Archive for the ‘Mormon Culture’ Category


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.

“The ex-member is motivated to stay away from religion for fatigue, for fear of being duped, and for fear of relinquishing control.”

by Joshua Valentine
Members who learn the truth about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Mormonism most often feel betrayed and duped by their church, friends, and family.  If they leave the church, they often go through a burn out period, not wanting to deal with religion at all.  They are understandably resistant to even considering any other religion any time soon for fear of being taken in again.  Many go through a period of anger.  The realization of being manipulated, being put through so much, and losing so much of their lives for a lie, is understandably infuriating.  The necessary and reasonable thing to do, when ready and rested, is to reevaluate one’s beliefs.  Often this includes a period of studying the LDS Church even more.  Whether before leaving or after, many Mormons feel embarrassed by all the things they did and believed, which they now see as so obviously untrue or even silly.  They understandably never want to be manipulated or to allow their lives to be controlled by anyone else again.

This last, control, is a strong motivation toward atheism.  While in many ways the atheistic worldview can be bleak, in that there is no longer someone watching out for you, there is also a strong sense of self-determination, of your decisions being wholly your own, under your own control.  Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have relinquished leadership and control of so much of their lives for so long, and upon learning the truth, realized that so much of it was a waste and harmful, that any sense of letting go of their new found control, of submitting themselves to anything — an organization or even a belief — is simply unacceptable.  Ex-Mormon atheists speak of the difficulty of getting atheists to come together and embrace a long-term vision and goal (there is a Mormon Expression podcast, toward the end of his time hosting it, in which John Larsen mentions this issue).  While there may be something about an atheist worldview that inhibits this activity, the victim of Joseph Smith and the LDS Church has all the motivation to keep all control and not relinquish it to anyone or anything, a group, a movement, an ideal, or even the actual God.

The ex-member is motivated to stay away from religion for fatigue, for fear of being duped, and for fear of relinquishing control.  And these can lead to a life of practical, if not consciously chosen, atheism.  But, as we have seen, the very teachings of Mormonism and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may set up its members to turn away from faith and even provide the content of an atheistic worldview.  If these teachings are not re-evaluated, then the ex-member may embrace atheism not solely based on rational and accurate arguments and evidence, but also from false biases, skewed perceptions, and feelings trained into them by the LDS Church.  The man or woman who leaves must be resolute and steadfast in rooting out and reconsidering all that they have received from Mormonism; not just doctrines and history, but all of the assumptions and implications of the teachings that they were not even aware of, but that are still determining the way they think about and see the world.  Unfortunately, there are several possible motivations for not re-evaluating everything learned from their church.

No one wants to believe that they believed something false.  No one wants to believe that they believed something obviously false.  No one wants to believe they dedicated their lives to something untrue, let alone a lie.  No one wants to admit that they have been fooled.  No one wants to believe they have perpetuated a lie or been involved in the manipulation and duping of others to believe the same lie.  This self-preservation is one reason why people of all groups hesitate, if not refuse, to really consider the possibility that their beliefs are false, and risk having to leave their church, discard their philosophy, or relinquish their life vision.  Many members of the LDS Church resist the arguments of critics and respond to the evidence against their church often so irrationally, not just because of the way their church has taught them to respond, but for fears like these.  But what about those who leave?

Just as members do not wish to consider that they are wrong and will deny the facts out of self-preservation, those who leave may continue to do the same.  When a member exits the church, they have a subconscious motivation not to discover all of the false beliefs they have embraced.  So, they continue to believe them.  They come to the conclusion that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not true, that its scriptures, prophets, and gods are not real.  But they may not want to know just how much they were duped into believing, just how much they took for granted, just how many false beliefs they have taught their children and friends.  Most do a lot of research about the church’s history and unique teachings, but they may not reconsider the less explicit teachings and their implications.  This includes what faith is, how it relates to reason, what spiritual experience really is, and when mystery and complexity are acceptable.

“Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NKJV)

(This article was originally published on the Mormon Coffee website on

Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2
Link to Part 3
Link to Part 4
Link to Part 5

The Star Child from “2001: A Space Odyssey”

by Joshua Valentine
Why do so many Mormons become atheists? Whatever the validity of the observation, online discussions of this topic usually only revolve around the answers of not wanting to be fooled again, burnout, and that the same things that deconstruct Mormonism deconstruct all religions. All of these look outside for an answer, but what about Mormonism, itself?  The very doctrines, teachings, and culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only directs its members toward atheism but actually gives them atheistic beliefs and atheistic perspectives such that, upon exiting the LDS faith, they find themselves closer to atheism on the spectrum of worldviews than to anything else.

In fact, it is Mormon doctrine that actually provides much of the content of an atheist worldview. Mormonism is the most materialistic worldview next to atheism. In Mormon doctrine, it is not the Mormon God or Gods, but Matter, itself, which is truly eternal, having existed from everlasting to everlasting.  With Matter are Eternal Laws or Principles as well. These exist before and independently of the Mormon God. In fact, the Mormon God, like all Gods before him, is himself made up of this eternal matter and subject to these eternal laws or principles.  Joseph Smith taught that spirit was actually matter, just a more “fine” form of it. God, according to Mormonism, had to obey these Eternal Principles in order to progress from eternal fine matter, or “intelligence,” to a god. This is in stark contrast to many religions that assume that independence from, and being the source of, all creation is definitive of what it means to be “God” or the “Ultimate.” However, in LDS cosmology, Matter and Eternal Law are the true Ultimate, not God.

Thus, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides its members an understanding of the universe that is nearly identical to that of naturalistic atheism, where matter and its inherent properties that are described by humans as universal physical laws are ultimately all there is. When a member realizes that the Mormon God does not exist, when this deity is removed from the materialist LDS worldview, they are left with a materialist atheist worldview already in place, provided by the LDS Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches the Plan of Happiness.  One of the main purposes of the Mormon God is to bring about the eternal life and happiness of mankind.  The LDS Church teaches that traditional family is critical to this happiness. Mormons are known for holding the family in high regard.  Outsiders who study the religion find it difficult not to conclude that Mormons practically deify their family by their devotion to it, and how it plays such a prominent role in the purpose of existence, and the definition of happiness, and even heaven, itself. In fact, the Mormon God is subsumed into the human family as the literal physical father of all spirits.  Mormons are also known for their service to others. With the exalted doctrine of family and the principles of greatest good being service to humans and family, the ex-member has already embraced the highest good in atheist practice – loved ones and humankind.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also teaches that God and humans are of the same kind or species. It teaches that God used to be a regular human and that humans can become Gods.  All Gods and humans started as “intelligences,” or fine spirit matter. By an unknown process, this intelligence is embodied in a spirit body provided by a previous God and Goddess’ reproductive activity. The resultant “spirit child” may eventually obtain a physical body, living on a world as a human.  The human may, upon dying and an unknown number of millennia in the afterlife, attain “exaltation” and become another God, and the process repeats. In this way, the LDS Church teaches that humans are the highest form of life in the universe and that our development as individuals and the continuation of our posterity is the highest good. This is strongly analogous to the closest thing to purpose in atheism, the development and continuation of species and, the highest form of life, in particular, humankind.

The primacy and essentiality of the family in the LDS conception of purpose and eternal happiness does not simply give a sense of idolatry but the “eternal round” of gods making spirit babies, who become humans, who become gods, and repeat endlessly is also a sacralizing of reproduction and genetic continuance. The LDS Church teaches that the glory of God is this eternal increase of his posterity. This increase is also only possible through the most worthy members, those who have overcome the challenges of life and flourished in the LDS gospel of laws and ordinances. One could say that Mormonism is a religion of not only individual evolution from spirit to human to god but also a religion of the exaltation of the fittest. Upon leaving the LDS Church and relinquishing belief in its transcendent dimensions of God and afterlife, ex-members are by default evolutionary atheists whose highest good and reason for what they do is their own happiness, which in its greatest form is found in benefiting and continuing the human race.

