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

Five Possible Reactions to Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

New York Times Front Page Joseph Smith PolygamyThe LDS church has recently taken a big step in respect to the life of Joseph Smith by publicly admitting that Joseph Smith had up to 40 wives, that some of his wives were married to other men, and that some of his wives were as young 14 years old.  The Church’s essays on these things at times strain credulity in offering a faith-promoting narrative and occasionally distort the evidence to favor Smith.  But nonetheless, the Church should be congratulated for taking this first big step in accepting the basic facts.

A friend asked me what this could mean in terms of accepting Joseph Smith as a prophet. I have seen 5 general reactions that I think are possible for the institutional Church to adopt as it moves forward.  They are listed in here in order of trust in Joseph Smith.

1) So What.  If God commanded him to do it, it doesn’t matter what he did. Any action ordained by God is righteous and Joseph was ordered to do all of these things. (This was the Church’s stance toward Smith while Brigham Young was Prophet of the Church and of the polygamous Mormon sects of today.)

2) No Sex. Joseph married these women and it looks creepy but he didn’t have earthly sex with them, his carnal knowledge is in Eternity only. It was Brigham Young who brought sex into polygamy. Implicit in this reaction is that if Smith was having sex with girls 20 years younger than himself or married it other men, it would be a problem. (The Church will try this as long as it can but the historical record doesn’t bear it out. The Church is already in conflict on this by simultaneously saying that the purpose of polygamy was to raise up a righteous seed.)

3) He Was a Fallen Prophet. Joseph eventually fell into sin and abused his position and power as prophet.  We hope he repented before his death but the good things he gave us still stand and are useful for pursuing God. (This is the stance of the Henderickites who own the Temple Lot in Independence, MO. They maintain the Book of Mormon and the general church structure and mode of worship established by Smith.)

4) No Religion Is True, So Stick With What You Know.  This has become popular among the so-called “Pastoral Mormon Apologists” like Adam Miller and Teryl Givens. They don’t outright say it like that but that’s the heart of their argument.  If you’re comfortable remain comfortable and we’ll just slowly reform the things we don’t like. (The Community of Christ, formerly the RLDS, largely took up this and stance #3 in the last 15-20 years. They are now practically indistinguishable from the Mainline Protestant Denominations. Liberal zeitgeist seems to be the greatest source of inspiration and instruction).

5) Repentance. Fully acknowledging the sins of Joseph Smith and the institutional Church’s fault in promoting Joseph Smith and his teachings followed up by a massive and painful reformation. (This was what the stance the non-Mormon Worldwide Church of God took toward their founder in the late ’90s.)

Each of these positions carry risk and most certainly a loss of membership. I think we can look at November 2014 as a watershed moment in the history of Mormonism.

Two Too Many

R.C. Sproul took a question from a pastor on his radio show that interested me quite a bit. The pastor had a new convert in his church that had been a polygamous Mormon. The man had left Mormonism but not any of his three wives. The pastor was curious how he should go about disciplining this man and if he should be encouraged to leave his two additional wives.

You can hear Sproul’s answer here. Start at the 9:00 mark.

I expect Christians to encounter more situations like this one. And the dilemma isn’t just for polygamist. What should two married women with children be counseled to do if they join a church? Two married men? How about a man who divorced, as a believer, for unbiblical reasons and remarried?

I’m sure the situation is semi-regular in the LDS church. What must a polygamous man do to be baptized and enjoy full communion in the LDS church?

What Evangelicals Now Need to Know About Mormonism

I’d like to speak to some common representations Evangelicals have of Mormonism as well as some common questions I hear when people discover that I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying Mormonism.

First off, I think it’s important for Evangelicals to recognize that a lot of information they have about Mormonism comes from second or third-hand anecdotes that Evangelicals pass on to one another. That’s not exactly the most reliable source of information and is typically how urban legends get started. While you might trust the person giving you the information to be passing along what they know accurately, rarely do people pause to question what the original source might have been. More often than not that original source for Evangelicals was a book or a movie titled “The God Makers” by Ed Decker. Without getting too deeply into the specific truth claims of Mr. Decker’s work I think Evangelicals need to know that “The God Makers” was largely created with the intent of scaring Evangelicals away from Mormonism so they would not be tempted to convert. Many Mormon beliefs were twisted to make them sound weirder or more devious than they actually are. Another popular source for Evangelicals is “The Kingdom of the Cults” by Walter Martin.

