Me & Mormons – Part 9

My wife and I expressed interest to the LDS missionaries that we’d be interested in observing an LDS worship service and they were happy to facilitate that experience for us. The first invitation they offered us was to a baptism on a Saturday afternoon.

We entered the ward building through the opened back back door. We were exactly sure where to go so we asked the first person we saw, who happened to be a young man dressed in a white pleated jump suit. I assumed that these must be the Mormon temple clothes and wondered if we were suppose to see him walking around in this uniform. He seemed comfortable though and directed us to the right room.

The ceremony was interesting and we liked the idea of making baptism a special ceremony rather than a part of a regular church service. As part of the baptism ceremony we sang a number of 19th Century Protestant style hymns. The style of the music was familiar to my wife and I, who both grew up singing hymns but the tunes and the words were familiar. One of them stood out to us because it sounded really sing-songy. I believe it was called “Families Can Stay Together”.

A number of people spoke about the meanings and significance of baptism. One elderly man talked about how the next day the Holy Ghost would be given to the young woman who would be baptized. He also talked about how important it was not to go anywhere that the Holy Ghost could not follow. This talk stood out to us as how theologically different Evangelical and Mormon beliefs are.

Our understanding of the Holy Spirit is that he can not be contained or controlled. He moves in and through who ever He chooses. So it was quite foreign to us to hear people talking about controlling who and when they would give the Holy Ghost to. But this was not what most rattled us. We have a deep belief that the Holy Spirit pursues people and calls out for them in all places and in all situations. It’s when people are often in their deepest sin that they hear from God the loudest. We certainly agree that sin can get in the way of hearing from God, but we would never express an idea that there is any place on earth that God can not go and transform people.

As an example of this, our church has two satellite services every week in a bar. Our church has serious space and seating issues. In an effort to create space we have a number of satellite services. Two of these services are at a bar (which is closed on Sundays). Quite intentionally, the church leadership sought out space in a bar recognizing that there are a number of people who will not cross the threshold of a church. But these same people start warming up to the idea of a worship service in a bar because it immediately tells them that there is something different about this group of people than what they’ve experienced in the past. We believe that the gospel message is so powerful that it has the power to transform even a night club into a place where God can be worshiped and lives can be changed. (there is a lot more that can be said about the sacred and the profane which I’ll save for later).

Hearing that when people are most desperate a downtrodden, their cries to God may not be heard made us shutter.

A couple of weeks later we attended a Sunday morning service. The sanctuary reminded me of a great number of Bible-First Protestant churches, which have stripped way all decoration and anything that might distract from the reading of the Word. It surprised me how much I missed seeing a cross at the front of the room. The church service featured Elementary kids reciting scripture verses and singing songs. Probably not the service we would have chosen to go to, but you can learn a lot based on what kids are learning.

The first Sunday School class we attended as a couple. It took a little bit for the class to begin. The missionaries had to go find the teacher for the class and invite a couple of more people to join so that we wouldn’t be the only ones in the class. The lesson was on the atonement which the teacher dryly read directly out of a manual. At one point the teacher started crying for no particular reason which was very uncomfortable. I looked around and no one seemed to think this was out of the ordinary, but I was tempted to stop him and see if everything was okay. Being a visitor I decided to go with the flow. After the lesson there was some discussion. A woman (who had something to do with the Relief Society) said something like “now I know that the Atonement didn’t happen on the cross.” My inner bells and whistles started to go off and when I mentioned it to my later, wife she said she hadn’t even heard the comment. I decided not to debate that particular issue but did end up answering a number of questions about the Bible.

In the next Sunday School class we were separated by gender. The lesson was on the evils of pornography. The teacher read a letter from Salt Lake City that made it quite clear that this was a problem within the membership of the church. The discussion that followed seemed to put the problem back on those outside of the church and the need to protect children. This disappointed me, but did not surprise me. It is a defense mechanism I’ve seen Evangelicals employ numerous times when any discussion of sin starts to hit too close to home. I know from my own experience with discipleship and men’s issues that easily 25% of the men in that room had looked at pornography within the last week. So I was sad to see, in yet another religious context, where vulnerability and accountability were needed, the faithful point the finger away from their own need for holiness and repentance. (and if I’m not making it clear, I’ve seen this happen among Evangelicals many many times as well).

After the class we met a number of people individually. The question that kept coming up was “where do you live?” People seemed inordinately interested in our exact address. But aside from the discomfort of answering that question a number of times we met a number of very nice people who were often shocked to find out we were not Mormons.

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51 thoughts on “Me & Mormons – Part 9

  1. Ah! So much of this sounds familiar. There are likely plenty of people who can relate to the overall awkwardness of your experience (including myself, a lifetime Mormon, who has felt a little out of place in a new ward more than once).

    I don’t want to focus much on the functionality issues, though. What interested me were your comments on some of the theological/doctrinal concerns that you had. I might add that your honesty concerning your experience is very helpful in that it helps me see how some things may be perceived.

