Mormon Coffee

It's forbidden, but it's good!

The official blog site of Mormonism Research Ministry

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

If any of you lacks wisdom, don't ask.

by Sharon

On November 7, 2006 LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks presented a devotional address to the students at BYU-Idaho. In his talk, entitled "Be Wise," Mr. Oaks defined the principle of wisdom and demonstrated how wisdom may be applied in several different areas of life. Covering various subjects including prayer, dating, and self-characterization, Mr. Oaks spoke of another area in which wisdom must be exercised. He said,
My second subject of wisdom concerns looking beyond the mark. In the Book of Mormon the Prophet Jacob described a people who "despised the words of plainness,...and sought for things...they could not understand" (Jacob 4:14). He said this caused them to fall because when persons are "looking beyond the mark," God takes away plainness and gives them what they sought -- things they cannot understand.

We see this today. For example, some persons write General Authorities asking when we will be returning to Missouri or how we should plan to build up the New Jerusalem. Others want to know details about the Celestial Kingdom, such as the position of a person who lives a good life but never ever marries.

I don't know the answers to any of these questions. What I do know is that persons worrying about such things are probably neglecting to seek a firmer understanding and a better practice of the basic principles of the gospel that have been given to them with words of plainness by the scriptures and by the servants of the Lord[.]

It's interesting that Mr. Oaks -- as a prophet, seer and revelator who, by virtue of his position in the LDS Church, believes he has been divinely equipped to guide, counsel and instruct Latter-day Saints; who holds every gift, qualification and key necessary to lead people to into the Celestial kingdom; who has had bestowed upon him all the power of God that it is possible for a human being to hold on earth; who has been placed in the LDS Church for the express purpose of keeping the Saints from being carried away by false doctrine (see George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, Two volumes in one, 205-214) -- it's noteworthy that he does not know the answers to sincere gospel questions. Nor does he appear interested in seeking God to receive those answers.

Joseph Smith and other early LDS leaders had no qualms about asking God to grant them deeper understanding or revelations of clarification (for example, see Doctrine and Covenants section 7; Doctrine and Covenants section 132; Doctrine and Covenants -- Declaration 2). Indeed, the introduction to Doctrine and Covenants section 33 says,
In recording this revelation the Prophet affirmed that "the Lord is ever ready to instruct such as diligently seek in faith."

I can see that wondering about God's specific timeline might be a question that "goes beyond the mark," but if exaltation in the Celestial kingdom is the goal of every Latter-day Saint (as affirmed by LDS Apostle Jeffrey Holland, Ensign, October 2006, 11), surely, the eternal consequences for a person who never marries is a valid and important matter.

Rather than encourage or instruct a person bearing such a weighty concern, Mr. Oaks states he does not know the answer. But he does claim to know the heart of the seeker. Instead of considering that the questioner may be someone who is worried about a loved one who doesn't seem to be living the LDS gospel essentials (like marriage), Mr. Oaks paints a picture of the person as someone who is most likely negligent in gospel study and righteous living.

Mr. Oaks concluded this section of his talk with this:
If we neglect the words of plainness and look beyond the mark, we are starting down a path that often leads to a loss of commitment and sometimes to a loss of faith. There is enough difficulty in following the words of plainness, without reaching out for things we have not been given and probably cannot understand.

On our refrigerator at home Sister Oaks has posted these wise words of Sister Elisa Wirthlin: "Don't complicate the simplicities of the gospel with questions that are not in harmony with simple truths."

In what way are fundamental questions about one's eternal fate "not in harmony with simple truths"? Isn't a basic understanding of the three degrees of glory part of the "simplicities of the [LDS] gospel"? Isn't it imperative that we understand the eternal ramifications of our actions in mortality?

In Christianity, a truly simple Gospel is found: Be reconciled to God and enjoy His presence forevermore; or remain an enemy of God and suffer the eternal and excruciating consequences of our sins. What happens to a good person who never marries? The same thing that happens to a bad person who never marries, or a good person who does marry. Whether a person is married makes no difference. Whether the world sees a person as good or bad makes no difference. It is the individual's standing before God, based not on works or ordinances, but based on God's mercy and grace that makes all the difference in the world (see Isaiah 59:2; Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27; 1 John 5:11-12; Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 3:21-26).

In Mormonism there are four possible eternal destinations for human beings, and in the highest destination there are various positions that might be achieved. Some become Gods; some, something less. Some have said the dead have an eternity to progress and move up to better kingdoms; some have said that can't be done. Some claim baptism into the LDS Church guarantees a person will at least become a servant in the Celestial kingdom; some claim those who think so will be surprised to find they were wrong. In Mormonism there are no "simplicities of the gospel"; it's a complicated system from start to finish. No wonder Mormons have questions for their General Authorities. It must be disheartening for a Latter-day Saint that nobody seems to be able to answer them; and undoubtedly devastating to be branded spiritually negligent just for asking.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Mormonism in the News

by Sharon

There's been lots in the news lately about Mormonism; mostly related to Mitt Romney's suitability as a presidential candidate in 2008. But there are some other tidbits that have cropped up as well. If you're interested, here's a run down with follow-up links to recent stories.

