Archive for the ‘Mormon Culture’ Category

Following Jesus After Mormonism

“But there’s bear traps lying in those woods. Most of ’em already been used” (Steve Taylor, “I Just Wanna Know”)

by Fred W. Anson
This presentation, given as part of the Faith After Mormonism Conference on September 26, 2020, via webcast (due to the ongoing COVID-16 crisis) is based on the actual, real-life experience of a cross-section of Ex-Mormons who have successfully transitioned into mainstream Christianity. This is a map of where the post-Mormon bear traps lie based on their stated hard-won, real-world experience.

It also contains a treasure trove of wisdom borne out of their (often painful) Post-Mormon life experiences. The design and intent of this section isn’t to replace the Ex-Mormon’s old Mormon To-Do List with a new Evangelical version, but to invite them to learn from those who have gone before them.  This content also demonstrates clearly how while abiding in Christ may be as natural as eating, drinking, walking, and breathing, it’s not always passive.

Click the above image for the video recording of this presentation from the Faith After Mormonism Conference.

Accompanying PowerPoint Presentation

Click the above image for the PowerPoint Presentation and here for the handout. 

Supplemental Content
This is a grass-catcher collection of content that was compiled, “just in case” for the Q&A portion of the main presentation. This presentation, combined with the Main Presentation, represents a kind of mini-crash course or road map of resources and reference materials to assist in helping the Ex-Mormon successfully make a full transition into mainstream historic Christianity.

Click the above image for the PowerPoint Presentation and here for the handout. 

Bonus Content
Prior to this event, the presenter was interviewed by Russ East of KUTR “Truth Radio” on his “Passion For Christ” program. This interview touched on content that wasn’t covered in the Faith After Mormonism conference presentation and that may be of interest to transitioning Ex-Mormons.
Click here to listen to Part 1
Click here to listen to Part 2

About the Presenter
Fred W. Anson (Lake Forest, California) is the founder and publishing editor of the Beggar’s Bread website, which features a rich potpourri of articles on Christianity with a recurring emphasis on Mormon studies. Fred is also the administrator of several Internet discussion groups and communities, including several Mormon-centric groups, including two Facebook Support Groups for Ex-Mormons (Ex-Mormon Christians, and Ex-Mormon Christians Manhood Quorum).  

About the Conference
Our purpose is to provide hope and wisdom for people leaving Mormonism to explore a new faith home in historic, biblical Christianity. Through speakers, workshops, exhibitors, and individual interactions,
you will receive helpful resources and meet others on a similar journey.

The Presenter would like to acknowledge and thank the following people for their assistance in producing this presentation (in no particular order): Michael and Briana Flournoy; Tina Edgar; the Admins of the Ex-Mormon Christians Facebook Group (Jackie Davidson, Amy Fuller, Barb Griffin, and Michael Stevens); Charlotte Pardee and the Ex-Mormons for Jesus, Orange, California chapter; Ross Anderson for making all this possible; and as always, I thank my wonderful wife Sue, who not only keeps me honest and humble but even-keeled to boot!

But above all else: Soli Deo Gloria.
Thank you, Jesus, for saving a wretch like me from my own worst enemy – myself.

Dear Mr. Ex-Mormon Atheist, It may not be this, but it very often feels like this to those you’re processing your Post Mormon anger at in public.

compiled by Fred W. Anson
A few years ago, the good folks at the Zelph on the Shelf did a fantastic article entitled, “15 Things Ex-Mormons are Tired of Hearing” which was a superb compilation of the bad arguments that Ex-Mormons typically hear from True Believing Mormons (aka “TBMs”). As the author noted in her introduction, these are things that not only don’t facilitate constructive debate, they distract from it.

I loved the article. So did my friends. We ate it up!

Now my friends, like me, are mainly mainstream Christians and most are Ex-Mormons as well. And they suggested that we put together a list of the top 15 things that Christians are tired of hearing from ex-Mormon atheists/agnostics. So I slapped together a crowdsourced poll, posted it on the Internet, and the results will be discussed and considered over this short series of articles.

By the way, if you missed any of the prior segments of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One, and here for Part Two.

5) “The Bible is just as credible as Mormon scripture is – as in not at all!”
And yet we have mountains of artifacts and manuscripts from the Biblical periods; the DNA evidence matches the historical record to a T; science generally supports rather than discredits the Bible, and; Archaeology validates rather than contradicts the biblical record. How is does that not, at the very minimum, make the Bible credible? Further, the theology of the Bible is in continuity with Old Testament theology rather than being a radical break from it as all Mormon scripture after the Book of Mormon is and it doesn’t contain the type of doctrinal errors and snafus that the Book of Mormon does. More than that, the Bible may be a challenging book to read due to its antiquity but at least it’s well-written, unlike the rambling repetitive prose of the Book of Mormon in particular and other Mormon scripture in general. And regarding science that so many Ex-Mormon Atheist point to as evidence for their claims, I would ask them to consider this from Francis Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute:

I don’t believe there is an inherent conflict [between belief in God and science], but I believe that humans, in our imperfect nature, sometimes imagine conflicts where there are none. We see something that threatens our own personal view, and we figure that there must be some reason why that alternative view has to be wrong, or even why it has to be evil.
(David Masci, “The ’Evidence for Belief’: An Interview with Francis Collins”, Pew Research Center website, April 17, 2008) 

Again, I could be wrong here but I often think that many Ex-Mormons simply project their bad experiences with Mormon scripture onto the Bible and assume that they’re the same when, stated plainly, they’re not. I’ve also noticed that many Ex-Mormons coming out of the Latter-day Saint bubble are simply unaware of the vast body of literature that’s been built over the last 2,000-years in support of the Bible. Christian apologists are nothing new and can even be found in the pages of the New Testament (see Paul’s Mars Hill discourse in Acts 17 as one of many examples). So, there’s a lot more that could be said about this, but it’s probably been said better elsewhere. For example, I would recommend Joel Kramer’s excellent documentary “The Bible vs. Joseph Smith” to those interested in pursuing the subject further.

Click above to watch a documentary that compares and contrasts Biblical truth claims against the claims of Joseph Smith. 

4) “The Christians that I engage with are just as fanatically blind, irrational, and anti-intellectual as True Believing Mormons. Therefore, Christianity is just the other side of the same fanatical coin.”
Sadly, there’s some truth to this. Trust me, all too often I get just as irritated and frustrated with this as you Ex-Mormon Atheists do on this point. That said, please note my use of the words, “some truth”.  My Atheist friends, I would hope that you have been exposed to enough Christians to realize that what’s true of some isn’t necessarily true for all. Not all Christians are hunkered down in the Christian Tank in true Mormon fashion holding onto their closed minds and open Bibles and refusing to consider anyone or anything outside of said Tank, are they?

I would point to the work of well Christian authors like C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, John Lennox, Gary Habermas, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, and Francis Schaeffer as evidence of this. Let me outline just a few key works briefly:

  • C.S. Lewis was an atheist who was converted to Christianity as a result of the transcendence of life articulated in works of literature – including non-Christian authors, including pagan authors. His book The Abolition of Man argues against what he perceived as the corrosive nature of modernistic relativism and for universal ethical absolutes (which he called “the Tao”) using not only Christian sources but pagan sources as well. In his book Mere Christianity he gets even more specific, making the case that Christianity is the most rational and moral worldview. He makes this not from Christian sources but from logic, reason, and historical evidence that is outside of the Bible.
  • Gary Habermas was a historian and a skeptic who was forced to concede that not only was the resurrection of Christ reasonable but compelling. He came to this conclusion using sources that are not only critical of the resurrection but antagonistic to it – an approach that he calls the “minimal facts” method. His book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (which he co-authored with Mike Liacona, one of his students) is a good introduction to Mr. Habermas’ work.
  • Lee Strobel was an atheist journalist who, angered by his wife’s conversion to Christianity, set out to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ but in the end was forced to concede that it was not only possible but highly likely. As a result, he converted to Christianity. The book that outlines his journey as well as the evidence that he discovered, The Case for Christ, is good but, candidly the movie is even better.
  • J. Warner Wallace was, to use his own words, “an angry atheist” who took it upon himself to disabuse his Christian friends of their misguiding beliefs. Ultimately, using the skills that he had acquired as a trained Cold Case Detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, he was compelled to admit that the case for Christ was more cogent and credible than the case against Him. He has published his findings in the book “Cold Case Christianity“.