    Concerning the comings and goings (if you will) of the Holy Spirit, I would shudder to think that God was not able to reach those who are most down trodden and in need of His grace too. The doctrine concerning the gift of the Holy Ghost is no doubt very misunderstood by members of the church (very likely myself included). I believe all of God’s children may feel the Holy Ghost as God tries to communicate with us each to draw us to Him. This often times (for me) comes in the form of piercing guilt. I have no doubt that is God encouraging me to come unto Him. With this guilt also comes a sense of hope in Christ, that encourages me to repent. As I understand it, and have experienced it, the gift of the Holy Ghost is the ability to commune with God daily by feeling the joy of His Spirit as I try to live as a disciple of Christ. It allows me to receive inspiration concerning my family and my church responsibilities. He enables my mind to receive impressions when I’m studying the scriptures. This joyful communion with God is very difficult if I’m not seeking Him, which is what I understand the losing the gift of the Holy Ghost to entail.

    “Now I know that the Atonement didn’t happen on the cross.” My guess is that, ironically, that comment was intended for you and your wife. Somehow some Mormons believe that making such distinctions between the Garden and the Cross will convince people interested in the church that it is true. The problem with this is that such distinctions are false. Did Jesus suffer for our sins on the Cross? Absolutely. We also believe that Jesus began suffering for our sins in the Garden, and that suffering continued until He actually died.

    I hear you on the vulnerability and accountability conerning pornography (or any sin really). I teach a Sunday School class and every week try to help the class members look within their own lives, as I try to look within mine, to discover where repentance is needed. Only with complete honesty in addressing these issues can we receive Christ’s grace and forgiveness.

  2. Tim, it is important to distinguish between the more formalized “Gift of the Holy Ghost” and the more general influence of that member of the godhead or the Mormon notion of the “Light of Christ.”

    The “Light of Christ” is universal and touches every man woman and child who ever has lived and ever will live. Christopher Columbus gets honorable mention early in the Book of Mormon (presumably) as being led across the oceans by this Light of Christ. Martin Luther and other reformers have also been mentioned in connection with this by General Conference sermons.

    There is also a general sense in which the Holy Ghost acts as witness for the truth. It is in this sense that Mormon missionaries will expect their sincere listeners to feel the power of their message.

    Both of the above are available to anyone who wishes to feel them.

    The Gift of the Holy Ghost is something more special however. It is the covenant right to have the Holy Ghost as your constant companion. I guess you could view it as something more powerful than just the more general experiences of this member of the Godhead mentioned above.

    Now, it is crucial to keep one thing in mind Tim. Our God is a God of laws, some of which He has set for Himself and He is bound by them. He was bound by His covenant with Abraham and He is similarly bound by His modern covenants with those who take His name upon them at baptism.

    In one sense, our God is indeed limited. But it is a limitation of His own choosing.

    God will FORCE no man, no woman, to Him. We emphatically reject the Calvinist ideas of both Total Depravity and Unconditional Election (in fact, we reject the entire TULIP, but that’s another topic of discussion). We view humans as truly free agents. We are capable of accepting or rejecting God – in and of ourselves. Not because of our own merit or power. If God wished to force every last one of us to heaven, He could surely do it – indeed Lucifer, Son of the Morning suggested that He do so. But God has decided that He WILL have a truly free people.

    Nothing is truly yours Tim, unless you are willing to cast it upon the waters and see if it will return to you. God has cast us upon the waters and we are given one meaningful choice in life – to accept Him or not. All other choices are fleeting, and illusory. It really does boil down to whether you are for Him or against Him. And He will allow you to choose either. And I think He is waiting to be pleasantly surprised by us.

    Now, in one sense, we share the Baptist view of human powerlessness. We too feel that humans are often powerless before their addictions, their crushing poverty, the evils of their governments, their own false ideas and prejudices – and the only way out is through Christ’s Atonement. Make no mistake, the Atonement plays a crucial role in bridging the gap between an impossible situation of human frailties and imperfections (all of which would disqualify us for God’s presence). Individual Mormons may lose sight of this and sink into depression over their own frustrations and inadequacies. But that is not the message of the Restored Gospel.

    The Restored Gospel calls upon us to make the one choice we are capable of making – not the choice to will away our addictions or rise above our poverty, good as those things are. In the end, all those immediate and fleeting choices can often be beyond us. No, the one true freedom that lies within us is to choose God or not. And that is a true freedom. God does not necessarily know the outcome. He has willingly put that choice beyond His right of enforcement. He wants to see if His little ones will freely come back to Him.

    In this sense, He is like the sun that shines in the sky. His influence is everywhere and gives life to all.

    But we certainly can draw the shades, erect the barriers, and shut Him out. You can offend the Gift of the Holy Ghost and drive it from you. You can willfully deny the sun that shines and wilt in darkness. This is the prerogative of all human beings. God will not force His children. Our freedom is far too precious to Him.

  3. As for the differences in our meetings…

    I too have held Church, and spiritual encounters in some very odd places.

