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The official blog site of Mormonism Research Ministry

Monday, February 27, 2006

Mormon Politics and Big Love

I have been naive. I thought the disdain of the LDS Church toward the HBO series Big Love was due to concern for the image of the Church (see last Friday's blog, Fundamentalist Mormons and Big Love). But The Guardian Unlimited, published in the UK, has a different perspective.

According to an article published today, "The march of the Mormons",
"The Latter-day Saints are on the rise in the US, and a Republican named Mitt Romney has hopes of becoming the first Mormon president. But the church has one serious image problem: polygamy. Which is why HBO's new drama, about a man with three wives, is stirring up controversy."

Journalist Julian Borger has written a very interesting article. You can read a few excerpts below, but I encourage you to take a look at the whole story at The Guardian Unlimited web site.

  • "Polygamy is a constant embarrassment to the church in its quest for mainstream acceptance and top-level political influence."

  • "The truth is that the Mormon church has managed to live down the Osmonds, but it is still struggling to live down polygamy 116 years after banning the practice. Polygamy survives like a batty old aunt in the attic, sounding off at the most embarrassing moments.

    "All this is not entirely the church's fault. The fundamentalist sects in Utah and beyond who still use the Mormon label generate a disproportionate number of news stories, mostly about horribly abused women and children. Yet some critics say the church leadership, in its multi-spired temple in downtown Salt Lake City, must shoulder some of the blame. It has sent mixed signals on plural marriages, turned a blind eye to polygamists in its own ranks decades after the ban, and done little to help victims of abuse. Although the church's 1890 'manifesto' against polygamy prohibits it here on earth, the scriptures retain it as a celestial ideal for believers who find their way to the kingdom of heaven.

    "Such criticisms have long been an irritant to the Mormon hierarchy, but of late they have become excruciating. Now more than ever, the Mormon apostles do not want dirty old laundry to be aired on prime-time television, just as the Latter-day Saints seem poised to fulfil their founder's prophecy and scale the supreme heights of US government."

  • "Hardly anyone batted an eyelid when Harry Reid emerged as the Senate minority leader in 2004. In fact the Democrats, convinced they had lost that year's elections on 'moral values,' were proud of Reid's Mormon credentials.

    "The church is a byword for conservatism (95% of American Mormons voted for Bush in 2004) and Reid is anti-abortion, opposed to gay marriage and gun control and defends capital punishment.

    "But he is liberal on bread-and-butter issues such as health and education, and that is good enough for the Democrats in this time of exile. Reid at least offers potential crossover appeal in conservative 'red' states.

    "Reid's Mormonism is unthreatening. America does not fear excessive religious zeal in its Democrats, as it tends not to worry about weakness on security from its Republicans. It would be counterintuitive. In any case, the job of Senate minority leader is a backroom task for a political engineer. It does not hold sway over the Union.

    "But a Mormon running as a Republican for the presidency is another matter. Americans want their presidents not just to represent them, but also to embody them somehow as a nation.

    "Would a Mormon be permitted to do that?

    "The precedents are not favourable. Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the Latter-day Saints church, declared his presidential candidacy in 1844, at a time when his followers were a community of outcasts in Illinois. In July [June] that year, he was shot dead by an anti-Mormon at the age of 38, before his campaign even got going. His successor, Brigham Young, fled west to Utah with the remaining Saints (including Miles Park Romney, Mitt Romney's great-great-grandfather).

    "They took with them Smith's prophecy that one day a Mormon would come to America's rescue.

    "Mormons would be 'the staff upon which the nation shall lean,' the prophet predicted, when the constitution 'is on the brink of ruin.'"

  • "The legacy [of polygamy] endured for nearly half a century after Smith's death, and the church only surrendered it as a compromise, in return for Utah statehood. Polygamy has dogged Mormonism ever since, and it will dog Mitt Romney's bid to become the Latter-day Saints' first president.

    "The fact is that polygamy makes lousy politics - for all the same reasons it will no doubt make great television."