As effective as these books might have been in saving Evangelicals from Mormonism, they made for a lousy platform to evangelize to Mormons from, even worse if that information was passed on second or third hand. Some of the negative information in those books comes from true things taught by Brigham Young which the modern LDS church no longer teaches or holds to. I commonly hear Evangelicals say “Mormons just don’t know what their church teaches”. This is a laughable statement if you really think about it. If anyone will know what a church teaches it will be the people sitting in its’ pews every Sunday. It might be accurate to say that “Mormons don’t know what Brigham Young used to teach” or even “Mormons don’t understand the deeper beliefs of their church”, but you can be sure they hear exactly what their church teaches. (This same charge can be levied against Evangelicals because most can not give an accurate summation of the Trinity). On that note I’d like to comment on some of the things Evangelicals “know” about Mormonism.

Adam-God, Blood Atonement & Brigham Young
More than once I’ve heard Evangelicals holding Brigham Young’s teachings over Mormons. Quite often these attacks come with references to the Journal of Discourse replete with volume and page numbers as proof. There are two important things Evangelicals don’t understand about these teachings. The first is that the Journal of Discourses is not scriptural. It’s a collection of sermons. It’s no more fundamental to the Mormon faith than any book written by Billy Graham is to Evangelicals. Those sermons may be interesting, but they are not inerrant canon for Mormons.

This naturally leads to the second point, Brigham Young was not an inerrant prophet of the LDS church. Mormons do not believe in inerrancy. Evangelicals make a mistake when we try to hold Mormons to our standard of inerrancy. A fundamental of Mormonism is the belief in modern revelation. That means new prophets can not only introduce new doctrines, they can also contradict and overrule previous doctrines. This is the case with another one of Brigham Young’s favorite doctrines, polygamy. He taught that it was important and necessary; later prophets received new revelations about its’ practice and now taking on a second wife is the kind of thing that will get a person excommunicated from the LDS church. So while discussions on whether or not Brigham Young taught that Adam was God might be interesting or foreign to Mormons, they are Young’s teachings, not the teachings of modern Mormonism.

Jesus and Satan are Brothers
If Evangelicals know anything about Mormonism it is that the LDS church teaches that Jesus and Satan are spirit brothers. What Evangelicals don’t know is that this is an implication of Mormon teaching. It is accurate, but you can sit through a year’s worth of Sunday school meetings and read every word of the Book of Mormon twice and you will not hear an explicit teaching on this. I’m not saying it is not true. It is. What I’m pointing out is that it’s not the kind of thing Mormons develop lesson plans around.

The more overt teaching that implicates Jesus and Satan as spirit brothers is that we are all spirit children of Heavenly Father. You probably will hear Mormons talk about how Jesus is our spirit brother if you spend any time with them. If they can figure out what you are getting at, they will agree that Jesus and Satan are brothers.

What Evangelicals need to understand about this teaching is that Mormons are not elevating Satan to a similar plane as Jesus. Instead they are lowering Jesus to the realm of created beings. Mormons still consider Jesus to be highly esteemed and want to devote their lives to his teachings, they even call him God. But (fancy word alert) ontologically they don’t consider him any different than us (or Satan). That may not remove the offense to Evangelicals, but it puts it in the proper light.

Angrily confronting a Mormon with “you believe Jesus and Satan” are brothers won’t gain you much traction in getting them to attend church with you this Sunday. It’d be a bit like someone saying to you “Evangelicals believe Adolf Hitler might be in Heaven.”

Temple Mormons
The term “temple Mormons” is one that was solely invented by Ed Decker as far as I can tell. Mormons do not have any such distinction for “temple Mormons” and “non-temple Mormons”. If you use that term, it’s a dead give away that you got your information from “The God Makers”.

The secrecy surrounding LDS temples tends to creep out Evangelicals a little bit. Our minds start racing to all of the worst possible explanations for why Mormons keep the temple ceremony secret. Statues of oxen and pentagrams on some of the temples don’t seem to ease our imaginations. Let me put your fears to rest. There are no animal or human sacrifices taking place. No one is required to perform any sort of sex act on any of the altars. There are no beds in the temple. Mormons do not enter the temple and laugh at how well their mild-mannered, family-values ruse is throwing everyone off from their love and devotion to Beelzebub.

Evangelicals will not find the temple ceremony to be something familiar to their typical religious activities, but there is nothing overtly offensive, crude or blasphemous about it. The rituals performed there would not be terribly unfamiliar to those who are involved with freemasonry. A great many of your Mormon neighbors and coworkers find the ceremony to be uplifting and inspiring and I’m guessing that you’ve found that you can trust them to be decent and honest people in all situations.

If you are a savvy enough researcher you can find the entire temple ceremony and discover what it is about. Mormons consider the ceremony sacred and will not appreciate you prying into it; you need to consider this before you go looking. Within the last year a nationally televised program acted out the entire ceremony. Mormons were upset that this happened, but I did not find any one that would say that the presentation was inaccurate. So all that is to say, if you don’t trust Mormons when they tell you nothing freaky is taking place there, you can go find out for yourself if you’re so inclined.

