Is the Protestant Doctrine of Salvation Incommensurate with the Mormon View?

I am always harping about how Mormons are allowed to believe a lot more things than traditional Christians and still be Mormons. I don’t think the Mormons that run the Church care about truth per se, but its usefulness in the cause, and it is eminently useful not to engage in debates about what you have to believe to be LDS.  I think most sane people believe this— it is generally not wise to declare how stupid you think others are within their earshot, and most people are apt to say stupid things when they are cutting down another cause.

From my point of view, this reality presents those who make massive truth claims, such as Evangelical Protestants, an interesting test: Here is a group of people who ostensibly believe a lot of the same things you Evangelicals believe; they are going to hell, forever, because of their confusion; it seems that the power of your message should be able to convert these people.  For me, it’s as if the Mormons are laying ready on Mount Carmel and Evangelicals can’t make so much as a spark to ignite what is dry kindling. I thought a good place to put my pet theory to the test is to determine whether a Mormon can fully believe the Protestant view of Salvation and remain LDS.  Is there some logical necessity of rejecting the message of the Restoration?  If they are not now, Mormons even become saved Christians and remain in the Church?

The question seems important. If the answer is “no,” Protestants should joyfully want Mormons to believe in their view of the Gospel whether or not the Mormons remain faithful to their LDS covenants or attend LDS church or believe the Book of Mormon is the word of God, or even continue to gather converts.  The entire approach to LDS missionary work would not be to show them where they are wrong theologically (which is extremely boring), but to teach them the truth in spirit and in power like Paul advocated (manifestly less boring). I recognize that many Mormons do not, and never will, understand or believe the theology behind the Evangelical view of salvation from original sin. But most Mormons are new Mormons without set theologies, and LDS Missionary efforts require a wide tolerance for strange beliefs. (I learned this acutely while eating dinner with a Jet Propulsion Laboratory physicist and my missionary companion, who was convinced that the earth was hollow.)   Continue reading

Listening to the Spirit

Viktor Frankl was a very important influence on my worldview in my adolescence. I found this clip the other day and it seemed to be a very good explanation of my view of religion as a Mormon. You could quite comfortably be LDS and believe everything Frankl says here.  Toward the end of the clip, he explains that if God is anything, he is not a fossil. (also an important theme in the LDS worldview).

The first part of the interview gives what amounts to a Mormon idea of the Spirit—which he refers to as “intuition”—and a fairly passable view of why the Spirit is so important in the LDS Religion and its spirit-based epistemology.

To those who can’t listen to the video, Frankl’s position is that intuition is the primal source of truth in human situations because cognitive capacities cannot deal with the absolute uniqueness of the situation in front of us, that requires intuition, which also includes conscience and access to a divine nature.  He says in the beginning of the clip:

“Intuition is the only way to arrive at truth, even when rational concepts, or intellectual capacities fail; because you can rationalize into rational terms only what is not absolutely unique.But if you are confronted with a phenomena which is unique, which never will recur, which only once appears and confronts you, you have to resort to intuition, because intuition can handle the unique things that only once and only here and now are confronting you. “

Frankl’s religion and Mormonism bear some characteristics of undifferentiated God-belief that springs up all the time. (see Insane Clown Posse)

Scared of Hell: Evangelicals don’t really know if they are saved?

Byline: Does the difficulty in feeling assured of salvation dissolve the practical differences in “works”-focused vs. belief-focused religion?Hell Awaits You!

I used to think that the problem of assurance of salvation was a big practical difference between Mormons and Evangelicals.  I am not so sure now.The theological differences seem stark. According to the rough academic analogy, Mormons believe that everybody is born with a passing grade, and you have to decide to fail.  So long as your intentions are in the right direction, and you are living up to your potential , you are going to the Celestial Kingdom. If you fall short you are going to get a great consolation prize– eternally living in heaven with Jesus forever.   If you criminally screw up and reject Jesus,  you are going to suffer for your  sins but eventually you will be in a heavenly place with the eternal joy that the Holy Spirit can bring you.  Mormons believe (or used to) that some striving souls could get a “second endowment.”  An ordinance performed in the temple that seals a person with their spouse to the Celestial Kingdom.  They have their “calling and election made sure.” Anymore, this concept and practice has practically disappeared from the Church.  Mormons are left completely sure they are going to heaven, but always unsure of which heaven they will go to. I believed that whatever I–or nearly anybody else–was in for in the afterlife, it was going to be a whole lot better than this world.