    Nursing homes where the stench of human waste was all around. Members homes of all different types. Our meeting house in one town was a ramshackle slat building – too cold in winter, and blistering in summer. I’ve held it in warehouses. I’ve had it next to an automotive garages where the scream of torches and grinding steel almost drowned out the hymns. The home of a sister whose husband did not believe and watching football in the next room or worse things…

    We Mormons have hacked through frozen lakes to perform our baptisms. Baptized in muddy wallows. In Japan we held a baptism in an old steel warehouse converted for church services in an old tub we had to haul in from out back. We filled it using the garden hose, while a couple of dear sisters spent an entire afternoon carting buckets of hot water from the sink upstairs in to warm the water decently. But when the woman who was baptized came out of the water, she reported being happier than she had ever been in her life.

    As for the crying… Tim, this confuses me a little bit. You just spotlighted a audio file on your own pastor presenting his thoughts on the Song of Solomon right? And part of the presentation was a young lady relating her experience on eating disorders correct? Well, she was quite emotional and I thought that was just fine. So obviously, you aren’t uniformly opposed to emotional display in worship services correct?

    Surely, it’s not your position that charismatic manifestations of spiritual worship are all bad – is it?

  4. The doctrine concerning the gift of the Holy Ghost is no doubt very misunderstood by members of the church.

    I am so unbelievably tired of hearing apologists say “the doctrine of [fill in doctrine here] is very misunderstood be members of the church. It is total crap.

  5. Oh no you don’t Kullervo.

    I’m well aware that apologists’ take on Mormonism is different from the lay membership. But this isn’t “limited geography theory.”

    This is flat-out Mormon doctrine. And it is actually held by a LARGE number of Mormons.

    If said what I just said about the Holy Ghost VERBATIM from the pulpit in ANY LDS meeting house, I would meet with almost no disagreement from anyone in the audience. This is just a matter of knowing your scriptures, not a matter of innovating against the popular norm.

    What you are doing is taking your very negative image of what Mormons believe and insisting that it be held up as “the norm” for all Mormons. Then whenever someone comes along with a more attractive version than the barren religion you experienced, you insist that that cannot be “the real Mormonism.” Everything about Mormonism has turned to ashes for you – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t full of life and color for a lot of other Mormons.

    I object to you playing the elitism card every time someone tries to have an informed opinion on Mormon doctrine. You seem to feel that to be a normal Mormon, you have to be either superficial or an ignoramus. You are not being charitable or fair.

  6. Well, you’re kind of putting words in my mouth.

    The problem with the statement that many Mormons “misunderstand the doctrine” assumes there’s an objective doctrine to misunderstand. To me this is the biggest delusion in Mormonism–that there is in fact one true doctrine that is taught officially by the Church. The truth is that opinions on doctrine are wildly diverse, and clarifications from the Brethren (supposedly the source of God’s One True Revealed Doctrine in “these latter days”) are maddeningly few and far between.

    It’s not for nothing that some people say defining Mormon Doctrine is like trying to nail jell-o to the wall. Nevertheless, Mormons insist that there is one absolute truth, and that it is known and taught by the Church. But there really is no such thing, again because opinions on most everything are extremely inconsistent–including opinions as expressed by the General Authorities.

    It’s not that peoples’ opinions differ–every faith has that–and it’s also not that believers think there’s an objective truth behind it all–many faiths believe that, too. The problem is the assumption that this objective truth is actually what is known by and taught in the Church, at least from the prophet. Also, conveniently, this objective truth of the Gospel that is taught by the General Authorities is the same as what the individual you’re talking to at the moment believes. Everyone thinks they are the one that truly understands the true Gospel. Them and the prophet, of course.

    But there’s no such thing. Absent an official proclamation, there’s no official doctrine, and even official proclamations are subject to revision later on.

    The only meaningful way to define “Mormon Doctrine” is by what actual Mormons believe. And if they don;t all believe the same thing, it’s arrogant and condescending to talk about how other Mormons misunderstand the doctrine.

    And an appeal to scripture? Please. I feel like Mormons should be estopped from appealing to scripture as a source of doctrine, since they’ve blame in no uncertain terms on multiple interpretations of the same scriptures. And as much as you may like to think that the BoM. D&C, and PoGP dispel all confusion, there’s not a chance. Linguistically, the missionary analogy of “two nails in a board” is preposterous. Polemically, it’s special pleading. In any case, it’s disingenuous to pretend that the ultimate source of doctrine in Mormonism is the standard works–after all, a living prophet is more important than a dead one.

    I’m not saying that the ugliest picture of Mormonism is “the norm.” I’m saying that there is no norm. Or at most, it’s much more reasonable to define Mormon doctrine as “what most Mormons believe” than as some mythical, nonexistent True Doctrine supposedly taught by the Church. Talking about “Mormons who misunderstand their own doctrine” is ridiculous. Hence, total steaming crap. And like I said above, extraordinarily condescending and arrogant. And it obfuscates and confuses the issue when we’re trying to have a frank talk about religion.

    In other words, save it for Elders’ Quorum.

  7. And anyway, Seth, I was actually replying to holdinator, not you. I hadn’t even read your comments yet.

  8. Oh, got it.

    But really, the stuff on “Light of Christ” vs. “Gift of the Holy Ghost” isn’t really much of a “Jello doctrine.” It’s pretty well established and hasn’t changed a ton really, despite outlying statistical variations.

  9. Tim,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It is valuable to me read about experiences that seem familiar to me, but which now I understand can be viewed from a different perspective.