In early November (Baptist Press) published the results of a recent poll conducted by the denomination's North American Mission Board. The goal of the research was to see how Americans view Southern Baptists, including how they are perceived in comparison to other religions in America. Southern Baptists were viewed favorably by 57 percent of the 1,210 American adults polled across the country. Furthermore, as illustrated by the above graphic,
The positive outlook toward Southern Baptists, United Methodists and the Catholic Church was about the same in the survey, while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and Muslims received less favorable ratings, 32 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Another graph (available as part of a PowerPoint download from the North American Mission Board) presents greater detail of the respondent's perceptions. According to this graph, the American adult impression of Mormons breaks down like this:
  • Very favorable: 9%
  • Somewhat favorable: 23%
  • Somewhat unfavorable: 19%
  • Very unfavorable: 13%
  • Not familiar: 32%
  • Not sure: 4%


Another news item regarding Mormonism appeared in the United Kingdom's Lancashire Evening Post last Saturday. The online story said:
The Mormon Church has suffered defeat in its legal campaign to stop rates bills being slapped on its massive temple in Chorley.

Top judges ruled against the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, saying the temple did not qualify for a rates exemption -- because it can only be used by selected Mormon believers and is not "a place of public religious worship."

This decision came in answer to an appeal brought by the LDS Church regarding a previous ruling. Astutely assessing the situation, Lord Justice Neuberger dismissed the appeal stating,
"The activities carried out in the temple, far from 'relating to the organisation of the conduct of public religious worship,' are in reality 'acts of ritual worship carried out in private'."


Finally, there have been some interesting items online regarding Mitt Romney and his potential run for U.S. President. On November 20th the Salt Lake Tribune reported the results of a new poll of 1,000 likely voters regarding whether or not they would vote for a Mormon for president. The poll showed that 43 percent of Americans wouldn't even consider voting for a Mormon. The number is even higher among those who identified themselves as evangelicals, standing at 53 percent. The Salt Lake Tribune reported:
Rick Beltram, an evangelical and chairman of the South Carolina's Spartanburg County Republican Party, says he believes the poll is probably accurate, but also noted that a generic poll does not indicate how people feel about Romney after hearing him talk about his religion.

"That's obviously his biggest obstacle," Beltram says of Romney's faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "But I've also found that the more time that he or someone with him explains his beliefs, that's not the case." If Romney can dissuade voters from believing his faith is a cult, as some evangelicals view it, his support is likely to grow, Beltram says.

"His job is going to be communicate, communicate and communicate," Beltram says.

Yesterday TIME magazine posted "Can a Mormon be President?" by journalist Mike Allen, who raised an interesting point:
[LDS] church officials are wary of the impact Romney's candidacy could have on them--and on the portrayal of their faith. Yes, his campaign will bring attention and credibility to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), as the Mormons are formally known, and give them a chance to demystify their theology and customs. But church officials also calculate that Romney's bid to succeed George W. Bush could remind some mainstream Christians just how different Mormonism is from their faith…

I would be thrilled to hear Mitt Romney explain and communicate the doctrines of Mormonism. I myself campaign for the LDS Church to openly present its theology and customs to the world. It's an exciting prospect; however, history and experience tell me this will not happen.

Consider the TIME article's explanation of the concern Evangelicals have with Mormonism:
Evangelicals hold the view that Mormonism is not a Christian faith. Because Mormons acknowledge works of Scripture that are not in the Bible, believe that their prophets have received revelations directly from God and teach that God has a physical body, Evangelicals consider them heretics.

While all of this is basically true, the explanation is an extreme understatement of the facts as they are; it leaves readers with the mistaken impression that the theological concerns Christian faiths have with Mormonism are perhaps a bit trivial, and certainly not deserving of the majority of evangelicals saying they would not consider supporting the election of a Mormon for president.

I realize that the above statement was provided by TIME magazine, not the LDS Church or Mitt Romney. Yet there is even less reason to hope for a clear presentation of LDS theology from these sources. TIME magazine reported:
Calling himself "a religious person," Romney in June used the Charlie Rose Show on PBS to test-drive an answer that keeps him from getting into the nitty-gritty of his religious heritage. "I believe that Jesus Christ is my savior," he said. "But then as you get into the details of doctrines, I'd probably say, 'Look, time out. Let's focus on the values that we share.'"

Though the LDS Church and Governor Romney may avoid answering the tough questions, answers are available for those who seek them. From the National Review Online blog row, The Corner has recently published representative emails from a few people who recognize that the problems with Mormonism are more significant than the media lets on. You can read them here and here.

And, of course, factual information on Mormonism and how it compares with biblical Christianity is available 24/7 at Mormonism Research Ministry and many other fine web sites accessible through the MRM links page.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A living message to a dead world

by Eric

"Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God." --Acts 19:8

Some would say that making an overt apologia ("defense") for the Christian faith is something that is ineffective and thus should be avoided. In this Postmodern culture, a Christian who insists on exclusive truth (i.e. "there is only one way to God") can too often be written off as narrow-minded and possibly even bigoted.

Does anyone know the origin of such an idea? It can't be the Bible since God's Word clearly shows that we must use every means available whenever we share the Gospel. After all, didn't Jesus himself say that we are supposed to be "wise as serpents but innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). This comes by the power of God, as Paul told the Corinthians that the way He went about sharing truth was not with overly wise philosophy but with the power of the Spirit.

