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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mormons Should Try Walking in Jewish Shoes

It started in 1995. Jewish leaders met with LDS Church representatives in an effort to find a solution to the concern Jews had over posthumous proxy Mormon baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims. The two groups signed an agreement aimed at preventing the names of Holocaust victims from being added to the Church's genealogical index and limiting any Jewish names in the index to those who were direct ancestors of living LDS Church members. The Church also agreed to remove any existing Jewish names in the index of which they were made aware.

In 2002 Jewish and LDS Church leaders reaffirmed the agreement reached in 1995.

In December 2003 concerned Jews told the press that the LDS Church was not honoring the 1995 agreement while Mormon officials claimed they remained in full compliance with the agreement.

The following April (2004) concerned Jewish leaders asked Senator Hilary Clinton to intervene in order to get the LDS Church to abide by the previous agreement. She met with LDS Senator Orin Hatch but Senator Clinton declined to comment on what was discussed at the private meeting. The LDS Church had no comment regarding the renewed accusations.

One year later, April 2005, Jewish leaders again met with LDS Church representatives. Saying the Church had broken its 10-year-old agreement to refrain from performing proxy baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims, Jewish representatives again asked the Church to honor its 1995 agreement. The Church said it had always kept its part of the agreement; nevertheless, the two groups reaffirmed the existing pact.

Fast-forward another year to May 2006. The Jerusalem Post reports:
Jewish leaders in a dispute with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints over the practice of posthumous baptisms say there is new evidence that names of Jewish Holocaust victims continue to show up in the church's vast genealogical database.

"We've been dealing with it for 11 years, since 1995, and we continue to deal with it," said Ernest Michel, a Holocaust survivor and founding member of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

…A cross-referencing of more than 1,500 Dutch Jews whose names should have been deleted from the church's International Genealogical Index remain in the database, Michel said.

Over the past three months, the entries were matched by Salt Lake City researcher Helen Radkey against a 1995 list of deleted names provided by church leaders to Michel's organization.

This is a complicated issue, to be sure. The LDS Church maintains 400,000,000 names in their International Genealogical Index, a list continually growing, added to by millions of LDS members. A few thousand inappropriate Jewish names must seem insignificant to the Mormon Church. Yet is it right for the Church to sign an agreement that they cannot or will not honor?

Mormon President Gordon B. Hinckley told the Associated Press that baptism for the dead is only an offer of LDS Church membership--which deceased individuals are free to reject. "So there's no injury done to anybody," President Hinckley said.

This lack of sensitivity amazes me. I understand that baptism for the dead is viewed by Mormons as an act of love, done in order to provide everyone with a chance to attain a better level of glory in the afterlife. This is why I say it's a complicated issue. But setting aside whether or not Mormons should continue to baptize Holocaust victims despite objections from the Jewish community, the statement that there is "no injury done to anybody" seems a rather cold defense.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, 2003 associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said,
"As far as Judaism is concerned, [baptism of the dead] is theologically irrelevant, but emotionally it is quite distressful because it is viewed by many of us as a sign of disrespect."

A year later, the new dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Marvin Hier, said,
"It's ridiculous for people to pretend they have the key to heaven. And even if they say they want to do somebody a favor … it's not a symbol of love. It's a symbol of arrogance."

I'm sure Mormons would disagree with the Jewish position expressed by these men; yet it would be a good thing for Mormons to try to understand the issue from the Jewish perspective.

Perhaps Mormons could consider this scenario. A powerful and influential group has begun collecting the names of Mormon pioneers and martyrs. They are compiling them into a database which is accessible to researchers worldwide and will likely continue to be accessible for hundreds of years. This database includes records for each Mormon who has given his or her life, or sacrificed in another significant way, in consequence of their determination to remain faithful to the Mormon Gospel. Attached to each name is a letter of resignation from LDS Church membership, sent by proxy to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

Though the letters are written and sent only to provide these departed ones the opportunity to leave Mormonism and join another church if they so wish, do LDS descendents of these Mormon pioneers merely shrug off their ancestors' proxy resignations without another thought? Are Mormons not concerned about what future researchers may find and mistakenly believe about these LDS heroes?

I suspect Latter-day Saints would be very upset over Mormon pioneer proxy resignations from the LDS Church. They may even believe it to be an injustice to the memories of their loved-ones which, of course, is a devastating injury to everybody concerned.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Saying Thanks

To all who have served my nation, who serve now, who love and support those in America's military, to you I say thank you.

Your sacrifices have protected my right to freely express what I think in a public forum.

Your sacrifices have preserved my right to worship and serve my God.

Your sacrifices have maintained my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

May God honor your willingness to serve and sacrifice for others. May He bless you and yours, and may He, in His mercy, continue to bless the United States of America.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Mormon Pioneers: Average Americans

The Logan, Utah Herald Journal ran a story yesterday about the recent publication of the diaries of Mormon pioneer Charles Ora Card. Mr. Card, great-great grandfather of sci-fi author Orson Scott Card, made detailed daily entries for much of his life. The published diaries are from the years 1871-1886, when Mr. Card lived in northeastern Utah, in Cache Valley.

