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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pass the offering plate

by Eric

Several weeks ago, Time magazine featured a picture of a classic Rolls Royce with a cross serving as the hood ornament. The headline reads, “Does God want you to be rich?” The subhead adds, “Yes, say some meagchurches. Others call it heresy. The debate over the new gospel of wealth” (9/18/2006).

First of all, this is not a “new” gospel. This “Health and Wealth” prosperity teaching has been around for more than 40 years. Names like Hagin, Copeland, and Hinn have certainly helped popularize this idea that Christians are children of the King, with prosperity to be considered a God-given right. Remember the televangelist scandals of the 1980s that produced plenty of material for Johnny Carson jokes? Even a movie starring comedian Steve Martin (Leap of Faith) made fun of the scandalous practices that certain preachers used to fleece people of their money. I once heard a sermon where one such pastor commanded his congregation to not only pray about a Mercedes but to also have the faith to pray for its color. To do any less, he said, meant you really didn’t have the proverbial mustard seed of faith!

It’s true that, generally, God blesses His people with not only with spiritual blessings but with material blessings as well (e.g. Prov. 3:9,10). However, nowhere does the Bible say that God intends all of His people to be wealthy. As Saddleback pastor Rick Warren put it, “You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth.” Unfortunately, God is treated by these prosperity teachers as a celestial gumball machine. Just put your quarter into the slot and out comes the giant circular prize. But God doesn’t work like that. We should follow Him and give generously, not to get something material out of it, but because we love God and desire to be a blessing to others. A person’s motive plays a crucial role here.

Why do I bring this up? Because I’m sure a number of Mormons who saw this article have conveniently stereotyped all Christians as having this same attitude. They tune into the TBN network (Trinity Broadcasting) just to mock the methods used by these prosperity teachers. (I know because one Mormon often sends me e-mails making fun of these people and showing me the “fruits” of “Evangelicalism.”)

However, many respected leaders and the people of God disagree with this prosperity doctrine. After all, it’s not hard to point to the Bible to show how such a teaching is corrupt. In 2 Timothy 3:1ff, Paul explains how “there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud,…” etc. He goes on to list more than another dozen attributes characterizing these end times, with his advice of “have nothing to do with them.”

Yes, sin and even heresy can creep into the church. The question is how will God’s people react? I, for one, reject this teaching and will have nothing to do with those who preach a “name it and claim it” prosperity doctrine. My hope is that most evangelical Christians will agree and call on these leaders to resist the temptation to preach this corrupt gospel.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Commandment-keeping and God's Grace

My October, 2006 edition of Ensign just arrived. I wish more of my Christian friends who think Mormonism is abandoning its heretical past would take closer notice of what the LDS Church is still teaching; for instance, in an article titled “Plain and Precious Truths Restored.” On page 53, Clyde Williams, BYU assistant professor of Ancient Scripture, emphasizes the importance of commandment-keeping if a person hopes to achieve God’s grace.

Elder B.H. Roberts of the Seventy (1857-1933) explained how the unconditional nature of the Atonement in regard to Adam’s transgression and its conditional nature regarding men’s personal sins is a doctrine “peculiar to ‘Mormonism’…and is derived almost wholly from the teachings of the Book of Mormon. In that distinction the beauty and glory of the Atonement, the balanced claims of justice and mercy shine forth as no where else, even in holy writ, -- much less in the uninspired writings of men. It may be regarded as the ‘Mormon’ contribution to views of the Atonement of Christ, for it is to be found no where else except in Mormon literature.” The perfect relationship between the atoning grace of Christ and the obedient efforts of mankind is powerfully stated by Nephi: “We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). Furthermore, we are invited to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.” When we deny ourselves “of all ungodliness,” then and only “then is his grace sufficient” for us (Moroni 10:32).

Think about it. Then and only then is his grace sufficient for us. There is nothing really new here that I haven’t heard before. Robert Millet and Joseph Fielding McConkie said virtually the same thing when they also coupled 2 Nephi 25:23 with Moroni 10:32. They wrote, “Indeed, it is only after a person has so performed a lifetime of works and faithfulness -- only after he has come to deny himself of all ungodliness and every worldly lust -- that the grace of God, that spiritual increment of power, is efficacious” (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon 1:295).

