Local Physician Faces Retaliation, Persecution for Religious Beliefs

January 28, 2015

Family Practice physician Hiram L. Beasley reports that he has been the target of increasing intimidation and harassment because of his deeply held religious beliefs.

“My pioneer ancestors were persecuted for living their religion, and it is terrifying to see that such intolerance and hatred are rearing their ugly heads again in the 21st century,” Beasley said from behind the desk in his modest office.

The persecution began slowly, when Beasley decided that he could not offer some medical services that violated provisions of his faith. “I felt that I had an obligation as a disciple of Christ and as an American to stand up for my First Amendment right to practice and express my religion according to my conscience.”

Beasley says he was first impressed by pangs of conscience for having prescribed birth control to women whose marital status wasn’t clear. “I hadn’t paid much attention before, and then I realized to my horror that many of these women might not have been married. I could have contributed to extramarital sexual relations, meaning I was winking at sin, perhaps even condoning it. I knew I needed to repent and use my medical skills to promote wholesome and righteous behavior.”

From then on, Beasley made a point of not performing any gynecological exams or prescribing birth control medications until he was sure he was treating faithfully monogamous, married women.

“I lost quite a few patients,” he said wistfully. “But I stood up for the right. These God-fearing hands were not about to do a pelvic exam or Pap smear on a promiscuous vagina.”

Within days, however, Beasley faced a quandary when a woman (properly vetted as a married mother of three) came in complaining of painful vaginal discharge. “As I suspected,” Beasley noted, “she tested positive for gonorrhea. I didn’t know what to do. Was she the one at fault, or had she contracted it from her husband?”

After sending that patient to another physician who was “more accommodating of her lifestyle,” he came up with a 10-page questionnaire for each patient to ensure that he would not be treating those whose medical issues had not been the result of violating the commandments of God. “How would I be able to look my Lord in the eye and tell Him that I had looked the other way when His children were entering into grievous sin?”

The questionnaire was a great success, Beasley says. Receptionist Dara Swensen agrees: “We saw a 70% decrease in the number of patients the doctor was seeing after we implemented the new policies, so we could be confident we were only seeing people with high moral standards. Sure, we lost business, but Dr. Beasley says he doesn’t want that kind of business, anyway.”

Some people slipped past the questionnaire, he said, so he relied on promptings from the Holy Spirit. “You know, sometimes you look at a guy, and you just know,” he smiled. “I’d walk in and see a guy with an earring and impeccable grooming, and I’d just say to myself, ‘I am not doing a prostate exam on that guy.’ You know what I mean.”

The harassment really took off when Beasley also decided to stop treating patients whose conditions resulted from drinking alcohol, coffee, or tea; or from using tobacco products, which also violate the tenets of his faith. “I had a guy come in here with emphysema, and I told him, ‘Sorry, no can do. You brought this on yourself. Go and sin no more.’ See? I’m helping these folks. Can’t they see that?”

But patients have apparently not understood Dr. Beasley’s positive goals. “That guy, the one with emphysema, he called me an ass and some other language you wouldn’t be able to print,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “I’m just trying to help.”

Since then he’s faced a lot of angry patients, ranging from a man with a eczema who, for reasons known only to himself, refused the doctor’s instructions to quit drinking coffee, to the young woman with strep throat who nonetheless refused to remove her second pair of earrings before having her temperature taken.

Now Beasley is facing the wrath of the entire community for refusing to come to the aid of a city councilwoman who had suffered a heart attack in a local movie theater. Viola Biggs, 57, died in the lobby of the Mainstreet Cinema after Beasley refused to enter the theater in which she had collapsed. “We could have saved her had he helped out before we got there,” said EMT Bryan Travers, “but he wouldn’t even go in and see her. What a f$#@ing jerk.”

“I couldn’t go in there,” explained Dr. Beasley. “She was watching ‘American Sniper,’ and I wasn’t about to go into a theater where they were showing an R-rated movie. What would the Savior have thought of me? It’s not my fault it took them so long to carry her out to the lobby. By the time I saw her, it was too late. She was already gone.”

Beasley fears he will have to shut down his once-thriving practice simply because he has stood up for his religious beliefs. “People don’t even look at me when they see me in the store, or they just call me a bad name. It’s not right. It’s not American.”

“I’m considering a lawsuit against the city, the chamber of commerce, and the movie theater,” the doctor said. “I’m not a litigious guy, and I don’t like suing people, but someone needs to be held accountable for the way I’ve been treated.”

City Attorney Dave Campbell chuckled when asked about the prospects for such a suit. “All I can say to Dr. Beasley is, uh, good luck with that.”

Reached by phone late Tuesday, receptionist Swensen confirmed that the practice is shutting down. “I’ve already lined up another job,” she said. “It’s just as well. He wouldn’t prescribe my birth control, anyway.”


Concise Dictionary of Mormonism: C

April 16, 2012

Cain: The first murderer, and progenitor of a race of those cursed with black skin and prohibited from holding the priesthood (see Canaanites). Also known as Master Mahan. A modern apostle described meeting Cain as follows: “He walked along beside me for about two miles. His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark.” This account was confirmed by prophet Spencer W. Kimball in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, which gave rise to speculation that Cain is Bigfoot.

Calling: Any formal assignment from a church leader. Considered to be inspired of God, whether or not you were the first choice or the bishop actually gave it more of a moment’s thought. May often be used as a means of keeping people at their meetings: for example, a less-active member might be asked to hand out programs or ring the bell between meetings. This is effective only if the less-active member is afraid to say no.

Calling and Election Made Sure: To have one’s exaltation in the highest kingdom of heaven sealed irrevocably, meaning that you now have a green light to commit any sin you wish, and it’s covered; you’re still going to the celestial kingdom. Generally, to have one’s CAEMS, one must be invited to a special temple ordinance referred to as the second anointing or second endowment. These ordinances used to be fairly commonplace, but in recent times they have been reserved only for multibillionaires, select General Authorities, and a software developer from Cedar City whose hobby is Book of Abraham apologetics.

Calvary: The place where Jesus was crucified. Erroneously believed by other Christians to be where Jesus took upon Himself the sins of the world, whereas it was just the encore after the main even in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Canaanite: Person of African descent cursed with dark skin (see Moses 7:8). Not to be confused with the alleged dwellers of the land of Canaan.

Carnal: Usually refers to sexual intercourse, but when Melissa Lott Willes affirmed that she had “carnal relations” with Joseph Smith, she meant in the sense of “chaste and platonic friendship.”

Carthage Jail: The place where Joseph Smith willingly gave his life after he ran out of bullets and the Masonic Distress sign failed.

