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Friday, April 28, 2006

LDS and FLDS: Kindred Spirits

(I will be traveling over the next few days. This will be the last Mormon Coffee post until May 3rd or 4th.)

The Aspen Times is celebrating its 125th anniversary. In conjunction with the Aspen Historical Society, the newspaper is printing some old stories that have appeared throughout its history. The following story was printed in The Aspen Times in 1885:
Pugnacious Mormons

Our dispatches this morning announce that the Mormons have determined to test the constitutionality of the Tennessee law which makes the preaching of polygamy a misdemeanor. Three Mormon elders were arrested on Saturday in Carter county in that state and a suit to test the law will grow out of it. This indicates that the Mormon heresy must have gained a strong foothold in that state. It is a commentary upon the condition of public education in Tennessee, for it is a well known fact that the Mormon missionaries are successful in obtaining converts only among the ignorant and debased.

I don't know if this harsh commentary is more insulting to Mormonism or to Tennessee, but it's interesting to see that the issue of Mormon polygamy in the 19th century was not confined to Utah Territory. No wonder the citizens of the United States were concerned about it.

You may be tired of reading about polygamy; it's been in the news so much lately. I've not been terribly interested in the subject myself. After all, it's got 100 years' worth of distance from Mormonism (officially). But as Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Church have received so much media coverage in recent months, I have realized that the LDS Church and the FLDS Church share much more than just historical Mormon polygamy.

Yesterday an article appeared in Salt Lake City Weekly, "Once a Creeker." It's the story of Margaret Cook, an ex-FLDS member and former polygamous wife who left Colorado City twelve years ago for a better life. Though lengthy, the article reveals much about the emotions and behaviors growing out of spiritual bondage. I would encourage anyone interested in Mormon culture to read it.

Let me explain the connection.

Margaret Cook has experienced terrible things in her lifetime, both as an FLDS member and as an ex-member. The things that have been done to her in the name of religion are unconscionable. I do not suggest that the Mormon Church engages in the same behavior as that which has been perpetrated against Margaret Cook; however, I have experienced similar but much less intense actions directed at me by Mormons.

For instance, while Margaret has had pot-shots taken at her, when I've been engaged in legal Christian outreach near LDS sites I have had rocks thrown at me. I have been followed and photographed by LDS security. My actions have been discussed between Mormon officials with walkie-talkies. I've been falsely accused. I've been harassed by Mormon police. I've had close-calls when LDS members have wanted to frighten me with their cars. I've been flashed lewd hand gestures. And the list could go on.

My point is not that I've been victimized. These same things happen to my co-workers in ministry as well. After 17 years I recognize that it just comes with the territory. But what I find interesting are the similarities in the mindsets of both the FLDS and LDS people: the deep suspicion of outsiders; the determination to control every situation; the attitude of being above (or outside) the law; the active hostility toward critics; the use of intimidation against "undesirables." Where does all this come from?

The Bible tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is "love, joy, peace, longsuffering. kindness. goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Conversely, the works of the flesh are "lewdness, …hatred, contentions, …outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, …and the like" (Galatians 5:19-20).

Take the time to read the Salt Lake City Weekly article. It's very revealing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mormon Church Joins Coalition in Defending Marriage

The LDS Church has joined with 49 religious leaders around the country in calling for a constitutional amendment "to establish a uniform national definition of marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one woman." LDS Apostle Russell M. Nelson, as representative for the Mormon Church, has signed the Letter from America's Religious Leaders in Defense of Marriage, produced by the Religious Coalition for Marriage.

The Coalition's Mission Statement explains
"The Religious Coalition for Marriage is an ad hoc, interfaith committee of America’s Religious Leaders who share a common concern for the well-being of marriage in our nation. …although we do not share full unity on a host of important theological beliefs, we can all agree and affirm – with one united voice – the definition, nature and purpose of marriage."

Given the interfaith nature of this coalition as explained above, it's not surprising to find the LDS Church among its members. I'm glad the Mormon Church lends its support and muscle to this issue. However, the Coalition's Mission Statement goes on to say
"We, the leaders of the nation’s Jewish and Christian – Anglican, African-American, Catholic, Evangelical, Latter-day Saints, Lutheran, Orthodox, and Presbyterian – communities commit ourselves to working together to preserve, promote, and protect this central institution of personal and communal life."

Here is where red flags start waving for me. I am of the opinion, along with many others, that the LDS Church is not part of the family of Christian churches due to its non-biblical doctrines; not the least of these being its heretical (according to the Bible) definition of God.

But Mormons use a different definition of "Christian" than I do, and so they would place themselves in the center of that Mission Statement list. When I read it, I thought perhaps the Religious Coalition for Marriage also uses a different definition of "Christian" than I do; so I just filed away my disappointment in finding the LDS Church once again publicly affirmed as a Christian denomination.

But then I read the following in the Letter from America's Religious Leaders in Defense of Marriage:
"…when marriage is entered into and gotten out of lightly, when it is no longer the boundary of sexual activity, or when it is allowed to be radically redefined, a host of personal and civic ills can be expected to follow. Such a point has always been stressed by the world's great monotheistic religious traditions…"

There it was: The implication that the signers of the Letter represented "monotheistic religious traditions." I read through the list of the 50 signers and found that all names and affiliations but one were monotheistic. While there is great diversity of theological positions represented on the list, still each one proclaims there is only one true God. All except Mormonism, that is.

