Reformation Not Destruction

Posted: September 12, 2021 in Anti-Mormonism, Fred Anson, Mormon Reformation, Mormon Studies

A peaceful march of hundreds of supporters and members of the Chicago Freedom Movement along State Street, Chicago, Illinois, July 26, 1965, that resulted in no deaths and no destruction of property. (photo credit: Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images)

A Common Sense Appeal to Biblically Approaching Mormonism

by Fred W. Anson
Let me ask you something: How inclined would you be to listen to someone whose goal is the destruction of your church? If you’re like most people the honest answer is, “Not very, if that!” In fact, a Christian needn’t go further than an atheist discussion board to find out how “receptive” this attitude makes one to listening to anything that someone with such an agenda has to say.

On the other hand, what if the person’s goal is to reform your church so that it’s a better church? While you may still be skeptical of their intentions and motives you would at least be willing to listen. In this case, it would only be the closed-minded die-hard defenders of the status quo – be it right or be it wrong – who would tend to take umbrage at such a stance right? But even in those cases, even the die-hards would be more inclined to listen to someone who’s trying to be constructive rather than someone who’s destructive right?

So here’s the irony: Relative to the largely orthodox Mormonism taught in early Mormonism the modern LdS Church is in a state of apostasy. In fact, and even more ironically, just a few years after the formation of the church Joseph Smith had managed to lead his followers into blatant heresy and error. This is clearly what a former member of the LdS Church First Presidency, William Law, and his associates stated in the Nauvoo Expositor:

‘As for our acquaintance with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we know, no man or set of men can be more thoroughly acquainted with its rise, its organization, and its history, than we have every reason to believe we are. We all verily believe, and many of us know of a surety, that the religion of the Latter Day Saints, as originally taught by Joseph Smith, which is contained in the Old and New Testaments, Book of Covenants [that is the original 1835 Doctrine & Covenants], and Book of Mormon, is verily true; and that the pure principles set forth in those books, are the immutable and eternal principles of Heaven, and speaks a language which, when spoken in truth and virtue, sinks deep into the heart of every honest man…We are earnestly seeking to explode the vicious principles of Joseph Smith, and those who practice the same abominations and whoredoms; which we verily know are not accordant and consonant with the principles of Jesus Christ and the Apostles; and for that purpose, and with that end in view, with an eye single to the glory of God, we have dared to gird on the armor, and with god at our head, we most solemnly and sincerely declare that the sword of truth shall not depart from the thigh, nor the buckler from the arm, until we can enjoy those glorious privileges which nature’s God and our country’s laws have guarantied to us–freedom of speech, the liberty of the press, and the right to worship God as seemeth us good.’
(The Nauvoo Expositor, June 7, 1844) 

As tempting as it might be to chuckle at the amusing irony of a church that claims that all other churches (other than theirs of course) need to be restored to their pure and primitive state, actually needs to be restored to it’s pure and primitive state itself, it’s still a fact. Mormons like D. Michael Quinn, Rock Waterman, Denver Snuffer, and many others see this clearly and have been lobbying for it for years – though I don’t think that many mainstream Christians would completely agree with their vision of what a truly reformed Mormon Church would or should look like.

And while I know that the idea of a “Reformation not destruction” stance isn’t popular among Christian critics of Mormonism – a fact I found out quickly when I asked for feedback on the concept on social media and promptly got thrown back about a mile by the explosive “Destruction not reformation!” outcries – I would ask the reader to still give the idea some thought and consideration despite how incredible it may sound to you now. And as you consider the question, I would point you to the precedence of the Quakers, The Shepherding Movement, and the World Wide Church of God churches as examples of full reformations and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka “RLDS”) as an example of partial reformation.

And to those who are still reluctant to consider a “Reformation not destruction” stance I would ask you to consider a few things:

1) Some at BYU have already taken baby steps toward reform distancing themselves from some Mormonism’s most blasphemous doctrines. They’re also putting a greater emphasis on grace. No, it’s not perfect, and yes, there are still a lot of problems – there is both good reason for hope and good cause for concern at this point. However, if this trend continues (and if they don’t get excommunicated) this could possibly lead to even greater reform over time;

2) There are reformers aplenty in the LdS Church right now. I’ve only mentioned three, there are more. And the engine of internal reformation just seems to be gathering steam. It’s been said that Mormonism is not only emptying out, but it’s also hollowing out and that, combined with the Neo-Orthodoxy movement within Mormonism, is any indication it looks like we’re in for quite a ride!

3) The stranglehold that Mormon Leaders have traditionally had on members of the LdS Church is waning. Yes, it’s alive and well and living in Chapel Mormonism, but one need only engage Mormons outside of those chapel walls to realize that many, if not most, members of the LdS Church in private will decide for themself whether they take or leave whatever the Brethren have to say on any given matter. As one Mormon Researcher said well,

The religion of Mormonism is hollowing out…there is a mass apostasy going on, intellectually and mentally speaking. People are leaving the LDS Church without leaving the LDS Church. Without asking probing questions, I can’t assume any Mormon I talk to even believes in the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus. Even the Mormons who aren’t closet atheists are largely latent atheists (or agnostics) without knowing it.
(Aaron Shafovaloff, “The Creed of Practical Mormon Atheism”, Mormonism Research Ministry, March 14, 2013)

What if the institution were swayed in such a way that it was reformed to comply with biblical authority and absolutes? Is it just possible, that we could see far less latent atheists and agnostics sitting in Mormon pews? Personally, I think we will. Yes, you may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one – and I have learned the hard way to never put limits on the power and sovereignty of God, He is, after all, God, right?

4) If the LdS Church were to fully reform it would be a completely different organization than it is today. Spoken plainly it would cease to exist just as the World Wide Church of God ceased to exist after it became Grace Communion International. So in a sense, one could say that “Reformation of the LdS Church = Destruction of the LdS Church”. So if you’re really, really, really committed to the destruction of the LdS Church as we know it today perhaps one of the best things you could do to advance your agenda would be to push for reform!

But regardless of your stance, motivation, or idea of what the ideal reformed LdS Church would look like, this just makes sense, doesn’t it? I’m going to end this appeal the way that I began it – with this question, how inclined would you be to listen to someone whose goal is the destruction of your church? So friend, if you find that Mormons don’t listen to you and your good arguments, then … well, do I really need to finish that thought?

And if they don’t then I suspect that the words of Christ are just as applicable to Mormons as they are to us:

“I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.”
(Revelation 3:1b-3 NKJV) 

12th Street, Detroit during the July 23, 1967, Detroit Riots that lead to millions of dollars of destruction and loss of life. (photo credit: Keystone Pictures USA/Alamy)

(portions of this material previously appeared in a slightly different form in Fred W. Anson, “Weak Arguments #6: “Mormon doctrine was heretical from the very beginning.”, Beggar’s Bread website November 16, 2014; it has been lightly edited and expanded for this new context and setting)

Comments
  1. When one truly opposes an institution, one loses interest in seeking approval from within the institution itself. Nobody who, as you put it, intends to “dismantle” a church has all that much reason to tread lightly. The issues they bring up are often of dramatic importance despite being dismissed within the beforementioned church.

    You write as if everyone’s goal should be to change the church, yes, to improve it, yes, but at no cost to those responsible for establishing or procuring the institutions being criticized. I think the kind of change you describe is the kind that should come from within the church. The rest of the world will be watching closely though, and, when apropriate, criticizing.

    Like

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