Bruce McConkie vs. Brigham Young

ThrowbackThurs

It’s Throwback Thursday!
The following blog article originally posted at Mormon Coffee on March 6, 2006.

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I was reading an article in the Deseret News on Saturday [March 4, 2006] that discusses the history of “The Seven Deadly Sins.” At the end of the article the journalist mentions a fireside talk the late LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie gave back in 1980 titled “The Seven Deadly Heresies” I’m sure I’ve read that talk before, but out of curiosity I read it again today. There are many things of interest in Mr. McConkie’s talk, and I may address more of them in the future; but today I thought we could look at just two of the heresies Mr. McConkie was concerned had “crept in among us [Latter-day Saints].”

To set the stage, so to speak, and to put his address in authoritative context, Bruce McConkie began his talk this way:

“I have sought and do now seek that guidance and enlightenment which comes from the Holy Spirit of God. I desire to speak by the power Of the Holy Ghost so that my words will be true and wise and proper. When any of us speak by the power of the Spirit, we say what the Lord wants said, or, better, what he would say if he were here in person.”

Important for the context of what was to follow, Mr. McConkie said,

“I shall speak on some matters that some may consider to be controversial, though they ought not to be. They are things on which we ought to be united, and to the extent we are all guided and enlightened from on high we will be. If we are so united-and there will be no disagreement among those who believe and understand the revealed word-we will progress and advance and grow in the things of the Spirit; we will prepare ourselves for a life of peace and happiness and joy here and now, and for an eventual eternal reward in the kingdom of our Father.”

Please keep this in mind.

Mr. McConkie began with the first heresy on his list:

“Heresy #1: There are those who say that God is progressing in knowledge and is learning new truths.

“This is false–utterly, totally, and completely. There is not one sliver of truth in it. It grows out of a wholly twisted and incorrect view of the King Follett Sermon and of what is meant by eternal progression…

“I have been sorely tempted to say at this point that any who so suppose have the intellect of an ant, and the understanding of a clod of miry clay in a primordial swamp. But, of course, I would never say a thing like that.” (Mr. McConkie meant this last statement as a joke and it was understood as such by his audience. I’ve included it here because, though said with a smile, it illustrates the idea that faithful Latter-day Saints would never believe such nonsense. Please note that most internet sources for Mr. McConkie’s speech have edited this portion out of the text.)

Though Mr. McConkie claims the doctrine that God is progressing in knowledge is heresy, the prophets that laid the foundation of the LDS Church in the early days taught it was true.

“Brother Orson Pratt, has in theory, bounded the capacity of God. According to his theory, God can progress no further in knowledge and power; but the God that I serve is progressing eternally, and so are his children: they will increase to all eternity, if they are faithful” (President Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11:286, 1867).

“God himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end. It is just so with us” (President Wilford Woodruff, Apostle, Journal of Discourses 6:120, 1857).

Mr. McConkie’s sixth heresy:

“Heresy #6: There are those who believe or say they believe that Adam is our father and our god, that he is the father of our spirits and our bodies, and that he is the one we worship…

“Anyone who has read the Book of Moses, and anyone who has received the temple endowment, and who yet believes the ‘Adam-God Theory’ does not deserve to saved.”

This heresy was taught by Mormonism’s second Prophet for more than 20 years. For example, Brigham Young taught in 1852:

“Now hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and sinner! 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 helped to make and organize this world. He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken–HE is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom WE have to do…”

“Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven. Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation” (President Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:50-51. Italics and capitalization retained from the original.).

And in 1873:

“How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which is revealed to them, and which God revealed to me — namely that Adam is our father and God…Our Father Adam is the man who stands at the gate and holds the keys of everlasting life and salvation to all his children who have or ever will come upon the earth” (Sermon delivered on June 8, 1873. Printed in the Deseret Weekly News, June 18, 1873.).

If a Latter-day Saint believes Apostle Bruce McConkie, LDS Prophet Brigham Young had “the intellect of an ant, and the understanding of a clod of miry clay in a primordial swamp [and] does not deserve to be saved.” But if a Latter-day Saint believes LDS Prophet Brigham Young and other early Mormon leaders, he is laboring under condemnation from one of his apostles.

I’m glad I’m not a Mormon. As a Christian I am bound by the Word of God found in the Bible, which does not change. I can believe it, or I can reject it and face the consequences, but there is no equivocation.

Mormons, on the other hand, must follow their prophets, seers, and revelators; a group to which both Brigham Young and Bruce McConkie belong. If they reject either man’s authoritative teachings they have, in effect, rejected the Lord. As Apostle Russell M. Nelson said during the April 1997 General Conference of the LDS Church:

“Loyalty to the Lord carries an obligation of loyalty to those called by the Lord to lead His Church. He has empowered that men be ordained to speak in His holy name. As they guide His unsinkable boat safely toward the shore of salvation, we would do well to stay on board with them” (Ensign, May 1997, page 72).

