Archive for the ‘Mormon Culture’ Category

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.

A Biblical Response to Mormon Communion With the Dead Teachings

Moroni Temple Shadow Red and Grainy

“Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'”
(Matthew 8:22, NKJV)

by Fred W. Anson
It often comes as a shock to many transitioning Ex-Mormons that contact and communication with the dead is prohibited in the strongest terms in the Bible. Please consider the following:

There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you.
(Deuteronomy 18:9-12, NKJV)

And lest the connection to Mormonism be missed, on April 6, 1853, at the ceremony for laying the Northeast Corner Stone of the Salt Lake City Temple, Mormon Apostle Parley Pratt bragged that Mormonism was ahead of the spiritist curve when,

A quarter of a century since, an obscure boy and his few associates, in the western wilds of New York, commenced to hold converse with the dead.” He further stated that, “The Lord has ordained that all the most holy things pertaining to the salvation of the dead, and all the most holy conversations and correspondence with God, angels, and spirits, shall be had only in the sanctuary of His holy Temple on the earth, when prepared for that purpose by His Saints; and shall be received and administered by those who are ordained and sealed unto this power, to hold the keys of the sacred oracles of God.” Thus temple endowed Latter-day Saints, “By one holding the keys of the oracles of God, [act] as a medium through which the living can hear from the dead.
(Parley Pratt, “Spiritual Communication”, Journal of Discourses, 2:43-46; bolding added for emphasis)

The Impassable Chasms
Yet in the gospel of Luke Jesus tells the following story which states explicitly that there are impassable chasms that separate the living from the dead and those in heaven from those in hell:

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

Lazaraus and the Rich Man EDITED

“Lazarus and the Rich Man” (unknown artist)

Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’
(Luke 16:19-31, NKJV)

Again, please notice these words, “there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” So the Bible explicitly states that there’s a gulf that the living can’t cross to get to the dead, or those in hell can’t pass to get to those in heaven (and vice versa). That pretty much precludes any notions of the dead being guardian angels for the living or the dead being able to communicate with the living in Mormon Temples or anywhere else doesn’t it?

Angels and Humans Are Different Species and Beings
And as the Compelling Truth website explains, human beings and angels are not the same species:

Angels are created beings. They are an entirely separate type of creature from humans. People do not become angels after death, and angels do not become human. They are as different from us as we are from the animals. Angels are intelligent beings (Matthew 8:29; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Peter 1:12), they are emotional beings (Luke 2:13; James 2:19; Revelation 12:17), and each has an individual personality and will (Luke 8:28-31; 2 Timothy 2:26; Jude 6). Angels are spirit beings (Hebrews 1:14) and do not have physical bodies.
(“What are angels according to the Bible?”, Compelling Truth website)

Further, as Mormon Researcher, Bill McKeever explains, the Bible does not teach that humans can become angels:

While the belief in angels is not unique to the Christian faith, Mormonism drastically differs from orthodox doctrine by espousing the concept that humans have the capability to end up as angels. Certainly Mormonism cannot be credited with originating this erroneous concept. This “human to angel” idea has long been a part of the folklore of many countries. Upon the loss of a loved one, how many children have been comforted by well-meaning people who have said this particular loved one “is an angel now”?
…the concept of men and women turning into angels has no biblical support. To begin with, the Bible declares that angels are a distinct creation of God; in other words, an angel was created as such, and is not a being that has undergone some sort of spiritual development or physical evolution. Psalm 148:2,5 clearly demonstrates that angels were created as angels when it says, “Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts…Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.”

In his epistle to the church at Colosse, the Apostle Paul expounds the fact that it was through Christ that all things were created by Him and for Him (2:15). These include what Paul refers to as ‘principalities.’ W.E. Vine notes that the word translated principality in the KJV ‘is used of supramundane beings who exercise rule, called principalities.’ He states that this word can denote holy angels or evil angels. (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 1966, pg. 213). As with many other doctrines unique to Mormonism, there is no biblical justification for the claim that angels were once humans.
(Bill McKeever, “Angels and Humans”, Mormonism Research Ministry website)

So If I’m Not Contacting the Dead What Are They?
The name for what Mormonism teaches is “Necromancy”. As the GotQuestions website explains:

Necromancy is defined as the conjuring of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events. In the Bible, necromancy is also called ‘divination,’ ‘sorcery’ and ‘spiritism’ and is forbidden many times in Scripture (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:10; Galatians 5:19-20; Acts 19:19) as an abomination to God. It is something that the Lord speaks very strongly against and is to be avoided as much as any evil. The reason for this is twofold.

First, necromancy is going to involve demons and opens the one who practices it to demonic attack. Satan and his demons seek to destroy us, not to impart to us truth or wisdom. We are told that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Second, necromancy does not rely on the Lord for information, the Lord who promises to freely give wisdom to all who ask for it (James 1:5). This is especially telling because the Lord always wants to lead us to truth and life, but demons always want to lead us to lies and serious damage.

The idea that dead people’s spirits can be contacted for information is false. Those who attempt such contact inevitably contact demonic spirits, not the spirits of dead loved ones. Those who die go immediately to heaven or hell—heaven if they believed in Jesus as Savior, and hell if they did not. There is no contact between the dead and the living. Therefore, seeking the dead is unnecessary and very dangerous.”
(“Necromancy”, GotQuestions? Website)

Still Stinging From the Shock?
Many transitioning Ex-Mormons feel stung, shocked, even angry when they learn what the Bible really says about contact and communication with the dead. This shock is, no doubt, due to the casual acceptance – even encouragement – of such contact and communication in Mormon culture that contrasts so markedly with the Bible’s sound condemnation and loud, repeated warnings against these practices. For example, consider what sixth President of the LdS Church, Joseph F. Smith, taught:

“We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission. The dead are not perfect without us, neither are we without them [see D&C 128:18]. We have a mission to perform for and in their behalf; we have a certain work to do in order to liberate those who, because of their ignorance and the unfavorable circumstances in which they were placed while here, are unprepared for eternal life; we have to open the door for them, by performing ordinances which they cannot perform for themselves, and which are essential to their release from the ‘prison-house,’ to come forth and live according to God in the spirit, and be judged according to men in the flesh [see D&C 138.-33-34].”
(“Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Joseph F. Smith; Chapter 46: Redeeming Our Dead through Temple Service”, p.410; Official LdS Church manual)

And as the Life After website notes:

The prevalence of necromancy in Mormonism is quite astonishing and can be seen in everything Mormons do. From Joseph Smith and the average Mormon talking to dead people to the Mormon temple endowment ceremonies; there’s always something you can spend countless hours researching.

Moreover, leaders of the Church never miss a chance reminding adults and grooming the young that dead ancestors are waiting for Mormons to redeem them. To make matters even worse they’re also told they can’t be saved without performing works for deceased ancestors.”
(“Necromancy and Mormonism”, Life After website)

And Mormon Researcher, Sharon Lindbloom notes this casual acceptance of and positive indoctrination toward Necromancy starts at a very young age in Mormon Culture:

People who have died are very important to members of the Mormon Church. The dead are a very important aspect of the Mormon gospel. Because the dead are such an integral part of Mormonism, it makes sense that Mormon children would be taught about the Church’s doctrine of baptism for the dead.

In a Mormon Church manual produced for teaching children ages 8 through 11 (“Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History”; Lesson 34: Joseph Smith Teaches about Baptism for the Dead”, pp.193-197)

"Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff" by Ken Corbett

“Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff” by Ken Corbett

The lesson teaches children both the historical background on the development of Mormonism’s baptism for the dead as well as the scriptures that Mormons understand to be support for the doctrine. As part of the lesson, the manual offers a few “enrichment activities” designed to enhance the children’s grasp of the importance of baptizing the dead. Two of the offered enrichment activities focus on telling the children what most of us would call ‘ghost stories.1

Mormons are inspired by these stories. Unlike Christianity, which recognizes a biblical prohibition against contact with the dead (e.g., Deuteronomy 18:9-14), Mormonism embraces it. Joseph Heinerman, whose book is quoted (above) in the Primary 5 manual, states,

‘These temple manifestations signify God’s distinct approval of the temple labors performed by His people here upon the earth. Hopefully, these inspiring stories will edify the readers as they have me and motivate them to perform temple work more diligently on behalf of both the living and the dead.’ (Temple Manifestations, Preface)

God says communication with the dead is a sin, yet Mormonism teaches little children to welcome necromantic contact, be inspired by it, and interpret it as God’s direction and/or approval of proxy ordinance work for the dead. Does anyone else find this troubling?
(Sharon Lindbloom, “Mormonism and Visitations from the Dead”; Mormon Coffee website)

Grieve With Those Who Grieve – But Be Wise!
Finally, and given all this, I would encourage the reader always be patient and sympathetic to people who grieve. Often people who are grieving will have dreams, maybe even some emotionally driven experiences, that are just normal psychological processing that’s rooted in the physiology of the brain. This is normal human biology and psychology, nothing more.

For example, a friend’s mother claimed to have had a posthumous visitation by a cat she loved, and then a vivid, reassuring dream about her mother while she was still grieving their demise. She interpreted these incidents as being miraculous or supernatural in nature. But were they? What does the Bible say?
Speaking personally, each time after I lost a parent I dreamed about them repeatedly when I was early into the grieving process and still working through my loss. Sometimes they would talk to me and comfort me in those dreams. Other times I felt like I could feel them watching over me with love during times of stress and sadness. This wasn’t demonic activity, this was just my mind and emotions coming to grips with a major, emotional jolt and sudden life change. I know this now but in the overheated emotion of the moment, it was easy to think otherwise.

So one shouldn’t jump at the notion of demons when they have or hear of these experiences. Whether it’s a demon is neither here nor there – that’s not why the experience has such meaning and pull for the person who’s had it. The reason the experiences seem so striking is due to their grief and pain. What in normal circumstances would be dismissed due to stress or fatigue in a state of intense emotional pain can easily be interpreted as something it’s not. And that’s why we have to work through without swinging the pendulum too far to either the “God told me” or “I’m being harassed by demons” extreme during those seasons. The important thing is to resist being fooled by these psychologically induced experiences. They are bittersweet and fleeting.

FURTHER STUDY
This article was just a short primer on this subject. The Life After website has compiled a series of articles that covers this subject in depth. It is highly recommended for those who would like to learn more about this important subject. Click here for the portal page for these articles.

mormon3

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The LdS Church got in trouble with the worldwide Jewish community for vicariously proxy baptizing victims of the holocaust .

NOTES:
1 Ms. Lindbloom’s article continues at this point as follows:

The first [ghost story] is about two friends, Brigitte and Carla.

Brigitte and Carla met in the third grade in Europe. Carla had just been baptized and wanted everyone to know she was a member of the “only true church.” Some of Carla’s classmates made fun of her for saying this, but Brigitte became her friend.

Brigitte’s family was active in their own church, but they were respectful of other religions. Brigitte even went to Church activities with Carla a few times. Brigitte and Carla remained friends all through their school years. Then, at seventeen years of age, Brigitte died.

Two months later Carla awoke in the night to see Brigitte standing at the foot of her bed. She did not speak, and Carla wondered why she had appeared to her. The following year Brigitte visited Carla again, and she came a third time the next year.

