Sunday, 31 January 2010

Mormonism: Christianity Replaced

The August 2009 edition of the official Mormon Ensign magazine emphasises prayer and it would be ungracious not to recognise the wise counsel to set aside time to pray regularly, to make prayer a discipline and to approach it in a spirit of humility; surely advice with which all Christians can agree. Yet it demonstrates something Christians often notice about the Mormon ethos, which is that it is based on Joseph Smith and not Jesus Christ, whose church Mormons claim to have restored.

In an article entitled Opening the Heavens Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchu of the Seventy asks, “Do you want to feel the love of God powerfully in your life? Do you want to feel more in tune with His Spirit? Do you want to have the heavens opened to you daily?” He goes on to let us in on the secret of achieving these things using examples from the life of Joseph Smith.

Like Joseph, we must take ourselves apart to spend time with God.

Like Joseph, we can expect God to answer.

Like Joseph, we can have our own ‘sacred grove’ experience.

Now a Christian cannot criticise a Mormon for looking to men and women of their faith who have set examples in prayer, faith and devotion. After all Christians do the same often enough with their own heroes of faith.

Restored or Replaced?

But once you start looking you find alarming evidences of Mormonism not restoring Christianity but systematically replacing it. Just as Joseph replaces Jesus as the great exemplar in prayer and the grove replaces the hills of Galilee and the struggles of Gethsemane so it is that a Mormon paradigm comes to take the place of the Christian in Mormon teaching and thinking.

In the Book of Mormon [BOM] we see the earliest example of this as the record of the Jews, so apparently essential to the characters of that book, is described as being made of brass (1 Nephi 3:3,12) while the record that was to become the Book of Mormon was made of gold (Joseph Smith History [JSH], 1:34).

When the Book of Mormon was presented to the world we find the Bible coming off a poor second best by comparison, the Bible being described as the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly” while the BOM is the word of God with no qualification (8th Article of faith)

The so-called first vision easily trumps the experience of Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt.17:1-3). They saw the glorified Jesus, Moses and Elijah while Joseph Smith claimed to have seen none other than the Father and the Son (JSH 1:17).

Joseph Smith, in his peculiar chronicle of the ancient Americas, even tampered with geography, moving the earliest events and places of the Bible from the near and Middle East to America. The Garden of Eden, he said, had been in Davies County, Missouri (D&C 16) where eventually the New Jerusalem would be built, implying that the earliest people of God originated not in ancient Mesopotamia as scholars have mistakenly thought but in the ancient Americas. It is from this area that Noah floated his ark to sail a “considerable distance” before landing on Mount Ararat in modern Turkey. The BOM characters were then not leaving their place of origin but returning to it.

Replacement Saviour

Joseph Smith himself boasted that he had achieved more than Jesus when he declared: “I have more to boast of than any man had. I am the only man that has been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jesus ever did. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him, but the Latter-day saints never ran away from me yet” (History of the Church [HC] vol.6, p.408/9)

In a revealing video interview Bill McKeever of Mormonism Research Ministry talks at length of the so-called martyrdom of Joseph Smith. At one point he shares how guides taking tours at the Carthage jail where Smith died have been heard to refer to that place as the “Mormon Calvary”.

Finally, we have these words from Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church:

One excellent idea that was advanced this morning, I will venture to carry out a little further. The time was when the test of a Christian was his confession of Christ…This is no test to this generation, for all men of the Christian world confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. This generation, however, is not left without a test. I have taught for thirty years, and still teach, that he that believeth in his heart and confesseth with his mouth that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith is his Prophet to this generation, is of God; and he that confesseth not that Jesus has come in the flesh and sent Joseph Smith with the fulness of the Gospel to this generation, is not of God, but is anti-christ.

All who confess that Joseph Smith is sent of God in the latter days, to lay the foundation of his everlasting kingdom no more to be thrown down, and will continue to keep his commandments, are born of God. All those who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Joseph Smith is a true Prophet, at the same time trying with their might to live the holy principles Joseph the Prophet has revealed, are in possession of the Holy Spirit of God and are entitled to a fullness. When such men go into the world to preach the Gospel though they know not a letter in a book, they will do more real good to erring man than the great and wise can possibly do, though aided by all their learning and worldly influence in the absence of the gift of the Holy Ghost. When the spirit of the preacher is imbued with the Spirit and power of God, his words enter the understandings of the honest, who discern the truth and at once embrace it to their eternal advantage. (Journal of Discourses, Vol.9, Pg.312, Brigham Young, July 13, 1862)

Joseph or Jesus?

From Eden to Calvary, Mormonism has systematically replaced Christianity with its peculiar creed. The Book of Mormon surpassing the Bible as  “the most correct of any book on the earth” (HC 4:461), gold compared with brass; the first vision surpassing any biblical revelation in its splendour; the prayer model of Jesus on the Mount and in Gethsemane eclipsed by the “sacred grove”; the geography of early Genesis described as peculiarly American; Joseph Smith succeeding where Jesus and the apostles miserably failed and finally the latter-day test for being a Christian the confession of Joseph Smith.

Examples abound and I am sure others could easily add to the list here but it is important that, like the noble Bereans (Acts 17:10-12), we should test everything that is said and urge others to do the same. People earnestly seeking truth don’t want to end up in the New World when they need to be in the Old, in a grove when they need to be on a mount, at the veil of a temple when they need to be at the foot of the Cross and looking to Joseph when they should look to Jesus alone.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Why Mormons are so Misunderstood

“That’s a misconception people have about Mormonism. Actually, we believe…”

How often does this sort of thing get said every day around the world as Mormons explain their faith, on the doorstep, at open houses, in the office or over a barbecue? We read it on blog posts, internet sites, discussion forums, in Mormon magazines and we hear it in sermons from Mormon  leaders at conference time. The following, from the official Mormon web site, is typical:

“Much misunderstanding about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revolves around its doctrine. The news media is increasingly asking what distinguishes the Church from other faiths, and reporters like to contrast one set of beliefs with another.” (Approaching Mormon Doctrine)

Surely, they are the most misrepresented and misunderstood people in the world.  Yet the same commentary goes on to talk about the “abundant material available” to those inquiring into Mormon doctrine. Certainly there is such an abundance that even the casual inquirer will find themselves assaulted by an information overload.

Mormonism, A to Z

January 2010 will see the publication of the third edition of The A to Z of Mormonism", an exhaustive encyclopaedia of Mormon history, key people, doctrine and praxis. It promises to “clear up many of the misconceptions held about Mormonism and its members, making it an essential reference.” (Dust Jacket)





March 2010 will see the publication of Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia (sic)

This offers broad historical coverage of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, covering its historic development, important individuals, and central ideas and issues.





This on top of the long established Encyclopedia of Mormonism, a four volume work published by Macmillan in 1992. Hard copies are no longer available but the full version is available on the web.


Then there is the plethora of print, electronic and video materials, a professional newsroom, an official website, a prominent public profile, the familiar missionaries and a public relations department many would give anything to have.

Mormons are blogging like second nature, explaining, correcting, challenging and generally talking to the world about their faith, and organisations like Farms, FAIR and SHIELDS (they love acronyms) and the Mormon Wiki are more professional almost semi-official manifestations of the same thing.

So why are Mormons so misunderstood?

In a news item on the official Mormon news service the church addressed the question “What is it that people find so difficult in accepting Mormons as Christians?”

“While others have their opinions, ‘in our terms,’ President Hinckley said, ‘we worship Christ.’”
There is your answer, in those three words, “in our terms”. When they complain about being misunderstood they are effectively demanding that we call it as they insist we see it, in their terms. But we call it as we see it, in our terms. In a previous post, Why Mormons Have Problems With Jude, I wrote:

“Mormons will protest that any such argument as you present is based on the idea that Mormons are not Christians and since Mormons are Christians your argument is hollow. But this response postulates the very thing that is in contention and is yet to be demonstrated.

Mormons assume that their protestations should be sufficient evidence of their Christian credentials and that if they say they are Christians they simply are. But Christians questioning those credentials already have a clear understanding of what makes a Christian, their own terms by which to judge, and they are not the terms of Mormonism. It is on those terms, on biblical terms, that Christians view Mormonism and regard Mormons as not Christians and it is unreasonable that Mormons should try and dictate terms.

When we “believe” it is natural that we should become comfortable with those fundamentals that inform our faith and our lives but it is the cardinal error of true fundamentalist believers to become so familiar and easy with their faith that they believe it is self-evidently true. Such believers talk about what they “know” rather than what they “believe”, what they understand rather than where they put their trust, of gnosis rather than pisteuĊ. Such absolute certainty seems unassailable and those who question it are considered obtuse, even disingenuous.

