchy seem to offer enough justifications for anyone.

2) A scandal will eventually emerge from a lack of public financial accountability. Smith provides a few snapshots at corruptions from within the church. He indicates that others within the church passed this information on to him, that means other people are seeing it too. Smith wasn’t really in a position to discover anything that would be truly scandalous, but someone else, equally dissatisfied probably is, and that person is probably making quite a collection for himself.

I’ve heard Mormons pass over this lack of financial accountability by saying that it is their duty to pay their tithing and any thing that happens after that is between God and the criminal. One thing Smith repeats through the book is “silence is consent”.

A financial scandal will eventually emerge that will harm the church. As devoted members who care about the message of Mormonism, Mormons shouldn’t let this happen. It will hurt the church and as a result destroy souls. There seems to be a lot of bluster in the COB about being industry leaders. It’s not only appropriate as industry leaders AND representatives of Christ, it’s necessary for the LDS church to practice financial accountability.

By remaining silent, Mormons are giving their consent to financial dishonesty and eventual scandal.

I enjoyed reading the book. It can be difficult to read at times because Smith intentionally makes it hard to read. In a weird way, that made it fun rather than frustrating.

Adolf Hitler, Exalted Mormon God

Adolf Hitler a Mormon?Several weeks ago I got into a minor Facebook debate with a Christian apologist friend about this article from Utah Lighthouse Mission concerning LDS temple work being performed for Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. He found it distasteful that Mormons believe that Hitler will one day earn the right to be called a god.

I objected that having had his temple work done does not give Hitler access to exaltation. My understanding of Doctrine and Covenants 76 is that a person such as Hitler would not receive any reward beyond the Terrestrial Kingdom.

Further, I think arguments that involve Hitler are designed for one reason only, to put LDS beliefs in the worst possible light. His response was that he was merely showing the natural extension of Mormon thought. But I think Evangelicalism can be equally vilified using the Hitler-device. We believe that any dying man can say a sinner’s prayer and that very day find himself in Paradise with Christ. We don’t know the details of Hitler’s final moments, so it’s merely our assumption that he did not confess his sins and ask for forgiveness from God. If he had, we have little doubt that the blood of Christ could forgive even the sins of the Nazi dictator. If we’re to be fair and compare the “worst” of Evangelicalism to the “worst” of the teachings of the LDS church, then it’s not that Hitler might share in the glory of Christ that concerns us; it’s that any man might someday be called “god”.

I’m curious, does the LDS church teach that all men continue on the path toward exaltation after death? Is it true that someday Adolf Hitler might be called “god”? Or is his afterlife at best permanently fixed at the Terrestrial Kingdom?

Letter to a Christian Pastor

A little over a month ago, while I was still living in Washington state, I began searching for a church home in the Chicago area in anticipation of my upcoming move. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I’m kind of hoping to find a church with a female pastor on staff.1 I found one such church and after learning some details about the congregation in e-mail, I asked to speak with a pastor on the phone.

She called me a few days later, and at first the conversation went great. Her congregation sounded nice and we shared a lot of common beliefs. Then I brought up the issue of my husband being LDS and my need for a church that can be understanding of that situation. Things did not go so well from there.

I decided to write to her and respectfully challenge her attitude toward Mormons—and more specifically, her attitude toward what most Christians would regard as a part-believer family that was interested in coming to her church. The letter describes the specifics of how the phone conversation played out.

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Challenged by Jesus

Almost 2 years ago I wrote a post entitled “We Push Them Into What?” (still kicking myself for that lousy title).  To recap, I expressed my concern that encouraging Mormons to leave the LDS church more often than not encourages them to leave Christianity altogether and quite frequently promotes atheism/agnosticism.  I still stand by those thoughts, but tonight I read something Jesus said which makes me think I may not have gone far enough.