A scene from the “Stargate” sequence in “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

(This article was originally published on the Mormon Coffee website on

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Link to Part 5

by Michael Flournoy
There are three conversions in Mormonism: social, doctrinal, and spiritual.

Doctrinal Conversion is to believe that the tenets of Mormonism are true, along with The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Social Conversion is to believe that the LDS church is a godly institution, its leaders are inspired, and its founder, Joseph Smith, had an upright, moral character.

Spiritual Conversion is any experience that validates a Mormon’s beliefs.

The most common of these is Spiritual Conversion. It typically occurs after reading The Book of Mormon, which challenges the reader to ask God if it’s true. It promises that God will reveal its truthfulness through the power of the Holy Ghost. Rather than testing The Book of Mormon against the Bible, Latter-day Saints resort to subjective feelings, and often equate a burning in the bosom to an answer from the Spirit. The exact wording in The Book of Mormon is as follows.

Moroni 10:4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

These conversions serve as a three-legged stool to keep Mormons tethered to the LDS gospel. If one leg is kicked out, they can keep going on two legs while the damaged one is repaired. Thus, in order to bring them out of the church, at least two of the three conversions must be targeted. However, Latter-day Saints are unlikely to divulge details about their spiritual conversion because those experiences are considered sacred. To them, talking about their experiences with Christians is casting their pearls before swine.

That leaves the social and doctrinal conversions to target. Most Mormons lean either to the doctrinal or the social side of their faith. Rarely, if ever, do you find a Mormon who is on fire about the doctrine and the culture of the church. If they don’t lean either way, they are probably less active. I was a Ward Mission Leader right before leaving, and it was often said that a new convert to Mormonism needed three things: A friend (social conversion), a calling (social conversion), and to be nourished by the good word of God (doctrinal conversion).

Of the two types of Latter-day Saints, the vast majority are socially converted, cultural Mormons. They do not participate in online debates, and their testimonies are not founded on logic. I have been in several wards over the years, and typically I have found only 1 or 2 individuals per congregation that really know their stuff. These doctrinal Mormons are, to some degree or another, outcasts in the faith.

I heard a talk over the pulpit once, where a man was comparing his parents, one of whom was doctrinal, while the other was a cultural Mormon. He said, “My father knew The Book of Mormon backward and forward, he had much of it memorized, and he could explain why each passage was important, but my mom knew it was true…” He implied that because of her blind faith, his mother was the more righteous of the two.

My Conversions into Mormonism
Although I was born under the covenant, I still had to be converted to Mormonism. My social conversion came at age fifteen. I finally made good friends at church and it’s where the pretty girls were. I would have gone without being dragged there by my parents.

My spiritual conversion came a year later when I attended Especially for Youth, a week-long retreat for Latter-day Saints. On Thursday night they ushered us into a room and showed a video about Jesus. It had people testifying that he was their Savior and he’d changed them. That night, the real Jesus visited me.

I was faced with his majesty and righteousness. I knew that I was a wretched sinner, and I would have been satisfied if he had wiped me off the face of the planet. However, instead of wrath, he sent me his love. It was an unbelievable love. It’s the kind of love that says, “You hate my counsel, your feet are slow to do good and swift to do evil, and many of the things you do displease me, but I love you anyway.”

God’s overwhelming, undeserved love made me weep for hours on end. I looked at the context of the situation. I was at a Mormon sponsored event, which I interpreted to mean that the church was true. I decided that my allegiance would be to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When I turned 19, I turned in my mission papers and went to the far away land of California to preach the gospel. Even then, I was seeking the burning in the bosom my counterparts had experienced after reading The Book of Mormon. I was expecting something powerful like my Jesus experience, but it never came. Eventually, I settled on a logical testimony that The Book of Mormon was true, even though it made me feel like a second class citizen in the church.