Contrasting my experience with the children of Evangelicalism. I can see how the “faith alone” doctrine would have scared the hell out of me.  Evangelicals believe you are born with a failing grade– the default is hell.  People qualify for salvation by correct belief and reliance on the work of Jesus alone.  It seems to me that if you are an Evangelical facing the never-ending torment of hell, you’d better make darn sure you are saved.  And the problem is, because non-saving faith can masquerade as true belief and faith, there is a lot of room for consternationJust as Mormons obsess about doing enough to be “good enough” , it seems that doubt-prone Evangelicals can easily fall into a cycle of severe anxiety trying to assure their faith is “true” enough.  And the stakes– and possibly the potential anxiety seem considerably higher.  It seems that many Evangelicals indeed have this problem of assurance gauging from this article in Relevant Magazine, by J.D. Greear, Evangelical author of Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart.    

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Prophet, Priest, Member, and Disciple– A way to understand Mormon life

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Christianity and religion in general lately. I’m trying to figure out what was going on when I was a full-believing Mormon, and how to compare that to the religious lives of others.   I came up with some simple (i.e. over-simplified) categories of roles people play while involved in an organized religion like Mormonism.  I found them helpful in providing a way of understanding my Mormon experience and comparing it with others without worrying too much about theology.   I see four roles people play in organized religion:

Prophet: receiving spiritual guidance from the Spirit of God.

Priest/Clergy: administering teachings within a community. Teaching, preaching, helping, managing, setting policy, etc.

Member: special attachment, loyalty, and duty to particular community or group

Disciple: a devotee seeking to practice the principles taught by the prophets.

I admit it’s an over-simplified model;  there are a bunch more roles that come into play: e.g.,Saint, Missionary, Theologian, Convert, Skeptic, Monk, Mystic, etc.  And I am probably not using the terms in a  completely standard way.  But for me it’s a start on trying to grasp all the dynamics involved in living a faith.

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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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Playing Politics

Earlier this week Billy Graham formally endorsed Mitt Romney in his campaign to become President. The endorsement is significant for a number of reasons, Graham is a life long Democrat and has never formally endorsed a candidate. This endorsement is important to Romney because it secures the most well-known and respected Evangelical voice of the last century. Graham’s endorsement is thought to put at ease the minds of those Evangelicals who may be reluctant to vote for a Mormon in a national political race.

Perhaps of greater interest than the actual endorsement was the immediate retraction of a number of articles from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association’s web site. All of the articles in question had named Mormonism as a cult. A spokesman for Graham stated:

“Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”

The retraction on the subject has raised the ire of many Evangelicals. Calling some to ask, will we gain the White House but lose our souls?

Christianity Today published an article with some brief reactions from Evangelical leaders asking, should the BGEA have removed the cult designation from Mormonism on their site? Here are two I thought of interest:

“Yes, but not for the reason they apparently did. If [the BGEA] did so to help the Romney candidacy, then that was probably folly. First, because it likely won’t help in any meaningful way; and second, because it gives the appearance that the BGEA might think that—on certain occasions—they will let politics trump principles. However, in the big picture I’m not sad that they are moving away from the word ‘cult’ for Mormonism. These days, the word is nothing more than a pejorative, and unhelpful in communicating the true gospel to Latter-Day Saints (LDS).”
–Craig Hazen, professor of comparative religion and apologetics, Biola University

“It is unfortunate that the BGEA chose to remove the cult designation describing Mormonism this week. It will appear to the world that the Graham organization has chosen political expediency over spiritual conviction. It is possible to endorse Mitt Romney, as I have done, and yet maintain that Mormonism is a false religion that leads people away from the one true God.”
— Robert Jeffress, pastor, First Baptist Church (Dallas)

My personal take is that the word “cult” serves very little productive use in communicating about Mormonism. I appreciate the theological definition that Evangelicals have used but regard the the distinction between sociological cults is more often than not misunderstood or not all clarified. In my view it is a welcome change to remove the word “cult” from our vocabulary but the timing of this change stinks of politics and not of principle. If anything this change serves the opposite of the BGEA’s intentions by reinforcing the politicized nature of the debate over the word “cult”. I’m not sure how better the BGEA could have handled this controversy other than to make the change many months ago out of principle in a non-political atmosphere, or to have left all of the articles online and replaced the word “cult” with “heretical sect”, and then clearly explain that the change in vocabulary was intended to better communicate the association’s disagreements with Mormonism.

