Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Mormon Phenomenon: Here Come the Girls

A Mormon Church for Everyone

Every time I look at the antics of the Salt Lake City Mormons and think, “good grief!” I know I can look across at the Independence, Missouri based Mormon Church and think, “WHAT!”

Community of Christ conventionAt a conference (above) on April 19-21, the Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Community of Christ) the recommendation was made to marry and ordain same-sex couples.

The two churches are like polar opposites, the Salt Lake Mormons patriarchal, conservative and traditional, the Independence Mormons egalitarian, liberal and modern. It seems there is a Mormon Church to fit all tastes if you know where to look. Once, that was considered a sign of apostasy but, hey-ho.

Salt Lake Mormons sneer at this group, suggesting they are “falling apart,” “riven by schism,” but it will be interesting to see how this plays out because there is a growing liberal arm in the traditionalist church as well as a feminist movement pressing for the ordination of women.

Perhaps in the future folk will see the Community of Christ as trail-blazers in the battle between traditionalists and modernists. Could Salt Lake City effect a reconciliation with Independence as culturally they move closer to their way of thinking? – Holy Moroni!

Heavenly Mother

Of course, the cause of Mormon women would be advanced enormously if Mormons were to be more open about God’s wife. The idea of a Heavenly Mother is familiar enough to Mormons but they don’t know much about her. This is usually put down to a sacred diffidence but it has more profane origins.Eliza Snow

Heavenly Mother is the product of Joseph Smith’s strange cosmology and sexual adventuring. God is an exalted man, men may become gods, gods have wives (plural) therefore – Heavenly Mother. What started as a convenient way to make men gods and women former day Stepford wives developed a theology all its own.

Eliza Snow (I love that her middle name is Roxcy, very recherche’) was Smith’s polygamous wife and wrote a poem, Invocation, saying in part:

“In the heavens are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare! Truth is reason, truth eternal tells me I’ve a mother there.”

The Salt Lake Tribune reports, “No matter what the institution does, more and more LDS women are finding solace, empathy and identification in the notion of a Mother God. Most do not pray to a female god, but many do write, talk or whisper about her — and some unexpectedly sense her presence.”

These things do grow like Topsy and a burgeoning interest in this elusive heavenly being reflects, it seems, the frustration of Mormon women in the very patriarchal Mormon Church. What next, goddess worship? Maybe the Christus in the Salt Lake City visitors centre will be replaced by Artemis in the not too distance future.

Temple on stilts

Ogden Temple construction

People often imagine all sorts of wacky things going on in Mormon temples and Mormons are diffident on the subject. This temple, however, is looking pretty transparent. The Provo temple was seriously damaged in a fire in 2010 and what remains has been gutted and lifted forty feet in the air on scaffolding so a new two-story basement can be built.

Apparently, the 112 year old structure weighs 7million pounds. You can read about it and see more stunning pictures on the Colossal web site You can read elsewhere on the Mormon Chapbook about Mormon temples and what they really “restore.”

Monday, 20 May 2013

Mormon Phenomenon: The Mormon Mosque

Mormon Mosque

It surprises people to find the many and remarkable similarities between Mormonism and Islam.

Both start with an angel and a book; both were founded by a “prophet” of the last days; both founders it is said uneducated; both claim to be “the only true religion”; both teach and practice polygamy; both are fiercely patriarchal; both have complicated laws, including dietary restrictions – the list goes on.

Now the artist’s impression of the proposed temple for Meridian, Idaho,instead of the usual steeple or spire, has Moroni standing atop a dome that looks strikingly like the dome of a mosque. What would a Mormon muezzin recite to call the faithful to prayer? “There is only one God with whom we have to do, and Joseph is his prophet?”

Everybody Draw Muhammed Day

News reaches us that The University of Utah prominently depicts Mohammed in the rotunda of the Park Building. Given sensibilities surrounding depictions of the prophet it seems the University has apparently removed the prophet’s name that was displayed prominently under his image.Muhammad 2

Fred Esplin, a University spokesman, explained; “Eventually the decision was made to cover the name of Muhammad that appeared beneath the image,” Esplin said. “The image remains, but it is not identified as Muhammad. The viewer can interpret the figure as they wish.”

