The blind man, now healed, hugging Christ in a gesture of gratitude.

by Michael Flournoy
On August 14, 2017, an article entitled, “A Message to the Most Ardent Critic of the Mormon Church” was posted by Ben Arkell on his blog “Mormon Light”. This faith-promoting “masterpiece” is about a two-minute read, and it focuses on the experience of dropping sons and daughters off at the Missionary Training Center.

He gives a second-hand experience from a Mormon who shared his testimony from the pulpit. This unnamed brother was dropping off his son and daughter to serve as missionaries for about two years.  While at the MTC, he saw other families doing the same thing.

He said, “I was completely overcome with emotion as the reality of what these families were doing set in. These families, which come from all walks of life and arrive in anything from a beat up mini-van to a $60,000 SUV, send their children off to unknown countries where they trudge through mud, eat bugs, and endure poor living conditions.”

Feeling the weight of the sacrifice being made, this Mormon wished Ex-Mormon critics were by his side so they could see what he was seeing. In this hypothetical scenario, he would tell them, “You mean to tell me these people are brainwashed? These individuals and families who in all other walks of life, in their education, in their careers, and in their communities are successful, smart, and industrious – you mean to tell me in this one area they are so ignorant and brainwashed that they could send away their sons and daughters?”

He replies, “Never. They would never do it. But the reason they do allow their children to sacrifice two years of their lives is because the gospel of Jesus Christ is true.”

Before I left the faith in 2016, I felt the same way about apostates as every other Latter-day Saint: they were deceived by Satan, they were trapped in sin, or they had just plain been offended. When they left, the devil warped them into hateful maniacs who could never leave the church alone again.

It was all fun and games until suddenly I was an apostate. I didn’t leave because I was offended or trapped in sin. I simply found something better, namely the doctrine of imputed righteousness. Nevertheless, I have been accused of intellectualizing my way out of the church. One woman had the audacity to tell me I’d left for the enticing of an easier path.

I wish sometimes that ardent followers of Mormonism could stand by my side and see what I see in the Ex-Mormon community. There are people from all walks of life, driving anything from a mini-van to an SUV, who have left the church. Their stories are far more diverse than you would think. I see people leaving all the time, and the weight of their sacrifice hangs heavy on my heart.

It takes a lot to leave a religious system that means everything to you. I know people who have lost everything meaningful in their lives because they left the faith, and yet they are accused of taking the easy way out.

In all fairness, I understand what the author is getting at. I was a Mormon missionary myself. I’ve had all the same experiences and the same testimony. It’s not like I woke up one morning and mists of darkness covered those feelings up. I walked away with them intact, and it was excruciating. So why did I do it? Like so many others, I was compelled to follow my conscience and take up the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

I want to ask ardent followers of the LDS church, “You mean to tell me these people are brainwashed? These individuals and families who in all other walks of life, in their education, in their careers, and in their communities are successful, smart, and industrious – you mean to tell me in this one area they are so deceived and brainwashed that they could leave the most important thing in their lives behind?”

Never, they could never do it. The reason they do is that they discover the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not true.

A Response to Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s “Behold the Man” 2018 Easter Sunday Address

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf speaking on Easter Sunday at the April 2018 General Conference.
(click image to watch the full address)

by Fred W. Anson & Michael Flournoy
For me, Fred, every General Conference there’s always one speaker that I always look forward to hearing from, Dieter F. Uchtdorf. To say that he’s my favorite Mormon Leader is an understatement. In fact, I once offended an entire Internet group by suggesting that all the other Mormon leaders with seniority in front of him should choose the right by stepping aside and letting him assume his clearly rightful place as the President of the LDS Church. The non-Mormons were offended that I would implicitly endorse the LDS system of church governance and the Mormons were offended that I would suggest that their system is anything less than ideal. Toes stepped on all around. Well done, Fred!

My enthusiasm is due to what I see as his clear focus on Jesus Christ and His redeeming grace above all else. In my opinion, if there is any voice in General Conference that can be counted on to exalt Jesus it is Dieter F. Uchtdorf. So you can imagine my excitement when there was a buzz on Facebook that in his Spring 2018 General Conference – on Easter Sunday, no less – address Elder Uchtdorf, had preached the clear, pure, gospel of the Bible. And we can see why they would come to that conclusion when words like this are spoken:

To find the most important day in history, we must go back to that evening almost 2,000 years ago in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus Christ knelt in intense prayer and offered Himself as a ransom for our sins. It was during this great and infinite sacrifice of unparalleled suffering in both body and spirit that Jesus Christ, even God, bled at every pore. Out of perfect love, He gave all that we might receive all. His supernal sacrifice, difficult to comprehend, to be felt only with all our heart and mind, reminds us of the universal debt of gratitude we owe Christ for His divine gift…

Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins.

All of them.

On that most important day in history, Jesus the Christ opened the gates of death and cast aside the barriers that prevented us from passing into the holy and hallowed halls of everlasting life. Because of our Lord and Savior, you and I are granted a most precious and priceless gift—regardless of our past, we can repent and follow the path that leads to celestial light and glory, surrounded by the faithful children of Heavenly Father.

Because of Jesus Christ, we will rise from the despair of death and embrace those we love, shedding tears of overwhelming joy and overflowing gratitude. Because of Jesus Christ, we will exist as eternal beings, worlds without end.

Because of Jesus the Christ, our sins can not only be erased; they can be forgotten.

We can become purified and exalted.

Holy.
(Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Behold the Man!” Spring 2018 General Conference)

But friends, there are some real problems here! For a start, not only does the Bible affirm that the atonement took place on the cross, not the Garden of Gethsemane, so does the Book of Mormon:

“And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world”
— 1 Nephi 11:33

“Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world”
— 3 Nephi 11:14

And there’s a good reason for this, though the difference between Gethsemane and Golgotha might appear to be a trivial technicality, it underscores the vast differences between orthodox Biblical Christianity and Mormonism. By situating it at Golgotha, mainstream Christianity locates the atonement in the sacrifice of Christ; by situating it in Gethsemane, Mormons locate the atonement in the obedience of the believer.

It’s the difference between grace and works. On the one hand, there is the truly finished work that the believer looks to in faith; and on the other, there is the completed demonstration that the believer aspires to recreate (albeit metaphorically). In the latter, Christ might show the way, but he stops short of becoming the way, thus the believer is thrust back on his own efforts to secure the goal. As Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker noted, Mormonism is more about attainment than atonement, (Adam Gopnik, “I, Nephi: Mormonism and its Meanings”; The New Yorker, August 13, 2012). But such a focus denies the Christ-centered redemption narrative that’s at the very core of the gospel message and so rightly cherished by Christians the world over.

Further, and in the end, Elder Uchtdorf shifts the focus of his address off of the exaltation and glory of Jesus Christ and places it squarely on what Christ can do for us:

So, when you ponder the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, what do you see?

Those who find a way to truly behold the Man find the doorway to life’s greatest joys and the balm to life’s most demanding despairs.

So, when you are encompassed by sorrows and grief, behold the Man.

When you feel lost or forgotten, behold the Man.

When you are despairing, deserted, doubting, damaged, or defeated, behold the Man.

He will comfort you.

He will heal you and give meaning to your journey. He will pour out His Spirit and fill your heart with exceeding joy.

He gives “power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.”

When we truly behold the Man, we learn of Him and seek to align our lives with Him. We repent and strive to refine our natures and daily grow a little closer to Him. We trust Him. We show our love for Him by keeping His commandments and by living up to our sacred covenants.

In other words, we become His disciples…

My beloved brothers and sisters, I testify that the most important day in the history of mankind was the day when Jesus Christ, the living Son of God, won the victory over death and sin for all of God’s children. And the most important day in your life and mine is the day when we learn to “behold the man”; when we see Him for who He truly is; when we partake with all our heart and mind of His atoning power; when with renewed enthusiasm and strength, we commit to follow Him. May that be a day that recurs over and over again throughout our lives.