He wrote, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power" (1 Cor. 2:4). He added in verse 13 that "this is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words."

Yet in Acts 19 Paul is caught in up the Spirit, "arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God," at a Jewish synagogue. This was his typical MO during his missionary journeys, as he usually headed straight to the synagogue upon arrival at a new city. How often he was beaten up and almost killed for his unpopular tactics! In fact, he says in 2 Cor. 11:16ff that five times he received "forty lashes minus one"; he was thrice beaten with rods and stoned; and he ended up in prison frequently, often because he was willing to take a stand and not water down the truth. Wherever he found himself, whether in a public square in Athens with philosophers (Acts 17) or disagreeing with Peter about a principle involving doctrine (see Gal. 2:11ff), Paul was not afraid to made a public stand for the truth.

So what has happened in the 21st century? Why do some Christians say they don't want to offend anyone and thus become shy when it comes to telling others about the truth of God's Word? Except for those Christians who consider themselves Pluralists (Universalism, which is the belief that all people eventually make it to heaven) or Inclusivists (the idea that Jesus can be found in other religions and sincerity earns heaven), most evangelical Christians are Exclusivists, saying that anyone without a relationship with the Jesus of the Bible is headed toward an eternity of separation from God. If Exclusivism is true, then anyone who touts a don't-rock-the-boat mentality and couches their words carefully so they don't (God forbid!) offend someone is willing to hide words of eternal life.

But if the Atheist, Muslim, Hindu, and Mormon are headed to an eternity of complete separation from God, don't we have a responsibility to tell them about the Gospel message?

I like Ray Comfort's evangelistic tactic (see Way of the Master), as he uses the law of God to show how inadequate the sinner is before an all-holy God. Using a system he calls "WDJD," he starts off by asking people, "Would you say you are a good person?" More often than not, they will say "yes." Then comes the tough question: "Do you keep the 10 Commandments?" It is fascinating to see how people react, as most reply, "Of course I do," since they've never murdered or committed adultery. They are, they think, good people, much better than the sinners who kill and cheat.

Comfort then follows up with these questions: "Have you ever hated anyone? Have you ever lusted? Have you ever stolen anything?" At this, the person realizes that he's been caught and has fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). Comfort has found that getting a person lost before providing him/her of the gospel message results in a better opportunity to get him/her found by the Master.

Is this tactic offensive? As long as we are patient and loving--no finger pointing or screaming is needed!--I believe people will understand the sincerity that motivates Christians like Comfort to unabashedly share their faith. One interviewer connected with Comfort's organization asked a dozen different people who had just heard about this plan of salvation if they were offended. "Of course not!" the answer came back time and again. While they might not have agreed with the Christian's reasoning or were not ready to become Christians, they understood that the main motivation of the person witnessing was to help them, not tear them down.

For those who could get offended ("How dare you say there's only one way to God"), Galatians 4:16 puts it very clearly when Paul wrote, "Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?" We tell the truth because we care about people. To not tell a person in a burning house about the consequences of remaining in the house would be considered neglect.

So if anyone tells you that it's not politically correct to give a clear gospel message to a lost world, just ask them for a biblical precedent where Jesus, Peter, or Paul didn't make the most of the opportunities they were given. I doubt they'll find anything that suggests we ought to neglect telling others the Gospel message lest we may cause them to become offended.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Praise and Thanksgiving

O my God,
Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects,
      my heart admires, adores, loves Thee,
      for my little vessel is as full as it can be,
      and I would pour out all that fullness before Thee
                  in ceaseless flow.
When I think upon and converse with Thee
      ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,
      ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed,
      ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
      crowding into every moment of happiness.
I bless Thee for the soul Thou hast created,
            for adorning it, sanctifying it,
                  though it is fixed in barren soil;
            for the body Thou hast given me,
            for preserving its strength and vigor,
            for providing senses to enjoy delights,
            for the ease and freedom of my limbs,
            for hands, eyes, ears that do Thy bidding;
            for Thy royal bounty providing my daily support,
            for a full table and overflowing cup,
            for appetite, taste, sweetness,
            for social joys of relatives and friends,
            for ability to serve others,
            for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities,
            for a mind to care for my fellow-men,
            for opportunities of spreading happiness around,
            for loved ones in the joys of heaven,
            for my own expectation of seeing Thee clearly.
I love Thee above the powers of language to express,
      for what Thou art to Thy creatures.

Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.

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

Monday, November 20, 2006

Unholy Devotion

by Sharon

Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle ran a lengthy article about Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In "A Prophet in Purgatory" journalist Don Lattin examines Mr. Jeffs' history, leadership and behavior as the Prophet-leader of the FLDS Church. A significant question asked by Mr. Lattin is this: "Will throwing the book at polygamist Warren Jeffs bust up his sect or be a boon to it?" In exploring possibilities, Mr. Lattin writes:
Breeding Loyalty

Warren Jeffs' battle to practice polygamy and lead his earthly domain as he sees fit is just the latest chapter in the 150-year-old saga of Mormon polygamy in the West.

