Thank God for smugglers. I was humbled by this video.
This is a funny way to introduce people to heresies surrounding the Trinity.
When children are taught religion, they are indoctrinated. As parents we can’t explain how the world really works to them–they won’t understand and nobody has the patience–so we happily give them simple skeletons which they can build on, that they can organize the necessarily limited experience and information they stumble across. We hope that the skeletons are elegant and strong enough to gird all the good information our children come across and allow them to create a robust, useful picture of how things are. Of course the problem with indoctrination is that it shuts of lines if inquiry, creating intellectual bias. If the process of education moves people from cocksure confidence to thoughtful uncertainty, indoctrination attempts to stall or abort this process–on a few important areas of thought at least.
Indoctrination is a big issue in our multi-cultural, increasingly divisive, political and ideological climate. At least one writer – David French– contends that Evangelicals’ failure to properly indoctrinate their children is part of the reason they fall short in church growth compared to moromons. Citing the Barna Group’s conclusion that of the 84 million Americans who claim to be Evangelical, only about 19 million actually hold orthodox beliefs, French advocates that Evangelicals must follow the LDS lead in teaching their distinctive beliefs and culture early and well.
But indoctrination is an extremely inflammatory concept. It is almost universally condemned by those who don’t want children to be indoctrinated against their positions. But I don’t think indoctrination can or should have the bad rap given it by fervent opponents of religious indoctrination such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Arguably most childhood education in areas of history and even many areas of science smacks of indoctrination in one form or another.
Given its unavoidable necessity, I have started to take indoctrination of my own children more seriously. My kids are indoctrinated Mormons, their skeletons come from church. They have a surface-level, Sunday-school understanding of the church, salvation, and the righteous life. But because I am no longer what can be fairly called a believing Mormon, I want to temper this indoctrination with indoctrination of my own–one that reflects the understanding I have developed in my spiritual life and education. I am trying to find a way to explain Christianity differently without closing the lines of inquiry that I find critical. I want to add a few limbs to my kids’ conceptual skeletons without making their existing frameworks useless.
So, my project is to develop simple, short, easy-to-understand narratives of important historical events and religious principles- sort of like the Gospel Principles Manual in the LDS Church. Something that can give my children a place to start inquiry based roughly on what I think are proper conclusions about history and the world; a different narrative to expand and allow critical evaluation of the narrative they receive in church.
The seventh chapter of Acts tells the story of Stephen, a newly ordained deacon (Church waiter), who is brought before the Jewish authorities with false charges of blasphemy and plans to destroy the Temple. In his defense, full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen offers an alternate history of Judaism that both devalues the importance of the Temple and charges the authorities with the murder of Jesus and all of the previous prophets. Stephen is hastily dragged out of the city and stoned to death. He becomes the first post-Ressurection martyr and an immense persecution immediately breaks out against the Church.
My bible study group was recently discussing this passage and my wife rhetorically asked “Was Stephen’s sermon effective?” The obvious Christian answer is “yes”, but I can’t imagine in the first weeks and months following Stephen’s sermon that many Christians thought that it was effective. The story does not tell of any Jew who became a Christian because of the sermon; in fact it seemed to have the opposite effect, entrenching the hatred and persecution of this new religious community. The church at that moment in time is what we today would call a mega-church. Thousands of believers were together, centered in Jerusalem with thousands being added daily. The church was becoming institutionalized adding structure and organization to make it more effective in its mission. As Stephen was dragged out of the city, all of the success of the early church seemed to be dragged out with him. Christians were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria and forced into secrecy and fear. Many more would lose their lives for preaching the name of Jesus. Jewish authorities would no longer call for patient tolerance of this new heresy but instead made it legal to pursue and punish all who dared devote their lives to Jesus. By all appearances and short term evidences the event seemed to be an utter disaster for Christianity.
The Evangelical Church in America is currently facing a paradigm shift. Continue reading
When I was a kid, I loved to pretend. My life was filled with forts, guns, armies, horses, dragons, talking animals, magic swords, and space armadas. You didn’t have to point out to me that I was pretending, I was doing it on purpose.
Jesus pointed out the pretenders who did not seem to know they were pretending. To the Romans he pointed out that they were merely pretending to be the masters of the world. In fact, the Kingdom of God was in our midst and held sway over what mattered. To those pretending to be good, he said there is no good but God. To those pretending to honor the temple of God, he dealt a beating. To those pretending to be his disciples, he exposed as denyers, betrayers, and court jesters. Jesus was God who pretended to be a man and–in the end–He exposed this pretense as well.