Spiritual Conversion as articulated by a Mormon Apostle. (click to zoom)

In time, other experiences bolstered my spiritual conversion. On my mission, I met my friend Ed Enochs, an Evangelical Christian, who debated my companion and me for three hours one day. I walked away from that encounter convinced that Mormonism was false. I was saddened at the thought of my family and friends back home. How, I wondered, could such intelligent people be roped in by a scam like Mormonism?

Ed also convinced me that the Bible was the word of God. I decided to examine it and see if it supported the truth claims of the church.

Somehow, as I studied the Bible, I came across all the passages that seemed to support Mormonism, and my doctrinal conversion was complete. When I returned home I became an amateur apologist bent on defending Mormons from smooth talking Christians. With all three conversions in place, the LDS church had me hooked. I spent the next decade as its captive.

My Three Conversions out of Mormonism
By 2015, God was waging war on all three of my conversions. I decided that year to study grace in order to become a more effective weapon. In Mormonism, there are 3 levels of heaven, 6 definitions of salvation, and 50 shades of grace. So every time I came across heaven or salvation in LDS scripture, I had to decipher which level of heaven and what kind of salvation was being described. It was the most frustrating thing I had ever done in my life and I was envious of the elegant simplicity of the gospel my Christian friends believed in.

Later that year the church came out with its policy that children of gay parents could not be baptized. I was not on board with the policy, but what irked me, was the day after it was leaked Mormons were already defending the policy online. It seemed like Latter-day Saints everywhere were abandoning Spirit and scripture in favor of uncontested apostolic authority.

I was on an online forum one day and another Latter-day Saint said he didn’t have a problem with the policy, but if he did, he would just pray about it until he didn’t anymore. I responded, “If that’s not a cult mindset, I don’t know what is!”

Unfortunately, it was a public forum and my family decided to hold a small intervention for me. They warned me to use caution when discussing the church and one family member said throwing the prophet under the bus was the same as throwing Jesus under the bus.

I knew that despite my family’s concern, the truth could withstand criticism. In favor of my relationships, however, I decided to keep my big mouth shut. It was just a stupid policy, after all.

A few days later I saw Elder Nelson speak to Millennials on BYU TV about the policy. He explained that it was not a policy at all, but a revelation from God that had been unanimously received by all 15 prophets, seers, and revelators. My jaw dropped. Suddenly, my issues with the church were just as much doctrinal as they were cultural since God himself was the alleged mastermind behind the policy.

In Mormonism, there are three pillars of truth: the leadership, the Spirit, and the scriptures. Any of these can be used to acquire truth, but in my case, the Spirit and the scriptures were telling me the exact opposite of what the leaders were saying. That October I learned that there had been over 30 suicides of gay and lesbian LDS youth. I was shocked that the so-called “plan of happiness” was causing so much sorrow.

My social conversion shattered into a million pieces. I was no longer proud to be a Mormon; I was ashamed of it. And with my doctrinal conversion struggling as it was, I was dragged into a faith crisis lasting several months. Mormonism had infiltrated every aspect of my identity and questioning it caused me to fall into a confused state of depression.

I managed to stay active through it all. I kept studying grace and came to believe that Christ’s imputed righteousness granted salvation. I found evidence of it in both the Bible and The Book of Mormon, and for a time my doctrinal conversion stabilized. That is until God opened my eyes to the fact that my new favorite doctrine was hostile to the mandatory LDS covenants and ordinances.

My spiritual conversion collapsed soon after that. It didn’t matter that I still had experiences that I couldn’t explain away. One leg was simply not enough to support my testimony. I gave my life to Jesus and over time I discovered that my spiritual experiences did not hold up under scrutiny.