His sect -- which also has members in Canada, Mexico, Texas and elsewhere in the United States -- sees itself as the true continuation of a religious tradition dating back to the spiritual revelations and sexual lifestyle of Joseph Smith, the 19th century founder of the Mormon faith. In 1890, the mainline Mormon Church officially suspended the practice of polygamy in a deal that allowed the Utah Territory to join the United States. Today, the 12.3-million strong Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints excommunicates members who openly practice plural marriage.

But that does not stop an estimated 37,000 Latter-day Saints who see the taking of multiple wives as one of the central tenets of the Mormon religion.

One of them is Marvin Wyler, who cites Mormon scripture to back up his belief that Latter-day Saints must practice polygamy to rise into the upper reaches of heaven, where Mormons believe man can "be like God."

"In order to obtain the highest level in the celestial kingdom you have to live in plural marriage," Wyler said. "They (the mainline Mormon Church) gave that up. It was too hard for them."

According to historians, Joseph Smith had taken 33 wives by the time he was murdered by an angry mob in Carthage, Ill., in 1844. Among those women taken as wives by the founding prophet were the already-married wives of his top male lieutenants, a practice anthropologists say can actually breed loyalty among the tribe.

It comes as no surprise that pressure and duress often act to strengthen groups rather than weaken them. We've seen it in Jonestown and we've seen it in Waco. It was evident in the early LDS Church, too. Even today the Mormon Church leverages a myth of continuing persecution to strengthen and unite Latter-day Saints in an us-against-them worldview -- the same worldview fostered by Warren Jeffs among his own Latter-day Saints.

Another article about the FLDS Church appeared in today's Salt Lake Tribune. "Guiding principles all-important for Jeffs" also notes the presence of strong loyalty among the members of Mr. Jeffs' church. The article's sub-title reads, "FLDS followers remain devoted despite strict guidelines that often separate their families." Journalist Brooke Adams reports:
For three decades, first as a school principal and later as a sect prophet, Warren S. Jeffs has acted with a singular purpose: To prepare a perfect people for God.

Jeffs has pursued that goal through unyielding standards and swift repercussions for those who don't measure up in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamous sect of about 6,000...

Despite the seeming harshness of his faith, the majority of Jeffs' followers remain devoted to him and his 19th-century version of Mormonism.

He is seen, according to sources, as a modern-day John Taylor, the third president of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who spent two years in hiding to avoid prosecution for polygamy.

In the spring of 1880, nearly five years before going into hiding, John Taylor said at the Church's 1880 General Conference:
"Has God given us a law? Yes! Have they made a law to punish us for obeying His law? Yes. All right we will get along and do the best we can, but we won't forsake out god[;] and all those who are willing to abide by the law of god signify it by raising the right hand" (Deseret News Weekly, 12 May 1880; quoted in Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 115).

Later, while hiding out from Federal authorities in 1886, President John Taylor received the following revelation in response to his query about the possibility of the LDS Church giving up polygamy:
"All commandments that I give must be obeyed unless they are revoked by me or by my authority and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant for I the Lord am everlasting and my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with but they stand forever. I have not revoked this law nor will I for it is everlasting and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof, even so amen" (John Taylor Letter File, LDS Archives; quoted in Mormon Polygamy, 128).

There sure are a lot of similarities between early Mormonism and the FLDS Church. It's just as King Solomon said: "There is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Got Milk? The Public Voice of Mormonism

by Sharon

The JournalGazette Times-Courier out of east-central Illinois is in the middle of a pretty interesting online rant. It began on November 3rd when journalist Lee Thomson answered a couple questions about Mormonism in his (her?) "Journey of Faith" column. The questions:
Dear Lee: I've never gotten satisfactory answers to these questions: Why does the Mormon Church not have crosses in or on their buildings, and why do Mormons not wear cross jewelry?

They say they're Christians and believe in Jesus Christ, yet they won't accept this universal symbol of His sacrifice for our sins.

-- Puzzled Christian

Lee Thomson answered the questions -- and then some. Being a distant relative of noted LDS "theologian" Hugh Nibley, Thomson has never been Mormon, but has close relatives who are members of the LDS Church. Therefore, he says, he has respect for his relatives' faith and devotion.

The November 3rd column explained that, according to Thomson's Mormon step-mother, Mormons don't direct their worship toward symbols so, consequently, they do not have crosses in or on their churches. But Thomson went a bit further in the explanation. He wrote:
Mormons never use crosses anywhere, perhaps because Mormons believe Jesus' death on the cross is insufficient to obtain eternal salvation.

Following this, Thomson briefly touched on several LDS doctrines:
  • The requirement of perfection for salvation
  • That God was once a man
  • That many Gods exist
  • That God progressed to Godhood by performing good works, and others may progress as well
  • That God resides near the planet Kolob
  • That Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother have bodies and use them to procreate spirits
  • That these spirits wait until a human body is prepared for them by women on earth and then inhabit said bodies
  • That by righteous living and faithful tithing a Mormon may obtain a temple recommend and marry "for time and eternity"
  • That after death righteous Mormons obtain planets they populate with their spouses -- "families are forever"
  • That Mormons live healthfully without coffee, tobacco and alcohol
  • That plural marriage is "God's perfect plan" but Mormons accept legal restrictions against it

You can imagine what a furor this column has caused among LDS readers. The newspaper has received many dissenting comments from Mormons, mostly casting aspersions on Lee Thomson's character and motives, as well as decrying the information the newspaper published as "inaccurate," "nonsensical," and "offensive." One commenter, "kristie n," wrote:
"What a load of crap! Where did you learn your LDS doctrine? I don't believe any of that stuff you said, and have been LDS my whole life. "

Any Latter-day Saint who knows his doctrine must cringe when reading kristie n's comment. Lee Thomson may have presented his information rather bluntly, but pretty much all of it has its source in the public teachings of LDS prophets and apostles. Is the Latter-day Saint who doesn't "believe any of that stuff" really so unaware of the doctrines of her Church? Or is there another explanation for her comments?

