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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Not the Christ of Whom I Speak

by Sharon

The Associated Press reported Tuesday on Mitt Romney's visit to South Carolina, a "Bible Belt state" where "a few Republicans expressed deep reservations about backing a Mormon." Mr. Romney isn't really concerned about that, believing people recognize they will be electing a president, not a pastor.

Nevertheless, South Carolina Republican State Representative Gloria Haskins said,
"I don't think that I could see someone who is a member of a faith so contrary to my [Presbyterian] faith having my support," said Haskins, a graduate of Bob Jones University, the Christian fundamentalist college. Haskins is backing Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Another South Carolina Republican State Representative, Bob Leach, questioned Mr. Romney about his faith.
Romney attended a House Republican Caucus meeting that always begins with a Bible verse and prayer in Christ's name, led by Republican state Rep. Bob Leach.

Leach told caucus members he asked Romney who Jesus Christ was and Romney responded that Christ "was his personal savior."

Leach said that was good enough to earn his vote.


Setting aside the implication that Rep. Leach only needs to know two things about a presidential candidate in order to grant his support (i.e., that the candidate is republican and that the candidate claims Jesus Christ is his personal savior), I'm very troubled by the lack of spiritual discernment here.

Bob Leach is a member of Taylors First Baptist Church, a member-church of the Southern Baptist Convention. According to the church's web site, it subscribes to The Baptist Faith and Message as a statement of faith. That statement of faith says this in part:
The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being...

Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord. (Please see the complete statement for supporting Scriptures.)

This is an orthodox Christian statement of faith, describing Christ as He is revealed in the Bible. One might say this statement of faith represents belief in the traditional Jesus Christ. But this is not the Jesus Christ embraced and worshiped by Mormons who hold to the teachings of the LDS Church.

As was reported in the LDS Church News a few years ago,
In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President [Gordon B.] Hinckley spoke of those outside the [LDS] Church who say Latter-day Saints "do not believe in the traditional Christ. No, I don't. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He, together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages." (Church News, June 20, 1998, 7)

There is no doubt or disputing President Hinckley's pronouncement that Latter-day Saints believe in a different Christ than the Being that is and has been worshipped by Christians throughout the history of Christianity. Some points on which the Christ "revealed in this dispensation" according to LDS prophets and apostles differs from the Baptist statement of faith quoted above are these:
  • Mormonism denies the doctrine of the Trinity, holding instead to a doctrine that divides the nature, essence, or being of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (i.e., three Gods).
  • Mormonism denies the eternality of Christ, claiming He is a created being.
  • Mormonism denies that the earthly body of Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit, teaching instead that His body was conceived through a physical union between Mary and God the Father, a being of flesh and bone.
  • Mormonism denies the sufficiency of Christ's atoning death in providing reconciliation between God and man, teaching that some sins are beyond the power of Christ's blood to remit (e.g., murder).

    (For documentation on these items, or to learn more, please see "Who is the Living Christ of Mormonism?" by Bill McKeever.)

So Mitt Romney answered Bob Leach's question about who Jesus Christ is, declaring that Christ is Mr. Romney's personal savior. What did Mr. Leach actually learn? Which Jesus Christ is Mr. Romney's "personal savior"? I'm guessing Mr. Leach believed Mr. Romney was talking about the "traditional Christ." And what, exactly, did Mr. Romney mean when he used the phrase "personal savior"?

A tract published by the LDS Church in 1973 says this:
Christians speak often of the blood of Christ and its cleansing power. Much that is believed and taught on this subject, however, is such utter nonsense and so palpably false that to believe it is to lose one's salvation. For instance, many believe or pretend to believe that if we confess Christ with our lips and avow that we accept Him as our personal Savior, we are thereby saved. They say that His blood, without any other act than mere belief, makes us clean. (What the Mormons Think of Christ, 22)

Well, this is what the Southern Baptist (and biblical) faith entails -- salvation by grace through faith alone:
Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. (The Baptist Faith and Message)

This is probably what Bob Leach believed Mitt Romney was talking about. Mr. Leach's unfamiliarity with the doctrines and terminology of Mormonism put him at a disadvantage and left him with an assurance regarding Mr. Romney's faith that is wholly unfounded.

To be fair, "Who is Jesus Christ?" is a question which requires a long and complicated answer in order to effectively communicate how one Christ differs from another. A much better question could have been asked, one that would not have allowed Mr. Romney -- and Mormonism -- so easily off the hook. Charleston County GOP chairwoman Cyndi Mosteller suggested,
“The question is: Does Governor Romney support Joseph Smith's doctrines? We as evangelicals don't believe we can go in and change Paul's doctrine. I don't see how you move around this.”


Monday, January 29, 2007

Are Christians More Concerned About Doctrine Than Obedience?

by Aaron

A friend once said,
"I think LDS see us this way though - more concerned about right belief than right living."

First, let me make clear that in the common Mormon mind, the alternative to this is being more concerned about right living than right belief. This thinking has essentially produced a kind of postmodernism that views their beliefs as largely just "practical" for helping them be "good people." This is the worldview from which many Mormons view religious criticism itself as unethical and "bashing" and mean-spirited. For many Mormons, just about any basic religion is inherently practical for right living and sincerity toward God, so none should be actively opposed. Missionary work is described as "adding" and improving upon the beliefs of others, not challenging or replacing them.

Second, in a way Mormons are right about us being "more concerned about right belief than right living," because Christianity is more about knowing and loving God than it is about treating people right. This may be a shocker, but think about the order of the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave. Christians inevitably do both. One of life's greatest ironies--an irony that I believe some unbelievers will dwell on forever in hell--is that we can only love people like Jesus wants us to once we have had our sins freely forgiven, and once our obedience becomes an outgrowth of our love for God. And how are we freely forgiven? By faith alone in the promises of God as they really are. And how do our hearts love God? By the focus of faith on the truth and beauty of who God really is. Faith, my friends, is theological, and, ironically, the best and only way to go about "right living" is to prioritize "right belief"--not just the right objective content of belief, but the right subjective heart-desiring, hungering, and thirsting faith that focuses on that right objective content (which is ultimately Christ Himself, as He really is).

