Friday, 1 August 2008

Mormon Christians? Whats in a Name?

The Mormon Church, disturbed by the continuing identifying of polygamus sects in the news with the name Mormon, recently issued a press statement aimed at "clarifying" issues. It is interesting to note that if you substitute the name "Christian" where they use the name "Mormon" it makes a very good argument for us against the claims of the Mormon Church. The full press release is reproduced below in italics with each paragraph rewritten in ordinary text to present it from a Christian perspective.


SALT LAKE CITY 10 July 2008 On 26 June, Newsroom published a package of information featuring profiles of ordinary Latter-day Saints in Texas. With no other intention but to define themselves, these members provided a tangible depiction of what their faith is all about. They serve as the best distinction between the lifestyles and values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a Texas-based polygamous group that has recently attracted media attention.


Richmond, England, 1 August 2008, As a Christian ministry, Reachout Trust, along with many other similar ministries, regularly seeks to define the Christian faith and provide a tangible depiction of what that faith is all about. The aim is to distinguish between the traditional, biblical faith and values shared by Christians, and groups such as the Mormons that use the name “Christian” to describe themselves.


In an apparent misunderstanding of the aim of this Newsroom package, a coalition of polygamous groups expressed its opposition in a press release to what it described as the Salt Lake City-based Church’s “efforts to deprive us and others of the freedom to name and describe ourselves by terms of our own choosing.” The general term they prefer to be known by is “Mormon fundamentalist.”


Mormons regularly object to these efforts at clarification, protesting that we have no right to define the term “Christian” and accusing us of depriving people of the right to name and describe themselves by terms of their own choosing. The general term they prefer is “Mormon Christian”, calling their church “The Church of Jesus Christ”.


This is perfectly understandable from the standpoint of seeking the religious legitimacy that the word “Mormon” grants. But from the organizational, doctrinal, historical and cultural standpoint of the mainstream Church, that term has long resided, in the public’s mind, within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. Distinctions matter, especially when a term like Mormon has come to mean a very specific thing to the public. Mormon is commonly used to describe a Mormon temple, Mormon missionaries or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. These images have long been ingrained in the public consciousness. But when the term Mormon is stretched out of proportion to apply to any group, however large or small, aspiring to establish a church in the tradition of Joseph Smith, only confusion ensues. Reduced to its lowest common denominator, the word Mormon loses its long-established associations among the public, rendering it unrecognizable.


This is perfectly understandable from the standpoint of seeking the religious legitimacy that the word “Christian” grants. But from the organisational, doctrinal, historical and cultural standpoint of the mainstream Christian Church, that term has long resided, in the public’s mind with the traditional Christian denominations familiar to generations around the globe. Distinctions matter, especially when a term like Christian has come to mean a very specific thing to the public. “Christian” is commonly used to describe a traditional Christian Church, its members who claim an unbroken continuation with saints of all generations, identified by the symbol of the Cross, belief in a completed work of atonement on the Cross, salvation by grace alone, through faith, in Christ alone, which doctrine is found in the Bible as the only work of Scripture. These images have long been ingrained in the public consciousness. But when the term Christian is stretched out of proportion to apply to any group, however large or small, aspiring to establish a church in the tradition of Christ, Paul, and the Early Church Fathers, only confusion ensues. Reduced to its lowest common denominator, the word Christian loses its long-established associations among the public, rendering it unrecognizable.


The coalition’s press release takes issue with a letter sent by the Church to media organizations to clarify the distinctions between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a polygamous sect near San Angelo, Texas, calling itself the “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” This is a matter of promoting accuracy and clarity in media reporting, not defining other people’s religious traditions.

The Church does not seek to diminish the religious prerogative of any of these polygamous groups. Rather, it simply urges the use of terminology that clarifies the true identity of each party involved. Ultimately these groups can define themselves any way they wish as long as they don’t distort the well-established identity of a long-standing church. As part of the necessary give and take required by the media in this world of unprecedented informational access, it behooves all organizations to follow the recognized standards of journalism and operate within the reasonable expectations of media nomenclature. In the case of the word “Mormon,” over 150 years of customary usage must not be summarily dismissed or ignored. Even the Associated Press Stylebook recognises the confusion
created by allowing groups to refer to themselves as Mormons. If any organization expects to be understood properly, their terminology must reflect it.


This is a matter of promoting accuracy and clarity in reporting, not defining other people’s religious traditions. We do not seek to diminish the religious prerogative of anyone. Rather, we simply urge the use of terminology that clarifies the true identity of each party involved. Ultimately, groups can define themselves any way they wish as long as they don’t distort the well-established identity of 2,000-year-old Christianity. As part of the necessary give and take required in this world of unprecedented information access, it behooves all organisations to follow recognised standards of reporting and operate within the reasonable expectations of society’s nomenclature. If any organisation expects to be understood properly, their terminology must reflect it.


Perhaps what is needed most of all in this matter is a sense of proportion and perspective. Consider the following facts. According to the KSL news station, the group that now calls itself the FLDS began as simply “The Work” or “The Priesthood Work” in 1930. In 1942 it changed to “The United Effort Plan.” It wasn’t until 1991 that this group adopted the name “The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” a name almost identical to the official designation of what is commonly called the “Mormon” faith, and a full 161 years after the mainstream Church was founded. Any reporting of the worldwide Church and this smaller group must take this factor of time into account. To any average observer, it doesn’t seem fair or reasonable for a comparatively small religious group to adopt the full name of another well-established church after more than a century and a half.


Perhaps what is needed most of all in this matter is a sense of proportion and perspective. Consider the following facts. The Mormon Church was known variously as “The Church of Christ” (1830), “The Church of Latter-day Saints” (1834) and “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (1838). Only in the late twentieth century has the leadership insisted that it should be “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”, condensed to “The Church of Jesus Christ” or “The Church of Christ”, some 2,000 years after mainstream Christianity was founded and since its adherents were called Christians (Acts 11:26). The Book of Mormon was only dubbed “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” since 1980; again Millennia after the two definitive testaments (covenants) of the Bible had been defined and established. Any reporting of the worldwide Church and this smaller group must take this factor of time into account. To any average observer, it doesn’t seem fair or reasonable for a comparatively small religious group to adopt the full name of an already well-established church after some two thousand years.


Some members of polygamous groups have suggested that because they may use the Book of Mormon or revere Joseph Smith as a prophet, it entitles them to be included in a broader definition of “Mormons.” Many religions share cultural, historical and theological origins. For example, Christianity, Islam and Judaism all share the heritage of Abraham. Furthermore, all Christian denominations have some historical and theological connection to Catholicism. Nevertheless, this does not authorize them to use the word “Catholic” in their official name. Lutherans and Methodists do not call themselves “Catholic fundamentalists.” Nor did the early Christians call themselves “reformed Jews.”


Some Mormons have suggested that because they may use the Bible or revere Christ as Saviour, it entitles them to be included in a broader definition of “Christian”. Many religions share cultural, historical and theological origins. For example, Christianity, Islam and Judaism all share the heritage of Abraham. Furthermore, all Christian denominations have some historical and theological connection to Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, this does not authorise them to use the words “Roman Catholic” in their official name. Lutherans and Methodists do not call themselves “Restored Roman Catholics”. Nor did the early Christians call themselves “Restored Jews”.


Likewise, it just doesn’t seem right that the FLDS can overturn more than a century and a half of common usage simply by virtue of the fact that it established itself a century and a half after the Mormon faith was born, and adopted many of its early principles. By declaring that any group professing Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon can rightly be called Mormon is akin to declaring that any Christian group that professes the Bible can rightly call itself Catholic.


Likewise, it just doesn’t seem right that the Mormon Church can overturn two Millennia of common usage simply by virtue of the fact that it established itself some 1900 years after the Christian Church was born, and adopted some of its early principles, though only in name. By declaring that any group professing Jesus Christ and the Bible can rightly call itself Christian is akin to declaring that any Christian group that professes the Bible can rightly call itself “Roman Catholic”.


As an illustration of the lack of proportion in this situation, in a 9 July article by the AP, one scholar who objected to the Church’s efforts to define itself said that Joseph Smith, were he alive today, would be excommunicated by the Church because he practiced polygamy. Hypothetical conjectures of this sort never work in serious discussions.

Such conjectures might sound clever rhetorically, but they fail logically. According to this logic, for example, the great Old Testament patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be shut out of today’s Christian churches because of their ancient practice of polygamy. One of Joseph Smith’s main contributions to the religious world is the concept of continuing revelation. Churches are not immune to change; even they are subject to the vagaries of time and mortality. All churches adapt by responding to the challenges of any particular time. Any cursory glance at history clearly shows that religions, not excepting Christianity, unfold as developing works in progress until God himself brings everything to completion. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such change is anticipated precisely by the concept of continuing revelation and the existence of councils of modern apostles and prophets.



As an illustration of the lack of proportion in this situation Mormons commonly claim that what Mormons see as a departure by the early Christian Church from fundamental tenets of the faith has rendered Christianity as it is familiarly understood apostate. Hypothetical conjectures of this sort never work in serious discussion.

Such conjectures and claims might sound clever rhetorically, but they fail logically. According to this logic, for example, the leadership of today’s Mormon Church might be considered apostate for having abandoned so many of the founding principles of Mormonism as taught by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, et al and faithfully believed and practiced by early Mormons. These would include the practice of polygamy, the Adam/God doctrine, the bar on Negroes having the priesthood, temple blood oaths, blood atonement, etc. The Bible teaches and Christians believe in an unfolding revelation of God’s purposes from the Old Covenant to the New and on through these last days until the final culmination of all things in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Any cursory glance at history clearly shows that the faith develops and grows to meet the challenges of any particular time and there will always be a disparity between man’s imperfect obedience and God’s perfect intentions “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13). However, these things are underpinned by a sense of general continuity and agreement in the beliefs and practices of the saints of God of all generations on the fundamentals of the faith. The Mormon Church eschews all these treasured Christian principles together and thereby forfeits any claim to the name Christian no matter how many councils of prophets, books of “scripture” or letters of protest they may present to the world.


The Church does not attack or belittle other faiths. But it will continue to better inform the public and media about its true identity and encourage its members to speak for themselves.


“All their (the Christian churches) creeds were an abomination in [God’s] sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof’”
Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founding prophet

“If the Catholic religion is a false, religion how can any true religion come out of it? If the Catholic Church is bad how can any good thing come out of it? The character of the old churches have always been slandered by all apostates since the world began" Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founding prophet

“We talk about Christianity but it is a perfect pack of nonsense...Myself and hundreds of the Elders around me have seen its pomp, parade and glory; and what is it? It is a sounding brass and a tinkling symbol; it is as corrupt as hell; and the devil could not invent a better engine to spread his work than the Christianity of the nineteenth century” John Taylor, Mormon prophet


The Mormon Church is founded on the basis that all Christendom is corrupt and apostate, which belief is expressed in the most inflammatory language imaginable and of which these are but a few examples. If the Mormons want to be Christians they must first embrace “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude v 3)

71 comments:

Seth R. said...

You know what about 80% of America thinks of when they hear the word "Christian?"

They think "people who believe in Jesus and consider him a deity to some extent."

Period.

Mormons qualify.

Now, you ministry folks may have some fancy schmancy definition of your own that excludes Mormons, and that's fine.

But I'd thank you to keep your obscure interpretations to yourself when talking about Mormons before the general public. Because all the general public hears when you say "Mormons aren't Christian" is "they don't believe in Jesus."

But perhaps you know this and are being deliberately deceptive in hopes of scaring away the unwashed masses with threats that the Mormons will make you renounce Jesus, and then conveniently hiding behind some obscure scholarly definition that almost nobody uses.

Perhaps this is just part of the "lying for Jesus movement?"

If not, I suggest you not use definitions of "Christian" that are going to cause misunderstandings among the general public.

At your nearest divinity school, no - Mormons are not "Christians."

But just about everywhere else in main street America, yes - Mormons are Christians and language suggesting otherwise is probably being deliberately misleading in some denominational turf war.

At least, that's the conclusion I'm increasingly drawing.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

Thank you form sharing your thoughts and so frankly. Perhaps you will allow me to be as farnk in my response?

I always have to smile when I read comments such as, "You know what about 80% of America thinks of when they hear the word 'Christian?'" You Americans are so - parochial it is quite charming. On the subject of majority Americans, I understand that 80% of Americans don't hol a passport. They do say that God created war to teach Americans geography. I can see why they say it. In any event, this is not an American ministry.

My definition of "Christian" did not come from an obscure local theological college but from a thorough reading of the Bible. If you think that my definition of "Christian" is obscure I can only assume that you live a life even more obscure than the average American.

I have to say that, if you were living next door to me and called me a liar I would come around and we could sort it out man to man; That is provided you have reached your majority. It really is a cowardly thing to call a man a liar when you know you will not have to face him on the street.

To get to specifics, Mormons do believe that Jesus is "a deity to some degree", indeed that God was once a man and men may become gods - "to some degree". Christians believe that God has always been God, will always be God and no one will be god after him - according to the Bible. This alone should give someone pause for thought when considering where Mormons fit in the scheme of things don't you think?

Your post is being published, despite its rude nature, out of simple charity. You don't deserve it but then that is the nature of charity, i.e. getting something you don't deserve from a charitable other, such as salvation. Perhaps I expect too much of people I am sure but you are not a Christian so my disappointment is asuaged by that knowledge.

Seth R. said...

Alright Mike,

I'll concede I'm being too heated. I did offer you the option of being sincere or not, so it wasn't technically an accusation. But the mere fact that I threw out the "lying for Jesus" crack clearly indicates what my implication was. Might as well have been an accusation I guess.

I have encountered Christians online whom I actually do think were being deliberately misleading in an attempt to score points in a "denominational turf war." I automatically tarred you with the same brush. It may turn out to be true, but that's irrelevant. I admit I did not have any business opening with that line in my first comment on a blog I have previously known nothing about. It was impolite.