Billy Graham’s legacy is strongly in tact, but I think I would have preferred him not to have made this one of his last nationally recognized statements. His record of non-endorsement of presidential candidates would have better served his name and not have further promoted the political stigma that has inflicted Evangelicalism.

You are SAVED (from Hell)!! – What Evangelicals have that Mormons don’t: Part II

One thing that strikes me as a key difference in how Mormons and Evangelicals view being “saved” is what they believe they are saved from.  For Mormons, the flip-side of not feeling the joy of being COMPLETELY forgiven like Evangelicals do, is the comfort of never having to worry about hell in the least, for me or anybody else.  I think this difference may shape how Mormons and Evangelicals differ in they way they see God, their purpose in life, and, to some degree, what life is about. I offer my own experience as a way for Evangelicals to gain some insight on how not believing in Hell can shape your thoughts and behavior.

To somebody raised in the LDS church in the late twentieth century, there is no hell.  A fiery place where souls are sent by God to burn forever? As a Mormon growing up, I took that as seriously as the idea that the devil had horns and pitchfork. The only thing close to “hell” that I was taught about was not anywhere God would send me, It was merely the pain and disappointment of not being with our Father again, who wanted us to be there and provided a way for us to do it. I was taught that if we even got a glimpse of the Telestial kingdom, we would want to kill ourselves just to go their.  The absolute worst part if it was that I couldn’t be with my family forever. This sounded crappy enough, so I couldn’t imagine my Father in Heaven, who loved me more than my real parents did, wanted any of us to go through anything worse.

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What Do You Mean By “Apostasy”?

Rev. Jeffress and Pastor Mark Driscoll have both stirred up a lot of recent anger by saying that Mormonism is a “theological cult”. I don’t think the term is all that helpful even when thoroughly explained (and Driscoll has a MUCH better definition than Jeffress).

I don’t think the term is helpful because the word “cult” has shifted and is so strongly connected with mind-controlling organizations and brain-washing. It’s such a loaded term than any attempt to nuance it is totally thwarted by the power of of the perceived meaning. It’s like doing surgery with a broad sword. I suggest that those who want to discuss “theological cults” might find it more useful to find a different word all together.

Earlier this week I asked a Mormon friend what he meant by the word “apostasy” because the average Christian is going to find it nearly as offensive. He responded:

Being in a state where the church organization and priesthood authority as established by Jesus Christ and restored through Joseph Smith is absent or aberrated.

I think this definition fails for the same reason any secondary definition of the word “cult” fails. The speaker is talking about something the listener isn’t hearing.

Mormons are fond of defaulting to the common dictionary definition when defending their status as Christians. The dictionary refers to apostasy as:

a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc.

In addition to the lack of clarity in meaning for my friends definition of “apostasy”, I think he fails to recognize that when Joseph Smith first introduced the term he meant something closer to the dictionary definition than what he’d like it to mean. Similarly Rev. Jeffress probably meant something closer to the common definition of “cult” than any theological definition he could devise.

More Cult Headlines

Chuck Colson focused on Presidential politics and whether or not Christians could vote for a Mormon in a recent episode of Breakpoint

You can read his editorial on the subject at The Christian Post.

A response entitled “Why is Chuck Colson Sweeping Mormonism Under the Rug?” appeared on the National Catholic Register.

And Pastor Mark Driscoll wrote a long blog article on his take “Is Mormonism a Cult?

The first thing I ever read about Mormonism

I remember very well the first thing I ever read about Mormonism. It was an entry in a book called Concise Dictionary of Cults and Religions by William Watson. It had a red and gray design on the cover and I had borrowed it from my aunt after one of my visits to her. I knew that there were at least three or four Mormon students in my sophomore health class in high school, and I was curious about what they believed, so I was somewhat surprised to find an entry on Mormonism in this scary book on “cults.” I took the book to class and read from it to them before class began. I asked them if that was what they really believed. I confess, I laughed. It all sounded bizarre, especially the part about men becoming gods. Not one of my better moments.