My question is, do these men really think they have “denied themselves of all ungodliness and every worldly lust”? If not, it seems clear by their own admission that the grace of God is not efficacious in their lives. If they think they have denied themselves of all ungodliness and every worldly lust, then I think they need to re-read 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Mormon Circles

by Sharon

According to the LDS history web site, on this day (September 22nd) in 1827 Joseph Smith "received the golden plates from the angel Moroni on the hill where they were buried." Eyewitnesses reported that Joseph took the gold plates home and began translating them with the help of a seer stone -- that is, a stone Joseph placed in a hat and gazed at. When English words appeared on the stone, Joseph recited them to a scribe -- and the Book of Mormon was born. (see David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, page 12; see also A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1:129)

But years before the gold plates were discovered Joseph Smith used that same seer stone to find buried treasure for people who paid him for the service. In 1826 Joseph was brought before a justice to answer the charge that he was an imposter and was bilking people out of their money. (see Marquardt and Walters, Inventing Mormonism, pages 63-77) During the court proceedings Josiah Stowell, a man who had employed Joseph to find buried treasure, gave testimony.

I came across an interesting recounting of Mr. Stowell's testimony written by Abram W. Benton, a non-Mormon who lived in the area where the pre-trial took place. Mr. Benton's account was written in 1831 as a letter to the editors of the Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate. The account is reprinted in Dan Vogel's Early Mormon Documents, volume 4:
Josiah Stowell, a Mormonite, being sworn, testified that he positively knew that said Smith never lied to, or deceived him, and did not believe he ever tried to deceive anybody else. The following questions were then asked him, to which he made the replies annexed.

Did Smith ever tell you there was money hid in a certain place which he mentioned? Yes. Did he tell you, you could find it by digging? Yes. Did you dig? Yes. Did you find any money? No. Did he not lie to you then, and deceive you? No! the money was there, but we did not get quite to it! How do you know it was there? Smith said it was! (pages 97-98)

Mr. Stowell's gullibility and circular reasoning is easy to see in his testimony. When I read it, it made me laugh. But the fact that many Mormons use this same sort of circular reasoning in determining spiritual truth is no laughing matter.

Early LDS Apostle Anthon H. Lund said,
Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. His teachings prove that what he taught was divinely inspired. (Conference Report 1899, October 13)

What did Mr. Lund mean? We can rephrase his statement like this:
Joseph Smith's teachings were divinely inspired; therefore, he was a prophet of God. And because he was a prophet of God, we know his teachings were divinely inspired.

Does this sound a bit like Josiah Stowell?

In the April 2005 General Conference of the LDS Church we find these statements:
  • We do not have to defend the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon defends him for us. (Boyd K. Packer, Ensign 5/2005, page 9)

  • [The Book of Mormon] is a tangible thing that can be handled, that can be read, that can be tested. It carries within its covers a promise of its divine origin. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign 5/2005, page 82)

  • And upon the validity and truth of [Joseph's First] vision rests the validity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign 5/2005, page 81)

So Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon; and the Book of Mormon says of itself that it is divinely inspired; and we can believe that it is divinely inspired because Joseph Smith, who produced the Book of Mormon, had an encounter with God the Father and Jesus Christ; and we know Joseph had this encounter because he said so and a true prophet of God would not lie; and we know he's a true prophet of God because he produced the Book of Mormon; and the Book of Mormon says it's divinely inspired; and since the Book of Mormon is divinely inspired Joseph must be a true prophet because a false prophet could not produce a truly divine book; after all, God appeared to Joseph in the woods and called him to be a prophet…

I get dizzy thinking about it.

If you are a praying person, please pray with me for all those lost in "spiritual" circular reasoning, that God would grant them eyes to see and a reasoning mind to understand.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

If Elvis Were King

by Sharon

There's a new movie being produced in Orem, Utah expected to bolster the faith of members of the Mormon Church.
Rob Diamond has written and is directing "Tears of a King" which explores that [spiritual] part of Elvis' life. The movie looks at the period when Presley studied the teachings of the LDS Church. He was given a Book of Mormon and visited with missionaries a number of times.

Reportedly, Elvis received several Books of Mormon throughout his life, but one has made its way to the LDS Church and now sits in the Church's archives. The book has writing in the margins, purportedly put there by Elvis, which expresses a favorable disposition toward the LDS Church.

