Good to hear from you.
First, a “club with which to bludgeon the faithful”? When you use the language of physical violence to caricature what I do, Allen, it doesn’t make me take you very seriously. In fact, it sounds manipulative and bullying, an implicit threat that anyone who actively opposes your church will be branded with the language of brutality. It reminds me of J. Nelson-Seawright’s comments on the abusive term “anti-Mormon”.
As for tearing down the faith of others, your comments are ironic, because your very blog post seeks to attack the belief that false beliefs should be torn down. Furthermore, your religious organization seeks to tear down others’ belief in the Trinity, in justification by grace through faith apart from works, and in the absolute ultimacy of the only God for all worlds. Mormonism calls me to, among other things, believe that my distinctive theological positions expressed in the historic creeds are an “abomination”. So we are both, at some level, attempting to tear down the faith of others (to replace it with what we think is genuine, true Christianity), except I am more forthright and assertive about it. I’m not one for passive-aggressiveness.
There is no question in my mind over whether the seeds of Mormonism’s institutional racism were planted by Protestants. Racism is only the beginning of the list of the embarrassing sins of my religious ancestors. There are worse skeletons than racism in our closet. Furthermore, you and I both come from the same rotten mom and dad, Adam and Eve. The nice thing about sola scriptura (a belief some Mormons seem to retreat to when forced to deal with things like Adam-God) is that I can discard the teachings of historic Jews and Christians when they don’t reflect (explicitly or by inference) a historical-grammatical reading of the Old or New Testament. My leaders have no more access to God than I do, and I am not bound to any one religious hierarchy. God has promised that his people are securely in his hand, but he has not promised that religious leaders who are professing Christians will never lead people astray.
Mormons, on the other hand, have been given the promise that their leaders will never lead others astray. When Mormonism touts what it calls “continuing revelation”, living prophets, living apostles, and a modern stream of prophetic counsel, it ups the ante. I can, and I do right now, unequivocally denounce and condemn what Luther said about the Jews. But Mormonism’s leaders haven’t demonstrated a willingness to stand up and unequivocally and explicitly denounce and condemn what it (“it” being the institution with various institutional channels of communication and control) has promoted, perpetuated, enforced, and acquiesced to.
When you said, “He isn’t inviting people to Christ; he is criticizing others who have already accepted such an invitation with which he disagrees”, I think about a couple of things:
- In one sense you have an imaginary Christ, a Christ who had to become a god in pre-mortality. I do not acknowledge such a Christ as existent. The Jesus Christ I pray to and directly worship has always been fully God. He never had to begin a relationship with the Father. It has been eternal. That is the Christ I call people to accept, and I have a warranted generalization (not stereotype) that Mormons have not accepted this Christ.
- MRM.org (and JesusNotJoseph.com, a forwarding domain) is largely geared toward helping people come to the Christ who was always God. It doesn’t take long before you run right into this.
- Not all religious engagement or interaction has to immediately start with an explicit invitation to Christ for it to genuinely be a part of a larger endeavor to bring people to Christ. I know plenty of ex-Mormon Christians, happy as ever, who are extremely grateful for those who first tore down their Mormon worldview (which prevented them from seeing Christ for who he is), so that they could then understand the real Christ and give their allegiance to him alone.
- You are making a loaded dichotomy between inviting and criticizing. Assuming your best intentions, Allen, I would assume that while you explicitly criticize me in your very blog post, you are also inviting me to embrace what you see as a better alternative to my actions/behavior. If your material can be both invitational and critical at the same time, then why assume anything critical from our end can’t also be invitational?
- The message of the gospel is not merely an invitation, but a call to repentance. I am not merely inviting you to sever ties with false prophets and apostles, I am also calling you to repent of your allegiances with them. I am not only inviting your Church to apologize of its past institutional racism, I am calling them to repent of it. And that would most surely bring a public apology.
- You were not a part of our evangelistic conversations that we had to hear of the unique and sufficient priesthood of Jesus Christ. If you are going to make such a sweeping generalization of the endeavor, then perhaps you should have spent some time as a silent observer close at hand.
You claim, “The critics are silent on such present-day racism, preferring to focus on events thirty years in the LDS past rather than present-day Christianity.” Without specifics, this is empty and unfair. If you’d like to name names and quote quotes, please do so. Otherwise, you’re just blowing smoke. I would readily admit to residual racism within the Bride of Christ, but it is quite another thing to say that we are unrepentant over addressing the issue. While you come up with some “present-day” examples of our unwillingness to address the issue, I’d invite you to listen to “Bearing the Image: Identity, the Work of Christ, and the Church“, by Thabiti Anyabwile.