The book, “The Diaries of Charles Ora Card: The Utah Years, 1871-1886,” is a tribute to Mr. Card compiled by his great-grandson Donald Godfrey. But according to historian Kenneth Godfrey (no relation), the book is also an invaluable historical resource.
Something that particularly struck Kenneth Godfrey as he studied Card’s detailed daily entries was the sheer ordinariness of Mormon life at the time.

“I told one historian that a major contribution of his diaries (is that they show) that Mormons in the 1870s and ’80s were pretty solid, conservative, good people,” he said. “The sermons are about not drinking, not using tobacco, planting trees, beautifying your yard, partaking of the sacrament worthily and taking care of your children. There are no smoking guns, no unusual doctrines being espoused or preached. Mormons were pretty average Americans.”

I have no trouble believing the Mormons were pretty solid, conservative, good people, then as now. But I'm having some doubts regarding the statement that in the 1870s and '80s there were "no unusual doctrines being espoused or preached."

On June 18th, 1873 Deseret News published a sermon by LDS Prophet Brigham Young in which he said,
How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which I revealed to them, and which God revealed to me--namely that Adam is our father and God…Our Father Adam helped to make this earth, it was created expressly for him, and after it was made he and his companions came here. He brought one of his wives with him, and she was called Eve,…Our Father Adam is the man who stands at the gate and holds the keys of everlasting life and salvation to all his children who have or whoever will come upon the earth… Father Adam came here, and then they brought his wife. "Well," says one, "Why was Adam called Adam?" He was the first man on the earth, and its framer and maker. He, with the help of his brethren, brought it into existence. Then he said, "I want my children who are in the spirit world to come and live here. I once dwelt upon an earth something like this, in a mortal state, I was faithful, I received my crown and exaltation. I have the privilege of extending my work, and to its increase there will be no end. I want my children that were born to me in the spirit world to come here and take tabernacles of flesh, that their spirits may have a house, a tabernacle or dwelling place as mine has, and where is the mystery?" (See a scan of the newspaper)

The teaching that Adam was God the Father falls into the category of "unusual doctrines," at least for "average Americans." It may not have been unusual for Mormons in 1873, however, as by that time Brigham Young had been publicly preaching it for more than 20 years.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Creeds According to Mormonism

As Gladys Knight performed last weekend, she shared the story of her conversion nine years ago from Baptist to Mormon.
Knight led her 100-member [Mormon] choir, Saints Unified Voices, and preached to 3,000 people during two services over the weekend at the Suitland Stake Center, headquarters for 12 Mormon congregations in the District and Southern Maryland.

The weekend events were LDS "firesides," intended to reach out to the community. An African American man in attendance, Bryan Powell, was interviewed by the Washington Post. He converted to Mormonism 12 years ago from a Pentecostal church.
Powell said he paid a price to become a Mormon. "People were saying, how could you join that white man's church? I corrected them to say that it wasn't the white man's church, but the Lord's church. This is why the [Gladys Knight] event was so important because it showed that the church is open to all races, creeds and colors."

I'm having trouble understanding Mr. Powell's comment. What can he mean that the LDS Church is "open to all…creeds"? The whole purpose of the Restoration, the formation of the Mormon Church, was to do away with the creeds of Christendom which God allegedly told Joseph Smith were an abomination to Him.

During General Conference in October 1972 LDS Apostle LeGrand Richards spoke on the "Strange Creeds of Christendom." He said,
I would like to say a few words this morning about the statement the Savior made that “their creeds are an abomination in my sight.” When Satan was cast out of heaven, the cry went out: “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth … for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” (Rev. 12:12.) “And thus he goeth … seeking to destroy the souls of men.” (D&C 10:27.) And how does he try to destroy people? By taking a little truth and mixing it with a lot of error to deceive the hearts of the people.

That is what Isaiah meant when he said: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! … For thou has said in thine heart, … I will exalt my throne above the stars of God … I will be like the most High.” (Isa. 14:12–14.) For he is the man who made the earth to tremble, who did shake kingdoms, and thus deceived the nations. (See Isa. 14:16.) That is what Jesus came to tell us, that “their creeds were an abomination in his sight” because Satan has deceived the nations. (Ensign, January 1973)

LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie also supported the idea that the creeds are the work of the devil. He wrote,
Actually, the spirit which imposed [the creeds] on people in the early days was from beneath. (Mormon Doctrine, "Creeds," page 171)

More recently, LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley said in General Conference,
“We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost” (A of F 1:1). This first article of faith epitomizes our doctrine. We do not accept the Athanasian Creed. We do not accept the Nicene Creed, nor any other creed based on tradition and the conclusions of men. (Ensign, November 1998)

So what does it mean to say the LDS Church is open to all creeds? It doesn't accept any creeds; it thinks the creeds originated with Satan; and it proclaims that God calls all creeds an abomination. But the LDS Church is nevertheless open to these creeds?

