Friday, June 08, 2007
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Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Joseph Smith on Humility, Innocence and Truth
One hundred and sixty-three years ago tomorrow (June 7, 1844) the one and only issue of The Nauvoo Expositor was published in Nauvoo, Illinois. The newspaper was intended to be the voice of the Reformed Mormon Church, a dissident religious group led by former counselor in the LDS First Presidency, William Law.
The members of the Reformed Mormon Church were deeply opposed to Joseph Smith's polygamy. The preamble of The Nauvoo Expositor explained,
Many of us have sought a reformation in the [Mormon] church, without a public exposition of the enormities of crimes practiced by its leaders, thinking that if they would harken to council, and show fruit meet for repentance, it would be as acceptable with God, as though they were exposed to public gaze... But our petitions were treated with contempt, and in many cases the petitioner spurned from their presence, and particularly by Joseph [Smith], who would state that if he had sinned, and was guilty of any charges we would charge him with, he would not make acknowledgment, but would rather be damned; for it would detract from his dignity, and would consequently prove the ruin and overthrow of the Church.
We would ask him on the other hand, if the overthrow of the Church was not inevitable, to which he often replied, that we would all go to Hell together, and convert it into a Heaven, by casting the Devil out; and says he, Hell is by no means the place this world of fools suppose it to be, but on the contrary it is quite an agreeable place, to which we would now reply he can enjoy it if he is determined not to desist from his evil ways, but as for us, we will serve the Lord our God! (as quoted in Hallwas and Launius, Cultures in Conflict, 143-144)
The sermon in which Joseph Smith spoke of converting Hell into a Heaven was given in July of 1843 and is recorded in History of the Church 5:517. The other concerns voiced in The Nauvoo Expositor preamble can be better understood in the context provided by a speech Joseph delivered to the Saints just two weeks before the newspaper was published. On May 26, 1844 the Prophet said,
The Lord has constituted me so curiously that I glory in persecution. I am not nearly so humble as if I were not persecuted... If they want a beardless boy to whip all the world, I will get on the top of a mountain and crow like a rooster: I shall always beat them. When facts are proved, truth and innocence will prevail at last...
Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet... How I do love to hear the wolves howl! When they can get rid of me, the devil will also go...
A man has asked me whether the commandment was given that a man may have seven wives; and now the new prophet [William Law] has charged me with adultery...
What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.
I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers. (History of the Church 408-412)
At the time Joseph Smith gave this speech there were 34 women and girls in Nauvoo who were wives of the Prophet.
Joseph said proven facts would allow truth and innocence to prevail; yet the publishers of The Nauvoo Expositor are defamed to this day, while Joseph Smith is lauded in song: "Great is his glory...Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom, crowned in the midst of the prophets of old." (Praise to the Man, LDS Hymn 326)
Monday, June 04, 2007
The White Horse Prophecy Rides Again
"Romney candidacy has resurrected last days prophecy of Mormon saving the Constitution," reads a headline today in The Salt Lake Tribune. The article, written by journalist Thomas Burr, discusses the so-called White Horse Prophecy which was purportedly received by Joseph Smith in 1843. The article states,
It's Mormon lore, a story passed along by some old-timers about the importance of their faith and their country.
In the latter days, the story goes, the U.S. Constitution will hang by a thread and a Mormon will ride in on a metaphorical white horse to save it. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says it does not accept the legend -- commonly referred to as the "White Horse Prophecy" -- as doctrine. ...
The disputed prophecy was recorded in a diary entry of a Mormon who had heard the tale from two men who were with Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Ill. when he supposedly declared the prophecy.
"You will see the Constitution of the United States almost destroyed," the diary entry quotes Smith as saying. "It will hang like a thread as fine as a silk fiber."
Not only will the Mormons save the Constitution, under the prediction, but the prophecy goes further, insinuating that Mormons will control the government.
"Power will be given to the White Horse to rebuke the nations afar off, and you obey it, for the laws go forth from Zion," the prophecy says.