I leave you my testimony and blessing that as we “behold the man,” we will find meaning, joy, and peace in this earthly life and eternal life in the world to come. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.
(Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Behold the Man!” Spring 2018 General Conference)

So, in the end, the message preached here is that when we “behold the man”, Jesus Christ becomes something of a magic talisman or cosmic “turbo button” that we can push to get past our problems and press on to both temporal and eternal achievement and accomplishment. In such a scenario God gets pushed right off of the throne of our lives so we can sit down.

This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, this is the gospel of I, me, mine. It is a false gospel.

Further, despite Elder Uchtdorf’s use of the scripture elsewhere in his address, this is not, “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26), this is the gospel of “It’s all about what Christ can do for me!” And, speaking as those with Mormon family and friends, it is this false gospel that breaks our heart.

For you see, the gospel isn’t about us, it’s about Jesus. Perhaps another German said it best when he so plainly and directly stated, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” And his words are even more powerful and plainer when considered in their full context:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost of Discipleship”, p.71, Nook edition)

A gospel than culminates in the garden rips the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ out of it. Mr. Bonhoeffer, might not be the Bible but he most certainly understood this. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
— Galatians 2:20&21 KJV

Or, better yet, consider the words of Jesus Himself:

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”
— Luke 9:23&24 KJV

Garden theology and cross theology are completely at odds. The disciples were with Jesus in the garden. They were admonished to watch and pray. An angel came and strengthened Jesus. If the atonement happened in the garden, then Jesus was incapable of ransoming mankind alone. He needed help. This gospel makes grace an enabling power instead of a saving power, and salvation becomes a joint effort.

Cross theology has Jesus suffering alone. He even calls out saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” No one is present to strengthen the Savior or lighten his load. The burden is His, and His alone to carry. This gospel crowns him King of the Jews, the author, and finisher of our faith, and the sole rescuer of men.

Garden theology is a gospel of never-ending striving. In Mormonism, Jesus bled from every pore as He took the sins of mankind, but even after that he said to Peter, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11)  Speaking in the future tense, he admitted he yet had a cup to drink. He describes this bitter cup in 3 Nephi 11:11 as “taking upon me the sins of the world.” Mormonism, therefore, is a theology of never truly having salvation. Just as Jesus still had to drink the bitter cup, Mormons still have to keep the commandments and endure to the end. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, and salvation is always something you aim for but can never possess.

Cross theology has Jesus definitively saying, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) It is a gospel of peace and rest, a gospel of trust, knowing that God has our salvation firmly in His grip. Salvation is a gift, it’s something believers can possess and be assured of in mortality.

Perhaps most dangerous of all, garden theology makes Jesus into a mere man. In the garden, he says to God, “Not my will, but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42) This is a theology where men are on a journey to become Gods themselves, and Jesus is on the same path trying to align Himself with the Father. In this vein, in the aforementioned 3 Nephi 11:11 passage Christ even goes so far as to say, “I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning” which implies that the atonement was a contest of his will v. Heavenly Father’s. Cross theology, in contrast, has Jesus in full submission to the Father. The wills are aligned. Jesus even says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34). In this theology, Jesus is already one with the Father. He is already fully God.

I, Michael, always thought it was amazing how Pontious Pilate could stare Jesus, the author of all truth, in the face and say, “What is truth?” It was this utter blindness that led him to say, “Behold the man!” What irony, that Pilate said these words, and nearly 2,000 years later they were repeated multiple times by a Mormon “pilot”. The true gospel of the cross does not inspire us to behold the man, it inspires us to behold the Son of God!

Garden theology teaches that God’s work is to exalt mankind. Everything is filtered through this lens. Every trial we go through is about our growth and learning. In cross theology, everything is for the glory of God alone. We are bidden to take up our cross, for only in losing our life can it be found – a paradox that requires a total and complete trust in God alone, even when the trial makes no sense to us or others. Thus, the gospel isn’t about personal achievement, it isn’t about self-actualization, it isn’t even about achieving personal perfection, it’s about dying to self, and being resurrected to live in Christ (see Romans 6:1-11). If the atonement culminates by simply achieving a life of self-glorifying obedience to religious laws and ordinances, then what need is there for the cross at all?

Friend, the gospel isn’t about using Christ as an enabling power, or a benevolent older brother to guide your way. The gospel isn’t about Jesus punching your E-ticket so you can be resurrected and spend eternity with your family and friends. The gospel isn’t about living a happy, self-actualized, prosperous life in the here and now. The gospel is about dying. The gospel can’t be found in the garden. Nor is it found in choosing the right. The gospel is found on Golgotha. On a cross. In a tomb. In death. The gospel is about dying to self and being raised to live with Christ in His righteousness. The gospel is Jesus Christ. He is the beginning and He is the end. As C.S. Lewis, said well,

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
(C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics)“, pp. 226-227, Kindle edition)

Friend, He calls to you, to me, to us, and to anyone who will listen, “Come and die.”


dvd-god_makersReviewed by Fred W. Anson

Title: The Godmakers
Authors: Ed Decker and Dave Hunt
Studio for film: Jeremiah Films
Publisher for book: Harvest House Publishers
Genre: Non-fiction, Religion
Year film released: 1982
Year book Published: 1983
Film Length: 56:00
Book length: 304-pages
Film Price: $21.99 DVD
Book Price: $14.99 Kindle, $14.99 Paper

The review that follows was originally published on the Amazon website on April 23, 2008. At the time I thought that the public had become sufficiently informed about the dubious tactics of Ed Decker to not use him as a resource. This is the man who respected Mormon Studies scholar, Jerald Tanner publicly criticized for his “ability to make up stories,” “his ability to fabricate evidence to support his own opinions,” and choosing to follow “the path of sensationalism in his work on Mormonism.”1

But in the intervening years, I have still seen some citing his work as if it’s respected and credible. It’s neither. If I were to rewrite this review today, I would be far more direct and to the pointed than I was then. Stated plainly, if you want to instantly discredit yourself with anyone in Mormon Studies in general, or with Latter-day Saints in particular, simply cite or use content from the Godmakers film or book. That said, here is that now, decade old and aging review for your consideration. — Fred W. Anson

Consider the Time
To fully appreciate this work you have to first put it in its 1982 historical context. The early-1980’s have come to be considered a transition period by many Church Historians. The Jesus Movement of the 1970’s was maturing as was the Charismatic Movement of the same decade. Both Movements were mellowing and casting off some of the excesses of their infancies. At the same time, the Vineyard movement had exploded on the scene bringing some new infant excesses to both challenges and refine the Church Universal. At the same time, traditional mainline denomination membership was beginning to see the first signs of decline as an interest in the more intimate, demonstrative worship of the Charismatic/Vineyard Churches and a unifying “Evangelical” Theology was diminishing denominational uniqueness.

However, some of the infantile excesses of all the above lingered. Specifically, the sensationalism of the “Bible Thumping” past was still in vogue. The memory of such best selling books as “The Late Great Planet Earth” (1970) and “The Kingdom of the Cults” (1965) dominated Christian Publishing. The popular Apocalyptic “End Times” preaching of Chuck Smith, Hal Lindsey and others were pulling in huge crowds and influenced many. On the air, TBN, PTL, “The 700 Club” and a whole host of radio personalities boasted audiences of literally millions (remember the Baaker and Swaggert scandals had not hit yet).

Finally, the boomers were hitting their late 20’s and early 30’s – looking back an awkward age where you know just enough to be dangerous and not nearly enough to be truly wise. As a result, I recall that the spirit of the age was still very much “in your face”, idealistic and rather judgmental.

On the popular culture side, shows like “That’s Incredible!” were all the rage.

