What are we doing here? (Part 2)

I got involved in this blog about six years ago.  It’s the only blog I regularly participate in that doesn’t have to do with cage fighting. Over the years many LDS and Evangelicals have challenged whether what goes on here is a good thing.  Some of Seth R.’s comments on Tim’s last post prompted me to give some explanation (to myself at least) of what I am doing on this blog.

In participating in this blog I haven’t thought too much about the greater good. I have always participated for more-or-less selfish reasons, the most identifiable are:

(1) It has been my only place to openly discuss Christianity at all (either the LDS or Evangelical variety), and I have not wanted to divorce myself from that line of thinking; 

(2) I find the differences and similarities between Evangelicals and Mormons fascinating. I think the problems surrounding reconciling different belief system and ideological differences between people who generally have the same values like these come up all the time in life. (See the typical differences between every married couple.)

(3) It’s something to write about when I need a break from writing legal briefs (thinking about that stuff too long is bad for you, trust me). For years I participated mainly as form of entertainment.

However, my participation has a cost. To many Mormons I know, my participation in the blog at all is lending itself to the anti-Mormon cause. I am cast as participating in destroying the faith of faithful LDS–a patently satanic exercise from some perspectives.  I don’t entirely disagree. I am not a defender of the faith, even though I have the utmost respect for many involved. I am enough of a cultural Mormon to empathize with those who see me as a disgruntled apostate. This prompts me to try to examine what I say and do in a public forum.

But I don’t feel too bad.  I suppose I don’t see the church as vulnerable to Evangelical Christianity, and I see Evangelical Christianity as a viable alternative for LDS who can’t be in the church for one reason or the other but still believe in God and Christ.  Those LDS with children should understand. No matter how dominated by the corrupt influences of apostasy, the Evangelical faith may save some who lose faith in the LDS church from atheist cynicism.

And for Evangelical Christianity to be a viable alternative, there needs to be a more amicable relationship between Evangelicals and LDS.  I think this could happen if Evangelicals looked at LDS belief and practice more charitably and understand the dynamics of LDS faith. If this happens it would be easier for LDS to transition to other forms of Christianity.

Likewise, for Evangelicalism or some other Christian faith to be an alternative, it is also important for people to have a clear understanding of the choice between the two religions. In order to do that, a very critical, honest, and open environment that prompts discussion is important. .  Ultimately I think that a heated discussion that prompts people to open up their minds can be good.  But this should be balanced by sincere expressions of faith.   I took Tim’s post, Christ Came Down, as something of that sort.  Mormons who are too intimidated by ridicule to participate, are not going to hear and understand these messages.

As Kullervo is apt to point out, it is very difficult to get a clear spiritual understanding of traditional Christianity while within the LDS Church. I think one of the reasons for this is a misunderstanding of the importance of the creeds to the spiritual life of traditional Christians. Likewise, it is difficult to get a spiritual explanation of the importance of the creeds that a Mormon can readily understand.

So after thinking about it, I suppose I continue to participate in the blog to offer Evangelicals some clear understanding of the variety of sincere Mormon belief, and to try to gain some understanding of traditional Christianity, so I can feel comfortable in charitably explaining Evangelicalism to Mormons who need another path.  If we can have a few laughs along the way, all the better.

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33 thoughts on “What are we doing here? (Part 2)

  1. I think your openness to ideas on both sides on a willingness to listen is quite admirable, Jared.

    Frankly, you are a lot better at it than I am, so I appreciate it very much.

  2. Jared, thanks for the thoughts. I’ve been interested in talking with people of different faiths since my teenage years in the DC area – home to a great many Christians of every stripe, as well as a boat load of Muslims and a surprising number of Sikhs, Jews and Buddhists.

    What I began to grow tired of, when speaking with Evangelicals, is an inability to get past the superficial (uninformed) questions. Like explaining why the end of Revelation isn’t at all controversial for Mormons or insisting that, no – we really don’t consider Joseph Smith a deity. Or simply being told what I do/do not believe. At this blog, the discussions are a lot more substantive and informed on both sides. I appreciate that.

  3. I’m one of those rare Mormons who has a history as an active member of both evangelical and mainline Protestant churches, and I graduated from an evangelical college. The main reasons I’m here are because I enjoy the informed interplay of ideas here and because this is one of the few places where I can discuss my views without getting contempt from either traditional Mormons who find me on the edge of apostasy or from evangelicals who treat me as if I’m in league with the devil.

    And like Jared C, I see some value in helping people understand the nature of the religious belief systems that I’m familiar with. I also like the regulars here, two of whom I have had the privilege of meeting in person, even if most (maybe all) of them have said things at times to drive me batty.

  4. However, my participation has a cost. To many Mormons I know, my participation in the blog at all is lending itself to the anti-Mormon cause. I am cast as participating in destroying the faith of faithful LDS–a patently satanic exercise from some perspectives.

    Have you really had people say this kind of thing to you? I’ve never had any Evangelical say the inverse to me, not even in regards to opening up the space to Mormon authors.

  5. I have had a few people say that, I know more would think it or simply think that the Spirit is not in this sort of dialogue, especially if there is any comedy involved.

    But I can understand a cozier reception to you from the Evangelical side, this site poses no threat. You are not participating in an LDS missionary outreach. I am not overtly attacking Evangelical faith, and I have no real agenda to convert Evangelicals.

  6. But you’re also not the only Mormon voice who has ever written a blog post. This might throw a wrench in your “threat” theory. (That EVs are threatened by LDS but not the other way around).

  7. @Tim

    I don’t think Evangelicalism is an actual threat to Mormonism or vice versa. The true believers on both sides are generally immune to the message of the other side (in part because of the confusing theological differences) Having Mormons explain their beliefs is not actually threatening because the thinking Evangelical is completely convinced in the falsity of the Mormon faith. The same is true from the Mormon side. Thinking Mormons think Evangelicalism is unbelievable theologically.

    I think we should also distinguish perceived threat from actual threat. Evangelicals seem to be more likely to perceive Mormons as a threat because anti-Mormon groups teach them that Mormonism is a dangerous cult (one of many). There is no Mormon counter-part to this sort of “ministry.” Mormons may mock traditional Christianity as laughable and false, but they don’t teach that traditional theology is dangerous.

    In my case, what Mormons (rightly?) see as a threat is an apostate member of their fold criticizing the Church. That can hurt faith more than allowing those of other faiths to voice an opposing views–the psychological effect is more dramatic.

  8. I was dismayed to read Rick Warren in Time explain the significance of Christmas almost entirely in terms of the significance of Easter.

  9. Jared C, its interesting that your comment comes around the same time I was reading about inter-faith dialogue in the December Ensign.

    http://www.lds.org/ensign/2013/12/becoming-better-saints-through-interfaith-involvement?lang=eng

    Its true that internet forums that are frank about Mormon history and doctrine could still be sees as negative to ones faith, but there are a lot of calls for inter-faith participation from official sources. I hope you friends listen in.

  10. I guess this post leads to the question, what does a charitable view of Mormon doctrine and practice look like for a people dominated by the corrupt influences of apostasy?

  11. I don’t know if this answers the question about a spiritual explanation of the creeds but among the various uses of creeds I see 3 of principal importance. 1 they fulfill the biblical mandate for the church to teach and confess its beliefs. 2 when used liturgically in worship they provide a visible (and audible) sign for the communion of believers that transcends the hear and now. 3 they provide a written and public explanation for a biblical herminutic and the resulting theology that can be examined and tested by future generations.

  12. I guess this post leads to the question, what does a charitable view of Mormon doctrine and practice look like for a people dominated by the corrupt influences of apostasy?

    A very good question. A big problem with Mormon-Evangelical dialogue is that they both see each other’s belief systems as fundamentally corrupted by satanic/worldly influences. Joseph Smith was an utter blasphemer and heretic to Evangelicals. To Mormons, traditional Christianity sold its soul to the world long ago.

    However, both sides recognize that the corrupt views can be very compelling. Because many (most?) people look to other people to explain religion to them, a believer charitably describing the opposing view can carry with it significant risk.

    I think the common ground is in practice and focus. Mormons and Evangelicals both believe in the Bible. Evangelicals can charitably view the way Mormons focus on certain commonly believed Biblical passages. Mormons can do the same, see the Evangelical focus on grace. This sort of dialogue could help enrich Evangelicalism and Mormonism, even if it will never erode the incommensurate foundations of each system.

    Both groups can learn a lot from each other in how they practice religion. Evangelicals could learn a lot from the LDS tithing, missionary, and welfare programs. Mormons could learn a lot from Evangelicals in how to integrate outside culture into religious life to create a more tolerant or accepting atmosphere. In this area both groups can take very charitable views of each other without giving an inch on foundational differences.

  13. RE: Creeds

    I have come to have a lot of respect for the system of creeds as a way to distill complex theology into something that can be easily learned. Creeds are also critical to maintaining unity. It could be argued that creeds are the reason there is some semblance of unity within Christian traditions.

  14. What does a charitable description of an opposing view look like?

    For instance how would I explain my difficulty of the LDS law of tithing for the expectation of rewards?

  15. Thomas Peck explains the nature of an obligatory tithe as part of the ceremonial law of Israel and opposed to a voluntary offering of the gospel.

