Thursday, 26 February 2009

Foundation for Christian Studies

The Foundation for Christian Studies at www.studychristianity.org is drawing the attention of an increasing number of Christian apologetics and anti-cult ministries. Typical among the comments from those who have contacted us are:

Warning!

Pass this on as a warning!!! This is very deceptive.

Deceptive Web site!

What could be deceptive about a foundation dedicated to the study of Christianity, whose web address is an open invitation to "study Christianity"? Well, this foundation is a thoroughly Mormon institution and the deception is in that this fact is not immediately apparent. Keith MacGregor of MacGregor Ministries commented "It may be hard for many to find out that this is LDS unless one knows Mormonism"

Having studied the site we have found that the alarm is justified. I wrote to the founders putting people's concerns and asking why they feel it necessary to be less than frank about their identity and activities. The following is the extent of our correspondence, a correspondence they were not happy to enter into and proved increasingly anxious should end. The first email was on a pro forma section of the web site and my questions were addressed generally to the organisation. I soon found myself talking to Eric Shuster, a Mormon and the "Founder and Executive Director". His qualifications are in Business and Engineering. His fellow "Board of Advisors" are:

"Theological Advisor" John Hasler, a Mormon religious teacher (BYU, University of Utah etc)

"Theological Advisor" Chris Brady, a dentist, who "has served in numerous ecclesiastical positions including leadership, auxiliaries, and teaching", in other words as a lay Mormon leader

"Theological Advisor" Marilyn Shuster, wife of Eric, Mormon convert and former nun whose formal training is from a Catholic University. Her Mormon experience is the same as every other Mormon's, that is, as a volunteer teacher/leader

David White, "PR Advisor", a Mormon and "Marketing Executive"

Charles Sale, "Columnist" a policeman with a Catholic background and a convert to Mormonism

Stephen Swift, a Mormon and a lawyer dubbed "Outside Legal Advisor"

Ashley Wiechmann a Mormon and Accountant

Russell Childs a Mormon and Accountant

Every member of this board is a Mormon and the only ones with any formal theological qualifications are John Hasler, whose formal qualifications are Mormon and Marilyn Shuster whose only formal qualifications are Catholic. Otherwise they are a group of people whose only qualifications are as lay leaders and teachers in the Mormon Church. Now there is nothing wrong with that except that they are qualified to teach Mormonism in a lay capacity but in no way qualified in doing what this site purports to do, that is, teach Christianity. This is what they had to say for themselves:

"I want to know how you feel about the charge I have heard and with which I concur that your site is rather deceptive since you do not declare up front that you are Mormons. You present yourselves as a Christian site knowing I am sure that this claim is fiercely contended by most Christians and it is neither obvious who you are or what affiliation you have with the Mormon Church.

There is little to indicate to the uninformed that the beliefs you espouse stand in contrast with and opposition to the claims of two thousand years of Christian history. Indeed, yours is a classic example of the ploy of postulating what has yet to be proven, i.e. that you are Christian.

Are you an official Mormon site? If so where is your clear statement to that effect? If not where is the disclaimer making clear that the views expressed on this site are not those of the Mormon Church?"

Folks:

Thank you so much for visiting the Foundation for Christian Studies. We appreciate your feedback and communication, although you both seem to take great exception at our approach.

We are in no way deceptive in the least. We clearly state the Christian Orthodoxy which we follow in the about section of the website:

http://www.studychristianity.com/christian_orthodoxy.html

We are foundation and in no way affiliated with any Church. If you read my own personal testimony as the founder, you can learn more about my own background as a Christian and the clearly stated fact that I align myself in believe and affiliation with the Christian denomination of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

http://www.studychristianity.com/founderstestimony.html

There is no deception here - myself and the board of advisors are simply teaching the world about the Christianity that we have come to embrace. We are not an apologetic website, nor a defender of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As our foundation statement reads we are "a non-profit organization dedicated to the study, teaching, and practice of Christianity in a way that inspires all people, regardless of theological differences, to come together in support of essential Christian values and compassionate service to God's children across the globe."

If you would like to discuss a particular doctrine you feel is out of step with your own interpretation of Christianity we would be happy to do so. If you would like to understand our definition of a Christian you can do so on the website at: http://www.studychristianity.com/christian_defined.html .

Perhaps we can start with what the definition of a Christian is and why you believe myself and the rest of the foundation, even Mormons as a group of people, are not Christians. I would be very interested in how you have arrived at that conclusion.

I truly hope you will visit us again and join in the dialogue taking place.

May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you and your loved ones with his spirit and redeeming love.