Mormonism teaches that many true Gods exist. It teaches that worthy human beings will someday become true Gods in eternity. It teaches that Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are three true Gods who nevertheless work in unity. How can this clearly polytheistic (or henotheistic) religion be included in a group of monotheistic faiths?

I believe the defense of marriage is an important issue in our nation and I am not opposed to people of differing faiths working together for the common good. But I think this can and should be done without compromising truth and without lending spiritual legitimacy to a religion that leads people after a false god.

For the Christian leaders who formed the Coalition and who wrote the Letter, who determined the Mission Statement and who invited the signers, I would encourage them to consider the Apostle John's teaching regarding false teachers. He said,
"Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; …If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds." (2 John 1:9-11)

The LDS Church is successful enough on its own at obscuring its disparate doctrines from an undiscerning world. Let's not support them in this task by greeting them as if they are part of the family.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Youth Suicide in Utah

Yesterday's Deseret News carried a very sad and sobering report: "Deadly taboo: Youth suicide an epidemic that many in Utah prefer to ignore." The report relates the tragic stories of several Utah teens who have taken their own lives in recent months and talks in depth about the widespread problem of youth suicide in Utah.

Leading the nation in suicides among men aged 15-24, Utah also ranks 11th highest in suicides overall with 14.3 deaths per 100,000 people. A graphic prepared by Deseret Morning News comparing Utah and National suicides by age group from 1999-2002 shows Utah suicide death rates higher than the national average in every category. Deseret News says:
"A former surgeon general who recently spoke in Utah about suicide prevention said he was impressed with the state's warm and friendly people, said Ken Tuttle, director of psychiatry at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.

"But he added, 'In New York, we kill each other. In Utah, you kill yourselves.'"

But not only in Utah. The article notes that the whole group of Rocky Mountain states has an unexplainable 30 percent higher rate of suicide than the rest of the U.S.

Citing statistics, Deseret News says one in six Utah students have seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months, and one in eight have actually made a specific plan to commit suicide in the same time period. Two percent of Utah youth "attempt suicide in a manner that requires medical attention." Obviously, this is a serious problem. However,
"Suicide is clearly a taboo subject. And to talk about youth suicide is to wade into the complicated, mysterious arena of mental health and the delicate world of teenage emotion.

"This is a place few want to go.

"No one wants to venture into the dark realms where Utah young people — with the possibility and potential they represent — meet despair and self-destruction. Virtually no one wants to explore factors that contribute to a teenager's private decision to end his life with a gun, pills, carbon monoxide or a rope."

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff gave his opinion on this issue when he said,
"We have this 'All is well in Zion' kind of thing going here. We'd rather not talk about it at all or maybe to go talk to the bishop about it. If there really is a mental health issue you need help. It doesn't work to talk to the youth leaders or ecclesiastic leaders."

Indeed. I did a search of LDS Church magazines and curriculum for the past 10 years. I searched for the word "suicide" in General Conference reports, First Presidency messages, general women's meetings, Visiting Teaching messages, and the words of all General Authorities and found no discussion of the topic whatsoever. I found only three instances where the word "suicide" was even mentioned, and all three were in passing, in talks on other subjects. It's amazing to me that the leadership of the Mormon Church does not provide help and hope for those suffering from pain related to suicide. No wonder it's thought to be a taboo subject that must be borne alone.

In a study done by several doctors associated with the University of Utah School of Medicine, officials examined the suicide deaths of 49 Utah young people, conducting 270 hours of interviews with parents and other survivors:
"The study made clear the role society's attitude plays in this problem and concluded those who died faced the following barriers for adequate mental health care:
  • The belief that nothing could help.
  • The belief that seeking help is a sign of weakness or failure.
  • The reluctance to admit to having mental health problems.
  • The denial of problems.
  • The embarrassment about seeking help.

"The study concluded, 'It is suggested that the stigma of mental illness is a considerable barrier to mental health treatment.'

Of course I realize that mental illness must overcome stigmas everywhere, not just in Utah. Yet in a state where well over half the population share a common and dedicated faith and pride themselves on the extraordinary way they care for one another, the hopelessness of Utah teens as they suffer in silence is hard to understand.

Friends, those of you who are Christians, please pray for the children in Utah. Deseret News reports:
"And today, in the warming days of April, Utahns should have particular reason for concern:

"According to therapists and research, suicide rates are highest in the spring. As child psychiatrist Karen Black says: 'We are headed into the manic season.'"

Friday, April 21, 2006

Before You Visit Temple Square…

Tuesday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer carried an Associated Press article about the LDS Church's Temple Square, located in Salt Lake City. Touted as "Utah's hottest tourist destination," the article notes that Temple Square receives 3 to 5 million visitors each year while Utah's five stunning national parks put together had only 5.3 million visitors in 2005.

The AP article gives a typical summation of the LDS Church: one of the world's fastest growing religions…estimated 12 million members…growing influence…Joseph Smith. And it praises the friendliness of the sister missionaries and the cleanliness of the grounds. But nestled between the parts that sound almost as if they were composed by the LDS Church PR department, we find this interesting tidbit:
"Even a quick, 30-minute tour of the grounds reveals a history of epic American drama and Western adventure: Smith's death at the hands of an angry mob; early Mormons fleeing religious persecution in the Midwest; controversy over a church doctrine (officially abandoned in 1890) that endorsed polygamy; and Mormon pioneers who trekked across the plains in 1847 to find refuge and build a city near the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

"Like visitors to St. Peter's Square in Rome, people touring Temple Square should expect to find a church-sanctioned version of history. So don't come looking for a lengthy discussion of polygamy or a detailed explanation of the "Utah War" of 1857, when Mormon militia and federal troops engaged in a tense standoff."

This reads as if reporter Jim Graham is connecting the synopsis of the Mormon story he's just related--the "history of epic American drama and Western adventure"--with the caveat that this history is a "church-sanctioned" version that should be taken with a grain of salt.

It comes as no surprise that the LDS Church has designed Temple Square as a proselytizing tool. There, Mormon Church history is presented in a faith-promoting way, intended to evoke the strong emotions of sympathy and longing from visitors. The friendly sister missionaries present the Mormon faith in the same "church-sanctioned" fashion, being rather selective in which aspects of their religion they will and will not discuss.

As the tourist season is now upon us, perhaps some of you will be visiting Salt Lake City and Temple Square in the near future. In preparation for your trip I recommend you visit, a web site operated by Mormonism Research Ministry. Here you will find additional historical information about the LDS Church that will be helpful for you to know.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Wedding Bells for LDS Apostle

Since we're on the topic of polygamy, here's a bit of news that raises a question or two.

In 1945 LDS Apostle Russell M. Nelson married his first wife, Dantzel, "for time and eternity" in the Salt Lake Temple. They made their life together for almost 60 years; Dantzel passed away in February 2005. However, it's believed by Mormons that she will, by virtue of her temple marriage, reunite with her husband after his death and spend eternity as his wife in the celestial kingdom.

A little over a year after Dantzel's death Mr. Nelson married again. On April 6th, 2006 Mr. Nelson and BYU professor Wendy L. Watson were wed in the Salt Lake Temple. This is the first marriage for the new Mrs. Nelson, so it's reasonable to assume her marriage was not just for "time," but for "eternity" as well. By her temple marriage she has secured the right, if she remains worthy, to also be her husband's eternal wife in the celestial kingdom.

It's not allowed within Mormonism for women to be "sealed" (married in the temple for eternity) to more than one man; however, men are allowed to be eternally "sealed" to more than one woman. This is apparently what has taken place in Mr. Nelson's case.

So the question is, according to LDS beliefs, doesn't this mean Mr. Nelson will be a polygamist in heaven?

Furthermore, isn't he a polygamist now though he is currently only living with one of his two wives?

The LDS Church web site defines polygamy as "more correctly polygyny, the marriage of more than one woman to the same man." The web site also states,
"The Church discontinued polygamy more than a century ago. No members of the Church today can enter into polygamy without being excommunicated."

I don't believe Apostle Nelson will be excommunicated for his temple marriage to Wendy Watson. Yet the declaration on the LDS web site, "There is no such thing as a 'polygamous' Mormon," is not entirely accurate. As is so often the case with this religion, there is much more to it than publicly meets the eye.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Mormon Prophets Known by Their Fruits

Mormons are always telling me that I should know Joseph Smith was a true prophet because (they quote Matthew 7:20) "by their fruits you shall know them." Then they point out all the good things the Mormon Church is responsible for like humanitarian aid, boy scout training, good citizens with strong work ethics, etc.

I think Mormons misuse or misunderstand the passage from Matthew. While it is absolutely true that you will know a false prophet by his "fruit," the fruit is not identified as the kind of good works Mormons bring up. The New Testament describes some of the "fruit" of false prophets as:
  • controversies (1 Timothy 1:3-4)
  • divisions (1 Timothy 6:3-4)
  • destruction of faith (2 Timothy 2:18), and
  • self-destruction by heresy. (2 Peter 2:1)

Be that as it may, let's for a moment use the Mormon approach to Matthew 7:20. What "fruit" might we discover from the ministry of Joseph Smith?

One "fruit" that comes to my mind is that of polygamy. I know--and I'm sure you do, too--that the Mormon Church no longer practices polygamy; there's been practically nothing else in the entertainment news for weeks. I'm sure we all know the LDS Church excommunicates anyone today who is caught engaging in polygamy. I'm not talking about what Latter-day Saints do these days during their sojourn on earth. I'm talking about the fruitful harvest from the seeds Joseph Smith planted as a prophet.

That Joseph practiced and taught the doctrine of plural wives is beyond dispute. After Joseph died, Brigham Young picked up that ball and ran with it. During the time he was president of the Mormon Church the doctrine was published to the world and practiced openly throughout the Mormon kingdom. Brigham Young's successor, John Taylor, continued the doctrine of plural marriage as a necessity for those who desired to reach the celestial kingdom in the hereafter. But not only that; in 1886 he strengthened the teaching by receiving a revelation that declared God would never revoke this new and everlasting covenant; it was to stand as God's law forever. Joseph planted, Brigham watered, John fertilized the crop.

Two years later John Taylor died and along came Wilford Woodruff as the 4th prophet and president of the Mormon Church. In 1888 he echoed John Taylor's revelation when he said, "The doctrine of plural marriage has come to stay for all time." However, great pressure was brought to bear upon the LDS Church due to polygamy so in 1890 Wilford Woodruff revealed he "had sought the will of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit had revealed that it was necessary for the church to relinquish the practice of that principle for which the brethren had been willing to lay down their lives." The "Manifesto" was given to the Church ordering them to stop "contracting any marriage forbidden by the laws of the land."