Carla later moved to the United States and was married in the Salt Lake Temple. After Carla had been through the temple, Brigitte appeared to her more often. Then, a week before Carla and her husband were planning to go to the temple again, Brigitte appeared to Carla three nights in a row.

On the third night Carla woke her husband and told him about Brigitte’s visits. They both felt Brigitte had been taught the gospel plan in the spirit world and had accepted it. Now she wanted to be baptized. Carla and her husband prayed and asked the Lord how to obtain the necessary records. They were inspired to contact a researcher and were able to get Brigitte’s death certificate. Carla was now able to send in Brigitte’s name to the temple so her temple work, including baptism, could be done.

A few weeks later Carla again awoke to see Brigitte. This time Brigitte was dressed in a white gown and was standing in a place that looked like a baptismal room. The next morning Carla received a letter from the temple telling her that the baptism for Brigitte had been done. (See Carla Sansom, “From Beyond the Veil,” Ensign, Feb. 1978, pp. 49–50.)

The second enrichment story for the children is about the experience of a temple recorder in the Manti Temple:

Brother J. Hatten Carpenter, who served as a recorder in the Manti Temple, told of a patriarch who was watching baptisms for the dead being performed in the temple one day.

The patriarch saw “the spirits of those for whom they were officiating in the font by proxy. There the spirits stood awaiting their turn, and, as the Recorder called out the name of a person to be baptized for, the patriarch noticed a pleasant smile come over the face of the spirit whose name had been called, and he would leave the group of fellow spirits and pass over to the side of the Recorder. There he would watch his own baptism performed by proxy, and then with a joyful countenance would pass away [to] make room for the next favored personage who was to enjoy the same privilege.”

As time went on, the patriarch noticed that some of the spirits looked very sad. He realized that the people in the temple were finished with baptisms for the day. The unhappy spirits were those whose baptisms would not be performed that day.

“‘I often think of this event,’ says Brother Carpenter, ‘for I so often sit at the font, and call off the names for the ordinances to be performed which means so much to the dead’” (quoted in Joseph Heinerman, Temple Manifestations [Manti, Utah: Mountain Valley Publishers, 1974], pp. 101–2; see also The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 11 [July 1920]: 119).”
(“Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History”; Lesson 34: Joseph Smith Teaches about Baptism for the Dead”, pp.193-197; official LdS Church manual)

"Transfiguration" by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, 1824

“Transfiguration” by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, 1824

APPENDIX: What About Elijah and Mose on the Mount of Transfiguration and Samuel Appearing to King Saul and the Witch of Endor?
A common objection to the impassable chasm Christ spoke of in Luke and the idea that the dead can’t visit us in this world goes something like this:

“Well, what about dead Elijah and Moses appearing to the living Jesus, Peter, James and John? And what about dead Samuel appearing to the living Saul at the house of the Witch of Endor?”

This is an excellent question! Let’s consider it shall we? First, let’s consider the Mount of Transfiguration passage:

The Mount of Transfiguration
Here’s the passage in question from the Gospel of Luke:

“Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.”
(Luke 9:28-36, NKJV)

Of course, the emphasis in this passage is on Moses (representing the Old Testament Law) and Elijah (representing the Old Testament Prophets) endorsing and encouraging Christ’s earthly ministry not the how’s and why’s of how they came to be there. The text just gives us a lot of information on the latter, however, there are several possible explanations that we consider here.

First Possibility: God Made An Exception
The first possible explanation I would offer is, to my way of thinking, the easiest. It’s God’s chasm, if He wants to send or carry dead folks across it He can. However, this would be the rare exception, not the rule. This is hinted at in the Luke 16:19-31 passage which we covered at the beginning of this article: Notice that nowhere in the text does it state that God can’t make an exception, it just says that He didn’t.

However, it seems clear from that same text that, generally speaking, this would not only be exceptional but pointless. Further, in the case of Moses and Elijah appearing to Christ there was a very specific purpose for their appearance which is explained when the narrative says:

“And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
(Luke 9:30-31, NKJV)

Second Possibility: They Appeared In A Spiritual Vision
Ex-Mormon Christian Facebook group member Annette Welburn offered this explanation for this possibility which we liked so much that we offer it here with only light editing so it fits the format here:

Yes, they saw Elijah and Moses, but I would suggest that Moses and Elijah’s appearance was not in spirit form in the sense that many people today think people can become guardian angels when they die. We never have any occurrences in scripture of earthly people conversing spiritually – i.e. praying to, or hearing from or getting guidance or protection from dead friends or relatives. However, that said, please correct me please if I’ve missed something. I guess in my mind the transfiguration was a unique, one time event in scripture. Jesus was there, and God was revealing to a few of his disciples that this was indeed His son. I see the whole point of that being summed up with what God said:

“And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’ And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.”
(Luke 9:35-36, ESV)

The transfiguration is definitely a spiritual earthly experience, but it is vastly unique in that it was to demonstrate God’s power. Of course God can do anything. Even natural laws He created he is not bound by. I wouldn’t even go as far as to say there is a definite natural law that God never sends people back to earth, but I would suggest that it is just not how he does it. And in the case of the transfiguration, it was not at all normal. I think the important distinction is that God does not allow dead humans to lead or watch over in a protective sense those still living on earth. Here are verses to that effect:

“For his spirit goes out and he returns to his earth and in that day all his thoughts are destroyed.”
(Psalm 146:4, Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.”
(Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, NIV)

“As a cloud fades away and vanishes, so the one who goes down to Sheol will never rise again. He will never return to his house; his hometown will no longer remember him.”
(Job 7:9-10, HCSB)

And direct textual support for Annette’s suggestion that Moses and Elijah appeared spiritually (or in vision) rather than physically can be supported by the phrase, “Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory.”

"The Transfiguration" by 1480 (oil on panel) by Bellini, Giovanni (c.1430-1516); 115x154 cm; Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy; Italian, out of copyright

“The Transfiguration” by Bellini, Giovanni (oil on panel, 1480)

Third Possibility: Neither Moses Or Elijah Are Dead
While this last possibility is highly, highly speculative (and from an odd “outside of the box” source to boot) it’s still intriguing enough to be offered for consideration:

To make sense of this, we must first understand two important principles. The first is that, while the general resurrection of God’s people will happen at the end of time, there have been individual resurrections recorded in the Bible. Christ’s resurrection, for instance, was not part of the general one. Neither were those of the saints who came forth from the grave after Christ’s resurrection (see Matthew 27:52, 53). The prophets Elijah and Elisha both performed resurrections during their ministries (see 1 Kings 17:17–22 and 2 Kings 4:32–35). Individual resurrections throughout history do not invalidate the general resurrection when Christ returns.

The second principle to understand is that some people have left the earth without dying, and therefore are not in need of a resurrection.

Moses and Elijah each fit one of these two categories.

The story recorded in 2 Kings 2 tells us unmistakably that Elijah was taken to heaven without first dying. Verse 11, specifically, says he was caught in a heavenly whirlwind and taken to heaven in sight of Elisha, his successor. Appearing with Christ at the transfiguration would not have posed a problem for Elijah; he had already spent much time with Jesus in heaven before His human birth in Bethlehem.

Moses, on the other hand, died in the wilderness before the Israelite people entered into the Promised Land. The story of his death, as recorded in Deuteronomy 34:5, 6, reveals something extraordinary. The Bible says that God Himself buried Moses, and that none of the Israelites were ever aware of his gravesite. This is the first biblical hint that something special awaited Moses after death.

The New Testament, however, gives us more information. In Jude 9, we’re told that the archangel Michael contended with Satan over the body of Moses. In other words, Satan claimed Moses as his own, worthy of death just like everyone else. Michael, however, thought differently. As the archangel, He has the power to resurrect God’s people. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:16; the voice of the archangel raises the dead in Christ at Christ’s return.) Moses was not meant to stay dead. Indeed, he was resurrected from the dead and has been living in heaven since that time. Truly, he has already experienced life after death.

Therefore, the presence of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration does not answer the question “What is death?” because neither one was dead! Elijah never tasted death at all, and Moses was given a new life at his resurrection, just like Christ’s people will receive at His return.

While the transfiguration doesn’t directly give us information on the state of the dead, it retains theological significance nonetheless. When Peter recounted his experience in 2 Peter 1:16–18, he writes that he witnessed Christ’s coming at that time. In other words, he understood the experience to represent the return of Jesus Christ. Moses and Elijah represent the two classes of God’s people who will be present at that miraculous event: Moses represents the “dead in Christ” who rise to new life, and Elijah represents “those who are alive and remain” who will be translated to heaven and eternal life without ever experiencing death in the first place (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Understanding that the transfiguration is a representation of the second coming of Christ also helps us understand Christ’s promise that “some standing here … shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God,” spoken a few days before the transfiguration (Luke 9:27).
(“If the Dead Don’t Go Immediately to Heaven How Did Moses and Elijah Appear at the Transfiguration”, Truth about Death, Seventh-day Adventist website)

"The Spirit of Samuel Appearing to Saul" by William Blake, 1783 Pen and watercolor

“The Spirit of Samuel Appearing to Saul” by William Blake, 1783

Samuel Appearing To Saul And The Witch of Endor
The final biblical incident to consider in regarding to biblical instances of the dead appearing to the living is the story of the dead prophet Samuel appearing to Kind Saul and the Witch of Endor. This incident can be found in 1 Samuel 28:3-25 (NKJV):

Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had lamented for him and buried him in Ramah, in his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the spiritists out of the land.

Then the Philistines gathered together, and came and encamped at Shunem. So Saul gathered all Israel together, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets.

Then Saul said to his servants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.”

And his servants said to him, “In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at En Dor.”

So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Please conduct a séance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you.”

Then the woman said to him, “Look, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the spiritists from the land. Why then do you lay a snare for my life, to cause me to die?”

And Saul swore to her by the Lord, saying, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.”

Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”

And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”

When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!”

And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What did you see?”

And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.”

So he said to her, “What is his form?”

And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.” And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down.

Now Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

And Saul answered, “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams. Therefore I have called you, that you may reveal to me what I should do.”

Then Samuel said: “So why do you ask me, seeing the Lord has departed from you and has become your enemy? And the Lord has done for Himself as He spoke by me. For the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.”

Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, and was dreadfully afraid because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day or all night.

And the woman came to Saul and saw that he was severely troubled, and said to him, “Look, your maidservant has obeyed your voice, and I have put my life in my hands and heeded the words which you spoke to me. Now therefore, please, heed also the voice of your maidservant, and let me set a piece of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.”

But he refused and said, “I will not eat.”

So his servants, together with the woman, urged him; and he heeded their voice. Then he arose from the ground and sat on the bed. Now the woman had a fatted calf in the house, and she hastened to kill it. And she took flour and kneaded it, and baked unleavened bread from it. So she brought it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.

The Possibilities
Clearly, in this case, the third option (he wasn’t dead) won’t work since the Bible is clear that Samuel was dead and buried. And while it is possible that God allowed an exception here and let Samuel cross the chasm, the circumstances surrounding the event would seem to discount this option since God would be endorsing a practice that He calls an abomination elsewhere in the Bible. For that matter, that would preclude the second possibility that Samuel appeared as a spiritual vision sent from God.