Sincerely,

Eric Shuster

Founder and Executive Director

The Foundation for Christian Studies

www.studychristianity.org

eshuster@studychristianity.org

Eric

Thank you for replying and sharing your convictions. That is the problem, however, i.e. your convictions. Not so much that I and other concerned people don't agree with them - we don't but we have no difficulty dealing with that - but that your presentation of them is opaque and circumspect. The home page will only appear Mormon to the initiated and informed. The heavy emphasis on Christian themes and the total absence of unambiguous Mormon content would lead uninformed visitors to believe that it was a "Foundation for Christian Studies" associated with reputable, uncontroversial and familiar mainstream Christianity. It is not a Foundation for Christian Studies but a Foundation for Mormon Studies. You just fail to be frank about the fact and that is hardly to your credit.

You directed me to the page that purports to tell us all about you. The first page in your "about us" section fails completely to make clear that you are Mormons, even to mention Mormonism, yet that is what your site is all about. I note you claim in your email that you are not an apologetics web site. However what you present on the page to which you directed me, "Christian Orthodoxy", is not by any measure a forthright and balanced account but is a carefully constructed apologetic for what you believe, i.e. Mormonism. It is simply the Mormon account of apostasy and restoration that is peculiar to the Mormon faith and alien to every orthodox account of the Christian faith. You would do better by your visitors if you were to say as much instead of claiming to be a Christian who happens to be of the Mormon persuasion.

The problem then is that those of us who know Mormonism and Christianity know that yours is a Mormon Institution attempting to appear Christian by the age old ploy of postulating as established and uncontroversial those many things about Mormonism that you know full well are far from uncontroversial and further still from being established as in any way orthodox by any recognised Christian standard.

I note on your page "Christian Defined" that you appeal for your purposes to Encyclopaedia Britannica and religioustolerance.org, a non-Christian and multi-faith organisation. You then make hyperbolic accusations of Pharisaic thinking against those who would challenge your claims. You attempt to establish your bona fides as Christians not by an appeal to clear and unequivocal definitions but by establishing what, by your own admission, is an obscure and ill-defined measure. You effectively use the Bible as a dictionary and insist that "Christian" is not defined clearly enough as to be specific beyond identifying a follower of Jesus.

On that basis, you present the name "Christian" as a lowest common denominator and then conveniently include yourself in a category that you have made so broad as to be almost meaningless. But the Bible is not a dictionary and the title or name "Christian" is easily and specifically enough defined for anyone who cares to know and understand it. The rest of your apologetic on this page is a dripping with irony. As members of a church that has always made far-reaching claims of exclusivity you appeal to the unbiblical idea that somehow Jesus was so "tolerant" as to be prepared to allow just about anyone who cared to use his name be called by his name. Then you have the audacity to claim that your board comprises people who are intimately familiar with and intensely interested in Scripture!

Finally, you fail on all counts to achieve any of your goals, stated, implied or inferred by the unsuspecting reader.

If your aim is to give a frank and honest presentation of Mormonism you have failed when you prove so circumspect about your convictions presenting yourself as a Christian who just happens to be of the Mormon persuasion (and that far away from the front page)

If your aim is to present a full and honest account of Christianity you have failed because Mormonism is not Christianity and, even though you would insist it is, Mormonism by its nature precludes every Christian Church.

If your aim is to present yourself as an impartial and uncontroversial academy presenting an even-handed account of Christianity, which your title implies, then you have failed because you are Mormon and are completely out of sympathy with established Christian churches and traditions.

You are promoting Mormonism. The packaging may be slick and the presentation impressive for its originality, but that is what you are doing. I just feel sad and disappointed that people who seem so anxious to go by the name "Christian", a name that even by your standards must be at least synonymous with honesty and candour, should feel it necessary to be so thoroughly diffident about it. Of course, I don't expect for a moment that you should like my remarks but I am reminded of the words of Robert Burns:

Oh, that God the gift would give us

To see ourselves as others see us

Regards

Mike Thomas

Mike:

Thank you for your thoughts. I hope you find time to visit the Study Forum and participate - many are doing so.

The Lord is blessing us tremendously and we are grateful for that.

You are my Christian brother, just as I am yours. We can agree to disagree on finer points of doctrine and that's OK. I will still love you as my brother.

I wish you the very best and pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will bless you and your family always.

Eric Shuster

Eric

Is that it? You invite comment and dialogue and then refuse to engage with it? Am I to understand that you are earnest enough about your faith that you sacrifice your time and effort to promote it but refuse to address the concerns of Christians who visit your site? And then you expect people to take you seriously! When you put yourself out there you must be prepared to engage with what you find out there. Your response demonstrates again that this is the very area where the Mormon Church and it's unfortunate adherents fall down in the area of apologetics. You purport to discuss but in truth refuse to engage. As long as this continues the very thing you aspire to, acceptance as a Christian organisation that deserves to be taken seriously, will never be achieved.