You can read more in the Daily Utah Chronicle.

May 20th, 2010 was declared Everybody Draw Muhammed Day in protest against the violent reaction among Muslims to the publication of satirical pictures of the prophet. The idea came from US cartoonist Molly Norris and is based on the idea that if enough people draw pictures of Muhammad, Islamic terrorists would not be able to murder them all, and threats to do so would become unrealistic.

Personally, I don’t believe being realistic is high on the agenda of these people but I am willing to be proved wrong. Anyway, the Mormons won’t be joining in but then they have a track record on violent censorship so I am not surprised.

Eric Johnson of Mormonism Research Ministry (MRM) has written a great book Joseph Smith and Muhammad. You can find it in the MRM Store.

Meanwhile, I don’t know who that fellow is in the picture but he looked interesting so I just thought I would put him there to see if you might interpret him as interesting too.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Is Mormonism Ditching prophets 2: Sack the Seers, Summon the Scholars

Last time I asked, “Is Mormonism ditching prophets?” we looked at the fact that Mormonism taught and practiced racial discrimination as a key doctrine for almost 140 years of its 180 year history. What is surprising is that today’s Mormon prophets insist they have no idea where this teaching originated, or why it was taught, suggesting it was no more than cultural.

Comparisons are made with other churches that also practiced discrimination. They changed their stance on these issues and so has the Mormon Church. Not an unreasonable argument, we are meant to conclude. But the Mormon Church cannot reasonably make that defence, the comparison doesn’t bear scrutiny.

Fallen Man, Risen Lord, Sure Hope

Christian churches are led by fallible people, depending on centuries of scholarship and a developing theology for understanding and insight. We are led, we would insist, by the Spirit but flawed, we would confess, by the fallen nature of leaders and congregation alike.

That is why we go to great lengths to maintain biblical fundamentals while “allowing” disagreement on secondary issues. We recognise the wisdom of St Augustine who said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Our standing before God does not depend on our capacity to grasp an exhaustive theology but on our faith in Christ and his simple message of salvation (John 5: 24-25) We confess our sin, run to the cross and throw ourselves on God’s generous mercy (Romans 3; Acts 2:21) Only this way can fallen man, trusting in a risen Lord, have a sure hope.

That said, we are not saved into ignorance but need to grow in the things of God (Acts 2:42-47) That growing happens across cultures, generations and ages and is informed by scholarship that produces better Bible translations and commentary, debate and disagreement that challenge preconceptions, insight and inspiration that shine light into blind corners and experience that humbles us before the towering word of God. For Mormons this is evidence of apostasy.

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

The message of Mormonism centres on “living prophets” (insight, inspiration). 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:

“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.”

So, how did Mormonism go from being led by men clothed upon with every gift, key, power, and authority, who can penetrate the future and comprehend the purposes of the Almighty to, “Holy Moroni! What just happened?”

Sack the Seers, Summon the Scholars

Mormons reject the orthodox churches with their scholars, theologies, creeds and denominations and follow prophets, seers and revelators; one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph.4:5). Books are well and good, scholarship admirable but the sure word of prophecy gives us “the mind of Christ.” ( 1Cor. 2:16) “Surely, the LORD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7 KJV)

But what do you do when those prophets prove less than insightful and inspired? When “modern prophets” can’t explain the “essentials” around which Mormons are to unite? When comprehension, inspiration and penetrating insight fail where do you turn?

1981

The Mormon Church has helpfully published an online comparison of the differences between the 1981 and 2013 editions of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. In the Introduction to the 1981 edition we are told:

“The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of divine revelations and inspired declarations given for the establishment and regulation of the kingdom of God on the earth in the last days…In the revelations, the doctrines of the gospel are set forth with explanations about such fundamental matters as the nature of the Godhead, the origin of man, the reality of Satan, the purpose of mortality, the necessity for obedience, the need for repentance, the workings of the Holy Spirit, the ordinances and performances that pertain to salvation, the destiny of the earth, the future conditions of man after the Resurrection and the Judgment, the eternity of the marriage relationship, and the eternal nature of the family.