Jesus said:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds [one translation says "weeds that looked like wheat"] among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

” ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

” ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ”  Matthew 13:24-30

This challenges me. A lot. I still have all the other things Jesus said about discerning false prophets and warnings about wolves-in-sheep’s clothing running through my head.  Those verses still hold true.  But according to this parable, once the devil has done his work, we need to leave it to the angels to sort out later.

I’ll be thinking and meditating on this for the next couple of days.  I’m not exactly a “dragon killer” when it comes to deconverting Mormons.  I’ve never done it, not once, even when I was actively trying.  But if I had a magic bullet that destroyed Mormon faith, I can’t say I wouldn’t use it.

And lest any Mormon Apologist feel they’ve found a triumph over Evangelical Anti-Mormons, this passage doesn’t exactly have a rosy outlook for the weeds (Yes that’s what Evangelicals really think of you, don’t act surprised).

UPDATE: I’ve spent some time with this passage and have come to some conclusions. See that post here.

“Facts” Mormons Won’t Tell

My cousin sent me a link on Facebook tonight asking me what I thought of it. This web site is pretty much bottom-rung, Ed Decker-quality anti-Mormonism (the site contains numerous advertisements for The God Makers and The Temple of the God Makers), but I believe my cousin was being sincere in asking, so I wanted to offer a brief evaluation of the claims on the site. I’ve numbered these where they previously lacked numbers for ease of discussion.

It’s a bit difficult to summarize how accurate these statements are. Some of them make claims about the LDS church which are false in themselves. Others make claims which are more or less true, but it’s false that Mormons are trying to hide these teachings from the public. As such, where either claim was wrong I’ve labeled the statement false and explained why.

Warning: This blog post contains one reference to material from the pre-1990 temple ceremony. I don’t normally discuss temple content in blog posts, but I wanted to analyze the charge, so heads up.

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What Kind of Mormon Are You?

6660963342054120440jpeg___1_500_1_500_cb94de6a_pngKullervo suggested that everyone take this test and report back for what type of Mormon you are.

Turns out, I am NOT an anti-Mormon (take that Joy).  I came out as a Mormon Intellectual.  Uh, oh, that means I could be called a Mormon.

The first time I took this test, I tried to see if I could pass as a dyed-in-the-wool TBM.  I came out as Porter Rockwell for my loyalty and willingness to do anything for the church (just kidding).

So go take the test, http://helloquizzy.okcupid.com/tests/the-what-kind-of-mormon-are-you-test
and come back and tell us your score.

Hi from Kolob! Why E.T. might be a Mormon (probably not an Evangelical)

According to some estimates, there are billions of inhabitated planets in the universe, and maybe even tens of billions of “earth-like planets”  in our galaxy alone.

Mormon scriptures are in accord.  We believe that there are unumerable  inhabited planets created by God. In Moses 1:33-39: God tells Moses:

33 And aworlds without number have I bcreated; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the cSon I dcreated them, which is mine eOnly Begotten.

34 And the afirst man of all men have I called bAdam, which is cmany.

35 But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I aknow them.

. . .

38 And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no aend to my works, neither to my words.

39 For behold, this is my awork and my bglory—to bring to pass the cimmortality and deternal elife of man.

For me these are some of the most intriguing and powerful descriptions of God.  They are at the heart of Mormon ideas of the purpose of life and the relationship between man, God and creation.

When you consider that there are over 100 billion galaxies and tens of billions of earth-like planets in each of those galaxies you are really talking about an unimaginably large number of worlds like ours.

Later in the Pearl of Great price, Abraham sees a vision of the greatest of these worlds: Abraham 3:2-3

2 And I saw the astars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it;

Evangelicals and others are quick to laugh at references to a planet Kolob. In a recent blog conversation I had with a few Evangelicals and I was told that the Mormon belief in the planet Kolob was simply unbelievable.

I really have no idea what Evangelicals think about extra-terrestrial life aside from these sorts of comments,  but given the scientific evidence of other worlds, the evidence for extra-terrestrial life is far stronger than the evidence for a worldwide flood or any number of biblical accounts.