There is one additional LDS doctrine or policy mentioned by Thomson in his column, and this one seems to have brought the loudest lambaste. It is:
When explaining LDS doctrine or practice might make the religion look odd to the general public, Mormons believe "giving milk before meat" is best. Giving simple explanations initially, and details later, is their belief. Another LDS method is "lying for the Lord," or deceiving non-Mormons concerning potentially-misunderstood LDS beliefs.

Many Mormons believe "lying for the Lord" appropriately keeps LDS matters sacred and unsullied by public criticism.

Remarkably, at last July's LDS Sunstone Symposium, Ryan Wimmer discussed (in "Truth-Telling and Mormonism") how "lying for the Lord" resembles the Shi'a Muslim concept, Al-Taqiyah -- lying to "dodge the threat," or save one's life or faith.

It's possible that kristie n is ignorant of the teachings of Mormonism. Or, it's possible that she's demonstrating Lee Thomson's point, "lying for the Lord" or otherwise trying to keep doctrinal "meat" out of the hands of those she believes need "milk" instead. It looks to me like this is what most of the other Mormons commenting on Thomson's column have endeavored to do.

If kristie n really doesn’t “believe any of that stuff,” she’s in the wrong religion. If, on the other hand, she does know and believe these Mormon doctrines...well, enough said.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Of Grackles and Bluebirds

by Sharon

Christianity Today posted an article on November 10th by Dr. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary. Titled Shoot-First Apologetics, Dr. Mouw here recounts a story he once read, written by the late Dr. Walter Martin, about the danger of too quickly labeling someone an “enemy of the gospel.”

As the story goes, Dr. D. G. Barnhouse was hosting a theological discussion at his Pennsylvania farm. While walking with Dr. Martin on the grounds, Dr. Barnhouse mistook a bluebird for a troublesome grackle and shot it dead. Being a bluebird lover, Dr. Barnhouse was upset over his error; but he used the incident to illustrate an important point. He told Dr. Martin,
"You are right in defending the faith against its enemies, but you are too inclined to 'shoot from the hip,' even as I was when I fired at this bird. In the excitement of the moment, it looked like a grackle, but a closer examination would have saved its life and my feelings. It is not wrong to contend for the gospel, but it is wrong to shoot first and ask questions later. What you think might be a grackle, an apostate, or an Antichrist might well be a bluebird you looked at in a hurry."

I think Dr. Barnhouse offered some very good advice--advice we would all do well to heed. Many of us have a tendency to do too much talking and very little listening, which is not conducive to effective evangelism or efficient communication. Many times I’ve been informed by Mormons that I believe something which I do not believe, or that I’m motivated by something I do not possess. I’m thankful when there is an opportunity for conversation that allows me to explain what I believe or what motivates me in ministry. And I’m thankful when I can learn what things hinder someone from recognizing and surrendering to Christ, giving me the opportunity to teach that person what she most needs to learn.

Having said that, I turn your attention back to Dr. Mouw’s article. I think he has misapplied Dr. Barnhouse’s lesson of the bluebird. Dr. Mouw related the bluebird incident in print, he said, because
I was chided recently by someone who was upset with me because of my extensive dialogues with Mormon scholars. "How can you engage in friendly conversations with people who believe such terrible things?" he asked me. I tried to explain that if we are going to criticize Mormonism, it should be on matters that they actually believe, not on what we think they believe. I said the best way to know Mormon beliefs is to actually engage in dialogue with Mormons.

"You don't need to have dialogue with Mormons to know what Mormonism is all about," the person retorted. "All you have to do is read Walter Martin! He had those folks figured out!"

Let me state up front that I don’t have a problem with Christians engaging in friendly conversations with anyone, regardless of what they believe. Indeed, friendly conversation is one of the ways God has ordained for the preaching of the gospel. My concern over Dr. Mouw’s comments is two-fold.

One, Dr. Mouw stated that any criticism of Mormonism must be based on what Mormons actually believe; Dr. Mouw has carelessly combined two different entities into one.

If I’m speaking to a Mormon--or anyone else--I do need to understand what that individual believes before I can determine whether or not he may have a saving relationship with Christ. Each person is in a different place in his spiritual journey, and each one must be approached with respect for who he is and what he actually believes.

But what Mormonism is, is not dependent on what individual Mormons believe. Mormonism is a specific set of official doctrines expounded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And to know what Mormonism is, there is much more wisdom in gaining that information through official LDS sources (as Dr. Martin has done) than through the Mormon who lives next door. My Mormon neighbor might tell me what he believes, and maybe even what he thinks is Mormon doctrine, but this does not guarantee that his understanding is in line with what the LDS Prophets have taught. If I want to evangelize my Mormon neighbor, I need to understand his individual faith; if I undertake to criticize Mormonism, I need to understand the official doctrinal positions of the LDS Church.