I think it's also interesting to note Mitt Romney's comment in a Fox News Sunday interview with the show's host, Chris Wallace.
WALLACE: I want to ask you about another area of possible controversy and it involves something very personal, your religion. You are a Mormon. As you well know, a number of evangelicals say that could be a problem for you in Republican primaries because they say Mormonism is a cult. Your response.
ROMNEY: Well, I think people in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their governor, as their senator, as their president. I don't think most people care what brand of faith they have.

I certainly hope Governor Romney is mistaken about this. If Americans only care that a person has faith, but we don't care what that faith entails, our nation is in deep trouble. This is like saying we want a president who cares about economics, but we don't care what his position on economics might be.

Governor Romney's religion asserts, for instance, that Mormons and Mormonism will rescue the Constitution of the United States of America from ruin. Does this not have some sort of significance in his bid for the U.S. presidency? Wouldn't American's think so?

The issue of Governor Romney's Mormonism is one every U.S. citizen is likely to have to consider as the 2008 elections draw near. But right now, regardless of his chosen religion, I find Governor Romney's implication regarding the shallowness of the American public to be highly offensive.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Fundamentalist Mormons and Big Love

The LDS Church is upset over the new HBO series, Big Love. The TV show, which premiers March 12th, is about a polygamous family living in suburban Salt Lake City. Bill Paxton plays Bill Hendrickson, the husband of three wives; the family is depicted as members of an LDS offshoot group.

The Mormon Church has arranged for "a carefully worded disclaimer at the start of each hour, stressing that plural marriage is strictly outlawed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Nevertheless, the Church is unhappy about the possible confusion the HBO series may cause among its viewers. As the Denver Post notes,
"The last thing the LDS hierarchy needs is a primetime series featuring a polygamist who considers himself a follower of church founder Joseph Smith."

But I have to hand it to the show's producers. The so-called Mormon fundamentalist groups (polygamists) do follow the teachings of Joseph Smith. I applaud the producers' commitment to tell it like it is in the face of what must be tremendous pressure from the LDS Church.

What I find really interesting about this whole "Mormons are not polygamists" thing is the irony of it.
"The church has rigorously distanced itself from these sects, stressing that these groups are not Mormons, that there is no such thing as 'Fundamentalist Mormonism,' that polygamy merits excommunication from the mainstream church… Even calling them offshoots is misleading, [Church spokesman Mike] Otterson says."

The Denver Post further notes:
"The divide between mainstream Mormons and those who consider themselves fundamentalists is considerable. Although the [LDS] church shuns the 'fundamentalist' term, many remaining polygamists, living in secrecy in ultrareligious sects in the West, describe themselves that way.

"The fundamentalists, [series co-creator Mark] Olsen has said, 'look at The Church of Latter-Day Saints as sellouts and apostates.'"

Does this ring a bell for anyone? Try on this rewritten statement for size:
The divide between Christianity and those who consider themselves LDS Christians is considerable. Although Christianity shuns the 'LDS Christian' term, many Mormons, living in the West, describe themselves that way.

The 'LDS Christians' look at modern day non-LDS Christians as sellouts and apostates.


Another interesting thing is this. Speaking of the fundamentalists Mike Otterson said:
"They are illegal polygamist groups…"

As were the Mormons when they practiced polygamy in Illinois and the Utah Territory.
"…several [are] under investigation for child abuse..."

Let's not forget that Joseph Smith married a 14-year-old girl, Brigham Young a 15-year-old, and John D. Lee a 12- or 14-year-old girl that he later divorced so she could marry his son.

But I think we can settle the issue of whether fundamentalists are Mormons by an appeal to a criterion deemed valid by Latter-day Saints everywhere, including LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley. Using their reasoning, of course polygamous fundamentalist are Mormons—many of them have "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints" right in the name of their church!

Who can argue with that?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

St. George Temple Scare

Today's online Deseret News reports the discovery last week of a "suspicious package" left on the steps of the St. George Temple. The small white box included a message on the outside that said, "Happy Birthday to Jesus, from the Bailey's."

Deseret News reports that a bomb squad was called in, along with police, firefighters, and paramedics. Thankfully, upon x-raying the box they found it contained nothing but strips of paper with "little messages" written on them.

It has not been reported why the box was left at the St. George Temple, who the Bailey's are, or why they would leave Jesus birthday wishes in February. Maybe the box was part of a Bailey's Family Home Evening activity.

