Friday, 22 August 2014

Mormons and the Perils of Social Media

Those of us who have been around social media for a long time know too well the perils of ‘sharing your faith’ online. We are familiar with robust exchanges of view, from thoughtful comments to ill-considered plaudits and brickbats, the angry exchanges, and the downright rudeness. Whatever your position on issues of faith, when you step into this arena you must be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. When you are a Mormon I imagine you get more than your fair share, what with half the online Evangelical world looking to put you right, and the other half cheering them on.

Yet Mormons have taken to the Internet with the best of them. Half the church’s 85,000 missionaries are given digital devices, the church has a sophisticated presence on the web, and members enthusiastically populate forums, blogs, and social media. How would you feel, however, if your church leaders used this net presence to check up on your faithfulness?

It has been reported that, “Some local church leaders have found individual pages, for example, a good way to learn the needs of their congregants.”  How would you feel if a chat with your pastor began with the words, “I saw something on your Facebook page, and wondered if everything was alright?” Maybe you would feel it showed pastoral initiative but…

How would you feel if your faithfulness was brought into question because of comments you made? If your involvement in church was proscribed because you took a different view on an issue? This is what has been happening to otherwise good Mormons.

The most high-profile victim is Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women, who has been excommunicated, a decision she is now appealing. Her parents had their temple recommends revoked because they refused to take down their profiles from the Ordain Women website. But there are many more examples of this heavy-handed approach to social media activity.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports one woman losing a calling in the Young Women’s presidency after she posted a picture of herself nursing her daughter on her private Facebook page.

A man was “released” as elder’s quorum president because of his views on same-sex marriage.

A woman in  Australia was excluded because of “feminist views” she expressed on social media.

There are rules and guidelines for teachers, and others in public life, on the use of social media. Care must be taken to not inadvertently get into a compromising situation. But private citizens being censured by church leaders like this, and the trolling of social media for intel on your church members hits a new low.

The Mormon church has been making great efforts to deal with its questionable history and it hasn’t turned out well for them. They need to deal with the present and realise from their history that you can’t hide this stuff anymore. No sooner is there a development than its around the world, reported, commented on, and watched carefully. For a church that prides itself on its web presence it still has a lot to learn

You can read more about it at the Salt Lake Tribune

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Purpose of Mormonism

The August 2014 Ensign magazine of the Mormon Church carries the theme of missionary work and an article by Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explains Why we Share the Gospel. There is a helpful summary here.

He begins, reasonably enough, by drawing a distinction between purpose and planning and it would be right to say he is warning readers that the map is not the territory, that the method used is not an end in itself, the end being to bring people to faith.

There is so much here with which a Christian might agree. The need to live an exemplary life; the importance of listening to God; understanding the message;telling the ‘good news’ of Jesus, and inspiring faith. It is on such Christian principles, apparently so characteristic of Mormonism, that a growing number of liberal Christians are finding it easier to accept the Mormon Church as  fundamentally Christian, and to take a bemused, even hostile stance towards ministries that challenge Mormon teachings; but look closer…

Drawing on the official missionary lessons of his church, Christofferson explains:

“The world has no access to atoning grace and salvation but through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

The fact is that everyone outside the Mormon Church, including the Christian community that they are supposedly part of, is the target of their proselytising.  There has always been the idea that everyone will be saved into one degree of glory or another in God’s kingdom, that non-Mormons will inherit, ‘a lower degree of glory.’

But make no mistake, Mormons regard Christians the same way that Christian ministries to cults regard Mormons. If you’re a non-Mormon you are going to get visited, by the same token if you’re a Mormon you’re going to be witnessed to. Life’s like that.

Christofferson goes on:

“Coming unto Christ is an abbreviation, a way of describing in three words the plan of salvation.”

There is a world of information in that one sentence if you know how to understand it. “Coming unto Christ” seems so Christian, doesn’t it? And don’t you love the affected way Mormons use ‘unto’ in these statements? They seem to believe that 400-year-old English is somehow more reverent, and in some way sanctifies their speech; it isn’t, and it doesn’t.

