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The official blog site of Mormonism Research Ministry

Friday, July 28, 2006

Turbulent Times

On June 23rd the current LDS Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, celebrated his 96th birthday. One element of the festivities included breaking ground for a new building on the campus of Brigham Young University; a building to be named in honor of President Hinckley.

Several people spoke at the groundbreaking, including Thomas S. Monson. President Monson serves as a Latter-day Saint Apostle and First Counselor to President Hinckley, and is next in line to become LDS Church president.

As reported in Church News,
President Monson said he was honored to use the occasion to pay tribute to President Hinckley for his work ethic, optimism and dedication to the [restored] gospel of Jesus Christ.

"Amidst the turbulence of our times, we reach out for one who will guide us to safety. That one is President Hinckley," he said. "He is our prophet, seer and revelator. He is an island of calm in a sea of storm. He is a lighthouse to the mariner who is lost. He is your friend and my friend." (Church News, 7/1/06, page 3)

It's really nice to have someone in our lives we trust to lead and guide us. We all have people we seek out when we need wisdom or comfort. For some it's a father. Others, a mother. For others it may be a pastor, a spouse, or a friend. For Mormons, it's the man they call prophet. We treasure these people, these relationships; many of us give thanks for them.

Yet each of these examples have one thing in common. The giver and guide is human; just a man or a woman. As such, though he may be trustworthy, he is not infallible or inerrant. He does the best he can; we take his advice -- or leave it.

But there is One near to each of us who is infallible and inerrant. Almighty God is not only perfectly trustworthy, but He loves His people with a perfect love. He has pledged to watch over us, lead us, guide us, listen to us, support us, protect us…and in all things, whatever happens, He has promised to order our lives in the perfect way that He, in His infinite wisdom, knows is absolutely best.

When I visited Israel in 2001 I spent time at the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) of the temple. As I sat in the Women's Court I wrote:
Women line the short section of wall rocking, swaying, crying as they pray…They are mourning the loss of the presence of God from Israel. Once a temple stood here which housed the Ark of the Covenant. The glory of God filled the temple. God was here. But now the temple is gone -- God is no longer here. The people grieve -- they long for the presence of God… My heart breaks for these people. They do not know that Emmanuel has come -- God with us. They do not know that God dwells within the hearts of His people. They do not know that Jesus promised, "Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you. I am with you always."

In reading President Monson's remarks about Gordon B. Hinckley, a similar sadness came over me as what I experienced at the Western Wall. God has given the world the greatest gift of all -- Emmanuel; God with us. But instead of reaching out for Him, the Mormon people choose a man to be their guide to safety, their island of calm, their lighthouse to the lost. They could have comfort and guidance from the King of kings, but they choose another.

God's Word says:
  • For this is God, our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even unto death. (Psalm 48:14)

  • For You have been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat… (Isaiah 25:4)

  • The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but the LORD will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. (Isaiah 60:19)

Dear ones, you can have the real thing. You don't need a man to stand between you and your God. Choose well. Choose Him.

For the LORD will again rejoice over you…
if you turn to the LORD your God
with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deuteronomy 30:9-10

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mormonism: Depressing

Utah has the unfortunate reputation of being "the runaway leader in antidepressant use." In February of 2002 the Los Angeles Times reported the findings of a study which showed
Antidepressant drugs are prescribed in Utah more often than in any other state, at a rate nearly twice the national average.

Utah's high usage was cited by one of the study's authors as the most surprising finding to emerge from the data. The study was released last summer and updated in January.

Other states with high antidepressant use were Maine and Oregon. Utah's rate of antidepressant use was twice the rate of California and nearly three times the rates in New York and New Jersey, the study showed. (Julie Cart, "Study Finds Utah Leads Nation in Antidepressant Use," February 20, 2002, page A6)

While this is old news, last weekend Deseret News resurrected the topic when it reported on a Brigham Young University professor's research into why there is such high antidepressant use in Utah. According to Professor Daniel K. Judd, the LDS Church is not to blame. He said,
"Perhaps one of the reasons the residents of Utah lead the nation in the use of antidepressants is that since they are generally more educated and aware of the symptoms and treatments of depression, they are more likely than the residents of other states to seek medical treatment."