Now notice something here, my atheist friends, in all these cases they were outside of the Christian Tank and using the same epistemological tools that you do: logic, reason, and evidence. Further, not only that but in almost all cases not only were they hostile to the Christian worldview and belief system, they were also considering sources that were too. And yet when confronted with new evidence that contradicted their current preferred narrative, they changed their mind, didn’t they?

How is this fanaticism? How is this the same kind of subjective, thought-stopping, close-minded, anti-intellectual, feelings-centric approach to truth that you knew in Mormonism? Clearly, my atheist friends, these are not just “two sides of the same fanatical coin” are they? And clearly, not all Christians are as fanatically blind, irrational, and anti-intellectual as you say they are, are they?

Again, there are bad apples in all bushels so to broad brush and overgeneralize as you have in your argument is always going to get one into trouble, isn’t it? And if you doubt me, perhaps we should talk about the Ex-Mormons that we’ve seen who hold to and proselytize for atheism with the same blind passion and zeal that they did Mormonism back in the day. Shall I proceed, or would you like to just click through to just about any atheist Ex-Mormon discussion group and see it for yourself?1

Or put another way: Stone meet glasshouse.

Click above to watch an October 3, 2007 debate between Neo-Atheist Richard Dawkins and Christian Theist John Lennox.

3) “The God of Christianity is a moral monster. How can you worship such an egotistical hater and murderer?”
Unless I’m mistaken, your assertion is a variant of this famous quote from well-known Neo-Atheist, Richard Dawkins in his bestselling book, “The God Delusion”:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
(Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”, p.31; Houghton Mifflin, 2006) 

There’s a lot there to unpack there, so for the sake of brevity (after all, entire books have been written in response to this statement from Mr. Dawkins), I will limit myself to just one portion – the “vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser” claim.

One of the key principles for properly interpreting literature – any piece of literature, including the Bible – is that the text must be interpreted within its historical context.2 When one fails to do so one is engaging in the fallacy known at “Presentism” which is defined as follows:

In literary and historical analysis, presentism is the anachronistic introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Some modern historians seek to avoid presentism in their work because they consider it a form of cultural bias, and believe it creates a distorted understanding of their subject matter. The practice of presentism is regarded by some as a common fallacy in historical writing.
(Wikipedia, “Presentism (literary and historical analysis)”)

Yes, my atheist friends, I agree: To modern 21st Century ears and by today’s values, the language of the Biblical God can sound harsh, unreasonable, even immoral. However, Biblical Scholar Paul Copan explains, using the exaggerated war rhetoric in the Old Testament as a case study, by ancient standards, the biblical rhetoric was just par for the course:

Most Christians read Joshua’s conquest stories with the backdrop of Sunday school lessons via flannel graph or children’s illustrated Bible stories. The impression that’s left is a black-and-white rendition of a literal crush, kill, and destroy mission. A closer look at the biblical text reveals a lot more nuance—and a lot less bloodshed. In short, the conquest of Canaan was far less widespread and harsh than many people assume.

Like his ancient Near Eastern contemporaries, Joshua used the language of conventional warfare rhetoric. This language sounds like bragging and exaggeration to our ears. Notice first the sweeping language in Joshua 10:40: “Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.” Joshua used the rhetorical bravado language of his day, asserting that all the land was captured, all the kings defeated, and all the Canaanites destroyed (cf. 10:40–42; 11:16–23: “Joshua took the whole land . . . and gave . . . it for an inheritance to Israel”). Yet…Joshua himself acknowledged [later in the narrative] that this wasn’t literally so.
(Paul Copan, “Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God”, p.170. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition)

Mr. Copan then goes on to compare and contrast the war rhetoric of other countries from the same period to Joshua’s:

Ancient Near Eastern accounts readily used “utterly/completely destroy” and other obliteration language even when the event didn’t literally happen that way. Here’s a sampling:

• Egypt’s Tuthmosis III (later fifteenth century) boasted that “the numerous army of Mitanni was overthrown within the hour, annihilated totally, like those (now) not existent.” In fact, Mitanni’s forces lived on to fight in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BC.

• Hittite king Mursilli II (who ruled from 1322–1295 BC) recorded making “Mt. Asharpaya empty (of humanity)” and the “mountains of Tarikarimu empty (of humanity).”

• The “Bulletin” of Ramses II tells of Egypt’s less-than-spectacular victories in Syria (around 1274 BC). Nevertheless, he announces that he slew “the entire force” of the Hittites, indeed “all the chiefs of all the countries,” disregarding the “millions of foreigners,” which he considered “chaff.”

• In the Merneptah Stele (ca. 1230 BC), Rameses II’s son Merneptah announced, “Israel is wasted, his seed is not,” another premature declaration.

• Moab’s king Mesha (840/830 BC) bragged that the Northern Kingdom of “Israel has utterly perished for always,” which was over a century premature. The Assyrians devastated Israel in 722 BC.

• The Assyrian ruler Sennacherib (701–681 BC) used similar hyperbole: “The soldiers of Hirimme, dangerous enemies, I cut down with the sword; and not one escaped.”

You get the idea. Let’s now return to the Old Testament text to press this point further. It’s true that Joshua 9–12 utilizes the typical ancient Near Eastern literary devices for warfare. But at the book’s end, Joshua matter-of-factly assumes the continued existence of Canaanite peoples that could pose a threat to Israel. He warns Israel against idolatry and getting entangled in their ways: “For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you” (Josh. 23:12–13).
(Ibid, pp.171&172)

Finally, in his chapter summary from chapter 17, (“Indiscriminate Massacre and Ethnic Cleansing? The Killing of the Canaanites (III)”) Mr. Copan further explains that the historical reality doesn’t match the rhetoric any more than the rhetoric of other leaders of the region and era did:

• The language of the consecrated ban [against allowing any living thing to survive] (herem) includes stereotypical language: “all,” “young and old,” and “men and women.” The ban could be carried out even if women and children weren’t present.

• As far as we can see, biblical herem was carried out in particular military or combatant settings (with “cities” and military “kings”). It turns out that the sweeping language of the ban is directed at combatants.

• The ban language allows and hopes for exceptions (e.g., Rahab); it isn’t absolute.

• The destruction language of ancient Near Eastern warfare (and the Old Testament) is clearly exaggerated. Groups of Canaanite peoples who apparently were “totally destroyed” were still around when all was said and done (e.g., Judg. 1).

• The greater concern was to destroy Canaanite religion, not Canaanites per se, a point worthy of elaboration (see the next chapter).

• The preservation of Rahab and her family indicates that consecration to the ban wasn’t absolute and irreversible. God had given ample indications of his power and greatness, and the Canaanites could have submitted to the one true God who trumped Egypt’s and Canaan’s gods, sparing their own lives.

• The biblical text, according to some scholars, suggests that peace treaties could be made with Canaanite cities if they chose to, but none (except Gibeon) did so (Josh. 11:19). The offer of peace was implicitly made to Jericho.

• The biblical text contains many references to “driving out” the Canaanites. To clear away the land for habitation didn’t require killing; civilians fled when their military strongholds were destroyed and soldiers were no longer capable of protecting them.

• From the start, certain (more cooperative) Canaanites were subjected to forced labor, not annihilation (Judg. 1:27–36; 1 Kings 9:20–21; Josh. 15:63; 16:10; 17:12–13; cf. Ps. 106:34–35). This was another indication that the ban wasn’t absolute.

• Joshua carried out what Moses commanded (Deut. 7 and 20), which means that Moses’s language is also an example of ancient Near Eastern exaggeration. He did not intend a literal, all-encompassing extermination of the Canaanites.

• The archaeological evidence nicely supports the biblical text; both of these point to minimal observable material destruction in Canaan as well as Israel’s gradual infiltration, assimilation, and eventual dominance there.