However, some did not recognize this directive as being the will of God. Over the next 14 years there were at least 250 church-approved plural marriages performed, demonstrating the need for yet another "Manifesto." This one was issued in 1904 by 6th Church president Joseph F. Smith, finally ending church-sanctioned plural marriage.

But there were still some that did not believe God had ordained the cessation of the eternal principle of plural marriage. After all, didn't God affirm, via revelation to His prophets, that The Principle would abide forever? What were these committed Church members to think and how were they to respond? Perhaps they found guidance in the words of the Apostle Paul: "Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar."

Whatever drove these men to cling to the eternal and essential LDS doctrine of plural marriage, cling they did; and Mormon Fundamentalism was born. Growing directly from the root of the Mormon Church, as planted, watered and harvested by LDS prophets, the practice of religious polygamy flourishes in the United States today with somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 people living The Principle.

The LDS-generated polygamous lifestyle has always been marked by sin and things about which people ought to be ashamed, but it has deteriorated even more in these latter latter-days. Linked with child rape, child abuse, abandonment, intimidation, spouse abuse, spiritual tyranny and more--all in done in the name of God--this is rotten, despicable fruit.

And now, as if the state of polygamy in the inter-mountain west isn't bad enough, there's a new report coming out of a polygamous community in Bountiful, British Columbia, Canada. The people of this community, led by Rulon Jeffs until his death, were members of the now-infamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of the LDS Church. When Mr. Jeffs died and his son Warren took over, about 1,000 members split from the FLDS Church in Bountiful to follow new leaders. On April 7th 2006 the Vancouver Sun reported a same-sex marriage between two of the wives of Winston Blackmore, one of the community's leaders. Mr. Blackmore's 18th plural wife quietly married his 22nd plural wife in December. Though they have both been "wed" to Mr. Blackmore since they were in their mid-teens and are the mothers of several of his 100+ children, this was the first legal marriage for both women.

Okay, Mormon friends. Let's talk about Matthew 7:20. Let's take a look at the "fruit" of Joseph Smith and the other LDS founding prophets. Let's start with polygamy.

(Information on the history of LDS polygamy is from Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, pages 128, 134, 139, 140, 156 and 158. The words of the Apostle Paul quoted above can be found in Romans 3:4.)


Friday, April 14, 2006

Love Lustres At Calvary

My Father,
Enlarge my heart, warm my affections, open my lips,
      supply words that proclaim 'Love lustres at Calvary.'
There grace removes my burdens and heaps them on thy Son,
      made a transgressor, a curse, and a sin for me;
There the sword of thy justice smote the man, thy fellow;
There thy infinite attributes were magnified,
      and infinite atonement was made;
There infinite punishment was due,
      and infinite punishment was endured.
Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
            cast off that I might be brought in,
            trodden down as an enemy
                  that I might be welcomed as a friend,
            surrendered to hell's worst
                  that I might attain heaven's best,
            stripped that I might be clothed,
            wounded that I might be healed,
            athirst that I might drink,
            tormented that I might be comforted,
            made a shame that I might inherit glory,
            entered darkness that I might have eternal light.
My Saviour wept that all tears might be wiped away from my eyes,
            groaned that I might have endless song,
            endured all pain that I might have unfading health,
            bore a thorned crown that I might have a glory-diadem,
            bowed his head that I might uplift mine,
            experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,
            closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded
            expired that I might for ever live.
O Father, who spared not thine only Son that thou mightest spare me,
All this transfer thy love designed and accomplished;
Help me to adore thee by lips and life.
O that my every breath might be ecstatic praise,
      my every step buoyant with delight, as I see
            my enemies crushed,
            Satan baffled, defeated, destroyed,
            sin buried in the ocean of reconciling blood,
            hell's gates closed, heaven's portal open.
Go forth, O conquering God, and show me the cross,
      mighty to subdue, comfort and save.

(From The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan prayers and devotions,
edited by Arthur Bennett, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mormonism Gathering Illegal Immigrants to Utah

There's been a lot in the news this week about illegal immigrants; this promises to be a topic that will continue to receive much attention in the months (or years) to come. One article of interest appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune last weekend: "Many illegal immigrants feel right at home in Utah." Reporter Michael Riley wrote:
"Amid the country's caustic immigration debate, Utah may be the closest thing these days to an immigrant paradise.

"Utah is the most Republican state in the country. But the state's more than 95,000 undocumented immigrants can legally drive with a 'driving privilege card' created last year. They can, if they graduated from a Utah high school, go to any public university or community college and pay in-state tuition."

Trying to explain why this republican state has opened its arms to these immigrants, the article says experts point to Mormon doctrine as the main reason.
"The Book of Mormon teaches that a group of people that traveled to the American continent from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., later called the Lamanites, are the forefathers of the native peoples of Mexico and Central and South America.

"Many Mormons see the tens of thousands of Latin American immigrants who have arrived in the seat of the church as guided by the hand of God in order to be converted and become critical players in an unfolding religious tale of biblical proportions.

"'Mormons have the Book of Mormon, and the Latin American, aboriginal ancestry is relevant to their views,…' said [Chris] Cannon, a five-term congressman and a Mormon.

"'The Mormon church has taken a position that is pretty clear. They are a proselytizing church, and they view the people coming to Utah as a great group of people to convert,' Cannon said."