Celestial Kingdom: The highest level of heaven where the righteous dwell on “a globe a globe like a sea of glass and fire” (D&C 130:7) in the presence of God. Only heterosexual couples married in LDS temples will be admitted; since 1978, it is open to black people, and they don’t even have to be servants.

Celibacy: An abominable practice of apostate Christianity, almost as evil as masturbation.

Chaldea: The land south and east of Babylon. Also named by Abraham centuries before it existed.

Chapel Mormons: Mormons who believe in the traditional, orthodox teachings of prophets, seers, and revelators; also, those who do not have access to the Internet. These people are often mocked and dismissed as “lazy and intransigent” for following the counsel to read only church-approval materials.

Chariot: A wheel-less platform or litter bearing the king and miniature ceremonial animals. Not an anachronism in the Book of Mormon.

Charity: The pure love of Christ, the highest form of love possible. Needless to say, homosexuals cannot feel this kind of love.

Chastity: Abstinence from sexual activities before marriage and complete sexual fidelity in marriage. (Note: Does not apply if your name is Joseph Smith.)

Child of God: The enlightened teaching that humans are descendants of God who, if they don’t have faith and obey, will be sent to a lower kingdom forever.

Choice: A pernicious euphemism for abortion.

Choir: Another opportunity to spend quality time in the chapel on Sunday.

Chosen: The humbling notion that you have been saved and selected to be born Caucasian, Mormon, and American.

Christ: The only person who ever lived who was better than Joseph Smith.

Christians: Worldly apostates who have corrupted the word of God (usually prefaced with “so-called”). When in public, Mormons use this word to show that they are just like every other church.

Church: The formal organization of believers directed by the priesthood by revelation from God, as well as the religious subsidiary of a multinational corporation.

Church Administration Building: An ornately decorated building south of the Church Office Building that houses the offices of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. Off-limits to lesser church members and COB employees.

Church Education System: An organization composed of poorly paid men who teach the gospel in a manner appropriate to teenagers and college students. Used primarily as a means for single members to meet people of the opposite sex.

Church Growth: Throughout its history, the LDS church has experienced dramatic increases in the number of less-active members counted in its records.

Church of Christ: The formal name of the LDS church given by revelation in 1830.

Church of God: The formal name of the LDS church in the early 1830s.

Church of the Latter Day Saints: The formal name of the LDS church given by revelation in 1834.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints: The formal name of the LDS church given by revelation in 1838. Apparently, God finally found a name He liked.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: The formal name of the LDS church after correcting God’s faulty grammar.

Church Office Building: A deteriorating 28-story building in downtown Salt Lake City east of the temple. Known primarily for its lavish Christmas banquets and the 26th-floor observation deck, this building also produces most of the publications and policies issued by the church.

Church, Signs of the True: Sound and unchangeable doctrine, such as the eternal truth that there are two–I mean, three members of the Godhead. Continuing revelation, especially when it is needed to contradict an earlier revelation. Moral absolutes, unless God gives you “special revelation” (hat tip to Nancy Rigdon). The same organization as the primitive church, which Jesus organized as “a corporation sole … under and pursuant to Section 18-7-5 R.S.U. 1933.”

Church and State: An important Constitutional principle keeping the government and religious organizations separate. In Utah, this separation is maintained by having legislators meet with LDS church officials before each legislative session; in this way, legislators can establish priorities and positions independently.

Circumcision: The ritual removal of the male foreskin as a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. Supplanted in the modern church by the wearing of white shirts and ties, cap sleeves, and CTR rings.

City Creek Center: A large, multibillion-dollar complex in downtown Salt Lake City that includes retail shopping and residential areas. Constructed to follow Jesus’ instruction to the Twelve: “Go ye therefore and build a house wherein in my disciples may buy their jewelry and eat cheesecake.”

Civil Rights: An important principle ensuring the equal protection and rights of all citizens, except for women and gays.

Civil Rights Movement: An organized conspiracy led by Communists to overthrow the natural social and racial order. According to church leader Delbert Stapley, support for the Civil Rights movement would result in punishment up to death: “When I … remember what happened to three our nation’s presidents who were very active in the Negro cause, I am sobered by their demise.”

Civil War Prophecy (See Doctrine and Covenants 87): During the Nullification Crisis in 1832, when the state of South Carolina was arming itself and organizing an army of  thousands of well-armed men, Joseph Smith made the remarkable prophecy that a war would start in South Carolina that would involve the Northern and Southern States, Great Britain, other nations, until “war shall be poured out upon all nations” and would bring natural disasters, death, and destruction  “until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations.” As prophesied, the Civil War did begin in South Carolina, and faithful Latter-day Saints look forward to the coming calamities when they will “be avenged of their enemies.”

Clergy: Scripture is consistent in decrying “priestcraft,” or the  preaching of the word of God for money. Consequently, the LDS church has a volunteer, lay clergy, meaning that no church leaders are paid for their services, except for the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, the Quorums of Seventy, and mission presidents.

Closing Hymn: The moment at which church members wake up or stop thinking about porn in joyful anticipation of the end of sacrament meeting.

Clothing: Obsession with one’s clothing is derided in the New Testament and Book of Mormon and is emphasized in the modern church.

Coffee: A gateway drug to tea and other vile substances.

College: A place where cherished beliefs and traditions are ridiculed by the learned.

Columbus: A man who was wrought upon by the Spirit of God to sail to the West Indies and exact tribute from the natives at the penalty of torture and death.

Combinations: Shadowy organizations bound together by secret oaths and handshakes; completely unrelated to temple worship.

Commandments: All policies and procedures of the LDS church, including those items given”not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom,” except those involving eating mostly grains and vegetables and limiting consumption of meat.

Common Consent: The privilege of raising your hand to sustain the leadership of the church. Such consent is completely voluntary, though any vote in the negative may result in a visit with church security and/or a disciplinary council.

Conference Report: A published transcription of each LDS general conference. Most Mormons are unaware of the report’s existence, as they receive edited conference talks in the church magazines.

Conference: A large gathering of church members assembled to hear platitudes given through a teleprompter.

Confession: Admitting to God that you have sinned, a necessary step for repentance and forgiveness. In more serious cases, this involves talking to your bishop, and he’s going to want to hear all the details.

Confidential Records: The LDS church has a solemn responsibility to keep records confidential, including from its own members.

Confirmation: The reception of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands after one is baptized. Just remember that one lustful thought can drive the Holy Ghost away forever.

Conscience: The Light of Christ, which is given to all humans to help them discern right from wrong. The greatest test of this life is to conquer the conscience and submit to complete obedience to whatever God asks through His prophets, especially if you’re a teenaged girl in a locked office with Joseph Smith.

Consecration: Willingness to give all that you have for the building up of the kingdom of God. In earlier days, this meant renouncing private property and holding all things in common, but this sounded too much like communism, so the church adopted laissez-faire capitalism as its standard.