We have many good reasons to rethink our paradigm regarding the destruction of the Canaanites. On closer analysis, the biblical text suggests that much more is going on beneath the surface than obliterating all the Canaanites. Taking the destruction of anything that breathes at face value needs much reexamination.
(Ibid, Kindle edition, p.184)

So, yes, my atheist friends, if you engage in fallacious presentism then you can make this poor argument. However, if you limit yourself to proper historical and hermeneutical scholarship, this argument unravels.

Sadly, Mr. Dawkin’s Neo-Atheist work doesn’t appear to be interested in an honest, nuanced approach to the issues that he raises. Rather, he seems to prefer bombastic, over-heated polemics, hyperbole, and misrepresenting both those he disagrees with and his sources. I would hope that you can be better than that – more thoughtful intellectually honest, to be specific. As the saying goes, there really are two sides to every story.

In the last article in this series, we will cover the top two things that we’re tired of hearing from Ex-Mormon Atheists.

Click above to watch Bible Scholar and Christian Apologist Paul Copan address the question, “Is God a Moral Monster” at Apologetics Canada Conference 2012.

NOTES
1 I wrote about the dynamic of Atheist fanaticism in my article, “Why I Steer Christians Away from Non-Christian, Ex-Mormon Bulletin Boards”.

2 For reference, here are the Eight Rules of Interpretation from the book “Who Said Women Can’t Teach?” by Charles Bromley.

The Eight Rules of Interpretation Used by Legal Experts for Over 2,500 Years
1) Rule of Definition.
Define the term or words being considered and then adhere to the defined meanings.
2) Rule of Usage.
Don’t add meaning to established words and terms. What was the common usage in the cultural and time period when the passage was written?
3) Rule of Context.
Avoid using words out of context. Context must define terms and how words are used.
4) Rule of Historical background.
Don’t separate interpretation and historical investigation.
5) Rule of Logic.
Be certain that words as interpreted agree with the overall premise.
6) Rule of Precedent.
Use the known and commonly accepted meanings of words, not obscure meanings for which there is no precedent.
7) Rule of Unity.
Even though many documents may be used there must be a general unity among them.
8) Rule of Inference.
Base conclusions on what is already known and proven or can be reasonably implied from all known facts.

Again, if you missed any part of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One, and here for Part Two.

Again, if you missed any part of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Four.

compiled by Fred W. Anson
A few years ago, the good folks at the Zelph on the Shelf did a fantastic article entitled, “15 Things Ex-Mormons are Tired of Hearing” which was a superb compilation of the bad arguments that Ex-Mormons typically hear from True Believing Mormons (aka “TBMs”). As the author noted in her introduction, these are things that not only don’t facilitate constructive debate, but they also distract from it.

I loved the article. So did my friends. We ate it up!

Now my friends, like me, are mainly mainstream Christians and most are Ex-Mormons as well. And they suggested that we put together a list of the top 15 things that Christians are tired of hearing from ex-Mormon atheists/agnostics. So I slapped together a crowdsourced poll, posted it on the Internet, and the results will be discussed and considered over this short series of articles.

15) “Christianity keeps changing just like Mormonism does. You’re a hypocrite.”
Which, of course, is why the ancient creeds are just as respected, confessed, and venerated today as the day that they were issued, right? Sarcasm aside, no, the essential doctrines of the Christian Faith* have never changed. They are:

1) The Deity of Jesus Christ.
2) Salvation by Grace.
3) The resurrection of Jesus Christ.
4) The gospel of Jesus Christ, and
5) Monotheism.

As Christian Theologian, Matt Slick notes well,

The Bible itself reveals those doctrines that are essential to the Christian faith. They are 1) the Deity of Christ, 2) Salvation by Grace, 3) Resurrection of Christ, 4) the gospel, and 5) monotheism. These are the doctrines the Bible says are necessary. Though there are many other important doctrines, these five are the ones that are declared by Scripture to be essential.
(Matt Slick, “Essential Doctrines of Christianity”, CARM website)

This type of systematized theology and boundary definition is impossible in Mormonism due to its doctrine of continuing revelation and the lack of an objective, unchanging standard that is the ultimate authority over even leaders. Thus, what was an essential doctrine in Brigham Young’s day, polygamy, can simply be shoved aside in Wilford Woodruff’s day.

To be fair, yes, on non-Essentials of the Christian faith there can and will change, but so what? How essential to salvation are things like women’s skirt length or whether men wear neckties or T-Shirts to Sunday Worship services? For that matter, how essential to salvation is whether our services are held on Saturday or Sunday? Christians can and will disagree on these non-Essentials and it’s simply no big deal. And if they change tomorrow (and they probably will), who cares?

Click on the above link to hear Theologian Matt Slick explain the Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith and how they’re practically applied. 

14) “Ex-Mormons who become Christians have just switched cults. Christianity is just as crazy as Mormonism.”
Thus says the kettle to the pot. From a Sept. 19, 2008, Wall Street Journal article:

“You can’t be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you’re drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god,” comedian and atheist Bill Maher said earlier this year on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”

On the “Saturday Night Live” season debut last week, homeschooling families were portrayed as fundamentalists with bad haircuts who fear biology. Actor Matt Damon recently disparaged Sarah Palin by referring to a transparently fake email that claimed she believed that dinosaurs were Satan’s lizards. And according to prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, traditional religious belief is “dangerously irrational.” From Hollywood to the academy, nonbelievers are convinced that a decline in traditional religious belief would lead to a smarter, more scientifically literate and even more civilized populace.

The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won’t create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that’s not a conclusion to take on faith — it’s what the empirical data tell us.

“What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians…

… But it turns out that the late-night comic is no icon of rationality himself. In fact, he is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience. The night before his performance on Conan O’Brien, Mr. Maher told David Letterman — a quintuple bypass survivor — to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn’t accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr. Maher said: “I don’t believe in vaccination. . . . Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory.” He has told CNN’s Larry King that he won’t take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn’t even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.

Anti-religionists such as Mr. Maher bring to mind the assertion of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown character that all atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists are susceptible to superstition: “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can’t see things as they are.”
(Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, “Look Who’s Irrational Now”, The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 19, 2008; p.W13)

Click on the above link to watch Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College argue that belief in God is more rational than atheism. 

13) “History shows that religion is the #1 cause of war and violence.”
Actually, no. In fact, history shows the exact opposite, as Rabbi Alan Lurie explains in the Huntington Post:

While clearly there were wars that had religion as the prime cause, an objective look at history reveals that those killed in the name of religion have, in fact, been a tiny fraction in the bloody history of human conflict. In their recently published book, “Encyclopedia of Wars,” authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod document the history of recorded warfare, and from their list of 1763 wars only 123 have been classified to involve a religious cause, accounting for less than 7 percent of all wars and less than 2 percent of all people killed in warfare. While, for example, it is estimated that approximately one to three million people were tragically killed in the Crusades, and perhaps 3,000 in the Inquisition, nearly 35 million soldiers and civilians died in the senseless, and secular, slaughter of World War 1 alone.

History simply does not support the hypothesis that religion is the major cause of conflict. The wars of the ancient world were rarely, if ever, based on religion. These wars were for territorial conquest, to control borders, secure trade routes, or respond to an internal challenge to political authority. In fact, the ancient conquerors, whether Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, or Roman, openly welcomed the religious beliefs of those they conquered, and often added the new gods to their own pantheon.

Medieval and Renaissance wars were also typically about control and wealth as city-states vied for power, often with the support, but rarely instigation, of the Church. And the Mongol Asian rampage, which is thought to have killed nearly 30 million people, had no religious component whatsoever.

Most modern wars, including the Napoleonic Campaign, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, the Russia Revolution, World War II, and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, were not religious in nature or cause. While religious groups have been specifically targeted (most notably in World War II), to claim that religion was the cause is to blame the victim and to misunderstand the perpetrators’ motives, which were nationalistic and ethnic, not religious.
(Rabbi Alan Lurie, “Is Religion the Cause of Most Wars?” The Huffington Post, 04/10/2012) 

Click on the above link to hear Science Journalist Trace Dominguez examine the idea that religion is the main cause of war and violence.