I am not disappointed that the perception of the Mormon Church as a cult will remain but it is depressing to find, once again, a group of Mormons going out into the world to promote their faith under the guise of Christian orthodoxy. Further, to find that you will not honestly engage with critics, preferring to hide behind the erroneous and thoroughly unbiblical view held in the world that to agree to disagree is the most important thing. You say you are Christians and serious students of Scripture. It is true that one can disagree without being disagreeable but where in the Bible do you find sanction for the notion that being agreeable is the defining characteristic of a Christian? Given the plethora of statements from Mormon leaders reproaching other churches and making exclusive claims for the cult of Mormonism it is certainly not the distinguishing mark of the Mormon.

Mike

Mike:

Your passion for Jesus Christ and the topic at hand is admirable and wonderful to witness. We welcome the dialogue through our Study Forum because that way many can be involved in the conversation. It is impossible for me, or even our board of advisors, to adequately engage each individual like yourself personally. We had nearly 1,400 visitors to the website last week alone, with a large percentage sending us email. Besides trying to build and manage this foundation (a non-profit), I am also the CEO of a corporation (the job that feeds my family). Although I would love to engage with you and the dozens of others who want me and our board to engage with them, it is simply not possible.

We are not an apologetics website. We have listed a number of apologetics links on our website for you to use.

We are not a foundation that seeks of defend the Mormon Church. We are left to do so from time to time, but we are here to share our testimony of Christianity and encourage dialogue with others.

We are not interested in debating doctrine, it is a losing battle for us both. Myself and the members of our board have been down the route and overwhelmingly the result is both parties end up believing what they believed to start out with, with a little more stress added to their day.

Our testimony is on the web - that is what we believe and it won't change. I suspect you have no intentions of changing what you believe either, therefore there is little point in debating. The tone of your original message and your message below validates for me that point. It makes more sense for us to engage on a one-on-one basis with the many who have come to the website looking for spiritual guidance, and who earnestly seek Christian understanding. It is easy to spot those who want to debate doctrine.

If you want the "Mark of the Mormon" then read the fruits of faith webpage:

http://www.studychristianity.com/fruits_of_faith.html

By their fruits ye will know them. Such is the mark of a true Christian.

Being a true and passionate Christian is not about passing a theology test, it is about the person it helps you become for the glory of God. There is no glory for God in winning theological debates - it took me a long time to learn that. We give glory to God in teaching his word and the gospel of His only begotten son Jesus Christ.

I hope you will join the Study Forum soon, you would be a wonderful person to have there.

In Christ always,

Eric Shuster

Dear Eric

Thanks again for taking the time to respond in your busy schedule. My own organisation's web site www.reachouttrust.org has recently received hundreds of thousands of visitors in a month but we still take the trouble to reply to those who care to engage with us personally, even the more irascible ones, even though none of us works full time in ministry. We kind of regard it an obligation. Of course, we don't always satisfy every correspondent but we do feel we should try and give it our best shot. I suppose it's a question of priorities.

The "apologetics" web site you reference are all Mormon, giving the lie to the claim that you are not primarily Mormon and not a Mormon apologetics site. Perhaps you are confusing apologetics with debate or argument. In any event thank you for making it clear that you are really only interested in engaging with people who want to listen to you and would rather avoid those who would challenge.

I have read your page on fruits and find it disappointing though unsurprising. Basically, if he is nice then he is Christian and if he contends for the faith then he is suspect. If he is pleased for you that you are a Mormon then all is well but if he dares to challenge what you believe then his is bad fruit. I take your point about what you have read from my tone but then my tone, which is usually quite conciliatory, has been inspired by your less than frank engagement with the world you seek to influence. I also understand that you don't choose to engage further in this correspondence, after all it's easier that way and, since I inconvenience you and you fail abysmally to satisfy me I will be glad to leave it there.

Mike

Mike

I'm sorry you are overcome by such unkind feelings. It is difficult to see you following the commandment to "love one another as I have loved you."

Become as a child my friend and you will find greater happiness.

As for my refusal to engage in your debate it was Jesus Christ who said: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." I am merely following the counsel of my Savior and Redeemer.

God bless you Mike - I wish you and your loved ones well,

Eric Shuster

Eric

There you are! I knew I would get to meet you eventually but wondered how long it would take. I see myself as a Yorkshire Terrier though you might think of me more as a yard do; or maybe a common old Saddleback porker.

