How Not to Talk to Mormons

It’s been a while, and for that I apologize. I was laid off from my job in February, and when I landed a job, it was in Northern Virginia. Needless to say, it’s hard to find time to write when you’re moving a household 2000 miles east. Just before we moved, my father had triple-bypass surgery, so I took a week off from packing and went to California to help my parents after the surgery.

I feel like I’m settling in well, so maybe it’s time to write again. I’ve told myself I don’t want to stay focused on Mormonism, so naturally my first post-move piece will be about Mormonism–well, not Mormonism so much, but how people interact with Mormons.

A friend pointed out a piece on Townhall.com (I am not a regular reader there) that was ostensibly an apology by the author, Mike Adams, for asserting in a previous piece that Mormons are “non-Christian.” Here’s the original quote in context:

People often try to call something a marriage when it isn’t. Calling a union between two men or between two women a marriage doesn’t make it one. It’s like embedding the name “Jesus Christ” in the official title of the LDS church and thinking that makes Mormonism somehow Christian. Call a square a triangle if you like but it’s still a square. Your hardheadedness won’t make it become a triangle. It will only make you appear obtuse.

You can guess from the tone of this statement that the apology was anything but an apology.

A little background: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) had always been a fringe movement based in America. After the church abandoned polygamy in 1890 and particularly after the 1903-07 Smoot hearings, Mormonism became much more “mainstream” in its image. Still, it was a relatively small religion until, in the 1960s and 1970s, the church greatly expanded their missionary efforts. The church experienced rapid growth, particularly in developing countries, but also in the United States and Europe. Church membership reached 1 million in 1947 (117 years after the church’s founding) but reached 2 million only 16 years later in 1963. The next million took only 8 years (1971).

The rapid growth seems to have provoked other religious groups to realize that they had some competition. Some of these groups, particularly Evangelical Christians, made a concerted effort to cast the LDS church as a dangerous cult, and polemical anti-Mormon books and films began to appear, such as Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s “Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?” (1963) and Walter Martin’s “Kingdom of the Cults” (1965). Perhaps the most effective attack was the assertion that Mormons were not Christians. By this the anti-Mormons generally meant that Mormons didn’t believe in orthodox, creedal Christianity, which is true, but the intention, as far as I can tell, was to suggest that Mormons rejected Christ entirely. This was an effective strategy, as the accusation stuck. Many times when I was a believing Mormon, people expressed shock that I believed that Jesus was my Savior. The LDS church responded by changing the missionary discussions so that our beliefs about Jesus came at the beginning of the first discussion (previously it had been in the third); a few years later, the church changed its official logo, putting JESUS CHRIST in the center in a larger font than the rest of the logo.

I know, that was more than a little background, but the “non-Christian” accusation is a sensitive subject with Mormons because they believe in Jesus and have faith that He suffered and died to save them from sin. So Mike Adams offended a lot of Mormon readers when he excluded them from the ranks of Christian believers. While I understand his point of view, his “apology” is, well, arrogant and counterproductive.

As I read through his two-page, sarcastic littany of what he considers stupid and evil Mormon beliefs and practices, I wondered why I was so put off by the essay. After all, pretty much everything he listed was more or less true, though presented polemically and without any context. He is right that DNA and archaeological evidence do not square with Mormon claims–I’d say his assertion that such claims have been “refuted” is a bit of an overstatement. The Book of Mormon is clearly textually dependent on the 1769 King James Bible (he uses the word “plagiarism”). He spends a lot of time on Joseph Smith’s plural wives, and he’s right that Smith’s actions were coercive, deceptive, and appalling.

But what does any of this have to do with whether Mormonism is a Christian religion? The list makes it clear that Mike Adams believes Mormonism has been shown to be false. I hate to break it to him, but who is a Christian is not defined by what Mike Adams believes is true or false.

Not until the last four paragraphs does Adams present anything that approaches defining Mormonism as non-Christian. He presents a quote from the King Follett Discourse to show that Joseph believed he would take God’s exalted place. This is either lazy or dishonest because Smith was actually talking about Jesus in that passage to explain what Jesus meant by “glorifying” the Father:

What did Jesus do? Why, I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. My Father worked out His kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to My Father, so that He may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt Him in glory.

From this quote, Adams condemns Mormonism as polytheistic:

I am sorry that Smith’s polytheism is not consistent with John 14:6. I am also sorry that since these are the words of Christ, polytheism cannot be Christian. Moreover, I am sorry, my Mormon friends, but the the words of Christ trump the words of Joseph Smith who will never be God.