12) “If the Bible is so reliable why has it been changed more than the Book of Mormon has? Ever heard of ‘copies of copies of copies’?”
Yes, we have. We also know how to read and we know how to listen – and we have both heard and read your unnamed source, Bart Ehrman, who came up with that Thought Stopping cliche’. So what’s particularly interesting to us is that the 2005 paperback edition of “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman contained an appendix (“Appendix A” to be exact) which consisted of a “Bonus Interview” between Ehrman and the editors of the book. This interview wasn’t included in the hardcover edition of the book or any of the subsequent paperback editions up to and including all current editions. The reason for this is only known only to the publisher and Mr. Ehrman, but one question and answer sequence in the interview is particularly interesting:

Bruce Metzger, your mentor in textual criticism to whom this book is dedicated, has said that there is nothing in these variants of Scripture that challenges any essential Christian beliefs (e.g. the bodily resurrection of Jesus or the Trinity). Why do you believe these core tenets of Christian orthodoxy to be in jeopardy based on the scribal errors you discovered in the biblical manuscripts?

Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions—he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not—we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement—maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands.

The position I argue for in Misquoting Jesus does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. What he means by that (I think) is that even if one or two passages that are used to argue for a belief have different textual reading, there are still other passages that could be used to argue for the same belief. For the most part, I think that’s true.

But I was looking at the question from a different angle. My question is not about traditional Christian beliefs, but about how to interpret passages of the Bible. And my point is that if you change what the words say, then you change what the passage means. Most textual variants (Prof. Metzger and I agree on this) have no bearing at all on what a passage means. But there are other textual variants (we agree on this as well) that are crucial to the meaning of a passage. And the theology of entire books of the New Testament are sometimes affected by the meaning of individual passages.

From my point of view, the stakes are rather high: Does Luke’s Gospel teach a doctrine of atonement (that Christ’s death atones for sins)? Does John’s Gospel teach that Christ is the “unique God” himself? Is the doctrine of the Trinity ever explicitly stated in the New Testament? These and other key theological issues are at stake, depending on which textual variants you think are original and which you think are creations of early scribes who were modifying the text.”
(Bart Ehrman, “Misquoting Jesus” (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), pp.252-253, Appendix A) 

Once again for emphasis: “…the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants…” In other words, the quantity of textual variants isn’t an issue if the quality of the variants are such that the meaning of the text doesn’t change. One or one million, it makes no difference. And, according to Professor Ehrman, that’s the case with the Biblical manuscripts, isn’t it?

Now, give that, let’s compare and contrast that to the Book of Mormon in which the following variants occur between just the first two editions of the book, shall we?

1 Nephi 11:18
“the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of God” (1830 edition)
“the virgin whom thou seest, is the mother of the Son of God” (1837 edition)

1 Nephi 11:21
“behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!(1830 edition)
“behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!(1837 edition) 

1 Nephi 11:32
“the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people, yea, the Everlasting God was judged of the world.” (1830 edition)
“the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the Everlasting God, was judged of the world; (1837 edition)

1 Nephi 13:40
“the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world.
“the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Saviour of the world;”

So in the course of just seven years, only two generations of carefully controlled and published manuscripts, as well as the same original author – Jesus Christ goes from being God to being something less than God. The quantity of variants is small but the quality of the variants is huge as Mormon Christology makes a huge shift by downgrading the deity of Christ.

So, yes, this something that we do in fact, see with the Book of Mormon. However, over centuries, multiple generations of manuscripts, and multiple transcribers – none of whom were the original author or who were controlling the distribution or publication of the text – this is something that we don’t see in the biblical manuscript base. Respectfully, my Ex-Mormon Atheist friends, you appear to be projecting the Book of Mormon onto the Bible when it’s simply not merited. That least that’s how it appears to many of us.

Link on the above link to watch a 2011 debate between Biblical Scholars Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace on the reliability of the New Testament text. 

11) “If there IS a God then all you have to be is good to get into heaven, right? So why are you harassing Mormons? They’re good people!”
Well, for a start, the belief that “all you have to be is good into heaven” isn’t Christianity, it’s Moralism. In fact, it’s the basis of all non-Christian, pagan religions – including Mormonism – that one can work one’s way into salvation. And the belief that the goal of Christianity is to make good people better then you’re teaching therapeutic deism, not Christianity. As Christian Pastor, Philosopher, and Theologian, Timothy Keller has said so well,

If you believe that all good people can go to heaven, not just Christians, you are moralistic. If you also believe that all the contradictory rules and teachings of the various religions don’t matter, that everyone’s personal view of right and wrong is enough, then you are therapeutic. And if you think you can get to heaven without the enlightenment of Buddhism, or the sacraments of Catholicism or the justifying faith of Protestantism, then you are a deist. We don’t really need divine intervention. We’ll climb the ladder ourselves, thank you.
(Timothy Keller, “Pharisees With Low Standards”, TimothyKeller.com website, February 27, 2009).

So respectfully, my atheist friends, this argument is a strawman. Biblical Christianity teaches that no one can work their way into heaven by being good. In fact, the Bible is clear that no one is good, except God. Rather, Christ was crystal clear that the only way to heaven is through Him and His atoning work on the cross alone, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 NKJV) 

Further, the Bible is clear that no one can come to God if they’re holding to another God or Jesus or another gospel:

But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!
(2 Corinthians 11:3-4 NKJV)

The Biblical word for this is “idolatry” and, as Christians, we believe that the fate of those who hold to a False Jesus and/or False Gospel will be severe:

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
(Revelation 21:8 NKJV)

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
(Revelation 22:14-15 NKJV)

So you see, in regard to Mormons and Mormonism, we’re simply being as consistent with our worldview as you atheists are whenever you all attempt to dissuade them of what you perceive as false teachings and beliefs. There’s really no difference. We don’t attack you all for being true to your worldview and beliefs in your interactions with Mormons, why do you attack us for being true to ours?

In part two, of this series, we’ll consider more of the things that we Christians are tired of hearing from Ex-Mormon atheists.

Click on the above link to hear Christian Apologist Frank Turek answer the question, “Do morally good people go to heaven?”

NOTES
* For a more complete overview of the Essentials of the Christian Faith with live links to fuller, more complete explanations of the issues and specific doctrines in question click here.

Again, if you missed any part of this series and would like to read it in order, from the beginning, click here for Part Two, here for Part Three, and here for Part Four.

A Caution and a Path for Transitioning Ex-Mormons

by Fred W. Anson
Best selling author John Bradshaw is fond of saying, “You are a human being, not a human doing.” For those of us coming from legalistic, high-demand religious groups where personal performance is the yardstick by which value is judged these words sound like nonsensical gibberish. I mean, all after, doesn’t “doing” mean that you have the right to “be”? And if you do more won’t you be more? Isn’t, “The one who does the most and gets the most stuff wins!” the rule of life? Jesus said, “No!”

To the ever-increasing demands of “Do!” that the world screams at us Christ quietly says, “Abide”. Further, He says, paradoxically, that the key to bearing fruit is abiding:

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
— John 15:5-8 (NKJV) 

This is something that those of us coming from high demand, performance-oriented, image-conscious religious settings tend to struggle with. The idea of simply “abiding” rather than constantly “doing” tends to be something uncomfortable – even repulsive – to us, doesn’t it? I mean, after all, didn’t Christ also say that nasty things will happen to those who don’t bear fruit? So the answer must be to go out there, find your new calling,  and get busy with it, right? I mean come on you need to be doing something to bear fruit, right? And doesn’t the more fruit you produce mean that God will love and bless you more? Isn’t that how this religion thing is supposed to work?

A: Yes, that is indeed how the religions of men work;
No, that’s not how the religion of Christ does.

Rather, Jesus calls us to know him, to abide in Him, and thereby bear good fruit through Him organically as our walk with Him unfolds under His divine tutelage. It is His work in us that slowly and naturally bears fruit like grape clusters on a vine ripening in the sun.

The Ex-Mormon Struggle
Not inconsequentially, in Mormonism, so much time is spent in constantly doing things that the member doesn’t have time to think, feel, or enjoy the kind of slow, genuine, quiet, intimate, steadfast, communion with Christ that taught in John 15. This is no accident, Mormon leaders encourage this from the pulpit, don’t they?  And constantly being crazy busy and uber-productive is a point of pride in Mormon Culture, isn’t it? As a result, downshifting from this constant swirl of activity can be challenging for many former members, can’t it?

This PowerPoint presentation, given at the Faith After Mormonism Conference on October 12, 2019, in Murray, Utah, gives the solution from both the words of Jesus in tandem with the practical, hard-won experience of Ex-Mormons who have made this, not always easy and frequently bumpy, transition, into “being not doing”.

Click the above image for the video recording of this presentation from the Faith After Mormonism Conference.

Main Presentation (with Bonus Content)
This is the main presentation that was given at the 2019 Faith After Mormonism Conference during the Saturday morning Workshop Sessions.

The Bonus Content section is a map of where the post-Mormon bear traps lie based on the hard-won, real-world experience of successfully transitioned Ex-Mormons.  It also contains a treasure trove of wisdom borne out of their (often painful) Post-Mormon life experiences. The design and intent of this section isn’t to replace the Ex-Mormon’s old Mormon To-Do List with a new Evangelical version, but to invite them to learn from those who have gone before them.  This content also demonstrates clearly how while abiding in Christ may be as natural as eating, drinking, walking and breathing, it’s not always passive.

Click the above image for the PowerPoint Presentation and here for the handout. 

Supplemental Content
This is a grass-catcher collection of content that was compiled, “just in case” for the Q&A portion of the main presentation. This presentation, combined with the Main Presentation, represent a kind of mini-crash course or road map of resources and reference materials to assist in helping the Ex-Mormon successfully make a full transition into mainstream historic Christianity.

Click the above image for the PowerPoint Presentation and here for the handout. 

Bonus Content
After this event, the presenter was interviewed by Russ East of KUTR “Truth Radio” on his “Passion For Christ” program. This interview touched on content that wasn’t covered in the Faith After Mormonism conference presentation and that may be of interest to transitioning Ex-Mormons.
Click here to listen to Part 1
Click here to listen to Part 2

About the Presenter
Fred W. Anson (Lake Forest, California) is the founder and publishing editor of the Beggar’s Bread website, which features a rich potpourri of articles on Christianity with a recurring emphasis on Mormon studies. Fred is also the administrator of several Internet discussion groups and communities, including several Mormon-centric groups, including two Facebook Support Groups for Ex-Mormons (Ex-Mormon Christians, and Ex-Mormon Christians Manhood Quorum).  

About the Conference
Our purpose is to provide hope and wisdom for people leaving Mormonism to explore a new faith home in historic, biblical Christianity. Through speakers, workshops, exhibitors, and individual interactions,
you will receive helpful resources and meet others on a similar journey.

The Presenter would like to acknowledge and thank the following people for their assistance in producing this presentation (in no particular order): Michael and Briana Flournoy; Tina Edgar; the Admins of the Ex-Mormon Christians Facebook Group (Jackie Davidson, Amy Fuller, Barb Griffin, and Michael Stevens); Charlotte Pardee and the Ex-Mormons for Jesus, Orange, California chapter; Ross Anderson for making all this possible; and as always, I thank my wonderful wife Sue, who not only keeps me honest and humble but even-keeled to boot!

But above all else: Soli Deo Gloria.
Thank you, Jesus, for saving a wretch like me from my own worst enemy – myself.

by Brian Horner
Like virtually all of the 19th century, American cults of Christianity, Mormonism began as an attack on the historically orthodox, biblical faith that it claims to have “restored”. While individual Mormons and Mormon leaders hold some diverse views on this matter, the basic idea they all share is that at some time shortly after the death of the last apostle, the authority of the gospel, the church and the Word of God (the Bible) was lost due to a universal, general apostasy and corruptions introduced into the Bible. The predicate to Mormonism’s alleged, “restoration”, is what Mormons are taught to regard as the “great apostasy”. The disdain that Mormon “prophets” and other leaders held for the vast majority of Christians who populated the orthodox Body of Christ throughout the ages –actually for the roughly 95% of the history of Christianity between this “great apostasy” and the initiation of Joseph Smith’s prophetic career in 1830—is palpable and obvious in their own words.

Mormonism begins with Joseph Smith’s alleged “First Vision” – an event, which Smith described with contradictory variations. But the basic message lies in every version: Mr. Smith claimed to have received this revelation from God (or the Mormon Gods “Heavenly Father” and his son “Jesus Christ”):

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt.
(Joseph Smith – History 1:19)

Here Smith attributes an explicit condemnation of the Christian church as “corrupt” and “an abomination” to God himself (or by the Mormon Gods, including Jesus Christ).

Brigham Young, the second “prophet” of the LDS organization carried on this Mormon tradition teaching that, “The Christian world, so-called, are heathens as to their knowledge of the salvation of God” (Journal of Discourses 8:171). He continued, “With regard to true theology, a more ignorant people never lived than the present so-called Christian world.” (ibid, 8:199). According to this Mormon “prophet”, Christians are totally ignorant heathens.

Young’s successor, John Taylor, confirmed this in his preaching. “What does the Christian world know about God? Nothing; yet these very men assume the right and power to tell others what they shall and what they shall not believe in. Why, so far as the things of God are concerned, they are the veriest fools; they know neither God nor the things of God.” (Taylor, ibid, 13:225). Taylor taught the Mormon faithful, that Christians are fools.

Similar assaults against historically orthodox, biblical Christianity continued throughout several generations of Mormon “prophets”. Their message regarding this “great apostasy” was driven to the logical and common conclusion held by Mormons today as represented by B.H. Roberts, the most highly placed, official LDS historian within the organization. He said, “Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (History of the Church, vol. 1, p.xlii).

Dug's Special Mission_EDITED

This is consistent with both the message of the Mormon “prophets”, on this matter as well as the natural, even the necessary logical extension of the original, alleged “revelation from God” experienced by Smith and his successors, ever since. If Christianity had survived and was still alive and well in any form, anywhere on earth in 1830, then it would have been impossible to “restore” it with Mormonism. It is impossible to “restore” anything, in the sense that Mormonism uses the term, which already exists. This message is nothing less than the condemnation of the entire Christian church, allegedly from God himself. It has been carried down through the history of Mormonism to the present day and it is one of the key, essential claims that Mormons use to justify the existence of their religion. If Christ had remained with and in His church as He promised and God had not condemned the Christian church, as Mormons claim, then there would be no need for the existence of the entire Mormon religion. Its existence would simply be redundant as well as contradictory to the historic orthodox faith.

So what does all of this have to do with the Mormon rhetorical tactic of deflection? It serves as a topic that provides an excellent example of the kind of argumentation I want to describe here. I have debated this particular topic (and many others) with Mormons for decades. I have found that This topic is highly useful in exposing the falsehood of Mormonism since like so many things taught and believed by Mormons. Their view on this matter cannot be reduced to a matter of “faith”. It is a purely historical topic and the truth of any such claims as this can be easily determined by simply examining the historical facts.

Keep that in mind as we proceed, using this issue as an example of this kind of problem. After all, we are simply discussing the historical assertion of what Jesus, his apostles, and their churches taught. The issue is not the truthfulness or the meaning of what they affirmed and taught; it is simply a matter of identifying the teaching itself. Did Jesus teach the distinctively Mormon doctrines and practice of not? One can agree or disagree with what these doctrines meant or how to interpret them. The issue here is this: Were they actually taught it in the first place?

When Christians question or challenge the claims of Mormonism you can count on one thing: Mormons will almost invariably try to change the subject when they perceive that they cannot answer or defend the claims of their organization. The above doctrine of this supposed, “great apostasy” is an excellent example. The dialog usually follows this basic pattern, exemplified by Mark (a Christian) and Larry (a Mormon):

Mark: So let me be sure of our claim here; Joseph Smith received revelations from God about how the whole Christian faith had been corrupted and had decayed into an abomination to God. Is that right?

Larry: Yes that’s basically it.

Mark: “And now, at this point in time, we have Mormonism, which is the restoration of what was lost in this ‘Great Apostasy’, right?”

Larry: Correct. Joseph Smith was appointed by God to bring people back to the true gospel and God used him as the prophet of the Restoration. As a result, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s one true church, which is the only church on the earth today that retains the authority of the prophets and apostles who are still the foundation of the church, according to Ephesians 2:20.

