A meditation on religious conflict

[This is a prose poem that came out after I finished up writing brief about a particularly gnarly run in with original sin and the law that punishes it. Enjoy!]

“Religious War has signified the greatest advance of the masses so far, for it proves that the masses have begun to treat concepts with respect.  Religious War start only after more refined quarrels between sects have refined reason in general to the point where even the mob becomes subtle and takes trifles seriously and actually considers it possible that the “eternal salvation of the soul” might depend on small differences between concepts.” – F. Nietzsche

“But if all religious teachers were honest enough to renounce their pretensions to godliness when their ignorance of the knowledge of God is made manifest, they will all be as badly off as I am, at any rate; and you might just as well take the lives of other false teachers as that of mine. If any man is authorized to take away my life because he thinks and says I am a false teacher, then, upon the same principle, we should be justified in taking away the life of every false teacher, and where would be the end of blood? And who would not be the sufferer?” – J. Smith

Science tells us that our universe began as a single point, and that human beings are super-developed animals with incredible imaginations that in their limitless symbolizing and shaping of the world with their art spawned religion, civilization, and consciousness of our unfathomable beginning and becoming.

The orthodox catholic tells us that God is the unknowable Father that is the source of this point, but that he is nothing within it, that God is the substance of the man Jesus the Christ that became part of the created world, and the substance of the Holy Spirit that fills creation and the strange human souls that take on the the image of this substance but are condemned to be separated from it.

Mohammed tells us that man is nothing like God, and absolute and unknowable, who has no child and wills all that happens and all that exists, God is the final arbiter of this created reality and should be feared and loved.

The Buddha tells us that we are not separate souls, and God is irrelevant to our enlightenment to this fact; only in our giving up ourselves and our souls can we awake to the reality of God.

Paul tell us that man is a debased spirit separated from God, clothed in corrupt flesh but redeemed to God’s image through assent and capitulation to the reality of the single Christ, the God who submitted to death and suffering to save the world from it.

Moses tells us that there is a law from heaven that all must follow and that one people were chosen to proclaim it.

Joseph Smith tells us that God is the same as us: a single eternal soul living within the uncreated universe who discovered intelligence and then glory though the laws of reality that fill the immensity of space and makes all things as they are.

The Hindu tells us that we are all the shifting faces of God, the absolute reality that sits behind all appearances, and that only those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender themselves to other gods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own many natures.

Pilate tells us that truth is an illusion and then spilled the blood of the man the Christians call God by the power of the law and might of Rome.

Jesus tells us that God’s law and all other truth is swallowed in Christ, the mystery and promise of God’s love, that God’s kingdom has nothing to do with Rome that killed him, but is in midst of the love and joy that springs from His blood and suffering and ours.

The Evangelical tells us that we should proclaim this last Word above all others, and attests that there is no end to this blood that saves us.

It seems that in this blood there should be an end to the blood Nietzsche and Joseph Smith spoke of, but how remains its mystery.

 

Answering Greg Trimble’s 51 Questions – Part 5

At last, Part 5!  This is what we call in blogging “rounding third.”

I was sad to discover that this is not the first attempt at answering 50 bull dog questions. FAIR, the Mormon apologetics organization took at crack at answering those 50 questions for Mormons.  I also discovered that someone else is working at answering Trimble’s list.  What I learned from both sites is that reading these answers is even more boring than reading the questions.  Holy cow that’s bad news for you Greg.  That means I’m going to have to redouble my efforts at creative insults.  I assure you, they’re not meant for you, just the people who love to hate you.

VWG

Some quick caveats for those that missed my first post.  These answers will be short and to the point. I’m not trying give a complete answer, nor am I trying to convert anyone out of Mormonism.  If I throw in a joke or two it’s to keep things interesting and not a personal attack on Trimble or an attempt to disrespect the Mormon faith.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

41. Who are the “other sheep that are not of this fold” referred to by Christ in (John 10:16) Hint: It’s not the Gentles.

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Counting the Cost of Discipleship (notes from my underground)

I was looking through my journal and saw some thoughts I wrote down three years ago, I wrote these before sinking into a very dim atheism, this entry was part of my last effort to hang on to the Christianity I had when I was LDS. I think I was grasping at whether it made sense at all to consider ourselves Christian disciples.  Now I realize that it does not make sense to even to attempt Christian discipleship without more than a mere belief that you believe in Christ – a state of grace is necessary. I open them up for discussion to reveal something about how many faithful Mormons see the task of discipleship:


My Journal, September 1, 2012:  Pascal mentions that things are different for Christians now because primitive Christians had to devote themselves to the kingdom of heaven, to forsake all safety and security, in essence, to throw their lives away.  Becoming a Christian was about throwing your life away. It would destroy your career prospects, make you an enemy of the state, risk all of your life and property. It meant a hell of a lot.  What this tells me is that Christianity is simply not for everybody.  We simply cannot expect people to be Christians like this. It’s a very difficult task. But its always marvelous when we do see people approach life with this sort of abandon. Continue reading

Teaching the Gospel to Monkeys

My conversion from philosophical atheism to whatever-sort-of-Christian-I-am-now came over the course of a couple of weeks, after having a series of epiphanies about what it is to be human.