I don't really care whether you wish me well, though I thank you for the sentiment. I care whether you care how you are perceived. I care whether you are frank about what you are about for the sake of others. Isn't that a Christian thing to do? To be concerned for others? There is a good deal of concern being expressed among Christians who know something about these things, concerns that I have shared with you. The irony is that you claim to be Christian but seem not to care one jot about the concerns of Christians. Now I am the first to say that one shouldn't be blown about by every opinion but still and all it seems that you are careless of your reputation and influence to the point of recklessness.

Still, I have done my Christian duty in drawing your attention to your Christian duty. I am glad I got to meet you eventually though.

Regards

Mike


7 comments:

maybemaybenot said...

Holy Schmoly, Mike!

I seriously thought I had seen it all until now. I don't know why I am surprised by this, but I am. The level of deception displayed by the creators of this website is disgraceful.

It is one thing to go out into the world claiming to be Christian all the while wearing a badge that clearly states of whom you are a representative. But trying to gain investigators and converts by purposefully concealing the (very important!) fact that you are a Mormon is nothing less than a dishonest trap.

Even if these Mormons genuinely consider themselves Christians (I certainly did when I was a Mormon) why in the world would they have to hide the fact that they are Mormon from the get go?

What a way to start off a relationship. But then again, deception and sophistry have long been part and parcel of the Mormon culture.

Cheers,

Jennifer

Mike's 4 Tea said...

The correspondense may go a little further (I have received a reply today) and he does come across as a nice enough guy in the end. I also understand, as you do, that Mormons think they are Christians. What seems odd is that they appear so very unreflective and in denial of the immense controversy surrounding Mormon claims.

To the uninitiated this is dangerously misleading. It is also strange that they don't seem concerned about the flack they are simply bound to draw, not so much because of their faith, as because of their method. It seems crazy to store up trouble like that.

It is also, however, symptomatic of what is happening in Mormonism today, i.e. more and more Mormons are coming to the conclusion that it is down to them to be apologists because the church isn't doing much. In those circumstances people will recreate Mormonism in their own image. The advantage for the Mormon Church is that it puts Mormon out there but the church can "officially" disown any of it when it becomes a threat to the image.

Seth R. said...

I have to say Mike, I have no complaints with how you handled this.

Honestly, they had it coming. Hopefully they'll learn from it.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

Thanks Seth

I was a Mormon from 1973 until 1986 and I am fast coming to the conclusion that mine was possibly the last generation of Mormons who even approached being unapologetic and up front about what we believed. You are a rare specimen in that you speak your mind and don't mind people knowing what you think.

In my day everyone understood why Negroes couldn't hold the priesthood even if they didn't like the idea; today "no one knows"(GBH) apparently.

In my day there was no question that Mormon men fully expected to become gods; today "we don't know much about that" (GBH) and it is all to embarrasing to discuss.

In my day the only authority was the church leadership and hierarchy and that was beyond questioning; today Mormons come from everywhere to speak with authority - even on church authorities.

The site wound me up because it is an extreme expression of this move to hide more and more by not being up front about what after all is basic Mormon orthodoxy.

It is also very interesting that the Mormon Church leadership, while themselves offering a fraction of the leadership I used to enjoy and proving themselves to be little more than a management team, encourage members to publish on the net, giving them materials to go on their blogs and web sites, but carefully distancing themselves from any and all "unofficial" statements.

In this way Mormonism is very much "out there" but without the leadership being accountable for so much of what is "out there".

Call me cynical (call me anyhting you like but don't call me late for dinner) but I think this is deliberate.

Seth R. said...

Well, beats me Mike.

Could be we're going through a phase, as a church, where we've come to the uncomfortable realization that we don't quite know everything we thought we knew.

Perhaps it's causing us to act more cautiously.

It could also be that the internet community is some sort of weird new manifestation of old idea of "by common consent." Maybe somebody is hoping a new consensus is going to float to the top from the internet mixing pot.

Mike's 4 Tea said...

You may be right Seth. My own view is that there is an inevitability to it all and the leadership have been losing a battle over control for years.

I remember when mobile phones first cam out there was such an emphasis on control where missionaries are concerned but now they all get one. With the Internet there is such scope for ordinary church members and I think the leaders haves decided that if you can't fight it join in.

I am sure there is some management theory that describes the process of moving from revelationary foundations through co-ordination via organisation and finally a standard management model, which is where I think the church is today.

In any event, it is not the church I recall (Not that I am the least nostalgic about it but anyone involved in this minsitry will tell you that it was a good deal easier addressing the views of Bruce R McConkie than any church leader today. Today its like nailing jello to a wall)

Seth R. said...

You know, nailing jello to a wall could be REALLY fun to watch...