Third, Mormons are only wrong about Christians being "more concerned about right belief than right living" if by that they mean we only care about right views of God, but care not at all about the works and obedience that accompany saving faith. The tricky thing is that the phrase "more concerned about right belief than right living" usually conflates two things, one good, and one bad. When challenged with the Christian passion and insistence on the right knowledge of God (replete with religious criticism of false views), Mormons often want to condemn both orthodoxy without obedience and orthodoxy-based-obedience altogether. The condemnation comes in the form of conflating both, and I think it ultimately stems from an unbelief in the power of the gospel (justification of the ungodly by faith alone in the promises of Christ) to change one's life. Paul anticipated their unbelief almost two thousand years ago in Romans 6:1 and 10:1-4.

But the Christian won't settle for this sweeping rejection of the primary and foundational role of "right belief." We will neither accept "right beliefs" without "right living," nor "right living" without "right belief." We believe in the power of God, through our "faith alone," to radically change our lives so that we become as the woman in Luke 7. She "wet [Jesus'] feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the [alabaster flask of] ointment," not to be worthy, and not to be forgiven, but because she was forgiven and because she knew the goodness of her Savior.

Christianity stubbornly refuses to accept any kind of love or obedience that isn't rooted in the right knowledge and faith and heart-desire toward who God really is, and what He has really promised.

Grace and peace in Christ, who justifies the ungodly like me by faith apart from works (Romans 4:1-8),


Further reading:

Faith: The Link Between God's Love For Us and Ours For Others

Also available as an MP3 file

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Earnest People of Faith

by Sharon

Deseret Morning News journalist Jerry Johnston recently devoted his column to supporting LDS presidential hopeful Mitt Romney with "Be willing to vote for a believer." The gist of the article was a challenge to those of the "Religious Right" who have concerns about voting for a Mormon. In the form of an open letter, Mr. Johnston wrote about some of the ways religions differ from one another and urged people of faith -- whatever that faith may be -- to stick together. He wrote,
Today, good people of every stripe must link arms. We can no longer afford to judge the value of each other's beliefs; we must look to the value of each other's hearts. More than ever, true believers must believe in each other.

In the end, it comes down to trust. If you can't trust the tenets of Mr. Romney's faith, at least trust the honesty and authenticity with which he holds them. He may not be able to embrace your beliefs, any more than you can embrace his. But he can -- and I think he does -- believe in your basic goodness and purity of your motives. I suspect he knows that religious faith never stands as a contradiction to the notions of the world; it is, by nature, more real than the world. Let the world have its irony. Others must be willing to vote for an earnest person of faith -- even if that faith is not their own.

I have no reason to question Mitt Romney's sincerity, honesty and authenticity; if his name is on the next presidential ballot you can be sure my vote will be cast after thorough due diligence, not decided solely by his church affiliation. But here I would like to move beyond the question of Mitt Romney and look in a more general sense at Mr. Johnston's comments. I'm really bothered by his suggestion that faith and sincerity are the important things -- that the content of any particular faith needn't enter into the question.

These days, people in America have largely bought into the idea that to disagree or reject someone's view is to disrespect the person who holds that view. We have lost the ability to separate the idea from the person promoting that idea. Because of our confused notions, we have been bullied to silence by the cry of "intolerance!"

As I see it, all people are equally valid, regardless of the views they hold. We should treat each other with respect and courtesy, giving opportunity for the expression of all manner of ideas and views. Tolerance requires us to be civil toward others, even when we disagree with them.

But not all ideas are equally valid. Greg Koukl, president of Stand to Reason, says the classical view of "tolerance" is this: Be egalitarian regarding persons. Be elitist regarding ideas. I've discussed the idea of equal value of all persons above. Greg Koukl said of the value of ideas:
"When you are elitist regarding ideas, you acknowledge that some ideas are better than others. And they are. Some are good; some are bad. Some are true; some are false. Some are brilliant, others are foolish, and many are dangerous." (Solid Ground, January/February 2006, 2)

Ideas -- beliefs -- have consequences. We might even say that the more sincere, honest and authentic a person is in holding to his beliefs, the more diligent we ought to be in understanding what those beliefs are. Wisdom calls for understanding how someone's beliefs might affect us, or, in the case of a president, what consequences they might have for our nation or even the entire world.

There's a long history of cases in point we can look at. Consider Hitler, Stalin and Mao, whose sincerely held beliefs led millions of people away from God and into lives (and deaths) marked and marred by evil. Mr. Johnston says, "We can no longer afford to judge the value of each other's beliefs, we must look to the value of each other's hearts." Since we are unable to accurately judge another's heart (God alone knows the hearts of men -- 1 Kings 8:39), we must judge the values of beliefs and ideas.

On September 11, 1857, armed Mormon men (with the assistance of some Native Americans) slaughtered at least 120 unarmed non-Mormon men, women and children, as the pioneers' wagon train passed through Utah Territory. This dreadful event has come to be known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. People today disagree on some of the specifics that led to the massacre, but everybody agrees that it was religiously motivated. Whether Brigham Young ordered the attack or not, the men who carried out the murders held sincere and honest, authentic beliefs that drove them to commit this crime. Perhaps, if we could see their hearts, we would see that their motives were good and pure. Perhaps they believed they were serving God and His kingdom. They may have had the same earnest mindset as the religiously motivated men who attacked America on another September 11th.

Are we to look at these things and think, "While I can't embrace the beliefs that these men held, they were obviously true believers, so I believe in them"?

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that faith is a bad thing or that religion generally leads people to commit deplorable actions. Many of the truly good things in our world have been implemented by people of faith, people acting on their religious convictions. What I am saying is that "sincere faith," in and of itself, is not necessarily a virtue.

Mr. Johnston's idea that we need to be willing to vote for an earnest person of faith regardless of what that faith entails, in my opinion, falls into one of the categories Greg Koukl mentioned: this idea is dangerous indeed.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Choose Life, Choose Truth

by Sharon

Today, January 22nd, 2007, marks the 34th anniversary of the legalization of abortion in the United States. Forty million unborn babies have been legally killed in this nation since that tragic ruling.

