Last time we looked at witnessing to Mormons, which would inevitably involve challenging Mormon claims, without alienating our Mormon friends. We saw that this is a big hill to climb since Mormons will take offense where none is offered. We established that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own truth; that the Bible is there to challenge and not affirm our preconceptions.
This time we ask how Mormons can be so apparently sanguine about the strange and embarrassing ideas taught by their leaders over the years. What do Mormons say to themselves to make peace with the conflicts, contradictions and controversies that litter Mormon history?
How can Mormons be OK with polygamy?
This is a classic example of Mormon prevarication. In Joseph Smith’s day people justified the practice to themselves by saying it was the order of heaven and a commandment from God. When I was a Mormon back in the Seventies we were taught that it was suspended as a practice but that it was still the order of heaven and would one day be reinstated. Today Mormons tell themselves and the world that it was a cultural phenomenon designed to meet the needs of the time but not for today (a claim easily dismissed by the historical facts). It is still a basic tenet of Mormonism however and the true position is what prevailed back in the 1970’s.
Another example of this is the temple endowment ceremony. It has changed significantly over the generations but each generation thinks that the endowment they first receive is the way it always was. Older generations who do see change see it gradually and justify it by appealing to “modern revelation” and build a new apologetic to fit their new situation, but no one looks at the whole picture critically; and why should they because “the church is true!”
Mormons are taught that a key sign of Christian apostasy is a lack of consistency between churches and from one generation to the next. Schisms and sects, even attempts at reformation are seen as evidence of institutional and generational corruption. Mormonism is presented as having a consistent message from living prophets and we are encouraged to think of it as a fixed point in a confusing world.
The examples above illustrate very well, however, that every generation joins a different Mormon Church and each generation sees a consistency within its own experience. When Mormons look at the Christian Church they compare the past with the present, this church with that. But when they look at Mormonism their view is circumscribed by prophets who warn them against comparing one prophet with another and who declare all other Mormon groups apostate. In this way changes over time and schisms that result from those changes are conjured away.
Is the Mormon “burning bosom” a fraudulent feeling from a bad spirit? How come Mormons have such a strong good feeling about Mormonism and have a bad feeling when they drink coffee for instance?
The burning bosom experience is rather like that sense of anticipation we can get when we look forward to a special time such as birthdays or Christmas. Based on feeling good about an encounter with Mormons people conclude that “the church is true” and commit their lives and resources to it. But it is possible to make people feel good about all sorts of encounters simply by “love-bombing” them.
In the same way it is easy to make people feel guilty. Look at how worried we all are about recycling, global warming, etc. It seems that these days things designed to inform us also serve to make us feel guilty about the smallest infringement of any new regimen. In the same way, it is easy to feel guilty about drinking coffee if you are among people whose approval you have come to value and who consider drinking coffee wrong.
But in what other areas of your life do you allow how you feel about something be the sole guide to how you conduct yourself? If we are not careful we can have a good feeling that might justify all sorts of otherwise inappropriate conduct. While God speaks to us in many ways, including impressions, nevertheless the Christian’s sure guide for faith and conduct is Scripture and reason not feelings.
There is an important point to be made here about how people often live their faith according to general impressions rather than knowledge and understanding. It is not a reasoned defence to say that “it seemed right at the time”.
In their teaching on polygamy for instance Mormons insist they were following the example of the patriarchs and often cite Abraham, but Abraham was not a polygamist. When we read the story in Genesis 12-16 we find that God promised Abraham a son by Sarah (Gen.15:4) but Abraham obeyed his wife rather than God in having a son by Hagar(Gen.16:1-4). It was Sarah’s idea not God’s and Hagar was not his wife but his concubine, a surrogate mother whose son would become Sarah’s according to Sarah’s plan (Gen.16:2). Abraham’s only other wife was Keturah whom he married after Sarah’s death (Gen.25:1). Abraham did not have more than one “wife” at a time.
But because there are three women somewhere in the story Mormons are happy to settle for the “impression” that he was a polygamist and as such was being obedient to God. Of course there was polygamy in the Old Testament but never in express obedience to God. It is permitted but this might be better understood in light of Acts 17:30.