Mormons “know” their church is true and that they are Christians “in their terms” and so cannot comprehend how anyone might doubt that claim, much less have completely different terms by which they judge these things. But the argument of ministries to Mormons is that, on our terms, we believe that Mormonism yet has a case to answer.

John Ruskin wrote:

The greatest thing a human being ever does in this world is to see something and to tell what it saw in a plain way”

We see Mormonism and tell what we see “in our terms”, and if it isn’t the greatest thing we do we try and tell it plainly and, according to Ruskin, no human being can do more.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Why Mormons Have problems with Jude

How often have you set out to argue your case for your Christian faith with a Mormon only to be met by a determination on their part to maintain what they regard a civilised detachment, insisting they don’t want to be contentious? You expect at least a lively discussion, for your Mormon friend to give a good account of his/her faith, but they imperiously declare that they don’t engage in such dubious and uncharitable bickering.

They quote the late Krister Stendahl, (1921-April 2008) one time Bishop of Stockholm and renowned religious pluralist, who said that when you are trying to understand another religion, don’t compare your best with their worst. Of course, in quoting him like this, they are doing that very thing, comparing their admirable determination to stay out of it with your unfortunate propensity to argue.

Contend for the Faith

Mormons have a real problem with Jude. Jude instructs Christians to "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3) But Mormons confuse contending for the faith with being contentious, arguing your case with being argumentative. You are left staring incredulously as the Mormon runs every time to the protection of "contention is of the devil. I would never drag down your church!"

This way the actual issues that stand between Mormons and Christians (and they are legion) never actually get addressed. Not least the fact that the Mormon Church is built on a claim that specifically “tears down” other churches (Joseph Smith History, 1:19)

Jude wrote, "Contend for the faith" and if today's Mormons can't bring themselves to defend their beliefs and contend for their faith they are actually being unbiblical. Mormons will protest that any such argument as you present is based on the idea that Mormons are not Christians and since Mormons are Christians your argument is hollow. But this response postulates the very thing that is in contention and is yet to be demonstrated. Their view is based on the hubristic assumption that what Mormons believe is true beyond doubt or revision, is not there to be questioned but received gratefully, and therefore anyone questioning Mormonism is misled, mischievous or plain wicked

Ultimately it excuses the Mormon from the biblical injunctions to "contend for the faith" and "go into all the world telling the good news". The refusal to engage is hard-hearted because it says in effect, "I ‘know it’s true’ and if you don't believe it, tough luck." You may be a soul to win but because you come up with good questions and won't just roll over and express your undying admiration for all things Mormon no one will contend for your soul. So it’s the Terrestrial Kingdom for you.

Do Not Judge

A Mormon will cite the words of Jesus, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Mt.7:1). However, the idea that we should not judge is unbiblical in respect to the words of Jude. Even Paul urged his readers to "judge for yourself what I say" (1 Co.10:14) and the saints of Berea are commended as noble for "examining the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11) Proverbs counsels us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Pro.31:8-9) (What about the spiritual poor and needy)

The injunction from the Lord that we should not judge is a warning to not put ourselves in the place of God as ultimate judge. It does not condone the strange idea that we are not to use wise judgement. Scripture counsels us to judge wisely in doctrine and practice, in faith and action. We judge what company we keep, what we believe and what we reject as untrue, how we respond to the needs of others and who we trust. And James, so beloved of Mormons, wrote a whole letter about wisdom and sound judgement in how we conduct ourselves and live out our faith (Js.1:5 has nothing to do with finding truth but with the wise application of the truth we have. See how he develops his argument in Js.3:17)

When the Mormon Meets the Real World

Many Mormons are raised in almost entirely Mormon communities and many others come under no other influence. Until they serve a mission, or venture onto the Internet for the first time, or engage in this discussion they are so keen to avoid they never hear any other argument. They are drilled with these ideas by their families and church leaders who will shake their heads in regret more than anger that muddle-headed Christians, influenced by anti-Mormon elements, still misunderstand Mormonism and would rather contend than act in the grace so clearly taught in the Bible. But Jude wrote that we should “Contend for the faith.”

Jesus said that if we love our friends we only do what the heathens do. It seems to me that Mormons only want to love their friends and only want to keep company with those who love them back. But Jude said that we should contend for the faith; perhaps because he felt he had a faith worth contending for and because there are souls out there worth the battle.

Note: You may ask how a man like Krister Stendahl, Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm, religious pluralist, ecumenical and gay rights activist and champion of women’s ordination, came to be a champion for the anti-clerical, anti-gay, anti-women’s ordination and staunchly conservative Mormon Church.

It seems that in 1985 the Mormon Church met strong opposition to their building a temple in Stockholm. In a press conference Stendahl took the part of the Mormons and presented his three rules of understanding, developed in response to this crisis for Mormons. It was, then, not so much a meeting of minds but more a case of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Strange bedfellows indeed.

Stendahl’s rules are:

(1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.

(2) Don't compare your best to their worst.

(3) Leave room for "holy envy." (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)

These are very helpful as a rule of thumb and we mustn’t dismiss them as guides to conduct but:

(1) what if the adherents of the religion are deceived or, heaven forbid, deceiving? Would we have been considered wise to ask Kenneth Lay about Enron?

(2) What if direct comparisons don’t help except in the most general terms, since generalisation is a lie. Mormons are nice people but what does that tell us?

(3) What if you find nothing to envy and much to regret about their religion? How far would investigators have got in probing the truth about Enron if they had grubbed around determined to find something to like?

Monday, 25 January 2010

Who Speaks for Mormonism?

A thorny issue for Mormons is that of authority, and the question of who speaks for the church and who is speaking from their own personal convictions and human viewpoint. This is a very important point because Christians are often accused of misrepresenting the church and its teachings. One way of ensuring that we get it right is by knowing and using reliable sources. Attempts on their part to clarify this issue often include statements similar to the following  from a Mormon correspondent:

“The only works that are authoritative and binding on the church and its Members are the four books of scripture: the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price (collectively known as the standard works), and official pronouncements from the First Presidency, the church's three-Member governing body.”

On the face of it this is not an unreasonable statement. There has to be a plumb line by which all other claims to truth can be judged. For the Christian it is the Bible, for the Muslim it is the Koran, for the Jew the Torah. The above statement seems reasonable as a final standard by which to judge truth, or at least Mormon truth. It is a clear statement with apparently no equivocation. The same correspondent illustrates this point by reference to the book Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce R McConkie.

“Thousands of books have been written by Latter-day Saints over the last 179 years. Some of them are well-written and accurate, some contain merely the personal theories of the writer. But just because a Latter-day Saint writes something doesn't mean what he writes is correct or speaks for the church.

A case in point is a work widely accepted by Members of the LDS church: Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine. In this encyclopaedic work, McConkie attempted to explain in detail what Latter-day Saints believe about more than 1,100 gospel topics. Unfortunately, some of his interpretations and beliefs were not correct, and the second edition of his book had a number of, what were termed in the preface, "changes, clarifications, and additions." McConkie, as great a man as he was…was imperfect just like the rest of us.”

These two statements seem to clearly define the contrast between "scripture" and those writings, statements, commentaries made by Mormons about scripture and truth. For the Latter-day Saint ,however, there is a problem here.

Questioning the Prophets

From the earliest days of Mormonism remarkable claims of revelations, prophecies etc. have been the norm. Even though the LDS church started with a book, nevertheless what was written has always proven insufficient and "the saints" have been encouraged to look to "living prophets" for guidance and direction. In a defining statement Ezra Taft Benson said:

“The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one living in our day and age. This is the prophet who has today's instructions from God to us today. God's revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build the ark. Every generation has need of the ancient scripture plus the current scripture from the living prophet. Therefore, the most crucial reading and pondering which you should do is of the latest inspired words from the Lord's mouthpiece.”

(Conference Report, Korea Area Conference, 1975, p.52, quoted in 1989 Priesthood Manual, Seek to Obtain My Word)

Essential to Mormon thinking is the belief that the heavens have been opened once more, and that God, through his servants the prophets, directs and guides the affairs of his people. Continuous revelation is understood to be the lifeblood of the church. Members are encouraged to believe that the church is guided on a daily basis by revelation through living prophets. This being the case, when the average Latter-day Saint looks to his leaders for guidance and clarity he hardly expects to have to pick carefully through a selection of teachings, comments and pronouncements, weighing each one. He certainly is not encouraged to even consider the possibility that apostles and prophets would be found wanting in clarity and accuracy in bringing the true "interpretation" of church teaching to their congregations. Listen to Mormon apostle Orson Pratt:

“Have we not a right to make up our minds in relation to the things recorded in the word of God, and speak about them, whether the living oracles believe our views or not? We have not the right.”

(Journal of Discourses 7:374-375)

Brigham Young declared:

“I know just as well what to teach this people and just what to say to them and what to do in order to bring them to the celestial kingdom, as I know the road to my office…I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call scripture. Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon, and it is as good Scripture as they deserve.”

