Archive for the ‘Michael Flournoy’ Category

A Response to Greg Trimble’s “Why The Bible Needed to Be Rescued”

This Bible was damaged saving the life of a British Royal Army Medical Corps nurse when a German plane machine-gunned the makeshift hospital he was serving in during World War I. (click image to read full story)

by Michael Flournoy
Ask a Latter-day Saint about their faith, and they’ll proudly proclaim that God has given them new scripture. In addition to the Bible, they have The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Their modern-day prophets and apostles also speak scripture over the pulpit twice a year at General Conference.

In a recent article entitled, “Why the Bible Needed to be Rescued”, LDS blogger Greg Trimble argues that the Bible is not complete. He says, “So, when someone says the Bible is complete, my question is, where did they get that from? Who said that God was going to stop talking to us through prophets? Why would He? He’s been doing it since the day he dropped a garden in Eden… so why would He stop now when we need it the most?”

When I was a Latter-day Saint this was my trope as well. Why would a loving God stop talking to us? It didn’t make sense. However, if we turn the tables, we will see that an open canon is more problematic than a closed one.

Imagine that a book came out called, “Everything You Need to Know about Marriage.” Then, a year later volume 2 came out. A year later volume 3 made the New York Best Seller’s list. What would this do to the original title? Would it save it, like The Book of Mormon supposedly saves the Bible? No. These new volumes would undermine the original book because clearly, it does not teach us everything we need to know about marriage.

This is exactly what The Book of Mormon does to the Bible: it weakens it. By adding new revelation to the equation, the LDS church says the Bible is insufficient. The Book of Mormon is subsequently weakened by the Doctrine and Covenants, and it by the Pearl of Great Price. All these religious texts are weakened by modern Mormon prophets.

According to Wilford Woodruff, Brigham Young once took the stand, laid out the LDS scriptures, and said:

“There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost to our day. And now, when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.”
(Conference Report, October 1897, p.22)

In Mormonism, the dead prophets are weakened by the living prophet. In October of 1990, President Hinkley gave a talk entitled, “Mormon Should Mean ‘More Good’” in which he quoted a missionary saying, “While I’m thankful for the privilege of being a follower of Jesus Christ and a member of the Church that bears His name, I am not ashamed of the nickname Mormon.” (Conference Report, October 1990

Hinkley and his successor President Monson both pushed for the famous “I’m a Mormon” campaign. But when Russell M. Nelson became the prophet, all that was hewn down. In October of 2018, he gave a talk entitled, “The Correct Name of the Church” wherein he said that using the nickname Mormon is “a major victory for Satan”. (Conference Report, October 2018)

As long as new scripture is able, not only to add to old scripture but to contradict it, an open canon is worthless because we never know what’s coming that might obliterate something we believe in now. With an open canon, there’s no guarantee that even the gospel basics won’t be changed somewhere down the road.

The Book of Mormon’s subtitle is “Another Testament of Christ.” It is championed as being a second witness to support the stories of the Old and New Testaments. The reality, though, is far different. It claims that many plain and precious things were taken out of the Bible, and because of that, “an exceeding great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.” (1 Nephi 13:29)

This statement only serves to weaken the Bible, to say that it has the story wrong and that it’s insufficient. To say The Book of Mormon came to its rescue is like saying a lifeguard jumped in the pool and rescued someone by drowning them.

Another verse I used to cite as a Latter-day Saint was John 21:25 which says:

“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” (John 21:25 KJV) 

I was convinced that John 21:25 supported the need for more scripture, but here’s the dilemma. If all the books were written, and the world was filled, all those books could not be read. So, while it’s emotionally satisfying to think we deserve modern scripture, it isn’t very practical.

With a closed canon, God’s word is succinct. It is powerful. It can’t be altered by the whims of a false prophet. To say we need an endless quantity of God’s word is to say there’s no quality in God’s word, and that simply isn’t true. So no, The Book of Mormon did not rescue the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible rescues us from The Book of Mormon and anything else that corrupts the gospel of Christ.

