Archive for the ‘Weak Arguments’ Category

Latin_America_Christmas_pinata_2013

A Christmas piñata in the historic Mormon Tabernacle during the annual Latin Christmas program in December 2013.

by Fred W. Anson
I cringe when I see it. It’s like watching a train wreck unfolding in slow motion. It’s never pretty but the result is always the same. It’s ugly and it’s painful. I’m talking about a Latter-day Saint publicly bearing testimony outside of the friendly confines of Mormon culture. Specifically, presenting their testimony as evidence for the veracity of Mormonism as if it were just as credible as dropping an apple as proof of gravity. They put it up like a bright and shiny new piñata and by the time outsiders are done whacking at it it’s nothing more than a broken mess on the floor.

How I pity the poor testimony bearing Mormon! After all within the comfortable confines of the Mormon Tank this simply doesn’t happen! Rather, in there, their testimony is greeted with smiles and tears from spouses, parents, and grandparents. I can see it now, grandma starts fumbling in her purse for a tissue whenever she hears a family member (especially a child) step up to the microphone and say:

“I know that God is our Heavenly Father and He loves us. I know that His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior and Redeemer. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. He restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth and translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church on the earth today. I know that this Church is led by a living prophet who receives revelation.”1

And, of course, this powerful emotional impact is just as our poor Latter-day Saint friend has been promised by their church:

A testimony is a spiritual witness and assurance given by the Holy Ghost. To bear testimony is to give a simple, direct declaration of belief—a feeling, an assurance, a conviction of gospel truth. Sharing your testimony often is one of the most powerful ways of inviting the Spirit and helping others feel the Spirit.2

Further, they have been promised that they should expect similar results when they bear their testimony outside of the Mormon Tank:

The power of the Holy Ghost. The witness that comes to sincere investigators before baptism comes through the power of the Holy Ghost. “The power [of the Holy Ghost] can come upon one before baptism, and is the convincing witness that the gospel is true. It gives one a testimony of Jesus Christ and of his work and the work of his servants upon the earth” (Bible Dictionary, “Holy Ghost,” 704). The Holy Ghost testifies of truth. All people can know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon through the power of the Holy Ghost. “By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5).3

Further, their church teaches them that their testimony is unassailable – like a Royal Flush in a game of poker, or a flamer thrower in a knife fight:

People may sometimes intellectually question what you teach, but it is difficult to question a sincere, heartfelt testimony. When you testify, pray that those you are teaching will feel the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. When you testify, you help create an environment for investigators to feel the Holy Ghost confirming your witness of the truth.4

Finally, they have been assured by their church that if they can get outsiders to just follow the “Moroni 10 Formula” they will inevitably see the light and get the “right” answer. Here’s how the official, correlated LdS Church Missionary curriculum, “Preach My Gospel” instructs Mormon Missionaries to lead outsiders through this process:

Rely on the promise in Moroni 10:3–5. Every person who sincerely reads and prays about this book can know with certainty of its truthfulness by the power of the Holy Ghost. Do all you can to help investigators:

• Read the Book of Mormon and ponder its message concerning Jesus Christ.
• Pray to God with faith in Jesus Christ to receive a testimony that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration.
• Pray sincerely and have real intent, which means that they intend to act on the answer they receive from God.

You too should apply this promise regularly to strengthen and renew your own testimony of the Book of Mormon. This renewed testimony will help you maintain a firm confidence that anyone who applies this promise will receive the answer.5

So our poor, unsuspecting Mormon friends are ushered out of the Mormon Tank and into the real world with these tools and expectations. They’re filled with absolute certainty that’s fueled by religious zeal. After all, didn’t sixth LdS President Joseph F. Smith (1901–1918) commission Latter-day Saints plainly when he said:

“We have a mission in the world: each man, each woman, each child who has grown to understanding or to the years of accountability, ought . . . to be qualified to preach the truth, to bear testimony of the truth”
(Gospel Doctrine, 13th ed. [1968], 251–52; cited in “Preach My Gospel”, p.12)

Life Outside the Mormon Tank
But instead, and all too often, it’s … WHACK! Sadly what happens in the real world outside of the Mormon Tank is typically very different than the warm, cozy promises that they were given inside that tank. For example, millions of people have faithfully applied the “Moroni 10 Formula”, gotten very different results and are not only not afraid to talk about it but are eager to do so. I am one of those millions. I have faithfully applied this formula not once, not twice, but three times and each time I have gotten the same answer:

I would like to bear my testimony…
I have diligently sought God regarding whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true or not. To that end, I have studied the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon and I have prayed consistently for over 30-years. I have taken the “Moroni 10 Challenge” and I have felt an intense “burning in my bosom” many, many, many times in my life — in fact, I carry it with me every day of my life.

… and my testimony is this:
I am utterly convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a non-Christian cult, that Joseph Smith was a false prophet, as is Thomas S. Monson. Further, I am utterly convinced that the Book of Mormon is an uninspired, man created work of 19th Century fiction.

Here I stand before God and before men – I can do no other.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, amen.

Of course the common Mormon response to this contra-testimony is, “You clearly didn’t do it right!” In other words, there’s only one right answer – the one that they got. Problem Mormon friends: I did. So did the millions of others who got a different answer than the “right one” that you did. Doubt me? Keep reading.

Moroni's Grammatically Correct Promise

WHACK! Here’s hard reality: This type of spiritual experience is hardly unique. Please consider this post from a Muslim women on a Catholic discussion board:

“For me, I believe that Muhammad was a prophet because of the Qur’an–because I read it, and in my own estimation after reading it, reflecting on it, and praying about it, I found in myself an unwavering belief that the Qur’an is without a doubt revealed by the Lord of the Worlds, by the Almighty God.”6

Sound familiar? Just substitute “Joseph Smith” where it says, “Muhammad” and “Book of Mormon” where it says “Qur’an” and you have the archetypical Mormon Testimony which simply mirrors the “stock” Muslim Testimony known as the Shahada:

“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and I bear witness that Mohammed is the servant and Messenger of Allah.”
(the “Shahada”)

So, I’m sorry Mormon friends but the infamous “Mormon Testimony” – the one that so much Latter-day Saint corporate epistemology and cultural identity is based on – simply isn’t that unusual or unique. In fact, it’s common. There are millions of testimonies from those of other faiths that are very similar, and in some cases exactly like, those of Mormons. Please consider this sampling:7

“I felt a burning in my heart, and a great burden seemed to have left me.”
(Protestant)

“But what can I say? How can I describe an experience so profound and so beautiful? Shall I say that it was the most blessed experience of my life? Shall I say that [God] touched my heart and gave me a feeling of peace I had not known before? Shall I describe the tears that flowed freely from my eyes, affirming my . . . faith, as I . . . beg[ged] [God’s] blessings for myself and for those I love?”
(Islam)

“The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.”
(Protestant)

WHACK!

“As I read these books in a . . . bookstore, . . . I felt a burning in my heart that I should come and investigate.”
(Catholic)

“[Even as a child], [w]ithout understanding much about the complex [doctrine] . . . he was attracted to [church]. There he often felt a strong feeling of peace flowing through his body.”
(Hindu)

“I was praying . . . when I felt a burning shaft of . . . love come through my head and into my heart.”
(Catholic)

“I truly [sic] wanted to know [the truth]. After a few weeks, I stumbled onto [texts] which . . . answered my questions in a way that I had not heard of before. I read everything . . .and I even tried the experiment of asking [God] for . . . his divine love. After about 6 weeks, I felt a burning in my chest and a sensation that was unlike anything I had ever felt. It was pure happiness and peace. I knew then that [God] had sent His love to me.”
(New Age)

“A feeling of peace and certitude would tell me when I had found the answers and often after people would help me by pointing in the right direction.”
(Islam)

“We gave up a lot of things. What did I get in return? I received a feeling of peace, hope and security. I no longer lay awake at night worrying. I stopped cussing. I became much more honest in all aspects of my life. [God] has changed my heart and my life. My husband’s heart is changing also. We pray all the time and really feel [God’s] presence in our marriage. My perspective has changed. My view of life has changed about what is truly important.”
(Protestant)

“Many women described a feeling of euphoria after they committed to following [God] . . . . One woman described a feeling of peace; she said: ‘It is like you are born again and you can start all over again, free from sin.'”
(Islam)

“A feeling of peace seemed to flow into me with a sense of togetherness . . . . . I felt very peaceful from inside and also felt [warmth] . . . .”
(Hindu)

Boy hitting pinata, explosion of candy

WHACK!

“I felt a burning sensation in my heart.”
(Protestant)

“That inner light, that we all have or had at some time in our existence, was nearly burnt out for me. But in the [church] . . . I found a feeling of peace, inner solitude and quietness that I’d also found in reading the [text] and pondering over its meaning and trying to practice what it tells us.”
(Islam)

“For the first time I not only felt accountable for my past sins but I had to fight back tears. I knew that I had let down [God] [and] my family . . . . However, I also knew I was forgiven! [It] gave me a feeling of peace that I have never felt it in my whole life. I felt like I had a huge weight lifted off of me and that I was finally home and free . . . . I felt like a new person.”
(Catholic)

“Every time I am there [at the church building], a feeling of peace overcomes me.”
(Buddhist)

“About 10 years ago, when Jenny and I decided to start a family, we began looking for a spiritual community for our kids. During my first service at [the church]. . . I was hooked. I recall the feeling of peace that I felt when I was attending [services].”
(Universal Unitarian)

“The power of [God] came into me then. I had this warm and overwhelming feeling of peace and security. It’s hard to explain. I had to . . . stop myself from falling backward.”
(Catholic)

“[The religious leader] looked into my eyes deeply for a moment, and I experienced a feeling of peace and love unlike anything I had ever experienced before.”
(Hindu)

“[After praying,] [i]mmediately I was flooded with a deep feeling of peace, comfort, and hope.”
(Protestant)

“I recently spent an afternoon on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, atop the mount where Jesus is believed to have preached his most famous sermon. . . . As I sat and gazed upon the surrounding hills gently sloping to an inland sea, a feeling of peace came over me. It soon grew to a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts. In an instant, the sense of being a separate self—an “I” or a “me”—vanished. . . . The experience lasted just a few moments, but returned many times as I gazed out over the land where Jesus is believed to have walked, gathered his apostles, and worked many of his miracles.”
(Atheist)

Smashed donkey pinata on floor with candy

Smashed donkey pinata on floor with candy

SPLAT! Down comes the The Mormon Piñata
When we examine, analyze, measure and observe the above data points what they tell us is this:

  1. Because the results are so wide and varied this method of discerning “God” is clearly unreliable.
  2. Likewise, and for the same reasons, this method of discerning “truth” is also unreliable.
  3. This method of epistemology appears to be confirmation bias driven. That’s because the conclusions appear to be predetermined by the person’s presuppositions. That is, the person investigating Hinduism is just as likely to be persuaded that Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti is speaking to them as the person investigating Mormonism is convinced that the God of Mormon is.
  4. In a similar vein, borne testimony tends to reinforce the presuppositions of the audience. Stated simply, those who already hold to the same presuppositions as the testimony bearer will enthusiastically support their testimony and those who don’t will either challenge or ignore it.
  5. Therefore, objectively speaking, and in conclusion, testimony bearing ultimately proves nothing.

This is exactly as Clinton Wilcox pointed out in his superb article, ‘Weak Arguments #8: “I testify that Mormonism is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet.”‘

In short, it’s [that is, giving a counter testimony against Mormonism is] a weak argument because it is subjective and inconclusive. It doesn’t give any actual reasons for why Mormonism is false and orthodox Christianity is true. It’s a bad argument against Mormonism because it’s a bad argument, period – which makes it a bad argument even when the Mormon uses it…

Testimonies are not inherently bad things. Testimonies are used in a court of law as evidence. But testimonies are given regarding a certain event that somebody witnessed. You can’t rely on your own subjective experiences to convince somebody else of the truth of your beliefs. The major problem is that in the Mormon’s testimony, they don’t give us any reason to believe Mormonism is true. A subjective experience may give you a reason to believe but it doesn’t give anyone else a reason to accept your beliefs as true. Arguing that it is the correct church doesn’t help. I need to know why it is the correct church….

Finally, this testimony can be turned right back around on the Mormon (or on you). You can just reply with, “I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a false church. I know that Joseph Smith was a false prophet,” etc. Then you’re left with the dilemma of whose testimony is correct, or even which is the more powerful testimony? This can be rhetorically effective, but it offers no grounding for the claim that your respective beliefs are true.8

And a Latter-day Saint peer reviewer of my article, ‘Weak Arguments #15: “How to Make Weak Arguments for Mormonism – A Primer”’ seemed to agree with Mr. Wilcox when he said:

The witness of the spirit while not great evidence for convincing others is a fine answer to: Why do you believe this? Also it is a good lead in to, ‘And you can receive the same witness.’

Mormons need to keep in mind however that a personal witness is not meant for convincing others, its personal and should be kept out of debate except in answer to the above question or proceeding the invitation. It should also be kept in mind that inviting someone to seek their own witness from God does not win the argument, as some Mormons seem to believe.9

Put the Piñata down!
In other words my Mormon friends, put the Mormon Piñata down! Or as Clinton Wilcox said so well in his article:

Give reasons, not testimony.

He then goes on to explain:

We do not have to pray to test truth claims. We have the Scriptures given to us so that if we come across a particular idea, we can test it against Scripture to see if it holds up (1 Thessalonians 5:21). All over Scripture we are told to use our faculties of reason. If Mormonism is false, it stands or falls on its teachings, not on whether or not I believe it to be true. And more generally, Christianity, itself, is a religion that is based on evidence, not “blind faith,” as atheists tend to allege. We are told to “love the Lord your God with…all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NASB). God told the Israelites “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV, emphasis mine). And as C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, has observed, “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than he is of any other slackers.”10 The Christian life is one marked by reason and reflection. It is not based on feelings or emotion, which are not accurate guides for determining truth. We read in Scripture that “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?”(Jeremiah 17:9, NASB).11

And, I will end with this paraphrased version of the closing paragraph of Mr. Wilcox’s classic article. Please note, that it has been modified to fit our context here:

If you believe the Mormon church to be true, you need to point out which doctrines are true and explain why they are true. If you believe Joseph Smith to be a true prophet, point out reasons why you believe so…. The bottom line is, if you want to be able to convince a non-Mormon of the truth of Mormonism, you need to give arguments for it.12

But whatever you do my Mormon friend: Put that Mormon Piñata down and don’t pick it back up! If you don’t, it will be just like you’re queuing it up for your thinking, bat toting non-Mormon friends like a piñata on a zip line.

qzvrvctik6rsbmcjqnor“Wrecking Ball  Piñata” shot in Salt Lake City at the Utah State Fairgrounds.

NOTES
1 “Testimony Glove”, Friend magazine, October 2008
2 “Preach My Gospel” official, correlated LdS Church Missionary curriculum, p.198
3 Ibid, p.90
4 Ibid, p.199
5 Ibid, p.111
6 Sister Amy, “The Koran and the Book of Mormons”, Catholic Answers website, February 21, 2008
7 While this sample of testimonies was compiled from the Mormon Think website, an even fuller collection of indexed testimonies can be found on the Testimonies of Other Faiths website.
8 Clinton Wilcox, ‘Weak Arguments #8: “I testify that Mormonism is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet.”
9 Fred W. Anson, ‘Weak Arguments #15: “How to Make Weak Arguments for Mormonism – A Primer”’, footnote 4
10 C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics)”, (p. 78, Kindle position 1071). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
11 Op cit, Wilcox.
12 Op cit, Wilcox. Please note that I have paraphrased from the original to fit the context of this article. The original was addressed to non-Mormon Christians and reads like this:
“If you believe the Mormon church to be false, you need to point out which doctrines are false and explain why they are false. If you believe Joseph Smith to be a false prophet, point out reasons why you believe so. Show some prophecies which have failed to take place (the Bible in Deuteronomy 18:22 says that if even one prediction fails, that person is not a prophet of the Lord). The bottom line is, if you want to be able to convince a Mormon of the truth of orthodox Christianity, you need to give arguments for it.”

Again, I apologize to Mr. Wilcox for abusing his fine prose like this but, frankly, since I couldn’t top it I used it instead!

The story behind the animated GIF above – this is just fun!

BACK TO TOP

An article on some common and recurring weak argument and debating tactics that Latter-day Saints use in their defense of Mormonism that result in weak arguments.
by Fred W. Anson

“Caïn venant de tuer son frère Abel” by Henry Vidal in Tuileries Garden in Paris, France

“”The non-LDS world has a history of perpetuating criticism, caricature, othering, antagonism and shaming of Mormons. This leads to a reaction on the part of the Latter-day Saints: retrenchment, militancy, withdrawal from civic conversation, and a dynamic I call ‘undergrounding,’ something that happens a lot in our political history where we tell the outside world one story in order to protect our inside story.”
Joanna Brooks, “Violence, Mormonism, and the Sobering Lessons of History”,
Sunstone Magazine, Summer 2015, p.50

Introduction:
The last article in this series created quite a stir. It was “grass catcher” list of weak arguments and debate tactics that mainstream Christians regularly use that undermine their engagements with Latter-day Saints. And while the article was warmly, often even enthusiastically, received on both sides of the Evangelical-Mormon divide, a common response was, “OK, where’s the equivalent list for Mormons?” Well, the wait is over, here it is.

How to Make Weak Arguments for Mormonism:

  1. Attack your debating opponent instead of their evidence or arguments. Use ad-hominem arguments.
  2. Misrepresent or exaggerate your debating opponent’s arguments so they’re easier to overcome. Use straw man arguments.
  3. Misquote and abuse 3 Nephi 11:29.  That is, rail against your debating opponent with a bold “Contention is of the devil” denunciation while you’re contending for the Mormon faith. Oh and, since you’re already playing the “beam in your eye” hypocrite before an amused audience, make sure that you completely ignore the passages in scripture that blatantly advocate (such as Jude 1:3, I Thessalonians 2:2) and model (like most of the Book of Mormon for example) righteous contention. Compromised integrity and duplicity is always so persuasive isn’t it? (NOT!)
  4. Over generalize! If you’re the only Mormon who believes something say that all Mormons do. If an uncorrelated, progressive, or Neo-Orthodox Mormon (like Terryl or Fiona Givens for example) makes an unorthodox claim then point to it as the norm. Claim that a “one off” address by a modern Mormon Leader represents what Mormonism has always taught throughout it’s history. You know, do things like point to Brad Wilcox’s 2011 BYU devotional, “His Grace Is Sufficient” or President Uchtdorf’s, Spring General Conference 2015 address “The Gift of Grace” and claim that they accurately represent official current and historic LDS soteriology.[1]
  5. In a similar vein, stereotype! For example, identify a mainstream Christian who has behaved badly (Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, Ted Haggard, etc.) and treated God’s grace and mercy as a license to sin, and then claim that all mainstream Christians behave this way. After all, Mormons never do that (think John D. LeePaul H. Dunn, Porter Rockwell, Wild Bill Hickman, John C. Bennett, Sidney Rigdon) do they?
  6. Use your conclusion as evidence for your argument. Engage in circular logic – you know something like, “I know that the only true church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because I have an inner witness that it’s the only true church.” I mean, really, who can argue with logic like that?
  7. Present speculation and conjecture with no supporting evidence to back them as fact. Argue from silence. For example, argue that the lack of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon proves nothing. Even better, argue that the lack of such evidence actually proves that it’s true because God is using it to test our faith.[2]

    book-of-mormon-archaeology-myth

    (click to zoom)

  8. Bifurcate rather than nuance. Claim that there is only black or white, good or evil, on or off. Create false dichotomies.
  9. Argue that because you don’t know or understand something it must be false. Or better yet, to claim that something must be true! Use your ignorance as irrefutable proof that your debating opponent is wrong. When in doubt appeal to ignorance – I mean, sure, it makes you look like an uninformed fool, but what the hey!
  10. Don’t support your arguments with any evidence (let alone objective evidence). And if challenged, act indignant and offended that you should be required to produce any evidence at all! I mean, after all, isn’t the burden of proof on the person not arguing your position? You know, just like it’s the prosecuting attorney’s job to produce evidence for the defense in a criminal case – yeah, it’s like that.[3]
  11. Assert that something is true simply because you’ve said it is. After all, your word is good enough, right? I mean, come on, you’re Mormon, and therefore, you know everything about Mormonism by virtue of that fact – that should be enough, right? Appeal to yourself as authority – use yourself as indisputable, absolutely authoritative, irrefutable evidence! Why does anyone need to research anything when the best, most reliable source is right there in front of them telling them the way it is?
  12. Use testimony bearing or “the witness of the Spirit” as evidence. Argue from feelings, promptings, and impressions and other appeals to emotion.[4]
  13. Assert that your debate opponent “doesn’t get it” and “can’t get it” because they don’t have the Holy Ghost and, therefore, can’t hear His voice. And when you do make sure that you’re as condescending and arrogant as possible in using this variation on the ad-hominem fallacy so they can fully understand and feel the great depth of their state of blindness.
  14. Argue that because something is popular it must be true. Drive that bandwagon fallacy right over your debating opponent! For example, argue that Mormonism must be true or it wouldn’t be growing so fast worldwide. Uh, by the way, about that “growing so fast” claim . . .[5]
  15. Don’t acknowledge when your debating opponent makes a valid point. Never surrender, never give in! After all this war right?