In a nutshell, sensationalism was “in”, “good scholarship” and “reason” was viewed skeptically. In fact, the scholarship of the day could generally best be described as “good enough, is good enough!” And please remember this was in an age where Personal Computers were only available to a small segment of the population of and the Internet was only known in government and academic settings. “Nuanced” was a word that you looked up in the dictionary rather than lived – everything was either “black or white” or “us versus them”. Not a dark age, just another human age and one that contains many lessons for us today.

Ed Decker and Dave Hunter (who co-authored the Godmakers script and then the book with Ed Decker) were unquestionably influenced by all this (just read Hunt’s books from this period compared to his more recent work) and, therefore, produced two works on Mormonism that are sensational, abrasive, and lacking in a high degree of scholarship. Yes, they overstate things A LOT. Yes, they miss nuance again, again, and again. Yes, they exaggerate. Yes, their writing and film documentary style of the film can best be described as “National Enquirer”. Yes, they are often unkind, insensitive – even downright mean.

Yes! Yes! Yes! All true.

However, for the time it could have been A LOT worse! (Trust me on this one – I was there)

Is this the place I would go to get educated about Mormonism? Not now, but it was back then and I benefited greatly from the quick overview despite its horribly flawed style. And the meta-message that they brought is objectively and empirically true despite those horrible flaws – Mormonism is better off avoided if you’re not in it and exited if you are. Unfortunately, the style that that message was delivered in is rather ugly and unappealing.2

So this is another sad case where bad judgment overshadows good intention and reasonable content. Both Mormon and non-Mormon alike deserved better. As Mormon Studies Scholar, Carl Mosser summed things up so well years later:

Decker’s name alone is enough to discredit a book. Decker is infamous for the mistakes he makes describing Mormon doctrine, the sensationalist claims he has made about Mormon rituals and leaders, and the generally uncharitable attitude with which he conducts his ministry. Most Mormons are inoculated against anything with Decker’s name on it. I think it is foolish to give Decker’s materials to Mormons and unwise to give them to Christians to read. The Mormon will be repulsed and hardened, the Christian misinformed.3

Personally, I prefer the following “starter” books on Mormonism and would steer the reader to them and away from the Godmakers film or book, or anything with Ed Decker’s name on it:

Mormon America – Rev. Ed.: The Power and the Promise
Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints
Mormonism 101 for Teens: The Religion of the Latter-day Saints Simplified
The Changing World of Mormonism (FREE online edition)
The Changing World of Mormonism (FREE Adobe Acrobat eBook edition)
The Changing World of Mormonism (Paper edition)

And if you’re looking for something in a film-format instead:

The Mormons: Who They Are And What They Believe
The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon
The Mormons (PBS documentary)
The Bible v. Joseph Smith
DNA v. The Book of Mormon
The Lost Book of Abraham: Investigating a Remarkable Mormon Claim

And last, but certainly, not least, if you’re interested in exactly how and where Ed Decker misrepresents Mormonism in the Godmakers film, Evangelical Apologist Rob Sivulka’s concise review contains point-by-point specifics. Click here to read his analysis,

(click to zoom)

NOTES
1 Jerald Tanner, “Serious Charges against the Tanners: Are the Tanners Demonized Agents of the Mormon Church?” (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1991), pp.32, 29.

2 As Utah Pastor Jason Wallace recently said so well of Decker’s methods:

One of my great frustrations with Ed Decker was that he tried to make Mormonism worse than it was. Just because it is an antichristian cult doesn’t mean we get to accuse its prophet of homosexual orgies (The Godmakers 2). “Pay lay el” did not mean “we praise thee, Satan.” I seriously doubt that Mormon spires were meant to impale Jesus on his return. When Decker’s exaggerations were challenged by Christians, he condemned them as defenders of Mormonism. I applaud the Tanners that they did defend the Mormon church against lies, even while standing clearly against its lies. Decker’s exaggerations actually made it easier for Mormons to ignore the truth. The Tanners caught flack, but their love of truth meant they had to stand against Decker’s slanders.
(Pastor Jason Wallace on Facebook, January 8, 2018

3 Carl Mosser, cited on “Saint Alive in Jesus”, Apologetics Index website from a comment in the AR-talk mailing list, February 28, 1998. 

(This article has been lightly revised, expanded, and updated for republication in this format)

BACK TO TOP

“#37 Even though it’s like punching Mormons in the face, you take great delight in over the top polemic and pejorative rhetoric that alienates and repels Mormons rather than drawing them to the Good News of the Gospel.”

by Michael Flournoy and Fred W. Anson
It’s the most frustrating thing imaginable, you’re challenging Mormon thought and preaching the truth, and you’re labeled an “Anti-Mormon”. In just four syllables you are discredited as a bigot and a deceiver who can’t leave the church alone. It’s annoying to be called Anti-Mormon when you actually like the LDS people, and you weren’t engaging in ad hominem attacks or being snarky.

On the flip side, Anti-Mormonism is a real thing, and it isn’t pretty. In fact, we believe Anti-Mormonism bolsters the testimony of Latter-day Saints. Why you ask? Mormons believe they are persecuted because they have the truth, and anytime they are treated unfairly in a discussion they think, “This proves I’m right.” It is the responsibility of Christians engaged in Mormon studies to know where the line is and avoid Anti-Mormonism like the plague. The following list contains some behaviors that we’ve seen Anti-Mormons engage in over the years. It can be used as a self-diagnostic as well as a set of things to avoid if you don’t want to be written off, dismissed, and ignored as “just another Anti!” by your Mormon friends and family.