    I’ve learned 3 things. Or I should say I’m reminded of them, as these are not new concepts of course. These things apply to anyone, not just LDS:

    1) We need to be careful of the language that we use, and that it accurate reflects what we are trying to say. (ie. saying the Holy Ghost can’t go somewhere I think is not entirely accurate, although it’s commonly used within the church to express the idea that sin makes it harder to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, as you pointed out Tim)

    2) Sometimes people do say things that don’t accurate reflect what they believe. We should be careful not to pin people to their exact words and not allow them the chance to rephrase. Although I realize speaking up in a new situation is tough, I’m reasonably confident that if you had confronted the people who you disagreed with, you might have found out that you didn’t disagree so much, but rather their choice of words was not the best. Have you ever said something, and then after being questioned on it, rephrased it? If you hadn’t been questioned, you might not have realized your phrasing was flawed.

    3) We need to do a better job of making sure members are clear on the doctrine. Seth is right that it is doctrine that the death on the cross was an essential part of the atonement. In fact, I have been repeatedly taught there was a moment on the cross where the Spirit completely withdrew from Christ in order for him to completely accomplish his task. Clearly this has reference to the atonement. So the member you said otherwise was wrong. It happens to the best of us.

  10. I could probably write a book here responding to the original post. But I think that Holdinator, Seth R. and Mike L. did a decent job of explaining LDS understandings of the Holy Spirit and the Atonement. I don’t think your understanding gained from this one experience was particularly accurate, but I can understand why you might come to the conclusions you did based on what was said.

    So rather than comment on the theological issues (but reserving the right to do so later), I’ll comment on two other things Tim said.

    Tim said: “The lesson was on the evils of pornography. The teacher read a letter from Salt Lake City that made it quite clear that this was a problem within the membership of the church. The discussion that followed seemed to put the problem back on those outside of the church and the need to protect children. This disappointed me, but did not surprise me. It is a defense mechanism I’ve seen Evangelicals employ numerous times when any discussion of sin starts to hit too close to home.

    I agree with your assessment on this issue. As I’ve said before in other comments, I think that one thing that some of the larger Protestant churches do very well is provide a place where some of these difficult personal issues can be dealt with. In the LDS structure, it isn’t easy.

    In theory, a man who is struggling with porn should be able to talk about his problems with his home teacher, and perhaps they could even set up some sort of an accountability situation. But in practice it doesn’t work that way. The home teacher very well may be a near-stranger. Or when he comes, he will come to visit the whole family (which isn’t a bad thing in itself).

    And then there’s the problem of discussing such things with the bishop. Bishops may have very little expertise in dealing with such issues. Also, by admitting to such a problem, you may make yourself ineligible to serve certain callings or to go to the temple. Some bishops are very wise when dealing with such issues; others are not. It’s one of the drawbacks of a lay-led church (although there are many advantages too).

    In defense of the church, in many areas the church does sponsor 12-step groups to deal with both sexual and substance addictions, and they’re supposed to be confidential. How well they work in practice, or how much participation they get, I have no idea. In fact, I never knew that church-sponsored 12-step groups existed until a few days ago when I was doing Internet research on a different matter. Although a couple LDS 12-step groups presumably meet in my city, I’ve never heard them mentioned in church nor seen any bulletin board notices of them.

    Tim said: “… a number of times we met a number of very nice people who were often shocked to find out we were not Mormons.

    Well, we don’t get very many nonmember visitors, at least where I have lived. From what I’ve seen, for being such a missionary-minded church the LDS church isn’t very accommodating to nonmember visitors.

    Rant alert: I have discovered that (at least without Internet access and knowing where to look) it can be difficult to even find when a sacrament meeting is taking place. I have been out of town and called the church number and got nothing — any other church will at least have a recorded message telling you when worship times are. But call most LDS churches (or at least the ones I’ve called), and unless the bishop or a counselor is in you won’t find out anything. And of all the meetinghouses I’ve been to, I have seen only one where the meeting times were posted in a place visible from the outside.

    When out of town, I have gone to a sacrament meeting at the correct time — only to find an empty parking lot because everyone was gone at stake conference. The only way I knew the reason was stake conference was because one of the church members lived nearby and saw me peering in the church and came to tell us.

    And one time we showed up at a church at the correct time and found out and nobody was there, and from looking in a window we could see that all the pews were missing. Obviously, the building was being remodeled. But was there a sign anywhere telling us where the meeting was being held? No.

    I find that very unwelcoming. We say we want people to join us, but then we make them jump through hoops just to find out when (and sometimes where) we meet. End of rant.

  11. Kullervo said: “As far as rants go, that was pretty mild.

    Yeah, but you didn’t see my body language as I wrote it.

    Look, where I think some of the Protestant churches excel is getting the message out that “we want you just as you are.” The message the LDS church often sends out (and I’m not saying it’s intentional) is “we want you if you’re like us.”

    And that’s wrong. That’s not what Jesus did.

  12. I think that’s only one view of a typical American LDS ward Eric.

    Can you tell me what exactly is wrong with calling upon a group of people to share a culture?

