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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bound for Glory?

by Sharon

While reading the Book of Revelation I was struck by Jesus' words regarding the final judgment of those whose names are not written in the Book of Life:
…the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (21:8)

Jesus here draws a distinction between those who belong to Him -- those who will "inherit all things," who will forever enjoy Him as their God, who will be His sons and daughters -- contrasted with those who will not receive blessings but will instead "have their part" in the lake of fire. These will not receive eternal life in God's presence, but will receive the second death: eternal punishment.

The list of sinful behaviors and attitudes Jesus speaks of reminds me of another list, this one found in LDS scripture. Doctrine and Covenants says:
But [these] received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus,… These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie. (76:101, 103)

Several items on the biblical list and the D&C list match:
  • unbelieving/received not the gospel
  • sexually immoral/adulterers-whoremongers
  • sorcerers
  • liars

It sounds like both passages are talking about the same group of people. But according to the Bible, Jesus says these people will be finally consigned to the "second death" in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, while Doctrine and Covenants says these people will inherit glory in the Telestial kingdom of God.

Some Mormon leaders, including 10th LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith, have suggested that sinners such as those listed above will spend limited time in the lake of fire and brimstone; they will be released as heirs of salvation after they have sufficiently suffered for their sins. However, Mr. Smith wrote:
Spiritual death is defined as a state of spiritual alienation from God -- the eternal separation from the Supreme Being; condemnation to everlasting punishment is also called the second death. In other words, the second or spiritual death,…is the final judgment passed upon the wicked… (Doctrines of Salvation 2:217)

In Mormonism there seems to be some variance of opinion on exactly what "second death" is, who is deserving of it, and how long it lasts. But in Christianity -- historically -- the second death has been understood to be final, permanent, and hopeless. In Revelation Jesus contrasts the second death with eternal life. Those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb receive the gift of eternal life, while those who have died in their sins receive their part -- the consequence of being an enemy of God -- which is eternal damnation.

But according to Mormonism, after the wicked dead come to their senses and repent, after they suffer for their sins for a sufficient time, they will receive an eternal home in glory. This glory, which they have earned by personally paying for their sins (see Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 325-325, 204), is described in LDS writings. The inhabitants of the Telestial kingdom will delight in an existence of far greater comfort and enjoyment than anything available on earth; a glory beyond mortal understanding. There will be no death, disease, infirmity, taxes, wars, bills or menial labor. The people will be free to socialize, travel and learn (Victor Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel,240-241). In fact, Joseph Smith reportedly said,
The telestial kingdom is so great, if we knew what it was like we would kill ourselves to get there. (see Richard Neitzel Holzapfel,The Heavens Are Open, The 1992 Sperry Symposium of the Doctrine and Covenant and Church History, 155)

According to Mormonism, those deserving of the Telestial kingdom have lived their lives in open rebellion against God. They have hearts that are hard and cold when it comes to Christ. They are not just misguided people who have given in to the temptations of sin more often than not; they have "refused to worship the true and living God" (LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 778).

Even if it were possible for dead people to pay their own sin debt by suffering for a finite period of time (it is not), after their debt is paid they remain what they have always been at their core: enemies of God. This is something Mormonism misses. It's not just about what we do, but about what we are.

Jesus did not come only to pay the penalty for our sins; He came to make us new creatures. He came to take away our guilt and bestow on us His righteousness. The Apostle Paul wrote,
  • He made Him [Christ Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

  • Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Because of Christ's righteousness, the sinner who places faith in Him becomes righteous before God.

Spending time in prison does not change a hardened criminal into a law-abiding citizen. During his prison sentence he works off his debt to society; he may even resolve to "go straight" in order to avoid future punishment. But he isn't changed from the inside out -- not unless God intervenes and makes him a new creature.

And being a new creature is what Jesus talks about in the Book of Revelation. He says,
Behold, I make all things new…It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (21:5-8)

Seeing how Jesus puts it, it doesn't sound to me like that second set of people are bound for eternal glory. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Gift

by Eric

All the hustle and bustle of the anticipated Holiday
      is quickly closing nigh,
And many frazzled shoppers can at last let out
      a collective great big sigh,

Their present-buying is done and all the
      cards are finally addressed,
The children have been put to bed as it’s time
      for them to get some rest.

Most of the world now awaits Santa Claus,
      he’s flying through the air,
He and his reindeer will deliver what all the
      elves have made to share.

So as everyone’s heads hit the pillows on this
      quiet Christmas Eve night,
Not a creature is stirring, and even the tiny mice
      are sleeping out of sight.

Many people are merely dreaming about what
      the Jolly Fat Man can lift,
Yet Someone more special is wanting to deliver
      a different kind of gift.

What kind of gift, you might ask? It’s something
      that can never get broken,
You would never have to wait in a return line,
      it’s much more than a token.

While the presents under the tree last usually an hour
      or two, maybe three,
What I am talking about goes on and on and actually
      right into eternity.

But just like the fake Rolex on the corner many
      charlatans want to imitate,
They will say this “gift” is what you work for,
      hurry up before it’s too late.

What if I pull out my wallet when I get a gift,
      what would the giver surmise?
No, we understand that a gift is a gift,
      this should not be a great big surprise.