So far two people who gave Elvis Books of Mormon have come forward, but an interesting article entitled Elder Elvis? The King and the Mormon Faith by Peggy Fletcher Stack interviews a woman who says this Book of Mormon was her gift to Elvis.
Picture this: Elvis' gyrating hips planted primly on a Mormon pew -- or the King of Rock 'n' Roll working as an LDS missionary in heaven, serenading the unsaved.

This vision is not too difficult for Cricket Coulter, an LDS convert who began her lifelong adoration of Elvis in the fifth grade. The fiftyish Coulter, who lives in Orem, claims that in the months before he died, Elvis was close to converting to Mormonism. She gave the "King" a copy of The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.

Months after his death on Aug. 16, 1977, The Book of Mormon in which Elvis reportedly scribbled notes was returned to Coulter. Real or not, the writing in the blue paperback book has become yet another faith-promoting rumor circulated among Mormons with the same enthusiasm as speculation that actor Jimmy Stewart and filmmaker Walt Disney at one time looked into joining the church.

Cricket says she sent LDS missionaries to teach Elvis at his home in Memphis in 1977.
"After the first discussion, Elvis knew more than the missionaries," Coulter says.

As part of the usual conversion process, the missionaries immediately challenged Elvis to be baptized.

"I'd like to but I'll be on tour," she says he told them. "If you wait until September, I'll do it."

A baptism date was set for the first Saturday in September, Coulter claims, but Elvis was dead by August.

None of this, of course, can be confirmed. Current LDS missionaries in Memphis have no record of pervious missionaries ever visiting Elvis.

Also lacking substantiation is the assertion that the handwriting in the Book of Mormon is the handwriting of Elvis:
The LDS Church archives has received many inquiries about the book, nearly one a week, [Bill] Slaughter [archivist for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] says. But neither the LDS Church nor the Graceland museum have tried to authenticate the handwriting.

Nevertheless, the wishful-thinking rumors will continue to circulate and likely grow.

This reminds me a bit of a book that came out in 1998, The Restored Gospel According to C.S. Lewis. In this book, LDS author Nathan Jensen's wishful thinking and creative quoting turned Christian author and philosopher C.S. Lewis into a man who really was a Mormon but just didn't know it.

At any rate, I'm sure the rumors about Elvis and the "Tears of a King" film will accomplish good things from the viewpoint of the LDS Church. According to the Elder Elvis article, Elvis' Book of Mormon has already contributed to the conversion of at least one person. LaVonne Gaw is an archivist/researcher at the Graceland Museum in Memphis.
Indeed, Elvis was "my missionary," says Gaw, an LDS convert who became interested in Mormonism after hearing that Elvis read The Book of Mormon.

Apparently Mormon records show that Elvis has been baptized by proxy into the LDS Church "numerous times." Cricket Coulter trusts in those proxy baptisms and in her understanding of Elvis' desire to join the Church.
"I wish he had lived longer and joined the church -- it just didn't happen," she says. "I know he's up there doing his work like he's supposed to."

I guess we won't know this side of Heaven where Elvis stood with God. Did he in fact abandon the Christian faith of his youth in favor of the LDS god? Did he like the idea of becoming a God and spending eternity ruling over his own creation and his own people? Or, until the end of his days, did he wait in hopeful expectation to spend eternity in the glorious presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords?

At one of Elvis' concerts in the late 1970s fans held up a banner that read, "Elvis is the King." The rock and roll giant told the fans that there is only one King. He said, "I am not the King. Jesus Christ is the King."

Seems that Elvis might have shunned the idea of becoming a King in the LDS Celestial kingdom; looks like he preferred to leave Almighty God on His rightful throne.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mormons Correct and Soften Smithsonian Exhibit

by Sharon

Today's online Salt Lake Tribune includes an article about a relatively new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution. "American Origins" contains portraits of prominent Americans from 1600 to 1900; therefore, it contains images of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.

Before the exhibit opened in July some LDS Church members got a sneak-peek. They were concerned about some of the captions accompanying the images of the Mormon prophets, having noted factual errors and a "negative slant" in the text. One thing led to another and soon an email was circulating among Latter-day Saints that said, "the exhibit claims Joe Smith was lynched and that Brigham Young was a tyrant."

The Salt Lake Tribune article notes:
While it is technically correct that Smith was lynched - or murdered by a mob - the term today is widely understood as meaning a person was hanged by a mob.