    This whole “me, me, me” thing is a rather recent cultural innovation and the jury is still out on whether it’s a very good innovation.

  13. “Look, where I think some of the Protestant churches excel is getting the message out that ‘we want you just as you are.'”

    Eric, what evidence do you have of this?

    Do you actually have some stats here on people feeling loved and accepted? Or are you are you just parroting what faithful evangelicals say about themselves? I’ve had evangelicals rave about Jesus’ love mercy and charity and then turn around and call me a filthy idolater who is going to hell. And let me tell you, they sounded pretty damn pleased with the idea of me in hell. Like they were getting some sort of sick adrenaline rush from rebuking the Satan-worshiper.

    I happen to know a lot of people in the Mormon Church who feel very loved an accepted, and have from when they first investigated the Church. I also happen to know a lot of anecdotes of people who felt unfairly judged and persecuted in Protestant congregations. What does it really signify other than a bunch of anecdotes?

    Not much really. Just people being people.

    You say evangelicals are, on the whole, more accepting than Mormons? Really?

    You sure you aren’t just doing a grass-is-greener thing?

  14. Seth R. asked: “You say evangelicals are, on the whole, more accepting than Mormons? Really?

    Overall and in general, probably not.

    Note that in my earlier post I referred to some Protestant churches do and said what I see LDS churches often do. I don’t have statistics; I am speaking of what I have observed.

    What I have observed is missionaries working very hard to get people to church, and then these investigators come once or twice and leave because the only people talking to them are the missionaries. What I have seen are people who come and don’t feel welcome because they don’t have the right clothes. What I have seen are teenage girls who come to church and then are chastised because a belly button is showing. What I have seen is a teenage boy turned away from a church dance because his hair was spiked. I have seen women care more about how many holes they have in their ears than whether they love their neighbor. That’s what I have witnessed, and have heard much more secondhand and thirdhand.

    Yes, evangelicals can be every bit as judgmental, and I’m certainly not going to defend the “people who don’t believe as we do will burn in hell” soteriology that many of them have.

    On the other hand, I have seen some non-LDS churches make a concerted effort to invite outsiders. I have seen them advertise, telling people to come as they are. I have seen them open up their churches to teenagers regardless of what they look like. I have seen them get involved in AIDS programs, dealing directly with people that many Mormons would look down upon.

    And, yes, I too have seen the worst of evangelicalism. Some of it I experienced as a kid, and that’s one reason I gave the LDS church a serious look. And I don’t regret joining the Church one bit. I see much, much good in the Church, and I believe it is truly the church of Jesus Christ. But we’re human too and subject to becoming self-righteous (as I’m doing a bit myself at the moment, to be honest).

    Maybe my words were too harsh, I don’t know. But I do believe that when other people do things right we can learn from them. And there are some things that some non-LDS churches are doing right, and that’s what I was trying to call attention to.

    Seth R. asked: “Can you tell me what exactly is wrong with calling upon a group of people to share a culture?

    If you’re asking what I think you’re asking, it depends on how much of that culture is based on the gospel and how much is extraneous.

    Seth also said: “This whole “me, me, me” thing is a rather recent cultural innovation and the jury is still out on whether it’s a very good innovation.

    Yes, much of evangelicalism today plays into that very well, and I see that as one of its biggest weaknesses.

  15. As for the crying… Tim, this confuses me a little bit. You just spotlighted a audio file on your own pastor presenting his thoughts on the Song of Solomon right? And part of the presentation was a young lady relating her experience on eating disorders correct? Well, she was quite emotional and I thought that was just fine. So obviously, you aren’t uniformly opposed to emotional display in worship services correct?

    Thanks for asking me to clarify. No, I don’t have any problem with people displaying their emotions while sharing something significant to them. In fact I expect them to.

    That wasn’t this situation. There was nothing about the words he was reading, the way he was reading them or the response he was getting from those he was teaching that indicated in any way that this was a moment to shed tears. It was just totally random. Everyone in the room seemed bored. As I looked around everyone was looking at their shoes. The way he read from the manual indicated that he was bored too. So that’s why it was uncomfortable and seemingly out of place for him to cry.

    As for the power of the Holy Ghost? Would it be possible for an LDS missionary to walk into a bar and by the power of the Holy Ghost lead a person to an authentic conversion experience? Would the Holy Ghost need to wait outside and let the missionary do it under his own power? I ask because I have a friend that recently led several men to Christ while sharing the Gospel in a bar. He entered the bar because he knew this is where there would be people who needed to hear about Jesus. I wonder how this would fit into an LDS context if he happened to be Mormon.

    Eric, as far as your rant. Check out this post:Eric, as for your rant. Check out this post:
    https://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2007/06/15/visitors-welcome/

  16. “Would it be possible for an LDS missionary to walk into a bar and by the power of the Holy Ghost lead a person to an authentic conversion experience? Would the Holy Ghost need to wait outside and let the missionary do it under his own power?”

    Sure. I imagine it would.

    The thing about the Holy Ghost to remember is that from a Mormon perspective, it most certainly is possible to shut it out. And some places really aren’t that conducive. I’ve been in a couple places where I definitely was getting a bit of bad mojo. It wasn’t that the people were evil per se or anything like that. But there was a bit of a cloud over the whole thing. Yeah, it can be hard to commune with the spirit in that sort of a situation.