    “The tithe and the priesthood: these are the twin ideas, the correlated facts. If the priesthood is by law, the support of the priesthood must be by law also. Nothing under such a system can be left to the voluntary contributions of the people. They have nothing to do with the making of priests, and they will have nothing to do, unless compelled, with supporting them. The two methods, support by tithes which are obligatory, and support by voluntary offerings, are in their nature, genius, and operation the opposites of each other. The one is of the nature of a tax; the other, of a free gift. The one is the expression of obedience to law; the other is the expression of the liberty which belongs to a voluntary compact. The one implies simply submission, more or less sullen; the other is the expression of confidence and affection towards him who dispenses the ordinances of the gospel.

    So how would a person charitably explain that no Church can bind the conscience of a believer by imposing a law of tithing thereby robbing them of the ability to voluntarily give as an act of worship?

  16. Tithing, in principle, seems to me to be almost completely uncontroversial. It seems that Evangelical churches would love it if they could depend on 10% from members. It would significantly decrease the industry of selling stuff in order to pay the bills, it would help de-commercialize the church. The expectation of rewards problem seems to be much worse in a non-tithing approach– if tithing were a core doctrine in Christianity, you would not have the abuses of TBN.

    Most Mormons I know pay tithing like taxes. There is an expectation of community reward and spiritual reward for giving up material wealth for the Kingdom. I know the quid-pro-quo concept is taught, but you can completely disagree with that idea and whole-heartedly embrace the principle of tithing.

  17. So how would a person charitably explain that no Church can bind the conscience of a believer by imposing a law of tithing thereby robbing them of the ability to voluntarily give as an act of worship?

    You are explaining the charitable view of the other side of the coin. But I think the giving-money-as-an-act-of-worship has a lot of problems. This argument can be applied to taxes as well. Taxes don’t eliminate free giving to the government as an act of patriotism. Mormons don’t see tithing as obligatory to worship or membership anymore than Americans see paying taxes. Most view it as necessary to have a strong nation . Mormons believe that participating in the law of tithing is an act of worship, just like paying taxes can be seen by the payer an act of patriotism.

    i don’t know the context at all, but Thomas Peck’s argument tastes of apologetics for the current system.

  18. I would say, following Peck that a “Moral obligation can be created only by some intimation of the will of God. God alone can bind the conscience”. This is a basic principle of Protestantism, so if God has not instituted a law of tithing for the Church, the Church has no right to impose a tithe.

    With that said, I don’t completely disagree with you. I think that the basic “uncontroversial” nature tithe should be a way to contrast two beliefs without resorting to calling everybody heretics.

    So you understand where I am coming from, in my denomination it is strictly forbidden to raise money by selling stuff. Voluntary giving as an act of worship is how we keep the lights on, plant and build our churches, send and support our missionaries etc.

    Peck makes the argument that, “the New Testament is not merely silent about the tithe. It proposes a method of raising a revenue inconsistent with the method of the tithe. It is the method of voluntary contributions, in opposition to a tax, whether a tenth or any other. The proportion is a proportion to prosperity, of which the believer is to be the judge; and the judgment is to be made under the guidance and impulse of love.”

    On the practical side of raising enough Peck says, “As to the fears that voluntaryism will not yield sufficient revenue, it may be said, (a), that if voluntaryism is God’s way, it will yield enough, and all fears are begotten of unbelief. That neither method will yield enough without the Holy Spirit of God in the hearts of his people. It is vain to attempt to make a law to do the work of the Spirit. A dollar is not a dollar in the kingdom of God. A dollar given from love to God is more than a dollar given from conscience or fear merely to comply with an external statute, (c), That the history of the two methods is, to say the least, not against the voluntary.”

    Take 5 minutes and look at what Peck says about the a compulsory tithe.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=gZlAAAAAYAAJ&dq=Works%20of%20Thomas%20E.%20Peck%20vol.1&pg=PA146#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Fundamentally I think this uncontroversial topic amply shows a number of critical distinctions between Mormonism and Protestantism.

  19. A dollar given from love to God is more than a dollar given from conscience or fear merely to comply with an external statute

    I think this represents a principle that Mormons would agree with.

    “Moral obligation can be created only by some intimation of the will of God. God alone can bind the conscience”.

    This statement would seem to be very controversial among almost all circles. Do most Protestants believe this?

  20. “A dollar given from love to God is more than a dollar given from conscience or fear merely to comply with an external statute.”

    Would seem to conflict with an external “law of tithing”.

    “Moral obligation can be created only by some intimation of the will of God. God alone can bind the conscience”.

    This is a basic protest against Rome, “by Scripture alone”.