And this is the way it is with the Babe
      who came to us in a smelly old stable,
Yet how unfortunate that so many consider this
      to be just an annual fable.

Immanuel, given to us two thousand years ago
      cannot be purchased in a mall,
This one--born, lived, and died before He was resurrected--
      offers a Gift to all.

Truly if we open up our hearts and receive this Gift --
      Jesus Christ to the earth,
There is nothing I consider more valuable
      or anything that has a greater worth.

Without the Father’s grace, mercy, and love,
      all of us share an eternally bad fate,
But receivers of the priceless Gift, it’s heaven we get,
      how amazing we now rate!

So this Christmas Eve, when everything is finished
      and you lay your heads down,
Remember the Gift given to those who believe,
      this is what they call Paradise Found.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Of the Father's Love Begotten
by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-413 AD)

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and Evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
And extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring,
Evermore and Evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and Evermore!

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Trying to make it more difficult to get to the facts

by Bill

Larry Burkdall certainly understands the effectiveness of the World Wide Web. Burkdall, the president of the Latter-day Foundation for the Arts, Education and Humanity, recently made a plea on "The Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization of BYU" blog site asking for assistance in the organization's new effort to "drive down Church enemies from prominent search engine positions" and "teach the gospel of Jesus Christ via the Internet." Burkdall concedes that the Internet has become a formidable opponent to the Mormon Church's missionary efforts when he writes:
A missionary in England reported his "golden" contact excitedly consulting the Internet about Mormons after the first discussion. The investigator found a mountain of anti-Mormon material and immediately cancelled all future appointments with the missionaries…The LDS Church tracks about 6,500 anti-LDS Web sites in the English language, whose content dominates search results. Thousands more dominate search engine positions in other languages. Potential converts are abandoning the missionaries once they consult the Internet for more information. Only vast quantities of positive material, correctly optimized, can resolve this problem. We cannot drive the enemies of the Church off the Internet, but we can displace their prominent positions.

Now I admit I have a hard time believing that the LDS Church actually has personnel tracking 6,500 web sites. Perhaps they do. Regardless, I personally find this to be quite encouraging. However, if my mail is any indication, Burkdall's concerns are not at all surprising. I regularly receive emails from angry Mormons who insist that people should not be getting their information on Mormonism from sites like (regardless of the fact that much of what we quote is taken directly from LDS sources). For some reason, a lot of Mormons do not want people reading stuff published by their own church.

Anyway, Burkdall's call for the Cavalry resulted in a serious backfire. The great majority of the comments posted on this blog were not encouraging at all. Instead, most of them were sharp rebukes, many from former Mormons who were BYU grads. Comments included:
  • "For people investigating the LDS Church, the Internet is their best friend, not some naive 19 year old missionary. If the LDS Church is true then why is not the advent of the Internet increasing conversion rates rather than decreasing them? Cults can not stand the light of the noon day sun, thus the bright light of the Internet magnifies the bizarre nature of Mormonism and its sordid history. A few clicks Googling Mormonism and the wise person will flee for their spiritual life. I clicked a few times, woke up, smelled the Postum and officially resigned my Mormon membership shortly after the Internet was born. I am a BYU alumnus."

  • "I resisted posting when I was first referred to this site. But, given two of the posts above, perhaps it won't be futile to add my ideas. I am also a BYU alumnus. I also have resigned my membership in the LDS church (after being a BIC member of over 60 years at the time of my resignation.) And, the Internet was instrumental in my disengagement and subsequent disaffiliation. It strikes me that your purpose, as noble as it may be, is oriented more toward "marketing" than it is toward 'product." As long as the missionary program, whether live or via the internet, relies upon marketing strategies and ignores the product, it is bound to fail. Unlike the LDS church, which has tens of thousands of representatives (missionaries) trying to sell its product, those who are "anti-Mormon" (your words, not mine) rely almost entirely on the internet, or the printed word. While you are stressing 'marketing', your opposition is concentrating almost entirely on 'content.' No 'business plan' in the world is going to succeed at making a 'sow's ear' appear to be a 'silk purse.' All in my opinion, of course."

  • "This reminds me of when Joseph Smith led a mob to destroy a printing press that revealed his secretive practice of polygamy (which led to his imprisonment at Carthage). You can attack the sources of unconvenient facts, but it just makes you look more like a cult. In the end, your attempts to stop free intercourse of ideas will only lead to unintended consequences. As an M.B.A., I suggest you open up more by responding to the information that you view as false more openly, as opposed to trying to remove your opponent's information. The latter makes you look like a cult. You can't stop the dissemination of information, and you shouldn't try."

  • "What does manipulating search engine results have to do with Arts, Education or Humanity. Sounds like you don't want people to exercise their free agency by gathering information before committing time, money and their soul to a questionable multi-level marketing scheme…errr…'church'"

  • "You are arranging deck chairs on the Titanic if you think this is going to be of any service in keeping people from finding out the truth about the Pearl of Great Price, the Kinderhook Plates, and Joseph Smith's zeal in pursuing married women when their husbands where on missions. As a BYU alum, I would encourage you to put your talents to use in making a difference in the real world, rather than trying to get higher search results trying to prop up the Church's sanitized view of history."

