The Universalist Pope?!

Pope Francis appears to have a new, dramatic, position on salvation for the non-believer.  Catholic Online  gives a detailed account of the Pope’s sermon yesterday where he stated that even atheists were redeemed by Christ and would go to heaven if they “do good.”

A quote from the article:

Francis explained himself, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart, do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

I recognize that the pope is not really making himself out to be a universalist, but he definitely opens the door to salvation to anyone regardless of belief. If this is a sign of things to come, I think this pope may have ideas that could really unite Christianity.  If the pope believes an atheist can get into heaven, this seems to change the entire dynamic of Christian interaction with the world.  The fundamental missionary act would be to promote and support good conduct–Christian love–rather than merely spreading Christian theology or belief.  Is the pope implying this? Am I reading too much into it? Whether this represents a sea change or is simply warmer rhetoric, I think its a very positive step. Thoughts?

Phase One

It may appear that “Phase One” of the church’s inoculation strategy has begun with the publication of the Joseph Smith Papers. This video is an advertisement for book sales but nonetheless officially produced by the church.

The most important part of the differences between the four accounts is not mentioned in the video (did Joseph see angels, an embodied God or and embodied Father and Son), but it’s good to see the church encourage people to read the various accounts on their own.

A Faith Based in History

This is a guest post provided by Eric.

Despite significant and perhaps irreconcilable differences in the way we understand the Bible, evangelicals and Mormons generally share an appreciation not only for its teachings, but also for its historicity. We see our faiths grounded not in what is merely a collection of goodness-promoting stories, but in a God who directly intervened in history in a series of miraculous events culminating in an actual, physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this way, we share an outlook that is not shared by all who consider themselves Christians.

For most of us who wear the LDS or evangelical label, this historicity is a key aspect of our faiths. We agree with Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians that if is isn’t true that God raised Jesus from the dead then our faith is useless. But our belief in what the Bible teaches as history goes beyond that: Generally, if the Bible teaches that something is historical — whether it’s the raising of Lazarus or the feeding of the thousands — we tend to believe it actually happened. That isn’t the case with the Bible’s skeptics, nor is it the case among many leaders in mainline Protestant denominations such as the United Church of Christ (I’m not picking on my UCC friends here, just mentioning a denomination that has become particularly liberal in its interpretive outlook).

Certainly, accepting the Bible as literal truth isn’t the only way of understanding it. In fact, some parts of the Bible are clearly intended to be allegory: You’ll find almost no evangelical pastor nor LDS bishop advising the parishioner who got caught shoplifting to chop off his or her hands. Most likely, that pastor or bishop would suggest that the parishioner find a way to remove the source of temptation, and also to apply that principle not just to thievery but also in dealing with other temptations as well where that principle may help.

But what about other aspects of the Biblical narrative? A century ago, you would have found few Bible-believing Christians, whether Protestant or LDS, who believed that the Earth was many millions of years old. But today, that is no longer the case. Many of us, whether evangelical or LDS, have come up with ways of reconciling, at least to some degree, what the Bible teachers and what science teaches. Perhaps the six days weren’t meant to be understood literally (possibly, in LDS lingo, they’re six “creative periods”), that the creation accounts of Genesis were meant to be allegorical or figurative in some way. And, at least according to what I’ve observed, many evangelicals and Mormons don’t spend a lot of time defending as literal history some of the more seemingly outlandish events of the Old Testament, such as Joshua’s making the sun stand still.

But all this raises some ultimate questions: How much of the Bible is real history? How much is figurative or allegorical? Did Jesus perform amazing miracles? Does it matter? Are Adam and Eve to be understood as actual, historical characters, or are they an allegory designed to teach us about the state of humanity? Was Jonah really swallowed by a big fish? Or is that merely a fun, humorous story designed to teach us lessons about sharing the gospel?

More importantly, does it matter if these events weren’t real in a historical sense? And if we say it’s unimportant whether the story of Jonah is true in a historical sense, what about the ultimate miracle, the Resurrection of Christ? Do these mean anything as historical events, or are they merely allegories designed to teach us eternal truths?

