Christian J pointed out in the discussion of my last post that he thought the Mormon model of seeking spiritual confirmation of doctrine was biblical. I think he is right. When I was LDS, I was very impressed by Paul’s discussion in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 2. It captured perfectly my view of the core of Missionary work. Those interested in Mormonism would do well to understand how Paul’s words are lived by LDS today.
Teryl and Fiona Givens were recently on a tour of British ward houses giving a series of talks entitled “The Crucible of Doubt”. The point of the talk seemed to be to encourage Mormons who may be struggling with doubts. One attendee recorded the talk and shared it. Another attendee took notes on the talk and shared those notes. I’ll set aside the content of Givens’ apologetic arguments in order to focus on something he said about Protestantism. Continue reading
I put my six-year-old son to bed the other night and reminded him to say his prayers. ten or fifteen minutes later he came down with a huge smile on his face, he wanted to call his mom and tell her something (his mother and I are not married anymore). It was too late so he went back to bed. First thing the next morning he came directly downstairs and called his mother to tell her about the feeling he had when he was praying. He explained to her, and later me, that he had this amazing feeling when he was praying and could not stop smiling about it. Watching this experience–like so many I have had as a parent– was like looking into a mirror reflecting myself at his age.
Of course this experience raises so many questions for me, and for perhaps should raise this questions for all Christians: How do we explain the witness of the Spirit to a child.
I actually do not have a good answer– a satisfactory explanation of spiritual experience like this is perhaps the biggest question I have in life. I know there are all kinds, including those that do not involve belief in God, but my son deserves one. And he deserves one in language he can understand. I reject many aspects of the explanation he is routinely given at LDS church, and I am not satisfied with what I did tell them. So I put it to anyone who reads this–how would you explain this experience to my son, if he was yours?
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.
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:
I listened to a recent podcast at On Being, by Krista Tippett. She interviews religious thinkers of every stripe. I like Tippett, definitely on the happy liberal unitarian side, but positive and fair. In 2008 she interviewed conservative Mormon apologist Robert Millet (Audio /Transcript).
Tippet described Mormonism and how she sees Brooks as a good representative:
“A highly disciplined, highly effective frontier culture grows up and migrates back out into centers of power. It’s a classic American story. But there’s also some kind of religious and cultural coming of age here, for Mormons and the rest of us.
I couldn’t have found a better person than Joanna Brooks to shed some distinctively informative, candid, and meaningful light on it all. She’s a literature scholar and a journalist. HerAsk Mormon Girl blog and Twitter feed is a remarkably reflective, compassionate community of questioning with Mormons of many stripes.
And Ask Mormon Girl, as she notes on her website, is housed on the “legendary Feminist Mormon Housewives blog.” That is just one of many things that does not meet the traditional American eye on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — but which we engage through the voice and life of Joanna Brooks.
I thought Brook’s perspective was a refreshing alternative to apologists like Millet’s. I find her as a good example of one who remains faithful to Mormonism despite serious problems with the way the Church represents its ideals. Mormonism with its authoritarian structure stuck on top of a very expansive, revolutionary, and often undeveloped view of the world has produced many who live the faith while dealing with many internal contradictions.
LDS apologist Michael Ash has an ongoing series at Mormon Times and the FAIR podcast called “Challenging Issues and Keeping the Faith”. I was interested to hear him speak directly to the popular Mormon expression that “the prophet will not lead the people of the church astray.”
In his article on this issue he states
The purpose and mission of the church is to “invite all to come unto Christ” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:59). Prophets stand as leaders in this invitation and the things they do and say (as prophets) are intended to accomplish this goal.
How do we come unto Christ? The Book of Mormon gives us the six-point pattern: belief in Christ, repentance, baptism, gift of the Holy Spirit, enduring to the end and being found guiltless at the final judgment.
I’m glad to see someone putting some more meat on the idea and clearly defining the places in which a prophet might lead the people astray. It’s interesting that Ash chose to reduce the arena of possible prophetic negligence down to 6 messages that all serve to help us “come unto Christ”.
Based on this criteria we could assume the absolute worst about every LDS prophet and all of them would safely be in the bounds of doctrinal orthodoxy. For instance we could take the view that polygamy was indeed started to cover up Joseph Smith’s desire for extra-marital affairs, that the Book of Mormon was a fraudulent scheme to make money, that the priesthood ban was a blatant attempt to spiritually affirm racism or that Brigham Young collaborated and conspired as an active part of the Mountain Meadows Massacre; and still safely regard these men as prophets who never led the church astray. Perhaps some future prophet could use his pulpit to disband the priesthood, bulldoze under every LDS temple or even encourage all faithful LDS to invest in another failed banking venture and still it could be said that he “never led the people astray”.
I think the phrase has to mean more than a prophet’s ability to direct people into these six principles. If it doesn’t the unique voice and role of the LDS prophet quite quickly because functionally unnecessary. In addition, the LDS teaching of a great apostasy or its status as the only one and true church lose all significance.
I can’t think of a single time in Christian history when the majority of Christian churches were not leading their people in some form of this six-point pattern. As a non-Mormon, Ash’s argument leaves me unconvinced that I need something that only the LDS church offers. Further it opens the door to prophetic fallibility so widely that we can’t be certain that the every single unique teaching of LDS prophets and LDS scriptures (given to us by modern prophets) are nothing more than overstated opinions. If the truth claims of the LDS church are really only vital in regards to this six-point pattern of belief, there are no unique LDS doctrines that aren’t and weren’t being taught by other churches.
I understand that Ash’s role as an apologist is to reduce the surface area that critics might use to attack the LDS prophet, but he’s gone so far that he’s also reduced the unique role of the LDS church to nothing and entirely eliminated its evangelistic message. If the world needs modern prophets, their role must be for something more than what my pastor delivers every week. Orson and Parley Pratt took a tact of strongly embracing difficult teachings, I think Ash should reconsider his apologetic strategy before he leaves the LDS church with nothing more than an optional-belief-in-God.