Boundary Maintenance and Mormonism

The very public news that John Dehlin, Kate Kelly and Rock Waterman are facing possible church discipline has hit the Bloggernacle with a great deal of sound and fury. I must admit that while I don’t really have a dog in the fight in this particular controversy I find the topic to be fascinating. This issue has highlighted to me the benefits of having a cornucopia of options within Protestantism in which adherents can find an option which best matches their personal understanding on controversial topics. Several notable dissenting authors have enjoyed the ability to disassociate themselves from Evangelicalism entirely and no one had to hold an official trial to boot them out.

I was asked by a Mormon friend (Seth) what I thought of excommunication and whether or not a church should have the right to define itself and officially excuse dissenting members? Continue reading

The Right Wing Breaking Point

A friend shared this Facebook post with me. It was written by a passionate, conservative Mormon who had a number of issues with the recent church statement on race and priesthood. I think it’s fascinating for a number of reasons. For those Mormons who are more invested in the doctrines and the scriptures of the church than the structure and organization you can see what a tenuous position the church is in. The signs of potential apostasy are all around. As the church attempts to move forward with a more open approach to it’s history and more palatable views of its origins, it can not do so too quickly.

It’s been reported that Boyd K Packer mentioned in response to his claim that the greatest threat facing the church are gays, feminist and intellectuals that the true threat comes from the right wing of the church; that the church always must be on the look out for true believers who want to make their own claims to authority. It’s also been reported that a number of active but non-believing members sit on the committee who have been writing these new articles. For those who distrust the priesthood statement these alleged conversations might only see evidence of that in this post.

I have to wonder if the First Presidency will ever put their name on these articles or if they’ll continue to leave the authorship ambiguous, if they’ll do something more than leave an anonymous article buried deep in their website or if they’ll make the some sort of statement in a broader format.

1601001_10201360166392251_452744193_n

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.

Continue reading

Obery Hendricks on Mitt Romney & Mormon Racism

Yesterday Obery Hendricks posted an article on the Huffington Post challenging Mitt Romney on racist sentiments found in the Book of Mormon.  As has been pointed out, Hendricks is guilty of cherry-picking some of those statements.  He also doesn’t have a good enough handle on Mormonism to understand that the Book of Mormon is not making reference to people of African descent, rather it’s speaking of dark-skinned people of Jewish descent living in a yet-to-be-determined location (some might say they are dark-skinned Native Americans, others might say these passages have nothing to do with skin color at all).

Last night Hendricks appeared as a guest of Ed Schultz on MSNBC.  As I predicted, I believe this is just the start of these attacks on Mitt Romney and Mormonism.  The challenge Romney faces is answering these charges in the length of a sound-bite.  I don’t think the nuance that Mormons engage the priesthood bad with is going to communicate.  I also don’t think he has the opportunity to engage in exegis of the Book of Mormon. Hendricks does not offer an attack that effectively sways Mormons, but he does offer an attack that sways non-Mormons.

I don’t believe this is going to go away and I’ll be interested to see how Romney resolves it.  I believe he’ll eventually be forced to say, as John Huntsman has stated, that the priesthood ban was wrong.

Three Witnesses & The Priesthood

I don’t remember seeing an answer to this basic question. How do LDS synchronize the loss of the priesthood with the immortal lives of the 3 witness and John the Beloved (as described in the Book of Mormon)? Wouldn’t these four men be passing on the priesthood for the last 1,900+ years as they went about their lives as disciples.

What’s the standard Mormon answer to this question?

A New Low Point

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

Direct link

The Top 10 Things Jesus Would Say to Mormons

as told by Dr. Craig Blomberg in a sermon found here (paraphrased)

  • 10. I admire your devotion to your families, to your wards and to giving generously to your church
  • 9. I never intended anyone to believe in me and act in any way they please. You are right to reject that idea.
  • 8. Please don’t judge me based on unkind things done by some who profess to know me.
  • 7. I applaud your restored emphasis on Bible study. Please note when you read the Book of Mormon how often it says I am one God in three persons and how often it says that salvation comes by my grace alone.
  • 6. It is tragic how often my churches have fought with one another, but no one who has ever rejected all of the existing churches and tried to restart my church has ever gotten it correct.
  • 5. I liked what Joseph Smith was doing at the beginning a lot more than what he was doing at the end.
  • 4. I never established any priesthood or ordinances that required you to be part of One True Church to receive them.
  • 3. I LOVE your good deeds, but PLEASE don’t count on them to earn you anything. (Blomberg notes that in his discussions with LDS scholars everyone on both sides of the table agrees on this one).
  • 2. On judgment day all that will really matter is that you have accepted me as Savior and Lord. . . and it has to be both.
  • 1. I love you and really do want you to be part of my forever family.