You say it is doubtful that we would be happier if the Mormon institution apologized. If the apology was public, explicit, and unequivocal, I am sure—God as my witness—that I would be happy. I am reminded of the countercult community’s response to my April Fool’s joke, where I convinced quite a few people into thinking the Mormon Church had condemned the teachings of Kimball’s notorious The Miracle of Forgiveness and promoted a more gracious and realistic view of repentance which brings immediate and permanent forgiveness. Yeah, we got a few laughs, but at the end of the day I had caused some deep hurt in the hearts of Christian brothers and sisters in Christ. One told me, “when you pray every single day of your life for something ANYTHING to give … then have a euphoric God high and then be dropped flat … all within minutes, it was to say the least … disturbing and heart breaking.” When many of these Christians really thought that the post was the real thing, they rejoiced. People were calling the friends and their spouse, celebrating, opening up, as it were, the champagne. But then when they found out it was an April Fool’s post their hearts sank with a deep hurt and disappointment. I got some pretty painful e-mails.
At the end of the day, it is no joke to us. We really want the Church to make right the wrongs and move in an entirely different direction, toward repentance and transformation and liberation. Our hearts and prayers and tears are profoundly invested in that, and for you to flippantly attack us as hateful or disinterested in real change is hurtful and offensive—and I mean it, it’s personal. The only reason your “anti-Mormon” labels hurt and offend us is that we are so intimately close to our ex-Mormon Christian brothers and so heart-set on seeing more of our Mormon neighbors join us in worshiping the one true God for all worlds.
You end with, “Perhaps Shafovaloff would like to demonstrate his integrity by apologizing for his continued misrepresentation of LDS theology and history”, yet, unless I missed something, you apparently provide no examples of a misrepresentation. Again, specifics would be nice. So far it seems like you’re grandstanding. My main claims which I invite you to refute are as follows:
- Mormon prophets and apostles publicly promoted and perpetuated the racist exclusion of blacks from the LDS priesthood.
- This exclusion was based on the teaching that blacks were not as valiant in pre-mortality, a teaching publicly promoted and perpetuated and acquiesced to by Mormon prophets and apostles.
- Black Mormons were led to consequently believe that they could not be, in the words of Joseph Freeman, “a complete follower and servant of Jesus” until priesthood was made available to them.
- It is inaccurate and even misleading to generalize #1 and #2 as mere folklore or mere policy, as they were promoted and perpetuated by institutional channels of influence, power, and communication, and at other times acquiesced to when the leadership knew it was a prominent belief among Latter-day Saints.
- A First Presidency statement explicitly stated, “It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time… The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality…”
- Church leaders have taken the position that the ban was not wrong, and that it warranted no explicit apology.
- Church leaders have not taken a unified, public, authoritative, official, explicit, unmistakable stance acknowledging, condemning, repudiating, and apologizing for the previous institutional teaching that skin color or ethnicity are at all determined by pre-mortal valiance or lack thereof. As Margaret Young said, “Card-carrying Mormons do often believe that Blacks were fence sitters in the pre-existence and that polygamy is essential to eternal progression. Neither position has been formally repudiated by the powers that be. We have merely distanced ourselves from them.”
- Aspects and echos of the principles behind the curse of Cain teaching continue still today. At a recent BYU devotional the dean of Religious Education, Terry Ball, said, “Have you ever wondered why you were born where and when you were born? Why were you not born 500 years ago in some primitive aboriginal culture in some isolated corner of the world? Is the timing and placing of our birth capricious? For Latter-day Saints, the answer is no. Fundamental to our faith is the understanding that before we came to this earth we lived in a premortal existence with a loving Heavenly Father. We further understand that in that premortal state we had agency and that we grew and developed as we used that agency…” (“To Confirm and Inform: A Blessing of Higher Education,” March 11, 2008, BYU Devotional).
All that said, let me close with this. Consider for a moment the hypothetical where all your personal attacks are warranted, even to a degree far beyond what you have stated. Imagine that I have a swaztika tattooed on my arm and that I refer to my Mexican and African American neighbors with racial slurs. Imagine that I am entirely indifferent and callous to the racial sins of my ancestors. How does that change the truth-status of my claims about Mormonism’s state of affairs? Am I to conclude from your post that you believe the inexcusable racism of my own religious heritage somehow exempts Mormonism from issuing an institutional apology? What am I missing here? If your institution released a clear and official repudiation of and apology for the racist comments and teachings which have been promoted from Conference and even from a First Presidency statement, would you not at least break out some sparkling grape juice and celebrate and laud your leadership for their humility and integrity? Is that something you would really bemoan, or is it something you can join me (and Mormons like Darron Smith) in hoping and praying and calling for?
PS I haven’t forgotten about our earlier conversation about the hellish heavens of Mormonism, and I hope we can pick up where we left off sometime.