By "obscure," I mean a definition few people use. Just because something is widely accepted on the divinity circuit (and even throughout Christian academic tradition) does not mean it gets much play outside those circles. My experience is that the common definition of "Christian" equates the word with a belief in Jesus. If you accuse someone of not being Christian, most people take it to mean the person doesn't believe in Jesus.

My only request is to be aware of your audience, and what they are hearing when you make an assertion. I rarely try to argue the point that Mormons are "Christian" when the audience is purely academic. But I will argue it outside of academia.

You wrote:

"To get to specifics, Mormons do believe that Jesus is "a deity to some degree", indeed that God was once a man and men may become gods - "to some degree."

Yes, as do traditional Christians. You've all been wrestling with the Jesus being a mortal man business for centuries. Any Muslim scholar would call your view of Christ's divinity a matter of "degree." And that's really what the debate between Mormons and the rest of traditional Christianity is - a matter of degrees.

"Christians believe that God has always been God, will always be God and no one will be god after him - according to the Bible."

This is not entirely incompatible with Mormon doctrine. Simply take the traditional Christian concept of perichoresis, and extend it beyond the Father, Son and Spirit to all who achieve exaltation, and viola! You've got "one God" - it just now includes His exalted children, that's all.

Your own religious tradition has already worked out how there can be three gods and yet one. Why is it so hard to accept that Mormons might just as easily use your same tools to arrive at a universe full of gods, and yet one God?

(Note: that's my own opinion, but I do not find it at odds with Mormon scripture - or with the Bible)

As for thinking you were an American ministry... apologies. My bad. But I rarely find that this controversy gets much play or interest outside the United States. The Mormon question is still, in many ways, an American question simply due to the fact that most other people don't seem to care all that much. That's unfortunate, but it seems to be how it is. When a Christian blog is criticizing Mormons, I've found 9 times out of 10, it's an American Evangelical blog. That's my perception, perhaps I'm wrong.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

Thank you for coming back and conceding that perhaps you might have taken a different approach. In many years of experience I have learned that, no matter how wacky and ignorant was the last Mormon I spoke to, I must address the next Mormon with respect because he or she may be one of the many thoughtful and intelligent Mormons I also get to meet. The same holds true when Mormons meet Evangelicals it seems to me.

Not to get too far away from the original theme of the article allow me to make a key point here. You have argued that the majority of people would consider as "Christian" anyone who believes in Jesus and considers him a deity. On this basis, you argue, Mormons are Christians. The problem with your argument is that it contradicts the official position of your own church discussed in the blog.

In the spirit of the article, if we turn the theme about we would have to argue that most people would consider as "Mormon" anyone who believes in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. By that standard the Mormon Church has no right to complain that polygamists call themselves Mormons!

Of course, the press release under discussion was intended to show that there is more to Mormonism than believing in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith and the distinction between Salt Lake Mormons and others who call themselves Mormons is important. The point of my blog entry was to show that Mormonism can legitimately be challenged on the same basis.

Not only does your argument contradict your church's position but it contradicts the Bible. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Mt.7:1) So, believing in Jesus as a deity to some degree doesn't seem to cut it.

It concerns me whenever someone tries to establish the verity of doctrine based on the views of the majority of people. 80% of Americans may well consider Mormons Christians on the basis you suggest(though I doubt it is more then 40%) but it is not what 80% of Americans think that matters but what Scripture says. Unfortunately, in my experience, Mormons are notoriously bad at sitting under the authority of Scripture.

Which brings me to another very important point. I don't think you know how very aberrant your view of orthodoxy is. You refer to a well-established and thoroughly uncontroversial definition of "Christian" as "obscure". You use references to some "local divinity school" as though my views are the product of some obscure sect tucked away in some backwoods; the irony is delicious of course. Now I don't take this personally; I have been called worse. I am puzzled, however, by your characterisation of an almost universal orthodoxy as "obscure". But it is Mormonism that is controversial not established orthodoxy.

You have, finally, not addressed the whole point of the blog entry, i.e. turned on its head the Mormon assertion and reasoning in the original press release can legitimately make the same case against Mormonism. The Salt Lake Mormons protest that "Fundamentalist Mormons" cannot lay claim to the name Mormon simply on the basis that they revere Joseph Smith as prophet and the Book of Mormon as Scripture and I insist that Mormons cannot lay claim to being Christian just because they believe in Jesus and the Bible (although with important qualifications).

The Salt Lake Mormons, however, use the very same arguments to legitimise their claim to being Christians as do the fundamentalist Mormons in making their claim to being Mormons, i.e. the claim YOU make that Christians are those who believe in the Bible and Jesus. There is a double standard in operation here don't you think?

Now we can discuss doctrine but I don't see how we can make any progress in doing so until we first get our bearings on basic principles of reasoning. Mormons based around the Salt Lake hierarchy cannot object that polygamous Mormons are not true Mormons on grounds agreed only in Salt Lake and at the same time object that they mustn't be excluded from the Chrisatian fold on the basis of long-established and almost globally accepted orthodoxy that is, by the very nature of Mormonism, not acceptable to Mormons. You have excluded yourselves by rejecting the basis on which the rest of us make these judgements. There was a time when Mormons rejoiced in this fact. What has changed?

Seth R. said...

To address the central point of whether polygamous Mormons can be rightly called Mormons...

My own personal view is that they can. I am, in fact, willing to extend the "Mormon" label to anyone who accepts the initial founding events and assertions of the movement. That includes the polygamous offshoots.

But then, I'm not representative of the LDS Church, or even "most Mormons." Certainly, the authorities in Salt Lake don't agree with me. But I've never agreed with the position of denying all ties with the polygamists. They may be wrong, they may be apostate, they may have culturally morphed into something utterly foreign to modern LDS (and, I would argue, 1800s LDS), but they are still, in a very real sense, family.

Like the obnoxious uncle who shows up drunk at family reunions. We may be disgusted by him and wish he would leave, but he's still one of us.

You could actually find a sense of this in LDS blogging circles during the recent Texas raids. Most LDS bloggers I knew of, while repulsed by the FLDS practices and culture, were mostly taking their side legally and condemning the actions of the Texas authorities.

So that sense of family is apparently still alive in at least some corners of Mormon-dom.

For myself, I think that our Church has a ways to go in trying to sort out its own identity. We're still a young church (less than 200 years), and we've had a rough go of it. I imagine we'll figure it out eventually, but in the meantime, I'd ask for a bit of patience.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

You are quite liberal in your views I see. The blog entry is addressing, however, the official position of the Mormon Church and not your personal views, much as they are appreciated. I would be interested to know, if you don't speak for the Mormon Church, as you state, does the Mormon Church speak for you?

Seth R. said...

"if you don't speak for the Mormon Church, as you state, does the Mormon Church speak for you?"

Not always, but usually.

By the by... I'm seem to recall seeing a "Mike Tea" somewhere in my blog travels before. Have I run into you before.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

The Mormon Church certainly doesn't seem to speak for you on this issue and I find that interesting since it is so fundamental. There certainly seems to be a greater liberalism at least being expressed among Mormons than when I was a member.

I get about a bit on the internet and maybe you have come across me somewhere. I also have my own blog that covers a wider range of interests.

Seth R. said...

I'm an internet Mormon (whatever that term means). We tend to be a bit different than those you'll usually meet in Sunday School. Most members haven't had to wrestle with most of the controversies that are thrown around on the internet about Mormonism.

If you spend any significant amount of time debating Mormonism online, you don't have that luxury.

That must sound rather snotty of me...

Oh well, it probably is.

As to whether the issue is "fundamental"... that depends on what you mean by that word. And fundamental for what?

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Snotty? I don't think so. I know what you mean but I tend to think of my forays into the world of the web as being about Jesus Christ and not about Mormons. I appreciate robust discussion so long as we get somewhere but it is always about Jesus - even when I talk about Mormons. That is a fundamental for me.

My definition of "fundamental" is something that is foundational to the faith, nonnegotiable and unchangable. For me that would include the identity of Jesus as God, the Cross as the place and means of atonement, the access to that atonement being by grace, through faith in Christ.

I suppose for everyone of faith the question of who is and who isn't "in" would be fundamental. This would be different for different people who call themselves Christians. Universalists would just about include everyone while Evangelicals would view certain "fundamentals" as essential in making meaningful any claim to being Christian.

Traditionally, the Mormon Church has always claimed to be "the only true church" and certain fundamentals work to identify that status. What are your fundamentals?

Seth R. said...

Well, I don't really think that salvation ultimately has much to do with identity labeling.

So just because someone is a "Mormon" doesn't really signify much of any opinion at all on my part about their salvation. Likewise, the word "Christian" is similarly of little value to me in determining a person's afterlife destination.

I'm getting this increasing feeling that many of the traditional Christian's I dialogue with online equate the label "Christian" with "salvation." Namely, if you qualify as "Christian," that's an automatic gate pass into heaven.

This is an alien concept to me. Maybe that is the cause of some confusion between me and other Christians. For me, "Mormon" is almost an ethnic sort of designation. You have good Mormons, bad Mormons, lapsed Mormons, apostate Mormons, gay Mormons, etc. But just getting the Mormon label doesn't mean you're all set for the eternities or anything. It's like being Jewish, I guess.

This is why I view a Catholic family who only goes to Church once a year as "Christian." I also view some emergent church pastor who only thinks Jesus was "a nice guy" but not "a God" as likewise "Christian." For me, it has more to do with self-identification than it does with eternal destination.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Very reactionary Josh. Of course, you are right that wearing a label doesn't identify a true follower. But that is what the original press release and my response is all about, i.e. among those who choose to wear the label, how do we identify those entitled to wear it and those who aren't?

The difficulty I have is that Mormons want to have it all ways. On the one hand I hear Mormons, official and unofficial, bleating about how Evangelicals define "Christian" and exclude Mormons but then the Mormon Church has defined "Mormon" according to the lights of the Salt Lake sect and excluded everyone else who calls themselves Mormon.

One of the advantages of denominationalism, that bane of every true Mormon, is that it includes so many who call themselves Christian according to agreed fundamentals while not compromising on those fundamentals.

The bottom line is that, just as adherents of the Salt Lake sect insist that certain fundamentals must be adhered to in order to qualify as a Mormon, so Evangelical Christians have every right to insist that certain Bible-based fundamentals must be adhered to in order to qualify as Christian. Mormons, according to what Christians have believed for some 2,000 years, do not qualify. This may be disappointing but it is hardly controversial.

The subject of what those fundamentals are is another subject but please don't subscribe to that old Mormon saw about Christians having a ticket to heaven and, therefore, live as they please. "You mean you can go out and kill someone tomorrow and still go to heaven!!" This is an utter nonsense and it is a pity that the Mormon Church so shamelessly teaches it.

Seth R. said...

Actually that ticket to heaven remark was not really directed at the whole grace vs. works controversy and Mormon stereotypes of other faiths. It was simply an attempt to clarify how we are using the definitions here.

Most Mormons, I think, define "Christian" as someone who believes in Jesus and the Atonement - period. Thus the confusion when people try to exclude us based on what Mormons see as peripheral issues to the centrality of Christ and the Atonement.

That said, would it surprise you if I said that personally I agree that Mormons have a bit of a double standard here - as outlined in the original post? Because I actually think we do. I really don't think it's fair for us to exclude offshoot "Josephite" traditions (and there are actually quite a lot of them) from the title "Mormon" while at the same time asking for inclusion in the "Christian" brand.

I just don't like people getting the idea that we Mormons don't believe in Jesus, that's all. Really, if you read the Book of Mormon, the book is so laced with language about Christ, his Atonement, salvation by grace, Christ's oneness with the Father, etc. We don't softpedal these scriptures at all. Thus the confusion over why anyone would suggest we don't believe in a truly divine and atoning Jesus.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

seem to have dropped the ball here but we have been keeping up elsewhere I think. I do understand your concern that Mormons should be portrayed as "believing in" Christ. The challenge is that Mormons insist "Christendom" is apostae and has the wrong Christ. That being so, it hardly seems reasonable that Mormons should insist that "Christendom" recognise that Mormons believe in the right Christ. Momrons believe in someone they call Christ but it is, according to Mormons, not the Christ I believe in. Ipso facto, Mormons don't believe in Christ.

Seth R. said...

Honestly Mike, that stance really doesn't bother me a whole lot. I'm just concerned that people understand the reality here. If you want to say we worship a "different Jesus," that's fine. That's probably accurate.

But I don't want people getting the idea that we do not worship Jesus at all, or believe in a redeeming Atonement.

And keep in mind, to a Mormon, being "apostate" or heretical or wrong has nothing to do with your status as "Christian." For a Mormon, being "Christian" ultimately has little to do with orthodoxy. We still recognize Catholics as "Christian" and just about everyone else in that group.

True, the "Jesus Seminar" people are pushing it, but we try not to wade into that sort of thing too much. If you claim to be Christian, you'll find most Mormons, and Mormon leadership perfectly willing to take that declaration at face value.

The word doesn't mean the same thing to us that it means to you.

That said, I really don't mind the statement that we believe in a different Jesus.

Mormons approach religion and theology very differently than orthodox Christians do. That statement probably deserves more explanation, but gotta go at the moment.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

YOU: Honestly Mike, that stance really doesn't bother me a whole lot. I'm just concerned that people understand the reality here. If you want to say we worship a "different Jesus," that's fine. That's probably accurate.

But I don't want people getting the idea that we do not worship Jesus at all, or believe in a redeeming Atonement.

ME: But if you worship a different Jesus you do not, de facto, worship Jesus. You may worship someone you call Jesus but if it is a different Jesus then you don't believe in Jesus. Paul, in his letters, warned Christians against believing another gospel, another Jesus or another spirit(Gal.1:8-9; 2 Cor.11:4).

YOU: And keep in mind, to a Mormon, being "apostate" or heretical or wrong has nothing to do with your status as "Christian." For a Mormon, being "Christian" ultimately has little to do with orthodoxy. We still recognize Catholics as "Christian" and just about everyone else in that group.