    This isn’t limiting God. It’s simply recognizing the fact that God has an interface with human beings which causes some inherent limitations that God has decided to allow.

  17. Kullervo,

    Thanks for your response to my comment (this gives me a chance to clarify, and I’m always happy to do so).

    The notion I was getting at in saying that the “doctrine” (a word I used for lack of a better one) of the Holy Ghost is no doubt misunderstood by Mormons was simply a way of saying that I do believe there is some way that God acts in our lives through the Holy Ghost; we all may have had individual experiences, may have read every scripture on the matter, may have read every talk by every GA, and come to certain conclusions, and yet those conclusions are subjective and likely not 100% in line with what God knows about it. How can we possibly claim to know everything there is to know about something so beyond us?

    I make no claim that there is a certain, definitive doctrine taught by the church that I know but the Sunday School teacher that taught Tim’s class didn’t. It probably was apologetic of me to write that, and maybe I need to get out of that kind of prelude to commenting…

  18. Would it be possible for an LDS missionary to walk into a bar and by the power of the Holy Ghost lead a person to an authentic conversion experience?

    We tried proselytizing in bars a couple of times on my mission. It wasn;t very successful. We were pretty timid about it.

    Also, it was Germany, and no proselytizing method was successful, actually.

  19. One I went on splits with missionaries to the home of someone who was drunk. That wasn’t a very successful either.

  20. Tim, very interesting to see your perspective on Mormon worship. I think Mormons should be much more constructively critical of our services, there is a lot more that could be done to make them better. I can’t hardly tolerate them lately. This has a lot to do with my attitude but, the fact that they can be so off putting says something is not quite right. I have had some very unwelcoming experiences
    in LDS churches which seems like a failure to me. LDS are not so good at that sort of self criticism (or acting on the criticism) of what goes on in church.

    On the Holy Ghost.

    As a missionary I taught successful lessons in crack houses. One of the more surreal experiences of my mission was a word of wisdom lesson in such an environment.

    I think some Mormons make the Spirit too wimpy, runs away if you get mad enough to swear or if somebody has a beer. I don’t like that doctrine in general. I think the Spirit can be/is anywhere and everywhere, in my view the difficulty in feeling the spirit is a problem with the people involved, not the place or what is going on.

  21. Jared, you could equally call the view that the Holy Spirit will put up with you, no matter what kind of abuse you heap on it, “wimpy” too.

    Kind of like beaten housewife syndrome.

    Modern culture desperately wants to create a world in which there are no consequences for your actions. “You are special” – no matter how much you’ve screwed it up. And they’d like a God to match.

    Actually, the problem is not the message “you are special.” Mormons believe that too. The problem is when you come up with the silly notion that “you are special” is the only message that matters. I had to sit through enough inane self-esteem propaganda in 1980s K-12 education to not want it creeping into my religion as well.

    “You are special” doesn’t mean you are necessarily doing well, or contributing to society. And I don’t have much use for a religion that basically means never having to say you’re sorry – or that you even care.

  22. Jared, you could equally call the view that the Holy Spirit will put up with you, no matter what kind of abuse you heap on it, “wimpy” too.

    Kind of like beaten housewife syndrome.

    Seriously? That’s lame. This is God we’re talking about. Infinite patience from an omnipotent being is hardly beaten housewife syndrome.

  23. Kullervo,

    I don’t think seth is suggesting that God is not infinitely patient or an omnipotent being that can do or be anyy where he wishes. But I would liken it to a pateint parent with a 4 year old in a tantrum (quite relavent to my afternoon). Even a perfectly patient parent (which I am not) will find him/herself in a situation where they can see the futility of there words or presence, and they have to withdraw to let the child calm down or (for older children) think about their behavior. I think in this regard, there come a point when we, through our repeated disobedience to God’s will, cause him to withdraw. Not because he loses patience with us or just cannot stand the environment we place ourselves in. But more because we willingly and repeatedly reject his attempts to guide us and direct us. In essence, he leaves us to cool off and realise how much we miss (in a very literal sense) his presence and support. We then open our hearts up in a way that tells him we are ready to let him lead us, and not just continually defy him.

    That’s why I don’t think the spirit necessarily leaves you if as a missionary you enter a bar to teach of Christ. It may just leave you, however, if you enter the bar to have a drink when you believe that is contrary to his will.

  24. I think you are missing the point Seth. I think that many (and others) have what can be characterized as an “incomplete” faith in God because they fail to understand his mercy and longsuffering.

    If God is as he is made out to be, he is not going to be offended if somebody starts swearing, lights up a joint or drinks a few beers. Those who think the Spirit can withstand these things can feel the spirit when this stuff is going on. I don’t think the Spirit strains at the gnat.

    As the Lectures on Faith explained, you have to understand who God is to have faith sufficient for salvation.