Kicking out the Legs of Conversion
Spiritual conversion is the toughest to target since Mormons are so protective of it. Ex-Mormons might have a shot though, by talking about the spiritual experiences they had while active, and why they failed the test of time. Most Christians will need to go after social and doctrinal conversion instead.

First, find out what kind of Mormon you’re talking to. Does she believe her leaders’ words are always inspired? Does she blur the lines between culture and doctrine? Is she LDS because of the great programs and family values? Does she think people leave the church because they intellectualize their way out? If so, she’s probably a cultural Mormon.

Does he believe the prophets and apostles sometimes speak as men? Is he wary of the culture, but protective of the beliefs? Does his testimony of the LDS scriptures have some basis in logic? Does he think people leave the church over cultural issues? If so, he’s probably a doctrinal Mormon.

Doctrinal and Social Conversion as articulated by a late Mormon Apostle. (click to zoom)

Conventional wisdom says to strike where the Mormon is weak, but that may not be the right strategy. Since my social conversion was weak, I doubled down on the doctrine to overcompensate. I overlooked the prophets’ mistakes because they were men. When faced with Joseph Smith’s misdeeds, it never dented my view that he was a prophet. I just thought he was abusing authority God had actually given him. All the social problems in the world could not have relinquished my grip on the Mormon church.

God attacked my doctrinal conversion first. That made me vulnerable to social problems in the church and set the stage for the avalanche to come. So if you’re talking to doctrinal Mormons, talk about doctrinal issues first: like contradictions between LDS scriptures and the Bible. If you’re witnessing to cultural Mormons, talk primarily about social problems: like Joseph Smith’s polyandry.

I would caution against coming off too aggressive with Latter-day Saints. Above all else, be a friend first. Mormons are wary of Christians who constantly attack their beliefs. We don’t have to tell our LDS friends they’re in a cult every time we see them. They already know what we think, I promise. Bold, fiery preaching may erode their doctrinal conversion, but if it is not coming from a relationship of trust, it will simultaneously bolster their social conversion.

Navigating someone past the three conversions is ultimately the work of God, and it’s a long, drawn out process. Sometimes all we can do is plant seeds, pray for the LDS, and love them. Mormons are unlikely to ever choose Christianity if all they remember from us is: ‘attack, attack, attack’.

I am forever grateful to the many Christians who befriended me while I was LDS, who respected me despite my beliefs, who saw past my religion and saw me, who prayed for me, who built me up, who let the light of Jesus shine through them, and who treated me like a brother before I was one. I don’t know where I’d be without them.

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.

 

A Critique of Brad Wilcox’s “His Grace is Sufficient”

“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
(Matthew 12:7 ESV) 

by Michael Flournoy
I was born and raised in the Mormon Church, and in early 2015 I began a serious study on the topic of grace. One of the first videos I watched was a BYU devotional given by Brad Wilcox called “His Grace is Sufficient”. Not only did Mr. Wilcox revolutionize the way I viewed grace, his talk was largely responsible for my journey out of Mormonism and into mainstream Christianity.

I was surprised when I listened to it recently, to see how it sounded to my Protestant ears. I caught myself saying “amen” half a dozen times. I was struck by how useful his catchphrases were for explaining my own transition. He says for instance, that we aren’t earning heaven, we’re “learning heaven.” He uses a piano analogy where Mom pays for lessons and requires us to practice. Practicing does not pay for the lessons, nor does it pay back Mom. He goes on to say that we’re keeping the commandments for a different reason, “it’s like paying a mortgage instead of rent, making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt…”

To this day Brad Wilcox is a favorite LDS speaker of mine. However, I found a few problems with his speech. Namely, the way he describes Evangelical Christians is mostly false. He says his Born Again friends often ask him if he has been saved by the grace of Christ, and he replies with a question they haven’t fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?”