ME: But Paul would insist that a Christian is someone who has the right Jesus, Gospel and spirit. If this sin't a test of orthodoxy I don't know what is. I find bizzare the notion that if you call yourself "Christian" then you are a Christian. Jesus said:

"Many shall come in my name saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many" (Mt.24:5)

"Many will say to me in that day Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful things?

And then I will profess unto them, never knew you?" (Mt.7:22-23)

Now, the world may commend your apparent liberalism in accepting anyone and everyone that calls themselves "Christian" but are you sure you are not accepting those whom Jesus does not? Given Paul's warnings and Jesus' emphatic assertion that simply using his name means nothing you seem to be walking on dangerous ground.

YOU: True, the "Jesus Seminar" people are pushing it, but we try not to wade into that sort of thing too much. If you claim to be Christian, you'll find most Mormons, and Mormon leadership perfectly willing to take that declaration at face value.

ME: As though to prove my point you raise a question (quite correctly) about the orthodoxy of the Jesus Seminar. There is clearly a sense of orthodoxy in your thinking somewhere now you need to clarify that; otherwise you will find it difficult to define your own faith. The trouble with liberalism is that everything means something to a liberal and so nothing means anything in particular. As someone once observed, "Stand for something or fall for anything; live for something or die for nothing".

YOU: The word doesn't mean the same thing to us that it means to you.

That said, I really don't mind the statement that we believe in a different Jesus.

Mormons approach religion and theology very differently than orthodox Christians do. That statement probably deserves more explanation, but gotta go at the moment.

ME: Yes, your statement does deserve more explanation and I look forward to your unpacking it a little. But, at the end of the day, it is not a question of what Mormons think or your personal opinion but of what God has said in his word; and that is very clear.

You seem to prove my point for me in vacilating where the Bible is clear, accepting those whom Jesus rejects and against whom Paul warned us, and admitting that you, according to the lights of Evangelical Christianity, are among those we are warned about since you believe differently and, ultimately, incorrectly. Given all this I fail to see how you can object when I insist you believe differently and therefore are not a Christian.

A Christian believes as a Christian believes and a non-Christian does not. If you find Christianity so ambiguous as to make you incapable of making that distinction then I suggest the problem lies with your education and understanding and not with any old-fashioned sense of orthodoxy.

Seth R. said...

You still seem to be having a hard time getting outside your own definitions or assumptions.

For me, the word "Christian" has nothing to do with whether you are correct. The word is not synonymous with "having the correct Jesus" or "getting into heaven." "Christian" is just a fun label that the Romans made up for those who follow Christ. The word is not really used at all in the New Testament. True, over the centuries YOU GUYS have morphed the word to mean orthodoxy and "saved" status. But that is just your definition. I see no particular reason why I need to be bound by your definition.

So, as far as I'm concerned, you can be "Christian." But that has nothing to do with whether you are orthodox, or whether you are worshiping the correct notion of Jesus, or whether you are going to heaven.

My view only looks liberal to you. It looks that way, because you have assumed that my acceptance of you as "Christian" means an acceptance or tolerance of your beliefs as a theological matter (a very Protestant assumption - that). The reality is different. In the end, being a "Christian" has no more to do with whether you are doing Gods will than being a "Israelite" had to do with it during the days of Elijah.

Just because you get the label has nothing to do with whether or not your beliefs are wrong. I'm not as liberal as you think.

Seth R. said...

So, when you quote:

"Many will say to me in that day Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful things?
And then I will profess unto them, never knew you?" (Mt.7:22-23)

What you fail to realize is that there are bona fide "Christians" included in that statement. Of course you point the finger at me, and I point the finger at you, and we both point the finger at the Roman Catholics maybe. But that's not a very useful avenue. These sorts of scriptures don't really help much in the inter-faith debate arena, because ultimately, everyone claims to be on the correct side. Your Gal 1:8 reference is a similarly unhelpful verse because we all, of course, claim to be preaching the correct Gospel, compatible with the New Testament.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

It isn’t me having trouble getting outside my own definitions – it is you. The Mormon Church has, for years, tried to redefine just about everything about what it is to be a Christian. I am not about to roll over and allow that to happen here and I will tell you what I would tell any Mormon; read your Bible and stop trying to make things that are already clearly and irrefutably defined mean something else.

Mormonism is a particularly young pretender to the title “Christian Church”, or, “Only True Church” and it helps the Mormon cause not one jot when Mormons insist on redefining what has been clear for Millennia.

My definitions are no preconceptions but well established and uncontroversial and if you are struggling to escape them it is because they are so well established as to be inescapable.

YOU: For me, the word "Christian" has nothing to do with whether you are correct. The word is not synonymous with "having the correct Jesus" or "getting into heaven." "Christian" is just a fun label that the Romans made up for those who follow Christ. The word is not really used at all in the New Testament. True, over the centuries YOU GUYS have morphed the word to mean orthodoxy and "saved" status. But that is just your definition. I see no particular reason why I need to be bound by your definition.

ME: Don’t be too upset when I say this but I would be embarrassed to be this ignorant of what I regard as my own faith. The word “Christian” is not a fun label made up by Romans, nor is it inconsequential as we attempt to define what a Christian is and what a Christian isn’t and if you knew the Bible and church history you would know this.

We are told in Acts 11:26 that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch”. In Acts 26:28 we read of King Agrippa saying to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Finally, and perhaps most significantly, we have Peter, in his first epistle, encouraging saints to be proud of being called Christians, “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16).

The New Bible Dictionary informs us that, “The name or title “Christian” seems Latin in origin and plural nouns ending in – ‘iani’ may denote soldiers belonging to a particular general, (e.g. Galbiani, Galbi’s men) hence partisans of an individual. Christian(i), therefore, may have originally been thought of as ‘soldiers of Christus’ or ‘the household of Christus’. ‘Christian’ was well established in the 60’s (about the ggripa spoke to Paul).

Far from being a nickname, or Roman joke, or something that Evangelicals have “morphed” to mean something never intended, nothing could be further from the truth. Christians did not die for a label but for a faith that was denoted by that label.

You are right in insisting that there is more to being a Christian than a label but don’t make the mistake of thinking that labels do not signify for they signify a great deal and if you cannot square your life and beliefs with what the label signifies then you don’t deserve to wear the label.

The Bible gives the title “Christian” a much nobler and more worthy etymology than your words allow and it carries the highest authority, an apostolic authority that needs to be recognised and addressed.

If “Christian” signifies one who is a “soldier of Christ” or “of the household of Christ” then the beliefs and conduct of that person must be tested against what it means to be of Christ’s household, to be a Christian.

Christian orthodoxy is defined in God’s Word in the Bible and so, when someone claims to be a “Christian”, “of the household of Christ” it is not enough to simply accept the man because of the label but he must be tested according to what a Christian is according to God’s Word.

To take your reasoning to its logical conclusion, you would have to agree with me that I am a Mormon because I say that I am. I don’t believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet, nor do I accept the Book of Mormon as Scripture – but I am a Mormon. I think Mormon temples are an abomination and Mormon prophets are false prophets – but I am a Mormon.

This is ridiculous but only so if you insist that the label “Mormon” can be worn only by those who subscribe to a clearly defined Mormonism. But if you are allowed to make “Christian” mean anything that suits you then so can I make “Mormon” serve my own ends.

YOU: Just because you get the label has nothing to do with whether or not your beliefs are wrong.

Me: You don’t get the label unless your beliefs are right and you fit the criteria, otherwise I am a Mormon. You complain that Evangelicals define “Christian” to suit ourselves but it is you who does exactly that in insisting that “Christian” means whatever you accept. What is the point of having the label if it has no meaning?

Seth R. said...

So noted on the New Testament verses. My mistake.

There is a matter of degrees here of course. You can't just call anything a "Christian" and expect the label to retain any sort of usefulness. I cannot label a pocket watch a "Christian" and expect anything other than absurd results. Your "Mormon" example is another good one for were this descends into absurdity. I am willing to allow that the FLDS on the Texas compound are "Mormon" for the simple reason that they come from that tradition and believe in our common founder - Joseph Smith. I would not extend the same label to those who reject both the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith (but accept either ONE of those things would probably be enough for me to seriously consider it).

Honestly, I don't have as much of a dog in this fight as many Mormons do. I'm am already ambiguous about whether it is really useful for Mormons to be demanding this history-laden label. I already acknowledge that Mormonism is something quite different. Nor am I comfortable with the "minimize the differences" movement that is currently in vogue among the general LDS Church.

At the same time however, I'm not thrilled with conceding the field on your terms. I don't think the differences between our faiths are quite so great as orthodox Christian apologists make them out to be. Sure, they are there, and they are not trivial differences. But I think they are still, nonetheless, overblown by countercultists.

For example, whatever apologists may like to claim. The Mormon view of the Trinity, for instance, is not as far off from traditional Christianity as you'd think. Neither are our ideas of the humanity of deity, or the divinity of humanity. Even the idea of humans becoming gods finds its root in the Eastern Orthodox idea of theosis.

And just about all of our interpretations find support in the Bible. Note that I said "support" not "proof." The Bible does not prove Mormon claims. But neither does it refute them. And it does provide support for them.

I know you are not willing to concede this. We could go the rounds over it - and a tiring and long-winded exercise it would be.

But in the end, it would be an argument from silence - because the Bible is ultimately silent on our differences. And most of them are mere differences of degree. The only one that is not, is creation ex nihilo - a notion that is neither refuted nor proven by the Bible.

So let's wind up. All of the differences between Traditional Christians and Mormons are differences over points where the Bible is either silent or ambiguous. Just about all of the core concepts of Mormonism find their genesis in notions that are native to traditional Christianity. There isn't anything in Mormonism that is utterly novel.

So, does that give us a claim to being "Christian." Most of my fellow believing LDS would say yes. For me the jury is still out - since I understand just how fundamental some of our differences are.

But one thing I am not willing to do is let my opponents claim "it's an orthodox world" and then proceed to exclude people solely on those grounds.

Seth R. said...

The label most certainly would still have meaning if you included Mormonism in it. Just a broader meaning than you'd like. We're not Muslims. We definitely are much closer to traditional Christianity than Islam is, for instance.

That said, I thought you might find this LDS response to the subject of your original post interesting:

http://mormontimes.com/ME_index.php?id=1912

Interesting argument. Not sure I fully buy it. Certainly making a trademark is a rather unexpected avenue to take on this question.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

I don't know where to start, this is so bizzare. Firt of all the copyright thing is audacious. On the one hand Mormons are insisting that Christians have no right to exclude Mormons and/ or control how "Christian" is defined, while on the other hand they insist that, because of coyright issues, they have every right to control totally who gets to be called Mormon and how it is defined.

Then they insist that, while Christians have no right to be concerned about confusion ensuing from Mormons calling themselves Christians, Mormons have every right to make every effort to avoid confusion when the FLDS call themselves Mormon.

To illustrate the justice of their cause they then make a most disingenuous statement that, "The term (Christian) embraces all Catholic, Protestant, Reformist and, yes, even restorationist sects like the LDS Church. That there are other restorationist sects that claim Joseph Smith Jr. is not in doubt; but if they are not members of the LDS Church, then they are not officially "Mormon," but they are Christian."

But this is simply begging the question! Once again, while insisting that Christians have no right to define "Christian" they insist that they do and define it to include Mormons. This may suit them but, as they well know, it doesn't suit those of us who are Christians. There is a double standard operating right through this.

They cite different branches of the Christian faith, such as Catholic and Protestant, and sub-branches such as Methodist or Baptist and conveniently insert the name Mormon in there. But, anyone taking the trouble to ask what exactly do these branches of Christianity believe from the Bible regarding the key issues of the nature of God, the person of Jesus, the nature of man, the problem of sin, the work of the Cross, man's destiny etc. they would find a surprising degree of accord between these branches.

But they would find irreconcilable differences between "Christianity" and Mormonism, whose teachings on all the key issues mark a substantial and inexcusable departure from what Christinaty teaches and has taught for some two millennia.

You see the problem Seth. It is not good enough to insist that "Christian" is a title just about anyone can lay claim to no matter what the mainstream churches have to say and insist that "Mormon" is the exclusive preserve of a small sect led by a group of controlling old men in Salt Lake City.

Mormons need to get it into their heads that "its not about you, its about Jesus and truth". We don't do what we do because we are fascinated by Mormonism but because we are offended when error is preached as truth and the name we revere is reduced to the surname of a minor deity in a vast pantheon of gods led by an exalted man.

Mormons thump on about being "offended" and how important it is to respect others' religions. Yet they have no idea how deeply offensive is their faith to Christians; what an affront it is to Christians to hear our beliefs described as "abominable"and ourselves "corrupt"; how insulting it is to be talked down to by men who haven't the first notion of what it is to respect the theological and spiritual inheritance of the Christian Church; how blasphemous we find the very notion that God was a man and men may become gods.

Sorry to sound off like this but that piece is so - "Mormon"!

Seth R. said...

It really is a very "Mormon" argument isn't it?

Oh well.

I should point out though, that FAIR is not an official LDS mouthpiece. So the article was just one guy's opinion.

I also think his argument was not so much that Mormons have a "right" to deny the label, but rather they "have" to deny the label, otherwise they risk losing their copyright.

I find this to be an amusingly corporate approach to a theological matter. But Mormons are nothing, if not pragmatic.

maybemaybenot said...

This comment string is interesting and, at times unintentionally humorous, if not exhausting.

Something you said in particular, Mike, really struck me: "You are right in insisting that there is more to being a Christian than a label but don’t make the mistake of thinking that labels do not signify for they signify a great deal and if you cannot square your life and beliefs with what the label signifies then you don’t deserve to wear the label."

I can not distinguish the majority of my friends, colleagues or nieghbors based on their actions. Though 95% or more of them claim to be "Christians", I would no more guess that to be true by observance than I would of the other 5% that are not Christians. In fact, in my close circle of friends and my closest family members, the Jews, the agnostics and atheists stand out more for their integrity than do the Christians.