    I believe that the Spirit will put up with you no matter what abuse you pile on it. Just as you will put up with your child no matter how much abuse he piles upon you. If you don’t have that conception of God I don’t think you are listening to what Jesus said about who his Father is. I certanly think there are things that can alienate you from what is good, but most of what mormons say “offends” the spirit and drives it away are relatively trivial. I have seen plenty of insidious evil perpetrated by those who make sure they don’t swear or drink, and believe that they are directed by the spirit.

  25. Tim,

    I’m still enjoying this series (sorry that it took me so long to read this installment). I have a question about your beliefs. You say, “Our understanding of the Holy Spirit is that he can not be contained or controlled. He moves in and through who ever He chooses.”

    Suppose that the Holy Ghost tries to “move through” a person, but that person refuses to grant access. Do people have that kind of free will, and does the Holy Ghost recognize and respect it?

  26. frofreak: what makes you think that you can really make analogies to human parenting and form those analogies draw new conclusions about God?

  27. Suppose that the Holy Ghost tries to “move through” a person, but that person refuses to grant access. Do people have that kind of free will, and does the Holy Ghost recognize and respect it?

    Yes, I believe in free will. God allows us to resist him. (though there is something to be said for God hardening Pharoh’s heart).

    And if I didn’t clarify, I fundamentally think that sin gets in the way of hearing from God. But I do not believe someone has to have accepted the atonement to be used by the Spirit for his own purposes. He uses sinners as well as saints.

  28. I’m just saying I think it’s problematic to use mortal analogies to draw new conclusions about something immortal and transcendant.

    Nothing is like God, which means anything you think you know about God has ot be provisional at best.

  29. “And if I didn’t clarify, I fundamentally think that sin gets in the way of hearing from God. But I do not believe someone has to have accepted the atonement to be used by the Spirit for his own purposes. He uses sinners as well as saints.”

    I don’t see anything in that statement that is not implicitly a part of Mormon doctrine as well.

  30. Yes, that’s what I’m seeing as well. I think there is a difference in phrasing though that adds a totally different spin to it in attitude.

    Does “Don’t go where the Spirit can’t follow” sound different than “Sin gets in the way of communion with God” to you?

    They sound different to me, though I recognize that both statements are trying to express the same idea.

  31. Well, like I said earlier, the confusion comes in when you realize the man was not talking about the general powers and jurisdiction of the Holy Ghost, but the “GIFT of the Holy Ghost” which is actually a covenant relationship and is therefore premised on a few requirements.

    The “Gift” is the right to “constant companionship” of the Holy Ghost – 24-7. It doesn’t say that there’s no possibility of contact if you’re off the beaten path, but it does say that the “Gift” itself might be altered by it.

  32. I have some problems with the logic behind the Gift of the Holy Ghost’s “right” to constant companionship. Since we pretty much sin all the time, that “right” is essentially nonexistent. So what good is it?

  33. That’s actually a really complex question since I think it speaks to the broader question of why have formality at all in our relations with God. Why have covenants, rituals, sacraments, or any of that? Isn’t just having the right spirit of things enough?

    I think the question is a bit beyond the scope of this topic.

  34. Kullervo, you said “I’m just saying I think it’s problematic to use mortal analogies to draw new conclusions about something immortal and transcendant.

    Nothing is like God, which means anything you think you know about God has ot be provisional at best.”

    Basically, that translates into ‘there is no use for discussing God since we can’t fully comprehend Him.’ Of course all analogies fall short, but without them we have absolutely no way of talking about something that is bigger than us, for which words don’t do justice.

  35. I think there’s a subtle difference, katyjane. We can talk about God, but we need it realize that we are always, on some level, getting it wrong. So all our conclusions need to be provisional–we hold them because we’ve got nothing better to go on, but we need to 1) keep in mind that they are tentative at best, and 2) be willing to abandon them in favor of better conclusions.

    The further we get conceptually from what we really know about God, the more we’re just making things up.

  36. Kullervo,

    For a Christian, God is like a father and a kind ruler. Jesus used these analogies all the time. You can believe that God is like nothing but that is not a Christian conception of God. Jesus explained God and his kingdom through analogies and metaphor, so He must be like something.

    On the Holy Ghost again,

    I think the standard Mormon conception of the gift of the Holy Ghost is a bit too legalistic and often pharasaic.

    I think Tim’s understanding of the Holy Ghost could also be a standard Mormon understanding but the general Mormon understanding is different.

  37. Kullervo,

    You make a point, albeit a highly irrelavent one, IMO. Yes, the analogy is imperfect, and yes we cannot claim God is similar or dissimilar to our mortal contructs, but if that is all we have, then that is what we will use in trying to understand God better. I happen to agree with Jared C. on this one. If the anology of a loving Father was good enough for Jesus, then it is good enough for me. But beside that, I was simply making a broader point that their could be many valid reasons for why the Holy Spirit would choose not to remain within or sustain His influence on an individual, many of which do not pretend to limit His stature as omnipotent.

    To echo what others have said, particularly Tim, I think that the way LDS tend to phrase the concept of how the influence of the Holy Spirit is felt is often problematic in that it limits the Devine, when in actuality it is the mortal (us) that rejects His influence, or at the very least desensitize ourselves to this influence through sin. I think He is always there, but there are indeed circumstances in which we place ourselves from time to time, or actions that we commit, that make it awfully hard for us to feel Him. Or perhaps, like the parent in my flawed analogy, simply standing aside for a while until we re-open our hearts to accept Him in. But never turning away from us entirely.