I do think, however, that christian thought is generally earth-centric.  If no one is saved without knowing about Jesus while alive, it looks like the infinitely vast majority of God’s creation is just out of luck, or out of touch. If traditional Christianity hasn’t been able to effectively penetrate the Indian subcontinent, how can we expect it to penetrate the depths of the Milky-way?

Mormon thought seems to take into account of the cosmological reality a bit better than what I know of Evangelical thought.  Am I wrong?

P.S. here is in an interesting related discussion from Parchment and Pen, an evangelical theology blog.

Mormons and Evangelicals, Can we rally around the Cross?

Recently I bought a couple of cool Ethiopian Orthodox cross in a flea market in Helsinki. I started wearing it. I have been reading the New Testament with my two daughters (8 years and 10 years) and I recently read The Last Temptation of Christ and the cross has been sort of a symbol for my renewed interest in what it means for me to be a Christian, so I have been wearing it nearly all the time for the last couple of weeks.

My wife questioned whether it was appropriate for me to wear it or use it as a symbol considering the prevailing Mormon position on the cross, i.e. we don’t use it as a symbol of Christ at all. I did some cursory research and found the standard justifications for not using the cross (i.e. that its a symbol of the torture and death of Christ by romans rather than the atonement and resurrection and that it is not an original primitive Christian symbol) but I could not find the origin of the tradition. I checked the handbook of instructions for priesthood leaders and found no reference to the cross. I am pretty sure that a prohibition against crosses is not in the Scriptures so it makes me wonder whether the prohibition might be hurtful to the cause.

So I have a bunch of questions.

For Evangelicals: What would your reaction be to Mormons using the cross as a symbol, would it make you all more likely to sympathize with Mormons as followers of Christ? (or would it be seen as more craftiness to dupe people into believing we are really Christians.)

For Mormons: is there any harm in allowing or even embracing the use of the cross? Is it “selling out” to gain acceptance from more worldly (less inspired) churches? Is a feeling of stronger brotherhood with other believers in Christ a good thing or a hindrance to the work of the restoration and the “gathering of the elect.”? Is there anything really doctrinally unacceptable with the cross, if so, where is the revelation that tells us this?

I am not sure of my own view yet so it would be interesting to hear from all who have anything to say.

(Forgive me if this was discussed previously I could not find any previous post on this with a search of the blog, but I might have missed it)

What Are We Doing Here?

I was recently asked

Tim, please correct me if I have misunderstood you. It seems to me that you have already completed your evaluation of Mormonism and have concluded that Joseph Smith is a false prophet and that teachings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are false. You have held up Mormonism to the standard of scriptures and you believe it does not comply with what you know to be true about the nature of God and Jesus. I feel that you have made your position clear about that in this thread and on other posts.

My question is, with this understanding, what kind of communication do you hope to have with Latter-day Saints who participate on the blog?

I have to admit that this question made me pause for a second. Not because it stumped me. I do have at least a rough idea of what I’m after. But how to articulate it?

I’m definitely not interested in any sort of Kumbaya-let’s-all-get-together-and-celebrate-our-differences forum. I’m also not asking anyone to convince me that Mormonism is true. Nor do I think I have much hope via blogging of leading someone through the four spiritual laws, the sinner’s prayer and resignation from the LDS church. I do in fact think Joseph Smith is a false prophet. But quite intentionally, I spend very little time pointing out what I perceive as his moral failings or the historical problems with his institution. I rarely mention the differences between faith-promoting and the actual descriptions of popular Mormon lore.

So what do I hope to happen through this blog? Iron sharpening iron is often a violent act. I recognize that my personality type is not common in our society. But I like to have my thoughts and ideas challenged. I also enjoy challenging the thoughts and ideas of other people. I find these challenges to be a sort of refiner’s fire for poor thinking and shoddy reasoning. They also strip away inaccuracies and distortions pretty effectively. Both sides have a number of popular straw men set up against the other which need to be debunked so that the real issues can be discussed. I find a valuable education (and at times edification) in these interactions.