What do you think? I think he hit all the major items I’d hope to hear from Jesus in regards to Mormonism (as if I could dictate what he would say).

How To Be A Successful Mormon Missionary

I think I know enough about the LDS missionary discussions that I know how to be a successful Mormon missionary. I’m confident that I could serve 2 years and bring in a number of baptisms with this method. It comes down to focusing your visits and your investigators on the right thing. There’s really no need to ever focus on the Book of Mormon, the need for modern prophets, the Great Apostasy, the restoration of the priesthood, temples or even Joseph Smith.

If you want to get baptisms it’s all about Moroni’s promise and Galatians 5:22-23.

First you have the investigator read this passage. If you can get someone to read this passage without at all considering if it’s authoritative or true the battle is almost won. It sounds authoritative, that’s good enough. Even if the investigator is skeptical about it’s authority, you ask them to test it anyways. The proof is in the pudding. What’s it really going to cost them to try it? It’s just a prayer, that’s easy right?

Moroni 10:3-5.
3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Notice the part I highlighted “he will manifest the truth of it unto you”. This is where you’ve got them sold. Now all you have to do is tell them HOW he will manifest the truth to them. Have them read Galatians 5:22-23

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

You tell the investigator that this verse shows that peace and joy are a way the Spirit manifest truth to you. I’m totally taking this verse out of context. If you read the entire book of Galatians or even the entire chapter you’ll know that the “fruits of the Spirit” are outward manifestations in the life of a believer, they aren’t inward emotions that people experience. Just compare them to the preceding verses 19-21 which are the “fruits of the sinful life”

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

This verse being out of context is beside the point. Baptism is a worthy goal, so if we’re taking verses out of context, it’s okay since the end goal is beautiful and valuable.

The main point is that if you can convince someone that they can know something is true because they have the emotions of joy and peace you’re work is practically finished. If an investigator lets you in their home it’s likely that they already have some kind of positive emotions directed toward you or the LDS church. Missionaries are often charming and good looking. Their clean cut across the board. The church is full of nice and wholesome people. It’s not difficult to find reasons for people to feel good about the church. I think investigators generally already WANT to feel good about the church. It’s really not all that hard to manifest good feelings. Try smiling while you read this, you’ll automatically feel more positive about it. Start asking the investigator if they feel good about anything associated with the Book of Mormon or the LDS church. If they say “yes” to anything, let them know that’s the witness of the Holy Spirit in their life. They know it’s true and they’re ready for baptism.

If the investigator has not accepted this, don’t move on. Stay with it. Everything else is an up hill battle unless they’ve accepted that spiritual truth is communicated through positive feelings. If you’ve convinced them that good feelings = truth from God, then they will take whatever other beliefs that come with the LDS church no matter how difficult they are to believe or live out.

In fact you have a built in defense mechanism. Any evidence that might contradict the church will cause negative emotions in the new believer. Since they believe that God brings good emotions, anything that causes negative emotions must be from Satan, and thus should be ignored and avoided.

This is all that is required to be a successful Mormon missionary.

The Only True Church of Jesus Christ

Pope Benedict XVIA couple weeks ago the Vatican raised eyebrows when Pope Benedict XVI issued a statement that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church of Jesus Christ. Obviously, given that this blog is a conversation between Evangelicals and Mormons, many of us would disagree with that claim. But I think it’s a fascinating bit of news that is relevant to both the Mormon claim to legitimacy and our previous conversation of how to define Christianity.

The Vatican’s announcement basically said that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church of Jesus Christ because only the Catholic Church can claim the requisite authority from Christ through apostolic succession. Echoing a similar 2000 statement, the Pope said that other orthodox churches were flawed churches, and that other Christian denominations weren’t even churches at all, but instead, ecclesiastical communities. Presumably, this would include all Evangelical denominations and perhaps the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well.

