Thursday, 19 November 2009

MormonTimes - Jan Shipps discusses impact of religious research on LDS

“Religious historian Jan Shipps says if a prophet is defined as one who speaks for God, then Mormon founder Joseph Smith could have been one.
He could also be everything else it's suggested he may have been, including a magician, Shipps said in an address sponsored by Sunstone Magazine at the Salt Lake City Public Library Tuesday, Nov. 17.”


Jan Shipps is an historian whose application to Mormon history has made her popular in Mormon circles for decades, so much so that she is sometimes referred to as the Mormon den mother. Her public address, sponsored by Sunstone magazine, is exciting for Mormons but a good write up in the Mormon Times is especially pleasing because Shipps is, after all, an historian and brings a degree of subjectivity to her writing.

In a paper on Makers of Christian Theology in America she writes of Joseph Smith:

“From the time they arrived in New York through the 1820s, Joseph, Jr. worked with his father and brothers in the fields. They also worked together in other capacities. Since Joseph Smith, Sr. had enough interest in the occult to give the family a reputation for scrying, this could well have been a decisive factor in what happened during the younger Joseph's teen-age years. Indeed, it seems entirely likely that the father encouraged his namesake in the use of a "seer stone," a sort of psychic geiger counter which helped him locate lost objects. In addition, surviving historical sources provide hints that the elder Joseph Smith was not displeased when his son's success as an adept led to his being employed in a search for buried treasure. On at least one occasion, the son was engaged as the leader of a company that dug (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) for gold which the company's organizer believed had been buried in the region by its earlier residents.”

When Fawn Brodie, a historian of high repute from another generation, wrote the same in her definitive history of Smith, No Man Knows My History, she received excoriating criticism from the Mormon authorities and was excommunicated. But Jan Shipps is different. Where Brodie was a Mormon who failed to toe the party line Shipps is a non-Mormon who has some nice things to say about Mormons notwithstanding. Brodie was a “heretic” and the niece of a prophet, David O McKay, while Shipps is a friend of the church because she is a non-Mormon who takes Mormonism seriously.

Its all about understanding the subtext. If its Mormon it has to be orthodox, if its not milk it for what you can get, or call it anti-Mormon and dismiss it.


MormonTimes - Jan Shipps discusses impact of religious research on LDS

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Conversation with a Mormon – Good Works

Christian: Where do you get the idea that “Christians don’t believe in works”?

Mormon: Every Evangelical I speak to tells me that they are saved by grace alone. But James 1:5 says that “faith without works is dead”.

Christian: Do you count any Evangelicals among your friends?

Mormon: Yes, I do and they all say the same thing – “grace alone, faith alone”.

Christian: These Evangelical friends, do they go to church?

Mormon: Yes, we see them setting off Sunday mornings about the same time as us.

Christian: And do they have a nice building in which to meet?

Mormon: Yes, it’s a nice building.

Christian: And they have a pastor? Is he full time? Does he get paid to preach?

Mormon: Yes, their pastor is a professional man.

Christian: And do your Evangelical friends get involved in the community?

Mormon: Yes, they seem to have open houses just like we do and they run a soup kitchen. They also have something called – “Street Pastors” I think.

Christian: How do you think the building, its upkeep, the pastor, etc. are paid for?

Mormon: I suppose they take up a collection or something.

Christian: So, these Christian friends, who don’t believe in works, attend church regularly and seem to pay for their own building, pastor and running expenses by what I suppose you would call tithes and offerings. They busy themselves with charity work, invite the neighbours in for refreshments and make every effort to tell the gospel. Quite busy then; for people who don’t believe in works?

Mormon: I hadn’t thought of it that way. But if works are required then why don’t you say as much instead of continually talking about “grace alone”?

Christian: But works are not required.

Mormon: I don’t understand. You are making no sense.

Christian: I am making perfect sense; biblical sense. But you are right in saying you don’t understand. It is because you are so full of Mormon preconceptions about my faith that you have left no room for any other understanding. Christians do good works because we are saved no in order to be saved.