This essay was prompted by a recent Mormon Expressions interview with a Mormon bishop who has become skeptical of much of the Church’s historical narrative. It’s a fascinating interview, and it raises questions not just for Mormons, but for all Christians who believe in a God who intervened in history.

Of course, the broader question is a bigger one for Mormons than it is for evangelicals — for Mormonism’s legacy is based not only on the Bible but also on a series of events where we believe God intervened in the 19th century and since then. But I don’t really care to dwell on specifically LDS beliefs here; there are plenty of places in this blog and elsewhere on the web where those issues are discussed (as they should be). I’d like us to look at those extraordinary events that are part of our common heritage. Specifically, here are some questions for discussion:

  • How do we determine which parts of the Bible should be accepted as literal truth and which as figurative or allegorical in nature?
  • How important is it to believe in a literal Resurrection?
  • If you were the person in charge, would you accept into church membership someone who openly denied a literal Resurrection? If so, would you allow such a person to teach Sunday school? Preach a Sunday sermon?
  • The same questions can be asked of Biblical teachings that would seem to be foundational to some degree: Were there a literal Adam and Eve? Is Satan for real? Will there be a Second Coming?
  • Or how about the lesser fantastic events of the Bible? Did Jesus turn water into wine? Did he heal the sick? Is Job a historical character? Were there a David and Goliath? A worldwide flood? Does it matter? And how do you decide whether it matters?
  • Finally, if some or all of the events above are allegorical in nature, how does that affect your faith?

What Has Changed?

I entered the world of online Mormon discussions at about this time 4 years ago.  It was shortly after visiting the Newport Beach Temple.  Upon returning home my wife promptly fired up the internet to find out all the sacrets that our tour guide wasn’t allowed to tell us.  That lead me to not only learn those sacrets but to discover a dearth of information concerning a fascinating topic I thought I already knew a lot about (but didn’t).  I haven’t learned everything I know about Mormonism from the internet, but certainly most of it.  I used to spend a great deal of time at FAIR, and then Then after having a bad taste in my mouth from both places I played around a little bit on the MySpace Mormonism forums and then dove into the blogging world. (for a more complete history of my life with Mormons, check out my series: Me & Mormons)

I have noticed some changes since I started hanging out on the web with Mormons. The change I have seen has been how Mormon history is discussed.  When I first started blogging, I made a decision to not focus on Mormon history as much as possible.  It was being done elsewhere and the tone of the discussion didn’t seem all that fruitful for what I was after.  It used to be that discussions on Mormon history where a back and forth about what the facts really were, mostly focusing on Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy, Brigham Young’s teaching of the Adam-God doctrine, the Mountain Meadow Massacre and translation methods of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham.  Now those facts are for the most part pretty much agreed upon.   The discussion has instead turned to “does it matter”.  The conversation has become about theology rather than history.

Occasionally you’ll find an odd nut attempting to claim that Joseph wasn’t a polygamist, but when that happens both Mormons and Non-Mormons come at them with the same ammo and knowing smirk on their faces.

If I had to say there was one thing that changed the focus of the discussion on the internet it was Rough Stone Rolling.  Bushman provided a faithful Mormon voice to the same things that Non-Mormons had been saying for quite some time.  He gave Mormons permission to own their history rather than being forced to repudiate it.  I’d say very few of us involved in these discussions have actually read the book, but it gave us a common source to point to and agree with.

If I had to say there was one site (or person) that has changed the discussion it would be Mormon Stories (and John Dehlin).  While few of us have the time to read Rough Stone Rolling, it was quite easy and accessible to listen to a podcast that discussed the same things.  Again Mormon Stories provided a voice from someone attempting to be faithful to the church but delivering information that was typically viewed as threatening to Mormonism.

While I’m on the topic of changes on the web I’d have to say the rise of “New Order Mormonsim” is right up there as a shift in the community (again John Dehlin probably gets the lion’s share of the credit for bringing that community out of the shadows).  There’s also the rise of friendly ex-mormonism.  If you haven’t checked out the Mormon Expression Podcast you should.  I’m impressed with their ability to discuss Mormonism and Mormon culture from a knowledgeable but outsiders viewpoint without anger or reprisal.