But what happens, as in this case, when the leaders aren’t on the same boat?

Posted in Brigham Young, God the Father, Prophets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Is it really a gift?

One of the most remarkable things about the Mormon religion is how its leaders can so badly misinterpret the basic meaning of certain words. Take “gift,” for example. When I think of a “gift,” I think of something given to another at no obligation, even though there still is a cost attached. The payment, however, is made by the giver, not by the receiver. When someone tells me he is picking up the tab for lunch, I receive the lunch gratefully. Yet while it is free to me, the meal cost someone money.

LDS GiftIn the back of the December 2014 Ensign is an article titled “Sharing the Gift.” It starts off this way:

“The greatest gift Heavenly Father offers us is eternal life—our life eternally joined with His, living the kind of life He lives (see D&C 14:7). But giving that gift required giving us His Only Begotten Son.” (p. 74)

The line is followed by a quotation of John 3:16, probably the most popular verse used by Evangelical Christians to succinctly explain the Christian gospel. A colorful 4-page cardboard insert titled “He is the Gift” was included in the mailing of this particular issue that features a photograph portraying Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus on the front along with a quote from the first part of John 3:16. Nine “pass-along (evangelism) cards” with perforations make up the third and fourth pages. The back of each card reads: “Discover The Gift. Embrace The Gift. #ShareTheGift.” A new LDS website “christmas.mormon.org” is also advertised.

A few years ago Bill McKeever and I produced a December 26th podcast titled “Did You Earn Your Gifts?” I asked Bill what he had done on Christmas. Here was his story: After his family opened presents on Christmas, he said he took all his gifts to his office and scanned in the barcodes with a phone app to find out how much everything cost. He then went back to the living room and distributed cash to everyone—wife, son, daughters, and grandchildren—to repay their generosity. But he wasn’t done. He took out a folder with itemized receipts and gave bills to each member of his family to whom he had given gifts. “They must earn what they were given,” he said. “After all, fair is fair.”

It was done tongue in cheek, but the point was made. Is it possible for a “gift” to come with a price tag? In Mormonism, it does. Consider, for example, D&C 14:7 as quoted in the Ensign article:

“And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.”

What a horrible verse to use in an article titled “Sharing the Gift”! Set up in an “If/Then” construction, this says a person must first keep God’s commandments and even “endure to the end” before it’s possible to receive the gift of eternal life. To use Bill’s illustration, it says, “Sonny, return your present until you’ve paid Grandpa the very last farthing.”

There is nobody who can do everything that the Mormon leadership says must be accomplished. After all, who can keep all the commandments? And is it even possible to “endure to the end”?

Christianity offers so much more. With nothing of worth brought to the table, the sinner comes to Christ bare and naked. Eternal life is available only through God’s grace and not through any good thing that could possibly be accomplished. As Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the Mormon say my interpretation minimizes good works. Au contraire. When a sinner understands his or her situation and is then bestowed with a gift that could never be earned—say, in human terms, $10 million—the natural reaction is to want to do good works (Eph. 2:10). Indeed, as 1 John 4:19 puts it, “We love because He first loved us.”

This season is really all about the Christ child and the gift offered to us, not about what we can do to repay the Savior. As Matthew 1:21 puts it, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Forgiveness is therefore possible! I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I have Discovered the Gift and indeed Embrace the Gift. And to my Latter-day Saint friends, family, neighbors, and many acquaintances, I hope to ShareTheGift. Great presents come in small packages, even in as small as a manger.

Posted in Grace, Jesus Christ, LDS Church, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , | 71 Comments

Worship of Joseph Smith?

ThrowbackThurs

It’s Throwback Thursday!
The following blog article originally posted at Mormon Coffee on January 17, 2006.

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Reading the December 31, 2005 issue of Church News I came across this:

“As Latter-day Saints we no more worship Joseph Smith than we do Peter or any of the other ancient apostles. Peter, in fact, is an apt comparison. Both Joseph and Peter fearlessly obeyed the Master in conveying His gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. Both men dedicated their lives to the work of the Kingdom, ultimately suffering a martyr’s death in the cause of Christ. To both men we give our honor, respect, reverence and love—but not our worship.” (p. 16)

This topic of whether or not Latter-day Saints worship Joseph Smith interests me. I’ve tried to figure out why people think Mormons worship Joseph. The fact that many do is evidenced by the constant denials coming from Mormons and the LDS Church. I suppose it could be rumor, but rumors usually die out in the face of reality. Mormonism gets plenty of good press which should put a stop to unfounded rumors. That leaves me thinking that perhaps the rumors won’t die because there is something within Mormonism that keeps them alive.

So I asked the question on [answeringlds.org] web site, “In practical terms, how does LDS reverence for the Prophet Joseph Smith differ from LDS worship of Jesus Christ?” I had hoped to get some definitive answers from Latter-day Saints pointing out something unique in their worship of Christ that is not found in their behavior and feelings toward Joseph; for I am not aware of any differences.