    Subjective v. Objective Evidence. One can proved by means of search, like analysis, measurement, and observation and one can't. One is valid and unchanging regardless of one's feelings, and one isn't.

    Subjective v. Objective Evidence. One can proved by means of search, like analysis, measurement, and observation and one can’t. One is valid and unchanging regardless of one’s feelings, and one isn’t.

  16. Suddenly and without warning disappear from the debate. Let chirping Mormon crickets argue for you instead. If there were a name for this it might be called the “Cop Out” or “Argue with my Back!” Fallacy. And some Mormons seem to like it a lot – especially when they’re issued a “OK, show me where I’m wrong” challenge.[6]
  17. Cyber stalk or conspire against your debating opponents behind the scenes. After all this is war – so sabotage is just par for the course. Of course, it’s just a form of the type of walking in spiritual darkness that’s consistently condemned in scripture but what the hey, it’s so cool to be a modern Gadianton robber ain’t it? (By the way, this is sociopathological behavior – I just thought that you’d like to know)
  18. Don’t give your debating opponent’s evidence any serious consideration. Better yet, just ignore it and act like it doesn’t exist. For example, even though mainstream Christians repeatedly tell you that they believe in, “Salvation by grace alone through faith alone,” continue to argue that they believe in “Salvation by grace alone” and pound away on that straw man argument.
  19. Ditto for challenging questions. Ignore them. Socratic Method is so stupid!
  20. Don’t become familiar with your debating opponent’s culture and language. After all, if they have anything of value to say they can say and do like we do it in Mormon culture! After all we’re better than they are, aren’t we?
  21. Be condescending because, frankly, we really are better than they are – especially all those lousy, despicable “Anti’s” out there who hate and only want to destroy God’s only true and living Church.[7]

    (click to zoom)

    (click to zoom)

  22. Speaking of “Anti’s”, always label. After all labeling is a wonderful defense mechanism since once it’s done you can stereotype and thus deceive yourself into feeling like you have power over them.  And if you use negative labels you can condescend to those below you – even better! And have we recommended arrogant condescension yet? Oh, we did? Well you can never emphasize that one too much can you? It’s a good one – it puts those “Anti’s” right in their place!
  23. Use special pleading fallacies. Argue that rules, laws, evidences and realities that apply everywhere else don’t apply to Mormonism. I mean, come on, why should DNA evidence apply to the Book of Mormon people anyhow? Really people, really?
  24. Assert your Priesthood Authority whenever possible. I mean, it means absolutely nothing to anyone or carries any weight outside of Mormonism but why not? And I assert this in the name of the Royal Priesthood![8]
  25. Use lots and lots of insults and personal attacks! Oh, did we already mention this one? Oh yeah, that was kinda included in the very first one by implication wasn’t it? Well, since this is one the most common weak arguments used by Latter-day Saints, it probably bears repeating doesn’t it?
  26. Troll. Throw out provocative, incendiary arguments of little real substance but high emotional impact with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. (and thank you Wikipedia for that excellent definition)
  27. Appeal to authority from sources that Mormons would never preach from or use in their services since they attack and undermine the fundamental truth claims that undergird Judaism, Mormonism and/or mainstream Christianity. This includes, but isn’t limited to: John Shelby Spong, The Jesus SeminarRobert Price, Margaret Barker, James Tabor, Richard Dawkins, and Bart Ehrman. Yeah, it’s kind of like drinking your own poison or shooting yourself in the foot but it’s better to be hospitalized or lose a foot if it protects Joseph Smith and modern Mormon dogma ain’t it? Besides it’s fun to argue like an atheist!
  28. Cite from unofficial, uncorrelated Latter-day Saint sources as if they’re official voices of the Church. First and foremost do so with with your own personal opinion – state it as if it’s being delivered by the President of the LDS Church at General Conference himself. After that move onto Mormon Apologist websites like FAIRMormon or Lightplanet. Not official? Who cares – after all a rock can be a fork if it gets the job done, right? unofficial-mormon-apologist
  29. Cite from partisan Mormon Apologists but then object strenuously when your debating opponent cites from Mormon Critics. Sure it’s a hypocritical double standard but weak and inexperienced debaters may not catch or call you on it – so go for it. For example, cite from Sorenson’s “Mormon’s Codex” but then throw a hissy fit when someone cites from the Tanner’s “Mormonism Shadow or Reality?”.
  30. Which brings us to another Latter-day Saint rhetorical favorite: Use double standards. For example: First, demand that your debating opponent produce a single verse from the Bible that explicitly proves the Trinity rather than building a case from several verses throughout the Bible; Then claim that they’re making a ridiculous and unfair demand on you when they demand the same “single verse as the standard of proof” for Celestial Marriage.
  31. Use Latter-day Saint scripture (other than the Bible) as if it’s authoritative for your non-Mormon opponent as it is for you. Nothing will silence them as quickly as, “As the Book of Mormon tells us . . . ” will it? (hint: It won’t) Better yet give them quotes from General Conference – surely they’ll listen to and respect the authority of Living Prophets won’t they? (hint: They won’t)
  32. Ignore the rules of sound text interpretation and hermeneutics.[9]  For example, use lots and lots of eisegesis – inserting meaning that the author didn’t intend and content into the text that the author didn’t say. Sound text interpretation and hermeneutics are based on exegesis – drawing meaning and content directly from the text – but that’s another subject for another day (probably an entire article in fact).
  33. Be inconsistent. For example, bear your testimony as evidence that you have the witness of God that Mormonism is right and true. But when your debating opponent bears their testimony that they have the witness of God that Mormonism isn’t right or true, refuse to accept it claiming that it’s from a source other than God.[10]
  34. Be confirmation bias driven. For example, argue that Mormon must be truth because Mormons are good, warm, loving, sincere, well intentioned people genuinely tiring to always be their best and do the right thing.In other words, use the “inspect the fruit” argument while ignoring the fact that most people are good, warm, loving, sincere, well intentioned people who are genuinely trying to always be their best and do the right thing. The only way that one can be blind to the fact that Mormons are hardly unique in this is to put those confirmation bias blinders on!

    Confirmation driven apologetics.

    Confirmation Bias driven apologetics.

  35. Engage in Drama Queening. To continue from the previous example, get really indignant and offended when your debating opponent points out that one can be a good, warm, loving, sincere, well intentioned person and still be dead wrong. Better yet, threaten to withdraw from this place of persecution filled with haters! And if you do leave, make sure you cyber bomb social media about how you’ve been unjustly wounded, hounded, and wronged by these modern Korihors. Bleed over everything and everybody – let it flow like a river! Guilt manipulate baby, it works like a Jedi mind trick!
  36. Use Postmodern relativism as a defense. Say something like, “Well if what you believe works for you and what I believe works for me then who’s to say that the other person is wrong?” If that’s the case then all the Mormon Missionaries need to be called in from the field and the program shut down since what all those folks already believe is working for them, right? Who’s to say that they’re wrong, right?
  37. Instead of directly engaging your debating opponent’s arguments try to parry with a, “Well, what about when you and you guys? You do and say such and such!” Tu Quoque fallacy ’em to heck! I mean it’s really a non-argument because the moral character or past actions of the opponent are generally irrelevant to the logic of the argument. But what the hey, if they’re stupid enough to “bite” why not try it if it gets Joseph Smith and Mormonism off the hook? Then again, a trained logician will call you on and you’ll just look foolish . . . oh well!
  38. Use aliases and sock puppet accounts to hide your true identity so you can behave badly online. Yes, it’s yet more sociopathological behavior but, hey man, if you used your real identity you’ve have to behave better in public or your reputation would be ruined wouldn’t it? And we can’t have that!
  39. Lie for the Lord. After all if Muslims can do it and since past Mormon Leaders have done it, why not?
  40. Dismiss an statement as ridiculous or absurd without giving proof or reasoned arguments for why. In other words, engage in an “Appeal to the Stone” fallacy. For example, when a debating opponent produces evidence that Official Declarations 1 and 2 were born out of political, social, and financial expediency rather than anything divine (as evidenced by the fact that they refer to revelations but don’t actually give them) claim that the whole argument is, “Just ridiculous! Utterly absurd!” without offering any countering evidence for your rebuttal. Better yet, combine it with an, “And you’re just a cynical, hate filled ‘Anti’ for saying that!” ad-hominem to make it ridiculous and absurd.
    ME_262_HowToWinAnArgument
  41. Engage in Psychological Projection: Project your behavior onto your debating opponent rather than acknowledging and owning it. For example, if you’re engaging in arrogant condescension accuse your debating opponent of looking down at you and having a superior air about them. If you’re angry, upset, and out of control accuse them of being angry, upset, and out of control. This is a wonderful defense mechanism, use it often! Yeah, it’s a form of self deception that keeps you in denial, but… whatever!
  42. Say things like, “The ends justify the means” to rationalize your bad arguments and behavior. Sure, it’s not scriptural, but why be picky when the defense of your testimony is on the line?
  43. Move the goalposts. For example, insist that your debating opponent only use official Church sources like the official church website. When they do insist that they didn’t interpret the content properly. When they then cite Mormon Leaders who share exactly the same interpretation from the official church website, then pull out #13 and tell them that they can’t possibly truly understand Mormon Leaders or Latter-day Saint Doctrine because they’re not a member and, therefore, don’t have the Holy Ghost giving them the true enlightenment that you possess. And if they overcome that then pick up that goalpost yet again and, “Push ’em back! Push ’em back! Push ’em way back!” Eventually they’ll either call you on this fallacy or give up.
  44. Ignore or refuse to publicly challenge the bad behavior and/or bad arguments that you see fellow Mormons making. After all this is war and who wants to be a traitor to the cause right? Besides “Anti’s” deserve every bit of condescension and disrespect that we can muster don’t they? Hang the Golden Rule!
  45. Make sure that you use a lot of snark and sarcasm! Everyone loves being condescended to by obnoxious smart alecks with bad attitudes. By the way, I hope you’re loving reading this article as much as I am writing it. If not, you’re just a loser who just doesn’t “get it!”[11]

    “Use double standards” (click to zoom)

  46. Use the bad arguments and behavior of mainstream Christians to rationalize, compensate for, and justify any or all of the above.
  47. Assume that any constructive criticism from others on how to better engage outsiders (especially if it’s from “Anti’s”) is meant for everyone else.
  48. Assume that lists like this apply to every other Latter-day Saint but you.

Summary and Conclusion:
If that seemed like a sarcasm filled lesson in logic and rhetoric that’s probably because it was. Stated plainly, that’s what the majority of bad arguments that I’ve seen Latter-day Saints make in public discourse always seem to come down to: Flawed logic and rhetoric combined with incivility and paranoia driven defensiveness. From my experience, I would have to say that award winning Journalists Richard and Joan Ostling were correct when they observed:

Mormon scriptural scholarship functions almost entirely within an enclosed, intramural world… Mormon Bible scholars face serious problems.
— Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, “Mormon America (Revised and Updated Edition”, p.299

This seems odd to me since, generally speaking, Mormons are better educated and higher degreed than the general population.[12] Doesn’t all that good education require some training in logic, critical thinking, and civil rhetoric? If so, you would never know if from the sloppy, adolescent, rude rhetoric that many Latter-day Saints engage in public. Therefore, the first thing that Latter-day Saints could do to improve their public discourse would be to learn and stick to the rules of logic and rhetoric that most assuredly must have been a part of their secular education.

Another contributing factor seems to be the infamous “Mormon Persecution Complex” which has been endlessly discussed in Mormon Studies and elsewhere. As the aforementioned Ostlings said well:

The thin-skinned and image-conscious Mormon can display immature, isolationist, and defensive reactions to outsiders, perhaps because there is no substantive debate and no “loyal opposition” within their kingdom. With some, it almost seems that the wilderness is still untamed, the federal “polyg” police are on the prowl, and the Illinois lynch mob is still oiling muskets and preparing to raid Carthage Jail. All too often Saints use the label “anti-Mormon” as a tactic to forestall serious discussion.
— Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling, “Mormon America (Revised and Updated Edition”, p. 115

Read through the list of bad arguments again asking yourself this question, “Would Mormons be more or less likely to engage in this behavior if they didn’t presume that the world in general and their debating opponent in particular was against them?” I dare say that at least half – perhaps as much as three quarters of the list – would disappear were the Mormon Persecution Complex mindset were set aside. Stated plainly, Many Mormons are far too quick to play the victim, or over react in inappropriately aggressive, and unduly defensive ways simply because they’re perceiving an attack or persecution by their debating opponent when there simply isn’t one.

defaultIn fact, due to this dynamic, and linking it with the logic and rhetoric issue previously discussed, all too often Mormons will play the “victim card” when all their debating opponent has done is expose the holes, gaps, problems, and fallacies in the argument that they’ve just presented. The wounded howls of these self-perceived Mormon victims can be found on just about every inter-faith discussion board (some Mormons lead with it as their opening argument) and the greatest tragedy is that it need not be.

So I challenge you my Latter-day Saint friends, whenever you’re tempted to play that victim card, first take a deep breath, revisit both your arguments and the arguments of your debating opponent, and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Where and how can my argument be improved?
  2. What valid points has my debating opponent made?
  3. What countering evidence can I present, along with stronger logic and reason, to overcome their points?
  4. Viewing that evidence through their point of view rather than my own, what countering arguments can I expect from my debating opponent after I respond?
  5. How can I word this so that it’s clear that I’m responding rather than reacting to my debating opponent?

I think if you’ll do that rather than assuming that you’re being picked on or attacked and reacting defensively (as opposed to responding productively) you’ll end up making better, more convincing arguments in defense of Mormonism. This isn’t to deny that many outsiders, as the Joanna Brooks epigraph to this article stated, love to Mormon Bash – it’s a fact, many do. However, Mormon friends this isn’t true of all outsiders. And my dear Latter-day  Saint friend you instantly erode your credibility just as soon as you play that card. So here’s the easy solution to the problem: Don’t play the victim card – ever.

Finally, a question must be asked: Why wasn’t this article written by a Latter-day Saint? I know that Latter-day Saints are aware of the issues that I’ve raised above because privately they complain to me about them. In fact, when the last article in this series came out and woodshedded mainstream Christians for their weak arguments against Mormonism I was told, again privately, by several Latter-day Saints that many, if not most, of the items in the list were true of many Latter-day Saints too.

However, publicly most Mormons will draw their Mormon Persecution Complex around them like a quilt, close ranks, and rail at “those nasty Anti’s!” Even worse, they will applaud the efforts of Mormon Apologists who regularly engage in polemics, pejoratives, bullying, and many of the items noted in the list above.[13]

So instead the task falls to the guy who has not only never been Mormon but is known primarily as a critic of Mormonism. In fact, I couldn’t even get a Mormon to co-author this piece with me – I tried!  So here’s the deal Mormons: If you don’t like either the tone or content this article then publish a better one – I challenge you to.

Finally, let me give you a tip: The wrong way to respond to this article is to write protest articles about how unfair I was to Mormons, or how I singled them out for persecution, or how little I understand about what it’s really like to be a Mormon being endlessly picked on by outsiders, or that I’m just a stupid, biased, blind “Anti” and we all know how they are! If you do any of that you’ll just be proving many of the points made in this article.

Further, since I’ve just published fourteen (14) such articles publicly woodshedding the bad arguments of my fellow mainstream Christians I think that it’s fair to say that I’m more than willing to do with my “tribe” what Latter-day Saints refuse to do with theirs: Challenge it to be excellent and not “muff the ball”. So Latter-day Saints, I challenge you to go and do the same!

quote-you-are-people-with-a-present-and-with-a-future-don-t-muff-the-ball-be-excellent-gordon-b-hinckley-237507

NOTES
[1] The fact that these “one off” addresses are like loose spikes sticking up along the rails of historic Mormon orthodoxy can easily be seen by listening to the other addresses by other speakers before and after Mr. Uchtdorf’s at the very same General Conference or reading the articles immediately before and after Mr. Wilcox’s in Ensign magazine. They both contradict and undermine them.

And the problem is even more glaring when compared to other official LDS Church sources and the historic record. As Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever notes:

“The Mormon who believes that Uchtdorf is abandoning all former teaching is making an assumption that is just not verified in this talk.  While his language is certainly ambiguous, it’s hard to believe that this general authority is suggesting that the other leaders and decades of teaching are to be abandoned.”
— Bill McKeever, “Does Mormonism Really Offer a “Gift of Grace”? A Review of Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s Talk on Easter Sunday 2015″

The same applies to Brad Wilcox’s BYU address – which was so far askew from historic Latter-day Saint soteriology that it had to be redacted and abridged for publication in the LDS Church’s official publication, Ensign magazine. As Mormon Studies scholar Rob Bowman notes:

“It may seem strange to ask how the doctrine of a popular speech given by a BYU professor and member of the Sunday School General Board compares with other teachings of the LDS Church. However, as a statement by LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy reminds us, “BYU faculty members do not speak for the church.” The question, then, is not necessarily illegitimate. On the other hand, the publication of Wilcox’s speech in Ensign indicates that it is representative of Mormon doctrine—at least in the version published there. That qualification turns out to be at least potentially significant, since the Ensign article omits elements of the speech that appear to have been out of sync with the LDS Church’s general teaching over the years. The significance of such omissions must be considered with some caution, since omissions may have been simply the result of producing a shorter, more concise article for publication in the popular-level church-wide magazine. Nevertheless, the excisions of material appear to have been strategically performed to bring the article into line with the standard Mormon doctrinal paradigm concerning salvation and grace.”
— Rob Bowman, “Mormonism and the Sufficiency of Grace: Brad Wilcox’s Speech ‘His Grace Is Sufficient'”

[2] “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” (Hitchen’s Razor)

[3] Simply put, it’s the responsibly of the person making an assertion to prove it. It’s not their debating opponent’s role or responsibility. This is just common sense folks! This is the laziest form of scholarship imaginable – if you can even call it “scholarship.”