(Journal of Discourses, vol.13.p.95. Also see vol.13.p.264)

Joseph Fielding Smith said:

Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voices of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.

An individual may fall by the wayside, or have views, or give counsel which falls short of what the Lord intends. But the voice of the First Presidency and the united voices of those others who hold with them the keys of the kingdom shall always guide the Saints and the world in those paths where the Lord wants them to be.”

(Ensign, July 1972, p.88)

It has long been understood amongst the Latter-day Saints that "when the prophet speaks all debate is ended". Indeed, if you had to define the seminal message of the Mormon Church it is that men may once again look confidently to prophets and apostles to guide them unerringly in their lives and devotion to God.

“When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan - it is God's plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy.”

(Improvement Era June 1945,p.354)

Oracles or Just Men with Opinions?

Contrast this with another quote from Joseph Fielding Smith:

“You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works.”

(Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft), 1956, 3:203-4.)

But surely what makes the "authorities of the Church" authorities at all is their dependability and their insight into the business of God. It is almost a given that their comments, in whatever form, will be "in accord with the revealed word in the standard works". Their humanity will surely show through in tone and presentation, but surely not in content. If this is not the case then they are no "authorities". Of course an individual may hold an opinion that has no bearing on eternal verities, for example 'should a Mormon drink Coke?' and this opinion we may choose to ignore. However, when a "prophet" speaks, even as a man, touching gospel principles then, even as a man, his opinion should be in accord with revealed truth. We should be able to trust him.

If we are to sift and check, harbour doubts, speculate and essentially question him then how does he differ from the Dalai Lama, the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury? How could you square such thinking with statements like this from Spencer W Kimball:

“Apostasy usually begins with question and doubt and criticism…They who garnish the sepulchres of the dead prophets begin now by stoning the living ones…They allege love for the gospel and the Church but charge that leaders are a little 'off beam'...Next they say that while the gospel and the Church are divine, the leaders are fallen.”

(The teachings of Spencer W Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982)

How can we trust a leader whose personal opinions differ from his official pronouncements for God? Surely we have been promised that such a thing would never happen? Of course the problem here, typically, is that the Mormon Church is trying to hold two mutually exclusive positions simultaneously.

The traditional position of the church is that God once again speaks through prophets and that, in contrast to a dead tradition, the "true church" is in a state of growth and development, a state of flux. The Mormon canon of scripture is not a complete canon but a founding canon, clearly identified as the "standard works" of the church, but the whole canon is not fixed since it is purported to include further revelations and announcements up to the present day. Hence the statement, " The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one living in our day and age."

This makes Thomas S Monson and the rest of the "general authorities" of the church more important to current church members than Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Peter James and John, or even Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. 'Watch the prophet' is the phrase sometimes used. Spencer W Kimball criticised the practice of some that, "return to the pronouncements of the dead leaders and interpret them to be incompatible with the present programs."

The message, clearly, is that one should test the past by the present.

On the other hand, as the church grows more sophisticated, in an increasingly sophisticated world, it is apparent that these prophets are more closely scrutinised by a people who are ever more critical and discerning. Leaders can no longer make pronouncements that are xenophobic, confrontational or overtly triumphalistic in nature, and expect to get away with it. Nor can they any longer make ridiculous claims about archaeology and the Book of Mormon, the imminent fate of the United States Government, or the inhabitants of the moon. The answer is to have a fixed canon of scripture, controlled from the centre, against which everyone, even the prophet, is to be tested. This is the current thinking.

The message here is that one should test the present by the past.

The position of the church has shifted. Surely, though, in a church that claims continuing revelation, and promises unerring guidance there should be perfect accord between prophets past and present? Such accord doesn’t exist of course and Mormons find themselves torn between loyalty to their founding prophets and allegiance to their current prophets.

I thank God for my Bible, for the freedom to read it and the Spirit to help me understand it without any outward agency to influence me except those I find over the years to be sound and trustworthy. Mormons only have prophets that insist on interpreting God for them, that demand their loyalty whether deserved or not, and that, nevertheless, disagree among themselves and with Scripture. These are the men that purport to speak for Mormonism. What they will say depends on which way the wind is blowing today. And when they are dead and gone they will be edited, revised and otherwise repackaged to fit the agenda of the day. Test them not by each other, the past by the present or the present by the past, but by the Bible God’s Book for all times and seasons.

Previously in this Series of Six:

The Mormon Message of prophets

Testing Mormon Prophets

Testing a Mormon Prophet

The Hinckley Timeline

The Changing Face of Mormonism

Saturday, 23 January 2010

McConkie:

Bruce R McConkie (the ‘R’ stands for Redd), member of the First Council of the Seventy from 1946, was an apostle of the Mormon Church from 1972 until his death in April 1985. Born into a Mormon family he boasted polygamist forebears who rubbed shoulders with Joseph and Hyrum Smith. One biographer describes McConkie as, “breathing, talking, and living the principles of the [Mormon] gospel... in the McConkie home.” He married Emma, the daughter of Joseph Fielding Smith, grandson of Hyrum,  apostle from 1910 and church president 1970-72. He studied at Utah Law School, obtaining his BA degree and his LLB, served in the military, retiring as lieutenant-colonel and worked for the CIA.

His work has been described in glowing terms in a biographical note in the Ensign magazine, Jan.1973:


“He has written numerous articles and handbooks and read hundreds of manuscripts submitted for his appraisal. His sermons at conferences have been consistently doctrinal in nature, pointing out the basic gospel principles that lead to exaltation. He has truly taught that to know God and his Christ is to have life eternal. He has raised his voice in many lands as he has toured missions. His value in counsel has been wise, clear, and in harmony with the true principles of the gospel. His gift to write and speak concisely and with clarity amounts almost to genius, and he exercises these gifts willingly for the benefit of the work of the Lord whose name he reveres.

During his years in the First Council, he has found time to write four volumes of doctrinal studies and to edit three volumes of the doctrines expounded and explained by President Joseph Fielding Smith. These books, exhaustive in treatment and clearly written, reveal the clarity of the mind, the logic of the presentations, and the guidance of the Spirit in their composition. These stand as bulwarks defending true doctrine against the nebulous assertions of modern philosophers.”

Mormon Doctrine

A “True Believing Mormon”, a gifted man of doctrinal consistency, clarity, wisdom and genius, McConkie was, then, a man with solid Mormon credentials whose background fitted him well for a place in the leadership of the Mormon Church and his scholastic endeavours for his role as commentator and interpreter of Mormon Doctrine. Notably missing from the 1973 biography is any reference to Mormon Doctrine (pub.1958) the book that would become celebrated and repudiated in equal measure by Mormons.

In it he attempted to assemble a one volume systematic dictionary cum commentary, a compendium of what Mormons believe. McConkie described the work as the first major attempt to digest, explain, and analyze all of the important doctrines of the kingdom…the first extensive compendium of the whole gospel—the first attempt to publish an encyclopedic commentary covering the whole field of revealed religion." From Aaronic Priesthood, through Godhead and Scripture to Word of Wisdom, Worthiness and Zion McConkie presented the prevailing Mormon Doctrine.

It was written primarily as a reference book for Mormons and so its author was able to be more forthright on sensitive issues such as the Mormon attitude to Catholic and Protestant Churches (the former characterised in the first edition as “the Whore of Babylon” and the latter “daughters of a harlot”). However, such forthright language came under criticism by church leaders and the book was published in a revised form in 1966 and with further revisions in 1978. What was revised?

It seems the most notable difference between first and second editions was the tone. What concerned Mormon leaders was the use of “forceful, blunt language; some strongly worded statements [and] its authoritative style” and, while there were some doctrinal changes, it is notable that much of the Bible dictionary included in today’s Mormon reference Bible (pub.1979) was taken directly from Mormon Doctrine. There is a good account of the controversy at ex-Mormon.org. Since that time Mormons have found it easy to dismiss McConkie whenever he is quoted to them by critics yet he continues to be quoted widely by members, leaders and official publications of the Mormon Church.

The Apostle Mormons Love to Hate

This situation has earned McConkie certain notoriety and it is easy, indeed instinctive for Mormons to dismiss this Mormon apostle with impunity. It is interesting, however, that at least 80% of his "controversial" book was taken from Doctrines of Salvation, a compilation of the sermons and writings of his father-in-law Joseph Fielding Smith; a work that McConkie himself compiled and knew thoroughly. Smith's remarks on apostasy and “apostate churches” are hardly less controversial than McConkie's (Vol.3 of DofS). I just read him again on the subject and Smith is frank in his teaching about a mother church, which he pictures in the hands of Satan, a church that is evil, corrupt and polluted with pagan philosophies, and [Protestant] daughter churches that are no better.