Indeed, an editorial that appeared last July in Salt Lake City Weekly supports this doctrinal connection. "Immigration & Revelation -- Some of Utah's LDS Latinos believe their presence is part of heavenly Father's master plan" by Naomi Zeveloff recounts the stories of a few representative Utah immigrants.

One is Oscar Faria, who emigrated from Venezuela due to dreams and visions he believed were directing him to Salt Lake City. Once there, through another series of visions, he joined the LDS Church. Mr. Faria believes his journey to the United States "is part of a biblical prophecy" and that the surge of current immigration is "a sign of God's gathering of the Children of Israel." He said,
"The people who come here to the United States, the people who come to Utah, are the chosen people. They come here looking for the church and they don’t know it. I am an example of this."

The Salt Lake City Weekly article went on to note:
"Today, Latinos are converting to Mormonism faster than any group on the planet. There are 102 full-time missions in Latin America, said [Arturo de Hoyos, retired BYU professor of sociology]. The church numbers 3,681,000 Spanish-speaking members, with 952,950 in Mexico alone, fulfilling the prophecy in the Doctrine and Covenants, an LDS scripture, that '…the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose' in the latter days, or the epoch leading up to the Second Coming. 'The Latinos are joining the Mormon Church tremendously. We believe that it is because they are beginning to remember who they are,' de Hoyos said."

Mr. Faria believes the "discord of illegal immigration in the United States is part of God's plan." So does another LDS Latino in Utah:
"As a first-generation Latino in the United States, [Oscar] Garcia views the immigrant’s struggle as a gateway to a glorious future. 'God said that we will be a generation of Latinos that will suffer because we are not legal here, because we are not born here or born from the people who populated this area many generations ago. We will have poverty and racism, but it’s because our children, who are born here as U.S. citizens, are the people that God will prepare for his future plans.'

"Garcia said that as Lamanites come to the United States, the second generation will become fortified. His three children, he said, are living examples of how the Lamanites are increasing in righteousness in the latter days; God is finally taking the ancient curse of black skin for iniquity from this generation of Lamanites, Garcia believes. 'My children are turning white and they are Lamanite descendents. My daughter is a white Mexican,' he said."

Mr. Garcia's last statement really needs some comment, but more on that later. The point I'd like to bring up here is that not all Utahans are pleased with the idea of Heavenly Father bringing illegal LDS immigrants to their state. The Salt Lake Tribune article noted:
"Recently, opponents have fought back in Utah, wielding their own version of church theology. They note that the Book of Mormon emphasizes obeying the law and that prospective converts must swear that they deal honestly with other people before they can enter a Mormon temple. Both are inconsistent with crossing the border illegally, critics say."

I'm not sure what reporter Michael Riley means by opponents "wielding their own version of church theology." It is beyond dispute that Mormon converts must make certain covenants at baptism which obligates them to: 1. Stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all places; and 2. Serve God and keep his commandments. Furthermore, for a Mormon to enter a temple that person must be deemed worthy. One of the questions prospective temple-goers must answer in the affirmative is the one cited above: Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?

I'm not stating a position on this issue; I'm only asking questions. Can illegal immigrants honestly make and keep LDS baptismal covenants? Can they pass the "worthiness" test and go into LDS temples? Is the Mormon Church taking any steps to help these people become legal immigrants? Should it?


Okay. I can't resist a quick comment about this (from above):
"His three children, he said, are living examples of how the Lamanites are increasing in righteousness in the latter days; God is finally taking the ancient curse of black skin for iniquity from this generation of Lamanites, Garcia believes. 'My children are turning white and they are Lamanite descendents. My daughter is a white Mexican,' he said."

This comment is really no surprise to many of us who have examined some of the racial issues in LDS Church history. But to BYU church history professor Richard Bennett this was something new. In response to Mr. Garcia's comment,
"Bennett says that he has never heard Garcia’s interpretation. 'The understanding of the scripture of the Book of Mormon is as the Lamanites increase in righteousness, they will become "white" in the sense of having their sins perfectly cleaned out of them. They become purified as a white and delightsome people but not in the connotation of pigmentation or racial expression,' he said."

I guess Dr. Bennett is unfamiliar with the remarks of Prophet (then Apostle) Spencer W. Kimball, which were made at the October 1960 General Conference of the LDS Church:
"The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos; five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.

"At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl -- sixteen -- sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents -- on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather. There was a doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness." (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 599 - Infobases Collectors Library '97)

Good grief.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Mormon Bookstores Compete in Nauvoo

On March 31st, LDS Church-owned Deseret Book announced plans to open a new store in Nauvoo, Illinois as early as June of this year. On Sunday (April 9th) the Illinois Quincy Herald Whig carried an article about retailers in Nauvoo and how they feel about the competition.

You have to understand that Nauvoo is a very small town. The population is around 1600 residents. It's a sleepy village most of the time, but wakes during the summer months with lots of Mormon travelers coming to town to visit the restored historic Mormon sites.

As the Quincy Herald Whig notes, Deseret Book's plan to move into Nauvoo is not welcome news for some of the town's businesses.
"For [LDS bookstore owner Estel] Neff and other retailers, it's repetition of what's already for sale in the community.

"'Everybody in town is concerned about it. It's only about four months of business here in this town. The businesses here for years can't afford to lose any percentage of business at all and still exist,' Neff said."