I want my thoughts on Mormonism to be challenged. I want Mormon thoughts on Mormonism to be challenged. I want my thoughts on Evangelicalism to be challenged. I want Mormon thoughts on Evangelicalism to be challenged. Our faiths appear quite similar on the outside but their core principles offer so many contradictions. I wish to explore those differences and see which can be modified, stretched or amended and which are off limits.

To make the whole thing even more difficult, I want to learn to disagree with Mormons in a way that my discipleship under Jesus can’t be questioned by anyone. I want to find a way to “violently” disagree, to what I believe to be falsehood, that still leaves Mormons interested in me and my presentation of Jesus. At times I think I succeed, there are many other times in which I do not.

I spent a good amount of time on a Mormon message board. Ultimately I found it too combative and too aggressive, so I left. I started this blog because of a conversation I had with a Mormon that led me to believe a more civil and respectful tone could be reached by both sides. I hope the readers and commentators of this blog can agree.

And most certainly, not all of the conversations here are duels. Nor should they be. There is much we agree on and much that can be celebrated (but let’s be honest, that’s not as much fun). :)

A New Low Point

Evangelical and LDS relationships hit a new low point. This audio clip is from the Evangelical show “Heart of the Matter.” Hosted by “Born Again Mormon” author Shawn McCraney. A caller tries to silence him by the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood.


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Me & Mormons — Part 3

For a couple of years I served at my church as a volunteer in the High School group. I would disciple and mentor about 8 – 10 high school boys every year and then help put on youth events and go on trips with the entire youth group. Occasionally we would have some Mormon kids show up to our Wednesday night Bible studies or whatever random events we were throwing. At times we would provide an open question time so that kids could ask any question about faith or doubt they wanted. We wanted to make sure that their questioning was validated and that they were respected even if they were struggling (and it was always a great teaching opportunity for kids who hadn’t thought of tough questions yet).

The Mormon kids (always boys, girls never visited) always pounced on the opportunity. Their questions were always very similar and the doctrine they always tried to label us with seemed to be what someone else said we believed rather than what we ourselves said we believed. The questions always had an agenda to them and always followed the same pattern. Now that I know a little bit more about Mormonism, my guess is that these kids were getting a certain set of questions and assumptions fed to them by their Seminary instructor. He was probably telling them, if you ever get to talk to a Protestant ask them this, then this and then this. . .

After reliving high school for three years I quit volunteering to go back to college. I enrolled in a Christian Apologetics program. The program was basically a great opportunity to audit some graduate level seminary classes without having to pay the big bucks or do any homework. It was a great program and a great learning experience. The program was run by Craig Hazen who is involved in some ongoing dialogue between Evangelical and LDS academics.

During this time my mom was asking me for help. She wanted to know how better to talk to Mormons. She was having LDS sister missionaries show up at her home; she would always invite them in and they would always end up in tears as they left. My mom has some seminary training under her belt and had been a Bible college professor while she was a missionary in the Philippines, so she knows her stuff, but is by no means confrontational. She was always frustrated that these girls would show up at her door and no matter what she tried, they would end up crying. I didn’t really have any good answers for her.

One day soon after completing the apologetics program I left my apartment and walked down the street to my car. Before I could make it I was rudely accosted on the sidewalk by a couple of Mormon missionaries. The words “rudely” and “accosted” may be an understatement. They yelled at my from about 50 yards away and came running up to tell me their good news. I wasn’t in a state of mind to talk with them and I was on my way somewhere else, so I attempted to cut the chase as quickly as possible with them.