It is a strange irony, indeed.

Jennifer

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Jennifer

Thanks for dropping by. Exhausting? Yes, this goes some way back to the days when we were getting used to blogging and enthusiasm made up for experience. I was surprised to find someone noticed it but I suppose that is the nature of the Internet, i.e. nothing goes away and that can be quite incriminating (as you will no doubt apprreciate in your professional capacity)

Unintentionally amusing? Hmm! I suppose these things happen.

I do not disagree with you regarding labels and lifestyle. I cringe when I see fish symbols on cars and business cards, knowing that we all fail to live up to all we profess (even atheists) and perhaps a little less advertising and a lot more integrity is required of all of us. I suppose, for a true Christian, the difference is that we know that to be the case and don't pretend otherwise - we repent. That is not an excuse, just an observation.

I can't comment on your own experience in Texas (I am in Wales and there is as healthy a helping of hypocrisy here as anywhere) but I imagine it is about the same everywhere. Some Christians are easier to identify than others.

That said, I am uneasy and, to be frank, impatient with those who appear to know the rules but sit on the side line shouting advice (call yourself a Christian!)rather than taking to the field and discovering for themselves that it is never quite as simple as knowing the rules.

I note you are an admirer of Christopher Hitchens' "God is Not Great". Whenever I read or hear the man I feel moved to recall how ill-tempered atheists can be when they don't get it all their own way. Is it me, or is a disproportionate number of these free-thinkers a little manic-depressive?

I ask myself whether the world would be a better or worse place for being full of people like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins (another irascible but engaging genius) and their crowd of complaining accolytes.

On the other hand, you are a follower of Bishop Higgins, a man of remarkable insight and admirable judgement. It is a healthy religion that can laugh at itself, although I suspect it is not the Mormons doing the laughing. I was disappointed not to have been called to the position of official ward Sunday shopper. I am usually free around that time on a Sunday and often seem to be out of something or another.

I am still holding out for the post of ward ex-Mormon but the wise bishop has yet to recognise the value of such a calling. I continue to pray for him.

Like the family photo. You have every right to be proud.

maybemaybenot said...

Ha! your comment about the ward calling made me laugh. The last time Bishop Higgins (certainly he can't really be a bishop, or even an active Mormon for that matter) posted the ward callings, he included the CTR teacher. I asked him if I could be the CTL (Choose the Left)teacher. I got scolded pretty good for that one. :)

Yes, I am quite a fan of Christopher Hitchens. I find his direct, if not terribly offensive, nature to be refreshing for some reason. He kind of says the types of things I'd like to say, but dare not. Not necessarily about religion, though I am an atheist myself. He can be quite overboard at times, I freely admit. He's a bit cantankerous and the man can consume some alcohol! But I often wonder if it is a bit of a show. I watched an intensely interesting debate between him and D'nesh Desouza you might like. Let me know and I'd be happy to send you the link.

Yes, I found the comment string to be funny at times. Mainly because I can almost feel Seth squirm in some of his responses. He's a frequenter of several blogs I follow, so I am quite familiar with him. He generally gets to play bully with the average blogger because he has a sort of feigned intellect. So it was nice to see that you powned him quite a bit.

There's no getting around your argument in this particular blog post. I have to say, I agree with you 100%, though I must admit, I hadn't thought of it in those terms until you articulated it so well.

Thank you for your compliment of my family. I am a lucky woman indeed to have such an amazing husband and 5 beautiful, healthy children.

I enjoy your blog and hope you don't mind my visits there. Take care.

Warmest Regards,

Jennifer

Seth R. said...

Nice to see I have a fan.

Mike was nice to debate with, and I don't have any problem admitting he did well in this one.

Dinesh D'Souza annoys me almost as much, if not moreso than Hitchens. Probably because I see too much of his approach in my own, I'd imagine.

On the other hand Jennifer, if the average blogger were as respectful and measured as Mike is, they might get a better response from me as well.

Totally guilty as charged on the "feigned intellect" thing. We work with what we have I guess.

maybemaybenot said...

Seth,

Let me explain about the feigned intellect comment. You seem to know a good deal about a lot of subjects. And you know a heck of a lot more about church doctrine and church history than the average Mormon. But honestly, Seth, when very "sticky" points come up (e.g., blacks not being allowed to hold the priesthood for so long), you tend to grasp for straws to defend the church. And because you seem very smart, I often wonder if you're faking it. What I mean is, sometimes I think to myself, "Seth is too smart for this. Surely he doesn't really believe this can be true." So, I think you might simply be playing devil's advocate, at best or that you are slowly losing your testimony, at worst (depending on how you look at it).

But I have to disagree with you on one thing you said: "if the average blogger were as respectful and measured as Mike is, they might get a better response from me as well." I have seen you get pretty tesky with Andee several times on Windy Sydney. Now, she is certainly passionate about her feelings about the church, but no more so than Mike. Furthermore, while she may not be as articulate as Mike (and I am not as articulate as you or Mike) she is always quite respectful in the sense that she is never name calling or anything like that. She normally only states facts or direct observations.

I agree with you about D'Souza (thank you for correcting my mispelling); he is quite annoying. But, he was ALMOST able to keep up with Hitchens (very much unlike Sharpton (and others) in his debate with Hitchens). I really want to watch the debate between the Hitchens brothers. Christopher's brother is said to be a conservative. Imagine that! Would probably be interesting.

Anyway, I've rambled long enough on Mike's blog. Please accept my apologies if I offended you.

Regards,

Jennifer

Mike's 4 Tea said...

I love any talk of the Mormon intellect. My challenge to any and all claims issuing from the highbrow world of BYU/FARMS et al, frequently quoted by Mormons who fail to understand their sources, is for Mormons show one non-Mormon authority that takes seriously Mormon claims for Mormonism.

Of course there are Mormon intellectuals, and very capable. But where they are respected is where they talk about what everyone is talking about. Where they talk about Mormonism they stand alone and ill-regarded.

Often people ask how such intelligent and otherwise intellectually gifted people can “fall for such things”. But it happens a lot and the answer is that it is those very people who are often best won over by the beguiling arguments and emotionally attractive ways of this group, or that.

Intellect often fails at the most crucial point to inform their decisions. I found the following, which I have quoted elsewhere, enlightening in this respect:
 
Jason J. Barker, Director of the Southwest Institute for Orthodox Studies, Arlington, TX, in a paper entitled - Who is the Representative Mormon Intellectual? Assessing Mormon Apologetics - examines the LDS educational philosophy. Whilst recognising that “an increasing number of Latter-day Saints are currently active in mainstream academics”, he goes on to quote Karl Sandberg, a Mormon and a French professor (emeritus) at Macalester College, who observes;
 
"There are Mormons who do scholarship in all of the various disciplines — they play by the same rules as everyone else, they participate in the same dynamics, and they produce the same kind of knowledge. This is not the case, however, when Mormons do scholarship about Mormonism or directly related subjects."
 
Barker goes on to explain that “The primary reason for this discrepancy…is that Mormon-specific scholarship in the LDS Church is necessarily limited by the boundaries of Mormon orthodoxy and orthopraxy.” He quotes Sanburg further who elaborates;
 
"There are prominent examples of Mormon scholarship whose purpose appears to be that of giving scholarly permission to people to believe what they already believed on subjective grounds and of answering and repulsing any perceived attacks on the Church."
 
In other words, there are distinct boundaries to Mormon scholarship as the Mormon Church insists on favouring faith over intellect. Thus, just as a car might be fitted with a speed restrictor, a man may be fitted with a truth restrictor.
 
No less an authority than Mormon apostle Boyd K Packer had the following to say in attacking even professionals as they attempt to achieve impartiality in telling the truth about Mormonism.
 
"There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful."
 
Note that it is not lies about which Packer is concerned, but the truth. Given the history of the Mormon Church I can well see how "some things that are true are not very useful".

Clearly the message here is that there are things about the church's history that cannot bear close scrutiny without potentially damaging the faith of its members. I am grateful to Boyd Packer for confirming my observations. The church's test, then, of whether to tell the story of Mormonism is whether what you tell promotes the Mormon faith and engenders faith amongst it's members. If the truth does not promote faith then it is best to protect people from it.
 
This is not a phenomenon peculiar to Mormonism, or indeed to the cults in general. It can be found operating in the life and witness of every Christian who refuses to reflect intelligently on their faith, recognising that, whilst certain truths are indeed inviolable it is often faith alone that makes them “true” in this life and only eternity that will confirm their verity.

By the same token much custom and practice, over time, proves provisional and only exists at all by the grace of God as he patiently deals with our muddle-headed humanity. We must learn to be faithful, then, to what we believe whilst holding to a modesty that avoids dogmatism.

Seth R. said...

My earlier forays into Windy Sydney were a bit inflammatory. I've since calmed down about Andee, and I hope my more recent visits have been a bit more measured (haven't been over there in a while though...).

I've never been one of those who claims his religion has all the right answers on every subject. I have a natural tendency to play devil's advocate, so that part has a bit of truth to it.

As for the part about "slowly losing my testimony," ... I'm not sure how to answer that one.

Did I have a stronger "testimony" as a kid when I just accepted Mormon teachings without question because that's what my mom and dad taught me?

Or do I have a stronger one now that I've researched the teachings and - after a long hard testing period - come to accept some, but reject others?

For instance, in high school, I rarely gave much thought to blacks and the Priesthood. If I did think about it, it was quickly dismissed by some half-baked rationalization like "oh, the LDS Church couldn't have allowed them full participation because it would have made Mormons targets for the rest of America." Or something like that.

Now that I've read quite a bit about the subject, I reject that teenage argument as shallow and unsupported. My own personal conclusion is that Joseph Smith was fully willing to allow blacks full participation in the LDS Church, but Brigham Young allowed his own racial prejudices and his desire to appease a racist US Congress to get the better of him.

Later doctrines like Mark of Cain and Curse of Ham were simply the LDS leadership digging a hole for themselves by trying to justify things.

So basically, I've just come to the conclusion that this was a pure unfortunate goof on the part of LDS leadership. With very tragic consequences.

So you tell me - does that position represent a "weakening testimony?" Or is it a stronger faith than before?

Don't worry about being offensive. You go on the internet with an attitude like mine - you are going to get insulted. By comparison, your comments are downright heartwarming. I didn't see anything wrong with them.

Mike, the reason you don't have any objective scholars weighing in on Mormon claims is because the objective scholars don't care about Mormon faith claims. It's really that simple.

The only scholars who have weighed in on the "Mormon Question" and all it's offspring are biased ones. That goes for both sides of the debate. Other scholars, frankly, have day jobs, and can't be bothered to weigh-in.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

Thank you for your candour in dealing with the Negroes and the priesthood issue. A good example of how you have grown, though whether you have a weaker testimony is for you to decide. I will only say that once you start looking into these things one of two things tend to happen. Either you end up leaving Mormonism or you stop looking. I only urge you to be true to your heart and keep looking.

On the racism issue, of course, with all the blaming that goes on we easily forget how thoroughly racist American society has been and how other churches subscribed to similar views. On the other hand, while other churches have actually made public statements "repenting" of the racist views of previous generations, the Mormon Church has studiously avoided any suggestion that they could have ever got anything wrong in the past.

On the issue of acadaemia and Mormonism I wasn't really expecting any substantial interest to be shown by the wider academic world in Mormonism's faith claims per se. However, since Mormon claims for the Book of Mormon are rooted (allegedly) in the history of the Americas and the migration of Jews from the Middle East my point was that were there to a thread of evidence to back those claims the academies of the world would be beating a path to the doors of Mormon Church headquarters and BYU etc. Since they are not I take that as a tacit rejection of all Mormon claims to have academic credibility.

Seth R. said...

"Since they are not I take that as a tacit rejection of all Mormon claims to have academic credibility."

Let me share something with you that will seem a bit off-topic.

It's a Wikipedia entry on the "Channeled Scablands":

(Start article)

The Channeled Scablands are unique geological erosion features in the U.S. state of Washington. They were created by the cataclysmic Missoula Floods that swept periodically across eastern Washington and down the Columbia River Plateau during the Pleistocene epoch. Geologist J Harlen Bretz coined the term in a series of papers in the 1920s. Debate over the origin of the Scablands raged for four decades and is one of the great debates in the history of earth science.

River valleys formed by erosion normally have a 'V' cross section, and glaciers leave a 'U' cross section. The channeled scablands have a rectangular cross section and are spread over immense areas of eastern Washington. They exhibit a unique drainage pattern that appears to have an entrance in the northeast and an exit in the southwest. The eroded channels also show an anastomosing, or braided, appearance. There are also immense potholes and ripple marks, much larger than those found on ordinary rivers. When first studied, no known theories could explain the origin of these features.

Bretz conducted research and published many papers during the 1920s describing the Channeled Scablands. His theories of how they were formed required short but immense water flows (500 cubic miles of water), for which Bretz had no explanation (the source of the water was never the focus of his research). Bretz's theories met with vehement opposition from geologists of the day, who tried to explain the features with uniformitarianism theories.

J.T. Pardee first suggested in 1925 to Bretz that the draining of a glacial lake could account for flows of the magnitude needed. Pardee continued his research over the next 30 years, collecting and analyzing evidence that eventually identified Lake Missoula as the source of the Spokane Floods and creator of the Channeled Scablands.

Research on open channel hydraulics in the 1970s put Bretz's theories on solid scientific ground.

Pardee's and Bretz's theories were accepted only after decades of painstaking work and fierce scientific debate. It is worth noting that many of the most vocal critics of Bretz and Pardee never studied the Channeled Scablands with their own eyes. In 1979 Bretz received the highest medal of the Geological Society of America, the Penrose Medal, to recognize that he had developed one of the great ideas in the earth sciences.

(End article)

Sorry to bore you, but I figured it was an interesting enough article. Nova did a special on it last year I believe.