My faith will never fit into the scheme of Mormonism because it looks nothing like Mormonism. No temples, no “priesthood”, except that which we share as followers of Christ, no “law of eternal progression” because all that we need to grow more Christ-like we find in Christ.
“Church” is not for us an institution we join to be saved but a natural congregating of all those who are in Christ to sing his praises, encourage one another and work to build his kingdom.

Christianity or Christianity-lite?

The Mormon view is that what I have is a sort of Christianity-lite while Mormonism is the real thing "Restored", a sort of Christianity with muscle. You believe that your faith is a fuller expression of mine, that if I were to become a Mormon your church would add to what I have and correct some misconceptions on my part. On that basis a Mormon will typically expect to see at least some parallels, some features that can be compared in order to better understand "some of the differences".

I believe that your faith bears no resemblance to mine at all. That mine is the original Christianity of the New Testament and that no elements of my faith can be made to correspond with elements of yours. You don't understand because you are looking for direct comparisons such as, "we have temples and you don't; we have formal priesthood and you don't; we have rules and you don't." This will never work and if you are to understand what and how I believe you must forget Mormonism and attend to my totally different religion.

Of course Christians have order, structure and rules to live by. It would be impossible to function without these things. Of course we believe in obedience, charity, making sacrifices and being accountable but these simply don't work in any way you would relate to because my Christian faith is completely unlike your Mormon faith.

Its foundation is different, its structure is different, its ethos is different, and its adherents think entirely differently to the way you think and what gives us confidence and hope is quite different. I don't mean any of this in a dismissive or disparaging way but simply want to press home how very, very different is the way we believe.

So if you are to understand you must be prepared to see through different eyes before you could possibly say whether you like what you see. Otherwise, you will simply be judging and dismissing a caricature of my faith based on inappropriate comparisons with your faith and on misconceptions taught by your church. What I find tragic is that you believe you have accepted the Mormon message and rejected the Christian Evangelical gospel based on sound teaching. However your decision is based entirely on wrong information and mistaken ideas. If you are going to prefer Mormonism over what I believe at least understand properly what it is you are rejecting.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Digging in Possible Site for Ancient City of Nephi

One of the great challenges for Mormons is the complete absence of Book of Mormon archaeology. Despite the tempting promise in the advertisement at the beginning of this article inviting people to “tour Book of Mormon sites” there are no Book of Mormon sites to visit. Notwithstanding the author’s bold plug for his book Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon there is no Book of Mormon geography to decipher.

Yet Mormons talk about Book of Mormon archaeology as though its existence is beyond reasonable question or doubt, that if it hasn’t yet been found it is about to be. One reason for their confidence is articles such as this one in the online Mormon Meridian Magazine. It is notable for the complete absence of content as the author writes a homely account of his fruitless adventures in New World archaeology.

An expert in Book of Mormon archaeology he has written a book on the subject, although one wonders how anyone can be a scientific expert on a non-existent subject. Yet in the article all he can offer the hopeful Mormon reader is the news that the site he originally thought might be “The Ancient City of Nephi” isn’t and that he has identified another site that might be but…

But he gives heart to Mormons because (a) he is an archaeologist and so he must know what he is talking about, always a dangerous assumption in any discipline), and (b) he is looking for “The Ancient City of Nephi”  so it must be there or he wouldn’t waste his time looking, but even experts can go on a wild goose chase. Then there is the conversation with his friends, also archaeologists, who grumble that what they just “know” to be true by faith is rejected by non-Mormon experts (always appealing to Mormons who routinely see themselves as victims of ridicule and rejection – but one day brother, one day we will be vindicated)

This is the standard and direction of Mormon academia today. Where other disciplines start with evidence, Mormons begin with a book whose provenance has been shown to be at the very least questionable, proceed by applying the otherwise noble science of New World archaeology to the futile search for evidence that we already know isn’t there, and write books and papers that promise much but deliver nothing; a remarkable triumph of hope over reason.