This is a common misconception about Evangelical Christianity. Having been LDS, I recall thinking the Christian model of salvation was very 2-dimensional. Having passed through the veil so to speak, to the other side, I see now that Christianity is not what Brad portrays it to be.

In fact, as an Evangelical, my day to day lifestyle is not so different from how I lived as a Mormon. What has changed is my motivation for living the way I do: before, I was trying to earn heaven, and now I’m learning it. I was obeying from a place of condemnation, but now it’s from a place of acceptance. Before it was about fear, now it’s about appreciation. When I embraced Brad Wilcox’s grace, I found that I fit in with Evangelicals much more than my fellow Latter-day Saints. So in answer to his unconsidered question, here is my unexpected answer: yes, the grace of Christ is changing me.

As a Latter-day Saint, I scoffed at the idea that we were created for God’s glory alone. As I mentioned previously, it seemed 2-dimensional. I thought those who were “saved” would have no motivation to be better spouses, parents, employees, and disciples. I assumed as Brad stated, that Christians believed “God required nothing of [them]”. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, God’s abundant grace motivates Christians to improve and give their lives to Jesus.

He goes on to explain that Latter-day Saints can sometimes view God’s commandments as overbearing and say, “Gosh, none of the other Christians have to tithe. Gosh, none of the other Christians have to go on missions…” Actually, we do. To set the record straight, “other Christians” do understand the importance of obedience.

I was shocked the first time tithing was discussed at my Protestant church. I thought I had gotten away from all that! My pastor explained that we don’t pay tithing to get into heaven, but because we’re free. As a Latter-day Saint, my perception was that Christians viewed grace as a license to sin. I see now that grace is better described as insurance, covering us in case we sin.

In his speech, Brad Wilcox mentions several people who don’t understand grace: there are those who are giving up on the LDS church because they are tired of falling short, young men and women who graduate from high school and slip up time and again and think it’s over, return missionaries who slip back into bad habits and break temple covenants and give up on hope, and married couples who go through divorce.

He chides anyone who thinks there are only two options: perfection, or giving up. He does not seem concerned that such a huge swath of Latter-day Saints are ignorant about grace, even after admitting he used to picture himself begging to be let into heaven after falling short by two points. My idea of grace was not dissimilar to his. Ironically, he belittles Christians for having the same view of grace he has now, while turning a blind eye to Latter-day Saints who hold an opposing view, as if it were a coincidence.

However, these views against grace are not a coincidence, but a byproduct. My diagnosis is that Brad Wilcox understands grace, but he doesn’t understand Mormonism.

After all, Alma 5:28-29 in The Book of Mormon says if we are not stripped of pride and envy we are not prepared to meet God, nor do we have eternal life. Where’s the grace in that? Doctrine and Covenants 82:7 says if we sin our former sins return to us. Where’s the grace in that? Moroni 8:14 states that should someone die while thinking children need baptism, his destination is hell. Where’s the grace in that? Alma 11:37 says that Jesus cannot save us in our sins. My friends, there is no grace in a religion that says we must amputate all sin from our lives before Jesus can save us.

Mr. Wilcox conveniently leaves out covenants in his speech, which form the foundation of eternal life in Mormonism. According to LDS doctrine, covenants like baptism and temple sealings are required to enter the Celestial Kingdom. These covenants are two-way promises where God gives us eternal life if we keep our end of the bargain. The temple covenants include keeping the commandments, so a Latter-day Saint who fails by 2 points on judgment day will have no right to plead for grace. In Mormonism, grace is not enough.

I do love Brad Wilcox’s speech. I would not be where I am today without it. That said, I call upon him to repent for his false witness against Evangelical Christians and I pray he will see the error in defending an organization that tramples the grace of God. I can say from experience that coming into Protestant Christianity from Mormonism is like “…paying a mortgage instead of rent, making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt…”, it’s the difference between being a servant of your own free will, and being a slave.

mercy-and-grace-heat-map

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.