Few would disagree that those who follow Jesus only pretend to. The Old Testament teaches us that we are foolish and pretending children to a Perfect Father who has given us his law, the New teaches us that we are all fallen and lost, incapable of following the law God gave–we can only pretend. The Book of Mormon teaches that when it comes to obedience, we are less than we are not the dust of the earth, only pretending to be submissive. Joseph Smith taught that our compliance and authority is often–because of our nature and disposition–simply pretense to fulfill our pride and hide our sins. Jesus’ apostles made it clear that Jesus was the Christ, we merely pretend to be Christians. Paul taught that whatever we are of Christ is not us, but Christ in us.
Ironically, Christians also like to point out pretenders.
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.
Over several months so I have had a born-again sort of experience of sorts– one of those times in life where perspective shifts dramatically and you feel like you are seeing the world for the first time. One of the biggest difficulties in experience was recognizing that I had lost faith in the LDS Church. It has been coming for quite a while, and it feels like the core meaning of my life was yanked from me. Losing faith has been very difficult for me even to acknowledge. But for complex reasons, I can’t now honestly claim to believe in the Mormon Church and this reality has stung me hard. My participation in this blog has been a big part of the process of figuring out where I am and what to do next.
Over the years the blog has been a place for me to vent a lot of the deep thoughts and patent nonsense that bubbled up during this process. (Regulars here will recognize I write far more of the latter than the former.) But lately I have been thinking about what attracted me to this blog– and how it might help me in the new spiritual life that I face.
N.T. Wright offers some reflection on how to view the Bible as you read it.
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.
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.
Timothy Dalrymple the Director of Content of the Evangelical portal at Patheos recently published a series of articles concerning the publication of hidden camera videos inside a number of LDS temples. One of these videos in particular has recently gone viral (over 1 million views as of this writing).
The first article is an interview with “NewNameNoah”, the individual responsible for creating the videos and uploading them to YouTube. “Noah” is remarkably straight forward about his motivations and I think you’ll probably have an accurate idea of who he is and why he published the video.
In the second piece Dalrymple considers why Evangelicals should defend Mormons against mockery.
Evangelicals are not wrong to be concerned about the growth of Mormonism. The truth matters, and I like many of my evangelical brethren am convinced that Mormonism does not fully teach the truth of Jesus Christ and his gospel. But we are wrong to let that concern, that suspicion, that fear, drive us to treat Mormons worse than any other religious group in America. It’s not a matter of compromising our commitments to truth, but of fulfilling our commitments to love. Just as it would not be loving to let the saving truth of Jesus Christ be distorted, for in that truth is the liberating message of God’s forgiveness and provision for all people, so it’s not loving to misrepresent what Mormons believe and condemn them in vicious and exaggerated tones.
More to the point, it’s unloving to communicate the truth in such an unloving manner that our hearers conclude that whatever is delivered by people who behave in this way cannot possibly be true. God’s Word comes to us “full of grace and truth.” It is never morally or Christianly acceptable to secure the truth by abandoning grace. The end does not justify the means.
The third article concludes Dalrymple’s thoughts on protecting Mormons from ridicule.
Do the rituals recorded in those videos seem weird to me? Yes, of course. Just like the Eucharist must seem bizarre to people who don’t understand its world of symbolism. Is there anything wrong with having ceremonies that are only for the faithful, ceremonies that are meant to be kept secret? Of course not. Should Christians celebrate that someone lied repeatedly to gain admission, breached the rules to secretly record the proceedings, released those films with an obvious political agenda in the midst of an election contest, and invited the world to join in the mockery? Would that be a Christian thing to do?
The answer is obvious. Mormons view us as hypocritical when we tell them they’re not Christian, but then behave in a non-Christian way toward them. And, well…they have a point. To the extent that Christians take advantage of these videos to engage in more Mormon-bashing, they should be ashamed.
Though I’m sure it will distress some of my Mormon friends, I’m not sure my own response to the videos is as clear as Dalrymple’s. To be sure. Some of the videos are intended to mock Mormonism and some of the comments in the most popular video are skewed against Mormonism. I most definitely condemn those actions and comments. I’m not at all interested in that kind of activity. I also have no interest in using these videos as a means of bashing Mormonism. The timing of the release of the videos is certainly an effort to capitalize on the Mormon moment and the Romney campaign. Whether that be for political motivations or an effort to capitalize on the media buzz is of lesser interest to me.
It’s my understanding that the text of the endowment ceremony has been publicly available for close to 100 years. Secretly recorded audio of the ceremony has been available for over 30 years. It’s also my understanding that the only portion of the ceremony that Mormons actually covenant to not reveal are the signs and tokens. Mormons are culturally wary of discussing the temple at all but the vast majority of the ceremonies are not, strictly speaking, off limits for comment.