  38. Look, all we can do is talk in analogy, but it doesn’t mean our analogies are perfect. Even the ones Jesus was using, since he still was trying to communicate to limited human intellects using limited human language.

    What I’m trying to say is that Jesus may have indeed used those analogies, and you may feel comfortable relying on that, but the minute you extrapolate that analogy one single cognitive iota, you’re venturing out into crap-you-made-up territory.

    Think about what you’re saying here for a minute: “Jesus used a father analogy to talk about God, so therefore we can take everything we know about fathers and assume it applies to God.” That’s ridiculous, because our concept of “father” is rooted in our own cultural expectations and experiences, and to claim that God is limited by, bounded by, or subject to subjective human experience is tantamount to making a God in your own image. Essentially, by taking the analogy too far, you’re commiting the sin of idolatry.

  39. Kullervo,

    “Jesus used a father analogy to talk about God, so therefore we can take everything we know about fathers and assume it applies to God.”

    I think you need to take a breath for a moment. You’re puting words in my mouth, I think. I actually agree with you, and I have already declared that I believe the analogy is imperfect. And I honestly don’t think I took the analogy “too far”, as you say, nor am I relying on it too heavily. It was simply used, as I said, to illustrate a broader point.

    You originally (and rightly so) criticized Seth for his comparison of God’s behavior to “beaten-houswife syndrome” here:

    “‘Jared, you could equally call the view that the Holy Spirit will put up with you, no matter what kind of abuse you heap on it, “wimpy” too.

    Kind of like beaten housewife syndrome.’

    Seriously? That’s lame. This is God we’re talking about. Infinite patience from an omnipotent being is hardly beaten housewife syndrome.”

    I believe he was trying to say that just because God or His Spirit chooses to withdraw from you at times doesn’t make Him “wimpy”. You seemed to suggest with your response that you disagreed, and that by virtue of his omnipotence and perfect patience, he would never (nor could ever?) withdraw (or maybe you simply were taking issue with his use of that particular comparison, it wasn’t clear). The point I was trying to make was that God could withdraw himself whenever he wanted to, and that he would not cease to be perfectly patient in doing so. Indeed his reasons for doing so, in his infinite wisdom, could be in the best interest of the one from whom he withdrew (“kinda like” when a parent withdraws from a defiant child).

    Besides, since when did an analogy have to be perfect to communicate a point, even a valid one? I think you are holding my analogy to an artificially and unecessarily high standard. But oh well, on with the discussion…:)

  40. And I think you are stretching it quite a bit to suggest that I am attempting to “claim that God is limited by, bounded by, or subject to subjective human experience”. In case it wasn’t clear, this is where I believe you are putting words in my mouth. I am not trying to limit God, simply understand Him through the lens of my own human experience. What else can I do, really?

  41. You’re right, though, all we can do is interpret God through the lens of human experience. I’m not saying don’t do that. The only way we can even think about God is by analogy, so i’m not saying do that either.

    What I’m saying is that we need to realize that’s what we’re doing, and not get caught up with and attached to the conclusions that we draw based on fundamentally flawed analogies and through our own dark mirror.

  42. Kullervo and frofreak,

    I agree with you. If you believe in God, generally your conception is that some elements of deity are beyond what words can describe.

    However, like it or not, Christians believe that humans were made in Gods image and can partake in the Divine nature. So, although we cannot precisely say exactly how our relationship to God is like human relationships, the analogies point to that relationship and we can gain understanding.

    I like Wittgenstein’s point that somethings cannot be said but only shown. People have the capacity to grasp concepts beyond what we can talk about, even though that grasp may be tenuous and unexplainable.

    So, I shouldn’t really have put my comment in the form of a disagreement initially. In fundamental ways we are on the same page.

    But, I think Christians need to be careful in pushing God too far beyond our understanding. I mean Christians do believe that God was walking around on the earth and could not readily be distinguished from a typical man. That, to me, says a lot more than a typical analogy. It also raises many doubts and questions for Christianity that I don’t believe are readily answered within the theology I have read. Generally it all goes back to mystery.

    Anyway, to try to bring the discussion somehow back to the point of the post. In my opinion I do believe there are meaningful differences in Evangelical beliefs and Mormon beliefs that translate to distinctions in practice and life, I think Mormons have a lot to learn from evangelicals and vice versa. I think its simply silly to be dismissive of some other conception since at root you cannot claim that you have a clear enough picture of the reality of God and the Spirit.

    As Kullervo points out, we cannot really get to the bottom of the core of reality in the dogma or doctrine, we can only claim that our mirror is not as blurry as the next sect’s. Mormons conception of the Holy Ghost perhaps focuses too much on one aspect but not enough on some other, but ultimately its hard to make really hard criticisms since the ground of the beliefs are very much open to interpretation. We should admit that we aren’t doing science and build our limitations into how open our minds are.

    This comes from a Mormon who has real questions about how revelation is viewed as unquestionable by the devout (inside and outside the church).

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