He does concur that "there is some truth in all the churches" but this is not the ecumenical statement it sounds for he doesn't mean Christian churches especially but religions of the world, mentioning Buddhists, Greek and Roman Gods alongside what we might more readily call a church; not exactly flattering comparisons for the Evangelicals with whom Mormons seem anxious to associate and identify these days.

Smith comments:

"The fact that they teach some truth does not make them the Church of God. There is but one Church of God."

Smith's commentary is no less "offensive" to Christians or less controversial for the Mormon Church than McConkie’s, but McConkie was censured while Smith wasn't. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so ready, therefore, to buy into the whole disowning McConkie business. The “truth” he wrote chimed very well with the Mormonism of recent generations but what Mormons once believed and how they expressed that belief was becoming a liability.

But Such a Snug Fit


I was a Mormon from 1972 until 1986 and my memory is vivid not just because I was there but because I was taught, and in turn I taught this material for much of that time in priesthood, seminary, institute and Sunday school classes. Historically speaking, this is my old stomping ground so to speak. I know what we were taught and what we comfortably believed and McConkie was a very snug fit notwithstanding the official rebukes of his work.

The fact is that Mormons did and still do identify with McConkie and you will find his book on their shelves. A question I often ask is why does Mormonism not have commentaries? I think Mormons were hungry for something solid in that line to get their teeth into and McConkie provided it. They flocked to him, not because he and they were wrong, but because they spoke together the language of Mormonism, a language that became inconvenient as the world became more politically correct, and they identified with him.

How often have I heard people who minister to Mormons yearn for those days of McConkie because you knew where you were with him; not like today’s mealy-mouthed leaders whose work has to go through a correlation committee to ensure they are on-message. I just can’t imagine somehow Ezekiel, Isaiah Jeremiah or Paul seeking approval and endorsement from a committee for what God inspired them to say. Yet these are the men in whose footsteps these timid Mormon leaders of today purport to follow. Modern sons of Sceva might indeed declare, “Joseph I know, Brigham I know, McConkie I know but these faceless ciphers, who are they?”
 

The Mormon Message of prophets

Testing Mormon Prophets

Testing a Mormon Prophet

The Hinckley Timeline

The Changing Face of Mormonism

Coming up:

Who Speaks for Mormonism?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

The Changing Face of Mormonism

It has long been apparent that the phenomenal success of the Mormon Church is in no small measure due to its ability to change and adapt. Mormon leaders have long been image conscious and anxious to own the correct reputation. Such concerns have been the driving force behind some remarkable changes in policy and practice over the years.

19th Century Mormonism

The nineteenth century Mormon Church was isolationist and aggressive, much in the traditional style of new religious movements. Speeches and statements from church leaders frequently reflected inflated ambitions to "rule every nation". In that rare atmosphere of triumphalism all sorts of wild statements of doctrine and belief were made, leaders never imagining that the world would change so much as to be able to put Mormon claims to the test (a singular absence of prophetic foresight here). One classic example is the following extract from a contemporary journal:

“Inhabitants of the Moon are more of a uniform size than the inhabitants of the Earth, being about 6 feet in height. They dress very much like the quaker Style & are quite general in style, or the one fashion of dress. They live to be very old; comeing [sic] generally, near a thousand years. This is the description of them given by Joseph the Seer, and he could "See" whatever he asked the Father in the name of Jesus to see.”

(Journal of Oliver B. Huntington)

In the Journal of Discourses we have this from Brigham Young:

“Who can tell us of the inhabitants of this little planet that shines of an evening, called the moon?…when you inquire about the inhabitants of that sphere you find that the most learned are as ignorant in regard to them as the ignorant of their fellows. So it is in regard to the inhabitants of the sun. Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it. It was not made in vain.”

(Journal of Discourses,Vol.13,p.271)

Thinking that their 19th century world-view would endure they never imagined that one day "the most learned" would land on the moon and find it barren and uninhabited. Trusting in their splendid isolation amongst the Rocky Mountains they defied the world and developed many of the doctrines and practices for which they are still famous. One notorious teaching was Brigham Young's Adam/God doctrine. Young stated on April 9th, 1852:

“Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth…When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives with him…He is Michael, the Arch-angel, the Ancient of Days!…He is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do.”

(Journal of Discourses,vol.1,pp.50-51)

Today what the church calls the Adam/God "theory" is stridently denied and those who teach it are excommunicated. Along with polygamy, blood atonement, and men on the moon, Adam/God was dropped, and the church buried its 19th century mistakes with its 19th century dead. One commentator observed that "The [Mormon] Church entered the twentieth century in anxious pursuit of respectability."

20th Century Mormonism

The 20th Century has also seen the Mormon Church face controversy. One notable hangover from the days of Brigham and Joseph has been the church's stance on Negroes. One noted Mormon leader stated:

“As a result of his rebellion [in a pre-mortal existence], Cain was cursed with a dark skin; he became the father of the Negroes, and those spirits who were not worthy to receive the priesthood are born through his lineage.”

(Bruce R McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p 102)

Another leader declared:

“Is there any reason then why the type of birth we receive in this life is not a reflection of the worthiness or lack of it in the pre-existent life?…We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in the pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Latter-day Saints. These are rewards and punishments.”

(Mark E Peterson, Race Problems - As They Affect the Church)

According to performance in a pre-mortal state men and women are born into different races. The Negro is the lowest of these and not deserving of Mormon priesthood blessing. Clearly to be born White, Anglo-Saxon, and LDS puts a person at the top of this caste system.

In 1978 the then prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, announced that "all worthy male members of the church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard to race or color", claiming to have received revelation on the matter. There is no evidence of a revelation and Mormons continue to work from a closed canon. This has opened up a whole new mission field to the church, which is now expanding at a phenomenal rate amongst African nations.

Continuing to Bury the Past

Once again the Mormons are digging graves for past mistakes. Dead and gone are key portions of the temple ceremony. Notably the blood oaths were removed in 1990. Also a controversial section portraying the typical Christian clergyman as a lackey of Satan, who taught a "ridiculous and incomprehensible" philosophy, which he called "orthodox religion", was removed.

The Journal of Discourses was once a key source of doctrine. It has recently been demoted to the position of interesting but uninspired teachings, which may, or may not, be reliable. Many of the problems they are trying to bury are from this, once unimpeachable, source. (The preface to volume eight of the Journal states "The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the Standard Works of the Church")

Bruce R McConkie, “the apostate apostle” is to Mormonism what Judas is to Christianity; or at least you would be forgiven for thinking so the way Mormons routinely dismiss, disparage and disown him every time he is quoted. He was, in truth, the last of those nineteenth century  Mormon autocrats whose self-belief knew no bounds and whose word would truck no opposition; he simply shares the fate of all such leaders of the past. While his writings were once essential reading in every seminary and institute class, he is increasingly marginalised as his teachings fall behind current Mormon thinking. As with the prophets of the nineteenth century, the Mormons seem to be burying their 20th century mistakes with their 20th century dead.

Apostles, Opinions, the Penny and the Bun

So Christians may understandably be quoting apostles McConkie and Tanner and Talmage etc. as authorities, naively thinking that they are endorsed by a church that itself extensively quotes them, only to be told, "but that is just his opinion." In manuals, periodicals and journals we are led to believe that, if an apostle says it then it must be so. But the frustrating experience of so many Christians is that nothing is carved in stone - especially not the modern revelation of the Mormon Church; a far cry from the experience of Moses and the Israelites. I am afraid the Mormon Church wants the penny and the bun. It wants apostles and prophets but it does not want to be held accountable for what they say when what they say is no longer politically correct.

In light of the above what are we to make of a recent statement by Gordon Hinckley:

“In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints 'do not believe in the traditional Christ.' 'No, I don't. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages.'”

Church News (6/20/98, p.7)

Was this just his opinion or is it official Mormon doctrine? If the latter then why on earth have Christians suffered grief all this time at the hands of Mormons who insist "of course we believe in the same Jesus!" Who accuse us of knowingly deceiving people when we dare to insist otherwise? It is not we who are telling less than the truth but Mormons who do indeed believe in a different Jesus and insist that they don’t.

But then Hinckley could be simply expressing an opinion. And no doubt at some point in the future, when a Mormon is backed into a corner over worshipping a different Jesus, and this quote is brought up as "proof", the well worn riposte "that was just his opinion" will be trotted out once more; Because any point, quote, verse or question that is raised in such confrontations is always labelled as out of context, misquoted, misrepresentative, misunderstood or mischievously twisted. And, whatever the source, every quote is up for negotiation and can be devalued at a stroke - as expediency demands.

As Christians we should be aware of the slippery nature of so-called Mormon doctrine and not be put off by accusations of misrepresentation. Mormonism attempts to appeal to converts by claiming consistent and reliable guidance from God, which they claim is absent from the Christian churches; however they also use the claim to prophetic guidance to change "restored" truth when it suits them and defy their followers to dare question the living prophets who alone speak for God.

Caught between their faith in the prophets of Mormonism and their experience of inexplicable change and doctrinal inconsistencies Mormons are forced to excuse, explain, conceal and deny the pronouncements of their own leaders in an attempt to keep the faith. In the face of such circumstances Christians should be ever more confident, patient, prayerful and consistent in their witness.

Previous Posts:

The Mormon Message of prophets

Testing Mormon Prophets

Testing a Mormon Prophet

The Hinckley Timeline

Coming up:

McConkie

Who Speaks for Mormonism?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Hinckley Timeline

Gordon B Hinckley, Mormon Church president from March 1995 to January 2008, held several distinctions and his life was, understandably, celebrated by the Mormon Church. He served a mission in London in 1933, unusual in Depression Era Mormonism. On his return he accepted a job offer in 1935 to lead the new Mormon public relations department, bringing with him his college qualifications in journalism. This move effectively made him the first ‘career Mormon’ in the church’s history, all other General Authorities coming from other professions and backgrounds to serve full-time. Later, as church president, he became the most travelled Mormon president ever, also having the distinction of being responsible for the largest temple building programme in the church’s history. More than two thirds of all currently operating temples were dedicated during his incumbency and he brought the number of temples up from 27 to 122 in just 11 years.

He is the second oldest president after David O Mc’Kay and despite surgery for prostate cancer showed no signs of slowing down, let alone stopping as he approached the end of his presidency. Some would argue that he deserves the accolades laid on him and I am not about to deny the man his due. A question arises, however, as we look at his extensive and impressive history. The Hinckley time-line will help you see what I mean.

Early Years

23 June 1910 - born in Salt Lake City, Utah, just twenty years before, Mormonism had “officially” renounced polygamy, he has been at the centre of Mormonism from birth. The president during Hinckley’s formative years, Heber J Grant (1918-1945), was a practising polygamist, fleeing the country in 1903 to avoid being arrested, finally convicted in 1906 and fined $300. Grant was born in 1856, when Brigham Young was teaching that Adam was God, was 21 in 1877 when Brigham Young, died, and became an Apostle in 1882, when the church was till teaching the Adam/God doctrine.

At this time, and for some time to come, the Journal of Discourses, source of much of the controversy surrounding Mormon doctrine, was still regarded as authoritative, a “Standard Work” of the church. In 1913 James Talmage, an Apostle of the church, first published The Articles of Faith, a comprehensive look at church doctrine based on Joseph Smith’s famous creed. 1915 saw the first publication of Talmage’s definitive work on the Saviour, Jesus the Christ. Both books have proved seminal works for generations of Mormons.

1928 - Hinckley completed High School in Salt Lake City, going on to study at the University of Utah. His education was thoroughly Mormon.

1933 - After attending the University of Utah he was called to go on a mission to London. He would have built his presentation of Mormonism on long-established Mormon works such as Journal of Discourses, as well as more recent works like those produced by Talmage.

1935 - Hinckley returned to the United States and accepted a job offer to lead the Church's new public relations department. Hinckley's responsibilities included developing the Church's recently established radio broadcasts and making use of the era's new communication technologies, putting him, from an early age, at the centre of presenting Mormonism to the world.

1937 - he started serving on the Sunday school General Board, putting him at the centre of the Mormon teaching programme.1938 saw the publication of The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith by Joseph Fielding Smith, Apostle and Grandson of Hyrum Smith, brother of Joseph Smith Jr.

In 1954 the teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith himself, a man regarded as “the leading gospel scholar and the greatest doctrinal teacher of [his] generation”, began to be published in three volumes. Doctrines of Salvation is, again, a comprehensive study of key Mormon doctrine and has proved definitive for generations of Mormons. The same year John Widstoe published the Discourses of Brigham Young.

1958 - After service in a stake presidency, Hinckley became a General Authority of the Church in the now discontinued position of Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, giving him experience in application and leadership at the highest level. This year saw the publication of Mormon Doctrine, Bruce R McConkie’s controversial attempt at producing a definitive systematic theology of Mormon teaching. It is still much quoted by the church.

Mid-life

1961 - at 51, Hinckley himself became an Apostle and member of that Quorum, the youngest at that time. Being an Apostle from such a young age has given him more opportunity than most to study Mormon leadership, policy-making and doctrinal decisions at the highest level. Around this time America was in the middle of the great Civil Rights Movement and the Mormon Church came under a lot of fire for its policy of barring coloured people from holding the priesthood. Nevertheless, the church put up a robust defence of its anti-Black doctrine until it gave in to pressure and made a policy change in 1978.

In the early 1980’s the ill health of both Church President Spencer W Kimball and his ageing Counsellors N Eldon Tanner and Marion G Romney led the Church leadership to resort to the occasional practice of adding an additional Counsellor to the First Presidency. Hinckley filled this position on July 23, 1981. At the time of Tanner's death in 1982, Romney succeeded him as First Counsellor and Hinckley succeeded Romney as Second Counsellor. 1980 also saw the publication of Ezra Taft Benson’s famous Fourteen Fundamentals in following the Prophet, in which he makes clear that the prophet “speaks for the Lord in everything, is more vital than the Scriptures, can make Scripture, and that rejecting the counsel of the prophets brings suffering.”

During this time period, there were a number of questionable, new Mormon historical documents that began to surface, and Hinckley oversaw the purchase of some of these documents. Later, most of the newly surfaced documents turned out to be forgeries of Mark Hoffmann including the Salamander Letter. Because of his prominence in the Church and his responsibility to oversee the purchase of historical documents, Hinckley became a key figure in the investigation of Hofmann, giving him vital experience in being at the centre of and dealing with controversies surrounding Mormon Church history.

By this time, however, Hinckley was largely shouldering the burdens of the First Presidency himself. Though he officially remained Second Counsellor, he was informally referred to in the press as "acting President of the Church."

1985 - Kimball and Romney remained largely out of the public eye until President Kimball died in November. Older Mormons will remember that, with the calling of a series of elderly men dogged with ill health, this made him de facto president of the church from this period. His official incumbency is ten years, but his de facto incumbency is nearer 25 years. These twenty five years have given him unparalleled experience as a top church leader, and his lifetime of service, from missionary to president, a familiarity with church polity and doctrine unmatched by any other president.

Ezra Taft Benson became Church President, and named Hinckley First Counsellor. Romney succeeded Benson as President of the Twelve, though age and health problems effectively prevented him carrying out his duties. Thomas S Monson became Second Counsellor, and, for a while, all three members of the First Presidency were able to perform their duties. In the early 1990s however, Ezra Taft Benson developed serious health problems and, although the church kept up the pretence of his running things, his own grandson publicly denounced them for exploiting a sick old man. First Counsellor Hinckley again carried out many of the duties of the President of the Church until Benson died in 1994. Meanwhile, 1992 saw the publication of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism in which much Mormon knowledge and doctrine was gathered and explained.

Howard W Hunter, who had succeeded Romney as President of the Twelve, became Church President and Hinckley and Monson became his Counsellors, In addition, Hinckley becoming President of the Twelve by seniority.

Latter-day Prophet

March 12, 1995 - When Hunter died after a presidency of only nine months, Hinckley was chosen to be president of the Church at the age of 84.

Under his leadership, the Church expanded the number of temples world wide. His involvement with Mormon temples, their purpose and operation would have given him key insight into temple doctrine.

23 September 1995 he announced and read The Family, A Proclamation to the World, a statement of belief and counsel prepared by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. He has had a key role in formulating and clarifying Mormon doctrine on marriage and the family.

He is the most-travelled Church leader-past or present, travelling millions of miles over the years. In spite of his advanced age, he continued to travel the world over as he dedicates temples and meets with the Saints, making it vital that he brought a thorough understanding and clear presentation of Mormonism.

Questions for the Prophet

Adam/God

In an interview in the New Yorker Magazine, January 2002, President Hinckley confessed, “Brigham Young said if you went to Heaven and saw God it would be Adam and Eve. I don't know what he meant by that.” Pointing to a grim-faced portrait of the Lion of the Lord, as Young was called, Hinckley said, “There he is, right there. I'm not going to worry about what he said about those things.”

Q. But the first prophet he knew, Heber J Grant, had sat at the feet of Brigham in his youth, the same Brigham, who taught this very doctrine until his death in 1877. The Journal of Discourses, considered a Standard Work of the church in his youth, clearly reports this teaching in some depth. Wasn’t he paying attention?

The gods of Mormonism

The same article reported, ‘I asked whether Mormon theology was a form of polytheism. “I don't have the remotest idea what you mean,” Hinckley said impatiently.’

Q. But Talmage’s great works, The Articles of Faith and Jesus the Christ, have been standard Mormon text books from the time you were three years old and they clearly teach a plurality of gods, otherwise known as polytheism. One example will suffice. Interpreting the plurality of Genesis 1:26 in the classic Mormon way, Talmage writes:

The Scripture specifies three personages in the Godhead…this fact is instanced by the plurality expressed in Genesis: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”;…From the words of Moses, as revealed anew in the present dispensation, we learn more about the Gods who were actively engaged in the creation of this earth…In the account of the creation recorded in Abraham, “the Gods”, are repeatedly mentioned (Jesus the Christ, Deseret Books, pp 32/3. The references to “Moses” and “Abraham” are to ‘modern revelation’, which speaks often of gods)

Didn’t he read Talmage? Was he not familiar with the authoritative work he references, The Pearl of Great Price? Didn’t he read Widstoe’s collection of Brigham Young’s discourses, in which is recorded, “Gods exist, and we had better strive to be prepared to be one of them”?

God an Exalted Man

In a 1997 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle the following exchange was reported:

Question: “There are some significant differences in your beliefs [and other Christian churches]. For instance, don't Mormons believe that God was once a man?”
Hinckley: “I wouldn't say that. There was a little couplet coined, ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’ Now that's more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about.Interviewing Gordon B. Hinckley, San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1997, p 3/Z1

Q. Didn’t he take the time and trouble to study the teachings of his own founding prophet, published in 1938 by Joseph Fielding Smith? A volume in which can be read:

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!

The Mormon Colour Bar

From another question and answer section from an interview Jan 29th, 2002 conducted by reporter Helmut Nemetschek, ZDF television, Germany, at Salt Lake City, Utah, in the Church Administration Building we read:

Question: “Until 1978 no person of color (sic) attained the priesthood in your church. Why it took so long time to overcome the racism?”

Hinckley: “I don’t know. I don’t know. (long pause) I can only say that. (long pause) But it’s here now. We’re carrying on a very substantial work on Africa for instance and in Brazil. We’re working among their people developing them.”

Q. Wasn’t he paying attention in the sixties and seventies when the civil rights movement caused the Mormon Church to make a robust and defiant defence of church doctrine barring Negroes from holding the priesthood? Didn’t he understand the issues when, in 1978, church policy was so radically changed? By this time he was an Apostle of the church and at the centre of leadership and public relations.

We have been here before, of course, but making the timeline makes this Mormon prophet’s public persona and official remarks seem even more disingenuous as we consider what unparalleled resources were available in his 98 years. Was this man simply forgetful in his old age, or did a lifetime of public relations work for the Mormon Church rob him of any capacity for truth telling? Or did he know exactly what he was doing and was he simply proving that you can’t walk a crooked path straight?

Previous Posts:

The Mormon Message of prophets

Testing Mormon Prophets

Testing a Mormon Prophet

Coming up:

The Changing Face of Mormonism

Who Speaks for Mormonism?

Monday, 18 January 2010

LDS books: Oxford Press finds profits in prophets - Salt Lake Tribune

There is a lesson here for those too easily impressed with the  progress of Mormonism in the academic world:

“Bouncing around on the trend-tossed seas of 21st-century book publishing, Mormon scholarship seems to have docked at the granddaddy of all prestigious presses: Oxford University.

By all accounts, the unlikely partnership between the oldest university in the English-speaking world and an upstart American faith seems to be working. Mormon writers, particularly historians, get the academic credibility they crave and Oxford sells a lot of books.”

Academia chooses its bedfellows for the most pragmatic of reasons. The Mormon Church would have us believe that such stories show that they are finding acceptance where it really counts, among the great academic institutions. Christian apologists in turn fear that Mormonism is gaining legitimacy by such stories. But it is not because they find the Mormon message plausible, nor because they find Mormon academic exploits laudable that they publish Mormon books and speak at Mormon conventions and symposia but because Mormonism is big enough now to sell books and enhance reputations. Its just another shekel in the chest and another university on the CV.

LDS books: Oxford Press finds profits in prophets - Salt Lake Tribune

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Testing a Mormon Prophet

“A living prophet directs the Church today”

We have looked at the claims and promises of Mormonism. We considered the Mormon teaching on apostasy (the wholesale falling away from truth) and restoration of that truth and considered how exciting this message can seem and asked, “Does God really speak today through living prophets?” Last time we looked at the Mormon canon (collection of official scripture) and the claim that theirs is an open canon to which revelation is added regularly by Mormon prophets. We have tested those prophets, found them wanting, and found this “open canon” mysteriously closed for at least a hundred years. This time and next we will look at the track record of a recent prophet.

The most recent prophet of the Mormon Church whose track record may be tested is Gordon B Hinckley. He was prophet from March 1995 until his death in January 2008. In that time he led the saints through a remarkable period of activity and growth, visiting members all over the world, more than doubling the number of temples, and raising the profile of the church. He was the busiest and most productive prophet the church had had for years. How does his record stand as prophet?

Teacher

We are told that a key role of the prophet is teacher. What can president Hinckley teach us about LDS doctrine?

“Brigham Young said if you went to Heaven and saw God it would be Adam and Eve. I don't know what he meant by that.” Pointing to a grim-faced portrait of the Lion of the Lord, as Young was called, Hinckley said, “There he is, right there. I'm not going to worry about what he said about those things.” I asked whether Mormon theology was a form of polytheism. “I don't have the remotest idea what you mean,” Hinckley said impatiently. - Hinckley Interview in "Lives of the Saint", New Yorker, January 2002

Question: “There are some significant differences in your beliefs [and other Christian churches]. For instance, don't Mormons believe that God was once a man?”

Hinckley: “I wouldn't say that. There was a little couplet coined, ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’ Now that's more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about.Interviewing Gordon B. Hinckley, San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1997, p 3/Z1

Question: “Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?”

Hinckley: “I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it. I haven't heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don't know. I don't know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don't know a lot about it and I don't know that others know a lot about it.” Interviewing Gordon B. Hinckley, Time Magazine, Aug 4, 1997

From a interview Jan 29th, 2002 conducted by reporter Helmut Nemetschek, ZDF television, Germany, at Salt Lake City, Utah, in the Church Administration Building:

Question: “Until 1978 no person of color attained the priesthood in your church. Why it took so long time to overcome the racism?”

Hinckley: “I don’t know. I don’t know. (long pause) I can only say that. (long pause) But it’s here now. We’re carrying on a very substantial work on Africa for instance and in Brazil. We’re working among their people developing them.”

Question: “Now, Mr. President, one question which is a little bit complicated for me to understand but I heard it and one colleague asked me to ask you. What will be your position when DNA analysis will show that in history there never had been an immigration from Israel to North America? It could be that scientists will find out?”

GBH: “It hasn’t happened. That hasn’t been determined yet. All I can say is that’s speculative. No one really knows that, the answer to that. Not at this point.” Interview Jan 29th, 2002 conducted by reporter Helmut Nemetschek, ZDF television, Germany, at Salt Lake City, Utah, in the Church Administration Building.

“Beyond the wonderful and descriptive words found in sections 76 and 137 [D&C 76; D&C 137] we know relatively little concerning the celestial kingdom and those who will be there. At least some of the rules of eligibility for acceptance into that kingdom are clearly set forth, but other than that, we are given little understanding.
“The next question you ask is why Eve was created from Adam. I can only respond that an all-wise Creator did it that way....

“Now, Virginia, you call attention to the statement in the scriptures that Adam should rule over Eve. (See Gen. 3:16.) You ask why this is so. I do not know.The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, November 1991 Young Womens Conference, “Daughters of God,” (Ensign, Nov. 1991, Page 97)

Prophet, Seer, Revelator

A prophet is also one who “foretells the future”. What is the record of president Hinckley?

“I hope that prayer will take on a new luster in our lives. None of us knows what lies ahead. We may speculate, but we do not know.” The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, October 2001 General Conference “Till We Meet Again,” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Page 89)

“Now we are at war. Great forces have been mobilized and will continue to be. Political alliances are being forged. We do not know how long this conflict will last. We do not know what it will cost in lives and treasure. We do not know the manner in which it will be carried out. It could impact the work of the Church in various ways.

No one knows how long it will last. No one knows precisely where it will be fought. No one knows what it may entail before it is over. We have launched an undertaking the size and nature of which we cannot see at this time.