You Might be an Anti-Mormon if…

  1. You can’t say anything good about the LDS Church even though it has some praiseworthy qualities and attributes.
  2. You weaponize freshly minted Ex-Mormons and encourage them to attack the Mormon Church rather than letting them heal and fully transition out of it first.
  3. You’re a snarky Anti-Mormon meme-generating machine.
  4. You’ll stay in Internet groups where Mormon Bashing is allowed – even encouraged – rather than voting with your feet by leaving.
  5. You divorce your True Believing Mormon (TBM) husband or wife despite the Apostle Paul’s clear directive to not divorce an unbelieving spouse (see 1 Corinthians 7:12-16).
  6. You get angry whenever your TBM family and friends try to proselytize you, then whine because they get angry when you try to proselytize them.
  7. You get dizzy reading the Deseret News because your eyes are constantly rolling.
  8. You put your life on hold twice a year so you can watch General Conference live and find fault with it in real time.
  9. You only refer to Mormon Apologists by their Ex-Mormon culture nicknames (“Tapirman”, “Crazy Gordon”, “Michael R. Ass”, etc.) thereby dehumanizing and marginalizing them socially and psychologically.
  10. You speak in Ex-Mormonese rather than English. (“TSCC”, “LD$”, “MORmONism”, “Joseph’s Myth”, “The Profit”, “The Morg”, “God’s Only True Cult”, etc., etc.)
  11. You present Ed Decker’s “The Godmakers” in part or in full as an accurate depiction of what today’s Mormon Church teaches and believes.
  12. You present Jack Chick’s “The Visitors” and “The Enchanter” tracts as “balanced and true” depictions of Mormon doctrine, culture, and history.
  13. You think that the best (and possibly the only) biblical models for dealing with Mormons are Elijah on Mount Carmel and Christ Cleansing the Temple.
  14. You think that “The ends justify the means” even if that means exaggeration or outright lying about Mormon beliefs and practices.
  15. Your Social Media content is designed to provoke conflict rather than conversation with Latter-day Saints.
  16. You have to win the argument. Period.
  17. You won’t apologize to Latter-day Saints when you err with them lest you show weakness or acknowledge the possibility that you could be wrong.
  18. You stand idly by while others berate, abuse, and bully Mormons publicly.
  19. You refuse to learn, understand, appreciate, and respect Mormon Culture and smugly look down your nose at those who do.
  20. You belittle and mock all aspects of Mormonism – often in ugly, bigoted, and condescending ways.
  21. You take the biblical mandates to treat those in error with grace, gentleness, and respect (see 1 Peter 3:15, 2 Timothy 2:25, and Colossians 4:6) as optional or just suggestions.
  22. You treat other Christians who aren’t as vitriolic, rude, and insensitive to Mormons as you are with contempt.
  23. You take God’s place by judging and declaring the eternal fate of all Mormons simply based on the fact that they’re Mormon before you even know the particulars of their individual situations and personal beliefs.
  24. You go out of your way to offend Mormons with things that have little to nothing to do with the biblical gospel.
  25. You will fight to the death over secondary issues where Biblical Christianity and Mormonism disagree.
  26. You can’t say anything good about Joseph Smith.
  27. You can’t say anything good about Mormon Leaders despite their achievements and accomplishments outside of Mormonism or despite their role as positive agents of change within Mormonism.
  28. You chronically engage in over the top, hyperbolic language regarding Mormons and Mormonism.
  29. You deliberately misrepresent what Mormons believe and do in order to enhance your arguments.
  30. Even when your facts are straight your tone is shrill, condemning, and judgmental.
  31. You lobby for treating Mormons differently even if it’s unjust, unfair, uncivil, or downright bigoted.
  32. The majority of sources that you read and cite from in your work are Anti-Mormon sources that engage in all or some of the above tactics.
  33. You refuse to read and cite from Mormon friendly sources for a whole litany of reasons even when they are the most effective sources in persuading Mormons of how intellectually and spiritually bankrupt modern Mormonism is.
  34. You never give Mormons the benefit of the doubt when discussing theology with them.
  35. You make a point of telling Mormons they are in a cult.
  36. You consistently tell Mormons what they believe instead of asking them what they actually believe.
  37. Even though it’s like punching Mormons in the face, you take great delight in over the top polemic and pejorative rhetoric that alienates and repels Mormons rather than drawing them to the Good News of the Gospel.
  38. You can’t speak about your own faith without bringing up and putting down Mormonism in some form or fashion.
  39. If someone points out to you that you’re more in “The Church of Anti-Mormonism” than Christ’s Church you say, “Amen, to that!”
  40. You go into every engagement with Mormons wondering how you can triumph over them and set them straight rather than how you can love and serve them.
  41. You don’t think that you have anything to learn from Mormons or Mormonism since, “It’s all wrong, and there’s nothing good or true in it!”
  42. The thought of deceased Mormons realizing they were wrong and are being sent to hell amuses and/or pleases you.
  43. You’re an Ex-Mormon who rushed right into “ministry” rather than taking the time and effort to heal from Mormonism and fully transition into mainstream, Biblical Christianity first. That “ministry”, of course, involves relentlessly attacking the Mormon Church rather than taking up your cross and dying to yourself daily as Christ said is our first call as His disciples.
  44. Your stance is that even if the Mormon Church reforms and becomes biblically orthodox it should still be destroyed.
  45. You criticize other Christians who engage in the opposite of the above set of behaviors calling them “sissies” (or worse).
  46. You hate the Mormon Church more than you love Jesus.

The last one is probably the most important one – and the most telling one of all because it really speaks to one’s heart condition. Question: Who are you doing this for, yourself, the Mormon, or Christ? As Pro Football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers so famously said, “The Lord is first, my friends are second, and I am third.” Can you say the same friend? Can you call Mormons “friends”? Can you call them “victims of Mormonism”? Or can you only call them “enemy”? If it’s the last one then please do us all a favor: Get out of Mormon Studies until you call them the other two.

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by Michael Flournoy
I sat around feeling dazed after two Mormon missionaries left my house one evening. The conversation had not gone as well as I would have liked. Despite being an Ex-Mormon apologist, I had been outclassed during the discussion.

As I replayed the night’s dialogue in my head, it became clear why I had struggled. I had allowed the two Elders to go on the attack when I should have been pressuring them. Their victory had been assured in the first few moments of the discussion. Since I failed to pin them down, they were able to engage in guerrilla warfare. This made it impossible to counter-attack, because I never knew exactly where they were coming from.

It’s been said that pinning down LDS theology is like nailing Jello to the wall, and that’s true. My new approach “The Possible Gospel”, is a way to pin a Latter-day Saint down so you can focus your message appropriately.

Step 1: Pin them Down
The first question you need to ask a Latter-day Saint is, “What type of righteousness do you believe gets you Eternal Life?”

The 5 types are as follows (in order from most accurate to least accurate):

Imputed Righteousness: God accredits all His righteousness to the believer up front.

Infused Righteousness: God gives His righteousness to His followers little by little as a reward for their obedience.

Joint Righteousness: The believer does his best and Christ makes up the rest.

Enabled Righteousness: Christ’s atonement enables or empowers believers to keep the commandments and obtain their own worthiness.

Self Righteousness: Righteousness can be obtained without Jesus.

As an aside, the words “saved” and “salvation” are almost worthless in this discussion. They may believe in imputed righteousness for salvation an in another righteousness for eternal life and exaltation, which are more important in their theology. You are always better off saying “exaltation” or “eternal life”.

You may need to specify that you are talking about the righteousness needed to enter the highest heaven: the Celestial Kingdom.

I don’t recommend trying this with more than one or two Mormons at a time, because different answers will complicate the process.

Also, don’t be surprised if the Latter-day Saint tries to squirm out of answering this question. Mormon do not like being pinned down. They will always want to leave some windows open to leap through if they get in a tough spot. For example, they might say, “I believe in a combination of these.”

If this happens, simply explain that the types of righteousness are exclusive to each other. Infused and imputed righteousness is God’s righteousness, joint righteousness is a combination of the two, and enabled and self-righteousness belong to the individual person. Suggest that perhaps what they believe in is joint righteousness.

The worst thing a Mormon can say is, “Maybe it’s none of those. Maybe it hasn’t been revealed yet.” If this occurs, remind the Mormon that the gospel is the means of salvation. If Mormonism is the “restored gospel” there must be a solid answer to this question.

In short, you must get the Latter-day Saint to commit to one of these answers or there is no point in continuing the discussion.

Step 2: Sink the other Boats
Once you get the Mormon to commit to one of the 5 types of righteousness, it’s time to play some Battleship. Sink the other types of righteousness until there is nothing left except the answer they picked and imputed righteousness. This is to prevent them from switching answers later in the discussion.

Refer to Step 3 to get a feel for refuting the different types of righteousness.

What’s nice about this step, is you are temporarily siding with the Mormon against these other false types of righteousness, and it’s likely they will actually help you complete this step. If they do, make sure to use their own words if they try to change positions later.

Step 3: Sink their Boat
Sinking Self Righteousness
Chance of them choosing this: Very Low
You won’t need to spend a lot of time on self-righteousness because the Mormon will agree that salvation is impossible apart from Jesus. You will want to discuss this first, as it sets the stage to sink the other types of righteousness (hint: enabled, joint, and infused righteousness are really just fancy types of self-righteousness at the end of the day).

A good verse to bring up is Galatians 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

Sinking Enabled Righteousness
Chance of them choosing this: High
I recommend using the “Impossible Gospel” approach to deal with enabled righteousness.

Start with this question: If you believe in enabled righteousness, you must be perfect. Right?”

On the off chance they say, “yes”, point to 2 Nephi 4:17-19 in The Book of Mormon. It says:

“Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.”

Note: This is a great verse to bring up at some point in the discussion even if they admit to being imperfect, because the theme of this verse “trusting God while still in sin” goes against enabled, joint, and infused righteousness.

You can pressure the Mormon and say, “Do you really believe you’re more righteous than Nephi?”

You can also point out 1 John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Of course, the Mormon will usually admit they are not perfect yet. When this happens, ask them why not. After all, if they are covered in the enabling grace of Christ, then keeping the commandments should be easy, so why do they struggle?

Sometimes Mormons will say they are getting a little better at obeying God each day. If this happens, ask for their ETA on reaching perfection.