The first of these epiphanies came after watching a video where the animal behavior researcher, Frans De Waal, explains the ongoing project to “discover” the rules of human morality based on a detailed study of animal and human behavior.  He conducted experiments showing moral behavior in elephants, dogs, monkeys.  What intrigued me most was the experiment that proved that monkeys (and even birds and dogs) show a consciousness of fairness:

In the experiment the monkeys are trained to perform a simple task for a reward.  The two monkeys were accustomed to getting one cucumber slice for each task.  During the stream of tasks the monkeys performed the researchers gave one of the monkeys a grape for their task instead of a cucumber.  When the second monkey received only a cucumber slice for his task, he immediately threw the cucumber back at the researcher, screamed, and shook his cage in protest.  The dramatic emotional response from the monkey was eye-opening.

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Explaining Jesus to a child – How should I indoctrinate my children?

indoctrinate_xlarge_xlargeWhen children are taught religion, they are indoctrinated. As parents we can’t explain how the world really works to them–they won’t understand and nobody has the patience–so we happily give them simple skeletons which they can build on, that they can organize the necessarily limited experience and information they stumble across.  We hope that the skeletons are elegant and strong enough to gird all the good information our children come across and allow them to create a robust, useful picture of how things are. Of course the problem with indoctrination is that it shuts of lines if inquiry, creating intellectual bias.  If the process of education moves people from cocksure confidence to thoughtful uncertainty, indoctrination attempts to stall or abort this process–on a few important areas of thought at least.

Indoctrination is a big issue in our multi-cultural, increasingly divisive, political and ideological climate. At least one writer — David French– contends that Evangelicals’ failure to properly indoctrinate their children is part of the reason they fall short in church growth compared to moromons.   Citing the Barna Group’s conclusion that of the 84 million Americans who claim to be Evangelical, only about 19 million actually hold orthodox beliefs, French advocates that Evangelicals must follow the LDS lead in teaching their distinctive beliefs and culture early and well.

But indoctrination is an extremely inflammatory concept. It is almost universally condemned by those who don’t want children to be indoctrinated against their positions. But I don’t think indoctrination can or should have the bad rap given it by fervent opponents of religious indoctrination such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Arguably most childhood education in areas of history and even many areas of science smacks of indoctrination in one form or another.

Given its unavoidable necessity, I have started to take indoctrination of my own children more seriously. My kids are indoctrinated Mormons, their skeletons come from church.   They have a surface-level, Sunday-school understanding of the church, salvation, and the righteous life. But because I am no longer what can be fairly called a believing Mormon, I want to temper this indoctrination with indoctrination of my own–one that reflects the understanding I have developed in my spiritual life and education.  I am trying to find a way to explain Christianity differently without closing the lines of inquiry that I find critical.  I want to add a few limbs to my kids’ conceptual skeletons without making their existing frameworks useless.

So, my project is to develop simple, short, easy-to-understand narratives of important historical events and religious principles- sort of like the Gospel Principles Manual in the LDS Church. Something that can give my children a place to start inquiry based roughly on what I think are proper conclusions about history and the world; a different narrative to expand and allow critical evaluation of the narrative they receive in church.

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

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

Prophet: receiving spiritual guidance from the Spirit of God.

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

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

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

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

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The disaffected Mormon problem. My 2¢.

There is a recurring question posed on this blog– What can be done about disaffected Mormons who leave Christianity?

I was first attracted to this Blog about five years ago by this post on the subject: We Push Them Into What? followed up with “Challenged by Jesus” among many others.  And it comes up routinely ever since. David Clark had recent suggestions regarding the problem in  “The C & E Problem“, “Be Positive, Be Christian“, “Consider Christianity(Forgive me if I don’t have any other blogosphere references to this topic  but strangely enough, this blog is the only one I read or comment on with any regularity besides cagepotato.com.)

Tim’s most recent thoughts on the problem are found in “More Than a Bible” I thought I would post my thoughts separately because I wanted to propose an alternative view of the nature of the problem from a post-Mormon, not-at-all-traditional follower of Jesus.  (Plus my comment was just way too long.)

In “More than a Bible” Tim pointed out that statistics show that only 11% of former Mormons identify as some other type of Christian.

I can appreciate the problem that these statistics raise for Evangelicals.  Here  you have a stream of Bible educated one-time very faithful people leaving Mormonism and NOT choosing the real Jesus. This seems like a big failure and lost opportunity for Evangelicals.

Tim suggests more pro-bible apologetics and less anti-bible rhetoric is a solution. The argument seems to be that if those leaving Mormonism believed in the Bible more, then they would still believe in Jesus when they leave Mormonism. Thus, the problem is being laid at the feet of the Church, who claims to want to be part of “regular” Christianity, but consistently undermines the sole source of authority of Protestantism.

First, I don’t think most Mormons believe that the Bible has a hard time standing on its own. Although Mormons talk about inconsistencies and problems with the Bible, they rarely do anything other than read it very closely and as authoritative.  (Surprisingly similar to how they view Church leadership.) Mormons hold very reverential, sometimes literal, and sometimes even fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. I think most Mormons think the Bible is true and reliable in all matters of faith, essentially infalliable. The big problem for Mormons is not what is in the, but what is not.

Even if rhetoric that undermined Biblical validity was common, I can make these observations that may explain the phenomena better:

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Divorce, lust, terror and plunder: The position of the religious doubter.