  • "I agree with the others who point out that the problem is not so much with anti-Mormons fighting the LDS Church. Instead it is the LDS Church's failure to address its history in an adequate and honest manner that is the problem. If I were you I would invest some effort into that. What you suggest doing here is dishonorable. Destroying the Nauvoo Expositor was one of the two stupidest things Joseph Smith ever did. Don't repeat his error in letter or in spirit. If you believe in something many people consider crazy, simply have the guts to own up to it. If you don't believe it, don't sell the edited list of your beliefs to others as though it were the whole story. I am sorry that the LDS Church cannot be clear about its position on history. I know it makes your life and their job that much more difficult."

  • "In my opinion, looking at a topic from varying points of view is healthy. It provides the researcher with a broad foundation of knowledge and when they reach a certain conclusion they 'know' they have solid information to back it up, in addition to whatever they 'know' in their heart. An acquaintance once said, 'The truth should withstand scrutiny.' What is the church afraid of? If the church were true, it wouldn't be so worried about it. I'm a BYU grad, returned missionary, etc, and I left the church not because of anything I read online but because I didn't like the temple ceremony and I read a book by a Mormon that gave me even more reasons not to like it."

  • "i like the plan. well actually, what i like is the fact that someone on an 'anti-mormonism' site linked me here."

  • "if there are instances where these sites are presenting false information, by all means, point them out. lets get the facts straight and lets remedy the misinformation with truths. but please, dont insult millions of internet users, mormons and search engine operators with your little gimmick of an attempt to game the system by sanitizing history and perpetuating the lies."

  • "Go for it! Then I'll laugh when I read media articles documenting how you tried to game the system to hide sanitized history and all the science refuting the Book of Mormon. The more the publicity the better, as the LDS Church withers under the spotlight. I'm also BIC, RM, BYU B.S. and M.Ed. alum, temple married, and active, until I started researching the lies, and subsequently left."

  • "Barkdull is not willing to let the natural course of things play out but wishes to artificially manipulate the superficial appearances of search engines to deceitful ends -- another example of what the church is underneath. It was fascinating to learn the ". . . Church tracks about 6,500 anti-LDS Web sites." It's so comforting to know Big Brother is watching. Perhaps it is tactics like this that is producing the backlash of members resigning enmasse and thousands of websites springing up to expose these nefarious deeds. It is perhaps asking for too much that rather than trying to cover up the church's dark underbelly Barkdull instead demand the church open its dark history, and its financial secrets, and turn from being a heartless, paranoid corporation to actually being, perhaps for the first time, an actual Christ-centered church!"

Ouch! Needless to say the page has now been taken down and replaced with a sermon by the late Mormon Apostle Neil Maxwell on the subject of repentance. Repentance? Do you think there is some irony here? Who should be repenting? The people who are trying to make it easier to hear both sides of the issue? Or the ones wanting to make it more difficult?


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Assurances and Promises

by Sharon

Here it is again. The LDS Church has once again been confronted with concerns from the Jewish community over the Church's inclusion of Holocaust victims and survivors in the LDS International Genealogical Index.

On Monday, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles demanded the LDS Church remove the name of late Jewish leader Simon Wiesenthal from the Index. The name was only recently discovered in the Church's database, which is used for tracking vicarious LDS temple ordinances performed by Church members in order to enable deceased persons to become Mormons in the afterlife.

The LA Times reports:
"We are astounded and dismayed that after assurances and promises by the Mormon Church that Mr. Wiesenthal's life and memory, along with so many other Jews, would be trampled and disregarded," Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center's founder and dean, said in a statement.

"Simon Wiesenthal was one of the great Jews in the post-Holocaust period. He proudly lived as a Jew, died as a Jew, demanded justice for the millions of the victims of the Holocaust and at his request was buried in the state of Israel. It is sacrilegious for the Mormon faith to desecrate his memory by suggesting that Jews on their own are not worthy enough to receive God's eternal blessing," Hier added.

The "assurances and promises" to which Rabbi Hier referred are those made (and allegedly broken) by the LDS Church over the last eleven years. In 1995 Jewish leaders and LDS Church representatives met and signed an agreement which sought to prevent the names of Holocaust victims being included in the Church's genealogical index. In 2002 that agreement was reaffirmed by both parties. In 2003 Jews accused the Church of not honoring the agreement. In 2004 this accusation was restated. In 2005 Jewish leaders met with LDS representatives to express their dismay that the Church had broken the agreement; which the Church denied. In May of 2006 the Jewish community raised the issue again; and now, in December 2006, the name of Simon Wiesenthal is found in the Index. No wonder Rabbi Hier is upset. (For more information on the history of this issue see Mormons Should Try Walking in Jewish Shoes.)

KSL TV out of Salt Lake City, Utah reports:
An official statement from the LDS church says: "In response to a request by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and in accordance with the commitments the Church made in 1995, no Church ordinance was performed for Simon Wiesenthal and his name was immediately removed from the International Genealogical Index."

There are hundreds of readers' comments about this story posted on the KSL web site. Many people seem to think the whole story is just persecution against the LDS Church. They think the Jewish community is over-reacting and should get over it rather than give the media something else to criticize involving the LDS Church. One person on the KSL web site remarked to someone with a differing opinion, "What was a positive story for the Church, you are turning into a negative story…" So the LDS Church accidentally baptizes in behalf of Jewish Holocaust victims -- "Who cares?" they ask.