The inside of British Private Leslie Friston’s bullet-scarred, life-saving Bible which he brought home after it rescued him in World War I. (click image to read full story)

Originally published on the “Water Into Wine” website on September 4, 2019, as “Defects of An Open Canon”. It has retitled and republished here with the kind permission of the author with only the lighest of editing.

“Darkness to Light” Unknown Artist

by Michael Flournoy
In my book, “A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”, I wrote a chapter called, “Is Revelation an Achilles Heel?” After comparing the church to a game of chess, I nominated the king to symbolize the LDS testimony. I wrote,

In every chess game, there is one piece so important, that its capture ends the game: the king. The king is what enables the game to continue, is the point of the enemy’s attack, and the piece that must be defended at all costs. If the king is misplayed and put in a predicament, he becomes a hindrance or an Achilles heel. For every Latter-day Saint, there is something personal behind the doctrines, the key principles, the scriptures, and the atonement, which is the equivalent to the king in our game of chess: our testimonies. It is our testimonies that give life and utility to everything Mormonism has to offer, and our testimonies are also the most logical points of attack for our enemies.
(Michael Flournoy, “A Biblical Defense of Mormonism”, p.193)

Even then, I knew full well that every Mormon’s strength was also their greatest weakness. Latter-day Saints are subconsciously aware that they would be sunk without their spiritual conversion. They typically shield their weak spot and talk about the doctrinal and social aspects of their faith instead, in exactly the way a chess player shields their king with less important pieces.

What is Spiritual Conversion?
I classify spiritual conversion as anything that convinces a Latter-day Saint that Mormonism is true. This is usually a specific event or a series of events. It may be a spiritual experience, or it may just be an occurrence that they interpret as a sign of Mormonism’s validity. Almost all the Latter-day Saints I have spoken with admit to having had an indisputable spiritual conversion.

The most popular spiritual conversion comes from reading The Book of Mormon and praying about it. Many members claim to receive a confirmation from the Holy Ghost that it’s the word of God through a burning in the bosom or some other subjective feeling.

But spiritual conversion is not limited to that experience. As I sat in an LDS class one day, a classmate explained that he was mowing the lawn one day, when an audible voice told him to stop. He immediately stopped what he was doing and discovered that he almost ran over a hollow den inhabited by baby rabbits. I’ve heard countless stories from LDS parents where they had an impression that their child was in danger, only to find their toddler wading into the street or near a swimming pool.

No matter the experience, whether it be a dream, an experience, or a strong feeling, it strengthens a Mormon’s spiritual conversion. Even if the experience doesn’t relate to the restoration at all, Latter-day Saints immediately jump to the conclusion that the church is true.

In reality, several explanations could be given for any of these events. Satan could be in the business of saving baby bunnies in order to deceive LDS people. Or God might mercifully intervene in their lives, despite them being Mormon. Or sensing a child in the street could be good old-fashioned mother’s intuition. Yet for Latter-day Saints, all signs point to yes. Mormonism takes all the credit, and it is glorified in their eyes.

These experiences are considered extremely sacred to Latter-day Saints, and in their eyes revealing them openly is casting their pearls before swine. It’s also their last line of defense, so if their spiritual conversion is overcome they will have nothing left. The LDS usually keep these experiences securely hidden under lock and key.

In fact, when I first departed from Mormonism my uncle told me he’d had experiences and knew without a doubt that the church was true. He did not tell me what the experiences were. Even if it meant bringing a family member back into the fold, putting his spiritual conversion out there was too much of a risk.

Apostates
If there is one group the LDS feel threatened by, it’s Ex-Mormons. I think I know why that is. Mormons are fully aware that many Ex-Mormons possessed spiritual conversions, and they left anyway.

Latter-day Saints cannot comprehend why someone would reject what they consider an unshakable witness. They sometimes feel like they have to minimize Ex-Mormons’ reasons for leaving. They’ll try to say the spiritual conversion either faded away or was overpowered by sin. They desperately want to believe that their spiritual conversions can’t falter.