By that I mean that Mormons sing songs about both Joseph and Jesus. They celebrate the births of both. They commemorate the deaths of both. They display statues of both. They testify of both, etc. So how is the general public to know the difference between how Mormons honor Joseph but worship Jesus?

My web question didn’t generate any responses of substance. Several non-Mormons and ex-Mormons wrote that Latter-day Saints do indeed worship Joseph Smith. The Mormons who responded to the question merely asserted that they don’t. [To see the responses visit answeringlds.org, click on “Interactive,” “Past Questions and Answers.” See #57.]

The comment from Church News caught my attention because of the comparison between Joseph and the Apostle Peter. If, as is implied, Latter-day Saints reverence both Joseph and Peter in the same way, then I would expect to find LDS songs, statues and celebrations in Peter’s honor just as I find in honor of Joseph.

But they are not there.

In fact, I’ve visited many LDS sites and I can’t remember seeing even one statue or monument depicting a biblical prophet or apostle—unless it also included Joseph Smith.

Of course, the mere fact of the display of a statue or monument does not indicate worship given. Consider how many LDS monuments there are to the Mormon pioneers, yet no one (or hardly anyone) accuses Mormons of worshiping these people. Consider the extensive statuary of the Catholic Church… Well, maybe that’s not such a good example.

At any rate, I think the rumor that Mormons worship Joseph Smith persists because there is fuel for the fire. LDS veneration of Joseph may be misunderstood (as Mormons say), but surely the mistake is an honest one and wholly understandable.

I’m not sure which side of the debate I come down on. Perhaps the truth of the matter lies in the way Latter-day Saints define the word “worship.” Or, as one Mormon responder to my web question implied, the difference lies in the one to whom the honor is given: If it’s given to man, it is reverence; if given to deity, it’s worship. Whatever the case, as Latter-day Saints continue to interact with non-Mormons in sharing their feelings about Joseph Smith—to borrow the words of Ricky Ricardo— “They got a lotta ‘splainin’ to do.”

Posted in Joseph Smith, LDS Church, Mormon Culture | Tagged , , , , , | 49 Comments

Mormonism’s President and the Role of the Angry Mob

ThomasMonsonApril14In April 2014, at the Mormon Church’s General Conference, President Thomas S. Monson spoke of love being the essence of the gospel. Explaining that Jesus Christ is our great example of love, President Monson said,

“The sick He healed; the downtrodden He lifted; the sinner He saved. At the end the angry mob took His life.” (Ensign, May 2014, 91)

Wait. What?

“The angry mob took His life.”

Jesus was executed by the Roman government, at the request of the Sanhedrin (i.e., the Jewish judicial council). While the Bible records that some people were pretty riled up over Jesus and His teachings, it is quite unusual to hear His trial and crucifixion referred to as having been perpetrated by an “angry mob.” In fact, that particular phrase is the one most often used by Mormons in relating the death of Joseph Smith, not Jesus:

“[Joseph F. Smith’s] father, Hyrum, and Uncle Joseph were killed by an angry mob in Carthage Jail.”

“In 1844 [John Taylor] narrowly escaped death when Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered at Carthage Jail. Unable to defend himself against the angry mob, Brother Taylor ran to the window to leap out but was stopped as a shot struck him in the thigh.”

“Just after five o’clock, the angry mob that had gathered outside attacked.”

“The angry mob stormed the jail; they came up the stairway, blasphemous in their cursing, heavily armed, and began to fire at will.”

“Looking from the windows and imagining the crush of an angry mob on the narrow stairs, visiting teens become lost in thought as they sit for a moment in the room where the beloved Prophet of the Restoration became a martyr.”

“Carthage Jail, an angry mob with painted faces, and certain death faced the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

“We felt that same witness as we exited this room in Carthage, Illinois, where Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, “the best blood of the nineteenth century” (D&C 135:6), were martyred by an angry mob.”

Upon reading President Monson’s narrative about Jesus where he stated that “the angry mob took His life,” someone well-acquainted with the story of Joseph Smith’s death remarked, “It sounds like Monson is confusing his saviors.” Interesting thought.

Posted in Joseph Smith, LDS Church | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

A Small Stream of Truth

ThrowbackThurs

It’s Throwback Thursday!
The following blog article originally posted at Mormon Coffee on February 3, 2006.

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Philip Barlow, in Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion cites late LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie on the alleged corruptions that today plague the Bible:

“[Our present Bible] contains a bucket, a small pail, a few draughts, no more than a small stream at most, out of the great ocean of revealed truth that has come to men in ages more spiritually enlightened than ours.” (193)

When I read that I couldn’t help but think of:

First, God’s ability and promise to preserve His Word (Psalm 12:6-7); and
Second, Paul’s encouragement to Timothy that the Scriptures are sufficient, containing everything we need to know for faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

Paul also charged Timothy to “Preach the word!” To “convince, rebuke, exhort” because

“the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Is it possible that the “great oceans” of revelation that have “come to men in ages more spiritually enlightened than ours” could be some of the fables of which Paul warned?