In 1918 sixth LDS President Joseph F. Smith made certain Latter-day Saints understood the White Horse Prophecy was bogus. In that October's General Conference President Smith said the prophecy was "never spoken by the prophet" in the way people claim, and that, "It is simply false; that is all there is to it."
The White Horse Prophecy is generally ignored or forgotten, but it seems to come to the forefront when a Mormon becomes a candidate for the U.S. presidency. It came up in 1968 when George Romney was running for president, in 2000 when Orin Hatch was running for president, and now, while Mitt Romney is campaigning. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Mr. Romney does not believe in the White Horse Prophecy.
In the article, Journalist Thomas Burr quotes George Cobabe, a man who researched the White Horse Prophecy for the LDS apologetics group FAIR. Mr. Cobabe said,
"I don't think the White Horse Prophecy is fair to bring up at all. It's been rejected by every church leader that has talked about it. It has nothing to do with anything."
While I agree with Mr. Cobabe that the White Horse Prophecy is not germane to Mitt Romney's white house bid, I don't think it's accurate to say that the prophecy "has been rejected by every church leader that has talked about it." Brigham Young seemed to believe the prophecy was true. In 1855 he said,
"...and when the Constitution of the United States hangs, as it were, upon a single thread, they will have to call for the 'Mormon' Elders to save it from utter destruction; and they will step forth and do it." (Journal of Discourses 2:182; also Discourses of Brigham Young, 361)
Thirteen years later, in 1868, Brigham Young again spoke in support of the White Horse Prophecy:
"How long will it be before the words of the prophet Joseph will be fulfilled? He said if the Constitution of the United States were saved at all it must be done by this people. It will not be many years before these words come to pass." (Journal of Discourses 12:204; also Discourses of Brigham Young, 360)
Though the White Horse Prophecy has no place in modern-day Mormonism, there was a time when the prophet, seer and revelator of the LDS Church believed it -- and preached it.
Friday, June 01, 2007
Really -- What is Mormonism? Most Evangelicals Would Be Surprised.
On May 31st Christianity Today online posted an article which addresses the issue of Mitt Romney and Mormonism, asking, "Can conservative Protestants vote for a member of what they consider a cult?" The article is co-written by Mormon professor Robert Millet and Christian author Gerald McDermott.
Of particular interest in this article is where it addresses the concerns evangelicals have regarding Mormonism's non-Christian doctrines. The authors write,
But evangelicals are reluctant to vote for a Mormon. Historically, evangelicals and Mormons have demonized each other. Evangelicals consider the Church of Latter-day Saints to be a cult and typically think Mormons are not real Christians.
Evangelicals accuse Mormons of adding new revelation (the Book of Mormon) to the Bible. They think Mormons teach that humans are saved by good works rather than by Jesus Christ, and that humans are of the same species as Jesus and can someday attain his status. In addition, evangelicals say, Mormons reject key Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and creatio ex nihilo (God creating the world out of nothing)…
Mormon beliefs are not as un-evangelical as most evangelicals think. Unlike Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons hold firmly to the deity of Christ. For Latter-Day Saints, Jesus is not only the Son of God but also God the Son. Evangelical pollster George Barna found in 2001 that while only 33 percent of American Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists agreed that Jesus was "without sin," Mormons were among the "most likely" to say that Jesus was sinless.
Most evangelicals would also be surprised to learn that the Book of Mormon contains passages that teach salvation by the merits and grace of Christ ( "There is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" 2 Nephi 2:8) and others that require personal trust in Christ for salvation, such as 1 Nephi 10:4-6: "All mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer."
Note the way the authors have presented the concerns of Christians: evangelicals demonize Mormons; evangelicals accuse Mormons; evangelicals think Mormons teach non-Christian doctrines about salvation and Christ; evangelicals say Mormons reject the Trinity, etc.; but evangelicals are wrong: "Mormon beliefs are not as un-evangelical as most evangelicals think."