But you are not going to convince with reason people who have arrived at their conclusions by blind faith before the discussion even begins.

Meridian Magazine : : Church Update: Digging in Possible Site for Ancient City of Nephi

Digging in Possible Site for Ancient City of Nephi

One of the great challenges for Mormons is the complete absence of Book of Mormon archaeology. Despite the tempting promise in the advertisement at the beginning of this article inviting people to “tour Book of Mormon sites” there are no Book of Mormon sites to visit. Notwithstanding the author’s bold plug for his book Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon there is no Book of Mormon geography to decipher.

Yet Mormons talk about Book of Mormon archaeology as though its existence is beyond reasonable question or doubt, that if it hasn’t yet been found it is about to be. One reason for their confidence is articles such as this one in the online Mormon Meridian Magazine. It is notable for the complete absence of content as the author writes a homely account of his fruitless adventures in New World archaeology.

An expert in Book of Mormon archaeology he has written a book on the subject, although one wonders how anyone can be a scientific expert on a non-existent subject. Yet in the article all he can offer the hopeful Mormon reader is the news that the site he originally thought might be “The Ancient City of Nephi” isn’t and that he has identified another site that might be but…

But he gives heart to Mormons because (a) he is an archaeologist and so he must know what he is talking about, always a dangerous assumption in any discipline), and (b) he is looking for “The Ancient City of Nephi”  so it must be there or he wouldn’t waste his time looking, but even experts can go on a wild goose chase. Then there is the conversation with his friends, also archaeologists, who grumble that what they just “know” to be true by faith is rejected by non-Mormon experts (always appealing to Mormons who routinely see themselves as victims of ridicule and rejection – but one day brother, one day we will be vindicated)

This is the standard and direction of Mormon academia today. Where other disciplines start with evidence, Mormons begin with a book whose provenance has been shown to be at the very least questionable, proceed by applying the otherwise noble science of New World archaeology to the futile search for evidence that we already know isn’t there, and write books and papers that promise much but deliver nothing; a remarkable triumph of hope over reason.

But you are not going to convince with reason people who have arrived at their conclusions by blind faith before the discussion even begins.

Meridian Magazine : : Church Update: Digging in Possible Site for Ancient City of Nephi

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Dear Mormon: A Word can Change your World

Language is a powerful weapon. The ancients knew this and some societies put such great store by it that they wouldn’t even commit it to writing. Enormous feats of memory were developed to pass on the stories of the community from one generation to another and in such communities writing was regarded with great suspicion, as placing your story at the disposal of your enemies. If it could be written it could be owned by others and altered.

In those societies where writing developed and oral traditions were committed to writing the people guarded their written texts as their greatest treasures, copying them with meticulous attention to detail. The ancient texts of the Bible were copied with careful and detailed checking and correction and modern archaeological discoveries confirm the incredible accuracy of modern translations when compared with recent discoveries of ancient texts. It is little wonder since a word can change your world or worldview. One word change can reverse entirely the meaning of a text. Take the familiar John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish” (NASB)

One word change can turn a message of hope into one of despair:

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should perish”

Or consider that well-known text from Paul’s letter to Christians in Rome:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro.8:1)

One word change can bring us up short and cause us to question the message of the Bible:

“There is therefore now much condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

Introducing the Lamanites

In light of the above, one would have expected Mormons to take more seriously the recent change in the introduction to the Book of Mormon. Where once the Introduction reflected the traditional Mormon view that, "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians." The new version, seen first in Doubleday's revised edition, reads, "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians."

Inevitably, and sadly it seems to me, much has been made in informal discussion about the fact that the introduction was written in 1981 by Bruce R McConkie who is now routinely seen as someone who got a lot of things wrong. That doesn’t, of course, stop the church citing him as an authority in their manuals and magazines when it suits them. When he wrote the Introduction, of course, he was singularly orthodox, reflecting the firmly held view at the time that had been taught by Mormon leaders since Joseph Smith. A Mormon correspondent wrote:

I think there's good thought in this comment:

"I have always felt free to disavow the language of the [Book of Mormon's] introduction, footnotes and dictionary, which are not part of the canonical scripture," said Barney, on the board of FAIR, a Mormon apologist group. "These things can change as the scholarship progresses and our understanding enlarges. This suggests to me that someone on the church's scripture committee is paying attention to the discussion."