When an evangelical Christian talks about coming to Christ for salvation, what we mean is laying aside all our futile efforts at saving ourselves and finally depending on the finished work of Christ on the cross to save and to sanctify us. This has nothing to do with how we live as Christians, that is a different subject altogether, and you can read a fuller explanation on my post about Paul and James.

As Christians we have always known that we are saved for works. But that is the point; Christians are saved for works, while Mormons are saved by  works. They insist otherwise, of course, but that is because they haven’t understood grace. I know something about this because I travelled that journey from Mormonism’s works salvation to the Bibles grace salvation.

The Bible makes it clear that we are saved by grace, for works, and not by works (Eph. 2:8-10);  that outward shows of religious observance profit us nothing (Philip.3:7-11); that there is no dietary law now (1 Cor.8:8; Mk.7:18-23) and for those who trust Jesus there is free access to the throne of grace, without intermediaries, or religious ceremony (Heb.4:14-16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”)

Mormonism makes much more of ‘coming unto Christ,’ subtracting from the gospel by adding to it. The plan of salvation, for which these three words are a shorthand, involves joining the Mormon Church; being baptised by Mormon ‘authority’; proving yourself ‘worthy’ to hold the Mormon priesthood if you’re male; gaining a temple recommend (only available to those considered most ‘worthy’), marrying in that temple; raising a Mormon family; keeping the Mormon dietary law, and enduring to the end.

This enduring to the end is not enduring in faith, but enduring in keeping all the rules of Mormonism so as to show yourself ‘worthy’ of grace. Stop and think about that for a moment. Mormonism effectually invites you to enjoy God’s grace at great cost to – yourself! This idea is best summed up in the words of the 3rd Article of Faith:

“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”

Compare that with these wonderful words of Jesus:

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

The third claim Christofferson makes is:

“The why, the what, and the how of missionary work are more compellingly proclaimed in the Book of Mormon than anywhere else. It is filled with examples of those who understood and laboured to fulfil the missionary purpose. It contains the clearest expositions anywhere in scripture of the fundamental doctrines we should teach.”

This is a church that claims to trust the Bible. The Bible that contains the four gospels, gospels not found, or duplicated, in Mormon scripture. The Bible that contains the clearest expositions of the Christian faith anywhere, from the magisterial exposition of the gospel in Paul’s letter to the Romans, through the denouncing of works salvation in his letter to the Galatians, and the magnificent description of Christ and his authority in Ephesians, to the comprehensive exposition on priesthood in Hebrews.

From the words of Jesus to the Revelation of John, it has been the source of our understanding of the faith for 2,000 years, and has proved its worth to countless generations.

Further, the claim that the Book of Mormon, “…contains the clearest expositions anywhere in scripture of the fundamental doctrines we should teach” cannot go unchallenged. We all know the list of Mormon teachings not found in the Book of Mormon:

  • Mormon priesthood
  • Mormon temple worship
  • Eternal marriage (polygamy is preached against)
  • Plurality of gods
  • God is an exalted man
  • Men becoming gods
  • Degrees of glory
  • Word of Wisdom
  • Pre-mortal existence
  • The plan of salvation itself.

If ‘coming unto Christ’ is a shorthand for the plan of salvation, why isn’t that plan in the clearest expositions of fundamental Mormon doctrines? It’s a conundrum.

The point, of course, is that Mormons consider all who aren’t Mormons, including so-called ‘other Christians’ legitimate subjects for evangelism. Mormons do not understand the biblical doctrine of grace, and teach a works-based salvation. And Mormons mistrust the Bible, preferring the Book of Mormon, even though the Book of Mormon is devoid of some of the most fundamental doctrines of Mormonism.

I don’t mind Mormon missionaries calling by, telling me where they believe my understanding is wrong, and offering me what they regard as something better. They have a calling and a job to do for their church, and I respect that. But Mormons really should adopt the same attitude to ministries and individuals who seek to evangelise Mormons, pointing out the errors in the Mormon faith and offering Mormons something we regard as infinitely better.

It’s more honest that way, creates a better atmosphere, makes it easier to listen respectfully, and doesn’t make differences into an all-out war of words; of yes you do, no we don’t. Wouldn’t you say?