How are members aware of the 'problems' able to stay in the church and be happy do you think? Racism and the fraudulent Book of Abraham for example?
The racism question is a very good one. To a Mormon not comfortable with racism it can appear to be a test of faith to do what you believe to be wrong because your church tells you. As with most societies there will be those Mormons today who are racist, although many are not, but if you follow a “prophet” without question you may well become a racist by default.
Mormonism was established in a predominantly racist society. That is not to excuse it but to go some way to explaining it. The Mormon Church, like many others, simply put such prejudices on a pseudo-legitimate footing by sacralising it. Unlike other churches, the Mormon Church has never renounced or repented of its racist past. Today, as with polygamy, Mormons prevaricate over the question of racism and explain it as a cultural phenomenon but of course it was a fundamental tenet until very recent times; for some it still is.
Word of Wisdom
Things that seem unique to Mormonism today were often the product of a previous age. The Word of Wisdom is a good example. You might be forgiven for believing that society at large was smoking, drinking etc. and being otherwise “worldly” until Joseph Smith had a revelation called the Word of Wisdom which was uniquely adopted by Mormons. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In 1826 the American Temperance Movement was formed and within eight years had swept America with 1.5m members sworn off drink and tobacco. Tea and coffee were also abstained from as stimulants. When the Word of Wisdom was given in 1833 Smith was following an already established trend among the churches; a peculiar practice today no doubt but not in the day. Such Mormon claims to special revelation are frequently found to have been disingenuous in this way.
Did Joseph Smith plagiarise the Book of Mormon and what was his intention in including all the things he did? Was it to instil guilt in his followers / teach specific things he felt strongly about / or just his making anything up randomly?
It might help you understand his purpose if you knew that the book was originally published as a novel with Joseph Smith identified as its author. Perhaps he wanted to make money by cashing in on the popular speculations of the time about the history of the place where he lived, making it up as he went along; he certainly had a gift for it. Others had written stories based on the same idea and it is argued that some of Smith’s ideas were influenced by these works.
It would be a mistake to assume that the Book of Mormon was the product of Joseph Smith alone. Others influenced him and much was plagiarised. Certainly Smith’s writings are shown to contain ideas from and even exact copies of other writings, from the Bible through the Westminster Confession and Shakespeare to local newspapers. Many of his more sophisticated schemes – such as the united order, priesthood, etc. – were the product of Sidney Rigdon who was better educated and had already developed many of these ideas while a Campbellite preacher before becoming a Mormon. Certainly what appears today to have been a plan was developed in hindsight.
Gethsemane and the Cross
Consider finally the following very familiar scenario. In a discussion of the Cross the Mormon will typically insist that Jesus atoned in Gethsemane, which idea will seem bizarre to Christians. If challenged that the Bible says no such thing the Mormon will claim that modern prophets have brought this knowledge and “doesn’t the Bible say that he sweat great drops of blood?” When this is further challenged the Mormon will concede that the Cross is important and that Jesus began his atonement in Gethsemane and concluded it on the Cross. By this the Mormon means that Jesus atoned in Gethsemane and died on the Cross.
Pressed again the exasperated Mormon will finally insist that “contention is of the devil” (where does the Bible say that?), that he doesn’t want to argue and, anyway, what does it matter, Cross or Garden, the main thing is that Jesus atoned for sins. To liberal ears this may sound reasonable but it is a discussion that robs the Cross if its power, the message of its truth and exposes Mormonism as a determinedly Cross-denying faith. It also demonstrates that the prevarication, equivocation and constant changing of position we saw last time in the false prophet Balaam are typical of Mormons.
Mormonism is a lie in every respect and so Mormons lie in sharing their faith. They in turn of course are lied to but that doesn’t make it any less a lie when they shake your hand and claim Christian fellowship with you at your front door when at your neighbour’s door their companions are telling the story of Joseph Smith. Of how the creeds of your church are abominable and you and your Christian friends are corrupt for believing them.
You shouldn’t hate them for it but neither should you be fooled because, as with Balaam their reputation, mostly self generated, can deceive but as with Balaam God’s truth will prevail and God, because he is not a man, does not lie and keeps his promises.