Without giving a blow by blow of the conversation (which probably lasted 10 minutes) my tact was to show that a spiritual experience, no matter how profound should not contradict what the Bible clearly teaches. Just as I was making my point, while in mid-sentence one of the missionaries said, “That’s nice, we have to go,” and then literally sprinted away from me. His companion was soon in tow at the same speed. The word “sprint” may be an understatement. They both must have been in track.

After I gathered my jaw up off the ground I returned to my business and got in my car. I was extremely frustrated by so many aspects of the experience. I couldn’t believe the LDS church was sending out missionaries with such poor interaction skills. The only thing worse than how they started the conversation was how they finished it. I was frustrated with myself for having been so visibly annoyed by them and so quickly argumentative. Most of all I was frustrated that neither of us was expressing any genuine interest in the other. The missionaries had an agenda that they were intent on ram-rodding down my throat, and I had my own agenda that I was intent on ram-rodding down theirs.

My strongest thought in reflecting on everything that happened was “There has to be a better way. . . for both me and the LDS missionaries.”

Wow, We Can Get Ugly

I mentioned in a previous post, that there is a disagreement in Evangelicalism on how to approach Mormonism. If you would like to hear how heated it can become you should listen to these two episodes of the Frank Pastore show. There is definitely a wing that almost says if you don’t hate Mormonism as much as I do, then you must be Mormon.

I should give a couple of early indications of what you are going to hear. Frank Pastore in the last couple of years has been trying to do the Sean-Hannity-thing. He’s almost as good at it as Hannity which makes him sound like a really unpleasant person and not some one you would want to emulate as a Christian. In real life, he’s a nice guy (with a desire for ratings). Also, the advertising on the show is extremely over-sold. There are a LOT of commercials. You get about 2.5 hours of new content in 6 hours which is why I don’t listen to the show live. Be prepared to fast forward. I would edit it down, but I don’t own the copyright, so I’m not going to mess with it.

Regardless of who you are I guarantee that it will elicit a strong reaction from you. (and thus the success of the Hannity impersonation)

From August 15
Highlights:
1) Listen to the interview with Craig Hazen in the second hour. Notice how confrontational Pastore is with Hazen. Hazen throws in some key words in this controversy: jealousy and limited ministry resources.
2) Listen to how un-confrontational Pastore is with Jill Martin Rische.
3) The disparity between what Millett says in front of Evangelicals and what he says in front of LDS is big. I’m wondering why more LDS aren’t upset with Millett for distorting Mormonism.
4) It’s sounds like to me the issue isn’t that Greg Johnson isn’t distorting Christianity, it’s that he’s not going after Mormonisms unique claims hard enough.

From August 16
Highlights:
1) Listen to Jill Martin explain her own backstory to this controversy. She got left out of the clique.
2) Interesting that she rips Craig Hazen for praying inside the Mormon Tabernacle, Pastore says nothing. This despite Pastore telling Hazen the day before that he had no problem with the prayer.
3) Kurt Van Gordon hypocrisy as he accuses Greg Johnson of attacking his ministry while at the same time attacking Greg Johnson’s ministry. I have not heard every word out of Johnson’s lips but it’s my impression that he says nothing about what other ministries are doing. He personally told me, “they should keep doing what they are doing, I’m going to try something different.” I’m interested to know how many more conversations Van Gordon has been able to have with high ranking Mormons since 1991.
4) Van Gordon wants to know who and where Evangelicals are being confrontational with Mormons. How about going to Temple Square on October First.
5) Van Gordon alleges that Evangelicals are being won over to Mormonism as a result of Standing Together Ministries, but Mormons are not being won over to Evangelicalism. This is patently false and Greg Johnson can give names and phone numbers.

My own impression is that fewer and fewer Evangelicals are willing to participate in traditional Anti-Mormonism (or street Evangelism in general). This is putting a strain on some long standing ministries and they are lashing out at what they perceive to be their threat for ministry dollars. No money, no ministry. I think it’s gross how we can treat one another at times.