I don't get it.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Mormonism and Myth

Deseret News reports on a collaborative enterprise that has just been completed:
Any way you look at it, the story of the Mormon pioneers is one of the great epics of the American West. Over the years it has been looked at in many ways: Words have been written, songs have been sung, dances have been danced.

A new project sponsored by the Sons and Daughters of Utah Pioneers brings all these elements together in one heartfelt package featuring music by Robert Cundick, poetry by Edward L. Hart and dance choreographed by Virginia Tanner and Christine Ollerton.

One of the contributors to the finished product, The Mormon Pioneer Saga, is LDS musicologist Roger L. Miller. Dr. Miller was interviewed for the Deseret News article. He has an interesting perspective on history:
Looking at the pioneer story through artistic eyes is a good way to understand what it means to people — both the participants and those who share its legacy, says Miller.

"The experience of any individual or group is so small compared to the overall experience. Some were burdened with all kinds of difficulties; some found an adventure, a lark."

To try to give a picture of the pioneer experience, he says, artists often take a kind of mythic approach. "In the overall, myth is often more true than history. History can never tell the whole truth. Music, dance, poetry can say what plain words can not say."

Dr. Miller explained that music can add "emotional depth" to words, a statement with which I heartily agree. However, I do not understand how myth can actually be "more true" than history.

Excluding stories involving the exploits of gods, the Oxford American Dictionary definition for "myth" is:
1. A traditional story;
2. A widely held but false belief or idea;
3. A misrepresentation of the truth;
4. A fictitious or imaginary person or thing;
5. An exaggerated or idealize conception of a person or thing.

In these five meanings for the word "myth," the idea of truth is negative in four of them, and neutral in one. None of them express the idea that myth is or can be "more true" than history.

However, myth can become more true than history in the minds of the public, as is demonstrated by the legends or romanticism of the Wild West. In one myth, for instance, Billy the Kid becomes a hero rather than the pathological killer he actually was.

Another example can be found in the LDS film Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration. This film turns Joseph Smith into a larger-than-life demigod while leaving out every historical incident in Joseph's life that portrays his imperfections. The myth of this film is definitely not more true than history, no matter how much Latter-day Saints wish it was so.

Because the LDS Church is built on the alleged historical appearance of God the Father and Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith, and LDS faith is sustained by the historical legacy of the Mormon pioneers, it's imperative to the Church that myths be presented instead of true history. If the myths were done away there would be nothing left worthy of the members' devotion. Perhaps then Latter-day Saints might be persuaded to shift that love and devotion to One who is worthy of it: He who is the way, the truth, and the life.

Friday, May 19, 2006

LDS Church on the Marriage(s) of Jesus

Today The Da Vinci Code opens in U.S. theatres. There's a lot of buzzing going on, including some from the LDS Church. Wednesday's online Deseret News ran a short article titled "LDS do not endorse claims in 'Da Vinci'" quoted here in part:
LDS doctrine does not endorse claims made in a popular book and movie that Jesus Christ was married…

Dale Bills, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a statement released Tuesday:

"The belief that Christ was married has never been official church doctrine. It is neither sanctioned nor taught by the church. While it is true that a few church leaders in the mid-1800s expressed their opinions on the matter, it was not then, and is not now, church doctrine."

I don't know quite how to take Mr. Bills' claim. Two weeks ago here on Mormon Coffee I included a quote from Salt Lake Tribune journalist Pat Bagley:
Growing up in the church in California, I dutifully got up every morning during high school at 5:30 a.m. to attend seminary. It was there I first learned that the marriage attended by Jesus in Cana, where he famously turned water into grape juice, was probably his own.

If it's taught in LDS seminary, isn't it taught by the LDS Church? I suppose it might be an issue of where the seminary instructor got the idea in the first place. Was it just his or her speculation? If so, that teacher should have been replaced, but quick.

We don't know where the teacher got his information, but quite possibly it could have come from LDS authorities. Consider this teaching from LDS Apostle Orson Hyde:
We will turn over to the account of the marriage in Cana of Galilee…

Jesus was the bridegroom at the marriage of Cana of Galilee, and he told them what to do.

Now there was actually a marriage; and if Jesus was not the bridegroom on that occasion, please tell me who was. If any man can show this, and prove that it was not the Savior of the world, then I will acknowledge I am in error. We say it was Jesus Christ who was married, to be brought into the relation whereby he could see his seed, before he was crucified. (Journal of Discourses 2:82. "A lecture by President Orson Hyde, delivered at the General Conference, in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, October 6, 1854.")

As a side note, I'm not able to tell President Hyde who was married at the wedding of Cana, but I can tell him who wasn't; John 2:2 says that both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. Grooms are not invited to their own weddings, they actually do the inviting. Jesus was not married at this wedding in Cana.

At any rate, if the President of the Twelve Apostles, speaking at General Conference, in his official capacity as an Apostle, said Jesus was married--and was never reprimanded for it--wouldn't that indicate that the Church both taught and sanctioned the doctrine?