My father is in favor of legalized abortion, citing the gruesome stories of illegal back-alley abortions he heard about as a young man. I wasn't there, of course, but I've also heard plenty of horror stories about abortions that pre-dated Roe vs. Wade. Nevertheless, I'm compelled to place a higher value on pre-born life than my father does. Perhaps it's because we don't share a common faith in the Giver and Creator of life, the God who bestows value on all life.

Even so, there's an important argument that can be made for the sanctity of human life that doesn't rely on faith issues. But my dad won't talk about it. I think there are a lot of people who don't want to talk about it. Though it's legal, the topic is packed with emotion and conviction -- as it should be, since lives are at stake.

The LDS Church position on abortion is this:
If a child is conceived by those who break the law of chastity, they may be tempted to commit another abominable sin: abortion. There is seldom any excuse for abortion. The only exceptions are when --
    1. Pregnancy has resulted from incest or rape.
    2. The life or health of the woman is in jeopardy in the opinion of competent medical authority; or
    3. The fetus is known, by competent medial authority, to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.
Even in those cases the couple should consider an abortion only after consulting with each other and their bishop or branch president and receiving divine confirmation through prayer. (Gospel Principles, 1992 edition, 251,)

This has not always been so. The previous edition of Gospel Principles (to the one quoted above) said,
If a child is conceived by those who break the law of chastity, they may be tempted to commit another abominable sin -- abortion. There is no excuse for abortion unless the life of the mother is seriously threatened. (1988 edition, 214)

Going back even further, Sarah Pratt, wife of early LDS Apostle Orson Pratt, related a story from when she lived in the Mormon community of Nauvoo, Illinois:
"One day they came both, Joseph [Smith] and [John C.] Bennett, on horseback to my house. Bennett dismounted, Joseph remained outside. Bennett wanted me to return to him a book I had borrowed from him. It was a so-called doctor-book. I had a rapidly growing little family and wanted to inform myself about certain matters in regard to babies, etc., -- this explains my borrowing that book. While giving Bennett his book, I observed that he held something in the left sleeve of his coat. Bennett smiled and said: 'Oh, a little job for Joseph; one of his women is in trouble.' Saying this. [sic] he took the thing out of his left sleeve. It was a pretty long instrument of a kind I had never seen before. It seemed to be of steel and was crooked at one end. I heard afterwards that the operation had been performed; that the woman was very sick, and that Joseph was very much afraid that she might die, but she recovered.

"Bennett was the most intimate friend of Joseph for a time. He boarded with the prophet. He told me once that Joseph had been talking with him about his troubles with Emma, his wife. 'He asked me,' said Bennett, smilingly, 'what he should do to get out of the trouble ?' I said, 'This is very simple. GET A REVELATION that polygamy is right, and all your troubles will be at an end.'" (Dr. W. Wyl, Mormon Portraits: Joseph Smith The Prophet -- His Family and His Friends, 61-62)

I don't mean to suggest that Dr. Bennett's abortions were in any way sanctioned by the LDS Church. Dr. Bennett was a scoundrel by all accounts. Consider the sworn testimony of Joseph Smith's brother, Hyrum:
On the seventeenth day of May, 1842, having been made acquainted with some of the conduct of John C. Bennett, which was given in testimony, under oath…by several females who testified that John C. Bennett endeavored to seduce them, and accomplished his designs by saying it was right; that it was one of the mysteries of God, which was to be revealed when the people was strong enough in faith to bear such mysteries -- that it was perfectly right to have illicit intercourse with females, providing no one knew it but themselves, vehemently trying them from day to day, to yield to his passions, bringing witnesses of his own clan to testify that there were such revelations and such commandments, and that they were of God; also stating that he would be responsible for their sins, if there were any, and that he would give them medicine to produce abortions, provided they should become pregnant." (History of the Church, 5:71)

According to LDS authors Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippets Avery, if the women he approached were reluctant to accept Dr. Bennett's proposals, he would tell them he came with Joseph Smith's approval (Mormon Enigma, 111). There exists contradictory testimony from faithful Mormons, and from Bennett himself, that Smith's name was never invoked during these encounters. Whatever the truth of the matter, Hyrum Smith's testimony indicates that Dr. Bennett "accomplished his designs" with at least some of the women he approached (see also fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 311). This raises a question in my mind.

Regardless of the level of responsibility Joseph Smith may have had in any of this -- whatever the official position of the LDS Church may have been -- what sort of society was it that proved to be fertile ground for Dr. Bennett's illicit proposals and his subsequent performance of abortions? What made these women vulnerable to his claims of revelations and commandments if they were contradictory to Church teachings? Perhaps this is where Joseph Smith becomes culpable. I'm uncertain whether he ever taught this principle publicly, or how often he may have taught it privately, but it's well known that in trying to convince Nancy Rigdon to become one of his plural wives, Joseph taught her:
"Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. …That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. …Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire." (see Mormon Enigma, 111, including footnote)

This teaching -- in the context of secretive, illegal polygamous marriage -- opens the door wide for credulity and confusion. I wonder how many unborn babies have died because of it.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Prophet Counsels Against Being "Unequally Yoked"

by Sharon

During the Priesthood Session of last September/October's General Conference, LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke to the men and boys of the Church, urging them to be worthy of the LDS priesthood. President Hinckley instructed them to shun unclean thoughts, pornography and abuse of any kind. He told them to watch their language and stop dressing in a "slouchy manner." Then he said,
I call your attention to another matter that gives me great concern. …young women are exceeding young men in pursuing educational programs. And so I say to you young men, rise up and discipline yourself to take advantage of educational opportunities. Do you wish to marry a girl whose education has been far superior to your own? We speak of being "unequally yoked." That applies, I think, to the matter of education. ("Rise Up, O Men of God," Ensign, November 2006, 60)

When President Hinckley said, "We speak of being 'unequally yoked,'" I can only think he was referring to the New Testament passage where the apostle Paul says,
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. (2 Corinthians 6:14)

Of course President Hinckley was not suggesting that women with higher educations fall under the category of "unbelievers." He must have thought to broaden Paul's teaching on being unequally yoked.

For the sake of argument, let's assume for a moment that President Hinckley is a true prophet and, while speaking in his official capacity as such, was giving prophetic counsel. He said the idea of being unequally yoked applies to the level of education achieved by each individual in a potential "couple." If the biblical command is to not be unequally yoked, and being unequally yoked is defined as being married to someone with a differing level of education, then the prophetic counsel given by President Hinckley boils down to this: Marriage must only take place between partners who are equally educated.