Take a look at just one doctrinal issue raised by the authors: salvation. Speaking of evangelicals collectively, the authors write, "They think Mormons teach that humans are saved by good works rather than by Jesus Christ." The authors dance around this significant doctrinal concern. They set it up in terms which give the impression that evangelicals deeply misunderstand LDS soteriology and state that Mormon beliefs are not really so different after all. Millet and McDermott quote LDS scriptures which talk about Christ, mercy and grace, and apparently hope that will be enough to convince the uninformed reader that the Mormon view of salvation is compatible with evangelical (biblical) teaching. But of course it's not.
Mormonism rejects the idea that human beings are saved by good works without the aid of Christ; Millet and McDermott are correct to suggest that those who think otherwise misunderstand Mormon doctrine. But this is not to say that Mormonism embraces the biblical teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone based on the merits and atonement of Christ. The Book of Mormon says,
For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23)
This is not salvation by faith alone, but salvation by grace coupled with works (please see Paul's letter to the Galatians for an understanding of what the Bible says about this idea). The Mormon teaching on salvation is incompatible with the evangelical understanding of this doctrine -- the doctrine which is at the very heart of the Gospel and is treasured deeply in the heart of every evangelical Christian.
Millet and McDermott don't mention this disparity in their article. Furthermore, they don't tell Christianity Today readers what twelfth LDS President Spencer W. Kimball said about the Christian doctrine of salvation:
One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation. (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 206)
I wonder; is this is what Millet and McDermott are referring to when they say Mormons have historically demonized evangelicals?
At any rate, Millet and McDermott have misled their readers about the compatibility of Mormonism and evangelical Christianity. They have obscured significant doctrinal differences with verbal slight-of-hand. But at the same time it seems they have taken care to keep from going too far. They write,
Of course there is still doctrinal distance between Mormons and evangelicals.
Yes, really an unbridgeable chasm. But Millet and McDermott make no effort to inform their readers of any specifics. If you're interested, some of the doctrines responsible for the vast spiritual distance between Mormons and evangelicals are documented here.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Latter-day Saints Don't Care for Sugar-coated Mormon History
Sunday's Deseret News (27 May) published the results of an email survey conducted by the LDS Department of Family and Church History. "LDS in survey call for unvarnished history" reports that active Latter-day Saints
want their church to provide a "frank and honest" presentation of church history, unvarnished by attempts to sugar-coat the past in order to make it more palatable…
Church history representative Rebecca Olpin told participants at the annual Mormon History Association meetings on Saturday that Latter-day Saints surveyed "want to be leveled with" when the church presents information about its past…
When questioned about what officials with the church's correlation department -- which edits all church materials -- think about those findings, Olpin said the request for honesty "is part of what members are asking for. We have a responsibility to share that in a way that correlation will agree with, so we understand that we have limits.
While I think this is a hopeful development within the LDS Church, it's interesting that Latter-day Saints need to request an honest portrayal of history from their church. Also interesting is the admission that some compromise will be required to keep both the members who are calling for honesty, and the Church editors, happy.
This Deseret News article reminded me of a conversation I had with some senior LDS missionaries who were serving in Nauvoo, Illinois. I asked, given the heavy emphasis the Nauvoo historic site missionary guides place on the sacrifices of early Church members, why was there no mention of the extreme sacrifices made by the women who were required to live The Principle (polygamy)? The missionary couple were very candid with me and spent the following hour confessing that "Salt Lake" wouldn't allow them to talk about the polygamy that was practiced in Nauvoo; that part of Mormon history was absent from every mandatory script supplied to missionary guides. This LDS couple expressed frustration over inaccuracies and mistakes in the history that was presented to visitors at the Mormon sites, but had found no relief by making requests of those in authority to make corrections. In the end, they told me "Salt Lake" was taking direction from God, and the missionary guides in Nauvoo were taking direction from "Salt Lake," so presenting inaccurate history to visitors must be the right thing to do -- though they could not understand it.
Time will tell how "Salt Lake" responds to the LDS member requests for unvarnished Church history. Honesty doesn't really seem like too much to ask.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Preach the Gospel? Don't Bother.
The March 17th issue of Church News included an article about the LDS Church in Yonkers, New York. The article highlighted the work of a senior missionary couple that sparked "needed growth" of the Church in that area.