I do not know what the future holds. I do not wish to sound negative, but I wish to remind you of the warnings of scripture and the teachings of the prophets which we have had constantly before us.”
Now, I do not wish to be an alarmist. I do not wish to be a prophet of doom. I am optimistic. I do not believe the time is here when an all-consuming calamity will overtake us. I earnestly pray that it may not. There is so much of the Lord’s work yet to be done. We, and our children after us, must do it. I can assure you that we who are responsible for the management of the affairs of the Church will be prudent and careful as we have tried to be in the past. The tithes of the Church are sacred.” The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Times in Which We Live,” October 2001 General Conference (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Page 72)

"Months ago I was invited to be interviewed by Mike Wallace, a tough senior reporter for the CBS 60 Minutes program, which is broadcast across America to more than 20 million listeners each week. I recognized that if I were to appear, critics and detractors of the Church would also be invited to participate. I knew we could not expect that the program would be entirely positive for us. ... I concluded that it was better to lean into the stiff wind of opportunity than to simply hunker down and do nothing. It has been an interesting experience..."

"We have no idea what the outcome will be—that is, I don’t. We will discover this this evening when it is aired in this valley. If it turns out to be favorable, I will be grateful. Otherwise, I pledge I’ll never get my foot in that kind of trap again." The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, “Remember Thy Church, O Lord,” Spring 1996 General Conference, Ensign, May 1996, Page 82

Revelation, or Human Wisdom?

The missionaries teach that, “Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom.” What is the Mormon Church of today relying upon?

“At the close of one particularly difficult day, I looked up at a portrait of Brigham Young that hangs on my wall. I asked, "Brother Brigham, what should we do?" I thought I saw him smile a little, and then he seemed to say: ‘In my day, I had problems enough of my own. Don't ask me what to do. This is your watch. Ask the Lord, whose work this really is.’ And this, I assure you, is what we do and must always do.”

“As I reflected on these matters that recent difficult day, I opened my Bible to the first chapter of Joshua and read these words: ‘Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee’ (Joshua 1:9). I said to myself: ‘There is never reason to despair. This is the work of God. Notwithstanding the efforts of all who oppose it, it will go forward as the God of heaven has designed it should do.’” The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, autumn 2003 General Conference, Sunday Morning Session

But I can open my Bible and read what God has to say. I can comfort myself with biblical assurance. The question is “What has the living prophet got to say to me – today”? More to the point, what does God have to say to me today? Would it surprise you to find that the answer is found in the Bible?

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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.”

(2 Timothy 3:14-17)

Go to the Word and seek God’s wisdom (James 1:1-5).

Previous Posts:

The Mormon Message of prophets

Testing Mormon Prophets

Coming up:

The Hinckley Timeline

The Changing Face of Mormonism

Who Speaks for Mormonism?

Friday, 15 January 2010

Testing Mormon Prophets

Last time we looked at the claims and promises of Mormonism. We considered the Mormon teaching on apostasy (the wholesale falling away from truth) and restoration of that truth and considered how exciting this message can seem and asked, “Does God really speak today through living prophets?” This time we look at the Mormon canon (collection of official scripture).

The Mormon Scriptures include the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), and the Bible. The D&C is what concerns us since the other three, while being regarded as scripture, are also historical documents pertaining to the past. The D&C however is viewed as evidence that the heavens are open once more and that the church is led by living prophets. As the missionaries clearly teach “The teachings of the prophets are found in sacred books called scriptures”. If God speaks through prophets today it is here, or in even more additional “sacred books”, that we should look for evidence that he does.

The original vision and claim of Mormonism was that:

“After his death, Jesus continued to lead his Church by revelation to his apostles and prophets...They taught the truth and recorded these teachings in the scriptures. In this way, the truths about the plan of God were taught clearly without confusion.

Because of the wickedness of the people, the apostles and many of the righteous Church members were killed. The Lord took the priesthood authority and his Church from the earth. There was no longer a church on earth directed by revelation. Because men relied on human wisdom to understand the scriptures, many plain and simple truths were lost.

The [Mormon] Church is led today by a prophet and twelve apostles. The Lord has called these men in our day just as he did in Bible times. They receive revelation from God and have his priesthood authority...We follow the guidance and direction the Lord gives us through them” (Mormon Missionary Discussion 3, 1986, pp.4, 6, 12)

Ongoing Canonised Revelation

Consequently Mormons like to think of their church as operating as described by the following quotes:

"It was the Lord Himself who installed prophets in this modern Church. ... This, too, has He done for the successors to the Prophet Joseph, even down to our present wonderful and humble leader. He, too, is inspired of God. He, too, is a revelator. He, too, is the voice of the Almighty to the saints of this day." (Editorial, Church News, September 26, p. 12, 1981)

"Words of Our Living Prophets — In addition to these four books of scripture, the inspired words of our living prophets become scripture to us. Their words come to us through conferences, Church publications, and instructions to local priesthood leaders. 'We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God' (Articles of Faith 1:9)." (Gospel Principles, p. 55, 1992)

“There are those who would assume that with the printing and binding of these sacred records that would be the ‘end of the prophets’. But again we testify to you that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. We testify also that there is, since 1830 when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organised, and will continue to be, so long as time shall last, a prophet, recognised of God and his people, who will continue to interpret the mind and will of the Lord” (“Revelation: The Word of the Lord to His Prophets,” Spencer W Kimball, Ensign, May 1977, 78).

Today I would like to address [a] major doctrine which characterizes our faith but which causes concern to some, namely the bold assertion that God continues to speak His word and reveal His truth, revelations which mandate an open canon of scripture... I testify that Thomas S. Monson is God’s prophet, a modern apostle with the keys of the kingdom in his hands, a man upon whom I personally have seen the mantle fall. I testify that the presence of such authorized, prophetic voices and ongoing canonized revelations have been at the heart of the Christian message whenever the authorized ministry of Christ has been on the earth. I testify that such a ministry is on the earth again, and it is found in this, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Jeffrey R Holland, April 2008 Conference)

So Where’s the Open Canon?

The D&C ends in the 19th century, aside from section 138 which is purported to have been received in 1918 by Joseph F Smith, sixth Mormon Church president. The previous revelation in chronology, section 136, is dated January 1847, is given through Brigham Young, and concerns the organising of the saints to move westward. Young led the Mormons for another 30 years until his death in 1877, thirty of the most challenging and defining years in Mormon history, and yet nothing was added to the D&C to show that God was leading his people through a living prophet. There have been thirteen more prophets since then and yet no additional scripture is to be found, either in the D&C or any other additional work of “scripture”.

One would have thought, perhaps, that many volumes might exist by now showing that since the time of Joseph Smith “revelation has been continuous”. The Journal of Discourses (JOD), a 26 volume veritable encyclopaedia of early Mormon sermons and writings, seems to have been once regarded as filling the role.

The Mormons refer to their official scriptures as Standard Works and the eight volume of the JOD (pub.1861) is prefaced with the following, written by George Q Cannon, ordained an apostle 1860:

“The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the church, and every right-minded Saint will certainly welcome with joy every Number as it comes forth from the press as an additional reflector of ‘the light that shines from Zion’s hill’.

We rejoice, therefore, in being able to present to the Saints another complete Volume – the Eight in the series; and, in doing so, we sincerely commend the varied and important instructions it contains to their earnest consideration.”

Mormon Revelation Died with Joseph Smith

As time has passed the Mormon leadership has found the contents to be more embarrassing than instructional and it has been relegated to the role of historical curiosity. A recent correspondent, commenting on our use of the Journal, referred to it as “an obscure historical source”. It seems that the Mormon idea of continuous revelation being recorded in scripture has, itself, been relegated to history and that 1847 saw the last church-developing revelation in the Mormon Church. That is a gap of 153 years. Mormons operate from a closed canon.

Inevitably a Mormon will mention the 1978 revelation on Priesthood and indeed the Doctrine and Covenants contains a ‘Declaration’ to the effect that such a revelation had been received - but no revelation. This is also the case with the infamous 1890 Declaration on polygamy, reversing a so-called eternal principle; A Declaration but no revelation. Where is the revelation in the Mormon Church? Even if we were to be generous and allow that these declarations are revelation we still have 136 revelations from 1830 - 1847 and then 5 from 1847 - 2010. Not a “Thus saith the Lord”, not a “Hearken, O ye elders of my church”, not a peep from “the voice of him who dwells on high” for 153 years.

Revelation died with Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church has followed the classic pattern for all organisations, i.e. the Visionary stage, the Organisational stage and the Management stage. The record of a recent prophet, which we will consider next, illustrates this well.

Previously:
The Mormon Message of Prophets

Coming Up:
Testing a prophet
The Changing Face of Mormonism
Who Speaks for Mormonism?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Mormon Message of Prophets

The problem was simple yet profound. How do I make sense of life? I remember thinking “Is this it?” In the words of one of my favourite films, “Is this ‘as good as it gets’?” The Mormon answer seemed profound yet simple - “God speaks today!” Of course, with benefit of hindsight I can identify myriad problems with the Mormon message. But I remember the thrill of hearing that message for the first time, “God speaks today”, and the thrill of anticipation – what is God going to say to me?

