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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

To Be Thought Acceptable

by Sharon

The Daily Toreador out of Lubbock, Texas today posted an article intriguingly titled "A lesson on LSD." The author immediately comes clean:
Oops, sorry for that misprint in the headline. Actually, I'm not sorry. I did it on purpose to get your attention. So now that I have it, what I really wanted to give you was a lesson on LDS, or Latter-day Saints.

What follows is the oft-heard charge that non-Mormons don't know what Mormonism is, so the journalist, Taryn Chesshire, decided to provide a short lesson. Several points are discussed, but the one that seems to me to be the most germane is the "misconception" that "Mormons aren't Christian."
If any of you hold the same misconception, I'd like to ask you the same thing I asked that co-worker: "What is a Christian?"

I was under the impression a Christian was someone who believed Jesus was the son of God, he died for men's salvation and was resurrected three days after his crucifixion to join his father in heaven. Do I have that about right?...

If you're a Christian, Mormons believe everything you do.

Since it's impossible to know what everyone labeled "Mormon" and everyone labeled "Christian" believes, I think there's more benefit in discussing the religions instead of the individuals. But for the sake of this discussion, let's assume the "Christian" embraces historic, orthodox Christian theology, and the "Mormon" embraces the authoritative teachings of his prophets and apostles. Using this scenario, I take vigorous exception to the statement, "If you're a Christian, Mormons believe everything you do."

On the face of it, the Mormon and the Christian will both affirm Taryn Chesshire's statement that Jesus is the Son of God who died for men's salvation, etc. But anyone who understands the meanings of the words contained in that statement knows Christian/Mormon agreement goes no deeper than the syntax.

On March 12th a new Christian book will hit the bookstore shelves: By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification. Gary L. W. Johnson, adjunct professor at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, has contributed a chapter entitled, "The Reformation, Today's Evangelicals, and Mormons: What Next?" In this chapter Dr. Johnson discusses LDS Professor Robert Millet's book, A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints.

One of several doctrines Dr. Johnson addresses is the Christ of Mormonism. He writes,
Millet is unapologetic in his defense of Mormon theology. To begin, he explicitly rejects the cardinal doctrine of the Trinity, candidly admitting that Mormonism believes in "Three distinct Gods" (70) who are "three distinct personages, three Beings, three separate Gods" (141). In layman's language this is polytheism, pure and simple...

Despite Millet's insistence that his Jesus is the same one that we met in the pages of the New Testament, it is the other Scriptures of Mormonism that define him. This Jesus was born "as we all were, the spirit children of the Father" (20). This Jesus is a spirit brother of Lucifer (21). This Jesus is the Christ of Joseph Smith and is considered absolutely foundational to Mormonism (39). It is conceded that the Christ of "traditional" Christianity and the Christ of Mormonism are very different, and in substantial ways. Why? Because the Christ of orthodox Christianity is rooted in theological creeds, while the Christ of Mormonism "comes from the witness of a prophet -- Joseph Smith" (174). Contrary to Millet's claim that Christ is the central figure in the doctrine and practice of Mormonism (80), Joseph Smith, by his later admission, holds that place of honor (158). In fact, without Joseph Smith, there is no Mormonism (151). The Jesus of Mormonism is distinctively the Christ of Joseph Smith. The two cannot be separated. (By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification, 196-198)

This brief look at Mormon Christology clearly exposes the fallacies in "A lesson on LSD." Our hypothetical Mormon does not believe everything the Christian believes; the two belief systems are really not compatible at all.

While I don't agree with the theology or conclusions of another LDS author, Joseph Fielding McConkie, I do appreciate his honesty in drawing distinctions between Mormonism and historic Christianity. He calls for public disclosure of the deep doctrinal differences between the two religions. Dr. McConkie writes,
This [First] vision stands as a refutation of the fundamental doctrines of a corrupt Christianity. It destroys the very premises upon which all the creeds of Christendom rest...

As Latter-day Saints we must know clearly where we stand. If our message is simply a reworking of key Bible texts for which we have gained some insights that others overlooked, then why not abandon the offensive notion that there was a universal apostasy, or that there is but one true church, and get on with the matter of mending fences with historical Christianity? If, on the other hand, we are serious in testifying that there was indeed an apostasy, that it was universal, that it included the loss of the priesthood and the saving truths of salvation and the knowledge of the very nature of God himself, then we must be prepared to stand alone. is not common ground that we seek. We seek sacred ground, and upon that ground we must stand. (Here We Stand, 202-203)

This makes a lot of sense to me. So why is it we find that the vast majority of public comments from Mormons sound like the one in "A lesson on LSD": "If you're a Christian, Mormons believe everything you do"?

On page 6 of Dr. McConkie's book he asks a really good question of his fellow Latter-day Saints: "Should we trade our birthright to be thought acceptable by a corrupted form of Christianity?"

I wish the answer would be heard around the world.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Mormon Polygamy: Comedy or Tragedy?

by Sharon

All over the news this weekend, all across the globe, was an Associated Press article about the polygamy of Mitt Romney's ancestors. Journalists Jennifer Dobner and Glen Johnson have written an article that not only details the multiple marriages of Mr. Romney's great- and great-great grandparents, but also takes a look at the history of polygamy in the LDS Church. The article begins:
While Mitt Romney condemns polygamy and its prior practice by his Mormon church, the Republican presidential candidate's great-grandfather had five wives and at least one of his great-great grandfathers had 12.

Both Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, have made light of Mormonism's polygamy. As noted by the AP,
Romney has joked about polygamy, saying in various settings that to him, "marriage is between a man and a woman ... and a woman and a woman."...

This month, Ann Romney tried a different tack, taking a lighthearted jab at her husband's main Republican competitors, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, as she introduced Romney at a Missouri GOP dinner.

The biggest difference between her husband and the other candidates, Ann Romney said, is that "he's had only one wife."

McCain has been married twice; Giuliani three times.

But the AP article makes it clear that Mormon polygamy has never been a laughing matter.

Mr. Romney's great-grandmother, Hannah Hood Hill, the first of Mr. Romney's great-grandfather's five wives, wrote an autobiography that "offers an eyewitness account of the Romney family's polygamous past."
Hood Hill wrote of Miles Park Romney: "I felt that was more than I could endure, to have him divide his time and affections from me. I used to walk the floor and shed tears of sorrow. If anything will make a woman's heart ache, it is for her husband to take another wife. ...But I put my trust in my heavenly father, and prayed and pleaded with him to give me strength to bear this great trial."

The AP article also reports:
Romney's great-great grandfather, Parley Pratt, an apostle in the [LDS] church, had 12 wives. In an 1852 sermon, Parley Pratt's brother and fellow apostle, Orson Pratt, became the first church official to publicly proclaim and defend polygamy as a direct revelation from God.

Not noted in the article but pertinent to this discussion, Parley Pratt was murdered in 1857 by the legal husband of Parley's 12th wife.

The other Pratt brother, Orson, almost lost his life due to polygamy as well. Returning from serving as a missionary in Great Britain, Orson learned that while he had been away, Joseph Smith had attempted to wed Orson's wife, Sarah, in plural marriage. Distraught, Orson disappeared. Later found alive by a search party, the Prophet claimed Orson had tried to commit suicide (see Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker, A Book of Mormons, 211ff).

No, polygamy is not a laughing matter. Mr. Romney does seem to recognize that at times. The AP article observed:
But in serious moments [Mitt Romney] has called the practice [of polygamy] "bizarre" and noted his church excommunicates those who engage in it...

This raises a question for me. According to the AP article,
Romney's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, married his fifth wife in 1897. That was more than six years after Mormon leaders banned polygamy and more than three decades after a federal law barred the practice.

Miles Park Romney had moved to Mexico in 1884 to escape the US laws prohibiting polygamy, and died there in 1904. His 1897 plural marriage to Emily Eyring Smith likely occurred in Mexico; therefore, US federal law would not have applied. However, Mexico had enacted its own laws against polygamy in 1884, 13 years before Miles Park and Emily were married (Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 132 fn#1).

Be that as it may, this 1897 plural marriage was definitely against the stated law of the Church. As Mitt Romney noted, the LDS Church excommunicates those who disobey the Manifesto and engage in polygamy against Church policy. So I wonder -- were Mr. Romney's great-grandfather and his post-Manifesto wife ever excommunicated from the LDS Church?


Friday, February 23, 2007

Sticks and Stones

by Sharon

In light of the heat Janet Langhart Cohen is taking for the comment she made on Tuesday's Today Show regarding Mormonism's racist past, I thought it might be good to review the definitions of a few labels currently being applied to Mrs. Cohen by many of those offended by her remarks. From the American Heritage Dictionary (online at

1. Lacking education or knowledge.
2. Showing or arising from a lack of education or knowledge.
3. Unaware or uninformed.

One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.

Not tolerant, especially: unwilling to tolerate differences in opinions, practices, or beliefs, especially religious beliefs.

1a. An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.
1b. A preconceived preference or idea.
2. The act or state of holding unreasonable preconceived judgments or convictions.
3. Irrational suspicion or hatred of a particular group, race, or religion.
4. Detriment or injury caused to a person by the preconceived, unfavorable conviction of another or others.

Maybe someone can help me out here. Mrs. Cohen said,
"But you mention Mormon. Um, I hate to talk about anybody's faith, but if you understand the Mormon faith, up until 1978, an interracial marriage the Mormons would have considered a sin; they would have considered me, as an African American, cursed; that God didn't hear my prayers; that I was inferior..."

How does Mrs. Cohen's statement exhibit ignorance, bigotry, intolerance or prejudice? As mentioned on Mormon Coffee on Wednesday, everything except the idea that God didn't hear the prayers of African Americans has been taught by LDS prophets and apostles in the past. So Mrs. Cohen was not ignorant about the issue.

Neither was Mrs. Cohen speaking as a bigot, for she was merely providing historical information.

Neither was she exhibiting intolerance for Mormonism, though she could be charged with being intolerant of Mormonism's pre-1978 policies regarding race.

Neither was she prejudice in that her statement was not unreasonable or irrational, but was made with consideration for and knowledge of the facts.

What really troubles me about this is that Mrs. Cohen, a member of a race that was spiritually repressed and racially disparaged by leaders of the LDS Church (as well as LDS members) is now being slandered--because she had the nerve to talk about Mormonism's racist past. Mrs. Cohen, the offended, is now being painted as the offender.

A student at the University of Utah wrote today,
It's ironic how an educated woman can talk for four minutes about how she's spent her life fighting stereotypes and ignorance only to have that come out of her mouth. Not only are her statements ignorant, they're downright untrue. Never has official Mormon doctrine taught that interracial marriage is sinful, nor has it taken the position that blacks are inferior or that God doesn't listen to the prayers of black people. Janet Cohen, in her staggering ignorance and hypocrisy, might as well have said, "I hate to talk about anyone's sexuality, but if you understand homosexuals, you know that they spread a lot of AIDS back in the 1980s."

Here's the thing. Mormonism has many skeletons in its closet; its racist past is one of them. The LDS Church has whitewashed its pre-1978 doctrines* while believing nobody will be the wiser. LDS members, being true to their Church and wanting to defend it against accusations of what they clearly recognize as un-Christ-like behavior, not knowing any better, weep and lament the "lies" told about the LDS Church. In the process, they become guilty of the very things of which they accuse others.

It seems irresponsible to me for the LDS Church to put its members in this position. In trying to protect and remake its image, it allows members of the Church to falsely accuse and unrighteously judge those who speak an unwelcome truth. A passage from scripture comes to mind, the words of Jesus:
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:13-15)

This sort of thing makes it hard to see validity in the LDS Church's claim of being God's kingdom on earth.

* used to have an article posted discussing the "Myth-conception" that the LDS Church is racist with respect to Blacks. The LDS site has recently been redone and the "Myth-conceptions" section is no longer available. My search of the current LDS site didn't turn up any information dealing with the Church's pre-1978 position on Blacks. For background and informational purposes, here is the text from the former "Myth-conceptions" article:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is racist with respect to blacks.

Until 1978, black male members of the Church were not ordained to the lay priesthood. That position was changed by revelation on 8 June 1978, when Spencer W. Kimball, the 12th president of the Church, announced that the "long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood" (Official Declaration 2).

The Church views all humankind as children of the same Heavenly Father, literally brothers and sisters. As stated by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1987: "We repudiate efforts to deny to any person his or her inalienable dignity and rights on the abhorrent and tragic theory of the superiority of one race or color over another."

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cursed, But Not Ignorant

by Sharon

Yesterday, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, along with his wife Janet Langhart Cohen, appeared on the Today Show to talk about their new book, "Love in Black and White." Being a mixed race couple, the Cohen's book discusses their racial, religious and political differences. The Cohen's appearance on the Today Show was to promote their book and talk about the history and progress of racial issues in America.

During the short interview, in the context of how African Americans have been and are now accepted in this country, Matt Lauer asked if the couple thought America was ready for a woman president or a Black president. Secretary Cohen chimed in, "Or, a Mormon." Mrs. Cohen responded that she's a "two-fer," being both Black and a woman; but she intends to vote her interests, not her race or gender. She continued,
"But you mention Mormon. Um, I hate to talk about anybody's faith, but if you understand the Mormon faith, up until 1978, an interracial marriage the Mormons would have considered a sin; they would have considered me, as an African American, cursed; that God didn't hear my prayers; that I was inferior..."

At that point in the interview Secretary Cohen reiterated that the LDS position on Blacks changed in 1978 and the Today Show conversation moved on to other things. But for Mormonism the damage had been done.

Tuesday afternoon the story appeared on the LDS Church-owned KSL web site: "Romney's Faith an Issue on the National Scene."

As KSL erroneously reported it,
Mrs. Cohen was giving her impression of Mitt Romney.

Every time Mitt Romney's name surfaces on television, radio, the Internet or in newspapers, so does his faith. The experts say it's because the majority of Americans don't know what Latter-day Saints believe.

The latest statements about Mitt Romney's faith came from Janet Langhart Cohen, former television personality and wife of former Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen. When asked about presidential candidates, she volunteered her opinion about Romney's religion.

Actually, Mitt Romney's name had not been mentioned up to this point in the interview. To me, it looked like Mrs. Cohen brought up Mormonism's racial past because of the direction the interview had previously taken -- that of changes in America's attitude toward race.

KSL's story includes some information about 1978 race laws in Utah, stating that interracial marriage was not a sin, rather it was illegal. KSL interviewed "former journalist and long-time Latter-day Saint Darius Gray" for the story. Remarking on the idea that Mormonism taught God did not hear the prayers of African Americans, he said,
"That offends me greatly. God has always listened to everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity or gender, and it troubles me that Mrs. Cohen would have that attitude."

Misinformation about the faith, he says, is surfacing regularly in stories about Mitt Romney's candidacy. What bothers him most?

"The unfairness of it, and it's based on ignorance. People don't know the facts and they are making assumptions. If you're going to make a statement on national television, get your facts straight."

What's so interesting about this is: 1) The Today Show interview was not about Mitt Romney's candidacy; and 2) Mrs. Cohen pretty much got it right.

I don't know where the idea about God not hearing African American prayers came from, but the rest of it -- that interracial marriage had been considered a sin in Mormonism and Blacks were once believed to be cursed and inferior -- has a solid historical foundation in the authoritative teachings of LDS prophets and apostles (for LDS quotes on this topic click here).

I suggest everybody, including Latter-day Saints, follow the advice of Darius Gray when making public statements about Mormonism. On the KSL comment board discussing this story, somebody brought up a passage from the Book of Mormon that, until 1981, said,
...their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people. (2 Nephi 30:6. In 1981 the word "white" in this passage was changed to "pure.")

Another commenter took issue with the use of "white and delightsome" in this context and wrote,
You shouldn't be allowed to comment.
"White and delightsome" had to do with sin not skin...
You're as ignorant as Janet Langhart Cohen who put her foot in her mouth big time.

I would guess that the unfairness of this criticism is based on ignorance. The commenter probably didn't know the facts and was making assumptions. In order to get the facts straight, Latter-day Saints should know what Apostle Spencer W. Kimball, later the twelfth prophet and president of the LDS Church, said in General Conference in 1960:
"The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos; five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah* are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.

"At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl--sixteen--sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents--on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather. There was a doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness." (Conference Report, October 1960, p. 34 [Infobases Collectors Library '97])

*The LDS Indian Student Placement program began in 1947. Administrated by the LDS Church, LDS Native American children were placed in the homes of Caucasian LDS families in order to afford them a better opportunity to succeed than they would have on the reservation.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

The "Anti-Mormon" Tactic

by Sharon

Over the weekend the Salt Lake Tribune posted an opinion piece titled "Romney candidacy will stir up anti-Mormon feeling". The author, Tom Williams, begins,
Am I the only practicing Mormon who's not excited about Mitt Romney's run for president? It's not like his first order of business will be a $10,000 tax credit for all Latter-Day [sic] Saints. (But imagine what that would do for the missionary effort.) In my mind there's very little to be gained from Romney's candidacy, and a great deal to be lost.

Mr. Williams thinks the "Christian/evangelical bloc of the Republican Party" will make sure Mitt Romney does not gain the Republican nomination. How will they accomplish this? Mr. Williams writes,
I'll tell you what they'll do. There will be discussions of LDS temple ceremonies, temple garments, polygamy, priesthood restrictions on blacks, blood atonement, Adam-God theory, etc., etc. They'll bring up every anti-Mormon bullet point you've ever seen, and probably a few you haven't. There will be quotes taken out of context, distortions of doctrine and kernels of truth buried in landfills of inaccuracy.

This will put leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in an absolute no-win situation: If they try to respond to the doctrinal distortions aimed at Romney they will be perceived as defending him and thus supporting his candidacy; if they do nothing, the anti-Mormon assertions will be seen as true. Your 19-year-old missionary serving in Mississippi will spend the rest of his mission trying to explain the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Adam-God theory, things he probably knows nothing about.

I find it interesting that Mr. Williams seems to think any discussion of Mormon doctrine, practice, and history in the public arena would be "anti-Mormon." Like it or not, "LDS temple ceremonies, temple garments, polygamy, priesthood restrictions on blacks, blood atonement, Adam-God," etc. are not merely "anti-Mormon bullet points"; they are actual elements of Mormonism. Why should discussion of these issues be immediately dismissed as "anti-Mormon"?

