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.