In the end, there’s really only one possibility left: The “Samuel” that appeared to King Saul was a demon mimicking the appear of Samuel and appearing specifically to deceive Saul. Support for this can be found in the familiarity that the Witch of Endor has with this “Samuel”. In fact, this event follows the typical template for seances and other forms of necromancy doesn’t it? This lends further support for the idea that what the Witch of Endor conjured up was a deceiving spirit manifesting itself physically.

So when considered in that light, this story mirrors and echoes many of the Mormon communion with the dead stories that one hears in Mormon cultures doesn’t it? In the end, the biblical story of Samuel appearing to King Saul and the Witch of Endor is a cautionary tale to us. If you read on, things didn’t end well for King Saul, this incident most certainly didn’t result in a happy ending. In fact, most stories of necromancy don’t.

Bible teacher Don Basham once called involvement in occult practices like necromancy, “The most dangerous game.” And when it comes to necromancy, in the words of the movie War Games, “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

From the movie WarGames (1983)

From the movie WarGames (1983)

BACK TO TOP

A caution to transitioning Ex-Mormon Christians

freedom-resistance_00418234_EDITED

It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost His crucifixion.”
— C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”

by Fred W. Anson
In 1980 ordained Lutheran minister, Robert N. Hullinger, published an award winning analysis of Joseph Smith. He approached Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon skeptically, but the same time, as he explained in this thought-provoking re-evaluation of early Mormonism, “I prefer to put the best construction on Joseph Smith and let his expressed motives speak for themselves, then draw conclusions from the evidence. This approach may not always rule out a negative opinion of Joseph Smith, but it allows for a more charitable estimate of his intentions.”1 His conclusion?

In defense of God, Joseph Smith assailed the natural revelation of deism and the static revelation of traditional Christianity. To enable revealed religion to overcome natural religion, however, he supported the deistic attack upon the view that the present Bible is God’s complete and errorless revelation to mankind. Destruction of the traditional view left him free to preserve special revelation by his own means.2

And one need go no further than Joseph Smith himself for validation of this:

Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine
(Joseph Smith, “History of the Church”, 5:340)

It was this spirit of rebellion against established orthodoxy that appealed to early Mormons and drew in new members. To the early Mormons this was glorious, heady stuff – a conquering, up-heaving rebellion usurping the world as early Mormon leader W.W. Phelps noted at the time:

Mormonism is the wonder of this world, and the great leveling machine of creeds, constitutions, kingdoms, countries, divisions, notions, notorieties and novelties; and praise it, talk about it, lie about it, exalt it, degrade it, blow at it, sneer at it, fear it, love it, hate it, persecute it, or laugh at it, still it is Mormonism, true as heaven, powerful as Jesus, eternal as element, going on conquering and to conquer.
(W.W. Phelps, “Times and Seasons”, 5:758)

Thus Hullinger explains and summarizes this seismic shift thusly:

Fifteen hundred years of church history had encrusted revelation with the weight of tradition and institutional inertia. In spite of Protestant efforts to let God speak through the Bible, some perceived him as more remote than ever. Deism rejected special revelation but accepted a remote god who could communicate through nature. Orthodoxy reacted by developing its science of textual criticism and relying on its doctrine of biblical inspiration to assure contact with God. Catholicism guaranteed the institution as the assurance. Pietism looked within the human heart.

Joseph Smith sided with Pietism in favoring his own inner assurance. But after he won the changes and freedom he wanted, Smith set in motion the very forces he once had decried in the churches of his day. The principle of personal revelation led to power struggles within the infant latter-day church until Smith received revelations allowing only him to get instruction, teaching, or revelation for the church (D&C 28:11; 43:3-6) He taught that no one could receive revelation for someone of higher authority. Secure within the church, Smith was able to lead as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.3

And thus this strange mix of the oil of personal revelation intermingled with the water of heavy handed authoritarianism continues today in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On one hand, members are told – no encouraged – to seek out personal revelation in private but on the other hand will be disciplined if that personal revelation publicly conflicts with the current official, correlated Mormon doctrine that’s been approved by Mormon leaders. The net result is a kind of quiet rebellion in which you may have an entire Mormon Chapel of members who privately believe entirely different things but publicly profess whatever they must to remain a member in good standing. LDS Thesis #23 articulates this strange, paradoxical brew like this:

Mormon Atheism is Not an OxymoronLDS Thesis #23: It [the LdS Church] allows members to privately believe whatever they want – even if it’s atheistic or contradicts LDS orthodoxy – as long as they publicly “toe the party line” and continue to contribute their time and money to the LDS Church.

In fact, this particular thesis was written by a former member of the LDS Church who was called to teach the Elders Quorum in his ward even though the Bishop knew that he was an atheist. He was bright, articulate, personable, tithing, active, a successfully former Gospel Doctrine teacher, and was toeing the party line in public, so as far as this Bishop was concerned all was well. Since then we have heard of several other such situations in a variety of callings in the LdS Church. As strange as it seems, a membership heavily peppered with atheists doesn’t seem to be a problem for many Mormon Leaders.

Thus, it’s clear that orthopraxy (the practice of one’s faith) is far more important in Mormonism than orthodoxy (adherence to an established set of beliefs). In other words, Mormons will tolerate wrong belief as long the errant believer is doing all the right stuff. It sounds something like this, “I mean the dude may be an atheist but, hey, isn’t he a great Elders Quorum teacher – I always get so much out of his lessons!”

Stated plainly, Mormonism has no theological boundaries.

So why is this a problem for Ex-Mormons transitioning out of the LdS Church and into mainstream Christianity? Simple: Because they’re not aware of this dynamic they often view attempts to conform their beliefs to established Christian orthodoxy as “legalism” or “oppression”. As soon as they bump into the wall of Christian orthodoxy their “inner Joseph Smith” manifests itself.

Consider, for example, the issue of the doctrine of the Trinity. Many Ex-Mormons simply don’t understand why mainstream Christians make such a fuss about it. I mean, after all, people in Mormonism had all kinds of screwy ideas about the Mormon Godhead and how the members of the Godhead related to each other. However, as long as at the end of the day, as long as those screwy ideas were capped with, “but they’re united in purpose”, the public line was toed and all was good. But these nick picky mainstream Christians get “bent” if you don’t get the classic formula of, “God is one eternal Being, consisting of three co-eternal persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit,” exactly right. They’ll even correct you if you get “person” and “being” flipped around! And if you say something like, “God reveals Himself as the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit: One God” they go bonkers on you, call it heresy, and accuse you of modalism. And if after having it explained you say that you still reject the doctrine of the Trinity, they’ll question if you’re even a Christian all all! What’s up with that?4

The answer is that mainstream Christianity has boundaries. Those boundaries are set and established by the Bible and were forged, formed, refined,  and perfected through the intense fire of Christian Church history.5 As I stated in another piece for Ex-Mormons:

As the Apostle Peter said, “… no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20 KJV) and as a Christian you are joining a community of Spirit filled saints that for over 2,000 years has read, loved, struggled with, and sought God over the correct interpretation of His written revelation of Himself to man… we’re all fallen sinners prone to error and the great “cloud of witnesses” (the one that Hebrews 12:1 describes) can be of great value and benefit in guiding us in sound Biblical interpretation if we’ll listen to them through their creeds, sermons, writings, and lives. In fact even their flaws, foibles, follies, and mistakes can be instructive! No, Church History isn’t the Bible but it’s important. After all, as Elizabeth Browning said well: “Always learn from experience – preferably someone else’s”6

Thus, for the biblical Christian, being knit into that great “cloud of witnesses” is critical. Yes, I appreciate the fact that one tends to be “gun shy” after coming out a Mind Control Cult.  And yes, I realize that it takes time to heal and start trusting again after being burned by said cult – after all, I came out of one myself. However, the fact remains that the Bible is clear that all Christians need to be a part of and accountable to the visible, living Church:

“…submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
(Ephesians 5:21 NLT)

“…encourage one another and build one another up…”
(1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV)

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
(Acts 2:42 ESV)

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints…”
(1 Corinthians 14:33 ESV)

"It's just me, Jesus, and my Bible."

“It’s just me, Jesus, and my Bible.”

So it’s one thing to temporarily isolate, heal and learn to trust again, but quite another to make this a permanent position. Unfortunately, the latter is where where Ex-Mormon tend to stay, ultimately becoming “Just me and Jesus” Lone Ranger Christians.7

The irony here is how Mormonism, while outwardly appearing to be a system of oppressive conformity, actually fosters internal Lone Rangers and rogues within its ranks. This is done via the “magic” of Mormon passive aggressivity.  As Latter-day Saint and Professor of Organizational Behavior, Michael J. Stevens  explains in his watershed article on the subject:

A passive-aggressive person will generally deploy such behavioral tactics as: keeping one’s distance and remaining silent or aloof; hiding one’s true thoughts, feelings, or emotions; suppressing, setting aside, or ignoring issues that otherwise should be addressed; postponing or ignoring decisions; resisting change and otherwise championing the status quo; citing rules, policies, procedures, or higher authority as both a defensive and offensive tactic; and providing little meaningful or worthwhile feedback.8

Stevens goes on to explain:

If we consider modern LDS culture to be an anthropologically “tight” culture (that is, one in which there are many strong norms proscribing behavior and conduct, along with a low tolerance for deviance from those norms), then it’s easy to see how norms favoring conflict avoidance are combined with very strong social pressures against the expression of contrary opinions, views, or preferences. To state such differences openly means that one should anticipate the strong sanctions and social ostracism that will inevitably follow. The message of an obedience and submission culture is clear: No Devil’s Advocates allowed! Quit asking questions and challenging things—just nod your head and say “yes.”9

So here’s the strange irony: A key survival skill among Mormons is the ability to appear to be in compliance and conformity to established norms while simultaneously being in rebellion. So what happens when the Mormon exits this sick, dysfunctional system? Answer: They just bring those hard won, hard learned, survival skills with them.  That is, they either continue the behavior in their new church or, because there no consequences for doing otherwise in this new culture, become overtly aggressive and unteachable. Neither is extreme is healthy or productive – and both are ultimately destructive.10

So that’s the problem, what’s the solution? Answer: Healthy boundaries. As Christian Psychologists Townsend and Cloud explain:

Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. If I know where my yard begins and ends, I am free to do with it what I like. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. However, if I do not “own” my life, my choices and options become very limited.11

On a personal level, boundaries determine where you end and others begin. In a group, or sociological, context they determine where the group begins and ends. So, for example, one can’t reject the doctrine of the Trinity and still claim to be a Christian. That’s because the doctrine creates a safe, well defined area between pagan polytheism (such as Mormon tritheism), and heresy (such as modalism). The doctrine creates a healthy boundary that determines who’s in the group and who’s out.

In a similar vein, boundaries allows us to be in a group without being run over by it:

Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. They help us to “guard our heart with all diligence.” We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside. In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. They guard our treasures (Matt. 7: 6) so that people will not steal them. They keep the pearls inside, and the pigs outside.12

The Lone Ranger Christian credo.

The Lone Ranger Christian credo.