The Jewish community cares. Rabbi Heir is quoted in the KSL report:
"We do not charge this was done maliciously." "But their good intentions is considered by others insulting because to people in our community, it sort of says, 'We're the gatekeepers of heaven.'"

According to second LDS President Brigham Young, the "gatekeepers of heaven" are angels who stand as sentinels, requiring "key words" and "signs and tokens" from any who wish to pass by them to gain eternal life (Journal of Discourses 2:31). The only place one can learn the required key words, signs and tokens is in a Mormon temple. And the only people admitted to Mormon temples are worthy Mormons.

Furthermore, Brigham Young taught,
"…no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are…" (Journal of Discourses 7:289).

So Rabbi Heir is right. The LDS Church does seem to believe it is the gatekeeper of heaven.

But read and understand the wholly trustworthy assurances and promises of Jesus:
"I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep… I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. …I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:7-9)


Monday, December 18, 2006

LDS Church Public Education Campaign

by Sharon

An article posted today on the American Spectator's web site suggests that the LDS Church is worried about the publicity Mitt Romney's presidential campaign may bring to the Church. "Mormonism in the Spotlight" says,
The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is growing increasingly concerned about the public-perception hit the presidential candidacy of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may have on the Mormon Church.

That's one reason the church is looking at what is being called a "public education" campaign that could reach a budget in the tens of millions in media buys for TV, radio and print.

"There is an expectation that some of the church's more archaic traditions and obscure points of history will become more widely publicized by Governor Romney's opponents in an effort to embarrass him and raise doubts about his faith in the minds of the public," says a New York-based media consultant who has heard buzz of the potential campaign.

Already, the Mormon Church runs a series of radio ads about family issues that are branded as messages from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is also a small TV campaign that runs occasionally highlighting the church and some of its faith-based publications.

But the current campaign is of a different sort, one that would be high profile in as much as the church would be openly discussing and clarifying points of the Mormon faith that have long been either misunderstood or misreported.

I, for one, would love it if the LDS Church would "openly discuss" and truthfully clarify points of Mormon doctrine in a public forum. Whether or not the Church really will launch such a campaign remains to be seen, but it's evident that this strategy is not yet in place.

An article appearing last Sunday at (The Spartanburg [SC] Herald-Journal) reports:
One obstacle Romney may face is that while Mormons consider themselves Christians, not all Christians consider Mormons the same way…

Benoit Duquette, a stake president in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hopes that public interest in Romney's campaign will spur interest in learning more about the church as a whole, and about its beliefs. Duquette oversees seven Mormon congregations in the Upstate, including those in Greenville, Spartanburg, Boiling Springs, Gaffney and Union.

"Once we know that Jesus is the Christ is central, the rest is just an appendage to that knowledge. Everything else revolves around that truth," Duquette said.

Mr. Duquette, in his remarks as an official representative of the LDS Church, hasn't helped to clarify Mormon doctrine at all. Instead, he continues promotion of a misunderstanding of Mormon doctrine by stating "Jesus is the Christ" without further explanation.

It's the same approach Mitt Romney takes when answering questions about his faith. The December 25, 2006 - January 1, 2007 issue of Newsweek begins an article about Governor Romney recounting an October meeting between this presidential-hopeful and evangelical leaders who were gathered together to discuss Governor Romney's Mormonism.
Richard Lee, a Baptist minister from Cumming, Ga., got to the heart of the matter. What did Romney really believe about Jesus Christ? Romney didn't hesitate. "When I say Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior, I realize that means something different to you than it does to me," he admitted. But he urged them to remember their shared beliefs: the faith that Christ was born of a virgin, was crucified and rose after three days. The ministers were pleased.

I'm guessing that if these evangelical ministers understood what LDS leaders have taught about the Virgin Birth they would not be pleased.

Here's the thing. In follow-up to a BYU student's earlier letter to the BYU NewsNet Readers' Forum, this letter appeared in the same Forum on Friday:
In response to the poor confused author of "Not a Christian?" (Dec. 13) who didn't know if he was Christian, allow me to clear a few things up for this poor guy. Christianity as defined by non-members means that a person believes in doctrines such as the trinity and transubstantiation (the sacrament literally becoming the blood and body of Christ upon consumption).

If you were to tell a "Christian" that you were a Christian, you would be wrong, since their definition is different from yours. In the LDS Church, we use the word Christian to define a follower of the gospel of Christ. So, by the Latter-day Saint definition, you are a Christian. But, according to the non-member definition, you are not a "Christian."

Leslie Kuykendall
Bakersfield, Calif.

That's the point. Historically, certain Christian terms have been defined and understood in specific and accepted ways. Mormonism came along almost 2,000 years later and chose to incorporate some of these same Christian terms, but define them differently -- and not tell the public that they have done so.