There was a fascinating exchange awhile back between Rollingforest and Ms. Jack, Tim and Hermes regarding the appropriate response to one who doubts his or her religion. I thought I would bring it before ye denizens of this site front and center for my own edification. I am going to paraphrase select positions  referenced, but I will try to be true to their essence (but please comment if you feel you are being unfairly attached to a particular viewpoint):

Rollingforest appeared to advocate from the position of intellectual authenticity. I.e. when one truly disbelieves the religion, then its dictates no longer have any hold on that person.

Jack argued that a commitment to a religion is like marriage. And like in a marriage, when one has doubts as to its utility, one owes it to their commitments and covenants, and perhaps an abundance of caution, to maintain a practical commitment to flesh out the doubts before moving toward divorce.

Tim approved of the marriage analogy and mentioned that many who claim Christianity or Mormonism may be having emotional affairs with other world views.

There is something about both of these positions that piqued my interest and raised some strange things about religious belief that I have been wrestling with. I think that Rollingforest’s position represents a modern position that a religion only has purchase on our lives insofar as we believe it to be true, and we should follow our own authentic beliefs wherever they lead. Furthermore, if for some reason we are no longer convinced of a particular proposition of faith, we are either free to, or even compelled to abandon that faith. The falsity of some proposition frees us of any commitment because the commitment is based on a falsity. An example of a modern exponent of this approach could be Walter Kaufmann.

Jack’s analogy is an interesting take on another approach. The Bible is filled with marriage/sexual analogies of God’s relationship with his people and his people’s relationship with other religions. Idolatry (i.e. worshiping a god other than Jehovah) in religion is the complement of adultery in marriage.    However Jack’s appears to be a more neutral approach than that of the Bible,  i.e. she refuses to assume a priori that there is only one true partner and you should reject any partner when you find out that they are not it.  When one finds oneself in an unhappy marriage for any reason, we should should consider practical commitments as we sort out what is the best way to go with our head and heart.  William James strikes me as a modern adherent of Jack’s approach. (see the “Will to Believe” here and a summary here.)

Tim’s position seems similar, recognizing that some may caught in marriages that make it hard to leave, and recognizes that leaving may lead to a rejection of the correct relationship, but advocates honesty or authenticity so as not to “make a sham” of both relationships.  The “be hot or cold approach.”

Looking to the Bible I gather a stronger position, which I might call the Aaronic approach to religious pluralism. The Biblical approach assumes, a priori, that there is only one true mate.  When it comes to religion the Bible doesn’t recognize divorce or even choice of mate.   The chosen are betrothed to Jehovah or Jesus and straying is adultery. It assumes that those who are given the truth through scripture or revelation who stray to other views are always in error when they look elsewhere for spirituality.

The starkest description I can think of this attitude is found in Ezekial 23 (CAUTION: Rated R content)

Here God compares Jerusalem and Samaria to two young prostitutes who are seduced away by their foreign clients.  In the allegory the women and their children are brutally killed for their indiscretions.

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Bring a mob against them and give them over to terror and plunder. The mob will stone them and cut them down with their swords; they will kill their sons and daughters and burn down their houses.
“So I will put an end to lewdness in the land, that all women may take warning and not imitate you. You will suffer the penalty for your lewdness and bear the consequences of your sins of idolatry. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD.”

Now, I don’t think we can imply that the Lord will be as angry with those who choose secular humanism as those Hebrews who sacrificed their children to idols (oops, except those that believe in abortion), but it pretty clear that “tough love” is the route the Lord is taking here.

I bring this up to point out that, to the Bible, casual flirtations with the wrong view may cause the Lord to “get medieval” on you.

There is a lot more to talk about here, but I will leave off here for now.

Where does the person straddling more than one viewpoint fit within your faith system?

What Mormons Should Look For in a New Church

This post is provided by David Clark. Look for Tim’s additions in the comment section.

In another thread Steve EM asked:

Maybe someone on the Evangelical side could do a future post on denominations that might make sense for a Mormon seeking another church closer to the truth without the erroneous Mormon baggage, but doesn’t want to hear anti-Mormon diatribe (just seeks to move on). Personally I can’t handle a liturgical church or anything Fundamentalist (the earth is ancient, evolution doesn’t conflict with the Gospel), but am clueless where to start in Northwest Houston?

After visiting a number of churches and learning about different theologies and doctrines in a wide variety of Christian denominations, I think the best fit for Mormons looking to make a move towards orthodox Christianity, is a church in the Weslyan tradition. The theology/doctrine is going to be the most familiar to Mormons and the worship styles will also probably be a good fit.

First, what do I mean by the Wesleyan tradition? John and Charles Wesley were Anglican preachers in the 18th century, for a short time in America, but mostly in England. They became dissatisfied with some of the practices in the Church of England and helped fuel the revival movement started by George Whitefield. However, unlike Whitefield, the Wesleys were not Calvinists, but rather Arminians. Their preaching emphasized both justification by faith and a call for personal holiness. Neither ever broke with the Church of England and always encouraged their followers to work within the Anglican communion. Thus, they didn’t start a church, but rather they started a movement/tradition. After their deaths, Methodist churches were started by their followers which continued the Wesleyan tradition.

Currenly there are many churches, both denominational and non-denominational, with are in the Wesleyan tradition. The two biggest denominations in the US which are Wesleyan are (I think) the United Methodist Church (UMC) and the Church of the Nazarene. The UMC tends to lean more liberal, while the Nazarenes lean more conservative.

Why are Wesleyan churches good fits for Mormons? There are several reasons.

  • Arminian Theology – In my experience, rightly or wrongly, most Mormons recoil at a Calvinist theology. They tend to be more comfortable with the Arminian position, that though we are saved by grace, there must be a choice made by the believer for that grace to be effective. The Mormon doctrine on grace, that we are saved by grace after all we can do, is closest to the Arminian position
  • Sermons emphasize holiness and works – Weslyanism encourages people to live holy lives and to do a lot. While other traditions also encourage this, they tend to go about it in different ways. Mormons who have been fed a steady diet of lists of things to do will find the Weslyan approach to this familiar.
  • More subdued worship services – At my local UMC church, services tend to be more subdued. There are both contemporary and traditional services. However, the contemporary ones still tend to be more subdued, the music has a beat but it’s not a rock concert. The traditional services, other than applause, look and feel very much like a Mormon worship service.
  • Similar attitudes towards alcohol consumption- John Wesley encouraged people to stay away from alcohol and Weslyan churches will almost always use grape juice instead of wine for communion (the sacrament). Even the more liberal UMC continues to encourage people to stay away from alcohol, though it’s not a point of emphasis like it is in the Mormon church
  • Light use of liturgy – Weslyans come from a liturgical tradition (Anglicans), but they are much more subdued about it than are contemporary Anglicans. At my local UMC church the traditional service tends to be a bit more liturgical, but compared to high Anglican services it’s VERY light. Liturgy is barely present in the contemporary services.
  • Music – The music at the traditional service at my UMC congregation is virtually identical to Mormon hymns. As I already said, contemporary services do use electric guitars and drums, but it’s still pretty mellow.
  • Involvement – Because of the focus on personal holiness and doing stuff, Wesleyans tend to provide lots of chances for Sunday School, weekday Bible study, fellowship groups, sports groups, scouting, etc. Mormons used to immersing themselves in their churches will find plenty to do.

As for being fundamentalists, the UMC is a pretty moderate church. They are definitely not fundamentalists. They don’t go out of their way to address hot button political issues. My local church tends to focus on Bible study, fellowship, community involvement, and church planting.

There are lots of intangibles in the Weslyan tradition that will seem familiar and comfortable to Mormons. As just one example, I am currently reading a collection of sermons by John and Charles Wesley. When you read it, both the content and the presentation are very much like many passages in the Book of Mormon, such as King Benjamin’s address and Alma 5. Actually, the whole Book of Mormon is vaguely Wesleyan in its outlook. Since the Book of Mormon was what I treasured most when I was a Mormon, finding familiar echoes in the Wesley’s sermons was very nice for me.

Finally, I will say that when I started out to find a new church, I didn’t really expect to join the UMC. I visited a half dozen or so churches over a period of several months in 2010, with the idea that I would join a Lutheran church. I had studied Luther’s ideas and life, and I liked what I heard (I still do). I visited a UMC congregation mainly because my kids went to pre-school there, not expecting to join. However, it felt the most natural and the sermons resonated with me. There wasn’t any real reason why this was the case, something just clicked. Most of the above reasons came about as I thought about why it felt the most natural. That’s probably the best reason I can give for Mormons seeking out something in the Wesleyan tradition, it just feels the most natural.

The State of Christianity

I thought this article from the Barna Group was interesting and a worthwhile read. They discuss the 6 reoccurring themes within Christianity that emerged from their research in 2010.

1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.

I view most of these themes as negatives and find them to be a cause for concern. But other may have a different view of them.

The Council of Deerfield

I want to pose a hypothetical scenario.

Let us say that a council of Christian leaders convenes for a meeting at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois to discuss the question of Mormonism’s relationship to the historic, orthodox Christian faith and issue a ruling on the matter.1 The Council of Deerfield is attended by prominent leaders from all across the Christian spectrum including members from the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Church of England, and representatives from all manner of evangelical, Pentecostal, and mainline Protestant churches.

The findings of the Council of Deerfield are as follows:

  1. Just as Christianity was eventually classified as its own religion rather than a branch of Judaism in spite of its Jewish origins, Mormonism is best categorized as a new world religion rather than a subset of Christianity in spite of its initial Christian heritage. The Council stresses that Judaism is considered its own world religion, yet Mormons already claim more adherents than Jews.
  2. If Mormonism is to be considered a form of Christianity at all, it is a heretical one, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.2
  3. The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price are an abomination in the sight of God and all their professors corrupt.3

The Council of Deerfield makes the following recommendations in proceeding with members of the LDS faith:

  1. Members of Christian faiths should be discouraged from seeking baptism in the LDS church in the strongest terms possible.
  2. Members of Christian faiths should attempt to share their faith with Latter-day Saints whenever possible with the goal of proselyting Mormons out of the LDS church and into orthodox Christianity.
  3. Converts from Mormonism should be re-baptized by an ordained or licensed Christian minister, even if they had a baptism in another Christian church before joining the LDS faith.
  4. Christians are strongly discouraged from receiving communion in LDS church meetings. Local Christian churches are advised to discourage Mormon visitors from receiving communion with them—although the Council of Deerfield does not condone slapping anyone’s hands away from the communion table.
  5. The Council of Deerfield takes no position on whether or not it is acceptable to pray with members of the LDS faith, recognizing that there exists a difference of opinion among Christians on this matter. The Council only recommends that Christians prayerfully consider the matter themselves and come to their own conclusions.