Constitution: A divinely inspired document given to humans to usher in the last dispensation. The Constitution is to be held in strict reverence, except for the embarrassing parts about slavery and so forth.

Contention: Any unhappy, unholy, or non-faith-promoting thoughts, which are of the devil. Such thoughts may include doubt, reason, and conscience.

Continuing Revelation: What happens when the church needs to erase an embarrassing doctrine or practice. It helps in maintaining plausible deniability: “That’s not true. We do not have penalties in the temple.”

Conversion: What happens when someone joins the LDS church, whether they know it or not.

Coriantumr: The sole survivor of the Jaredites, a people of whom there is no trace. He lived long enough to warn the Nephites, another people of whom there  is no trace.

Corn: A major crop of the Americas that was unknown to the Nephites and Jaredites.

Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: The formal name of the LDS church since 1917.

Correlation: A program started in 1971 to systematically strip Mormonism of its unique character and doctrines. In conjunction with the consolidated budget program, Correlation has succeeded in its primary goal: turning every LDS church activity into a sacrament meeting.

Council in Heaven: The time in the premortal life when God presented His plan of happiness to His children, which was that we would be sent to earth to see if we would follow God’s commandments, but only after we were made to forget everything we knew about God and His commandments. This plan sounded great to Jesus, who volunteered to be our Savior, and two-thirds of the hosts of heaven. The other third figured it was a losing proposition and went with Satan’s plan, which involved coercion and force, two elements that are completely absent in the modern church.

Council of Fifty: Formally named “The Kingdom of God and His Law, with the Keys and power thereof, and judgment in the hands of his servants, Ahman Christ” in an 1842 revelation, the council was to become the governing body of the entire world. As part of this organization, Joseph Smith was ordained King and Priest. He later prophesied that his as-yet-unborn son, David, would take his place as a latter-day David and be the King over Israel. David Smith eventually had a psychotic break and was committed to an insane asylum.

Council of the Twelve: A group of high-level bureaucrats who hold meetings dressed in Masonic robes weekly and travel the world as “special witnesses of Jesus Christ” (disclaimer: this does not imply any witness, special or otherwise, and cannot be construed as a binding legal statement). Twice a year they gather in Salt Lake City and give talks about little factories and exploding printing presses. Above all else, they must not be criticized, even if the criticism is true. According to an insider, they are not “dodos.”

Counsel: See Commandments.

Courage: The strength to follow instructions without question.

Covenant: Making a solemn promise to God when you’re too young or have missed the opportunity to raise your hand and walk out.

Cowdery, Oliver: Acted as scribe when Joseph Smith didn’t use the plates to translate the Book of Mormon. Told the absolute truth when he said that an angel showed him the plates, but lied viciously when he said Joseph Smith had an affair with Fanny Alger. Accused by Joseph Smith of counterfeiting, theft, and associating “with a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs of the deepest dye, to deceive, cheat, and defraud the saints out of their property,” Oliver is revered as a faithful witness to the restoration of the gospel.

Creation: The process by which Jesus formed and organized the earth and the universe, assisted by Adam. Modern apologists declare with boldness that prophets, seers, and revelators have been consistently wrong about the processes and timeline of the creation.

Creed: A statement of the beliefs of a religious community, creeds are an abomination in the sight of the Lord. While the Articles of Faith are a statement of LDS beliefs, they are not a creed, because that would make them an abomination.

Cremation: Church leaders have consistently taught that church members should not be cremated, so as to preserve the essential parts of the body for the resurrection. This preservation occurs only when the body is allowed to decay and become absorbed into the earth; clearly, cremation does not allow for this orderly return to the dust of the earth.

Cross: A morbid reminder of Jesus’ death that no true Christian should be associated with.

Crucifixion: The anticlimactic end of the Atonement of Christ.

Cult: According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, the word “refers to a minority religion that is regarded as unorthodox or spurious and that requires great or even excessive devotion.” As none of these things applies to Mormonism, it cannot be said to be a cult.

Cumorah: 1) The hill where the Book of Mormon plates were buried in upstate New York. 2) The hill where the Book of Mormon plates were buried in Central America.

CTR Ring: Until one wears garments, this is the outward reminder of one’s covenants with God. Available in many styles and precious metals at your local Deseret Book.

Cultural Hall: A gym used for basketball games, ward potluck dinners, and overflow from sacrament meeting. Bring your own culture.

Cumom: See Curelom.

Curelom: See Cumom.

Curse: Dark skin.

Thoughts on “The Mormon Candidate”

April 5, 2012

I finally got around to watching the BBC This World segment, “The Mormon Candidate.” I’m always fascinated by outsiders’ take on Mormonism, so I thought I’d give my perspective on this piece.

The notion that the Republican Party has become the party of Evangelical Christians is spot on, as is the statement that the LDS church “craves respectability.” But slick ad campaigns and political alliances in such matters as same-sex marriage do not change the deep distrust and hostility of many Evangelical conservatives towards Mormonism as a religion and Mormons as individuals. Ironically, then,   Mormons are trying to gain the respect of the people who are least likely to respect them.

I am always a little annoyed at the focus on polygamy, but then that is what set Mormonism apart for its first sixty years. But I thought it was interesting that the presenter, John Sweeney, described polygamists as “people the church seems to be afraid of,” which is a fair statement. Later in the program, Apostle Jeffrey Holland describes the Strengthening the Church Members Committee as being designed to “protect” the church from polygamists (more on that later). Seeing the polygamists just reminds me of the legacy of one man’s need for power, sex, and money.

Saratoga Springs mayor Mia Love comes across as a nice person and the perfect choice for the “I’m a Mormon” campaign, and most of the ex-Mormons, such as my friend Jeff Ricks, seem like genuine, decent people. Unfortunately, the official church, in the form of PR flack Michael Purdy and Apostle Jeffrey Holland, does not fare so well. Sweeney explains the obvious mistranslation of the Kirtland Egyptian papyri into the Book of Abraham, and Holland immediately becomes defensive, stammering about how all that matters is that what was translated was divine. When Sweeney mentions Joseph Smith’s 1826 trial for being a “juggler” (a term meaning “con man” in the early nineteenth century), Holland says “that’s an incidental matter to the character and integrity of the man.” Seriously?

Presenter Sweeney brings up the penalties that were part of the temple endowment until 1990 and says Mitt Romney presumably would have sworn that oath at the penalty of slitting his throat. The exchange is as fascinating as it is disappointing:

Sweeney: As a Mormon,  in the temple, I’ve been told, [Mitt Romney] would have sworn an oath to say that he would not pass on what happens in the temple, lest he slit his throat. Is that true?

Holland: That’s not true.  That’s not true. We do not have penalties in the temple.

