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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mormon Missionaries Confront Misperceptions

by Sharon

The ChronicleHerald of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, recently ran an article about Mormon missionaries serving in that area. There have been a plethora of such articles in the past few weeks that have crossed my desk. From Canada to Australia, from Florida to the San Francisco Bay area and places in between, newspapers have been telling their readers about the Mormon missionaries walking the streets of their towns. All of the articles have been very similar in content. They talk about the missionaries' long hours, their financial sacrifices, their limited contact with family back home (Christmas and Mother's Day phone calls and once-a-week letters), and how apart from the fact that they are serving a mission these boys are just like any other young men -- they like girls and fast cars.

In addition to the human interest feel-good elements reported in these articles, there are two additional themes that run through them all: rejection and misperception. With but one exception, all of the dozen or so articles I've read make a point of mentioning "slammed doors," "rebuffs," "rejection," "abuse," and "nasty people" who "yell" and "oppose" the LDS missionaries. Also with few exceptions these reports all tell readers that Mormonism is terribly misunderstood.

The "myths" highlighted in the articles range from people thinking Mormons churn their own butter to thinking Mormons aren't Christians; but by far the most common reported misperception encountered by the missionaries has to do with polygamy.

Apparently, although the LDS Church has received plenty of recent media coverage all over the world that sets the record straight, people persist in asking LDS missionaries about their church and polygamy. Though the majority of the recent articles about Mormon missionaries mention the misperception along with the standard LDS Church disclaimer that polygamy is a thing of the past, the ChronicleHerald article goes a bit further. Here the reader is given the reason nineteenth-century Mormons practiced polygamy:
Many people are fascinated by the early history of the polygamous Mormons, and so the elders explain. In the early days of the Mormon experience, persecution was rampant. Mormon families moved from region to region, heading West in their wagon trains and running into trouble in many places.

With Mormon men dropping like flies at the hands of lynch mobs, many widows were left with young children. They often banded together with other families for protection, becoming, in essence, families with one husband and multiple wives.

Only about two per cent of church members were polygamous back then, the elders say. Those who wanted to keep the polygamy tradition left the church, breaking off into splinter sects. A few such groups remain to this day. "They give (our) church a bad name," says Elder Bevan.

There are three historical claims made or implied here:
  • Vast numbers of Mormon men were being killed off by enemies
  • This left more women than men; not enough men to allow for monogamous families
  • Only two percent of LDS Church members engaged in polygamy

We might be tempted to think Elder Bevan's claims are his alone; however, when I toured Brigham Young's Lion House in Salt Lake City earlier this summer the sister missionary leading my tour said the same thing. Tours at official LDS sites are scripted; therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that these historical claims are officially promoted by the LDS Church.

The question is, are the claims accurate?

Beginning with the percentage of early Mormons practicing polygamy, LDS historian Richard S. Van Wagoner wrote:
The most comprehensive study to date, detailing forty 1880 Mormon towns, found that almost 40 percent of St. George households were polygamous compared to 11 percent in nearby Harrisburg/Leeds. In Rockville only 10 percent was polygamous while 67 percent of Orderville was. In South Weber, north of Salt Lake City, 5 percent practiced polygamy, compared to nearly 30 percent of Bountiful. Other studies found a 15 percent incidence in Springville, while 63 percent of Mormon men in the Mexican colonies had more than one wife. (Mormon Polygamy: A History, second edition, page 91)

Furthermore, Mr. Van Wagoner wrote:
Some statements have suggested that the number was as low as 3 percent, but these estimates are usually based on figures given during the Reed Smoot hearings when a lower percentage was politically advantageous to the [LDS] church. Stanley S. Ivins in his analysis estimated 15-20 percent of Mormon families in Utah were polygamous. (Ibid., page 103, footnote 1)

Regarding the second historical claim, that polygamy was necessary because there were more men than women, LDS Apostle John Widtsoe wrote:
The most common of these conjectures is that the Church, through plural marriage, sought to provide husbands for its large surplus of female members. The implied assumption in this theory, that there have been more females than male members in the Church, is not supported by existing evidence. On the contrary, there seem always to have been more males than females in the Church...

The United States census records from 1850 to 1940, and all available Church records, uniformly show a preponderance of males in Utah, and in the Church. Indeed, the excess in Utah has usually been larger than for the whole United States… The theory that plural marriage was a consequence of a surplus of female Church members fails from lack of evidence. (Evidences and Reconciliations, pages 390-391)

In addition, Joseph Smith's understanding of the reason for polygamy could not have been the same as that which the Mormon missionaries are promoting. Of the 33 documented women this founding Prophet of the LDS Church married, 11 of them had living husbands at the time they were (also) wed to Joseph Smith. (See Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, pages 4-7)

Finally, the claim that Mormon men were "dropping like flies at the hands of lynch mobs" or other enemies is just plain untrue.