Someone showed me the tokens at some point in college, well before I had any real interest in Mormonism. Later while on a long car drive, a woman who had left the LDS church described for me what happened in the temple. Shortly after visiting a temple open house years ago my wife and I researched any remaining questions we may have had via Google. Already having knowledge of the tokens and knowing the rest of the ceremony was not off limits I didn’t think I’d be committing any harm by watching the full endowment ceremony (which included no commentary). I didn’t really learn anything new in viewing the videos. That being said, video is certainly a powerful medium and it put all of the elements together in a way I didn’t expect. The story of creation as told in the temple has certainly grown my understanding of Mormon theology. (For instance, I better understand how the Adam/God theory practically plays out in Mormon cosmology and I better understand how Mormons view the Fall as a necessary and positive step for mankind.)
Where I think I most radically depart from Dalrymple is that I’m not as clear headed that viewing the video is participation in mocking Mormonism on something akin to the level of someone defecating in my church baptistry. The ceremony is strange and unfamiliar but viewing it, absent commentary, is an observation that can lead to understanding. If I fail to speak out against the videos am I really doing the same thing as idly watching a Jew be physically abused by Skinheads? Is the existence of a video camera in the temple a desecration in and of itself? I most certainly understand the angst the creation of the video causes and would by no means enter the temple myself or assist in the creation or publication of the video.
I’m not certain that my religious values align with Mormonism in a way that I value secrecy in the same way as Mormons. Particularly considering that Mormonism claims these ceremonies to be an important, salvific part of Christianity. As a devout Christian I feel I have a stake in that claim and want to judge it for myself. I also think that Christianity does not reserve secrets about itself from outsiders. There is clearly an understanding that some things remain a secret to outsiders, but they are nonetheless clearly and openly taught. So to posit that Christian secrets must remain secrets seems to be something of an oxymoron to me. I simply reject that understanding of Christianity.
I think a question that has yet to be answered about these videos is “how will they change Mormonism?” I think it’s a given that these videos will have an impact. Might sealing ceremonies be opened to non-Mormon family members as a result? I think the window for that possibility is now open. I think you can count on a number of pre-initiatory Mormons to seek these videos out before their first temple endowment experience. Having a knowledge of what a member is covenanting to beforehand may have a positive or a negative impact on the willingness of those who have yet to experience the temple first hand. Will the knowledge that open house visitors might seek out these videos change how and why open houses are conducted?
Regardless of your view of the videos I think we can agree that this is a moment where Mormonism changed, be it in policy, practice or perception.
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.”
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.
The journal, Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue, dedicated its most recent issue to Evangelicalism and Mormonism. It features two terrific articles I’d like to direct your attention toward.
The first written by Robert Millet, reflects on the meetings of Evangelical and Mormon scholars over the last twelve years. Speaking of the challenges the meetings have confronted he writes:
Third, as close as we have become, as warm and congenial as the dialogues have proven to be, there is still an underlying premise that guides most of the Evangelical participants: that Mormonism is the tradition that needs to do the changing if progress is to be forthcoming. To be sure, the LDS dialogists have become well aware that we are not well understood and that many of our theological positions need clarifying. Too often, however, the implication is that if the Mormons can only alter this or drop that, then we will be getting somewhere. As one participant noted, sometimes we seem to be holding “Tryouts for Christianity” with the Latter-day Saints. A number of the LDS cohort have voiced this concern and suggested that it just might be a healthy exercise for the Evangelicals to do a bit more introspection, to consider that this enterprise is in fact a dialogue, a mutual conversation, one where long-term progress will come only as both sides are convinced that there is much to be learned from one another, including doctrine.
Later, Millet writes:
In pondering on the future, there are certain developments I would love to see take place in the next decade. I would hope that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would become a bit more confident and secure in its distinctive theological perspectives and thus less prone to be thin-skinned, easily offended, and reactionary when those perspectives are questioned or challenged. In that light, I sense that we Mormons have to decide what we want to be when we grow up; that is, do we want to be known as a separate and distinct manifestation of Christianity (restored Christianity), or do we want to have traditional Christians conclude that we are just like they are? You can’t have it both ways. And if you insist that you are different, you can’t very well pout about being placed in a different category!