Sweeney: You used to.

Holland: We used to.

Sweeney: Therefore, he swore an oath saying, I will not tell anyone about the secrets here, lest I slit my throat.

Holland: Well, the-the-the vow that was made was regarding the ordinance–the ordinance of the temple.

Sweeney: It sounds Masonic, Sir. It sounds Masonic.

Holland: Well, it’s compara–it’s similar to a Masonic, uh, relationship.

Sweeney: The most powerful–potentially the most powerful man in the world has sworn an oath, which he meant at the time, whatever it is now, that he must not tell anyone about what he’s seen, lest he slit his throat.

Holland: That he would not tell anyone about his personal pledge to the Lord. I’m assuming that any religious candidate, an Evangelical, a Roman Catholic, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, uh, Osama–I mean, uh, President Obama–uh, I’m assuming that anybody who has a relationship to God has made a pledge of some kind to God. There’s–there’d be some kind of loyalty to God, or what kind of God is that?

I’m still shaking my head over this. I’ll let readers decide whether Holland’s statements are accurate. Here is the relevant portion of the pre-1990 endowment:

We will now give unto you the First Token of the Aaronic Priesthood with its accompanying name, sign, and penalty. Before doing this, however, we desire to impress upon your minds the sacred character of the First Token of the Aaronic Priesthood, with its accompanying name, sign, and penalty, as well as that of all the other tokens of the Holy Priesthood, with their names, signs, and penalties, which you will receive in the temple this day. They are most sacred, and are guarded by solemn covenants and obligations of secrecy to the effect that under no condition, even at the peril of your life, will you ever divulge them, except at a certain place that will be shown you hereafter. The representation of the execution of the penalties indicates different ways in which life may be taken. …

The execution of the Penalty is represented by placing the thumb under the left ear, the palm of the hand down, and by drawing the thumb quickly across the throat to the right ear, and dropping the hand to the side.

I will now explain the covenant and obligation of secrecy which are associated with this token, its name, sign and penalty, and which you will be required to take upon yourselves. If I were receiving my own Endowment today, and had been given the name of “John” as my New Name, I would repeat in my mind these words, after making the sign at the same time representing the execution of the penalty:

“I, John, covenant that I will never reveal the First Token of the Aaronic Priesthood, with its accompanying name, sign, and penalty. Rather than do so, I would suffer my life to be taken.”

Does that sound like a simple pledge of loyalty to God? Does anyone believe that, say, Santorum, Gingrich, and Obama have made any comparable promises?

Holland–and Purdy–really stumble when they are asked about the Strengthening the Church Members Committee. For those who aren’t familiar with this group, it is an organization within the Church Office Building that monitors apostates, critics, and anyone else unofficial who has something to say about the LDS church. In 1992, church spokesman Don LeFevre said that the committee “receives complaints from church members about other members who have made statements that ‘conceivably could do harm to the church,'” then the committee will “pass the information along to the person’s ecclesiastical leader.” According to LeFevre, however, “the committee neither makes judgments nor imposes penalties.” Discipline is “entirely up to the discretion of the local leaders.” In 1992 or 1993, when I was working at the Church Office Building, I was introduced to the head of the committee, and if memory serves, his name was Bill Nelson, who was incidentally the author of the Anti-Mormon Publications section of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. I was told at the time that the committee was essentially as LeFevre described and was a “clipping service” to take note of any hostile publications or efforts against the church.

The committee was pretty much unknown until the leaking of  Bishop Glenn Pace’s 1990 report to the committee on allegations of Satanic ritual abuse within the church. But the committee became well known after the September 1993 church disciplinary action against six church members, who came to be known as the “September Six.” From what I know about this case, clearly local leaders were given information by the central church leadership (Boyd K. Packer is said to have been behind much of this), and presumably the information came from the committee.

So when the BBC presenter asked about the committee, one would have expected Holland and Purdy to acknowledge the existence of the committee and its purpose. But apparently that is too much to ask for. Here’s Purdy’s interview:

Sweeney: What’s the Strengthening the Church Members Committee, and does it still exist?

Purdy: I don’t know, and I’m not–I guess that’s a question not for me. I couldn’t tell you that. I don’t know.

Sweeney: You’re the head of media relations for the church.

Purdy: Right.

Sweeney: And I’ve spoken to people, um, ex-members of the church, who say, um, the Strengthening the Church Members Committee does exist. Does it still exist?

Purdy: I–uh–I–I–I’ve heard that, yeah, there is a Strengthening the Church Members Committtee, but I couldn’t tell you the details of how that works, but we’d be happy to provide someone that can.

Sweeney: Sorry for my confusion. When I originally asked you, you weren’t sure. Now you do know that it exists and you will give me somebody who knows something about it.

Purdy: Absolutely.

Sweeney tells us that Purdy’s answer was not satisfactory, so he would be bring it up with Elder Holland:

Sweeney: What is the Strengthening the Church Members Committee?

Holland:  The Strengthening the Church Members Committee was born some years ago to protect predatory practices of polygamists [nice alliteration, btw].

Sweeney: I asked, What is it?

Holland: Oh, that’s what it is.

Sweeney: So, it does still exist.

Holland: It does still exist.  It does still exist.

Sweeney: And it looks at, uh–it’s there to defend the church against polygamists.

Holland: Principally. That is still the principal task.

Sweeney: And what is its subsidiary task?

Holland: Uh, I suppose just to be protective generally, just to watch and care for any, uh, any insidious influence. But for all intents and purposes, all that I know about it is primarily to guard against polygamy. That would be the substantial, essential part of their work. I’m not on that committee, so I can’t speak.

It’s amazing to me that the church spokesman in 1992 confirmed the purposes and activities of the committee, but in 2012, neither an apostle or the current spokesman can tell us anything about it. I have known about the committee for almost twenty years. Does anyone believe that I know more about the committee than an apostle or official spokesman?

I was pleased to hear this exchange with Elder Holland:

Sweeney: Does the Mormon church shun people who leave?

Holland: No, no, of course, we don’t. We don’t use that word, and we don’t know that practice. If I had a son, this very day, given the office that I have and the visibility that means–if I had a son or a daughter who left the church, was alienated, or had a problem, I can tell you I would not cut that child out of family life.

Of course, many former Mormons have been cut out of family life, lost friends, and even suffered financially or in their careers because they have left the church. But it is nice to hear an apostle say that such things should not happen.

