Archive for May, 2015

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.
by Fred W. Anson

(c) Mr Russell Falkingham; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Leslie Cole, “Scorched Earth: Devastated Rubber Plantations” (1946)

“I find myself too often saying about a lot of Christians, ‘I agree with everything you say, but I disagree with the way you’re saying it. There’s a way of saying things that is redemptive and loving and there’s a way saying things that’s not redemptive and loving.’”
Dr. Richard Land
Public spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Convention in “Us and Them”

Introduction:
While we were preparing for this series we took careful note of the weak arguments, bad behavior, and counter productive debating tactics we saw some Christians using in their public engagement with Mormons. Those deserving of deep analysis became full articles, the rest went onto a special “grass catcher” list which I now present to you for your consideration:

How to Make Weak Arguments Against Mormonism:

  1. Be condescending and disrespectful. These people are obviously blind fools, make sure that they and the whole world knows it by talking down to and sneering at them. After all wasn’t the Apostle Peter just offering a suggestion rather than a mandate when he said: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV italics added)[1]
  2. Don’t back up your arguments with easily verifiable evidence. After all, everyone should just change their beliefs based on just some stranger’s claims and opinions alone, right? Wouldn’t you? Who needs supporting evidence?[2]
  3. “Link bomb” them. That is, copy and paste just the links to evidence rather than carefully selecting and citing the relevant content from those sources and then providing the link so it can be verified.  In other words, make ’em work hard to disabuse themselves of their wrongheaded beliefs! After all, isn’t it their job to prove your point for you by digging, mining and sifting through the mountain of words that you’ve so generously brought to their attention? Let them find their own gold like you did – it’s in there somewhere, right? Besides, reading, listening, watching, transcribing, and citing is just such hard, time comsuming work – link bombing is so much easier! Doubt me? Boom! http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/08/01/survey-finds-internet-makes-people-rude-new-yorkers-agree/ You’re been link bombed! (That was easy)
  4. Speak in absolute and authoritative tones on subjects that you’re ignorant or uninformed on. Better yet do it on the Internet so that a worldwide audience can benefit from (or be entertained by) your “insight!” As the ancient proverb says so well, “Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2 NLT)
  5. Tell Mormons to “look it up!” rather than serving them by providing the relevant information for your argument. Yes, that’s right, don’t provide a web link, a citation or any other verifiable evidence – why should you? They have eyes, don’t they! They have brains, don’t they? Of course, they’ll rush right out and do it – right? Isn’t that what you do when other people do this to you? Hey man, 99.9% of those surveyed do! It’s true! Look it up.[3]
  6. Just get right up on that Christian soapbox and set ’em straight! Preach Christian preach! After all, all you should need to do is speak the truth, right? So give to ’em with both barrels with all the best Christianese you know! Why do you need to learn anything about them or their heretical beliefs first? Just declaring God’s good truth should be enough shouldn’t it? In fact, wouldn’t taking an interest in and learning their heresies just validate them and keep them in error? Don’t lower yourself to the level of heretics and blind men – rather, preach Christian preach! Your fellow Christians will slap you on the back and praise you while all the befuddled Mormons are slowly walking away shaking their head wondering all that incomprehensible shouting was about. Mormons are just so blind and deceived aren’t they?[4]soapbox
  7. Only cite from Mormon Critics rather than Mormon friendly sources. After all, if it’s “Mormon Friendly” it must be enemy propaganda, right? All Mormons know how to do is lie and deceive anyhow, right?[5]
  8. Assume that the underlying meaning of the terms that you and Mormons use are the same. And whaddaya know! We use the same words, we must both be Born Again Christians! Who knew?[6]
  9. Give citations without providing the source so it can be verified for accuracy. Oh, and never make it easy by providing a web link to the source! Just throw it out – your word alone should be sufficient, right? By the way, did you know that the Eustace Scrubb character in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” was Mormon? Yep, it’s true![7]
  10. Frame your arguments in outsider Christian language rather than insider Mormon language. So what if it’s like speaking in a foreign tongue to them? Hey, just yell that Christianese LOUDER, slower, and longer like a tourist on vacation in a foreign land. They’ll get it eventually! After all, they can always watch your hand signals right?  Oh yeah, about that that hand signals thing when it comes to the internet . . . [8]
  11. Make sure that you never, ever enter a Mormon building like a Ward Building, Chapel, Stake Building, Temple tour, or Church Museum – you might get Mormon cooties or become demon possessed! After all, you can learn everything you need to know by talking to your Mormon neighbor over the backyard fence – they’re all experts on their faith and always represent their theology and practices as accurately as today’s Christians do theirs.[9]
  12. Never attend a Mormon Service or meeting (especially a Fast & Testimony meeting) lest you experience their culture first hand. Empathy is of the devil! Stay in dark ignorance regarding what really happens inside Mormon services so you can get it all wrong whenever you talk about those services. After all, you love it when Mormons make incorrect statements about what goes on in our services don’t you?[10]
  13. Treat antiquated Mormon sources as if they have as much weight and authority as modern official sources. Make sure you regularly quote from “The Journal of Discourses” and McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” as if they’re equivalent to today’s correlated manuals and literature. And if they object, they’re just uninformed about what their church really believes and teaches aren’t they?[11]
  14. Never concede well made arguments and credible evidence from Mormons. You must never, never, never yield an inch! After all this is war! Never give in and never surrender![12]
  15. Use derogatory, insulting terms like MORmON, Joseph’Smyth, Profit (instead of “Prophet”), TSCC (The So Called Church), Jo$eph $mith, Bring’em Young, Breed’em Young, Thoma$ Mon$oon, etc. Or go back in time and use the old 19th Anti-Mormon prejorative terms like “Joe Smith”, “Mormonites”, “Golden Bible”, etc.  Conversely, you can merge current popular culture with Mormonism and invent new perjovatives like, “Morg” (Star Trek reference that blends “Mormon” with “Borg”), “Joseph Sith” (Star War reference that suggests that Joseph Smith was an evil Sith), “Darth Monson” (another Star Wars reference there), etc. The more condescending, offensive, and degrading the better – that way it’s clear whose side you’re really on, and of course, that true believing Mormons are stupid idiots who all deserve just what they’re going to get at the great judgment![13]
  16. mormon-meme-generator-and-i-m-a-mormon-7c56a8

    An Internet meme designed to make Mormons look stupid – and this is one of the kinder ones.

    Create and use insulting Internet memes and graphics. Everyone loves getting insulted – be the Don Rickles of Mormon Studies, they’ll love you for it. After all, don’t you just love those angry atheist memes that insult and belittle Christians? They just make you want to run out and become an atheist in the worst way, don’t they?