As a Mormon, I believed the same thing. Apostates of the faith were blinded by mists of darkness and the enticing of sin and could not remember their own spiritual experiences. I believed my testimony would never falter. Even if the whole church dwindled and only one congregation remained on earth, my resolve was to remain faithful.

Knocking out the Leg of Spiritual Conversion
In theory, an Ex-Mormon has a much higher chance of disrupting spiritual conversion than someone who has never experienced it. However, because of trust issues between Latter-day Saints and former members, never Mormons can have an equal or an even greater opportunity.

It’s important to speak the spiritual language of Latter-day Saints. As a Mormon, I thought Evangelicals were overly objective, especially for their constant emphasis on relationship over religion. A relationship without some subjectivity is an alien concept to Latter-day Saints.

Sometimes when a Latter-day Saint pulls out their shiny apple, the one they claim exclusive rights to, your best move is to pull out their own shiny apple and eat it in front of them. Saying something like, “the Spirit told me [insert what He said here]” is sure to knock Mormons off balance a little, and an apostate doing it is especially worrisome! A similar tactic could be to share an experience that bolstered your testimony of Christianity.

I do not recommend sharing anything like this unless it is legitimately, and utterly true. We are not helping anyone, nor are we glorifying God if these stories are fabricated. If you are unable to speak the Mormon’s spiritual language, you might be better off attacking their social and doctrinal conversions instead.

If an Ex-Mormon has the opportunity to have an open conversation with an active Mormon, he or she should make it a point to use the broken pieces of their spiritual conversion if at all possible.

I had a family member tell me once that he always suspected I would intellectualize my way out of the faith. I replied that the reasons for my departure were just as much spiritual as they were intellectual, thwarting his attempt to distance my apostasy from my spiritual conversion.

Another relative asked how I could leave after all the spiritual experiences I’d had. I replied that I had indeed had spiritual experiences, but upon closer examination, they pointed to Christ’s divinity and not to Mormonism being true. She began sputtering off the plethora of experiences her testimony was built from in an attempt to shield herself from the threat my words posed. Ironically, she was in the same boat as me. Not one of them proved the church was true.

Using a Mormon’s spiritual language is key to undermining their conversion. Statements like, “I read and prayed over The Book of Mormon. I received a witness that it’s not true” are difficult for Mormons to deal with. God wouldn’t tell some people that Mormonism is true and others that it’s false. Latter-day Saints are faced with the fact that one testimony cannot overpower another, and it becomes a stalemate. However, on this front, a stalemate is actually a checkmate.

About the Author
Michael Flournoy served a two-year mission for the LDS Church where he helped organize three Mormon/Evangelical dialogues and has participated in debate at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born into Mormonism, Mr. Flournoy converted to Evangelical Christianity in 2016.

Also Recommended: “The Three LDS Conversions: A Primer for the Befuddled”
by Michael Flournoy

“A former Mormon who has accepted Christ is a living testimony of the awesome power of God.”

by Michael Flournoy
If you’re a new Ex-Mormon who has accepted Christ, you probably feel anxious, isolated, and confused. You’re likely still in the process of rebuilding your identity and hurting from relationships that fell apart during your transition. You might still feel the pull of the Mormon church, like an addiction that won’t go away. I want you to know, from one Ex-Mormon to another, that things do get better with time.

Leaving can cause a lot of insecurities. It may feel like you’re treading water. No matter the circumstances, I hope you know how courageous you are. Staying in the boat would have been the easy path. You could have remained, and avoided causing waves. Instead, you chose to follow the truth at what must have been a significant cost. A lot of us lose everything upon leaving Mormonism. It’s okay to hurt and mourn the loss of these things. Sometimes as a new Christian I felt guilty for being depressed because I knew Jesus was worth so much more than I had lost.