This isn’t actually anything new — the Roman Catholic Church has claimed its place as the true church of Christ all along, not just in 2000 and 2007. The Mormon Church makes a similar claim to authority, through through revelation and modern prophets rather than apostolic authority. Coming from an LDS background, I was very surprised when I first discovered that many (if not most) Christian denominations don’t make similar claims. In a simplistic view, why would you subscribe to a faith that doesn’t even think it’s the right one?

Of course, the simplistic view is woefully incomplete. As Tim described in an earlier post, many Protestant Christian denominations accept baptism and communion from other denominations. They see themselves as part of a world-wide family of Christian worshipers, and the idea of claiming sole authority is alien to them. Tim described that view when he wrote:

When the LDS church defines “the one true church” it leaves everyone else out. It says that all baptisms are invalid outside of the LDS church. It says that taking the sacrament is invalid everywhere outside the LDS church. It says that there is no priesthood authority outside the LDS church. In effect, the LDS church’s position that it is the one and only true church is saying that there is no true Christian worship outside of Mormonism.

While most Mormons would describe their claim to authority in less exclusive terms, that is essentially what they assert — that they and only they have the full truth and gospel of Jesus Christ, with the requisite power and authority to perform saving ordinances and conduct His church. That is also exactly the claim the Vatican has reaffirmed in its recent statement. Like the 2000 announcement, the statement is somewhat controversial because many see it as an implicit rejection or indictment of other faiths. But I don’t think claiming to have the truth is inherently exclusionary. Mormon Church spokesman Michael Otterson observed on his On Faith blog:

Obviously, many other Christians disagree with [the LDS Church's claim to divine authority] as much as I believe in it, and there ought to be vigorous and constructive debate. Yet I can also acknowledge fundamental differences between Christian churches (many of them clearly irreconcilable) without being offended. It matters not one whit to me that the Catholic and some other churches don’t accept “Mormon” baptisms. We don’t accept theirs either. But I can look for a deeper mutual understanding of those differences, strive for good will and hope to embrace others as fellow Christians.

Like Otterson, I’m not particularly offended by the claims of the Catholic Church. I certainly hope they think they’re right. Even without agreeing with them, I can respect their right to claim authority, just as I hope they respect the claim of my own faith. I don’t see such claims as condemning other followers of Christ. The position of my own church is that other churches are full of faithful, good people who believe many of the true principles of the Gospel of Christ. From what I understand of the Vatican statement and the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church also recognizes the good works of other churches or “ecclesiastical communities.” Rather than interpreting the Catholic or Mormon claims as an indictment of the rest of Christianity, I see it as their sincere attempts to draw closer to Christ and the truth He taught. And that is something I can always respect.

Lay Clergy in the Mormon Church

Among the unique aspects of the Mormon Church is the institution of a lay clergy. With the exception of a few leaders at the very top of the church’s hierarchy, almost all leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are lay clergy, without professional training or salary. I am unaware of any other Christian denomination¹ that relies so heavily on its rank and file to perform the functions necessary for worship and administration. I understand that certain early Methodist congregations would sometimes appoint a lay minister, who would receive some leadership training and ride in a circuit, preaching to different congregations; this is very similar to the Mormon tradition during the mid 1800′s. But in modern times the Mormon Church is relatively unique in this respect.²

What this means for a practicing Mormon is that he or she will almost always have some sort of church responsibility, usually referred to as “callings.” Per the recommendation of Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, even new members of the faith soon have duties commensurate with their level of experience or ability. Some of these callings involve practical necessities, such as cleaning a meeting house or helping disabled congregation members around the house. However, most callings involve an element of overseeing the spiritual well-being of other parishioners. For example, most active members of a Mormon congregation can expect to be called on to teach a Sunday School lesson or give a talk during Sunday services, as well as looking out for the needs of several other individuals or families in the congregation.

Sometimes I feel jealous of people who go to other churches, especially if I have to wake up for early Sunday meetings. My evangelical friends are very active in their congregations, and yet they don’t seem to spend so much time doing church things. On top of the standard three hours of Sunday services, many Mormons can expect meetings during the week, youth activities on weekends, and performing and receiving visits as part of the “home teaching” program of the church. Depending on one’s calling, Sunday may not be quite as relaxing as the label “Day of Rest” would seem to suggest.