  17. Mock the LdS Temple Endowment ceremony. After all it’s sacred and stupid right? After all one can surely have meaningful conversation with someone’s back as they’re walking away, right? The fact that the endowment ceremony is an off-limits, “nuclear” subject in Mormon Culture is their problem not ours!
  18. Refer to Temple Garments as “Magic Mormon Underwear.” Let ’em them know how stupid and silly they really are! Better yet, wear them in public while donned in a gorilla’s mask, burn them, deface them, stomp and spit on them if you can.[14] After all, Christians never get upset when outsiders do that to clerical vestments, choir robes, or crosses do they?
  19. Show no empathy or understanding for the incredibly high price Mormons must pay for leaving the LdS Church. Hey man, it’s as easy as changing churches right? What’s the big deal? I mean Presbyterian to Baptist to Charismatic to Catholic to Lutheran and then back again – easy, peasy, there’s never much of a price to pay is there? Oh you lost your wife and family when you left the Mormon Church? And your job too? And you’re being shunned by your own family? Now that’s just downright weird isn’t it?[15]
  20. Use a lot of cliches, platitudes, and Christian folklore rather than anything of substance. In other words, use exactly the same kind of thought and emotional control tactics that Mormons use when engaging outsiders. It will really bless them, so they feel the anointing on you when you get out your “sword” and give them the word. Or, better yet, tell them about that angel encounter or Near Death Experience (NDE) that you heard about on Christian TV last week. Get right or be left man, because inch by inch life is a cinch, yard by yard life is hard – it’s in the Book!
  21. Appeal to feelings rather than intellect – after all, it worked so well in getting and keeping them in Mormonism? Maybe lightning will strike twice, so have them read the Bible and pray about if it’s true or not . . .[16]
  22. Hyper-spiritualize everything. For example, rather than using even toned language and verifiable evidence against Mormonism make statements like: “Mormonism is a demonic religious system which has led millions to hell”, or “Mormons are all  demon possessed, under the influence of deceiving spirits”, or “The Lord showed me that Mormons will be key leaders in the Antichrist’s one world government – Mitt Romney is just the beginning”, etc. Of course since none of this can be objectively proved or verified it really just pits two competing belief systems, religious cultures, and value systems each other. To transitioning Mormons this just demonstrates (beyond a shadow of a doubt they very often think) that mainstream Christianity is just as fanatical and subjective as Mormonism. Yes, they’ll thank you as they just pass right on by on their way to atheism muttering a dismissive, “There’s no difference between the two, they’re both the same!”[17]
  23. mban997_hiUse double standards. For example, make a big deal over the fact that God the Father isn’t explicitly identified as the personage who says, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith History 1:17) in Joseph Smith’s First Vision but ignore the fact that neither is He explicitly identified in Matthew 3:17 as the voice from heaven that says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Why be fair? The ends justify the means, right?
  24. Argue that just one of Joseph Smith’s failed predictions of the future qualify him as a False Prophet per Deuteronomy 18:20-22, but ignore the fact that applying the same criteria in the same way that’s applied to Smith also makes Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith, Harold Camping and other respected Christian leaders with failed predictions of the future False Prophets too. Again, why be objective and fair?[18]
  25. Engage in what Christian Apologists call a “Scorched Earth Tactics“. That is, win at all costs rather than adhering to the golden rule of Christian apologetics, which is, “Always treat your debating opponent’s evidence and arguments the way that you would want to have your evidence and arguments treated” Nothing drives ’em away or drives them into atheism like going “Scorched Earth” on ’em does – go for it! Win at all costs Christian, win!
  26. Criticize, condemn, or praise authors, books, and articles that you haven’t read. And do the same for films, videos, and audio (like podcasts, lectures, and sermons) that you haven’t experienced first hand. Everyone knows that hearsay and innuendo is just as good as direct experience.  Better yet, throw in some unfounded bigotry and prejudice! You know say things like, “D. Michael Quinn‘s popularity just baffles me. Not only is he a believing excommunicated Mormon but he’s gay to boot! With that combination you really can’t expect too much can you?”; or, “What’s up with Richard Bushman? ‘Rough Stone Rolling’ should have been published by FAIRMormon it’s so filled with apologetics instead of real honest to goodness history!”; or how about, “Alex Beam‘s ‘American Crucifixion’ disrespects crucifixion in it’s title! Doesn’t he know that Joseph Smith had a gun at Carthage Jail? Who carries a gun to a crucifixion?”; and last but not least, “I’ve heard that that ‘September Dawn’ is the closest thing to an accurate documentary on the Mountain Meadows massacre that we’ll ever get.” You get the idea.[19]
  27. Be just as fanatically Christian as they are fanatically Mormon. Since religious fanaticism is the fuel driving the Mormon belief system your behavior will be like filling up their tank without them even needing to get out of the driver’s seat! Oh, and this has the added “benefit” of driving them right into atheism should they leave since it makes it look like Christianity is just the opposite side of the same fanatical religious coin that Mormonism is on.
  28. In mixed company act like there are no Mormons present. Say things like, “Can you believe how pompous, self-righteous and arrogant Mormons are?”, “Mormons are like lemmings – if the Prophet told them to jump off a bridge they would do it!”, “Those ignorant Mormons, I know more about their religion that they do!”  And of course, when the Mormons say, “Uh, I’m right here, I can hear everything you’re saying” and object to such crass prejudice and bigotry don’t apologize and don’t back down – in fact, up the ante, say even more outlandish things about those stupid Mormons right to their face!
  29. Paint with the broadest brush possible.  Use wild, spectacular, over-generalizations delivered using the most absolute tone and words possible. You know, things like: “All Mormons lie in their Temple Recommend Interview”, “You’ve gotta know that every Mormon man is secretly addicted to pornography – Utah’s porn statistics are off the chart!”, “All dating BYU couples do the ‘Provo push!'”, “All Mormon women are treated like chattel by their priesthood holding husbands – it’s a holdover of 19th Century polygamy!” etc., etc., etc. The broader the better and the more spectacular is it the more people will be inclined to believe you – so go big, don’t hold back.
  30. Exaggerate and twist. Take something with a modicum of truth in it and expand, embellish, and massage it to the point where even the modicum disappears under an avalanche of hyperbole. For example, say something like “Mormonism replaces the cross with the pentagram!”[20] Or say, “Mormons shun the blood of Christ by using water in their communion service!”[21] Vetting, verifying, and refining your assertions so that they’re accurate and true is just so much work! Plus balance and precision doesn’t pack the same emotional punch as exaggerated hype – so why bother?
  31. Insist that Latter-day Saints should leave Mormonism over a single problem. For example, over the fact that the Book of Mormon anachronistically has the French word “adieu” in it (see Jacob 7:27) or that it incorrectly states that Christ was born in Jerusalem (see Alma 7:10).[22]
  32. Make sure that you use a lot of snark and sarcasm! Everyone loves being condescended to by obnoxious smart alecks with bad attitudes. By the way, I hope you’re loving reading this article as much as I am writing it. If not, you’re just a loser who just doesn’t “get it!”[23]
  33. Say things like, “The ends justify the means” to rationalize your bad arguments and behavior. Sure, it’s not biblical, but why be picky when souls are at stake here?
  34. Use the bad arguments and behavior of Mormons to justify any or all of the above.
  35. Assume that any constructive criticism from fellow Christians on how to better engage Mormons is meant for everyone else but you.

Summary and Conclusion:
Now I confess that in my early days in Mormon Studies I engaged some of these weak arguments – and on my bad days, sometimes I still do. But the fact remains that as Christians we have a higher calling. I would ask the reader to consider the following, knowing full well that while I may be preaching to others I am preaching to myself first and foremost.

First, this form of engagement is unbiblical. Here’s how the Bible instructs us to behave toward those who disagree with us:

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,
(2 Timothy 2:25 NIV) 

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
(Colossians 4:6 NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
(1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

Second, it’s just common sense that these tactics are more inclined to drive people away from Christ than draw them near. If and when the roles are reversed I’ve noticed that Christians react the same way that Mormons do: They walk away wanting to have nothing to do with the person, their stance, or their beliefs.

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock “Lucifer” (1947). What Christian-Mormon dialog looks like when the above tactics are used by either side.