Are Mormons Christian?
For some reason Evangelicals like to “serve notice” to Mormons that they are not Christian. As if we can wash our hands of the souls of any missionaries who visit our doorsteps because we’ve let them know they are going to hell. This isn’t particularly useful or effective. Please avoid dismissing Mormon missionaries with the words “you aren’t Christians” as you close the door on them.

If you’d like to debate Mormonism’s place in the Kingdom, I’ve found that engaging the question “are Mormons Christians” is not a great place to start. Mormons and Evangelicals are talking about different things. Mormonism comes straight out of Christianity. It doesn’t make any sense outside of the larger religious context of Christianity. So at least in one sense Evangelicals can acknowledge how Mormons are Christian. If you want to talk about the same thing with your Mormon friend, I’d recommend asking the question “Does Mormonism teach a saving faith?” You may not come to any better of an agreement, but at least you’ll be talking about the same thing.

Grace and Works
Mormons are not as monolithic in their view of the role of grace and works in salvation as they might have once been. There are some who believe exactly as Evangelicals do. This is NOT the thing that separates Evangelicals and Mormons the most. Sometimes though it appears to be our biggest dividing line. Part of the reason for this is that both sides are at times engaging in “boundary maintenance” and taking a harder line on their perspective than they actually believe.

Ephesians 2:8-10

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Notice why verse 10 says we are saved by grace; to do good works. Don’t be ashamed of the good works we are called to do. Evangelicals should feel free to give in a little bit and agree that there are good works for us to do. That doesn’t mean we have to agree those good works are adequate to save us, but we shouldn’t give Mormons the impression that we go on doing whatever we want because of grace. Evangelicals should also acknowledge that our good works will earn Christians something, namely jewels in their crowns. Both sides have to fight against a caricature created of them. Instead of reinforcing that caricature, do your best to give in where you can. Not for the sake of giving in, but for the sake of having your beliefs properly understood by someone who may have a cartoon understanding of them. Be prepared to also recognize that your own understanding of Mormon beliefs may be a little cartoonish.

Shunning

The LDS church does not teach its members to shun those who leave the faith.  There is not an automatic threat that an ex-Mormon will lose all contact to their family including their wife and children.  It does happen at times, but not because the LDS church says it must happen.  Often when family ties are broken for ex-Mormons it is because of the tremendous stress such a paradigm shift creates in their relationships. It’s no different than when Evangelicals decide to become Atheists, Mormons or Catholics.  Sometimes relationships can not adjust to the new expectations and those relationships dissolve or fade away.  Evangelicals should not believe that those relationships dissolve due to a threat of ex-communication from the LDS church.  It simply does not happen.

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 Ex-Mormon.org. 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.

In Need of Correction

A recent comment on the “Jesus was a Polygamist?” post justified the reason I keep the comments open there. It was everything I would hope a teenage girl in Utah would say in response. It was the good laugh I was looking for.

But I think it brings up another issue.  If you heard someone say these things in your Sunday School class or Bible study, how would you respond?  Would you start correcting the number of misstatements?  Would you let her go on about her way in blissful ignorance?  Some of this information is just her own unfamiliarity with the subject. Other parts of it are clearly things that some oneelse is feeding her.

And for the record, I don’t think this is just about “the problem with Mormonism”.  It’s fair to surmise that some Evangelical teenager is capable of making a similarly uniformed comment.

Here is the comment in question:

LDSgirl

I personely love this picture. I never thought of polygamy when I saw it. I always thought of how Jesus loved the youth and children. Now the rose… if you do your research you’ll notice that the rose in the painting is yellow/gold. With the young women values the color of gold represents virtue and yellow represents good works. Also I don’t see loving looks on their faces, but yearning looks, looks yearning for knowledge. The womens’ postures are either representing their love of the lord, like how Mary Magdeline and her sister loved the lord, and how he is our older brother, or the artist just put them that way not thinking of the can of worms it would open up. With the polygamy thing and Brigham Young, wasn’t it Brigham Young that stopped polygamy. Also polygamy with the early saints was just a way to help the women because this is the early to mid 1800s we’re talking about when women had pretty much no rights so they couldn’t own land, get a job, and do many other things women can do today. In the 1800s women couldn’t really survive without a husband, and their husbands were killed just because of their religion, just because they were mormon. So just drop the mormon polygamy thing already. Those were special circumstances and now women can provide for themselves without a husband, so there is no need.

Perhaps you can craft a response to her in the comment section below.