Perhaps you've already grasped the point I'm making by pointing this out. But scientific consensus or interest is hardly a reliable bellwether of "truth." The "science" for child psychology completely reinvents itself every five years.

Scientists have their own dogmas and faith claims you know. For instance, a geological dig in Central America may dismiss the presence of horse bones in Pre-Columbian dig site as "site contamination" and never run radio carbon dating checks - just because "everyone knows" that horses were introduced by the Spaniards. No need to check right?

Just because I have my own healthy doubts about my religions faith claims doesn't mean I'm going to rush out and accept the equally unsupportable and dogmatic faith claims of science. Or of Christian orthodoxy.

That said, I don't think that your statement holds on another level. Scientists are not likely to rush to test the Book of Mormon for the simple fact that they all assume without any investigation that it's a fictional work.

Why would they be interested in such a work? Would you rush out to verify the particular facts in the popular book "Jurassic Park?"

No, because you enter in with the assumption that it's all bunk to begin with. Why waste time verifying?

Dangerous things assumptions.

But I would point out to you that some of the greatest scientific discoveries in history occurred because one scientist was willing to look like an utter moron before his peers and in so doing - found the truth that was right in front of their noses, but they were too prejudiced to notice.

This is why I consider your appeal to lack of scientific interest to be more or less irrelevant.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

That was an interesting essay Seth. The problem with your conclusion is that it is entirely an argument from silence. In the essay you cite there was never any question about the existence of the phenomenon under discussion. Indeed, heated discussion about the cause of something everyone agreed was there ensued for decades and, yes, the man was vindicated.

Mormon claims are not the subject of wider academic discussion, not because acadaemia holds alternate views and argues furiously for them, but because there is nothing there to discuss. As I keep saying to my Mormon friends, not a coin, not a pot, not a shard, not a building nor a grave.

I know Mormons are fond of the idea that the academy is a "closed shop" in which everyone is bent on guarding their orthodoxy but nothing could be further from the truth. A man or woman who established beyond reasonable doubt any BOM claims would have their name made! And that is what every scientist wants, i.e to be the next Einstein, Darwin etc.

The lack of scientific interest is not irrelevant and your argument works to a double standard. You want to insist that Mormon claims compare favourably with the experience of Bretz but any comparison tends to confirm my own claims since Bretz' claims were heatedly debated for decades and the subjet taken seriously while Mormon claims do not even come under consideration for the reason I have already stated. Given that, you wish to claim that the comparison, which illustrates my argument, is irrelevant.

You need to make up your mind which way you want to play this.

As to the claims of Evangelical Christianity I will wager you have not seriously considered its claims but instead have adhered to Mormon preconceptions every time the subject comes up. I challenge you to take a fresh look and discuss it here before you so blithely dismiss it.

Seth R. said...

"You need to make up your mind which way you want to play this."

I actually anticipated this criticism.

Thing is however, our critics are doing exactly the same thing. Argument from silence.

I am well aware that the whole point of apologetics (whether Evangelical or Catholic or Mormon or Muslim) is to help the faithful not feel stupid for beliefs that they gained for completely unrelated reasons.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

No wonder your a Mormon if that's what you think apologetics is about. Your answer is so silly it doesn't deserve a response.

Seth R. said...

Whatever Mike.

My experience in talking with other Christians is that they like to emphasize how "rational" and "fact-based" their religion is, as compared to those "emotional" and "irrational" Mormons.

But I've found it to be mostly empty posturing.

A put-down is not a response.

maybemaybenot said...

I would like to respond to your comment as well, Seth. And this is purely a common sense angle and parts from the previous scientific discussions.

Seth, (and I promise I am not trying to be belligerent or rude -this is sincere frustration speaking) you chalk up what I see as MAJOR issues to simple human folly and bias. And this is where I have a problem with that way of thinking.

If Mormonism is what it claims to be - the one and only true church of God, then certain things HAVE to be present to be consistent with that very simple, yet strong claim.

The leader of the one and only true church of God would have to be (though not perfect) enlightened, in communication with God (which Mormons claim the "prophet" is), fair-minded, kind, highly moral, etc.

There is NOTHING about denying blacks the priesthood, marrying multiple wives, marrying teenage girls, demeaning women and on and on and on that can be reconciled with the aforementioned traits.

I fully understand the concept that even a prophet of God, leading his one, true church would still be only a man. Human. Imperfect. But wouldn't those imperfections look more like impatience, slight temper, short-sightedness, procrastination, etc? Is it even anywhere near reasonable to think that a man who is chosen to stand as a beacon for God's chosen church, a man who recevies direct revelation from God would be racist (denying blacks the priesthood), immoral (marrying 14 year old girls), deceitful (HIDDEN plural marriages), hypocritical (drinking despite the Word of Wisdom) and the list could go on?

Common sense. If there is a God, the men appointed to run his church, set the example, give hope, stand for God's word, would be exceptional men, not subject to the current whims of society or tempted by the most base of sins. Common sense. The true church of God would not have the existence of profound racism, sexism, and child exploitation nor would the true church of God downplay and hide this type of history with an absence of apology and a litany of lame excuses. The true church of God could withstand the toughest of scrutiny under the finest of microscopes.

But, in my opinion, like all other religions and churches, the Mormon faith is comprised of man-made doctrine and led by ordinary men. To think otherwise is the height of arrogance and willful blindness.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

I concur almost completely with all you write Jennifer. As you might expect, I take issue with your last paragraph, and I think with some cause.

It is true that flawed and all-too-ordinary men and women comprise the Christian Church and its leadership. This flawed and all-too-disappointing characteristic Christians call sin and it is not a characteristic that is exclusive to the church, or any one religion. Rather, it describes us all and whenever a sceptic points at the church crying, "call yourselves Christians!" I can't help but think that he or she is certainly looking in a mirror.

The crux of the Christian message is not, "follow this philosophy and lifestyle and you will be a better person than everyone else." Any religion that claims to "make bad men good and good men better" is sadly deluded. The Christian message is that the faults we see in others, the sin we see, is a reflection of our own nature, and the starting point of every true Christian's pilgrimage is the recognition of this one fact.

Christianity doesn't offer a philosophy to live by but a Saviour to trust in and it is a humbling experience to recognise one's need of one. Having been "saved" the Christian is not perfect, he/she has simply recognised and confessed "I am wrong and God is right". There now proceeds a walk of faith that is called sanctification in which God works in the believer to bring them finally to reflect God's true righteousness.

Sadly, while God leads me through this process of sanctification, others around me have to put up with the Mike that is still flawed and disappointing and being worked on while they wish they had the Mike that is the finished work.

The good news is that since we are all in the same boat we should learn to be more patient with each other while still holding each other to account.

That is what the church is, i.e. a place where those who have embarked on this journey of faith encourage one another and answer to and for one another because "God hasn't finished with me yet". This is not an excuse for sin but an encouragement for righteous living.

Where Mormonism goes wrong, as you rightly suggest, is in its claims to virtues it doesn't have. As opposed to a true Christian demenour that claims no virtue or righteousness except that which is found in Christ.

Two things are held in tension in the church in this day of grace:

1. Christ said, "You will know Christians by their fruits"

2. There will be weeds among the wheat, wolves among the sheep

Sometimes when we are looking at fruit and making judgement we are mistaking a weed for the main crop. Sometimes when we watch the God Channel etc. and see those "send me money and God will surely bless you" preachers we are confusing wolves for sheep.

Sometimes we are simply seeing an immature crop that is not ready to fruit and we need to be patient before we judge results.

Seth R. said...

"The leader of the one and only true church of God would have to be (though not perfect) enlightened, in communication with God (which Mormons claim the "prophet" is), fair-minded, kind, highly moral, etc."

I disagree with this statement - at least to where you've taken it.

All men of God are deeply flawed human beings. Always have been, always will be.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

Jennifer has more than adequately addressed the issue of flawed humanity. She has allowed that leaders are far from perfect but your reply is so thoroughly inadequate insisting, as it does, that grossest of flaws in others are somehow an excuse for the inexcusable counduct of mormon leaders as highlighted by her.

This is a familiar and all-too-flawed defence I come across a lot and, frankly, it does your case no good at all. A thoroughly sound and reasonable point has been put and your response is little more than, "other people have serious faults..." When we stand before the judgement bar of God it will do no one any good to point at someone else and say, "But he did it too! What about him?"

Mormon leaders have never owned or apologised for anything.From polygamy to the Mountain Meadows massacre, from Negroes and the priesthood to the denigrating of other churches the Mormon leadership and church have only issued denial after denial. "Nothing to do with us guv!"

maybemaybenot said...

Yes, Seth, your last comment was one of the most disappointing of all times (and I have read A LOT of your comments over the last year).

Really? You can, with a straight face, genuinely tell me that a prophet of God chosen to lead THE ONE AND TRUE CHURCH would be a pedophile? A racist? This does not even make sense and mocks the God that so many people believe in. As if God himself would hand pick such a person to teach people the gospel and the principles of salvation.

I can not, and do not, for a second believe that you believe that. If you do, then there is no sense debating the topic any more. As you can not reason with an unreasonable person. And to say that a wicked man (as opposed to a good man who struggles with ORDINARY frailties) is worthy of the noble calling of leading God's church is completely unreasonable, if not downright ridiculous. And if you don't equate pedophilia, child exploitation, infidelity, conceited, self-centered dishonesty and arrogance to be wicked, then I am worried for you.

Mike, you seem to be a very good man, indeed. And you are a very learned man who is also extremely articulate.

I have no problem with Christians (or any other religious folks for that matter) who are genuine and sincere in their beliefs but yet struggle with human weaknesses and try, little by little to conquer those weaknesses, through what you term, sanctification.

I go through a similar process with myself on a regular basis. However, I am motivated by things other than the love of God, the plan of salvation and the promise of an after-life. I, admittedly, am totally lacking in faith.

I prayed for faith in Jesus and the Christian God for around 8 years. When I say I prayed, that is quite the understatement. I studied, read, researched, prayed, begged, cried, fasted, cried some more, pled some more.

I read the Old Testament, the New Testament (2X), took several courses on the scriptures for years, read A Severe Mercy, The God We Never Knew, Believing Christ, Purpose Driven Life and others. I talked to bishops, priests, pastors and my sincere Christian friends. I heard testimonies, saw baptisms, heard speaking in tongues (scary experience for me), witnessed people accepting Christ, being saved and so forth. But, alas, to no avail.

God was stone silent. And I also admit that I no longer try to search for God. Lazy? Maybe. But 8 years of the cycle wore me out. Will I wind up in hell? Well, who's to know? But I don't spend any more time worrying about it. I don't know what else to do. I could fake it, but I find that unsatisfying and dishonest.

But I am immensely affected by other great motivations to be good, kind, decent, loving, forgiving, tolerant and so forth. I fall short, no doubt. But i see this as a process and I am gaining progress in my journey. I am genuinely happy with myself when I know that I am not stagnant. And I am more at peace in my life now than I have ever been.

Living where I do, most of my friends and family (I'd say 95% or more) are Christian. And I respect that. I just don't get it. Either there is no God or he has forgotten me. But either way, I've made peace with that.

Warmest Regards,

Jennifer

maybemaybenot said...

Hey Mike,

Do you have an e-mail address where you receive questions. I'd like to ask you something but I don't see a contact on your blog. Thanks.

Jennifer

maybemaybenot said...

:(

Seth R. said...

Don't put words in my mouth. I never said there were no limits.

I don't think Joseph was a pedophile for the simple reason that marrying a 15 year old in that time period was not consider pedophilia. It wasn't all that unusual.

I also don't think he was guilty of adultery. I think he was guilty of screwing up his family life and mishandling several commandments he was given.

I do think Brigham Young was guilty of racism. So was Abraham Lincoln. I imagine a lot of otherwise admirable people have been throughout history.

So what?

By the by, everyone here seems awfully eager to find an excuse to stop talking to me. Sorry I'm tiring you all so.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

I don't think anyone is angling to stop talking to you but, really now, how are we to respond to remarks like this:

"Whatever Mike.

My experience in talking with other Christians is that they like to emphasize how "rational" and "fact-based" their religion is, as compared to those "emotional" and "irrational" Mormons.

But I've found it to be mostly empty posturing.

A put-down is not a response."

I could as easily respond:

"Whatever Seth.

My experience in talking to Mormons is that they like to think how superior they are in having a hotline to God. Not like those poor, deluded, apostate Born-Agains.

I find they cut and run when we get into some serious apologetics, feigning hurt at some imagined offense that was never meant, often not even real and calling everyone who disagrees with them anti-Mormons.

A superior look and condescending tone is not a response."

I could say that and, frankly, I would feel justified since that is so often my experience. But where would it get us? It would simply and understandably put you on the defensive, perhaps drive you away, and the conversation from which you seem to feel we wish to exclude you would not happen. Who benefits then?

I refute entirely your claim that there is a dirth of intelligent and challenging response. Your problem is the typical Mormon one, i.e. you don't like the responses and so you reject them as no response at all. There is much in what has been posted here to provoke further discussion but the appropriate resonse is not "Whatever!"

maybemaybenot said...

Actually, I love talking to you, Seth.

However, you absolutely do not know your church history. Many of Joseph's Smith's wives were taken in secret. It is documented very well.

Joseph's youngest wife (Helen Mar Kimball) was 14, not 15. And it was absolutely NOT common to marry at the tender age of 14 or 15 during Joseph Smith's time. That is pure myth, showing that you also do not have a good grasp on US history. The average age of marriage was 19.8 to 23.1. in the 1840s. Very rarely, girls between the age of 16 and 17 would marry, but most often to very young men (age 19-21) - not nearly 40 (!) as Joseph Smith was.

The average age of first menstruation back then was 16 1/2. Helen Mar Kimball had the sexual maturity of a 9 year old girl (by today's standards). Furthermore, this wasn't a case of two foolish youngsters falling in love and wanting to be together. Kimball did not want to marry Joseph, but he promised her eternal life if she would. Pure slime.