Concerning this publication the elders of the church gave solemn testimony that the Lord had borne record to their souls of the truth of the revelations.” (Emphasis added)

Notable is the unequivocal endorsement of these revelations as coming direct from God, having absolute and unqualified authority. They are divine and inspired in their nature, authoritative in their purpose, revelatory in regards doctrine, fundamental in their matter and comprehensive in their teaching; undiluted by the corruption of having passed through “profane hands,” a popular Mormon description of how we got the Bible.

Unlike the churches of apostate “Christendom”,  there is no speculation or disagreement, no recourse to scholars to explain, no equivocation; doctrine and praxis are plainly set forward as they come from the very mouth of God and pen of the prophet. This is the Mormonism of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph F Smith, James E Talmage, Spencer W Kimball and Bruce R McConkie. This is the Mormonism with which I am familiar: reassuringly certain, declarative and dogmatic.

2013

Into this affirmative account these words were inserted for the 2013 edition. I include my own commentary in plain text and brackets:

The revelations were originally recorded by Joseph Smith’s scribes (like the Bible, they are now at least once removed from their source),  and Church members enthusiastically shared handwritten copies with each other  (like the Bible there were many early copies that may not have all agreed at every point) To create a more permanent record, scribes soon copied these revelations into manuscript record books  (like early Christian leaders they selected the best from a variety of copies),  which Church leaders used in preparing the revelations to be printed  (which selected copies were then published as the ‘authoritative’ version)

In other words, the Doctrine and Covenants was put together the same way Mormons think the Bible was. The difference is, we have thousands of part and full copies of early New Testament texts, which we can compare with our Bibles and which give us confidence in their faithfulness to the original. In a striking parallel with Islam, “early copies” of Joseph’s “revelations” have failed to come down to us and we are left only with what the church “officially” tells us belongs in the book. To continue:

Joseph and the early Saints viewed the revelations as they did the Church: living, dynamic, and subject to refinement with additional revelation  (opening the door for scholarship to define doctrine, bearing in mind the 2013 edition is the product of scholarship, not revelation) They also recognized that unintentional errors had likely occurred through the process of copying the revelations and preparing them for publication  (they have passed through corrupt hands) Thus, a Church conference asked Joseph Smith in 1831 to “correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the Holy Spirit…”

…The early Latter-day Saints prized the revelations and viewed them as messages from God  (note they are now only “viewed” as messages from God).  On one occasion in late 1831, several elders of the Church gave solemn testimony that the Lord had borne record to their souls of the truth of the revelations.

Notable now is the apparent equivocation over these revelations coming direct from God, having now a qualified authority. Apparently divine in origin, they seem more capable of interpretation and disagreement in their nature. It is a short step from here to saying that these are true “in the original autographs,” as is said of the Bible. The Bible, however, can appeal to an embarrassment of riches evidentially in manuscript, history, archaeology and scholarship to strengthen its claims.

Writings of Joseph Smith

I suggest the next step in this reassessment of Mormonism will be opening up the secret vaults in church headquarters and bringing out early Mormon documents, diaries and journals we know are there. There is already a work in progress to collate and make public the exhaustive writings of Joseph Smith. What a resource for those now seeking to reinvent Mormonism for the 21st century.

Against these early Mormon Church documents official Mormon writings and claims can be compared. This will give space for Mormons to move from a fundamentalist, literalist view of their faith to something that builds more on mythic truth than its traditional dogmatic truth.

It was felt necessary in the 1981 introduction to give an unquestionably positive account (some might say a selective account) of the publication of these revelations. Why, if not to instil in Mormons the thought that nothing qualified the utterances of their prophet. The substantial account inserted in 2013 offers considerable qualification of everything in the book and makes it capable of “explanation” by scholars in a way it never was before, and that puts scholars, not prophets, in the place of authority for the 21st century Mormon.