Whatever the background of the package, it's easy to understand the alarm of St. George authorities. Not only do we live in a world where unmarked boxes could easily be bombs left by terrorists, but the St. George Temple has a history of being a magnet for crazy things.

Just last January 29th the police were forced to use a taser to subdue and arrest a man at the St. George Temple Visitors Center who claimed to be God.

Back in August of 2001 a naked man broke through the locked glass doors of the St. George Temple Visitors Center and bled all over the Christus statue before being taken into custody by police.

In 1996 a man broke in to the St. George Temple by chopping a hole in the temple door.

No wonder the police were concerned about the birthday box for Jesus.

I don't know why the St. George Temple has more than its share of undesirable incidents, but there is an especially dark spiritual side to that particular temple.

In June of 2004 a friend of mine visited the St. George Temple Visitors Center and learned from a senior missionary that "this temple has probably been visited by the dead more than any other temple." The missionary proudly showed my friend a photo album which contained a typed list of spirits that had visited the St. George Temple along with newspaper clippings describing some of these appearances.

According to the fourth prophet of the LDS Church, Wilford Woodruff, in August of 1877 the deceased signers of the Declaration of Independence appeared to him demanding to know why temple work had not yet been done for them. President Woodruff promptly went to the baptismal font and was baptized for these men (save 2) and 50 others.

After this experience, President Woodruff said, "The dead will be after you, they will seek after you as they have after us in St. George." (Journal of Discourses 19:229)


And displeasing to God as well, for the Bible clearly tells us we are not to have any contact with the dead (Leviticus 19:31; 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:10-12; 1 Samuel 28:3-20; 2 Kings 21:6; 23:24; Isaiah 8:19).

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Operation [Obscuring] Understanding from Greensboro, North Carolina yesterday reported on the 11th annual youth Interfaith tour, Operation Understanding. Sponsored by The National Conference for Community and Justice of the Piedmont Triad, Sunday's tour took 400 middle and high school students along with adult volunteers to a Quaker meeting, a Jewish synagogue, and a Mormon church. At each stop the kids were given an overview of the religion they were visiting, and then were allowed to ask questions.

The sponsor, The National Conference for Community and Justice, was founded in 1927 for the purpose of fighting "bias, bigotry, and racism in America." Formerly known as The National Conference of Christians and Jews, it became well-known among Christian apologists in 1984 when its Virginia chapter released a statement denouncing The Godmakers video as filled with "half-truths, faulty generalizations, erroneous interpretations, and sensationalism." Though citing no examples, the NCCJ insisted the film's portrayal of Mormonism was "a basically unfair and untruthful presentation of what Mormons really believe and practice." The Godmakers has its faults, but the NCCJ did not do its homework. It therefore became guilty itself of "a basically unfair and untruthful" judgment against the film.

With that background enhancing our understanding of today's NCCJ, this is what the organization says about their annual Interfaith tour:
"The goal of the Interfaith tour is not to attempt to convert people to other religions. We simply hope this experience will help students understand, appreciate and respect some of the differences in religions and styles of worship throughout our community."

While this sounds like a worthy goal, the News-Record report seems to indicate an opposite outcome:
"NCCJ program specialist Betsy Harrington said the tours reminded her again that people are more alike than they are different. 'There are just different nuances to how we practice (our faiths),' she said."

So is the purpose of the tour to help students understand the differences between the religions they visit? Or to convince them that there really aren't any significant differences at all?

I'm all for people gaining a better understanding of our world. Understanding each other gives us the opportunity for meaningful dialog and deeper relationships. However, minimizing our differences does not lead to better understanding; it obscures understanding.

I like an illustration used by Greg Koukl (from Stand to Reason) when people suggest that all religions are basically the same. He draws two small circles and asks, "Are these two things basically the same?" The answer, of course, is yes. Then he labels the circles; one is labeled "aspirin," and the other is labeled "cyanide." He asks, "Now are they basically the same?"

The point is that differences matter. They are important. And in many cases an understanding of differences is essential.

The NCCJ program specialist came away from the Interfaith tour having learned that people and their religions are pretty much the same. Though Jews, Quakers and Mormons have fundamental differences in what they believe—to the very bedrock of who they worship—this adult concluded that it all boils down to a mere "different nuance" in the way they practice their faith.