Of course, if you’re still looking for a good history and archeology debate, the Book of Mormon holds a great deal of potential. But even there, you see very few strongly holding to the Lamanite and Nephite people living near or visiting Palmyra, New York. If they are out there, they find themselves debating against Mormons more so or as much as Non-Mormons.


Now that September Dawn has come and passed us by, there’s another Mormon themed story that I think would be a great movie. I’d call it “Salamander” and it would be about the Mark Hoffman murders. I think it’s got all of the needed elements for a good story.

If you don’t know who Mark Hoffman is, he is probably one of the greatest forgery artist of the 20th Century. He was a Mormon with a greater than normal interest in history. He made his living by selling rare and hard to find documents. He began selling some of his findings to the LDS church. He became so trusted that he was allowed access to the secret First Presidency vault. (It’s existence is not secret, but what’s inside) Unfortunately he was not a trustworthy individual and stole some items out of the vault and sold them back to the church.

At some point he came under the personal suspicion that the LDS church was not true. He decided to put his hypothesis to the test by manufacturing some fake writings. He concocted one version of the first vision in which Joseph Smith encountered a white salamander in the sacred grove. Hoffman felt his suspicions were true when President Hinckley purchased some of his fake documents and then locked them away in his office safe so that no one would see them. Although the LDS church itself never purchased his “Salamander Letters” his documents seemed so authentic FARMS even wrote up an apologetic defense to salamanders appearing as agents of God.

Ironically, well known anti-Mormons Jerald and Sue Tanner opposed all of the Hoffman findings and thought they were all fakes.

The LDS church wasn’t the only group that Hoffman pulled his forgeries on. At some point he was prepaid for a number of “documents” which he had not yet produced. As his debtors started calling, Hoffman got desperate. He bombed and murdered a couple of other document collectors so that he would have an excuse to give himself some more time. On his way to murder a third victim his bomb accidentally went off in his car. He lived, but lost a couple of fingers. He was at first thought to be a victim, and then was discovered to be the culprit and is now serving time in prison.

If it does get made into a movie, I hope it’s well made. I think it could be made in a way that at first makes Hoffman out to be the good guy (and the LDS church as a sort of an antagonist). Then as the bombings start happening, the twist could be introduced that Hoffman is actually forging all of these documents and killing people.

Dealing with History

I was asked on another blog:

In your experience, in the Evangelical community, how has Protestantism dealt with it’s past? From my understanding, Catholicism and Protestanism hasn’t had a clean slate either. While historically, facts are given, how does that affect membership, say of someone who questions whether an organization with such problems be from God, and how does Protestantism reconcile those instances in history?

No doubt there have been many historical scars in the past of mainstream Christianity. Be it the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch trials and numerous tele-evangelist scandals there is a lot of ugliness in our past. My own church, which is only 10 years old, is not without its blemishes. Our founding pastor admitted to having an affair with a married woman and was released from ministry about 5 years ago.

So, why are Protestants resilient in their faith despite all of these nasty things? I think there are a number of reasons. The first is that we place our faith in Jesus not our organizations. We attend our churches just as a way of worshiping Jesus. If we discovered that our church or denomination was corrupt, we would go on worshiping Jesus, we would just do it somewhere else. We view the church as a means to Jesus, but not Jesus’ means to us. We grant our churches with some authority, but believe in a more personal and individual authority that comes directly from Christ.

We expect to occasionally encounter sinful men in our churches. It really doesn’t affect me personally if Martin Luther hated Jews. My life and my faith have been profoundly impacted by his (and others) actions, but they are not centered around him. My life is centered around Jesus. So where I find Luther preaching truth about Jesus, I embrace him. Where I find him teaching falsehood, I reject him.

Another reason is that we don’t grow up believing a whitewashed version of events. We don’t control the information. When we learn about the Crusades, we learn both the good and the bad about them at the same time. All of the facts are there and we don’t (and can’t) pretend to believe in a “faith promoting” version. So we never have to wrestle with the difference between what we’ve been taught and what the facts actually are.