I found a copy of the book at the TEDS library recently and re-visited that excerpt on Mormonism. I’ve cited the excerpt here for discussion. Tell me what you think.

Concise Dictionary of Cults and Religions by William Watson. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991. p. 155-156 Continue reading

Helping Mormon Missionaries Call Home

In my previous post, I suggested that Evangelicals should offer the use of their phones and their internet access to Mormon missionaries that visit their homes.  I suggested this not as a means of offering temptation to break the rules.  Instead, I suggested it as a means of showing kindness to someone who may desperately need the offer.

I recognize that Mormons are generally happy with their missionary program and see the rules and regulations associated with it to be appropriate and instituted with the best of intentions.  I’m not denying or questioning the sincere motivations that the LDS church may be operating under.  But I want to point out from an outsiders point of view what is happening in the daily life of a Mormon missionary.

Missionaries are:

  1. told that they must wear a standard uniform at all times that includes what type of underwear they must wear
  2. stripped of their first names
  3. told who they must live with
  4. responsible to observe and report any infractions they witness their companions commit
  5. required to be with their companions at all times
  6. limited to a small set of reading materials which only include religious text
  7. prohibited from television, newspapers and movies
  8. offered limited contact with family and friends and are told exactly when they can call their families
  9. typically eating a diet based mostly on cheap carbohydrates
  10. experiencing various levels of culture shock and may be almost completely removed from their native tongue
  11. in an enviornment where blessings and successes are often taught to be in direct proportion to personal worthiness
  12. not given control over their own passports
  13. committed to Church related activities nearly every waking hour of the day

I know that many feel there are perfectly good reasons for each of these items.  I’m not arguing the specifics, I am looking at the entire picture. I want to be clear;  I am NOT saying that the LDS church is a cult.   But in any other religious context, the sum of this checklist starts raising some flags of concern for me.   When you study real life cultic groups, this is the exact set of circumstances manipulative religious leaders put their followers into. It’s a breeding ground for emotional and spiritual abuse.

I am NOT saying that LDS Mission Presidents are committing emotional or spiritual abuse.  Nor do I think the LDS church is knowingly and willing setting up this situation so that spiritual and emotional abuse can happen.  But if just one Mission President is inclined to be abusive, the playing field has already been set perfectly for him to have a heyday on the hearts and minds of young men and women.

I heard Steve Hassan say that if you encounter people that you know are in a mind-controlling environment, such as Moonies or Hare Krishnas, you should offer your cell phone to them in case they’d like to call their families.  Their ability to use a phone may be severely limited and you may be giving them a lifeline out of an abusive situation.

I have no idea how the Mission President may be behaving in my area.  He’s most likely a kind and decent man who has no desire to harm the missionaries in his care.  But on the off-chance that he’s not kind and decent, I think it’s appropriate to offer LDS missionaries the knowledge that they have somewhere safe to come if they need to contact family or friends for any reason.

I am well aware that most Mormons enjoyed their missions quite a bit.  I am well aware that many feel nothing abusive ever happened in their experience.  I am not at all suggesting that Mormon missions are even frequently abusive.  I expect the vast majority of missionaries to turn down my offer.  I have no plans to push it on them or encourage them to call their families as a subtle way to undermine the LDS church.  But given the context the missionaries are living in, I think it’s appropriate for a non-Mormon to offer sanctuary to someone who may need it even if that chance is remote.

Oprah’s Cult Club

While on sabbatical from religious blogging a number of blog-post worthy things happened, mostly on television. One of those events was Oprah Winfrey’s journey into the heart of Fundamental Mormonism for some fresh baked bread.

I had two strong thoughts on Oprah’s visit to the Yearning for Zion Ranch. The first was that she is extraordinarily savvy at disarming people and becoming accepted by them enough for interviews. The second was that she wasn’t prepared enough to probe past the “milk-before-meat” half-truth answers they were giving. She quite often just accepted their answers on face value. Perhaps that was part of her plan though, to limit any and all confrontations (for future visits).

What surprised me the most was that she used the word “cult” several times (the irony of Oprah talking about cults aside). I think Oprah correctly used the term in referring to the FLDS as a cult. Every expert on mind-control and sociological cults classifies them as a cult and they meet every qualification you can think of.