(Quote from Philip Barlow’s book cited by Gerald R. McDermott in Saints Rising.)

Posted in Authority and Doctrine, Bible, Christianity | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Mormons Don’t Believe In the Trinity

In an October (2014) blog, Latter-day Saint Greg Trimble sought to explain “Why Mormons Don’t Believe In the Trinity.” As Mr. Trimble pointed out, it is imperative that we “know who and what God is,” for Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Trinity SymbolFrom there Mr. Trimble launched into the meat of his article – the specific reasons why Mormons don’t believe in the Trinitarian (Christian) God.

From what he’s written (in both parts 1 and 2 of this essay), this is my conclusion: The reasons Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity are these:

  1. They don’t know what the doctrine of the Trinity actually is
  2. They don’t know what really happened at the Council of Nicea
  3. They don’t know what the Bible says about God
  4. They don’t believe that Jesus built an indestructible church
  5. They don’t understand the Athanasian Creed

We have presented information on the doctrine of the Trinity and the Council of Nicea before on Mormon Coffee; so if you need to familiarize yourself with the definition, facts and biblical support for the Christian Trinitarian God, please see those articles (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4). To see how Greg Trimble led me to my conclusion on why Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity, read on.

  1. They don’t know what the doctrine of the Trinity actually is. As demonstrated by Mr. Trimble:

“I decided I wanted to see for myself whether Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost were one being ‘manifesting’ Himself in three different persons.”

  1. They don’t know what really happened at the Council of Nicea. As demonstrated by Mr. Trimble:

“These politicians and a few clergymen voted on how to define God at Nicea and it became later known as the Athanasian creed. The council was a debate between essentially two men; Arius and Athanasius. Arius believed that The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost were separate entities, of one mind, but individuals nonetheless. Athanasius believed that the three were ‘of one substance’. Athanasius was more vocal, more convincing, and had more friends. He won the vote and Arius was cast out as a heretic.”

AncientTrinity No Background

  1. They don’t know what the Bible says about God. As demonstrated by Mr. Trimble:

“Why does all of Christendom say that Mormons don’t worship the correct Jesus or believe the Bible when they themselves are basing their entire belief in God not on the Bible but on a creed that was pieced together by the Roman pagans and politicians of the 4th century? I never heard Peter or Paul or John or Christ or anyone else in the New Testament talk about the trinity.”

  1. They don’t believe that Jesus built an indestructible church. As demonstrated by Mr. Trimble:

“I wonder if Paul had some of the same thoughts I’m having when he cruised into Athens and saw an inscription on an altar that said ‘TO THE UNKNOWN GOD’. He was horrified! An unknown God?! The rest of the apostles were horrified at the thought as well. They were watching the true understanding of the nature and character of God slip away right before their eyes, and they knew the impact it would have on the Church. By the end of the first century…no one had a clue.”

  1. They don’t understand the Athanasian Creed. As demonstrated by Mr. Trimble:

“Now this is where it gets really strange. Protestants seem to be the most vocal against Mormons for not believing in the trinitarian creeds. But check out the first sentence of the Athanasian creed! ‘Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith.’ Geeee. So…since all other Christian reformers came out of the Catholic Church…it’s hard to believe there are so many protestants that would hold that creed so dear to their hearts…even dear enough that they would send Mormons out of Christianity just for not believing it. That creed just told them that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church!”

Mr. Trimble (and other Mormons) exhibits a grave lack of understanding regarding the biblical, Christian doctrine of the Trinity. And no wonder. Misunderstanding of this doctrine has been perpetuated throughout Mormonism by all sorts of Church authorities, from prophets to ordinary elders, from Joseph Smith’s day to contemporary times.

“Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God! I say that is a strange God anyhow—three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization… All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God —he would be a giant or a monster” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 372. Ellipses mine).

“The world wrestles with the question of who God is, and in what form He is found. Some say that the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are one. I wonder how they ever arrive at that. How could Jesus have prayed to Himself when he uttered the Lord’s Prayer? How could He have met with Himself when He was on the Mount of Transfiguration? No. He is a separate being. God, our Father, is one. Jesus Christ is two. The Holy Ghost is three. And these three are united in purpose and in working together to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Church News, 7/4/1998, 2)

“THE TRINITY CREATION. They believe in the trinity creation. The trinity was voted on in the Council of Nicene hundreds of years after Christ’s death. A bunch of church leaders and government officials got together and voted on ‘who God was?’, and it wasn’t even a unanimous vote. There were about four different versions of God that they voted on. The version that is used by Catholics and Protestants today only won by about a 40 percent margin. Their view of God, as you may know, is that He is like a formless mass of spirit that fills the whole universe and when He comes to earth, part of it breaks off and forms itself into Jesus” (Scott Marshall, Tracting and Member Missionary Work, p. 73).