It is true that 17 Mormon men and boys were killed at Haun's Mill in Missouri in 1838, many years before polygamy became a known doctrine in the LDS Church. But beyond this there is no historical data to support or even suggest widespread murder of Mormon men. Though I searched for several hours, I was unable to find any specific documentation regarding the number of Mormon deaths due to persecution in the early Church. Given the emphasis the LDS Church places on its pioneer history and persecution, it is implausible to think that an actual murderous decimation of the early Church's male population would go unreported.

So while claiming to clarify "myths" and "misperceptions," Mormon missionaries, as representatives of the LDS Church, merely swap one set of misconceptions for another. They tell a story far more to their liking, but in the words of LDS Apostle Widtsoe, it "fails from lack of evidence."

(For more information on the massacre at Haun's Mill and early violence against Mormons click here.)

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Warren Jeffs in Custody

Warren Jeffs, fugitive leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was apprehended last night near Las Vegas, Nevada. The Associated Press reports:
The leader of a polygamist Mormon sect, who's been one of the country's most sought after fugitives, is now behind bars…

Jeffs has been on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list since May, with a $100,000 reward being offered. He's wanted in Utah and Arizona on suspicion of sexual misconduct. Authorities believe he arranged for older men to marry underage girls.

For a detailed online article about Jeffs and his arrest see Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs arrested in Las Vegas in today's Salt Lake Tribune.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Rolling Stone

by Eric Johnson

I just finished reading the recent book Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman, a Mormon historian. There is no doubt that this book on Joseph Smith is interesting with many good qualities. With that being said, though, let me say that it's not the only book on Smith and early Mormonism that a person should read. Since Bushman is LDS, he certainly has presuppositions and an agenda, and while he does provide much truth, there are times he conveniently doesn’t mention important incidents. When he does, he often fails to adequately elaborate, thus softening the implications of his stories. Thus, I think this book ought to be read in conjunction with other biographies on Smith and the history of the LDS Church, of which there are many.

In fact, I could list a number of excellent books on this topic, but let me recommend three that I have enjoyed the most. First, The Rise of Mormonism (1816-1844) by H. Michael Marquardt, a book I read in conjunction with Rough Stone. Read side-by-side, I believe I was able to get a much more complete picture of Smith from both the LDS as well as Christian perspective. Second, I recommend One Nation Under Gods by Richard Abanes, which is a fascinating read and well worth the time. Finally, Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon by David Persuitte is an excellent work that provides more background information on the life of Smith during the time he wrote “another testament” of Christ.

As I was looking at reviews from readers, I found it interesting how one LDS member said Rough Stone had “terrific historial (sic) background, but (it was) not for a new/weak member.” In fact, the reader said that “the blunt description of events and teachings makes me feel that this is not a book to be read by someone trying to stregthen (sic) their testimony of the prophet.” Mentioning the fact that Bushman says Smith Sr. was once a drunk, he added: "...while true, (this) doesn't help to strengthen the weak of heart."

This sums up the problem with the religion of Mormonism. If there is information that is considered non-faith-promoting, many Saints who trust mightily in their good feelings believe that negative information on LDS leaders ought to be avoided. But why study a person’s life unless you really want to understand the truth about this person? If Joseph Smith is, as Mormons believe, a prophet of God, then by all means everyone ought to consider this church (or one of the dozens of other churches claiming Smith as their founder). If, however, if it can be shown that this man was a fraud, then Mormonism and all other splinter groups ought to be avoided at all costs.

This just isn't my opinion but that of 10th LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith who once said,
"Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground." (Doctrines of Salvation, volume 1, page 188)

My suggestion for anyone is to consider both sides of an issue and come away with a conclusion that satisfies your research, regardless of what facts you might encounter.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Temple Tours and Al Takiyah

by Bill

My schedule didn’t permit me to attend the recent 2006 Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City, but I was able to get the CD of one particular presentation that caught my attention. It had to do with truth-telling and Mormonism. The two presenters (Scot Denhalter and Ryan Wimmer) addressed the very real issue of how the Mormon Church has a history of evading the truth, not only to outsiders, but in some cases, even to their own people. Wimmer gave examples of how the LDS Church utilizes a type of Al-Takiyah, a practice among Muslims that involves lying in the name of Allah. Some Muslims feel it is permissible to deceive the Kafir (unbelievers) in order to protect themselves or Islam.

I personally experienced this LDS-Takiyah when in Sacramento recently. The LDS Church assured the local media that the Sacramento temple open house was meant to dispel all of “the myths” associated with these buildings and that church representatives were “prepared to answer any questions” the public had. The LDS public relations department said they were going to be as transparent as possible about their practices. Apparently the key words (pun intended) were “as possible.” The fact is, the media was not told the truth. The LDS Church never had any intention of showing all of the rooms. I have personally toured 16 different LDS temples and one room that is never part of the open house tour is the initiatory room where Mormon patrons are ceremoniously “washed and anointed.” Our tour group was told we could ask any questions. Yet, when I politely asked a few questions of our tour guide she complained to security that she felt “threatened.” Threatened? I merely asked why she was not forthright on our tour when I had earlier inquired about the Initiatory Room and the curtain in the Instruction Room. I went out of my way not to embarrass her publicly and stated my questions as politely and discreetly as I could. She admitted to me that she could only say what the Church told her to say. Twice she offered to get someone else to answer my questions. The second time I said that was not necessary and the conversation was over.

Oftentimes inquiries are side-stepped with the usual excuse that such topics are sacred to Mormons, but not secret. My suggestion to the LDS Church is, if they are going to take that approach then quit telling the media you are going to answer any and all questions. Instead of dispelling the myths the Mormon Church actually lends credence to the suspicion that it is not a trustworthy organization.

For more on this click here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cultivating Mormon Coffee

by Bill

We are pleased to announce that, as of today, the Mormon Coffee blog site will be an Internet outlet for Mormonism Research Ministry. Since Mormon Coffee’s inception, Sharon has been doing an incredible job posting pertinent information relative to Mormonism and we are excited that she has graciously allowed us to give this site a broader exposure through Sharon has definitely set a standard of excellence when it comes to high-quality information. We hope to maintain that standard as our other research associates participate with their comments and insight.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

New and Improved King Follett Discourse

In 2004 the LDS Church brought its long-running City of Joseph pageant (Nauvoo, Illinois) to a close. In 2005 a new pageant premiered in the City of Joseph -- Nauvoo Pageant: A Tribute to Joseph Smith. Along with the introduction of the new pageant, the LDS Church also offered tourists several historic vignettes which were performed at various times and locations around Nauvoo by pageant actors.

One of these vignettes was of special interest to me: King Follett Discourse. In this vignette Dallyn Bayles, the actor portraying Joseph Smith in the pageant, was to deliver portions of the famous sermon as Joseph Smith did in 1844. I went to the grove to watch and listen, bringing a copy of the King Follett Discourse text for comparison. I had expected a cleaned-up version of the sermon, with all the references to men becoming Gods and the council of the Gods (etc.) removed. I was happily surprised when Mr. Bayles did not shy away from much of the content of the sermon that is contradictory to Christianity. Though the sermon was edited for the sake of time, the true nature of the sermon was left intact. That was in 2005.

This year, 2006, I again attended the King Follett Discourse vignette. Mr. Bayles delivered a compelling performance which elicited many positive comments from the audience. Again I was surprised by the content of the sermon, but this time not happily. This time the sermon had indeed been sanitized. All of the openness of Joseph Smith's teachings displayed in 2005 was gone.

The King Follett Discourse is a very important doctrinal sermon for the LDS Church. It was delivered at the church's 1844 April General Conference; therefore it carries the heavy weight of authority. LDS theologian B. H. Roberts called the King Follett Discourse the "crescendo" of Joseph Smith's life. The LDS Church described this year's King Follett Discourse vignette like this:
The Prophet Joseph Smith will share portions of one of his last major discourses, a funeral sermon given in honor of Brother King Follett. In this speech the Prophet shared profound insights on the nature of God and the immortality of man.

Given this description, it's hard to understand why the Prophet's "profound insights on the nature of God and the immortality of man" were edited out of the sermon. For example, Mr. Bayles (as Joseph Smith) said,
It is necessary that we should understand the character and being of God. Here, then, is eternal life--to know the only wise and true God--grace to grace, exaltation to exaltation…

Now look at what was left out of this portion of the sermon.
…it is necessary that we should understand the character and being of God, and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and will take away and do away the veil, so that you may see.

These are incomprehensible ideas to some; but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible. I wish I was in a suitable place to tell it, and that I had the trump of an archangel, so that I could tell the story in such a manner that persecution would cease for ever. What did Jesus say? (Mark it, Elder Rigdon.) The Scriptures inform us that Jesus said, "As the Father hath power in himself, even so hath the Son power"--to do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious--in a manner, to lay down his body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life, as my Father did, and take it up again. Do you believe it? If you do not believe it, you do not believe the Bible. The Scriptures say it, and I defy all the learning and wisdom and all the combined powers of earth and hell together to refute it.

Here, then, is eternal life--to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you,--namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one,--from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.

Here, in this section of the discourse, are found Joseph Smith's "profound insights on the nature of God"; but these teachings were not included in the performance. Look at a few additional omissions from Joseph Smith's sermon:
  • To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a God, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before.

  • In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it.

  • God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself.

  • God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself.

These are just a sampling. Joseph Smith indeed taught "profound" doctrines on the nature of God via the King Follett Discourse -- doctrines Mormonism still embraces today. Why do you suppose the LDS Church wasted the opportunity to share what they believe to be Joseph Smith's prophetic insights on the nature of God with the vignette audience in Nauvoo?

