What Do You Do With a Problem Like Freedom?

I saw this amusing video where confused college students willingly walk into proud and unaware declarations of hypocrisy concerning religious freedom.  Videos like this prove little about the actual merits of an argument because it’s not hard to find someone who supports a position while simultaneously not having thought it through very deeply.  It could be that there are thoughtful people with great reasons for holding a viewpoint, but you can be sure the producer of the video isn’t going to put them in the montage for one reason; they aren’t funny.

Nonetheless, you should watch this video because it’s funny and it supports my point of view.

I was talking through these issues with a gay friend of mine who agrees with me that florists, photographers and bakers shouldn’t be required to provide services for events that conflict with their religious values. Continue reading

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My Cat is a False Teacher

This is our family cat, Pigeon. She was a shelter cat that we brought into our home almost 11 years ago. We love her. This is a picture of her sitting in my bed. If you’ve ever owned a cat you can tell that we love her because you know how difficult it is to get a good picture of a cat. If you’ve ever owned a black cat you know that it is nearly impossible to get a good picture of a black cat. A picture like this takes work!

pigeon

Despite our family’s love for Pigeon we have cast her out of our home because of her false teaching. Pigeon believes in the Gospel of Overflowing Urine. About 6 months ago she decided that her pee should no longer be reserved for her litter box and that she would like to share it on our carpet.

If you’ve never been around cat urine, you should know that it’s THE biggest problem with owning a house cat. If you are not vigilant about it your entire house can easily be consumed with its distinct odor. Once a cat smells its own urine it feels at liberty to pee in the same vicinity again. This begins to spread throughout the house and eventually the cat views the entire house as a litter box. Like all strong odors, if you live in it long enough, you begin to get used to it and lose the ability to notice it. If your house begins to smell like urine YOU begin to smell like urine. If you smell like cat urine you may not even realize it, but everyone else will. You probably knew someone like this at school. If you don’t take action when you first start noticing the problem you may find yourself a convert to your cat’s false teaching. Continue reading

Kicking Against the Pricks

On the road to Damascus, Paul found Christ.  Seeing Paul lost in his sin and murderous self-righteousness Jesus pointed out: “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:5.)  In this metaphor, the “pricks” are the sin that dwells within us. The sin sprouts the thorns that goad us when we recognize that we cannot be what we demand ourselves to be.  Joseph Smith seemed to almost grasp the biblical meaning of the phrase in D&C 121:38 where he described those in church leadership that sought to hide their own sins with their authority as those “left to kick against the pricks.” The message of Paul’s ministry was that in Christ can we dissolve these thorns so they never bother us again.

Spencer W. Kimball — the beloved LDS Prophet — put a new spin on this phrase. Starting  in a conference talk in 1955, Kimball began to use the phrase as a description of the state of those who stand against the leadership of the LDS Church:

There is the man who, to satisfy his own egotism, took a stand against the Authorities of the Church. He followed the usual pattern, not apostasy at first, only superiority of knowledge and mild criticism. He loved the brethren, he said, but they failed to see and interpret as he would like. He would still love the Church, he maintained, but his criticism grew and developed into ever-widening circles. He was right, he assured himself; he could not yield in good conscience; he had his pride. His children did not accept his philosophy wholly, but their confidence was shaken. In their frustration, they married out of the Church, and he lost them. He later realized his folly and returned to humbleness, but so very late. He had lost his children. “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).”

Here the “pricks” are not the thorns of sin but the psychological and political consequences of criticism of Church leadership. On an all-too-poignant level, this passage represents hard reality of the Church’s position. The church has determined that there are some sins the gospel does not reach, and the sin of participation in gay marriage is one of those. The latest of the Church’s responses to its critics gave me shivers because it’s tone reflects the same terrifying chant of: “thinking differently than the leadership will destroy your family”. It really sucks.

The problem with the way the LDS deal with same-sex attraction probably stems from the way Mormons ignore original sin. Mormons simply cannot believe that humans might be really screwed up from birth in a way that willpower won’t fix. The good news of the New Testament is that in Christ, God has both seen and forgotten these screwed-up ways and granted you freedom to do so as well. The biggest problem I see with the policy is that the message the Church is giving its membership is not  “our sins can be dissolved in Christ”, but that “our sins will keep us from God.”   This was Paul’s message before Damascus, not after it. Paul’s ministry was focused on the fact that, in Christ, our sins will not keep us from God.