Craig Blomberg writes another article about the future of these meetings. He writes:
It is also time for people to stop learning only secondhand about people whose religious views at times differ from theirs. In a global village, there is no reason not to engage members of other religions or denominations directly.12 So much Evangelical literature on these topics is overly simplified, historically dated, not representative of the entire movements depicted, and/or downright inaccurate. Short introductions to complex belief systems almost inevitably distort, especially when the author has a particular dislike for a given movement. The biases may be semi-conscious, but they affect the results nevertheless. I have been recently reading for the first time a collection of fifty of the most important or famous sermons of John Wesley and realize how skewed my own theological education was in mostly Lutheran and Calvinist contexts as to what I was taught about Wesley’s theology!
Mormons likewise need to engage Evangelicals in far less confrontational settings than the classic door-to-door evangelism they are known for. They should invite Evangelical friends and leaders to fireside chats and similar forums, as I have occasionally experienced. They need to get to know the “silent majority” of us who are not nearly as “mean-spirited” (to use their preferred term for the most combative or polemical of us) as the anti-Mormons they are more used to encountering. They need to learn the breadth of Evangelicalism, so that we are not all tarnished with the same two brushes of “easy believism” and rigid Calvinism.
There are several other articles in the journal which I have not yet read, but all of them appear to be as thoughtful as the two I’ve linked to. I look forward to reading these others as well.
Breakpoint This Week recently hosted a conversation with the head of Prison Fellowship, Jim Liske. They discussed the Christian view of restoration within the context of prison. Prison Fellowship has had some excellent results in their efforts. While the general prison population has a recidivism rate of 50% within 3 years, Prison Fellowship has been able to lower that rate to 10%. At the heart of their efforts is an understanding of grace.
In light of some recent conversations here regarding the role of obedience and grace in transforming a believer’s life, I thought this was an excellent example of how Evangelicals see grace transforming even hardened criminals. In fact the conversation quite pointedly rejects the idea that a person’s life can be changed through merely following rules.
Download here [25 minutes]
Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist theologian, has been gaining a larger audience from Evangelicals in the last several years. His book “Adopted for Life” has become a must-read for Evangelicals considering the plight of orphans and he recently published an epic take-down on Pat Robertson that had many people cheering. Today he offered this reflection on how to reach Mormons with the truth. How Christians Should Engage Latter-Day Saints.
I think he has some interesting things to say about offering more than arguments against Mormonism. There’s plenty that Mormons will take offense to, but much of that is inherent in advocating that anyone should transition from one belief system to another.
This is something my church produced to wrap up our sermon series
New Testament scholar Ben Witherington recently posted an article on why Mormonism is not Christianity. Witherington agrees with my assertion that there may be Christian Mormons but Mormonism is not the same as Christianity. He takes his cues from an address by Robert Millett.
Mormon apologist Bill Hamblin responded to Witherington’s article and Rob Bowman has provided a response to Hamblin’s response. I think Bowman and Hamblin both correctly point out that Witherington should have titled his post “Why Mormons are not Evangelicals”.
Perhaps my favorite part of Witherington’s article is the section entitled “THINGS YOU SHOULD NOT SAY IN RESPONSE TO THIS POST.” Just the forethought to jump to conclusions about what kind of bad responses he would get makes me laugh.
Update: Jack posted a very thorough treatment of the subject here.
Tom Scott, a former Evangelical pastor, recently released a book about his conversion to the LDS church.
As my standing policy goes, I don’t review books I haven’t read. But I concede that I should probably read the book and offer a review. Sadly, it’s not currently available on Kindle.
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.
C.S. Lewis, in accord with other heavy hitters of Christian apologetics, contend that the most incontrovertible tenant of Christianity is original sin. (However, my favorite exposition of this doctrine is, of course, found here.) Indeed, most all people have an internal moral compass, a conscience, that tells them that they fall short of perfection. Those people incapable of feeling guilt are considered the most dangerous and potentially monstrous of all humans. While I am not convinced that universal sin is “proven” by the facts, it is clear that most of the people we call good or conscientious would agree that falling short of internal and external aspirations is a common part of life. Falling short is part of life not simply because we are defective, it seems to be an ingrained part of being a human to recognize that we do not live up to what our consciences aspire to. Even those that are often completely blind to their own faults can usually point out the faults of others. This brings guilt, perhaps one of the most important defenses against barbarism, yet it also one of those things that invariably saps happiness and joy from life.
What Christianity brings to the table is forgiveness. Evangelists tells us: “In Christ you will be saved and forgiven, white as snow.” Where Evangelicalism and Mormonism diverge is how they dish up the meaty meal of forgiveness to the believer. (To be specific: I am talking about how the forgiveness of is felt and experienced, not about whether or not either approach is justified by scripture, revelation or theology.)