When concerns over the captions were brought to the attention of the Smithsonian, the museum agreed to corrections and changes. A local Mormon authority asked LDS scholar Richard Bushman to rework the captions, which he did with the help of LDS historian Ronald Esplin and an unnamed Smithsonian curator.

"Labels can have attitude but this was not only inaccurate but it was also slightly mean-spirited and not sort of the neutral position that labels normally go for, especially in a public institution," said Bushman…

The captions reportedly contained errors in the dates of the conversion of Brigham Young and the founding of the LDS Church. Dr. Bushman rightly corrected these errors and added additional details,
such as Young's role in colonizing the West, sending thousands of Mormon pioneers out to settle remote parts of the territory. And he softened the tone in other parts.

One passage that portrayed Utah's settlement as a "communal, undemocratic and separatist venture . . . antithetical to the ideals and structure of the national government" gave way to one noting that Young was elected governor before being replaced by an appointed territorial governor. However, it still described the new-founded empire as a "separatist communal and theocratic venture."

In another change, a passage on the Utah war was removed that said, "Eventually the government forced the Mormons to renounce polygamy and accept its authority. The struggle set the limits of federal toleration for separatist groups and was an important precedent in the decision to prevent the South from seceding in 1861."

That was replaced with an explanation that continuing conflicts led "the United States to dispatch troops to Utah in 1857 and assert federal authority. Young was notorious for his many wives, a practice taught as a religious principle by his predecessor, Joseph Smith."

I found these caption changes interesting in light of an article that appeared Saturday in the LDS Deseret News. This article reports on the Utah Historical Society's exploration of Brigham Young's role in the Utah War. Consider these reported portions of presentations from the Historical Society's annual meeting:

  • Historian Will Bagley, for example, said many Utah histories side too much with Mormons, and tell how "the United States sent an Army to persecute our long-suffering Mormon ancestors, and how we beat them in a fair fight ... (and) Brigham Young acted as a dedicated peacemaker throughout the entire affair."

    "This history has one serious problem. It never happened," Bagley said.

    According to Bagley, contemporary LDS accounts of the war told how Brigham Young was "determined to fight an apocalyptic war" against Washington with the help of Indians, hoping to end non-Mormon influence in the region, and help usher in the millennial rule of Christ.

  • Historian Ardis Parshall said disagreement has long existed over whether Mormons or federal officials deserved most blame for the war. "The truth probably falls somewhere between the two extremes, and every Utah War scholar will produce his own catalog of 'whys,"' Parshall said.

    "From the federal perspective, the people of Utah were out of control and required the strong hand of discipline to bring them into subjugation." She said that came as the public perceived Mormons as being more loyal to Young than to the government and courts. The public also detested the then-church policy of polygamy as threatening to families.

    But she said, "The Mormons, on the other hand, saw their treatment by the federal government as outrageous." They viewed federal appointees in the territory as corrupt political hacks who meddled in the social and religious affairs of Utah. They said such officials slandered them in false reports purporting rebellion.

  • Historian David L. Bigler said Mormons caused many of the problems and misunderstandings that led to the war.

    Young began acting in defiance of Washington officials after they refused to consider a petition for statehood in 1856, he said. Young proclaimed that the Utah territory would soon be either a "sovereign state" or an independent nation…

    Bigler said a conflict may have been inevitable because Mormons believed they lived in a theocracy ruled by God, which is not compatible within rule of a republic. He said the two systems "cannot exist or live together in peace. Instead, there will be a struggle for supremacy."

Given these facts, it seems to me that the "softened tone" of the Smithsonian captions has swung the pendulum too far. Visitors to the exhibit will walk away with a vague notion that Brigham Young and his followers sacrificed much to further the expansion of the United States, were a blameless people who just wanted to be left alone, but who were instead oppressed (bullied) by the United States government.

While not offering any context or reasons behind these historical details, Dr. Bushman noted in his caption changes:

  • Brigham Young was elected governor, but was replaced by a U.S. appointee
  • Because of continuing (unnamed) conflicts, the U.S. dispatched troops to Utah to assert federal authority

Is it just me or do the new captions seem to have a negative slant against the United States government?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Catholic Bishops vs. the Mormon Church

by Sharon

This week the Associated Press reported on a situation in the Slovak Republic involving the Mormon Church. The LDS Church is seeking Slovak support, which would allow the church to register as an official religious group in that nation. But bishops of the dominant Catholic church don't like the idea.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) - Roman Catholic bishops are fighting efforts by the Mormon church to earn official recognition as a religious group in Slovakia.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is urging Slovaks "who care about religious liberty" to sign a petition that would allow the denomination to be officially recognized. Slovak law requires 20,000 signatures for a church to be registered.

