Friday, 23 October 2009

Rev. Moon Sells Off Mass-Marriage to Mormons |

The Mormon franchise continues to grow.

Sun Moon University, Seoul, South Korea —The final 10,000 Moonies exchanged their marriage vows this week. The ceremony came just before Utah’s Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, prepared to take over the franchise from Rev. Moon and his three sons. Rev. Moon Sells Off Mass-Marriage to Mormons |

Monday, 19 October 2009

Why Mormons are so Misunderstood

“That’s a misconception people have about Mormonism. Actually, we believe…”

How often does this sort of thing get said every day around the world as Mormons explain their faith, on the doorstep, at open houses, in the office or over a barbecue? We read it on blog posts, internet sites, discussion forums, in Mormon magazines and we hear it in sermons from Mormon leaders at conference time. The following, from the official Mormon web site, is typical:

“Much misunderstanding about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revolves around its doctrine. The news media is increasingly asking what distinguishes the Church from other faiths, and reporters like to contrast one set of beliefs with another.” (Approaching Mormon Doctrine)

Surely, they are the most misrepresented and misunderstood people in the world. Yet the same commentary goes on to talk about the “abundant material available” to those inquiring into Mormon doctrine. Certainly there is such an abundance that even the casual inquirer will find themselves assaulted by an information overload.

January 2010 will see the publication of the third edition of The A to Z of Mormonism, an exhaustive encyclopaedia of Mormon history, key people, doctrine and praxis. It promises to “clear up many of the misconceptions held about Mormonism and its members, making it an essential reference.” (Dust Jacket)

March 2010 will see the publication of Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia This offers broad historical coverage of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, covering its historic development, important individuals, and central ideas and issues.

This on top of the long established Encyclopedia of Mormonism, a four volume work published by Macmillan in 1992. Hard copies are no longer available but the full version is available on the web.

Then there is the plethora of print, electronic and video materials, a professional newsroom, an official website, a prominent public profile, the familiar missionaries and a public relations department many would give anything to have.

Mormons are blogging like second nature, explaining, correcting, challenging and generally talking to the world about their faith, and organisations like Farms, FAIR and SHIELDS (they love acronyms) and the Mormon Wiki are more professional almost semi-official manifestations of the same thing.

So why are Mormons so misunderstood?

In a news item on the official Mormon news service the church addressed the question “What is it that people find so difficult in accepting Mormons as Christians?”

“While others have their opinions, ‘in our terms,’ President Hinckley said, ‘we worship Christ.’”

There is your answer, in those three words, “in our terms”. When they complain about being misunderstood they are effectively demanding that we call it as they insist we see it, in their terms. But we call it as we see it, in our terms. In a previous post, Why Mormons Have Problems With Jude, I wrote:

“Mormons will protest that any such argument as you present is based on the idea that Mormons are not Christians and since Mormons are Christians your argument is hollow. But this response postulates the very thing that is in contention and is yet to be demonstrated.”

Mormons assume that their protestations should be sufficient evidence of their Christian credentials, that if they say they are Christians they simply are. But Christians questioning those credentials already have a clear understanding of what makes a Christian, their own terms by which to judge, and they are not the terms of Mormonism. It is on those terms, on biblical terms, that Christians view Mormonism and regard Mormons as not Christians and it is unreasonable that Mormons should try and dictate terms.

When we “believe” it is natural that we should become comfortable with those fundamentals that inform our faith and our lives but it is the cardinal error of true fundamentalist believers to become so familiar and easy with their faith that they believe it is self-evidently true. Such believers talk about what they “know” rather than what they “believe”, what they understand rather than where they put their trust, of gnosis rather than pisteuĊ. Such absolute certainty seems unassailable and those who question it are considered obtuse, even disingenuous.

Mormons “know” their church is true and that they are Christians “in their terms” and so cannot comprehend how anyone might doubt that claim, much less have completely different terms by which they judge these things. But the argument of ministries to Mormons is that, on our terms, we believe that Mormonism yet has a case to answer.