It is true that the introduction to the Book of Mormon was only published in 1981 and is not "Holy Writ" as defined by Mormons [or is it? see below]. It is not true that it has no more significance than a casual commentary that can be adopted and dismissed as it pleases Mormons and I will explain why.

The 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon was published under the name of the church. The copyright of the book is attributed to the first presidency of the church. They officially put their name to something that has been true since the earliest days of the church but, according to the latest orthodoxy, is no longer true. They have affirmed what is ultimately and by their own admission false and they have misled their followers, their missionaries and those they presume to teach the truth regarding the "true history" of the Book of Mormon and its peoples.

What Mormon Missionaries Teach

I have a copy of the missionary discussions, 1986 edition, and on the second page missionaries are instructed to use the relatively new Introduction in teaching their investigators about the Book of Mormon. Again on page fourteen missionaries were instructed:

“Show the investigators a copy of the Book of Mormon. You might show them some of the features (such as the title page, the introduction and testimonies, the table of contents, the chapter headings, the index). You might also share with them one or two passages that are most meaningful to you.”

This shows the legitimacy the Mormon Church then gave, not only to the Introduction but to all the other features now dismissed as a gloss on the text, giving them the same authority as the testimonies of the three and eight witnesses.

On page 15 missionaries were instructed:

“To help you begin reading the Book of Mormon, we suggest that you read a few selected passages by our next visit. We suggest the Introduction (including the testimonies and the brief explanations of the plates), Moroni 10:3-5, and 3 Nephi 11.”

Here the Introduction is given the same significance as Moroni's promise.

More significantly, in the most recent missionary guide, Preach my Gospel, copyright 2004, missionaries are directed on page 39 to "briefly review the contents" of the Book of Mormon:

“Scripture Study

Title page of the Book of Mormon
Introduction to the Book of Mormon Paragraphs 1-7 [ NB which include the claim in question about the Lamanites being the "principal" ancestors of the American Indians]
D&C 1:17-23; 20:5-12
Joseph Smith-History 1:27-64”

Now the Introduction is introduced within a list of "Scripture Study" texts and on a par with the title page and the Doctrine and Covenants! The Introduction is regularly used as an aid to teaching people "the truth" about Mormonism and the ancient inhabitants of America. Now that "truth" is rejected and those who challenged it are mocked for being so foolish as to take the claims of the Mormon Church so seriously. I think we get the message. The question is, do the Mormons?

The Mistakes of Men

But all this shouldn’t surprise us I suppose when we consider the Mormon attitude to Scripture. Joseph Smith described the Book of Mormon as “the most correct book of any book on earth”. The title page of the book states, “if there are faults they are the mistakes of men". How do you think "most correct" and, "if there are faults they are the mistakes of men", compare with 2 Timothy 3:16:

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work"

A Christian sees in the Bible God's all-sufficient provision for equipping thoroughly every Christian for kingdom living. Mormons, on the other hand, seem to be full of excuses for their not-altogether-reliable modern revelation, ready to admit faults and declare their Scriptures correct only by comparison, i.e. "most correct" rather than thoroughly reliable because "God-breathed". One I spoke to even insisted that the title page of the Book of Mormon is, like the introduction, nothing more than a gloss on the text. This, however, is plainly not true as shown in Joseph Smith’s own words:

“I wish also to mention here, that the title page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; the language of the whole running the same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that, said title page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation.”
(Joseph Smith Jr., Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 24, p. 943)

If this statement was appended to the Book of Mormon, on a page just left from the Title Page, that says , “Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the House of Israel…” It would clear the issue if someone should have any questions about how Joseph Smith viewed the Lamanites/American Indians.

Falling Over Lamanites

Every LDS president from Joseph Smith to Gordon Hinckley has made statements to say that American aboriginals are Hebrews/Israelites. The Title Page, which we are told was part of the original on gold plates, says that Lamanites (not just a few or some of them), without exception, are Israelites and there was a time when you couldn’t move without falling over Lamanites. DNA testing has proven that they are NOT Israelites. There has not been even one single Native American found that is connected to Abraham and his descendents!

I press my point again, i.e. that the doctrine that the Lamanites are the principle ancestors of the American Indians, was routinely taught throughout the history of the church, and even in the 2004 Missionary Guide this thought is pressed into service in convincing people that the Book of Mormon is true.

One final point worth noting is that the Introduction declares that the Book of Mormon, "contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel". Christian ministries have been pointing out for years that, if the Bible contains the everlasting gospel as does the Book of Mormon (you see it works this way around as well), then what need have we for the Book of Mormon.

A good friend in Germany has pointed out that the new German edition of the Book of Mormon omits the words "as does the Bible". Clearly, the Bible has contained the fullness from 1981 until 2006 but has mysteriously become less reliable, at least for Germans. But it seems to still be true for the rest of us! A word can change your world and the world of Mormonism has changed again.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Are Christians Mormons?

From their earliest days Mormons have made clear that their church is a restoration of the church Christ established in the first century and lost in apostasy following the death of Christ and his apostles. To this extent Mormons have always regarded themselves as Christians.

The Mormon Experience

Traditionally, however, Mormons have had no problem in being called Mormons, indeed in calling themselves Mormons. John Taylor (d.1887) third Mormon president, once edited a Mormon newspaper in New York City entitled “The Mormon”. James E Talmage (d.1933) Mormon apostle, in commenting on a Congress of Religious Philosophy in 1915, spoke in the Salt Lake Tabernacle saying, “The Mormon Church was the only Christian organisation present that had a definite...philosophical basis to proclaim.” His remarks were later published in a pamphlet entitled “The Philosophical Basis of Mormonism”.



Bruce R McConkie (d.1985), Mormon apostle, famously published the book “Mormon Doctrine”, an A-Z of Mormon doctrine, in 1958. As recently as 1979 Leonard J Arrington (d.1999) and Davis Bitton (d.2007) both Mormon scholars, wrote a popular history of Mormonism entitled “The Mormon Experience, A History of the Latter-day Saints”. And, of course, there is The Mormon History Association, which was founded by Arrington in 1985 and one of whose members was Davis. This is not to mention the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and these are but a handful of myriad examples over the 178 year history of the Mormon Church.

 

Latter-day Saints

I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1970’s and, at that time, what was emphasised in the name of the church was “Latter-day Saints”. Much was made of the word “Saints” and the so-called Restoration was in part seen as a restoration of the true understanding of that word. Where some forms of Christianity had grown to venerate particular Christians to a seemingly semi-divine status and called them “Saints”, the Latter-day Saints had restored “Saints” as the name given in Bible times to Christian believers (Ro.8:27, cf 1Co.6:2; Eph.1:15).

“Latter-day” was also emphasised in order to distinguish believers of the latter days from those of the former days and thus emphasise a distinctive of the “Restored Church”. If a Mormon objected to being called “Mormon” at all it was to say, “I am not a Mormon. I am a Latter-day Saint!

Followers of The Way

In objecting to the soubriquet “Mormon” Mormons would, and still do, point out that “Mormon” is a nickname and, giving the full name of the church, insist that they are Christians. However, “Christian” was almost certainly originally a nickname also. I Howard Marshall, in his Commentary on Acts11:26 in the Tyndale series writes that:

"The ending of the word (Christianos) indicates that it is a Latin word, like ‘Herodian’, and that it refers to the followers of Christ. ‘Christ’ will then be understood as a proper name, although its original use was as a title, ‘The Messiah’, for Jesus. The verb ‘were called’ implies in all probability that ‘Christian’ was a nickname given by the populace of Antioch...It is likely that the name contained an element of ridicule (c.f. Acts 26:28; 1 Pet.4:16). The Christians preferred to use other names for themselves, such as ‘disciples’, ‘saints’ and ‘brothers’."