These recommendations shall stand until a time when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should reform its teachings on the following issues and bring itself in line with historic Christian orthodoxy:

  1. Its “finite theism in which God at some point in eternity past was merely a man and not divine”;
  2. Its “view of the universe as not eternally contingent on the will or being of God”;
  3. Its “denial of the necessity of prevenient grace to overcome humanity’s sinful disposition in the process of conversion or regeneration”;
  4. Its “denial of Trinitarian monotheism”;
  5. Its “denial of the classic Christian understanding of the relationship of the two natures of Christ;”4 and
  6. Its canonization of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price in their current form.

At which point the Council shall reconvene to reconsider its ruling on the matter.

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My false, pagan, so-called Christian church of men

The more I hear about the new 2009 Gospel Principles manual, the more I feel for my thoughtful, ecumenically-minded LDS friends.

My own LDS husband has always hated the Gospel Principles manual and (by extension) the “Gospel Essentials” class. He applauded Robert Kirby’s suggestion that all “Gospel Essentials” courses ought to be held in the church parking lot. It looks like, with the advent of the new manual as the text for Priesthood and Relief Society meetings, holding the second and third Priesthood/RS meetings of the month in the church parking lot might not be such a bad idea.

A chapter that seems to be getting a lot of attention lately is Chapter 16: The Church of Jesus Christ in Former Times. In addition to being historically faulty in almost every way imaginable, this chapter seems to be giving the Gospel finger to a decade or two of Mormon attempts at a kinder relationship with the rest of the Christian world. Here’s a relevant excerpt (emphases mine):

Soon pagan beliefs dominated the thinking of those called Christians. The Roman emperor adopted this false Christianity as the state religion. This church was very different from the church Jesus organized. It taught that God was a being without form or substance.

These people lost the understanding of God’s love for us. They did not know that we are his children. They did not understand the purpose of life. Many of the ordinances were changed because the priesthood and revelation were no longer on the earth.

The emperor chose his own leaders and sometimes called them by the same titles used by priesthood leaders in the true Church of Christ. There were no Apostles or other priesthood leaders with power from God, and there were no spiritual gifts. The prophet Isaiah had foreseen this condition, prophesying, “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24:5). It was the Church of Jesus Christ no longer; it was a church of men. Even the name had been changed.

I especially appreciate that second to last line. Yes, the non-LDS Christian world is the church of men, as opposed to the LDS church, which is what? The church of women? (Remember us?) The church of God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, who (as far as LDS theology goes) are also men?

I have a hard time deciding what to think of the 2009 Gospel Principles manual given how little we know about the church correlation process and who is involved in actually producing and revising these manuals. I imagine that these lines have been changed little (if at all) from the original 1978 version of the manual, which would certainly explain some of the harsh rhetoric and outdated understanding of ancient church history. Nevertheless, someone higher up must have looked at this chapter and ok’ed it for publication, and someone decided it would be a good manual to teach to the entire church for two years.

Maybe I should open the floor to my LDS friends. What’s a non-LDS Christian to think of all this?

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Other links:

“Those called Christians” and their “false Christianity” by Loyd at Project Mayhem

2009 Gospel Principles criticizes the “pagan beliefs” of those “called Christians” in “false Christianity” by Aaron Shafovaloff at Mormon Coffee

The Pierian Spring, Aquinas’s new blog for more internal LDS matters. He has been reviewing the Gospel Principles manual chapter by chapter, but Chapter 16 is not done yet. Chapter 1 is here.

Faith & Community

When I appeared in Provo, Utah on January 4, 2001, I did not know a single person in the city.

There were a few girls from my high school somewhere on campus, but they had arrived at BYU at the start of the preceding Fall Semester, had already spent four months laughing it up and flirting with RMs, plus they were living in Heritage Halls, the on-campus apartment-style dormitories. I had been assigned to lowly Deseret Towers, 405 U Hall—and telling people that you live in “U-Haul” is about as pathetic as it sounds. The world my friends had shared with me in high school less than a year ago lay far behind us now and looking me up to welcome me wasn’t really on their agenda. I don’t blame them.

A friend from Salt Lake City whom I had met through LDSChat.com picked me up from the airport. I’d had plenty of offers from Internet acquaintances to help move me in, including a fundamentalist Mormon who had offered to drive up from Manti, but I had gone with Annelise because she seemed like the least creepy option. In hindsight, I probably should have aimed for some Y chromosomes. I had carefully packed as many of my belongings as possible into a set of four overstuffed, candy-apple red suitcases, and they were heavy.

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Letter to a Christian Pastor

A little over a month ago, while I was still living in Washington state, I began searching for a church home in the Chicago area in anticipation of my upcoming move. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I’m kind of hoping to find a church with a female pastor on staff.1 I found one such church and after learning some details about the congregation in e-mail, I asked to speak with a pastor on the phone.

She called me a few days later, and at first the conversation went great. Her congregation sounded nice and we shared a lot of common beliefs. Then I brought up the issue of my husband being LDS and my need for a church that can be understanding of that situation. Things did not go so well from there.

I decided to write to her and respectfully challenge her attitude toward Mormons—and more specifically, her attitude toward what most Christians would regard as a part-believer family that was interested in coming to her church. The letter describes the specifics of how the phone conversation played out.

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Why It Matters Whether Mormons Are Christian

Kullervo offered this gem as a guest post.  You can see where he originally posted it here.

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The question of whether Mormons can be considered Christian is fairly central to interfaith dialogue, and is significant enough to have garnered national attention during the 2008 presidential campaign. It comes up every now and then on Tim’s most excellent blog, and as an ex-Mormon non-Christian who is nevertheless widely read and confident in his basic grasp of the world of religion and religious belief, I thought I would take a stab at untangling some of the mess. Fundamentally, the question and ensuing argument is an issue of semantics/framing: both sides are talking about something different when they talk about whether Mormons are Christians, and both sides feel like they have something extremely important–but again, totally different–at stake with regards to the answer. the resolution to the dispute is probably not as simple as forcing one or both sides to re-frame their dialogue, since the way it is framed is not arbitrary. But an awareness of the semantic mismatch and an understanding of why it matters to both sides would go a long way into at least setting the issue aside and reducing its potential for causing a ruckus.

From the individual Mormon’s perspective, I think there is a pathological fear of being misunderstood. I believe that a large number of Mormons, fed on Mormon historical accounts of mistreatment in the early days of the church and anecdotal hostility since then, fear that they will be discriminated against or that they will encounter hostility because of misinformation about Mormonism that has been perpetuated. In other words, a significant number of Mormons believe that 1) they face potential or present persecution, because of 2) lies, misinformation, and twisted truth about their religion. Thus, if they could get people to accurately understand who they are and what they were about, they would not be in danger. I think there’s also a belief that a large number of potential converts to the Church refuse to consider Mormonism as an option because of misinformation about it: indeed that the single biggest obstacle to the missionary effort is misunderstandings about the Church.

So, for the Mormon, it is important to promote accurate, descriptive picture of their religion for their safety and for the success of their missionary program. This is underscored and reinforced in the individual Mormon’s mind by the Church’s intensive and explicit public relations efforts over the last three or so decades. If the Church itself has been engaged so desperately in promoting a positive image, then it must be not only important and beneficial, but God’s intention for His Church.

So when the Mormon encounters a conservative Christian that says “Mormons are not Christians,” alarm bells go off. The Mormon, in this encounter, wants first and foremost to be descriptively understood: he wants to correct misunderstandings because he believes misunderstandings lead to persecution and prevent the missionaries from touching the hearts of the people they contact and teach. The Mormon believes, descriptively, that he is a Christian: in fact, he believes that his Church is actually the Church established by Jesus Christ, and from a dictionary/encyclopedia-standpoint, that makes Mormons Christians. To say otherwise is to spread damaging lies such as that Mormons do not believe in Jesus Christ, share Christian values, or believe in the Bible. And if those lies get (further) spread, individual Mormons will be persecuted because they are misunderstood and the missionaries will not be able to reach the people who are looking for the Truth.

(Lurking here is the presumption that if Mormons were correctly understood that they would not be persecuted except at the hands of the truly evil, and that the missionaries would be able to teach and baptize exponentially more people).

This also means–and this is crucial–that when the Mormon confronts someone who still insists that Mormons are not Christians despite being exposed to an accurate description, the Mormon is likely to conclude that the person is being aggressively dishonest, and intentionally slandering the Church.

Now, there may be some people out there like that, but most of them are well-known heads of countercult ministries, or pissed-off ex-Mormons who (whether they are justified or not), are angry enough to lash out by saying anything bad about the Church that they can. whether or not it is true (though they are usually not also conservative Evangelicals, so they are not really relevant to the topic). But most theologically conservative Christians who insist on the non-Christianity of Mormonism despite an accurate picture of what the Church believes and teaches do not do so because of an evil motive. There is a misunderstanding here, because when the Mormon and the Evangelical talk about the question of whether or not Mormons are Christians, they are not really talking about the same thing. The Mormons are talking about “Christianity” from a descriptive, historical, and sociological point of view, whereas the Evangelical is talking about “Christianity” from a theological point of view. I shall attempt to explain.

Conservative Protestants, as a general rule, do not believe that denomination matters. They do not believe that salvation is found in the Lutheran Church, or the Southern Baptist Convention, or in their Evangelical Free Congregation. Conservative Protestants believe salvation is found only in the person of Jesus Christ. Mormons believe that salvation is only available through Jesus Christ too, but they believe that the road to that salvation (or exaltation, whatever, semantics) is only available through the Church’s teachings and sacraments. To a conservative Protestant, a denomination has other meanings, but very few if any would try to claim that any one denomination is the “one true church,” because the one true church is Christianity, in other words, those followers of Jesus who have embraced his gospel and have found salvation through faith on his name. Mormons (and other exclusive denominations like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and, more often than not, the Roman Catholic Church) do not fit into this category because their understanding about the nature of Jesus Christ and the means of salvation are radically different: just the claim that it can only be found in fullness in one organization is enough to completely disqualify Mormonism.

In other words, Mormons don’t understand why Evangelicals won’t acknowledge Mormonism’s Christianity because Mormons do not realize what is at stake. Evangelicals do not think of themselves as Lutherans or Presbyterians or Nondenominationals, at least not in terms of their primary spiritual identity. They may recognize that as a matter of history they are members of a specific denomination (if they are) and that they have been designated “Protestant,” but their primary way of thinking about themselves religiously is as a Christian. Again, to a conservative Protestant, specific denomination does not matter. What matters is whether you are a Christian. This means a Protestant is free to move between denominations as much as he wants without worrying about it, as long as the denominations are teaching Christianity. Not Christianity in the sense of “a religion about Jesus,” but in the theologically significant sense of “the way to Jesus.” Mormons may talk about and believe important things about Jesus, enough for sociologists and librarians to categorize them as Christians, but what they teach and believe about Jesus is significantly different enough to make it a different religion than the one that conservative Protestants are practicing. I know of no Mormon that would dispute this. What the Mormon thus fails to understand is that the conservative Protestant calls his religion “Christianity.”

So when the Evangelical meets a Mormon who claims that Mormonism is Christian, the Evangelical hears the Mormon claiming that they have the same religion. That is flat-out not true, and it’s obvious by even a fairly cursory examination. So the Evangelical concludes that the Mormon is trying to be deceptive: trying to claim to be theologically compatible so as to lure converts into a religious organization that is actually an entirely different animal. It looks like a bait-and-switch, using the Evangelical’s faith as the bait. Understandably, this irks the Evangelical. Furthermore, the Evangelical is justifiably concerned about his friends and family and assorted loved ones: as conservative Protestants they operate in a religious environment where, provided the denomination is Christian (in the Protestant theological sense), one is free to switch from denomination to denomination without necessarily jeopardizing one’s salvation. When the Mormon Church claims to be Christian and insists that Evangelicals agree that it is, the Mormon Church creates a situation wherein Evangelicals may be lured into something they never meant to get involved in. And with Mormonism’s “milk-before-meat” missionary policy, it is not an unreasonable fear. And eternal salvation is at stake.

The Mormon may ask, “why do the Evangelicals get to decide what Christian means? Why can’t they just call their religion something else? Then there wouldn’t be a problem.” But that’s a particularly disingenous claim from a Church that sets a great store by the name of their religion. Like Mormons, conservative Protestants believe their religion is the one true religion. However, unlike Mormons, Protestants do not set theological significance by the organizational boundaries of a denomination. So the conservative Protestant’s religion is not the same thing as his denomination. He may be categorized historically as a Protestant, but he, like the Mormon, believes that he is in fact a true follower of Jesus Christ, a designation which he shares with people who have a common understanding of doctrine and practice, and since they believe they are the only true followers of Jesus Christ, they call their religion “Christianity.”

Middle Aged Church

As I mentioned before I recently finished and highly recommend “The Forgotten Ways” by Alan Hirsch.  In the book Hirsch argues that there is something more to being a Christian than the way we do church.  That “something more” is discipleship.  With a declining interest in church as it’s currently being represented we’d be wise, and we’d be taking cues from the greatest explosions of Christian growth throughout history, to pursue discipleship first and foremost.

I was recently reading a review of the book from a good friend of mine.  In one section of his multi-part review of the book he says:

The idea of Christendom is that of an established institution of the church that has a geopolitical involvement. Many would point to the conversion of the Emperor Constantine (313 CE) as marking the beginning of Christendom. It was during this time that the church began to build larger buildings, hierarchical power structure became more established and even worship had a resemblance to a Roman emperor processional. It also became a time when the church began to dabble more with the affairs of the state. This trend continued to the point that the church was intrinsically tied to the affairs of the state and relied on its powerful influence on the state. Michael Frost works out how this looked by the middle ages:

“Furthermore, by the end of the twelfth century, everyone in Christendom had been divided into parishes large enough to support a church and a priest but small enough to allow easy access to the parish chapel for services. Tithing became mandatory, so everyone was ‘taxed’ to support the parish church and its priests. It was a brilliant system for ensuring both ecclesiastical administration and pastoral care. The laity was expected to pay its tithe and attend Mass. The clergy were expected to perform sacramental rites such as baptism, marriage, funerals, and weekly Mass, as well as provide for the poor. The result of nearly two centuries of Christendom is that Christiana have become used to the idea that their faith is primarily about attending meetings—worship meetings, weddings, funerals, prayer meetings, and so on. Even today, in our thoroughly post-Christendom world, when the essential work of the church in providing religious, liturgical services has become irrelevant, Christians (including many exiles) can’t separate the idea of Christianity from the weekly Mass or worship service. Even those who have ceased attending church services have great difficulty imagining what it means for a group of believers to church together without picturing a liturgical meeting of some kind.” (Frost, Exiles, 277)

For myself I want there to be so much more to my faith than church attendance.  In fact, church attendance for much of my life has been at the top of the checklist of ways I am known for being a Christian but in reality it should be somewhere at the bottom. This doesn’t at all mean that I think corporate worship can be eschewed. But I don’t want people debating the details of my life and conclude that I was a Christian because I got dressed up and went somewhere on Sunday mornings. “Church-going” should never define discipleship.

To broaden the thought, how can a church be defined .  I hope a church (and my church in particular) is not just known for getting together once a week. But instead for what we do to the community around us as a result of those once a week meetings.

Mormons and Evangelicals, Can we rally around the Cross?

Recently I bought a couple of cool Ethiopian Orthodox cross in a flea market in Helsinki. I started wearing it. I have been reading the New Testament with my two daughters (8 years and 10 years) and I recently read The Last Temptation of Christ and the cross has been sort of a symbol for my renewed interest in what it means for me to be a Christian, so I have been wearing it nearly all the time for the last couple of weeks.

My wife questioned whether it was appropriate for me to wear it or use it as a symbol considering the prevailing Mormon position on the cross, i.e. we don’t use it as a symbol of Christ at all. I did some cursory research and found the standard justifications for not using the cross (i.e. that its a symbol of the torture and death of Christ by romans rather than the atonement and resurrection and that it is not an original primitive Christian symbol) but I could not find the origin of the tradition. I checked the handbook of instructions for priesthood leaders and found no reference to the cross. I am pretty sure that a prohibition against crosses is not in the Scriptures so it makes me wonder whether the prohibition might be hurtful to the cause.

So I have a bunch of questions.

For Evangelicals: What would your reaction be to Mormons using the cross as a symbol, would it make you all more likely to sympathize with Mormons as followers of Christ? (or would it be seen as more craftiness to dupe people into believing we are really Christians.)

For Mormons: is there any harm in allowing or even embracing the use of the cross? Is it “selling out” to gain acceptance from more worldly (less inspired) churches? Is a feeling of stronger brotherhood with other believers in Christ a good thing or a hindrance to the work of the restoration and the “gathering of the elect.”? Is there anything really doctrinally unacceptable with the cross, if so, where is the revelation that tells us this?

I am not sure of my own view yet so it would be interesting to hear from all who have anything to say.

(Forgive me if this was discussed previously I could not find any previous post on this with a search of the blog, but I might have missed it)

Dynamics of Choosing Faith- does God have to believable to be believed

Here are some insight I really like from Viktor Frankl (founded a school of psychotherapy and was a holocaust survivor) from Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning (previously titled “the Unconscious God”):

ON DYNAMICS OF BELIEF IN GOD

[M]any representatives of denominational and institutional religion . . often depict, not to say denigrate, God as a being who is primarily concerned with being believed in by the greatest possible number of believers, and along the lines of a specific creed, at that. “Just believe,” we are told, “and everything will be okay.” But alas, not only is this order based on a distortion of any sound concept of deity, but even more importantly it is doomed to failure: Obviously, there are certain activities that simply cannot be commanded, demanded, or ordered, and as it happens, the triad “faith, hope, and love” belongs to this class of activities that elude an approach with, so to speak, “command characteristics.” Faith, hope, and love cannot be established by command simply because they cannot be established at will. I cannot “will” to believe, I cannot “will” to hope, I cannot “will” to love – and at least of all can I “will” to will. Upon closer investigation it turns out that what underlies the attempt to establish faith, hope, love, and will by command is manipulative approach. The attempt to bring these states about at will, however, is ultimately based on an inappropriate objectification and reification of these human phenomena: They are turned into mere things, into mere objects. However, since faith, hope, love, and will are so-called “intentional” acts or activities, along the lines of the terminology coined by Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, the founders of the school of “phenomenology”, these activities are directed to “intentional” referents – in other words, to objects of their own. To the extent that one makes intentional acts into objects, he loses sight of their objects. Nowhere, to my knowledge, is this brought home to us more strikingly than with the uniquely human phenomenon of laughter: You cannot order anyone to laugh – if you want him to laugh, you must tell him a joke.

But isn’t it, in a way, the same with religion? If you want people to have faith and belief in God, you cannot rely on preaching along the lines of a particular church but must, in the first place, portray your God believably – and you must act credibly yourself. In other words, you have to do very opposite of what so often is done by representatives of organized religion when they build up an image of God as someone who is primarily interested in being believed in and who is rigorously insists that those who believe in him be affiliated with a particular church. Small wonder that such representatives of religion behave as though they saw the main task of their own denomination as that of overriding other denominations.”

(emphasis added by me)

ON RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCES

Frankl was deeply against reducing religious experience to somatic or psychological states of the mind, or just “feelings”. In this book he makes some relatively brilliant analysis of human psychology in relationship with religious feeling. (Compelling chapters include “The Spiritual Unconscious”, “Unconscious Religiousness” and “Psychotherapy and Theology”. I agree with Frankl in that we have to be very wary of the tendency to simply classify all feelings and emotional responses as simple “feelings” drives etc. Frankl points out:

Many psychotherapists have intepreted all religion merely in terms of religious experience, be it conscious or unconscious and repressed, to infantile sexuality. To this one might say: No one will be able to make us believe that man is a sublimated animal once we can show that within him there is a repressed angel.

Frankl’s words can be seen as critical of LDS and Evangelical positions alike, but in some ways his insight is compatible with what Mittleberg is saying regarding reasons for belief. Does Frankl have a point regarding faith? Are his criticisms valid?