John Ruskin wrote:

“The greatest thing a human being ever does in this world is to see something and to tell what it saw in a plain way”

We see Mormonism and tell what we see “in our terms”, and if it isn’t the greatest thing we do we try and tell it plainly and, according to Ruskin, no human being can do more.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Mormon “Gordian Knot”

Is the Book of Mormon true? Who knows! Were there such people as Nephites and Lamanites? It’s anybody’s guess! Did Israelites migrate to the Americas from Jerusalem? It is a vexed question. At least a growing number of Mormons seem to think so. A conference talk by apostle Jeffrey Holland has provoked a storm of speculation about the official attitude to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

“When Elder Holland delivered his stinging rebuke to Book of Mormon critics in his General Conference address last Sunday, reactions ranged from woots” and “double woots” by literalist believers of the Book of Mormon, to disappointment by those who felt Elder Holland was backtracking on his prior statement that Church members who don’t believe the traditional story of its origins should not be considered “unacceptable . . . as a Latter-day Saint if [they] can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.” However, after listening carefully to Elder Holland’s address again, I think both camps might be mistaken about what Elder Holland was intending to say, particularly with regard to the “Inspired Fiction” theory of the Book of Mormon.”

Inspired Fiction? Hmm. A thoughtful account of this theory can be found at Mormon Matters. In summary, some Mormons have so come to recognise the insuperable difficulties presented by the Book of Mormon that they have come up with an alternative explanation of its nature and purpose. Given the absence of archaeological evidence, the implausibility of its provenance and the growing evidence against Mormon claims for it that they have hit upon the idea that it is a sort of allegory; a work of fiction that conveys eternal truths.

The article at Mormon Matters gives a very good account of this idea and the speculation surrounding it but here is the problem. These days Mormons seem to be endlessly speculating about such things; might God have meant this, or that, or something else? But aren’t Mormons supposed to have prophets that make such speculation redundant? If the Book of Mormon is Inspired Fiction, more allegory than history, what does that tell us about Joseph Smith who taught that it was history?

The Mormon Church is founded on the scathing criticism of Christendom for indulging in such speculation. If speculation is the problem, they argue, then prophets are the answer; so what’s the problem? That some Mormons can feel comfortable in thinking that an apostle and prophet of the Mormon Church allows for their wild speculations should prove worrying. But today’s Mormon Church seems increasingly broad and tolerant of dissent. Bruce R McConkie would turn in his grave.

Did Elder Holland Denounce or Carefully Avoid the “Inspired Fiction” Theory? at Mormon Matters

Friday, 9 October 2009

Why Mormons Have problems with Jude

How often have you set out to argue your case for your Christian faith with a Mormon only to be met by a determination on their part to maintain what they regard a civilised detachment, insisting they don’t want to be contentious? You expect at least a lively discussion, for your Mormon friend to give a good account of his/her faith, but they imperiously declare that they don’t engage in such dubious and uncharitable bickering.

They quote the late Krister Stendahl, (1921-April 2008) one time Bishop of Stockholm and renowned religious pluralist, who said that when you are trying to understand another religion, don’t compare your best with their worst. Of course, in quoting him like this, they are doing that very thing, comparing their admirable determination to stay out of it with your unfortunate propensity to argue.

Mormons have a real problem with Jude. Jude instructs Christians to "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3) But Mormons confuse contending for the faith with being contentious, arguing your case with being argumentative. You are left staring incredulously as the Mormon runs every time to the protection of "contention is of the devil. I would never drag down your church!"

This way the actual issues that stand between Mormons and Christians (and they are legion) never actually get addressed. Not least the fact that the Mormon Church is built on a claim that specifically “tears down” other churches (Joseph Smith History, 1:19)

Jude wrote, "Contend for the faith" and if today's Mormons can't bring themselves to defend their beliefs and contend for their faith they are actually being unbiblical. Mormons will protest that any such argument as you present is based on the idea that Mormons are not Christians and since Mormons are Christians your argument is hollow. But this response postulates the very thing that is in contention and is yet to be demonstrated. Their view is based on the hubristic assumption that what Mormons believe is true beyond doubt or revision, is not there to be questioned but received gratefully, and therefore anyone questioning Mormonism is misled, mischievous or plain wicked

Ultimately it excuses the Mormon from the biblical injunctions to "contend for the faith" and "go into all the world telling the good news". The refusal to engage is hard-hearted because it says in effect, "I ‘know it’s true’ and if you don't believe it, tough luck." You may be a soul to win but because you come up with good questions and won't just roll over and express your undying admiration for all things Mormon no one will contend for your soul. So it’s the Terrestrial Kingdom for you.