My second concern is over Dr. Mouw’s implication that, in keeping with the parable, Mormonism is not a grackle, but a bluebird. He concluded his article with this:
Not long ago, I came across a comment by G. K. Chesterton--another sharp-witted defender of the faith who was concerned that we sometimes shoot from the hip in identifying enemies of the faith. "Idolatry is committed," Chesterton warned, "not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils."

Though he has not stated so directly, in the Christianity Today article Dr. Mouw has implied that identifying Mormonism as an “enemy of the faith” is setting up a “false devil.” This may be the impression he gets through dialogues with his Mormon friends; but in actuality official Mormonism--official doctrines of the religion--do oppose God’s truth in many essential areas (please visit Mormonism Research Ministry for specifics).

Dr. Barnhouse reportedly suggested that it is
“Better to pass up an occasional grackle in theology and leave him with the Lord than to shoot a bluebird and have to answer for it at the Judgment Seat of Christ."

This counsel was offered to Dr. Martin in the context of taking care not to “shoot first and ask questions later.” Christians have been asking pertinent questions about Mormonism since 1830. The answers clearly reveal Mormonism is no bluebird, though it is possible that there may be some individual Latter-day Saints who are--despite the teachings of their Church.

I would like to see Dr. Mouw put away the gun altogether and resist taking pot-shots at those who responsibly criticize Mormonism for the doctrines that it actually prescribes.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mormonism and Murder

by Sharon

In October a new book hit the shelves: The Open Curtain by Brian Evenson. Dubbed a thriller by Publishers Weekly, The Open Curtain is a story about Mormonism and murder.
Evenson (Altmann's Tongue) explores some controversial Mormon history in this thoughtful thriller rooted in an actual century-old murder case. When Rudd, a disaffected, fatherless Mormon teenager living in an unspecified part of Utah, discovers he has a half-brother, Lael, in suburban Provo, the two meet and embark on a strange friendship. While researching a school project, Rudd learns from a series of stories in the New York Times about a murder committed by William Hooper Young, a grandson of Brigham Young, the Mormon pioneer. In 1902, William Young was tried for, and convicted of, the murder of Anna Pulitzer. The crime cast a dark shadow on the Church of the Latter-Day Saints by exposing such arcane, perhaps doctrinal concepts as "blood atonement," a disturbing idea about the saving of a Mormon soul by shedding someone else's blood. (Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.)

Brian Evenson has authored six previous fiction books. He is currently the director of Brown University's Literary Arts Program. Brian is a former Mormon and a former teacher at Brigham Young University. According to Booklist,
Evenson lost his teaching post at Brigham Young University because his writing was too implicitly critical of the Mormon Church.

I've not read any of Dr. Evenson's books, but based on an online interview written by Angela Stubbs, Dr. Evenson's dismissal from BYU over a controversy surrounding his first book is not surprising. (Read about Dr. Evenson's experience writing this book, Father of Lies.)

Ms. Stubbs' interview with Dr. Evenson is really interesting and very revealing regarding Mormon culture. For instance, Ms. Stubbs asks,
Do you feel that it’s inherent in Mormon culture to suppress or deny religious history or at least the facts that might blemish the church’s reputation in any way?

[Dr. Evenson answers:] I don’t know if it's inherent, but it's certainly been established practice for a number of years. In the 1950s, the Mormon Church had almost no publicity department; now, that's one of the largest departments in the Church's bureaucracy. The Mormon Church has acted more and more like a corporation as time has gone on, and has become incredibly conscious of negative publicity. I do think that too often that leads to suppression of or minimizing of facts from Mormonism's very colorful and to my mind very interesting past. In the last few decades Mormonism has worked very hard to present itself as a Christ-centered Church that fits really snugly into Middle America. But to be able to see it that way, you have to forget a lot of Mormonism's history.

In discussing the Mormon main character in The Open Curtain, Ms. Stubbs asks,
Because Rudd has been living in a religious culture where he’s been told how to think and feel about things for so long, he’s lost the ability to make decisions for himself. He turns to this alter-ego or other “self” to tell him what to do or who to be. Why do you think Rudd has these issues?

[Dr. Evenson answers:] I think it's an extreme response to a subculture that has a kind of internalized split. Mormonism in its day-to-day services seems very Protestant; in its temple ceremonies, it's very ritual and almost pagan at times. You talk about the Church in one way among Church members and in another way to outsiders. And then you try to reconcile that to the ideas and attitudes and mores of American society as a whole, weaving yourself carefully into that fabric as well. And then if you've have [sic] a religious structure telling you what to do and what to be, what happens if you lose your faith? Who tells you who to be and what to do then? Maybe nobody, or maybe you start hearing from all that that religious structure has repressed…

Having acknowledge earlier that Dr. Evenson has revealed quite a bit about the LDS temple ceremony in The Open Curtain, Ms. Stubbs asks,
As a Mormon rule, non-members aren’t allowed to witness the temple wedding ceremony. Rules like these cause suspicion among non-members due to the secretive nature involved with this ceremony. You go into great detail about the temple ceremony in The Open Curtain. Do you feel you’ll get any backlash from friends/family members who are still LDS or fellow readers for divulging top secret information?