Boundaries enable us to remain humble and teachable because they give us the self confidence and internal assurance that we can listen and learn knowing that in the end we will only let what we want inside our fence. And because in the end we alone are the gatekeeper, there’s no point in engaging in rude, childish rebellion. That’s because if someone tries to control us we can end the control by simply shutting the gate. Thus we can be in a group without being dominated by it. If the group becomes too much of a problem, the solution is easy: Just walk away.

The key word here is balance. Health requires quiet, steady moderation  rather than bombastic, erratic skewing from extreme to extreme. So if you find yourself always on the outline looking in then you know that you’ve gone overboard with the “walking away” thing. If, on the other hand, you find yourself angry, frustrated, and unable to find your own voice then you probably haven’t walked away enough. And finally, it should be noted that healthy boundaries mean that we don’t tell others what they’re going to do (that’s control), it means that we tell others what we’re going to.

Bringing it back around, it was selfish, arrogant, irrational, and unbiblical of Joseph Smith to think that he could just discard 1,900-plus years of Christian orthodoxy and reinvent Christianity on his own from scratch wasn’t it? So how is it any different for an Ex-Mormon who does the same thing today? Respecting Christianity’s boundaries isn’t legalism or being oppressed by over bearing, controlling, and legalistic religionists, it’s just good old fashioned common sense. More than that, it’s biblical isn’t it?

Consider for a moment what would have happened if Joseph Smith had heeded this advice and would have had a humble, teachable spirit guarding by healthy boundaries – instead of having to be the lead rebel in rogue’s gallery of religious rebels? I suspect that he would have had the “knots” in his bad theology worked out over time, he would have found his place in a good 19th Century church, and would have lived a long, healthy, and happy life. Instead he left us with the aftermath of a religious rebellion that has destroyed countless families and lives.

1 Samuel 15:23 (NKJV) says that, “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” In the end that’s really what we’re talking about here isn’t it? The spirit of Mormonism is the spirit of rebellion. And Mormon style rebellion has consequences.

My dear transitioning Mormon friend, after watching Lone Ranger Ex-Mormon after Lone Ranger Ex-Mormon “crash, boom, bang” due to theological rebellion, I don’t recommend it.

This is not the solution.

No matter how tempting, this ISN’T the solution.

NOTES
1 Robert N. Hullinger, “Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon”, Clayton Publishing House, 1980, p.ix

2 Ibid, p. 150

3 Ibid, p.172

4 My intention here isn’t to start a debate or dogmatize the doctrine of the Trinity, merely to use to it as an example of a legitimate Christian theological boundary. If the reader is interested in a good resource that explains the doctrine of the Trinity from the Bible I recommend Rob Bowman’s excellent web series, “The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity: An Outline Study”.

5 In my opinion, one of the best things that every Ex-Mormon can do is learn Christian Church History. Not only does this help expose and purge the propaganda style revisionist history that Mormons are taught in the LdS Church, it helps the transitioning Mormon understand how and why these theological boundaries exist at all. A good resource here is Dr. Bruce L. Shelley’s classic work, “Church History in Plain Language”.

6 Fred W. Anson, “Dear Michelle”, Beggar’s Bread website

7 This may not be easy but it is worth it! A big help in easing the transition here is to realize that the churches and denominations in mainstream Christianity are as culturally distinct as Mormon culture is. A useful model to use when transitioning is that of an immigrant living their native country and transitioning into a new culture. You will experience culture shock when you visit non-Mormon churches, be prepared for it. That said, there are some things you can do to lessen the impact. Here’s the advice that I gave in the aforementioned “Dear Michelle” article:

“I would recommend that you try to find a church that’s in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. I make this recommendation because the Mormon Chapel liturgy was “borrowed” from the 19th Century Methodist church. Specifically, that means finding and attending a Methodist, Nazarene, Wesleyan, or Holiness church. And I would recommend that you stick with the “Traditional” (rather than the “Contemporary”) service as it’s closest to the 19th Century style liturgy that you’re familiar with in the Mormon Church.

Again, the most important thing with any church that you attend is that they love, respect, teach, and obey the Bible. Never the less, all too often transitioning Mormons are off-put by modern expressions of worship that are too far afield from the traditional Latter-day Saint Chapel service. If you want to try or move on to a different, more contemporary type of corporate worship later it’s up to you but I would recommend that you stick with the traditional “Methodist style” until you find your “sea legs” in modern mainstream Christianity.”

8 Michael J. Stevens, “Passive-aggression among the Latter-day Saints”, Sunstone magazine, April 2013

9 Ibid

10 Please note that with the advent of Postmodernism one will find the same problem of theological rebellion in the mainstream Christian Church as well. As Theologian, Matt Slick as rightly observed:

…postmodernism is relativism. Postmodernism is a reaction against the logical truth structures of modern thought that gave us absolute propositions about nature, time, space, mathematics, knowability, repeatability of experimentation, predictability, etc. As modernism developed the sciences, technology, and medicine, it has helped to produce a comfortable and predictable society–wherein people tend to become complacent, comfortable, and predictable. But there are always people who ask questions rather than blindly follow the status quo. They look for different ways of expression, different interpretations of truth, teach the idea that truth is not necessarily absolute and that reality can be reinterpreted. It is within the postmodern context that the Emerging Churches are seeking to work.

It is a difficult venture to try to reach the hearts and minds of those who are less open to absolutes than previous generations. So, instead of absolute truth propositions, Emerging Churches tend to focus on relationships, expressiveness, and new ways of trying to reach God. Is it good? Yes and no. It is good only so far as it is consistent with Scripture. It is bad whenever it deviates from it.
(Matt Slick, “The Emerging Church and postmodernism”; CARM website)

The key difference here is the reality of boundary maintenance that biblical absolutes and 2,000-plus years of doctrinal refinement provide. Further, theological rebellion typically isn’t enculturated into the membership, reinforced by leaders, and at the root of the entire theological system as it is in Mormonism. Stated plainly, if you take away theological rebellion then Mormonism is no longer Mormonism. Add theological rebellion to mainstream Christianity and it is no longer Christian.

However, there are still glaring exceptions – especially in the case of theological liberal churches and denominations. In those cases you will notice that many Biblical Christians are just as quick to denounce these theologically rebellious churches and denominations as they are errant individuals. There’s no double standard here, the rules apply equally to Mormon, Ex-Mormon and Christian alike.

11 Henry Cloud and John Townsend, “Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How to Say No”, p.29

12 Ibid, p.31

boundaries

THIS is the solution.

BACK TO TOP

21-reasons-to-leave-the-mormon-church-03

by Michael Flournoy
Recently an article entitled “21 Reasons it Doesn’t Matter if the Church is True” came out of a popular Mormon website. It lists several reasons, regardless of the truth, that someone might want to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In my opinion, this is mind boggling. The primary reason to join the church, one would think, would be because it is true. While I was serving my mission in Anaheim, California I never told people they should join because we have great casseroles or a famous choir. You know why? Because if the LDS Church is false, none of those things matter! If Mormonism is not true, it is a fraudulent version of Christianity and an enormous sham.

So without further ado, here is my list of 21 reasons leaving the Mormon Church might be a great idea, even if it is true.

1) Formal Dress
It takes 20% longer to get ready for Mormon church…. maybe. Probably. Especially when you factor in all the kids. And really, who wants to be sitting in church with a tie that’s choking you to death the whole time and those starchy, formal clothes? Maybe God doesn’t care what we look like on the outside as much as he looks on the heart.

2) Formal Prayers
Who wants to be spoken to in thees and thous? Someone who’s not very personable, that’s who. In LDS Church literature about prayer, it is often explained that thees and thous are used in prayer because they used to be informal. Well, guess what people? Not anymore! Get with the times!

3) Formal Testimonies
Are you seeing a trend yet? LDS testimonies have so many restrictions on them, that they’ve lost all potency. No “storymonies”, no travelogues, no confessions, etc. This has been done to stop the crazies from going up to the pulpit and wasting hours of our time, but wouldn’t you know it, they go up anyways! And they ignore the restrictions! Last time I attended fast and testimony meeting, a crazy lady got up and shared story after story about nothing at all. The alternative, of course, is the standard, “I know the Church is true, I know Joseph was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true, and Jesus is the Christ.” If you think these were the testimonies that defeated the armies of Satan, you’re kidding yourself!

4) Praise to the Man
The very fact that they have a hymn praising Joseph Smith (that they sing on a semi-regular basis) is reason to leave. Especially when you consider that God (allegedly) said in Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 that the song of the righteous is a prayer to Him. Thus, the opening hymn is actually a prayer, and when we sing about Joseph Smith, the opportunity to pray to God is sacrificed.

dying-church-15) Three Hours of Church Services
You read that correctly, three hours of Church.

One …

Two …

Three …

By hour 2.5, are we really still getting spiritually fed? Really?

6) Meetings, Meetings, Everywhere
If you’re unlucky enough to be in leadership in the LDS church, you’re required to go to extra meetings aside from the three hours of church on Sunday. When I was a Ward Mission Leader, I had to attend Ward Council (at 6:30 am, I might add) and I had to conduct a missionary meeting on Thursday evenings. I’ve had meetings go for hours as well, and all this detracts from time with family, and God.

7) Kiss Saturdays Goodbye
I remember once trying to start a soccer league in the ward on Saturday mornings. For whatever reason, it never picked up steam. First, there was the week we had to go put mulch around the church building, then the next week there was that move, then the next week… well, you get the picture. It is physically impossible to do anything not churchy on Saturdays.

8) Judgment/Gossip
If there’s one overarching negative thing about Mormon culture, it’s judgment. Mormonism has a lot of rules, and so there’s a lot of room to judge people for breaking those rules. For example, if I go to church with a Dr. Pepper in my hand, I’ll be judged (by some LDS) for drinking caffeine. I’m also likely to be judged if my kid is dirty, if I come without my spouse, or if I don’t take the sacrament. In fact, this culture of nosiness and judgment causes folks to hide their sins and keep up a very good outward mask of righteousness.

9) The Book of Morm..zzzzz
The Boring of Mundane, oops… The Book of Mormon is the most uninspiring piece of literature on the planet. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. There’s a reason most members can’t make it past 2 Nephi. But sadly, Mormons have to pretend that they like it because it just so happens to be the keystone of their religion.

10) King James English
Everything in the Mormon Church is in King James English. The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and every prayer ever said. Unless you’re a huge fan of Shakespeare, this one will drive you nuts!

11) Home/Visiting Teaching
The men and women in the church are generally assigned 2-4 families that they are assigned to go visit once a month. Not only is this extremely awkward, it often doubles as a way for the bishop to spy on families in the ward.

12) Where does the Money Go?
The LDS Church requires members to pay 10% of their incomes and contribute a fast offering once a month. There is, however, no public record of what the church uses that money for.

13) Building Cleaning
One place the church does not use its money for is janitors. Members are required to “volunteer” to clean the church on assigned days. It’s never fun, because most families skip out, leaving the faithful to do an unfair portion of the work.

mormonsuv_edited

(click to zoom)

14) Too Many Children
I like children, I really do. But when there are 100 of them in the pews, with no child care provided, it can turn into quite the choir of loud cries and babbling. Mormons believe they have a duty to bring spirit children into righteous homes, and it can make church seem like a giant day care. Not only that but if you don’t have enough kids, it’s one of those things you could end up judged for.