But the Catholic bishops are telling parishioners that signing the document would "betray" Catholicism. The bishops said in a statement that Mormon doctrine "is not in line with the doctrine of the Catholic Church."

"We call on all Catholics…not to sign this petition," the bishops said.

According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2003 found on the U.S. Department of State web site, the Slovakian constitution provides for freedom of religion. A religious group is not required to register (there are currently 16 registered religious groups), but those who do are eligible for Government benefits including subsidies for clergymen and office expenses, funding for religious schools, and partial exemption from paying taxes. Furthermore,
…only registered religious groups have the explicit right to conduct public worship services and other activities, although no specific religions or practices are banned or discouraged by the authorities in practice.

Indeed, in 1999 the LDS Church conducted an open house for a new church building in Bratislava which was attended by the President of the Slovak Republic.

The Religious Freedom Report also states there are no restrictions on missionaries of non-registered groups:
There are no specific licensing or registration requirements for foreign missionaries or religious organizations. The law allows all religious groups to send out their representatives as well as to receive foreign missionaries without limitation. Missionaries neither need special permission to stay in the country, nor are their activities regulated in any way.

So why is the LDS Church intent on becoming registered? According to the U.S. State Department, Slovakian registration requires submission of a list of 20,000 permanent residents who adhere to the religion seeking recognition. There are only 100-120 Mormons in Slovakia; therefore, the LDS Church is sponsoring a petition in place of the required membership list.

AP reported:
The Mormon church said Monday that it was not seeking to convert Catholics.

"We respect the decision of every citizen, and the petition was in no way meant to convert anybody to our faith," Mormon spokesman Petr Valnicek said. "Religious liberty is all we had in mind."

The citizens of Slovakia already enjoy religious liberty, as does the LDS Church entity within that country. Perhaps the Church wants these religious rights backed up with official recognition to ensure they are not at a disadvantage in the future. This is fully understandable.

What I can't understand is the statement, "The Mormon church said Monday that it was not seeking to convert Catholics." I understand that the actual petition is not directly aimed at converting Catholics, but to claim that the LDS Church has no interest in or plans to convert people from that faith in a country that is 68.9% Roman Catholic -- how can that be?

Missionary work began in what is now the Slovak Republic in 1929. The 2006 [LDS] Church Almanac says that missionary work there was suspended for many years, but in 1992 LDS missionaries arrived in the city of Trencin to begin work in earnest. Today there are three LDS branches, located in Trencin, Bratislava and Zilina.

And of course, where LDS missionaries are, there is proselytizing. The LDS web site says:
According to Church president Hinckley, the Church has "a commission to go in the world and teach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people."

Would this not include Catholics?

The LDS web site also says:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is well known for the missionaries it sends throughout the world to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ…

Currently, some 56,000 Latter-day Saints are participating in proselytizing missions around the world.

To "proselytize" is to convert or attempt to convert someone from one religion to another. What on earth is the Mormon Church thinking when it says it is not seeking to convert Catholics?

There's one final point I'd like to bring to your attention. The AP did not report that the Slovakian Catholic bishops were concerned about conversions of Catholics to Mormonism. The bishops called on Catholics to refrain from signing the petition because Mormon doctrine "is not in line with the doctrine of the Catholic Church." Signing the petition -- giving aid and support to a religion that doctrinally opposes Catholicism -- would be an act of betrayal against the Catholic Church and the faith it proclaims.

Rather than deal with the actual concern the Catholic bishops expressed, the LDS spokesman managed to divert attention away from the real issue, answer a question that had not been raised, and come out smelling like a rose.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Under protest!

by Eric

During the month of August, a number of Christians took turns standing in 100-degree heat in order to offer a “temple newspaper” to anyone willing to open his or her car window. In addition, these Christians held simple signs advertising the website address (, which proved to be an effective tactic helping allure 50-100 daily visitors to the site that offers a PDF file of the newspaper along with articles showing why Mormonism is not the same as “Christianity.”