In fact, Nauvoo already has three bookstores that cater to LDS customers: Old House Bookstore, Latter-day Harvest Bookstore, and The Old, Old Path. All of these stores sell LDS books, jewelry, pioneer clothing, home decor and other things Deseret Book plans to bring to town.

Mr. Neff said Deseret Book tried to come to Nauvoo years ago, but the existing retailers were able to convince Deseret to change its plans. Though Mr. Neff and others are trying again to reason with Deseret Book, it doesn't look like they will succeed.

The Quincy Herald Whig reported:
"Nauvoo long has been a focus area for the LDS retailer, but finding the right location, mix of product and timing was important in launching the new 2,600-square-foot store.

"'We believe this is the right opportunity for both Deseret Book and for the Nauvoo community,' [Deseret Book CEO Sheri] Dew said.

"Mayor John McCarty said the building project completes Nauvoo's main street, filling an empty lot near the temple, and brings a 'quality store' to the community."

This makes it sound as if Deseret Book is doing Nauvoo a favor by building an attractive building to fill a previously empty lot on Mulholland, Nauvoo's main street. But the lot that now supports the new building wasn't empty. For many years it had been the site of a small memorial park honoring the Smith family. Nauvoo Legacy Gardens contained a life-size replica of a Nauvoo Temple sunstone, a bronze statue of Joseph Smith, plaques, benches, paths, and more; all in a nicely landscaped and well-kept area.

While the Mayor of Nauvoo seems to generally support the new store, he did express some concern:
"'The only thing is most of the shops in town sell pretty much the same types of products they'll bring in. They will be direct competition with retailers everywhere in town,' McCarty said.

"Local retailers are the ones who weathered the tough times over the years, the slow times in the winter months. 'It's hard to back [Deseret Book] 100 percent when you know it hurts them,' McCarty said."

Deseret Book already has 43 stores operating around the country. I have to wonder what is driving them to open another store in a market that can barely support the three bookstores already there. What can Deseret Book offer that the other stores cannot (or do not)? The only thing I'm aware of is Mormon Tabernacle Choir products: Deseret Book is the sole distributor for music on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir label. Could this be the motivation?

It's hard to figure, but I have a theory. I don't think it's that Deseret Book has something to offer that the others don’t; but rather that they don't offer something the others do.

The three bookstores currently in Nauvoo offer products that promote and strengthen the faith of LDS members. But these stores also offer customers books that are sometimes critical of Mormonism.

Could the LDS Church--owners of Deseret Book--be trying to put the independent LDS bookstores* out of business in order to control the books available to visiting Latter-day Saints? Or are they only in it for the money?

*Please note that while two of the three Nauvoo bookstores mentioned above are owned and operated by Mormons, the proprietors of The Old, Old Path are Restorationists.

Monday, April 10, 2006

LDS Growth Statistics

Last week the Associated Press reported:
"The Assemblies of God, the Mormon church and the Roman Catholic Church were the fastest-growing major denominations in the United States last year, according to the just-released 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.

"The Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal church, grew 1.81 percent to just under 2.8 million members. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints increased 1.74 percent to nearly 6 million people. And the Catholic Church, by the far the largest denomination in the United States, grew .83 percent to 67.8 million parishioners."

A few years ago Mormon researcher David Stewart wrote:
"While the LDS Church is still one of the faster growing churches in the United States, most of the growth is due to the fact that a full one-third of all full-time LDS missions are concentrated in the U.S., with less than 5% of the world's population, and that U.S. Latter-day Saints average approximately one more child per family than non-LDS U.S. citizens. When the LDS birth rate and full-time missionary efforts are taken into consideration, member-missionary efforts account for just 12-14% of LDS Church growth in North America."

Announced at the LDS General Conference earlier this month, as of December 31, 2005 the Mormon Church claimed 12,560,869 members worldwide. This included an increase of "children of record" (that is, newly baptized children of members) of 93,150; plus 243,108 new converts baptized; totaling 336,258 new members for the LDS Church. However, the Church reported an overall total growth of 285,047 members from December 31, 2004 to December 31, 2005; therefore, the Church lost 51,211 previously baptized members during the same period.

While the Mormon Church continues to expand, there have been no reports of increased retention rates. The surprisingly low activity level of baptized LDS converts was the subject of news reports in July of last year when the Salt Lake Tribune reported, among other startling facts, that the estimated worldwide activity of LDS membership is only around 35 percent. That means that of the 12.5 million members currently recorded, about 8 million are inactive.

For more information about the July 2005 reports on LDS growth and retention see "Welcome Trends" at the Questioning Mormonism web site.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Cuppa Mormon Tea

I have always had trouble understanding the Word of Wisdom. As it reads in the 89th section of Doctrine and Covenants, observance of the following things are required by God:

  • Strong drinks are not to be consumed, but rather to be used for washing.
  • Tobacco is not for the body or the belly, but is to be used for bruises and sick cattle.
  • Hot drinks are not to be consumed.
  • Herbs and fruit are to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.
  • Meat and poultry are to be eaten sparingly, and that only in winter or times of famine.
  • Grains are for both man and beast.

It seems clear enough, but apparently it does not actually mean what it says. Mormons who affirm that they obey the Word of Wisdom do not eat meat only in times of famine, treat their bruises with tobacco, or wash with strong drink.