Have I got that right?

In the Priesthood Session of the October 2000 General Conference, President Hinckley gave another bit of prophetic counsel which, while on a different topic, was similar to the counsel on education in that it spoke to what constitutes proper behavior among Church members. On this occasion President Hinckley said,
The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have declared that we discourage tattoos and also "the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes." We do not, however, take any position "on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings" -- one pair. ("Great Shall Be the Peace of Thy Children," Ensign, November 2000, 52)

Since President Hinckley gave his counsel against more than one set of pierced earrings per woman, the number of earrings in a Mormon girl's ear has become somewhat of a benchmark of her willingness to obey the prophet. Consider this story related by an LDS apostle in last month's Ensign:
Sister Bednar and I are acquainted with a returned missionary who had dated a special young woman for a period of time. He cared for her very much, and he was desirous of making his relationship with her more serious. He was considering and hoping for engagement and marriage. This relationship was developing during the time that President Hinckley counseled the Relief Society sisters and young women of the Church to wear only one earring in each ear.

The young man waited patiently over a period of time for the young woman to remove her extra earrings, but she did not take them out. This was a valuable piece of information for this young man, and he felt unsettled about her nonresponsiveness to a prophet’s pleading. For this and other reasons, he ultimately stopped dating the young woman, because he was looking for an eternal companion who had the courage to promptly and quietly obey the counsel of the prophet in all things and at all times. The young man was quick to observe that the young woman was not quick to observe. (David A. Bednar, "Quick to Observe," Ensign, December 2006, 31)

I wonder. Did President Hinckley's counsel against young men marrying women with unequal educations result in faithful members being quick to observe? Did the morning of October 1st, 2006 dawn over a Temple Square littered with the broken engagements of people who had planned to marry outside their level of education? If not, I wonder why not, for according to LDS Apostle James Faust,
We have been promised that the President of the Church will receive guidance for all of us as the revelator for the Church. Our safety lies in paying heed to that which he says and following his counsel. (Quoted in "Following the Prophets: A Book of Mormon Perspective," Ensign, July 2000, 22)

Be that as it may, I believe President Hinckley fails in his interpretation of what the Bible means when God tells us not to be "unequally yoked." Putting the passage in its context, Paul is making an impassioned plea to the Corinthian church to be holy.
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Therefore, "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty." Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)

Is this biblical passage really talking about unequal education in marriage? God is telling the Corinthians -- and us -- not to unite with unbelievers,* for they walk in darkness and dishonor God.

What does a college degree have to do with that?

* That is, false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:2-4), and perhaps idolaters (1 Corinthians 10:14)

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Utah's Rich Beer-Making History

by Sharon

The Salt Lake Tribune published a lighthearted article yesterday: "Beehive State Brew". In it, journalist Kathy Stephenson takes a look at the history of beer in Utah. She writes,
[Tourists to Utah] likely have heard plenty of tales of Utah's teetotaling ways.

But few visitors -- not to mention some longtime residents -- may not realize that the Beehive State has a rich beer-making history. And it began shortly after the Mormon pioneers arrived.

No kidding!

Ms. Stephenson interviews two people in her article. One is Utah resident Stan Sanders, a collector of Utah beer memorabilia. The other is Del Vance, author of the new self-published book, Beer in the Beehive: A History of Brewing in Utah. I was surprised by much of the information in the article; you might be, too. Here's a bit of it to wet your whistle.
"At one time, there was an awful lot of brewing going on in Utah," says Sanders, who will turn 80 this year.

Indeed, Utah was once the crossroads of the West, so there were plenty of travelers stopping in for a drink. But that couldn't account for all the beer that was consumed, said Sanders, during a recent interview at his Salt Lake City home. The locals had to be downing their fair share as well.

"I know they say the Mormons don't drink [alcohol]," he said, "But I don't know who else drank it."

…"The early pioneers seemed to live by a different set of rules than today," Vance wrote. "They believed in moderation rather than total abstinence from alcohol. Like the Puritans before them they didn't consider beer to be liquor -- yet."

For example, a Mormon named Richard Bishop Margetts started Salt Lake City's Utah Brewery… The brewery claimed to produce up to 500 gallons -- about 16 barrels -- of "good lager beer" a day, according to Beer in the Beehive.

While focused on beer, Vance's book does mention the fact that Mormons produced their own brand of whiskey, called Valley Tan. It was considered one of the better brands in the West and earned praise from many, including British adventurer Captain Richard F. Burton and Mark Twain.

Even the Mormon-owned department store, Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) sold beer, wine and liquor at its downtown store.

"By 1870, three-fourths of the state's revenue came from the sale of alcoholic beverages," said Vance.

Prohibition, of course, ended all commercial brewing. (Ironically, Utah was the 36th and deciding state to ratify the 21st Amendment ending national prohibition.)

By then, however, the attitude toward liquor had permanently changed in the state. The Word of Wisdom -- a code of health which prohibits Mormons from consuming alcohol and other harmful substances -- may have originated in 1833, but not all Mormons followed it strictly until 1921, when adherence was required in order to be worthy of entering a sacred church temple.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Put Away Childish Things

by Sharon

Last week Jeannie Berg posted an article on Blue Oregon: "Gordon Smith on Iraq -- Did the Elders Make Him Do It?" Ms. Berg questioned the recent about-face of Oregon Senator Gordon Smith regarding his position on the war in Iraq. In her article, Ms. Berg wondered if LDS Senator Smith's "new found opposition to the war" was in some way related to indicators that his spiritual leader, LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, had recently changed his position on the war.

Ms. Berg's hypothesis was interesting, and was made with supporting evidence. Though she left no doubt as to what conclusion she had reached based on the pertinent data, her article was primarily asking the question.

Beyond the basic idea of how much -- or even if -- Senator Smith's political decisions are influenced by his Prophet, the ensuing comments from readers are more interesting still.

Many of the comments left by readers were reasoned responses to the issues raised in the article; but too many others were impulsive, emotional reactions from those who took offense. Consider a few:
  • This post appears to be a thinly veiled attack upon Gordon Smith's religious affiliation.

