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Friday, March 30, 2007

The Mormon double standard when it comes to evangelism

by Bill

Let's cut to the chase. Evangelical Christianity and the Mormon Church are both very much interested in winning others to their way of thinking. On this there is no argument. The Mormon Church sends out tens of thousands of full-time missionaries to try and convince potential converts that Christianity experienced a "Great Apostasy" and that this was remedied by what they call the "restored gospel" given through their prophet Joseph Smith. Of course, the only way you can experience this "restored gospel" is through the LDS Church.

Clearly the goal of the Mormon missionary is to baptize the potential convert into the LDS Church, which necessitates them abandoning their current church and much of what they currently believe theologically. I actually appreciated Mormon Apostle Dallin Oaks' candidness when he said,
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many beliefs in common with other Christian churches. But we have differences, and those differences explain why we send missionaries to other Christians..." ("Apostasy and Restoration," Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1995, p.84).

Fair enough. But here's the rub, Mr. Oaks. When Christians respond in kind they are automatically labeled "anti-Mormons" and demonized. It is assumed that they are motivated only by bigotry. Oh my.

Recently several Christian ministries and churches joined together to distribute hundreds of thousands of DVDs that clearly and lovingly explained the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. The DVD carefully explained what LDS leaders have taught in order to give the viewer a more informed opportunity to properly evaluate LDS truth claims. In fact, much of the DVD contained statements taken directly from LDS sources. Under normal conditions I would think this is how the Mormon doctrine of "free agency" should be practiced, but that is not at all the case.

While Article 11 in the LDS "Articles of Faith" states that Mormons believe that all men should be allowed to worship how, where, or what they may, this is not how things are in reality. Proclaiming the gospel and offering people clarity is a part of Christian worship. Our devotion to God includes proclaiming His message of forgiveness and to expound on what is true as opposed to what is error. However, when we do this, the Mormons react like we just set their foot on fire. I guess the right to proclaim what you believe to be true (which automatically assumes something must be false) is reserved only for those who are members of the LDS Church. It sure seems that way.

The Mormon Church put out an official statement which said in part,
"When Latter-day Saint missionaries visit homes or engage others in conversation, they studiously avoid criticism of other faiths."

If that is true then the missionaries are not doing their job. Page seven of Preach My Gospel (the new missionary manual, 2004) states that missionaries are to "help investigators see the patterns of apostasy and restoration" and "help people recognize that the Church is not just another religion." Helping a person conclude that his church is apostate is not a criticism?

Missionaries aside, what about all those kind comments from LDS leaders over the years?

News pieces in Salt Lake City decried the efforts of these horrible "anti-Mormons." One news cast accused some Christian participants in Arizona of being part of a "hate group"! How dare these "mean-spirited" Christians even hint that Mormons should leave their church! My friend, greater hypocrisy cannot be found in all of Zion, for what Mormon missionary does not want to lead a person out of their present church and into the Mormon Church? If they deny it, they are lying, pure and simple.

Over the years I have had several Mormon missionaries come to my home and I have always treated them with respect and dignity. I have also had pieces of paper taped to my door announcing upcoming functions at the local ward building. I've even had a couple of 12-year-old Mormon deacons come up to me asking for my "fast offering." At two different movie theaters I've been approached by Mormon missionaries and never once have I fired off an angry email to a mission president or stake president demanding that they "leave me alone!" because "I already have my religion!" I fully recognize that they have their right in this wonderful country to believe whatever they want, even though that belief pegs me as a part of an apostate Christendom that adheres to abominable creeds and abases itself before the "mythical throne of a mythical Christ" (as one late Mormon apostle said).

Pardon me, I forgot that Mormons don't criticize other faiths.

If Mormons can't seem to understand that all of us have a worldview that we'd like others to share, and that this passion for truth causes us to tell others, then I have to really wonder what motivates Mormon missionaries. Perhaps I've been wrong to assume that they are motivated by love and concern. Maybe they are just "doing their time" to please their parents or church. If Mormons can't even consider that our motivation is based in love for them as people, then why do they feel we are obligated to assume the same for them?

Nah, to hear the many complaints from Mormons over this DVD, I guess my role as a Christian is to just silently sit back and let only the Mormons do the talking because in their mind it is "unchristlike" to do anything else.

Funny, I don't recall Jesus doing that.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Should Christians stay in manipulative interfaith relationships?

by Aaron

Suppose you are in a dialog with someone over the most important things in all of reality--eternal life and the heart and holiness and the heinousness of sin and the glory of God and the nature of deity and the worship of the Creator and the promise of everlasting joy for believers and the future of eternal, conscious torment for idolaters. Whew. Important stuff, isn't it? What would you do if this friend told you that if you ever asked penetrating questions or seriously challenged his beliefs or made an embarrassing moral accusation against him that he would cut off ties from you?

To be frank, I would not actively seek to continue interfaith dialog with such a person, nor do I think anyone else should either. This kind of relationship is manipulative, and it fosters a fear-driven, tip-toeing, truth-minimizing interaction that hardly is constructive or edifying. It usually ends up in the dead-end alley of worldly, teacup dialog, the kind that obscures boundaries, suppresses any overflow of a passion for the glory of God, and conceals moral outrage against what is objectionable before our holy God. If Mormons and Christians want genuine dialog (and I know many of us do), then we should be prepared for the real thing. Otherwise, it's just a silly game.