Third, it violates both the Golden Rule which says…

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
(Matthew 7:12 NKJV)

… and the Golden Rule of Apologetics which says:

Always treat your debating opponent’s evidence and arguments the way that you would want to have your evidence and arguments treated

Simply put, there’s just no excuse for Christians to be chronically using the type of tactics and arguments that I’ve listed in this article. And I say this knowing full well that Jesus, the Old Testament prophets, and the Apostles used sarcasm – and even some very harsh and pointed words – in their arguments.  After all, I’ve followed their lead by using such tactics in this article haven’t I? However, I would suggest to the reader that these tactics were reserved for hard cases and as a kind of last resort, in no case did Christ or any of the other Biblical figures lead with these tactics or use them in every encounter. So if you find yourself doing so I would ask you to stop, consider the mind of Christ, and change direction. As Paul said so well:

 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Phillipians 2:3-11 NKJV) 

So I pray that that mind will be in us as engage with our Mormon friends and family members as we navigate through the dangerous land of Mormon Studies – a land where animosity and acrimony rule the day every day. I pray that we would be a healing balm and a exit route to truth rather than fuel on the fire and scorched earth. Maybe we would all do well to remember the ancient prayer that says:[24]

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
(St. Francis of Assisi)

quote-tact-is-the-knack-of-making-a-point-without-making-an-enemy-isaac-newton-285219

NOTES
[1] And before the “You’re a hypocrite – just look at the tone and content of your article!” phone calls, and letters start pouring in, the first part of this article was written in a tongue in cheek style that’s intended to mirror the same condescension, disrespect, snark, and sarcasm that are so prevalent in the weak arguments and tactics that are being addressed. If you’re offended by it then please consider how such behavior feels to our Mormon friends and family members when it’s directed at them.

[2] “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” (Hitchen’s Razor)

[3] NOT!  Nobody does this. It’s the responsibility of the person making an assertion to prove it. It’s not their debating opponent’s role or responsibility. This is just common sense folks! This is the laziest form of scholarship imaginable – if you can even call it “scholarship.”

[4] This was covered by implication in “Weak Arguments #9: “I don’t need to understand Mormon culture or learn how to speak like a Mormon…” However, since Christian soap boxing is so prevalent, it bears repeating.  And Utah Presbyterian Pastor Jason Wallace does a superb job of addressing this and other issues as they relate to street preaching in this episode of “The Ancient Paths”:

Also, as a point of clarification, please understand that public soapboxing does have a place and can be effective if it’s done biblically and appropriately. After all Christ did a lot of soapboxing – but it was always tailored and targeted for the audience that He was addressing. I would encourage you to consider how His tone, methods, and demeanor changed when His audience was the Jewish downtrodden (Matthew 11:25-30), versus the hard hearted (Matthew 11:20-24), versus the Jewish privileged (Luke 11:45-54). Then consider how it changed again when His audience wasn’t Jewish (John 4; Matthew 8:5-13; Matthew 15:21-28). Then when we look at the Apostles Paul’s writings and message are very different than, say, the public soapboxing we see in his Mars Hill address in Acts 17.

The basic problem here is a lack of social and cultural sensitivity, discernment and respect. If you truly love someone you will speak to them in a way that they understand and can receive your message. Christians who are “one trick ponies” on soapboxes – that is, that only have one approach and one message regardless of the audience – aren’t doing anyone any favors.

[5] This is covered to some degree in “Weak Arguments #11: “I will never, ever use official Mormon Church sources…” However, even unofficial Mormon friendly sources can be rich in content and potent in argument. I particularly recommend the works of D. Michael Quinn, Todd Compton, Richard Bushman, Charles Harrell, Rock Waterman, Denver Snuffer, and many other faithful, but intellectually honest Mormons. Let me put to you this way: Who do you think a Mormon is more likely to listen to: you, a critic, or a fellow believing Latter-day Saint?

[6] Suffice to say, Mormonism takes Christian words and forms and changes their underlying meaning. For a good primer of the terminology differences see “Terminology Differences” by Sandra Tanner. For a more in depth study and analysis of the subject see “Words We Share” by Sharon Taylor and Gerald Van Iwaarden.

[7] Of course, I’m demonstrating how Christians do this in a very tongue in cheek fashion here. And by the way, the speculation about Eustace Scrubb being Mormon is probably wrong. See Michael De Groote, “What C.S. Lewis thought about Mormons” Deseret New/Mormon Times, June 5, 2009. And since it annoyed me to not to be able to include the reference links for Eustace Scrubb and “The Chronicles of Narnia” in the main article (to do so wouldn’t have accurately reflected the behavior I was illustrating) I’ll do so here instead. Whew, I feel better now! Thanks!

[8] Just like no one can hear you scream in space, no one can see your hands in cyberspace – I just thought that you’d like to know.

[9] The unbiblical folly of this thinking was directly addressed in “Weak Arguments #9: “I don’t need to understand Mormon culture or learn how to speak like a Mormon…”  As I said there, “if Christ could sit on the edge of a well and talk to Samaritan woman I think that we can somehow manage to stand by the water fountain in a Mormon Ward building and chat with Mormons can’t we?”

[10] Ibid.

[11] This was addressed by Bobby Gilpin in “Weak Arguments #3: “I know what you believe, because Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie or some other general authority said…..”

[12] This is addressed in “Weak Arguments #14: “There’s NOTHING in Mormonism that’s true – it’s all wrong and nothing but a pack of lies!”

[13] Each and every one of the derogatories used here were copied and pasted from actual Christian posts on Facebook and YouTube.

[14] Again this is not made up. From Wikipedia:

Some church opponents have used public occasions, like the biannual church conferences, to publicly mock and parody the wearing of temple garments. During the October 2003 LDS Church General Conference, some anti-Mormon demonstrators outside the LDS Conference Center reportedly spat and stomped on garments in view of those attending the conference. One protestor blew his nose into a garment he wore around his neck. A scuffle broke out between a protester and two members of the church who attempted to take the garments from him. To avoid a repeat of the conflict, the municipality of Salt Lake City planned stronger enforcement of fighting words and hate speech laws for the April 2004 conference in Salt Lake City with new protest buffer zones.
(Wikipedia, “Temple Garment Use in Protests”)

[15] Please read, “The Death of Reason and Freedom” by Enigma. I believe that it will help even the most hard hearted Christian understand the dilemma that unbelieving “Shadow Mormons” too often fall into. The highest recommended is also given to Azra Evans’ classic essay, “Families Held Hostage”.

[16]  Clinton Wilcox discussed why this is not only a bad argument but unbiblical to boot in, “Weak Arguments #8: ‘I testify that Mormonism is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet.’”

[17] Again, none of these are made up. They’re all comments that the author has seen posted on the internet by welling meaning but misguided Christians.

[18] And, yes, Mormons use exactly the same apologetic rationalization for Joseph Smith that Christians often use for the Christians named here. Please consider the FAIRMormon portal page, “Joseph Smith/Alleged false prophecies” The arguments that FAIRMormon uses for Smith are similar, and in many cases identical, to the arguments use for those on our side of the divide who have failed predictions of the future. My point here is simple: We can’t apply one standard to those in our group and another to those outside of our group. We must be consistent and be consistent or we’re not credible and lack integrity.

For those looking for a good example of how this weak argument is used by Evangelicals will find one here: The Prophecies of Joseph Smith, by James K. Walker.

For those unfamiliar with the failed prophetic predictions of Evangelical Christian preachers Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith, and Harold Camping need only click on their names.  Gary DeMar has also written a good summary article on their failed predictions. Click here to read this article.