I confess: Like Mormons, I do not believe in that misconceived idea of the trinity, either. But the biblical doctrine — that is, “Within the one Being that is God, there eternally exists three coequal and coeternal Persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” — that doctrine of the Trinity I believe. That describes the God I know and worship, and in whom I have eternal life (John 17:3).

Posted in Christianity, Early Christianity, Nature of God | Tagged , , , , , , , | 77 Comments

Thankful for each and every gift

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights
with whom there is no variation or shadow…”
(James 1:17)

For His goodness,
For His grace,
And for His streams of mercy never ceasing,
We give our great God profound thanks and praise.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Posted in Christianity | Tagged | 4 Comments

The Danger of Mormon Idolatry

Brigham and JosephIn October (2014) Mormon blogger Jana Riess wrote about the “shadow side” of Mormonism: the “tendency to idolize – as in actually make idols of – the men who run our church. An idol is anything we use as a substitute for God,” Dr. Riess wrote, “and I feel that sometimes, we cross that line in Mormon culture.”

Citing the beloved Mormon hymn, “Praise to the Man,” that idolizes Joseph Smith as an intercessor for people in heaven, Dr. Riess admonished, “That is not okay.” Referencing Terryl and Fiona Givens’ book, The Crucible of Doubt, she explained that the Givenses

“beautifully get to the heart of one of the greater dangers of idolatry, that we will surrender our own agency and growth. We are so very eager to avoid making decisions ourselves: ‘too often, we confuse the call to discipleship with the desire to unload responsibility for our spiritual direction onto another. Christ invites us to assume the yoke, but we would rather ride in the cart.’ (p 62)”

Some years ago former Mormon Kathleen Baldwin wrote about what she, as a Christian, missed about being a member of the Mormon Church. This element of Mormon life – that of having someone make decisions for her – figured prominently in her sense of loss. Because Kathleen’s reflections on transitioning from Mormonism to Christianity are filled with valuable insight, I offer them here.

What I Miss About Being a Mormon
by Kathleen Baldwin

This ministry exists to alert people to the spiritually damaging teachings of the LDS Church and hopefully steer them toward saving grace. However, I think it behooves us to take a moment to reflect on the reasons why a Mormon wants to stay Mormon. Sometimes we stand outside and scratch our heads wondering why they won’t listen, why they won’t awaken to the truth, why they don’t rebel against the strictures of their man-made religion? The Mormon Church is compelling. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t present much of a threat. Today I’m going to confess to you some of the things I sincerely miss about my life as an entrenched Mormon.

First and foremost, I miss the sense of belonging. No matter what city I moved to or what part of the country I visited, I knew I would have a branch or ward of the Mormon Church waiting to welcome me with open arms. Instant friends. Friendship is compelling.

Come Let Us Rejoice by Walter Rane

Come Let Us Rejoice by Walter Rane

You might wonder what sort of friends they were, if they would be so instantly accepting? Good friends. Let me explain why. Mormons work very hard. The women, in particular, work extremely hard. When I told my sister that I was leaving the Mormon Church to become a Born-Again Christian, she smacked her hand angrily against the steering wheel and shouted at me, “I feel like you’re abandoning me! Leaving me to work all by myself.”

She was right. I abandoned the Mormon struggle to achieve perfection. I accepted grace and left the impossible work to Jesus Christ.

Common struggle is a powerful binding force. Mormon women labor together in Relief Society, Visiting Teaching, Primary, genealogy, Church Welfare Farms, Mutual, Sunday school. They commiserate with one another in their struggle to achieve perfection within their families and in themselves. They labor under this impossible load together. They lament their failures together. Weep together. Celebrate their triumphs together. These common battles bind them together. Look at the cohesiveness of other support groups: cancer patients, children of alcoholics, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Mormons feel like they are fighting a war together, just like the soldiers in Band of Brothers. Pulling together in this overwhelming struggle creates a nearly unbreakable bond; one that is very hard to leave.

I also miss not having to think so hard. Don’t laugh. It’s true. Now that I am a Christian I must think about everything, discern right from wrong on an hourly basis. Whew! There is something to be said for being told exactly what to do. The Mormon Church dictated everything, from the length of my skirt to what I ought to eat and drink, whether my child could go to a slumber party, or date before age sixteen. Rules placate us. Rules take away the need for exercising thought, or discernment. Ah, but God, He wants us to think, expects us to consult with Him, mull it over, evaluate the situation, consider the individuals involved. It’s much easier to be told exactly what’s expected.