Listening and understanding is very important, but as redeemed sinners we are also called to speak the truth in love. This is a far higher calling than casually sharing each other's perspectives for mutually increased personal understanding. We are called to speak the truth as truth, not as a mere human viewpoint. We are called to do this lovingly and courageously--with brokenhearted boldness, not with cocky impudence or superficial affability.

We are ambassadors with an urgent message. We are emissaries with the very word of God in our hands and at the tip of our tongue. Our King's message is not a suggestion. It is a call to repentance. It comes simultaneously as a plea from the heart of the caretaker of the planet and as an authoritative command from the sovereign of the universe. Humanity stands at the edge of the precipice. Either ever-increasing heavenly joy in the community of the saints or eternal punishment in the lake of fire await us.

As subordinates to the Great Commission we are called to give law to the proud and the gospel of grace to the humble. It is not an option to let our neighbor's conscience sleep. If he cannot see his own sin, we are to expose the deeds of darkness (cf. Ephesians 5:11) and shine the light of the law using the word of God. There are only two kinds of responses to this: repulsion or humility. Humility opens the door for a key opportunity to share the gospel. Repulsion means you'll probably have to move on.

As royal priests we are all called to what might spoken of as "supremacy evangelism": we are to proclaim the excellencies of the resurrected and exalted Christ--the one who is King, Creator, Judge, Savior, and God (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). This involves heralding the uniqueness of the divine majesty over and against the prevailing idolatry of our day. If someone essentially tells you that their idols are too sacred for open comparison with the great God of the Bible, do not believe them. No idol is sacred to our God, certainly not too sacred as to be torn down with his truth. People are precious in the sight of our God, but their idols are an abomination. Never forget this.

This of course can be done in a way that is flavored with recognizable humility and patience and love and genuine concern. In fact, it shouldn't be done in any other way (cf. 2 Timothy 2:24-25). But this doesn't mean cowering to the demands of those who want immunity from correction. No matter how affable a person is, demanding exemption from the scrutinizing and exposing light of truth is egotistical and arrogant. Instead of casting your pearls before such people, move on to seek out the people whom God has prepared to be humble recipients of the kingdom of God.

Oh Lord, please bless your people with fruitful, evangelistic dialog, both with the best of long-term friends and with strangers with whom we have no future certain contact. Help us to speak the truth to their conscience, and help us overcome the fear of rejection. Help us to do this in love, having prepared ourselves in prayer and having immersed ourselves in your word and having felt compassion on the lost. Help us not to be enslaved or restricted by the fear of losing the praise of man. But Lord, help us to be winsome and strategic so that we may maximize and elongate our opportunities to share the truth in love to those whose hearts are receptive.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Never Having to Say You're Sorry

by Sharon

The LDS Church has found itself in the middle of a custody battle.

Mike Gulbraa served his LDS mission in Japan. Later, while attending BYU, Mike met and married a Japanese woman, Etsuko Tanizaki. They had two sons, Chris and Michael, before their marriage fell apart and the couple divorced. Etsuko remarried soon after. When Etsuko's second husband came under investigation for abusing his own child, Mike Gulbraa obtained a temporary restraining order which required that his sons remain in Utah. Nevertheless, in November of 2001 Etsuko and her husband took the boys to live in Japan. Both adults were charged in Utah with custodial interference. A complaint was filed in U.S. District Court accusing them of international parental kidnapping, resulting in the issuance of international arrest warrants. But, according to the Salt Lake Tribune:
Japan has not signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which would allow Japanese citizens to be charged with violating U.S. custody rulings. So, no arrests were made and the Gulbraa boys remained overseas.

Mike Gulbraa was awarded sole custody of his children in April 2002 and has been trying to get them back ever since.

So where does the LDS Church come into this? Mike Gulbraa, as custodial parent, wanted the LDS Church to get his consent before performing any ecclesiastical ordinances on his boys. He contacted Church officials in Asia and alerted them of the situation. Mike says he had a "written and implied" contract with the Church agreeing that his wishes in this matter would be respected. But the boys' mother and step-father wanted Chris and Michael to be ordained to the LDS priesthood, so the Church complied.

Deseret Morning News reports:
An attorney for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the church was forced to make a choice between the wishes of two feuding parents, one in the United States and one in Japan, regarding the ordination of their two sons into the LDS priesthood...

"The church respects the right of family and rule of parents in making these kind of decisions," said LDS attorney Matthew Richards. "There was no middle ground, and the church had to decide whether to allow the ordinances or not to. And it's really not a surprise that with these Japanese clergy, with respect to a Japanese woman, allowed her request to allow these ordinances to proceed."

After asking for an official, written apology from the LDS Church and being denied, Mike Gulbraa has taken the issue to court, seeking an injunction against the Church which will prevent it from similar actions in the future.

As if ordaining Chris and Mike against their father's wishes was not troubling enough, Mike Gulbraa says LDS Church officials also instructed other Latter-day Saints to withhold information from Mike regarding his children.