There was some fallout for Mr. Hyde, but not from the Church. In a sermon delivered five months later Mr. Hyde said,
I discovered that some of the Eastern papers represent me as a great blasphemer, because I said, in my lecture on Marriage, at our last Conference, that Jesus Christ was married at Cana of Galilee, that Mary, Martha, and others were his wives, and that he begat children.

All that I have to say in reply to that charge is this--they worship a Savior that is too pure and holy to fulfil the commands of his Father. I worship one that is just pure and holy enough "to fulfil all righteousness;" not only the righteous law of baptism, but the still more righteous and important law "to multiply and replenish the earth." Startle not at this! (Journal of Discourses 2:210. "A sermon by President Orson Hyde, delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, March 18, 1855." Spelling retained.)

Mr. Hyde was still teaching this doctrine in 1857 (see Journal of Discourses 4:260). He was not the only LDS leader to teach that Jesus was married. LDS Apostle Orson Pratt taught:
One thing is certain, that there were several holy women that greatly loved Jesus--such as Mary, and Martha her sister, and Mary Magdalene;…now it would be very natural for a husband in the resurrection to appear first to his own dear wives, and afterwards show himself to his other friends. If all the acts of Jesus were written, we no doubt should learn that these beloved women were his wives. (The Seer, Washington D.C. edition, October 1853, page 159)

We have also proved most clearly that the Son followed the example of his Father, and became the great Bridegroom to whom kings' daughters and many honorable Wives were to be married. We have also proved that both God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ inherit their wives in eternity as well as in time; ..And then it would be so shocking to the modesty of the very pious ladies of Christendom to see Abraham and his wives, Jacob and his wives, Jesus and his honorable wives. all eating occasionally at the same table… (The Seer, Washington D.C. edition, November 1853, page 172)

The index of the Journal of Discourses says the marriage of Jesus was implied by Jedediah M. Grant. Eight months before being made an apostle Mr. Grant said:
…and what does [ancient philosopher Celsus] say upon the subject of Christ and his Apostles, and their belief? He says, "The grand reason why the Gentiles and philosophers of his school persecuted Jesus Christ, was, because he had so many wives; there were Elizabeth, and Mary, and a host of others that followed him."

A belief in the doctrine of the plurality of wives caused the persecution of Jesus and his followers. We might almost think they were "Mormons." (Journal of Discourses 1:345-346. "A discourse by Elder Jedediah M. Grant, delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, Aug. 7, 1853.")

There's a more modern source for this teaching that may have been used by the seminary instructor who taught Mr. Bagley. LDS Seventy Milton R. Hunter wrote The Gospel Through the Ages in 1945. The preface states,
This book is designed primarily for a course of study in the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums of the Church. It is to be used by all high priests', seventies', and elders' classes in their weekly meetings, beginning January 1, 1946….The volume has been written and published under the direction of the General Authorities.

As an authoritative course of study published under the direction of the General Authorities of the Church it seems that there should be no disputing that what it teaches is "official" and "sanctioned" by the Church. The book says,
"Operating in addition to and as part of natural laws are the Gospel ordinances. They were instituted by God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ before man was placed on this earth, for the purpose of assisting in bringing the sons and daughters of God back into Their presence. Such ordinances as baptism, confirmation, temple ordinances, priesthood ordinations, marriage, and others, are all part of the Gospel plan of salvation. All of these principles and ordinances of the Gospel are eternal. They were instituted before man was placed on the earth and are applicable to all human beings that live here…

Jesus Christ, the only perfect man who has lived on this earth, was perfect because He obeyed all the principles and ordinances of the Gospel in order that He "might fulfill all righteousness." He thereby set a pattern of life for all mortals to follow. If they obey all the principles and ordinances of the Gospel, as did the Master, their growth will continue until they attain eternal life in the Kingdom of God. (pages 18-19. Emphasis mine.)

So I really don't understand Mr. Bills and his statement on behalf of the LDS Church. Clearly, he is spinning the truth.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Take Precaution: Wear Jeans in Utah

On Monday 21-year-old Joseph Patrick Romero pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated assault. His crime: On January 22nd in Sandy, Utah, Mr. Romero purposefully ran his car into Chris Palomarez, a young man who happened to be wearing black pants, a white shirt, and a name badge. The victim escaped with minor injuries.

What's interesting about this case is the way it was reported when it first happened. At the time of the assault Mr. Palomarez was with a co-worker; both young men were dressed neatly for their jobs at Radio Shack. Apparently this bit of information generated speculation. From a story in Deseret Morning News:
Was Sandy attack hate-motivated?
Victims may have been mistaken for missionaries
By Pat Reavy
Deseret Morning News

SANDY — A weekend attack in which a man was beaten with brass knuckles and then hit by a car appears prompted by the assailants' belief he and his friend were Mormon missionaries.

To be fair, Mr. Palomarez, who is not LDS, said someone shouted, "Go back to church you [expletive] Mormons!" Perhaps this accusation fueled the idea that the attack was a hate crime. But as it turns out, it was nothing more than a run-of-the-mill fight between five young men that got out of hand.