C1657The LDS Church had a master plan for their members’ lives, everything planned to keep them busy, busy, busy, until the grave. It’s no accident that they chose the symbol of the beehive for the Utah state logo; industrious folks, Mormons. Boys go on missions at [eighteen], come back, go to school, marry, obtain productive and lucrative jobs, raise as many children as possible, convert friends, serve as leaders in local wards, work, work, work.

One thing that terrified me when leaving Mormonism might surprise you. Funerals. If someone in my family died, I worried, how I would know what to do? I’d done funerals the Mormon way all my life. I knew exactly how to proceed as a Mormon, but how did other people do it? In the Mormon Church, every ritual has a format that the members are accustomed to. Weddings, births, baptisms and funerals are all handled a certain way. There is comfort in knowing exactly how these big stressful life-passage moments will be conducted. As a Christian, I’ll be winging it.

Speaking of master plans, did you know every Mormon meeting format is the same in New York as it is in Arizona? Yep, everything is conducted uniformly. Even the Church buildings are laid out exactly the same. A ward building in California will have the same layout as a ward building in Maine. There’s comfort in familiarity. You know where the restrooms are without asking.

Elements such as these create confidence in the Mormon Church organization. This produces security. A Mormon has faith in the “Church” rather than in Jesus Christ. This is known as collective faith. The Mormon believes her church is leading her to heaven. She does not have to worry about her personal faith as much. As long as she has confidence that the LDS Church is guiding her correctly, all she has to do is obey. This reduces her need for developing a trusting relationship with God. Her primary trust is in the Church. It’s much easier to trust the tangible than the intangible.

As a Christian, I feel like the lonely pilgrim in The Pilgrim’s Progress. My journey is my own. Sure, I meet friends and have some companionship along the way, but it is largely a journey I make alone. And so it is for every Christian. My relationship with God is unique–individual–as is yours. It does not take the shape of a carefully outlined, step-by-step, pre-organized plan. God plans it. Our Father in Heaven has a unique relationship development plan for every believer, just as you have a unique plan for relationship with each of your children, your friends and family.

God is in control of our relationship. The Christian faces the choice of responding to God or not responding. This connection with God becomes a living breathing reality between Father and child. No longer is it a function of performing certain universal tasks to fulfill the requirements laid out by church leaders and thereby appease the Heavenly taskmaster.

Our life’s adventure does not consist of predictable certainties laid out for us by church leaders. It is a walk we take by faith. Predictability, fitting a mold, adhering to a list of rules–these things do not require much faith.

hugWhen I became a Christian, I traded earthly security to keep my eyes on Jesus. And, just like Peter when he tried to walk on water, this requires steadfast faith or I begin to sink. Real relationship ain’t pretty. Those who stay in the boat feel far more secure, and they have the luxury of smugness. They don’t get wet. Jesus doesn’t scold them, saying, “Oh ye of little faith.” No, they remain unchastised, snug and safe on the boat.

Mormons keep their eyes on an earthly man, a “prophet,” a flesh and blood guy they see twice a year at their General Conference. They rely on him to get the latest scoop from God. As a Mormon, I thought all I had to do was listen and obey, and then I’d be all right eternally. Now that’s security. Too bad, it isn’t real security.

Safety is compelling. If safety is of foremost importance to your Mormon friend, she will stay on the boat. She will sit tight and listen to the man she thinks is a prophet. She won’t get sloshed with grimy seawater trying to do something crazy like walk on water. Me, I’m willing to risk it. I’ve got the Son of God out there with me.

Yes, I miss many things about being Mormon, the comradeship of my struggling friends, the sense of security (albeit false), the comfort of sameness and familiar rituals. But there isn’t enough security or comfort in the world to make me re-strap that impossible burden on my back. No earthly friendship could compel me to give up the satisfying relationship I have with my Creator and Savior. Nothing in this world could make me go back to being a slave to the law now that I have been adopted by grace into the freedom of Christ’s family.

 —

Kathleen’s article was originally published in A Word in Season, Winter 2004.

Posted in Joseph Smith, Mormon Culture, Mormon Leaders, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 163 Comments

Music of the Faiths

ThrowbackThurs

It’s Throwback Thursday!
The following blog article originally posted at Mormon Coffee on January 30, 2006.

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Today’s Journal and Courier [January 30, 2006] from Lafayette, Indiana reports on that city’s Music of the Faiths hymn sing which took place Sunday afternoon. “The [participating] churches ran the gamut of Christian traditions,” the article states, “including some Catholic, Protestant and Mormon groups.”

Maybe I’m being too picky here, but this statement bothers me. If there’s one thing Mormonism is not, it’s a “Christian tradition.” The basic message of Mormonism is that the tradition of Christianity—which has been in place for nearly 2000 years—is wrong/abominable/corrupt. I object to calling Mormonism a Christian tradition. I imagine the journalist intended only to convey that the choirs participating in the hymn sing did not include Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc., yet I am nevertheless unhappy over the validating label she gave to Mormonism, which is wholly undeserving of it.