LDS Church attorney Matthew Richards told the appellate court that Mike's legal claim of emotional distress should be dismissed because no evidence has shown that the Church has engaged in any "outrageous behavior." One judge responded:
"You don't think concealing the well-being of children who are allegedly kidnapped doesn't rise to the level of outrageous?"

Mr. Richards argued that it was not the Church that kidnapped the children; the Church, he implied, is an innocent third party. When the judges reminded Mr. Richards that the Church instructed members to conceal information about the children from their father, according to Deseret Morning News,
Richards said the church has a right to minister to its members the way it sees fit -- including how it shares information about its members.

I'm sure there's more to the story than has been reported, but it's pretty hard to understand the LDS Church's utter lack of compassion for the dad in these circumstances. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Mike Gulbraa is an inactive member; maybe that fact has contributed to the Church's "outrageous behavior" choices. I don't know, but as a parent I can understand Mike's response much more than the position the LDS Church has taken. Mike said,
"Stick another dagger in me. You go to an organization that is family based, thinking they're going to help you and they do something completely opposite. It was really hard to understand. It was painful."

And all he asked for was an apology.


Other sources used for this article:
Daily Herald, Associated Press


Friday, March 23, 2007

The LDS Church is Not Amused

by Sharon

In today's Deseret News there's a story about a clash between the LDS Church and a coffee shop located in Taylorsville, Utah. The shop, Just Add Coffee, garnered the attention of the LDS Church when it began using a modified image of the angel Moroni in its advertising.

The LDS Church's intellectual property office sent a letter to the owners of Just Add Coffee last week, informing them that the image of the angel Moroni is a registered trademark belonging to the Church.
T-shirts being sold at the coffee shop feature an image of the angel Moroni, the golden statue of a male figure in a robe blowing a trumpet that sits atop many LDS temples. In the Just Add Coffee version, Moroni's trumpet is angled upward as coffee from a pot is poured into it.

"It was a spoof," [the shop's co-owner] Beazer said. "It was meant to be fun."

It apparently didn't amuse the LDS Church, whose members are discouraged from drinking coffee.

The same image of Moroni has also been used by the coffee shop on greeting cards and, most recently, in a newspaper ad. The LDS Church has requested that the shop discontinue use of its trademarked image of Moroni.

Just Add Coffee has pulled the newspaper ad, but is continuing -- for the time being -- to sell the shirts. Shop owners have requested that the Church provide proof of its trademark claim before the shop decides to stop selling "the best-selling T-shirts" they've ever done.

I tried searching for the Moroni registered trademark on the United States Trademark and Patent Office Trademark Electronic Search System; I couldn't find it. But the LDS Church holds a few dozen registered trademarks -- I must have just missed it.

I did find, though, that on September 5th, 2002 the LDS Church filed for a trademark on the word "Mormon." Initially denied, over the ensuing years the objections of the trademark office have been rectified. Last month the application was "published for opposition." This appears to be the final step before the trademark is registered.

The LDS Church has been unhappy with polygamy-practicing fundamentalists referring to themselves as Mormons. What will happen once the word "Mormon" becomes a registered trademark of the LDS Church? Will the fundamentalist groups all receive letters from the Church's intellectual property office requiring them to stop referring to themselves as Mormons? I wonder...


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Worthy Historical Wonders

by Sharon

The Illinois Bureau of Tourism is trying to determine the Seven Wonders of Illinois. The state has been divided into seven areas with distinct attractions listed for each area. Visitors to the web site are invited to vote for their favorites once a day from March 5th through March 31st. Each week the field of attractions will be reduced by one in each area until only one remains; the remaining attractions will become the official Seven Wonders of Illinois.

I'm a Midwestern girl and have visited Illinois many times. It's a great state with lots to offer. I've always enjoyed my time there, even the time I was caught in a storm that felled trees in front of and behind my car, stranding me on the road for several hours while crews worked to reopen the byway.

Many people know Illinois as The Land of Lincoln or the home of the metropolis called Chicago. It is also a place with a fair amount of Mormon history. On one trip I made to Illinois, to take my mother to see Lincoln's Tomb, we first toured the city of Galena and learned that the post office was partially constructed of stones from the first Mormon temple (destroyed in the 1840s) 100 miles downriver at Nauvoo, Illinois. When we reached Springfield, visiting the law office of Abraham Lincoln and attached courtroom, we learned that Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet, had appeared in that very courtroom to face charges in the attempted murder of former Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs. Mr. Lincoln did not defend Joseph Smith; Mr. Lincoln had nothing to do with the event in question. It was just a bit of trivia offered by the museum's docent. My mother, rather advanced in years and perhaps grown a bit testy, turned to me in frustration and asked, "Why are they talking about Mormons everywhere we go?"