I simply can not believe how much you Mormons will rationalize things. Use your brain, Seth. Your common sense, for crying out loud. You must not have daughters. And if you do, I dare say, if any 40 year old man (even the prophet) came to you and asked to marry even your 17 or 18 year old daughter you'd punch him in the face.

Furthermore, Abraham Lincoln may have been racist, but he wasn't claiming to be the head of God's church, either. As I've stated and hold firm to, a prophet of God would not trick prepubescent girls into their beds or deny blacks the supposed blessings of the priesthood. Period.

Afterall, we know that there were men who did not possess these traits. We know there are good men. Why would an omniscient, loving God not choose one of those men? It simply does not make any sense.

Seth R. said...

maybe, you are a classic example of retroactive liberal cultural imperialism, whereby the "enlightened" of this generation look down their noses at previous generations, because they didn't believe in universal health care.

I never said it was widespread to marry as young as 15 (15... 14... I honestly don't care about the distinction). I only said it wasn't uncommon.

Few people in 1830 really cared if you married a girl that young. Sure, it might be a bit unusual, but not a matter of much public comment (depending on what strata of society you belonged to).

Furthermore, rural farming culture typically forced young people to grow up much faster than they do today.

The typical American youth today doesn't reach the level of adulthood by AGE 30 that youths used to reach at age 13.

Having to work to survive will do that to you. The legal marriageable age in the USA during that time period was 13. And by age 13, most frontier girls were fully capable of running an entire farm household - complete with sewing, cooking, mending, child-rearing skills and such (and probably even farm labor and animal husbandry). The 13 year olds of that era were actually better prepared for marriage than most 21 year olds today.

Granted, the physiology of a 13 year old often made pregnancy a permanently damaging or even life-threatening ordeal for such girls.

I'm not saying I like it. I'm just saying it wasn't unheard of. Nor was it a matter of much comment. When they shot Joseph at Carthage, it wasn't because he was marrying a young girl. It was because he had MORE THAN ONE of them.

Like most men of that day and age, they didn't give a flying leap about young brides. That's a modern sensibility.

And as for lying about the brides. Yup, he did conceal it.

Why should I care about this exactly?

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

Listen to yourself for a moment buddy. You are uncomfortable with what Joseph Smith did, you know it is wrong and yet you make excuses for him. It is a nonsense to say that thats the way it was. Allow me to illustrate.

The Mormon Church insists that in Smith's day apostate churches were competing for converts and this illustrates a need for a restoration. But thats what people did in those days, no big deal, no need for a restoration. As for your remark:

"And as for lying about the brides. Yup, he did conceal it.

Why should I care about this exactly?"

BECAUSE JOSEPH SMITH WAS A LIAR!

I just love the way you change the terminology to soften the blow. Like calling a bomb a device. He did not conceal it - he lied. Are you happy following a man who lied, cheated, had sex with underage girls, stole other men's wives, serially cheating on his wife Emma. You are happy with that are you? You are comfortable following a lair and serial adulterer?

Well, it takes all sorts I suppose.

maybemaybenot said...

Oh, I get it now. Joseph Smith married Kimball so she could run his household. And to think I thought he was going to have sex with her. Silly me. That is what the other wives were for, I guess.

I really did used to think you are reasonable, but I believe I was wrong.

Seth R. said...

Mike.

Do you consider the guy who hid a bunch of Rwandans in his hotel and lied to local militias about them being there, "A LIAR?"

Yes, it's an extreme example. But I'd seriously like to know if you think that guy was a liar.

The only reason I brought up the "way things were" is because you guys are trying to draw some lines here.

For instance, it is OK if Paul loses his temper, but not OK if his failings rise to a certain level. Correct? Or it's OK for Moses' prophetic status if he pridefully claims he has given the people water, but not OK if... what exactly?

My point is, we are drawing lines of what is acceptable and what is not. My point is also that both of you are drawing lines based on your own sheltered 21st century set of morals and retroactively applying it to past generations. Simply as a student of history, I find this to be a bad practice. It's just sloppy historical thinking.

I'm saying a 14 year old bride is probably not a failing - given the culture - that rises to the level of condemnation that you and Maybe are trying to attach to it.

Your comparison about other churches in Joseph's time was largely incoherent. I'm still not sure what your point was. Maybe you could try a different example.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

If I lie to save your life I am a hero

If I lie to steal your wife (or daughter) I am a pervert

If I lose my temper with false apostles it is righteous indignation

If I lose my temper because I am losing the argument and cry "whatever!" I am a bad loser.

If you ca't tell the difference then I worry for you.

You make the mistake of raising not extreme or exaggerated but ridiculous comparisons.

Seth R. said...

Mike, I guess the problem is what we think Joseph was lying for.

He didn't lie to "steal some guy's wife." In fact, in those cases, he typically told the guy in question up front.

The lies were typically to the public in order to avoid being arrested. That's hardly as admirable as Schindler's list. We all know that. But it ranks up there with civil disobedience in the name of religion in my mind.

Maybe,

If you think the point of my argument was to claim that Joseph married Helen Mar Kimball to "run his household," then you clearly missed the point. Re-read the post slowly and without looking for an opening for a snappy one-liner and try again.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

Let's address the question, then, of motive and morality. Forgive me if this is a little long but this is something I wrote recently on the subject:

It is well known that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. The pedantic often insist on 'polygyny'. 'Polygamy' means having more than one marriage partner at a time, while polygyny is gender specific and means having more than one wife at a time. Leaving aside such 'nice' distinctions, Joseph Smith not only married many women (polygamy) but many of those women were already married to other men (polyandry). The Mormon Church, when it does address this issue, offers explanations that we will look at momentarily.

Before we do we should let the facts seize people's minds. Joseph "married" a lot of women. Figures presented have been between 20 and 60, the middle ground being most popular. A full third of Joseph's "marriages" were polyandrous and experts put this figure at 11. We know for a fact that nine of his first twelve wives were married to other men.

The non-Mormon readers must simply look at these facts and ask themselves how they feel about it all. Even some Christian leaders these days are being taken in by the Mormon charm offensive that presents the faith as a law-abiding, family friendly church.

Mormons might ask themselves the same question. Never mind that this is Joseph Smith; never mind the party line; never mind what your bishop will ask you in your next temple recommend interview about supporting and sustaining the church. Ask yourself, "what do I think of this and what do I imagine the world might think?" Because we read time and again that there is nothing new in these claims that it has all been heard before, and that Mormons are simply not impressed.

The problem does not lie in the lack of originality in the criticisms but in the unshockability of the typical Mormon! What we have here is the inuring of the Mormon mind to the facts of Joseph's history.

What is more disturbing is the defence put up for what most would otherwise see as base and contemptible behaviour. Of course, when the Mormon Church defends its early leaders in their conduct they effectively lend weight to the Mormon fundamentalist cause that they so glibly dismiss as not their concern.

Binding and Loosing

"[Joseph] believed he had been given powers that transcended civil law. Claiming sole responsibility for binding and unbinding marriages on earth and in heaven, he did not consider it necessary to obtain civil marriage licenses or divorce decrees.

Whenever he deemed it appropriate he could release a woman from her earthly marriage and seal her to himself or to another with no stigma of adultery." - Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy, p.42.

Thus his conduct was, "not adultery because a man could not commit adultery with wives who belonged to him." (Daynes, More Wives than One, p.202)

Joseph "believed he had been given powers that transcended civil law." In other words, Joseph considered himself above the law. This is an interesting assertion in light of the Mormon twelfth Article of Faith:

"We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."

The argument is made that there is a higher law and that anyone should obey God rather than man. However, such a gross abuse of a gospel imperative is inexcusable. When that dictum was coined (Acts 4:18-20) it was in response to a warning not to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. To excuse the taking of other men's wives by appealing to a higher authority is perverse.

Mormon Apostle Jedediah M Grant had this to say on the subject:

"When Joseph Smith was alive, his declaration to me was as the voice of Almighty God. Why? Because he had the Priesthood of God on the earth… When the family organization was revealed from heaven - the patriarchal order of God, and Joseph began, on the right and on the left, to add to his family, what a quaking there was in Israel.

Says one brother to another, 'Joseph says all covenants are done away, and none are binding but the new covenants; now suppose Joseph should come and say he wanted your wife, what would you say to that?' 'I would tell him to go to hell.' This was the spirit of many in the early days of this church…

"If Joseph had a right to dictate me in relation to salvation, in relation to the hereafter, he had a right to dictate me in relation to all my earthly affairs, in relation to the treasures of the earth, and in relation to the earth itself. He had a right to dictate in relation to the cities of the earth, to the natives of the earth, and in relation to everything on Land and on sea.

That is what he had a right to do, if he had any right at all. If he did not have that right, he did not have the priesthood of God, he did not have the endless priesthood that emanates from the eternal being. A priesthood that is clipped, and lacks length, is not the priesthood of God; if it lacks depth, it is not the priesthood of God; for the priesthood in ancient times extended over the wide world, and coped with the universe, and had a right to govern and control the inhabitants thereof, to regulate them, give them laws, and execute those laws.

The power looked like the priesthood of God. This same priesthood has been given to Joseph Smith and has been handed down to his successors." - Journal of Discourses, vol.2, p.13.

Simple Christian Charity?

Now the impression is given, and it is widely understood among Mormons today, that both polygamy and polyandry served the purpose of allowing women who might otherwise not marry, or marry eternally, to enter into an eternal covenant so they may enter God's highest kingdom. Mormon historian Glen M Leonard wrote:

"This ordinance ensured the woman a marriage that would be valid in the resurrection no matter what became of her temporary, civil agreement. For some, it may have seemed the only way to gain that sacred promise." - Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2002, p.349.

The perception amongst Mormons who care to think about these things at all is that women outnumbered men in the territory and that polygamy was God's solution. However, censuses taken at the time show that this situation never existed.


It has also been claimed that Joseph's taking the wives of other men fell into the category of an "Abrahamic test". That just as Abraham was told to sacrifice his son as a test so these men were asked to give up their wives as a test of their faith.

But if this is the case why would Joseph, in Jedediah Grant's example, want to marry wives of men who were otherwise brothers in the church? In this example he is not marrying wives of apostates, or non-Mormons. Why, if these men are Mormons, shouldn't their wives marry their husbands for eternity? Why would Joseph declare all previous covenants done away with? Jedediah Grant also said:

"What would a man say, who felt aright, when Joseph asked him for his money? He would say, 'Yes, and I wish I had more to help to build up the kingdom of God.' Or if he came and said, 'I want your wife?' 'O yes,'he would say, 'here she is, there are plenty more.'" - Jedediah Grant, Journal of Discourses, vol.2 p.14.

Here is a situation where a man is so faithful to the prophet as to be willing to give him his wife. Why doesn't the wife marry this worthy priesthood holder for eternity? What does Joseph want with the wife of another worthy servant of God?

He can't be helping fulfil an otherwise unattainable covenant promise. The husband is available! But maybe the husband is otherwise unworthy. Perhaps the husband broke the Word of Wisdom, maybe he smoked; but Joseph smoked. Maybe the husband drank alcohol; but Joseph drank alcohol. Maybe the husband wasn't faithful - don't even go there. Grant clearly felt that Joseph had the right to dictate and govern as he pleased, and it seems clear that he did.

Much is made of the holy and religious nature of these things, Mormons claiming that "Plural marriage was about revelation and obedience, not lust". Consider, however, the attitude in which these "servants of God" approached the issue:

"Supposing that I have a wife or a dozen of them, and she should say, 'You cannot be exalted without me,' and suppose they all should say so what of that? Suppose that I lose the whole of them before I go into the spirit world, but that I have been a good, faithful, man…do you think I will be destitute there.

No, the Lord says there are more there than there than are here…there are millions of them…we will got to brother Joseph and say, 'Here we are brother Joseph; we are here ourselves are we not., with none of the property we possessed in our probationary state, not even the rings on our fingers?' He will say to us, 'Come along, my boys, we will give you a good suit of clothes. Where are your wives?' 'They are back yonder; they would not follow us.' 'Never mind," says Joseph, 'Here are thousands, have all you want.'" - Journal of Discourses, vol.4, p.209.

It sounds positively pious, doesn't it? Liberating for women and humbling for men. It also sounds more like the heaven of Islam than that of Christianity. It sounds like the Mormonism of Warren Jeffs and the FLDS rather than the Mormonism of Gordon B Hinckley.

Seth

Are you comfortable with this picture of Joseph Smith and his early followers? Is this liberating for and honouring towards women? Are these men faithful followers or deluded and pathetic mysoginists? Is this really the plan of God or the work of evil? If Smith's ways were so thoroughly virtuous why should he feel the need to lie about them?

"But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God." (2 Cor.4:2)

Seth R. said...

Problem is Mike, you are talking to someone who does not see any problem with the idea of polygyny, polyandry, polygamy in general as a religious concept.

In earthly practice, sure, I can see plenty of problems, as I am sure you can too.

But given the Mormon idea of eternal marriage, and marriage in the Celestial Kingdom - do I see a problem with women with multiple husbands and vis versa?

No. I don't.

In fact, I think it's a splendid idea. I find it a rather lovely principle that there is room in the human heart for more than one person and that a man or woman who loses a spouse in mortality, and then remarries will not be forced to choose between the two.

In light of the Mormon view of eternal family bonds, I think that some form of polygamy in the hereafter is inevitable if you believe in a just God.

These bonds were Joseph's primary concern and mission throughout his ministry. His goal and aim was to seal the entire human family together in covenant bonds before God. You can see this in his attempts at building Zion where, according to the Pearl of Great Price, they were of "one heart and one mind." You can see it in his great mission from Elijah the prophet of "turning the hearts of the children to the fathers and the fathers to the children." And you can see it in his marriage practices.

His primary aim and purpose was to bind people to each other in sacred bonds. That's primarily what polygamy was about. Not his sex drive - which could have been easily satisfied in other less complicated ways (as other cult leaders have done). Not his desire for power - for he immediately encouraged the practice among all who could receive it (Joseph was a great democrat that way).