When contemporary scandals happen, we air them out. We expose them to light and go out of our way to make sure people know what happened and how. When a pastor has a moral failing it for sure can be devastating to a congregation. But the disappointment they feel is directed at their pastor, not at God. Evangelicals are guilty of putting people on pedestals, but when they fall off we recognize that it wasn’t God who put them up there.

I think this is a chief cultural difference between Evangelicals and LDS. We are not under the notion that God is directing the everyday operation of our churches. We for sure want to be following God’s will and seek after it, but we also know that there are many decisions that are made in our churches which are just people using their best judgment. LDS to some extent MUST believe that their leaders are specifically appointed by Jesus. In varying degrees LDS hold that every direction and appointment is coming via the direct authority of God. So when men fail (as they always will) the disappointment follows the chain back up to God.

What Do We Do With You

I’d like to highlight an internal conversation that has been taking place in the Evangelical community for the last couple of years. The basic point is: we are somewhat at odds as to what to do with Mormonism. For the past 150 some-odd-years the typical response has been to offer nothing but hostility and firm rebuke to Mormons for following a false prophet and in the process accepting false doctrine.

The easiest way we have found to do this is the highlight the moral failings of Joseph Smith, to show the falsity of the Book of Mormon as an actual historical story and to expose a great many inconsistencies in both the history and doctrine of the LDS church.

Several years ago, Greg Johnson of Standing Together Ministries started encouraging Evangelicals to view Mormonism not as a cult but as a culture. As such we should find culturally appropriate ways to share our message with Mormons as we would in any “foreign” mission field. There are many who feel that Standing Together is watering down the gospel rather than fighting against falsehood.

An article was recently published in an Evangelical journal, highlighting many of the failings of Standing Together’s methodology. John Morehead recently wrote a rebuttal to that article. You can find it here

John has chosen to moderate the comments on his blog (wisely I think). But Todd Wood at “Heart Issues for LDS” is hosting a discussion between John Morehead, myself and Aaron Shafovaloff, a staff member of Mormonism Research Ministries (a traditional counter-cult ministry). If you’re interested in that conversation you can read it here.

September Dawn

September Dawn opens today. By all critical points, this seems to be a pretty bad movie. Which is too bad. I think it’s a story with enough drama and controversy to make a pretty good movie. I don’t think the historical inspiration is at fault, it just sounds like the execution (pardon the pun) of screenwriting, directing and acting all failed.

One review I read said that it made 1950’s Western TV shows look authentic. I don’t see movies in the theater unless they get at least a 75 on Rotten Tomatoes. “September Dawn” is getting a 12 right now. That’s Gigli-Land, so that means I’m probably out.

But I did find this interesting interview by Hugh Hewitt with the director Christopher Cain and star of the movie Jon Voight. They come off pretty well in regards to their intentions and motivations for making the movie.

Apocalypto Action Figures


To whom it may concern,
Deseret Books

Dear Sirs,

I suffered great alarm while visiting your bookstore yesterday. It was seeing the action figures you sell based on Mel Gibson’s hyper-violent movie, Apocalypto that caused me such distress. As I remember, Apocalypto was an R rated movie making it quite clear that it was not intended for the audience of young children. So I’m uncertain why you would be selling action figures to children that might peak their interest in such a movie. Having read many reviews of the movie, I am quite resolved that no child should be exposed to such a violent and gory depiction of Mayan life. I am appalled that you would be involved in marketing it to children.

Most disturbing is that you make the Mayan temple the center piece of this toy set. If you have not seen the movie, you may not be aware of what happened at Mayan temples. It was the location of a brutal religious ritual in which slaves had their hearts cut out of their chest and their heads tossed down the steps of the temple to the cheers of a bloody thirsty crowd. Why would you think this is something children should be re-enacting as a form of play?

Perhaps you made a hasty purchasing decision. From the numerous pictures of Jesus on the walls I take it that you are a religious bookstore. I understand the great interest many Christians took in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”. Perhaps you are under the misguided impression that Apocalypto is another film with religious significance. If some vendor convinced you of this in order to sell these toys to you I can assure you that you have been taken in by con-men. I’ve been in a number of other religious bookstores, and while I have seen a great deal of them selling “Passion of the Christ” merchandise, I have never seen any of them selling anything associated with Apocalytpo.

In fact, I don’t remember seeing anything related to “Passion of the Christ” in your store. Perhaps you sold out of it so quickly that you thought you could have equal success with Apocalytpo based merchandise. If this is the case, then you are shameless hucksters and I will encourage a boycott of your store to all of my friends. I find it disgusting that you would offer such violent imagery up to children to line your own pockets with cash.

Please pull these toys out of your inventory and clarify this situation to me at your earliest possible convenience.

To my readers who may be unfamiliar with the context of this please check out this posting.

A Different Standard Applies

Elder D. Todd Christofferson recently gave this interview to a Reuters reporter. The reporter left his big question for the end. You can read the complete interview here

REUTERS: We have one last question and we raise this because it seems obvious that there is going to be a lot more scrutiny of the church. There is historical evidence that suggests Joseph Smith took a 14-year-old bride, Helen Mar Kimball, when he was 38 years old. In today’s terms, that would make him a pedophile. Does this bother you or other LDS church members?

CHRISTOFFERSON: It would depend on what all the facts were and the context. In those days, of course, was that it was not so uncommon in the society of the time. Today that would be statutory rape. A different standard applies. What I look to, I’m telling you about my personal approach, is: what do I know through study and through prayer concerning Joseph Smith and at root my witness is that he was divinely called. That’s the foundation. Now whatever questions might arise — as to whether he erred or stumbled in a certain matter — throughout his life he wasn’t perfect. We don’t claim perfection in the human being. I don’t know what he was responsible to before — God I don’t know frankly. But as to his prophetic calling, his prophetic mission and what he achieved in that goal, I’m convinced of that. So the fruits of what he accomplished I think are evident.

From a non-LDS perspective, I have to say that this answer is a little creepy. I know that many sincere LDS find satisfaction with it, but I don’t think it really passes mustard outside the LDS circle. If it works for you, great. But you shouldn’t honestly think that this solves the problem for non-LDS.

Fourteen year old girls getting married, may have happened in the 19th Century but it wasn’t common. Even more so, it wasn’t common for a 14 year old to marry a man nearly 3 times her age. And most certainly it was never common for a 14 year old girl to marry a man who already had a wife. So we don’t need to hold Joseph Smith to today’s standards, we can hold him to his own day’s standards. This was a scandalous act no matter how you swing it.

Christofferson, tries to walk a fine line in his answer by saying that this may have been a mistake on Joseph’s part, but his prophetic message and calling are still intact. The problem is, Joseph used his prophetic calling to marry Helen Mar Kimball. You can’t separate the restoration of the priesthood from his practice of polygamy. They both come with the same authority. They are both the fruits of his mission. If you think his plural marriages were a mistake, then you have to say he was abusing his prophetic authority. I don’t think LDS are willing to do this because then it starts the slippery slope of trying to figure out when he was and when he was not abusing his power as Prophet.

Perhaps I’m reading more into Christofferson’s comments than I should. He didn’t actually say that Smith’s marriage to Kimball was a mistake. He just said that Smith erred and wasn’t perfect. If I happen to misconstrue his comments because he happened to be making them in the context of polygamy, perhaps that’s my fault.

There is another response that only on occasion do I hear from LDS: “you have to have the right kind of spiritual eyes to understand it”. There is one word that runs through people’s heads when they hear this from anyone from any new religious movement.(and it starts with a “c”). They may be right, perhaps you do need to have to be given spiritual eyes to understand it, but what I, and others hear is, “you haven’t been brain-washed yet.” I’m glad that this sort of response is beginning to diminish from the LDS apologetic arsenal. If I ever get the hunger to hear it again I’ll call up a Jehovah’s Witness or a Moonie who are still pretty fond of it.

Just the Facts

I found this article in Deseret News to be quite interesting. Apparently the LDS church has begun to ask members if they think they are getting a clear picture on LDS history. The answer is “no”. I’m encouraged that not only is the LDS church asking the question, but they’re willing to publish the results.

I’ve heard from second hand sources that when Richard Bushman published “Rough Stone Rolling” half the faculty at BYU was glad for it and the other half was upset by it. It seems that there is a movement within the church to stop sugar-coating the history of the church and to just play the facts straight.

The Strange Case of James Strang

A little known Mormon story is that of James Strang, who some say was the rightful successor to Joseph Smith. Nine days before his death, Smith wrote a letter to Strang naming him as the future leader of the LDS church. On the same day Smith was murdered, Strang, who was 200 miles away, received a vision from an angel appointing him as prophet.

All of Smith’s family and many prominent members of the LDS church followed Strang who moved the headquarters of the church to Wisconsin. Eventually Strang was led to discover more ancient plates which he translated and obtained the testimony of 11 men that they were real and authentic. He also put his plates on public display.

Strang eventually was murdered in 1856. Most of his followers joined the RLDS. But his church still persist. You can check out their website here. I would love to see what Del Parsons would do with a portrait of Strang. He’d undoubtably find some way to give him blonde hair and blue eyes.

Rethinking Tal Bachman

In thinking about Tal’s comments this weekend. I think his quote on the documentary may have missed the mark. If his intention was to scare non-LDS away and make them assume that Mormons are one notch shy of religious fanaticism, then mission accomplished. If his intent was to encourage current LDS to think through the origins of their faith and the reason they devote so much to the church, he failed. It only encouraged Mormons to think that he was a bitter crackpot that they have no good reason to listen to. I think that’s a shame, because he’s a very eloquent guy and I think he has a lot of good things to say (though I disagree with him on a great deal as well).

On the other hand his quote: “it could be the best thing invented, but if it’s invented it’s not worth dying for” is right on the money. I absolutely agree. And I’m not just talking about Mormonism. I think that is so true about Christianity as well. It pragmatically works very well in my life, but if it’s not true, it would be stupid to die for a fraud.

Tal brought to light this dilemna:
1) If it wasn’t true, would you want to know?
2) What sort of things would you need to look at to know if it is true.

For my own Christian faith, my answer to #1 is YES absolutely I would want to know. For #2, it is all about the historical reliability of the Resurrection. If Jesus didn’t rise from the grave, then he is not who he claimed to be, and there is no reason to worship him. The sort of things that I would look for to refute the resurrection would be something either like the bones of Jesus or a historical document with the same level of reliability as our earliest manuscripts of I Corinthians (the first historical mention of the resurrection).

What about you? How would you answer these two questions?

“I’d Blow Myself Up For the Gospel”

In the PBS documentary “The Mormons”, Tal Bachman had perhaps the most memorable line in the entire program. He said that while he was a missionary he was so amped up that if his Mission President had told him to strap a bomb on himself and blow some people up for the Lord, he would have done it. This obviously is a sensational remark and puts the worst sort of fears into people about who Mormons are.

If you are unaware of who Tal is, he is a pop singer who had a big record called “She’s So High”. I believe it came out in 1999. He’s the son of famous Rock and Roller, Randy Bachman, of Bachman Turner Overdrive (Takin’ Care of Business). Several years ago Tal started investigating LDS History and decided that the church wasn’t what it says it is.

Today online, he defended his suicide bomber remarks and didn’t back away from them. He states:

Just a few quick comments if you don’t mind. I hope people will take the time to read and think over my response carefully, though it is long.

First, I should say I haven’t seen the show, and in a way, I don’t even want to. (But that’s another story altogether).

About the suicide bombing.

I suggest with all respect, that any devout believer, if they think about this, will realize that my comments were not meant to be hyperbolic at all; and I even think that to suggest such a thing betrays a lack of thought about Mormon (and religious) claims about faith, “the spirit”, sacrifice, devotion, etc.