If an adult was convinced of such nonsense by the Interfaith tour, how much confusion and vulnerability has it instilled in those middle and senior high school students?

What a shame.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Mormon Teachings a Curiosity

Today's online Washington Times includes an article titled, Teachings guide us to healing. The article is comprised of excerpts from a sermon delivered Sunday by Bishop Alvin B. Jackson, Jr. at the Kensington Ward of the LDS Church. This article is found in the newspaper's Culture section, but it is unclear to me why it is included in The Washington Times at all. In fact, it is unclear to me what the teachings even mean.

Maybe it's because we only have excerpts from the sermon. Without the entire text it is impossible to figure out the context of the Mr. Jackson's statements. He covers a lot of doctrinal ground, touching on:

  • The Articles of Faith
  • Book of Mormon
  • Adam's Fall
  • Essential Ordinances
  • The Atonement
  • Repentance
  • Pre-existence
  • Eternal Families
  • Joseph Smith
  • Living Prophets
  • Faith

For an article only 745 words long, that's a lotta topics. It's no wonder the article doesn't make much cohesive sense.

Take, for instance, the paragraph on Adam's Fall:
"The Book of Mormon teaches Adam's fall was a necessary and important step in our earthly progression. Jesus Christ's atonement is the necessary component in making Adam's prophecy a reality. Having faith in Him, repenting of our sins, being baptized by proper priesthood authority, receiving the purifying gift of the Holy Ghost and accepting all other essential ordinances are the steps that lead us back to our Father."

Nowhere else in the article is "Adam's prophecy" mentioned. What is that? Likewise, there's no other information on priesthood authority, the Holy Ghost, or other "essential ordinances."

Mr. Jackson does talk about the atonement a bit more. He says,
"Much of our early knowledge on the subject involved what happened on the cross and the Savior's glorious Resurrection. What is missing for some is a firm understanding of Christ's atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane. What does that word "atonement" mean? The literal meaning of the word is the act of unifying or bringing together what has been separated and estranged."

A firm understanding of the LDS doctrine of Christ's atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane is still missing for the readers of The Washington Times, and perhaps for Mr. Jackson's congregation as well.

The article finally winds up with the topic mentioned in the title: Healing. Mr. Jackson is quoted,
"As you began to grow small seeds of faith through prayer, Scripture study, church attendance, your understanding will increase. Our testimony is that He lives and He can do what He says He can do. He can heal you."

So the topic of healing is used as a set of bookends: the word is found in the title and in the last sentence, and nowhere in between.

I don't know how this article came to The Washington Times; there is no by-line attached to it. I don't know why it came to The Washington Times; there is no sense to it.

It is a curiosity.

Friday, February 17, 2006

DNA and Mormonism, part II

Newspapers around the country are picking up the story reported yesterday in the LA Times (see yesterday's blog, DNA and Mormonism). I thought it might be a good idea to provide a few resources for people wanting to learn more about the whole controversy.

For a really good article on the DNA issues and the "unofficial" LDS response see DNA and the Book of Mormon Record.

Another article that goes into great depth: Lamanites No More: DNA and Lost Ties to Father Lehi

View the online video from Living Hope Ministries, DNA vs. The Book of Mormon.

Here is an article by Simon G. Southerton, whose book, Loosing a Lost Tribe, is at the center of the DNA controversy. In Answers to Apologetic Claims about DNA and the Book of Mormon Dr. Southerton addresses "the most frequently advanced arguments" from Mormon apologists.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

DNA and Mormonism

Check out this article that appeared today on the LA Times web site:
Bedrock of a Faith Is Jolted

DNA tests contradict Mormon scripture. The church says the studies are being twisted to attack its beliefs.

By William Lobdell, Times Staff Writer

From the time he was a child in Peru, the Mormon Church instilled in Jose A. Loayza the conviction that he and millions of other Native Americans were descended from a lost tribe of Israel that reached the New World more than 2,000 years ago.

"We were taught all the blessings of that Hebrew lineage belonged to us and that we were special people," said Loayza, now a Salt Lake City attorney. "It not only made me feel special, but it gave me a sense of transcendental identity, an identity with God."