It is worth noting that Christians also called themselves ‘followers of The Way’ (Acts 24:14; 9:2).

Mormons, then, are effectively exchanging one nickname for another when these days they press everyone to call them Christians. Of course, these epithets serve, as Marshall suggests, in distinguishing one group from another. The name ‘Christian’ distinguished followers of Christ, even though originally used in derision. In the same way, ‘Mormon’ distinguishes those people who follow the teachings peculiar to Mormonism and, as much as they wish to be known as Christians, it is a very helpful distinction. Why, then, are they now eager to blur that distinction?

The Church of Jesus Christ?

In the past thirty years or so the emphasis has changed again. Where the name of the church has in the past been presented as “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”, with the emphasis on “Latter-day Saints”, it has changed to “The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints”. This is the official logo of the church since the early 1980’s and you only have to look at the entry for the church logo in the Mormon Wiki to see this change in emphasis.

Many will have noticed that in much Mormon generated writing these days The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often referred to as "The Church of Jesus Christ". This is in accord with the Mormon Church's "style guide" issued to members of the press and published on their web site. Mormons are effectively telling people, “This is how you should refer to us, how you should speak of us”. Many find this irksome, objecting to this micro managing of the Mormon image and reputation.

I have been impressed by how apparently seamlessly, and efficiently, this approach has been adopted by Mormons in all their writing and speaking. It does, however, create several problems, both for Christians, who find it singularly offensive that the Mormons should attempt to appropriate the name exclusively to themselves, and for Mormons themselves, whose use of the convention often serves to confuse rather than inform.

I have come across statements from Mormons that speak of the differences between “Christians” and “The Church of Jesus Christ” and I wonder if Mormons have realised how very peculiar this juxtaposition of ideas will sound to people outside the Mormon Church. Especially where I am, outside the geographical areas where Mormonism predominates (i.e. the rest of the world outside America). Of course, I know the chequered history of the Mormon Church’s name, and I am fully aware of what their “style guide” is trying to do, i.e. if people hear something often enough they come to accept it as fact.

But this very odd juxtaposition of “Christians” and “The Church of Jesus Christ” would lead most people to think that Mormons had produced a tautology. That they were discussing the Church of Jesus Christ distinguishing itself from itself, since most would define the Church of Jesus Christ as the sum of Christians, and a Christian as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Am I a Mormon?

I am interested in what has been seen by many as a cynical use of terminology. Perhaps Mormons feel that just because I am a Christian that doesn't mean I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ, which they clearly equate with the Mormon Church. Are we to make a distinction between "The Church of Jesus Christ" and "The Christian Church"!? If so, how would you define and justify that distinction? There is no warrant for it in Christian Scripture and even convention does not allow for such a distinction to be readily understood.

I am trying to understand where I fit if, as a Christian, I do not belong to The Church of Jesus Christ. What are the implications of such a distinction? I am a Christian and, therefore, consider myself a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Does that make me a Mormon, and if I am not a Mormon and, by implication, not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, am I not a Christian?

It used to be so easy. Mormons were Mormons who considered themselves Christians but emphasised distinctives by calling themselves "Latter-day Saints". Christians were Christians who considered Mormons as non-Christians and emphasised distinctives by calling them Mormons. Even Mormons called themselves Mormons! Now Mormons want to be Christians in the sense of being "another denomination", calling their church "The Church of Jesus Christ" and, in the process, blurring distinctions that once were so dear even to them.

If ever there was an apologetic for ministry to and about Mormons here it is, i.e. the task of bringing clarity and understanding where Mormons have produced ambiguity and confusion. But then hasn’t that always been the apologetic for ministry to and about Mormons?