Like the Pharisaic Jews, Mormons believe our path to the celestial is through obedience to the law. However, in siding with the pre-Damascus Paul, Mormons are actually mistaking the law with the gospel. The “gospel” according to the Latter-day Saint tradition is what Paul refers to as the “law” — i.e. the combined commandments of God. Mormons believe that “living the gospel” is obeying the law.

A New-Testament Christian would understand that the law was the source of the pricks that goaded Paul. It was the law that Paul was trying to enforce when he persecuted the Christians, and the law that he found safety from in Christ on the road to Damascus.

Because Church leadership cannot distinguish the law from the gospel they now are denying the gospel to those that may break their law.  As I said, this really sucks for those denied access to the Church after being told as children that the Church is the only source of the “gospel”.

But I think those of us who despair at the new policy do not need to rally against the Church, any more than Paul needed to rally against the Pharisees or Rome.  His message was simple, straight, and narrow and so is our path to peace.  Whether the pricks are our sins as Paul describes, or the church leadership, as President Kimball describes, we don’t need to kick against these pricks — in Christ we are made free from their control.

Making peace between Joseph Smith and Saint Paul

I came to the conclusion years ago that the difference between Mormons and Evangelicals was the difference between taking Paul’s philosophy and taking Joseph Smith’s seriously. If the LDS Church wants to be what it claims to be, I think it behooves them to think though and reconcile these differences in a way to keep the theology of both men intact, even if they have to be viewed within different metaphysical paradigms. My view currently is that the failure to reconcile these differences without discrediting what Paul said is a grave mistake. I think that the historical antagonism between the LDS and Paul’s theology has been as unhelpful as the LDS policy of denying the priesthood to people of African descent.

In my mind, Paul and Joseph Smith are very similar figures. Both assumed authority within their Christian communities do to supernatural experiences, and claims that they spoke and wrote under the authority of the Holy Spirit.  Both were religious geniuses, able to bring the patterns of ancient scripture to spectacular effect in promoting their new worldviews.  They both claimed to bring to light hidden knowledge from God that was hidden in the past due to false traditions perpetuated by the hard-headed, and hard-hearted.  Both claimed to speak the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Continue reading

Three Mormon Reactions to “The Gift of Grace”

LDS President Dieter Uchtdorf delivered a talk on Easter morning that I found to be different than the way Mormons typically discuss grace.  I reached out to a number of Mormon friends and message boards to gain an understanding out how they viewed his talk.  I’ve come away with four general reactions

1) At Last

This is the reaction of those who have become convinced by the writings of Stephen Robinson and Robert Millet or have appreciation for a talk by Brad Wilcox.  They clearly hear a difference and are grateful to have the understanding pronounced by someone in the First Presidency at General Conference.

2) No Difference

Some hear no difference between what President Uchtdorf said and what they have always heard in Mormonism.  I would classify these respondents into two camps Continue reading

Grace Defined Anew at General Conference

I’ve been asked a couple of times to share my thoughts on this talk given by LDS Apostle Dieter Uchtdorf. I just watched the talk and I have to confess it was amazing.  It’s like someone snuck an Evangelical pastor into General Conference and taught him how to deliver a sermon in a manner that Mormons can hear it.  If I had to choose only two things that Mormons should accept as authoritative teachings (in contradiction to what they have traditionally been taught) this would be one of them.

uchtdorf
(the embed code is not working on WordPress, I’ll fix this if possible. click image for video)

I don’t have the transcript of the talk yet but here are some quotes that really stood out to me.  I’m so encouraged that Mormons must now view these as reliable interpretations of scripture.

Salvation can not be bought by the currency of obedience. It is purchased by the blood of God.

We obey the commandments of God out of love for him

We misunderstand the words “after all we can do”. “After” does not mean “because”.

It seemed very clear to me that Elder Uchtdorf was teaching that grace is the path to obedience not the prize for it.  Congratulations to those Mormons who have long agreed with this sentiment but lacked the authoritative voice to stand on it with confidence in their wards.  I agree that grace has the power to transform and as Mormons encounter it with a correct understanding they and the LDS will meet God in new and powerful ways.

I don’t have the time to look up dissenting Mormon voices to this talk but I’m interested in how they may now justify their positions.