[4] As Clinton Wilcox noted in “Weak Arguments #8: ‘I testify that Mormonism is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet'”

“[Testimony bearing is] a bad argument against Mormonism because it’s a bad argument, period – which makes it a bad argument even when the Mormon uses it…

You can’t rely on your own subjective experiences to convince somebody else of the truth of your beliefs. The major problem is that in the Mormon’s testimony, they don’t give us any reason to believe Mormonism is true. A subjective experience may give you a reason to believe but it doesn’t give anyone else a reason to accept your beliefs as true. Arguing that it is the correct church doesn’t help. I need to know why it is the correct church.”

And as a Latter-day Saint peer reviewer of this article noted well in his feedback on this point:

“The witness of the spirit while not great evidence for convincing others is a fine answer to: Why do you believe this? Also it is a good lead in to, ‘And you can receive the same witness.’

Mormons need to keep in mind however that a personal witness is not meant for convincing others, its personal and should be kept out of debate except in answer to the above question or proceeding the invitation. It should also be kept in mind that inviting someone to seek their own witness from God does not win the argument, as some Mormons seem to believe.”

[5] It should be noted that the rapid growth argument for Mormonism has been problematic since 1990 when growth flattened and activity rates began to decline. Reliable figures and analysis (derived from official Spring General Conference Reports) can be found here.

[6] To be clear here, temporarily excusing yourself from the conversation due to the rigors of life outside of the debate is one thing (that is unless you overuse this excuse to the point that you’re just using as it as nothing more than an escape hatch) but doing a permanent disappearing act whenever the going gets rough is something else. If you do temporarily excuse yourself due to life’s demands then make a point of returning and continuing the discussion when you can.

However, if you really want to set yourself apart as a civil and accomplished debater, when your debating opponent is presenting arguments and evidence that is so strong and compelling that it’s hard to overcome, then simply acknowledge it and tell them that they’ve given you a lot to consider. This isn’t “throwing in the towel” it’s simply being honest and humble – and people respect honest humility. A simple way to do this is to just say, “Point taken.”

Oh, and by the way, does it really need to be said that putting an Internet block or ban on your debating opponents – and thereby making it impossible for them to engage you or you them online – is the ultimate form of this bad argument? Yes, since this tactic is so commonly used (or put more accurately “abused”) by Mormon debaters on the Internet I think that it probably does!

[7] This tendency by many Mormons so concerned former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley that he publicly addressed it several times:

“We must not only be tolerant, but we must cultivate a spirit of affirmative gratitude for those who do not see things as we see them. We do not in any way have to compromise our theology . . . We can offer our own witness of the truth, quietly, sincerely, honestly, but never in a manner that will give offense to others.”
(President Hinckley, LDS General Conference, April 2005).

“[There] should never be any cause for self-righteousness, for arrogance, for denigration of others for looking down upon others. All mankind is our neighbor. . . . Regardless of the color of our skin, or the shape of our eyes, of the language we speak, we all are sons and daughters of God and must reach out to one another with love and concern.”
(President Hinckley, LDS General Conference, April 2005, Ensign May 2005, 102).

“As we recognize our place and our goal, we cannot become arrogant. We cannot become self-righteous. We cannot become smug or egotistical. We must reach out to all mankind. They are all sons and daughters of God our Eternal Father . . . . And as we go forward, may we bless humanity with an outreach to all, lifting those who are downtrodden and oppressed, feeding and clothing the hungry and the needy, extending love and neighborliness to those about us who may not be part of this Church.”
(President Hinckley, LDS General Conference, October 2001)

“As I have said before, we must not be clannish. We must never adopt a holier-than-thou attitude. We must not be self-righteous. We must be magnanimous, and open, and friendly. We can keep our faith. We can practice our religion. We can cherish our method of worship without being offensive to others. I take this occasion to plead for a spirit of tolerance and neighborliness, of friendship and love toward those of other faiths.”
(President Hinckley, Pioneer Day Commemoration, July 2001)

“But we shall go forward, returning good for evil, being helpful and kind and generous. I remind you of the teachings of our Lord concerning these matters. You are all acquainted with them. Let us be good people. Let us be friendly people. Let us be neighborly people.”
(President Hinckley, LDS General Conference, April 2001)

“Let us as Latter-day Saints reach out to others not of our faith. Let us never act in a spirit of arrogance or with a holier-than-thou attitude. Rather, may we show love and respect and helpfulness toward them. We are greatly misunderstood, and I fear that much of it is of our own making. We can be more tolerant, more neighborly, more friendly, more of an example than we have been in the past. Let us teach our children to treat others with friendship, respect, love, and admiration. That will yield a far better result than will an attitude of egotism and arrogance.”
(President Hinckley, LDS General Conference, April 2000; Ensign, May 2000, p.87)

[8] For an explanation of that Royal Priesthood reference see “Weak Arguments #12: ‘There is no priesthood anymore.’” And, yeah, since authority can only be given not taken, Mormon Priesthood Authority claims kinda fall flat if the other person doesn’t recognize or acknowledge it doesn’t it? For example, admit it, you kinda yawned or snickered at that “Royal Priesthood” thing when you read it didn’t you my Mormon friend? See my point?

[9] The Eight Rules of Interpretation used by legal experts for more than 2500 years are as follows:

1) Rule of Definition.
Define the term or words being considered and then adhere to the defined meanings.

2) Rule of Usage.
Don’t add meaning to established words and terms. What was the common usage in the cultural and time period when the passage was written?

3) Rule of Context.
Avoid using words out of context. Context must define terms and how words are used.

4) Rule of Historical background.
Don’t separate interpretation and historical investigation.

5) Rule of Logic.
Be certain that words as interpreted agree with the overall premise.

6) Rule of Precedent.
Use the known and commonly accepted meanings of words, not obscure meanings for which their is no precedent.

7) Rule of Unity.
Even though many documents may be used there must be a general unity among them.

8) Rule of Inference.
Base conclusions on what is already known and proven or can be reasonably implied from all known facts.
(source = http://www.apologeticsindex.org/b11.html)

[10] As noted in footnote 4, using testimony bearing as an argument or evidence is just a bad argument. Period.

[11] And before the “You’re a hypocrite – just look at the tone and content of your article!” phone calls, and letters start pouring in, this article was written in a tongue in cheek style that’s intended to mirror the same condescension, disrespect, snark, and sarcasm that are so prevalent in the weak arguments and tactics that are being addressed. If you’re offended by it then please consider how such behavior feels to others when it’s directed at them.

[12]  “Mormons are significantly more likely than the population overall to have some college education. Six-in-ten Mormons (61%) have at least some college education, compared with half of the overall population. However, the proportion of Mormons who graduate from college (18%) or receive postgraduate education (10%) is similar to the population as a whole (16% and 11%, respectively).”
— Pew Research Center, “A Portrait of Mormons in the U.S.”, Education and Income

[13]   For example, please consider this polemic and pejorative laden inflammatory prose from Mormon Apologist Russell McGregor of FAIRMormon (which the reader can also consider supporting evidence for many of the points above – #21, 22, 44, and 47 in particular):

“It is not the LDS Christians, but their critics, who need to be concerned about their Christian credentials. This may seem, at first glance, to be a rather odd thing to say; the anti-Mormon movement has defined the debate in such a way that their Christianity is not open to question. Many of them are (or profess to be) clergymen, while most of them are conservative Evangelical Protestants of one sort or another. And yet the question remains and continues to be asked: is anti-Mormonism truly a Christian activity? The answer, both in the general case and in the particulars, is a clear and resounding no…

So we return to the question with which we began this survey: are anti-Mormons Christian? The answer: of course not. They were never even in the hunt. Their clerical collars and pious platitudes are simply a smokescreen to hide the ugly reality that anti-Mormonism is one of the clear manifestations of the darkest side of human nature; the side that made possible the death camps and burning crosses, the massacre of the Hutus and the wholesale slaughter of the Native Americans. Just as vicious and repressive dictatorships like to give themselves grandiose and liberal-sounding titles like “The People’s Democratic Socialist Republic of Such-and-such”, so these nasty religious haters appropriate the label of “Christian” in order to claim for themselves a specious respectability that their deeds and attitudes do not merit.”
— Russell McGregor, “Are Anti-Mormons Christians?”; FAIRMormon website

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BACK TO TOP

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.
by Fred W. Anson

(c) Mr Russell Falkingham; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Leslie Cole, “Scorched Earth: Devastated Rubber Plantations” (1946)

“I find myself too often saying about a lot of Christians, ‘I agree with everything you say, but I disagree with the way you’re saying it. There’s a way of saying things that is redemptive and loving and there’s a way saying things that’s not redemptive and loving.’”
Dr. Richard Land
Public spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Convention in “Us and Them”

Introduction:
While we were preparing for this series we took careful note of the weak arguments, bad behavior, and counter productive debating tactics we saw some Christians using in their public engagement with Mormons. Those deserving of deep analysis became full articles, the rest went onto a special “grass catcher” list which I now present to you for your consideration:

How to Make Weak Arguments Against Mormonism:

  1. Be condescending and disrespectful. These people are obviously blind fools, make sure that they and the whole world knows it by talking down to and sneering at them. After all wasn’t the Apostle Peter just offering a suggestion rather than a mandate when he said: “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 italics added)[1]
  2. Don’t back up your arguments with easily verifiable evidence. After all, everyone should just change their beliefs based on just some stranger’s claims and opinions alone, right? Wouldn’t you? Who needs supporting evidence?[2]
  3. “Link bomb” them. That is, copy and paste just the links to evidence rather than carefully selecting and citing the relevant content from those sources and then providing the link so it can be verified.  In other words, make ’em work hard to disabuse themselves of their wrongheaded beliefs! After all, isn’t it their job to prove your point for you by digging, mining and sifting through the mountain of words that you’ve so generously brought to their attention? Let them find their own gold like you did – it’s in there somewhere, right? Besides, reading, listening, watching, transcribing, and citing is just such hard, time comsuming work – link bombing is so much easier! Doubt me? Boom! http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/08/01/survey-finds-internet-makes-people-rude-new-yorkers-agree/ You’re been link bombed! (That was easy)
  4. Speak in absolute and authoritative tones on subjects that you’re ignorant or uninformed on. Better yet do it on the Internet so that a worldwide audience can benefit from (or be entertained by) your “insight!” As the ancient proverb says so well, “Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2 NLT)
  5. Tell Mormons to “look it up!” rather than serving them by providing the relevant information for your argument. Yes, that’s right, don’t provide a web link, a citation or any other verifiable evidence – why should you? They have eyes, don’t they! They have brains, don’t they? Of course, they’ll rush right out and do it – right? Isn’t that what you do when other people do this to you? Hey man, 99.9% of those surveyed do! It’s true! Look it up.[3]
  6. Just get right up on that Christian soapbox and set ’em straight! Preach Christian preach! After all, all you should need to do is speak the truth, right? So give to ’em with both barrels with all the best Christianese you know! Why do you need to learn anything about them or their heretical beliefs first? Just declaring God’s good truth should be enough shouldn’t it? In fact, wouldn’t taking an interest in and learning their heresies just validate them and keep them in error? Don’t lower yourself to the level of heretics and blind men – rather, preach Christian preach! Your fellow Christians will slap you on the back and praise you while all the befuddled Mormons are slowly walking away shaking their head wondering all that incomprehensible shouting was about. Mormons are just so blind and deceived aren’t they?[4]soapbox
  7. Only cite from Mormon Critics rather than Mormon friendly sources. After all, if it’s “Mormon Friendly” it must be enemy propaganda, right? All Mormons know how to do is lie and deceive anyhow, right?[5]
  8. Assume that the underlying meaning of the terms that you and Mormons use are the same. And whaddaya know! We use the same words, we must both be Born Again Christians! Who knew?[6]
  9. Give citations without providing the source so it can be verified for accuracy. Oh, and never make it easy by providing a web link to the source! Just throw it out – your word alone should be sufficient, right? By the way, did you know that the Eustace Scrubb character in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” was Mormon? Yep, it’s true![7]
  10. Frame your arguments in outsider Christian language rather than insider Mormon language. So what if it’s like speaking in a foreign tongue to them? Hey, just yell that Christianese LOUDER, slower, and longer like a tourist on vacation in a foreign land. They’ll get it eventually! After all, they can always watch your hand signals right?  Oh yeah, about that that hand signals thing when it comes to the internet . . . [8]
  11. Make sure that you never, ever enter a Mormon building like a Ward Building, Chapel, Stake Building, Temple tour, or Church Museum – you might get Mormon cooties or become demon possessed! After all, you can learn everything you need to know by talking to your Mormon neighbor over the backyard fence – they’re all experts on their faith and always represent their theology and practices as accurately as today’s Christians do theirs.[9]
  12. Never attend a Mormon Service or meeting (especially a Fast & Testimony meeting) lest you experience their culture first hand. Empathy is of the devil! Stay in dark ignorance regarding what really happens inside Mormon services so you can get it all wrong whenever you talk about those services. After all, you love it when Mormons make incorrect statements about what goes on in our services don’t you?[10]
  13. Treat antiquated Mormon sources as if they have as much weight and authority as modern official sources. Make sure you regularly quote from “The Journal of Discourses” and McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” as if they’re equivalent to today’s correlated manuals and literature. And if they object, they’re just uninformed about what their church really believes and teaches aren’t they?[11]
  14. Never concede well made arguments and credible evidence from Mormons. You must never, never, never yield an inch! After all this is war! Never give in and never surrender![12]
  15. Use derogatory, insulting terms like MORmON, Joseph’Smyth, Profit (instead of “Prophet”), TSCC (The So Called Church), Jo$eph $mith, Bring’em Young, Breed’em Young, Thoma$ Mon$oon, etc. Or go back in time and use the old 19th Anti-Mormon prejorative terms like “Joe Smith”, “Mormonites”, “Golden Bible”, etc.  Conversely, you can merge current popular culture with Mormonism and invent new perjovatives like, “Morg” (Star Trek reference that blends “Mormon” with “Borg”), “Joseph Sith” (Star War reference that suggests that Joseph Smith was an evil Sith), “Darth Monson” (another Star Wars reference there), etc. The more condescending, offensive, and degrading the better – that way it’s clear whose side you’re really on, and of course, that true believing Mormons are stupid idiots who all deserve just what they’re going to get at the great judgment![13]
  16. mormon-meme-generator-and-i-m-a-mormon-7c56a8

    An Internet meme designed to make Mormons look stupid – and this is one of the kinder ones.

    Create and use insulting Internet memes and graphics. Everyone loves getting insulted – be the Don Rickles of Mormon Studies, they’ll love you for it. After all, don’t you just love those angry atheist memes that insult and belittle Christians? They just make you want to run out and become an atheist in the worst way, don’t they?

  17. Mock the LdS Temple Endowment ceremony. After all it’s sacred and stupid right? After all one can surely have meaningful conversation with someone’s back as they’re walking away, right? The fact that the endowment ceremony is an off-limits, “nuclear” subject in Mormon Culture is their problem not ours!
  18. Refer to Temple Garments as “Magic Mormon Underwear.” Let ’em them know how stupid and silly they really are! Better yet, wear them in public while donned in a gorilla’s mask, burn them, deface them, stomp and spit on them if you can.[14] After all, Christians never get upset when outsiders do that to clerical vestments, choir robes, or crosses do they?
  19. Show no empathy or understanding for the incredibly high price Mormons must pay for leaving the LdS Church. Hey man, it’s as easy as changing churches right? What’s the big deal? I mean Presbyterian to Baptist to Charismatic to Catholic to Lutheran and then back again – easy, peasy, there’s never much of a price to pay is there? Oh you lost your wife and family when you left the Mormon Church? And your job too? And you’re being shunned by your own family? Now that’s just downright weird isn’t it?[15]
  20. Use a lot of cliches, platitudes, and Christian folklore rather than anything of substance. In other words, use exactly the same kind of thought and emotional control tactics that Mormons use when engaging outsiders. It will really bless them, so they feel the anointing on you when you get out your “sword” and give them the word. Or, better yet, tell them about that angel encounter or Near Death Experience (NDE) that you heard about on Christian TV last week. Get right or be left man, because inch by inch life is a cinch, yard by yard life is hard – it’s in the Book!
  21. Appeal to feelings rather than intellect – after all, it worked so well in getting and keeping them in Mormonism? Maybe lightning will strike twice, so have them read the Bible and pray about if it’s true or not . . .[16]
  22. Hyper-spiritualize everything. For example, rather than using even toned language and verifiable evidence against Mormonism make statements like: “Mormonism is a demonic religious system which has led millions to hell”, or “Mormons are all  demon possessed, under the influence of deceiving spirits”, or “The Lord showed me that Mormons will be key leaders in the Antichrist’s one world government – Mitt Romney is just the beginning”, etc. Of course since none of this can be objectively proved or verified it really just pits two competing belief systems, religious cultures, and value systems each other. To transitioning Mormons this just demonstrates (beyond a shadow of a doubt they very often think) that mainstream Christianity is just as fanatical and subjective as Mormonism. Yes, they’ll thank you as they just pass right on by on their way to atheism muttering a dismissive, “There’s no difference between the two, they’re both the same!”[17]
  23. mban997_hiUse double standards. For example, make a big deal over the fact that God the Father isn’t explicitly identified as the personage who says, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith History 1:17) in Joseph Smith’s First Vision but ignore the fact that neither is He explicitly identified in Matthew 3:17 as the voice from heaven that says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Why be fair? The ends justify the means, right?
  24. Argue that just one of Joseph Smith’s failed predictions of the future qualify him as a False Prophet per Deuteronomy 18:20-22, but ignore the fact that applying the same criteria in the same way that’s applied to Smith also makes Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith, Harold Camping and other respected Christian leaders with failed predictions of the future False Prophets too. Again, why be objective and fair?[18]
  25. Engage in what Christian Apologists call a “Scorched Earth Tactics“. That is, win at all costs rather than adhering to the golden rule of Christian apologetics, which is, “Always treat your debating opponent’s evidence and arguments the way that you would want to have your evidence and arguments treated” Nothing drives ’em away or drives them into atheism like going “Scorched Earth” on ’em does – go for it! Win at all costs Christian, win!
  26. Criticize, condemn, or praise authors, books, and articles that you haven’t read. And do the same for films, videos, and audio (like podcasts, lectures, and sermons) that you haven’t experienced first hand. Everyone knows that hearsay and innuendo is just as good as direct experience.  Better yet, throw in some unfounded bigotry and prejudice! You know say things like, “D. Michael Quinn‘s popularity just baffles me. Not only is he a believing excommunicated Mormon but he’s gay to boot! With that combination you really can’t expect too much can you?”; or, “What’s up with Richard Bushman? ‘Rough Stone Rolling’ should have been published by FAIRMormon it’s so filled with apologetics instead of real honest to goodness history!”; or how about, “Alex Beam‘s ‘American Crucifixion’ disrespects crucifixion in it’s title! Doesn’t he know that Joseph Smith had a gun at Carthage Jail? Who carries a gun to a crucifixion?”; and last but not least, “I’ve heard that that ‘September Dawn’ is the closest thing to an accurate documentary on the Mountain Meadows massacre that we’ll ever get.” You get the idea.[19]
  27. Be just as fanatically Christian as they are fanatically Mormon. Since religious fanaticism is the fuel driving the Mormon belief system your behavior will be like filling up their tank without them even needing to get out of the driver’s seat! Oh, and this has the added “benefit” of driving them right into atheism should they leave since it makes it look like Christianity is just the opposite side of the same fanatical religious coin that Mormonism is on.
  28. In mixed company act like there are no Mormons present. Say things like, “Can you believe how pompous, self-righteous and arrogant Mormons are?”, “Mormons are like lemmings – if the Prophet told them to jump off a bridge they would do it!”, “Those ignorant Mormons, I know more about their religion that they do!”  And of course, when the Mormons say, “Uh, I’m right here, I can hear everything you’re saying” and object to such crass prejudice and bigotry don’t apologize and don’t back down – in fact, up the ante, say even more outlandish things about those stupid Mormons right to their face!
  29. Paint with the broadest brush possible.  Use wild, spectacular, over-generalizations delivered using the most absolute tone and words possible. You know, things like: “All Mormons lie in their Temple Recommend Interview”, “You’ve gotta know that every Mormon man is secretly addicted to pornography – Utah’s porn statistics are off the chart!”, “All dating BYU couples do the ‘Provo push!'”, “All Mormon women are treated like chattel by their priesthood holding husbands – it’s a holdover of 19th Century polygamy!” etc., etc., etc. The broader the better and the more spectacular is it the more people will be inclined to believe you – so go big, don’t hold back.
  30. Exaggerate and twist. Take something with a modicum of truth in it and expand, embellish, and massage it to the point where even the modicum disappears under an avalanche of hyperbole. For example, say something like “Mormonism replaces the cross with the pentagram!”[20] Or say, “Mormons shun the blood of Christ by using water in their communion service!”[21] Vetting, verifying, and refining your assertions so that they’re accurate and true is just so much work! Plus balance and precision doesn’t pack the same emotional punch as exaggerated hype – so why bother?
  31. Insist that Latter-day Saints should leave Mormonism over a single problem. For example, over the fact that the Book of Mormon anachronistically has the French word “adieu” in it (see Jacob 7:27) or that it incorrectly states that Christ was born in Jerusalem (see Alma 7:10).[22]
  32. Make sure that you use a lot of snark and sarcasm! Everyone loves being condescended to by obnoxious smart alecks with bad attitudes. By the way, I hope you’re loving reading this article as much as I am writing it. If not, you’re just a loser who just doesn’t “get it!”[23]
  33. Say things like, “The ends justify the means” to rationalize your bad arguments and behavior. Sure, it’s not biblical, but why be picky when souls are at stake here?
  34. Use the bad arguments and behavior of Mormons to justify any or all of the above.
  35. Assume that any constructive criticism from fellow Christians on how to better engage Mormons is meant for everyone else but you.