Furthermore, Mormons do consume hot drinks while still believing that they are in full compliance with the Word of Wisdom. That's because it's generally understood that "hot drinks" in the revelation refers specifically to coffee and tea. The LDS web site for non-Mormons says:
"Your body is a precious gift from God. To help keep our bodies and our minds healthy and strong, God gave a law of health to Joseph Smith in 1833. This law is known as the Word of Wisdom…God promises great physical and spiritual blessings to those who follow the Word of Wisdom. Today, the scientific community promotes some of the same principles that a loving God gave to Joseph Smith nearly two centuries ago."

Therefore, it seems clear that the Word of Wisdom was given primarily for health, to protect God's people from harmful substances. That's why an article from yesterday's Deseret News caught my eye. "Nice cup of 'Mormon tea' eased settlers ailments" reports on "the kind of tea early Utah settlers drank." It came from a broom-like shrub in the Gnetaceae Genus Ephedra family. The article states,
"While it is a source of ephedra, it doesn't violate the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Word of Wisdom."


Deseret News states that no negative side effects were noticed when the pioneers were using it, though recently it has become known that extracted ephedra may lead to serious health problems.

In fact, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler's death in 2003 was tied to ephedra and in April 2004 the FDA banned the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra due to its serious health risks.

So why were Mormons drinking tea made from a plant containing ephedra? Why were they drinking tea at all?

The Deseret News article says,
"Other settlers brewed a strong tea from the plant to treat syphilis and other venereal diseases and as a tonic. Seeds from the plant were ground as bitter meal or used to flavor bread dough."

Included in the Deseret News report is this list of "known effects":

  • a stimulus to the central nervous system
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased heart rate
  • increased urine to dispose of excess body fluid
  • elevated mood
  • decreased appetite
  • lessened fatigue

This sounds an awful lot like caffeine to me. And caffeine is usually what Mormons tell me is the harmful component of coffee and tea that prompted that portion of the Word of Wisdom in the first place. (Please note that today's "scientific community" has found several health benefits related to caffeine. For example, see "Coffee: The New Health Food?")

As I said, I've always had trouble understanding the Word of Wisdom. I don't get why it was okay for Mormon pioneers to drink 'Mormon tea.' I don't get why it was okay for them to drink tea with ephedra in it. I don't get why it was okay for them to drink a "hot drink" at all. I don't get why their behavior did not violate the Word of Wisdom.

LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,
"SALVATION AND A CUP OF TEA. You cannot neglect little things. 'Oh, a cup of tea is such a little thing. It is so little; surely it doesn't amount to much; surely the Lord will forgive me if I drink a cup of tea.' …if you drink coffee or tea, or take tobacco, are you letting a cup of tea or a little tobacco stand inn the road and bar you from the celestial kingdom of God, where you might otherwise have received a fulness of glory?" (Doctrines of Salvation 2:16)

I don't get it. Do you?


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Mormon News

There have been a few things in the news lately that have caught my attention.

The Salt Lake Tribune from March 30th reported on an email campaign that is underway to encourage HBO to cancel "Big Love," the new series about polygamy. Allow me a couple of observations.

The email circulating on the internet complains that the series is full of "parodies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." A specific complaint is an alleged parody of "belief in priesthood by a man blessing his hunting rifle."

I would like to draw your attention to a scene from the LDS film Legacy which used to be shown at the Legacy Theatre in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City, Utah. In a heartrending depiction of Mormon pioneers crossing the plains, one woman blesses her sick oxen that they might stand up and pull her wagon safely to Zion. Which they do, of course. No one, to my knowledge, ever complained about this scene promoting a Mormon parody; how is blessing a hunting rifle different from blessing oxen?

The Salt Lake Tribune article also mentions 2 Mormons by name who received the email calling for action against HBO:
"Nicki Rime, a 25-year-old project manager from Orem who received the e-mail Monday and instantly forwarded it to 30 of her friends and family, even though she hasn't seen the show."

"Justin King hasn't seen the show either, but the 24-year-old Brigham Young University student also spread the e-mail to more than a dozen friends and family members."

This reminds me a little bit of something from a 1993 performance of Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo. In this LDS play Mormon missionaries made fun of 19th century non-Mormons for believing the Book of Mormon was rubbish when they hadn't even read it. The dialog went like this:
"I wouldn't touch that Book of Mormon with a ten-foot poll."


"Because everyone says it's false--even Ezra."

"Oh, how would Ezra know? Ezra doesn't even know how to read."

"Well, he's smart enough to listen to what other folks say and Reverend Duberry says it's a pack of lies."

"Has he read it?"

"No! He's not going to. He says it's leading everyone astray."

Anyone else see a parallel here?


Yesterday, April 4th, the Huntington News Network carried an interview with Kim Wolfe, a local police officer who is seeking the Republican nomination for Congress in West Virginia's Third District. Mr. Wolfe is a Mormon; the interviewer asked if he thought that would be a problem for him politically. Mr. Wolfe answered,
"I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve; I don’t make an issue of it – and I don’t hide it. I have support from Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists."

I was interested in Mr. Wolfe's choice of denominations when listing his non-Mormon supporters. The list sounded familiar to me. Here's why:
"Sometime in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. …Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist…so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible ... to come to any certain conclusion who was right, and who was wrong." (Joseph Smith's First Vision account, Joseph Smith History 1:5, 8)

Of course, as the story goes, in the end Joseph Smith asked God and found out who was right and who was wrong: None of them were right; all of them were wrong. And not only were they wrong, but the beliefs of the Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists were condemned as "an abomination in [God's] sight" and the members of those faiths labeled "corrupt" (Joseph Smith History 1:19). In Palmyra, New York, not far from where Joseph Smith learned the answer to his spiritual question, there is an intersection with a different church on each corner. Mormons affectionately referred to this intersection as "the corner of confusion."