A Mormon will cite the words of Jesus, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Mt.7:1). However, the idea that we should not judge is unbiblical in respect to the words of Jude. Even Paul urged his readers to "judge for yourself what I say" (1 Co.10:14) and the saints of Berea are commended as noble for "examining the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11) Proverbs counsels us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Pro.31:8-9) (What about the spiritual poor and needy)

The injunction from the Lord that we should not judge is a warning to not put ourselves in the place of God as ultimate judge. It does not condone the strange idea that we are not to use wise judgement. Scripture counsels us to judge wisely in doctrine and practice, in faith and action. We judge what company we keep, what we believe and what we reject as untrue, how we respond to the needs of others and who we trust. And James, so beloved of Mormons, wrote a whole letter about wisdom and sound judgement in how we conduct ourselves and live out our faith (Js.1:5 has nothing to do with finding truth but with the wise application of the truth we have. See how he develops his argument in Js.3:17)

Many Mormons are raised in almost entirely Mormon communities and many others come under no other influence. Until they serve a mission, or venture onto the Internet for the first time, or engage in this discussion they are so keen to avoid they never hear any other argument. They are drilled with these ideas by their families and church leaders who will shake their heads in regret more than anger that muddle-headed Christians, influenced by anti-Mormon elements, still misunderstand Mormonism and would rather contend than act in the grace so clearly taught in the Bible. But Jude wrote that we should “Contend for the faith.”

Jesus said that if we love our friends we only do what the heathens do. It seems to me that Mormons only want to love their friends and only want to keep company with those who love them back. But Jude said that we should contend for the faith; perhaps because he felt he had a faith worth contending for and because there are souls out there worth the battle.

Note: You may ask how a man like Krister Stendahl, Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm, religious pluralist, ecumenical and gay rights activist and champion of women’s ordination, came to be a champion for the anti-clerical, anti-gay, anti-women’s ordination and staunchly conservative Mormon Church.

It seems that in 1985 the Mormon Church met strong opposition to their building a temple in Stockholm. In a press conference Stendahl took the part of the Mormons and presented his three rules of understanding, developed in response to this crisis for Mormons. It was, then, not so much a meeting of minds but more a case of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Strange bedfellows indeed.

Stendahl’s rules are:

(1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.

(2) Don't compare your best to their worst.

(3) Leave room for "holy envy." (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)

These are very helpful as a rule of thumb and we mustn’t dismiss them as guides to conduct but:

(1) what if the adherents of the religion are deceived or, heaven forbid, deceiving? Would we have been considered wise to ask Kenneth Lay about Enron?

(2) What if direct comparisons don’t help except in the most general of terms, since generalisation is a lie. Mormons are nice people but what does that tell us?

(3) What if you find nothing to envy and much to regret about their religion? How far would investigators have got in probing the truth about Enron if they had grubbed around determined to find something to like?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Why Mormons Don’t Wear Dog Collars – Yet!

I recall, many years ago, a priesthood quorum meeting at the local Mormon Church where a discussion revolved around the question of how we could raise the profile of our church and make ourselves more visible to the wider world. We sat there lost for ideas (so much for priesthood) until one man said, “We could wear badges!”

All eyes turned on him with a mixture of scorn and pity and, with a depth of derision usually reserved for talking about the ministers of other churches, someone said sarcastically, “Oh! Why don’t we go the whole hog and walk around in dog collars?” The idea was quashed there and then and nothing more said as the culprit skulked away into the night to think about his apostate ways.

Not long afterwards we saw the first Mormon missionaries turn up wearing those badges so familiar these days. Typically, this innovation came in with no comment and no one remembered the scorn and derision that had been poured on the idea. This was different. This was at the behest of “the prophet”.

The story illustrates something that is so difficult to put across in a seminar or article; the sneering contempt in those words, “why don’t we go all the way and wear dog collars!” It wasn’t a case of “Mormons don’t do that sort of thing” but undisguised disdain and disrespect for those who do. Such contempt is a thread that runs throughout Mormonism like the writing in a stick of Blackpool rock. In barely veiled references to “men that preach for money!” and “Christians that take the easy option” Mormons informally and routinely speak contemptuously (among themselves of course) of Christian churches. Where does this self-reverential attitude come from?