Of course, many of these doctrines have a potential to be misunderstood by non-Mormons due to the reticence on the part of the Church to fully explain what it considers sacred. Even worse, many of these issues are not very flattering to the LDS Church and could take some of the shine off the Church's image. Mr. Williams has done some pre-emptive damage control by asserting that quotes will be taken out of context and doctrines will be distorted. This is the sort of thing authors Richard and Joan Ostling observed in their 1999 book Mormon America:
All too often [Latter-day] Saints use the label "anti-Mormon" as a tactic to forestall serious discussion. (376)

Mr. Williams believes the public discussion of Mormonism will put the LDS Church in an "absolute no-win situation." It won't be able to respond to doctrinal distortions without putting its tax-exempt status in jeopardy, but a non-response will be seen as an admission that the "distortions" are true. I don't think there's any merit to this claim.

Few of the issues that could come up if and when Mormonism finds itself in the spotlight will be new. Mr. Williams' list of possible topics of concern have already been discussed publicly for decades. It's just that relatively few people have encountered the discussions in the past; and the LDS Church has been fairly successful at marginalizing critical material.

But with Mr. Romney running for President there will be many more people interested and curious about Mormonism than ever before (or at least since Donny Osmond captured the heart of every 14-year-old girl in America). Influential people may begin asking questions -- people who expect full-disclosure answers, who won't settle for less; people whose opinions have the power to impact others -- and I think this is why Mr. Williams is concerned. He writes,
The church will spend thousands of dollars and several years refuting the doctrinal distortions that will be used to undermine Romney's candidacy.

Is this what we really want?

It seems to me this quandary could have been avoided if the LDS Church would have dealt with the doctrinal concerns evangelicals have continued to bring to the table lo these many years. But it has not. It has instead responded with denials and mischaracterizations of its critics, choosing to turn a blind eye to honest questions and concerns rather than deal with them forthrightly.

I think Mr. Williams' rhetorical question -- "Is this what we really want?" -- is right on the money. Candid public discussion of the doctrines and history of Mormonism is not what the LDS Church wants, as has been demonstrated over 177 years of the Church's history.

Jesus taught,
"Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops" (Luke 12: 2-3).

Perhaps the Romney campaign is God's way of fulfilling this in regards to the LDS Church.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Equally Unworthy

by Sharon

While we're on the subject of Mormon temples (see Mormon Coffee's last article), the February issue of Ensign magazine includes an article about the symbolism found in Mormon temples. Quoting LDS Apostle John A. Widtsoe, the article states:
"In the temples all are dressed alike in white. White is the symbol of purity. No unclean person has the right to enter God's house. Besides, the uniform dress symbolizes that before God our Father in heaven, all men are equal. The beggar and the banker, the learned and the unlearned, the prince and the pauper sit side by side in the temple and are of equal importance if they live righteously before the Lord God." ("Looking Toward the Temple"; the Ensign cites Improvement Era, October 1962, 710, but the same article can be found online in the Gospel Library section of the LDS web site under Ensign, January 1972, 56)

The idea that all men (and women) are equal before God is biblical. Paul states as much in Galatians (3:28) and Colossians (3:11) where he says those who are sons (and daughters) of God through faith "are all one in Christ Jesus." But this isn't the equality symbolized by the white clothing in LDS temples; for, regarding LDS temples, there is a significant distinction between classes.

I'm not saying there's a distinction within the temple, but there's a definite distinction which precedes temple attendance; and Mr. Widtsoe includes it in his statement. Again, he said:
"The beggar and the banker, the learned and the unlearned, the prince and the pauper sit side by side in the temple and are of equal importance if they live righteously before the Lord God, the Father of their spirits. It is spiritual fitness and understanding that one receives in the temple. All such have an equal place before the Lord." (I have here completed the paragraph as it appeared in Mr. Widtsoe's original statement from the 1972 Ensign article)

The implication is that those who do not live righteously before God, those who do not qualify to enter Mormon temples (which includes a good percentage of Mormons), are not of "equal importance" and do not have an "equal place before the Lord."

As I see it, in Mormonism there may not be a distinction between the wealthy and the poor, the educated and uneducated, or the professionals and the non-professionals; instead, there is a distinction between the tithe-payers and the non-tithe-payers, the tea-abstainers and the tea-drinkers, the meeting-goers and the meeting-skippers.

This brings to mind Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:10-14).

Temple-worthy Mormons clothe themselves in white in LDS temples to symbolize their purity -- their worthiness -- to be in the house of God. The fact that they have been approved to enter the temple means that they are not like other people. They have passed their temple recommend interviews which indicates that they are full tithe payers. They attend their Church meetings. They sustain and follow all their Church leaders. They obey the Word of Wisdom. They live chaste lives that are in complete harmony with the teachings of their Church. They keep their temple covenants. They wear their garments day and night. They are honest in all things. They affirm and believe that they are worthy (see Temple Recommend Questions).

In telling the parable, Jesus didn't have any praise for the one who was worthy, for the one who kept the law. Jesus said it was the sinful tax collector, not the law-abiding Pharisee, who went home justified. Jesus didn't seem to care one whit that the Pharisee paid his tithe while the tax collector (as was typical in his profession) engaged in frequent dishonesty.

This is what Jesus cared about: The tax collector, recognizing his sinfulness, cried out for mercy -- and he was granted mercy. The Pharisee, who set himself apart as one who was pure and worthy, who relied on his own impressive merits to please a perfectly Holy God; though righteous by the world's standards, he did not please God and went home still guilty in his sins.

The Bible tells us that "none is righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). "If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (1 John 1:10).

I'm not suggesting that Mormons think they're sinless. I don't think there are many people who do -- we know ourselves too well for that. But our human tendency is to minimize and/or justify our sin. We grade the level of "righteousness" we've achieved on a curve. "I'm not perfect, but I'm a lot better than that guy," we say.

And the Mormon temple, I think, plays right into that way of thinking: "I'm not perfect, but at least I'm temple worthy." Mormons go to the temple and put on white clothes head to toe that symbolizes their purity. They would never say it -- and I'm sure most would never think it -- but this is what it really symbolizes: "God, thank you that I'm not like other men. I'm more righteous than those folks outside. I'm more important to You than they are. I'm worthy."

The Pharisee boasted in his righteousness and was left spiritually bankrupt. His boasting -- his self-promotion of his "worthiness" -- was itself a display of his sin. Note that the Pharisee in this parable was not bragging to others. He was standing by himself, giving thanks to God.