A few years ago, Loayza said, his faith was shaken and his identity stripped away by DNA evidence showing that the ancestors of American natives came from Asia, not the Middle East.

"I've gone through stages," he said. "Absolutely denial. Utter amazement and surprise. Anger and bitterness." (more…)

The article includes interesting information and perspectives on this continuing controversy within Mormonism, presenting critics in a reasonable light while fairly representing the position of the LDS Church:
Critics want the church to admit its mistake and apologize to millions of Native Americans it converted. Church leaders have shown no inclination to do so. Indeed, they have dismissed as heresy any suggestion that Native American genetics undermine the Mormon creed.

Yet at the same time, the church has subtly promoted a fresh interpretation of the Book of Mormon intended to reconcile the DNA findings with the scriptures. This analysis is radically at odds with long-standing Mormon teachings.

Something that makes this article stand out for me is the inclusion of the thoughts and emotions of Mormons who had been converted to the LDS Church by assurances that they were of Lamanite/Hebrew descent. This puts a face on the otherwise academic question and helps us understand the deep wounds false religious teachings can cause:
For others, living with ambiguity has been more difficult. Phil Ormsby, a Polynesian who lives in Brisbane, Australia, grew up believing he was a Hebrew.

"I visualized myself among the fighting Lamanites and lived out the fantasies of the [Book of Mormon] as I read it," Ormsby said. "It gave me great mana [prestige] to know that these were my true ancestors."

The DNA studies have altered his feelings completely.

"Some days I am angry, and some days I feel pity," he said. "I feel pity for my people who have become obsessed with something that is nothing but a hoax."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Marketing Utah

Utah is looking for a new slogan, one officials hope will bring money-spending tourists flocking to the state (see "Looking for a pretty, great tag line").
"It should describe Utah's 'emotional core.' It will emote 'Utah.' It should summarize, symbolize and synergize the entire state, highlighting Utah's attributes to outsiders far and wide.

"Oh, and it should be pithy. Three to five words would be fine, please.

"Just remember that tens of millions of dollars are riding on it.

"That's the kind of challenge coming up with a new state tourism brand is, and it's being handled by tourism officials and advertising experts. Soon to be unveiled, the simple phrase will be the linchpin of a subsequent marketing and advertising campaign designed to prompt outsiders to pack up the family and spend some tourist bucks in the Beehive State."

The Salt Lake City advertising agency that's working on this project promises the new slogan
"will reveal 'the look of Utah,' 'the soul of Utah' and 'the sound of Utah,' all composing the 'emotional core of Utah.'"

To me this seems simple.

  • Mormon (the look)
  • Tabernacle (the soul)
  • Choir (the sound)
  • Zoloft (the emotional core)*

The trick is stringing the words together to make them appealing to tourists.

At 62% Mormon, the state has other things to offer; but wouldn't the "emotional core" reflect the majority?

Having said that, Utah is a beautiful state with much to offer tourists. I am awestruck whenever I fly over the Wasatch Mountain Range. Its beauty is staggering; it virtually cries out the glory of God. The last time I visited Salt Lake City, as I looked out the window of the plane, I was reminded of a passage from the Bible:
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man" (Romans 1:18-23)

But I digress.

Utah slogans from the past have included:

  • Utah, the Friendly State
  • Utah, Land of Color
  • Utah, the Unique
  • Ski Utah
  • A Pretty, Great State
  • Utah! Where Ideas Connect

None of these slogans have really accomplished what the state tourism board is hoping for from Utah's new slogan. An associate professor at BYU suggests looking to slogans of other states for ideas on successful approaches. She mentions "I Love New York" and "Virginia Is For Lovers."

Maybe they should also look at some of the popular advertising that's been done in the state (pictured throughout today's blog). Some of these slogans might work after a little tweaking.

With that in mind, perhaps we can come up with some ideas we can send in to Utah tourism officials. Do you have any suggestions for Utah's next slogan? Leave 'em here as comments and we'll see if anything worthy turns up.