The LDS choir sang I Need Thee Every Hour which, of course, is a Christian hymn, not a Mormon hymn. It was written in 1872 by Annie Sherwood Hawks. Annie was a Baptist, a member of one of those “wrong, abominable and corrupt” churches that, according to Mormonism, was the reason for the Restoration. Robert Lowry set Annie’s words to music and added the beautiful refrain “I need Thee, O I need Thee; Ev’ry hour I need Thee! O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee.” Dr. Lowry was Annie’s pastor.

Two years before this Christian hymn was written, John Taylor, later to become the third Prophet of the LDS Church, said this:

“What does the Christian world know about God? Nothing …Why so far as the things of God are concerned, they are the veriest of fools; they know neither God nor the things of God” (Journal of Discourses 13:225, May 6, 1870).

I’m puzzled by the LDS Church choosing to sing (and include in its hymnal) spiritual songs written by those they believe knew absolutely nothing about God and who they believe belonged to the church of the devil (see the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 14:10).

Peggy Bryan, the Indiana state music chairman for the LDS Church, may have shed some light on this question. Remarking on the Music of the Faiths hymn sing she said, “They’re all singing together and it doesn’t matter what we believe because we’re all singing to God.”

I guess Peggy never read what the late LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie wrote:

“The gods of Christendom…are gods who were created by men in the creeds of an apostate people. There is little profit or peace in serving them, and certainly there is no salvation available through them” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, page 545).”And virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ…” (Mormon Doctrine, page 269).

My question for Peggy: To which God were you all singing?

Posted in Christianity, God the Father, Great Apostasy, LDS Church | Tagged , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Faithful Mormons Respond to News of Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

ShockWavesShock waves continue to move across the globe as Mormons discover their Church’s recent admissions regarding Joseph Smith’s polygamy. There is much distress evident among Mormons who have always believed (been told) that the kinds of things now disclosed in the Mormon Church essays (i.e., Joseph Smith married up to 40 women, many were quite young, some were married to other living men, Joseph lied to his legal wife, Emma, etc) were anti-Mormon lies. One former Mormon described the scene as his still-LDS family in Latin America realized the news reports were true: “mother in law crying, father in law shell shocked.”

After the tears, what do people do when they find their trusted leaders have repeatedly lied to them? How will Mormons reconcile this new information with what they have been told in the past? How will the Mormon Church react to the burden imposed on it by wounded and angry members? Tim at LDS & Evangelical Conversations proposes five possible institutional (as opposed to individual) responses. I just list them here; Tim goes into more detail on his blog — please do go read it. Tim’s list:

  1. So What?
  2. No Sex.
  3. He [Joseph] Was a Fallen Prophet.
  4. No Religion Is True, So Stick With What You Know.
  5. Repentance.

Based on past behavior, it’s likely that the Mormon Church will do its best to retain membership while protecting the institution – which means protecting the Prophet. Among faithful Mormons (individuals), it seems that members don’t get past the first two options – at least when posting publicly.

At the Facebook page “1 Million Mormons on Fb” a member asked, “What do you think about Joseph Smith having 40 wives? I just read about this [this] morning. It makes me cringe”

The 220 responses (as of this writing) are pretty revealing. Even though the information for the question came directly from the LDS Church’s website, some Mormons reacted with denial:

CD: “Be careful of things you read. I have heard of these things too but as for as I know Emma was the only wife Joseph Smith had.”

PFM: “He only had 2 [wives] while alive.”

CP: “You can’t believe everything you read, hear, or even some things you think you have seen. I have never heard such a thing…”

CHR: “Why? Why do members worry or stress over church history and sometimes the facts aren’t even correct?”

Almera Johnson v4Many Mormons acknowledged Joseph Smith’s polygamy but offered up the traditional, typical (but historically untenable) excuses:

EL: “Smith married a lot of the women he did because they did not have a husband who was a worthy member of the church so they did the sealing ceremony so that the wife would be married in the after life”

KLR: “The definition of wives in our day vs back then were different. It was said as wives because there wasn’t enough men to be priesthood holders in the home. It was for priesthood representation… most of them had lost their husbands on the trek.”

NWS: “Imagine living in those times. Imagine being a single woman with no chance of having a husband and or any children because all the men were married. So for your entire life you would have no chance to be married in this life or the next…So it seems to me the soul purpose of polygamy was to have a temple marriage and experience having children.”

WSC: “…polygamy was to grow this church population, and to help women because they had no rights, so if it was true [that Joseph Smith had 40 wives] it was to help theses women.”

MAA: “Polygamy today is typically a fruit of the flesh. However back in Joseph day remember so many lady’s husbands where killed by mobs against the lds church. And back then the law of the land was ladies need husbands or they are worthless and harlets in the eyes of others…Joseph had one wife for this life. Most if not all others where for sealing of all eternity like today’s family sealings.”