I suppose the answer is that Mormons made a significant impact on the state in their short time there. The excellent book Cultures in Conflict: A Documentary History of the Mormon War in Illinois offers this concise explanation (from the book's jacket):
Cultures in Conflict chronicles the rise of a theocratic [Mormon] kingdom at Nauvoo, the increasingly strident response of non-Mormons, the repression of dissident Mormons at Nauvoo, the famous double murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage [Illinois], the subsequent civil war in Hancock County, and the forced exodus of the Mormons from Illinois. Especially important is the historical information on the often overlooked two-year period between the Smith murders and the departure for the West of the majority of Mormons. For a tense seven years, Mormon Church members contended with their neighbors over a variety of political, economic, religious, and social issues. Between 1839 and 1846 the Mormons created a powerful and largely autonomous theocratic state at Nauvoo that clashed with the republican values of frontier non-Mormons. Mormons came to see themselves as persecuted innocents acting righteously in accordance with God's will, but non-Mormons saw them instead as threats to democratic institutions and the rule of the law.

Nauvoo is one of the attractions in the running for the Seven Wonders of Illinois. I'd be tempted to vote for it if I thought its background would be fully and accurately related to visitors. There's much to be learned from the slice of American history that transpired there.

However, Nauvoo is currently nothing but a faith-promoting tool for the LDS Church. The "history" presented is carefully constructed, stripped of all content and context that would provide a true understanding of what really happened there in the nineteenth century. Amidst family-friendly activities and demonstrations of pioneer life, the LDS missionaries staffing each of almost 50 sites in Nauvoo make certain visitors understand the most important thing: that the Mormon pioneers were totally innocent victims of bigoted persecution.

Nothing happens in a vacuum; accurate, inclusive history reveals a very different story of Mormon Nauvoo than the LDS Church likes to tell. Personally, I love history and believe the triumphs and mistakes of those who have gone before us share equal importance. Adlai Stevenson said, "We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led us to the present." Propagandized Mormon history is neither helpful nor deserving of Illinois' promotion.

As it is, Old Main at Knox College, "the only building remaining from the landmark Lincoln-Douglas senatorial debates...on the grounds where Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln debated the issue of slavery" is the site in western Illinois that will get my vote as one of the state's worthy Seven Wonders.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Comfortable Vilification of Rebels

by Sharon

An interesting, ongoing discussion is currently underway at the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog site. Begun by blogger fMhLisa exploring rebellion as a virtue (e.g., civil disobedience toward racial discrimination), the ensuing comment discussion has evolved into a consideration of modern revelation and rebellion in the LDS Church, including the treatment of rebels within Mormon culture. Responding to a previous comment, fMhLisa wrote:
...really more to the point I was trying to make is just the general distrust and comfortable vilification of rebels that is practiced in Mormon culture. (comment #15)

This led to a comment by Quimby:
...I am hopeful...that this is one of my ward's many strange quirks, and it is not representative of the church as a whole; but in my ward, if you happen to disagree with any one of about four High Priests - even if you have scriptures and prophetic teaching to back you up - you are bullied either into submission or into tears. Blind obedience to these four men and their backwards ideas is enforced by the vocal majority, and of course they justify it by saying they know God's will better than you do, so if you disagree with them, you're rebelling against God. (#17)

A follow-up comment expressed a wish to be able to take concerns in the LDS Church to the writer's "hierarchal leader," but wisdom would dictate otherwise. Bored in Vernal wrote:
Quimby's ward is not so different from the ones I have attended. And I find it very sad to say that even in the cases when I have felt a spiritual prompting to push the envelope, I have not rebelled, because I value my Church membership and I am scared. (#33)

Other Latter-day Saints on the blog express their hopes that they, as individuals, would have the courage to stick with any convictions they might develop via personal revelation or conscience, though these principles may be contrary to pronouncements from Church leadership. Tom wrote, "...let the consequence follow, whether it be shunning or church discipline or whatever" (#28).

First quoting another comment (#21), Steve M. contributed this thoughtful observation:
You can call it "the party line" or "the official position of Church leadership" or "God's word" or whatever, but to embrace and celebrate individuals' claims to revelation that are incompatible with and contrary to official Church doctrine and policy would be to undermine the very foundation of the Church: revelation from Christ to prophets and apostles. There are churches that embrace each person's individualized truth. The Church of Jesus Christ isn't, and never has been, one of them.

But since that revelation is coming through humans, it is necessarily imperfect. This is evidenced by the fact that in the Church's short history, numerous apostles and prophets have contradicted one another.

To illustrate: It's now standard practice to teach that Adam and Heavenly Father are separate beings, but there was a time when that assertion contradicted what the President of the Church was teaching. Brigham Young taught that acceptance or rejection of the Adam-God doctrine "will either seal the damnation or salvation of [men]" (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, April 9, 1852). Men like Orson Pratt were vocal in their opposition to the doctrine, and Brigham Young responded that it would "destroy him if he does not repent & turn from his evil ways" (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, March 11, 1856). Yet, in a matter of decades, the Church had abandoned the doctrine that Orson Hyde was rebelling against.

So how do we view Orson Hyde? As a near-apostate? I mean, he directly contradicted the President of the Church, who was claiming revelation from God, right? But his view of Adam and God was more in line with what the modern Church teaches than Brigham's view. In the context of modern Mormonism, he would be considered more correct than President Young. While he was considered a rebel at the time, it seems that history has vindicated him.