  • Unbelievable! I thought you Democrats were the "party of tolerance" and yet here Jeannie is openly criticizing [sic] Senator Smith's Mormon faith.

    Read her post, and where she says "Senator Smith" put in "Senator Wyden" and where she puts in "Mormon" put in "Jewish". If a republican had written something like this, every one of you would be outraged and call the author a bigot.

    … I think you ought to ban Jeannie from ever posting an original article ever again.

  • Ms. Berg… You are ignorant of the Church. You are also a bigot. You are disgusting.

  • Come on Jeannie, use your head and get off the "I hate Mormons" bandwagon. I am amazed at just how many well educated generally sophisticated Americans give up all logic when they talk about Mormons.

If you read the article you'll see that Ms. Berg did not attack Mormons or Mormonism. She did not make any bigoted statements. She did not criticize Mormonism in any way. She even praised Senator Smith's deep commitment to his faith. Ms. Berg asked a valid question -- and brought a firestorm down on her head.

Interestingly, it wasn't so much that people were upset over the question of Senator Smith's "new found opposition to the war"; they were upset that Ms. Berg dared to ask whether the LDS Church might have an influence on politics. These readers were offended by the question, and they reacted with resentful indignation.

Is this what we've come to? Have we become so uncouth that we can no longer entertain different points of view? Have we lost the ability to present reasoned arguments in an effort to defend or persuade?

Apparently, author Peter Wood thinks so, or he thinks something akin to it. Dr. Wood has recently written a book titled A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now. Stanley Kurtz reviewed the book for National Review Online earlier this month. According to the review, the gist of the book is an examination of what the author terms "New Anger," which, in its definition, is juxtaposed against America's former model of "Old Anger."

Here's an excerpt from the review:
Before we lionized all those angry anti-heroes -- from Jack Nicholson in the movies, to John McEnroe on the tennis court -- Americans admired the strong silent type: slow to boil, reluctant to fight unless sorely provoked, and disinclined to show anger even then. Gary Cooper in Sargent [sic] York comes to mind. Old Anger was held in check by ideals of self-mastery and reserve. As Wood puts it, "Dignity, manliness, and wisdom called for self-control and coolness of temper." The angry man, Wood reminds us, was once thought a weak-minded zealot, bereft of good judgment and prey to false clarity.

…There was a time when Americans strove to train themselves away from actually being angry -- a time when even the private, inner experience of rage felt shameful and was shunned. Yet in compensation for the inner sacrifice and discipline demanded by the art of self-mastery, Americans experienced a mature pride in "character" achieved. In what Wood calls that "now largely invisible culture" of Old Anger, refusal to be provoked was its own reward.

That was then. America's New Anger exchanges the modest heroism of Gary Cooper's Sargent [sic] York for something much closer to the Incredible Hulk. New Anger is everything that Old Anger was not: flamboyant, self-righteous, and proud… The Civil War, and America's past political campaigns, may have witnessed plenty of anger, yet not until recently, says Wood, have Americans actually congratulated themselves for getting angry.

New Anger is nowhere more at home than in the blogosphere, where so far from being held in check, look-at-me performance anger is the path to quick success.

I think this hits the nail squarely on the head. The times, they are a-changin'. Unfortunately, rather than our culture becoming more refined, we've become a people who glory in behaviors which were once rebuked as childish.

The Bible has plenty to say about anger and offense. Most people are familiar with this Proverb:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

Here's another one we'd all do well to keep in mind:
A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11)

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mormonism Now and Then

by Sharon

There's almost nothing in the news these days about Mormonism that isn't primarily about Mitt Romney. But usually buried somewhere in these articles is at least a short statement about the religion Mr. Romney embraces. This week an article appeared on, "Mitt Romney: A Leader for America" by Amy D. Goldstein. Consider her mention of Mormonism:
As for those who seek to harm Romney's candidacy, by sowing discomfort with his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day [sic] Saints, they should learn more about this religion with American roots. Portraying Mormonism as the religion of the 1800's is like evaluating Christianity without the Reformation or Judaism without the Talmud.

My question: How so? Unfortunately, Ms. Goldstein doesn't give her readers any clues as to what she's referring.

Mormonism is based -- then and now -- upon the premise that God speaks through a living prophet. The prophet's words, spoken in an official capacity, are binding on LDS Church members unless and until a revelation is received that changes what was previously revealed.

According to an LDS Student Manual:
"When any one except the President of the Church undertakes to proclaim that any doctrine of the Church has been modified, changed, or abrogated, we may know he is not 'moved upon by the Holy Ghost,' unless he is acting under the direct authority and direction of the President." (Teachings of the Living Prophets, 13-14)

This teaching on the official procedure and source for doctrinal changes was reiterated in 2005 in an article explaining the purpose and authority of priesthood quorums in the LDS Church. The article states that the LDS Prophet is the only person who
"…has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church, or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church.” (Apostle Boyd K. Packer, "The Twelve Apostles," Ensign, 9/2005, 17)

The abrogation of doctrine has occurred a few times in Mormonism, as in the cessation of the practice of polygamy, and the removal of the ban against Blacks holding the LDS priesthood. These were nineteenth and twentieth century doctrines of Mormonism, respectively; to portray them as current doctrines would definitely be in error.

However, most of the unique doctrines which defined Mormonism in the nineteenth century have never been rescinded; the religion today remains primarily the religion as it was in the 1800s, doctrinally speaking. As current LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley has stated,
"Those who observe us say that we are moving into the mainstream of religion. We are not changing. The world's perception of us is changing. We teach the same doctrine." ("Living in the Fullness of Times," Ensign (Conference Edition), 11/2001, 5).

The LDS Church has not changed its position on such things as:
  • The nature of man
  • The nature of God
  • The nature of scripture
  • Continuing revelation
  • The authority of living prophets
  • The power inherent in the LDS priesthood
  • The nature of authority within the Church, etc.

Modern LDS prophets may not talk a lot about some of the revelations and teachings of past LDS leaders, but they have never officially denounced or revoked these doctrinal positions, which leaves them intact and relevant for twenty-first century Mormonism.