*Utah rates very high in use of anti-depressants

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Mormons Weigh More
(but that just means there's more to love)

Today's local news at (KSL Television & Radio, Salt Lake City, Utah) includes this report: Studies: LDS Weigh More Than Members of Other Faiths by Carole Mikita.

A recent study has revealed Latter-day Saint men and women in Utah are 10 and a half pounds heavier and less active than non-Mormon residents of the state. The blame is laid on the LDS culture, which includes high-calorie and high-fat "comfort foods" at most social events.

The report notes that a healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains eaten in moderation—basically, following the Mormon "health code" known as the Word of Wisdom.

So does this new study indicate that Mormons in Utah are not observing the Word of Wisdom?

The Word of Wisdom is a very important element of the Mormon faith. It is understood to be a binding command from God. Those who don't obey the Word of Wisdom are not allowed to enter LDS temples.

The LDS course manual Achieving a Celestial Marriage says on page 31,
When you are interviewed for a temple recommend you will be asked about—
1. Church attendance.
2. Payment of tithes and offerings.
3. Loyalty to Church leaders.
4. Moral cleanliness.
5. Overall faithfulness and worthiness.
6. Obedience to the Word of Wisdom.

Most people recognize the prohibition in the Word of Wisdom against tobacco, alcohol, and coffee/tea ("hot drinks"); this is what is generally thought of in the context of the Word of Wisdom. However, there's much more to the revelation/commandment (Doctrine and Covenants 89) including the use of strong drinks for washing; the use of tobacco for bruises and sick cattle; the eating of meat and poultry sparingly and only in winter or times of famine.

Do Latter-day Saints observe the whole commandment? Do temple-worthy Mormons?

KSL-TV reports the LDS Church is giving a book to its employees "hoping it will encourage them to pay more attention to their health" (The Culprit & The Cure by BYU professor Steven Aldana).

I just wonder at the idea that a popular book might have a greater impact on Latter-day Saints' health than something they are taught is a necessary condition for their exaltation.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Polygamy and Birth Defects

Saturday's edition (11 February 2006) of the Casper Wyoming carried an interesting Associated Press article about Fumarase Deficiency, a rare birth defect. At least it's rare around the world, with only 50 cases documented world-wide.

Unfortunately, Fumarase Deficiency is becoming common among members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) residing in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. Six years ago Dr. Theodore Tarby co-authored a medical journal article in which he described eight cases of the condition in the FLDS community. Today that number has grown to 20 known cases.

The AP article, under the headline "Doctor: Birth defects increase in inbred polygamy community" described the problem:
"Intermarriage among close relatives is producing children who have two copies of a recessive gene for a debilitating condition called fumarase deficiency. The enzyme irregularity causes severe mental retardation, epileptic seizures and other effects that often leaves children unable to take care of themselves."

Ben Bistline, described as a community historian and former FLDS member, was quoted:
"Ninety percent of the [FLDS] community is related to one side or the other. They claim to be the chosen people, the chosen few. And their claim is they marry closely to preserve the royal bloodline, so to speak."

A related article in the Salt Lake Tribune ("Rare gene disorder common in FLDS") reported that Dr. Tarby met with 150 members from the FLDS community in November to explain Fumarase Deficiency and how it could be prevented. He apparently came away from the meeting without much hope for change. He said,
"They [FLDS members] consider these children to be their responsibility from God and their duty is to produce as many children as possible. There isn't any reason in their view to slow down the having of children."

Another related article, this one from Deseret News, pointed out that the afflicted children have severe mental retardation with IQs around 25. They require constant care, and receive it lovingly from parents and close relatives. However, Dr. Tarby said, medical care for the children is frequently borne by taxpayers.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Insurmountable Debt

I was reading Matthew 18, the parable of the unforgiving servant. I was really struck by this:
"Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt." (Matthew 18:22-27)

I don't know why I've never thought about it before, but today I recognized what Jesus was saying.

A talent was equal to about 20 years' wages for a laborer. The servant in the parable owed a sum equal to 200,000 years' worth of labor. Let's put that into 2006 dollars. If a years' salary was $30,000, the servant owed his master $6 billion!

Jesus' point in using such a huge sum in the parable was to show us how utterly impossible it is for us to pay our enormous sin debt. Though the servant implored his master to be patient until the servant could pay up, the master knew better. Where would a servant ever get that kind of money? The master had pity on the servant and graciously cancelled his debt.