This was originally a guest post on Mormonism Investigated UK

Doug Harris–With the Lord

DougThis morning at 9.00 am the best and wisest man I ever knew departed this world and entered glory. He was a friend, a brother in Christ, a mentor and I miss him more than I can say.

Please pray for his wife Noemi, his family, his church family, close friends and the countless folk to whom he ministered and who will mourn his passing.

Doug Harris founded Reachout Trust in 1982, initially as an outreach to Jehovah’s Witnesses but it quickly grew as a ministry to the cults, the occult and New Age movements.

Doug’s work, of course, involved so much more. He had been a church elder since 1963 and for the past five and a half years was a key member of the team at Revelation TV. He and his wife, Noemi, had only last year moved to Spain as the TV operation moved its main office and studio over there. I am sure Revelation TV will soon publish its own account of Doug’s work with them but it has been every bit as substantial as anything he did with Reachout Trust.

Doug was instrumental in guiding our transition from Mormonism to Christianity, allowing Ann and I to “purge” old and unhelpful ideas by talking about our journey in seminars, and by writing on the subject for Reachout. We learned from him the value of grace, the importance of patience and the skills involved in sharing our story in a way that challenged Mormon teaching while loving the Mormon to whom we were witnessing.

We worked together for over twenty years he as chairman and Ann and I as trustees of Reachout. We shared platforms, developed the ministry, wrote and published together.and lead in twenty or so Reachout Conventions. They were great times, challenging times and he will be missed more than words can say.

About thirteen years ago I suggested I interview him for a short history of Reachout that was eventually published in booklet form. In 2005 this was updated and is still the most recent account of an exceptional work started and driven by an exceptional Christian man of vision and grace. I reproduce it in part here:

 

The Reachout Story

The Story So Far

It is sobering to reflect that the day you stepped out with some tracts and a handful of friends you started something that would grow to national proportions. Reachout Trust began in 1982 as a local outreach to Jehovah's Witnesses. From a single initiative, by a handful of people, at a Witness convention in Twickenham the Trust has grown to become a nation wide ministry to those in the cults, the occult and the New Age movement.

Over the years we have taken on responsibilities, met needs, and developed in ways that were never envisaged in those early days. No one sat down and said, "why don’t we see if we can achieve this?" The ministry can truly be said to have evolved until, today, we are one of the foremost Christian groups in our field.

The first newsletter was produced in 1984, was four pages long and photocopied, and had a run of a few hundred. Today's newsletter is sixteen pages and growing and goes out to several thousand individuals and churches across the country. It is our main organ of communication and seeks to keep people informed and equipped for what they face on their doorstep or high street.

Doug Early Reachout

The first Reachout convention was held in New Malden Baptist Church in 1984. After that it moved to Kingstanding Elim Church until 1991 when we held it at the Wycliffe Centre at High Wycombe. Having outgrown that venue we moved in 1996 to the Pioneer Centre near Wolverhampton. From a handful of 'interested' people at that first meeting we have grown to over a hundred attending a full weekend of seminars every November.

2004 saw a landmark 20th Convention and proved successful with seminars on Developing the Ministry, Defining “Salvation”, True Christian Communion and the need to be a peculiar people. In 2005 we found ourselves moving back - or is that forward? - to the significantly expanded Wycliffe Centre and it has been a little like coming home.

Seminars and workshops typically cover all the main cults including, of course, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, but also other groups such as the Children of God, Freemasonry, Moonies etc. We also provide instruction in dealing with the occult and the New Age and have included counselling workshops and teaching on deliverance.

A landmark in the growth of Reachout was the introduction, in 1988, of the Action Pack. This has been a special blessing over the years and has contributed significantly to meeting our financial needs. Especially gratifying has been the fact that it gives us the opportunity to give something practical to those who give to us. This partnership scheme means that the giver is entitled to receive regularly free or discounted Reachout resources from books to videos to regular publications.

The Task

Ours is a ministry of discernment and apologetics and our primary role is 'truth-telling'. However, we have developed beyond simply publishing and distributing information. One area in which we have been particularly successful and effective is in recruiting people, many from cult backgrounds themselves, to represent Reachout 'on the ground', to be Reachout in their location.

