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 pisteuō. 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.

No comments: