Thursday, 29 July 2010

Are Mormons Persecuted?

One of the things I find irritating is the way people assume my opinions are informed entirely by my religion. If I don’t do something, like smoke, or drink, or if I subscribe to particular ideas people tend to say, “Oh, is that against your religion?” Of course, my faith informs my worldview enormously and that, in turn feeds into my view on any single issue, but there are things I consider important, things I support, things I object to and that I otherwise hold strong opinions about for all sorts of reasons. I like to think, for instance, that I am an honest Christian but I was raised to be honest in a non-Christian home by parents old-fashioned enough to place a high premium on honest dealing. I haven’t always lived up to their expectations, especially as a youth, but honesty was drummed into me such that I have felt sufficiently remorseful on those occasions when I have failed. Being a Christian gives me motivation and strength to better live as I was raised.

I also believe in the institution of marriage and, yes, it fits comfortably with my Christian faith. However, I have a number of other reasons for my views on the subject, including age (in my day that piece of paper was not just a piece of paper and promises meant something), experience (I am happily married and recommend it), statistical (children raised in stable homes with a mother and father, married parents, are seven times more likely to succeed and less likely to be trouble) and societal (traditional, male/female marriage partnerships create a more stable society).

It Just isn’t a Fact

In the same way, my views on Mormonism are certainly informed by my Christian faith and my experience of the Mormon Church. However, there are many times when I challenge Mormonism on grounds other than simply theological (although there are plenty of those to go around)

One issue that arises time and again is the Mormon claim that "more Mormons live outside the United States than within it" and on that basis the suggestion that "Mormon Christians" face the same persecution as "other Christians." This came up in a discussion again recently and it got my hackles up, not because I am somehow jealous of the status of Christians across the world as a persecuted group and don’t want Mormons included, but because, factually this claim cannot be sustained on two counts.

First, while it is true that "more Mormons live outside the United States than within it" ask yourself where do these other Mormons live? Out of some 13.5 million Mormons more than ten million live in the Americas. That is the USA, Canada and Central and South America. Now where are Christians being persecuted; Downtown New York or Ontario, Canada? I don't think so. That leaves fewer than four million to go around the rest of the world being persecuted. You can cut that number - indeed all numbers pertaining to Mormon demographics - by two-thirds because the average activity level across the Mormon Church is one third. That leaves just a little over 1 million Mormons outside the Americas. That is fewer than the 1.6 million living in Utah alone and that puts paid to any claim to not being "an American religion.”

Freeloading Mormonism?

Secondly, where are these 1.3 million Mormons? Well, Mormons are squeamish about taking any real risks in mission and turn their missionary timidity into a virtue by claiming "we always go in through the front door." It seems Mormons avoid situations where they are more likely to be persecuted since they don't go where they are not wanted and welcomed. They usually turn up places where there is already a strong Christian presence, such as Ghana where generations of local Christians have toiled and suffered persecution to prepare the ground on which Mormons now build.

Mormonism goes where the grass is greenest and that is where the blood of previous generations of Christians has been spilled to establish the gospel. That is why I get angry when Mormons bleat about persecution when, not only are they not persecuted, but neither do they have the grace to recognise the debt they owe Christian martyrs in preparing the way to a better established Christian presence on the back of which Mormonism can freeload. When they entered Ghana they had the temerity to talk about “the light of the gospel going into a dark place.” But the light of the Christian gospel has shone brightly in Ghana for longer than the Mormon Church has existed.

To return to the point with which I started, you really don’t have to be a Christian to object to the disingenuous way Mormons present their stats and try to identify themselves as a persecuted people. You just have be, like me someone who was brought up to be a bit fussy about the truth. You just have to know when you are being sold a pup and have enough self-respect to object when someone thinks they can take you for a fool. When all is said and done, if you believe folk should be honest and should treat others with respect then you can’t, Christian or not, stand by while people are being misled by a rather shameful sleight of hand, now can you?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

New Mormons, Old Message

In an article in the July, 9th 2010 edition of the Financial Times comment editor James Crabtree considers the rising generation of Mormons making major contributions to the business and political elite of America and writes, The last century saw a Mormon conquest in America. During our lifetimes, we may see the rest of the world follow, too.” He points out that while the most famous Mormon acolytes in a previous generation had been the Osmonds, today’s prominent Mormons are business executives, writers, financiers and politicians. The list is impressive enough, ranging from Stephenie Meyer, author of the anemic (pun intended) Twilight Saga, through Glen Beck, the controversial talk-show host and Stephen R Covey the self-help guru, to politicians like Harry Reid (Dem) and Mitt Romney (Rep) and business leaders like David Neeleman founder of JetBlue Airlines and JW Marriot, hotel magnate.