15) Volunteer Opportunities are Chosen for You
In Mormonism, you don’t get to pick how you’re going to serve in the congregation, it’s chosen for you. You could be given the calling that you absolutely dread (like when I was placed over the ward’s thirty 2-year olds) and you have to do it anyway because it was “inspired”. If you’re bad at it, it’s just a sign that God wants you to grow in that area in your life. Right? Then when you finally get into leadership, you find out that people are chosen for callings out of necessity. What, we need a pianist? Okay, the next person who moves in who can tickle the ivories is our person!

16) Micromanagement
In the religion of agency, everything is chosen for you. You don’t have to think, because what the prophet says is law. You are told where to go to church and when. Even what underwear you put on is chosen for you. Sure, you get to choose between different “styles” of the same brand of underwear, and what seat you take in your required church time, but that’s just the illusion of agency!

17) Children of Gay Parents Cannot be Baptized
The 2nd Article of faith says, “We believe that a man will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” Yet the LDS church punishes children due to their parent’s choices, by not allowing them to be baptized, and gain a stronger relationship with God. By so doing, they claim they are protecting the children…. better than God, apparently.

18) Depression
Utah, home of the religion of happiness, has an extremely high suicide rate. Since the church has a no-nonsense stance on keeping the commandments and makes it seem like the easiest thing in the world, everyone who doesn’t measure up finds themselves questioning their self-worth and abilities.

19) BYU Football
Seriously, who wants to be a Mormon when you have such a lame team representing your faith? “B-Y-Lose! B-Y-Lose!”

20) The Word of Wisdom
The Word of Wisdom, according to Doctrine & Covenants 89:2 is not even a commandment, yet the LDS Church has made it a requirement for entering the temple, and therefore to enter heaven. However, Jesus said in Matthew 15:11 that what comes out of a man defiles him, not what goes in. Leaving Mormonism means the freedom to drink tea, caffeine, even a beer once in a while.

21) Jesus
I saved the best for last even though He should be the #1 reason. Jesus was not mentioned in the article that inspired this one, and that’s probably because in Mormon culture Jesus is often left out. I’ve been through entire Sunday worships were the only time Jesus is mentioned is at the close of a prayer! I’ve even seen investigators come to church and ask, “Why doesn’t your church talk about Jesus?” The truth is Jesus deserves to be emphasized, not hidden behind covenants and ordinances!

brooklyn_museum_-_jerusalem_jerusalem_jerusalem_jerusalem_-_james_tissot

“Jerusalem Jerusalem” by James Tissot (1836-1902)

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.

BACK TO TOP

by Fred W. Anson
Even though I haven’t seen or heard hide nor hair of it for a while now, at one point Floyd Weston’s “17 Points of the True Church” was once all the rage among Mormons. They would proudly present it as demonstrable proof of an obvious miracle that validated and confirmed the veracity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with this story you can hear it directly from Mr. Weston in the video link that I’ve provided above. Or, for those who prefer the short version, here’s the synopsis from a Mormon friendly source:

The “17 points of the true church” is a story often heard in sacrament meeting talks. The story goes like this: Five friends attending college hear Albert Einstein speak. Einstein gives his belief in God. The five friends return to their dorm and begin to map out what the “true” church of God would have to include. Eventually the friends come up with 17 points of the true church. They all separate. World War II happens. Years later they all meet up (one had died in the war). The four had gone off to find the “true” church based on their research. All four had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.1

However, the body of evidence suggests that it never happened at all.

Einstein at Cal Tech.

Einstein at Cal Tech.

Hearing Albert Einstein Speak at Cal Tech
It is a fact that Albert Einstein was at Cal Tech in the 1930’s. As the school’s website explains:

Einstein was a visiting professor at Caltech for three winter terms only—1931, 1932, and 1933. When Einstein decided to settle in the United States permanently, he accepted an appointment at Princeton University.2

However, according to his obituary, Floyd Elmer Weston was born May 21, 1921 which means that he would have been between 10-12 years old when he was a student there. Further, there’s also no record of Einstein speaking at Cal Tech after leaving the school for his commission at Princeton. Further, since Einstein’s health was failing after the war, a cross country trip from Princeton to Cal Tech (which most likely would have been via train) in the post war 1940’s to mid 1950’s (he died in 1955) for an undocumented speaking engagement is highly improbable.3

Further, there’s this email from 1998:

A convert in our ward fifteen or twenty years ago, Dick Lockett, read Weston’s story of the 17 Points and recognized that Weston claimed to have been a student at Cal Tech at the same time he was there. But several small points didn’t match his own recollection of a few events Weston mentioned. Key among them was Weston’s recounting of Einstein’s visit to Cal Tech. Einstein did come to Cal Tech but several years before Weston and he were students there. Dick began to probe the story further. He found that Weston was indeed a student at Cal Tech during the years he attended and thus could not have heard Einstein speak.4

No Collaborating Witnesses
Another problem with Weston’s story is the lack of collaborating witnesses. Continuing from the same source:

…in his story Weston only identified one of the people in the “study group” with first and last names. The rest are only identified by first names. Dick found the one identifiable member of the study group in the alumni records and made contact. They guy [had] never heard of Weston, was not LDS, and certainly was not part of any study group.5

And Holy Fetch notes:

Here is what we know to be true about this story. It was first told by Floyd Weston. He claims that he was one of the four college students. He attended Cal Tech and Albert Einstein did speak there (although some claim that Weston was a student several years after the Einstein visit). Floyd Weston never denied the story and died still claiming the story to be true. The life event was even mentioned in his obituary.

Floyd Weston’s account of the story is the only historical proof we have of this story. None of the other three people involved in the story have ever come forward to back up the story.6

Floyd Weston (1921-2005)

Floyd Weston (1921-2005)

Did Weston Recant?
However, it’s possible that Holy Fetch is incorrect in its assertion that, “Floyd Weston never denied the story and died still claiming the story to be true.” as the aforementioned email notes:

Shortly after this, Weston was invited to speak at a fireside in our stake. When Dick heard this, he told the stake president what he had found. When Weston arrived, he was asked to meet with the SP who confronted him with Dick’s findings. Weston confessed that he had made up the story and was sent packing. This happened in San Jose South stake.

While I have some sympathies about how difficult it must be to untangle a web of deception (I’m sure he still gets phone calls begging him to come and tell the story one more time), I think it is irresponsible to deliver this talk as he did to a recent group of new mission presidents, at church firesides, and to continue to sell his tape.7

The Internal Confirmation Bias Speaks for Itself
But the most compelling argument against Weston’s “17 Points” is that it’s clearly a case of confirmation bias. Wikipedia defines confirmation bias as follows:

Confirmation bias… is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities… People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.8

A simpler, more vernacular way to define it is, “You only count the hits and ignore the misses for your predetermined, favored position.” Got it? So, once again for those who missed those 17-points here they are again:

  1. Christ organized the Church (Eph 4:11-14)
  2. The true church must bear the name of Jesus Christ (Eph 5:23)
  3. The true church must have a foundation of Apostles and Prophets (Eph 2:19-20)
  4. The true church must have the same organization as Christ’s Church (Eph 4:11-14)
  5. The true church must claim divine authority (Heb 5:4-10)
  6. The true church must have no paid ministry (1 Cor 9:16-18; Acts 20:33-34; John 10:11-13)
  7. The true church must baptize by immersion (Matt 3:13-16)
  8. The true church must bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:14-17)
  9. The true church must practice divine healing (Mark 3:14-15)
  10. The true church must teach that God and Jesus are separate and distinct individuals (John 17:11; 20:17)
  11. The true church must teach that God and Jesus have bodies of flesh and bone (Luke 23:36-39; Acts 1:9-11; Heb 1:1-3)
  12. The officers must be called by God (Heb 4:4; Ex 28:1; 40:13-16)
  13. The true church must claim revelation from God (Amos 3:7)
  14. The true church must be a missionary church (Matt 28:19-20)
  15. The true church must be a restored church (Acts 3:19-20)
  16. The true church must practice baptism for the dead (1Cor 15:16&29)
  17. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt 7:20)
035af376-31c8-50be-97d9-f10bd8a94785.image

The solar-powered, eco-friendly LdS Church meeting house in Farmington, Utah.

Now without going any further, doesn’t that list look like a Mormon just took the distinctives and dogmas of the Mormon Church and then generated a list based on them? For example, do you know of any church other than the LdS Church that practices baptism for the dead? Or that claims to have no paid ministry? Or that teaches God the Father has a body of flesh and bones? These are clear and unique Mormon distinctives. In addition, Floyd Weston blatantly misrepresents other churches, their doctrines, their culture and their theology in his address. In fact, his depiction of those churches is more reflective of the type of ignorance driven caricatures, prejudice, and bigotry that non-Mormons still hear from Mormons rather than what one actually finds in those churches. One could easily conclude that he never visited those churches at all.

Further, if you’ve look at the proof texts that Weston provides for each of these points, in many cases, the point is only supported by the biblical text if one engages in Mormon-style eisegesis – that is, inserting words and meanings into the text that the author never intended based on preconceptions. Stated plainly, I question the idea that a non-Mormon approaching the text cold would be inclined to come to the corresponding conclusion that’s found in that particular point. LdS Church indoctrination is clearly at play here.

For example, he cites (Heb 5:4-10) in support of “The true church must claim divine authority” which is the classic text that Mormons eisegete into the text to support their dogma of the restoration of Priesthood Authority. Ditto for point 16 (“The true church must practice baptism for the dead.”) which ignores the fact the language of 1 Cor 15:29 which refers to “they” (third person) rather than “we” (second person), or “I” (first person) – a clear indication that neither Paul or the Corinthian Christians were engaging in the practice. Further, in the full context of the chapter, it’s clear that “they” refers to those who deny the resurrection not those who don’t.

Suffice to say, the “fingerprints” of confirmation bias are all over Weston’s points. In fact, all a knowledgeable person need do is listen to his address to hear it first hand. Mr. Weston’s overtly biased presentation is both self-incriminating and self-discrediting. This fact wasn’t lost on former Mormon Richard Packham who, using the Weston template, developed his own “20 Points of the True Church”:

THE TWENTY POINTS OF THE TRUE CHURCH

Teachings of the True Church:
1. There will be no physical, visible coming of the Kingdom of God (John 18:36, Luke 17:21).
2. The celebration of the Lord’s supper includes bread, wine (Matt 26:26-29) and the washing of each other’s feet (John 13:4-15).
3. Marriage and divorce are frowned upon (1 Cor 7, Matt 19:9, Mark 10:2-12).
4. The Jewish Temple ritual will be observed (Acts 2:46).
5. The Church takes priority over family (Luke 14:26, 12:51-53, Matt 10:21).
6. Women must cover the head while praying (1 Cor 11:5-10).
7. Eunuchs will have special respect in the Church (Matt 19:12).
8. Only two commandments: Love God and love thy neighbor (Matt 22:36-40).