I have always considered polygamy a hard principle, a difficult principle (I have no desire to restore its mortal practice), but an utterly magnificent principle of love on the highest order.

And while I think that Joseph was not very practical man, and often made a hash of the implementation, I'm not going to apologize for the principle behind it.

And I don't think God Almighty Himself is half so stuck on the form of human relationships as you are Mike.

maybemaybenot said...

Thank you, Mike, I appreciate how thorough and articulate you are. This could not have been presented better.

Seth, you said I needed to reread your previous post slowly. Trust me, I read and reread your post before commenting - trying to find some sense in it. My response was tongue-in-cheek. Of course, you and I both know that Joseph did not marry Kimball to run his household. We know exactly what most, if not all, of his marriages were about.

You see, in my 8 year spiritual downspiraling, as I tried depserately to hold onto my faith, I came across every posssible argument for polygamy (among other "touchy" doctrines). I wanted to be able to hold onto at least one of those explanations. I didn't want to lose my religion. It was everything to me. It gave me my purpose and my meaning.

But, in my indepedndent study (wherein I turned ONLY to LDS approved scripture and church history for about the first 6 of those years), the contradictions, the inconsistencies and the lies became glaringly obvious. The saying, "ignorance is bliss"? Well, there is some truth to that. As it was painful to realize I had been lied to, deceived, tricked. I felt like such a fool. I almost wished I had never done that study and investigation. I wished, at that point, that I had remained in the dark. At least then I had my God loving me and my prophet guiding me. There was comfort in that.

However, that is not exactly my point. My point is, there are certain things that just can't be justified, denied or rationalized. And trust me, I tried every angle I could to do that for those 8 years, but it was exhausting. And I am at peace.

When I hear Mormons throw out all the excuses now, I feel badly for them, but I don't often let it get to me too much. With you, Seth, I do get a bit frustrated and I'll tell you why.

I have alluded to it before, but it deserves some expounding upon. I've seen your comments pop up on many of the blogs I follow over the past year. You do seem to play devil's advocate a lot, which I don't mind too much. There is some fun and benefit in doing that at times. It can spur some deeper thought and meaningful debate.

However, I know you're a pretty smart guy. And sometimes I feel like deep down you really know that some of the arguments you are making just plain don't hold up. And, as I've stated before, I think I see you slowly losing belief in these things - because you ARE smart enough to see what is so plain before your face. But maybe you're afraid? I guess I just relate to that and I empathize.

This can be frustrating. Why? Because I know what happened when I finally stoped accepting rationalizations for corrupt, bad behavior. I know what happened when I gracefully surrendered to the obvious truths I had found.

Did the world come to an end? No. That is when my life really began. It was so liberating to have my own independent thoughts, to trust myself to run my life. I found a peace, a genuine peace that I had not known before. And the opposite of what most might think would happen in a situation like this happened. I did not become some huge rebel breaking the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity. Instead, I was solely accountable for my actions and the direction my life took. I began to want to do the right things and improve myself for different reasons.

Anyway, over the past ten years I have made better choices, gained self-esteem and confidence and found a deeper more lasting happiness than all my years in the church. And now, looking back, I am shocked and a little embarrassed that I had accepted lame excuses for so long.

All of this is a little rambly and I apologize for this. My train of thought gets sidetracked fairly often with five kiddos runnig around needing my attention for this and that.

I would just challenge you, Seth, to look at this stuff seriously. You've got a good head on your shoulders - you just seem afraid and defensive.

Jennifer

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

Let's remember that this discussion is based on a commentary on the Mormon Church's rejection of and disassociation with polygamy. I just thought you might like to think about that.

Consider also the fact that polygamy is not a biblical principle or command. You will not find it taught as integral to the faith of the people of God in either the Old or New Testament. You will not find God commanding it or requiring it of his people.

Consider further that the New Testament is our model for "church" since it is the Church of Jesus Christ that interests us. The New Testament clearly commands monogamy.

Polyandry is clearly not part of the plan since a woman who marries more than one man at a time is an "adulteress":

"Thus a married woman is bound by law to her while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress" (Ro.7:2-3)

Polyginy is also forbidden since Elders are to have "but one wife":

"Therefore an overseer [elder] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?" (1 Tim.3:2-3)

To be monogomous is likened to being "sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable." Likewise deacons:

"Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well." (1 Tim.3:12)

Finally, marriage is for this age and not for eternity:

"Jesus said to them, 'The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection'" (Lk.20:35-36)

I guess you must decide whether you mean it when you say you believe in the Bible. f you do then you cannot endorse polygamy because the Bible does not and you must endorse monogomy because the Bible clearly does. The Bible also makes it clear that marriage of any sort is not an eternal principle teaching, as it does, that it is for this age only.

But if you believe in polygamy surely even then you cannot begin to endorse the abject misery and oppression suffered by women under this appalling Mormon practice. You are looking at the world through the rose-tinted glasses of doctrine, considering what you regard as "the best of all possible worlds", and failing to acknowledge the dreadful attitudes displayed by Smith and these men around him.

There is no golden age of polygamy. No practice of it that does not humiliate, oppress and debase. Certainly there have been times in history, indeed there are instances today, where cultural mores that accommodate some degree of the practice make it a lesser evil but it is not good and not God's plan.

How far are you prepared to go to make excuses for these men? How long will you hesitate between two opinions, giving acclamation to them while hoping this is not required of you?

maybemaybenot said...

Um, Seth? You do know Polygamy is for men only in the Mormon church, right? MEN ONLY. Bounds of love? Give me a break. If that were remotely true, it would be for both men and women. Show me anywhere that this principle has included women.

See, it is things like this that make it very hard for me to take you seriously. You know darn good and well, that polygamy was a concept that included men having multiple wives. Never "vis versa" as you put it.

Furthermore, we can all love our spritual brothers and sisters without marrying them or having sex with them. I love my parents, friends, neighbors, spouse and kids. But I'm not going to marry all of those individuals and certainly not have sex with them. Different relationships have different components to them for a reason.

If this was not about men's sexual promiscuities and proclivities he would have loved and taken care of the women and girls in his community in ways that did not include the sacred union of marriage or sex. Period.

And you said it yourself - its earthly practice has plenty of problems. Well, Joseph Smith was on earth. AN earthly man. The women and children he was marrying were earthly. So were their homes and communities. And yes, there were plenty of problems. Plenty. But, again,an omniscient God could not have foreseen this?

IT kind of feels silly to even argue this to tell you the truth.

maybemaybenot said...

Um, Seth? You do know Polygamy is for men only in the Mormon church, right? MEN ONLY. Bounds of love? Give me a break. If that were remotely true, it would be for both men and women. Show me anywhere that this principle has included women.

See, it is things like this that make it very hard for me to take you seriously. You know darn good and well, that polygamy was a concept that included men having multiple wives. Never "vis versa" as you put it.

Furthermore, we can all love our spritual brothers and sisters without marrying them or having sex with them. I love my parents, friends, neighbors, spouse and kids. But I'm not going to marry all of those individuals and certainly not have sex with them. Different relationships have different components to them for a reason.

If this was not about men's sexual promiscuities and proclivities he would have loved and taken care of the women and girls in his community in ways that did not include the sacred union of marriage or sex. Period.

And you said it yourself - its earthly practice has plenty of problems. Well, Joseph Smith was on earth. AN earthly man. The women and children he was marrying were earthly. So were their homes and communities. And yes, there were plenty of problems. Plenty. But, again,an omniscient God could not have foreseen this?

IT kind of feels silly to even argue this to tell you the truth.

Seth R. said...

Maybe,

I'm well aware that polygamy AFTER JOSEPH was only ever with one husband and multiple wives. Thing is, that's not how Joseph practiced it. That's how Brigham Young practiced it. In many ways Brigham Young was a good thing for the Church. He brought a ruthless sort of no-nonsense approach to the Church that was desperately needed to hack out a living from the wastelands of Utah. In many ways he was a vastly superior community planner than Joseph, and I think he also handled polygamy more appropriately than Joseph did.

But he was also rather rigid in his thinking. It was he who institutionalized polygyny as the official way. He who pretty-much demolished the powers that Joseph had granted to the Relief Society (which was almost a power-unto itself under Joseph). And he who set the Church on a foundation where it could flourish.

But I think it was pretty much his own idea. I don't think it was necessarily the "true order of heaven."

As it so happens, a woman CAN be sealed to more than one man in the modern LDS Church. I know of numerous people who have sealed one of their female ancestors to numerous men (where she had more than one husband in life). Currently a living man can be sealed to more than one wife. A woman must be dead before it can happen to her.

But I personally feel this is inevitably the way the LDS Church will progress in doctrine in the coming decades. There is nothing in scripture that says why a woman should not be sealed to more than one man (I'll get to you in a minute Mike). In fact, D&C 132 - the key passage on polygamy and Celestial Marriage - seems to pretty much ALLOW a woman to be married to more than one man - even while living. Here's the passage in question verses 41-42:

"And as ye have asked concerning adultery, verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man receiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with another man, and I have not appointed unto her by the holy anointing, she hath committed adultery and shall be destroyed.

If she be not in the new and everlasting covenant, and she be with another man, she has committed adultery."

Read that carefully. The key phrase is - "if she be with another man, and I have not appointed unto her by the holy anointing."

In other words, if the Lord has "appointed unto her," it's fine if she's with another man.

You won't hear this taught in LDS Gospel Doctrine classes. I just take it from a plain reading of the scriptures we claim as canon.

I consider polygyny-only to be an anachronistic stance that will eventually be challenged and abandoned within the LDS Church. Maybe not in the next 50 years. But ultimately, God is a God of love and fairness and I am confident the correct result will out.

Mike,

I could go through each of those scriptures you cited (and a few from the Old Testament that you missed) and show why none of them amount to a doctrinal rejection of polygamy or eternal marriage.

Care to hear it?

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Seth

I would like to see your thoughts on the subject but on the proviso that they are not based on inferences inappropriately drawn from Scripture (by Scripture I mean the Bible). Your point about polyginy in your last post is not in the text but an inference you have drawn ina a desperate attempt to support your brand of mormonism that, frankly, feels more and more like you are making it up as you go along.

I taught Mormonism for 14 years my friend and I can assure you that you are way out on a limb with that one.

Mormons are fond of doing this and if you study key texts that are claimed to support Mormonism from the Bible they are all inferred from the text , indeed the inferrences often contradict what the Bible clearly teaches in it's wider context, but they are not taught by the text. I could give you a substantial list if you wish and we could discuss them one-by-one.

The important point here is that, from the Bible, it is clear what the Lord has to say about marriage. Show me from the Bible why you want to contradict this teaching.

Seth R. said...

Maybe/Jennifer,

You made some other points I wanted to address separately from the polygamy debate.

First, I appreciate the compliment. Although I think I've met plenty of people both inside and outside the Church far more learned and intelligent than I.

Now about being on the "defensive."

Well, yeah... that kind of comes with the territory when you are going onto someone else's turf and being forced to defend your beliefs. It's inevitable that I would be "defensive" given the context of the discussion. But I think you are premature to conclude that this is a sign of weakness.

It always looks "weak" when you allow someone else to set the terms of the debate. Why do you think in most presidential debates both candidates almost completely ignore the remarks of their opponent and focus instead on tossing out their own prepared soundbites?

Because if they bother to answer the questions of their opponent, they risk him taking control of the debate - which is the kiss of death in a general election.

I'm not here running for political office. So I'm willing to be on the defensive here. I suppose I could go on the offensive and attack Mike's faith. One tack I've seen often is the "your faith is just as silly as you think mine is." Another would be to derail the conversation onto some other topic where I see his religion as weak.

But honestly, whats the point?

Looks more like a circular firing squad to me. I trash Mike's faith. He trashes mine. And all the while the atheists sit back and enjoy the show.

I wanted to try avoiding going there. So if that looks weak to you, so be it. But I wouldn't read too much into my own personal belief in the LDS faith from it.

Now, some specific comments you made:

"sometimes I feel like deep down you really know that some of the arguments you are making just plain don't hold up."

This is probably because I'm cursed with always seeing both sides of the issue. When I present a pro-LDS argument, I do so being aware of most of the counter-arguments to it.

For instance, I could probably tell you exactly how 90% of most "Mormons are polytheists" discussions on the internet will play out before they even get started. I know what the average Mormon who stumbles onto the post will say. I know what the prepped and ready Evangelical counter-cultists will retort (including the snappy one-liners they will pull out). I know what the more thoughtful Mormons who wade in will say. And I know how the Evangelicals will react to the more serious commentary.

I've seen it play out dozens of times before and it has a certain rhythm. If I give the impression of not spilling everything I know, it's probably because even as I'm throwing out a pro-Mormon argument, I already know what the response is going to be, and I'm mentally prepping to answer it productively.

I also don't see the world in black and white or in simple terms. I think sometimes Evangelical criticisms (for instance) are actually pretty valid. For instance, I do think the Evangelicals make some pretty good points about Mormon attitudes towards grace vs. works.

But I don't then take it to the conclusion that those Evangelicals do - "the Church must be completely false and untrue!"

But let's get to the key point where you and I differ. To quote you:

"The saying, "ignorance is bliss"? Well, there is some truth to that. As it was painful to realize I had been lied to, deceived, tricked. I felt like such a fool. I almost wished I had never done that study and investigation. I wished, at that point, that I had remained in the dark. At least then I had my God loving me and my prophet guiding me. There was comfort in that."

I've heard this story before with variations. I've gone through something similar where I discovered that what I thought I knew about the LDS faith was not the entire story. I had to outgrow a lot of my own arguments.

But here's the thing - I never once felt "betrayed" as you did. I felt very keenly that the LDS Church was not being up front with everything I thought they could be more up front with. But I never felt like people were lying to me. And even if they were lying to me, I could sympathize with their reasons for doing so.