Ask them if God will be satisfied with just improvement on judgment day when they are still in sin. Be prepared with Alma 45:16 in The Book of Mormon, which says God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.

Some more verses to hammer in the impossibility of the enabled gospel are as follows:

James 2:10: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”

2 Nephi 25:23 (Book of Mormon): “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”

Moroni 10:32 (Book of Mormon): “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind, and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.”

Note: These Book of Mormon verses are great to use if the Mormon chose joint righteousness because they promote it more than enabled righteousness.

You’ll want to explain to your LDS friend that reaching perfection so we can have grace is actually the same thing as self-righteousness, and a perfect person doesn’t need grace.

Mormons may protest and say you are twisting their scriptures, and they rely on Christ. They may argue that commandments and covenants are simply part of faith because faith is an action word and not merely belief.

If this happens, ask if the Jews felt the same way. Didn’t they believe in the law and in God? Therefore Galatians 2:21 applies to them. If righteousness comes through the law, or commandments, or LDS covenants then Christ died in vain.

Challenge the Latter-day Saint to show you a passage in scripture that calls Jesus the great Empowerer or the Enabler.

Sinking Joint Righteousness
Chance of them choosing this: High
If the Latter-day Saint chooses joint righteousness, I recommend referring them to the talk “His Grace is Sufficient”, by Brad Wilcox. Although Mr. Wilcox is LDS, he is an enemy to joint righteousness, and he refutes the idea within the first six minutes of his talk. Mormons tend to be more receptive to correction from their own people.

Start with the question, “How much do you have to do before Christ makes up the difference?”

The Mormon will usually say they have to do their best. 2 Nephi 25:23 says we are saved after all we can do, and Moroni 10:32 says we must deny ourselves of all ungodliness for Christ’s grace to suffice.

Use the Impossible Gospel argument to point out that they aren’t doing “all they can do”. Could they have spent 5 more minutes praying this morning? Could they have read 10 more minutes of scripture? Could they have spent last weekend at the temple or feeding the homeless? Do they ever indulge in self-gratification when they could be serving God?

Use the arguments in my section about enabled righteousness to show that God cannot look upon sin with allowance, and if we falter in one point we are guilty of breaking His whole law.

Ask the Mormon if we can be saved in our sins and be prepared with Alma 11:37 in The Book of Mormon that says we cannot be saved in our sins. Explain to your LDS friend that joint righteousness is synonymous with salvation in sin.

Explain further that joint righteousness is impossible. Either we are worthy by ourselves and God doesn’t need to intervene, or we are sinners, and thus in the red. If we are in the red, God is saving us in sin, and fully on His own.

Sinking Infused Righteousness
Chance of them choosing this: Medium
Most Latter-day Saints have never heard of infused righteousness, but sometimes when it’s explained to them they’ll jump on the bandwagon.

If they choose infused righteousness, build it up first. Use Philippians 3:9 to show that Paul didn’t have a righteousness of his own, but a righteousness that came from God. Explain that infused and imputed righteousness are the only two viable options.

The trouble is, even though infused righteousness has a Biblical appearance, it still has the same practical problems as the other types of righteousness. For instance, if we are having righteousness infused into us, why would we still struggle? And why would God mix His righteousness with someone who is in sin?

If you are familiar with Catholicism (they believe in infused righteousness), use some comparisons. Catholics believe in a holding place for Spirits that aren’t righteous enough, just like Mormons. Catholics believe in ongoing communion to cancel out sin and add righteousness, just like Mormons.

The dilemma with infused righteousness is it never quite gets you all the way to perfect worthiness. Eternal life is always something you strive for, but never something you achieve.

The apostle Paul dismantles infused righteousness in Romans 4:4-5:

“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

In other words, if God hands out His righteousness as a result of our obedience, that’s a wage. However, Paul stresses over and over again that grace is a gift, and it has nothing to do with our works.

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Step 4: Teach them Imputed Righteousness
At this point, the Mormon will be confused or anxious so offer them a way out. Tell them they might like imputed righteousness more than they think because it’s all over The Book of Mormon and it’s a major theme in the temple.

A Mormon likely won’t be familiar with imputed righteousness, so you’ll have to explain it a little. I do it like this:

“Imputation is kind of the opposite of amputation. Instead of having something taken off you, you’re having something put on, or accredited to you. It’s kind of like marrying a millionaire. Even if you were tens of thousands of dollars in debt before, you are now a millionaire by virtue of your spouse.

You actually do believe in it. You believe that when Jesus died, He took our sins upon Him. That’s imputation. The big difference between us, is I believe in double imputation. So not only did Jesus take the full weight of my sins, he also gave me the full weight of His righteousness when I became a believer.”

A good example of double imputation is the story of Barabbas, a guilty criminal, in the New Testament. Christ took the death penalty that Barabbas deserved, while Barabbas received the freedom that Jesus deserved.

Imputation is a major theme in LDS temples because Mormons do saving ordinances for the dead who can’t receive them. The dead do not have to physically perform any works, they just have to accept what has been done on their behalf. It is a flawless representation of imputed righteousness.

Mormons will probably push back a little by emphasizing obedience, sanctification, and repentance. Sometimes the phrase, “I believe that too,” is your best tool. This way Mormons come to realize that imputation covers all the bases that are important to them. The difference is, it provides a safety net for the believer while they are being sanctified.

Show the Mormon Moroni 10:32-33 in The Book of Mormon. The same passage that refutes joint and enabled righteousness, fits imputed righteousness perfectly. Especially verse 33 which says,

“And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.”

According to this verse, perfection comes before sanctification, and both are the result of grace and the shedding of Christ’s blood. I’ve told LDS before, “If that’s not imputed righteousness, then I don’t know what is!”

This passage in Moroni echoes Hebrews 10:14: “For by a single offering [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

The fact is imputed righteousness immediately satisfies the worthiness requirement to enter God’s presence, while allowing the believer to grow in his walk with God.

Step 5: Get out of God’s Way
This approach isn’t very flashy, and it’s not going to make anyone too defensive. You never really get to a resolution, it’s more about planting a seed and letting God grow it. Instead of attacking Mormonism, you are showing the virtues of a Biblical doctrine.

This is the belief that stole me away from Mormonism, it was the antidote to a works-based religion. Mormons say they are saved by grace, but they also believe ordinances like baptism are required to enter the Celestial Kingdom. Imputation is the missing puzzle piece that emphasizes grace and negates works and covenants.

Challenge the Latter-day Saint to study imputed righteousness. Tell them you have a testimony of the doctrine, and let them know you are available if they have questions about it.

The more a Latter-day Saint comes to embrace imputation, the more precarious their position becomes. If imputation is true, there is no requirement for temple ordinances because we already have sufficient righteousness. If imputation is true there was no need for a restoration because Christians already had the true gospel.

If imputation is true we don’t need a priesthood to seal us to God because Christ’s righteousness already does that. Simply stated, if imputation is true then Mormonism is false.

“Sinking of HMS Hood” by J.C. Schmitz-Westerholt

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“If history has shown us one thing, it’s that today’s Mormonism is tomorrow’s dustbin fodder”

by Fred W. Anson
The Church of Jesus Christ claims, “The gospel has been known throughout eternity, and its principles have been preached among men and women from their beginnings on this earth.” (Robert L. Millet, “The Eternal Gospel”, Ensign, July 1996) and “The gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine and perfect plan. It is composed of eternal, unchanging principles, laws, and ordinances which are universally applicable to every individual regardless of time, place, or circumstance. Gospel principles never change.” (Ronald E. Poelman, “The Gospel and the Church”, Ensign, November 1984).

But history tells a different tale: The Mormon gospel is temporal and constantly changing. Here’s a partial list of Mormon Doctrine, scripture, and bits and various pieces that have been left on the dustbin of history. More will follow in the articles in this ongoing, intermittent series of articles.

1) The 1830 Book of Mormon
The original 1830 edition was obsoleted by the 1837 revised edition and they’ve been changing it ever since. For a book Joseph Smith claimed to be “the most correct of any book on earth,” it is suspicious that the text has undergone nearly 4,000 changes. Most of the changes, Mormon apologists argue, are small grammatical or punctuation fixes. But consider this change between the 1830 and 1937 editions.

“… These last records … shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior … “ (Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, page 32)

“… These last records … shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior …” (Book of Mormon, 1837 edition, 1 Nephi 13:40)

The change, of course, reflects Joseph Smith’s post, Book of Mormon shift from a form of modalistic Trinitarianism to Tri-Theism. And because other changes in the 1837 were equally significant, it’s not unfair to say that as of 1837 the original 1830 Book of Mormon was displaced by a new book. Please see the Encyclopedia of Mormonism for a list of Book of Mormon editions up to to the encyclopedia’s 1992 publication date.

2) The 1833 Book of Commandments
This was intended to be a bound collection of Joseph Smith’s published revelations (which had appeared intermittently in the official church newspaper, Evening and Morning Star) as well as some previously unreleased revelations. However, before it could be completed and distributed, a mob attacked the print shop where the Book of Commandments was being printed and destroyed the printing press. This was the end of the Book of Commandments which was obsoleted by the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants. However, even though Doctrine & Covenants contained many of the same revelations there were numerous, material revisions. For example, the apostles Peter, James, and John imparting Joseph Smith Jr. with the Priesthood is in section 27 of D&C, but is missing from the Book of Commandments. Another example is this one:

“…and he has a gift to translate the book and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift.”
(Book of Commandments, 4:2)

This passage refers to Joseph Smith in the third person. However, in the re-numbered Doctrine and Covenants the same revelation reads:

“…and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.”
(Doctrine and Covenants, 5:4)

So in the revelation in the Book of Commandments Smith was only to translate the Book of Mormon and claim no other role or gifting. However, in the Doctrine & Covenants version Smith is given far greater roles, callings, and ecclesiastical power over and above simply translating the Book of Mormon. This is just a small sampling of the numerous changes between the 1833 Book of Commandments and the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. Of course, the logical question is, “Why did God change His mind on so many matters in just 2-years?”

The Lectures On Faith today: Decanonized and a stand-alone book

3) The Lectures on Faith
Approved by Common Consent in 1834, “stealth” de-canonized in 1921. From Wikipedia:

“Lectures on Faith” is a set of seven lectures on the doctrine and theology of the Latter Day Saint movement, first published as the doctrine portion of the 1835 edition of the canonical Doctrine and Covenants, but later removed from that work by both major branches of the faith [that is, the LdS Church and the RLDS Church]. The lectures were originally presented by Joseph Smith to a group of elders in a course known as the “School of the Prophets” in the early winter of 1834–35 in Kirtland, Ohio…

The LDS Church removed the lectures from the Doctrine and Covenants in the 1921 edition, with an explanation that the Lectures, “were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons”. (See Introduction, 1921 edition.) This is in contrast to the remaining pages of the original Doctrine and Covenants, which are officially recognized by nearly all Latter Day Saint denominations as divine revelation given specifically to the church.”
(“Lectures on Faith”, Wikipedia article)

4) The Journal of Discourses
The 19th Century version of today’s Ensign magazine. The Journal of Discourses was considered one of the “Standard Works” (scripture) during its time of publication:

“The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church, and every rightminded Saint will certainly welcome with joy, every Number as it comes forth from the press as an additional reflector of ‘the light that shines from Zion’s hill.'”
(President George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, Preface, Volume 8)

Yet today the LdS Church disavows and distances itself from the Journal of Discourses:

“The Journal of Discourses is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a compilation of sermons and other materials from the early years of the Church, which were transcribed and then published. It included some doctrinal instruction but also practical teaching, some of which is speculative in nature and some of which is only of historical interest.”
(Gospel Topics article, “Journal of Discourses”, Official LdS Church website)

5) Bruce McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine”
Bruce McConkie’s classic book “Mormon Doctrine” is one of the single most cited Latter-day Saint works outside of scripture. As Wikipedia explains:

“Mormon Doctrine (originally subtitled A Compendium of the Gospel) is an encyclopedic work written in 1958 by Bruce R. McConkie, a general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). It was intended primarily for a Latter-day Saint audience and is often used as a reference book by church members because of its comprehensive nature. It was not and has never been an official publication of the church, and it has been both heavily criticized by some church leaders and members, while well regarded by others. After the book’s first edition was removed from publication at the instruction of the church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, corrections were made in subsequent editions. The book went through three editions, but as of 2010, it is out of print.”
(Mormon Doctrine (book), Wikipedia article)

And as Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever observes:

Many Mormons who currently wish to distance themselves from McConkie and his teachings ignore both the impact he made on the LDS Church when he was alive and the statements made by colleagues after his death. When he died in 1985 after a long struggle with cancer, church leaders took turns giving his eulogy. An article written on McConkie’s life (“Elder Bruce R. McConkie: ‘Preacher of Righteousness,” Ensign, June 1985, pp. 15ff) concluded this way: “Because of his life and testimony, our faith has been strengthened and our hope for eternal life is brighter.” Several of his colleagues praised him for his personal piety while others took note of his ability to teach and understand LDS doctrine.

Ezra Taft Benson, then a fellow apostle, noted in his remarks that whenever a doctrinal question “came before the First Presidency and the Twelve,” it was Bruce McConkie “who was asked to quote the scripture or to comment on the matter. He could quote scripture verbatim and at great length.” According to Benson, McConkie “provided the entire Church with an example of gospel scholarship. He could teach the gospel with ease because he first understood the gospel.”

Mormon Apostle Boyd Packer spoke of McConkie’s uncompromising attitude he had toward his obligation to speak the truth. “It was not granted to Brother McConkie to judge beforehand how his discourses would be received and then to alter them accordingly. Nor could he measure what ought to be said and how it ought to be said by ‘what will people think?’”

Gordon Hinckley, then a member of the First Presidency, was the concluding speaker. In his comments he stated, “I felt like a little puppy trying to keep up with McConkie as he took his long measured steps…So it has been with most of us in keeping up with the stride of his mind in scholarship in the gospel” (Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley, p.418).

Given the high regard these LDS leaders had for McConkie, why do so many members today seem to have such a low respect for this man?”
(Bill McKeever, “Bruce McConkie: Respected General Authority or Theological Hack?”)

Polygamy wedding cake

6) Mortal Polygamy
The fact that Mormons used to practice mortal polygamy (aka, a man being married to more than one living wife at the same time during his lifetime) is a secret to no one. It’s one of the most commonly known and distinguishing characteristics of Mormonism in the public’s mind. The subject is complex, deep, and wide so I can hardly do it justice in a paragraph or two.

What’s far more interesting, however, is how after its demise was announced to the public in 1890, it still continued privately among the leaders until 1904. As the official LdS Church website explains:

The [1890 Official Declaration 1] Manifesto declared President Woodruff’s intention to submit to the laws of the United States. It said nothing about the laws of other nations. Ever since the opening of colonies in Mexico and Canada, Church leaders had performed plural marriages in those countries, and after October 1890, plural marriages continued to be quietly performed there. As a rule, these marriages were not promoted by Church leaders and were difficult to get approved. Either one or both of the spouses who entered into these unions typically had to agree to remain in Canada or Mexico. Under exceptional circumstances, a smaller number of new plural marriages were performed in the United States between 1890 and 1904, though whether the marriages were authorized to have been performed within the states is unclear…

At the April 1904 general conference, President [Joseph F.] Smith issued a forceful statement, known as the Second Manifesto, attaching penalties to entering into plural marriage: “If any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage he will be deemed in transgression against the Church and will be liable to be dealt with according to the rules and regulations thereof and excommunicated therefrom.” This statement had been approved by the leading councils of the Church and was unanimously sustained at the conference as authoritative and binding on the Church.

The Second Manifesto was a watershed event. For the first time, Church members were put on notice that new plural marriages stood unapproved by God and the Church. The Second Manifesto expanded the reach and scope of the first. “When [the Manifesto] was given,” Elder Francis M. Lyman, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, explained, “it simply gave notice to the Saints that they need not enter plural marriage any longer, but the action taken at the conference held in Salt Lake City on the 6th day of April 1904 [the Second Manifesto] made that manifesto prohibitory.”
(“The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage”, official LdS Church website) 

That’s all well and good, except for the fact that polygamy is a requirement for Celestial Exaltation (being granted eternal life in the presence of Heavenly Father and being deified as a god)  as Doctrine & Covenant 132 explains in coded “insider” language – “covenant”, “everlasting covenant” meaning “polygamy”; “glory” meaning “celestial exaltation”.

Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.

For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
(verses 3-4)

Then shall they [the couple sealed for time and eternity] be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.
(verses 20-21)

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So does this mean that Celestial Exaltation has been impossible since the two Manifestos? The answer is, “No.” Thanks to the magic of Latter-day Saint dustbin dynamics, the requirement for polygamy simply disappeared and now, one needs only be sealed in an LdS Temple to one’s spouse for “time and eternity”, fulfill all the other requirements of Celestial Law and according to modern Mormonism, you’re good to go. In fact, modern Mormons are now taught that the insider language in D&C 132 has always meant that. So right into the dustbin goes polygamy!

Or does it? What has never gone away is what’s known as “Celestial Polygamy”. Celestial Polygamy is when a man is widowed by a wife who he was sealed to in the Temple “for time and eternity” and then goes on to also marry one or more wives in the Temple “for time and eternity”. From the Salt Lake Tribune:

Though the LDS Church had disavowed polygamy, it is still enshrined in Mormon scripture (Doctrine & Covenants 132) and some believe it will one day be re-established, if not on Earth, at least in heaven. In his quasi-official 1966 book Mormon Doctrine, which remains in print, the late LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote that ‘the holy practice will commence again after the Second Coming and the ushering in of the millennium.’ And by policy, men can be ‘sealed’ for eternity in LDS temple rites to more than one wife, though women are permitted only a single sealing. Three of the church’s current apostles, for example, were widowed and remarried. Each will have two wives in the eternities”
(Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Modern-day Mormons disavow polygamy”, Salt Lake Tribune, April 20, 2008)

At the time that this article was written, three Mormon Apostles qualified as Celestial Polygamists: Dallin H. Oaks, L. Tom Perry, and Russell M. Nelson. All three men are widowers, and all three men have since been “sealed” to a second wife. L. Tom Perry has since died (in 2015), leaving only Oaks and Nelson.

Sadly, this dust-binned version of polygamy still wreaks havoc in Mormon culture as well known Latter-day Saint poet Carol Lynn Pearson found out when she asked active Mormons and Ex-Mormon to talk about how they feel about the subject via a social media survey that she did in March 2014. Pearson claims that on the first day, more than 2,400-people responded, and within four weeks the number had surpassed 8,000 total survey responses which included comments like these:

“I live in constant fear that I will die before my husband and he will be sealed to a second wife, meaning I will live in a polygamous relationship for eternity. I’ve told him if this happens I will choose hell over heaven and he believes me. This is hard on our marriage.”

“A nice Mormon guy hung up the phone when he found I was a sealed widow. He said ‘Why would I want to love someone in this life and then turn her over to her first husband for eternity?—along with the children that came from my very own DNA and now belong to him?’”

“When I was a teenaged boy, I thought it was cool to look forward to lots of sex with my circle of wives in heaven. Now the idea of eternal polygamy disgusts me. No way do I want my wife to feel like I have all of her and she doesn’t have all of me. Crazy stuff, this doctrine.”
(Carol Lynn Pearson official website)

And this is the problem with dust-binned, man-contrived, bad theology, isn’t it? It still leaves carnage in its wake. It leaves a mess. By their fruit, you shall know them indeed.

“Sawdust” photograph by Chris Jordan. This is literally a mountain of sawdust.

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A Community of Christ World Conference session.

by Lisa Smith
If you’re not familiar with the RLDS (the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who officially changed their name to Community of Christ (CoC) in 2001) they share a common history with Mormons – that is, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, when Brigham Young led the majority of the group to Salt Lake City, a small group (including Emma Smith, Joseph’s widow) stayed in the Midwest. When their oldest son (Joseph Smith III) I reached adulthood, he was ordained Prophet-President (1860). Hence those in the Independence, Missouri headquartered RLDS/CoC are known by those in Mormon Studies as “Josephites” as opposed to the better known “Brighamites” in the LDS Church that’s headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I left this church in 2001, so my response is based on my research and experience at that time. My and my husband’s departure came after we came to a saving knowledge of the biblical Christ in 1997. We started attending BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) and came to understand the biblical definition of salvation (which was not taught in the RLDS church.) We learned that we were all sinners and that without accepting the salvation paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross, we would not be forgiven of our sins but God, and would go to hell. We both (separately) admitted to God that we were sinners and asked for his forgiveness, and acknowledged that surrender to God through Jesus was the only way to Heaven. We made the decision to stay in “the [RLDS] Church” at that time, with the hope that we could influence others for Christ. It was only after a friend gave me copies of “Part Way to Utah: The Forgotten Mormons” by Paul Trask and “Reorganized Latter Day Saints Church: Is It Christian?” by Carol Hansen that we realized what an aberrant foundation the church had, and made the decision that it was time to leave ourselves.

After reading a recent page on MormonThink “10 Things Common to Scientology and Mormonism,” I was asked how the RLDS/CoC Culture compared. Here are my thoughts based on the 10 points addressed in that article. (It will make more sense if you read that article first so that can see the framework that my analysis is based on!)

1) Keeping secrets about the religion from its members
In the CoC, it’s less an issue of “keeping secrets” and more of a refusal to face/actively repudiate the non-biblical foundations of the Church.

The RLDS/CoC still revered Joseph Smith during the time that I was in it, though even then they were likely to ignore anything unflattering. They didn’t want to acknowledge that he had approved (much less participated in) polygamy. The temple ordinances common to Mormonism (baptism of the dead, receiving Temple Endowments and wearing special undergarments, etc) came after the migration to Utah, so the RLDS/CoC don’t have that as part of their history or practice. (They revere the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples as part of their history but tend to ignore issues like the Masonic roots of the Temple or Smith’s “translation” of the papyri known as the Book of Abraham, etc, even though Smith was part of that development.) The Community of Christ built a temple in the early 1990s in Independence MO (across the street from the Temple Lot, where Joseph Smith prophesied that Christ would return, as well as from the Independence Mormon Visitors Center). CoC members pride themselves on not having secret ceremonies, advertising that it is open to all people at all times (at least during visiting hours!)

The RLDS/CoC also has minimal connection to the Masonic roots that Smith established in Nauvoo. They also minimize any discussion of what the “Urim and Thummim” actually were. There is no discussion of the Book of Abraham. I had never heard of it until I started researching church history!

Rather than a “quad”, we used the 3-in-1: the Inspired Version (Joseph Smith’s altered version of the Bible also known as The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible or “JST”), the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants (both are slightly different from the Mormon versions).

2) You’ll be lost without the church
This was one of the biggest obstacles to leaving the Church! On my side, I was 7th generation RLDS on my mother’s side, 3rd on my dad’s. Both of my grandfathers converted to “the Restoration” after being a Methodist (maternal grandfather) and Baptist (paternal) minister. My husband’s family went back 6 generations on one side. Most of our family were RLDS, as were most of our friends. (My brother had converted to Catholicism, but that was excused in my family because “he had to for his wife.” My sister was actively participating in New Age worship and studying as a Native American shaman.) My leaving the RLDS church was a much bigger deal—family members were devastated by our decision, and our closest friends disfellowshipped us. While many of our former church “family” tried to be understanding and invited us to “worship with us anyway,” we felt compelled to get ourselves and our young kids into a Bible-based church.