Summary and Conclusion:
Now I confess that in my early days in Mormon Studies I engaged some of these weak arguments – and on my bad days, sometimes I still do. But the fact remains that as Christians we have a higher calling. I would ask the reader to consider the following, knowing full well that while I may be preaching to others I am preaching to myself first and foremost.

First, this form of engagement is unbiblical. Here’s how the Bible instructs us to behave toward those who disagree with us:

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)

Second, it’s just common sense that these tactics are more inclined to drive people away from Christ than draw them near. If and when the roles are reversed I’ve noticed that Christians react the same way that Mormons do: They walk away wanting to have nothing to do with the person, their stance, or their beliefs.

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock “Lucifer” (1947). What Christian-Mormon dialog looks like when the above tactics are used by either side.

Third, it violates both the Golden Rule which says…

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
(Matthew 7:12 NKJV)

… and the Golden Rule of Apologetics which says:

Always treat your debating opponent’s evidence and arguments the way that you would want to have your evidence and arguments treated

Simply put, there’s just no excuse for Christians to be chronically using the type of tactics and arguments that I’ve listed in this article. And I say this knowing full well that Jesus, the Old Testament prophets, and the Apostles used sarcasm – and even some very harsh and pointed words – in their arguments.  After all, I’ve followed their lead by using such tactics in this article haven’t I? However, I would suggest to the reader that these tactics were reserved for hard cases and as a kind of last resort, in no case did Christ or any of the other Biblical figures lead with these tactics or use them in every encounter. So if you find yourself doing so I would ask you to stop, consider the mind of Christ, and change direction. As Paul said so well:

 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Phillipians 2:3-11 NKJV) 

So I pray that that mind will be in us as engage with our Mormon friends and family members as we navigate through the dangerous land of Mormon Studies – a land where animosity and acrimony rule the day every day. I pray that we would be a healing balm and a exit route to truth rather than fuel on the fire and scorched earth. Maybe we would all do well to remember the ancient prayer that says:[24]

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
(St. Francis of Assisi)

quote-tact-is-the-knack-of-making-a-point-without-making-an-enemy-isaac-newton-285219

NOTES
[1] And before the “You’re a hypocrite – just look at the tone and content of your article!” phone calls, and letters start pouring in, the first part of this article was written in a tongue in cheek style that’s intended to mirror the same condescension, disrespect, snark, and sarcasm that are so prevalent in the weak arguments and tactics that are being addressed. If you’re offended by it then please consider how such behavior feels to our Mormon friends and family members when it’s directed at them.

[2] “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” (Hitchen’s Razor)

[3] NOT!  Nobody does this. It’s the responsibility of the person making an assertion to prove it. It’s not their debating opponent’s role or responsibility. This is just common sense folks! This is the laziest form of scholarship imaginable – if you can even call it “scholarship.”

[4] This was covered by implication in “Weak Arguments #9: “I don’t need to understand Mormon culture or learn how to speak like a Mormon…” However, since Christian soap boxing is so prevalent, it bears repeating.  And Utah Presbyterian Pastor Jason Wallace does a superb job of addressing this and other issues as they relate to street preaching in this episode of “The Ancient Paths”:

Also, as a point of clarification, please understand that public soapboxing does have a place and can be effective if it’s done biblically and appropriately. After all Christ did a lot of soapboxing – but it was always tailored and targeted for the audience that He was addressing. I would encourage you to consider how His tone, methods, and demeanor changed when His audience was the Jewish downtrodden (Matthew 11:25-30), versus the hard hearted (Matthew 11:20-24), versus the Jewish privileged (Luke 11:45-54). Then consider how it changed again when His audience wasn’t Jewish (John 4; Matthew 8:5-13; Matthew 15:21-28). Then when we look at the Apostles Paul’s writings and message are very different than, say, the public soapboxing we see in his Mars Hill address in Acts 17.

The basic problem here is a lack of social and cultural sensitivity, discernment and respect. If you truly love someone you will speak to them in a way that they understand and can receive your message. Christians who are “one trick ponies” on soapboxes – that is, that only have one approach and one message regardless of the audience – aren’t doing anyone any favors.

[5] This is covered to some degree in “Weak Arguments #11: “I will never, ever use official Mormon Church sources…” However, even unofficial Mormon friendly sources can be rich in content and potent in argument. I particularly recommend the works of D. Michael Quinn, Todd Compton, Richard Bushman, Charles Harrell, Rock Waterman, Denver Snuffer, and many other faithful, but intellectually honest Mormons. Let me put to you this way: Who do you think a Mormon is more likely to listen to: you, a critic, or a fellow believing Latter-day Saint?

[6] Suffice to say, Mormonism takes Christian words and forms and changes their underlying meaning. For a good primer of the terminology differences see “Terminology Differences” by Sandra Tanner. For a more in depth study and analysis of the subject see “Words We Share” by Sharon Taylor and Gerald Van Iwaarden.

[7] Of course, I’m demonstrating how Christians do this in a very tongue in cheek fashion here. And by the way, the speculation about Eustace Scrubb being Mormon is probably wrong. See Michael De Groote, “What C.S. Lewis thought about Mormons” Deseret New/Mormon Times, June 5, 2009. And since it annoyed me to not to be able to include the reference links for Eustace Scrubb and “The Chronicles of Narnia” in the main article (to do so wouldn’t have accurately reflected the behavior I was illustrating) I’ll do so here instead. Whew, I feel better now! Thanks!

[8] Just like no one can hear you scream in space, no one can see your hands in cyberspace – I just thought that you’d like to know.

[9] The unbiblical folly of this thinking was directly addressed in “Weak Arguments #9: “I don’t need to understand Mormon culture or learn how to speak like a Mormon…”  As I said there, “if Christ could sit on the edge of a well and talk to Samaritan woman I think that we can somehow manage to stand by the water fountain in a Mormon Ward building and chat with Mormons can’t we?”

[10] Ibid.

[11] This was addressed by Bobby Gilpin in “Weak Arguments #3: “I know what you believe, because Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie or some other general authority said…..”

[12] This is addressed in “Weak Arguments #14: “There’s NOTHING in Mormonism that’s true – it’s all wrong and nothing but a pack of lies!”

[13] Each and every one of the derogatories used here were copied and pasted from actual Christian posts on Facebook and YouTube.

[14] Again this is not made up. From Wikipedia:

Some church opponents have used public occasions, like the biannual church conferences, to publicly mock and parody the wearing of temple garments. During the October 2003 LDS Church General Conference, some anti-Mormon demonstrators outside the LDS Conference Center reportedly spat and stomped on garments in view of those attending the conference. One protestor blew his nose into a garment he wore around his neck. A scuffle broke out between a protester and two members of the church who attempted to take the garments from him. To avoid a repeat of the conflict, the municipality of Salt Lake City planned stronger enforcement of fighting words and hate speech laws for the April 2004 conference in Salt Lake City with new protest buffer zones.
(Wikipedia, “Temple Garment Use in Protests”)

[15] Please read, “The Death of Reason and Freedom” by Enigma. I believe that it will help even the most hard hearted Christian understand the dilemma that unbelieving “Shadow Mormons” too often fall into. The highest recommended is also given to Azra Evans’ classic essay, “Families Held Hostage”.

[16]  Clinton Wilcox discussed why this is not only a bad argument but unbiblical to boot in, “Weak Arguments #8: ‘I testify that Mormonism is false and Joseph Smith was a false prophet.’”

[17] Again, none of these are made up. They’re all comments that the author has seen posted on the internet by welling meaning but misguided Christians.

[18] And, yes, Mormons use exactly the same apologetic rationalization for Joseph Smith that Christians often use for the Christians named here. Please consider the FAIRMormon portal page, “Joseph Smith/Alleged false prophecies” The arguments that FAIRMormon uses for Smith are similar, and in many cases identical, to the arguments use for those on our side of the divide who have failed predictions of the future. My point here is simple: We can’t apply one standard to those in our group and another to those outside of our group. We must be consistent and be consistent or we’re not credible and lack integrity.

For those looking for a good example of how this weak argument is used by Evangelicals will find one here: The Prophecies of Joseph Smith, by James K. Walker.

For those unfamiliar with the failed prophetic predictions of Evangelical Christian preachers Hal Lindsey, Chuck Smith, and Harold Camping need only click on their names.  Gary DeMar has also written a good summary article on their failed predictions. Click here to read this article.

[19] Things to consider in response to these examples:

  1. D. Michael Quinn, is widely regarded as the one of the top Mormon Historians of his day by both Mormons and non-Mormons alike. The consensus is that his work largely reflects a lack of bias despite his belief in and testimony of Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church.  The exception to this consensus position typically comes from Mormon Apologetic groups. And I have never understood why some people think that Quinn’s homosexuality would impact his intellectual integrity or professional objectivity but it seems to get flung out a lot by Mormons and Christians alike. I would ask the reader to just read some Quinn and see if they can see overt bias in it. I don’t. For example, here’s a transcript of the infamous “Plural Marriages After the 1890 Manifesto” paper (aka “The Buffdale Speech”) that many people think was a key factor in him getting excommunicated in 1993.
  2. Richard Bushman has admitted repeatedly in interviews that while he makes every effort to be objective he may tend to give Joseph Smith the benefit of the doubt in his work due to his faith (click here for one such example). And candidly, his bias does occasionally leak through in his work – Peter Mary does a superb job of demonstrating this in his review of the book (click here). Never-the-less his work is remarkable for it’s level of candor and true Mormon history given his status as a faithful Mormon in good standing with the LdS Church. “Rough Stone Rolling” is always the first book that I recommend to Mormons who express a desire to know the truth from a faithful source and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
  3. Alex Beam is a faithful and practicing Episcopalian and his book “American Crucifixion” has garnered praise for the depth of detail it goes into regarding the circumstances and events surrounding the death of Joseph Smith – including the smuggled guns that Smith and his associates carried and shot at Carthage Jail which wounded several of their attackers. The last thing that Alex Beam intended was to disrespect or degrade anyone or anything, least of all Christ’s crucifixion, with the title. He has explained that the title was intended to be provocative and reflective of the strong feelings and historical impact that Smith’s death generated (click here and then fast forward to 34:10 to hear Mr. Beam’s explanation for yourself). He was also drawing attention to the parallels with Christ’s passion that Smith articulated himself regarding his circumstances during the last days of his life. Joseph Smith was notorious for such over the top hyperbole – much to the delight of his faithful and the scorn of his critics.
  4. “September Dawn” is a Hollywood film that was intended more to entertain than educate. The film contains some historical errors (click here to read Bill McKeever’s excellent analysis and review of the film) and even more unsupportable, speculative embellishment. It’s not a bad film but it’s certainly not a good documentary. In this author’s opinion, the best Mountain Meadows massacre documentary to date is Brian Patrick‘s award winning “Burying the Past”. It isn’t as entertaining as September Dawn but it’s certainly more enlightening – and it’s historically accurate.

[20]  Regarding the use of the Pentagram in Mormon architecture: a) The meaning of the inverted 5-pointed star changed in the late 19th Century; b) Other Mormon denominations (like the RLDS/Community of Christ) use the cross in their architecture; c) Pentagrams aren’t used in modern LdS Church architecture. The exception being when a modern structure is being built that’s based on a historic design. For example, the 2002 Nauvoo Temple still retained the pentagrams from the original design but also used upright 5-pointed stars for the new, modern design elements.

The 2002 Nauvoo Temple. (click to zoom)

The 2002 Nauvoo Temple. (click to zoom)

For example, notice that the stars in the exterior fence in the following photo – which is a new, modern element – are upright but the stars in the upper windows which were in the original 1836 design are inverted.

For a full discussion of the history of the cross in Mormon architecture and culture see Michael G. Reed, “Banishing the Cross: The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo”. His Sunstone presentation on the book can be found here.

Mr. Reed’s explanation of the use of pentagrams in Mormon architecture can be found here. If the reader prefers a Christian analysis of the subject, Bill McKeever’s article on the subject can be found here.

[21]  Regarding the use of water instead of wine or grape juice in the Mormon sacrament: a) Wine was originally used in Latter Day Saint communion services; b) Due to an unfounded rumor that Anti-Mormons were trying to poison the sacramental wine in 1830 and then due to the Word of Wisdom they switched to water; c) The use of water a hold over from the 19th Century temperance movement that got institutionalized and concretized by the Salt Lake City Brighamite Mormon denomination; d) Other Mormon denominations use grape juice rather than water in their services; e) Prior to Dr. Welch (a temperate Methodist) discovering a way to stop the fermentation in grape juice many temperate churches used water instead of grape juice in their services – were they “shunning the blood of Christ” by doing so? Glass house meet rock.

To gain a good overview of the subject from a Protestant perspective see Terry Hull, “How Grape Juice was ‘Invented’ to Make the Lord’s Meal Holier”. A good overview Mormon History in this area can be found here.

[22] Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson explain why the “adieu” anachronism alone isn’t sufficient grounds for a Mormon to leave the LdS Church in their January 23rd, 2015 Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast. And I explained why the “Jerusalem” slip of the pen on it’s own isn’t either in “Weak Arguments #10: “The entire Book of Mormon was discredited just as soon as it said that Christ was born in Jerusalem.”  As I stated in my article:

“Should Christians declare the entire Bible discredited because of it [a single biblical contradiction]? Even Atheist critics and Muslims don’t suggest such a response because it’s so ‘over the top’. Yet, many Christians would demand exactly that of Mormons over Alma 7:10. To me, such a demand on Mormons reveals an extreme bias on the part of some Christians and the type of unjust, uncharitable treatment that can drive Mormons deeper into the LdS Church if they stay, or right past Christianity and straight into atheism if they leave… 

Most ExMormons tell us that there wasn’t just one thing that convinced them that the truth claims of the LdS Church don’t add up, it was a culmination of a lot of little things. They say it’s like a bunch of pebbles being tucked away on a shelf in a deep, dark corner – that is until the shelf finally collapses under the weight of them all.”

Simply put, expecting anyone to leave their faith over a single problem or argument is pretty silly and naive. Politely and respectfully building a case takes longer and requires more effort but it’s ultimately how and why most people are disabused of closely held and comforting error and self-deception.

[23] Please see footnote #1.

[24] And if the Prayer of Saint Francis doesn’t suit you, perhaps 20th Century Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer” will:

serenity

BACK TO TOP

Lies
An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“There’s nothing in Mormonism that’s true – it’s all wrong and nothing but a pack of lies!”

Why It’s Weak:
As stated a number of times throughout this series, exaggeration erodes credibility and overstatement turns strong arguments into weak ones. This is an example of both: The fact of the matter is that there is some good and some truth in Mormonism despite the preponderance of errors and lies. This is just as pioneering cult researcher and lecturer Walter Martin said so well:

Within the theological structure of the cults there is considerable truth, all of which, it might be added, is drawn from biblical sources, but so diluted with human error as to be more deadly than complete falsehood.[1]

And as Bible teacher Don Basham noted, “All cults are at least 10% truth and 90% lie. If they didn’t contain some truth then no one would believe the lies – no one would join them.”[2] And I would add, based on my own experience in a cult, that if they didn’t meet some kind of a need no one would stay. So it shouldn’t surprise us to find some truth and some good in all cults – and the Mormon Church is no exception. Therefore, acknowledging what’s true and what’s good – without underestimating or discounting what isn’t – is simply a matter of common sense. And giving credit where credit is due is a matter of integrity.