So what are we to do if we find our conscience in opposition to what the present authorities are teaching about some issue? Force ourselves to accept something with which we disagree? I don't think that's the way to go. I mean, can we safely assume that, in another 25, 50, or 100 years, General Authorities will still be teaching the same thing? If Church history is any indication, then the answer is no. Today's heresies might be tomorrow's doctrines.

As for myself, I'll stick with my own intuition, spiritual experiences, and conscience. (#24)

This is the same thinking that has led to so many schisms in the LDS Church. Though Mormons are often quick to say that Mormonism has done away with spiritual confusion, this is not the case. In its relatively short history, the Restoration has produced hundreds of churches and groups based on "intuition, spiritual experiences, and conscience." Many are holding on to yesterday's doctrines, which today, according to the LDS Church, must be rejected as heresies.

It seems that Mormons are between a rock and a hard place. If a Mormon receives personal revelation (for which faithful Mormons have earned the right), if that revelation is contrary to "official" teaching, what is he to do? If he chooses his personal revelation ("intuition, spiritual experiences, and conscience"), he puts himself in a state of rebellion against God's chosen representatives. If he chooses the official teaching, he puts himself in a state of rebellion against what he understands to be God Himself. It's a tough call.

Late LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wasn't at all helpful in clarifying the proper course of action when he counseled,
We will be judged by what we believe among other things. If we believe false doctrine, we will be condemned. If that belief is on basic and fundamental things, it will lead us astray and we will lose our souls.

...those at the head of the Church have the obligation to teach that which is in harmony with the Standard Works. If they err, then be silent on the point and leave the event in the hands of the Lord. Some day all of us will stand before the judgment bar and be accountable for our teachings. And where there have been disagreements the Lord will judge between us. (Letter from Bruce McConkie to Eugene England, February 19, 1981, 7-9)

No wonder Bored in Vernal is scared.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Disruption by Revelation

by Sharon

John Singer was a Mormon with seven children. He and his wife, Vickie, lived west of Salt Lake City on their 2.5 acre farm in Marion, Utah. Dissatisfied with the public school system in the 1970s, Mr. Singer confronted school officials after seeing a picture in one of his children's textbooks. It was a photo depicting blacks and whites together and, in Mr. Singer's opinion, this was proof that his children were being subjected to "immoral secular influences." (At this point in history the LDS Church held to a doctrine that claimed blacks were cursed by God.) Mr. Singer pulled his children out of school, breaking a state law. This began a chain of events that eventually led to his death.

Due to his defiance of the law, the LDS Church excommunicated Mr. Singer. Not long after, in 1978, Mr. Singer received a revelation directing him to enter into plural marriage with Shirley Black. Shirley was already legally married and had four children. Nevertheless, she left her legal husband, Dean, and moved with their children onto the Singer farm. Mr. Black went to court. He was awarded a divorce from Shirley and temporary custody of their children; Mr. Singer, however, refused to surrender them. Three months later, in January 1979, Mr. Singer was confronted by Utah law enforcement officers outside his home. Mr. Singer threatened the officers with a gun and was subsequently shot and killed.

A young man in central Utah paid close attention as this story unfolded. Described as an "excommunicated Mormon" and a "budding Fundamentalist," nineteen-year-old Addam Swapp had held John Singer in awe; he believed Mr. Singer and his family had been unjustly treated. Mr. Swapp visited the Singer home in early 1980. Within a few years he had married two of the Singer daughters. Addam Swapp and his wives took up residence at the farm in Marion, Mr. Swapp assuming John Singer's vacated role of family patriarch.

The anger and sense of injustice over John Singer's death continued to grow and fester. Addam Swapp, along with the rest of the Singer/Swapp family, harbored deep-seated hatred which grew to encompass not only the government of Utah, but also the LDS Church.

On January 16, 1988, based on a revelation Addam Swapp believed he had received from God, Mr. Swapp planted a bomb comprised of eighty-seven sticks of dynamite in a nearby LDS Stake Center. As intended, the bomb exploded at 3:00 a.m., harming no one but causing $1.5 million worth of damage to the building. The message was sent and received: a required atonement for John Singer's death was in motion.

Soon there were 100 law enforcement officers--local and federal--surrounding the Singer/Swapp compound. Addam Swapp refused to communicate with the law, but did tell his cousin about the revelation which was now guiding his behavior. Addam Swapp believed he had been told by God to seek an armed confrontation with the lawmen because, at the moment the police would attack, John Singer would be resurrected to come to the aid of his family:
"John Singer’s resurrection would trigger the downfall of corrupt government and religious institutions and clear the way for the second coming of Jesus Christ."

About ten days into the siege Addam Swapp wrote a letter to Utah's governor. It said, in part,
"I stand on the truth and declare my independence from this government and society...We are independent and separate from your wicked society... Take a warning -- any man of yours which attempts to cross the boundaries of this place, without our permission, will be treated as an aggressive act on your part against us and we will defend ourselves in any manner we see fit... I now must warn you and anyone else involved... leave this valley immediately... Those who would come against this my people, will I verily cause to be destroyed."