Next he says

I am sorry that Mormonism teaches that Christ was not there in the beginning, that god was just a man who became God by following a moral code he did not create, and that we may all become gods by following the same moral code that predates the existence of Jesus. I am sorry that the theological mess caused by Joseph Smith is irreconcilable with the teachings of the Holy Bible.

The problem here is that Mormonism does indeed teach that Christ was “there in the beginning,” so I’m not sure where that’s coming from. The second part of that sentence is more or less true: Mormonism teaches that there are certain “laws” in the universe, and God adheres to them; strictly speaking, it offers no opinion as to whether God created those laws and “moral code” or how God came to be in the first place. So, in his haste to damn Mormonism, Adams is the one causing the “theological mess.”

But I don’t really have any interest in arguing whether Mormons are Christians or not. For the record, I believe that whoever affirms belief in Jesus as the Son of God who died for the sins of humankind is a Christian. Last I checked, Christians believe that people are saved through the atoning blood of Christ, yet folks like Mr. Adams seem to think that there’s also a written exam, and if you don’t check the right doctrines off, you’re on your way south. In short, this grousing about who is a true Christian is about as productive as defining a true Scotsman.

As I thought about it, what was so off-putting was the bare contempt Adams has for Mormonism and for Mormons. I know a lot of conservative Mormons who have hitched their political wagons to the conservative Evangelical movement, considering them to be allies in the fight for freedom and right. But as Adams shows, these “allies” despise Mormons and Mormonism as much as, perhaps even more than they do liberals and atheists. Adams is probably congratulating himself on his bluntness in standing up for truth, but all he has accomplished is promoted rigid dogmatism and alienated people who should be on his side. He reminds me of Joseph Fielding Smith, the LDS apostle who for many years dispensed his opinions as dogmatic “answers to gospel questions”; when I was younger, I thought how marvelous it was that he was so unafraid to speak the truth. But as I got older I realized that there was nothing brave or righteous about spouting opinions as facts.

So, Mike Adams wasted an opportunity and instead sowed division in his own ranks. Hell, even South Park did a better job of building bridges with Mormons than he did. The best way to destroy a political movement is to encourage infighting and litmus tests. Pretty soon you’re left with a few Mike Adamses and no one else.

And for my LDS readers: Rather than get huffy about Adams (that’s my job), maybe you could treat this as a chance to increase understanding and build on common ground. Just a suggestion.

 

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34 Responses to How Not to Talk to Mormons

  1. “as I got older I realized that there was nothing brave or righteous about spouting opinions as facts.”

    Great comment, Runtu. Glad you are moved, settled, and back to writing.

  2. Lorraine says:

    Glad to see you back, Runtu. I was wondering where you’d got to. Hope you’re enjoying the new job.

  3. mark parratt says:

    Great way to get back into writing. Have missed your writing!

    I hope your father is doing well!

    • runtu says:

      Thanks to all of you. Life is good here, and we’re happy. My dad is doing much better. Apparently he was in a bad way before the surgery but didn’t know it; fortunately, the doctors discovered the blockages before it progressed to a heart attack.

  4. cocacolafiend says:

    I think the Mormons are not Christians line comes from the fact that Mormons do not believe Christ is God. That’s the only real argument I can think of.

    • runtu says:

      They don’t? That’s news to me. It’s a little more complicated than that, but there’s no doubt that Mormons believe Christ is God.

      • cocacolafiend says:

        As an ex-mormon who spent four years studying seminary, Mormons do not believe Christ and God are the same person. They believe Christ, God and the Holy Ghost are separate entities, and this appears to be what causes the most friction between them and other Christian denominations.

        They do believe Jesus was the “Jehovah” of the Old Testament, and that he helped God create the Earth, which may be what is causing your confusion

      • runtu says:

        I’m an ex-Mormon who had four years of seminary, took all required religion classes at BYU, wrote instructional manuals for the LDS church, taught priesthood, Sunday School, and Gospel Doctrine for years. No offense, but I know the doctrines of the LDS church. I could go on and on about the differences between the Godhead and the Trinity, but I’ll just say this: the Trinity is three persons, one essence; the LDS Godhead is three persons, one Godhood. It’s different, but not different enough to make Jesus not God.

