Apologizing For Richard J. Mouw

Posted: November 14, 2012 in Christ, Christology, Current Events, Fred Anson, Jesus Christ, Mormon Studies, Richard J. Mouw, Theology, Vision

by Fred W. Anson
Eight years ago today on November 14, 2004 for the first time in 105 years, non-Latter-day Saint “gentiles” stood at the pulpit of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah. The focus of the event was to be an address by Christian Apologist and Philosopher Ravi Zacharias entitled, “The Exclusivity and Sufficiency of Jesus Christ”. However, Mr. Zacharias’ superb address was eclipsed by a short, slightly less than seven-minute address by Fuller Theological Seminary president Richard J. Mouw.

Richard J. Mouw Apologizing in the MormonTabernacle

Dr. Mouw, in what the Deseret News referred to as “stunningly candid” comments, apologized to Mormons on behalf of evangelicals for what he sees as less than Christian treatment of Latter-day Saints and the LdS Church throughout Mormon History. His language, in this writer’s opinion, was overly broad, general, universal, and lacking nuance. The royal “we” was used extensively and qualifying terms like “some”, “a few”, or their equivalent were conspicuous in their absence.

Essentially all evangelicals (with the exception of Dr. Mouw and his associates, who were praised directly or indirectly) were thrown under the bus creating the impression among Mormons that their worst fears about Evangelicals that challenge and confront Mormonism are true after all: Specifically, that they are bigoted liars who are driven by deeply seeded animosity toward Mormons. This, in most cases, is not only unfair but untrue.

In reality, regardless his thoughts and intentions, Dr. Mouw has made relations between Mormons and Evangelicals worse not better. In this author’s opinion he has done both sides a disservice and created a volatile and confused environment that didn’t exist prior to his apology. Dr. Mouw’s poor choice of words and bad judgment created this unfortunate situation and I, for one, think it high time that someone did something about it.

Now since Dr. Mouw seems to think it perfectly acceptable and appropriate to apologize for others without their permission, consent, or foreknowledge, I’ll simply borrow a page from his play book and, using the template that he created and precedent that he established, set the record straight:

The Apology
It is difficult for me to find adequate words to express how thrilled I am to be in Mormon Studies in this ‘Mormon Moment’! Here we are, evangelical Protestants and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gathered together on the Internet and elsewhere dialoguing, discussing, debating – it’s an exciting time to be alive!

So I am not being melodramatic when I say that this is surely an historic period. To be sure, there have long been friendships between evangelicals and Latter-day Saints but they generally haven’t appeared on the public radar screen. Often the public relations between our two communities have been, to put it mildly, decidedly strained. This is hardly surprising given the mutually contradictory belief systems and theological world views that we hold to.

From the very beginning, when Joseph Smith organized his church in 1830, my evangelical forebearers very correctly and rightly confronted he and his followers with the incongruity between their beliefs and practices relative to the absolute standard of the Bible. This is a practice that continues from most quarters of mainstream Christianity even into this present day. And I think it is fair to say that most Mormons haven’t always “appreciated” these efforts no matter how well intended. As a result, friendship with each other has not always come easily for our two communities – but, never-the-less and thankfully, it has come.

In recent times things have begun to change both for the better and for the worse. The good news is that evangelicals and Mormons have continued to work together on important matters of public morality and policy. However, the bad news that some evangelicals have mistakenly believed that such interaction requires compromise with and pandering to Mormonism. For example in Utah, the Standing Together ministry seems to have chosen a path of appeasement and accommodation with the LdS Church. Further it has embraced Mormons who seem to make manipulation and deception their stock-in-trade. That has only not been inappropriate it has created needless confusion on both sides of the divide and with the public.

Thankfully like the town squares of old we can all gather via the gracious hospitality of the internet and hold these errant, counter-productive groups and people accountable for their folly. When appropriate there’s been a loud evangelical outcry on those occasions when groups like Standing Together accommodate LdS Church error.  And I’ve noticed that a ground swell of Mormon voices is slowly building regarding how the LdS Church (as well as some of it’s members) present itself, its history and its teachings to both it’s membership and the public. This is encouraging!

On a personal level, over the past half-dozen years I have been a member of a group of evangelical scholars who have been engaged in lengthy public discussions about spiritual and theological matters with Latter-day Saints. We have not been afraid to argue strenuously with each other, but our arguments have been conducted in a sincere desire genuinely to understand each other-and in the process some deep bonds of friendship have been formed in the midst our disagreements.

I know that I have learned much in this continuing dialogue, and I am a far better person today as a result of it. And I am now convinced that despite the fact that some evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community the majority have not. And, personally, whenever I’ve encountered that small minority I have been as direct and to the point as I have been with those Mormons who misrepresent the beliefs and practices of the evangelical community.

On that note, and to get specific regarding observed behavior on our side of the divide  I’ve watched in stunned disbelief as the President of Fuller Theological Seminary, Richard J. Mouw has seriously, publicly, and repeatedly misrepresented the beliefs and practices of both the evangelical and Mormon communities. Indeed, let me state it bluntly to the evangelicals and Mormons reading this: Richard J. Mouw has sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and he has been guilty of that sort of transgression in things he has said about all of us – evangelical and Mormon alike.

The body of evidence indicates that He has accepted the personal opinions, spin doctored and “milk before meat” version about what the Lds Church believes from honesty challenged Mormons without making a sincere effort to fact check what he’s been told against official, correlated LdS Church sources.

Further, while he has recognized that we evangelicals have made much of the need to provide Mormons with a strong defense of traditional Christian convictions, regularly quoting the Apostle Peter’s mandate that we present them a reasoned account of the hope that lies with in us, Dr. Mouw hasn’t been careful to also recognize how most evangelicals throughout the ages have always endeavored to follow the Apostolic counsel that immediately follows that mandate, when Peter tells us that we must always make our case with “gentleness and reverence” toward those with whom we are speaking.[1]

Further, and most distressingly, he has demonized those evangelicals who have confronted the Mormon teachings that the Bible condemns as false. He has even woven bizarre conspiracy theories that suggest that those in the Christian Counter Cult community are “really” motivated by and trafficking in covert bigotry, exaggeration and lies. This also is simply not true, therefore and in my opinion, Mr. Mouw needs to repent of bearing false witness against his brothers and sisters in Christ.

In fact, most in the Counter Cult community are committed to speaking the truth in love. By doing so over the years they have formed some wonderful friendships with both Mormons and ExMormons. These friendships have helped us to see the ways in which Mr. Mouw has misinterpreted and misrepresented the true perception and impact of these evangelicals in Mormon Culture. To be sure, as a result of those conversations we also remained convinced that there are very real issues of disagreement between us-and that some of these issues are matters of eternal significance. But we can continue to discuss these topics as friends and fellow seekers of the truth – and the Internet has been a Godsend in this regard. God be praised!

Next month will mark the 207th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith. We know and understand that Mormon culture typically uses the month as an occasion to pay special attention to Joseph’s life and teachings. However, please hear my heart when I tell you that we evangelicals are praying and long for the day when the month will be far, far, far less about Joseph Smith for our Mormon friends, but all about the One whose incarnation Christians celebrate each year instead. This is the One about whose birth we sing and whom we exalt above all. I should add, that there is nothing more that we long for more than our Mormon friends to join us with swelled hearts and spiritual eyes solely fixed on that One when we sing -“the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

What a wonderful thing it is that we can meet together to talk about the Lord Jesus and about who he is and what he has done on behalf of all who have accepted His free gift of salvation through faith by grace plus nothing and can thus now know with complete certainty that they will spend eternity securely and completely in the presence of God. There is much here to talk about for we pray for the day when our Latter-day friends and family members will receive this free gift without believing that it must be paid for with good works.

I personally take great encouragement for hope of a Great Restoration in the LdS Church – for in the words of LdS Scholar Thomas G. Alexander, “…before about 1835 the LDS doctrines on God and man were quite close to those of contemporary Protestant denominations.”[2] And I’m reminded of the words that Joseph Smith uttered on the occasion of the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April of 1830 when he said: “…we know,that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.”[3] He then added: “And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, and we know also that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength.”[4] Thus, it is my prayer that Mormonism will be restored to true, historic Christian, Biblical orthodoxy within my lifetime.

Thus I greet you in that spirit-as one who wants more than anything else to love and serve God with all my might, mind and strength, in the power made available by the amazing grace that sent the Lord Jesus first to Bethlehem’s manger and then ultimately to the Cross of Calvary, where he shed his blood and sacrificed himself to fully pay the debt of my sin and yours -a debt that we can never, never pay on our own.

This is the spirit in which the Holy Spirit speaks to us all -the spirit of devotion to the One whose name is above every name, the One who alone is mighty to save, and before whom someday every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord to the glory of the Father. May our continuing dialog and conversations point us all to that great day.

Thank you and God bless you.

“… sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”
1 Peter 3:15&16; New American Standard Bible (NASB)
[2] Thomas G. Alexander, “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology”; Sunstone Magazine, July-August 1980,  p.24
[3] Joseph Smith, Jr., “Doctrine & Covenants”, Section 20, verse 29; April 1830
[4] Joseph Smith, Jr., “Doctrine & Covenants”, Section 20, verse 30&31: April 1830

Further Reading
– A transcript of Dr. Muow’s original November 14, 2004 Mormon Tabernacle apology can be read here.  
– The Beggar’s Bread review of Richard J. Mouw’s book, “Talking With Mormons” can be read here.
– A critical analysis and editorial on Dr. Muow’s methods and mean cans can be read here.

(all links retrieved 2012-11-12) 

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