[Dr. Evenson answers:] Since Mormons are generally polite, I think generally there will be very little overt response: they simply won't respond. Certain of my friends who are still Mormon are likely to break off their friendships with me, others will simply pretend like the book doesn't exist. A few friends who feel particularly close to me or family members might say how sad it makes them that I would write about Mormonism in this way, and there will be some public discussion of the book on Mormon e-mail lists and blogs that will probably be upset with the book. I've gotten several weird emails, always from anonymous sources, telling me that if I look hard enough at myself, I will see I am a tool for evil and I'll repent. I've also had several death threats, but they're always very silly and not worth paying attention to.

The Stubbs/Evenson interview is quite long but, as I think is demonstrated above, it's well worth the time. Pour a cup of coffee and settle in. Dr. Evenson's experience, perspective and candor make for a fascinating and enlightening read.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Crossing Cultures

by Sharon

The newspaper of Burlington, Iowa, The Hawkeye, ran a story on Monday about Truth Outreach, a 30-minute television program hosted by Rocky and Helen Hulse. The Hulses are the directors of the Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center, a Christian presence in the heart of the historic Mormon town of Nauvoo, Illinois.

Truth Outreach is a Christian apologetics program devoted wholly to the comparison of Mormonism and Christianity. It has been on the air in a limited mid-western market for four years, but as The Hawkeye reports:
The message of local Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center directors spread internationally for the first time one week ago when their television program, "Truth Outreach," aired in South America and Europe…

[Christian Television Network] officials said the international program could reach 500 million people. CTNi program director John Lucena said it will reach about 69 million in South America and Spain each week.

"His [Rocky's] message is important to Christians," Lucena said from his office in Florida. "Any program that bases itself in the Bible attracts us to it…"

"We want to spread the word of God," Lucena said. "Our programs are educational."

The Hulses hope many people gain an education from their program, including Mormons, Christians, and people who have been or will be approached by LDS missionaries.
"Mormon missionaries are having a huge success (converting people in other countries)," Rocky Hulse said. "In the Caribbean, they have had over a 140 percent growth rate. In Chili, one out of every 10 Chileans are Mormon. It's because there is no information out there."

Hulse hopes Christian missionaries in South America and Europe see the "Truth Outreach" broadcast so they know the difference between the two religions. They can pass that information along...

Truth Outreach also currently airs in Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah.

Hats off to CTNi for their willingness to promote the cause of Christ by broadcasting a truthful comparison between Mormonism and Christianity -- in places where this truth is often hard to come by.

The international broadcast can be viewed via web cast on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. (ET) at Christian Television Network International.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Another botched joke?

by Bill

Last week Massachusetts Senator John Kerry took a lot of heat from all sides for a comment he made about education. He told a group of students at Pasadena City College that if they study hard, do their homework, and make an effort to be smart, they will do well. If you don’t, Kerry said, “you get stuck in Iraq.” His comment naturally offended a number of people who felt he was slamming our military (again?). Kerry has since apologized for what he calls a “botched joke” that was really meant to criticize President Bush.

This reminds me of a comment made by BYU professor Stephen E. Robinson that appeared in his book, Are Mormons Christians? On pages 19-20 Robinson was trying to fend off criticism toward second LDS President Brigham Young regarding his infamous “Adam-God” sermon. In a conference message on April 9, 1852, Young stated that the first man, Adam, was our Father and our God, and the only with whom we have to do.” Said Robinson:
During the latter half of the nineteenth century Brigham Young made some remarks about the relationship between Adam and God that the Latter-day Saints have never been able to understand. The reported statements conflict with LDS teachings before and after Brigham Young, as well as with statements of President Young himself during the same period of time. So how do Latter-day Saints deal with the phenomenon? We don't; we simply set it aside. It is an anomaly. On occasion my colleagues and I at Brigham Young University have tried to figure out what Brigham Young might have actually said and what it might have meant, but the attempts have always failed. The reported statements simply do not compute-we cannot make sense out of them. This is not a matter of believing it or disbelieving it; we simply don't know what "it" is. If Brigham Young were here we could ask him what he actually said and what he meant by it, but he is not here, and even expert students of his thought are left to wonder whether he was misquoted, whether he meant to say one thing and actually said another, whether he was somehow joking with or testing the Saints, or whether some vital element that would make sense out of the reports has been omitted.

First of all, to say Latter-day Saints “have never been able to understand” Young’s remarks is totally ridiculous. They may not like what Young said, but it is inaccurate to conclude that he was not understood. Young’s meaning was certainly not lost on Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie who admitted in a letter dated February 19, 1981, that Young did indeed teach that Adam was the Father of our spirits. Can we really take Robinson’s explanation seriously and somehow assume Young was perhaps “joking”? I don’t think so when we take into consideration how Young ended this conference message:
Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation.