Dr. Judd also suggests
Utah's LDS population also might more readily turn to the medical profession for help because the church advises members not to use alcohol and tobacco. Research indicates Latter-day Saints in Utah and elsewhere are less likely to self-medicate, Judd said, with those drugs or illegal drugs.

In truth, Dr. Judd doesn't know why Utah leads the nation in antidepressant use; he seems to be merely offering a pretext in which the Mormon Church is exonerated from the charges brought against it by critics.

Dr. Judd did acknowledge that the Mormon culture sometimes leads people toward an attitude of perfectionism. However, he said,
"It's not our theology that's at fault. It's our culture, at times. The doctrine isn't, 'Come unto me, all ye heavy laden, and I'll give you more to do.' "

With all due respect, that is exactly what Mormon doctrine is.

The first thing a new member receives after baptism and confirmation in the LDS Church is a "calling." Each member is told that God Himself has called the person to a specific job/position in the Church; a job they are expected to perform without complaint or question. So practically speaking, those who "come unto Christ" through the LDS Church are given more to do.

Furthermore, the doctrines presented in LDS Scriptures state:
  • In order to obtain God's grace, you must be perfect in your morals and in your service toward God. (Moroni 10:32)
  • You are saved by grace after all you can do. (2 Nephi 25:23)
  • God never commands something that is not within your ability to accomplish. (1 Nephi 3:7)
  • You must keep the commandments in order to be forgiven of sin. (Doctrine and Covenants 1:31-33)
  • You must give heed to all the words and commandments that come from the LDS prophet. (Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-5)
  • You must endure to the end in sinlessness to be qualified to inherit the kingdom of heaven. (Alma 11:37; 2 Nephi 27:16-22)

LDS Apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin taught in General Conference,
You can keep [God's] commandments by continually striving to do so.

"Does that mean all of God's commandments?" you might ask. Yes! All of them! (Ensign, November 1999, page 40)

Placing this unbelievable burden on people--requiring them to keep every commandment perfectly as they endure to the end--is most definitely giving them "more to do." Keith Walker from Evidence Ministries calls this "The Impossible Gospel"; and so it is. No wonder Utah, seventy percent Mormon, leads the nation in antidepressant use.

This invitation from Jesus is truly a more excellent way:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart:
and ye shall find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

-Matthew 11:28-30

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mormon Pioneers and Little Lambs

Today is Pioneer Day in Utah. Each July 24th the residents of Utah celebrate the "Days of '47" commemorating Brigham Young's 1847 arrival in the Great Salt Lake valley. This holiday is a big deal; a state holiday with parades, fireworks and family picnics. It's a lot like the 4th of July is for the rest of the United States.

Being Pioneer Day, you can understand that the festivities place an extra emphasis on the Mormon pioneers who settled Utah. More than usual, that is. Mormon Pioneer heritage figures prominently in the identity of today's Mormons.

We see a lot of artistic renderings of the Mormon pioneers. On canvas and in sculpture they are depicted in various poses and scenes. Sometimes we see their hardships, and sometimes their joys, but almost always we see them in family groupings. The LDS Church emphasizes its commitment to family, of course, and the pioneers who crossed the plains and mountains included mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers.

As an example of artistic portrayals of LDS pioneers, here's the way the Mormon Pioneers are depicted on the LDS web site:

And here's a sculpture found on Temple Square in Salt Lake City:

Here's why I find this interesting. There is a current exhibit at the Culture House, a museum in Reykjavik, Iceland, titled The Road to Zion. The exhibit
sheds light on the religious foundations of the Mormons, traces the journey of Thordur Didriksson (1828-1894) over sea and land, and gives insight into the community that the Icelanders joined and lived in abroad [i.e., Spanish Fork, Utah].