I have nothing against Elder Holland. I met him once many years ago when I was a student at BYU, and he was gracious and kind, and we had a good conversation. And let me also say that I am pretty skeptical of claims that the church follows people or bugs their phones, and such. I will say that I used to get regular hits on my blog from the Church Office Building, and when I mentioned that in a blog post, the hits stopped, but I started getting traffic from the “More Good Foundation,” which is a group of church members dedicated to essentially the same mission as the Strengthening the Church Members Committee. According to their web site, the foundation functions “as a solution to the overwhelming need for increased positive and accurate information about the LDS faith on the Internet.” They have aggressively gone after critics of the church, apparently with the blessing of the church, which often plugs the foundation in its newspaper, The Deseret News. After I mentioned the More Good Foundation, hits from that organization also stopped, leaving me to believe they’re probably still checking in using different IP addresses. So, if you’re reading this, please don’t contact my bishop (just kidding).

In summary, what I liked about the BBC piece was that Sweeney had obviously done his homework. American TV interviewers don’t ask about the SCMC, the Book of Abraham, or temple penalties, and you could see it in the faces of Purdy and Holland that they weren’t expecting to be challenged in that way. I wish they had been more honest and forthcoming, not least because anyone watching that interview can spend five minutes on the Internet and learn the truth. They simply can’t control the message anymore, and there really are only two options: continue dissembling, or act with complete honesty. So far, at least, they are sticking with the former.

A Top Ten List That Isn’t Mine: The Year in Anti-Mormonism

January 11, 2012

I’ve written before about MormonVoices, a group dedicated to tracking all mention of Mormonism and Mormons in the media and on the web so that they can quash misinformation and instead present the truth. Of course, that often means that they are seeking the negative and replacing it with the positive, no matter the truth thereof, but that’s a subject for a different article.

On occasion, I’ve done top ten lists, usually snarky humorous lists that tend to get a lot of Mormons angry with me. (Here’s a little insight into my psyche: I tend to post snarky humor when the LDS church is getting too up close and personal and is beginning to annoy me.) This time, our friends at MormonVoices have come up with their own, and it’s anything but humorous.

Top Ten Anti-Mormon Statements of 2011

First of all, let me say at the outset that I agree with Scott Gordon’s statement that “religious bigotry is unacceptable. Statements which distort and belittle Mormon [or any other religious] belief in order to marginalize Mormons [or any other believers] are evidence of such bigotry.” The United States has a long history of discrimination against small or fringe religious groups: Catholics, Jews, Mormons, and others have in the past been targeted in many ways. Clearly, it has become unacceptable to ridicule Jews or Catholics (well, there are exceptions, of course), but it’s clearly still socially acceptable to go after Mormons.

MormonVoices managing director John Lynch is quoted as saying, “This isn’t about good-natured jokes or legitimate questions. We’re not concerned with comedians who make good-natured observations about Mormons, or responsible journalists who have reported on Mormons and their beliefs. Instead, this is a list of statements that should be offensive to everyone, and are so disrespectful that their only effect will be to increase bigotry against Mormons. Just as with other minority groups, it should no longer be socially acceptable for public figures to incite such prejudice against Mormons or their faith.”

Pretty strong stuff, indeed. Let’s look at their examples.

10. “The Christian coalition, I think [another candidate] could get a lot of money from that, because Romney, obviously, not being a Christian …” Ainsley Earhart, Fox and Friends, July 17, 2011.

A lot of people believe Mormons are not Christians, though I obviously disagree. Ainsley Earhardt, bless her soul, most likely was not hired for her knowledge or intellect, so you can chalk this up to ignorance on her part, or she may be one of those fundamentalist Christians who don’t believe Mormons are Christian. In context, she was talking about how the Christian Coalition probably would not support Romney because of the shocking fact that most members of the Christian Coalition probably don’t believe Mormons are Christian. So, ignorance, maybe, but anti-Mormon? Not so much.

9. “Can you name the candidate that’s running for president that believes that if he’s a good person in his religion he will receive his own planet?…Would you vote for someone for president who believes in their religion, if he’s a good person, he’ll get his own planet?…Do you want to get your own planet?” Ben Ferguson, Fox 13 News, Memphis TN, July 6, 2011.

Here are Ferguson’s remarks in total: Local Memphis TV News Reporter Mocks Mitt Romney’s Mormon Beliefs

This one is obvious bigotry and fits Lynch’s definition of anti-Mormonism. The guy goes out on the street and presents a ridiculous caricature of Mormonism and shows people reacting appropriately. Of course, had it not been for MormonVoices, I would never have heard of this guy.

8. “Mormonism is not an orthodox Christian faith. It just is not…it’s very clear that the founding fathers did not intend to preserve automatically religious liberty for non-Christian faiths.” Bryan Fischer, Focal Point radio show, September 2011.

Here’s Fischer’s rant.

Yep, that one fits, too. The guy says that the First Amendment applies only to Christians, which ought to give any non-fundamentalist pause. What kind of Constitution applies only to some people? Yikes. Also, his description of the end of polygamy is completely wrong, and of course, he’s playing the polygamy = gay marriage card. Dirtbag.

7. “Yes, it is my opinion that an indoctrinated Mormon should never be elected as President of the United States of America.” Tricia Erickson, CNN.com, July 7, 2011.

OK, this woman is an angry ex-Mormon Evangelical who wrote an anti-Mormon, anti-Romney book called “Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters? The Mormon Church Versus The Office Of The Presidency of the United States of America.” I fault CNN more than anyone for giving air time to an obvious nutjob. And no other word but nutjob would describe someone who said this: “Indoctrinated temple Mormons (as Romney is) have experienced years of brainwashing and indoctrination and also have made covenants and oaths that they plainly cannot disobey.” For God’s sake. I’m an indoctrinated temple Mormon, and last I checked, I’m not suffering from brainwashing. Hold on a second, I have to check in with the Overlord before I continue.

6. “I believe a candidate who either by intent or effect promotes a false and dangerous religion is unfit to serve. Mitt Romney has said it is not his intent to promote Mormonism. Yet there can be little doubt that the effect of his candidacy—whether or not this is his intent—will be to promote Mormonism.” Warren Cole Smith, Patheos.com, May 24, 2011.

I’ve commented on this, too, so I’ll just let my previous comments stand: Those Scary Mormons

5. “That is a mainstream view, that Mormonism is a cult…Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” Robert Jeffress, Values Voter Summit, October 7, 2011.

Same for this moron: The Smiling Face of Bigotry

4. “The current head of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson, known to his followers as ‘prophet, seer and revelator,’ is indistinguishable from the secular plutocratic oligarchs who exercise power in our supposed democracy…” Harold Bloom, The New York Times, November 12, 2011.

This one I’m not so sure about. Here’s the quote in context:

However, should Mr. Romney be elected president, Smith’s dream of a Mormon Kingdom of God in America would not be fulfilled, since the 21st-century Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has little resemblance to its 19th-century precursor. The current head of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson, known to his followers as “prophet, seer and revelator,” is indistinguishable from the secular plutocratic oligarchs who exercise power in our supposed democracy.