I'd like to know what, exactly, Ms. Goldstein thinks comprises an unfair portrayal of today's Mormonism. How is twenty-first century Mormonism substantially different from that religion as it was in the 1800s (beyond the obvious issues of polygamy and the ban on Blacks)? It's easy to make a bald assertion such as Ms. Goldstein has, but backing it up with examples may prove to be a bit more difficult. As for me, I'd like to see a list.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Three Passages That Should Impact Christian Evangelism and Public Dialog

by Aaron

Titus 2:15:
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority.

An ambassador for Christ should deliver the word of God with authority. The impression should be given that what is being communicated in scripture1 is ultimately God's perspective, and that God seriously means what He says. An alternative is to speak in a way that tickles postmodern ears: "Well, this is my perspective."

Yes, as Christians we rightfully believe that, having been given the Holy Spirit, God's perspective has, in important ways, become our perspective. In other words, God has given us His word that we might share His perspective on reality. But if we continue to qualify our statements concerning Biblical truth as coming from "our perspective," we are doing our audience a disfavor and are probably dishonoring the authoritative nature of God's word. To our postmodern audience, this gives the impression that what we are saying is relative to our own minds and life-experiences. In other words, what we are communicating isn't a clarion call heralded from the heavens, but a personal perspective that bears no authority.

Secondly, this is the type of impression that seems to imply that increased mutual "understanding," "tolerance," and "acceptance" is a higher goal than urgent persuasion, repentance, and conversion. "Now is the day of salvation!" (2 Corinthians 6:2) What better communicates the urgency of salvation: authoritative communication of God's word which (at least implicitly) calls for a response of repentance? Or offering our own personal perspective on things?2

2 Timothy 2:23-26:
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting His opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

I love Paul's balance in this passage. In some ways, I feel like this is impossible, yet in other ways, I am encouraged by what seems realistic. What seems impossible is the tightrope we must walk of a Christ-like, perfect integration of love for people and passion for God's truth. What is refreshingly realistic is Paul's expectation that Christians continue to teach and correct, and that by using such an approach we will bring "evil" from our "opponents" which we must "endure."
  • We are not to be involved in "foolish, ignorant controversies" which distract us from focusing on things of primary importance. We should focus on the most important things: the nature of God and salvation.

  • We are not to be given over to quarrelling. We should give people some breathing room, and not feel inclined to repudiate every false thing they say. This is especially the case in private one-on-one settings, where we have more of a context for patience.3

  • We are to teach. This is different than simply "sharing our perspective." We are to teach God's perspective on things from His word. Christians have something to teach the world from God's word, and no matter how arrogant this seems to the postmodern culture, it is the ministry we have been given.

  • We are to patiently endure their evil response. Paul simply assumes "evil" in response to "teach[ing]." Paul goes on to write,
    "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching." (2 Timothy 4:2)

    The sort of patience Paul calls for comes from having corrected, taught and reproved. You don't need that kind of patience if you're simply sharing your "evangelical, personal perspective," because you won't get the same sort of response.

  • We are to be kind to everyone and correct them with gentleness. We are to make it as easy as possible for them to see that we want the best for them. Mingled with our correction should be recognizable tenderness. The challenge is to do this even with people (influenced by postmodernism) that interpret correction itself as unkind. We should give no person a real basis for, before God's judgment throne, characterizing us as having been unkind. In one-on-one settings with strangers this might be as simple as giving another person a fair listen, shaking their hand and extending a warm greeting to them. In personal relationships kindness can be expressed by grieving with another person over their loss, doing small favors, or taking the time to be slow and careful in speech.

  • We have theological opponents, and these are the people we are to correct. People who reject Jesus Christ for who He is and what He has freely promised are "enemies of God" (Romans 11:28). Jesus said that loving enemies was more radical than loving friends. Mormons may be our friends as neighbors and citizens and fellow parents, but they are not friends in Christ (cf. 3 John 1:15). If a Mormon feels as though he is no longer our theological enemy, then we have removed ourselves from the context in which Jesus wants His radical love to shine.

  • The aim is the repentance of our opponent. This goes far beyond what seems to be the chief focus of contemporary interfaith, public dialog: "tolerance," "acceptance," and "mutual understanding." Our aim is that the other person would be convicted and sorrowful over their idolatry and unbelief, and turn to the God of the Bible. We want Mormons to be like the Thessalonian Christians. Paul said of them:
    "[W]e know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction... For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5,9-10)4

  • We are to view these opponents as in the "snare of the devil." This should give us a sense of urgency, encourage us to pray for them, and cause us to be serious about the high stakes of their spiritual condition. Mormons who are not willing to embrace the Biblical portrait of Jesus Christ and clearly repudiate traditional Mormon doctrine on God have not yet been born again5. If they do not repent, they will go to hell with Satan and his angels. They are "following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2). Their works do not flow from the joy of having been freely accepted and justified by faith before a holy God. Like Paul testified of the zeal of the Jews, we can likewise testify of the zeal Mormons have for their church and for a significant kind of moral purity. But this does not lessen the tragedy of their condition, it rather intensifies it.
    "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Romans 10:1-4)

2 Corinthians 4:1-2:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God.

Paul assumes that we are going to be tempted to "lose heart" and "practice cunning and tamper with God's word" as we give an "open statement of the truth." But since we have this ministry "by the mercy of God," and since God can shine a light in their hearts that causes conversion (vs. 3-6), we should stick to directly speaking to the conscience of the Mormon. We do this reminding ourselves that we are "in the sight of God," because in the sight of man we are tempted to please man. It is mercy that we Christians even have the opportunity to be about the ministry of the gospel. Why then would we ever tamper with God's precious word?


1. Titus is specifically being told to use his leadership position to declare the apostolic admonition of Paul. Positions of leadership within the Christian church are themselves subordinate to the authority of the word of God, and in 2 Peter 3:16, Peter identifies Paul's letters as scripture.

2. This is why I believe that public dialog with false teachers should probably take the form of civil but passionate debate.

3. Ross Anderson of Wasatch Evangelical Free Church in Roy, UT, notes the difference of nature between public and private dialog:
"[I]n a private dialog, if something I say is misunderstood, I can probe the level of understanding, and correct the misunderstanding, by further discussion with my friend. But if I say something in a public setting that is misunderstood..., then that misunderstanding is cast into the open and spreads like leaves in the wind. I cannot go back to each person who heard those remarks to assess the nature of their misunderstanding or to make clarifications... [P]rivate civility and public civility are not the same thing. I can challenge my wife (or a close friend) about an issue in private, with kindness and respect, in a way I would not do in a public setting. Regardless of how kind and polite I was being, I would not choose a busy restaurant or the lobby at church to tell my friend that he has a problem with body odor. I would not announce in a microphone that his zipper is down. In other words, it's not appropriate to hold a friend accountable in public in the same way I would approach him in private. So [a public dialog with such a person] is not really a valid model of a civil discourse between real friends. Simply for the reason that it is public, there's no way it can model the depth of confrontation true friends sometimes have."

His comments seem appropriate for those who are not able or willing to engage in civil, public debate with someone. Such persons should keep their evangelistic relationships in a private, personal setting. Taking them public would be inappropriate, since, not willing or able to publicly debate or forthrightly correct, one is not able to hold the other publicly accountable for what is said.

4. We cannot be content or optimistic over Mormon neo-orthodoxy which lacks remorse over traditional Mormon idolatry and heresy. If Mormon neo-orthodox persons, who at least in their language seem to have adopted new doctrines, were truly cause for optimism, they would weep and cringe over the sorts of past statements LDS leaders made concerning God and grace and personal worthiness. As it is, they seem to have no shame over them.

5. This is in contrast with the view of Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, who sees a person like Mormon BYU professor Robert Millet as a fellow brother in Christ.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

All-Purpose LDS Missionaries

by Sharon

The Jackson Hole [Wyoming] Star Tribune reported Sunday that non-Mormon students at Brigham Young University believe they are at a disadvantage when it comes to the required Book of Mormon courses. Ninety-eight percent of the school's students are Mormon, but the other two percent represent twenty other faiths; all students are required to take two courses on the Book of Mormon as well as additional religion courses.

A Buddhist BYU student from Taiwan said,
"Salvation, celestial kingdom, I'm not familiar with these words like the other students."

Therefore, she -- and other non-Mormon students -- would like to see the school resume offering a nonmember Book of Mormon class, as it did until the end of winter semester 2005. Paul Warner, who taught the nonmember class until his retirement, said,
"We just went through the book in a basic way so they could ask questions and not feel threatened by returned missionaries, seminary graduates or long-term members in class."

Several non-Mormon students have asked why the school will not resume the class for nonmembers, but have not received satisfactory answers. Therefore, they wrote a letter to the editor of the BYU campus newspaper in which they requested "an explanation for the decision, separate tests for nonmembers in regular religion courses and teaching assistants or TAs specifically for nonmembers."

Another student responded to these requests a couple of days later in the "opinion section" of the campus paper with his solution to the problem:
"TAs are here. They are called missionaries."

I'm not quite sure what this student meant. Was he saying that LDS missionaries are available to tutor nonmember students so they get good grades on their Book of Mormon course tests? Or that LDS missionaries are not only called to proselytize but also to serve as teaching assistants to BYU professors? Or was he suggesting that the way to breeze through the Book of Mormon classes is to convert to Mormonism? Is that the way to get better grades at BYU?

Whatever the problem-solving student meant, the non-Mormon students weren't too crazy about the idea. A student from Singapore said,
"We don't want missionaries persuading us. We have our own religion. It's not that we don't want to learn about Mormons, we just don't want to be graded on the same curve."


Thursday, January 04, 2007

History of Fanaticism

by Sharon

The January 15, 2007 issue of The New Republic includes an article by Damon Linker: "Taking Mormonism Seriously. The Big Test" (subscription only). I don't subscribe to The New Republic and so have not read Dr. Linker's article. However, it appears that Dr. Linker has struck a nerve in some people.

TNR Online is hosting a debate on this issue. On January 3rd LDS author and emeritus professor Richard L. Bushman weighed in. Dr. Bushman's response is accessible to registered users (free registration) and interesting to read. In a nutshell, he believes Dr. Linker has mischaracterized Mormonism. In my opinion, Dr. Bushman makes some good points; and some of his points are deserving of critical response. But I'll leave that to someone else.

The part of Dr. Bushman's response that I want to look at has nothing to do with Mitt Romney and today's politics, but rather with LDS history. Dr. Bushman wrote:
Joseph Smith ran up against the fear of fanaticism almost from the beginning. It was the chief underlying cause of the recurrent expulsions the Mormons suffered. When non-Mormons could find no specific infractions to warrant prosecution in the courts, they resorted to vigilante action to drive the Mormons out. The Mormon presence was unbearable because they were so obviously fanatics. Quite typically, the fear of fanaticism led democrats into undemocratic extremes. Mormons were deprived of their property and the right to live and vote in a supposedly open society. In 1846, after a decade and a half of recurring attacks in Missouri and Illinois, a body of armed citizens forced out the pitiful remains of the Mormon population in Nauvoo by training six cannons on the town.

Dr. Bushman makes it sound as if the early Latter-day Saints were mistreated only because people were afraid the Mormons might do something alarming. In fact, the Mormons did alarm their non-Mormon neighbors by engaging in very alarming behavior.

Consider this portion of a speech made by LDS leader Sidney Rigdon, on the 4th of July, 1838:
We take God and all the holy angels to witness this day, that we warn all men in the name of Jesus Christ, to come on us no more forever, for from this hour, we will bear it no more, our rights shall no more be trampled on with impunity. The man or the set of men, who attempts it, does it at the expense of their lives. And that mob that comes on us to disturb us; it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them, till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us: for we will carry the seal of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed.

If it's ever reasonable to fear fanaticism, the citizens of Missouri had good reason to fear after hearing that speech. This was not just empty talk by a rogue LDS member. Sidney Rigdon was a very close associate of the Prophet Joseph Smith and impressed the Prophet so deeply with his July 4th oration that Joseph Smith had the speech printed up in pamphlet form and distributed across the Mormon counties of the state.

According to LDS historian Richard Van Wagoner, on October 18th, just a few months after Sidney Rigdon's threats,
Mormon raiders were able to ride out. Apostle David W. Patten, known by his Danite tide "Captain Fearnought," descended on Gallatin [Missouri] with a large contingent of men and, after plundering the small village, burned most of it to the ground. Then the marauders pillaged the Daviess County countryside, depositing their spoils, which they termed "consecrated property," in the bishop's storehouse at Diahman" (Sidney Rigdon, Portrait of Religious Excess, 234).

LDS History of the Church records that six days after this Mormon marauding and plundering in western Missouri, Thomas Marsh, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, swore out an affidavit in which he exposed a Mormon vigilante group called the Danites -- who had taken an oath to "support the heads of the Church in all things that they say or do, whether right or wrong" (History of the Church 3:167. Italics retained from the original). Furthermore, according to Mr. Marsh's affidavit,
The Prophet inculcates the notion, and it is believed by every true Mormon, that Smith's prophecies are superior to the laws of the land. I have heard the Prophet say that he would yet tread down his enemies, and walk over their dead bodies; and if he was not let alone, he would be a second Mohammed to this generation, and that he would make it one gore of blood from the Rocky mountains to the Atlantic ocean; that like Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was, "the Alcoran or the Sword." So should it be eventually with us, "Joseph Smith or the Sword." These last statements were made during the last summer. The number of armed men at Adam-ondi-Ahman was between three and four hundred. (ibid.)

The day after Mr. Marsh swore out this affidavit, on October 25th, 1838, a Mormon militia attacked Missouri state troops on the banks of the Crooked River (see Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, 137ff). The conflict between the Mormons and non-Mormons continued to escalate but came to a screeching halt five days later when 200 Missouri troops attacked the Mormon settlement of Haun's Mill, killing 18 Mormon men and boys. Joseph Smith soon surrendered.

A similar history attends the Mormon problems in Illinois.

It wasn't fear of fanaticism that caused the "recurrent expulsions" of the Mormons from their homes; fanatical behavior by the Mormons brought on the predictable consequence of determined resistance from the non-Mormons, which led eventually to aggression and hostilities all around. I'm not making a judgment call on who was right or wrong; the whole affair is far too complicated to sort out here. But I am saying history clearly reveals that the Mormons were not blameless victims of violence brought on by the "fear of fanaticism." Dr. Bushman, a history professor and author of numerous LDS historical books, knows this. I find it a bit ironic that Dr. Bushman would scold Dr. Linker with these words:
Your essay chooses not to look at the historical record, because specific facts are irrelevant in explicating fanaticism. ...There is no effort to give a balanced picture. Certain key facts or incidents are made archetypal. In unguarded moments or exceptional instances the true nature of the fanatic mind reveals itself.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Light and Life

by Sharon

Even though Christmas is behind us, I'm not yet ready to let it go. Christmas brings such a wonderful, tender atmosphere. The warmth of family, the sparkle of lights, the renewed joy of the birth of my Savior. I love the Christmas carols and the candlelight worship service, all bringing Christ into focus -- where He always ought to be.

My favorite Christmas tradition in my home is the lighting of the "Christ candle." First thing on Christmas morning I read these scriptures:
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. (John 1:1-5)

Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. (Isaiah 60:1)

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." (John 8:12)

But the LORD will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. (Isaiah 60:19b)

Then I light a pillar candle that burns throughout Christmas Day. The pillar represents Christ as my strength and essential support. The color of the candle, which changes each year, represents Christ's holiness and purity (white), Christ's sacrificial death for me (red), or Christ's steadfast promise of eternal life (green). The flame represents the everlasting light that is Jesus, given to the world at His birth. This burning candle reminds me and my family, during all the festivities and other traditions of Christmas Day, that God is with us -- Immanuel has come.

It was amidst this Christmas backdrop that I read an article in the LDS Church News titled "Christmas Gift."
On Saturday evening, Dec. 2, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve told Salt Lake Big Cottonwood Stake President Ellis Ivory that his stake "might receive the biggest Christmas present ever."

The next morning, President Ivory realized what Elder Ballard was talking about: President Gordon B. Hinckley made a surprise visit to the stake conference.

"It was a real gift to us," President Ivory said. "The members couldn't believe that he was there. Many were so emotional that they couldn't sing. It was by far the most tearful conference that has ever been in the history of our stake." (Church News 12/9/06, 5)

As reported in Church News, President Hinckley spoke to the LDS stake members about Church membership. He said:
  • "…whenever you lead someone into the Church, you confer upon him or her blessings that can be had in no other way in all of this world."

  • "There is nothing you can do that would bless the life of anybody that is more important than leading to membership in this Church."

  • "…nothing will reel in greater happiness or bring more permanent and wonderful blessings, than leading someone into this Church."

According to the Church News report, President Hinckley concluded his remarks by speaking of the atonement of Christ as the "most important facet of all the facets of the gospel." As far as I can tell by reading Church News, this was the first time in his address that president Hinckley mentioned Jesus, and was but a very small part of the message.

Following President Hinckley, LDS Apostle Ballard told the congregation that it was a great blessing to be "schooled by the president of the Church and a prophet of the Lord," and that it is a privilege to "learn the great lessons" taught by President Hinckley.

Maybe because of it being Christmastime I'm more sensitive to this, but it struck me as strange that the focus and adoration of the LDS congregation were directed to the man Gordon B. Hinckley, rather than to Immanuel -- God with us.

It struck me as strange that a man claiming to be God's mouthpiece on earth used this opportunity to address the people by speaking primarily of the Church, rather than speaking first and foremost of Immanuel -- God with us.

It struck me as strange that a man hailed by millions as a true prophet of God taught that the greatest happiness and blessing available to mankind is LDS Church membership, rather than the incredible and unsurpassable blessing of Immanuel -- God with us.

In the early Christian church, just after teaching that "the Word was God" and "in Him was life, and the life was the light of men," the Apostle John wrote,
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. …the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him… (John 1:6-14)

A true prophet of God, sent to bear witness of Christ. Jesus said John the Baptist was the greatest prophet of all (Matthew 11:11). While Gordon B. Hinckley bears witness of the LDS Church and the attendant blessings of membership, John bore witness of the true Light Who became flesh and dwelt among us.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! …I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God." (John 1:29, 34)

What an incredible message! What an incomparable blessing! Immanuel has come; God is with us.

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