But the tax collector did not even consider himself worthy enough to lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. He beat his breast while pleading, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" He needed a Savior, and he knew it. He admitted it. He begged for it. And he got it. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

In the parable both the Pharisee and the tax collector were equally unworthy, but only one recognized his need for mercy.

Mormonism claims the purpose of LDS temples is to provide everything necessary for the exaltation of those deemed worthy enough to enter; the temple is for Mormons who affirm and believe in the value of their own righteousness.

Antithetically Jesus promises, "everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

Jesus or the temple. The choice is yours.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

People Can Learn About the LDS Endowment Ceremony

by Sharon

On Tuesday USA Todayposted an article by journalist Jill Lawrence: "Will Mormon faith hurt bid for White House?" There are some unexpected revelations in the article related to the doctrines and history of the LDS Church. They are grouped under the headings of "Theology," "Polygamy," "Racial History," "Secrecy," "Discipline," and "Proselytizing." This makes the USA Today article unique in that Ms. Lawrence discusses some of the real concerns Christians have with Mormonism rather than dismissing all critics as "bigots," "ignorant," or "misinformed."

Another section of the USA Today article I like is this:
The ex-governor [Mormon Mitt Romney] says questions about his faith are fair to ask. Some queries he answers directly. "I don't drink alcohol, I don't smoke, I don't drink coffee or tea. I also do a tithe," he says, meaning he donates 10% of his income to the church. All are church requirements.

Romney responds more generally when asked if he has participated in an endowment ceremony, in which men and women take vows of secrecy about temple rites and of obedience to the Lord, and begin the daily practice of wearing a sacred "temple garment" resembling abbreviated long underwear.

"I do attend the temple of my church...and people can learn about that by contacting the church," he says, adding: "I'm sure on the Internet you can find every single aspect of what's entailed."

An inquirer will not learn much about the LDS endowment ceremony from the Mormon Church. In the sections about temples on two official LDS web sites ( newsroom, the "official resource for news media, opinion leaders, and the public" and, an informational site for non-members) the endowment ceremony is not even mentioned.

But Mr. Romney is correct that those who really want to know "can find every single aspect of what's entailed" on the internet. All one need do is Google "LDS Endowment Ceremony." There are almost 66,000 results from which to choose.

To make it a bit easier for those of you who want to learn about the endowment ceremony performed in LDS temples, here are some links to sites I believe are trustworthy.

For overviews and commentary:

For transcripts of the entire endowment ceremony (including past and current versions):

For related topics:

For everything you always wanted to know about LDS temples but were afraid to ask:

  • Temple Ceremony online article index at the Utah Lighthouse Ministry web site


  • Monday, February 12, 2007

    The Dos and Don'ts of Mormon Missionary Life

    by Sharon

    The newspaper in my town, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, ran an article about Mormon missionaries over the weekend. Along with the article was a revealing companion piece: "Young missionaries live by rigid rules." Drawn from a "four-page list of rules for male Minnesota missionaries," the article listed twenty-seven for Star-Tribune readers.

    The LDS Church wants its representatives to be recognizable (conform) and above reproach; therefore, many of the rules have to do with a clean-cut appearance or avoiding potentially compromising situations with children and people of the opposite sex.

    The 'appearance rules' include things like the appropriate length of sideburns (above mid-ear), tie styles (no pink or purple), and hair cuts (no buzzes). While appearance rules are understandable, the necessity of this one baffles me:
    All missionaries wear a part and comb their hair to the side. You will be the minority and feel out of place if you do not.

    The 'cautionary rules' listed state that the missionaries should not become too familiar with children; no tickling, hugging, or allowing children to sit on a missionary's lap. In addition,
    Always obey the Rule of Three: In order to enter a home to teach or visit a member or nonmember, there must be three men or three women 16 or older present in the same room. A person in the next room does not count. ... The only exception to this rule is that you may enter the home of a person of the opposite sex who is 70 or older. If a person 70 or older is home with someone younger than 70, you must follow the normal Rule of Three.

    There is wisdom in setting up these sorts of rules. They are a hedge against false accusations.

    Several of the other rules have to do with safety or cleanliness: wear a bike helmet; clean the apartment for an hour every prep-day; dry clean suits often; do all bike repairs outside. When remembering that the missionaries are young men only 19-21 years old, any mother would say these sorts of rules are a must.

    But we should also remember that the LDS Church claims these young men have received a personal calling from Almighty God to go into the mission field. They have been individually prepared and equipped for their service: "Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies," said LDS President Harold B. Lee (quoted in Ensign, November 1995, 50).

    Because of this, some of the missionary rules seem out of place to me. Consider a few:
    • You may only call other missionaries within your district.

    • You may call home [only] on Mother's Day and Christmas for 45 minutes.

    • Missionaries may only access,, and

    • Internet usage [allowed only one day a week] is only permissible if companions can see each other's screens. No exceptions.

    • Missionaries may only e-mail family.

    • The following music is approved: Especially For Youth, church-produced music, LDS hymns, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, appropriate Christmas music (i.e., no rock) and classical music.

    • Please strictly follow the Elbow Rule: Always be near enough to your companion to hear him at a whisper while outside of the apartment. Do not separate for long periods of time within the apartment.

    • Missionaries may watch "The Other Side of Heaven" [a movie by Mormon filmmaker Mitch Davis] on preparation day only.

    • 100% on the plan: Out of bed by 6:30 a.m. (not 6:31). One full hour of personal and companionship studies (not 59 minutes). Out of the apartment by 10 a.m. (not 10:01). One hour for lunch at the most. One hour for dinner, the latest time being from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Be out of the members' houses by 6 p.m. (not 6:01). Be in by 9 p.m. If you are teaching, you may be out until 9:30 p.m. at the latest. Plan the next day's activities starting right when you get in the apartment. Be either in your bed or praying by 10:30 p.m. (not 10:31).

    Rather than supporting the idea that these young men "have been set apart for [their] sacred calling with the promise that the Spirit will be given as [they] meet the requirements set by the Lord" (Preach My Gospel, 4), these rules reflect an assumed immaturity (social and spiritual), plus a lack of trust in the missionaries' judgment and inspiration.

    They're told who they may (and may not) email, what music they may (and may not) listen to, when and who they may (and may not) call on the phone and how long they may talk, how long they may linger over a meal, and what time they need to be in bed. Don't these missionary rules sound like something given to middle-school kids as they head off to summer camp? These young men, set apart and equipped for a "sacred calling," are not trusted to have the ability to make good choices regarding even the most basic stuff of everyday life.

    I don't doubt that the Mormon Church's long experience with their missionary program has necessitated the institution of such rules. What I don't get is why we're supposed to believe these kids have power and authority from God when even the LDS Church doesn't seem to believe it.


    Friday, February 09, 2007

    The LDS Church Calls it a Distortion

    by Sharon

    The Hollywood version of the gruesome Mountain Meadows Massacre is finally slated to hit the silver screen. From the movie's web site:
    On September 11, 1857, in an unspoiled valley of the Utah Territory -- and in the name of God -- 120 men, women and children were savagely murdered.

    Who ordered the massacre, and why, has been hidden in a cloak of secrecy and conspiracy.

    And the reputation of one of this nation's mightiest religious figures has been preserved and protected.

    On May 4 the truth will be revealed.

    With typical Hollywood hype, the September Dawn web site and trailer (available there for online viewing) is designed to get people interested, to perpetuate the feeling of "secrecy and conspiracy." I'm guessing the film's producers want that interest to build from now until May 4th, which should result in a strong showing at the box office.

    Rumor has it that the film implicates LDS Prophet Brigham Young, portraying him as an integral part of the unprovoked attack perpetrated against these non-Mormon pioneers. Some think the film will depict Brigham Young ordering the massacre, but September Dawn's writer-director Christopher Cain says the film sticks close to the historical record. There is no proof that Brigham Young ordered the massacre; Mr. Cain says the film portrays Brigham Young as condoning what happened, not ordering the attack.

    On Tuesday LDS Church-owned KSL-TV reported:
    A movie that hasn't even been released yet is drawing strong reaction from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Internet previews of the film portray the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre and strongly suggest direct involvement by then church President Brigham Young.

    The writer-director of "September Dawn" told us his portrayal is historically accurate. The church calls it a distortion, and some, but not all, historians agree.

    KSL asked eight board members of the Utah Westerners what they thought about Brigham Young's involvement in the massacre.
    In a show of hands only three of the eight agree that Young ordered the massacre, and one more said Young condoned it. All eight agreed he covered up the facts.

    It's no surprise the LDS Church is not happy about this movie. It will raise a lot of questions in people's minds and it threatens to mar the carefully cultivated squeaky-clean image the Church has been working to achieve.

    According to KSL,
    The LDS Church issued a statement today [February 6] which said, "From what we know of this movie, it is a fictional portrayal before, during, and after the tragic events at Mountain Meadows in 1857. This film is a serious distortion of history."

    That's a pretty broad blanket condemnation/dismissal, especially since there's no indication that the Church has seen the movie or read the script. It appears as if this judgment has been formed based only on the 90-second movie trailer.

    The day after the above was reported by KSL, the station presented another report. This one suggests the source for September Dawn was an award-winning documentary by University of Utah Film Studies Professor Brian Patrick.

    Burying the Past, a documentary about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, was produced in 2004 and has enjoyed high acclaim from historians and film critics alike. Winner of 11 awards, the film has been praised for being "brilliantly honest," "beautifully produced," and "astute and brave." Nevertheless, this film was not welcomed by the LDS community either. From the website of Burying the Past comes this news report dated August 4, 2004:
    There is a huge uproar over a film that was set to be shown next week at the "SpudFest" Film Festival in Idaho. Gilligan's Island actress Dawn Wells ("Mary Ann") has been promoting her Film Festival "SpudFest" which is taking place in Victor, Idaho August 3-8. The film in question is a documentary entitled "Burying The Past -- Legacy of the Mountain Meadows Massacre." The film has won 10 awards and has played in over 15 film festivals. "SpudFest" organizers received numerous phone calls from angry Mormon protestors planning to carry signs and picket all three screenings of "Burying The Past" that were scheduled for August 4th, 5th, and 7th. The Mormons also notified festival directors that they were advising all members of the Mormon faith to boycott the entire festival. The protestors are Mormon Church Authorities, Bishops, and Church members who have never even seen the film, but are nonetheless offended.

    Burying the Past is known for its careful and even-handed treatment of the Mormons, the Massacre descendents, and the LDS Church; yet it was denounced as pressure was brought to bear to keep the film away from public viewing.

    I suggest that the LDS Church and the Mormon people are not compelled in their concerns about September Dawn by any specific content of the movie; rather, it is the topic -- the Mountain Meadows Massacre -- that they wish would remain unknown.

    The readers' comments on the KSL web site are pretty interesting. Many of them make excuses for the Mormons who murdered the pioneers from Arkansas, and express the idea that the film is produced for no other reason than to persecute the Mormon Church. But one summing-up comment of a different flavor caught my eye:
    First the LDS church puts out a press release condemning the content of this film, apparently based solely on its trailer. Now, the flagship television station of church-owned Bonneville Communications makes accusations of plagiarism. Both actions seem like transparent public relations moves....

    For those who would like to learn more about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the September Dawn web site offers several resources. Also, check out an article I wrote a few years ago: "In the Line of Duty: Mountain Meadows."

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    Wednesday, February 07, 2007

    Brigham Young's Lecture at the Veil

    by Sharon

    It was 130 years ago today that LDS recorder L. John Nuttall, by order of Brigham Young, transcribed the Lecture at the Veil in the St. George, Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lecture at the Veil was a lesson at the end of the LDS endowment ceremony which summarized important theological concepts that had been taught throughout the ceremony.

    From the time the Lecture at the Veil was first recorded in 1877, until it was removed in 1990, it had been an important element of the endowment ceremony. The content of the lecture in modern times did not include some of Brigham Young's important teachings from the nineteenth century, the lecture having been revised during the intervening years.

    The official transcription of Brigham Young's veil lecture is not available, but John Nuttall recorded much of the same information in his private journal. In recognition of this 130th anniversary of Brigham Young's Lecture at the Veil, an excerpt is provided here.
    In the creation the Gods entered into an agreement about forming this earth, and putting Michael or Adam upon it. These things of which I have been speaking are what are termed the mysteries of godliness but they will enable you to understand the expression of Jesus, made while in jerusalem. "This is life eternal that they might know thee, the on[l]y true God and jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."

    We were once acquainted with the Gods and lived with them, but we had the privilege of taking upon us flesh that the spirit might have a house to dwell in. We did so and forgot all, and came into the world not recollecting anything of which we had previously learned.

    We have heard a great deal about Adam and Eve, how they were formed and etc. Some think he was made like an adobe and the Lord breathed into him the breath of life, for we read "from dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return." Well he was made of the dust of the earth but not of this earth. He was made just the same way you and I are made but on another earth.

    Adam was an immortal being when he came on this earth; He had lived on an earth similar to ours; he had received the Priesthood and the keys thereof, and had been faithful in all things and gained his resurrection and his exaltation, and was crowned with glory, immortality and eternal lives, and was numbered with the Gods for such he became through his faithfulness, and had begotten all the spirit that was to come to this earth. And Eve our common Mother who is the mother of all living bore those spirits in the celestial world.

    And when this earth was organized by Elohim. Jehovah & Michael, who is Adam our common Father, Adam & Eve had the privilege to continue the work of progression, consequently came to this earth and commenced the great work of forming tabernacles for those spirits to dwell in, and when Adam and those that assi[s]ted him had completed this kingdom our earth[,] he came to it, and slept and forgot all and became like an infant child.

    It is said by Moses the historian that the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam and took from his side a rib and formed the woman that Adam called Eve -- this should be interpreted that the Man Adam like all other men had the seed within him to propagate his species, but not the Woman; she conceives the seed but she does not produce it; consequently she was taken from the side or bowels of her father. This explains the mystery of Moses' dark sayings in regard to Adam and Eve.

    Adam and Eve when they were placed on this earth were immortal beings with flesh, bones and sinews. But upon partaking of the fruits of the earth while in the garden and cultivating the ground their bodies became changed from immortal to mortal beings with the blood coursing through their veins as the action of life -- Adam was not under transgression until after he partook of the forbidden fruit; this was necessary that they might be together, that man might be. The woman was found in transgression not the man -- Now in the law of Sacr[i]fice we have the promise of a Savior and Man had the privilege and showed forth his obedience by offering of the first fruits of the earth and the firstlings of the flocks; this as a showing that Jesus would come and shed his blood...

    Father Adam's oldest son (Jesus the Saviour) who is the heir of the family is Father Adam's first begotten in the spirit world, who according to the flesh is the only begotten as it is written. (In his divinity he having gone back into the spirit world, and come in the spirit to Mary and she conceived, for when Adam and Eve got through with their work in this earth, they did not lay their bodies down in the dust, but returned to the spirit world from whence they came.

    (as quoted in David John Buerger, The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship, 111-112. Paragraph breaks not in the original -- inserted here to aid online reading.)

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    Monday, February 05, 2007

    Will Pope Benedict become a Mormon after he dies?

    by Sharon

    So reads the headline of a recent Reuters article written by Religion Editor Tom Heneghan. The article, which discusses the Mormon practice of baptism for the dead, appeared today on the Reuters web site.
    PARIS (Reuters) - Pope Benedict was baptized at birth and will most likely be baptized again one year after his death, not by his Roman Catholic Church but by a Mormon he never met.

    The Mormons, a U.S.-based denomination officially named the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), encourage members to baptize the dead by proxy in the belief they are helping the deceased attain full access to heaven.

    Church members are told to focus on their ancestors, a rite understandable in a relatively new denomination founded in 1830. But so many now perform the rituals for celebrities, heroes and perfect strangers that the practice has spun out of control.

    Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Genghis Khan, Mao Zedong, King Herod, Al Capone and Mickey Mouse have all appeared for a short time in the International Genealogical Index for proxy baptisms, said Helen Radkey, a researcher specialized in the IGI.

    Journalist Tom Heneghan suggests it is reasonable to expect Pope Benedict to be baptized by proxy in an LDS temple a year after the Pope's future but inevitable demise, citing "a centuries-long list of popes Mormons have baptized" already. Mr. Heneghan thinks it strange that Pope Benedict will be baptized LDS given the fact that, when he served in the capacity of "the Vatican's top doctrinal authority," he ruled that Mormon baptisms are not Christian.

    LDS Church spokeswoman Kim Farah responded:
    "There is no reason theologically why a former Pope or any other church leader shouldn't be offered the same opportunity given to the rest of mankind."

    In fact, theologically, perhaps the Pope is more in need of this kind of Mormon intervention than the rest of mankind. According to past LDS apostles, the Catholic Church was founded by the Devil and all authority residing within that Church is only that "which his Satanic majesty was pleased to bestow upon her" (LDS Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, 1884, page 205).

    In explaining a passage from the Book of Mormon, late LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie wrote,
    It is also to the Book of Mormon to which we turn for the plainest description of the Catholic Church as the great and abominable church. Nephi saw this "church which is most abominable above all other churches" in vision. He "saw the devil that he was the foundation of it" and also the murders, wealth, harlotry, persecutions, and evil desires that historically have been a part of this satanic organization. (1 Ne. 13:1-10)

    He saw that this most abominable of all churches was founded after the day of Christ and his apostles; that it took away from the gospel of the lamb many covenants and many plain and precious parts; that it perverted the right ways of the Lord; that it deleted many teachings from the Bible; that this church was the "mother of harlots;"... (1 Ne. 13:24-42)

    Nephi beheld further that this church was the "mother of abominations," and "the whore of all the earth"... (Mormon Doctrine, 1958 edition, page 130)

    Later in the same book Apostle McConkie expanded on the doctrine a bit:
    ...speaking of harlots in the figurative sense, [Nephi] designated the Catholic Church as "the mother of harlots" (1 Nephi 13:34; 14:15-17), a title which means that the protestant churches, the harlot daughters which broke off from the great and abominable church, would themselves be apostate churches." (ibid., page 315)

    Given the view of the Catholic Church expressed by LDS apostles, maybe that explains why Pope John Paul II was vicariously baptized in a Mormon temple four times (and Pope Pius XII three times); maybe "the same opportunity given to the rest of mankind" -- usually just one proxy baptism per person -- isn't sufficient for the worldwide leaders of Satan's great and abominable church.

    Interestingly, the Reuters article points out that the public version of the LDS Church's International Genealogical Index available online is a "purged version," which does not show the temple ordinances that have been performed for the individuals on the list; that information is only available to Mormons. Furthermore, the article says the name of Pope John Paul II has been removed from the online IGI, though his now-anonymous files remain in the database.
    Names are purged from the public IGI after being found and publicized. Pope John Paul I and Pope Paul VI were both baptized and were listed on the online IGI in December but removed after Reuters asked about them, [LDS Church spokeswoman] Farah confirmed.

    Researcher Helen Radkey claims, "They remove any names that could potentially cause criticism."

    I wonder if that's the same reason the current edition of Mormon Doctrine no longer designates the Catholic Church as the "whore of all the earth." While Bruce McConkie's exposition of 1 Nephi was clearly in line with the teachings of earlier LDS leaders, subsequent editions of the book (after 1958) have "purged" from its pages the controversial identity of Catholicism as "the Church of the Devil."

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    Friday, February 02, 2007

    Mormon Exports

    by Sharon

    There's a rather odd story coming out of the South Pacific today. Published at is "The growing fear of Pacific gang life" from Fairfax Media.
    Al-Qaeda and fellow international terrorists are said to threaten failing Pacific states but as Michael Field reports the real menace comes from the streets of America and south Auckland.

    They're shadowy and amoral; big and vicious men, now living in every village in Polynesia.

    They learned their trade with American street gangs like the Sons of Samoa and the Tongan Crip Gang (TCG).

    Samoan Warriors Bounty Hunters, Tongan Crip Regulators, Tongan Style Gang and the Baby Regulators fill out the world of hoods, hand signals, graffiti and crime.

    And, according to the article, "they are mostly from Latter-day Saint families."

    The claim is that these young people once lived in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. When they became uncontrollable they were sent "home" to the Pacific Island nations to be rehabilitated. But these kids brought the "skills" they learned in the inner cities of the U.S. with them, resulting in a burgeoning gang problem in the South Pacific.

    Trouble became apparent last November 16th when riots erupted in the Tongan capitol of Nuku'alofa. When all was said and done, eighty percent of the business district of the city had been destroyed and eight people were dead. Since then, the police have been working hard to find the people responsible for what has come to be known as "Black Thursday." Fairfax Media reports:
    Around 1100 people have since been arrested -- with New Zealand police help -- and over half are TCG who are mostly from Mormon Latter Day Saint (LDS) families.

    LDS makes exaggerated claims to have 46,000 followers in Tonga and hundreds of families over the decades have gone to Salt Lake City in Utah, the church's headquarters.

    Salt Lake has turned into a gang melting pot and [University of the South Pacific educator] Dr Taufe'ulungaki claims Mormon children, who joined TCG, have since been deported back to Tonga. Joined by disaffected youth from New Zealand they destroyed Nuku'alofa.

    When I first read this article I thought it sounded a bit far-fetched. But then I found "The Gangs of Zion" which appeared in the Utah publication High Country News in August of 2005. According to journalist Tim Sullivan,
    Polynesian kids don't seem to fit the profile of gang members, however. Most Pacific Islander families are the picture of stability. And most Polynesian families in Utah belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the pillar of family values and respectability. Because of the Mormon Church, in fact, Utah is home to the largest Tongan, Samoan and other Pacific Islander communities in the United States outside of Hawaii and California.

    Yet while Islanders make up only about 1 percent of the Salt Lake Valley's population, they comprise 13 percent of the documented gang members. Detectives say that Polynesian gangs stand out due to their violence. Because of their intimidating physical size, their members often serve as enforcers for other gangs that traffic in drugs. They're known for their brutal fistfights, and for shooting at their rivals and at law enforcement officials.

    Polynesian parents find it hard to believe that their churchgoing children are involved in the American scourge of gang violence. Their communities are supposed to embody everything this valley has stood for: family, faith and a new beginning.

    But the "happy valley" in the heart of the Mormon Zion has become a crowded battleground. The Polynesian Saints traveled thousands of miles from one group of islands only to find themselves in another. On the west side of Salt Lake city, ethnic communities are islands unto themselves, surrounded by a sea of white suburbia; from the vantage point of West Valley City, Kearns, Taylorsville and West Jordan, the mountains that edge this valley only increase the sense of isolation.

    Utah has a serious gang problem. I would even say the LDS Church has a serious gang problem. But apparently the Church would disagree with me. Tim Sullivan wrote:
    Yet the Polynesian and law enforcement communities have had to work to get the church brass to listen. At one point in the mid-1990s, Isi Tausinga bluntly laid out the issue for members of the church First Presidency and General Authority. The church now has a representative on a local gang project committee, and has donated money to the Gang Unit's annual conferences, but 20 years into the gang problem, top church officials don't necessarily see themselves as having a role in solving it. Church spokeswoman Kim Farah says the Church prefers that local leaders like Purcell address the issues within their wards. That is not enough for Dorothy Fa'asou, who works on intercultural communication issues with Laie Association Utah. "The church has got to face up to these gang issues. It is too big for the community alone," she says. "We came here for the church, and the problems happened here, in Utah, in the church. For too long, they have ignored it."

    The people of the Pacific Island nations are understandably frustrated. The imported gang members are negatively influencing Islander kids. Fairfax Media says these gang members
    "live within villages and indoctrinate the young, the youth of the country. They are not isolated; they live together with the village people. They are in every community...

    "They have no commitment, they are totally amoral, they have no commitment to anybody, no affiliation, they have no loyalty to anybody and they come with a great deal of hatred because they have been sent away from the people they know from their own environment to live with people they have never seen before in a totally alien environment."

    Labelled 'remittance children', they are the off-spring of hard working migrant parents with two or three low paying jobs in the alien societies. The children grow up on working class streets picking up bad habits.

    They are turned into gang members by their host societies, not by the Pacific countries. They should not be deported back to the Pacific which cannot cope.

    "It's not our problem... We need to work with the countries, Australia, New Zealand and the US, not to deport their home grown problems into the Pacific, as a first step."

    The parents of these kids aren't able to rescue them. The problem is too big for Utah communities to deal with. The LDS Church doesn't see these troubled member-children as a problem that requires its resources. The Pacific nations can't cope with the influx of Mormon gang members. Who will help these kids?

    I lift up my eyes to the hills --
    where does my help come from?
    My help comes from the LORD,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

    Psalm 121:1