1) Point One: There is some truth in the Mormon Church
Focusing exclusively on Christology, here’s what the Mormon Church gets right:

Warner Sallman,

Warner Sallman, “The Head of Christ”
(circa 1941)

  1. They believe that Jesus preexisted in Heaven before becoming a man.
  2. They believe that Jesus is Jehovah, the God of Israel.
  3. They believe that we are to pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus.
  4. They believe that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father.
  5. They believe that Jesus was the Messiah, lived a sinless life, and did the miracles reported in the Gospels
  6. They believe that Jesus suffered and died on a cross.
  7. They believe that Jesus rose physically, bodily from the grave.
  8. They believe that Jesus ascended bodily into Heaven.
  9. They believe that Jesus will return physically to the earth.[3]

2) Point Two: It’s not all wrong
It tends to get downplayed in the heat of battle but in the area of values, morality, and social issues, the Mormon Church is spot on in a number of areas. Mormon Researcher Eric Johnson, an Evangelical Christian who is generally critical of Mormonism, has gone so far as to identify ten areas (in David Letterman countdown fashion) that the LdS Church excels at and that he believes we can learn from:

10. Dedication to the heritage and the faith.
From a young age, Mormon children are taught about their heritage and the struggles that the early LDS pioneers faced when it came to living their faith. On the other hand, most of us Bible-believing Christians have very little knowledge of our history, including the conflicts and persecutions of the early Christian church. As a result, we do not benefit from the examples of our own past…

9. Overall morality.
While Mormons struggle with sin just like everyone else, they are generally well known for keeping a high moral codes and abstaining from a secular lifestyle. Faithful members are not to partake in drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. Remaining chaste, personal modesty, and being honest (along with the other commandments) are important virtues in the LDS lifestyle…

8. Politics and religion mix.
The Mormon Church is willing to put its money where its mouth is when political issues warrant a moral response. Certainly not every member may like the conservative stance that the LDS Church takes. But it is admirable how the Church is willing to support those things it strongly believes in…

7. Organization in its leadership.
The LDS Church is a well-oiled machine when it comes to organization, from the top down to the bottom…

6. Positive peer pressure towards missions.
Many Mormon young people look with anticipation for the day when they can leave on a church mission… Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every Christian young person were encouraged to spend two years of his or her life on the mission field? Perhaps many more career missionaries would be a result if short-term missions became a Christian priority…

5. Respecting Sundays as sacred.
Sundays in the Mormon Church are treated as a quiet day, a time to reflect and be with the family after attending the morning service at the local ward. Recreational and sporting activities as well as retail excursions are discouraged… We should not forget that the day of rest was created for the benefit of man…

4. Religious education for the youth.
The LDS Church is very concerned about educating its young people in the ways of its faith… Later, when the college years come and the young adult is challenged in his faith, he will have some possible answers to help him remain faithful to his religion…

3. Helping to supply the needs of the membership.
Mormons are known for being generous, even going out of their way to help their fellow members…

2. Preventing members from falling through the cracks.
When a Mormon fails to attend the services of his designated local ward for several weeks, he is sure to be missed… While I am not suggesting that Christian churches should become legalistic nags in order to force its membership to attend meetings and volunteer for projects, perhaps the general idea of following up on those who all of a sudden are no longer there would fulfill the shepherd role that the church is supposed to have…

1. The importance of families.
And the number-one thing we can learn from the Mormons is (drum roll, please) the priority the Mormon Church places on family life. Certainly many Christian families are very successful. Yet few churches emphasize the importance of the family like the Mormons do; they even set aside every Monday evening for Family Home Evenings to play games, talk, do devotions, etc…[4]

And Mr. Johnson isn’t alone, Christian Commentator Nick Asolas has developed his own list:

The Church Office Building for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church Office Building of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

1. Public Relations
If Christianity had a PR firm, it should have been fired decades ago. The fact that we don’t is so painfully obvious that preaching against our past failures has almost replaced the Gospel itself…

2. Staffing Issues
In the average Christian church, the largest budget section is the salary of the staff. We have managed to take a couple curious verses in the New Testament and turn them into a mandate for creating medium-sized corporations complete with corporate perks and parking spaces. I am not going to make a case against paid staff in this post, but it is possible…

3. Engaging the Community
I think this is because as church leaders, we know what we need to do (talk to our neighbors, etc) but we don’t know how to do it. The Mormons are great at this. Granted, their strategy is simple and hasn’t changed for decades, but they have conditioned their community now to know who they are and what they are about based on looks alone…

4. Social Media
The LDS Church is excellent at talking with people across their social media sites. There are several Facebook pages for the different sections and interests and multiple Twitter feeds users can follow for church news, devotions etc. The official LDS Facebook page is updated daily with videos, polls and conversations and has almost half a million users…

5. Unity
This is the biggest and most important. While there are varying sects of the LDS religion, for the most part, they are one unified body that offers a consistent experience across all regions and wards. The statement of faith for all communities is the exact same and there is no competition among branches…[5]

Now I have been extremely critical of Greg Stier the president and founder of “Dare 2 Share” in the past for his uncritical and discernment impaired “Mormon Envy” of Mormon youth programs[6] but I will acknowledge that in pointing to the finer aspects of those programs he made some good points, including this one:

We need to push our teens. We need to turn them into active activists. We need to build consistent opportunities for service, outreach and training. We need to equip them to share their faith and then go with them, leading the way. After all, we are youth leaders.[7]

And Methodist minister and youth ministry expert Kenda Creasy Dean agrees. In her book “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” she devotes the entire third chapter (entitled “Mormon Envy: Sociological Tools for a Consequential Faith”) to deconstructing and analyzing the Mormon youth enculturation process. In the end she concludes:

By intentionally reinforcing the significance of Mormonism’s particular God-story, by immersing young people in a community of belonging, by preparing them for a vocation and by modeling a forward-looking hope, Mormons intentionally and consistently create the conditions for consequential faith—so much so that Mormon teenagers are more likely than teenagers from any other group to fall in the category of young people the NSYR [National Studies of Youth and Religion] called highly devoted.[8]

In addition to everything that been said above, I would add my own “Mormon Envy” item to the list: Community. It was hinted at in the lists above but I would like to state it plainly: The LdS Church does a great job of creating a faith-based community of belonging that meets members social needs. Further, Mormon culture includes an element that’s missing from far too many of our churches: Good clean, fun. To be exact, they have fun for fun’s sake and nothing else.

When I was a kid I used to secretly hope that my parents would convert to Mormonism because the social events at the Ward Halls of Mormon friends and family members were always so darn fun! My Mormon cousins did Boy Scouting and they regularly had awesome, memory building, family outings. On the other hand my dreary, church meeting addicted, Nazarene parents seemed to think that fun was a sin and boredom a virtue. Their church’s idea of “fun” in my mind was, “Hey, I’ve got it! Let’s have another revival/potluck/prayer/testimony meeting!” Now you boring old religious people might love those things but they’re not exactly a good memory building, family bonding, experience if you’re a kid who’s still undecided about this whole Christianity thing – sorry folks, but there it is!

Even today, decades later, I have to ask: Why are so many of our churches so darn boring? Why can’t we just have some good clean fun every once in a while? Why can’t we just get together and have a good time? Why does everything have to be some form of religious utilitarianism?  I’m sorry fellow mainstream Biblical Christians but on the community thing, in comparison to the Mormon Church, we’re losing badly. This is an area where we can do a lot better in my opinion. I mean, come on, in the Old Testament God commanded the Jews to have seven festivals per year.[9] Yes, that’s right He commanded them! And since God seems to love a party shouldn’t we, His covenant people, love them too?

In fact, I’ve found that the rich community of Mormonism is the one thing that will keep members in the LdS Church long after they stopped believing in Joseph Smith, Mormon doctrine, or even God. Mormon culture is so rich and need fulfilling that it can be hard to leave when you’ve decided that its beliefs are hooey. If we did better in this area we would probably see far more Mormons leave the LdS Church and far less transition into atheism when they do.

The bottom line is this: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t get everything wrong and they get quite a few things right. In fact, in terms of operations, maintaining a family first philosophy, very intentionally and deliberately engaging the surrounding cultural, creating a community of purpose and belonging, and caring for their membership they do some things better than many mainstream Christian churches do.

3) Point Three: It’s not all lies
Well now, okay, okay, okay, yes, there is a lot of deceit that goes on in the LdS Church! I’ve said it, I feel better now. Most egregious of all is how it chronically, even habitually, lies to its own members. Never-the-less, as stated above, since it still contains at least 10% truth, there is some truth in Mormonism.

Further, Mormon Leaders don’t lie all the time.  And official church literature doesn’t lie all the time – but when you do lie they do “go big!” So the problem that I have with the “it’s nothing but a pack of lies!” portion of the weak argument isn’t that it’s not more true than false but that it’s hyperbole.

The Stronger Arguments:
Building a stronger argument in this area involves two things: 1) Not engaging in over-the-top hyperbolic rhetoric, and; 2) Presenting your argument in a way that’s fair and balanced rather than obviously biased.

First Suggested Strong Argument: Present a balanced rather than biased argument 
To illustrate how one does this, let’s consider the list of things that Mormonism gets right in the Christology that was presented above. Rather than arguing that, “There’s nothing in Mormon Christology that’s true!” (which is so extreme that it’s like announcing, “I’m biased, my mind is closed, and I’m unwilling to consider the full body of evidence!”) a more balanced argument would look something like this:

Unknown Artist,

Unknown Artist, “Mormon Corporate Jesus”

“Well the LdS Church does get some things right in it’s Christology – including the two most important things, His divinity and His bodily resurrection from the dead. However, it also gets far more wrong, specifically: 

  1. Jesus is one of billions of spirits who preexisted in Heaven before becoming human.
  2. Jesus is one of three Gods ruling the universe (among other Gods that also exist).
  3. We are never supposed to pray directly to Jesus.
  4. God is Jesus’ “literal” father in the flesh—compromising the truth that Mary was a virgin.
  5. Some of Jesus’ statements must be revised according to Joseph Smith’s revelations.
  6. Jesus accomplished the Atonement primarily in the garden of Gethsemane.
  7. Jesus by his resurrection assures immortality in some heavenly kingdom for virtually everyone.
  8. Jesus returned to the earth to preach to the Nephites and start a separate church for them.
  9. Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith, condemned all existing churches, and restored the true church.[10]

Unfortunately, due to what it gets wrong, the Mormon Jesus isn’t the Christ of the bible – he is the type of ‘another Jesus’ that Paul warned us against in 2 Corinthians 11:4.”

Second Suggested Strong Argument: Present both sides of the coin
Closely aligned with the first strong argument is simply giving both sides of the coin. For example, even though the last section presented only the positive side of the coin, an argument regarding the both sides of the LdS Church’s Mormon Missionary program coin might look like this:

“Christian Youth Ministry experts like Greg Stier and Kenda Creasy Dean have praised your missionary program. Even Eric Johnson, who’s a critic of the Mormon Church, has said that it creates ‘positive peer pressure’ within your youth groups and culture. However, it has a dark side too, specifically: 

  1. BandaidMissionaryBadgeIt has created a culture whereby fear of their family’s reaction puts pressure on disenchanted LDS Missionaries to continue with their missions whether they want to or not. [click here for supporting evidence]
  2. LDS Church Missionary training and policies employ Mind Control techniques and tactics.
  3. The LDS Church focuses on the needs and interests of the institution over the needs and interests of the members. For example, on January 29, 2013, the LDS Church announced that the Benemerito De Las Americas private school in Mexico would be closed and converted into a Missionary Training Center leaving its more than 2,000 LDS students to the mercy of the vastly inferior Mexican public education system.[11]

So while I and other Christians applaud the good impact that your missionary programs have on Mormon young people, at the same time we often wonder if they and others get hurt more often than they get helped by it. After all, isn’t 18-years old awfully young to be taking on a role in life that requires some degree of maturity and life experience? Sometimes I wonder if the price for being a Mormon Missionary is simply too high.”

Another example might go like this:

“One thing that I love about the LdS Church is how it does such a great job of creating a faith-based community of belonging that meets member social needs. As kid I loved how you all know how to have good clean fun for fun’s sake and nothing else. I mean, for goodness sake, even after they’ve left Ex-Mormons still try to find ways to stay engage in Mormon Culture – that says something!

However, what seems to be missing from LdS community is real authenticity and vulnerability. The community relations are social but not intimate. The perfectionist expectations create a culture of “looking good” – where you don’t admit that you aren’t measuring up or that you are  struggling in some way. As former Mormon composer J.A.C. Redford once said, “You get a casserole if you’re sick, but not if you’re doubting.” To be sure, evangelical churches can suffer from the same problem, but from what I’ve seen in the LdS Church it’s both extreme and chronic. Candidly, I think if I’d had to deal with my drug and alcohol addictions as a Mormon I’d still secretly be drunk and using! Have you ever thought about any of this?”

And you can trust me when I say this: They probably have. I know this because I’ve had Mormons talk to me about this when we were in private and they feel safe enough to open up. They can’t talk about this stuff to insiders but they will to outsiders that they feel safe with.

Third Suggested Strong Argument: “So what?”
Now I would imagine that some Mormons reading this article might be tempted to point to the positive things that have been said in this article and crow, “This only proves that we are indeed the only true and living Church!” This isn’t speculation, Mormon are prone to use the good works and positive aspects of their institution as proof of its veracity. How many times have we heard a Latter-day Saint say, “Just inspect the fruit – it’s good!” as evidence of the truthfulness of Mormonism? However, as thesis #70 of the 95 LDS Theses points out:

70. It [the LdS Church] publicly (and loudly) trumpets its philanthropic work, when compared to other churches its per capita outlay is less than what smaller, less wealthy, less organized religious organizations spend: “A study co-written by Cragun and recently published in Free Inquiry estimates that the Mormon Church donates only about 0.7 percent of its annual income to charity; the United Methodist Church gives about 29 percent.”
(Caroline Winter, “How The Mormons Make Money”, Business Week; July 18, 2012)
[click here for supplemental evidence]

In the end, this argument proves nothing – it’s just a bad argument. There are a lot of groups that not only do good works but do far more of it than the LdS Church both per capita and in total. To cite one example, let’s talk about WalMart which in 2012 gave 1.7% of its pre-tax profits to charity.[12] Does that make WalMart the only true and living store?

Further, there are many other groups getting similar positive results from their members and in their communities. And this isn’t limited to religious groups, we could point to groups like the Red Cross, the United Way, the Shriners, the Kiwanis, Alcoholics Anonymous, and other institutions that give and do far more than the LdS Church does. And in terms of religious groups the Roman Catholic Church absolutely buries the LdS Church in terms of giving, good works – and some would add, demonstrably positive outcomes – with its membership. So I guess the Roman Catholic Church is really the only true and living church, right?

LDS Hospital, Salt Lake City which was sold off to Intermountain Healthcare. The Mormon Church now owns no hospitals.

LDS Hospital, Salt Lake City, which was sold off to Intermountain Healthcare in 1975. The Mormon Church now owns no hospitals. period.

Finally, whenever, a Mormon uses this argument with me I always ask this question: “Where are the Mormon Church owned hospitals and orphanages?” Between where I live and work (a 51-mile stretch) there are seven Catholic hospitals and several Catholic orphanages. And I haven’t even added in the hospitals and orphanages that are owned by Protestant churches in the same area. So how many Mormon equivalents are there? Answer: Zero.  The LdS Church doesn’t even have any church owned hospitals – it sold them all off years ago.[13] And while the Mormon Church offers adoption as part of its family services portfolio it doesn’t own a single orphanage and has even outsourced its adoption agency.[14] In this area the LdS Church is conspicuous in its absence. Thus, its “good works” bravado is most certainly more heat than light – while it may sound good at first, it simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Finally, always remember the Golden Rule of Apologetics
The Golden Rule of Apologetics is:[15]

Always treat your debating opponent’s evidence and arguments the way that you would want to have your evidence and arguments treated

All too often I see Christians engaging in the exact opposite of this, in something that apologists call “Scorched Earth Tactics”. This is a tactic whereby one is determined to win the debate no matter what the cost. It’s like dropping napalm or salting the ground after each advance so nothing can grow in your wake. The end result is that all too often you win the debate but lose your debating opponent – forever.

This is a formula for failure since it can take Mormon years, even decades to shake off the mind control of the LdS Church, to unsnap psychologically, and to start considering the body of evidence through clear eyes rather than Mormon sunglasses. And then there are typically several years more after that before they transition out due to family, professional, and cultural entanglements. Therefore, it’s always best to strive to maintain a good relationship even if you’re at loggerheads as debating opponents. Think long, not short term, and always, always, always consider how to maintain the relationship without compromising your message or yourself.

That sounds so easy doesn’t it? It’s not. It can be so hard to keep one’s passions, ego, and pride in check when engaging Mormons. And if you really like the person it can be hard not to soften your message to maintain the relationship.  It’s a balancing act. Which is why we so desperately need the mind of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit guiding us rather than our fallen human nature. So for those moments when you feel your adrenaline beginning to pump, your palms beginning to sweat, and your eyes beginning to bulge I would encourage you to remember (or better yet, memorize) what God has said to us through His word:

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)

For as my wiser older sister once said so well, “The church is a mess and always has been. If it wasn’t for Jesus none of us would be Christians!” And that’s the best news of all – nothing depends entirely on you or me!

Summary and Conclusion:
Again, exaggeration erodes credibility and overstatement turns strong arguments into weak ones. The weak argument as presented here is an example of both.  As I have shown here there is some good and some truth in Mormonism despite the mountain of lies and errors in the LdS Church.  There is not only no shame in giving credit where credit is due, but doing so builds credibility. And not only do fair, full arguments demonstrate integrity, they also build trust so that honest relationships can form.  And above all they demonstrate that you’re committed to the truth above all else.

Do these things and your arguments will always be strong and have impact. It’s all about balance.

balanceTruth without love is too hard. Love without truth is too soft
— Jim Spencer, Idaho Pastor and former Mormon

NOTES
[1] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults”, p.24

[2] Don Basham, “Spiritual Warfare”, lecture at Santa Ana High School 1980, taken from author’s personal notes from the event.

[3] Adapted from Rob Bowman, “The Mormon View of Jesus Christ”, Institute for Religious Research website.  I would encourage the reader to read this article in its entirety as it also discusses in full detail how Mormon Christology is both right and wrong in each of these areas.

[4] Abridged from Eric Johnson, “10 Things Christians Can Learn from the Mormons”, Mormon Research Ministry website. Again, I would encourage the reader to read this article in its entirety as it also discusses the LdS Church’s imbalances and flaws in regard to each of these items.

[5] Abridged from Nick Asolas, “5 Things We Need to Learn from the Mormon Church”, Shrink The Church website.

[6] See “An Open Letter to Greg Stier”

[7] Greg Stier, “Why Mormons Do Better Youth Ministry Than We Do”, Christian Post website.

[8] Kenda Creasy Dean, “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” (p. 50, Kindle position 881). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[9] See “What are the different Jewish festivals in the Bible?”, GotQuestions.org website

[10] Op cit, Rob Bowman.

[11] These three points were taken from “The 95 LDS Theses”.  They are  theses #30, #75  and #2 respectively.

[12] Sarah Frostenson and Megan O’Neil, “10 Companies That Gave the Most Cash in 2013”, The Chronicles of Philanthropy website.

[13] See the “Hospitals” article in the “The Encyclopedia of Mormonism”. BYU Harold B. Lee Library website.

[14] From the LdS Church’s “Adoption Services” website:

Current Services Offered by LDS Family Services
We have made changes to the way we provide services to single expectant parents and prospective adoptive families. As of August 1, 2014, we no longer function as a full-service adoption agency and instead outsource most adoption functions. However, we continue to provide consultation for adoptive couples, screening and registration on an adoption matching website, and counseling for single expectant parents.
(retrieved January 7, 2015)

[15] For a more thorough analysis and explanation of “The Golden Rule of Apologetics” see Kenneth R. Samples‘ seven part series on the subject which starts here, “The Golden Rule of Apologetics Part 1”.

BACK TO TOP

“Each and every one of you who place their trust in Christ is a Priest…”

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“There is no priesthood anymore.”

Why It’s Weak:
This argument is weak because it’s untrue. The Bible tells us that anyone who places their trust in Christ and receives His free gift of eternal life by faith through grace is a member of the Royal Priesthood.

1) What’s in a word?
Let’s start at the beginning: What exactly is meant by the biblical word, “priesthood?” Bible commentator, Wayne Jackson explains:

A priest, in effect, is a mediator who stands between God and man. He offers sacrifice to God on behalf of man and administers other worship obligations that people feel unworthy to offer personally. The nearest thing to a definition found in the Scriptures is probably Hebrews 5:1.

“For every high priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.”[1]

And William Smith explains how and why a priesthood is required:

The idea of a priesthood connects itself in all its forms, pure or corrupted, with the consciousness, more or less distinct of sin. Men feel that they have broken a law . The power above them is holier than they are, and they dare not approach it. They crave for the intervention of some one of whom they can think as likely to be more acceptable than themselves. He must offer up their prayers, thanksgivings, sacrifices. He becomes their representative in “things pertaining unto God.” He may become also (though this does not always follow) the representative of God to man.[2]

In a sense, after the fall, without a priest to mediate between God and man and offer sacrifices there was no forgiveness of sins and thus no reconciliation with God.  Thus immediately after the fall of man we see mankind offering sacrifices to God (see Genesis 4:2-6) and assuming a priestly role.  Matthew George Easton offers this quick summation and overview of the priesthood in his well known Bible dictionary:

Gustave Dore',

Paul Gustave Dore’, “Cain and Abel Offering Their Sacrifices” (19th Century)
(click to zoom)

At first every man was his own priest, and presented his own sacrifices before God. Afterwards that office devolved on the head of the family, as in the cases of Noah (Gen. 8:20), Abraham (12:7; 13:4), Isaac (26:25), Jacob (31:54), and Job (Job 1:5).