My cousin (who lives in Reykjavik) thoughtfully sent me a booklet about the exhibit, produced by the museum. The booklet includes an excerpt from the journal Mr. Didriksson kept as he crossed America in a Mormon handcart company.
We were in Omaha for three weeks, to prepare for the handcart journey across the prairie. There were 220 emigrants in the company. …The men pulled the carts and the women pushed. …There were over 30 children in the company, and early every morning they were all sent ahead of the adults in one bunch. Some of them had very little clothing, though they all wore hats. They were driven along with willow switches and had to keep walking as long as they were able. It was no use crying or complaining, but during the heat of the day they were allowed to rest and were given food. They were often two or three miles ahead of us. It was hard for the parents to see their five- or six-year-olds driven like sheep. (Church Archives, Ms 8795)

I have never seen an artistic rendering of Mormon pioneer children being driven with willow switches. Have you?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

American Bigotry Toward Mormons

It's been in the news a lot these past months. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney may seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States. But he has a huge hurdle to overcome: his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All the political pundits are asking, "Could a Mormon be elected president?" The general consensus has been no.

Because of this, LDS filmmaker Mitch Davis has announced plans to launch a campaign to "counter the religious bigotry he says a significant number of voters hold toward members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

Mr. Davis believes that most Americans don't know enough about Mormons to form an informed opinion regarding the suitability of a Latter-day Saint for president. From an article published Wednesday in LDS-owned Deseret News:
Davis, a graduate of Brigham Young University who lives in San Diego, has already invested his own money in a poll of South Carolinians. One-third of the respondents said they could not vote for a member of the LDS Church for president.

The results are similar to a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll of registered voters nationwide, released earlier this month. That poll found 37 percent of those questioned would not vote for an LDS presidential candidate. But the South Carolina poll went further.

Half of the respondents in South Carolina said LDS Church members don't believe in the Bible, Davis said, and 44 percent thought members of the church still practiced polygamy. One-fourth believed that Mormons aren't even Christians.

"The level of ignorance appalled me. I was embarrassed for our church and for our country," Davis said.

A report in the Salt Lake Tribune stated Mr. Davis' poll also showed 27 percent of the respondents believe Mormons worship Joseph Smith.
"If I believed what most Americans do about Mormons, I couldn't vote for a Mormon either," Davis said.

I thought this last statement was interesting. Reversing the reported information from the polls, "most Americans" believe
  • They could vote for a Mormon (66/63 percent)
  • Mormons do not still practice polygamy (56 percent)
  • Mormons are Christians (75 percent)
  • Mormons do not worship Joseph Smith (73 percent)


Be that as it may, Mr. Davis spoke to Deseret News about his goals:
"We just need to inform people enough to allow them to lose their native prejudices," Davis said. "We're not going to try to sell the church -- we're going to try to eliminate it as a negative."

The Salt Lake Tribune article suggested Mr. Davis' campaign will try to make a non-issue out of Governor Romney's Mormon faith.
"The last thing Mitt Romney wants to be is the Mormon candidate," says Davis.

Governor Romney is not affiliated with Mr. Davis' efforts, but if he doesn't want to be "the Mormon candidate" the governor had best ask Mr. Davis to dissolve the planned ad campaign. The Boston Globe reports
For his ads he hopes to recruit prominent Mormons such as quarterback Steve Young and singer Gladys Knight. One possible script would have football coaches talking, and asking "Could a Mormon be a quarterback?" as Young sat on the bench in the background.

All of this attention on Mormonism will hardly succeed in making it a non-issue. And indeed, should it be?

Speaking about religious bigotry Mr. Davis said,
"I think Mormons in general are more targeted because we walk the walk, not just talk the talk," said Davis, who was in Utah to meet with donors. "If you stand up, you stand out. Mormons stand out."