Hat tip to Summa Theologica

Soylent Green is Mormon

“Ex-Mormons are always so bitter and angry”

I think we need to start with a fundamental question. If the Book of Mormon is TRUE, what is the appropriate response? If the Book of Mormon is FALSE, what is the appropriate response?

I don’t necessarily always agree with the tone and the spite of some that leave the LDS church, I think I understand where they are coming from. Just imagine yourself in their position. They’ve devoted their entire lives to the teachings of something that they’ve recently discovered is an absolute fraud, AND they think they can prove it. How would you react if you were in their position?

As you know, joining the LDS church is a costly thing. Ex-Mormons have paid dearly with their lives. Even after they leave it is still costing them as they wrestle with the loss of family members and friendships and battle with their own behaviors steeped in a life devoted to a worldview they know longer hold to. It would be painful. It makes sense to want to fight against something that is inflicting pain upon you. It makes sense to want to show your friends and family what you think is true (everyone does this in and outside of the church).

If I were in their position; yelling “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!” is about the only reaction that I think would make sense for awhile.

I really think Soylent Green is a good analogy to how many former Mormons feel. Imagine what it would sound like to Charleton Heston if after discovering the truth he was told: “You know I really like soylent green. It works for me. Why do you have to be so negative?”

And his response would be: “But don’t you get it. . .SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!

So maybe you look at their evidence. Maybe it’s all lies, maybe they’ve been deceived, maybe you like the taste so much you wonder why we didn’t start eating soylent green earlier despite its key ingredient. Whatever your reaction, you should have some notion as to why they act the way they do.

People who walk away from a religion with only a shrug are people who never loved their faith. If they didn’t care one way or the other about it they were taught to view their faith as inconsequential. Ex-Mormons may bother, annoy or even anger you but at least see that they agree with you that believing or not believing in the LDS church matters a lot.

Stop Hitting Me!

Seth said:

Every religion has it’s martyr stories. Mormonism does too. Part of that tradition is the story of converts to the LDS faith who made very big and difficult sacrifices to join.

As a boy, I was raised on stories of young girls joining the Church and being disinherited by embittered fathers. Of people who lost all their friends when they converted. People losing their livelihoods. Not too mention the stories of horrific persecution and hardship that followed the early Church everywhere.

Mormons, as a people, have a bit of a chip on their shoulder. I think it’s a bit more pronounced in Utah. But we keep our history of persecution very much alive today in our consciousness. This makes us very sensitive to criticism. Not quite so sensitive as, say, Jews – whose history has been quite a bit more horrid than ours. But we’re still rather touchy when we feel we are being picked-on.

And many Mormons are highly aware that there are plenty of neighborhoods in the US where a general knowledge that you are Mormon will mean your children have no one to play with.

The atrocities we’ve lived through aren’t that distant in the past. We’re still a little jumpy, and tend to overdramatize the scope of the persecutions that still remain.

I thought this comment was really interesting. I was raised on stories of courageous people who broke out of the cult of Mormonism, losing their family, their job and everything they’ve known to be true. Terrible persecution and the desire to stand up for the truth were always the theme. There was even a story of a woman who mysteriously died a couple of years after leaving and how it must have been her Mormon family enacting a blood atonement to save her soul.

I’ve also directly heard from people in Arizona how their Mormon neighbors wouldn’t let their children play with their kids once it was discovered that they were Evangelicals. A friend in Utah had to confront his daughter’s school after his daughter was mocked and tormented by Mormon kids because she wore a cross her Grandfather had given to her.

I think there are some basic and general truths in the human experience we need to acknowledge.

  • When anyone leaves one faith tradition for another they risk their relationships with family and friends
  • Sincere believers who love their faith will desperately attempt to keep loved ones from de-converting
  • Converts nearly always have something negative to say about their previous faith
  • When “our tribe” is the dominant culture, children can act cruelly to “others”, adults can act even worse
  • “Our tribe” is always persecuted when it goes outside of “our borders”.