3) Excessive financial conditions for Church membership
Honestly, the church financial teachings are “milk toast.” Because they are not a Bible-based church, they don’t teach the biblical principles of tithing. Because they pride themselves on being “nice,” no one ever talks to you about whether you’re giving appropriately. I never understood tithing until I took a Dave Ramsey “Financial Peace University” class at our new church! (Now we tithe because we know that everything we have is from God and we want to give Him our first fruits and because we know intimately the blessings of obedience to a loving God!)

4) Believers often defend the religion with the comment that “it’s a good organization”, whether or not it is literally true.
The RLDS/CoC is filled with many nice people — that’s probably why we stayed as long as we did! Like the rest of society, It also has its share of very evil people. They are sinners who don’t know God’s redeeming love and grace.

5) Read only faith-promoting materials produced by us.
While I was never told not to read anything, I know that books that were more Biblical were disparaged as “closed-minded”. There is a strong trend towards mainline theologically liberal Christianity, so anything that supported that viewpoint was talked up. Theologically conservative Christianity tends to be viewed as closed-minded, backward and runs counter to the spirit of the Restoration.

I love the irony that what drove us toward attending BSF was a comment from then-prophet/president Grant McMurray at World Conference. He told the audience that as a faith, the Community of Christ was scripturally illiterate, and we should get into our scriptures more. I don’t think he intended for us to have our eyes opened by the Bible and leave the church, though!

6) Churches use Internet filters to block some websites that frankly discuss some of the problems of their organization.
I can’t speak to this, as it wasn’t really an issue when we left. (We didn’t even have smartphones back then and the Worldwide Web was just coming of age). Members do tend to smile blankly when you try to tell them why this isn’t a biblical church, though.

7) Detractors of the faith are labeled as liars and “anti.”
It’s not that we were labeled as liars or “anti” — it’s just that there’s such a cultural and historical sense that this is the “one true church” and that they alone are entrusted with the truth that Joseph Smith restored to the earth that they can’t fathom what we’re telling them about the Bible and Jesus! My mother-in-law came to me at one point to “bear her testimony that this was the Truth” and she left in tears that we were taking her grandchildren away from “the Restoration”. To her credit, she did come to our baptism service a few years later, when our whole family was baptized (my parents refused), but she didn’t like it.

8) The founders and top leaders are hero-worshiped.
There’s some truth to this: the “First Presidency” and the “Apostles” (really, anyone who works for the “World Church”) are looked up to and treated reverentially.

9) Tear families apart.
No, it’s not formal “shunning.” Yes, some people manage to make their marriages work even with one spouse becoming Christian. In my experience, that’s mostly because the believing spouse tries to honor Paul’s counsel about being married to an unbeliever. (Obviously, sometimes this doesn’t help anyway, because the unbeliever will leave — but it’s inspiring to watch a believer do what they can to live out God’s Word.)

In our case, we count it as one of God’s great blessings that He brought us to saving faith at the same time, and to the decision to leave the Church together. In God’s great humor and timing, the BSF study where we both came to salvation (separately) was on the Acts of the Apostles. When I questioned her about what God really meant about “wives submitting to their husbands,” she challenged me to pray that week and ask God to show me what He meant.

That was the week our marriage changed – and for the better, I might add!

As I said before, our closest friends severed relationships with us. I was doing a book study with my two best friends at the time. We had raised our babies together and seen one of us through the loss of a husband to cancer, widowhood, and marriage to a new guy. I thought we would be friends forever. They told me that they couldn’t continue being friends with me if this is how I really felt about the Restoration.

The relationship with my parents was marred for the rest of their lives. My dad never accepted it. He died about 14 years later, and to my knowledge, he never came to a saving relationship with Jesus. He actually mocked me to friends, telling them Duane and I had “left the church and become fundamentalists.” (Our first church after leaving was a Baptist church with solid biblical teaching; we moved a year later to the non-denominational church where we stayed for 14 years — also a great biblical church.). My mother and I had a rocky relationship until her death 16 years later (worsened by the fact that she had a serious personality disorder.) In God’s great mercy, he allowed me to lead her to His throne days before she died. The last words she ever spoke to me were to say that she was a sinner and she needed a Savior. I’m so grateful I will get to see her mentally healed in Heaven!)

10) Have been labeled as a cult and the members as brainwashed.
On this side of leaving, I would say that it is not as much of a cult experience as Mormonism (especially after some of the stories some LDS have shared on the Internet, especially in Ex-Mormon recovery groups!), but it isn’t not a cult either! I liked this excerpt from the aforementioned MormonThink article:

Steve Hassan is considered one of the leading experts on cults and mind control. He is involved with the Freedom of Mind Resource Center to help those concerned with cults and dangerous organizations. Hassan appeared on CNN in the days following the airing of “Going Clear” to discuss the documentary on Scientology.

Regarding Mormonism, Steve has an article on his blog entitled “An Expert Responds to the Cult Controversy re: Mormonism – 12/12/2011 – by Steve Hassan”. Steve does not flat-out call Mormonism a cult. He leaves that judgment to the individual to decide. Steve uses the BITE (behavior; information; thoughts; emotions) model when he applies it to organizations that have attributes of cults. An Ex-Mormon applied the BITE model to Mormonism and posted the results here

Steve Hassan was invited to speak at an ex-Mormon conference in 2008 and gave his perspective being a former Moonie and now a cult expert. Here is the YouTube video of Steve’s presentation. I personally attended the presentation and very much enjoyed it. I do remember someone asking at the end if he thought Mormonism was a cult. Steve did not reply with a yes or no but said, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck—it’s a duck”.
(“Scientology and Mormonism”, MormonThink website)

So friends, if the RLDS/CoC looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck—it’s a duck.

Leaving the CoC required a willingness to walk away from everything we knew and trust God to provide. I will always be said that I lost relationships, but 17 years down the road, we can both say that God has replaced what the locusts have eaten. Things settled down with my husband’s family, and we have good relationships with them now (although we don’t talk about religion or our church experiences — ever!). I’ve been able to witness to my sister, and I think she is almost “there” in terms of surrendering to God! My kids (19 & 24) are currently both in a slightly spiritually rebellious time in their young adulthood — knowing God but not willing to walk with Him at this time (although my daughter has started attending the young adult ministry at our church on occasion.) We have surrendered that to God and are their most dedicated prayer warriors. We are in a strong biblical church, serving and growing. We’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

The RLDS/CoC is probably described accurately as “Mormonism Lite”. If Mormonism is 180-degrees off from biblical teaching (Temple ordinances, Law of Eternal Progression, belief in false scripture & priesthood, etc.), CoC is maybe only 45-degrees off (false priesthood, false scriptures, refusing to accept the Bible as authoritative, false claims of modern-day revelation, etc. They also ordain women to the priesthood— still a distinction between them and Mormons and much of mainstream Christianity.) Either way, neither of them lead people to a saving relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus. The failure to see the need for personal salvation and the attitude of “tolerating” everything as many of the liberal Christian churches do keep them from seeing God’s plan for them.

If this brief article has whet your appetite and you want to learn more about the RLDS/CoC, I’d suggest checking out Refiner’s Fire Ministries website at http://help4rlds.com/. My friend Paul Trask has been a mentor to me through this process, and I will always be grateful for his willingness to just tell the truth. If you have questions about what I’ve written, I’d be happy to try to answer. This is just my experience, but through it, I came to know my Savior!

The Community of Christ Temple in Independence, Missouri. The Community of Christ is both Trinitarian and doesn’t eschew the cross – two things that distance it from Brighamite, LdS Mormonism.