If this is true, that Mormons walk the walk, then exactly what that "walk" is is a very important consideration regarding Governor Romney's suitability to hold the highest office in our nation.

It is no secret that Mitt Romney has been very active in the LDS Church. He has been a missionary, a bishop, and a stake president. Therefore, he has been to the LDS temple and received his endowments. As he went through the temple ceremony he would have necessarily agreed to certain obligations, as revealed by the officiator of the endowment ceremony:
"If you proceed and receive your full endowment, you will be required to take upon yourselves sacred obligations, the violation of which will bring upon you the judgment of God; for God will not be mocked. If any of you desire to withdraw rather than accept these obligations of your own free will and choice, you may now make it known by raising your hand." (as quoted in Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Evolution of the Mormon Temple Ceremony, page 64)

Every person who receives their LDS endowments, including Governor Romney, pledges several things. But look at just two of the "sacred obligations" included in that rite:
"And as Jesus Christ has laid down his life for the redemption of mankind, so we should covenant to sacrifice all that we possess, even our own lives if necessary, in sustaining and defending the Kingdom of God.

"All arise. Each of you bring your right arm to the square. You and each of you solemnly covenant and promise before God, angels, and these witnesses at this altar that you will observe and keep the Law of Sacrifice, as contained in the Holy Scriptures as it has been explained to you. Each of you bow your head and say 'yes.'" (ibid., page 76)

Here each Mormon promises to sustain and defend the Kingdom of God. The LDS Church defines the Kingdom of God this way:
Generally speaking, the kingdom of God on the earth is the Church,… The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on the earth. (LDS Bible Dictionary, "Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God," page 721)

A second significant vow Governor Romney would have been required to make in the temple is this:
"You and each of you covenant and promise before God, angels, and these witnesses at this altar, that you do accept the Law of Consecration as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, in that you do consecrate yourselves, your time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed you, or with which the Lord may bless you, to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and for the establishment of Zion.

"Each of you bow your head and say 'yes.'" (Evolution, page 91)

Again, according to the LDS Church, "Zion"
Is the name given by the Lord to those who obey his laws. The name of the place where the righteous live. (Gospel Principles, page 381)

Late LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote,
Thus The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Zion. Joining the Church is becoming a citizen of Zion. (Mormon Doctrine, "Zion," page 854)

I believe that the American people should be well-informed about Mormonism so that they will be equipped to decide whether they would like to see Mitt Romney elected president of the United States. Unfortunately, Mr. Davis plans to just "inform [them] enough to allow them to lose their native prejudices." I doubt that Mr. Davis' campaign will alert voters to the obligations Governor Romney has sworn to in the LDS temple "before God and angels."

Furthermore, when Mr. Davis tackles the "level of ignorance" about Mormons his poll uncovered, will he explain:
  • The LDS belief that the Bible is untrustworthy and takes second-place to the LDS latter-day scriptures?
  • That while Mormons do not practice polygamy on earth, the LDS Church teaches them to expect to practice it in heaven?
  • That the LDS Church denies every essential doctrine of the historic Christian faith?
  • That the assertion that Mormons revere--but do not worship--Joseph Smith is, in practice, a distinction without a difference?

I doubt it. The Washington Times reports Mr. Davis'
aim is to educate the U.S. public about the religion he shares with Romney to help bolster the governor's chances of victory in the 2008 presidential election.

The American people will likely not be informed by Mr. Davis' campaign; they will be propagandized.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Mormonism and Spiritual Experience

A couple of weeks ago (July 8th) LDS Deseret News printed a column by staff writer Jerry Johnston. He told this story:
Not long ago I was visiting a woman from Mexico who had been praying about joining my own church, the LDS Church. She said the Virgin Mary came to her in a dream and told her she should remain a Catholic.

My first thought was God must have seen that it was me shepherding her along a spiritual path and decided he had a better chance of getting religion into her life through the Virgin Mary.

My second thought was I had to respect her spiritual experience.

Those who believe in the spiritual realm, I think, must not only trust their own spiritual experiences--whatever they may be--but they must also trust and respect the spiritual experiences of others. If you don't do that, you become an ugly oxymoron, you become "spiritually superior."

I told the woman she should trust her heart. Given her family ties, personal history, her commitments and temperament, God knew best what was best for her.

Mr. Johnston is refreshing in that he recognizes the need to be consistent. If you go about telling people that the way to know truth is to ask God for a sign, then you must accept the outcome.

Mormonism teaches the way to know truth is to seek just such a spiritual sign. Mormon missionaries tell people to pray about the Book of Mormon: Ask God in the name of Christ if the book is true; and if the petitioner is sincere, asks with real intent, and has faith in Christ, God will allegedly make the truth clear by the power of the Holy Ghost (Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:4).

But in my experience most Latter-day Saints, unlike Mr. Johnston, will not take "no" for an answer. When I explain to Mormons my own experience of prayerfully reading the Book of Mormon, since the answer I received was that the Book of Mormon is not true, they typically respond in one of two ways:
  • They tell me I was not sincere in my prayer; or
  • They instruct me to continue praying, asking for confirmation that the Book of Mormon is true, until I get a different answer (i.e., that the Book of Mormon is true)

But the fact of the matter is, the Moroni 10:4 prayer is unbiblical in and of itself. The Bible never tells us to pray to know whether something is true. It tells us to search the revealed Word of God in order to know truth. A Mormon's "yes" answer to the Moroni 10:4 prayer is no more or less valid than a non-Mormon's "no" answer. Truth is not confirmed by spiritual feelings (often reported as a burning in the bosom by Latter-day Saints); it is brought to light by testing truth claims against God's Word (for example, see: 1 John 4:1, 6; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Lest you get the wrong idea, my own "prayerful reading [of] the Book of Mormon" did not follow the Moroni 10:4 model. This revelation usually produces an "Aha!" moment in my Mormon friends. But I did read the book, start to finish, with a sincere hope to know the truth. I did pray each time I picked the book up and each time I set it down. And I prayed continually as I read. I asked God for discernment. I asked Him for wisdom. I asked that He keep me from deception. I asked for a sound mind so I would understand what I was reading. I read with an open Bible sitting beside me, searching the Scriptures while testing the truth claims of the Book of Mormon against them. God answered my prayers; by following the biblical instructions to test all things I received the truth by the power of the Holy Ghost. But most Mormons will not accept my testimony.

In the story from Deseret News Mr. Johnston accepted his friend's visionary dream of the Virgin Mary as a direct answer from God to her prayer. He told the woman to trust her heart, though from his perspective it meant she would remain in a false church worshiping a mythical Christ (Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, page 269). Somehow Mr. Johnston was able to understand this as God's best for his friend.

The Bible, however, has this to say about trusting one's heart:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)

"He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool; but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered." (Proverbs 28:26)

"And He said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. Far from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, and evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man." (Mark 7:20-23)

Trust your heart? Bad advice. Evil things come from the unregenerate hearts of men and women. Instead, trust the Lord. Obey His command to walk wisely and you will be delivered.


I'm finally back from many weeks away. Thank you for your patience through this time with no new content appearing on Mormon Coffee. Hopefully we will now get back to regular posts; there continues to be much going on in the world of Mormonism.

I'm sorry for Stacey's illness on two fronts. One is, of course, that I hate to see my friend sick; I pray for renewed health and strength for her. The other is that I'm sorry you readers did not get the opportunity to hear from Stacey over these weeks. I was really excited about her planned contributions to Mormon Coffee. Maybe we can persuade her to post occasionally, even though I may be blogging as well.

Thanks again for your patience and loyalty as readers. On we go.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Word of Explanation

I just wanted to apologize to our readers for not posting while Sharon has been gone. I've been under the weather during this time, but hopefully will get back to blogging in the very near future. Thanks for your patience until then.