The message of Mormonism centres on “living prophets”. John Taylor, third Mormon president, wrote, “the principle of present revelation…is the very foundation of our religion” (Journal of Discourses, p.371). Elder Joseph W. McMurrin was one of the First Seven Presidents of the First Council of the Seventy from Oct.5 1897. In a General Conference address in April 1902 he said:

“…the same divine authority, the same inspiration that came from God, our Father, which enabled the Prophet Joseph Smith to speak of the future history of this work, is with the Israel of God today. A Prophet of God stands in the midst of the people now, clothed upon with every gift, key, power, and authority, that was given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and that same inspiration, that same power to penetrate the future, to comprehend the purposes of the Almighty, is with the Priesthood that is in our midst today.”

The Heavens Opened Once More

In 1977 Spencer Kimball, 12th Mormon president declared in a General Conference address, “I bear witness to the world today that more than a century and a half ago…the heavens were once again opened, and since that time revelations have been continuous.”

The missionary discussions present it in this way:

“One important way God shows His love for us is by calling prophets, who are given the priesthood – the power and authority given to man to act in God’s name for the salvation of His children. Prophets learn the gospel of Jesus Christ by revelation. They in turn teach the gospel to others…The teachings of the prophets are found in sacred books called scriptures.

Whenever people choose to disregard, disobey, or distort any gospel principle or ordinance, whenever they reject the Lord’s prophets…they distance themselves from God and begin to live in spiritual darkness. Eventually this leads to a condition called apostasy. When widespread apostasy occurs, God withdraws His priesthood authority to teach and administer the ordinances of the gospel.

To end each period of general apostasy, God has shown His love for His children by calling another prophet and giving him priesthood authority to restore and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ anew…Such periods of time headed by prophetic responsibility are called dispensations.

Apostasy and Restoration

After the death of Jesus Christ, wicked people persecuted the Apostles and Church members and killed many of them. Without Apostles, over time the doctrines were corrupted…Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures…False ideas were taught as truth…The doctrines…became distorted or forgotten. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many churches.

When the circumstances were right, Heavenly Father once again reached out to His children in love. He called a young man named Joseph Smith as a prophet. Through Him the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth….A living prophet directs the Church today (Preach My Gospel, A Guide to Missionary Service, p.p.32-37, Pub. LDS Church, 2004, emphasis added).

That message still excites many today and fills them with the same anticipation I felt all those years ago. “What will the living prophet say?” The words of a Mormon hymn sum up well the typical Mormon’s attitude to it:

The morning breaks, the shadows flee; Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled!

The dawning of a brighter day, Majestic rises on the world.

Has morning broken? Have shadows fled? Does God speak today through living prophets?

Coming up:

Testing Mormon Prophets

Testing a Mormon Prophet

Monday, 11 January 2010

Mormon Contentions about Contention

When things get interesting in discussions with Mormons, when points are being put enthusiastically and just as enthusiastically challenged it is common for a Mormon to back off declaring imperiously "I don't want to argue with you. Contention is of the devil." What is he talking about? Is it true that contention is of the devil? I put this question to a Mormon and he responded with the following verses:

Pro 18:6 A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes.

3 Nephi 11:29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

Mosiah 2:32 But, O my people, beware lest there shall arise a contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah.

Of course, the last two verses are from the Book of Mormon but it is good to know them since they form the basis of the Mormon contention that contention is of the devil. In any case I think they have a point although they make it badly. But what do we do about biblical verses like these?

Philippians 1:27-28: "Whatever happens, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you."

Jude 3: "Dear friends, although I was eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign and Lord."

My Mormon correspondent came back with the following:

“Are you not mixing up the meanings? You asked about contentions NOT contending. There is a BIG difference.”

Is he right in his contention that there is a big difference? I asked him to please explain the difference between contending and contention, sticking to the rules of plain English. He responded with the following dictionary definitions of “contend” and “contentious”. He then gave me an exhaustive dictionary definition for “contend”, “contention” and “contentious.”

This raises the first problem with the typical Mormon, i.e. a confusion of words. The original question revolved around “contend” and contention”. The word “contentious” did not enter into the discussion until he introduced it, and it is true that “contentious” carries a different, more negative, overtone than the other two words. And by now this must seem like a pointless and pedantic exercise, a quarrel over nuances and semantics – contentious in fact. There is a very important lesson here however and travelling just a little further with me will, I believe, prove helpful.

Defining Terms

Let us first look at the dictionary definitions of the words whose meaning and application is in contention:

Contend, as in “to contend for the faith” (Jude 3) is a verb. It defines an action, described in the dictionary as “to strive: to struggle in emulation or in opposition: to dispute or debate (against, for, with, about): to urge one’s course – verb transitive to maintain in dispute (that) [such and such is the case].” One might be said to contend for a political or philosophical, as well as a religious viewpoint. One might also contend for a particular solution to a problem, to maintain the status quo or to make radical changes.

The word “strive” in the above definition bears closer consideration since it is not uncommon for Mormons to be urged by their leaders to “strive to live their faith”. If contention is of the devil then this injunction to strive comes into question.

Contention, as in “contention is of the devil” (3 Nephi 11:29) is a noun. It derives from “contend” and describes the process of one or more contending for, against, about something. The dictionary describes “a violent straining after an object: strife: debate: a position argued for.” In other words, if you are contending for the faith then you are entering into contention.

Contentious, as in someone having a contentious spirit or something being a contentious issue is an adjective. It modifies or describes a noun, in this instance describing the character of the person or persons contending or the nature of the matter in dispute or under contention. It is the former application that gives “contention” its negative connotation. It is used to describe someone who is contentious for the sake it. The dictionary describes someone who is “quarrelsome, given to dispute”, i.e. “he will pick an argument with anyone”, but it also describes “[something] relating to, or in dispute”, i.e. “the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an historical document is a contentious issue”. In other words it is in question or in contention.

Scripture Definitions

Having established terms we need to ask how we know which meaning is being applied when the Bible or the Book of Mormon refers to contending and contention. Context goes a long way in helping us of course, and it does seem clear that the verses in the Book of Mormon quoted above carry a negative meaning, i.e. refer to someone being contentious, quarrelsome etc. The problem comes when a Mormon insists that “contention is of the devil” in a situation in which what is truly happening is that he is contending for his faith and you for yours. That is when the Christian might be forgiven for scratching their head and wondering what is going on. Which understanding of “contention” is meant, and how can someone who is simply contending for the faith be charged with contentiousness? How can a Christian answer this - let’s be honest - smug use of the term which, if unanswered, gives the Mormon the moral high ground?

Revelation or Interpretation?

One of the contentions of Mormonism is that direct revelation has superseded the laborious and unreliable method of translating and “interpreting” from ancient manuscripts the meaning of Scripture. All that bother of understanding the nuances and shades of meaning in ancient languages is no longer necessary since there is a living prophet who can tell us exactly what God means when he says a thing. However, the reverse is actually the case because in answering the charge of being contentious it helps to understand what Scripture means in its original language and context, something a Mormon cannot do with the Book of Mormon.

To understand what is meant in Jude 3 for example, where believers are told to “earnestly contend for the faith”, we need only look up the original translated “contend for”, and discover that the Greek epago¯nizomai is properly understood to mean “to struggle for, earnestly contend for” (Strongs).

In Philippians 1:27-28 we discover “contending as one man for the faith” NIV, or “striving together for the faith of the gospel” KJV which both translate the Greek sunathleo¯ meaning “to wrestle in company with, that is, (figuratively) to seek jointly: - labour with, strive together for” (Strongs).

Both the above references carry a clear and positive meaning.

In Proverbs 18:6, however, we find the Hebrew ri^yb rib which means “a contest (personal or legal): - + adversary, cause, chiding, contend (-tion), controversy, multitude [from the margin], pleading, strife, strive (-ing), suit” the negative connotation being clear from the meaning of the word used.

This exercise brings greater clarity to our understanding of Scripture. Unfortunately, Mormons are not able to conduct the same experiment with the Book of Mormon and are thrown back on the various dictionary meanings of the word “contend” and its derivatives to choose from and only context to guide us. The context does help but the real problem arises because, not understanding the variety of words used to describe “contention” in Scripture, not having access to “Reformed Egyptian”, the Mormon is left to apply whatever meaning suits his or her circumstances.

The Evangelical believer, with access to trustworthy sources, texts and guides, can be confident in arriving at an accurate understanding while the Mormon has to deal with the vagaries of the English language and ends up adopting whatever convention prevails amongst his peers and, of course, whatever proves convenient when he can’t give a straight answer to a straight question.

Contention, then, is not of the devil, indeed we are urged to “contend for the faith”. Perhaps if Mormons had a higher view of Scripture they wouldn’t make such a fundamental error when contending for their faith. Maybe they would be better prepared to enter into robust discussion instead of hiding behind “nice” arguments based on unverifiable texts and misapplied definitions. They might even learn something – they might progress?