Bloom is contrasting Joseph Smith’s vision of a Mormon Kingdom (exemplified in Zion and the law of consecration) and the current church administration. It’s clear to me that one of the main goals of the modern LDS church is preservation of the institution, which requires growth in membership and in income. Daymon Smith has written a terrific book, The Book of Mammon, about how much the LDS church as an institution has been overtaken by American corporate culture.

Despite the grandfatherly persona at general conference, Thomas S. Monson is a businessman entrusted with growing and safeguarding the LDS church’s business and wealth, although, as Bloom notes, he is guided by “religious sanction.” Intelligent readers understand that Bloom is not so much critiquing (let alone attacking) Mormonism as he is speaking of a broader culture that is “obsessed by a freedom we identify with money,” and he is quite right that Mormonism is a great example of that culture. That the folks at MormonVoices read it simplistically as a broadside against their religion does not mean it will or was intended to “increase bigotry.” That is a shallow reading, indeed.

3. “The theology comes across as totally barmy. We can become gods with our own planets! And the practices strike me as creepy. No coffee and tea is bad enough. But the underwear!” Michael Ruse, Chronicle of Higher Education, November 30, 2011.

Here’s Ruse’s article: Voting for a Mormon

This one I find ridiculous. Ruse writes an article about how he has come to realize that, even though Mormon beliefs seem ludicrous to him, it is the person’s position on issues that matters: “But the social and related issues are very important, and it is legitimate to involve these in your assessments and decisions. The Mormon Church on the matter of homosexuality is troublesome and it is clear that it is willing to use its vast funds—don’t forget the 10-percent tithing—to achieve social ends it thinks desirable.”

In other words, the LDS church’s position on social issues concerns him far more than coffee or underwear, and that is a legitimate concern because “the trouble is of course whether and how one can be certain that the person’s personal views will not translate into action.” He then says that “while anti-Mormon prejudice may be wrong, I don’t think that being an anti-Mormon is necessarily being wrong.” I should note that he’s not using “anti-Mormon” in the usual pejorative sense of spittle-flecked fanatics who hate Mormons. He’s talking about disagreeing with the LDS church’s goals and positions. And only the most defensive Mormon would think there’s something wrong with that.

2. “[Mormonism is] one of the most egregious groups operating on American soil.” Christopher Hitchens, Slate, October 17, 2011.

Hitchens’s piece, Romney’s Mormon Problem, is essentially a polemical listing of some of the–shall we say–esoteric beliefs, practices, and history of Mormonism. But here’s a news flash: Hitchens disliked all religions and was not shy about mocking and ridiculing institutions he thought were not only ridiculous but harmful. But, once again, the MormonVoices folks miss the point yet again: Hitchens says, “we are fully entitled to ask Mitt Romney about the forces that influenced his political formation and—since he comes from a dynasty of his church, and spent much of his boyhood and manhood first as a missionary and then as a senior lay official—it is safe to assume that the influence is not small. Unless he is to succeed in his dreary plan to borrow from the playbook of his pain-in-the-ass predecessor Michael Dukakis, and make this an election about “competence not ideology,” he should be asked to defend and explain himself, and his voluntary membership in one of the most egregious groups operating on American soil.”

Most Mormons I know call Scientologists weird and consider Scientology to be a cult, and I don’t expect many Mormons would enthusiastically support a candidate who is a Scientologist. And that’s because most people think that reasonable adults would not believe and accept the teachings of Scientology; that is how Hitchens and much of the rest of society views Mormonism.

1. “By any standard, Mormonism is more ridiculous than any other religion.” Bill Maher, October 15, 2011, George Washington University, as reported by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times, October 18, 2011.

Finally, we come to the worst statement of 2011. Really? That’s it? Again, Bill Maher dislikes religion, such that he made a movie entitled “Religulous” that was dedicated to mocking different faith traditions. (By the way, I thought that film was rather snide and self-serving and could have been done much better.) We don’t have Maher’s quote in its entirety, just a summary from Maureen Dowd. Fortunately, we have video of Maher from October 14, 2011, the day before the reported remarks at George Washington University.

Religion (and Mormonism) Is a Con

Yeah, we get it. Maher thinks Mormonism is silly (but then he thinks that about all religions). He gets some of the stuff wrong, but if we’re going to learn something from this, it’s that this is what a lot of people think about Mormonism. He’s doing the church a favor by saying it out loud, whereas most of our non-Mormon friends will not say to our faces, “I think your religion is stoopid.”

A few years back, I worked for a company in Texas that developed complicated mathematics and statistics software programs. I worked with a lot of people, lots of PhDs. When I was a believer, they uniformly treated me and my Mormon beliefs with respect. But when I left the church, suddenly people began telling me how they had been so puzzled at my involvement in Mormonism because it was so ridiculous. One colleague said, “I always thought you were too smart to hang with that crowd.” I was shocked, not because I think I’m smarter than Mormons (I’m not), but because when they felt comfortable telling me how they really felt, they described the LDS church as strange and cult-like and its beliefs as ludicrous.

Smart Mormons will realize that the proper response is not to complain about these terrible attacks but to use this exposure to start a conversation about what Mormons believe and who they really are. I think the LDS church is doing this, to some degree, with its ubiquitous “I’m a Mormon” ads and its attempts to get more media exposure through local papers and through columns like the WaPo’s “On Faith” panel http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith, but to me, this kind of stuff from MormonVoices does nothing but feed a persecution complex in some people.

And it goes without saying that life is far too short to be spending one’s time looking high and low for reasons to be offended.

Are Mormons Christians?

October 12, 2011

Sorry for the recent foray into politics, but I feel very strongly that people should not make a political issue out of someone’s religious affiliation. I care about principles and policies, not theology.

So, with that out of the way, the question arises, “Are Mormons Christian?” We’ve been told in the last week that Mormons are not “real” Christians and are a cult. Leaving aside that loaded language, I thought I’d just share my thoughts. I’m not going to cite anyone but myself here, so you can take this as my considered opinion.

I grew up in a mostly Jewish neighborhood in Southern California. There were Catholics and Protestants and a few Muslims (mostly Iranian exiles), but the largest religious group in my neighborhood and in the schools was Jewish. For that reason, Jewish holidays were also school holidays, simply because almost half the students would not show up anyway on those days. I went to bar-mitzvahs, ate lots of wonderful and (to a Mormon kid) exotic Jewish foods, and learned a lot about Jewish culture and people. (It doesn’t need to be said, but Jewish people are diverse in their lifestyles and beliefs as any other group, and stereotypes don’t work.)