The name first occurs as applied to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18). Under the Levitical arrangements the office of the priesthood was limited to the tribe of Levi, and to only one family of that tribe, the family of Aaron. Certain laws respecting the qualifications of priests are given in Lev. 21:16-23. There are ordinances also regarding the priests’ dress (Ex. 28:40-43) and the manner of their consecration to the office (29:1-37).

Their duties were manifold (Ex. 27:20, 21; 29:38-44; Lev. 6:12; 10:11; 24:8; Num. 10:1-10; Deut. 17:8-13; 33:10; Mal. 2:7). They represented the people before God, and offered the various sacrifices prescribed in the law.

The whole priestly system of the Jews was typical. It was a shadow of which the body is Christ. The priests all prefigured the great Priest who offered “one sacrifice for sins” “once for all” (Heb. 10:10, 12). There is now no human priesthood. (See Epistle to the Hebrews throughout.)[3]

2) Sorry Mr. Easton, but no! 
On that last point Mr. Easton, who was most likely over reacting to Catholic priesthood claims, is both correct and incorrect: The Bible is clear that there is a priesthood however, it’s neither the Melchizedek or the Aaronic priesthood. After all, the Levitical system of sacerdotalism that formed the basis for the Aaronic priesthood was fulfilled by Christ’s atonement, and the Melchizedek priesthood only contains one member, Jesus Christ.[4] Never the less, there are priests in what the Apostle Peter refers to as the “Royal Priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV):

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (bolding added) 

And it is this priesthood of kings that the Apostle John refers to in Revelation 1:5-6 and 5:10 (NKJV):

To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (bolding added) 

You [the Lamb of God] were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.
(bolding added)

Thus Martin Luther very correctly asserted that our calling as royal priests is divine and not a matter of human ordination:

As for the unction by a pope or a bishop, tonsure, ordination, consecration, clothes differing from those of laymen–all this may make a hypocrite or an anointed puppet, but never a Christian, or a spiritual man. Thus we are all consecrated as priests by baptism, as St. Peter says: “Ye are a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9); and in the book of Revelation: “and hast made us unto our God, kings and priests.” (Rev. 5:10) (bolding added)[5]

According to Luther and the Bible, these are all priests.

According to Luther and the Bible, these Christians are all priests.

How if they were compelled to admit that we all, so many as have been baptized, are equally priests? We are so in fact, and it is only a ministry which has been entrusted to them, and that with our consent. They would then know that they have no right to exercise command over us, except so far as we voluntarily allow of it. Thus it is said: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Pet. 2:9.) Thus all we who are Christians are priests; (bolding added)[6]

Thus as Presbyterian Pastor Brett Swanson notes well of the little girl admiring the statues of Martin Luther in this article’s main photograph:

Each and every one of you who place their trust in Christ is a Priest, a Minister. When that little girl from our photo gets a little older and begins to understand God’s transformative love and the grace that sustains her, she too will be called into the Priesthood of All Believers, her baptism her ordination, and her first church will be the world around her, depending on her to spread the hope that comes in Christ’s love to the next generation. That is what Priests do. They live faithfully today, and invest in what God is doing for tomorrow.[7]

So is there a priesthood today? The biblical answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” However, it is no longer physical, it’s spiritual, and it’s no long sacerdotal – that is, except for the sacrifice of praise and offering of thanksgiving (see Hebrews 13:15) that we bring. As British Pastor David H.J. Gay notes well:

It is in the new covenant that God through Christ has formed his people into a priesthood for the very purpose of satisfying his demand and desire for true spiritual worship from true spiritual worshippers (John 4: 23-24). In Christ, he has established a body of priests who truly worship him in spirit, and offer true spiritual sacrifices… It is we – believers under the new covenant – it is we who are the true people of God, the true Israel, who truly and spiritually worship God! In short, the newest believer approaches God with greater glory than Aaron himself ever did.[8]

But perhaps, in the end, no one summed up the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers better, succintly, and beautifully than John Newton in his well known hymn:

Fra Angelico,

Fra Angelico, “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” (circa 1423-24)

Blest inhabitants of Zion,
Washed in the Redeemer’s blood!
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God.
’Tis his love his people raises,
Over self to reign as kings,
And as priests, his solemn praises
Each for a thank-offering brings.
— John Newton,
“Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken”

The Stronger Arguments:
If this article has seemed like a theology lesson to you so far, you would be right. I believe that this weak argument comes out of two things: First, a lack of a fully formed theology of the priesthood of all believers,[9] and; Second, an over reaction to Latter-day Saint priesthood dogma.

First Suggested Strong Argument: This ain’t about authority!
At core of Latter-day Saint priesthood doctrine is the issue of authority – as in Mormon priesthood holders have it and no one else does. On one official church website they explicitly state:

Artist's depiction of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Aaronic Priesthood.

Artist’s depiction of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Aaronic Priesthood.

The priesthood is the authority to act in God’s name. The same priesthood authority that existed in the original Church established by Jesus Christ exists in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today. The Church is directed and led through this authority.

All male members of the Church who are prepared receive the priesthood in order to help lead the Church and serve Heavenly Father’s children. A man with the priesthood might serve in some of the following ways:

  • Leading congregations of the Church
  • Performing the ordinances of the Church, such as baptism
  • Blessing those who are sick

God expects those who hold this sacred priesthood authority to follow the example of Jesus Christ and serve with love, gentleness, and kindness.[10]

But such an assertion is only true if that authority comes directly from God himself. On this matter, Wayne Jackson comes right to the point:

The Mormon priesthood dogma has no authority higher than that of Joseph Smith, Jr., who claims to have “restored” the ancient order of priests on May 15, 1829. The error in this is all too obvious to anyone with a more-than-minimum acquaintance with the New Testament.

First of all, the Melchizedek priesthood was to belong to Christ, and to none other, until the end of time. The writer of Hebrews says concerning Jesus that: “. . . he, because he abides for ever, has his priesthood unchangable” (7:24). The key word is “unchangable” (aparabatos), which suggests that the Lord’s priesthood is imperishable. Some suggest that the meaning of the Greek term is simply “permanent, unchangable” (F.W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000, p. 97), which, of itself, would eliminate the Mormon idea. But even more to the point is the proposed meaning “non-transferable” (C. Spiqu, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994, 1.143-44). That would specifically deny that it could pass to other persons.

Second, the Aaronic priesthood cannot be operative today because it was an integral part of the law of Moses, which law was abolished by Christ (Eph. 2:15), being, in a manner of speaking, nailed to his cross (Col. 2:14). Moreover, the verb rendered “hath taken away” in this latter passage is a perfect tense form, which argues for the permanent abolition of that law. There is no biblical indication that the law was to be, or ever will be, restored. Too, one could not restore the Aaronic priesthood without “of necessity” resurrecting the entire Mosaic law (Heb. 7:12).[11]

In other words there is no authority backing LdS Priesthood claims – biblically, they’re just wrong. Therefore, the entire system rests on Joseph Smith’s say-so that he received a divine mandate that somehow over rode biblical authority when he and Oliver Cowdery received first the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist, and then the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James, and John. And Smith’s claims in this regard are problematic.

Second Suggested Strong Argument: Now Mr. Smith about that Priesthood thing…
According to the canonized history of Mormonism Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood on May 15, 1829 and the Melchizedek Priesthood shortly thereafter on some unknown date:

Contemporary painting of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood

Contemporary painting of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood

The Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood, with its authority to baptize, on 15 May 1829. The Melchizedek Priesthood was restored next, bringing to earth all the power and authority necessary to organize and direct the Church of Jesus Christ and to perform additional saving priesthood ordinances. While the Prophet and his associate, Oliver, did not record the date that they received the Melchizedek Priesthood, historical records and the testimony of witnesses indicate that it occurred between the day after the Aaronic Priesthood restoration and 28 May 1829. Both the scriptures and the testimony of contemporaries attest that the brethren on whom the Lord had bestowed the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood—the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery—acted in the authority of those keys as they organized the Church on 6 April 1830.[12]

However, the historical record discredits these claims as this MormonThink.com summary explains:

Researchers who have closely examined the D&C and primary source accounts found that the official narrative of priesthood restoration contains numerous gaps, inconsistencies, and contradictions. Scholars also raise important questions that expose potential weaknesses in Smith and Cowdery’s story of their miraculous ordinations. For example, if Joseph and Oliver had experienced events as remarkable and life-altering as divine visitations by John the Baptist and three of Christ’s apostles, why would they not tell others? These miraculous ordinations were not publicly revealed or documented until five years after they supposedly occurred. Moreover, if the restoration of the priesthood is a fundamental tenet of the LDS Church, why was this revelation excluded from the Book of Commandments when it was originally published in 1833, only revealed in the revised and re-named Doctrine and Covenants in 1835?[13]

The specific problems in the story of the Restoration of the Priesthood:

  • Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery failed to testify to the members nor record anything about the appearances of “John the Baptist” and “Peter, James, and John” in any publications prior to 1834 (five years after the events purportedly took place)—nor did they teach that men ordained to offices in the church were receiving “priesthood authority”.
  • Nobody in or out of the church knows the exact date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and Oliver Cowdery was inconsistent in describing which heavenly being(s) had come to confer that authority.
  • Joseph Smith and other early members stated that the first conferral of the Melchizedek priesthood happened in June 1831 in Ohio at a conference of Elders, and that Joseph himself was ordained to the high priesthood by church elder Lyman Wight at that time.
  • Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery changed the wording of earlier revelations when they compiled the 1835 D&C [Doctrine & Covenants], adding verses about the appearances of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John AS IF those appearances were mentioned in the earlier revelations, which they weren’t. The Book of Commandments, which later became the D&C says nothing about these appearances.[14]

Simply put, if Joseph Smith’s Priesthood Restoration didn’t occur as he claimed, then the Mormon Priesthood is a hollow shell of nothing – it’s a sham and a fraud.

Third Suggested Strong Argument: In Judeo-Christianity the authority to act in God’s name has never been derived from the priesthood – any priesthood. Step back to the start of this article and reread the priesthood definitions. In the Bible the Priesthood is an office, a function, and a duty. And any authority that came with the office was limited strictly to performing those very specific functions and duties. Throughout the biblical narrative “the authority to act in God’s name” came directly from God and His call on your life irrespective of your office, status or position in life. Anyone who was called was authorized – it was that simple.

Artist's speculative depiction of Jesus Christ acting as High Priest in heaven

Artist’s speculative depiction of Jesus Christ acting as High Priest in heaven

Consider, for example, the man Jesus Christ. It was impossible for Him to have “Priesthood Authority” because he wasn’t a priest.  Christ was from the tribe of Judah, not Levi and, therefore, immediately disqualified from the Aaronic priesthood.  Further, the book of Hebrews is clear that the resurrected Christ became our High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek through His atonement:

Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.

For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies:

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
Hebrew 7:11-17; 9:11-15 (NKJV)  

So according to Latter-day Saint priesthood doctrine Jesus Christ was acting without authority during His ministry and incarnation since He wasn’t a priesthood holder. Further, we could also talk about Paul who was from tribe of Benjamin (Acts 13:21Romans 11:1, Philippians 3:5) and the 12 disciples (with the possible exception of Matthew who may have been a Levite) and their lack of priesthood authority. Suffice to say, according to Latter-day Saint priesthood dogma none of them had the the authority to act in God’s name, to lead congregations, to perform ordinances such as baptism, to bless those who are sick, etc., etc., etc.  Yet in stark contrast to that dogma, the Bible is filled from cover-to-cover with men and women who had the required authority to act in God’s name simply by virtue of the fact that God had called them. For example consider, the prophet Isaiah who, like Christ, was from the tribe of Judah:

Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Isaiah from the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo’s “Isaiah” (from the Sistine Chapel Ceiling)

I [Isaiah] heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
And He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

“Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed.”
Isaiah 6:8-10 (NKJV) 

Simply put our authority to act in God’s name comes from His call on our lives as the chosen elect of God. Therefore, the so-called “priesthood authority” that He gives came upon us when each and every one of us when we placed our trust in Christ and received His free gift of eternal life by faith through grace. We are the royal and legitimate priests of God through Christ, His atoning work, His call on our lives and nothing else.

Summary and Conclusion:
Sandra Tanner summed up the whole problem of the LdS priesthood claims nicely when she wrote:

LDS teach that Joseph Smith had to have the priesthood before he could establish the Church. But the Bible says nothing about apostles, bishops, deacons, or any other New Testament office holding either the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood. Why did Joseph Smith need it if Mormonism is a restoration of the New Testament church? The Bible does not teach that the church or priesthood will be lost or restored.[15]

And Hal Hougey very correctly points us to the true biblical model observing:

In 2 Kings 22 we find Israel in apostasy. One day an apostate priest found the Law of the Lord where it had been lost and forgotten in the temple. It was read to the people and obeyed. Thus, a restoration was brought about. It did not require a visitation by angels to restore authority.

A restoration can be brought about today in the same way by reading and obeying the teachings of Christ and his apostles as taught in the Bible. The Bible is the word of God; when it teaches something we have authority from God to obey it without having to receive authority from angels or men. If you learn you should be honest, do you have to go to some church official for the authority to be honest? Certainly not. Likewise, when the Lord in His word teaches us to be baptized and to baptize others, we have the authority to do so, from the word itself.[16]

And the folks at the Got Questions? website summarize our priesthood as Christians nicely when they say:

In summary, believers are called “kings and priests” and a “royal priesthood” as a reflection of their privileged status as heirs to the kingdom of the Almighty God and of the Lamb. Because of this privileged closeness with God, no other earthly mediator is necessary. Second, believers are called priests because salvation is not merely “fire insurance,” escape from hell. Rather, believers are called by God to serve Him by offering up spiritual sacrifices, i.e., being a people zealous for good works. As priests of the living God, we are all to give praise to the One who has given us the great gift of His Son’s sacrifice on our behalf, and in response, to share this wonderful grace with others.[17]

So the next time a Mormon asks you where you get your authority simply say, “Through my calling into the Royal Priesthood through the atonement of Jesus Christ by faith through grace and nothing more – the Bible tells me so!”

1-peter-29_4837_1024x768_EDITED

NOTES
[1] Wayne Jackson, “Exploring the Concept of Priesthood”

[2] William Smith, “Smith’s Bible Bible Dictionary” as contained in the  “Bible Dictionary Collection – Deluxe Study Edition” (Kindle Locations 41259-41263) Kindle Edition

[3] Matthew Easton, “Easton’s Bible Bible Dictionary” as contained in the  “Bible Dictionary Collection – Deluxe Study Edition”  (Kindle Locations 19182-19205) Kindle Edition

[4] This statement follows the teaching of John Calvin and others that the Melchizedek figure in Genesis 14:18-20 is a Christophany (an Old Testament physical manifestation of Christ). This follows logically when the text interpreted in light of Hebrews 7:1-3 which says:

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.
(NKJV)  

Thus since only one human meets (or has ever met) that criteria it’s fair to conclude that the Genesis 14 Melchizedek is in fact Jesus Christ. This is just one of several valid interpretations. However, it’s clear that at the very least Melchizedek is a type of Christ.  As the GotQuestions.org website summarizes well:

Are Melchizedek and Jesus the same person? A case can be made either way. At the very least, Melchizedek is a type of Christ, prefiguring the Lord’s ministry. But it is also possible that Abraham, after his weary battle, met and gave honor to the Lord Jesus Himself.
(Uncredited, “Who was Melchizedek?” GotQuestions.org website)

[5] Martin Luther, “The Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate” (Kindle Locations 108-112) Kindle Edition.

[6] Martin Luther, “On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church” (Kindle Locations 1458-1461) Kindle Edition.

[7] Brett Swanson, “The Priesthood of All Believers”

[8] David H.J.Gay, “The Priesthood of All Believers: Slogan or Substance?” (Kindle Locations 2024-2032) Kindle Edition.

[9] A condition that I would be a fool to think I could remedy with this short article.  Please see the suggested reading section at the end if you’re interested in developing a more fully formed theology of the priesthood of all believers.

[10] Uncredited, “What is the priesthood?” Mormon.org website (an official LdS Church website)

[11] Wayne Jackson, “Exploring the Concept of Priesthood”

[12] Larry C. Porter, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods” official LdS Church website.

[13] Uncredited, “Priesthood Restoration” MormonThink.com website.

[14] Uncredited, “Priesthood Restoration, Problem Summary” MormonThink.com website.

[15] Sandra Tanner, “Mormon Claims Answered”, Chapter Six, “Priesthood”

[16] Hal Hougey, “Latter-day Saint: Where do you get your authority?”

[17] Got Questions? website, “Is the priesthood of all believers biblical?”

SUGGESTED RESOURCES:
I was surprised at the dearth of resources regarding the biblical doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers when I started to research this article. It’s clearly a subject that the modern Christian Church is neglecting. So to save the reader some time and effort, and to preserve the good resources that I found, I offer this bibliography.

Suggested resources on the Priesthood of All Believers:
David H.J.Gay, “The Priesthood of All Believers: Slogan or Substance?”
This is the most exhaustive treatise on the subject that I found. The author is as ponderous and verbose as a 19th Century preacher but leaves no doubt that his arguments are substantive and fully grounded in scripture.
[click here for the Kindle Edition] [click here for the FREE audio Edition]

Wikipedia, “Universal Priesthood”
This is the one you’ll want if you want the short, cryptic treatment of the subject. A good historical overview but that’s about all.

Wayne Jackson, “Exploring the Concept of Priesthood”
This is the best short summary of the subject that I’ve found. It’s also useful in that it addresses the issue of how Catholics and Latter-day Saints have corrupted the biblical priesthood system.

Got Questions? website, “Is the priesthood of all believers biblical?”
Another good, short primer that limits itself to biblical text. If you’re looking for the short, concise biblical case for the Priesthood of all believers this is the article you’re looking for. 

August Van Ryn, “Every Believer a Priest”
A longer primer on the subject from the biblical text. 

Art Lindsley, Ph.D., “The Priesthood of All Believers”
So you’re OK with the concept of priesthood, but are unclear about the practical application of the concept? This is the article for you. 

Suggested resources on the LdS Priesthood:
While there’s a dearth of good resources on Priesthood on the Christian side, there’s a glut on the Mormon side. Here’s are some of the better resources among many that I found in preparing this article that didn’t make it into the main article:

John Farkas, “Fabricating The Mormon Priesthood: By God Or By Man?”
A detailed deconstruction of Joseph Smith’s priesthood claims relative to the historical record and Mormon scripture.

Lane Thuet, “Priesthood Restored or Retrofit?”
An excellent lecture on the issues and problems surrounding Mormon Priesthood claims. 

Rob Bowman, “Mormon Priesthood Offices and the Bible”
A point-by-point comparison of the Latter-day Saint Priesthood system versus the biblical system. 

Rob Bowman, “Mormon Priesthood: Do Mormons Alone Have the Power?”
An in depth analysis of Latter-day Saint Priesthood authority claims. 

Grant Palmer, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins”, Priesthood Restoration – Chapter 7
Chapter Seven of Mr. Palmer’s classic book gives us a objective “deep dive” into what the historical record tells us about Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s claims regarding a restored priesthood.