I want you to know that it’s okay to not be okay, even as a Christian. It’s natural to go through a healing process, so give yourself time to recover. Cast your cares on the Lord. The same God who raises the dead can take our shattered, burnt, and worn out pieces and make our lives an elegant art piece.

It’s common to experience doubt and fear in this stage of transition. We were taught to believe that everything outside of Mormonism was darkness and lies. They threatened that those who left would suffer more than murderers and adulterers because they who had the greater light would receive the greater condemnation. One thing you will come to realize is God has not given us the spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7), rather He motivates us with perfect love.

If the world has turned against you, take comfort in the fact that the world hated Jesus first (John 15:19-20).  If friends and relatives say hurtful things to you then rejoice! In Matthew 5:11-12 Jesus says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

In a sense, we Ex-Mormons have “named and claimed” suffering in Christ’s name, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Romans 8:16-17 (ESV) says,

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

God hasn’t brought you to the place you are now just to abandon you.  He has started a work in your life, and He is faithful to finish it (Philippians 1:6). Your identity is no longer in Mormonism, but in Christ alone. That said, there are lessons God wants to teach you from your time in Mormonism and your transition out of it. When all is said and done you will have gained some hard-won wisdom and you’ll be a blessing to those around you.

That’s right, a blessing! It’s so common for us to feel ashamed and want to bury our past. Then we think we have nothing to offer the Christian community. Well, that’s not true at all. A pastor once told me that God can take our greatest mess and turn it into our greatest message. A former Mormon who has accepted Christ is a living testimony of the awesome power of God.

I want you to know that nothing can separate you from the love of God, not even your own sins.  As a new believer, I sometimes questioned my salvation after sinning.  I would think: well salvation is supposed to produce good fruit and yet here I am sinning again, I guess I’m not a real believer after all.  If these thoughts enter your mind, show them the door.  The God who died for us isn’t about to let us go that easily.  We can pull a Jonah and flee from God, but he will leave the 99 to find His wayward sheep.  In other words, you can run but you can’t hide.

Sin has no more power over you because are no longer under the law, but grace (Romans 6:14).  And Jesus’ grace is more than enough to guarantee our safe arrival into the Kingdom of Heaven.  I want you to know that God loves you.  He is always with you, even in the darkest valleys of life, and He will wipe away your every tear when you enter His holy presence. It will be worth it all someday.

About the Author
Michael Flournoy served a two-year mission for the LDS Church where he helped organize three Mormon/Evangelical dialogues and has participated in debate at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born into Mormonism, Mr. Flournoy converted to Evangelical Christianity in 2016. He had been out of the LDS Church for 2-years and 5-months when he wrote this article. 

It will be worth it all someday,
It will have been worth it to go
The straight and narrow way,
When we finally see His face
And feel His strong embrace
It will be worth it all that day

These present troubles don’t compare
To all the glory our God, He has prepared
And when we finally see His face
And feel His strong embrace
It will be worth it all that day

I can hear the angels celebrate as He calls
My {your} name
I can hear the Father say well done
My good and faithful servant, well done
And it will be worth it all,
It will be worth it all someday
(words & music by Tommy Walker) 

LDS President, Russell M. Nelson in prayer.

A Spring General Conference 2019 Exclusive Special Edition Editorial

by Michael Flournoy
Popular Latter-day Saint blogger and Mormon Apologist  Greg Trimble recently published an article entitled, “Take it Easy on President Nelson”, and I would like to echo his sentiments. That’s right, an ex-Mormon like me is calling for the masses to give President Nelson the benefit of the doubt.

Mr. Trimble begins by saying, “I woke up to what I considered some good news from the Church yesterday. But along with it, for some reason, came also a slew of negativity toward the prophet and the apostles.”

I completely and utterly share in his shock. The negativity makes no sense. To illustrate, imagine that Planned Parenthood suddenly reversed their policies and refused to participate in the murder of the unborn. What a day right? Christians would parade in the streets! I mean, forget the fact that Planned Parenthood participated in millions of abortions. Their good would certainly outweigh the bad.

