Following the peaceful and successful Christian witness at the Mormon British Pageant held at the Mormon temple in Lancashire (right) and led by this ministry (see previous posts for reports) the inevitable and inevitably amateur response has appeared on the internet.
The usual name-calling has been going on, one favourite being “protesters,” which brought a smile to the faces of happy Christians peacefully engaging Mormons in conversation and handing out literature to passers-by. The inevitable, “anti-Mormon” label came out of course and I want to share some thoughts about that.
The Oct. 1997 issue of the liberal Mormon Sunstone magazine (Vol. 20:3, Issue 107) carried an amusing article about alternative names for “Anti-Mormons.” (Thanks to Vince for drawing this list to my attention. Comments in brackets are my own, of course)
Sceptics (And this is a bad thing because…?)
Gentiles (Mormons consider themselves the new Israel)
Counter-Mormons (That’s anti-Mormons to the rest of us)
Anti-Christs (At least we know now what Mormons think of honest critics)
Mormophobes (It isn’t an irrational fear but a healthy scepticism – see 1 above)
Nehors (Nehor is an obscure Book of Mormon character who led an apostate sect)
Avatars of Satan (An avatar is an incarnation of a deity; see comment on temple “minister” below)
Challengers (Fair comment. So stop name-calling and meet the challenge)
The unconverted (Christians? Unconverted? Interesting insight)
Post-Mormons (Thank goodness that’s behind us then)
Unwashed heathens (Lets not dignify that…)
Ignorant fools (Mt.5:22)
Tannerites (Sandra Tanner and her late husband Jerald, former Mormons, are the most influential critics of Mormonism in the 20th century)
O Benighted Ones (We are getting into the realms of Twilight here, surely)
Dysfunctional pseudo-Christians (Pardon me? I can dress myself)
Friends of other faiths (FOOFS) (To Mormons other churches are “other faiths,” a telling fact since churches are Christian so what does that make Mormonism except “another faith?” Gal.1:8-9)
Friends of opposing lifestyles (FOOLS) (See Mt.5:22 again)
Patrons of opposing philosophies (POOPS) (snigger)
Acquaintances of negative theological interests (ANTIs)
The Gentile Liberation Front (see 2 above)
CsOTMC (Critics of the Mormon Church) (I can live with that)
Objectivity-challenged Mormon commentators
and, “persons in straw hats who sit upon lawn chairs in the full sun all day long and distribute perversely negative literature about the LDS church at the exits of parking lots of LDS temple open houses, who are otherwise harmless…” (I have never owned a lawn chair in my life, although I do have a straw hat)
Childish, isn’t it? And, of course, you can’t ascribe this sort of infantile nonsense to every Mormon you meet. On the other hand, it is not entirely atypical. If this kind of “critical” response was put on a spectrum most, if not all Mormons would fit on it somewhere.
The Mormon Great Game
Typical of the response of Mormons to criticism is to attempt to isolate critics from the mainstream of Christian thought and even civilised society. This is done by labelling critics “anti-Mormon,” defining them in terms of their relationship to Mormonism rather than by their faith, and ascribing to them base motives far removed from those of true, good-hearted Christians.
Mormonism’s critics are portrayed as holding to beliefs that are peculiar even to other Christians, as having problems with Mormon theology that most other Christians would not have. There is a history to this kind of approach, represented by such Mormon books as Offenders for a Word, How Wide the Divide and Are Mormons Christians?
Further, in an attempt to legitimise theology that is peculiar to Mormonism, and alien to historical, orthodox Christianity, Mormons seek first to redefine what are often settled issues for the Christian Church; the nature of God, the nature of man, the person of Jesus, the nature of sin, the significance of the cross, the means of grace and salvation, the work of the Holy Spirit, the reliability of the Bible and the eternal destiny of the saints.
This way they create something more in their own image and call it Christianity. They then compare the views of Christian apologists looking critically at Mormonism with this chimera and represent these apologists as though they are out on a limb as far as most Christians are concerned. I call this the Mormon Great Game.
Anyone reading literature produced by Christian critics of Mormonism, indeed reading this blog, will readily see that these thoughtful critics usually stand squarely within the Evangelical Christian tradition when it comes to doctrine. In challenging Mormon thought they represent accurately the problems most Christians would have with Mormon theology.
Christians would have real problems with the Mormon teaching that God is an exalted man, Jesus his literal physical Son; man an eternal being; sin something we pick up from influences around us; the cross simply the place where Jesus died; salvation as something you earn; the Spirit one of three distinct gods; the Bible as unreliable and godhood the ultimate goal for every believer deemed “worthy” of exaltation. All Mormon teachings, none squaring with historical, orthodox Christianity.