The standoff continued for another three days, ending on January 28 in a shoot-out that left one officer dead. The Singer/Swapp family finally surrendered, Addam Swapp explaining to authorities that since blood had been shed, John Singer's death had been atoned.

Addam Swapp was convicted of several crimes and has been serving out his prison sentence these past two decades. Last week he had his first parole hearing. Asserting that he was sorry for what happened in 1988 and that something like that would never happen again, Mr. Swapp claimed to be a changed person. He said he has asked for God's forgiveness and now wants to follow the example of Jesus Christ in pursuing peace. He still subscribes to fundamentalist views, but, he said, he is first and foremost a Christian. He also explained that the whole 1988 altercation between himself and the police could have been avoided if the person who killed John Singer would have apologized for it.
"If they would have just said they were sorry, it would have been like throwing cold water on a fire," he said.

Is Mr. Swapp denying he ever received the revelation from God that he believed, at the time, justified his violent actions? He doesn't say, but this must be the case. Else why would he have sought forgiveness from God and now choose to follow the example of Jesus Christ? At the time of the crimes Mr. Swapp believed blood needed to be shed to atone for John Singer's death, but now says all would have been well if someone had just said, "I'm sorry." At the time Mr. Swapp believed God told him the confrontation with law officials would spark John Singer's resurrection and usher in the second coming of Christ which, of course, didn't happen. What does Mr. Swapp think about this? Does he recognize himself to be a false prophet?

Some years ago journalist Christopher Smart wrote for the Salt Lake Tribune,
Utah has its special brand of religious fanaticism that has cropped up again and again. Often it is associated with polygamy, which the LDS Church disavowed in 1890 and for which members are excommunicated...

The belief that anyone can receive revelation is a thread that runs through many of Utah's most bizarre crimes, said historian D. Michael Quinn. "It will probably always be a problem, I would say, in Mormon culture because Mormon culture maintains this faith that God continues to speak both to individuals as well as to the church as a whole."...

"The Mormon community is alive with one essential position of faith, that God continues to reveal new things, new doctrines, new words," said Quinn. "That leads to the possibility of disruption."

John Singer and Addam Swapp are sad examples of the LDS belief in continuing revelation run amok. They are not the first; this sort of thing has plagued the entire history of the Mormon Church.

Interesting to me is that many elements in the lives of these two men have approved parallels in LDS history.

For example, John Singer's plural marriage to an already married woman by reason of revelation echoes the actions of several early LDS leaders, including the Prophet Joseph Smith. Mr. Singer's appropriation of another man's children and unwillingness to give them up recalls similar events that led to LDS Apostle Parley Pratt's death in 1857.

Addam Swapp's plural marriage to a set of sisters also followed the example of Joseph Smith, who married at least three sets of sisters between July 1842 and May 1843. Mr. Swapp's declaration of independence from the government and warning to any who would set foot on the Singer/Swapp property brings to mind the tirades of Brigham Young as the U.S. army marched toward Utah to put down the "Mormon Rebellion" in 1857.

In the LDS Church and Mormon culture these actions by early LDS leaders are considered honorable and righteous, while similar actions by Mr. Singer and Mr. Swapp are condemned.

Ann House, the widow of the officer killed in the Singer/Swapp shoot-out, reflected on Addam Swapp's incurred debt:
As for Swapp's promise to pay restitution to the Houses, Ann said the best thing he can do is to make sure whatever ideas caused his actions should never be passed to his children or grandchildren.

"Certainly he can never go back and undue [sic] all the harm that will last for generations [in our family]," she said. "The best he can do is let his old beliefs go and become a productive member of society."

The bedrock ideas that caused Mr. Swapp's actions are firmly rooted in the history and doctrines of Mormonism. They are passed on from generation to generation, a proud legacy within the LDS Church.

Mr. Swapp initially chose to follow the examples of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, a tragic choice with an infinitely high price tag. If only he had chosen, from the beginning, to follow Jesus Christ.

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way of death.

-Proverbs 14:12-

Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life."

-John 8:12-


Information for this article came from the following sources:

Utah History Encyclopedia

Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy -- A History, 212-214

Christopher Smart, "Religious Zeal a Common Theme in Broken Minds"

Utah Highway Patrol

Jason Bergreen, "Church bomber apologizes for actions"

Ben Winslow, Swapp is sorry for crimes

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Different Worlds

by Sharon

On the newly revamped LDS web site there is a section titled Core Beliefs: Why and How Are Mormons Different? I really appreciate the effort of the LDS Church to acknowledge its doctrinal differences with historic Christianity, though I believe much of the information provided is severely lacking in clarity. I think this is due to an effort on the Church's part to acknowledge but minimize the significance of these differences.

At any rate, the web site says,
Representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often asked whether the Church is becoming more “mainstream” over time.

If the term “mainstream” means that Latter-day Saints are increasingly viewed as a contributing, relevant and significant part of society -- particularly in the United States, where there are now some six million members -- then, of course, the answer is "yes."

...If being described as "mainstream" means the Church loses the very distinctiveness of the beliefs that are at the heart of its message, the answer is different. While respecting the divergent views of other people of faith, Church leaders want to be clear about the beliefs that help define Latter-day Saints.