I do think, however, that in making this analysis, he has fallen between two stools. The article is entitled, The Rise of a New Generation of Mormons, and by the end of it I found myself asking whether he was writing about the success of Mormonism or the success of people in business, politics and entertainment who happened to be Mormons. He does seem to equate the two. He refers to the Mormon Church as a “major religion”, a claim that has become something of a shibboleth for anyone writing about Mormonism and he reproduces here the familiar testimony presented by Mormons and Mormon-watchers alike as indisputable facts: phenomenal growth, substantial assets, major development beyond the United States and, of course, the obligatory nod to Rodney Stark’s now thoroughly outdated claim that Mormonism is set to become, by the middle of the 21st century, the first new world religion since Islam.

This is so widely quoted that many have wrongly taken Stark to be a Mormon. Mormon Church growth has slowed alarmingly, however, since 1980 when he made that observation and is currently dawdling at 2-3% pa. I’ve no doubt Stark has reason, often, to regret making the claim and has learned the hard way that Mormons are no respecter of academic integrity. If it “bigs them up” they will use it – and use it, and use it...

“In a corridor of the LDS Missionary Training Centre” Crabtree observes, “there’s a plaque listing the dozens of languages taught to missionaries who study there – including Cebuano, Hmong and Tagalog. Next to it is a world map showing the countries in which the church operates, highlighted in bright colours. Only China and a handful of Middle-Eastern states remain grey. The last century saw a Mormon conquest in America. During our lifetimes, we may see the rest of the world follow, too.”

Of course, “operating” is not the same as establishing a presence, much less having a significant stake in a society. We all know examples of ministries sending out emails to other countries and thus establishing themselves as “an international ministry.” The Mormon Church is alarmingly short of people on the ground outside the Americas and no amount of massaging the numbers hides the fact.

Mormon Demographics

In October of 2009 I looked at Mormon demographics that certainly don’t affirm Mormon claims regarding growth and world status. Then I concluded that Mormonism is most definitely an American religion, that it is not the religious world phenomenon it claims to be and which claim commentators too easily repeat unchallenged. If you regarded Utah, the home of Mormonism, as a continent it would boast the third largest Mormon population in the world, after the USA and S America thus:

USA: 5.5m
S America: 3m
Utah: 1.75m
Mexico: 1m
Asia: 1m
C America: .5m
Brazil: 970,000
Argentina: 355,000

Crabtree does ask whether the perception of Mormonism will be changed by the presence of Mormons in key places in education, media, industry and politics. He cites the late journalist Molly Ivins who said that anti-Mormon bigotry is an “old dog that still hunts” but he goes on to suggest that this is changing. Culturally, Mormonism is making great progress, although I would add the caveat that this is still an American phenomenon. Mormonism is an American religion and the barometer by which it is being tested is very much American. Mormonism is still far too small outside America for it to have the same impact and in many parts of the world, while it may “operate”, it is nigh on invisible. Certainly, here in the UK, where Mormonism first arrived as far back as 1837, Mormons are still American, still from, “over there.”

Crabtree observes however, “...much of the US still sees Mormons as weirdly strait-laced at best, cultish at worst. Yet elite institutions are embracing them. What does that fact say about the world’s youngest major religion – and about success in modern America?”

Mormon Academics

There is a disconnection between what Mormons believe religiously and how recruitable they are professionally. This is illustrated in a paper entitled “Who is the Representative Mormon Intellectual? Assessing Mormon Apologetics”, by Jason J. Barker, Director of the Southwest Institute for Orthodox Studies, Arlington, TX, in which he examines the LDS educational philosophy. Whilst recognising that “an increasing number of Latter-day Saints are currently active in mainstream academics”, he goes on to quote Karl Sandberg, a Mormon and a French professor (emeritus) at Macalester College, who observes;

"There are Mormons who do scholarship in all of the various disciplines — they play by the same rules as everyone else, they participate in the same dynamics, and they produce the same kind of knowledge. This is not the case, however, when Mormons do scholarship about Mormonism or directly related subjects."

Barker goes on to explain that “The primary reason for this discrepancy…is that Mormon-specific scholarship in the LDS Church is necessarily limited by the boundaries of Mormon orthodoxy and orthopraxy.” He quotes Sanburg further who elaborates;

"There are prominent examples of Mormon scholarship whose purpose appears to be that of giving scholarly permission to people to believe what they already believed on subjective grounds and of answering and repulsing any perceived attacks on the Church."

