An Appeal to Never Mormon and Ex-Mormon Christians
“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.
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.
The solution is actually pretty simple:
- Maintain unity on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.
- 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
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!
How 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”
Yeah, 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.
Q: How did the Mormon land the Atheist pit?
A: He was bumped while two Christians were bickering over non-essentials.
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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