Many Mormons feel that our approach is synonymous with a “protest.” For instance, the LDS temple leadership always referred to us as “protestors” to the media. Yesterday I was talking to several Christians about this recent outreach. One of them sided with the Mormons, saying that he too felt our outreach was a “protest.” Our conversation went like this:

Joe: “How was what you were doing not a protest?”

Me: “If we were protestors, then what were we ‘protesting’?”

Joe: “The Mormon Church.”

Me: “You need to understand that we did not have bullhorns or giant signs calling Mormons evil people. Our handheld signs merely listed a web site address. We said nothing unless we were spoken to first, and we spent most of the time out there merely smiling while watching for car windows being rolled down because the occupants wanted one of our newspapers.”

Joe: “But you were still in opposition to the Mormon Church.”

Me: “The main purpose for our being there was to communicate to the nonMormons that there was another side of the story that they were not being told inside. We didn’t use web site signs until last year because the temple visitors were transported in buses, meaning we couldn’t even offer newspapers to them. Our goal is to merely provide information to those who might be interested. If you don’t want the information, then don’t take the newspaper and don’t go to the web site. This approach has proved to be successful.”

Joe: “But isn’t your very presence a protest?”

Me: “Would you say that the Dominoes pizza guy holding up a sign that says ‘We have $5 pizzas’ is ‘protesting’ Papa Johns?”

Joe: “But what if the Dominoes guy stands in front of Papa Johns with the sign? Would this not be a protest?”

Me: “The Dominoes guy can stand outside Papa Johns with this sign and hope that people might go to his pizza store rather than the competitor’s. But if the sign he holds is merely advertising his product, I’m not sure how this can be classified as a ‘protest.’ Surely you wouldn’t say he was ‘protesting’ Papa Johns despite his position right outside the Papa Johns store. Our outreach is merely informational and is not meant to be a ‘protest,’ as it is defined in today’s usage."

I then went on to explain that we had a presence at the Sacramento temple only during the open house. Once the temple was closed to visitors, we too would leave. We purposely don’t go to LDS chapels or temples and hold signs at these places because, quite frankly, this really wouldn’t be an effective way to evangelize.

So why are we at the temple open houses? It is because Mormon Church leaders are very clever to make their temples look as Christian as they possibly can. For instance, they post pictures of Jesus throughout the building while very clearly calling themselves “Christian” in the promotional video shown to all guests. Unfortunately they just don’t provide honest information as they deny the fact that Mormonism denies or distorts every fundamental teaching of the historic Christian church.

I believe that these outreaches are too important for the Christian church to close its proverbial eyes and not provide information that will better help an interested individual make an informed decision. No, it’s not a protest. It’s what we call evangelism. When the Christian church loses its ability to stand for truth, it will have lost its salt and light. I hope to never see that day arrive.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Warren Jeffs and the Mystique of Cultic Power

By Eric

Now that Warren Jeffs, the leader of the nation’s largest polygamous group, has been arrested, some observers had apparently anticipated that his followers would have paraded through the streets, rejoicing that they were now free from this man’s control. Instead, however, it seems to be “business as usual” in the border towns of Hilldale, UT and Colorado City, AZ, where most members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) reside.

Let’s consider the facts why this is the case. First, we need to understand that the majority of the people who belong to the church actually prefer this lifestyle as compared to other alternatives. For instance, most of the men must think it’s pretty sweet having two, three, or even four women taking care of their sexual needs, not to mention the additional benefits for older men who take very young brides.

And how many of these polygamous husbands have to cook their own dinners? I doubt few of them know how to sew, and I certainly can’t imagine a household with three or four wives where the husband is doing the laundry. Probably most important, there must be a feeling of power gained from raising your own harem and producing a kingdom of kids who will pass your name down to future generations. Perhaps there are some negatives in leading a polygamous lifestyle, but--and let’s be honest here, men and women--there sure seems to be a lot of positives for the husband.

Meanwhile, many of the polygamous wives would certainly feel threatened if polygamy were no longer an option for them. The majority of these wives grew up in this lifestyle, and the odds are that they were involved in arranged marriages. (In fact, this is how Jeffs initially got into legal trouble, since the most serious charge against him is arranging marriages of 13-year-old girls to men three or four times their age.)

The polygamous wife is most likely married to the only husband whom she has ever known. While she certainly has to share the man with his other wives, there has to be security knowing that your needs are met through this unique union. So what would you expect a 34-year-old polygamous wife--a woman with five kids, an eighth grade education, and no intellectual or social skills outside the home--to do? Raise her hands up in celebration of Jeffs’ arrest and declare her independence? Hardly. As far as the kids, what is their option? Run away? To where? The idea of surviving outside the community must be terrifying to the majority of the children who don’t have many options available to them.

Another fact to consider is that the psychological control of Jeffs and the other church leaders is strong. Even in jail, I’m sure Jeffs will have a way to keep a thumb on the goings-on of this group. When Leo Ryan, a California congressman, visited the People’s Temple compound in the South American country of Guyana, he invited anyone from the group to return with him to the United States. Only a few took him up on the invitation. Then, before Ryan could fly away on November 18, 1978, Jim Jones had his guards kill Ryan and his entourage before ordering his 900+ followers to drink Kool-aid laced with cyanide. Why did they follow such a suicidal man and not escape when they had the chance? This is a question that still can’t be fully answered by sociologists.

I would have to say that Jeffs was not much different in style than the man whom he emulated, Joseph Smith, Jr. I won’t provide details on how Smith was able to manipulate his followers, but let’s just say that every time Smith found himself in some type of jam with outsiders, he was somehow able to convince his people to follow him to the next state. A persecution complex was utilized that made the people identify with their prophet, following him at all costs. I would be willing to bet that Jeffs’ underlings are telling their people how the prophet is being unjustly imprisoned by the government for religious beliefs! This persecution complex will make the people hunker down and not budge in their devotion to their leadership.

Finally, I believe that these polygamous cities are so cut off from the rest of the world that they have lost their sense of reality. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the former Soviet Union was opened to the West, it was apparent that most of these people who lived behind the Iron Curtain all of their lives—having listened only to propaganda and little else—were ignorant of the truth.

Just as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” something special has to take place before a person can see the true Jesus. It’s going to take the prayers of God’s people and perhaps a thrust of evangelistic efforts if there will ever be a hope for these people to ever understand the true forgiveness of God. Many outsiders have already been helping the “Lost Boys,” young FLDS men who were driven out of their homes during these past few years because they were competition for the new teenage girls who were going to be made available for marriage. In the same way, the Christian church should make itself available to help others from this church who live in such harmful situations with no place to go.

I expect that a new FLDS leader will be appointed soon--if he hasn’t been chosen already--and continue leading in Jeffs’ absence. I also anticipate that the church will maintain its fight for the right to break the law. My prayer is that something bigger than the arrest of Warren Jeffs will take place in these communities, and soon.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Some Classes of the Human Family

by Sharon

Last Friday night (September 1st) I caught the first segment of Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees. The show "Polygamy in America: Cult or Calling?" was, predictably, about Warren Jeffs, the recently arrested leader of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Anderson Cooper broadcast portions of a "rare audio recording" of Mr. Jeffs preaching to his followers. The first excerpt was about first wives and their need to be submissive to their husbands. I'm sure that for many viewers this was upsetting enough, but it was the second excerpt that really caught my attention. From the program transcript (Mr. Cooper's intro to the second excerpt and beyond):
COOPER: Jeffs also spews hate, warning his believers of a wicked world.

W. JEFFS: You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, or rude and filthy, uncomely, disagreeable, and low in their habits, wild and seemingly deprived of nearly all of the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind.

COOPER: Brent Jeffs is the nephew of Warren Jeffs. Here's how he describes his uncle.

BRENT JEFFS, NEPHEW OF WARREN JEFFS: He puts on a front like he's a very nice man, a very giving man, very happy, but underneath all that he's very dark and very evil.

Warren Jeffs' words are indeed shocking. I don't know the context of his remarks, but I do know those words did not originate with Warren Jeffs.

While Anderson Cooper is probably not aware of this (it was never mentioned during the remainder of the show according to the transcript), in this portion of the recording Mr. Jeffs was quoting Brigham Young nearly word for word.

On October 9, 1859 Brigham Young delivered a sermon in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle in which he preached on the "disagreeable" people of African descent. Here are his remarks in their greater context:
You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race--that they should be the "servant of servants;" and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree. How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam's children are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion. (Journal of Discourses, 7:290-291)

When Warren Jeffs repeated Brigham Young's words, was he really warning of a wicked world as Anderson Cooper suggested? Could be. Or Mr. Jeffs, as their current prophet, may have been teaching his followers to heed the words of a man they all revere as a previous true prophet of God.