If this is meant to be taken as a joke, I fail to see the humor. Perhaps it is just me, but I don’t see threatening people with damnation as something that is funny. Millions of Latter-day Saints believe Young was a modern-day prophet, yet at the same time, they, like Robinson, are reluctant to believe that Adam is God. If the former premise is true, wouldn’t it be safer for Latter-day Saints to concede that Young’s warning might also be true? If so, isn’t it also logical to conclude that most Latter-day Saints are in danger of eternal peril?

Before Mormons run to their keyboard and insist, “Yeah, but this teaching was never ‘official’ doctrine,” they might wish to think more deeply about the matter. Young’s teaching (as erroneous as it is) meets the criteria of being an LDS doctrine even by today’s LDS standards.

1. It was taught by a living prophet (last I checked Young was alive when he said it).

2. Young himself called it a doctrine (not a “theory” as most LDS apologists suppose).

3. It was taught in Conference.

4. Young’s connection between Adam and God is found in LDS scripture when the D&C (27:1; 116:1; 138:38) states that Adam is the “Ancient of Days” (the term “Ancient of Days” is an Old Testament reference to God in Daniel 7:9, 13, 22).

5. It was accepted as true by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve (though Orson Pratt admittedly had serious reservations).

6. It was actually a part of the temple endowment ceremony for a time (Mormon historian David John Beurger wrote, “The St. George Temple endowment included a revised thirty-minute ‘lecture at the veil’ which summarized important theological concepts taught in the endowment and also contained references to the Adam-God doctrine”).

Few things in Mormonism get more “official” than that.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Addition or Attrition?

by Sharon

As I mentioned in a previous post, LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley is fond of inviting people of other faiths to come to the Mormon Church. He often suggests something like this:
"We recognize the good in all churches. We recognize the value of religion generally. We say to everyone: live the teachings which you have received from your church. We invite you to come and learn from us, to see if we can add to those teachings and enhance your life and your understanding of things sacred and divine." (London News Service 8/28/1995. Also see Ensign, November 2002, page 78 and Ensign, October 2006, page 5 for similar invitations)

Last week I talked about President Hinckley's invitation for people to come to the LDS Church and bring along with them all the "good" they have received from their non-Mormon churches. But in these invitations issued by President Hinckley there is something else that captures my attention. That is, his suggestion that the Mormon Church can add to the teachings people have received from their own churches.

The idea got me thinking. What sorts of things does the LDS Church have to add? Using the example of someone coming from a traditional Christian church, let's look at a few possibilities.
  • The Christian church teaches there is one book of sacred Scripture: the Bible. The LDS Church can add to that; it has four books it considers sacred Scripture: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

  • The Christian church teaches there is but one true God. The LDS Church can add to that; it has three true gods for this world and an unknowable number of true gods beyond this world.

  • The Christian church teaches two possible eternal destinations: Heaven and Hell. The LDS Church can add to that; it has four eternal possibilities: the Celestial kingdom, the Terrestrial kingdom, the Telestial kingdom, and Outer Darkness.

  • The Christian church teaches there is one salvation, given freely by God's grace through faith, based on the sufficiency of Christ. The LDS Church can add to that; it has two salvations, one unconditional (i.e., resurrection from the dead) and one conditioned upon obedience (resulting in an eternal home in one of the four previously mentioned destinations).

Are these the sorts of things to which President Hinckley was referring? Or might he have been thinking of something more along the lines of adding to revelation?
  • The Christian church teaches Exodus 33:20 is complete as it stands in the Bible:
    "But He said, 'You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me and live.'"

    The LDS Church can add to that. The LDS edition of the King James Bible includes an appendix with changes Joseph Smith made to the biblical text. The LDS version of Exodus 33:20 is:
    "And he said unto Moses, Thou canst not see my face at this time, lest mine anger be kindled against thee, and thy people; for there shall no man among them see me at this time, and live, for they are exceedingly sinful. And no sinful man hath at any time, neither shall there be any sinful man at any time, that shall see my face and live."

  • The Christian church teaches John 1, verses 1 and 4, are complete as they stand in the Bible:
    "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In Him was life, and the life was the light of men."

    The LDS Church can add to that. The LDS version of these verses according to Joseph Smith's corrections read:
    "In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God… In him was the gospel, and the gospel was the life, and the life was the light of men."

  • The Christian church teaches Ephesians 2:8 is complete as it stands in the Bible:
    "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God."

    The LDS Church can add to that. It's Book of Mormon says,
    "…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." (2 Nephi 25:23)

In these few examples I guess we find that the LDS Church has plenty it can add to the beliefs of one who has been nurtured in a Christian church. But more is not necessarily better.

In reality, when someone with a Christian faith background chooses to join the LDS Church she cannot hold on to her previous faith and simply "add to it." She cannot believe the Bible is God's only complete and wholly trustworthy written revelation to mankind, and at the same time believe it is incomplete and corrupt as the LDS Church teaches. She cannot believe there is one true God over all, and at the same time believe God is but one of many true Gods. She cannot believe salvation is by grace alone, not of works, and at the same time believe that the grace of salvation kicks in only after all she can do. She is required to abandon the faith of her fathers in order to embrace Mormonism.

I wish President Hinckley would be more straightforward in his invitations to non-Mormons; tell people up front that Mormonism is an entirely different belief system than found in the "teachings they have received" from their churches. President Hinckley entices people with an offer of "more;" but what they actually get is a complete doctrinal make-over.