This describes well the disconnection I mentioned earlier. People like James Crabtree might look at people who are successful in their chosen field and note almost as an aside that they are Mormons and wonder what can be so bad about Mormonism that Mormons are regarded with suspicion. On the other hand, people like Jason Barker might look at Mormonism as a cult and wonder that otherwise intelligent, sane professional people are Mormons.

Mormon Fundamentalism vs Christian Orthodoxy

But the fact is that people from all sorts of religious backgrounds are perfectly capable of holding responsible positions in commerce, industry and academia. While Mormonism as a cultural phenomenon might, as Crabtree suggests, better prepare people for success that is just as much because it is an American fundamentalist religion that instils unquestioning loyalty to the institution, values more than many American churches wealth and “progress” and teaches old-fashioned values as because it is Mormonism. Indeed, the original Mormons would stare in bewilderment at how integral to American society Mormons are becoming and how ingrained with patriotism Mormons are today. In their day Mormonism and America were anathema to each other and it surprises people to be shown the metamorphosis Mormonism has undergone.

Those who challenge the claims of Mormonism are not, then, questioning the right of Mormons to hold positions of responsibility enjoy success or otherwise make their way in the world. So-called “anti-Mormonism” is not born of fundamentalist spite towards people who are different. Rather, it is an honest challenge to a religion that once boasted of how very different it was, that stood apart from the world it now so readily embraces and that looked on Christians – and still looks on Christians – as constitutionally flawed and corrupt in what they believe. That is the message of Mormonism and, as nice and respectable and deserving as Mormons might be to become CEOs the fact is this is what they believe about other churches. So is it any wonder that, on the level of religious beliefs, there remains unfinished business? Is it really so surprising that, although Mormons are becoming culturally more accepted in this meaninglessly liberal society, they continue to face the challenge of the established, Christian churches they so easily dismiss with the vacuous message of Joseph Smith and his Gold Plates?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Blog Editing Policy 01

Well, it had to happen eventually so here is my policy on posting comments to this blog. Its not that many people are rude but enough come along who think this is their playground and their ball and insist on playing it their way. I hope this isn’t restrictive in any way and that it helps us focus on issues.

 

This blog addresses vital issues of faith and especially scrutinises Mormonism from an Evangelical Christian and biblical perspective. Its subject matter is controversial and therefore all comments are moderated before being posted. That said it is always encouraging when people post lively comments that challenge preconceptions, bring new insights and move the discussion along. To keep order and encourage discussion I would appreciate people keeping to the following rules:

Please, let’s be civilised and avoid personal attacks or inappropriate personal comments. Contributions can be robust and challenging but should be informative and constructive. Whatever our faith position most contributors at least consider themselves “Christian” and should behave accordingly. Remember, “Do as you would be done by.”

Sometimes in robust discussion offense is taken when none is offered. Let’s be grown up about this and not hide behind feigned expressions of hurt. George Orwell wrote, “Liberty is the right to tell others what they don’t want to hear.” There is no such thing as the right to not be offended.

Please try to stick to the subject under discussion in any given post. By all means introduce what might be appropriate and helpful related issues but keep these relevant. If you must follow a tangent somewhere not germane to the post why not suggest it as a separate discussion?

In discussion quotes are appropriate within reason but I don’t tolerate wholesale cut-and-paste jobs. It is just lazy to expect others to do your thinking for you. I solicit your views, not the views of your leaders, or those whose books/sermons/blogs/web sites you admire. Links to outside sites will be allowed though carefully monitored and short messages like, “nice blog”, accompanied by links designed to do no more than advertise another blog/website will not be posted. (Comments with Chinese characters NEVER get through)

I prefer contributors not remain anonymous, although I understand why some would prefer that and will not have a hard and fast rule about this. I like to know who I am talking to however and this doesn’t seem unreasonable since anyone can know who I am and, anyway, what have you got to hide? This doesn’t mean your comments will not be posted but they will be considered carefully.

Finally, if you’re a Mormon, in whatever language you couch it, you believe my church to be apostate since the earliest days, those who profess membership corrupt and far from God and those who lead it blind leaders of the blind. (JSH 1:19) To you this is fair comment and I accept your right to express your faith in those terms so relax and say what’s on your mind. After all, without a message of apostasy and restoration what do Mormons have to talk about?

By the same token, I and other Christians regard Mormonism to be a counterfeit of the true Christian faith, a dangerous deception, a cult and that too is fair comment since these terms accurately describe our honestly held view on Mormonism. After all, as apologists for our faith, what else are we to do but “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the Saints”? (Jude 3) So, let’s get over ourselves and actually talk about issues. Who knows, maybe we will all learn something along the journey.