I recently moved and changed congregations, necessitating my “release” from the calling I had been in charge of. Because my responsibility had been fairly time-consuming, I suddenly found myself with more time on my hands. And while I’ve appreciated the extra hours, I also miss taking part in the functions of the congregation. Though I may be jealous of my friends in other churches, I don’t actually want to give up the participatory nature of Mormon religion. It has its down sides, but it certainly helps me be less selfish and more inclined to help other people. I’m sure that things could be done much more effectively with a professional clergy, but that probably wouldn’t help me as much personally.

It’s only a matter of time before I am given a new calling in my new congregation. It might be to teach a Sunday School class or to pick up hymnals after meetings or to help members of the congregation find or upgrade their employment. Whatever the assignment, I’ll once again be part of the machinery that makes each congregation run. And as much as I would like to have a leisurely Sunday, it’s a part of my life that I need. It isn’t a perfect system, but hey, we’re not perfect people.

___________________________________

1. The question of whether Mormonism is a Christian sect is another topic entirely. However, for the purposes of this discussion, let us loosely define “Christian” as any denomination that identifies with the Christian tradition.
2. I know Buddhism involves the laity in certain roles, but given Buddhism’s lack of rigid hierarchy, I think the comparison is only approximate.

What Makes It Count

Austin asked me the following in the comments section of another post:“Where & how specifically did your pastor (& all pastors and ministers of today’s Protestantism) get his/their authority to organize a church, to baptize, confer the Holy Ghost, to perform miracles in the name of Christ, to call and ordain other pastors and ministers, to guide and direct, to keep the doctrines pure?”

I think to answer your question I need to take a step back and explain better what Protestants think of the acts that preisthood holders perform. As far as baptism and communion go, we Protestants don’t think that there is anything magical or significant about the actual physical act. They are outward expressions of the inward condition of the heart. There is nothing significant about getting dunked under water by a special man. The only significance that matters is the condition of the person’s heart and the Holy Spirit’s acceptance of that intention. I fully believe that an atheist could baptize someone and it would “count” as long as the person being baptized view it as a sincere act of his devotion to Christ. There aren’t any special rules that HAVE to be followed no matter what. If they don’t go all the way under the water, it still counts. If they’re wearing mickey mouse socks, it still counts. If it’s done in a hot tub, it still counts. If a woman dunks you under water, it still counts. What’s important is the person’s heart.

I’d be interested to hear if LDS think that a baptism doesn’t count, if some minor violation of protocol wasn’t followed. Say a man doesn’t go all the way under, walks outside and gets hit by a car. Are you saying that Christ wouldn’t accept that baptism? What if the Priest who performed the function was just going through the motions and had secretly violated all of his covenants and abandoned the faith? Would Christ still accept it?

Pastors and church elders get their authority directly from the Holy Spirit. If they feel called to the position by the Spirit, they’re work can be judged by its fruit. The Holy Spirit does not need anyone to confer Himself on to other people. He is God and can fill anyone He wishes. No man can withhold Him from any other man. Those who are called to church leadership are held in check by the authority of the Bible. They are held accountable to what the scripture clearly teaches. If they violate that trust, they would have been better off having a mill stone tied to the neck and thrown in the water.

Mark 9
38″Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39″Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

We Protestants could be wrong about all of this. Perhaps there is a specific line of priesthood succession that must be followed. Perhaps there is a protocol that makes all of these things legitimate rather than just the condition of a man’s heart. I wonder, for what reason should I believe that the priesthood line comes from Joseph Smith? What reason or evidence can I investigate that he didn’t just make it up himself? At this point, if you convinced me that I am wrong about the priesthood, I would just join the Catholic or Orthodox church.

Hey! Who’s In Charge Here?

I hear frequent questions from LDS about the Protestant view of the Priesthood. “Who exactly has authority in your church? And Why?” I think those are valid questions and concerns. Particularly from those that come from such a well established hierarchy. Another questions is “Why only paid ministers?”

This week my church’s teaching pastor taught on both of these issues. Bear in mind, he wasn’t approaching the subject to answer LDS objections. He was explaining the role of authority and ministry to his own congregation who are already in agreement with him on a number of other things that LDS would object to. But I think this is a pretty good explanation of the Protestant view of the Priesthood and church authority.

I hope you’ll listen to it and come to a deeper understanding of us.
A Community of Ministers