This all got me to thinking about Mormonism and the way Latter-day Saints understand their sin and God's grace. I can't count the times I've read and been told by Mormons, "We don't believe in salvation by works alone. We believe that good works are necessary, but not enough. We do all we can, but still fall short. That's when God's grace kicks in. Jesus makes up the difference."

LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks said it this way: "When we have done all that we are able, we can rely on God's promised mercy…He is our Savior, and when we have done all that we can, He will make up the difference…" (October 1993 General Conference, quoted in Church News, 1 April 2000, page 14)

A friend of mine uses a boat analogy when talking with Mormons about salvation. An individual's good works are the planks of wood that make up the hull of the boat (salvation). Latter-day Saints believe the grace of God given through Christ is the pitch that fills in the cracks between the planks, making the boat safe and seaworthy. But there's a problem here.

Take a look at how God describes natural man in Romans 1:
"They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless." (Romans 1:29-31)

You see, the sin debt for each of us is enormous! Six-billion dollars. Two-hundred-thousand years' worth of labor.

Some might say, "Well, we have eternity to work it off. We can do it if we just have enough time." Sorry, folks. The master in Jesus' parable is already entitled to all the labor his servant can provide. The debt owed is above and beyond normal labor. It is impossible to pay.

And what makes us think that anything we do would be pleasing and acceptable to God anyway? Look again at the qualities He finds in us! How can our sin-tainted good works be used to build a sound boat? In my friend's analogy the truth is that the planks of the boat are all rotten. There's nothing there firm enough to be patched by God's grace. Instead of floating on the water this boat sinks like a stone—and takes anyone relying on it to the bottom of the sea.

No, there's nothing we can contribute to the building of our boat. Like the servant in Jesus' parable, our only hope is grace and mercy. God must provide both the planks and the pitch. And He does. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Why am I here?

Why does the LDS Church send missionaries across the globe? According to the official LDS web site,
"Currently, some 56,000 Latter-day Saints are participating in proselytizing missions around the world. Approximately 75 percent of the Church's proselytizing missionaries are young men between the ages of 19 and 26. They are referred to as "Elder" because of their ordination to that priesthood office."

It should come as no surprise that the purpose of an LDS missionary's mission is to proselytize. My online dictionary defines "proselytize" as:
convert or attempt to convert someone from one religion, belief or opinion to another

So how come 19-year-old Elder C. J. Wolfgramm, serving an LDS proselytizing mission, was quoted by the University of Oklahoma's official newspaper saying,
"We're not here to convert anyone, just to let people know the Heavenly Father loves them."

The Oklahoma Daily was reporting on an event that took place on Oklahoma University's campus on Monday evening, 6 February 2006. The article, Mormons extend hands to students, was written by Richard Hall. It describes how "Local missionaries hosted a film and discussion outreach event" which was attended by 50 students. The four LDS missionaries showed two films— "Special Witnesses of Christ" and "The Other Side of Heaven"—and then held a question and answer forum.

But I wonder. If Mr. Wolfgramm was hesitant to disclose the real goal of his proselytizing mission (i.e., to convert people to the LDS Church), then how should the students take any answers the missionaries may have provided during the Q&A session?

Please pass the salt.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Latter-day Black Pioneers

On 4 February 2006 the Reno Gazette-Journal carried an article about a black couple in the Mormon Church, Moons become pioneers of local Mormon church, by Geralda Miller.

The story is about Bill and Jane Moon, African Americans who moved to Reno in 1969 only to find a community filled with racial prejudice. They spent the next ten years involved at Second Baptist Church, a black church that provided them friendship and relief from daily discrimination.

In 1979, when the mood of the country had changed, Bill got restless and began looking for a church that was not segregated. He and Jane ended up at the LDS Church, where they remain today.

Bill told the Gazette-Journal,
"I know when we joined [the Mormon Church] people always said that the church was prejudiced against blacks but we wanted to find out for ourselves if that was true. And we found that not to be the truth. No one ever called us the big 'N' or anything like that."