Mark: Well that is pretty difficult to believe.

Larry: Why? Don’t you think that God wants his authority and the true gospel to be represented by his church?

Mark: Yes. But, if Mormonism is the restoration of the Gospel of Christ then we should be able to see that Christ himself taught the distinctive doctrines and practices that Mormons claim to have “restored”. I mean, you guys cannot have ‘restored’ something that never existed. And if it exists today, there was no need to “restore” it. Mormonism includes a whole bunch of things, in fact even requires lots of things that neither Christ nor his 12 apostles ever taught, like polytheism, the Mormon temple rituals, God the Father is a man living in outer space, and so on. Can you show me some reasons to think that Jesus or his apostles ever taught such things? …

At this point, Larry (or any Mormon) will almost always evade that question, and then cover his retreat with any of a variety of “red herrings” – a named logical fallacy, aka “Ignoratio elenchi”. This fallacy is deployed to distract the exchange or an audience from a point or a question. If successful, the Mormon will derail the conversation away from the question that he or she knows they cannot answer without causing irreparable damage to their religion’s public image.

In this scenario, Larry might respond to Mark’s question by ignoring it and launching a counter-question such as, “Can you prove that Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount”? Or he might ask, “Can you prove that Jesus walked on water”? or “Can you show me some reasons to think that the Hebrews migrated out of Egypt?” etc.

It is important to notice that there is no answer to Mark’s question in Larry’s response. Instead, he is trying to evade the question (avoid answering it) and then misdirect the conversation off onto a different topic, usually in such a way as to illustrate that no one can “prove” anything in the Bible to be true as long as someone refuses to believe it, just as we Christians refuse to believe that Christ ever taught the distinctive Mormon doctrines that their organization supposedly “restored” such as, for example, that dogma God the Father is a man living in outer space.

But the red herring fallacy is not the only evasion they use. Frequently the Mormon will deflect a direct question by attempting to abstract the subject matter to a level where he can technically “answer” the question by answering a question about the broader context containing Mark’s question. For example, the Mormon might respond to a challenge to show that Jesus and his apostles ever taught Mormonism’s distinctive dogmas by trying to show that the Bible elsewhere mentions other “gods” and that the Jews were indeed polytheistic, thereby proving that Jesus taught polytheism – a central dogma of Mormonism that are absent from the New Testament and Christianity for it’s entire history. This effort to broaden the issue is just another trick. It’s a bit more clever since it can be shown that indeed the Bible at least mentions other ‘gods’. It also describes the Jews practicing polytheism. But this deflection falls flat on its face in light of two simple facts so easily observed in the text of the Bible.

First, this “answer” simply ignores the obvious fact so evident in the context where these gods are mentioned, that they are repeatedly identified as false gods (Ps 115 and 135 are good examples). It also ignores the many explicit declarations by God that He alone is the only God that is, was or ever will be. (There are numerous examples throughout the Bible. Isaiah 44-46 contain clear and explicit revelations on this matter). Finally, it ignores the horrific punishment that God meted out on His people for their sin of practicing and teaching polytheism. Thus, the mentions of polytheism in the Old Testament are purely descriptive and not proscriptive. God tells the truth that some of His chosen people did indeed slip into this worldview. But pointing out that they sinned is not God’s endorsement of their sin of polytheism.

Secondly, this answer does not answer the actual question that was asked, pertaining to Jesus Christ, his apostles, and their churches supposedly teaching polytheism. If Jesus understood the Old Testament to actually endorse polytheism, as Mormons infer he must have, then we rightly expect that he would have made that point. After all, the number of Gods in existence must obviously be a critically important element of ANY coherent theology and we expect Jesus to have come with the truth on this essential point. If Jesus understood that there really are MANY Gods (one of the alleged, teachings of Christ that Mormons claim to have “restored”), then surely we should see some evidence of that somewhere in his own words, the words of his apostles or even their churches. Yet, no such evidence exists. The state of the evidence argues that the Mormon claim that Jesus taught polytheism to his disciples is therefore rightly regarded as false, by virtue of the lack of any reason to think he did!

I do not want to get down in the weeds of these particular Mormon doctrines here in this post. This issue of the Mormons claiming to have “restored” the original, authentic teachings of Jesus Christ supposedly lost to the earth in the alleged, “great apostasy” is only here as an example of the point I want to make, which is an examination of the tactics used by Mormons when responding to Christian challenges to the claims of their religion.

The larger point here is to be on the lookout for the distractions, deflections, evasions, counter-challenges, etc. used by Mormons in ways that, by virtue of their highly predictable commonality, appear to have been somehow ingrained into their subconscious. If you have ever debated Mormons and have not seen this behavior, consider yourself to be extremely unique. I have debated Mormons for decades and cannot remember even a single encounter wherein my Mormon correspondent did not quickly try to change the subject when it was clear that he or she could not allow him/herself to answer me honestly.

When challenging or questioning the claims of Mormonism, you will find or have already found that the deceptive practice of deflecting questions and responding with red herrings is a real problem. My advice is twofold:

BYU Professor Robert L. Millet. Click on the above image to see a video of Mr. Millett instructing Mormon Young People on how to deflect and evade direct questions and challenges from outsiders and critics.

1. Formulate your questions and challenges carefully and thoughtfully.
Another game Mormons seem to have been trained to play is to avoid answering your questions and challenges by parsing out words and/or quibbling with the form of the question rather than its intended content. They will frequently misrepresent your question (a straw man fallacy), in an effort to answer the question you “should have asked”, to quote Robert Millett, a popular BYU professor, and Mormon Apologist, instead of the question that you actually asked. There is nothing you can do to eliminate this evasion. But you can make it hard for them to use it effectively by carefully stating a well-thought-out challenge or question.

2. Do not be distracted by the tricks.
Pay careful attention to the Mormon’s response. Listen for a direct, honest answer to your question or challenge. This does not mean siphoning the response for only the answer you want. It means accepting an honest, truthful and valid answer to the question. As long as your question/challenge strikes at the heart of the Mormon claim in question, you are unlikely to get that answer. What you are far more likely to get is a deflection of some kind – perhaps very much like the ones illustrated above. In that case, your response should be to point out that you do not see how the deflection answers the specific question that you asked. Stay focused on your question or challenge. Repeat your question until you get an answer and always insist on an actual answer.

This is where forethought about your own question is important. You do not want to have to clarify the question after the Mormon evades it, because then you run the risk of being accused of “moving the goalposts” and your Mormon friend (or opponent) is not likely to let that slip and will use it constantly as an excuse to continue avoiding your questions. Also, see if you can get your Mormon friend to back up their answer, if it ever comes, by offering some supporting evidence and valid argumentation. (You will almost never get this far). When a direct answer, backed up by evidence and/or valid reasoning does not come, be careful in how you point out that failure. Expect it and don’t let it bug you. Just point out why the answer is invalid.

Unfortunately trying to lead someone who has been deceived –in some cases for an entire lifetime—to simply be honest with you and therefore with themselves will rarely end well. We human beings have a tendency to be defensive about the things we believe. A psychological condition called, “normalcy bias” will kick in and cause people to try whatever they can to get away from the facts that prove that they have been deceived. Moreover, a confrontation with factual reality that debunks closely held beliefs will frequently induce cognitive dissonance, causing many people serious intellectual and emotional distress. So be gentle if you can. Remember that 1st Peter 3:15 calls us to be prepared to have an answer (Greek: “apologia”) for the hope that is within us, but to do so with gentleness and respect:

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.
— Peter 3:15 NIV

About the Author
Brian Horner graduated with a Master’s Degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. He now sails around the Caribbean serving various ministries and teaching apologetics when he’s not writing articles like this one.

“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 Prayer of Release for Former Mormons and their Descendants

by Tracy Tennant
The following is a prayer of release for former Mormons and their descendants. This can be used in conjunction with healing and deliverance ministry sessions or can be used by individuals who have left or are in the process of leaving Mormonism, or those with Mormon ancestry.