To see scanned images of the entire King Follett Discourse from an LDS source click here.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Medieval Mormonism

Yesterday the Florida Baptist Witness published an article about the recent book When Worldviews Collide by Ergun Caner. Worldviews tackles the subject of Global Apologetics and defending the Christian faith. The article states:
The Worldviews study seeks to equip Christians to “confront your culture with truth and compassion” by understanding the basic belief systems of four major world religions, as well as leading cultural philosophies.

Dr. Caner, raised in a Turkish Muslim family, converted to Christianity as a teenager in 1982. Today he is the President of Liberty Theological Seminary at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. When he talks about Islam, he knows what he's talking about. That's why I found the following section of the Florida Baptist Witness article really interesting.
Caner’s book not only examines where world religions came from, but also outlines ways to reach the people. He said while Islam may seem unfamiliar, it can best be described as medieval Mormonism.

“Anything Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism) did, Mohammed had already done,” including believing a “corrected” version of the Bible, calling Jesus a prophet, turning salvation into a works based religion, and turning women into sexual slaves.

“Did Joseph Smith know Islam? No, but it was the same demon inspiring,” Caner said.

According to early LDS Apostle Thomas B. Marsh, Joseph Smith knew a little bit about Islam -- or at least about Mohammed. In an affidavit dated October 24th, 1838 Mr. Marsh swore:
"The Prophet inculcates the notion, and it is believed by every true Mormon, that Smith's prophecies are superior to the laws of the land. I have heard the Prophet say that he would yet tread down his enemies, and walk over their dead bodies; and if he was not let alone, he would be a second Mohammed to this generation, and that he would make it one gore of blood from the Rocky mountains to the Atlantic ocean; that like Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was, 'the Alcoran or the Sword.' So should it be eventually with us, 'Joseph Smith or the Sword.'" (History of the Church, volume 3, page 167)

If this topic interests you, check out the 36-page booklet Joseph Smith and Muhammad by Eric Johnson available from Mormonism Research Ministry.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Church Effect

An article on Salt Lake City's reports on the findings of a U.S. Census Bureau survey released on Tuesday. According to the 2005 American Community Survey Utahn's continue to hold the record for getting married and starting families at a younger age than people in other parts of the country.
Behind the state's large households -- 3.07 individuals, compared with 2.6 nationally -- is its nation's highest fertility rate, 2.5 children per woman in 2004 compared to the national rate 2.0.

Also noted in the KUTV article is a statistic regarding the percentage of Utah households that are married couples with children: 32.4 percent, compared to the national rate of 21.7 percent.

BYU associate professor Sam Otterstrom has a name for the Utah trend toward young, traditional families: "the Church effect."

The article states,
Demographers say the main factor that contributes to young marriages and large households is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church says its members account for 72 percent of Utah's population.

Everyone knows Mormons place a high value on families. They strive to live together in strong, committed family relationships. But Mormons aren't unique in this. Virtually all of my Christian friends also value their families. They understand their children are gifts from God and they have a blessed responsibility to raise those children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

So what is it about Mormonism that's different? What causes Latter-day Saints to marry younger, marry often and have larger families than people of other faiths or America at large?

Consider this recent teaching from LDS Apostle Tom L. Perry:
Eternal life is God's greatest gift to His children, and it is obtained only through a family relationship. …The marriage covenant is essential for the Lord's plan and is the purpose for which He created the heavens and the earth. (Ensign magazine, June 2006, page 89. Emphasis added.)

At the 2006 April General Conference of the LDS Church, Seventy H. Bruce Stucki said,
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught us: "The family is divine… Only through its organization can the purposes of the Lord be fulfilled."…

I sincerely believe that in the sanctity of the family our love, loyalty, respect, and support for each other can become the sacred shield that will protect us from the fiery darts of the devil. (Ensign magazine, May 2006, page 98. Emphasis retained from the original.)

These doctrines regarding the family are the core of Mormonism. How different from the biblical teachings on children, families, salvation and spiritual safety. While the Bible tells us that families are good and desirable, it never makes the family "divine" or the focus of our future hope. Here is one example highlighting the biblical focus:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil…Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints…" (Ephesians 6:10-18)

Here, contrary to the LDS priority of marriage and family, God puts the focus on Himself, truth and faith. I believe this is at the heart of the matter. This Mormon propensity to virtually deify family is "the Church effect."


Monday, August 14, 2006

Evangelical Filmmaker Arrested at Mormon Pageant

Joel Kramer, director of Living Hope Ministries, was arrested Friday night near Logan, Utah as he attempted to film portions of the LDS pageant, Martin Harris: The Man Who Knew. The Salt Lake Tribune reports:
Joel Kramer, 39, was arrested and booked for disorderly conduct after he told a Cache County sheriff's deputy he was not violating any laws by videotaping the pageant. The pageant depicts the life of Martin Harris, an early disciple of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"These are free pageants, so there's no copyright violation and I'm within my rights to be on public land," Kramer said. "I feel like it was the LDS church influence. That's the reason I was arrested."

Mr. Kramer's ministry has produced several excellent videos aimed at evangelizing Mormons including "DNA vs. the Book of Mormon" and "The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon." His filming of The Man Who Knew (and other LDS pageants) was done with the intention of including clips in his future video productions. Mr. Kramer has talked with the police while filming at other LDS pageants, but has not been arrested before.
At the beginning of each pageant, an announcer asks the audience to refrain from taking photographs or video, Kramer said.

"It sounds like law, but it's a request," Kramer said. "It would be like me announcing over a loudspeaker that I would like them not to show the pageant."

Friday night, Kramer said he and three other men from Living Hope Ministries turned off their cameras and tried to reason with the sheriff's deputy, especially when told the [Clarkston] cemetery amphitheater had been leased by the city to the Mormon church. They also changed locations in the cemetery, moving farther away from the amphitheater, but Kramer was still arrested.

"I told (the officer) you just arrested me for breaking the LDS rules," Kramer said, who added that none in his group went to the pageant to proselytize.

At the time of the news report prosecutors had not yet formally charged Mr. Kramer with a crime; nor was it clear whether they intended to do so.

I thought it was interesting to see the different ways this incident was reported. The Salt Lake Tribune seemed to achieve objectivity in their article. But the Logan Herald Journal report is another story.

The Salt Lake Tribune headline reads "Minister arrested after taping Mormon pageant." The Herald Journal headline says "LDS critic arrested at pageant" and goes downhill from there. Take a look at a few excerpts from the article:
  • Pastor cries foul, others smell publicity stunt at Martin Harris show

  • A 39-year-old Brigham City man who calls himself a "missionary to Mormons" was arrested Friday night at the annual Martin Harris pageant on a charge of disorderly conduct.

  • Kramer’s Brigham City-based ministry aims to convert Latter-day Saints to his brand of Christianity and produces Web-based videos aimed at "people of the Mormon faith."

  • Kramer called the arrest unjust and religiously motivated, while a Cache County Sheriff’s Office spokesman characterized Kramer’s presence at the pageant a publicity stunt.

Though the Herald Journal reporting is a bit biased, the story does include some information that seems to support Mr. Kramer's opinion that his arrest was influenced by the LDS Church factor:
Sheriff’s Lt. Matt Bilodeau said Kramer told deputies at the scene that his group did not believe in the tenets of the church and intended to "make a statement."

"Our deputies were under the knowledge that they [the Living Hope Ministries team] were against the church," said Bilodeau. Officers contract to provide law enforcement presence at the scene.

This raises the question: If it had been an LDS filmmaker rather than an evangelical one, would he have been arrested?

I don't know the laws that govern this specific incident, but I have experienced LDS Church-influenced harassment by police and LDS security several times. I have never been arrested in these disputes, but I have been threatened with arrest, and once assaulted by LDS security, all while keeping my behavior well within the law. It has been my experience that in these situations the actual law isn't the issue. The issue is the wishes of the powerful sponsor of the event -- in these cases the LDS Church.

The mindset that allows people to run roughshod over Constitutional rights is evident in some of the comments left by readers at the KSL TV web site. Here are a few excerpts from what people are saying about Mr. Kramer's arrest:
  • He is a very anti-LDS minister
    I'm sure he was going to use the tape in a negative way against the LDS church

  • Convert
    If we were to send Missionaries out, to stand in front of THEIR church, during one of their meetings, they would cry foul and try to have the missionaries arrested, so why should they be allowed to do whatever they want, when they come to town ?

  • It's not a matter of legal or illegal, it's about being kind to others
    I'm really tired of people playing the "civil rights" or "free speech" card when it pertains to someone who is trying to tear something down. True, it's not illegal to bad mouth someone, or someones, but that is where the laws of government differ from the teachings of Christ. Any minister or preacher who teaches hatred toward others certainly is not being a very good Christian…

  • Causing hate and discontent
    Look what they do at Conference meeting's in S.L.C., you know he was only there to cause trouble…

But sandwiched inside these comments are a few voices of reason. I particularly liked this response from Rachael C.:
Are you suggesting that this guy deserved to get arrested just because he is "very anti-LDS" and he MAY have used the tape to show the LDS church in a negative light? Are we living in Saudi Arabia here? Are Utah residents EXEMPT from practicing our civil liberties and rights? Wake up...UTAH is STILL in America, whether you want to accept it or NOT!!!!

Thanks, Rachael.

And thanks be to God for the freedom guaranteed to citizens in the U.S.A.

Friday, August 11, 2006

What Utah Does Best

Back in February I blogged about Utah's quest for a new state slogan (see Marketing Utah). The Salt Lake City advertising agency which was working on creating the slogan promised that it
"will reveal 'the look of Utah,' 'the soul of Utah' and 'the sound of Utah,' all composing the 'emotional core of Utah.'"

The new slogan has been chosen and is now firmly in place. It is, "Utah: Life Elevated."

The Utah Office of Tourism explains,
The Utah experience can be summarized with two words: LIFE ELEVATED. In Utah, you stand on top of King's Peak looking down from nearly 14,000 feet and you are breathless. Or you stand at the bottom of a slot canyon in The San Rafael Swell, enveloped by rock walls, and look up 300 feet for a sliver of sunset. Utah is peaks and Utah is valleys. Utah is snow and Utah is sunshine. Utah is very red, yet it is also very white and green and a whole palette of color. Utah is Life Elevated.

Life Elevated is not just a slogan. It is not just a tag line. Advertising experts call it the expression of our brand voice. It is a summary of a wide range of Utah experiences that have the power to lift the heart and stir passions. It is a quick, easy way to remember what Utah does best: put you on high ground and provide you with a new set of eyes.

As I wrote before, Utah is a beautiful state. The mountain peaks and rocky valleys make me think about God and the grandeur of His creation, an expression of Himself. I agree that the beauty of Utah is accurately reflected in the new slogan.

Yet when I first read the explanation of Life Elevated I thought the slogan was leaving out another very prominent aspect of the state -- "Utah's hottest tourist destination," Temple Square. How is the unique element of a state populated and governed by a majority religion reflected in the slogan that is a "summary of a wide range of Utah experiences"? Utah doesn't want to be known as "the Mormon state," but you can't very well sum up Utah without at least an honorable mention of the LDS Church.

As I thought about it, I began to wonder. Could it be that Life Elevated includes Mormonism after all? Perhaps the slogan is a nod to the LDS doctrine of eternal progression. The Salt Lake Temple (and all 10 of the other LDS temples in Utah) exists for the purpose of "providing the ordinances necessary" for people to achieve Godhood.

I'd say the goal of temple Mormons -- evolving from a sinful human being to exaltation as a ruling God over a self-created planet -- would easily qualify as "life elevated." This is what Mormonism promises those who are considered worthy by LDS standards.

The new Utah slogan might reflect the promise of exaltation to Godhood, but be careful. Branding and advertising are vehicles used to entice people. It's very well-known that advertisers often make promises that cannot be kept.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mormon Outrage, part 2

On Monday I blogged about a letter to the editor that appeared in USA Today. The Mormon author of that letter, Jeff Byrd, made some sweeping accusations regarding the ministry of Christian missionaries often conducted on the streets outside public LDS proselytizing events.

Keith Walker of Evidence Ministries has prepared a timely and articulate response to Mr. Byrd's letter. I don't know if USA Today will publish it, but I've been given Mr. Walker's permission to publish it here on Mormon Coffee.

Mr. Walker has also blogged about Mr. Byrd's comments on the Evidence Ministries blog. It's worth taking a look.

Here is Mr. Walker's response:

I read with great interest the article titled, "Reaction to Gibson is hypocritical" in the 8/3/06 editorial/opinion section. Jeff Byrd assumes that Christians who pass out literature in front of Mormon temples are somehow protesting the Mormon religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have participated in five such outreaches and will travel to Sacramento this week to do the same thing there. Byrd is wrong when he states that our goal is to deny Mormons their freedom to practice their religion. I would be interested in knowing how the act of passing out a paper on public property is denying Mr. Byrd of practicing his religion.

Our primary focus is to lovingly and peacefully distribute free Christian literature to the public that discusses some foundational doctrines of the Mormon faith in contrast to historic Christianity. Our position, which compels us to this action, is that Mormonism consistently misrepresents itself to the public as a Christian denomination by purposely withholding doctrinal information. We hope to provide the information needed to enable people to make better-informed choices about their future involvement with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If the Mormon Church were more forthright about their teachings that men have the potential to become Gods, there would be no need for us to be there. The public has a right to know about the world view of Mormonism and since the Mormon Church will not provide that information, we will.

Keith Walker
Evidence Ministries

Mr. Walker has made some claims contrary to those asserted by Mr. Byrd. If you remember from Monday's post, Mr. Byrd said the critics outside the Sacramento LDS Temple will be:
  • Protesting the Mormon religion;
  • Trying to deny Mormons their right to practice their religion;
  • Protesting against people attending the LDS event; and
  • Displaying anti-Mormon hate

Mr. Byrd's ideas are pretty common. Many people, non-Mormons and Latter-day Saints alike, toss any and all public questioning of Mormon teachings into the category of "bigotry." For instance, consider this.

Lighthouse Christian Fellowship is an evangelical church in Twin Falls, Idaho. It's affiliated with Calvary Chapel and is located in a community with a large Mormon population. Some time ago members of the church went door-to-door distributing the video DNA vs. the Book of Mormon produced by Living Hope Ministries. Fast-forward to today. The Times-News of Twin Falls reported that Lighthouse Christian Fellowship has purchased a large building in town which has stood mostly vacant since 2002. The church plans to remodel and move into that building by 2008.

The Times-News welcomes comments on their stories. Beginning with the second comment left by readers the discussion has moved from the topic of the article -- the purchase of the building -- into the supposed bigotry of Lighthouse Christian Fellowship.

Pam, a reader defending the Christian church wrote:
"I for one, appreciated the video that was placed on my door and hope they will do the same with the new video that has come out, regarding the same organization! Kudos Lighthouse and congrats on your potential purchase!"

To which a woman identifying herself as a non-Mormon replied:
"It's bigotry. If you had received a video regarding race, creed, color, or sex you might have been offended. But religious freedom doesn't fall under our constitutional right?? Yeah, the video is free speech and I respect that, but NOT when it is dropped on my doorstep. Funny how we can justify religious bigotry in this day and age. Nice, Pam. What makes you think YOU are so right? Not everyone believes as you do."

Lighthouse Christian Fellowship distributed the DNA video for the same reasons Christians are distributing literature outside the Sacramento Temple. Lighthouse has provided a very thorough explanation on their web site. It's right in line with Mr. Walker's statement, "Our primary focus is to lovingly and peacefully distribute free Christian literature to the public that discusses some foundational doctrines of the Mormon faith in contrast to historic Christianity."

I think the public is just uninformed about the issues. They seem to jump to conclusions, assume the worst possible motives, and condemn Christians without cause.

So let me encourage you to be different. Read the literature Christians are distributing outside the Sacramento Temple. Ask the questions:
  • Is there anything disrespectful in this publication?
  • Is it hateful?
  • Are people being persecuted via the distribution of this newspaper?
  • Is the paper bigoted?
  • Are the contents comparable to anti-Semitism?
  • Should Americans be outraged over the free and peaceful distribution of this material?

After becoming educated, take action. There are at least two things you can do.
1. Send a letter to the editor of USA Today expressing your informed opinion.

2. You'll find a list of ministries on page 4 of the Sacramento Temple Outreach literature. Pray for and encourage a Christian missionary today.

Monday, August 07, 2006

One Mormon's Outrage

Most people aware of Mel Gibson's arrest last week for driving under the influence and his unfortunate behavior during that arrest (read the story). On August 3rd USA Today online posted an opinion (letter to the editor) titled Reaction to Gibson is hypocritical. The author, Jeff Byrd of Sacramento, California, wrote:
I am writing to point out that while actor/director Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic remarks were wrong, America's reaction to them is hypocritical.

I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Without exception, at every public event that the Mormon Church sponsors, protesters are sure to be there. What are they protesting? Our religion.

They might be exercising their right to free speech, but their goal is to deny us our freedom to practice our religion. Shouldn't all Americans be as outraged over anti-Mormonism as over anti-Semitism?

Have the Jews been persecuted even to the point of attempted extermination? Yes, they have. Have the Mormons been persecuted to the point of death? Yes, we have. Even the governor of Missouri in 1838 signed our "extermination" order.

As I write this letter, I am preparing to attend a public open house of our new temple in Sacramento. There will be protesters against my actions. I would hope America feels the same way about their anti-Mormon hate as they do about anti-Semitism.

It's really unfortunate that Mr. Byrd's assertions have been so widely disseminated without challenge. His remarks are untenable and wholly ill-informed.

I have attended numerous public events sponsored by the Mormon Church at which no protestors or critics of any kind were "on the job." While I have witnessed (and sometimes participated in) Christian outreach at LDS events, I have not observed people protesting (for an exception see the June 20th Mormon Coffee post); Christians are there merely providing information from another perspective for those who are interested.

Mr. Byrd asserts that the goal of the so-called protestors is to deny Mormons their freedom to practice their religion. I'd like to know what makes him think so. How is distributing information an act that restricts someone else's freedom? When the LDS Church distributes the Joseph Smith Testimony, is the goal to deny people their freedom to practice the religion of their choice? Is that what LDS missionary work is all about? The very idea is ludicrous.

I can only think that Mr. Byrd has never bothered to read the information Christians hand out at Mormon proselytizing events. If he had, he would understand that his assumptions are way off base. Of course, I don't have exhaustive knowledge of the alleged "protests" about which Mr. Byrd writes; but all the material I have seen at these events has been respectful in its presentation while still critical of the doctrinal claims of Mormonism.

Is this a description of persecution? Should America be outraged over non-Mormons publicly questioning the theological claims of the LDS Church? Are the peaceful, respectful actions of LDS critics equivalent or comparable to anti-Semitism? Shame on Mr. Byrd for minimizing the historic and continuing hostility against the Jewish people in this way.

As Mr. Byrd attends the Sacramento Temple open house I hope he recognizes that nobody there is protesting his right to do as he pleases. He enjoys complete freedom to go to the Temple open house; he may accept or reject the information offered him by non-Mormons; he may practice the religion of his choice. This is made possible for Mr. Byrd by the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which not only guarantees him freedom to choose his religion, but also gives him the right and freedom to publicly condemn LDS critics.

Even if he chooses to do so in ignorance.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Mormon Church Growth & Retention

(I will be traveling over the next few days. This will be the last Mormon Coffee post until August 7th or 8th.)

On July 18th the LDS Church released this to the press:
SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the second-fastest growing church in the United States, according to the 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, published by the National Council of Churches.

After citing some statistics regarding worldwide LDS Church membership, the press release stated:
"The numbers don’t tell the real story," a Church spokesman said. "The real measure of Latter-day Saints is the depth of their faith and how it changes people’s lives."

I found this last statement interesting. On the day I read this I had earlier been reading the LDS Church News report of the New Mission Presidents Seminar which took place in Salt Lake City in June. LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks spoke to the new mission presidents about the challenge of retaining converts to the Church.
Drawing upon surveys and statistics, Elder Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve said, "Most of those we baptize are children, youth and very young adults. Most of this majority are very young. Children ages 8 to 15 make up 40 percent."

They are at a much higher risk for inactivity if their parents are not active, he cautioned. And most are not. (Church News, July 8, 2006, page 4)

Mr. Oaks continued, noting factors that affect member retention. Many converts are baptized while in a country that is not their native country. In that case, converts need "a friend, a responsibility, and nourishing by the word of God."

Another factor Mr. Oaks said helps retention is giving 12-year-old boys the Aaronic Priesthood within four to six months after baptism. Another is making sure those investigating Mormonism attend the LDS Church before they are baptized.
"If investigators attend Church many times before they are baptized, they are a great deal more likely to attend Church thereafter, and therefore, be retained in activity. In other words, pre-baptism Church attendance is closely related to retention."

I wonder what Mr. Oaks had in mind when he suggested investigators attend Church "many" times before baptism. The first lesson of the LDS missionary manual Preach My Gospel tells missionaries:
During this or any other lesson, do not hesitate to invite people to be baptized and confirmed. (page 40)

Furthermore, the same manual explains that only the first four lessons are to be taught before baptism (page 29). This sort of approach doesn't seem to leave a lot of opportunity for investigators to attend the LDS Church "many times" before becoming members.

Be that as it may, the online LDS press release page offers a link to an article which explains why the LDS Church is the second-fastest growing church in the U.S. -- why it all works.
At first glance, an organization that makes such demands on its members would appear doomed to failure.

But a notable characteristic of millions of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a willingness to devote extraordinary amounts of time and energy to their church.

"Church leaders have repeatedly stressed that the strength of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be traced to the personal testimony of each individual member," says Robert L. Millet, professor of ancient scripture at the Church-operated Brigham Young University.

The depth of members' personal testimonies or convictions is the driving force that motivates them, Millet says.

At the mission president's seminar LDS Apostle Oaks didn't mention personal testimonies and convictions. Instead, he stressed activities -- give them a title, give them a job to do, make sure they have friends to hold them accountable. Mr. Oaks' advice was more in keeping with comments from the current prophet:
Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said of individuals who join the Church: "They are put to work. They are given responsibility. They are made to feel a part of the great onward movement of this, the work of God….

"They soon discover that much is expected of them as Latter-day Saints. They do not resent it. They measure up and they like it. They expect their religion to be demanding, to require reformation in their lives. They meet the requirements. They bear testimony of the great good that has come to them. They are enthusiastic and faithful."

Well, those who remain active members, perhaps. But those who fall away?

In reporting Apostle Oaks' talk Church News said:
A serious retention factor for adult and youth converts is conquering their use of addictive substances like smoking, alcohol and pornography…most converts reported that neither missionaries nor members helped with this problem.

"Help is desperately needed if we are to retain," Elder Oaks said.

Indeed, these converts Mr. Oaks spoke of do not "measure up." They do not "meet the requirements." Therefore, they become inactive, not enthusiastic and faithful.

The last vital data [Mr. Oaks] presented on retention stressed the importance of having a friend.

The percent of new adult converts in North America who had close active LDS friends or family before they started their investigation [of Mormonism] was 69 percent.

After reading this report on retention I'm not quite sure where "the depth of members' personal testimonies or convictions" actually fits in. When it comes to keeping members active, instruction from the leadership of the LDS Church is all about obligation. Use a hook to keep them involved.

There doesn't seem to be anything here, from those who claim to be God's prophets and apostles, about faith and commitment to Christ.