The following are some of the more important differences in belief and practice between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Christian churches.

One of the eight topics listed is this:
Plan of salvation

Latter-day Saint theology embraces what Mormons refer to as the "plan of salvation." The topic covers the pre-mortal state of all mankind, the reasons why God created the world, the nature and purpose of our life here and what future awaits us in the next life.

Another way to state what the LDS Plan of Salvation encompasses might be this: "Where did I come from, why am I here, and where am I going?"

These are some pretty significant doctrinal issues.
  • The nature of man
  • God's purpose in creation
  • God's requirements for reconciliation with Him
  • The nature of eternal life

Mormonism's disparity from "other Christian churches" on just this short list of core beliefs, not even taking into account the other seven listed topics, must be distressing to those who say members of the LDS Church believe the same things "other Christians" believe. The lion's share of the Christian worldview is represented within this short list. Even if we could find other areas of doctrinal agreement, Mormonism and Christianity are literally worlds apart.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Avoiding Pitfalls

by Sharon

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
-Romans 16:17-18-

Some years ago a non-denominational church invited a popular "Christian" group of musicians to make a guest appearance and lead worship. But there was a problem. Unbeknownst to the church leadership, this particular group of musicians held to a faith that did not affirm the essential Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Rather than being "Christian," they fell into the category of "heretic"; therefore, according to the church's codified principles, these musicians could not occupy the pulpit or platform of the church.

The musicians, when questioned about their beliefs, dealt deceitfully with the church's leadership. They deftly sidestepped direct questions and answered others with carefully crafted sentences that employed liberal use of double entendre.

The church investigated the charges of heresy brought against the musicians over a period of several weeks, examining strong, documented evidence that clearly supported the allegations. Eventually, church leadership reached the conclusion that the charges were false. Ignoring the documented evidence they had seen, they reasoned thus: The musicians were nice folks, they sang of Christ, and they insisted they'd been falsely (and maliciously) accused; nice people who sing of Christ don't lie. Therefore, since these nice musicians were telling the truth -- that they were orthodox in their beliefs -- they were welcomed to lead worship at the church.

I was reminded of this experience today as I viewed a five-minute portion of a sermon by John Piper. Preaching on the Bible passage above, Dr. Piper explained that people who depart from true doctrine do not appear to us as monsters, mean and brash and pushy. Rather, the words Paul used in his description indicates false teachers win followers by appearing to bring a blessing. Their speech is pleasant, plausible and kind -- totally winsome. They are nice, gentlemanly, fair-minded and humble.

In the scenario I wrote about above, it was these sorts of attributes that won the day for the non-Trinitarian musicians. Unwelcome evidence was set aside in favor of enjoyable fellowship. One church leader explained, "I don't think they deny the Trinity. I've had dinner with them, and they are really nice people."

Sometimes what we want to believe has such a strong hold on us that we turn a blind eye to what is truly evident. Someone is nice, so we trust him. Someone is a pleasure to listen to, so we automatically accept what he says. Someone is fun to be with, so along we go; wherever he goes, we follow.

"Watch out for them," writes Paul. "Avoid them." Because they don't serve the Lord Christ; instead, they deceive the hearts of the naive (i.e., those who are undiscerning; those who ignore the evidence). It's a warning to be heeded for, as Jesus taught, "if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit" (Matthew 15:14).

I appeal to you, friends: Watch out.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

LDS Church Reports Growth

by Sharon

The National Council of Churches Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches 2007 edition has just been released, reporting new church membership numbers and growth trends on 224 "national church bodies." An online press release provides a taste of the information contained in the 439-page Yearbook, including membership and growth statistics for 25 of the largest denominations or communions in the United States.

Of these 25 church bodies, only 6 reported growth in membership since the 2006 Yearbook reports; 8 reported losses, and 11 reported no change at all.

The 6 American church bodies that reported an increase in membership are listed here in order of reported growth percentage:

1. The Churches of Christ reported a whopping 9.30% increase in membership, reflecting 139,500 additional members. However, their previous reported figures were in 1999, so this number reflects growth since that time. Unfortunately, this statistic doesn't allow an accurate comparison with the other churches on the list, whose reported increases reflect changes over a one year period.

2. The Catholic Church, the largest church in America, reported an increase of 1.94% -- adding 1,315,699 members.

3. The Assemblies of God reported an increase of 1.86%, growing by 51,692 members.

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported an increase of 1.63%, reflecting an addition of 91,270 members.

5. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church reported .53% growth -- 7, 594 additional members.

6. The Southern Baptist Convention reported the smallest increase: .02% or 3, 253 additional members.

I remember not long ago the LDS Church claimed to be the fastest-growing church in America. More recently this claim has been tempered a bit and is now more often stated in terms of the LDS Church being one of the fastest growing churches in America.

Last month journalist Richard Ostling noted:
It's often said that Mormonism is the fastest-growing major religious denomination. There are nearly 12.6 million members worldwide, of whom about 5.7 million are in the United States. However, a 2005 series by The Salt Lake Tribune indicated that many members on the church's rolls are inactive.