Unknown Artist,

Unknown Artist, “The Great Cloud of Witnesses” (20th Century)

  BACK TO TOP

Curriculum-2012-collage-580

Collage of official Mormon Church 2012 Sunday Curriculum

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“I will never, ever use official Mormon Church sources like church manuals, LdS Scripture, or the official church website. It’s all just spin doctored, faith promoting propaganda!”

Why It’s Weak:
One of the hardest things for many Christians in Mormon Studies seems to be the ability to view things from the Latter-day Saint point of view. However, for your arguments to be truly effective you have to be willing to leave your side of the divide and stand next to the guy who disagrees with you so you can see things through his eyes.

For example, while Christianity is a religion drenched in and driven by an adherence to orthodoxy defined by 2,000-years of systematic theology, Mormonism – a young religion by comparison – is a “cafeteria religion.” By this I mean that the LdS Church gives it’s members a smorgasbord of doctrine and theology to choose from and then doesn’t seem to get too upset when they take what they want and leave the rest. One reason for this is that in Mormonism orthopraxy carries more weigh than orthodoxy. As one Mormon Studies scholar observed:

Mormonism lacks a solid, systematic theology by which a serious scholar could pinpoint beliefs. Those of you who have been in many debates with Mormons no doubt have run into this frustration. How many times has a Mormon claimed something you thought to be a central piece of Mormon theology to not be ‘official doctrine’? It’s happened to me often, even when I pull that doctrine in question right out of officially published manuals used to teach Sunday school. Ultimately this confusion stems from the fact that the LDS leadership is uneducated in religion or philosophy, generally, and therefore avoids clarifying rather important doctrines, leaving individual Mormons interested in the topic to their own devices.[1]

Due to this phenomenon, what Mormons believe in practice may or may not be aligned with they’re supposed to believe according to the LdS Church. This can be frustrating and baffling for someone coming from the historical Christian perspective. Talk to ten Mormons and you may find ten different belief systems. Very often in dialog with a particular Mormon you might even find that belief system shifting based on the ebb and flow of the arguments and evidence that’s being presented. Never-the-less as the same Mormon Studies scholar notes:

A young Mormon woman bearing her testimony

A young Mormon woman bearing her testimony

Here’s the problem though, Mormonism is very interested in orthodoxy, at least as much as orthopraxy. Go to any fast and testimony meeting and one thing you’ll hear from almost all participants who speak is something akin to “I know this church is true, I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, I know that Jesus is the Christ,” and so on. “I know” is rather strong phrasing of a statement of Mormon orthodoxy. Or, how about meet with some Mormon missionaries and allow them to run through the standard missionary discussions. One of the first things they will do is teach you how to ‘recognize the witness of the Spirit’ which consists of associating good feelings with statements that they argue are true. From the very beginning the potential convert is encouraged to form an orthodoxy grounded in an epistemology consisting of the formula “good feelings about things which authorities claim to be true= witness of the Spirit of the truthfulness of the said claims”. In order to be baptized, you have to agree to a set of belief claims, not just promises to obey the Word of Wisdom, the law of chastity and the law of tithing. Likewise, to go through the temple the Mormon must affirm core doctrines which in practice constitute a sort of Mormon creed. I argue the only reason this isn’t systematized, is as I said before, due to the Mormon aversion to theological learning, but that doesn’t mean that Mormonism isn’t a religion obsessed with orthodoxy. It surely is. It’s just a sloppy theology, which does have the affect of allowing the few to take their belief system in unique directions but remain Mormons in good standing.[2]

So the question is, “How does one cut through the non-systematized theology of the typical Mormon so meaningful discussion can ensue?” And the answer, to paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi is, “Use the manuals Christian, use the manuals.”

1) Yes, it’s spin doctored, faith promoting propaganda…
I will affirm, validate, and agree with at least a portion the second part of this weak argument: LdS Church manuals and the church website are indeed spin doctored propaganda. Some examples: 

  • The “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young” manual (circa 1997) only mentions his first two monogamous legal wives (he remarried after being widowed), never mentions his illegal plural wives (fifty-three that we know of), and never uses the word “polygamy”, “plural wives”, or any derivation thereof anywhere therein. Further, the biggest scandal of his presidency, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, is never mentioned despite it’s profound historical and social significance.[3]
  • In a similar manner the “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith” manual (circa 2011) limits the subject of plural marriage in the introductory notes to the teacher. Throughout the rest of the manual only his marriage to Emma Hale Smith is mentioned and polygamy is conveniently (and as explained in the introduction, deliberately) avoided. Consider for example, this: Although their marriage would be tested by the deaths of children, financial difficulties, and Joseph’s frequent absences from home in fulfillment of his duties, Joseph and Emma always loved one another deeply.”[4] The biggest test of their marriage was, no doubt, Joseph Smith’s polygamy yet it isn’t mentioned at all.[5]
  • The front cover of the “Church History In The Fullness of Times” manual

    Finally, the manual, “Church History in the Fulness of Times” (circa 2014) is a cornucopia of skewed, white washed, historical revisionism. For example, the section entitled, “Missouri Persecutions and Expulsion”[6] goes into great detail about the atrocities and horrors inflicted on Mormons by their Missouri neighbors but fails to mentions the atrocities and horrors inflicted on the Missourians by Mormons during the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri.[7] And the section on the the Kirtland Safety Society[8] absolves Joseph Smith of all culpability concluding with this “masterpiece” of spin doctored white washing:

Joseph Smith’s losses from the failure of the company were greater than anyone else’s. While seeking to achieve success with the bank and, at the same time, to purchase land in Kirtland and goods for his store, he accumulated debts amounting to approximately one hundred thousand dollars. Although he had assets in land and goods that were of greater value in some respects than his debts, he was unable to immediately transform these assets into a form that could be used to pay his creditors. The Prophet endured seventeen lawsuits during 1837 in Geauga County for debts involving claims of more than thirty thousand dollars. Unfortunately, few people correctly understood the causes of their economic difficulties. Many Saints spoke against the Prophet and accused him of being responsible for all of their problems.[9]

To compare and contrast, consider this account from the neutral source, Wikipedia:

Regardless of the reasons for the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company’s (KSSABC) failure, much of the blame was laid upon Smith. Half of The Quorum of Twelve Apostles accused Smith of improprieties in the banking scandal, and LDS Apostle Heber C. Kimball later said that the bank’s failure was so shattering that afterwards “there were not twenty persons on earth that would declare that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.” Woodruff records that Smith had an alleged revelation on the topic, but declined to share it, saying only that “if we would give heed to the commandments the Lord had given this morning all would be well.” Then Woodruff expresses his own hopes that the KSSABC will “become the greatest of all institutions on EARTH.”

A Two Dollar Bill from Joseph Smith's Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Bank

A Two Dollar Bill from the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Bank
(click to zoom)

On January 12, 1838, faced with a warrant for his arrest on a charge of illegal banking, Smith fled with Rigdon to Clay County, Missouri just ahead of an armed group out to capture and hold Smith for trial. Smith and Rigdon were both acquainted with not only conflict and violent mobbing they experienced together in Pennsylvania and New York, but with fleeing from the law. According to Smith, they left “to escape mob violence, which was about to burst upon us under the color of legal process to cover the hellish designs of our enemies.” Brigham Young left Kirtland for Missouri weeks earlier on December 22 to avoid the dissidents who were angry with Young and threatened him because of his persistent public defense of Smith’s innocence. Most of those who remained committed to the church moved to join the main body of the LDS in Missouri.[10]

2) …but it’s official spin doctored, faith promoting propaganda.
But despite any deficiencies, the fact remains that these official church resources define what the Mormon should believe. They are as close to systematized theology as one is going to get in Mormonism. For example, the next time a Mormon tells you that the Lorenzo Snow couplet (“As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.”) no longer has any meaningful or relevant place in Mormon doctrine or theology, you can say: “Then why does page 83 of the official LdS Church manual, ‘Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow’ contain the couplet and go on to say this: ‘Because we have divinity within us, we can become like our Father in Heaven’? Why don’t you believe what your church says you should believe?”[11]

Or the next time a Latter-day Saint tells you that in Mormonism salvation is by grace alone you can say, “Then why in the official Church Education System ‘Book of Mormon Student Study Guide’ on page 53 does it say: ‘We are saved by the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We must, however, come unto Christ on His terms in order to obtain all the blessings that He freely offers us. We come unto Christ by doing “all we can do” to remember Him, keep our covenants with Him, and obey His commandments.’[12]

Further, my Mormon friend, LdS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks said this in the May 1998, Ensign magazine on page 55:

‘And what is ‘all we can do’? It surely includes repentance (see Alma 24:11) and baptism, keeping the commandments, and enduring to the end. Moroni pleaded, ‘Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ’ (Moroni. 10:32).’[13]

jellytoawall

While defining Mormon doctrine may be like nailing Jello to a wall…

How is it ‘grace alone’ if covenant keeping, self denial, and obedience to commandments are requirements or prerequisites? And, by the way, why is it that you don’t believe what your church says you should believe?”

See how this works? While defining Mormon doctrine may be like nailing Jello to a wall at least official LdS Church sources provide a mold that the Jello is supposed to stay in. And if determining what individual Mormons may believe may be like herding cats but at least working with official LdS Church sources give you a net and cat carrier to work with.

3) Stay on safe ground
A common problem that everyone in Mormon Studies struggles with is the issue of exactly what official Mormon Doctrine is. As Mormon Researcher Aaron Shafovaloff notes:

Christians who attempt to engage in meaningful dialog with their Mormon friends are often frustrated by the way teachings and beliefs can be obfuscated and downplayed. When a question is posed by a Christian they are many times told that a particular teaching “is not official.” Behind this are the assumptions that Mormonism is immune to any fatal criticism if it involves anything outside the scope of officiality, and that evangelical engagement should be limited to that which is binding upon Mormon members.

One problem with this is that the Mormon Church has no binding and official position on what constitutes a binding and official position. Mormon leaders and thinkers have proposed a variety of approaches to defining what constitutes official doctrine, not one being settled upon. (bolding added)[14]

This led Mormon Critic, Keith Walker of Evidence Ministries, to make this poignant but humorous statement about the absurdity of the conundrum and how Mormons abuse it:

So while it appears that Mormonism from the First President to the Ward Janitor both is blessed and cursed with the need for a plausible deniability escape hatch, it seems incredulous to argue that current, correlated, officially vetted and published church materials don’t establish a standard of belief that good Mormons are beholden to. As Mormon Apostle Carlos Asay explained in General Conference:

“Church publications (the Ensign, the New Era, the Friend, and the International Magazines) are referred to as the voices of the Church and the official line of communication from the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve to the members of the Church. Each month a First Presidency message appears in the Ensign. Home teachers are expected to discuss this article with all assigned families. Quite obviously, the curriculum would become stagnant and lose its relevance if we failed to hear the voices of living prophets. One of the most significant of all Church publications is the conference edition of the Ensign magazine. This important issue carries the current written messages of the Brethren conveying the mind and will of the Lord.”[15]

And the importance of staying faithful to church manuals and not deviating from them is emphasized again, again, and again on the official church website. For example, consider this excerpt of a General Conference address from Mormon Apostle M. Russell Ballard

Teachers would be well advised to study carefully the scriptures and their manuals before reaching out for supplemental materials. Far too many teachers seem to stray from the approved curriculum materials without fully reviewing them. If teachers feel a need to use some good supplemental resources beyond the scriptures and manuals in presenting a lesson, they should first consider the use of the Church magazines.

Teachers can stay on safe ground when they use the standard works, the approved manuals, and the writings of the General Authorities.[16]

… as well as this Church Educational System video to seminary teachers: The Importance of the Seminary and Institute Curriculum.

So, to paraphrase Elder Ballard, Mormon Critics can stay on safe ground when they use the standard works, the approved manuals, and the writings of the General Authorities.

Summary and Conclusion
My observation in dialoging with Mormons over a number of years is that when they’re confronted with hard or uncomfortable evidence they start looking for an escape hatch to wiggle out of. Using official LdS Church resources won’t eliminate this but it reduces their options. Further, there’s great power in asking Mormons why they don’t believe what they’re supposed to. After all, if it’s in their standard works and approved manuals, they’re supposed to believe it are they not? I mean aren’t you, dear Christian, supposed to believe what’s in your church’s scripture and church approved manuals? And if the answer is, “No!” then I would ask you the same question that I would ask a Latter-day Saint: “Then why are you in a church whose beliefs you don’t share?”

Finally, I would ask to consider this: If you scroll through this article, including the footnotes, you may notice something – the majority of my sources and arguments in this article were derived from what? Answer: Official LdS Church materials. And I would suggest that if you found them persuasive, even though you’re not beholden to them, how much more so will your Mormon friend, who is?

Use the manuals Christian, use the manuals!

NOTES
[1] Nebula0, “Orthodoxy vs Orthopraxy”, About Mormonism website

[2] Ibid, Nebula0

[3] LdS Church, “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young”, LdS Church website

[4] LdS Church, “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith” (Kindle Locations 480-482). Kindle Edition. The statement about why polygamy was deliberately avoided in this manual can be found at Kindle Location 204 in the Kindle Edition where it says:

“This book deals with teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith that have application to our day. For example, this book does not discuss such topics as the Prophet’s teachings regarding the law of consecration as applied to stewardship of property. The Lord withdrew this law from the Church because the Saints were not prepared to live it (see D& C 119, section heading). This book also does not discuss plural marriage. The doctrines and principles relating to plural marriage were revealed to Joseph Smith as early as 1831. The Prophet taught the doctrine of plural marriage, and a number of such marriages were performed during his lifetime. Over the next several decades, under the direction of the Church Presidents who succeeded Joseph Smith, a significant number of Church members entered into plural marriages. In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which discontinued plural marriage in the Church (see Official Declaration 1 ). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no longer practices plural marriage.” (bolding added for emphasis)

The above statement can also be found on the LdS Church website by clicking on this link.

[5] There’s ample evidence of the conflict and turmoil that polygamy created in Joseph and Emma Smith’s marriage but probably none more dramatic than this famous incident:

“A door opposite opened and dainty, little, dark-haired Eliza R. Snow (she was “heavy with child”) came out . . . Joseph then walked on to the stairway, where he tenderly kissed Eliza, and then came on down stairs toward Brother Rich. Just as he reached the bottom step, there was a commotion on the stairway, and both Joseph and Brother Rich turned quickly to see Eliza come tumbling down the stairs. Emma had pushed her, in a fit of rage and jealousy; she stood at the top of the stairs, glowering, her countenance a picture of hell. Joseph quickly picked up the little lady, and with her in his arms, he turned and looked up at Emma, who then burst into tears and ran to her room. Joseph carried the hurt and bruised Eliza up the stairs and to her room. ‘Her hip was injured and that is why she always afterward favored that leg,’ said Charles C. Rich. ‘She lost the unborn babe.’”
(Maureen U. Beecher, Linda K. Newell, and Valeen T. Avery, “Emma, Eliza, and the Stairs: An Investigation”, BYU Studies 22 (Winter 1982), pp.86-94)

[6] LdS Church, “Church History in the Fulness of Times” (Kindle Location 6012). Kindle Edition. You can also click on this link to see the referenced content on the LdS Church website.

[7] Consider, for example, this incident:

“The [non-Mormon] Gentiles, who numbered but 36 men, were completely routed and driven from the field in a few minutes. They fought bravely and effectively, but could not withstand the sudden and impetuous attack which was made upon them, and Capt. Bogart led them off in the direction of Elkhorn, but finally fell back to the southern part of the county. The Mormons did not pursue, owing chiefly to the fall of their leader, whose death had a demoralizing effect upon them, chiefly because they had deemed him invincible, as he had repeatedly declared that he could not be killed.

In this engagement the Mormons lost Capt. Patton and two men named Patrick O’Banion and Gideon Carter killed, and James Holbrook and another man wounded. In the dark the latter fought by mistake, and cut up one another with their corn knives, or ” swords,” as they called them, very severely. Capt. Bogart’s Gentiles lost Moses Rowland killed and Thos. H. Loyd, Edwin Odell, James Lockard, Martin Dunnaway, Samuel Tarwater, and Wyatt Craven wounded.

Two Mormons attacked Tarwater with corn knives and nearly cut him to pieces. He received a terrible gash in the skull, through which his brain was plainly visible, one terrible blow across the face severed the jaw bone and destroyed all the upper teeth, and there was an ugly gash made in his neck. He kept his bed six months and his wounds considerably affected his speech and his memory, Mr. Tarwater is yet alive, and resides near Orrick, Ray county. Since 1840 he has drawn a pension from the State of Missouri of $100 per year, for the wounds and disability he received in the Crooked river fight. Wyatt Craven lives near Crab Orchard, Ray county. He was taken prisoner early in the fight, and the Mormons started with him to Far West, but after traveling some distance they released him and told him to go home. He started off and was walking away pretty briskly, when Parley P. Pratt, a very prominent and noted Mormon and one of the ” Twelve Apostles,” laid his gun against a tree, took deliberate aim, fired and shot him down. Then, believing he was dead, the Mormons went off and left him.”
(Ora Merle Hawk Pease, “History of Caldwell and Livingston Counties, Missouri”, pp.130-131)

And as Mormon researcher Bill McKeever notes regarding the Mormon white washing of the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri:

“When speaking of Mormon persecution, the tragedy at Haun’s Mill is rarely overlooked. The film spoke of a Mormon who was “hacked to death by a corn-cutter.” The brevity of this episode in the film fails to mention that the atrocities at Haun’s Mill stemmed in part from an incident a week earlier at what has come to be called “the Battle of Crooked River.” Former Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn explained on page 100 of his book, A Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power:

“A generally unacknowledged dimension of both the extermination order and the Haun’s Mill massacre, however, is that they resulted from Mormon actions in the Battle of Crooked River. Knowingly or not, Mormons had attacked state troops, and this had a cascade effect… upon receiving news of the injuries and death of state troops at Crooked River, Governor Boggs immediately drafted his extermination order on 27 October 1838 because the Mormons ‘have made war upon the people of this state.’ Worse, the killing of one Missourian and mutilation of another while he was defenseless at Crooked River led to the mad-dog revenge by Missourians in the slaughter at Haun’s Mill” (Origins of Power, p.100)

The mutilated Missourian was Samuel Tarwater who was left for dead by the fleeing state militia. Quinn noted how enraged Mormons mutilated the unconscious Tarwater “with their swords, striking him lengthwise in the mouth, cutting off his under teeth, and breaking his lower jaw; cutting off his cheeks…and leaving him [for] dead” (p.99). Tarwater survived to press charges.”
(“Part One of ‘The Mormons’ on PBS” reviewed by Bill McKeever. Mormonism Research Ministry website)

[8] Op cit, “Church History in the Fulness of Times” (Kindle Location 5402). You can also click on this link to see the referenced content on the LdS Church website.

[9] Ibid, (Kindle Locations 5436-5443). You can also click on this link to see the referenced content on the LdS Church website.

[10] Wikipedia, “Kirtland Safety Society”, “Response in the LDS community”; Also see “Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company” on the MormonThink.com website for a good collection of citations from non-neutral sources. There’s just no denying that the example citation from the church manual is spin doctored, white washed, revisionism. Joseph Smith, along with his First Counselor Sidney Rigdon, legitimately bore a heavy fiduciary burden for the failure of the bank.