So if the LDS Church launches a multi-million-dollar public relations campaign that clarifies what is actually meant when a Church representative says Mormonism proclaims, "Christ was born of a virgin" or "Jesus is the Christ," I will be happy. I want people to know what official Mormonism is, in order that they may make informed decisions about their potential involvement with that religion. Therefore, until the day the LDS Church is willing to make full disclosure of the teachings of their prophets and apostles and the resulting official doctrines, you'll find me continuing an honest effort to do it for them.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Christian or Not?

by Sharon

A Latter-day Saint student at BYU sent a letter to the BYU NewsNet Readers Forum this week. He wrote:
I grew up considering myself both a Christian and a Latter-day Saint. I heard of people claiming we aren't Christians, but I still felt comfortable in identifying with both titles. I never felt any wrong in doing this until I arrived at BYU and now suddenly, I'm wondering if I really am a "Christian" and I've been left confused. A year ago my old BYU Bishop compared some of our beliefs with those of "Christians." Just last week, my New Testament professor said that "Christians" believe the sacrament is the literal body and blood of Christ. Another professor mentioned how "Christians" believe that Christ was born on Dec. 24, but as Latter-day Saints we know otherwise. I've heard lots of my peers talk about our Christian friends and how they are so different as well. This has all led me to believe that as a Latter-day Saint, I am not Christian. That's good to know; now I won't knock up any fuss the next time a "Christian" tells me I'm not one of them. Thanks, BYU, for ending my confusion.

Alan Peters
Oak Lawn, Ill.

Well, Mr. Peters' BYU professors haven't really got a handle on what Christians actually believe, but the point is well made. Latter-day Saints want to be known as Christians, but the Mormon belief system doesn't fit the Christian model. And because of that, Mormons can't consistently live the idea that they are "Christians."

There is a distinction between what Mormonism is and what Christianity is; that there is a distinction comes out naturally in conversation and teaching. For example, the LDS Church made a big deal in March about the 50th anniversary of "the beginning of the preaching of the gospel in Taiwan," but the Christian gospel has been preached in Taiwan for over 300 years (see Mormon Coffee "Preaching Mormonism in Taiwan"). Obviously, there is a recognized difference between the LDS gospel and the Christian Gospel.

Perhaps Latter-day Saints could eliminate some of the confusion if they were to follow the examples set by earlier Mormon Church leaders. Instead of talking about what "Christians" believe, make the distinction as Brigham Young and others were fond of doing: speak of the "so-called Christians":
Brigham Young: "When the light came to me I saw that all the so-called Christian world was grovelling in darkness" (Journal of Discourses 5:73).

Daniel H. Wells: "…but the so-called system of Christianity is not only an error and a snare, but is a monstrous iniquity fastened upon the children of men throughout the earth" (Journal of Discourses 24:320).

George Q. Cannon: "…no thinking man can admit that Christianity so-called -- I call it a false Christianity, untrue to its name -- satisfies the wants of humanity at the present time" (Journal of Discourses 24:185).

Bruce McConkie: "Christianity is the religion of the Christians. Hence, true and acceptable Christianity is found among the saints who have the fullness of the gospel, and a perverted Christianity holds sway among the so-called Christians of apostate Christendom" (Mormon Doctrine, 132).

Wouldn't this kind of explicit language clear up a lot of confusion for both Latter-day Saints and non-Mormons alike? Perhaps this procedure should be written into the Associated Press Stylebook right next to the section on the proper use of the term "Mormon."


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mitt Romney and Mormonism

by Sharon

There's a new video produced by available for online viewing: "Mitt Romney and Mormonism." The introduction states,
[Mitt] Romney is a Mormon Republican who’d like to be the next president. People are asking the question: Will his religion affect whether or not evangelicals vote for him? That’s a good question. But to many of us evangelical Christians in Utah who witness to Mormons, we think there are more important questions. Will this be an opportunity for the public to learn about what Mormonism really teaches? Will the doctrines of Mormonism be accurately portrayed? Will people understand the differences between Mormonism and Biblical Christianity?

This video is more about Mormonism than it is about Mitt Romney.

What follows is 32 minutes of insightful information about the official teachings of the LDS Church. Springboarding from an interview Mitt Romney did on the Charlie Rose show on 5 June 2006, the video discusses six specific issues related to Mormonism.

When Judy Woodruff interviewed Governor Romney for the Charlie Rose show, she remarked,
There are some aspects of Mormonism that many Americans might not understand; the belief that Jesus Christ will appear again in the state of Missouri, or that God has a material body, that He was fathered by another God…

Governor Romney replied that Ms. Woodruff didn't have those LDS doctrines right, and that the "most unusual" thing about Mormonism is the story of Noah and the Flood. Therefore, "Mitt Romney and Mormonism" takes a look at these questions:
  • Will Christ Appear Again in Missouri?
  • Does God the Father have a Material Body?
  • Does God the Father have a Father?
  • Is the Great Flood the Most Unusual Belief in Mormonism?

Presented in the form of interview clips, noted Christians involved in ministry to Mormons draw on documented LDS sources to answer these questions clearly and definitively; all according to official LDS teachings.

The section on the most unusual belief in Mormonism is a fast-moving enumeration of unique LDS doctrines including such things as baptism for the dead, the endowment ceremony, the idea of the existence of many worlds governed by various Gods, and the individual doctrines contained within the LDS teaching on Eternal Progression. After watching this, the viewer is inclined to agree with Timothy Oliver who, at the beginning of the segment, said he thinks it is "disingenuous for Mr. Romney to suggest that belief in the Flood is the most unusual thing about Mormonism."

The next section of the video is titled Ambiguity, Transition, and Diversity in Mormonism. Here is discussed the observation (based on the experience and research of the interviewees) that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to receive straight-forward answers from Mormons about the doctrines Mormonism advocates. Indeed, though there is a big difference between "folk doctrine" and official LDS doctrine, many Mormons seem to be unaware of that fact.

A very interesting interview in this segment is with a returned Mormon missionary who remains active in his faith. Jason Larson states that Mormonism and Christianity are two religions for a good reason: they have "pivotal differences." Mr. Larson admits that the only real similarities between Mormonism and Christianity are some "common names and terms" used by members of both religions; but, he says, the definitions of these terms "at the core are completely different."

Finally, the video winds up with a look at the question "Should Christians Vote for a Mormon?" Cogent information and perspectives are set before the audience, which gives viewers some tools and thought-provoking ideas to consider as they evaluate and answer that question for themselves.

"Mitt Romney and Mormonism" is critical of the LDS belief system as it deviates from the Christianity embraced by the producers, but the information it imparts is accurate. It brings significant issues to light and thus is a valuable tool for those seeking answers to the "more important questions" we all should be asking.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Total truth? Or is everything relative?

by Eric

A warning cry that some theologians and apologists have made for more than a decade involves what has been called "Postmodernism." Theologian Norman Geisler points to the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 as the end of Modernism (which he says began with Nietzsche's "Death of God" movement at the turn of the 20th century) and the beginning of the "Death of Truth." For many, especially in America, there is no such thing as "absolute truth." Rather, there's "your" truth and "my" truth, and the two can both be "true" depending on one's perspective.

This week I saw Postmodernism in all its glory as I served on a U.S. District Court case that involved a U.S. Border Patrol agent who shot an illegal alien accused of throwing a water bottle-sized rock at the agent. After listening to four days of testimony, a group of 12 of us were ushered into a side room to begin deliberations. Nobody wanted to be the jury foreman, so I volunteered because I believed I could help keep the jury organized and on target.

It took us about two hours to make a decision on four of the five counts, which seemed to be pretty clear-cut for most of us. Now we were down to the last felony count, assault on a federal officer. According to the testimony, the defendant and three other aliens were caught in the heavily-polluted Tijuana River by five Border Patrol agents as they were attempting to make their way into the U.S.

At first vote, it was six for guilty, five for not guilty, and one undecided. We pored over the evidence, which included:
  • three officers saw the defendant pull a rock out of the thigh-deep water and lift it up to throw it at the officer, who then shot the alien in the arm with his service revolver;
  • four people--including one of the aliens--had testified that the defendant put his hands in the water, which he denied ever doing;
  • the integrity of the defendant was doubtful, as he lied many times before in previous arrests and contradicted himself more than once on the witness stand.

After a full day of deliberations, we voted again: eight for guilty, three for not guilty, and one undecided. But I knew we were in trouble in ever reaching a unanimous verdict when I had the following exchange with one of the "not guilty" female jurors (Juror 5):

Me: Why are you saying that the defendant is not guilty?

Juror 5: Because, from my perspective, he never had the rock.

Me: But three officers saw the rock. The defendant's hands were definitely in the water, which the alien behind him in the river even admitted. His testimony on the stand showed that he was lying about other facts, and his own lawyer testified in his closing statement that his client had a checkered history and was not a 'model citizen.'

Juror 5: From your perspective and the perspective of the officers, the defendant had a rock. But from his perspective as well as mine, he did not. The evidence differs depending on your perspective.

Me: Are you even suggesting that truth differs depending on perspective? Is it even possible for the defendant to have a rock and not have a rock at the same moment of time? Wouldn't this violate the 'law of non-contradiction'?

Juror 5: As far as I am concerned, your truth is your truth, and my truth is mine.

Immediately, I knew that this first count was history and would have to be thrown out of court (which it eventually was by the judge). There was just no changing this juror's mind about her perspective on truth, as she even admitted to us that all the evidence in the world wouldn't change her mind about her feelings.

This scenario reminds me a lot of Mormons who insist that their feelings can be trusted, even if they contradict the facts. More than once I have been in conversation with a Mormon who has admitted, in one way or another, that the information I presented showing Mormonism as contradictory to the Bible sounded true. However, the mantra more than once goes like this: "I've prayed about the Book of Mormon and know it's true." This is in total disregard of the information that was just presented.

When truth becomes relative in a jury deliberation, it appears that a defendant could both commit a crime and not commit a crime at the same time. In the world of religion, one's feelings can supersede the known facts. The evidence becomes secondary to the feelings and personal opinions that a person might have. What a scary world this has become!

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Friday, December 08, 2006

A God-fearing people

by Sharon

I've been reading in the Book of Revelation. I've been quite affected by the imagery of God as recorded by the Apostle John. We find God seated on a throne covered in radiant color and glory, surrounded by myriads of myriads of angels and elders and other living creatures, falling before Him in worship. They tell us He is holy, holy, holy. They cast their crowns down before Him. They sing His praises night and day. This is a picture many of us hold closely in our hearts. But there's more.