I recognize that LDS are sensitive to the use of the “C” word. But I’m wondering what LDS think of the FLDS. If you’re LDS, do you consider the FLDS a cult? If not, is that because you eschew the word entirely, because you don’t think any group should be called a cult, because you don’t believe there is any such thing as a mind-controlling cult, or for some other reason specific to the FLDS?

Please note: this discussion is NOT about polygamy or government’s misuse of power in protecting children. It IS about mind-control and the FLDS use of such tactics.

Please ALSO note:
To be absolutely clear. I’m not asking if you think the words “cult” and “brain washed” are good terms for defining groups we don’t like.

I’m asking if you think the FLDS meet the strictest of definitions used by psychological professionals.

Mormons believe in a Mother in Heaven

Since Tim is gone, I thought I would back him up by writing a Tim-Style Post.  i.e. throw out a controversial LDS doctrine in sort of a challenging way and then open it up for comments.

Few Mormon doctrines are more radically paradigm-shifting than the believe in the existence of a Heavenly Mother.

What equally interesting to me is what this particular doctrine tells about how Mormonism works.

I think Evangelicals often stand with open-mouth when they read that those crazy Mormon’s believe such things because they are nowhere to be found in the Bible.  Aside from being a radical shift in understanding of God and Man between Protestants and Mormons, the doctrine also shows a fundamental difference in the way Mormons form their personal theology vs. the way Evangelicals seem to go about it.  This is what I want to explore with this post.  To try to explain to bible-focused (limited?) Evangelicals why Mormons believe in a Mother in Heaven, even when its not in the bible.  For this I am going to have to call on the usual bunch of commentators.

Few people, if any, know the ultimate origin of the idea that we have a Mother in Heaven.  Joseph Smith does not seem to have spoken directly about it in his life and there is no reference in the LDS Canon.

The first time we see it in writing comes from a woman, Eliza R. Snow, in a hymn, “O My Father”  President Kimball acknowledged that “O My Father” was a “doctrinal hymn” and dozens of prophets and apostles have reiterated this idea.

President Lorenzo Snow explained that Eliza Snow got the doctrine from Joseph shortly before he was murdered.

President Spencer W. Kimball in a general conference address:

“When we sing that doctrinal hymn … ‘O My Father,’ we get a sense of the ultimate in maternal modesty, of the restrained, queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less?” (Ensign, May 1978, p. 6.)

The doctrine of the hymn is pretty straightforward, there is a mother in heaven and we will return to live with Her and the Father, and that they together sent people on their mission to earth:

I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal

Tells me I’ve a mother there.
Let me come and dwell with you.
With your mutual approbation
All you sent me forth to do,
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?

So there we have it, a revolutionary new way of looking at God and heaven that turns traditional notions on their ear.

Mormons believe it, but I can see the Evangelicals left scratching their heads:

  1. The doctrine is not found in scripture, including Mormon Scripture
  2. The doctrine was not explicitly taught or explained by Joseph Smith (even though it is pretty clear that he was claimed that he originally  taught the doctrine)
  3. It really shifts away from all traditional interpretations of the Bible.

I can see how an Evangelical is probably left dumbfounded:  “You can’t win with those Mormons, how can I teach them correct theology whenthey are going to beleive stuff like this with such slim support or understanding?”

Here we have, in my mind, the genius as well as the vulnerability of  Mormonism. . . our willingness to believe in things that are not in the Bible.  To some Mormons, this doctrine is very uncomfortable.  We sometimes downplay it and even reproach those that make “too much” of it due to the little we “know” about it.  To others, agreeing with Eliza R. Snow, it makes religion make more sense: i.e. “If man is made in the image of God, why wouldn’t there be family in heaven as well as on earth. “

I think if we can give a good explanation to our Evangelical friends  of why we believe this doctrine, they will be a lot closer to really understanding Mormonism.  (and we might have a clearer way of understanding our own view of how “doctrine” is born).

So Mormons, explain to Evangelicals :

1. Do you believe in a Mother in Heaven? and

2. Why?

3. What is the significance of the doctrine to you, to the Church, and to the world?

Evangelicals, we know you don’t believe it, and we know its not in the Bible, if you try to understand why we believe you may learn a lot about Mormonism in general that will enlighten you on how we do religion in other areas.