  21. I enjoy reading this site. I have to admit that I am a fan of Seth R (have read his comments on other sites) because he knows what he is talking about.
    As a member of the LDS church I do know about other religions and understand them. I have famiy members in many different religions. While growing up I frequently attended other religious churches with my non LDS friends. But my friends were never allowed to come to church with me. Imagine that.
    I have commented on many sites devoted to tearing down the LDS religion, and it is quite tiring. I also get tired of being told that I do not know what I believe. I find it interesting that all the counter cult “ministries” spend 99% of their energies, time, and resources to attacking the LDS. They never mention Scientology, rarely mention Jehova’s Witnesses, and never mention any other religious “cults”. Why only LDS?
    And I was very disappointed to read about some LDS blog owners that have been personally attacked by Evangelical blog owners and prominant EV commenters. There really is no reason for this type of behavior. It is frustrating that EV’s and others call out LDS for bad behavior but bad behavior is acceptable if it is done to LDS.

  22. That’s an interesting perspective that my reveal your bias. In my experience EV counter cilt ministries spend equal time on Jehovah’s witness as Mormonism. I think they focus on these two religions because they use door-to-door tracting methods which puts them in greater contact with Evangelicals. There are plenty of ministries that focus on the new age movement as well.

    I’ve also heard of Mormons attacking Evangelical bloggers and counter cult ministries. These sorts of shenanigans are inappropriate on both sides. But nobody holds a candle to the way that scientologist go after detractors.

  23. My observations coincide with some things that both Jr and Tim say. To me there’s no question that the evangelical countercult ministries focus more of their time on Mormons than they do any other religion.

    Some quick Google research seems to confirm this: I did a search for “Mormon cult” without the quotes and got five times as many relevant pages as I did for “Jehovah’s Witnesses cult,” which wasn’t all that far ahead of “Seventh-day Adventists cult.” Interestingly, though, “Scientologists cult” had almost as many pages as we Mormons did — but there are many secular people who would call the Scientologists a cult but not a relatively mainstream Christian (from a secular viewpoint) religion like Mormonism. This is an extremely rough guide (so rough that I’d probably ignore it if it didn’t agree with my anecdotal impressions).

    That said, I don’t think that the countercult focus on Mormons is disproportionate to the “threat” that we pose. We’re a stronger church financially and politically than the JWs could hope to be, and we’re mainstream enough to be less scary than the JWs. Plus, of course, we have tens of thousands of missionaries. It’s natural that we’d become a target. And if I believed, as many of the countercultists do, that a particular church were putting people at risk of going to hell, I’d be out opposing that church too.

    And that said, I’m focusing on the countercult ministries, which do not make up the majority of evangelicaldom. I find very little animosity from many mainstream evangelicals, and of course many evangelical leaders supported a Mormon for president of the U.S. in 2012.

    One area where I agree with Jr:

    I also get tired of being told that I do not know what I believe.

    Yes, that’s tiring. Many of our most vocal critics don’t have any real understanding of what the church actually teaches and/or what members believe. They treat us like caricatures.

    What does surprise me a tiny bit is how little the evangelical countercultists do to oppose heresy in the ranks of mainstream Christianity. While there is some criticism of preachers like Joel Osteen (an easy target), the countercultists don’t seem to care much about criticizing various Christian movements that don’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity any more than Mormons do and/or who don’t believe in some basic traditional doctrines such as the reality of the Resurrection. I’m not saying there’s no criticism of mainline Protestantism or oneness Pentecostalism, just that it seems like there’s less than there should be considering the influence they have in the religious landscape. But it’s probably easier to get people whipped up about fighting a weird Utah-based cult than it is about fighting the preachers folks are watching on TV or the preachers who are leading the churches your grandmother goes to.

  24. John MacArthur’s Strange Fire has gotten a whole lot more attention in Evangelical circles this past year than anything related to Mormonism.

  25. As a Presbyterians there is a historic connection with the mainline that will never end, so I can assure you that new Princeton, new School, new Side, new Light mainline theology is discussed more often than Salt Lake.

    I really cannot explain why Mormonism by and large has been outsourced to the counter cult and para-church apologists. I suspect it is the regional nature of Mormonism. I certainly cannot remember the last time that Mormonism was brought up, even in passing, but in my congregation the prosperity gospel is probably the most common heterodox theology discussed.

    This is anecdotal and totally my experience but in the 11 systematic theologies written since 1900 in my collection Mormonism is mentioned exactly 0 times. On my shelf of Patristic history Mormonism is mentioned 0 times. On my self of Creeds, catechisms, confessions and commentaries Mormonism is addressed 0 times. I cannot think of any mention of Mormonism in any of my Old Testament commentaries but I remember a couple in some of my New Testament Commentaries (I think it was Philippians and John). Overall I wonder how much honest theological disagreement is being mistaken for animosity.

  26. I am more interested in contending against Mormonism than against Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Joel Osteen and Oneness Pentecostals because I used to be Mormon. I can’t speak for anyone else. I imagine Augustine was particularly keen on writing contra the Manichaeans.

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