Our system of having Associates is unique in this ministry in the UK and is a major contributory factor in our growth and success. These people who represent Reachout in their locality are a help to the local church and a first point of contact for those seeking the help Reachout provides. Through their different talents and experiences Associates are able to provide training for the local church, specialised insights into the world of the cults, and sympathetic support for those seeking freedom and truth.

 

Our spiritual forebears fought hard for the
eternal truths cherished by today’s believers.
Similarly, tomorrow’s believers will inherit
what we contend earnestly for today

 

Where possible our Associates are encouraged to work closely together in their regions under a regional leader who co-ordinates their efforts and is responsible for training etc. Praying together, sharing problems and ideas, and encouraging one another builds strength, encourages commitment and makes Reachout a real local resource.

Reachout continues to evolve and we face new challenges almost daily. Managing and training a growing number of people, and maintaining and enhancing the reputation of Reachout in an increasingly demanding ministry, means finding new, more efficient ways forward. In these challenging times we seek to define more clearly what we do and how we do it. To help in this work a 'ministry team' is being developed to look at all aspects of the ministry, from literature to training to how we should respond to developments in the constantly changing world of the cults.

2004 saw the publication of Should Christians Apologise, a book that shows every Christian that apologetics is something we all need to learn, and that equips every Christian to begin that process of learning and gaining in confidence in their witnessing. The Reasoned Defence series of booklets begin to address some of the key issues Christians might meet and have proved a handy reference tool.

We also re-published Audrey Harper’s testimony book Dance With the Devil, a harrowing account of one person’s experiences in the occult. It has been controversial and we have had our critics but we feel it is important that people like Audrey have the opportunity to tell their story, and important that others hear them.

We also continue to find popular Doug Harris’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, Their Beliefs and Practices as well as, Mormonism, a Gold-Plated Religion, the definitive British books on these groups. A full catalogue is available from Head Office.

In 2004 we also saw an increase of 30.8% in the number of people reached. Much of this is accounted for by the continuing development of our web site. A new version of the web site was produced in 1994 and has proved very popular. Our presence on the world-wide-web can now be said to make a significant difference in the number of people we can reach. 1998 saw us reach 104,746, while 2001 saw this figure increase to 188,337. In 2003 we reached 221,028 but this latest increase has seen us reach a record 289,158 people in 1994.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone
who asks you to give the reason for the hope you
have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 PETER 3:15 (NIV)

Reachout Trust has a good relationship with the media and undertakes a number of media interviews each year, being called on by researchers for a wide range of subjects. Representatives appear regularly on news items, 'chat shows' and documentaries covering all areas in the cults, occult and new age.

When stories, such as the first 'approved' Satanist in the Navy are reported on, many newspapers and TV programmes request information and interviews. These do not always bring direct responses to Reachout Trust, although it does make us known. It also enable a 'Christian' perspective to be placed on the items of news people are talking about. This is a demanding avenue of work and we would welcome the help of people who feel they would like to join us to work in this area.

The Church

We are sometimes referred to as a para-church organisation. As an organisation, of course, that is what we are. Reachout is not a church, but neither are we separate from, or in addition to the Christian community. We are Christians first and foremost who see our role in the body as that of watchmen. The way we fulfil that role is in organisations like Reachout, just as those called to mission form missionary societies.

People who escape the cults need a new spiritual home. God's provision for all new Christians is the church. Members of Reachout Trust are members of the local church and Reachout always seeks to work closely with local church leaders. From the beginning it has been very important to have a network of church contacts across the country.

As people have come to Reachout for help we have in turn sought to 'plant' them in an appropriate fellowship. Reachout is often simply a first point of contact leading to more appropriate ministry within the church and even professional help in a counselling setting.

The Need

There is an urgent need for Christians to be equipped to meet the challenges of the modern world. People are needed to act as comforters to the hurt and wounded, bringers of fresh hope to the disillusioned, friends to the betrayed and truth-tellers to the deceived.

Churches need to act as communities of refuge where there is shelter and safety for the vulnerable, life and hope for the lost, and sound teaching and gentle discipling for the many who need correcting and direction.