For a point of reference, keep in mind that it was in June of 1978 that the LDS Church extended full membership privileges to people of African descent. Before this date blacks were not allowed to hold the LDS priesthood, nor were they allowed to enter LDS temples. Since temple ordinances are necessary for Mormons to reach a higher level of heaven, keeping blacks out of the temple was equivalent to keeping them out of the Celestial kingdom.

But when Bill and Jane joined the LDS Church things were different. So Bill is now a Mormon elder, has served as a high priest, and even spent five years on his stake's High Council. About his High Council calling Bill said,
"I am the only black who has served in that capacity in this area. I don't know of any others that have served. We are pioneers with the church."

Bill is also pleased that he and Jane can go to the Reno Nevada Temple. He said,
"A lot of them have never seen a black person go to the temple because you have to be worthy. Everybody can't go to the temple. It is a special place."

According to the Gazette-Journal, Bill and Jane would like to see more African Americans in the pews. Bill said,
"Our ward isn't all white now. We're there and there are other blacks that go there on a regular basis. We're all happy being there."

I dunno. Is it me or does it sound like there are still some racial problems remaining in the LDS Church?

  • After twenty-five years Bill Moon is the only black man who has ever served on the High Council of his stake?

  • A lot of people have never seen a black person go to the temple because (it's implied) blacks are generally not worthy?

  • Bill and Jane's ward isn't all white now?

Poor Bill and Jane. Twenty-five years after joining the LDS Church in search of racial integration and almost twenty-seven years after the Church's promise of spiritual equality for blacks, they remain an anomaly.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

A Small Stream of Truth

Philip Barlow, in Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion cites late LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie on the alleged corruptions that today plague the Bible: "[Our present Bible] contains a bucket, a small pail, a few draughts, no more than a small stream at most, out of the great ocean of revealed truth that has come to men in ages more spiritually enlightened than ours" (page 193).

When I read that I couldn't help but think of
First, God's ability and promise to preserve His Word (Psalm 12:6-7); and
Second, Paul's encouragement to Timothy that the Scriptures are sufficient, containing everything we need to know for faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

Paul also charged Timothy to "Preach the word!" To "convince, rebuke, exhort" because "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Is it possible that the "great oceans" of revelation that have "come to men in ages more spiritually enlightened than ours" could be some of the fables of which Paul warned?

(Quote from Philip Barlow's book cited by Gerald R. McDermott in Saints Rising.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

FLDS Temple

Tuesday's Deseret Morning News reported on the new Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' temple currently under construction: "FLDS temple appears complete, Polygamous sect remains silent about its edifice in Texas."
"On a dirt road just a few miles outside of the tiny town of Eldorado, the temple stands out amid the surrounding ranchland. It has a limestone facade. Arched windows around the building lead up to turrets, which surround the roof. Atop it all is a short-domed steeple, reminiscent of the Nauvoo, Ill., temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

Above the doorway is the "all seeing eye" and an inscription that reportedly includes the phrase, "Holiness to the Lord in the House of the Lord."

The story caught my attention because of the photo, because of how much the FLDS temple resembles LDS temples. (see Nauvoo LDS temple at left.)
"'The temple, it's magnificent from the outside,' said JD Doyle, a local pilot who has documented the FLDS construction from the air."

This is exactly what non-Mormons say about LDS temples, reported frequently in LDS newspapers and magazines.

A couple more things about the FLDS temple that sound similar to LDS temples:
"[Schleicher County, Texas, Sheriff David] Doran said he maintains contact with FLDS members on the YFZ [Yearning for Zion] Ranch, who told him members will flock from all over the United States to Texas as a retreat. 'They said they'll do their temple work and return home,' he said. Asked what kind of temple work will be performed, Doran said he had no idea."

"[Washington County Sheriff Kirk] Smith said he has tried to inquire about the temple among FLDS members in Hildale [Utah]. 'They're pretty close-mouthed about the whole thing,' he said. 'You certainly sense that it's special to them, but they won't talk about it.'"

I understand that the FLDS Church is not part of the LDS Church. Yet it seems a bit of a stretch to accept the official LDS statement found on
"Polygamist groups in Utah, other parts of the American West and elsewhere have nothing whatsoever to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." (emphasis mine)