Of course, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also revere Brigham Young as a true prophet of God. I wonder what Mormons think, or how they feel, to hear Warren Jeffs described as "spewing hate," and "very dark and very evil," in connection with his repetition of the official teachings of Mormonism's second prophet and president.

Since LDS officials continuously and vigorously insist that Warren Jeffs and his church have absolutely nothing to do with Mormonism, perhaps Latter-day Saints just don't know.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

'Mormon' Morphology

by Sharon

The recent arrest of Warren Jeffs, prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has The [non-fundamentalist] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints concerned again about public perception of the Mormon Church and polygamy.

The LDS Church issued a statement on Tuesday reiterating its claim that the term "Mormon" is "universally understood to refer to the 12-million member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Therefore, the Church wants the media to stop using the word "Mormon" in connection with any LDS group that adds an extra letter to the acronym of their name (e.g., FLDS - Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; or TLDS - True Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; or RLDS - Restoration Latter Day Saints).

In addition, this request to restrict the use of the term "Mormon" to Latter-day Saints (note the hyphen) should be understood to also exclude any other group that traces the source of its doctrine to LDS founder Joseph Smith (e.g., the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days; or the [Original] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [i.e., Strangites, who prefer to be called Latter Day Saints but will also allow the term "Great Lakes Mormons").

The LDS news release attempts to clarify this complicated issue for the media:
Quite simply, calling Warren Jeffs a Mormon is misleading and confusing to the vast majority of audiences who rightfully associate the term “Mormon” with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The following information may be helpful in further drawing the distinction:

Warren Jeffs Is Not a Mormon
Warren Jeffs is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and never has been.

Mormons Do Not Practice Polygamy
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890.

There Is No Such Thing as a "Mormon Fundamentalist" or "Mormon Sect"
The term "Mormon" is a nickname commonly applied to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is no such thing as a "Mormon fundamentalist," nor are there “Mormon sects." A correct term to describe these polygamist groups is "polygamist sects." The inclusion of the word "Mormon" is misleading and inaccurate.

Associated Press
The Associated Press Stylebook states, "The term Mormon is not properly applied to the other Latter Day Saints churches that resulted from the split after [Joseph] Smith's death."

The LDS news release suggests journalists consult the LDS style guide when reporting on the LDS Church. The style guide says:
The official name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This full name was given by revelation from God to Joseph Smith in 1838.

While the term "Mormon Church" has long been publicly applied to the Church as a nickname, it is not an authorized title, and the Church discourages its use.

Is everyone getting this?

Boiled down, I guess what the LDS Church is saying is We are not 'Mormons'; but if you insist on using the word, it may only be used when talking about us. No wonder the media is confused.

Furthermore, consider this. The Church says the word 'Mormon' is not "authorized," but it is "rightfully" associated with Latter[hyphen]day Saints. My question is: Why does the LDS Church assume the authority to "authorize" the proper use of that word? What about the Latter Day Saints [sans hyphen] who are pleased to describe themselves as Mormons? This LDS assumption of authority reminds me of an experience I had in 1999.

I was participating in a Christian outreach outside the LDS St. Paul Temple. For several days our small group had offered literature to cars as they left the parking lot at the side of the building. One evening we had several extra people; so two of us moved to the sidewalk outside the front of the temple. After a few minutes an agitated LDS security person arrived and informed us that we could not stand there because it was not the "authorized" spot. We asked, "Authorized by who?" The LDS man had no answer; nobody had the authority to "authorize" where we could stand on public property to exercise our First Amendment rights.

Nor does the LDS Church have the authority to "authorize" who may or may not use the term 'Mormon,' or how it is to be used.

I agree that words ought to have specific meanings and ought to be used properly according to their precise definitions in order to promote effective communication. Yet this situation seems wryly ironic. Against the protests of those who define the word "Christian" according to historic doctrinal criteria, the LDS Church insists it has the right to call itself a Christian church while defining the term "Christian" however it so chooses. Given that, it seems that the Mormon Church should accept the prerogative of Latter Day Saints (or anyone else, for that matter) to define and call themselves 'Mormon' if they are so inclined. After all, turnabout is fair play.

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