  5. Odell says:

    Adams’ piece is nothing new. As far back as I can remember, Mormons have always been called non-Christians. As a child I was asked how many moms I had, how many belly buttons I had, and where were my horns. Obviously I did not grow up in Utah.
    What I find more interesting is why Mormons let this sort of thing bother them. So what if Adams’ doesn’t view Mormons as legitimate Christians; Mormonism used to celebrate its differences from mainstream Christianity.

    Mormons seem to be thin skinned about their self-identity. They love the spot light when it suits them, but that’s not how spot lights work. The LDS penchant for adulation and acceptance is almost embarrassing to me. Maybe Mormonism’s awkwardness with its self identity and image needs to mature where columns by lackeys are nothing (Didn’t OSU’s Mormon President call his criticism of the Catholics at Notre Dame a poor attempt at humor?).

    From a dogma point of view, Mormons should not be shocked at how some view them; after all, Mormons view all other creeds as an abomination before God and view the Mormon faith as the one and only way to God.

    And its good to see you blogging again! Welcome back to normalcy.

    • runtu says:

      Like I said, what struck me wasn’t so much his assertions about the church, which were more or less true, but rather the contempt for his Mormon readers. Maybe some will wake up and realize that these people aren’t their friends.

  6. runtu says:

    This may be the first time I’ve ever written this, but thanks to Dan Peterson for the kind remarks about my blog post. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2013/06/some-evangelicals-despise-us.html

  7. pollypinks says:

    Having spent 35 years as a mormon, I think I know a thing or two about the faith. And I get irritated when non mormons want to get irritated about them, take issue with them, poke fun at them, and actually have sermons preached about them. I really don’t give a rat’s patooty what church you go to as long as you feel fulfilled, and don’t harm society in general. I do believe that there are mormons who believe that Jesus is their lord and savior, and last time I checked with fundamentalists, that was the criteria for being “one of them.” We have a true blue mormon who sings with us in our presbyterian choir, since we will sing the stuff he’s written and his ward won’t. But he still faithfully goes to his LDS church, and there isn’t a soul in my church who questions him about it. And he doesn’t seem to be bothered by our habits and ways. Life would be alot more pleasant if people would just accept other people and go about the business of living the 2nd commandment, period.

    • runtu says:

      Amen to that.

    • Tom Jones says:

      Sadly, there is a crucial difference in the LDS “Christ” and the Jesus Christ of the Bible and Evangelical Christians. The Jesus Christ of the Bible was before all things. He said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:6). He is the self-existent one, the I AM, who created everything that exists, including the angels, of which Lucifer was one (see Colossians 1:15-16). The Jesus of Mormonism was procreated by heavenly parents as the sibling of Lucifer (see Gospel Principles, p.11, 17), who became the devil.

      The genuine Jesus Christ cannot be both Lucifer’s brother and Lucifer’s creator. We must make a wise choice between the two based on the truth. Our eternal destiny depends on it.
      Jesus said “false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”(Matthew 24:24)

      There was a time when it could be said that the LDS Church worshiped the God of the Bible. In the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants, the LDS Church taught that God was God from eternity, that there was only one God, and that he was a personage of spirit. Now, Mormonism teaches that God was once a man like us, that there are multiple Gods, and that God the Father has a body of flesh and bone. You decide; which one is the real God? It cannot be both. And the wrong decision, based on a false god will result in outer darkness—forever. But trusting in the only true God of the Bible will result in eternal life with Him in heaven.

      • runtu says:

        I’m not going to argue LDS doctrine with you, as I’ve had enough of that in my lifetime. As I said, LDS doctrine about Jesus is not the same as orthodox Christian doctrine. That said, I don’t see Christ at the judgment telling Mormons, “Oh, I’m sorry. The correct answer was that I am a personage of spirit.” I’ll leave to God to sort it out.

      • Seth R. says:

        Tom…

        Did it never occur to you that if you can make “One Eternal God” out of three beings, we can do the same thing with more?

        You guys are just as polytheist as Mormons are (or aren’t).

  8. hissho1 says:

    Wow, Kind remarks from Dan Peterson. The end must surely be nigh. Good to see you back and writing.

    • runtu says:

      No kidding. I think that’s one of the signs of the apocalypse. :)

      Actually, I’ve always liked Dan. I don’t often agree with his approach, but he’s a good man whose heart is generally in the right place, in my view.