So it is with the LDS church. Yes, back in November 2015 they instituted the policy that children of gay parents could not be baptized, and a lot of people committed suicide because of the hurt this policy imparted, but who cares about that? The church has decided to stand for a good principle, and I applaud them.

Mr. Trimble continues, “Can you imagine the immense pressure they feel as they literally spend their entire lives trying to make the right decision for so many people and knowing that no matter what they do, there is going to be a huge segment of people who are going to be hurt, offended, or angry about their decision? These men are in their 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.”

Again, Mr. Trimble hits it out of the park. I mean, yes, in theory, it should be easy for the prophet to hear from God and then do it. But do you know how hard it is to hear the still small voice when you’re over 90-years old? It’s stressful when you can’t tell if God said the original policy was “his will” or “evil”. I can totally understand why Russell M. Nelson or any prophet would have sleepless nights over that.

Mr. Trimble makes a solid point that there are a lot of things we don’t know. It’s so easy to pin the blame on President Nelson when he could be innocent.

He says, “We don’t know what is going on behind the scenes. We don’t know what situations might have arisen that might have caused the policies of the past. We don’t know what information they have when these decisions are being made. We don’t know if it was a ‘revelation’ regarding the policy or just an honest mistake.”

While all of these are valid options, I think Mr. Trimble is downplaying the greatness of President Nelson. Here’s what we know. When the original policy was unveiled, Russell M. Nelson said it was “the will of the Lord”, and that “each of [them] during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation.” (see (Russell M. Nelson, “An Evening with President Russell M. Nelson”, Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, January 10, 2016, Brigham Young University–Hawaii)

God clearly commanded the original policy that denied baptism for children of LBGTQ parents. But as we all know, even the man upstairs makes mistakes sometimes. All of us, including God, are all on a path to greater knowledge, perfection, and glory. When God repents, the prophet has a sacred duty to take the fall for him.

It takes an unfathomable amount of courage to take one for the team when God misleads his people. So, for all the haters out there, I say leave Nelson alone. He’s a good man, doing his best to keep up with a bipolar Mormon deity. And to Russell M. Nelson I give a standing ovation and shout, “Praise to the man!”

About the Author
Michael Flournoy served a two-year mission for the LDS Church where he helped organize three Mormon/Evangelical dialogues and has participated in debate at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born into Mormonism, Mr. Flournoy converted to Evangelical Christianity in 2016. Among his many friends, Mr. Flournoy is also known for his dry sense of humor in general and his mastery of biting satire in particular. 

Apologists-anti-mormons_INVERTEDby Michael Flournoy
Some years ago, FAIRMormon put out an article by Maxwell Institute contributor, Russell C. McGregor entitled, “Are Anti-Mormons Christians?” It was a response to the common assertion that Latter-day Saints are not true Christians. The article claims that it is the detractors of Mormonism, not Mormons themselves that “need to be concerned about their Christian credentials”.

The question posed is: is Anti-Mormonism a Christian activity? According to the article, it isn’t. It asserts that Christian is a synonym for Christ-like, but Anti-Mormons are actively opposed to, and attack the doctrines and policies of the LDS church.

First off, even if Anti-Mormonism is opposed to the values of Christianity, it still does not discredit someone from being a Christian. For example, sin isn’t exactly a Christian activity, and yet all Christians are sinners.

Secondly, the LDS notion that Jesus was a gentle lamb who never spoke out against false religious leaders, is a myth. One only need to go to Matthew 23 to find Jesus calling scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, blind guides, and children of hell.

To be fair, there is such a thing as aggressive, over-the-top Anti-Mormonism, and it needs to stop. Mormons are not wrong to question the Christianity or at least the spiritual maturity of those who preach with rudeness and disrespect.