Reachout Trust seeks to provide that equipping through a training programme designed to teach individuals and churches. Through seminars and workshops we bring to the Christian community specialist knowledge, gained from first-hand experience, that will arm Christians for the battle for truth that rages in our society

By means of newsletters, fact sheets, books, audio and video- tapes, as well as the internet, we share our knowledge and understanding and keep the church informed of up-to-the-minute developments in the ministry.

We are, then, those who in Christian love, often having experienced ourselves life in a cult, wish to come alongside, advise, pray with and otherwise help cult members and their families and friends.

As far as our experience and knowledge takes us, as God leads, we help and minister.

Doug Monotone

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Mormon Phenomenon

Some things are peculiarly Mormon. Here’s an interesting one. What do you make of it?

Sacrament cups

Did you know Mormons once took sacrament (communion) from a common cup? Do you know why that practice changed? You can read more about it here. Its a great piece of social history as well as an insight into how a Mormon prophet makes decisions. Turns out the Mormon prophet is just some bloke passing the buck.

 

The Perfect Problem

Dr Kris Doty, Assistant Professor - Psychology-Behavioral (sic) Science, Utah Valley University is currently studying what she calls toxic perfectionism in Utah.

“Dr. Doty says she was inspired to find out what was going on during her emergency room crisis work. When she worked Sunday shifts, she saw several women from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints coming to the hospital with depression.  They would be very anxious and depressed, and it was triggered by a talk or lesson they had heard that day.  In other words, they felt they couldn't live up to what they felt was expected of them, to be perfect.”

LDS herself, she insists, “its not the church,its the culture,” but are these two things so easily separated? Or does one have a major impact on the other? It will be interesting to see her results, although those of us familiar with Mormonism probably have our own explanation based on personal experience. Certainly, anyone who took seriously Spencer W Kimball’s 1969 book The Miracle of Forgiveness might well end up in Dr Doty’s office.

Read about the study and watch a short video interview on ABC4Utah You can also take part in the study if you are a Utah woman, although that might just make you feel more guilty for daring to admit there’s a problem.

nomophobia

I so wanted Nomophobia to be fear of being without a Mormon. Imagine how a doctor would treat that! (“Take two missionaries and a bishop three times a week”) It turns out nomphobia is fear of going for any length of time without a mobile phone (or cell-phone as Americans call it)

Robert Kirby of the Salt Lake Tribune writes:

“How long could you go without your cellphone? Assuming that you didn’t need it for work or as part of court-ordered electronic monitoring, how long could you stand to be without mobile service?

If you immediately thought in terms of minutes or even a few hours, there’s a good chance you have a serious emotional problem.

There’s even a name for your derangement. "Nomophobia" is the fear of being without a mobile phone. It comes from "no mobile phone" phobia.

Note: I confess that I first thought no-mo-phobia meant a fear of being without a Mormon. But this is Utah. How could anyone suffer from that here?” Read more here

What Mormon phobias might be out there though?

Caffophobia: the fear of being seen drinking coffee.

Archaeophobia: the fear of yet another trip to “Book of Mormon Lands.”

Jellophobia: the fear of travelling too far away from a source of jello. Common in Mormon missionaries.

Homeophobia: the fear of being at home when your home teachers call.

Suggestions in the comments section below.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Mormon.Org

2013-05-04 16.34.14

It was the first properly sunny day of the year and people were taking full advantage of fine, warm weather. In town for an art exhibition, we too had enjoyed the day, stopping for tea and cupcakes at one of our favourite watering holes with some of the family.

On our way back to the car we saw a couple of Mormon missionaries. Seeing the name they were using at their table (Mormon.org), and thinking I might get a blog post out of it, this one in fact, I took a couple of photos; the work of a moment.

But then a missionary – not in the photos – spotted me and came across and as we talked I saw my blog post take a different shape altogether.

Elder Brown: Hi, how are you today?

Mike: I’m just fine thanks, how are you?

Elder Brown: Oh, I’m real good. Have you come across the church before?