Ask a Mormon on 106.7 KROQ

The Kevin and Bean Show on KROQ recently had a featured called “Ask a Mormon”. Interesting what they decided to discuss. Their guest is an ex-Mormon, but by no means a raving lunatic.

It’s at the 14 minute mark if you want to fast forward. The Kevin and Bean show is a long running morning program on a popular rock station in Los Angeles, so you can expect to get everything that might come along with that. Sadly for us Evangelicals, I think they handled the subject matter much more respectfully than many of our own radio host would have.

Click here to download.

But It’s a Cult

This post is likely to cause some controversy. Hopefully I’ve earned enough good faith that I can present my ideas respectfully and my readers can take what I have to say with the authentic intention in which it is offered.

I think it’s inappropriate to think of the LDS church as a mind-controlling cult. For theological reasons, mainstream Christians have used the term cult to signify that the LDS church is a heretical sect outside the bounds of orthodoxy. Unfortunately the word “cult” is often also associated with destructive mind-controlling groups. There is a theological definition and a sociological definition of the word “cult” and the distinction is not often well explained. For this reason (and many others) we really need to find a better word to describe groups that we feel are in deep heresy.

Psychologists have developed some methods to discern whether or not a group is a mind-controlling cult. There are many groups that fit these descriptions and they are not limited to religion. There are business networking, martial art and substance abuse cults.

As I stated earlier. I do NOT think that the LDS church is a mind-controlling cult. It’s extremely inappropriate to describe it as such. But there is an aspect of Mormonism that starts raising some flags for me. I find a great many reasons to be alarmed about the missionary program. I am NOT saying that the missionaries are being abused or mistreated. I am NOT saying that the missionaries have been unfairly coerced into being there. I do think that there are some abuses in the system and that from an outside prospective the system is suspect.

Using the B.I.T.E. protocol developed by Steven Alan Hassan, I’ll attempt to make my case. I do not believe that any one of these things is an indictment but rather their collection as a whole.

Behavior Control

  • Missionaries are told where they will be living and with whom they will be living.
  • They are required to wear a white shirt, slacks and a tie in all situations (no less what type of underwear they can wear).
  • They are given very little free time off (only 8.5 hours) every week, the rest of their time is spent either sleeping, proselytizing or studying.
  • Missionaries are financially restrained by a small living allowance each month.
  • Contact with family members is cut off except for 2 phone calls a year and hand delivered letters which must be delivered through church authorities.
  • Permission must be sought for everything.
  • Missionaries must be present with their companions at all times except for a few minutes in the bathroom. Any violation of mission rules is to be reported to authorities.
  • Obedience to church authorities is of utmost importance

Information Control

  • Only church approved reading materials are allowed. All other forms of information are cut off entirely.
  • Missionaries are kept extremely busy

Thought Control

  • Loaded language and jargon is pervasive.
  • Only given titles are to be used (Elder and Sister). Given names are not to be used.
  • Thought stopping techniques are used to block challenging information. All objections which can not be answered are to be met by “bearing one’s testimony”.
  • Missionaries are encouraged to testify that they know the church is true even if they have doubts or have reason to suspect that it may not be the case. Some are told to “fake it until they make it”.
  • No critical questions about leadership or leadership decisions is allowed

Emotional Control

  • Missionaries are told that if they are not “feeling the spirit” it must be the result of some unrighteousness on their part.
  • Guilt is frequently used as a motivator
  • There is a great fear of shunning by not fulfilling one’s missionary responsibilities or by returning home early
  • Any lack of success is the fault of the individual not the message nor the organization

It’s my impression that the top priority of the missionary program is actually to bond the missionary to the church rather than to win converts (a great side benefit). It’s no coincidence that they choose to send missionaries at a time when they are at the most impressionable age and can only think, act, and sleep about the church in an isolated and controlled environment. Some might say that many of these restrictions are a result of the age and maturity level of the missionaries. My response is that if 19 year olds are not mature enough to act as responsible agents of the church without the organization imposing inappropriate boundaries, then perhaps missionaries should be sent out at an older age.