According to the official Mormon web site, there are over seventy thousand full-time Mormon missionaries around the world today, as well as the almost 15million ‘lay members’ to whom the aphorism “every member a missionary” applies (For more on how Mormon demographics don’t add up see the Mormon Chapbook). They are calling on our neighbours with their message of families, temples, extra-biblical revelation and the rest, and insist that, unlike their detractors, they are simply proclaiming their message and sharing what they believe.
Mormons; Tearing Down the Walls
However, in “teaching what [they] believe to be the teachings of Jesus Christ”, as one correspondent insisted, they do not themselves simply present their view. Their message is grounded in the doctrine that all other churches are in apostasy; their creeds an abomination, believers corrupt, their practices ungodly and their ministers without authority (Joseph Smith, History 1:19).
The first lesson given by Mormon missionaries emphasises the corrupt, apostate nature of Christian churches. Mormonism is presented immediately as a restoration of truth and authority “after centuries of spiritual darkness.” An integral part of their message is an attack on established Christian churches; tearing down the walls of established truth.
In light of this, I suggest their familiar cry, “why do you have to tear down other people’s beliefs?” is breathtakingly disingenuous. In presenting Mormonism, they inevitably tear down the faith of Bible-believing Christians everywhere. If we are “anti-Mormon” what does that make them?
Many Mormon books have been written about, and web pages dedicated to, the defence of Mormonism against those who criticise it. There are also publications ‘correcting’, in light of Mormon beliefs, ‘apostate’ Christian beliefs and practices and educating people in the ‘restored’ Mormon gospel. All of them compare Christianity unfavourably with Mormonism.
The Book of Mormon, said by Joseph Smith to be, “the cornerstone of our faith,” itself is scathing in its attack on the Christian Church, “predicting” a universal apostasy and condemning Christian churches in the strongest terms:
1 Nephi 13
24 And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book [the Bible] proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record; and they bear record according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God…
…26 And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away…
…28 Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.
But these plain and precious truths, lost through the corruption of the great and abominable church, would be restored:
35 For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious [The Book of Mormon]; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb [through Joseph Smith]….
…38 And it came to pass that I beheld the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the book of the Lamb of God, which had proceeded forth from the mouth of the Jew, that it came forth from the Gentiles unto the remnant of the seed of my brethren [the Lamanites, or American Indians].
39 And after it had come forth unto them I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true.
40 And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records [The Book of Mormon], which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first [The Bible], which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved. (Words in square brackets added)
Mormon Leaders Play the Game
Mormon leaders have, over the years, been scathing about the churches. In this same section of the Book of Mormon the writer goes on to talk about “the great and abominable church [being] the mother of harlots” Mormon apostle, Bruce R McConkie commented:
“Speaking of harlots in the figurative sense, he (Nephi) designated the Catholic Church as ‘the mother of harlots’ (I Ne.13:34; 14:15-17) a title which means that the protestant churches, the harlot daughters which broke off from the great and abominable church, would themselves be apostate churches.” (Mormon Doctrine, 1958, pp.314-315)
Now doubt there about where Mormonism stands in relation to the Christian churches. Speaking in 1893 the Mormon prophet John Taylor said:
We talk about Christianity, but it is a perfect pack of nonsense…Myself and hundreds of the Elders around me have seen its pomp, parade, and glory; and what is it? It is a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbol (sic); it is as corrupt as hell; and the devil could not invent a better engine to spread his work than the Christianity of the nineteenth century” (Journal of Discourses, vol.6 p 167)
Mormons Play the Game in Secret
Up until 1990 the Mormon temple endowment ceremony portrayed a Christian minister as in the pay of the devil! He was made to look corrupt because he preached for money (see Luke 10:7; 1 Cor.9:7-12 esp.v11); His message of an invisible God “so great he can fill the universe, ye so small he can dwell in your heart” (a grotesque caricature) was mocked mercilessly. This portrayal was only removed after strong and repeated protests from outraged Christians and some Mormons who felt increasingly uncomfortable with it.
If Mormons are permitted to ‘apologise’ for, defend and spread their views by casting Christianity in such a poor light I fail to see any justification for Mormon complaints about works that closely and critically examine Mormonism. We might justifiably claim to be simply defending our own faith against Mormon critics calling at our doors. Instead of manufacturing labels for honest critics I suggest they should use their time and energy bringing honest answers to honest questions. Anti-Mormon? I don’t think so.