Though Tim compiled a list of possible Church responses to the current situation, many individual Mormons follow the same path in their personal reactions. Lot’s of Mormons subscribed to the first idea on Tim’s list, “So what?”

KNC: “Who cares?! Move forward in faith believing in all things and pray that your concerns will go away. Heavenly Father is in charge and that’s all we should worry about!”

EH: “Past is past. Is that still a problem?”

RCB: “I don’t care. Why does it matter?”

RP: “Doesn’t really matter. He was an instrument to bring forth the gospel in these latter days. Polygamy was NOT against the law of the land then either.”

Lot’s of Mormons also embraced the second response on Tim’s list, “No sex.”

AS: “Polygamy then is not like polygamy now. He was not having sex with all of them. It was a commandment that he faithfully obeyed even with how hard it was for him to do. It was a very tough decision for him and Emma.”

SPP: “Remember something here concerning this issue. Just because they had more than one wife doesn’t mean they were having sex with all these women.”

NDH: “I think to a certain extent polygamy was like adoption. Joseph didn’t have kids with all these wives. He took them as wives because their husbands where killed.”

LB: “I have never been convinced that he was married and had sexual relations with these women.”

HAW: “Remember back then it wasn’t to sleep with them or anything. It was to help them. With money and everything else.”

Not a single Mormon commenting on this Facebook thread suggested Joseph Smith could have been a fallen prophet. In fact, many made a point of praising Joseph and his actions:

NWB: “Can you imagine telling your spouse you had to do this? Emma hated the idea. Joseph and Emma went through such trials. I’m so grateful for their service and testimonies”

SO: “Joseph was a great man. Obedient, loving and submissive to the mind and will of the Lord.”

LS: “It doesn’t matter or change how I feel about him. He was a great Prophet then & still is.”

CL: “At least he had a big enough heart and patience to care and love all those woman but his true love will always[s] be Emma”

LFP: “I think he was the most Christ like person who has ever existed”

Talk_to_the_HandFinally, many Mormons did not try to make sense of Joseph Smith’s polygamy/polyandry, nor did they make excuses. For them, it’s all about personal testimony:

JACB: “I think it boils down to having FAITH in the Lord Jesus that he knew what was best for those people at the time. I am 99% sure that Joseph Smith and others would not have done it otherwise. Again, I just want to say it has everything to do with FAITH.”

LC: “We are like little children and Heavenly Father is an adult. Just like parents give instructions to children they don’t understand or agree with so it is with commandments. In 1000 years from now it will make perfect sense because we’ll be different people.”

KM: “We cant judge. We’ve never walked in Josephs shoes. What took place is between him and h[eavenly]f[ather]. What matters is if the holy ghost confirms to us the church is true.”

SS: “Anything that the Lord commands, no matter what it is…doesn’t bother me. We just need 2 have faith & trust that there is a reason 4 all things.”

CSC: “Really? Why are we focusing on this? He was called of God, and commanded to live that life…. If we have Faith in the Lord and his gospel, we have Faith in his plan and commands, and how we would feel about it should not matter…..”

AMM: “I don’t care about his wives I know he was the prophet of the Lord the spirit of God testify to me”

JCC: “that was a commandment from God, Joseph struggled to follow this commandment…as for myself I don’t understand why the Lord directed his servant to abide by this commandment, but it was a commandment non the less…The Lord instructs His prophets in many things that we may not understand…We need to listen to the prophet of our day and trust in the Lord and His ways”

Those of us who have ministered God’s truth among the Mormon people know that denial is the first reaction a Mormon will exhibit when faced with painful truths. Then anger. Then excuses. Then more anger, more denial. And on it goes, often taking years before a true-believing Mormon finds the courage to begin asking questions.

On a public forum like Facebook, Mormons are careful to present a face of strong faith and testimony. But in private, things may be strikingly different — like the “mother-in-law crying and the father-in-law shell-shocked.” Don’t be fooled: despite denials, excuses and faith-promoting testimonies, the LDS Church’s revelations on Joseph Smith’s polygamy have rocked the Mormon world.

hugIn his blog post, Tim calls November 2014 a “watershed moment in the history of Mormonism.” Which way the water will ultimately flow remains to be seen, but this we know: many Mormons are feeling lost, tossed and set adrift right now.

This is Jesus’ time to shine. Just as He rescued Peter from the rough and wind-driven sea (Matthew 14:22-32), He is able to reach out and rescue those Mormons who have become aware that they are spiritually floundering. Please, friends, pray for them. May all God’s people be marked by great compassion for those Mormons who are losing their faith in the Mormon system and beginning to sink. Show them the hope they have if they but call on Jesus. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Please Lord, may it be so for the Mormon people.

Posted in Early Mormonism, Joseph Smith, LDS Church, Mormon Culture, Mormon History, Polygamy, Truth, Honesty, Prayer, and Inquiry | Tagged , , , , | 51 Comments