Mr. Romero was contrite at his trial, according to Tuesday's Deseret Morning News:
Romero was sentenced to a year in jail, but jail time was suspended and he was put on probation. He also must pay part of the victim's medical costs and a fine totaling about $1,800, complete an anger management course, do 50 hours of community service and have no contact with the victim. He has written a letter of apology to the victim, and the prosecutor plans to forward it.

"I am really sorry," Romero told the judge. "I wish I had just driven away."

Thank goodness there was no serious injury to Mr. Palomarez. But I wonder why he played along with the hate crime accusations when he knew better.

And I wonder why Deseret Morning News jumped to the conclusion that these young men had been attacked just because they were dressed like Mormon missionaries. Do the people of Sandy, Utah think Mormon missionaries are the only young men who wear white shirts and black pants? Do they think a young man dressed neatly could not possibly be guilty of any act of provocation?

On the KSL News web site Tuesday it was reported:
Attempted Assault Case Was Not a Hate Crime
(KSL News) -- Police feared it was a hate crime aimed at missionaries serving for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But now it seems that wasn't the case.

The KSL report said police feared Mr. Romero's assault was a hate crime, but the Deseret Morning News article published almost four months ago said that, though investigators screened it as a possible hate crime, there was not enough evidence to support such a charge. So why did the Deseret Morning News even suggest the hate crime angle?

I think this whole incident demonstrates that, unfortunately, a persecution mentality is alive and well among Latter-day Saints. Mr. Romero acted stupidly and could have really hurt someone, but he was not attacking the LDS Church or Church members.

In fact, Mr. Romero is himself a Mormon.

Monday, May 15, 2006

After Suicide: Mormon Hope

Last month I blogged about suicide in Utah (see Youth Suicide in Utah). In the May 12th edition of the Salt Lake Tribune, religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote about religious questions raised by suicide. In "Searching for Solace: Suicide raises difficult religious, personal questions" Ms. Stack discusses the eternal fate of suicide victims according to various religions.

Different religious traditions understand the sin of suicide in varied ways. Some believe there is no hope of salvation for such a person; some think certain religious rites must be denied at the time of burial; and some place suicide in the same category as any other sin, fully forgivable and covered by the blood of Jesus. All seem to agree that those left behind must be treated with tenderness.

The article relates the story of Catherine Poelman, a Latter-day Saint woman who has lived with the horrible aftermath of her son's suicide for 15 years.
"Fortunately, the Poelmans' Mormon faith spelled out a more hopeful fate for Stephen in the afterlife. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' theology, there is no traditional hell, but three levels of heaven and the possibility of 'eternal progression.'

"At the funeral, LDS Apostle Neal A. Maxwell said Stephen would have to 'work through whatever Heavenly Father wants him to work through . . . and Stephen will do it. He has taken with him all his fine qualities. They are not to be rescinded. They are to be further developed.'

"But, Maxwell added, he will do the working without the 'chemical imbalances' that plagued him during this life."

While my heart breaks for the Poelman family, I can't help but be distressed over Apostle Maxwell's remarks from Stephen's funeral and the attendant LDS doctrine on the levels of glory. Essentially, the official LDS position as expressed above is that, since there is no hell, all will be well for Stephen after he's paid sufficiently for his sin. He'll work, unhindered by disease, until he's managed to please Heavenly Father. He'll achieve worthiness by continued development of his fine qualities and then…? Apostle Maxwell didn't say (as far as we know from this article), but Stephen's mother
"believes her son is 'working out his salvation in the heavenly realm while we work out ours here.'

"Adds Stephen's sister, Cathy Poelman Boyden, 'I believe suicide is wrong, but that he can make it to the top "of heaven" with a lot of work . . . more than he would have had here on Earth.'"

In all of this there is one thing conspicuously absent. Where is Jesus?

The Apostle Paul said Jesus is our hope (1 Timothy 1:1).

Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).

The Apostle John tells us that it is the blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

But a Latter-day apostle directed the grieving family to pin their hopes on Stephen. "Stephen will do it," he said.

I'm not an apostle, but I invite you all to hear and trust the Word of the Lord:

"Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord."
-Psalm 31:24


"Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and salvation;
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken."

-Psalm 62:5

Friday, May 12, 2006

Mostly Silent: Victims Must Fend for Themselves

Today's LA Times ran an in-depth article detailing the horrific abuses associated with modern-day polygamy. "Blind Eye to Culture of Abuse - Children of a polygamist sect have been exploited, molested for years" takes a hard look at what women and children have been forced to endure while living The Principle.

A focus of the lengthy article is the decades of non-action by those invested with the authority to step in and help the victims. As indicated by the title of the article, legal authorities have continually turned a blind eye to the plight of the abused. For instance, the article reports,
"Charged with protecting and serving their community, Colorado City police have long had a reputation for protecting and serving church interests instead."

The article levels the same charge at judges who heard the few cases ever brought to court. One father charged with sexually abusing his five daughters, after pleading guilty, served only 13 days in jail.