Mike: Yes, and I was intrigued by your use of the name “Mormon” at your table there. I thought you insisted on being called by your “correct” name. You even have a style guide on your web site. So why Mormon.org?

Elder Brown: I guess its because of the Book of Mormon musical. Have you heard about that?

Mike: Yes, I have. Have you seen it?

Elder Brown: Not while I’m on my mission. Maybe I’ll get the chance later.

Mike: I have read reviews in the secular press and I understand its pretty gross, full of bad language, crude jokes and anti-Christian ideas. I’m surprised you would think to go and even more surprised your church would trade on the name of such an offensive and blasphemous work. Its the Mormon equivalent of Jerry Springer, the Opera.

Elder Brown: I don’t know about that (he honestly looked as though he had no idea how deeply offensive this show is. Well, if your church trades on it it must OK – right?).

Elder Brown: Do you know about the church?

Mike: Yes, in fact I was a member once.

Elder Brown: Oh, were you excommunicated? (If someone leaves you have to think ill of them. Its an unwritten rule. I was excommunicated but only because that’s what they did then if you left. Their policy has changed since)

Mike:  We just left.

Elder Brown: So why did you leave?

Mike: Because your church isn’t true, so I left and turned to the Lord Jesus for salvation. I am a Christian.

Elder Brown: So did you have a testimony?

Mike: Yes, I did have a testimony, but it wasn’t based on truth. It was just a feeling. Do you have a Book of Mormon there? (he hands me the book and I flick through to the blank pages at the back) Tell me, where are the maps?

Elder Brown: What maps?

Mike: You know, like the ones at the back of my Bible showing where these events in the book took place. I have maps showing where Abraham lived and travelled, the journey of Israel out of Egypt, the land of Canaan, the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the  missionary journeys of Paul, the churches of Asia Minor. Why are there no maps at the back of your book?

Elder Brown: I don’t know about that.

Mike: Maybe because the book is fiction and the people, places and events never existed, or happened? Its like Lord of the Rings. Have you ever read that?

Elder Brown: Yes, I have.

Mike: The Lord of the Rings has maps but we know those people, places and events aren’t real. They are the product of a clever and fertile imagination. Its a story that can stir our emotions, lift our minds to higher things, make us aspire to greater courage, duty, loyalty and sacrifice; we can have a testimony of it. But it isn’t a true story, just something to make us feel good.

You have no maps in your book, no locations, culture or artefacts from those people, times and events. No reason to believe any of this is based in the real world other than the feeling you get when you think about it. The Bible tells of people, events, places and things to which history can clearly testify. Isn’t this significant?

Elder Brown: Umm, I’ll have to think about that. So do you think we are not Christians?

Mike: Now, isn’t it interesting that, from the outset of our conversation, you have inquired about my attitude to and involvement in “the church.” You speak as though it was the only one, yet your church wants to identify closely with other churches these days. I wonder why that is?

I met a Christian lady this week, a stranger handing out Christian leaflets, and told her I was already a Christian. She didn’t ask which church I attended, we simply praised God together that we had each met another Christian on the street. Its wonderful when people who know the Lord meet for the first time. From the outset we have so much in common, but you immediately distinguish between members and non-members.

Salvation isn’t in membership in an organisation but in Jesus. Yet here you are, claiming to be Christian, but advertising at your table a fictional character named Mormon and not Jesus. There is no salvation in Mormonism and that is why I left your church and turned to Jesus.

With that we parted company but I hope as he flicks through his Book of Mormon and finds those empty pages at the back, or maybe through his Bible and finds maps, he will stop and reflect. Or maybe when he meets another Christian he might wonder why they don’t just talk together about Jesus.

You can’t always stand and talk for ages. There isn’t always a satisfying conclusion. Its always good to leave people with something to think about, something that will jump up in front of them every time they open the book or tell the story. I hope and pray he thinks about the maps. I pray he remembers our conversation when next he meets a Christian. I hope he thinks, “I’ve heard this before, so often, I ought to look into it.”