[11] LdS Church, “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow”, “Chapter 5: The Grand Destiny of the Faithful” p.83, LdS Church website

[12] LdS Church, “Book of Mormon Student Study Guide”, “2 Nephi 25: ‘Believe in Christ'”, p.53, LdS Church website

[13] Dallin H. Oaks, “Have You Been Saved?” Ensign, May 1998, p. 55, LdS Church website

[14] Aaron Shafovaloff, “Mormonism, Officiality, and Plausible Deniability”, Mormon Research Ministry website

[15] Carlos Asay, “‘For the Perfecting of the Saints’: A Look at Church Curriculum”, Ensign, Jan. 1986, p.17, LdS Church website

[16] M. Russell Ballard, “Teaching—No Greater Call”, April 1983 LDS General Conference, LdS Church website

RECOMMENDED READING
Mormon Doctrine: What’s Official, And What Isn’t?, by Donald L. Ashton. Mr. Ashton is a member of StayLDS.com which is a, “We don’t believe anymore but still stay LDS,” New Order Mormon style group. I would have loved to cite several times from this fascinating article but the author has tightened up the use rights to the point of making that impractical. Apparently he doesn’t want it to get into the hands of all those nasty Mormon critics out there – and for good reason, there’s a lot to work with here if you’re a critic!

In the end this article expends a lot of time and effort to essentially say, “There is no official Mormon doctrine. The truth is what you make it.” (These are my words not the author’s) In other words, it advocates a form of relativist post modernism. Never-the-less, it still contains some good lists of official LdS Church sources and quotes from Mormon leaders on the subject of what constitutes official Mormon doctrine and what doesn’t. If nothing else, this article defines the problem well even if it’s solution is “squishy” and, at least to this author’s way of thinking, unsatisfying.

“What is Official Doctrine?”, by Stephen E. Robinson and Joseph Fielding Smith. BYU Professor (cum Mormon Apologist) Stephen Robinson’s glowing treatise in support of the kind of circular logic and appeal to authority fallacies that were noted in the main article above. If nothing else this article is worth reading to see the lengths that Mormons will go to protect their “Not official!” escape hatch.

My favorite line is this wonder of circular logic: “the only valid judgments of whether or not LDS doctrine is Christian must be based on the official doctrines of the Church, interpreted as the Latter-day Saints interpret them.” In other words, outside objective evidence is irrelevant to Mormonism’s closed system – a phenomenon I wrote about in my article, “The Problem of the Mormon Tank (Revisited)”. Robinson also tacks on an excerpt from Joseph Fielding Smith’s, “Answers to Gospel Questions”, that proves that Mormon Prophets can be just as irrational, circular, and fallacious as BYU Professors.

“Approaching Mormon Doctrine”, LDS Newsroom. An official LdS Church source that explicitly states that feelings alone aren’t a sufficient means of discerning truth. I use this one a lot with Mormons who insist that the “witness of the Spirit” alone is sufficient for discerning truth and that objective evidence is irrelevant:

“Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of Church doctrine. Moreover, the Church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together.” (bolding added for emphasis)

“Should one limit consideration of ‘Mormonism’ to what minimalists deem ‘official’ and ‘binding’?”, by Aaron Shafovaloff. This article offers some thoughts on why Mormon “not official” objections shouldn’t be allowed to stop or limit discussion.

“Mormon Belief: The Doctrine of the LDS Church”, by Robert Bowman Jr. Provides a short, succinct of core Latter-day Saint beliefs with citations from official LdS Church sources.

BACK TO TOP

Newburgh Seminary College

Was Christ born “in Bethlehem” or “at Jerusalem”? And does it matter?

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“The entire Book of Mormon was discredited just as soon as it said that Christ was born in Jerusalem.”

Why It’s Weak:
This argument is a molehill not a mountain. This is a valid contradiction with the Bible, however, on it’s own, it discredits this verse but not the entire Book of Mormon.

1) This molehill was turned into a mountain by Mormon Apologists
This argument arises from the fact that Alma 7:10 in the Book of Mormon says:

And behold, he [Christ] shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.

The first Christian Mormon critic I know of that used this argument was Alexander Campbell who in his 1831 review of the Book of Mormon polemically observed:

But he is better skilled in the controversies in New York than in the geography or history of Judea. He makes John baptise in the village of Bethabara, (page 22) and says Jesus was born in Jerusalem, p. 240. Great must be the faith of the Mormonites in this new Bible!!![1]

And, of course, he has a point since the Bible states plainly, not once, not twice, but eight times that Christ was born in Bethlehem. This is a clear contradiction with the Bible. And since Mormon critics are of the opinion that the Book of Mormon is just a piece of contrived 19th Century historical fiction, as far as we’re concerned, it’s the kind of thing that one would expect were that the case. There are no just surprises here!

However, Mormon Apologists just can’t seem to leave it alone. As Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever notes:

It is obvious that this is a very sensitive issue with these [Apologist] Mormons. According to them, Alma was referring to the surrounding area of Jerusalem and not the city itself. They insist that Alma was a real person, so to credit him with saying that Christ would someday be born in Jerusalem and not in Bethlehem would be a serious faux pas. To say otherwise casts doubt upon the historicity of Mormonism’s sacred Book of Mormon.

We do not hide the fact that we do not believe the Book of Mormon is an ancient text. Because we believe Alma is a fictitious character, we naturally wouldn’t credit him with such a gaffe. We are not implying that Joseph Smith was ignorant as to where Jesus was born. Instead, we believe that this was a simple slip of the pen. Joseph Smith may have mistaken the better-known Jerusalem for the lesser Bethlehem.[2]

And if one suspends disbelieve and presumes that Alma the Younger was in fact a historical figure, such a gaffe is still really no big deal – people get excited and misspeak like this all the time. For example, do you remember the last time that Grandma and Grandpa retold the same story and spent half the time correcting each other’s bad memory rather than actually telling the story? I rest my case.

After all, if the Book of Mormon is true history then Alma would certainly would have known the location of the Messiah’s birthplace wouldn’t he? That’s because the Book of Mormon tells us that he had the plates of brass (see Alma 37) which is said to have contained the Biblical record up until the time of Jeremiah’s prophesies. If that was the case, then Alma would have had Micah’s prophecy, since Micah prophesied more than a hundred years before Lehi left Jerusalem. And that prophesy states clearly:

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. (Micah 5:2, bold italics added for emphasis)[3]

A slip of the pen, in a work of fiction? An over zealous speaker with a bad memory? No big deal right? Well, according to Mormon Apologists, no – this is a big deal!

View of Bethlehem from South Jerusalem. Bethlehem is only 6-miles away.
(click to zoom)

2) What’s 6-miles between friends?
So, rather than simply acknowledging that this is a contradiction with the Bible, Mormon Apologists go to great lengths to convince the world that the word “Jerusalem” in Alma 7:10 really means, “the land of Jerusalem”. This argument is based on the fact that Bethlehem is a suburb of Jerusalem that’s only 6-miles away. OK, I can kind of see that. I was born in Anaheim, California which is a suburb of Los Angeles. Therefore, for those who are unfamiliar with the city (which includes a Major League Baseball team and an itsy bitsy amusement park called “Disneyland”) I tell them that I’m from the Los Angeles area. However, in actual fact, downtown Los Angeles is 24-miles from where I was born. And if anyone pressed me (which hasn’t happened yet) I would simply say, “Well, to be precise I was born in Anaheim which is where Disneyland is, where Angel Stadium is, and where the Los Angeles Angels play baseball.” In other words, I would clarify and things tighten up a bit. I just don’t think that this, in and of itself, is a big deal. Do you?

Thus, Mormon Apologists argue:

Google Earth satellite photo of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. (click to zoom)

Google Earth satellite photo of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. (click to zoom)

The town of Bethlehem is in the “land of Jerusalem.” In fact, Bethlehem is only 5 miles south of Jerusalem: definitely “in the land,” especially from the perspective of Alma, a continent away. Even locals considered Hebron, twenty five miles from Bethlehem, to be in the “land of Jerusalem. This is, in reality, another literary evidence for the Book of Mormon. While a forger would likely overlook this detail and include Bethlehem as the commonly-understood birthplace of Jesus, the ancient authors of the Book of Mormon use an authentic term to describe the Savior’s birthplace—thereby providing another point of authenticity for the Book of Mormon.[4]

But the problem passage doesn’t use the term “land of Jerusalem” it says, “at Jerusalem”:

Dr. Peterson argues, “The most reliable way to determine what a given phrase means in the Book of Mormon, therefore, is to look at the Book of Mormon” ([FARMS] Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5:73). This is a reasonable point. The problem is that Peterson and his colleagues ignore this guidance and instead go to great lengths to defend a phrase that is not included in the text. While much has been written to defend the notion that Jesus was born in the land of Jerusalem, the fact of the matter is that this phrase is not used in this passage. We repeat, the phrase land of Jerusalem is not used in Alma 7:10.[5]

Furthermore, the other eighteen times the term “at Jerusalem” is used in the Book of Mormon it always means “in the city of Jerusalem”.  Thus, as Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson very correctly observe, “if a phrase is used 19 times, and in 18 of those times it can be demonstrated that it means the actual city of Jerusalem, it is both inconsistent and tenuous to interpret Alma 7:10 otherwise.”[6]

3) Straining at gnats, swallowing Camels…
On the Mormon side of the divide the problem is that Mormon Apologists make this a hill to die on. Why? So Joseph Smith had a slip of the pen when he was writing the Book of Mormon – so what? So Alma had a memory lapse or simply misquoted Micah 5:2 in his prophetic zeal – so what? By straining at this “gnat” of a problem Mormon Apologists are merely bringing attention to the “camel” of their over the top apologetic tactics. Why not just acknowledge the contradiction and move on to more pressing Book of Mormon issues?

On the Christian side of the divide the problem is that some critics overstate their case in exaggerating the importance of this contradiction. While it’s true that the Mormon apologetic on this point is strained and inconsistent, it’s not completely unreasonable. And while this contradiction most certainly discredits this verse it’s a stretch to say that it discredits the entire Book of Mormon. Rather, the overall case that discredits the Book of Mormon is a culmination of contradictions, problems, and issues not just a single contradiction, problem, or issue.

Further, standing on the Mormon side of the divide I don’t see Christians abandoning the entire Bible and calling it “discredited” over just a single Biblical contradiction. I don’t see Protestants denouncing Catholic and Orthodox Bibles as fully discredited simply because they contain the Apocrypha. Nor do I hear Catholics and Orthodox Christians denouncing us because our Bibles don’t. Why then do some Christians expect Mormons to abandon the entire Book of Mormon based on solely one problem text?

4) …and showing obvious bias
I think that the underlying problem here is many Christians seem to employ a double standard when it comes to Mormonism. These Christians tend to judge all things Mormons much harsher than they do all things Christian. After all, the Bible isn’t without contradictions too. Here’s an example:

Matthew 27:5 (NKJV)
Then he [Judas Iscariot] threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.

Acts 1:18 (NKJV)
Now this man [Judas Iscariot] purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.

Even if we harmonize this as the hanging rope breaking and Judas’ entrails gushing out after his corpse hit the ground, the fact remains, that when taken at face value this is a contradiction. Should Christians declare the entire Bible discredited because of it? Even Atheist critics and Muslims[7] don’t suggest such a response because it’s so “over the top”. Yet, many Christians would demand exactly that of Mormons over Alma 7:10. To me, such a demand on Mormons reveals an extreme bias on the part of some Christians and the type of unjust, uncharitable treatment that can drive Mormons deeper into the LdS Church if they stay, or right past Christianity and straight into atheism if they leave. This need not be, there is a better way.

The Stronger Arguments:
While it’s clear that while Alma 7:10 used in isolation isn’t a strong argument, it can be used as part of one or more stronger arguments. Let’s look at them.

First Suggested Strong Argument: “Alma 7:10 is just one of many pebbles breaking the shelf.” 
Most ExMormons tell us that there wasn’t just one thing that convinced them that the truth claims of the LdS Church don’t add up, it was a culmination of a lot of little things. They say it’s like a bunch of pebbles being tucked away on a shelf in a deep, dark corner – that is until the shelf finally collapses under the weight of them all. That said, here’s a sampling of some other pebbles[8] to add to the pile in addition to the Alma 7:10 Jerusalem pebble:

"Scriptures" by Grant Heaton

“Scriptures” by Grant Heaton
(click to zoom)

Book of Mormon: The Book of Mormon people built temples in the Americas and performed sacrifices. (Alma 16:13)
Bible: Jerusalem was explicitly chosen by God as the one and only place for the one and only temple and the only legitimate place for sacrifices. (1 Kings 8:44-48Deut. 12:5-6)

Book of Mormon: The priesthood did not need to be Levitical. The Book of Mormon people were from the tribes of Joseph (1 Nephi 5:16-17) or Manasseh (Alma 10:3) not Levi. Nephi, who consecrated the first priests, was from the tribe of Joseph (2 Nephi 5:26) as were they.
Bible: The priesthood could only be through the lineage of Aaron, a Levite. (Numbers 3:9-10)

Book of Mormon: At Christ’s crucifixion, there was three days of darkness. (Helaman 14:27)
Bible: At Christ’s crucifixion, there were three hours of darkness. (Luke 23:44)

Book of Mormon: At the tower of Babel the Jaredites had a separate language which was spared the confusion of languages. (Ether 1:34-35)
Bible: At the tower of Babel there was one language, which was then confused by God. (Genesis 11:1)

Book of Mormon: The Gospel, the Church, and Christianity existed prior to Christ’s incarnation. (2 Nephi 26:12)
Bible: The Gospel, the Church, and Christianity were proclaimed during Christ’s ministry and came to exist after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. (Matthew 16:18)

Book of Mormon: One son of King Zedekiah escaped destruction and came to the Americas. (Helaman 6:108:21)
Bible: All of King Zedekiah’s sons were killed. (Jeremiah 39:6)

Book of Mormon: The Book of Mormon people people received the gift of the Holy Ghost as early as 545 BC (2 Nephi 31:12-13)
Bible: The Holy Ghost was bestowed on the Christians at the time of Pentecost in 1 AD. (Luke 24:49Acts 2:1-4)

Second Suggested Strong Argument: “Why are those Jews acting like goyim?”
“Goyim” is the Hebrew word for “nations” that in Jewish vernacular has come to mean “gentiles”. The Book of Mormon claims to be an ancient record of Jews who left the Middle East around 600 BC. However, these alleged Jews don’t act like 7th Century BC Jews, they act like 19th Century AD Protestant Christians. As Alexander Campbell notes in his review of the Book of Mormon:

[Joseph] Smith makes Nephi express every truth found in the writings of the Apostles concerning the calling and blessing of the Gentiles, and even quotes the 11th chapter of Romans, and many other passages before he had a son grown in the wilderness able to aim an arrow at a deer. Paul says these things were secrets and unknown until his time; but Smith makes Nephi say the same things 600 years before Paul was converted! One of the two is a false prophet. Mormonites, take your choice!

This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in N. York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies – infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of freemasonry, republican government, and the rights of man. All these topics are repeatedly alluded to. How much more benevolent and intelligent this American Apostle, than were the holy twelve, and Paul to assist them!!! He prophesied of all these topics, and of the apostacy, and infallibly decided, by his authority, every question. How easy to prophecy of the past or of the present time!!

He represents the christian institution as practised among his Israelites before Jesus was born. And his Jews are called christians while keeping the law of Moses, the holy sabbath, and worshipping in their temple at their altars, and by their high priests.[9]

Further, as Mormon Studies Scholar Luke P. Wilson notes:

The most common biblical terms used to describe the Old Testament priesthood, temple and appointed feasts, are entirely missing from the Book of Mormon. Here are 10 examples of such biblical terms with their frequencies, that never appear once in the Book of Mormon:

  • “laver” (13 times in Bible)
  • “incense” (121 times in Bible)
  • “ark of the covenant” (48 times in Bible)
  • “sons of Aaron” (97 times in Bible)
  • “mercy seat” (23 in Bible)
  • “day of atonement” (21 times in Bible)
  • “feast of tabernacles” (17 times in Bible)
  • “passover” (59 times in Bible)
  • “house of the LORD” (627 in Bible)
  • “Aaron” – this name appears 48 times in the Book of Mormon, but never in reference to the biblical Aaron or the Aaronic priesthood.[10]

Finally, and not insignificantly, as one Mormon Researcher has observed:

2 Nephi 25:24 says, “we keep the law of Moses”. During the time this was written (about 559–545 B.C.) the Nephites were claiming to be orthodox Jews. Having the law of Moses, they would have said the shema (Duet 6:4) and they would have followed the Mosaic law strictly. In fact, the phrase “we keep the law of Moses” appears in the Book of Mormon four times (2 Nephi 25:242 Nephi 5:10Jacob 4:5, and 1 Nephi 17:22), it is a recurring theme throughout the book.

According to Mormon dogma Nephi and Lehi followed the Mosaic law without error. Yet even after all they allegedly knew concerning God and His law why did they still break his commandments? There’s just no excuse for this if the Book of Mormon is true. Further, why are the Nephites blessed by God despite their disobedience of His law, while at the same time God is calling down judgment on the Jews in Israeli for violating it? This makes no sense!

Further, the Nephites were from the northern kingdom (the tribe of Manasseh), so they would have known their heritage. They would have surely known the story of Jeroboam and all he did to put Israel into such a state of apostasy that it merited the Assryian exile of 722 BC. The orthodoxy and legitimacy of these Book of Mormon Jews needs to be seriously questioned![11]

Simply put, shouldn’t a book written about Jews, by Jews, for Jews be . . . well . . Jewish? Shouldn’t such a book accurately reflect Jewish history, values, attitudes, and customs? Well the Book of Mormon ain’t Jewish folks – it’s goy through and through!

Summary and Conclusion:
These arguments are just a small sample of the vast array of better, stronger arguments to choose from. Simply put, the Book of Mormon discredits itself in so many other, better, more persuasive ways that the begging question is this: Why use this weak argument at all? It’s a molehill not a mountain.

"Jesus Christ visits the Americas" by John Scott. It doesn't get much more Jewish than this does it folks? Especially the "Jewish" Temple in the background.

It doesn’t get much more Jewish than this does it – especially the “Jewish” Temple in the background.
(click to zoom)

NOTES
[1] Alexander Campbell, “Delusions: An analysis of the book of Mormon with an examination of its internal and external evidences, and a refutation of its pretenses to divine authority”, The Millennial Harbinger, February 7, 1831

[2] Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, “Was Jesus born ‘at Jerusalem’?”, Mormonism Research Ministry website

[3] And, I should add that Micah 5:2 not only says “Bethlehem” clearly but redundantly.  “Ephratah” is the ancient name for Bethlehem. A variant of the name first appears in the Bible in Genesis 35:

“Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor.” (Genesis 35:16, NKJV)

“So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).  And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.” (Genesis 35:19-20, NKJV) 

This is also reiterated elsewhere in the Bible (click here).

[4] Uncredited, “Question: Why does the Book of Mormon say that Jesus would be born ‘at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers’ when the Bible states that he was born in Bethlehem?”, FAIRMormon website

[5] Op cit, McKeever and Johnson

[6] Ibid, McKeever and Johnson

[7] For example, please consider these critiques:
Atheist Critic: Uncredited, “Discrepancies in the Bible: The Death of Judas Iscariot”
Muslim Critic: Abdullah Smith, “The Death of Judas”

[8] This list was taken mainly from the website of Main Street Church of Brigham City, “Scripture Reference: Bible & Book of Mormon Contradictions”. Other recommended resources:

Sandra Tanner, “Bible and Book of Mormon Contradictions”
Luke P. Wilson, “Contradictions Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible”

[9] Op cit, Campbell

[10] Luke P. Wilson, “Contradictions Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible”, Institute for Religious Research (IRR) website

[11] Adapted from a Facebook comment made by Brian Roberts on December 19, 2014 in the B.C.  &  L.D.S.  (Biblical Christians and Latter Day Saints) discussion group.  Mr. Roberts has also written extensively on the theme of Book of Mormon inconsistencies on his “Sinners and Saints” website.

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