Not even the U.S. Senate is immune:
"[LDS] Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) once visited the FLDS church in Hildale and played the organ. He later defended the group when asked about its alleged abuses.

"'All I can say is I know people in Hildale who are polygamists who are very fine people. You come and show me the evidence of children being abused there, and I'll get involved,' he told local reporters. 'Bring the evidence to me.'

"Through a spokesman, Hatch declined to be interviewed for this story. Staff aide Peter Carr said allegations of FLDS abuse were 'a matter for local and federal prosecutors.'"

Senator Hatch's non-involvement is just one more example in the long line of people and institutions that do not want to get involved.

The LA Times article makes a bold move, in my opinion, when it takes on the LDS Church. I applaud the reporters for exposing the apathy of the Church:
"The Mormon Church, which banned polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates those who practice it, has been quiet in the face of reported abuses, giving little support to groups trying to help victims of the FLDS.

"The church has weighed in on gay marriage, the Equal Rights Amendment and the flat tax. It even put out a statement on the HBO fictional polygamy series, 'Big Love,' but has remained mostly silent on issues relating to the FLDS and real polygamy, except to say it is forbidden for Mormons.

"And the church, whose missionaries can be found in nearly every corner of the globe, draws the line at sending them to Colorado City or Hildale due to 'security concerns.'

"'This is a problem the Mormon Church created and should stop,' said Ron Barton, an investigator with the Utah attorney general's office and an expert on abuse within polygamous communities.

"'The apathy is driven by the fact that many in Utah and Arizona are descendants of polygamists. They think polygamy might come back, so they don't want to crack down on it.'

"Mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaders do not see FLDS excesses as their responsibility to correct.

"'The church cannot assume the role of government or law enforcement. It is not charged with doing the job of elected officials,' said Michael Otterson, spokesman for the Mormon Church. 'We would not expect such an action from any other church in American society. The church can only raise its voice and explain its concerns, which it has done.'"

This is pretty hard to swallow. As noted, the Mormon Church has taken public, vocal stands in support of--or against--legislation on gay marriage, the ERA, flat tax, and more. Just last week (May 4th) the LDS Church "asked the federal government to look for alternative options for the disposal of nuclear waste" in opposition to "the possible storage of nuclear waste in Utah’s Skull Valley area" (see this LDS News Release).

On the official LDS web site it says, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued official statements regarding many of the social issues of today. Several of these statements are collected here. Additional topics will be addressed as statements are issued." The topics listed:
  • Abortion
  • Embryonic Stem-cell Research
  • Euthanasia and Prolonged Life
  • Same-Gender Marriage

The social issue of polygamy is conspicuously absent.

The LA Times and dozens of other media outlets are championing the cause of the victims of polygamist abuse by raising public awareness of these atrocities.

Meanwhile, in today's edition of LDS Church owned Deseret Morning News we find this story: "Media get a big 'F' for stories on FLDS - Many confuse splinter groups with S.L. church."

And at LDS Church owned KSL TV: "LDS Church Concerned About Some Media Coverage of Warren Jeffs."

Enough said.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Twelve Million Mormons

This morning when I checked my email inbox I found a message with a subject line that read, "Millions of customers can't be wrong!" The message was a spam ad for "alluring pheromones" that promise to attract women of all ages to any man who uses the product. Wow. The ad said the product is "proven to work" and "millions of men" are already using it. Thus, millions of customers can't be wrong.

This spam ad made me think of something I hear often from members of the LDS Church. In fact, when I saw the subject line I thought it was possible that the message was from a Mormon; that's why I opened the email. In promoting their product (Mormonism), Latter-day Saints frequently say, "There are 12 million people around the world that believe it!" They look at that fact as one piece of irrefutable evidence that Mormonism is true. I've even had Mormons challenge me: "Do you think 12 million people can be wrong?"

There's a book in print, "Voices in Harmony," which contains 100 stirring testimonials from women who find fulfillment in plural marriage. They think plural marriage today is a good a proper thing. Can 100 women be wrong?

One hundred is a far cry from 12 million, but it's still a lot of people who carry a strong conviction about this issue.

What about the 250,000 people who belong to the Community of Christ Church? They believe that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, but think Brigham Young usurped rightful leadership of the Church from the Smith family after Joseph's death. Can 250,000 people be wrong?

Or take the Roman Catholic Church's position on Mormonism. In July 2001 the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith stated that LDS baptisms are "not the baptism that Christ instituted." Though the Catholic Church recognizes the baptisms of converts from most other churches, Mormon converts to Catholicism must be rebaptized because of the LDS Church's radical (non-biblical) view of the nature of God. Can the more than one billion members of the Catholic Church be wrong?

Regardless of the sensational LDS sales pitch that Mormonism is "proven to work" and that "millions of [people] are already using it," the question needs to be asked: Can millions be wrong?