McGregor says Anti-Mormonism is satanic, and that Satan means “accuser” or “slanderer”. By this logic, Jesus was certainly engaged in a satanic activity when he told his disciples to beware the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

For the sake of argument though, let’s assume the article is right on all accounts, and anyone who speaks out against Mormonism is not a Christian.

What does that say of Anti-Anti-Mormons, who spend every waking hour debating Mormon Critics online?

If the arguments in the article are valid, then the author himself is not a Christian, because he engages in the satanic activity of accusing and slandering Anti-Mormons!

The fact is, Jesus told his disciples to turn the other cheek rather than resist evil (Matthew 5:39). Anti-Anti-Mormonism is the opposite of this mindset. It’s not a Christian activity, and therefore Anti-Anti-Mormons aren’t Christian.

Furthermore, 3 Nephi 11:29 in The Book of Mormon states:

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

Anger and contention form the core of the article written by Russell McGregor, and I call on FAIRMormon to remove the article from their website. It’s full of hate speech against those who do nothing worse than proselytize Latter-day Saints with sincerity and out of a heart of love. Further, its logic serves as a double-edged sword.

That said, I acknowledge that some Christians do engage in mockery, ridicule, and saying hurtful things to Latter-day Saints about their religion. At the same time, I’ve seen LDS apologists be just as vile in return. I assume it’s a reaction to perceived hostility, but it’s still unacceptable and unchristian. The Book of Mormon doesn’t say contention is of the devil, except when someone else starts it. Jesus didn’t say to turn the other cheek unless they’re speaking against your religion. When Jesus was taken in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of his disciples cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Although it was technically a defensive move, Jesus immediately healed the man.

And turning to the other side of the divide, I call on my Christian brothers and sisters to repent if looking out for the interests of Latter-day Saints above their own self-interest isn’t their driving motivation. The vernacular term for this kind of self-effacing, self-sacrificial behavior is “love”. The other term for it is “respect”. And it is centermost in the infamous apologetic mandate of 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NIV) which says,

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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Jesus rebukes his disciples in Matthew 26:52, saying, “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take up the sword shall perish with the sword.” (KJV)

The Savior also rebukes the apostles in Luke 9:55-56 when they suggest calling fire down from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village. He says, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (KJV)

The most glaring issue with Russell McGregor’s article is it wrongly defines “Anti-Mormon” as anyone who opposes LDS doctrine and policy. To be clear, it is possible to oppose something lovingly. If this is not the case, then by default, all Mormon missionaries are Anti-Christian for teaching and converting Christians, aren’t they?

True “Anti-ism” is an aggressive, shameful way of attacking someone’s faith, and it exists on both sides of the divide. We should strive not to be Anti anything but stand for the Truth.

It may be hard for Latter-day Saints to accept, but standing for the truth does encompass exposing falsehood. Why is it, that it’s perfectly acceptable for a bishop to say, “You’re wrong if you think you’re worthy after breaking the law of chastity,” but when a Christian tells a Mormon they’re wrong, it’s hateful?

LDS apostle, J. Reuben Clark once said, “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”

To Mr. Clark’s point, mainstream Christians hold to the stance that Latter-day Saints believe in an another Jesus and a false gospel. And neither a faux Savior or a false gospel can save anyone, can they? Is it Anti-Mormon to want Mormons to know the truth? Is it Anti-Mormon to reveal the mercy and boundless grace of Jesus Christ? Is it Anti-Mormon to desire to spend eternity with them in God’s presence?

Of course not. In fact, it is the responsibility of believers to speak the truth and expose falsehood. This is as the Apostle James said,

Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. (James 5:20 KJV)

In closing, I can’t think of anything more Pro-Mormon than converting a Latter-day Saint from the error of a false gospel that doesn’t truly save to one that does. Can you? In fact, I would argue that the true Anti-Mormons are the people who oppose those who do so.

logeye-720x340

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 KJV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins.

All of them.

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

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

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

We can become purified and exalted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you feel lost or forgotten, behold the Man.

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

He will comfort you.

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

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

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

In other words, we become His disciples…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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