Closer to Jesus a step at a time.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Is Mormonism ditching Prophets? A look at the 2013 edition of the LDS Scriptures

No Business like Joe BusinessIs the Mormon Church turning from “living prophets” to academia to gain traction in the 21st century? Are Mormons turning to prophets for homiletic inspiration and academics for professional credibility in the 24/7 internet world? Does the Mormon message of prophets mean anything anymore?

The unique claim of Mormons is that they are led by “living prophets.” Prophets are integral to their claim to be a “Restoration” church, prophets are what distinguish Mormonism and prophets are foundational to their claim to, alone in this world, have authority to speak and act for God. It is understood, historically, that when a Mormon scholar speaks on Mormon issues, no matter how illustrious his or her career, how impressive their curriculum vitae, it is still “only their opinion,” albeit a professional opinion. Prophets alone make doctrine.

The Strange World of Mormon Prophets

However, Mormon prophets have come up with pretty wacky ideas and practices. The list is long: Polyamory, polygamy, polyandry, banking scandals, institutional racism, the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The exposure of the much vaunted Book of Abraham - “written by [Abraham’s] own hand” according to Joseph Smith - as an Egyptian Book of Breathings circa 50BC to 50AD. The infamous forgery scandals that hoodwinked Gordon B Hinckley and led to the tragic Salt Lake City bombings of 1985.

Mormon prophets have increasingly proved a liability and it has been the church’s practice to bury their dead prophets’ ideas along with them. Mormons are used to explaining away the embarrassing statements and practices of past leaders, from the sexually predacious Joseph Smith and the monomaniacal Brigham Young, through the rabid dogmatism of Bruce R McConkie, the bogus claims of Paul H Dunn and his “Early Life and War Experiences,” to the inability of Gordon B Hinckley to stay away from TV cameras, opening his mouth only to change feet.

I want to point out two developments I consider significant in this regard with the publication of their 2013 edition of the Mormon scriptures. Mormon prophets are so wrong as to be a liability and Mormons now admit it, and the Mormon Church is looking to academics to do what, in a more innocent time, prophets once did.

Declaration 2

On June 8, 1978 a statement was issued from church headquarters declaring the long standing ban on men of African descent holding the Mormon priesthood lifted. This statement is found in all subsequent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), along with the earlier declaration of 1890 abandoning, officially, the practice of polygamy.

What is effectively a colour bar has been a thorn in the side of the Mormon Church and stood for most of that church’s history. Historically, it has been founded on Mormon Scripture and teaching. Generations of Mormon leaders have developed and at length taught the reasons for the bar to black priesthood holders.

In the 2013 edition of the D&C, to the original declaration has been appended a preface purporting to explain the background to this development:

The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.

Gone is the, the elaborate story of war in heaven, less noble pre-mortals, the curse of a black skin, talk of the negro being a descendent of Cain and a representative of Satan on the earth, key elements of the Plan of Salvation. Worse, gone is the confidence in prophets as the church openly “admits” it has no idea why this teaching held sway for almost 150 years of its 180 year history. Where once any Aaronic priesthood holder (age 12-17) might have explained it now even prophets cannot.

This is nonsense, of course, and they know and understand full well the elaborate theological arguments for the bar. As you scan the faces of Mormon General Authorities on the stand at conference time you are looking at men who grew up being taught and went on to teach the Mormon mythology regarding ignoble premortal lives, the consequent “curse” of black skin and its resulting proscriptions. This is a public relations exercise designed to distance today’s church from its own history, rather like Nazi’s burning documents when it became clear the war wasn’t going their way.

What is significant is the unqualified admission that prophets at the head of God’s only true church cannot understand or explain Mormon doctrine. Further, Mormon Church history, which has always been in the hands of a fastidiously “record-keeping” Mormonism, can shed no light on the matter. It comes to something when feigning such ignorance is better than owning your own church’s history and teaching.

Mormons, it seems, cannot look to their prophets, nor can they rely on their own historical records to help them understand their own church and doctrine. Where, then, are they to look for guidance? If not to prophets, past or present, where are Mormons to look for revelation? That’s the next post.

 

This is also guest posted on Mormonism Investigated