I'm not sure how all of the statistics on active vs. inactive membership settles out in regards to actual LDS Church growth, but at least in this recent NCC report it's evident that the LDS Church is neither the fastest- nor slowest-growing church body in America. It doesn't hold a remarkable place in the field of growing churches; it turns out that LDS Church growth is...well, it's average.


The Fastest Growing Church in the World? by Bill McKeever:
"Does accelerated growth of a group somehow validate that what the group teaches is true? To many Latter-day Saints, the growth (or perceived growth) of their church is evidence that the restored gospel of Mormonism must be true." Read more...


Monday, March 05, 2007

Negative Views of Mormonism

by Sharon

Last Friday the results of a Gallup Poll about Mormonism was released to the public. The survey included the opinions of 1,018 adults solicited nationwide at the end of February via telephone.

The results of the poll show that 46% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the LDS religion while 42% hold a favorable opinion of that faith.

The results of the poll are precise and pretty interesting, providing a detailed look at how different cross-sections of our society view Mormonism. The two "key findings" the Gallup News Service put at the top of the list are these:
  • Americans who are more religious (as measured by frequency of church attendance) and those who are Protestant have highly negative views of the Mormon religion. The differences in views of Mormons among groups defined by their church attendance are significant. There is a net negative view of -21 points among Americans who attend church weekly, contrasted with a net positive view of +10 among those who seldom or never attend church.

  • Protestants are significantly more negative in their views than Catholics, who are the most positive group by religion.

The two most frequently occurring categories of impressions of Mormons among those who have unfavorable opinions would appear to be the long-time association of the religion with polygamy (mentioned by 20% of those with unfavorable opinions) and top-of-mind impressions based on the Mormon religion's beliefs and doctrines. These responses suggest that the negative impression held by many may be a fairly straightforward result of disagreements on doctrine.

Please note that all the Gallup Poll questions asked about the Mormon religion, not about the members of that religion. Keep that in mind when reading the above synopses; the impressions noted by the Gallup News Service were not actually "impressions [or views] of Mormons," but impressions of the religion. The unfavorable opinions were centered in doctrinal issues.

Mormon Church-owned Deseret News reported,
LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter issued a brief statement Friday afternoon in response to the poll.

"Many religions in the world are not well understood, and we believe that the survey reflects the fact that many people know little or nothing about the doctrine, teachings and values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," he said.

I disagree with Mr. Trotter. I think the survey reflects that those who place a high value on spiritual truth claims (doctrine and teachings) -- those who, by virtue of consistent and committed church attendance, are at least somewhat aware of the doctrinal differences between Protestant Christianity and Mormonism -- are the very people who hold unfavorable opinions of the Mormon religion.

Of those polled who expressed an unfavorable opinion of Mormonism, 40% had top-of-mind impressions that fall into the "Beliefs and Doctrine" category, while only 25% of the "favorable" group mentioned doctrine. I don't think a better understanding of the theological beliefs promoted by the LDS Church would improve the Church's public image -- certainly not among Christians, anyway. And this is as it should be.

God calls His church to be a discerning people. When it comes to belief systems, we are to test the prophets (Matthew 7:15-20), try the spirits (1 John 4:1), and discern what is the good and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2).

I'm all for the idea of providing people a better understanding of the doctrines and teachings that comprise Mormonism; not in order to elicit unfavorable opinions of the LDS Church, but rather to help people discern the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity. And this so they might live in obedience to the Word of God, that they might choose to "walk in the light, as He is in the light" (1 John 1:7).


Friday, March 02, 2007

Only in California

by Eric

A Mormon high school freshman who was being peppered with put-down questions about her faith before she told them, "That's so gay," was officially warned by her school's principal for using "hate speech." According to an Associated Press report, the student, Rebekah Rice, used a common teen comeback (which generally means "that's so stupid") when she was being teased with insulting questions, including, "Do you have 10 moms?"

The question is, what punishment will the teasing teens receive for their initiating comments? After all, if we're going to consider Rebekah's comment to be hate speech, why shouldn't they also be reprimanded for making fun of a person's religion?

Some of my LDS friends might be surprised at my support for the LDS teen, but it's no secret that people of religious faith--whether Mormon, Christian, even Muslim--are oftentimes harassed in public settings just for their religious preference and nothing more. I remember going through a California state college being mocked by both faculty and classmates for taking a stand in a class, such as insisting there was a God or that morals were absolute (God forbid!).

I'm not sure why the homosexual lobby gets special preference here. First of all, the article does not indicate if the people at whom Rebekah aimed her comment were homosexual. And if they were, where's the "hate"? And just where will we stop with this idea of "hate speech"? Should we haul in a third grader who calls another kid a "moron"? Do we police everything anyone says? Is there not a First Amendment?

I'm not suggesting that there isn't inappropriate speech, because there certainly is. Yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre (or the like) should not be tolerated. But c'mon, a defensive retort (and a common one, at that) to insulting questions should not be something in which a principal or attorneys need to become involved. As one attorney said, "Reasonable people should say, 'Let's put a stop to this kind of search-and-destroy mission by school officials for everything that is politically incorrect.'" Well said. Free Rebekah!