[19] Things to consider in response to these examples:

  1. D. Michael Quinn, is widely regarded as the one of the top Mormon Historians of his day by both Mormons and non-Mormons alike. The consensus is that his work largely reflects a lack of bias despite his belief in and testimony of Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church.  The exception to this consensus position typically comes from Mormon Apologetic groups. And I have never understood why some people think that Quinn’s homosexuality would impact his intellectual integrity or professional objectivity but it seems to get flung out a lot by Mormons and Christians alike. I would ask the reader to just read some Quinn and see if they can see overt bias in it. I don’t. For example, here’s a transcript of the infamous “Plural Marriages After the 1890 Manifesto” paper (aka “The Buffdale Speech”) that many people think was a key factor in him getting excommunicated in 1993.
  2. Richard Bushman has admitted repeatedly in interviews that while he makes every effort to be objective he may tend to give Joseph Smith the benefit of the doubt in his work due to his faith (click here for one such example). And candidly, his bias does occasionally leak through in his work – Peter Mary does a superb job of demonstrating this in his review of the book (click here). Never-the-less his work is remarkable for it’s level of candor and true Mormon history given his status as a faithful Mormon in good standing with the LdS Church. “Rough Stone Rolling” is always the first book that I recommend to Mormons who express a desire to know the truth from a faithful source and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
  3. Alex Beam is a faithful and practicing Episcopalian and his book “American Crucifixion” has garnered praise for the depth of detail it goes into regarding the circumstances and events surrounding the death of Joseph Smith – including the smuggled guns that Smith and his associates carried and shot at Carthage Jail which wounded several of their attackers. The last thing that Alex Beam intended was to disrespect or degrade anyone or anything, least of all Christ’s crucifixion, with the title. He has explained that the title was intended to be provocative and reflective of the strong feelings and historical impact that Smith’s death generated (click here and then fast forward to 34:10 to hear Mr. Beam’s explanation for yourself). He was also drawing attention to the parallels with Christ’s passion that Smith articulated himself regarding his circumstances during the last days of his life. Joseph Smith was notorious for such over the top hyperbole – much to the delight of his faithful and the scorn of his critics.
  4. “September Dawn” is a Hollywood film that was intended more to entertain than educate. The film contains some historical errors (click here to read Bill McKeever’s excellent analysis and review of the film) and even more unsupportable, speculative embellishment. It’s not a bad film but it’s certainly not a good documentary. In this author’s opinion, the best Mountain Meadows massacre documentary to date is Brian Patrick‘s award winning “Burying the Past”. It isn’t as entertaining as September Dawn but it’s certainly more enlightening – and it’s historically accurate.

[20]  Regarding the use of the Pentagram in Mormon architecture: a) The meaning of the inverted 5-pointed star changed in the late 19th Century; b) Other Mormon denominations (like the RLDS/Community of Christ) use the cross in their architecture; c) Pentagrams aren’t used in modern LdS Church architecture. The exception being when a modern structure is being built that’s based on a historic design. For example, the 2002 Nauvoo Temple still retained the pentagrams from the original design but also used upright 5-pointed stars for the new, modern design elements.

The 2002 Nauvoo Temple. (click to zoom)

The 2002 Nauvoo Temple. (click to zoom)

For example, notice that the stars in the exterior fence in the following photo – which is a new, modern element – are upright but the stars in the upper windows which were in the original 1836 design are inverted.

For a full discussion of the history of the cross in Mormon architecture and culture see Michael G. Reed, “Banishing the Cross: The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo”. His Sunstone presentation on the book can be found here.

Mr. Reed’s explanation of the use of pentagrams in Mormon architecture can be found here. If the reader prefers a Christian analysis of the subject, Bill McKeever’s article on the subject can be found here.

[21]  Regarding the use of water instead of wine or grape juice in the Mormon sacrament: a) Wine was originally used in Latter Day Saint communion services; b) Due to an unfounded rumor that Anti-Mormons were trying to poison the sacramental wine in 1830 and then due to the Word of Wisdom they switched to water; c) The use of water a hold over from the 19th Century temperance movement that got institutionalized and concretized by the Salt Lake City Brighamite Mormon denomination; d) Other Mormon denominations use grape juice rather than water in their services; e) Prior to Dr. Welch (a temperate Methodist) discovering a way to stop the fermentation in grape juice many temperate churches used water instead of grape juice in their services – were they “shunning the blood of Christ” by doing so? Glass house meet rock.

To gain a good overview of the subject from a Protestant perspective see Terry Hull, “How Grape Juice was ‘Invented’ to Make the Lord’s Meal Holier”. A good overview Mormon History in this area can be found here.

[22] Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson explain why the “adieu” anachronism alone isn’t sufficient grounds for a Mormon to leave the LdS Church in their January 23rd, 2015 Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast. And I explained why the “Jerusalem” slip of the pen on it’s own isn’t either in “Weak Arguments #10: “The entire Book of Mormon was discredited just as soon as it said that Christ was born in Jerusalem.”  As I stated in my article:

“Should Christians declare the entire Bible discredited because of it [a single biblical contradiction]? Even Atheist critics and Muslims don’t suggest such a response because it’s so ‘over the top’. Yet, many Christians would demand exactly that of Mormons over Alma 7:10. To me, such a demand on Mormons reveals an extreme bias on the part of some Christians and the type of unjust, uncharitable treatment that can drive Mormons deeper into the LdS Church if they stay, or right past Christianity and straight into atheism if they leave… 

Most ExMormons tell us that there wasn’t just one thing that convinced them that the truth claims of the LdS Church don’t add up, it was a culmination of a lot of little things. They say it’s like a bunch of pebbles being tucked away on a shelf in a deep, dark corner – that is until the shelf finally collapses under the weight of them all.”

Simply put, expecting anyone to leave their faith over a single problem or argument is pretty silly and naive. Politely and respectfully building a case takes longer and requires more effort but it’s ultimately how and why most people are disabused of closely held and comforting error and self-deception.

[23] Please see footnote #1.

[24] And if the Prayer of Saint Francis doesn’t suit you, perhaps 20th Century Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer” will:

serenity

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OLGH-Holy-Spirit-Stained-Glass-001-crop

“The Fire of God”, Artist and location unknown

by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
Shawn McCraney is a former Mormon who identifies himself as a born-again Christian but who denies the doctrine of the Trinity. He has a weekly TV broadcast called Heart of the Matter that airs from Salt Lake City. On the programs that aired April 22 and 29, 2014, he laid out several objections to the Trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit as a person. This article originated as a response to McCraney sent to him the day following the first of those broadcasts by email (to which he has so far not responded).

McCraney’s Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
In his TV lecture, McCraney compared God’s eternal nature of being God, his Logos (Word), and his Pneuma(Spirit) to man’s being body, soul, and spirit. Such an analogy is clearly monarchian: it characterizes God as a single person with three aspects of his being. (Monarchianism, also known as modalism, is the heresy that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are merely three modes or manifestations of a solitary divine Being.) According to McCraney, before the Fall, those three aspects were really difficult to distinguish from one another (even for God?), and likewise man’s three aspects were so fully integrated as one that they could hardly be distinguished. Before the Fall, there was no Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When man fell, God, in order to save us, divided or splintered himself into three, becoming Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (apparently not right away, since on McCraney’s view there was no Son until the Incarnation). In this new, sharp threeness God acted to redeem us in order to restore us to full integration as body-soul-spirit beings in the new birth. All of this sounds very much like monarchianism, but then McCraney threw in the comment that God, his Logos, and his Pneuma had relationships with each other before creation, though what those were McCraney said he doesn’t know. As he has done every time I have heard him, McCraney contradicted himself. God, the Logos, and the Pneuma cannot have relationships with one another if they are simply different aspects of the one God, like a man’s body, soul, and spirit.

Now, the above doctrine was problematic enough, but at least in some of what McCraney said one could optimistically hope that he viewed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as genuinely distinct, as each someone in relationship with the other two, and therefore as largely orthodox in substance even if he rejects orthodox theological terms. At one point in that broadcast he even referred to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as “three persons,” though only after creation, not before it. However, in his most recent lecture he moved even further away from orthodox, biblical doctrine. The Holy Spirit, he claimed, is simply God’s power or presence, an “it,” just a way of describing God expressing his presence or power. He claimed this to be true in both the Old and New Testaments. Sadly, there is no way this can be salvaged as anything but heretical.

Shawn McCraney on the April 22, 2014 Heart of the Matter broadcast referenced in this article.

The Holy Spirit is the Power of God
McCraney asserted, “The Holy Spirit is the power, the dunamis, of God. Scripture talks about it being the power of God.” Yes, Scripture does talk about the Holy Spirit as the power of God. It also calls God “the power of God” (Luke 22:69) and refers to Christ as “the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). Does that make God or Christ impersonal? Of course not. This is a bad argument against the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

Pneuma (“Spirit”) Is Neuter
McCraney also argued—and this was his main point—that pneuma is neuter and that the Greek New Testament uses neuter pronouns in reference to the Holy Spirit. On this basis, McCraney concluded that the Holy Spirit is not a person, because “it’s an it.” Well, if pneuma is neuter and if neuter means “it’s an it,” as he claimed, then McCraney has just proved that God is an it! After all, Jesus said, “God is pneuma” (John 4:24). Notice that this is the second argument he used against the personhood of the Holy Spirit that, if applied consistently, would disprove the personhood of God as well.

McCraney also argued that if translators had simply used impersonal pronouns to translate the neuter pronouns referring to the Spirit (it, its, itself, etc.), “the case for the personality of the Holy Spirit, the person, would largely disappear from Christian belief.” That is true only of the most superficial popular way that contemporary English-speaking Christians try to defend the personhood of the Holy Spirit. The KJV often used neuter pronouns when the Greek pronoun was neuter, and the KJV translators and earliest readers were all Trinitarians. They had no trouble seeing the person of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

Oddly, McCraney went on immediately to answer his own argument, though he didn’t seem to realize he had done so. He pointed out that languages like Greek commonly assign masculine or feminine gender to nouns that do not denote persons, such as la bicicleta (“the bicycle”) in Spanish. This was apparently his rebuttal to the observation that “Comforter” is masculine in Greek (paraklētos). There’s a problem with that rebuttal, as I will explain below. But his point about nouns having gender is a good observation, but one he did not take far enough. It is also the case that languages can assign “neuter” gender to nouns denoting persons. In German, das Mädchen means “the maiden, the girl,” and obviously denotes a person, yet it is neuter in grammatical form. Similarly, the Greek paidion is grammatically neuter, but it denotes “child,” again referring to a person. Jesus is called a paidion eleven times in the New Testament (Matt. 2:8, 9, 11, 13 [2x], 14, 20 [2x]; Luke 2:17, 27, 40), all in reference to the period of several years after his birth. Matthew uses the neuter pronoun auto (which has nothing to do with cars!) in reference to “the child” Jesus: “Rise, take the child [paidion] and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matt. 2:13 ESV). Here the ESV uses “him” to translate the Greek pronoun auto (as does the KJV also). Luke uses the same pronoun auto in reference to Jesus as paidion twice (Luke 2:28, 40). Translators use masculine pronouns in English to represent neuter pronouns in Greek if the antecedent of the pronoun refers to a person. It’s as simple as that. The argument that neuter nouns or pronouns prove that the Holy Spirit is not a person is another bad argument.

Shawn McCraney on the April 29, 2014 Heart of the Matter broadcast referenced in this article.

“Holy Spirit” versus “the Holy Spirit”
A third argument McCraney presented was an objection to the use of the definite article “the” in English translations with the title “Holy Spirit.” He asserted that the article is “often added by translators, leading the reader to think that ‘the Holy Spirit’ is referring to a separate person.” Well, there are many places where the Greek has the article in front of the words for “Holy Spirit,” such as Matthew 28:19 (tou hagiou pneumatos), Mark 3:29 (to pneuma to hagion),  John 14:26 (to pneuma to hagion), and quite a few others. (The words tou and to are both forms of the Greek article.) I assume McCraney would agree that the Greek writers of these books were not misleading readers by using the article.

The fact is that Greek uses the article in a different way than English does. We normally use the article in front of what we call titles (the Father, the Messiah, the Lord, the king) but not in front of what we call proper names (Jesus, Peter, Shawn, Rob). Greek doesn’t work that way. Proper names and titles in Greek can occur with or without the article; usage is quite complicated and sometimes little more than a matter of style. The expression “in Christ” in Paul usually does not have the article (en Christō), but of course this doesn’t mean that Christ is something other than a person. And sometimes Paul writes “in the Christ” (en tō Christō), but English versions nearly always omit the article (1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 1:10, 12, 20).

“Holy Spirit” versus “holy spirit”
McCraney made a big deal of the fact that “Holy Spirit” is never capitalized in the Greek. Apparently, he thinks this is some startling revelation that overturns conventional belief about the Holy Spirit as a person.

The fact is that ancient Greek manuscripts did not “capitalize” anything. It is true that “Holy Spirit” in the Greek manuscripts was not “capitalized.” Neither was “God,” “Christ,” “Jesus,” or “Father.” For that matter, neither was “Peter,” “Paul,” or “Mary” (sorry, couldn’t resist). Ancient Greek manuscripts were written with all block letters, and later a cursive form developed that used what we call lower-case letters. But in biblical times, there was no upper-case and lower-case lettering system.

Of all of McCraney’s arguments against the personhood of the Holy Spirit, this is the worst. It is so bad that it is embarrassing. If ever an example was needed of the value of a basic education in biblical studies for pastors, this is it.

Explaining the “Difficult Verses”
McCraney suggested that it is only “a few comparative difficult verses in the Gospel of John” that seem to refer to the Holy Spirit as a person, and he stated somewhat disparagingly that “those verses are used over and over again to prove that the Spirit is a person.” Later he suggested these could be explained away as personifications, like wisdom in the poetic passage in Proverbs 8. But Jesus was not speaking in poetry in John 14-16, and the same things that Jesus says about the Spirit in John 14-16 are said about Jesus himself by the same author. For example, the noun paraklētos clearly refers to a person, and Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “anotherparaklētos” (John 14:16), meaning another besides himself. In his epistle, John—the same author as the Gospel of John, of course—refers explicitly to Jesus Christ as our paraklētos (1 John 2:1). Paraklētos is not a noun that just happens to be masculine but that normally refers to something impersonal, like la bicicleta (“the bicycle”) happens to be feminine. Paraklētos is a personal noun, denoting someone who provides support, assistance, counsel, agency, mediation, or the like. If McCraney wished to claim that the noun doesn’t refer to the Spirit as a person, this would be something he would need to show exegetically from the context, which he has not done.

Moreover, the case for the personhood of the Holy Spirit does not depend on John 14-16 alone. His personhood can be shown from many other parts of the New Testament, especially the Book of Acts. But John 14-16 is in the Bible and must be taken seriously, not shoehorned into a doctrinal system derived from the superficial observation that the Old Testament doesn’t advance a specific doctrine of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Such an approach denies God the right to unfold his self-revelation in history and in Scripture progressively, as though God should have front-loaded Genesis 1 with a systematic theological exposition.

Is Jesus the Holy Spirit?
McCraney pointed out that Christ and the Spirit are both called Parakletos; both are said to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26, 34), and both are said to have been given to us by God. How these things prove that the Holy Spirit is not a person, I don’t know. If anything they might seem to prove that the Holy Spirit is Jesus. (They don’t. For example, John 14:16 calls the Holy Spirit “another Parakletos,” making it clear that the Holy Spirit is not Jesus but is someone like him.) But McCraney doesn’t (usually) make that claim. At one point, though, McCraney cited 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 and concluded that it means that Jesus is the Spirit. If so, then, by McCraney’s own reasoning, either Jesus is not a person or the Holy Spirit is a person.

Conclusion
Many of McCraney’s arguments against the personhood of the Holy Spirit, if applied consistently, would also “disprove” that God the Father is a person, or that Christ is a person. All of his objections to the orthodox doctrine are based on misunderstandings, some of them egregious.

The tragedy is that these errors could easily have been avoided, if McCraney would have listened to sound teachers and studied these things carefully before publicly teaching on matters he doesn’t understand.

Pentecost CORRECTED

“Pentecost”, Boone Tabernacle Church of God in Christ Kansas City, MO. Artist unknown.

About the Author
Robert M. Bowman Jr. is the Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research. He has been with IRR since 2008. Previously he served as Manager of Apologetics & Interfaith Evangelism for the North American Mission Board (2006-2008). For ten years Rob taught graduate courses in apologetics, biblical studies, and religion at Luther Rice University (1994-99) and Biola University (2001-2005). He has also worked with other apologetics and discernment ministries, most notably the Christian Research Institute (1984-91), the Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project (1994-99), and Watchman Fellowship in Alabama (1999-2000). Rob has spoken at over a hundred churches and at some three dozen conferences and debates. He has five years of experience hosting call-in radio talk shows focusing on apologetics, including the nationally famous Bible Answer Man show.

Rob Bowman, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research

Rob Bowman, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research

Rob Bowman earned the M.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, did doctoral studies in Christian Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, and earned his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at South African Theological Seminary. He is the author of roughly 60 articles (e.g., in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Review of Biblical Literature, Christian Research Journal, Moody Monthly, Pastoral Renewal,Mission Frontiers, and Journal of Evangelism and Missions) and 13 books pertaining to apologetics, religion, and biblical theology, including two winners of the Gold Medallion Award, An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World (1997) and Faith Has Its Reasons (2001; 2d ed., 2006). His most recent books are Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (co-authored with Ed Komoszewski, 2007), which received numerous endorsements from such scholars as Ravi Zacharias and Richard Bauckham, and What Mormons Believe (2012).

Rob and his wife, Cathy, have been married since 1981 and have four children, three of them still living at home.

a_logo© 2015 Institute for Religious Research. All rights reserved

This article was originally published on the Institute for Religious Research website. It is republished here with the express written permission of the author. This article is part of a larger series entitled “Bad Arguments against the Personhood of the Holy Spirit” which we encourage the reader to also consider upon completion of this article.

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Lies
An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“There’s nothing in Mormonism that’s true – it’s all wrong and nothing but a pack of lies!”

Why It’s Weak:
As stated a number of times throughout this series, exaggeration erodes credibility and overstatement turns strong arguments into weak ones. This is an example of both: The fact of the matter is that there is some good and some truth in Mormonism despite the preponderance of errors and lies. This is just as pioneering cult researcher and lecturer Walter Martin said so well:

Within the theological structure of the cults there is considerable truth, all of which, it might be added, is drawn from biblical sources, but so diluted with human error as to be more deadly than complete falsehood.[1]

And as Bible teacher Don Basham noted, “All cults are at least 10% truth and 90% lie. If they didn’t contain some truth then no one would believe the lies – no one would join them.”[2] And I would add, based on my own experience in a cult, that if they didn’t meet some kind of a need no one would stay. So it shouldn’t surprise us to find some truth and some good in all cults – and the Mormon Church is no exception. Therefore, acknowledging what’s true and what’s good – without underestimating or discounting what isn’t – is simply a matter of common sense. And giving credit where credit is due is a matter of integrity.

1) Point One: There is some truth in the Mormon Church
Focusing exclusively on Christology, here’s what the Mormon Church gets right:

Warner Sallman,

Warner Sallman, “The Head of Christ”
(circa 1941)

  1. They believe that Jesus preexisted in Heaven before becoming a man.
  2. They believe that Jesus is Jehovah, the God of Israel.
  3. They believe that we are to pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus.
  4. They believe that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father.
  5. They believe that Jesus was the Messiah, lived a sinless life, and did the miracles reported in the Gospels
  6. They believe that Jesus suffered and died on a cross.
  7. They believe that Jesus rose physically, bodily from the grave.
  8. They believe that Jesus ascended bodily into Heaven.
  9. They believe that Jesus will return physically to the earth.[3]

2) Point Two: It’s not all wrong
It tends to get downplayed in the heat of battle but in the area of values, morality, and social issues, the Mormon Church is spot on in a number of areas. Mormon Researcher Eric Johnson, an Evangelical Christian who is generally critical of Mormonism, has gone so far as to identify ten areas (in David Letterman countdown fashion) that the LdS Church excels at and that he believes we can learn from:

10. Dedication to the heritage and the faith.
From a young age, Mormon children are taught about their heritage and the struggles that the early LDS pioneers faced when it came to living their faith. On the other hand, most of us Bible-believing Christians have very little knowledge of our history, including the conflicts and persecutions of the early Christian church. As a result, we do not benefit from the examples of our own past…

9. Overall morality.
While Mormons struggle with sin just like everyone else, they are generally well known for keeping a high moral codes and abstaining from a secular lifestyle. Faithful members are not to partake in drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Remaining chaste, personal modesty, and being honest (along with the other commandments) are important virtues in the LDS lifestyle…

8. Politics and religion mix.
The Mormon Church is willing to put its money where its mouth is when political issues warrant a moral response. Certainly not every member may like the conservative stance that the LDS Church takes. But it is admirable how the Church is willing to support those things it strongly believes in…

7. Organization in its leadership.
The LDS Church is a well-oiled machine when it comes to organization, from the top down to the bottom…

6. Positive peer pressure towards missions.
Many Mormon young people look with anticipation for the day when they can leave on a church mission… Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every Christian young person were encouraged to spend two years of his or her life on the mission field? Perhaps many more career missionaries would be a result if short-term missions became a Christian priority…

5. Respecting Sundays as sacred.
Sundays in the Mormon Church are treated as a quiet day, a time to reflect and be with the family after attending the morning service at the local ward. Recreational and sporting activities as well as retail excursions are discouraged… We should not forget that the day of rest was created for the benefit of man…

4. Religious education for the youth.
The LDS Church is very concerned about educating its young people in the ways of its faith… Later, when the college years come and the young adult is challenged in his faith, he will have some possible answers to help him remain faithful to his religion…

3. Helping to supply the needs of the membership.
Mormons are known for being generous, even going out of their way to help their fellow members…

2. Preventing members from falling through the cracks.
When a Mormon fails to attend the services of his designated local ward for several weeks, he is sure to be missed… While I am not suggesting that Christian churches should become legalistic nags in order to force its membership to attend meetings and volunteer for projects, perhaps the general idea of following up on those who all of a sudden are no longer there would fulfill the shepherd role that the church is supposed to have…

1. The importance of families.
And the number-one thing we can learn from the Mormons is (drum roll, please) the priority the Mormon Church places on family life. Certainly many Christian families are very successful. Yet few churches emphasize the importance of the family like the Mormons do; they even set aside every Monday evening for Family Home Evenings to play games, talk, do devotions, etc…[4]

And Mr. Johnson isn’t alone, Christian Commentator Nick Asolas has developed his own list:

The Church Office Building for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church Office Building of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

1. Public Relations
If Christianity had a PR firm, it should have been fired decades ago. The fact that we don’t is so painfully obvious that preaching against our past failures has almost replaced the Gospel itself…

2. Staffing Issues
In the average Christian church, the largest budget section is the salary of the staff. We have managed to take a couple curious verses in the New Testament and turn them into a mandate for creating medium-sized corporations complete with corporate perks and parking spaces. I am not going to make a case against paid staff in this post, but it is possible…

3. Engaging the Community
I think this is because as church leaders, we know what we need to do (talk to our neighbors, etc) but we don’t know how to do it. The Mormons are great at this. Granted, their strategy is simple and hasn’t changed for decades, but they have conditioned their community now to know who they are and what they are about based on looks alone…

4. Social Media
The LDS Church is excellent at talking with people across their social media sites. There are several Facebook pages for the different sections and interests and multiple Twitter feeds users can follow for church news, devotions etc. The official LDS Facebook page is updated daily with videos, polls and conversations and has almost half a million users…

5. Unity
This is the biggest and most important. While there are varying sects of the LDS religion, for the most part, they are one unified body that offers a consistent experience across all regions and wards. The statement of faith for all communities is the exact same and there is no competition among branches…[5]

Now I have been extremely critical of Greg Stier the president and founder of “Dare 2 Share” in the past for his uncritical and discernment impaired “Mormon Envy” of Mormon youth programs[6] but I will acknowledge that in pointing to the finer aspects of those programs he made some good points, including this one:

We need to push our teens. We need to turn them into active activists. We need to build consistent opportunities for service, outreach and training. We need to equip them to share their faith and then go with them, leading the way. After all, we are youth leaders.[7]

And Methodist minister and youth ministry expert Kenda Creasy Dean agrees. In her book “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” she devotes the entire third chapter (entitled “Mormon Envy: Sociological Tools for a Consequential Faith”) to deconstructing and analyzing the Mormon youth enculturation process. In the end she concludes:

By intentionally reinforcing the significance of Mormonism’s particular God-story, by immersing young people in a community of belonging, by preparing them for a vocation and by modeling a forward-looking hope, Mormons intentionally and consistently create the conditions for consequential faith—so much so that Mormon teenagers are more likely than teenagers from any other group to fall in the category of young people the NSYR [National Studies of Youth and Religion] called highly devoted.[8]

In addition to everything that been said above, I would add my own “Mormon Envy” item to the list: Community. It was hinted at in the lists above but I would like to state it plainly: The LdS Church does a great job of creating a faith-based community of belonging that meets members social needs. Further, Mormon culture includes an element that’s missing from far too many of our churches: Good clean, fun. To be exact, they have fun for fun’s sake and nothing else.

When I was a kid I used to secretly hope that my parents would convert to Mormonism because the social events at the Ward Halls of Mormon friends and family members were always so darn fun! My Mormon cousins did Boy Scouting and they regularly had awesome, memory building, family outings. On the other hand my dreary, church meeting addicted, Nazarene parents seemed to think that fun was a sin and boredom a virtue. Their church’s idea of “fun” in my mind was, “Hey, I’ve got it! Let’s have another revival/potluck/prayer/testimony meeting!” Now you boring old religious people might love those things but they’re not exactly a good memory building, family bonding, experience if you’re a kid who’s still undecided about this whole Christianity thing – sorry folks, but there it is!

Even today, decades later, I have to ask: Why are so many of our churches so darn boring? Why can’t we just have some good clean fun every once in a while? Why can’t we just get together and have a good time? Why does everything have to be some form of religious utilitarianism?  I’m sorry fellow mainstream Biblical Christians but on the community thing, in comparison to the Mormon Church, we’re losing badly. This is an area where we can do a lot better in my opinion. I mean, come on, in the Old Testament God commanded the Jews to have seven festivals per year.[9] Yes, that’s right He commanded them! And since God seems to love a party shouldn’t we, His covenant people, love them too?

In fact, I’ve found that the rich community of Mormonism is the one thing that will keep members in the LdS Church long after they stopped believing in Joseph Smith, Mormon doctrine, or even God. Mormon culture is so rich and need fulfilling that it can be hard to leave when you’ve decided that its beliefs are hooey. If we did better in this area we would probably see far more Mormons leave the LdS Church and far less transition into atheism when they do.

The bottom line is this: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t get everything wrong and they get quite a few things right. In fact, in terms of operations, maintaining a family first philosophy, very intentionally and deliberately engaging the surrounding cultural, creating a community of purpose and belonging, and caring for their membership they do some things better than many mainstream Christian churches do.

3) Point Three: It’s not all lies
Well now, okay, okay, okay, yes, there is a lot of deceit that goes on in the LdS Church! I’ve said it, I feel better now. Most egregious of all is how it chronically, even habitually, lies to its own members. Never-the-less, as stated above, since it still contains at least 10% truth, there is some truth in Mormonism.

Further, Mormon Leaders don’t lie all the time.  And official church literature doesn’t lie all the time – but when you do lie they do “go big!” So the problem that I have with the “it’s nothing but a pack of lies!” portion of the weak argument isn’t that it’s not more true than false but that it’s hyperbole.

The Stronger Arguments:
Building a stronger argument in this area involves two things: 1) Not engaging in over-the-top hyperbolic rhetoric, and; 2) Presenting your argument in a way that’s fair and balanced rather than obviously biased.

First Suggested Strong Argument: Present a balanced rather than biased argument 
To illustrate how one does this, let’s consider the list of things that Mormonism gets right in the Christology that was presented above. Rather than arguing that, “There’s nothing in Mormon Christology that’s true!” (which is so extreme that it’s like announcing, “I’m biased, my mind is closed, and I’m unwilling to consider the full body of evidence!”) a more balanced argument would look something like this:

Unknown Artist,

Unknown Artist, “Mormon Corporate Jesus”

“Well the LdS Church does get some things right in it’s Christology – including the two most important things, His divinity and His bodily resurrection from the dead. However, it also gets far more wrong, specifically: 

  1. Jesus is one of billions of spirits who preexisted in Heaven before becoming human.
  2. Jesus is one of three Gods ruling the universe (among other Gods that also exist).
  3. We are never supposed to pray directly to Jesus.
  4. God is Jesus’ “literal” father in the flesh—compromising the truth that Mary was a virgin.
  5. Some of Jesus’ statements must be revised according to Joseph Smith’s revelations.
  6. Jesus accomplished the Atonement primarily in the garden of Gethsemane.
  7. Jesus by his resurrection assures immortality in some heavenly kingdom for virtually everyone.
  8. Jesus returned to the earth to preach to the Nephites and start a separate church for them.
  9. Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith, condemned all existing churches, and restored the true church.[10]

Unfortunately, due to what it gets wrong, the Mormon Jesus isn’t the Christ of the bible – he is the type of ‘another Jesus’ that Paul warned us against in 2 Corinthians 11:4.”

Second Suggested Strong Argument: Present both sides of the coin
Closely aligned with the first strong argument is simply giving both sides of the coin. For example, even though the last section presented only the positive side of the coin, an argument regarding the both sides of the LdS Church’s Mormon Missionary program coin might look like this:

“Christian Youth Ministry experts like Greg Stier and Kenda Creasy Dean have praised your missionary program. Even Eric Johnson, who’s a critic of the Mormon Church, has said that it creates ‘positive peer pressure’ within your youth groups and culture. However, it has a dark side too, specifically: 

  1. BandaidMissionaryBadgeIt has created a culture whereby fear of their family’s reaction puts pressure on disenchanted LDS Missionaries to continue with their missions whether they want to or not. [click here for supporting evidence]
  2. LDS Church Missionary training and policies employ Mind Control techniques and tactics.
  3. The LDS Church focuses on the needs and interests of the institution over the needs and interests of the members. For example, on January 29, 2013, the LDS Church announced that the Benemerito De Las Americas private school in Mexico would be closed and converted into a Missionary Training Center leaving its more than 2,000 LDS students to the mercy of the vastly inferior Mexican public education system.[11]

So while I and other Christians applaud the good impact that your missionary programs have on Mormon young people, at the same time we often wonder if they and others get hurt more often than they get helped by it. After all, isn’t 18-years old awfully young to be taking on a role in life that requires some degree of maturity and life experience? Sometimes I wonder if the price for being a Mormon Missionary is simply too high.”

Another example might go like this:

“One thing that I love about the LdS Church is how it does such a great job of creating a faith-based community of belonging that meets member social needs. As kid I loved how you all know how to have good clean fun for fun’s sake and nothing else. I mean, for goodness sake, even after they’ve left Ex-Mormons still try to find ways to stay engage in Mormon Culture – that says something!

However, what seems to be missing from LdS community is real authenticity and vulnerability. The community relations are social but not intimate. The perfectionist expectations create a culture of “looking good” – where you don’t admit that you aren’t measuring up or that you are  struggling in some way. As former Mormon composer J.A.C. Redford once said, “You get a casserole if you’re sick, but not if you’re doubting.” To be sure, evangelical churches can suffer from the same problem, but from what I’ve seen in the LdS Church it’s both extreme and chronic. Candidly, I think if I’d had to deal with my drug and alcohol addictions as a Mormon I’d still secretly be drunk and using! Have you ever thought about any of this?”

And you can trust me when I say this: They probably have. I know this because I’ve had Mormons talk to me about this when we were in private and they feel safe enough to open up. They can’t talk about this stuff to insiders but they will to outsiders that they feel safe with.

Third Suggested Strong Argument: “So what?”
Now I would imagine that some Mormons reading this article might be tempted to point to the positive things that have been said in this article and crow, “This only proves that we are indeed the only true and living Church!” This isn’t speculation, Mormon are prone to use the good works and positive aspects of their institution as proof of its veracity. How many times have we heard a Latter-day Saint say, “Just inspect the fruit – it’s good!” as evidence of the truthfulness of Mormonism? However, as thesis #70 of the 95 LDS Theses points out:

70. It [the LdS Church] publicly (and loudly) trumpets its philanthropic work, when compared to other churches its per capita outlay is less than what smaller, less wealthy, less organized religious organizations spend: “A study co-written by Cragun and recently published in Free Inquiry estimates that the Mormon Church donates only about 0.7 percent of its annual income to charity; the United Methodist Church gives about 29 percent.”
(Caroline Winter, “How The Mormons Make Money”, Business Week; July 18, 2012)
[click here for supplemental evidence]

In the end, this argument proves nothing – it’s just a bad argument. There are a lot of groups that not only do good works but do far more of it than the LdS Church both per capita and in total. To cite one example, let’s talk about WalMart which in 2012 gave 1.7% of its pre-tax profits to charity.[12] Does that make WalMart the only true and living store?

Further, there are many other groups getting similar positive results from their members and in their communities. And this isn’t limited to religious groups, we could point to groups like the Red Cross, the United Way, the Shriners, the Kiwanis, Alcoholics Anonymous, and other institutions that give and do far more than the LdS Church does. And in terms of religious groups the Roman Catholic Church absolutely buries the LdS Church in terms of giving, good works – and some would add, demonstrably positive outcomes – with its membership. So I guess the Roman Catholic Church is really the only true and living church, right?

LDS Hospital, Salt Lake City which was sold off to Intermountain Healthcare. The Mormon Church now owns no hospitals.

LDS Hospital, Salt Lake City, which was sold off to Intermountain Healthcare in 1975. The Mormon Church now owns no hospitals. period.

Finally, whenever, a Mormon uses this argument with me I always ask this question: “Where are the Mormon Church owned hospitals and orphanages?” Between where I live and work (a 51-mile stretch) there are seven Catholic hospitals and several Catholic orphanages. And I haven’t even added in the hospitals and orphanages that are owned by Protestant churches in the same area. So how many Mormon equivalents are there? Answer: Zero.  The LdS Church doesn’t even have any church owned hospitals – it sold them all off years ago.[13] And while the Mormon Church offers adoption as part of its family services portfolio it doesn’t own a single orphanage and has even outsourced its adoption agency.[14] In this area the LdS Church is conspicuous in its absence. Thus, its “good works” bravado is most certainly more heat than light – while it may sound good at first, it simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Finally, always remember the Golden Rule of Apologetics
The Golden Rule of Apologetics is:[15]

Always treat your debating opponent’s evidence and arguments the way that you would want to have your evidence and arguments treated

All too often I see Christians engaging in the exact opposite of this, in something that apologists call “Scorched Earth Tactics”. This is a tactic whereby one is determined to win the debate no matter what the cost. It’s like dropping napalm or salting the ground after each advance so nothing can grow in your wake. The end result is that all too often you win the debate but lose your debating opponent – forever.

This is a formula for failure since it can take Mormon years, even decades to shake off the mind control of the LdS Church, to unsnap psychologically, and to start considering the body of evidence through clear eyes rather than Mormon sunglasses. And then there are typically several years more after that before they transition out due to family, professional, and cultural entanglements. Therefore, it’s always best to strive to maintain a good relationship even if you’re at loggerheads as debating opponents. Think long, not short term, and always, always, always consider how to maintain the relationship without compromising your message or yourself.

That sounds so easy doesn’t it? It’s not. It can be so hard to keep one’s passions, ego, and pride in check when engaging Mormons. And if you really like the person it can be hard not to soften your message to maintain the relationship.  It’s a balancing act. Which is why we so desperately need the mind of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us rather than our fallen human nature. So for those moments when you feel your adrenaline beginning to pump, your palms beginning to sweat, and your eyes beginning to bulge I would encourage you to remember (or better yet, memorize) what God has said to us through His word:

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,
(2 Timothy 2:25 NIV) 

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
(Colossians 4:6 NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
(1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

For as my wiser older sister once said so well, “The church is a mess and always has been. If it wasn’t for Jesus none of us would be Christians!” And that’s the best news of all – nothing depends entirely on you or me!

Summary and Conclusion:
Again, exaggeration erodes credibility and overstatement turns strong arguments into weak ones. The weak argument as presented here is an example of both.  As I have shown here there is some good and some truth in Mormonism despite the mountain of lies and errors in the LdS Church.  There is not only no shame in giving credit where credit is due, but doing so builds credibility. And not only do fair, full arguments demonstrate integrity, they also build trust so that honest relationships can form.  And above all they demonstrate that you’re committed to the truth above all else.

Do these things and your arguments will always be strong and have impact. It’s all about balance.

balanceTruth without love is too hard. Love without truth is too soft
— Jim Spencer, Idaho Pastor and former Mormon

NOTES
[1] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults”, p.24

[2] Don Basham, “Spiritual Warfare”, lecture at Santa Ana High School 1980, taken from author’s personal notes from the event.

[3] Adapted from Rob Bowman, “The Mormon View of Jesus Christ”, Institute for Religious Research website.  I would encourage the reader to read this article in its entirety as it also discusses in full detail how Mormon Christology is both right and wrong in each of these areas.

[4] Abridged from Eric Johnson, “10 Things Christians Can Learn from the Mormons”, Mormon Research Ministry website. Again, I would encourage the reader to read this article in its entirety as it also discusses the LdS Church’s imbalances and flaws in regard to each of these items.

[5] Abridged from Nick Asolas, “5 Things We Need to Learn from the Mormon Church”, Shrink The Church website.

[6] See “An Open Letter to Greg Stier”

[7] Greg Stier, “Why Mormons Do Better Youth Ministry Than We Do”, Christian Post website.

[8] Kenda Creasy Dean, “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” (p. 50, Kindle position 881). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[9] See “What are the different Jewish festivals in the Bible?”, GotQuestions.org website

[10] Op cit, Rob Bowman.

[11] These three points were taken from “The 95 LDS Theses”.  They are  theses #30, #75  and #2 respectively.

[12] Sarah Frostenson and Megan O’Neil, “10 Companies That Gave the Most Cash in 2013”, The Chronicles of Philanthropy website.

[13] See the “Hospitals” article in the “The Encyclopedia of Mormonism”. BYU Harold B. Lee Library website.

[14] From the LdS Church’s “Adoption Services” website:

Current Services Offered by LDS Family Services
We have made changes to the way we provide services to single expectant parents and prospective adoptive families. As of August 1, 2014, we no longer function as a full-service adoption agency and instead outsource most adoption functions. However, we continue to provide consultation for adoptive couples, screening and registration on an adoption matching website, and counseling for single expectant parents.
(retrieved January 7, 2015)

[15] For a more thorough analysis and explanation of “The Golden Rule of Apologetics” see Kenneth R. Samples‘ seven part series on the subject which starts here, “The Golden Rule of Apologetics Part 1”.

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