Revelation also gives us this:
From the throne came flashes of lightening, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire… (4:5)

The creatures in heaven speak with voices like trumpets and thunder. By God's command they call out horses and riders who bring judgment to the earth: war, famine and death. They kill with sword, pestilence and wild beasts. They bring earthquakes and gales; every mountain is moved and the sky is rolled up like a scroll. By God's will the trumpets are blown and the earth is showered with hail and fire mixed with blood. Stars fall from heaven like blazing torches; an eagle flies overhead calling, "Woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth…"

Another angel flies overhead proclaiming "an eternal gospel." He says,
Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water. (14:6-7)

Yet another angel warns that those who don't fear God and give Him glory (i.e., those who align themselves with the enemy of God),
…will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of His anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night…" (14:11)

What rich and frightening imagery. Picture this scene and realize that God, in the midst of it all, is not dwarfed or obscured by these magnificent creatures and mighty events. He remains the overpowering Presence and focus of both heaven and earth.

I think most of us like to think about God in a far less fearsome way. We cling to His tenderness, His mercy, His image as Abba, Father. We say, "God is love; God is forgiving." This is true, of course. But we tend to emphasize these attributes of God and ignore His awesome power and His inherent wrath.

If we truly recognized God in His fulness, if we understood not only His love but also His judgment, we might understand what it means to fear God. If we truly feared God, who would dare to speak lightly or carelessly about Him?

Consider this from an LDS man who occasionally emails me:
The real reason that faithful Latter-day Saints cannot accept Evangelical-Protestant beliefs is simple, because your god is a LOSER…. For you, the choice is heaven or hell and either choice you make is made from fear and ignorance. Ultimately, this means that your god is a SADDEST and a LOSER.

Obviously, faithful Latter-day Saints do not share your same dismal view of deity. I think it's truly a shame that you don't have a more clearer description of your Creator and the Plan Of Salvation.

As for Latter-day Saints, our LOVING God came to seek and save that which is LOST. For us, this just happens to include EVERYONE.

This man seems to cling to certain attributes of God while neglecting others. If we truly feared God, who would dare to mock Him?

Consider these words spoken by Joseph Smith about the biblical God worshiped by Christians:
Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God anyhow -- three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization. …All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God -- he would be a giant or a monster. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 372)

Or this:
I combat the errors of the ages; I meet the violence of mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the Gordian knot of powers, and I solve mathematical problems of universities, with truth -- diamond truth; and God is my 'right hand man.' (Joseph Smith, History of the Church 6:78, emphasis retained from the original)

I tremble to think of "the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of His anger."

A poem by Stephen Crane comes to mind:
A Spirit Sped

A spirit sped
Through spaces of night;
And as he sped, he called,
"God! God!"
He went through valleys
Of black death-slime,
Ever calling,
"God! God!"
Their echoes
From crevice and cavern
Mocked him:
"God! God! God!"
Fleetly into the plains of space
He went, ever calling,
"God! God!"
Eventually, then, he screamed,
Mad in denial,
"Ah, there is no God!"
A swift hand,
A sword from the sky,
Smote him,
And he was dead.

The Book of Revelation reveals our fearsome God, a hater of sin and idolatry, a dispenser of fierce and righteous judgment. Yet at the same time He is our Rescuer and Redeemer who says,
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (21:3-4)

As John ended his recording of the Revelation, he cried out in joyful anticipation, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" I'm ready for that day. Are you?

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Fair above all virgins

by Bill

In the recently released movie titled, The Nativity Story, viewers are given a glimpse at what life was probably like for Mary and Joseph after it was learned that the espoused Mary is pregnant. Though I've heard pastors and theologians discuss the social ramifications of such a predicament, I can't recall any film that does so. Since the Christmas story is recounted in only a minimal amount of New Testament paragraphs, some artistic license naturally comes into play; but the film does utilize quite a bit of scripture and there is no doubt that the Christ-child is "God made into flesh."

Peggy Fletcher Stack offers some interesting insight on the LDS view of the mother of Jesus in her recent piece in the Salt Lake Tribune titled "Something about Mary." She notes that,
"Mormons will drag Mary out of the shadows of their faith again this season and plop her into the annual Nativity scene,"

but for most of the year, she says,
"Mary is largely tucked away -- respected for her submissiveness, admired for her faithfulness, but largely invisible."

Stack goes on to explain,
They do, however, believe she was a virgin when she conceived Jesus in her womb. The Book of Mormon, which Latter-day Saints believe was written some 600 years before Jesus' birth, predicts the Messiah will be born in Jerusalem of a "precious and chosen vessel." She would be "the most beautiful and fair above all other virgins," the LDS scripture says.

Most Mormons choose to stop there. However, Stack goes on to say,
But Mormons also believe that God has a body and that Jesus was his literal son. Early LDS leaders including Brigham Young speculated that Jesus was created in much the same way as every other child -- in the marriage bed. But only one partner was human.

There is no denying that several LDS leaders taught that God the Father physically impregnated Mary. In an official LDS Church manual, sixth Mormon President Joseph F. Smith taught:
Now, we are told that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Well, now for the benefit of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his father. The difference between Jesus Christ and other men is this: Our fathers in the flesh are mortal men, who are subject unto death: but the Father of Jesus Christ in the flesh is the God of Heaven. (Family Home Evening Manual, 1972, 125)

The same manual carried the above illustration showing the figure of a man, woman, and child. On page 126 LDS parents are told they should use this to explain to their children "how Jesus was the only begotten Son of God." Daddy plus Mommy equals you; Heavenly Father plus Mary equals Jesus.

The above comments raise an interesting question, "How can a Mormon reconcile the notion that Mary "was a virgin when she conceived in her womb," and also believe LDS leaders who taught that Jesus "was created in much the same way as every other child -- in the marriage bed." Certainly these statements are mutually exclusive.

Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie obviously felt he had the solution when he wrote:
For our present purposes, suffice it to say that our Lord was born of a virgin, which is fitting and proper, and also natural, since the Father of the Child was an immortal Being. (The Promised Messiah, 466)

Traditionally, the definition of a virgin is a person who has never had sexual intercourse, and this is the definition historically held by Christians when it comes to Mary's conception. However, in order to defend the teachings of LDS leaders, McConkie is compelled to redefine this term. I find such an explanation to be very disturbing. I can only hope that Mormons are equally disturbed.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

LDS To-Do List

by Sharon

A friend sent me a link to the web site of a Latter-day Saint couple. Comprised of the couples' "Epistles and Handouts," the web site says,
It is our hope that these materials will be of value to you and your family in helping you be better missionaries and stronger more faithful Later-day [sic] Saints in the same way that we hope it will be a strength to my own children, extended family and friends.

An item listed in the Handouts section is a set Testimony Charts, each one depicting the testimonies of people in different stages of their spiritual journeys. Three of the charts are these:

About these charts the web site says,
These charts are printed in the Book Getting The Water To The End Of The Row. They were intended to help us see that it is not true that we either have a testimony or we don't. We have a testimony in different degrees of different things.

Because of my Christian background, I would normally understand a "testimony" to be the story of an individual's salvation experience -- changed from sinner to saint by the grace of God. It was apparent that the LDS testimony charts would have to be depictions of something far different. I was intrigued, so I took a look.

The charts contain a list of 38 items. These range from "Know that Jesus is the Christ" to "Believe it is wrong to do bear hug dancing." A person's "testimony" of each belief or behavior is then rated on a scale from one ("You believe that the principle is false to the degree that you fight against it in total rebellion") to ten ("You have received a 'PERFECT KNOWLEDGE IN THAT THING'"). At the bottom of each list are the words, "This list could go on and on…"

Of the 38 items listed, only one has anything to do with Christ. There are three items each on the topics of temples, meeting attendance, prayer, and ecclesiastical leadership. There are two each on scripture and giving. There is one topic that has more line-item entries than any other: Sunday behavior. In addition to "keeping the Sabbath day holy," the list includes:
  • Believe it is wrong to shop on Sunday
  • Believe it is wrong to see movies on Sunday
  • Believe it is wrong to watch TV on Sunday
  • Believe in not working on Sunday

I think this demonstrates the importance Mormons place on the necessity of keeping this Old Testament command. One of the "requirements for exaltation" listed in the LDS book Gospel Principles is "Keep the Sabbath day holy" (304). The same book includes a teaching on the history of the Sabbath:
…some Jewish leaders made many unnecessary rules about the Sabbath. They decided how far a person could walk, what kind of knot he could tie, and so forth. (160)

Doesn't this read a lot like the list from the testimony charts?

The Apostle Paul taught, "Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day." (Colossians 2:16)

I recognize that the web site promoting the testimony charts (and the book the charts are taken from) is not an official, authoritative LDS source for doctrine. Nevertheless, I think it fairly represents how Mormons understand the teachings of their Church regarding what is required of them in order to please God.

A few weeks ago MRM received an email from a Christian woman. She related an incident she had just experienced as she enjoyed a Sunday dinner with her family and a Mormon guest. Following the meal, the LDS guest graciously thanked her hostess for the nice meal. Making conversation, the Christian woman explained that she had found it necessary to go to the grocery store that morning before church in order to have the ingredients needed to prepare the dinner. "Well, you would have thought I killed someone...." the Christian woman wrote. "[My guest] let me know of her disapproval by telling me I should be ashamed of myself." The hostess explained to her guest that there is freedom in Christ; we can go to the store on Sunday if need be.

The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry web site puts the biblical teaching on the Sabbath into perspective:
The O.T. system of Law required keeping the Sabbath as part of the overall moral, legal, and sacrificial system by which the Jewish people satisfied God’s requirements for behavior, government, and forgiveness of sins. The Sabbath was part of the Law in that sense. In order to "remain" in favor with God, you had to also keep the Sabbath. If it was not kept, then the person was in sin and would often be punished (Ezekiel 18:4; Rom. 6:23; Deut. 13:1-9; Num. 35:31; Lev. 20:2, etc.).

But with Jesus’ atonement, and justification by faith (Rom. 5:1), we no longer are required to keep the Law and hence the Sabbath which was only a shadow of things to come (Col. 2:16-17). We are not under Law, but grace (Rom. 6:14-15). The Sabbath is fulfilled in Jesus because in Him we have rest (Matt. 11:28). We are not under obligation to keep the Law and this goes for the Sabbath as well.

While I look forward to Sundays -- I love being in church, worshiping the Lord, and receiving the preaching of His Word -- I'm very thankful for the undeniable truth of Jesus' assurance, "Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." (John 8:36)