We Mormons were a distinct minority: we weren’t Jewish, and we weren’t Catholic or Protestant or Muslim. But everyone I knew, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, lumped us in with the Christians. I certainly considered myself a Christian. I believed in the Bible, and I accepted Jesus as my Savior who suffered and died to atone for my sins. We read about Jesus in the scriptures, and we sang about Him in church, and we trusted in Him for salvation. I prayed in His name, was baptized in His name, and each week partook of the sacrament in His name and promised to always remember Him.

It wasn’t until I participated in a regional “dance festival” at the Rose Bowl (I’m pretty sure it was 1980) that I learned that some people didn’t think I was a Christian. My friend Corey and I came out to his car late that night to find an anti-Mormon pamphlet stuck under the windshield wiper. I was 15 and didn’t even know there were people out there who actively worked against our religion. But I read this pamphlet, and I honestly didn’t recognize the church they described. Some of what they said was a distorted take on what we really did believe, and some of it was gleaned from obscure quotes from long-dead church leaders from the nineteenth century. This was my first exposure to Ed Decker and his “Saints Alive in Jesus” group. I laughed it off because it was all so ridiculous and divorced from what our church was and believed. But there it was in print: We weren’t Christians because they said so.

I didn’t think much about it after that because the only person I knew who thought Mormons were evil was this really odd guy in my high school class who never bathed and who wandered around school in combat fatigues emblazoned with “GOD SQUAD,” calling everyone to repentance. He actually came to our ward one Sunday and announced to our Sunday School class that he could feel Satan’s power in the room.

But, as far as I can tell, the organized effort to demonize and marginalize Mormonism was in full swing by then, with Walter Martin’s books of the sixties and seventies (has anyone else noticed that he had the same haircut as Pastor Jeffress?), and Decker’s book and film “The God Makers” in the early 1980s. Part of that effort involved proclaiming that Mormons weren’t Christians. The effort has certainly been effective, as by the time I moved to Texas in 2000, my neighbors and coworkers were shocked to find that I read the Bible, believed Jesus is my Savior, and celebrated Christmas.

In response to this effort, the LDS church did two things: First, they revised the missionary discussions so that discussion of the divinity and mission of Christ came first (previously, that material was covered in the third discussion), and second, they added “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” to the title of the Book of Mormon.

As I said in an earlier post, Mormons do come out of historical Christianity, in that they sprang from the Restorationist movement. But they are neither Protestant nor Catholic, and many religious groups consider Mormons to be at best heretical, at worst a cult. I’ve been called worse, so that really doesn’t matter to me. I rolled my eyes when Mr. Jeffress was on CNN the other day because he wasn’t saying anything new.

Evangelicals have given me many reasons why I’m not a Christian (or at least wasn’t when I was Mormon). One is that Mormons do not believe in the Trinity, which of course is an extra-Biblical extrapolation based on Plato’s ideas of form. From what I read in the Bible, a Christian believes Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth in the flesh and died on the cross for our sins. I don’t know if I accept the Trinity at this point, but I really don’t think it matters. Why would God require me to believe something that is not in the Bible? And does anyone think a just God would say to someone, “No, I’m sorry, you followed me, you put your faith in me, but you got the technical details wrong, so you’re going to hell”?

I’ve been told that my beautiful wife, who has more faith in Jesus Christ than anyone I know, is going to hell. Why? Simply because she’s a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The scriptures tell us that God judges the heart. If you believe in Him, surely he knows who is a Christian, no matter what their religious affiliation.

People have said that I believed in the “wrong Jesus.” I’m still not sure what to make of that one. I believe in Jesus of Nazareth, the one spoken of in the New Testament. I wonder which Jesus they believe in? Jesus of Kansas City?

But Mormons believe in “another gospel,” right? Not really. The gospel, or “good news,” is that Jesus died to take away our sins. Mormons believe that. Yes, they believe in modern revelation, but again, how does that disqualify them from being Christian? They believe that the revelations the church has received come from Jesus. If they said they were coming from Xenu, they wouldn’t be Christian at all. But that’s not what they’re claiming.

It’s obvious that there are huge theological differences between Mormons and mainstream, orthodox Christians. And I am the first person to acknowledge that Mormons are definitely not mainstream, orthodox Christians. No Mormon I know would argue with that. But the bottom line is that we call people who believe in Jesus “Christians,” whether they are Catholics, Methodists, Mormons, or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Above all, it bothers me that some people think that when Mormons proclaim their Christianity, they are somehow being disingenuous and sneaky, like they’re trying to put one over on the “real” Christians. That is simply not true. I don’t care if you think my wife or my mother or my children are Christians. God knows His own.

Me? I’m a lost apostate soul. But for some people, that’s better than being a Mormon.

Rick Perry Imploding?

October 11, 2011

I don’t comment much on politics, but the last couple of days have been really instructive as to the political instincts (or lack thereof) of some Evangelical Christian conservatives. To recap, Pastor Robert Jeffress told a conservative political gathering that they should vote for “real Christians” over someone who, although a “moral person,” was not a real Christian. When asked to clarify, Jeffress said he meant Mormons, whom he described as belonging to a cult. He also said Christians should vote for a Christians over a Jewish candidate and stated that Catholicism was a corrupted version of Christianity.

So much to deal with, but the important point is this: he clumsily injected religious intolerance and prejudice into political discussion, something most Americans find at best inappropriate. Perry, when asked about it, said only that he didn’t think Mormonism was a cult, but offered no opinion on the notion that real Christians shouldn’t vote for a Mormon.

Reasonable conservatives from Bill Bennett to Charles Krauthammer have called on Perry to repudiate Jeffress’s remarks. At a press conference today, Mitt Romney and New Jersey governor Chris Christie both expressed disgust at Jeffress’s comments, Christie saying that any campaign that would associate itself with such a point of view “is beneath the office of the president.”

Reaction from some Evangelical conservatives in comments at the National Review website and elsewhere seems to be that Romney is being whiny and playing the victim, some even accusing him of political correctness. It’s all a ploy to discredit Perry, they say.

I should say that I don’t know who I’ll support next year, and Romney has never been one of my favorites for a number of reasons. But the Romney campaign is, I’m sure, loving every minute of this. They probably can’t believe their luck.

Mormonism was inevitably going to be an issue in this campaign. Romney tried to head it off in 2007, but there is no doubt that Evangelical bias against Mormons hindered his campaign. This time around, however, he didn’t have to head it off. Instead, Jeffress’s clumsy and bigoted remarks brought up Mormonism in the best possible way for a Mormon candidate: he made being uncomfortable with Mormonism seem unfair and narrowminded and explicitly linked anti-Mormonism to anti-Semitism. Brilliant move. Romney probably didn’t even need to say anything about the remarks.