As with all forms of inner healing, forgiveness is key to breaking any “legal” rights the Enemy (unclean spirits, etc.) have to harass us or keep us in spiritual bondage. Being able to forgive LDS parents and/or ancestors for their participation in Mormonism is essential to being set free. So is forgiving yourself! Forgiveness can be stated out loud in private or in the presence of other Christians. This prayer should be spoken out loud.

Praise be to You Lord my God, King of the universe! I come to You in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, to seek cleansing and deliverance from the spiritual bondage of Mormonism and the curses related to the temple ceremonies.

I renounce every oath and vow made by my ancestors and myself as Mormons and rebuke every spiritual power consequently affecting me and my family.

I renounce my baby dedication into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the status of being “born in the covenant.”

I renounce my baptism and confirmation into the Mormon Church, and all priesthood blessings I received by the laying on of hands from Mormon priesthood holders.

I renounce the temple initiatory “washing and anointing,” and the sealing of the anointing,  done for myself and on behalf of the dead. I renounce the prayers, proclamations, and pronouncements made over me during the initiatory ceremony.

I renounce the New Name given to me in the temple.

I renounce the First Token of the Aaronic Priesthood with its accompanying name, sign, and penalty.

I renounce the Second Token of the Aaronic Priesthood with its accompanying name, sign, and penalty.

I renounce the First Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood, or sign of the nail, with its accompanying name, sign, and penalty.

I renounce the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood, the Patriarchal grip or sure sign of the nail, with its accompanying name, sign, and penalty.

I renounce all oaths made in the Temple, and all their accompanying signs, blessings, and penalties (curses).

I renounce all vows made at the various altars of the temple.

I renounce the True Order of Prayer spoken around the altar in the temple.

I renounce all covenants made to obey the five Laws given in the temple ceremony.

I renounce all the work done at and through the veil, with all the names, signs, and tokens.

I renounce all vows made over the altar during the sealing ceremony, with all its names, signs, and tokens, and any soul ties that were formed as a result.

I renounce the false marriage covenant of Mormonism, the “New and Everlasting Covenant,” and any unholy soul tie formed.

I renounce all temple work done by me on behalf of the dead.

I renounce all secrecy, work, rituals, vows, pagan symbolism, bondages, and blessings and curses of the Mormon temple ceremonies done for myself or on behalf of my ancestors and for the deceased, both known and unknown to me.

I renounce all sacraments, oaths, vows, covenants, promises, penalties, curses, prophecies, blessings, pronouncements, and laying on of hands done under the authority of the Mormon Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods.

I renounce and reject Mormonism and all false teachings, rites, and ordinances therein.

Father God, I ask for the holy blood of Your Son, Yeshua Messiah (Jesus Christ) to cleanse me from all residue of Mormonism. Cleanse my spirit, soul, and mind, my will, emotions, and every part of my body that has been affected by my participation in Mormonism. I ask You to dissolve all legal rights over me obtained by the Adversary and all unclean spirits; in Jesus’ name, I pray, amen!

(originally published on the “Equipping Christians” website. Republished here with the permission of the author.)

About the Author
Tracy Tennant holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication; Associate of General Studies, with a focus on early childhood education; and Certificate of Achievement in Practical Nursing. Her greatest accomplishment is being the mother of ten children. While an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 26 years, Tracy held many positions, including: Young Married Adult Activities Leader, Primary Teacher, Nursery Assistant, Assistant Ward Librarian, Ward Bulletin Specialist, Cub Scout Den Leader, Ward Music Chairman, Visiting Teaching Supervisor, Relief Society Teacher, and Relief Society President, among others. Tracy was a frequent vocalist and speaker at special youth and adult firesides.  She was serving as Relief Society President when she left Mormonism for a Biblical faith in Jesus Christ in November of 2000. She currently writes, blogs, and speaks on motherhood, family, and health, as well as shares her experience and knowledge of Mormonism.


Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.]
There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.
What’s there to show for a lifetime of work,
a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone?
One generation goes its way, the next one arrives,
But nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old
planet earth.
—Ecclesiastes 1:2-4 (The Message)

by Paul Nurnberg
Accepting the Labels
I’m a quester. A seeker. I accept those labels, because “he who seeks shall find.”1 Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Ecclesiastes renders the Hebrew qoheleth as “quester” (typically preacher). This word choice highlights a reality that surprised me as I completed graduate studies at a Christian seminary. Namely, many of my fellow students—often vocational ministers—were also seekers. That is, they were intensely interested in seeking and knowing God’s truth and had passed through crucibles of doubt and suffering that ultimately drew them closer to God. Such is true of most of the believers I count among my spiritual mentors. Petersen’s rendering of the opening verses of Solomon’s realist musings powerfully capture the tragic quest of seeking to know and grow closer to the heart of God and the disillusionment one feels when one’s faith universe implodes.

In 1984, Mormon thinker, professor, literary critic, and yes, theologian, Eugene England published his first collection of personal essays, Dialogues with Myself. In the first essay in that collection, “Joseph Smith and the Tragic Quest” England quotes from and shares his thoughts on an essay  entitled “Tragedy as Religious Paradox” by the former chairman of the English Department at BYU, P.A. Christensen:

. . . the emerging and unifying element in the richly diverse tragic tradition is the focus on that ultimate desolation, available to us all, when by accident or our own questing we come to feel “the universe has lost its meaning, its moral bearings, its spiritual security.” Tragic man, the subject of our greatest literature, unwilling to rest with simplistic and thus secure conceptions of the universe, pushes at the paradoxes of his mind and experience uncover, “lives precariously on the growing margin of knowledge,” and challenges—or obeys—the Gods of his conceptions in ways that bring, in either case, suffering and loss out of all proportion to his actions. Yet tragic man persists in testing the paradoxes and enduring the suffering. Perhaps he does so because that is the process of all significant learning, of breaking out of confining concepts, out of old seed husks into new life, the process of dying in the old man so a new one can be born; perhaps he does so because it is the ultimate way of courageously confronting the real universe.2

England’s life and letters have been celebrated by a certain subset of progressive and liberal Mormons since he co-founded Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought at Stanford in 1966. Since his death in 2001, younger generations of progressive Internet Mormons have paid homage to England through blog posts and podcasts.3

Mormon thinker, professor, literary critic, and theologian, Eugene England.

I learned of England’s writings posthumously. As a young LDS return missionary in 1999, I began a long quest of seeking and discovery. I began discussing Mormonism online—debating my beliefs and epistemology with others of similar disposition. In 2002, as my religious views began to lean towards the unorthodox in Mormonism, I was in spiritual turmoil. The universe was reeling. It was no longer a secure place. A friend recommended England’s book of essays Making Peace, which I purchased and devoured.

My journey has taken me out of the LDS Church, but the drawing of God to his Son, supported by the evidence for Christianity, has continued to be compelling and convincing to me. I’ve since found a new spiritual home. The tragic nature of being a quester is that one risks losing everything. Just ask Job! As an ex-Mormon, I’ve experienced my share of loss—of friends, of trust and intimacy in family relationships, and of community. Over the years, I’ve witnessed many other young Mormons go through their own quests, a few were family, friends or mission companions, some were merely online acquaintances—all tragic. Some have lost spouses and children to painful separation and divorce, some have lost their sense of community, and many have lost faith in God altogether.

If the above resonates with you, if the universe has lost its meaning, bearings and spiritual security; my hope is that you will decide to continue the tragic quest with me through this series of posts. I understand the pain, loneliness, fear, and rejection that comes from deconstructing one’s faith. I also know the comfort, companionship, assurance, and intimacy that comes from renewal of faith. I hope that you will one day find the words of my apostolic namesake to be as affirming of your journey and transformation as I do now— “. . . whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”4

Pinned to the Spot Where I Stood
My mind screamed: RUN! FIRE! GET OUT! For a moment, I stood there in the darkness—pinned to the spot where I stood by fear—however irrational it seemed. Smoke swirled around the neon green exit signs, glowing brightly, but providing no reassurance. I’d been to enough local rock concerts to recognize the unmistakable smell of artificial smoke and the hiss of smoke machines, but I should back up a bit.