      • coltakashi says:

        I had an email exchange with Mike Adams a few years ago when he did some Mormon bashing. He clearly sees nothing positive in Mormons or Mormon beliefs. He became his definition of Christian only a few years ago, so he may not have had the lesson about the Good Samaritan and loving heretics and other strangers and recognizing their goodness. One of the most encouraging findings reported by the authors of the book American Grace us that national surveys found Mormons have much more positive views toward people in other religions than the people in those religions have of them, including their view of other peoples’ chances of going to heaven.

      • runtu says:

        The dude is 10 days older than I am, but displays the maturity of a teenage zealot on a born-again message board. And yes, I do find Mormons to be pretty generous in their view of others (well, except those of us who have left; we’re just evil.

  9. Seth R. says:

    Well, you have my respect for being so balanced and fair-minded in your review. I’ll even forgo all the things I’d normally want to disagree with you over.

    Well stated Runtu.

  10. Dave says:

    I think what Adams meant by “Christ was not there in the beginning” was that the Christ of Mormonism is a being who was the first created spirit of God the Father. The Christ of Biblical Christianity is an uncreated being who has always existed in eternity-past.

    • runtu says:

      That’s not exactly it, Dave. In LDS theology Jesus was there in the beginning and is uncreated. For example, in Moses 2:26, we read, “26 And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so.” So, Christ is creator, not creation. Like I said, the doctrine is not something you can cover with a simple statement like that. But I’m not here to defend Mormonism. I’ll leave that to people who believe in it.

    • Seth R. says:

      Dave, Mormon doctrine doesn’t say anything about the process by which we become God’s spirit children. There is actually considerable controversy over whether to favor a creative or adoptive model for our spirit childhood (which most lay members are blissfully unaware of).

      You can find statements from past Mormon authority figures endorsing either model with no clear winner. Some seem to suggest that “intelligence” spoken of in the D&C is some sort of building block element that God then organizes and creates a spirit out of. Some Mormon figures have even bordered on suggesting an almost creation ex nihilo aspect to this spirit creation.

      But other figures (including Joseph Smith) seemed to view intelligence as being synonymous with “spirit.” This view would seem to suggest that God didn’t even create our spirits and that we became his children, perhaps, more through a process of adoption than generation.

      Personally I favor the adoption model because I find it a neater fit with Joseph Smith’s teachings on temple sealings, the “Law of Adoption”, polygamous sealings. Not to mention, I find it more useful for my own views on the theodicy and the nature of God and why he would have us in the first place. But that’s me.

      Also, the adoption model makes all of us – including Jesus Christ – eternal, and completely uncreated in the sense that Evangelicals mean the term.

  11. vikingz2000 says:

    I’ve been checking in for quite some time. I almost gave up! I hope life is treating you as kindly as possible.

    About the Mormons aren’t Christians issue: I was a *very* active member for more than half a century, but as the years progressed I started to become more and more ‘dissatisfied’, you could say, or ‘unfulfilled’ spiritually as a *Christian*. Every week at church I started to realize (as did my wife) that really, very little about Jesus — the ‘Jesus’ of the New Testament — was taught or mentioned. There was always a lot about JS and paying your tithing and ‘something-or-other-amonies’ on Fast Sunday, but very little about JESUS.

    One Sunday we went to a Methodist church for the first time. Wow! Almost everything was about Jesus. It really felt like we were finally going to a Christian church instead of something ‘corporate-like’. We actually felt like we ‘went to church’ — a real Christian church that Sunday morning. We went back a few more times and my wife wants to go every Sunday now, but I’ve pretty much had enough of ‘organized religion.’ But that’s another story.

    Anyway, I sort of get it, from this perspective (the one I mention above), why a lot of people don’t think Mormons are Christians although the name of the church implies that they (the Mormons) think they are. Too much about JS and “follow the prophet”, and exaltation to become a god and a ruler in the next life; too much socializing ‘fluff’ every Sunday, without any basic ‘Jesus talk’ or worship. It’s really like going to some sort of church club that *calls* itself a Christian church, but never seems to actualize it the way a lot of other denominations do. Mormon doctrine is sort of ‘fresh’, I know ,and ‘thought provoking,’ as well as a real ego boost (You think — you’re going to become a ‘god’?!), but ‘Where’s Jesus?’

    My two cents.

  12. Seth R. says:

    The lack of Jesus in Mormon sermons (which varies from ward to ward) is basically similar to how the rest of Protestant-dom used to hold their services.

    Talking about Jesus to the extent he is today only became really popular in Protestant congregations in the last few decades as people suddenly discovered that Jesus works wonderfully as a feel-good self-esteem tool.