Jeffress intended to sway Evangelicals toward Perry, which he may well have done, but then Romney was never going to get a large chunk of that voting bloc. But for everyone else, Jeffress is another in a series of bad miscues for the Perry campaign. First, he’s been terrible in the debates, and then there was the Niggerhead controversy, and now this.

It’s not like Perry’s campaign couldn’t have seen this coming. Jeffress has a long record of bigoted and intolerant statements about Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and just about every other group that is not Evangelical. They had two weeks to vet this guy, and yet they approved of his introduction, with its unsubtle call for religious prejudice, with Perry afterward saying the pastor “hit it out of the park.”

If nothing else, Perry’s campaign is showing itself to be inept and clumsy at best. And at worst, it may be intentionally fanning the flames of religious intolerance. Sorry, but that’s not what I want in a president. But he does have nice hair.

The Smiling Face of Bigotry

October 10, 2011

Why is it that so many bigots are goofy-looking little men with bad hair? I figured that at some point I would have to respond to Pastor Robert Jeffress’s comments last week about Mormonism. Here is what he said:

“Mitt Romney’s a good moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”

Responding to questions from CNN later the same day, Jeffress cited Founding Father John Jay that ” we have a duty and a privilege as Christians to select and prefer Christians as our leaders.” He repeated that Romney was a “good moral person,” but said that he would vote for someone who would uphold good “Christian principles.” When asked if he could support, say, House Minority Leader Eric Cantor, who is Jewish, he again said he would prefer a Christian to a non-Christian. However, he said, if Romney is the GOP nominee, he will have to “hold [his] nose” and vote for him over Obama. The president, he said, may be a Christian but does not uphold Biblical values.

First of all, let me say that I thought that the United States was past this kind of stupid religious prejudice. Apparently not. Second, no matter what you think of Jeffress’s comments, he did his candidate, Rick Perry, no good whatsoever. Evangelicals who agree with Jeffress were not going to vote for Romney, anyway, and those who don’t share his animosity toward Mormonism are now going to associate Rick Perry with religious bigots. This is the last thing Perry needed, coming close on the heels of the “Niggerhead” controversy.

But all that aside, let’s unpack Jeffress’s remarks. What exactly does he mean when he says that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not Christian? Jeffress defines Christianity thus: “It is only faith in Jesus Christ, in Jesus Christ alone, that qualifies you as a Christian.” By that standard, then, Mormons are Christians. The fourth article of faith of the LDS church states that the first principle of the gospel is “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Doctrine and Covenants 76:41-42 further explains that Jesus “came into the world … to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; that through him all might be saved.”

But Jeffress really doesn’t believe that faith in Christ makes one a Christian. He adds, “They embraced another gospel, the Book of Mormon, and that is why they have never been considered by evangelical Christians to be part of the Christian family.” Thus, to folks like Jeffress, it’s not Christian faith that makes one Christian, but belief in a closed canon. This notion of “Sola Scriptura,” or the belief that the Bible alone contains all the knowledge and truth needed for salvation, is a product of the Protestant Reformation and was an explicit rejection of the priestly authority of Catholicism. But in itself, it is not a Biblical principle.

Jeffress also said that Romney, as a Mormon, “doesn’t embrace historical Christianity.” Strictly speaking, Mormonism is not a Catholic or Protestant denomination, which apparently is what Jeffress means by “historical Christianity.” Note, however, that Jeffress isn’t convinced that Catholicism is “historical Christianity,” either, referring to it as a “fake religion” coming out of “the Babylonian mystery religion” and representing “the Genius of Satan.”

But Mormonism is indeed part of historical Christianity in that it arose from the Restorationist movement that emerged in early nineteenth-century America. Restorationists believed in restoring the primitive church, including its apostolic authority, as a precursor to the Second Coming of Christ. Joseph Smith moved his church’s headquarters to Kirtland, Ohio, because a large number of Restorationists (members of Alexander Campbell’s “Disciples of Christ” congregation) had embraced Mormonism, seeing it as the true restoration they had been looking for. So, Pastor Jeffress is mistaken in his assessment of Mormonism’s place in historical Christianity.

What he really means, I gather, is that Mormonism does not accept orthodox Protestant teachings. Fair enough, but Christianity is not defined by one movement’s particular doctrine. If people want to say that Mormonism is not “mainstream” Christianity or is even distorted or heretical, that’s their prerogative, but they have no right to say who is a Christian and who is not. That’s up to God.

Also, what does Jeffress mean when he calls Mormonism a “cult”? When most people hear the world “cult,” they think of Jim Jones and the mass Kool-Aid suicides in Jonestown, or brainwashed automatons wearing robes and handing out flowers. The word is clearly meant as a pejorative, and as I’ve always said, it adds nothing to religious dialogue. Jeffress tried to clarify his position on “Fox News and Friends” on Sunday:

“When I’m talking about a cult, I’m not talking about a sociological cult, but a theological cult. Mormonism was invented 1,800 years after Jesus Christ and the founding of Christianity. It has its own founder, Joseph Smith, its own set of doctrines and even its own book, the Book of Mormon, in addition to the Bible. That by definition is a theological cult.”

What he’s saying here is that Mormonism has different beliefs from his, so it’s a “theological cult.” I could go into what Christian apologists mean when they speak of theological cults, but it’s not necessary. Suffice it to say that they define a “cult” as a religious movement that claims to be Christian but deviates from orthodox belief. But saying that someone is “not an orthodox Christian” packs less of a punch than saying that he or she belongs to a cult. I’m sorry, but there is no way that Jeffress did not intend the pejorative connotation of the word “cult” in this context.

Finally, Jeffress cites John Jay in saying that “as Christians, we have the duty to prefer and select Christians as our leaders. That’s what John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court said.” Here’s Jay’s quote in context.

In 1816, John Murray wrote Jay asking if “war of every description is prohibited by the [Christian] gospel.” Jay responded by saying:

It certainly is very desirable that a pacific disposition should prevail among all nations. The most effectual way of producing it, is by extending the the prevalence and influence of the gospel. Real Christians will abstain from violating the rights of others and therefore will not provoke war.

Almost all nations have peace or war at the will and pleasure of rulers whom they do not elect, and who are not always wise or virtuous. Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.

In other words, Jay believed that Christian principles promoted peace and democracy. That is a matter of debate, I suppose, but Jay is not making a doctrinal litmus test, as is Mr. Jeffress. We should be clear here. Jeffress’s point is that, even if two candidates’ positions are exactly the same, we should vote for the “Christian” over the “non-Christian,” and we should rely on the good pastor to tell us which is which. In short, in Pastor Jeffress’s America, we should never vote for a non-Christian unless we have no choice. That’s right, if he had his way, there would be no elected Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, agnostics, atheists, or Mormons–and probably no Catholics, either.

But that’s not bigotry, right?