When I was a sophomore in high school, the LDS Seminary teachers at my school in West Jordan, Utah planned a special devotional. In the days leading up to it, we were told that rather than meeting in our classrooms, we would meet in the large subdivided room that was used for devotionals. When the day arrived, I left the school building, crossing the parking lot to the seminary building.

The side entrance was locked, which was unusual. A seminary teacher standing nearby told me that I must enter through the front doors. This change in routine was confusing, but I made my way to the front of the building where a line was forming and waited with my classmates to get into the building.

The glass double doors were obscured. Smoke drifted from beneath a heavy black curtain, which was hung to block our view inside. The whole experience had an ominous feeling. Near the door stood another of the seminary teachers, admitting students one at a time through the curtain. I watched the teacher speak briefly to each student and admit one every thirty seconds or so.

I soon realized that whatever devotional the teachers had planned would not be completed in the fifty-five minutes allotted for third period, especially if they kept up the pace of one-by-one admittance. I wondered about the purpose of this exercise. When it was my turn to enter, the “seminary bouncer” greeted me and asked me to extend my right hand through the curtain. I was told that I would feel a guide take me by the hand, that I should trust the guide, and do as he instructed.

It was a surreal and somewhat unsettling experience, but I followed the instructions and reached my hand through the curtain. As soon as I did, someone inside grasped my hand and gently drew me into the building, which was smoky and dark, and my eyes struggled to adjust. My guide placed my hand on a cold railing, wrapping my fingers securely around it. He gave some brief, whispered instructions. “Hold fast the iron rod,” he said. “It will safely guide you through.” Then he left me. And that is when I stood in place, illogically terrified, before finally moving.

I lumbered through the dark, holding onto the rod, which led to the devotional room, where I was instructed to sit quietly and ponder the experience. A CD loop played Joseph L. Townsend’s Mormon hymn based on 1 Nephi, chapter 8 in the Book of Mormon:

Hold to the rod,
the iron rod;
‘Tis strong and bright and true.

The Iron Rod is the word of God;
‘Twill safely guide us through.5

At sixteen, I couldn’t really grasp the significance of that experience for my spiritual life. It was, at the time, a direct and physical experience with fear and despair—one paradoxically tied to my religious experience. Since then, it has come to be a formative event in my life of faith. Not because anything transcendent happened that day, but because of the experiences I’ve had in the ensuing years.

“Hold to the rod, the iron rod; ‘Tis strong and bright and true.”

Theologians Don’t Know Nothing
The seminal Wilco song Theologians begins with these enigmatic lyrics: “Theologians / They don’t know nothing / About my soul / About my soul. / I’m an ocean / Abyss in motion / Slow motion / Slow motion. / Inlitterati lumen fidei / God is with us everyday / That illiterate light / Is with us every night.”

That indecipherable Latin line leaves the listener deliberating just what Jeff Tweedy is lashing at. On one hand, he seems to be conveying a post-modern approach to truth, which disdains the idea that God has revealed propositional truths of the type that theologians discuss and define—or even that there is a God to reveal propositional truths. On the other, he seems to be suggesting that the light illiterate is with us every night as it was with the ancient Israelites.6

It’s a fascinating line, given that the title for their album A Ghost is Born is taken from the lyrics to this song and the lyrics contain a reference to Christ’s ascension. Perhaps, one should consider the text from the album’s cover design (Wilco ≤ A Ghost is Born) in light of John 8:12, the way Jesus in John’s gospel uses the theme of light to point back to the pillar of fire that led the Israelites in the wilderness by night, and John Lennon’s controversial statement to the effect that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus now” to fully grasp what may be going on here.

In several ways, this song and the album cover art is a microcosm of my walk with God. Paul Nurnberg ≠ Jesus (see 1 Cor 2:2). Now seems like the right time to finally begin this series of posts that have been rattling around in my head and taking shape for two decades.

There’s the younger, Mormon me, who spent two years in a foreign land, wearing a white shirt and black name badge—peddling Mormonism’s unique brand of Christian Restorationism to the Hungarian people. The one who was serious and conscientious about his beliefs, while also a bit naïve and laissez-faire about his theology. The one crippled by doubt and feelings of unworthiness. The one who came back to the United States and spent well over a decade discussing and debating the merits and pitfalls of Mormon theology and culture in online forums before finally walking away—setting aside with full knowledge and agency the faith, the community, and the beliefs of his birth, all of which he’d once cherished. The one who understands the deconstructionist, “burn it down” skeptical nature of John Lennon.

And then there’s the middle-aged, non-denominational Evangelical Christian me, who watches with bewilderment and sadness as others, seemingly in increasing numbers, take a similar—and sometimes not so similar—path to mine, only in more public forums, and from more faith traditions than just Mormonism. The one who has graduated with an MDiv in Biblical Studies from Cincinnati Christian University. The one who loves the Bible and affirms it as God’s inerrant Word. The one who loves the writings of St. John of the Cross about darkness and spiritual growth. The one who understands the reconstructionist “find what’s burning inside me” nature of Jeff Tweedy. The one who is passionate about living the examined life; about integration and wholeness—the abundant life given me by that illiterate Light.

Ben Shahn, “Ecclesiastes Or, The Preacher”

Enemies to That Illiterate Light
There is something to Jeff Tweedy’s insistence: “that illiterate light / is with us every night.” Theologians aren’t the other. We’re all theologians. When we think about God, we’re all doing theology. The question is whether or not we do it well. Tweedy’s lyrics lead me to conclude the truth of this statement: “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”7

Integrating the Tragic Quest
What is conceived here is a series of posts on reconstructing faith that I’ve named Dialogues with My Former Self. Part of reconstruction is integration. In these posts, I will seek to integrate every part of my mind, heart, and soul. They will include creative writing, philosophical and theological arguments, and personal experience; an integrative whole. After this first introductory post to kick off the series, we’ll tackle a simple subject: God. In the meantime, enjoy this poem I wrote to encapsulate my journey—my tragic quest.

Nightwatch
Wolves at the cave’s mouth snarling,
but how wolves,
if Nothing?

Childhood fears
soothsaid and smothered by pious lines,
Faith is standing at the edge of the darkness,
and taking one
faltering footstep forward,
only to find the way lighted
one step ahead.

Such is not
faith! If every step were lighted,
too soon,
you would know.

Where the Mystery?
As if,
no one ever took that uncertain step, only
to be shadowed in blackness,
crowded, shrouded in deep
despair, crushing the soul.

πάτερ εὶ βούλει παρένεγκε τοῦτο τὸ ποτήριον ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ . . .
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me . . .”

As if,
no one has ever mouthed that pleading prayer, only
to carry a cross, one
faltering step after another, through
a darkened wilderness, lighted only
occasionally but brilliantly by
lightning striking on
the distant horizon;
beaten, broken by the empty
air surrounding their bed.

St. John of the Cross taught me
of the beauty, the healing
found in darkness.

And St. John the Beloved of
the Light to come,
Who has, and ever will,
everything illuminate,
all shadows
cast aside;
every crevice
of the small cave
thrown into radiance.

Every shaky aleph, every rounded
omega, each faltering figure,
arms upstretched, that I
scrawled on the rock
wall with the tip
of a branch
blackened in the fire
I light
to keep the wolves at bay—
because God loves
a madman.

Waltham St. Lawrence, “Ecclesiastes, or The Preacher Ecclesiastes”, book illustration.

NOTES
1 Matthew 7:8
2 Eugene England, “Joseph Smith and the Tragic Quest,” Dialogues with Myself: Personal Essays on Mormon Experience (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1984), 1-2.
3 For blog posts, see for example Shawn Larsen’s article at Mormon Matters, “Why Eugene England Still Matters” from 2008, or Boyd Petersen’s article at his blog Dead Wood and Rushing Water, “Eugene England and the Future of Mormonism” from 2016. For podcasts, see John Dehlin’s four-part tribute at Mormon Stories “Eugene England’s Life and Legacy” from 2011 and Gina Colvin’s podcast episode at A Thoughtful Faith from 2015, “The Life and Writings of Eugene England.”
4 Philippians 3:7-8a
5 Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1985, 274.
6 See Exodus 13:21
7 For the morphology of this oft-used phrase, see https://humorinamerica.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/the-morphology-of-a-humorous-phrase/

BACK TO TOP

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.