    Which was kind of what the self-absorbed culture was after at the time.

    So I don’t think I’d make too much of the stats on how much Jesus is talked about in modern congregations. They don’t necessarily stand as an indicator of how much people really care about Jesus one way or the other.

    You look at the old Protestant sermons of the 1950s and earlier – they’re a lot less about “Jesus loves you dude” and more about ethics and how all of us are screwed up.

  13. vikingz2000 says:

    What, then, would be your personal preference(s) or idea for an ‘ideal’ Christian church?

  14. Seth R. says:

    I want a church that does more than just patronizingly pat me on the cheek and say “you’re a wonderful person, and Jesus loves you just the way you are.”

    That’s nice. But it doesn’t really solve things for me. I want a church that isn’t just there to hand out forgiveness, but actual human betterment.

  15. Seth R. says:

    I think I’m getting off-topic though.

  16. […] Here’s an eloquent response to Professor Adams from an unfortunately no-longer-believing Latter-day Saint.  He delivers me from the obligation of saying some of the things that I would otherwise have felt that I needed to say.  But, of course, I would go further.  ”Runtu” concedes far too much, from my point of view.  Every single one of Mike Adams’s claims against my faith is disputable — all of them have, in fact, been disputed — and some of them are just plain demonstrably wrong.  He’s mastered his anti-Mormon propaganda well, obviously.  Not a single one of his accusations is original with him; all of them are derivative.  But it’s clear that he hates Mormonism more than he hates liberalism.  He doesn’t mind alienating fellow-conservatives, and fracturing political opposition to liberal ascendancy, if he feels moved upon (by whatever spirit moves him) to stick it to the Latter-day Saints. […]

  17. Daniel says:

    Runtu seems to be getting it a little wrong too. In Mormonism Elohim (god) created Jesus as well as Lucifer and all of the other “spirit people” who will ever live on Earth. That is why Jesus is the “son” of god. Jesus and Lucifer had their “war in heaven,” and Jesus won, thus Lucifer and his “angels” were cast out of heaven and onto Earth and will never get a physical human body (Mormons call each other “brother” and “sister” because they, along with Jesus and Lucifer, were created by Elohim. After Jesus was created by Elohim, the Jesus, under the direction of Elohim, supposedly created Earth. The problem is that god is imaginary, and both the Bible and Mormonism are man-made.

    • runtu says:

      Again, it’s not that simple. In Mormonism, nothing is created. Everything is eternal. The only “creation,” then, is the organization of pre-existing materials into the physical universe. And Jesus is the creator in that respect.

      I’m not here to define or defend LDS doctrine, but I’m trying to foster a little understanding.

    • Seth R. says:

      Daniel – under Mormon theology – God didn’t ex nihilo create Jesus, Satan, or us either.

      More details can be found above in my response to Dave.

  18. Agellius says:

    I enjoyed this post and am finding your blog in general to be very interesting. I intend to keep checking back.

    I would like to offer a different perspective on “whether Mormons are Christians”. I agree that being a Christian is not about checking the right boxes, believing the right things and having an accurate understanding of them. Even if your church’s doctrines were all technically correct and perfectly orthodox, there would still be a lot of variation in the level of education and understanding of its members. Are we to say that only people with theology degrees are true Christians?

    But while it’s not about checking the right boxes, I think a case can be made that it is about belonging “organically” to the Body of Christ. I’m thinking specifically about churches which claim Apostolic succession — as in fact the Mormon church does, in its own way.

    For such churches, being the true church of Christ, or at least an authentic branch thereof, is not so much about having 100% correct beliefs as about being descended organically from the original Church founded by Christ. In other words, having bishops who received their priesthood and their bishoprics by the laying on of hands from generation to generation, going back to the Apostles and thence to Christ.

    From this perspective I think it is valid to hold the opinion that the Mormon church is not a Christian church, or in other words is not a legitimate descendant of the church of the Apostles. In fact the LDS Church itself proclaimed such a breach with those churches who claim Apostolic succession, when it professed belief in a Great Apostasy, when genuine priesthood authority and valid ordinances were lost from the earth. Clearly it makes no claim whatever to be descended from the same line of succession as the existing Christian churches.

    By this I don’t mean to say that no individual Mormon is a genuine Christian. Just that the Church taken as a whole, by this criteria can validly be said not to be a genuine Christian church.

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