According to the article, Yonkers, the fourth largest city in New York, is "just a few miles north of Manhattan" and home to 200,000 people. Even so, the Church struggles there to have enough active members to keep an English-speaking branch going.
Five years ago, the small Yonkers branch was merged into the Westchester 1st Ward "due to insufficient priesthood leadership." The article explains what happened next:
Since then, some faithful members in Yonkers simply could not attend Sunday meetings at the Scarsdale meetinghouse...due to transportation issues.
"The number of cars among the members is limited. Public transportation is inefficient; with no direct routes, it could take members several hours to reach the meeting house on a Sunday morning," said President Taylor.
Missionaries stopped actively proselytizing in Yonkers because most investigators simply had no way to get to Church meetings.
I'm puzzled by this. Mormon magazines are always filled with stories of Latter-day Saints who must walk for miles to get to Church every Sunday, or members who travel for hours each way. LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley has stated that the reason the Church is so successful in membership growth is because it is demanding and "expects great things" from its members. But because there is no convenient way for the people in Yonkers to get to an LDS meetinghouse a few miles away the missionaries stop preaching the gospel to them?
To me, this speaks volumes. The LDS missionary's primary message is not "come unto Christ," but rather "come unto the LDS Church." The idea that there is no use teaching people about Jesus and His substitutionary atonement unless they can easily get to a meetinghouse is entirely foreign to Christian missions and the Great Commission Jesus gave to His people. "Go into all the world," He said, "and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Later, the Apostle Paul said, "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ,...preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season...do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5).
This illustrates the difference between the LDS missionary system (proselytizing) and the biblical missionary system (evangelizing). One is focused on church growth; the other is focused on sharing the Good News of the Gospel -- that Jesus died to set sinners free.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
So is Frank Pignanelli admitting Mormons are bigots?
I apologize. I really was hoping to move on from this soapbox, but I could not pass up commenting on a recent article that appeared in the Deseret News titled "Romney campaign has LDS in spotlight." Here, Frank Pignanelli starts off the piece by saying:
Pignanelli; "A person extremely intolerant of creeds, beliefs, etc., other than his/her own." Such is the standard dictionary definition of a bigot. Unfortunately, this describes too many Americans, because of their personal view toward Mormons.
Well, thanks for clearing that up. According to Mr. Pignanelli's dictionary we now have proof that every Mormon who believes in Joseph Smith's First Vision account (at least the one that the Mormon Church considers to be "official") can now be classified as a bigot. According to Joseph Smith, when he asked God which of all the churches were true, he was allegedly told:
"I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: 'they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof'" (Joseph Smith--History 1:19).
Gee, doesn't this sound rather "bigoted" towards the creeds and beliefs that I and millions of other Christians hold? Doesn't this tend to belittle the doctrinal beliefs of millions of Bible-believing Christians? Now a Mormon may argue, "Wait a minute, this is God talking!" Such a rebuttal becomes irrelevant in that I have yet to meet a Mormon who does not share this view; so if we are to use Pignanelli's standard, all Mormons are bigots.
Now do I personally believe this? Absolutely not! But I hope in repeating this argument I once again demonstrate why it is dangerous to use extreme language to describe what is nothing more than an ideological disagreement. I disagree with what Smith said he heard and saw, but I "tolerate" a Mormon's right to believe it and say it.
Pignanelli must really be blind to his own hypocrisy when he concludes by writing:
Both Mormons and non-Mormons, in a very public manner, must paint this intolerance for what it is: bigotry. This is not the time for passive-aggressive behavior. Indeed, these narrow-minded fools will learn that there are serious ramifications for their stupidity, if we aggressively counter religious discrimination. We may not be able to convince the bigots overnight, but we can at least shame them out of releasing their poisonous thoughts.
Shaming the narrow-minded fools for their stupidity? Frank, you sound a bit intolerant. Don't release those "poisonous thoughts"! Instead, deal with the real issues. People like you and Hugh Hewitt, and the many others out there who overuse the word "bigot" are not helping further meaningful discussion with this manipulative name-calling.