I recall, many years ago, a priesthood quorum meeting at the local Mormon Church where a discussion revolved around the question of how we could raise the profile of our church and make ourselves more visible to the wider world. We sat there lost for ideas (so much for priesthood) until one man said, “We could wear badges!”
All eyes turned on him with a mixture of scorn and pity and, with a depth of derision usually reserved for talking about the ministers of other churches, someone said sarcastically, “Oh! Why don’t we go the whole hog and walk around in dog collars?” The idea was quashed there and then and nothing more said as the culprit skulked away into the night to think about his apostate ways.
Not long afterwards we saw the first Mormon missionaries turn up wearing those badges so familiar these days. Typically, this innovation came in with no comment and no one remembered the scorn and derision that had been poured on the idea. This was different. This was at the behest of “the prophet”.
The story illustrates something that is so difficult to put across in a seminar or article; the sneering contempt in those words, “why don’t we go all the way and wear dog collars!” It wasn’t a case of “Mormons don’t do that sort of thing” but undisguised disdain and disrespect for those who do.
On another occasion the local church held a fancy dress event and the highlight was two missionaries who turned up wearing their white shirts and suit waistcoats back-to-front, making them look, with their jackets on, for all the world like two young Anglican or Catholic priests. Oh, how we laughed at this sneering piece of cant.
Such contempt is a thread that runs throughout Mormonism like the writing in a stick of Blackpool rock. In barely veiled references to “men that preach for money!” and “Christians that take the easy option” Mormons informally and routinely speak contemptuously (among themselves of course) of Christian churches. Where does this self-reverential attitude come from?
It begins with the defining story of Joseph Smith who taught that all the creeds of all the churches were an abomination and all who profess those creeds corrupt (Joseph Smith History 1:19). Without this account of the Christian Churches Mormonism would be superfluous since it is claimed to be a restoration of things lost in the apostasy of those churches. It continues with the statement in the founding book of Mormonism, The Book of Mormon that the Christian churches are part of the “great and abominable church” founded by the devil and that it slays the saints and corrupts the Bible and is the mother of abominations (1 Nephi chs.13-22)
It progresses through the statements of other Mormon leaders who proclaim that Christianity is “a sounding brass...as corrupt as hell” and an agent of the devil (John Taylor, 3rd Mormon president) and who identify the Catholic Church as a satanic organisation, the whore of Babylon, and Protestant churches as harlot daughters (Bruce R McConkie, Mormon apostle, Mormon Doctrine).
Mormons, Satan and the “Orthodox Religion”
Finally, it comes via the infamous portrayal in Mormon temple ceremonies of a Christian minister being in the pay of Satan. This portion of the temple ceremony involved a dramatisation, originally played by live actors but latterly shown on film, showing a Christian minister, complete with dog collar, being summoned onto the scene by Satan who offers to pay him if he will preach “the orthodox religion” to Adam and Eve.
The minister proceeds to preach the Christian message which Adam finds “incomprehensible” and rejects in favour of the message brought by two agents from God who preach Mormonism. The conversation between Satan, the minister and Adam when I went through the temple in the 1970’s went like this:
ADAM: Who are you?
ADAM: You, the God of this world?
LUCIFER: Yes, what do you want?
ADAM: I am looking for messengers.
LUCIFER: Oh, you want someone to preach to you. You want religion, do you? I will have preachers here presently.
(Lucifer turns his head as a sectarian minister approaches the group)
LUCIFER: Good Morning sir!
SECTARIAN MINISTER: Good morning!
(The preacher turns and looks into the camera.)
SECTARIAN MINISTER: A fine congregation!
LUCIFER: Yes, they are a very good people. They are concerned about religion. Are you a preacher?
SECTARIAN MINISTER: I am.
LUCIFER: Have you been to college and received training for the ministry?
SECTARIAN MINISTER: Certainly! A man cannot preach unless has been trained for the ministry.
LUCIFER: Do you preach the orthodox religion?
SECTARIAN MINISTER: Yes, that is what I preach.
LUCIFER: If you will preach your orthodox religion to these people, and convert them, I will pay you well.
SECTARIAN MINISTER: I will do my best.
(Lucifer guides the preacher to Adam and Eve, who stand nearby.)
LUCIFER: Here is a man who desires religion. He is very much exercised, and seems to be sincere.
(As Lucifer presents the preacher to Adam and Eve he steps back and observes the ensuing conversation. The preacher is made to sound sincere, although misguided and credulous. Adam appears humble, faithful and immovable in his determination to serve God. He is not swayed by the preacher, and is astounded by the doctrines espoused by the preacher.)
SECTARIAN MINISTER: I understand that you are inquiring after religion.
ADAM: I was calling upon Father.
SECTARIAN MINISTER: I am glad to know that you were calling upon Father. Do you believe in a God who is without body, parts, or passions; who sits on the top of a topless throne; whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere; who fills the universe, and yet is so small that he can dwell in your heart; who is surrounded by myriads of beings who have been saved by grace, not for any act of theirs, but by His good pleasure. Do you believe in such a great Being?
ADAM: I do not. I cannot comprehend such a being.
SECTARIAN MINISTER: That is the beauty of it. Perhaps you do not believe in a devil, and in that great hell, the bottomless pit, where there is a lake of fire and brimstone into which the wicked are cast, and where they are continually burning, but never consumed?
ADAM: I do not believe in any such place.
SECTARIAN MINISTER: My dear friend, I am sorry for you.
But the Melody Lingers on
There you will discover that this portion of the ceremony was finally removed, one of several radical changes made in 1990. Nevertheless, it defines the Mormon attitude to other churches and explains that conversation back in the early 1970’s when that minister was still routinely mocked and portrayed as a lackey of Satan.
As I have said, this is the hardest thing to put across in an article, attitudes passed from generation to generation, but it is an important insight. Another instance of it involves an encounter I had with Mormon missionaries earlier this year.
A young man of 20 approached me outside my house to talk about his religion and I told him I was a Christian. With a display of hubris that took my breath away he asked had I ever before met anyone like him who was giving up two years of his life to serve a fulltime mission. I thought of the many people I know who gave up half a lifetime to serve missions in places a good deal less comfortable and more dangerous than the second city of Wales. I answered that I had and it seemed to take the wind out of his sails for a moment.
I then told him that I had been a Mormon but had long left that church to become a Christian. He asked me why I had left and I was glad to share with him the message of grace that had won me to the Lord. This was when his whole demeanour changed and, his face contorted in a mocking sneer, he began barracking me about turning my back on “the church”. When I began to respond he positively bellowed at me, “DON’T YOU QUESTION MY AUTHORITY!” It was quite comical to see this 20 year old really believing he was an “elder” and had authority.
His companion, who had been pretty quiet throughout this exchange, I use the term ‘exchange’ loosely, at least had the good grace to shuffle his feet and look embarrassed. The young missionary then pointed imperiously at the house I had left and told me in no uncertain terms that my faith meant that I could sit at home for the rest of my life unconcerned for the lost since I had my ticket to heaven, unlike his which urged him on to go bravely to - Swansea?
You see, contempt is the attitude of the typical Mormon towards other churches and my missionary encounter confirms that it is not peculiar to older generations but colours the thinking of young Mormons coming through today to represent their church to the world.
But Mormons are so very nice, so very upstanding and responsible and of course this is true. But they still look upon Christians with that peculiar mix of pity and haughty disapproval typical of a people who know that they are God’s best and we are the rest. Perhaps one day, as with the badges, Mormons will adopt dog collars, but you can be sure that when they do they will hold in as much contempt those who don’t as they now do those who do.