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

What Do We Do With You

I’d like to highlight an internal conversation that has been taking place in the Evangelical community for the last couple of years. The basic point is: we are somewhat at odds as to what to do with Mormonism. For the past 150 some-odd-years the typical response has been to offer nothing but hostility and firm rebuke to Mormons for following a false prophet and in the process accepting false doctrine.

The easiest way we have found to do this is the highlight the moral failings of Joseph Smith, to show the falsity of the Book of Mormon as an actual historical story and to expose a great many inconsistencies in both the history and doctrine of the LDS church.

Several years ago, Greg Johnson of Standing Together Ministries started encouraging Evangelicals to view Mormonism not as a cult but as a culture. As such we should find culturally appropriate ways to share our message with Mormons as we would in any “foreign” mission field. There are many who feel that Standing Together is watering down the gospel rather than fighting against falsehood.

An article was recently published in an Evangelical journal, highlighting many of the failings of Standing Together’s methodology. John Morehead recently wrote a rebuttal to that article. You can find it here

John has chosen to moderate the comments on his blog (wisely I think). But Todd Wood at “Heart Issues for LDS” is hosting a discussion between John Morehead, myself and Aaron Shafovaloff, a staff member of Mormonism Research Ministries (a traditional counter-cult ministry). If you’re interested in that conversation you can read it here.

New Religious Movements

Evangelicals tend to put the LDS church in the same category as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientist, Branch Davidians, Oneness Pentecostals, Inglesia ni Cristo, The Children of God and The People’s Temple (among others). That is, we view all of you as heretical sects of Christianity that have strayed so far out of orthodoxy that you may no longer fit the classical definition of Christianity at all. When the New Testament speaks of false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing, we tend to point at all of you as examples of such. I understand that LDS may not accept that classification or the classical definition of Christianity (nor am I asking you to).

I’m wondering though, how do LDS view these other new religious movements? Do you take fellowship with them in persecution from mainstream Christians? Do you think of them as just another product of the Apostasy? Do you think of them at all?

Is Mormonism Christian?

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This is a question that irks Mormons to no-end, “is Mormonism Christian?”. I honestly understand the frustration it must cause. If you would like a respectful and well-reasoned answer from an Evangelical perspective I would recommend Chapter 9 of “The New Mormon Challenge.” You might think the question is totally stupid, but at least you can have an honest answer without flippant accusations of Satanic and cultic behavior. I’ll honestly admit that most Evangelical Christians don’t know enough about Mormonism to give a good answer.

Standing Together Ministries is giving away FREE copies of chapter 9, “Is Mormonism Christian?” by Craig Blomberg. Just click on the link and request your own copy.

I don’t expect a single Mormon anywhere to walk away from reading it saying “Oh, I guess he’s right, we’re not really Christian.” But I do think that Mormons can walk away saying “Finally, I understand why Evangelicals don’t think we’re Christian.”

There is likely going to be A LOT of comments suggesting why Mormonism is or isn’t Christian. I think the chapter from the New Mormon Challenge is the BEST answer any non-LDS is going to be able to give. I’m tempted to close the comments section because I don’t think many will actually comment on Blomberg’s essay, but I think discussion is healthy. So, go for it!

Calvary Chapel is a Cult

Have you seen all of these Calvary Chapels pop up all over the place? I live in Southern California and they are everywhere. Calvary Chapel is a total cult.

They believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and in the importance of expositional teaching. They believe in pre-millenialism AND in a pre-tribulational rapture. They’ve got their own bible college that’s not even accredited and I think they teach all of their pastors to sound exactly like their founder, Chuck Smith. Cult, cult, cult!

Okay, my spoof is over. I don’t actually think that Calvary Chapel is a cult. But if you actually go to a Calvary Chapel and you read my “accusations” against it you probably thought “yeah, so? how does that make us a cult? I’m glad we believe those things and I’m going to stick up for them against a jerk like you.”

This is exactly how Mormons feel when we lead with the cult accusation. There may be excellent reasons why the LDS church qualifies as a cult of Christianity BUT if that’s where we start with them, they have no reason to believe that we actually want to befriend them and have true concern for them. Instead we’re telling them we want to combat them and tell them all the reasons we think they are wrong (and perhaps that is exactly what some want to do). But if we do that we should expect them to fight back. In my experience, picking fights is about one of the worst ways to change minds and one of the best ways to solidify people against your point of view.

Honey attracts more flies than vinegar.