It begins with the defining story of Joseph Smith who taught that all the creeds of all the churches were an abomination and all who profess those creeds corrupt (Joseph Smith History 1:19). Without this account of the Christian Churches Mormonism would be superfluous since it is claimed to be a restoration of things lost in the apostasy of those churches. It continues with the statement in the founding book of Mormonism, The Book of Mormon that the Christian churches are part of the “great and abominable church” founded by the devil and that  it slays the saints and corrupts the Bible and is the mother of abominations (1 Nephi chs.13-22)

It progresses through the statements of other Mormon leaders who proclaim that Christianity is “a sounding corrupt as hell” and an agent of the devil (John Taylor, 3rd Mormon president) and who identify the Catholic Church as a satanic organisation, the whore of Babylon, and Protestant churches as harlot daughters (Bruce R McConkie, Mormon apostle, Mormon Doctrine).

Finally, it comes via the infamous portrayal in Mormon temple ceremonies of a Christian minister being in the pay of Satan. This portion of the temple ceremony involved a dramatisation, originally played by live actors but latterly shown on film, showing a Christian minister, complete with dog collar, being summoned onto the scene by Satan who offers to pay him if he will preach “the orthodox religion” to Adam and Eve.

The minister proceeds to preach the Christian message which Adam finds “incomprehensible” and rejects in favour of the message brought by two agents from God who preach Mormonism. The conversation between Satan, the minister and Adam when I went through the temple in the 1970’s went like this:
ADAM: Who are you?

          LUCIFER: I am the God of this world.
ADAM: You, the God of this world?
LUCIFER: Yes, what do you want?
ADAM: I am looking for messengers.
LUCIFER: Oh, you want someone to preach to you. You want religion, do you? I will have preachers here presently.
(Lucifer turns his head as a sectarian minister approaches the group)
LUCIFER: Good Morning sir!
(The preacher turns and looks into the camera.)
SECTARIAN MINISTER: A fine congregation!
LUCIFER: Yes, they are a very good people. They are concerned about religion. Are you a preacher?
LUCIFER: Have you been to college and received training for the ministry?
SECTARIAN MINISTER: Certainly! A man cannot preach unless has been trained for the ministry.
LUCIFER: Do you preach the orthodox religion?
SECTARIAN MINISTER: Yes, that is what I preach.
LUCIFER: If you will preach your orthodox religion to these people, and convert them, I will pay you well.
SECTARIAN MINISTER: I will do my best.
(Lucifer guides the preacher to Adam and Eve, who stand nearby.)
LUCIFER: Here is a man who desires religion. He is very much exercised, and seems to be sincere.
(As Lucifer presents the preacher to Adam and Eve he steps back and observes the ensuing conversation. The preacher is made to sound sincere, although misguided and credulous. Adam appears humble, faithful and immovable in his determination to serve God. He is not swayed by the preacher, and is astounded by the doctrines espoused by the preacher.)
SECTARIAN MINISTER: I understand that you are inquiring after religion.
ADAM: I was calling upon Father.
SECTARIAN MINISTER: I am glad to know that you were calling upon Father. Do you believe in a God who is without body, parts, or passions; who sits on the top of a topless throne; whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere; who fills the universe, and yet is so small that he can dwell in your heart; who is surrounded by myriads of beings who have been saved by grace, not for any act of theirs, but by His good pleasure. Do you believe in such a great Being?
ADAM: I do not. I cannot comprehend such a being.
SECTARIAN MINISTER: That is the beauty of it. Perhaps you do not believe in a devil, and in that great hell, the bottomless pit, where there is a lake of fire and brimstone into which the wicked are cast, and where they are continually burning, but never consumed?
ADAM: I do not believe in any such place.
SECTARIAN MINISTER: My dear friend, I am sorry for you.
To find out more about the ceremony and its different incarnations and to hear an audio you can visit Mormon Coffee, the blog of Mormonism Research Ministry

There you will discover that this portion of the ceremony was finally removed, one of several radical changes made in 1990. Nevertheless, it defines the Mormon attitude to other churches and explains that conversation back in the early 1970’s when that minister was still routinely mocked and portrayed as a lackey of Satan.

As I have said, this is the hardest thing to put across in an article, attitudes passed from generation to generation, but it is an important insight. Another instance of it involves an encounter I had with Mormon missionaries earlier this year.

A young man of 20 approached me outside my house to talk about his religion and I told him I was a Christian. With a display of hubris that took my breath away he asked had I ever before met anyone like him who was giving up two years of his life to serve a fulltime mission. I thought of the many people I know who gave up half a lifetime to serve missions in places a good deal less comfortable and more dangerous than the second city of Wales. I answered that I had and it seemed to take the wind out of his sails for a moment.