The answer is found in the pages of scripture:
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12)

Thankfully, the way to avoid this fearful end is also found in scripture:
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of…from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (1 Timothy 2:14-17)

Millions of customers can be wrong; but the Word of God reveals the truth.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Mormon Virtue

Last week I stumbled across an online article at the American Chronicle web site: "A Mormon President?" by David M. Bresnahan. It is written editorial-style and is about what you would expect from a Latter-day Saint hoping for the election of a Mormon president. Mr. Bresnahan wrote 1638 words praising Mormons as the salt of the earth without addressing any real issues. Nevertheless, when I read the article I thought Mr. Bresnahan's premise was faulty. He wrote:

"Any reporter in any city or town can simply start making phone calls to ministers and within a very short time it will be easy to find one or more who will be happy to bash the Mormons. All that reporter has to do is jot down a few of the more critical comments and bingo, another negative story is born.

"There’s just one problem. The vast majority of Americans do not believe such reports for one simple reason – they are not true and we all know it.

"Mormons are everywhere, and most people have encountered them enough to know the claims that Mormons are not Christian and are actually quite evil cannot possibly be true. But it is no surprise that rival church leaders complain about a church that actively proselytes new members, which is a threat to the offering plates of the churches who lose members as a result."

I noticed several problems with Mr. Bresnahan's assertions, so I wanted to leave an online comment for others who might read them. But the American Chronicle does not have provision for reader comments. It does, however, have a rather strict policy against "hate speech," a policy I believed was violated by Mr. Bresnahan.

I really think the "hate speech" policy is a bit restrictive, but it's their policy and the only avenue open to me to voice my concerns. So I emailed the American Chronicle one of the offending paragraphs and wrote:
"I believe the following violates your Editorial Board Contributor Policy. The author brands all non-LDS church leaders--who may have valid doctrinal concerns about Mormonism--as 'rivals' who are concerned only about the money they will lose if people from their congregations join the LDS Church. Mr. Bresnahan's remark is degrading and prejudicial and, I believe, may be derived from 'ignorance, fear or anger.' There are many legitimate reasons for the concerns some non-LDS Church leaders have about Mormonism. It is disappointing to see such a denigratory remark pass muster on your web site.

"Thank you for considering my concern."

To my surprise, I received an email from the American Chronicle telling me that the author had agreed to "change the article."

This morning I checked back and found that Mr. Bresnahan had indeed changed his article. Compare the new (below) to the old (above).
"Mormons are everywhere, and most people have encountered them enough to know the claims that Mormons are not Christian and are actually quite evil cannot possibly be true. But it is no surprise that some rival church leaders complain about a church that actively proselytes new members, which is a threat to the offering plates of the churches who lose members as a result."

With the addition of the word some Mr. Bresnahan has perhaps made his article more truthful (I have never talked to a Christian minister whose concern over Mormonism was motivated by contribution receipts, but there may be some out there). However, it is not any less disparaging toward non-LDS clergy. He has still not allowed for any legitimate concerns Christian ministers may have with the Mormon faith.

At the conclusion of "A Mormon President?" Mr. Bresnahan says:
"The next time a news reporter questions whether a Mormon can be elected president, take a look at it for what it is. A lazy reporter needed a story about Romney and could not come up with anything new other than to rehash the same tired story so many others have already done. The evangelical pastors that reporters quote in such stories are quick to exaggerate. In reality the typical evangelical Christian is not much different than a Mormon.

"They both want the best for their families, and they both do their best to live according to the beliefs of their religion. Some of their doctrines are different, but their values are not. As more and more people focus on values instead of doctrines they will recognize that having a Mormon as president is just what this country needs."

In regards to the sagacity of electing a Mormon president I decline to comment at this time. But I cannot emphasize enough the importance of focusing on doctrines when it comes to understanding Mormonism. It is, after all, a religion, not a social club or benevolence organization. The typical evangelical Christian is very different from a Mormon in at least this way: The Christian's faith is in the One True God while the Mormon, if he follows the official teachings of his religion, is chasing after idols (according to the Bible). In my experience, the primary concern of Christian ministers is for souls, not money.

To Mr. Bresnahan I would like to say that I do not know a single Christian minister who thinks Mormons are "actually quite evil." But I know plenty who believe Mormonism is not a Christian religion. This conviction on the part of historic Christianity is based on the very doctrines you suggest we ignore. To ignore these doctrines, Mr. Bresnahan, would require that we not "live according to the beliefs of [our] religion" since our God demands our fidelity to Him and commands we take a stand for His doctrinal truth.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Latter-day Divine Descendants

In two weeks The Da Vinci Code will open in theatres all around the world. It opens in the U.S. on Friday, May 19th. It's been in the news, of course, for months, and it seems that everyone has an opinion about it whether they've read the book or not. The issues at stake in The Da Vinci Code controversy are pretty weighty. A couple of good articles about it all from a Christian perspective can be found at Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry and "Deciphering 'The Da Vinci Code'" by Al Mohler.

What does this have to do with Mormonism, you ask? Well, last Friday's Salt Lake Tribune carried a tongue-in-cheek column related to the story of The Da Vinci Code: "Living History: Debunking 'Da Vinci Code': Christ's kin live in Utah" by Pat Bagley.