Members of the True Church can be recognized by the following:
9. They hold all things in common ownership (Acts 2:44-45).
10. They do not sin (1 John 3:6-9).
11. They can drink poison without harm (Mark 16:18).
12. They do not strike back if you strike them (Matt 5:39).
13. If you ask to borrow anything from them, you do not have to return it (Luke 6:30).
14. They never have to hire movers or earthmoving equipment, or use UPS; they can literally move anything by the power of God (Matt 17:20, 21:21, Mark 11:23).
15. They have no retirement plans, savings account, or food supplies stored away (Matt 6:25-34). And no possessions (Matt 19:16-21, Mark 16:21, Luke 18:22).
16. They never pray in public (Matt 6:5-8).
17. They are like sheep or children (Matt 19:14, 18:3-4, Mark 10:15, John 10:2-27, Heb 13:20).
18. They do not go to a doctor when ill, but heal each other with prayer (James 5:13-15, Mark 16:18).
19. Their children are not rebellious; they kill them if they are (Matt 15:3-9).
20. They do not die (John 8:51, 11:25-26).9

So who’s to say that Packham’s list is any less valid than Weston’s? After all, they both claim to have biblical support for their claims, right? And since Packham is an atheist he doesn’t have a denominational or sectarian axe to grind or agenda to push. So who wins?

a2d0cdf015326399bf9e02bd4bf7e88d

Further, Mormon researcher Bill McKeever has deconstructed and analyzed Weston’s 17-Points in detail. In doing so he has done a superb job of exposing not only the aforementioned confirmation bias but logical fallacy, after logical fallacy as well:

1. Christ Organized the Church.
This argument is purely subjective as most organizations claiming to be Christian feel Christ organized their church. This would include the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and others that deny sound biblical doctrine. People make the Church. Because Christ’s Church is made up of many individuals who have trusted in Christ totally for their salvation, it would be erroneous to view any particular building, organization, or denomination as the “true church.”

2. The true church must bear the name of Christ.
If Mormons wish to use this argument, they must answer as to why their own church was called merely “The Church of the Latter-day Saints” from 1834-1838. By their reasoning their own church must have been in apostasy for at least four years. Those who belonged to the early Christian church were known more by their geographic location rather than an “organizational” name. In I Thessalonians 1:1 Paul addresses “The church of the Thessalonians.” Are we to assume that Paul was addressing a false church?

3. The true church must have a foundation of Apostles and Prophets.
The true church has as its foundation Jesus Christ. He is the Chief cornerstone and/or foundation. I Corinthians 3:11 reads, “For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Deuteronomy 18:15 makes it clear that Jesus Christ Himself is “the Prophet” who guides His Church today. (See also John 5:46; 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:22-23.)

4. The true church must have the same organization as Christ’s church.
If the LDS Church follows Eph 4:11-14, why is the order of authority reversed? Paul says first in line come the apostles, next the prophets. Mormonism reverses this order. If Mormonism emulates the structure of the early church, where in the Bible is there any mention of multiple high priests, Relief Society presidents, Second Quorum of the Seventies, stake presidencies, ward bishoprics, etc.? Where are the Mormon’s pastors, and evangelists?

5. The true church must claim divine authority.
Again, this is purely subjective. Any organization can claim to be authoritative. Bible-believing Christians claim the authority of God’s Word, the Bible, not the words of mere men who contradict it.

6. The true church must have no paid ministry.
Mormons who believe their leaders are not paid are very misinformed. All the General Authorities in Salt Lake City receive remuneration for their services to the church and from the church. If they don’t believe it, they should call the LDS Church headquarters and ask. A paid ministry is not unbiblical. The entire Old Testament speaks of a paid ministry as well as I Corinthians chapter 9.

7. The true church must baptize by immersion.
If baptism (a work) was necessary in order for a person to be saved, this could be a debatable subject. However, Ephesians 2:8,9 clearly states that we are saved by grace through faith, not works such as baptism. Baptism is merely an outside sign of an inner work of the Holy Spirit in an individual’s life. Believers should be baptized as a testimony of their faith in Christ; however, baptism does not save.

8. The true church must bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
Many Christian churches do practice this. The Bible shows, however, that at times the Holy Ghost (Spirit) was received of men without mention of hands being laid on them. (See Acts 4:31; 10:44; 11:15.)

9. The true church must practice divine healing.
Again, many Christian churches do practice this and do get results.

10. The true church must teach that God and Jesus Christ are separate and distinct individuals.
The Christian church holds that Jesus Christ and God the Father are separate personages. Joseph Smith strayed from the truth when he said they were separate Gods. This conflicts with many passages such as Deut. 6:4 and Isaiah 43:10, just to name a few.

11. The true church must teach that God and Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and bone.
Mormons believe this only to substantiate Joseph Smith’s so-called first vision. John 4:24 claims God is a spirit (lit. God is Spirit). Even Smith at one time taught God the Father was a personage of spirit (See Lectures on Faith, Lecture Fifth). He changed his mind later on.

12. The officers must be called of God.
Another subjective point. All cultists believe they are called of God.

13. The true church must claim revelation from God.
Again, a subjective point. All cultists claim revelation from God.

14. The true church must be a missionary church.
Any Christian church that wants to see souls saved is a missionary church whether that mission field is across the ocean or across the back fence. The Mormon church holds no exclusive rights to missionary activity.

15. The true church must be a restored church.
You can’t restore something that wasn’t lost. Jesus Himself said the gates of hell would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18). History proves this.

16. The true church must practice baptism for the dead.
The Christian church never condoned baptism for the dead. Paul excludes himself from such a practice when he uses a third person pronoun rather than first person (“Why do they baptize for the dead …”) (See Hebrews 9:27 and Alma 34:34,35 for that matter.)

17. By their fruits ye shall know them.
This expression is taken from Matthew 7:20, which ironically deals with judging false prophets, not churches. In examining the fruits of Joseph Smith, we find that he indeed was a false prophet. He introduced a foreign view of God, a false plan of salvation, and inaccurate predictions about future events. If we must use this verse to examine the fruits of Mormonism, we must have an answer as to why the Mormon Church must constantly reverse its position on matters that should never change (Alma 41:8). Why do their leaders contradict past leaders? Why did they change the Book of Mormon so many times when it was supposedly translated “by the gift and power of God the first time”? Why did they change their temple ceremony in 1990 when Smith claimed it came by direct revelation? And doesn’t it seem suspicious that many of the changes in the ceremony were things Christians (and Mormons) had been criticizing for years? Did God mess up or did Joseph Smith (or was it their current leaders)?10

And to further expand on Mr. McKeever’s critique of Point Six, LdS scripture actually demands a paid clergy in not one but two different places:

And the elders or high priests who are appointed to assist the bishop as counselors in all things, are to have their families supported out of the property which is consecrated to the bishop, for the good of the poor, and for other purposes, as before mentioned;

Or they are to receive a just remuneration for all their services, either a stewardship or otherwise, as may be thought best or decided by the counselors and bishop.

And the bishop, also, shall receive his support, or a just remuneration for all his services in the church.
(Doctrine & Covenants 42:71-73)

Behold, I say unto you, that it is the duty of the church to assist in supporting the families of those, and also to support the families of those who are called and must needs be sent unto the world to proclaim the gospel unto the world.
(Doctrine & Covenants 75:24)

So the modern Mormon Church’s assertion that a paid clergy is a sign of an apostate and/or untrue church blatantly contradicts what it also claims is part of God’s revealed commandments to His only true, living, and restored church. I believe the word for this is “hypocrisy.”

One can only wonder why Floyd Weston conveniently ignored these rather glaring incongruities in his analysis. The only logical explanation that is that he was not only just counting the “hits” but ignoring the “misses.” So in the end, its clear that Floyd Weston’s “17 Points of the True Church” appears to be nothing more than the type of confirmation bias driven, thought stopping, information and emotional controlling circular logic that Mormon culture produces in spades – and what’s remarkable about any of that?11

ta_us_sta_0087_xgaplus

A Comparable Evangelical Case Study
Further, when a public figure is caught fabricating inspiring falsehoods people tend to hold them accountable for it after they’re exposed. For example, let’s consider the case of Evangelical comedian Mike Warnke who got caught in a web of lies back in the 1990’s:

In 1991, Cornerstone magazine launched an investigation into Warnke’s life and testimony. The previous year, Cornerstone had debunked Lauren Stratford‘s story that had been recounted in Satan’s Underground. Stratford claimed her deep involvement in Satanism led her to partake in a ritual in which her own child was sacrificed. After the exposé showed Stratford’s alleged child had never existed, Cornerstone journalists Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott investigated Warnke and his life.

The Cornerstone investigation spanned from interviews with over 100 of Warnke’s personal friends and acquaintances to his ministry’s tax receipts. The investigation revealed a number of inaccuracies and evidence of fraud and deceit in Warnke’s accounts. During the course of Cornerstone’s investigation, pictures of Warnke taken during the time he was alleged to be a Satanist priest were discovered. Rather than showing an emaciated drug-addict sporting long fingernails and waist-length hair, the pictures showed Warnke as a typical ‘square’ of the mid-1960s. The investigation also revealed Warnke’s claims that he and Charles Manson had attended a Satanic ritual to be false; Manson was in federal prison at the time, having no known ties to Satanic churches.

The investigation further uncovered that before joining the Navy, Warnke had been involved with the college Christian ministry Campus Crusade for Christ. The investigation also revealed the unflattering circumstances surrounding Warnke’s multiple marriages, affairs, and divorces. Most critically, however, the investigation showed how Warnke could not have done the many things he claimed to have taken part in throughout the nine months he claimed to be a Satanist – including his claims to be a drug-addicted dealer or a Satanic high priest.

Warnke sent a response to Cornerstone, published in July, insisting he told the truth, stating:

‘I stand by my testimony of being delivered and set free by the power of Jesus Christ after being a Satanic high priest exactly as published in my book, The Satan Seller…. some information was purposefully changed to protect the privacy of certain individuals and to prevent readers from using the book as a guide for occultism and Satanic purposes. But, as we stated in the front of the book, ‘The events are absolutely as described.”’

Despite these assertions, Warnke did not provide the name of a single Satanist but used invectives against ex-wife Carolyn. In the ensuing months, Warnke conceded parts of the allegations, telling Christianity Today that there had been only 13 members of his coven, not 1,500 as originally claimed, and that of those 13, the whereabouts of five were unknown to him, while the other eight had since died.12

The reaction from the Evangelical community to this deceit and attempt at manipulative damage control was quick and impacting:

Public response was varied but was nevertheless overwhelmingly against Warnke. Initially, Word Records stated that they would stand by their artist. However, further investigations by local Kentucky reporters at the Lexington Herald-Leader revealed that Warnke’s ministry had engaged in financial misdeeds and that “Mike, his ex-wife Rose, and her brother Neale [Hall] received a total of $809,680 in salary at a time when the ministry newsletter claimed donations were down and more funds were needed.” One week later, Word Records dropped Warnke from its label. Finally, on September 30, 1992, fewer than 100 days after the investigation was made public, Warnke Ministries closed its doors.13

moab_lds_church

This historic Moab LdS Church was constructed of adobe in 1884. It was built nine years after the establishment of Moab in 1880. Angus Stocks supervised the laying of the foundation and adobes. Within a few years of original construction an addition was made to the rear of the building. The church was used by the Moab Ward until 1925, when a new church was built and this church deeded to the Grand County School District.