I wonder if Mr. Wolfe's non-Mormon supporters know the story of the foundation of Mr. Wolfe's religion?


Speaking of confusion, another article from the Salt Lake Tribune exhibited apparent confusion in the journalist who wrote it. Reporting on the Mormon Church in Chili, she explained why there seems to be a problem retaining LDS converts in that country:
"For many, being a Mormon is a big leap from other Christian faiths, especially in the demands it makes on its members…Because the church has no paid clergy, it expects new members to take on assignments including administering the sacrament, giving speeches, teaching Sunday school, organizing youth activities and doing charitable work for others - and that's every week."

In my nearly three decades of experience with Christian churches (with paid clergy) all have relied on volunteer church members to pass communion, give speeches, teach Sunday school, organize youth activities and do charitable work for others. Actually, I think the "big leap" for people familiar with Christianity comes in the non-biblical doctrines Mormons are required to embrace.


Finally, there was another odd incident reported near the St. George, Utah LDS temple (see the February 23rd post, St. George Temple Scare for previous incidents). An AP article from April 4th says,
"A man is behind bars this morning after walking around naked near the LDS temple in St. George. Police say 32-year-old Cody Calegory of Ivins was arrested Sunday night. Officers say they found him walking naked toward The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in St. George…Authorities say this is the second time in three months, Calegory has been Tasered in a confrontation with officers near the Mormon temple. Back in January, Calegory was Tasered after becoming violent and combative inside the temple's visitors center. During that arrest, he told police he was God."

I'll keep you posted as the list of strange disturbances at the St. George temple continues to grow.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Racism Reveals False Disciples

This past weekend marked the 176th General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints. On Saturday evening President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed the priesthood holders of the Church (men and boys 12 years old and up). Mr. Hinckley stated that racism, even among Church members, still "lifts its ugly head." Deseret Morning News reports Pres. Hinckley calls racism 'ugly and unacceptable'.
"'I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ,'" said President Hinckley. "'How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color, is ineligible?'"

Of course, understanding that in 1978 the LDS Church removed its ban against people of African descent holding the priesthood, Mr. Hinckley's audience would have been entirely comfortable giving his remarks a hearty "Amen!" But what about before 1978? Have the qualifications for being "a true disciple of Christ" changed along with the change in the priesthood ban?

I ask because if the qualifications for being a true disciple of Christ have not changed, the Mormon Church has a problem. Let's review a few representative statements from past prominent LDS Church leaders. Consider…

Alma from the Book of Mormon:
"And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren…who were just and holy men." (Alma 3:6)

Or the Book of Mormon Prophet Mormon:
"…for this people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, …" (Mormon 5:15)

Or LDS Apostle John Taylor:
"The descendents of Ham, besides a black skin which has ever been a curse that has followed an apostate of the holy priesthood, as well as a black heart, have been servants to both Shem and Japheth, and the abolitionists are trying to make void the curse of God…" (Times and Seasons, April 1, 1845, page 857)

Or LDS Apostle Orson Pratt:
"The Lord has not kept [righteous spirits] in store for five or six thousand years past, and kept them waiting for their bodies all this time to send them among the Hottentots, the African negroes, the idolatrous Hindoos, or any other fallen nations that dwell upon the face of this earth. They are not kept in reserve in order to come forth to receive such a degraded parentage upon the earth…" (Journal of Discourses 1:63, 1852)

Or LDS Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith:
"Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race…Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fulness of the blessings of the Gospel. These are the descendants of Cain. Moreover, they have been made to feel their inferiority…" (The Way to Perfection, 1949, page 101)

Or LDS Apostle Mark Peterson:
"We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Indians, some as Negroes, some as Americans, some as Latter-day Saints. These are rewards and punishments, fully in harmony with His established policy in dealing with sinners and saints, rewarding all according to their deeds." ("Race Problems--As They Affect the Church," 1954, page 4)

Or LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie:
"Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes….The negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow therefrom…" (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, page 527)

What are we to conclude considering last weekend's teaching from Gordon B. Hinckley? Examining the teachings of these (and other) former LDS authorities, are we to understand Mr. Hinckley means to say these men were not "true disciples of Christ"? Oh-oh.

There is another possible way to understand Mr. Hinckley. To disparage means to "regard or represent as being of little worth." While the LDS Church has historically taught (as demonstrated above) that non-Caucasian races are inferior, that doesn't mean the Church believes they are altogether worthless. LDS Apostle John Taylor made this clear:
"Why is it, in fact, that we should have a devil? Why did not the Lord kill him long ago? Because he could not do without him. He needed the devil and a great many of those who do his bidding just to keep men straight, that we may learn to place our dependence upon God, and trust in Him, and to observe his laws and keep his commandments. When he destroyed the inhabitants of the antediluvian world, he suffered a descendant of Cain to come through the flood in order that [the devil] might be properly represented upon the earth." (Journal of Discourses 23:336, 1882)

I guess either way we try to make sense of Mr. Hinckley's recent remark it leaves the LDS Church in a pretty poor light. I do agree, though, that racism is ugly and unacceptable. That's one of many reasons I could never align myself with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.