I then told him that I had been a Mormon but had long left that church to become a Christian. He asked me why I had left and I was glad to share with him the message of grace that had won me to the Lord. This was when his whole demeanour changed and, his face contorted in a mocking sneer, he began barracking me about turning my back on “the church”. When I began to respond he positively bellowed at me, “DON’T YOU QUESTION MY AUTHORITY!” It was quite comical to see this 20 year old really believing he was an “elder” and had authority.

His companion, who had been pretty quiet throughout this exchange, I use the term ‘exchange’ loosely, at least had the good grace to shuffle his feet and look embarrassed. The young missionary then pointed imperiously at the house I had left and told me in no uncertain terms that my faith meant that I could sit at home for the rest of my life unconcerned for the lost since I had my ticket to heaven, unlike his which urged him on to go bravely to - Swansea?

You see, contempt is the attitude of the typical Mormon towards other churches and my missionary encounter confirms that it is not peculiar to older generations but colours the thinking of young Mormons coming through today to represent their church to the world.

But Mormons are so very nice, so very upstanding and responsible and of course this is true. But they still look upon Christians with that peculiar mix of pity and haughty disapproval typical of a people who know that they are God’s best and we are the rest. Perhaps one day, as with the badges, Mormons will adopt dog collars, but you can be sure that when they do they will hold in as much contempt those who don’t as they now do those who currently do.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Youth is Curable, Age Inevitable - Eventually

Two stories that caught my attention this week were the news that children born into  affluent homes today can expect to live considerably longer and the details of Michael Jackson’s autopsy.

Times Online reported:

More than half of babies born today in affluent homes are expected to live to the age of 100, based on current life expectancy trends.

Analysis of life expectancy and the quality of life in older age indicates that ageing processes can continue to be extended.

Using demographic modelling, scientists calculated that the average British child born in 2007 could expect to live to 103, while in Japan they would live to 107.

While the BBC Online reported of Michael Jackson:

His weight was in the acceptable range for a man of his height, according to the Associated Press.

But the singer, who died of a heart attack in June, had punctured arms, tattooed lips and eyebrows and suffered from lung damage and some arthritis.

Because of the influence of people like Michael Jackson, of those ubiquitous women’s magazine’s (and men’s magazines these days), and of celebrities queuing up to explain how the latest product means they haven’t any wrinkles except the one their sitting on we have fallen for the lie that we will never get old.

“Forever in blue jeans”, we are in denial and turning to Botox and surgery for appearance and drugs for comfort and to kill the pain. But it turns out that we may be older for longer. In which case we should remember that pop music was always meant to be a joke, teenagers were an unfortunate consequence of war, and maturity is meant to produce the elders of our community and not aged rockers.

We need to be reminded that it is not unusual for a fifty-year-old to need treatment for arthritis; that that irritating phase of our lives, youth, can be cured by age; that you don’t have to stay callow and irritating forever, and age should be embraced gracefully and with some style. Otherwise who will pass on wisdom to the next generation?

Babies born into affluent homes can expect to live till 103 - Times Online

Friday, 2 October 2009

Two Iranian Christian Women Still Held in Evin Prison

I know this is not a popular message in these “liberal” times when you only have to add the suffix “phobic” to a noun to instantly create a new criminal offense. I know that many people think that all we need to do is find that little spark of niceness inside, realise that “war is over if you want it…and the world will live as one” (to quote the Lennon doctrine). But here in the real world there is as much inequity as ever there was, as much violence, hatred and persecution and we forget the real threats to our freedoms at our peril.
As we rush towards secularisation with glee at our apparent freedoms from the “shackles of religion” we should remember that faith is important still to the vast majority in this world and if we really want a better world we need to fight for their rights as well. Not all religions are the same and my, Christian, religion gave us the foundations on which we have built this more equitable and fair-minded country. It saddens me that people forget the Judeo/Christian roots of our values yet rush to the defence of Islam that dances to a very different, more discriminatory drum.
Maryam and Marzieh boldly defended their faith when they appeared in an Islamic court on Aug. 8. When asked to deny their faith, they proclaimed, "We love Jesus. We will not deny our faith."
Maryam and Marzieh
Maryam and Marzieh are just two of the estimated 1 million Christians in Iran today. Many of these Christians continue to boldly proclaim and defend their faith, even as the fires of persecution grow hotter.
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