The Mormon Response
Yet remarkably, despite all the evidence discrediting Weston’s 17-Points, the reaction been in Mormon Culture has been quite different to what we saw from Evangelicals in response to Warnke’s faith promoting yarn spinning and denials. Here’s a sampling of Mormon responses:

“I sat in a meeting where Brother Weston himself told that story. I have no reason to question Brother Weston’s veracity.”14

“Floyd Weston told me himself in 1983 that it really happend,[sic] five friends studied four joined (one died). Now about the 17 points that’s just interpretation of those scriptures. I once saw a 42 point one that was more detailed. But according to brother Weston and I have no reason to doubt him. Its true. According to Brother Weston’s son he never denied it to his family either. Please stop trying to make Brother Weston out to be a Paul H Dunn.”15

“I wanted to let you know that I just talked to one of Brother Weston’s relatives. He said that whether these claims are true or false… this 17 points of the true church has been effective & instrumental in helping people join the church and that Satan will do anything to diffuse that.

I highly recommend that you redirect this discussion before it causes Satan to have more power & influence on Jesus Christ’s people.”16

One will, of course, notice that no verifiable evidence is presented to support these claims of Weston’s vindication – once again it’s all “just take my word for it” and “I know a guy who knows a guy” second and third hand feel good hearsay.

Even the Mormon Apologists at FAIRMormon seem to be unable or unwilling to openly acknowledge Weston’s deceit and denounce the 17-Points as a contrived, faith promoting lie. Yet at the same time time they still seem to be posturing for a rapid retreat and slowly backing away from it:

It makes little difference for the Church if Weston made up his story, since the truth or falsity of Weston’s personal history has no bearing whatsoever on the truth of the restored gospel. Additionally, the “17 Points” may be used by certain individual members of the Church, but they have not been used in any official Church publications or adopted by the Church in any other way. The claims of the restored gospel stand independent of Weston’s list.17

Even more amusingly FAIRMormon attempts to woodshed critics of The 17-Points by incorrectly asserting that articles like this are some kind of indirect attack on the Mormon Church via ad-hominem attacks on Floyd Weston:

What this has to do with the validity of Weston’s “17 Points” is not entirely clear, but it seems that the critic is attempting to discredit Weston’s list (and, by implication, the Church) by discrediting Weston himself. This would be a form of the ad hominem fallacy… This confirms the perspective that the hostile reports targeted against Weston suffer from significant bias.18

Oh irony here! Critics are accused by FAIRMormon of engaging in argument “to the man” (the English translation of ad-hominem from the Latin) rather than “to the man’s evidence, arguments, logic, and reason” when those critics are doing nothing more than challenging Weston’s evidence, arguments, logic, and reason. Even more remarkably these charges come right on the tail of FAIRMormon acknowledging that Weston’s 17-Points are indeed rooted and grounded in confirmation bias:

The assumptions underlying the “17 points” are highly dependent upon a worldview widely assumed by Utah Mormons, but which rarely reflects the situation of those who are not members of the LDS Church: the idea that there is “one true church” and that people will accept the LDS faith once they are logically convinced that it “matches” the New Testament Church in salient ways. In reality, these concepts are totally foreign to the worldview of most non-Mormons and depend a great deal on the assumptions which one brings to such an analysis.

“17 Points” is thus a resource that may be interesting to Latter-day Saints in examining the scriptural basis for certain features of the modern Church, but it is one that has relatively little value or relevance to the missionary effort unless the non-member already shares many aspects of the LDS world-view.19

With “logic” and “consistency” like this who needs enemies – FAIRMormon seems to be doing just fine shooting itself in the foot, that is after that foot has been inserted into its mouth first. Say what you will about Evangelical Christianity but you won’t find its apologists defending a member of its tribe who’s been caught in a faith promoting lie. If you doubt me, just read the Warnke case above again and consider that at no time did you have Evangelicals claim that Mike Warnke was being “ad-hominemed” by critics in an agenda driven attempt to indirectly discredit Evangelicalism. In fact, Warnke’s harshest critics, not to mention the folks who exposed his deceit to begin with, were fellow Evangelicals.

Conclusion
At the end of it all, the body of evidence points to fact that the story of Floyd Weston’s “17-Points of the True Church” is a complete fabrication. So the fact that Mormons continue to defend it and use it as evidence in their discussions with outsiders raises some serious questions about the value of truth and integrity in Mormon Culture. As Richard Packham said well in response to one Mormon’s argument that, “whether these claims are true or false… this 17 points of the true church has been effective & instrumental in helping people join the church and that Satan will do anything to diffuse that”: 20

“Does this mean, then, that, according to this Mormon, the truth is a tool of Satan?”

Kinda makes you wonder folks don’t it? Kinda makes you wonder…

OvidChurch01

A former LdS Church building, now privately owned. Peter Jensen was the first branch president in Ovid, Utah in 1873. He later became the first Bishop of this church.

NOTES
1 “Is the “17 Points of the True Church” a true story”, Holy Fetch website.
2 “Fast Facts About Cal Tech History”, Cal Tech website.
3 See “Chronology of Einstein’s life”, Albert Einstein in the World Wide Web website. Also see Princeton University’s article on Einstein here.
4 Anonymous archived email, Wed, 28 Oct 1998 23:46:03 Pacific Time, Richard Packham website.
5 Ibid.
6 Op Cit, Holy Fetch. Underlining added for emphasis.
7 Op Cit, Anonymous email. By the way, one can still buy an audio copy of Weston’s 17-Point at Deseret Book. Or if you prefer the printed tact version, ditto.
8 Wikipedia article on Confirmation Bias.
9 Richard Packham, “The 17 Points of the True Church”.
10 Bill McKeever, ‘Examining the “17 Points of the True Church”‘
11 Also see Fred Anson, “A Short Course In Confirmation Bias” for another infamous example of this.
12 Wikipedia article on Mike Warnke, “Investigation and debunking“.
13 Ibid, “Aftermath”.
14 Mormon Discussion and Dialogue Board, post by ERayR, 4 Mar 2009.
15 Mormon Discussion and Dialogue Board, post by Anijen, 3 Mar 2009.
16 Fri, 30 Oct 1998 09:35:44 Pacific Time, Richard Packham website.
17 “Criticism of Mormonism/Criticism of “17 Points of the True Church”‘, FAIRMormon website.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.
20 Op Cit, Packham, “The 17 Points of the True Church”.

Church-at-Sunrise

Also Recommended: 
In November 2011 Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson discussed, deconstructed, and evaluated The 17-Points of the True Church on their Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast. You can listen to these podcasts via the following links: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 

BACK TO TOP

An Appeal to Never Mormon and Ex-Mormon Christians
Preaching

“Billy Sunday Preaching” by George Bellows (c.1915)

by Fred W. Anson and Jackie Davidson
Q: What’s the quickest way to drive a transitioning Mormon into atheism?
A: Christian infighting, dogmatism, and sectarianism.
This isn’t theory, Atheist Ex-Mormon discussion boards are filled with stories about former members of the LdS Church who gave up on Christianity on their way out of the Mormon Church when the Christians that they encountered were just as fanatically sectarian and absolutist as the Mormons that they knew were. Their conclusion? “They’re just two sides of the same fanatical coin.”

The Core Problem
It’s always good to remember what most Mormons think, and the LdS Church teaches: That all Christian churches other than theirs are a big ball of confusion. Consider this from the official LdS Church website:

During the Great Apostasy, people were without divine direction from living prophets. Many churches were established, but they did not have priesthood power to lead people to the true knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ.
(Official LdS Church website, “Apostasy”

This is a core doctrine in Mormonism. Public bickering on non-essential Christian doctrines in front of those who have ever been indoctrinated into Mormonism just validates and reinforces this stereotype and prejudice. And it doesn’t matter if that Mormon indoctrination took place last month or last century, the presumption of apostate corruption lingers on. So what does that have to do with Latter-day Saints becoming atheists due to Christian infighting, dogmatism, and sectarianism? Read on.

It Started On Facebook
Back in early 2015 we started an internet recovery group for Ex-Mormons who were trying to navigate the often difficult road into mainstream Christianity. We did this because we saw a crying need for such a group. At the time, while there were tons of  Atheist Ex-Mormon Internet support groups, they all seemed to lacked a positive sense of direction. As a result they had deteriorated into a quagmire of complaints, bitterness and anger. From what we could tell, the only shared value in the groups was a hatred of theism in general and the LdS Church in particular. In some cases there were some who had been out for years, even decades, but had become so eaten up by bitterness that they had become downright mean and nasty –  especially to Ex-Mormon Christians who wandered into their groups. We were sure that we could give these poor battered souls a safe and secure place to heal while they transitioned into mainstream Christianity. So we did.

Billy Sunday

However, it didn’t take very long for the Administrators of our group  to quickly became hyper-sensitive to sectarian infighting between mature Christians in the group. We were stunned at the incredible damage that it was having on those who were either new to the process or who still had wounds healing. The very people that we were trying to help were leaving the group because they were so confused and turned off by these well meaning but unbelievably insensitive and – it must be said – self absorbed, self interested, agenda driven, sectarian Christians. Every time Christians started dogmatically bickered over a non-essential doctrine we would lose a few more. It became quickly apparent that we couldn’t tolerate this behavior from our tribe and would have to take whatever action was required to eliminate it – up to and including a permanent ban on chronic violators.

The result was some of the most embarrassing drama queening that we’ve ever seen on the Internet – and that was on just giving simple warnings to these folks! It got so bad that at times we thought that some of those that got tossed or banned were going to petition their Pope, Patriarch, or Pastor to call us to Church councils so we could be properly anathematized. We were called and accused of some of the most unbelievable things imaginable. It was stunning. To hear some of these Christians tell it, you would think that the Devil and his minions (rather than a bunch of fellow believers and brother and sisters in Christ) were running this quiet little cyberspace community and damning all of its souls to hell!

You’re Kidding Right?
Now to  be fair, coming from mainstream Christian culture ourselves we understand that they were just doing what comes naturally. After all, after two thousand or so years of rough and tumble in house debate about every bit of doctrinal or theological minutiae imaginable – we’re used to this type of “hard ball” collegial exchange. We love it! We relish and luxuriate in it like a Parisian at a free cheese and wine tasting. So what’s the big deal, right?

The problem is that Mormonism is as much a culture as it is a religion – in some ways more so. Further, we mainstream Christians also, usually unknowingly, have a religion that’s heavily infused with our own cultural distinctives. One of them is a casual, easy going, even enthusiastic attitude about debate, discussion, and disagreement that’s generally missing in Mormon culture. As Utah Pastor and Ex-Mormon Ross Anderson explains:

The distinctives of Mormon culture and church life make it very challenging for former Latter-day Saints to become fully integrated into a Christian church. Like immigrants leaving their homeland behind to come to a new world, they must negotiate a confusing journey into a new cultural setting. To establish a new identity with a new church body, the ex-Mormon must develop a new worldview, new roots, new stories, new assumptions, new perspectives, new values and new symbols. On a practical level, he or she must adapt to a myriad of perplexing new customs and practices in the life of the local church.
(Ross Anderson, “Jesus Without Joseph: Following Christ After Leaving Mormonism”, Introduction) 

And a big part of the “country” that Ex-Mormons are immigrating from puts a high value on conflict avoidance. As Michael J. Stevens, a Latter-day Saint researcher and Professor of organizational behavior at Weber State University notes:

I often observe that mainstream LDS Church members along the Wasatch Front have a difficult time confronting any form of disagreement, even when they are clearly uncomfortable or unhappy with what’s being discussed or decided. It’s as if they were conflating all forms of disagreement or conflict with contention. This would be consistent with an overly simplistic reading of 3 Nephi 11:29:

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.

If all conflict is viewed as the functional equivalent of having the “spirit of contention,” what options are left to a person who disagrees, or sees things differently, or who has goals and interests different from the rest of the community? How can one raise objections or question and challenge others, or raise unpleasant topics, if doing so is tantamount to being in league with Beelzebub? If one’s view of all conflict is that it must be avoided so as to avoid contention, then there is no direct, healthy, constructive strategy available for resolving conflicts and disagreements.
(Michael J. Stevens, “Passive-aggression among the Latter-day Saints”, Sunstone magazine, April 12, 2013) 

Therefore, Christians that insensitively engage in overtly aggressive dogmatism on secondary or non-essential doctrines are unknowingly and needlessly “culture shocking” an immigrant who’s not equipped to emotionally process or intellectually understand the tank of “evil contention” that they’ve suddenly been dropped into. It doesn’t just make them uncomfortable, it freaks them out – we’ve seen it happen over and over and over again.

Are You Sure You’re Talking to the Right People?
Now if you’re a long term, full transitioned Ex-Mormon you may be wondering, “Why are you including us in this rant? Never Mormon Christians seems logical because they may not be able to empathize with transitioning Mormons having never been one. But I, on the other hand, was a transitioning Mormon back in the day – I get it!”

Unfortunately, our experience tells us that while long term Ex-Mormons may think that they “get it” in a lot of cases they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be tender, hurting, bleeding, broken, bitter, angry and confused after being leaving the Mormon Church. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to be an immigrant right off the boat.

In fact, we were shocked in the early days of our board to find out that some long term transitioned Ex-Mormons had the least amount of empathy for transitioning Mormons – they were our first, biggest problem group! And, nope, I’m not making this up – it’s all true folks.

So my dear Christians friends, if you really, really, really want to turn your transitioning Ex-Mormon friends into atheists, just keep it up! Fight, bicker, and spat over the smallest bits of theological and doctrinal lint you can find. Better yet, make sure you get incensed and indignant whenever an Arminian challenges your Calvinism, or an Ammillenialist questions your Rapturism. Swing those “convictions” like a sword, and never mind the collateral damage – as you watch the transitioning Mormons that you bump into while you’re tussling, fall into the nearest atheist pit.

Billy Sunday preaching 2- Internet ArchiveThe Solution
The solution is actually pretty simple:

  1. Maintain unity on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.
  2. Extend liberty and grace on non-essential doctrines.

Or put another way:

“In essentials, unity;
In non-essentials, liberty;
In all things, charity.”
(17th century Theologian Rupertus Meldenius)

In terms of what determines what the essential doctrines of the Christian faith are, theologian Matt Slick, explains:

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)

Again, the essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith are as follows:

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.

A sampling of the non-essentials is as follows:

  • Eschatology (how and when the end times will unfold, the rapture, the millenium, the role of Israel today, etc.)
  • Earth Age (young v. old earth creationism, etc.)
  • Bible translation preferences (King James v. modern translations, word-for-word v. thought-for-thought, etc.)
  • Ecclesiology (church government models, the roles of clergy and laity, are Apostles and Prophets for today, etc.)
  • Soteriological Systems (Arminianism v. Calvinism, etc.)
  • Demonology (can a Christian have a demon or not, teachings on various kinds of spiritual warfare, etc.)
  • Sacrament practices (wine v. grape juice, leavened v. unleavened bread, who can administer, etc.)
  • Modes of baptism (sprinkling v. full immersion, infant baptism, etc.)
  • Worship styles (liturgical v. contemporary, hymns v. choruses, choirs, drums v. organs, etc.)
  • The gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues v. no tongues, cessationism v. continuationism, etc.)
  • Worship observances (Sabbatarianism v. Sunday worship, observance of special holy days, tithing, etc.)
  • Food and drink (consumption of alcohol v. abstinence, kosher v. non-kosher food, etc.)
  • Various do’s and don’ts (tobacco consumption, playing cards, dancing, makeup, “acceptable” dress, movies, etc.)
  • Etc., etc., etc. This is far from an exhaustive or comprehensive list of Christian non-essentials – it seems endless at times!

Billy SundayHow You Say it Matters
So when you’re in the presence of transitioning Ex-Mormons on the non-essentials of the faith qualify your words. In other words, use terms like, “In my opinion”, “Speaking as a Presbyterian/Methodist/Episcopalian/etc. we believe”, “From my perspective”, “As I see it in the Bible”, etc.

Further, on the non-essentials of the faith do not use absolutisms such as: “The Bible says”; “The truth is”; “Reality is”; “All orthodox Christians believe”, etc. Further, responding, “that’s not Biblical”, while perfectly fine in Christianese, will usually cause a visceral reaction because in Mormonese it means, “Take that back or I’ll beat you up with scripture!”

Additionally, words such as cult, brainwashing, deception, etc. should never be used. Even though the transitioning Mormon has come out of the LdS Church and come to Christ, these are “hot button fightin’ words.” To them, “cult” really is a four letter word. You might as well have said, “Yo’ Momma!” Want to see a person transitioning out of Mormonism flee your support group at full speed and never look back? Just use the “c-word” friend.

Finally, on the essentials of the Christian faith, absolutisms are perfectly acceptable – even encouraged. For example, if a Christian couldn’t sincerely say the following, I would have serious doubts if they’re a Christian at all: “The truth, in reality is, that the Bible says – and all orthodox Christians believe – that Jesus Christ died on the cross, was buried in a rich man’s grave, and rose from the dead on the third day.”

Next, allow others to disagree with you. Extend charity to them even if, in your mind, they’re dead wrong.

And finally, if you still feel like you absolutely, positively must straighten the other person out after that you have the following options:

a) Private Message the person via email, the Facebook messaging system, etc. Or better yet, set up a telephone call or a face to face meeting. Who knows, you may end up with a friend if you do this.

b) Take the discussion to one of the many, many, many good theological discussion and debate groups on Facebook and the Internet.

Overall the biggest guideline is this:

If what you’re about to say won’t help an Ex-Mormon who’s transitioning into Biblical Christianity, then don’t say it in their presence. And, stated plainly brothers and sisters, Christian infighting never helps transitioning Ex-Mormons.

Or put another way: “Curb your dogma”

Billy Sunday preaching 3- Internet ArchiveYeah, we get it. We really, really do! 
In closing, please understand that the authors most certainly realize that just because something isn’t essential doesn’t make it unimportant. However, we have found that we Protestants are far too quick to try to turn non-essentials into essentials and then fight to the death over them. For example, is eschatology really worth dying on a hill over? After all and in the end, isn’t God going to do what God is going to do regardless of what you or I think, feel, and are convinced from scripture is going to happen? As Francis Schaeffer said so well all those many years ago:

“Among many of the youth, prophecy, rather than being a part of a larger whole of theology, has become the integration point of whatever theology they have. Eschatology has been blown out of proportion. Concentration on the second coming of Christ is falsely made an excuse for not accepting Christian responsibility for reformation in the church and in society. I hold very definite views on eschatology, but eschatology is not the integration point of my theology.”
(Francis A. Schaeffer V, “The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian view of Spirituality”, “The New Super Spirituality”, c.1972, pp.395-396)

Regardless of what non-essential doctrine that you and the authors may hold to, many Transitioning Ex-Mormons simply aren’t ready for the kind of theological nuance and rough and tumble discussions that established Christians feel so comfortable moving through and around in. So brother or sister in Christ, whatever it is, if it ain’t in the list of essential doctrines of the Christian Faith then please let it go – hold it in your hand loosely!

Again, Remember the Immigrants
Also, please remember that transitioning Ex-Mormons are like immigrants, they may not know our culture or speak our language. As a result some of their questions may come across as naive, ignorant, abrasive, even rude. And they most certainly aren’t going to speak the “Christianese” that you and I so take for granted that we don’t even realize that we speak it any more. They may also be projecting their inner pain, anger, bitterness, and frustration into the question without realizing it – we all do this from time to time, don’t we? Ex-Mormon Janis Hutchinson in her book, “Out of the Cults and Into the Church” quotes from a former cultist describing how painful this “migration” process can be:

Even now, I sometimes defend the cult! When I give our pastor and his wife a trying time, I say to myself, Myra, you’re completely hopeless. You’re not going to make it in this church! “When I become dogmatic and headstrong, I get angry with myself – especially when I know the pastor and his wife are only trying to help. Much more of this, I keep saying , and I doubt I’ll survive. But I suppose those working with me probably wonder if they’ll survive! I’m sure they must be disgusted with me. If they are, I think it’s because they just expect too much too soon.
(Janis Hutchinson, “Out of the Cults and Into the Church”, Kindle Locations 459-465)

So when you encounter such a question, comment, post, push back, or whatever from a transitioning Ex-Mormon we would ask you to take a deep breath, pray for wisdom and guidance, calm down and then respond in an even, non-threatening tone. In other words, be kind, gracious, and understanding rather than reactionary.

Finally, we know that you probably already know these Bible verses but we want to bring them to your attention again:

“Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”
— 2 Timothy 2:25 (NIV)

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
— Colossians 4:6 (NIV)

“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.”
— 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

And, as always, may God guide our conversation as we try with love, humility, and the fear of the Lord to aid our transitioning Ex-Mormons friends in their journey out of Mormonism and into mainstream Biblical Christianity.

Walt Kelly

Q: How did the Mormon land the Atheist pit?
A: He was bumped while two Christians were bickering over non-essentials.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES
For further clarification on the essentials and non-essentials of the Christian faith we recommend the following resources:

Matt Slick, “Essential Doctrines of Christianity”, CARM website.

While Mr. Slick’s article is an excellent short vernacular primer, C. Michael Patton’s “Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell” article is the better resource for those seeking a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the subject.

Finally for those who find Mr. Slick’s outline format a bit too cryptic and Mr. Patton’s article too long should consider this short but insightful “What are the essentials of the Christian faith?” article on the “Got Questions?” website instead.

“A Bruised Reed” by R.C. Sproul (click link to watch streaming video)
This sermon by offers a fantastic perspective on finding that oh so elusive balance between truth, love, integrity, and tolerance. Christian brothers and sisters you I both appeal to you to and challenge you to listen to this amazing sermon. Here’s the description from the Ligonier website:

We don’t have to look beyond our own churches to see Christians fighting amongst themselves over all kinds of issues. What is the proper way to respond to Christian brothers and sisters when we are in disagreement with them? Should we treat everyone in the church the same? In this message entitled “A Bruised Reed,” Dr. Sproul teaches us about the judgement of charity as we seek to maintain peace and unity within the church.

The authors are thankful for Wikipedia Commons and Internet Archive for the images of 20th early Century evangelist Billy Sunday preaching that appear throughout the first part of this article.

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