In a nutshell, Mr. Bagley's column discredits The Da Vinci Code's assertion that Jesus has French descendents. He writes,
"…everyone knows Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus' children to England and, later, the descendants emigrated to Utah.

"Speaking in the Salt Lake Temple to a select group of church leaders on July 2, 1899, George Q. Cannon of The First Presidency said, 'there are those in this audience who are descendants of the old 12 Apostles, and shall I say it, yes, descendants of the Savior himself. His seed is represented in this body of men.'

"Dan Brown's novel assertion that Jesus was married with children is old news to Mormons, who suspected as much all along. Growing up in the church in California, I dutifully got up every morning during high school at 5:30 a.m. to attend seminary. It was there I first learned that the marriage attended by Jesus in Cana, where he famously turned water into grape juice, was probably his own."

After giving a brief overview of non-Mormon legends that suggest Jesus sojourned with His wife and children in England following His crucifixion, Mr. Bagley writes,
"If you're so disposed, one can further choose to see the mass British conversions to Mormonism in the 19th century as an exodus inspired by blood. Hence [George Q.] Cannon's remarkable statement concerning divine lineage.

"So if you read The Da Vinci Code, now you know: it's a lot of hokum. Jesus' descendants couldn't possibly be French.

"They're Utahns."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration

I've spent the last 4 days in Nauvoo, Illinois, the historic town used by the Mormon Church for faith-promotion and proselytizing. On Sunday, at the LDS Visitors Center (pictured at left), a friend and I viewed the movie, Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration. Produced as part of last year's celebration of the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith's birth, this hour-long film is meant to depict the life and mission of Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As with all films produced by the Mormon Church, this one relies on manipulation of the viewers' emotions at the expense of accurate history. I expected this; but I was surprised -- and deeply offended -- by the blatant near-deification of Joseph Smith. Though this comment may seem severe, it does not even begin to convey the blasphemous nature of the film's portrayal of Joseph Smith's life. Let me explain.

Near the beginning of the movie, during the scene of Joseph Smith's First Vision, my friend leaned over to me and said, "Does this remind you of The Passion of the Christ?" And indeed it did. Joseph was portrayed in the Sacred Grove in torment as he prayed for wisdom. Nearly prostrate on the ground, he trembled and he sweat and he agonized as evil forces swirled around him. The scene immediately brought Christ's struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane to mind.

As the film continued we were struck time and again by the way it portrayed Joseph's life in seeming parallel with the life of Christ. It was almost as if the script writers had taken the story of Jesus and mapped Joseph's life onto it. Though the details and sequence of events differed, in discussing it after the film we recalled these corresponding scenes between this portrayal of Joseph's life and the life of Christ (listed here in no particular order):
  • The Garden of Gethsemane
  • Jesus crying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
  • Scourging and mocking at the hands of soldiers
  • Judas' betrayal
  • Jesus' arrest
  • Peter's denial
  • Pilate's declaration, "This man is innocent."
  • Jesus washing the disciples' feet
  • Healing the sick
  • Raising Jairus' daughter to life

Throughout the entire film Joseph was abused and mistreated continually; he received this treatment for no reason at all. He was portrayed as being wholly innocent and righteous in all his ways. In the words of an LDS woman, the Prophet of the Restoration was depicted as being perfectly and unreservedly "Christlike."

After the film a Mormon missionary asked me if I liked it. When I told her I had been offended and thought the film did a grave disservice to my Lord and Savior, she replied, "I'm sorry, but it's history."

Of course, it's not accurate history, but that's not the point I'm making here. To me, the film sought to elevate Joseph Smith to the level of someone worthy -- not just of reverence -- but of worship. In portraying the story of Jesus Christ in the person of Joseph Smith the film crossed the line from propaganda to blasphemy.

My friend believes the film reveals that within Mormonism there is no need for Jesus; Joseph is enough. As it happened, we later spoke with another LDS missionary and my friend asked, "In this church, if you have a testimony of Joseph Smith, do you need a testimony of Jesus Christ?" The missionary and his wife both answered no; that a testimony of Joseph and a testimony of Jesus are "one and the same." As we toured the historic LDS sites on Sunday, at each place we stopped and listened to the scripted tours, we were treated to the missionaries' "testimony of Joseph." Not once did a Mormon missionary share a testimony of Jesus.

Now that I've had a few days' distance from my encounter with Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration my indignation has settled into a deep sorrow over the spiritual state of the Mormon people. They have been so conditioned that they cannot see a significant difference between Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ. They watch The Prophet of the Restoration and dab tears from their eyes -- tears shed in gratitude for what the Prophet has done for them.

As I walked around Nauvoo and talked to the Mormon missionaries there I was saddened by their apparent willingness to sacrifice Christ's offer of reconciliation with God in Him, in favor of maintaining their own love of Church and devotion to Joseph Smith. I thought of Christ's words, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,…How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37).

Yet even now Jesus stands at the door and knocks. If anyone hears His voice and opens the door, He "will come in to him" (Revelation 3:30). May God, in His mercy, give them ears to hear.