Think about it:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church on earth” (D&C 1)

“The prophet cannot lead you astray” (WW’s canonized comments post-manifesto in the D&C)

“I have taken a vow of consecration in the temple, which includes – as James E. Talmage mentioned publicly – consecrating your life, to ‘the church'”, etc.

What else could you possibly get when you add all that up, than that when asked by a voice you deem authoritative – whether from prophet, scripture, or “personal revelation” – you would lay down your life for “the gospel”? Continue reading

Why Are There So Many Christian Denominations?

Joseph Smith said that there are so many denominations because of the Great Apostasy and a lack of authority in the church. I disagree. Jay and I are having an interesting conversation about it over on his blog, Mormons Talk. Check it out.

The Border of the Lamanites

D&C 54:8
8 And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.

There is a debate among LDS apologist about the actual geography of the Book of Mormon. Traditionally it has been accepted by LDS that the entirety of the American continents represents the location of the Book of Mormon. Recently there has been a growing voice that the events in the Book of Mormon happened in a limited geographical area (most likely in Central America). Those of the latter opinion claim that there are actually 2 Hill Cumorahs, one in New York and another mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Traditionally it has been believed by LDS that all of the American Indians represent the descendants of the Lamanites. Those who hold to this limited geographical view believe that the Lamanites have all but died out and Native American people have a genetic make up largely made up from those that migrated over the Bering Strait.

Doesn’t this verse from the Doctrine and Covenants show that at the very least that Missouri hosted some or all the events of the Book of Mormon. Or at least show that the Lamanites live in Missouri or did at one time? Interested to hear from LDS who understand this scripture and the debate better.

Jesus/Joseph Smith DVD critiques

Here are some critiques of the Jesus vs. Joseph Smith DVD that was officially released yesterday by an Evangelical ministry to the Mormon community.

This one by FAIR:

And this one by an Evangelical Christian:

5. In terms of the apologetic orientation of the video, this involves the same types of arguments that evangelicals have been using for years. Australian scholar and former Mormon John Bracht made two observations relevant to this in his masters thesis on Mormonism in the 1980s reflecting on The Godmakers film. He stated in the introduction that evangelical apologetic critiques of Mormonism tend to “simply draw attention to Mormon theology in the most simplistic and sensationalist terms.” He went further and noted that even though The Godmakers was one of the most widely distributed apologetic critiques of Mormonism, worldwide membership in the LDS Church continued to grow, and despite widespread evangelical apologetics against Mormonism, “Mormon proselytizing efforts have not been appreciably affected.” While I have no doubt that some Mormons have been persuaded by apologetic approaches such as that exemplified by Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith, the numbers have not been great, and despite a long history of apologetic interaction with Mormon culture the effects have been minimal. Thus, it would seem that this new project promises little more than what has been offered apologetically for many years by evangelicals, and while it may make evangelicals feel better in they have defined and defended the boundaries of traditional Christian orthodoxy, among the Mormon people it does little and amounts more to an exercise in preaching to the evangelical choir.

As I’ve expressed before I think this video and its distribution is largely a waste of money. It will only cause faithful LDS to see themselves as being attacked and persecuted by Evangelicals and further retreat from open discussion.

Here too is the official link to the video for those interested in seeing it.

Someone Else’s View of Faith and History

Lynnette over at Zelophehad’s Daughters recently posted an interesting article on the role of history in faith. Here’s a sample.

“This means that an encounter with new historical information has the potential to cause a person to seriously question and re-examine his or her beliefs. I don’t think we can get away from that. But I don’t see it as a problem; in fact, I would argue that we should take our history seriously enough that we let it affect the way we understand our religion. We freely acknowledge that history can play a role in sparking and strengthening faith; we tell “faith-promoting stories” precisely because we recognize this power. And I don’t think we can have it both ways. We can’t tell our favorite pioneer stories and celebrate the way in which history can build faith on the one hand, but then when more difficult aspects of history arise, dismiss them as irrelevant and quickly retreat to a notion that faith is ahistorical.”

I haven’t read all of the comments yet, but it seems to be a worthwhile read.