Also I refused to let this be the prophet's religion, or the bishop's religion, or Bruce R. McConkie's religion, or even my father's religion.

It was MY religion. And I was going to take ownership of it. Whatever I learned in this church was going to be MY responsibility. My own testimony - not the Gospel Doctrine manual's testimony.

Put simply, I liked Mormonism. I like the doctrines, I like the cosmology. I like the theology. It resonates with me too much for me to dump it all just because Joseph Smith lied to his wife, or because Brigham Young may (emphasize MAY) have been a party to a mass murder, or because Gospel Doctrine classes in the LDS Church are currently taught at the sixth grade level, or because of a silly DNA study, or, or, or whatever.

This is MY faith, and MY religion and how I view it is no one's responsibility but my own. If LDS Apostle Spencer W. Kimball wanted to write in his book "Miracle of Forgiveness" that masturbation causes homosexuality, I suppose that was his own business. But I need not go into fetal position and cry about how "he ruined it" for me.

This religion is bigger than any man who was involved in it. And I will do Mormonism my own way. I actually don't have a testimony of everything the LDS Church claims.

Just today in Elders Quorum we read a passage where Joseph Smith claimed that the majority of the LDS membership would not go astray and if you sided with the majority, you were likely to go right.

Well, I don't think I have a testimony of that at all. I have no burning conviction that Joseph was correct in saying that or not.

But I do know this. The Book of Mormon has laid the foundations for a moral and spiritual life that I prize very, very highly. When I read the Pearl of Great Price or the Doctrine and Covenants, I hear the voice of God there.

When Enoch sees God weeping and asks Him why, I consider that one of the most powerful and moving passages in ALL scripture ever written on the face of the planet.

And you want me to chuck that because Joseph Smith married a 14 year old?

A little perspective here please.

I love this religion - warts and all. Joseph Smith was one of the most outrageous and admirable figures in history ever to walk the planet. He was bold, innovative, and unafraid to risk everything for the chance to rewrite world theology forever. He stomped across the American religious landscape leaving a trail of wreckage in his wake.

He challenged all the most fundamental assumptions of Western religion and scared half the Christian world to death in the process. They still haven't managed to cope with him successfully.

He was magnificent!

And he founded the first major world religion to appear since Muhammad walked out of the desert. A religion that will change the face of world thinking about God forever.

And I get to be in on the ground level! I can be a part of shaping where this is all heading!

Who wouldn't want to be a part of that?

maybemaybenot said...

Mike,

I leave this one to you now; I'm a bit too frustrated and I think you have more patience than I do. Furthermore, I can not argue from a biblical standpoint, as I don't have faith in that either. My points are strictly based on morality and common sense. Which because of Seth's rationalizations, I question him in both of those areas.

Seth, I wish you luck. I might see you around, but I can't debate this topic any longer. To me, the arguments are nonsensical, unreasonable and often, incoherent. Have fun with the whole polyamy thing.

Cheers,

Jennifer

Seth R. said...

Fine Jennifer,

But I suspect the real reason you are frustrated is because I'm presenting a type of thinking you aren't used to.

It's hard to get outside your preconceived notions about the world.

Is it so hard to see that I would not want to jettison a theology I find so much value in for the mere fact that Joseph married a 14 year old?

Why would I throw out such a fabulous theology, and a lifetime of personal relationship with God, just because of some icky history?

maybemaybenot said...

Seth, although your last comment appears before mine, I typed mine before reading yours.

As I said, I won't argue the veracity of LDS claims with you anymore as I sincerely feel your arguments are unreasonable. However, I will leave you with this:

I do not beleive I called YOU weak. If I did, my apologies. I don't think you are weak for being Mormon or being convicted in your beliefs. I think the beliefs themselves are absurd, but I don't take that as a personal mark against you. Remember - I used to be a card carrying Mormon myself and I was tenacious about my beliefs for 6 years or more and was proud to be a Mormon.

And yes, if someone lies to me (including lying by omission) on a large scale, I feel betrayed. And I am not going to "own" a religion or remain a member of a religion that I see as racist, sexist, mysogynistic (sp?) and prejudice. No way.

And that is where we fundamentally disagree. You think Joseph Smith was a great guy. You see the issues we have been discussing as "warts". I, on the other hand, after years and years of thoughful, diligent study, believe that Joseph Smith was a drunken liar, a womanizer and pedophile, to say the least. A certain amount of charm, charisma and possibly innovation does not make a great man in my eyes.

The men in my life that I look up to and rely on are truly great men - faithful to their wives, attentive to their children, not prone to addictions or prejudice. I accept their imperfections but know that even they are probably not "prophet of God" material. But they would come a hell of a lot closer than Joseph Smith. No true prohet of God = not the true church. And that is only one of many areas where I see major issues.

You failed to acknowledge most of the positive aspects of my last comment. Notably, that I am happier and more at peace than my many years in the LDS church. Furthermore, and ironically enough, I have actually become a more aware, conscientious and moral person since leaving the church as well. Some of that is no doubt due to maturity. But I give most of the credit to my ability to find true motivation for good living from tangible, measurable and quantifable sources.

Of course, you have the right to believe what you may. I have nothing personal against you, for sure. In fact, I have a feeling if we were to meet I'd probably like you a great deal. And I do appreciate that at least you think about these things - that is more than I can say for the vast majority of Mormons. But I can't help but feel a bit sad for all of my Mormon friends. Life is short and how much you all miss.

Genuinely, I wish you good luck and I may find occassion to converse with you in the future on other topics.

Jennifer Kennedy

Seth R. said...

Jennifer, keep in mind that I did not even try to suggest that the positives you have found outside the Church are not valid.

I am not one of those Mormons who goes around inwardly smirking about how horrible the atheist/agnostic life must be. Nor do I hold the view that activity in the LDS Church is always the ideal place for a person to be in their spiritual journey.

The big disconnect here between you and I is twofold:

1. You see the failings of Church history as greater than I honestly think they are.

For example. I do not think that Joseph Smith was a pedophile. Nor do I think the primary motivation in his multiple marriages was pure lust. This just seems like a childishly simplistic analysis of his life, and I don't buy it.

Nor do I think the Church is misogynistic. I think rhetoric gets the better of measured thought with our critics here.

2. You are unable to separate the RELIGION from its history.

Why does being an active believing Mormon require that I explain away, say... the Mountain Meadows Massacre? Maybe Brigham Young ordered it, maybe he didn't. But either way, why should it impact whether I believe in the Atonement, the divine destiny of humanity, and God?

You are trying to assume a causality here, that just isn't there.

My religion has always been something distinct from the Church or its history.

maybemaybenot said...

Seth,

Actually, I am used to all ways of thinking and am really quite open-minded, much to the dismay of many of my conservative friends and family members. To the contrary - I have read and contemplated all of your arguments and just find them, for the most art, ridiculous. Just because I do not agree with you does not mean I am close-minded. The last time I checked, even the most liberal of people did not accept deceit and child molestation as a proper way of living.

You really do, in my humble opinion, downplay, trivialize and minimize some very serious CRIMES on behalf of the Mormon church and its leaders throughtout history, including up to the present day - think Prop 8 (no, I definitely don't want to start a debate there).

It is those crimes that have caused me to excuse myself from the LDS church. However, those crimes have zero to do with my loss of faith in God. I did not abandon all hope just because I found the Mormon church to be a fraud. I went from Catholic (raised for 13 years) to Mormon (converted and remained, officially, for 10 years), to a plain vanilla Christian (for 6 years) to agnostic (for 5 years) to agnostic/heavily leaning aetheist for for the last two years.

During that time, I read more scriptures and books, took more classes, attended more churches, temples and synagogues, talked to more bishops, pastors and priests, listened to more testimonies and conversion stories and attended more meetings than you can begin to imagine. That doesn't even begin to touch on the amount of energy I spent on countless prayers and fastings.

And you can go right on ahead and be judgmental about that - I am more than used to it from the Mormon segment. You have no idea the road I have travelled or the efforts I put there to prevent that loss. It is insulting and a slap in the face to insinuate that I have come to some flip conclusion based on very little thought over one man's matrimonial behaviors. And quite condescending. You should have more respect for someone who has shared a personal part of their past rather than chalk it up to laziness or pettiness. You may not agree with me but to not acknowledge that these are tough issues wherein one might come to a different conclusion than you and still be an upright person is very small of you.

Jennifer

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Jennifer

I am sorry you feel you can't stay but I perfectly understand. I once corresponded (before emails, blogs etc. remember letters?) with a Mormon friend about my leaving the Mormon Church and I felt there was something wrong with the way we were talking past each other. Only at the end of our correspondence did he inform me that he had embraced gnostic thinking for reasons that, on reflection, I understood to some degree.

My point is that I thought I was talking to a Mormon when he was speaking as a gnostic with Mormon overtones.

Seth

Don't take this the wrong way but you are not a Mormon as any General Authority might define Mormon. That is not a criticism but an observation and I rejoice in it since you are prepared to think for yourself. But you are not a Mormon.

You can call yourself a Mormon but if you think for yourself and make Mormonism in your own image then you are not a Mormon. You are like my gnostic friend and have a Mormon patina but what is underneath is not Mormon.

As long as you only look at Mormonism on paper and fail to address its real issues you will settle for what you choose to see instead of dealing with what you know is really there.

Your starting point is all wrong. You are looking at what impresses and/or pleases you when you should be anxious to follow what pleases God. Your apologetic for what you believe is one rationalisation after another. Your way of thinking is not unfamiliar, as you suggest, but very familiar.

You trivialise serious challenges (he only married a fourteen year old?)and press on us your alternative morality (only a fourteen year old?) all the time feigning surprise that people should think differently, pretending a sophistication that places you in a better, more enlightened position, when all along Mormonism is, as always, on trial.

I was interested in your remarks about being defensive. Of course anyone put in the position of defending their faith will be defensive, as you say. But I am intrigued by the fact that Mormons and Mormonism are always in that defensive position, always on the back foot, always having to prove their bona fides as Christians and continuing to fail.

Baptists don't have to protest that they are Christians, nor do Methodists, Apostolics etc.

You have already acknowledged that there are aspects of Mormonism and Mormon history and doctrine that cannot be defended. I guess the point we have been trying to make is that the degree of error, the extent of corruption and the downright lies give the lie to the claim that these men are prophets of God.

Gordon B Hinckley made a career of lying from the time he returned from his mission and joined the newly etsablished public relations department of the church to the time he died. His life was a lie and his death a blessed relief for those of us who were sick of hearing him bury the truth about Mormonism under a plethora of plattitudes and double-speak before an audience of "bless him, he's an old man" sycophants who would go to any lengths to avoid the expediency of having to think for themselves.

You think for yourself. The Mormon Church doesn't deserve you and God has better for you (1 Kings 18:21)

maybemaybenot said...

Don't worry, Mike - I am not leaving the blog - I love it. I'm just exiting the debate at hand about polygamy because I am simply tired from it. You are, by far, better at this than I am.

Which, by the way, I love, love, love your last comment. And I agree with you about Seth. He is too good for the Mormon church and his intellect and talent would be so better served elsewhere.

Don't worry, I'll be around. Believe it or not, most of my contributions to the blogs I love are more humorous and light-hearted.

Take care dear friend,

Jennifer

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Thanks Jennifer

I did let rip a little back there. I did study on the life of GBH some time back and the full realisation of what I was seeing hit me like a thunderbolt. It became so embarrassingly obvious when you looked at his life that virtually every denial, every dissimmilation, every claim to ignorance had to be a lie.

I wrote an article on it that you can read on the Reachout web site. Let me know what you think about it all. Maybe I can start another discussion on how many of these GAs know what they claim not to know.

http://www.reachouttrust.org/articles/lds/ldshinktime.htm

maybemaybenot said...

Excellent article, Mike. Just finished it. I used to be in shock when I would come to these realizations. But it has happened so many times now that I am not the least bit surprised.

I do kind of feel sorry for some of these GAs. I know how hard it was for me to exit the church with all of the pressure from my friends and ward members and all of the guilt and fear they heaped on me.

I can't imagine what it would be like to come to the absolute realization that the church isn't "the true church" after all - all the while knowing you are a 4th or 5th generation Mormom, you're married to a Mormon, you served a Mormon mission, you raised umpteen Mormon kids who all went on Mormon missions and married Mormons and have begun having umpteen hundred Mormon grandkids. All the while you're employed by the Mormon church, and all your friends, colleagues and most neighbors are Mormon.

How in hell do you get out of the Mormon church under those circumstances?!?!?! We affectionately call it the Mormon Mafia. That is why I feel sorry for some of those guys. I guarantee you, some, if not most, of the GAs and other church leaders do not believe the church to be true but they go along with it - otherwise they stand to lose friends, family and maybe even a livelihood.

High price to pay. I can't say I'd have had the courage to leave had I had so much at stake. The thought of it makes me sad, even.

Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer

maybemaybenot said...

Excellent article, Mike. Just finished it. I used to be in shock when I would come to these realizations. But it has happened so many times now that I am not the least bit surprised.

I do kind of feel sorry for some of these GAs. I know how hard it was for me to exit the church with all of the pressure from my friends and ward members and all of the guilt and fear they heaped on me.

I can't imagine what it would be like to come to the absolute realization that the church isn't "the true church" after all - all the while knowing you are a 4th or 5th generation Mormom, you're married to a Mormon, you served a Mormon mission, you raised umpteen Mormon kids who all went on Mormon missions and married Mormons and have begun having umpteen hundred Mormon grandkids. All the while you're employed by the Mormon church, and all your friends, colleagues and most neighbors are Mormon.

How in hell do you get out of the Mormon church under those circumstances?!?!?! We affectionately call it the Mormon Mafia. That is why I feel sorry for some of those guys. I guarantee you, some, if not most, of the GAs and other church leaders do not believe the church to be true but they go along with it - otherwise they stand to lose friends, family and maybe even a livelihood.

High price to pay. I can't say I'd have had the courage to leave had I had so much at stake. The thought of it makes me sad, even.

Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer