Falsely Accused: My Life As An ‘Anti’

Posted: September 18, 2016 in Fred Anson, Mormon Studies, The Worldwide Church of God

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by Fred W. Anson
Well I’ve just found out that I’m an Anti-Mormon. Boy am I surprised!

It all started with Facebook. Some Mormon family members saw some things in my news feed that they didn’t like and BAM! just like that I’m an Anti-Mormon.1

Well since it appears that I’ve been judged, labeled, and pigeonholed I’ve got some work to do – some “heavy lifting” penitence for my “sin” if you will! Specifically I need to answer the questions – the really big ones – that I think every Anti-Mormon, like myself, shoud ask:

1) Who am I?
2) Where did I come from?
3) Why am I here?
4) Where am I going?
(and, of course, if you have a filmstrip that will help me in my search for happiness . . . ) 2

Who am I?
Well, I thought that I was a Mormon Studies Scholar specializing in Mormon History and Culture. After all doesn’t the dictionary tell us that a scholar is:

schol·ar
[skol-er]
–noun
1. a learned or erudite person, especially one who has profound knowledge of a particular subject.
2. a student; pupil.
3. a student who has been awarded a scholarship.

You see, studying Mormonism and interacting with Mormons and doing the same with non-Mormons involved in Mormon Studies is pretty much what I do, whenever I’m not doing anything else. It’s my passion. My joy. My calling. So I certainly qualify for #2.

#1, from what I’ve seen, always seems to be a matter of opinion depending on whether the work of the “learned or erudite person” is approved of by the person doing the assessment (“Yes, they are!”) or not (“What are you crazy? They’re clearly a hack!”). In my case I’m even “loopy” enough to publicly talk about and write on the results of my research with others. But apparently I’m no scholar since sometimes my work upsets people who disagree with it – especially True Believing Mormons. So that, apparently, automatically makes me an “Anti-Mormon” rather than a “scholar”.

However, I suppose I should take some consolation in the fact that in recent years I’ve heard the following people labeled “Anti-Mormon” by True Believing Mormons:

– D. Michael Quinn
– Grant Palmer
– Gordon B. Hinckley3

And oddly enough these are all believing Mormons! So apparently even being a believing Mormon doesn’t immunize one from being an “Anti-Mormon”. In fact, I’m sure that if queried these men would all declare (as they have) that they have a profound and love and respect for the Mormon people, culture and history – and I echo those sentiments. So how then are we all “Anti”? To me, it’s both illogical and irrational.

So I can’t help but wonder if this, “I’m upset because I don’t like what you’re saying so you must be an Anti-Mormon!” is a validation of that infamous quote:

“All too often [Latter-day] Saints use the label “anti-Mormon” as a tactic to forestall serious discussion.”
(“Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (2007 Edition)”; Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling; p. 115)

“Man’s Search For Happiness” (1964 Mormon Missionary filmstrip)

Where did I come from?
I’ve never been a Latter-day Saint but I’ve had Mormon family members and friends my whole life. I like them, I get along with them (at least I think I do), and I like to think that my main concern is my Mormon friends and family member’s best interests. Further, I can’t help but believe that what’s true for me is even more true for the distinguished gentlemen in the above list.

Never-the-less, I do have something else in common with all those men: I’ve criticized the LdS Church and suggested that all isn’t well in Zion. Yes, I have had the gall and the audacity to criticize “God’s perfect Church” and call it to account for I see as it’s deficiencies. In addition, I have this in common with all but one of them: Whenever I study and discuss Mormon History it’s always true rather than faithful Mormon History.4 And since I have been on a quest to acquire and speak truth my entire life, I’m not inclined to give that up.

You see, to me, to present the white washed, spin-doctored view of the LdS Church that’s presented to the membership and the public as well as limiting one’s self to the “Faithful” history pontificated by the Church Educational System is akin to lying via omission or commission. Now I’m far from perfect but to the best of my ability I speak the truth as I see it, as I understand it, and as it’s aligned with the best available evidence – if that makes me an “Anti-Mormon” in the eyes of some . . . oh well!

Why am I here?
So how in the world did I get here at all? To answer that question we must “rewind” to the passing of Gordon B. Hinckley . . .

A Mormon family member sent out a mass email praising him and expounding on the time that he shook his hand. The “hook” that got me was when this normally rational, logical relative used these words, “When I looked into his eyes it was if I was he and I were the only people in the room – it was if I were looking into the eyes of Christ himself.”

That was wake up call #1.

Then a few months later Mitt Romney drops out of the Presidential race on the same week that the Wall Street Journal publishes an article revealing that most Americas consider Mormon beliefs troubling and thus would have second thoughts about having a Latter-day Saint as President of the nation.

Apparently the Mormon Leadership sent out some type of communique to the Wards about this article and Romney’s departure from the race because that Sunday that same Mormon family member sent out another email about how Mormons are just normal, average people and how we non-Mormons shouldn’t persecute them for their faith.5

That was bad.

What was worse when someone else in my family (who’s not Mormon) immediately replied with words of comfort and reassurance ending with, “… after all we all worship the same Christ”6 I sat there stunned and realized that I wasn’t equipped to reply intelligently to either of these bright, intelligent, well read family members even if I wanted to.

So I resurrected my long dormant (it had fallen to the side decades ago due to pressure of finishing college, starting a career and raising a family) study of Mormonism and got to work.  Well to my shock and surprise I found that I had discovered a new passion: Mormon Studies.

I’m hooked.

My favorite Mormon Studies quote – and the one the epitomizes my philosophy and experience – comes from LdS Scholar Kathleen Flake who said:

Superficially, one thinks of revealed religions as providing answers, and Smith provides as many questions as he does answers. Nobody is exempt from struggling with who he is. Whether you’re an insider or an outsider, thinking about Smith causes you to struggle, and that struggle brings as much of you into the question as it does Smith himself. He’s a bit of a religious Rorschach test.
— Kathleen Flake, Historian 
(from the PBS Series “The Mormons”)

That quote matches my experience to a “T”. I have been changed, I believe for the better, through the craft and discipline of Mormon Studies – it touches on everything and it stretches you everywhere! It’s funny that way. Further, I just find Mormonism downright fascinating in and of itself – period.

So, yes, Mormon Studies has become my “thing” – it’s what I really enjoy and, frankly, I seem to be pretty good at it. So, for better or worse, here I am pursuing what seems to be a unique gifting and doing the best that I can to steward that gift well. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed, but whatever happens I just keep learning, struggling, growing, and stretching.

Where am I going?
In addition, I see some good things in the LdS Church and I see even more in Mormon Culture. There’s also much – particularly in the former – that, in my opinion, is really, really bad and needs to change. Never-the-less I’m just crazy enough to believe that there must be a way to keep the good and jettison the bad. After all isn’t that what happened to the Worldwide Church of God?7

falsely-accused-on-social-mediaHowever, to get there from here the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from my perspective, must reform. And that, at least for me, is still a work in progress. That’s to say, it’s a work in progress for me because while I think I have an idea as to what end state might look like, I know that I’m not alone in this vision and I’m find the ideas and thoughts of others often more interesting than my own – hence the need for ongoing dialog.

I also know that time is on my side since the LdS Chuch keeps changing – and, it seems, usually for the better. Thus, I think that we will see a better more mainstream Mormon Church in 1-2 generations (that’s 40-80 years for those of you who are counting). That also means that I won’t be around to see it so I must be content to shoot arrows into the future via ideas carried on written words.

And you dear reader have just picked one of those arrows up. May I ask you to please carry it into the future for me? And if you do, on behalf of myself, my family, my Mormon friends, and my Mormon family members: Thank you!

And if anyone ever asks you where you got it from just say, “From some guy on the Beggar’s Bread website. I don’t know much about him – but I do know that he’s no Anti-Mormon!”

NOTES:
1 Now those of you have listened to the recent “The History of Online Mormonism: The Board Wars” podcast will know what I mean by “the problem of Facebook”, for those who haven’t here’s the short version: The great thing about Facebook is that it connects us. The problem is sometimes, those connections can be awkward (as any teenager who’s had their Mom friend them on Facebook will tell you!)

2 Yes folks, that was coded language. Link here (or see the embedded video above) to decode that great mystery!

3 Yes, believe it or not, some Mormons consider Gordon B. Hinckley an Anti-Mormon. When John Dehlin reported this in an early episode of Mormon Stories I didn’t believe it either. That was, until I saw this YouTube page – wow, just wow!

4 The best discussion of the differences between “True” and “Faithful” Mormon History is “Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History” Edited by George D. Smith which can be read online here or purchased from Amazon here. Marvin Hill’s Dialogue Article, “The ‘New Mormon History’ Reassessed in Light of Recent Books on Joseph Smith and Mormon Origins” (Dialogue volume 21, number 3, p.117) is also a good short overview.

5 Though I didn’t realize it at the time this was reflective of the infamous “Mormon persecution complex” which was described thusly in the first part of the aforementioned Mormon America quote:

“The thin-skinned and image-conscious Mormon can display immature, isolationist, and defensive reactions to outsiders, perhaps because there is no substantive debate and no “loyal opposition” within their kingdom. With some, it almost seems that the wilderness is still untamed, the federal ‘polyg’ police are on the prowl, and the Illinois lynch mob is still oiling muskets and preparing to raid Carthage Jail. All too often Saints use the label “anti-Mormon” as a tactic to forestall serious discussion.”
(“Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (2007 Edition)”; Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling; p. 115)

6 Big topic. Controversial topic. However, I would encourage the reader to please consider the following articles from the critical perspective on this point:
What is the difference between the Mormon Jesus and the Jesus of the Bible?
Hinckley says Mormons Believe in a Different Jesus
The Biblical Jesus vs. the Book of Mormon Jesus
Is Mormonism Christian?: A Comparison of Mormonism and Historic Christianity
A Comparison Between Christian Doctrine and Mormon Doctrine
Differences Between Mormonism and Christianity

7 A portal page on the Worldwide Church of God’s transition to mainstream orthodoxy can be found can here. It’s a fascinating and inspiring story. If the LdS church will go this way is anyone’s guess but I holding out hope that the answer is, “Yes!”

(As originally published on the Mormon Expression Blogs website on July 11, 2011)

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