Sunday, July 30, 2006

An Open Letter to Anonymous (on Mormons and Evangelical Christians)

Dear Anonymous--

Judging from your recent comments, I sense you hold very little esteem for Mormons. I also perceive, in fact you have stated explicitly, you are a believing Christian. In a sense, your feelings about my Church reflect a general divide between those who consider themselves mainstream Christians and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I find this divide both ironic and unfortunate because I do not believe we stand that far apart on many important theological issues--indeed, I consider myself both an Orthodox Mormon and a born-again Christian. I hope I can persuade you, even if only for a moment, that I can be both of these things and that this does not create an issoluble paradox.

Mormonism, it seems to me, is thoroughly Christian. I could attempt to prove this through many methods, but I will choose to focus on three here: 1) the Book of Mormon brings me to Christ, 2) Joseph Smith was a witness of Christ, and 3) the Temple focuses my life on Christ. These three, each an important pillar of Mormon belief, demonstrate together that Mormonism functions to bring souls to Christ.

My parents raised me on the Book of Mormon. Growing up, I often listened to a Mormon Prophet (Ezra Taft Benson) talk of flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon; President Benson spoke with a distinctive, high-pitched, rural-accented, staccato voice and I can still hear him pronouncing the name of the book. President Benson's words inspired me to study the BoM, searchingly, from a very young age. Through the years, I have read the book many times and I have learned two overriding truths: the BoM teaches me about Christ and the BoM makes me more Christlike.

My knowledge and testimony of the Savior come, in large part, from reading the Book of Mormon. Many of my thoughts on this subject can be found in my "Jennifer 3" post. For space's sake, however, I will quote just one BoM verse here:

"and he will take upon him their infirmities , that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities."

This verse teaches me that Christ willingly suffered each pain and sorrow I suffer so as to understand, intimately and individually, the secret sadness of my heart. This verse teaches me of the mercy, charity, knowledge, and care of the Savior. The BoM contains hundreds more scriptures like this one.

Beyond this, however, the BoM makes me more Christlike. I do not mean that I read the book, learn of Christ, and commit to become more like Him, though that is also true. Like those of the Bible, the words contained in the BoM transform those who read them--the words themselves are powerful, they change my heart. When I read, I have greater desires to treat others as the Savior would.

Joseph Smith testified of Christ. Some seem threatened by the idea of a modern Prophet, as if the existence of such a man would somehow diminish the importance of Jesus Christ as the Savior. This line of reasoning seems strange since the Bible is the record of Prophets. Some also point out that Joseph Smith acted, at times, in ways not consonant with currently accepted religious practices. On the one hand, of course, Joseph had flaws--as do all men and all prophets. On the other hand, many Biblical prophets engaged in activities that, by today's standards, seem utterly foreign. All of which leads me to conclude that these things, in and of themselves, avoid the more important question: did Joseph, by his words and life, brings people to Christ. My answer is that, though Joseph was not perfect, he founded a people and a culture filled with imperfect individuals who strive to bring themselves and others to Christ. It was, after all, Joseph who proclaimed: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” The very ire “traditional Christians” rouse when they accuse Mormons of not being Christian demonstrates something about the Mormon commitment to Christ. Joseph's claims, though bold, were nevertheless focused on Christ--as is the Temple.

As you doubtless know, anonymous, there are many parts of the Temple ceremony about which we do not speak outside the Temple. While this seems to be of great concern to you, there are various points in the Bible where the Savior instructs people not to speak of the things they have seen or heard--not all truth is meant for all people immediately. What strikes me about the Temple, however, is that Christ plays a central role in all that happens there. Everything done in the Temple is done in the Lord’s name and the things that occur everyday in the Temple occur both in concert with ancient ritual and ancient Biblical prophecy. Indeed, I echo Elder Marion G. Romney, who wrote: “My testimony [is] that…everything in the temple points ultimately to Christ and to our Father. The efficacy of the ordinances and covenants is in his atoning love and delegated authority.” I was struck, as I attended the Temple twice this last week, that the Terrestrial room is dominated by an enormous picture of Christ descending in glory and light at the second coming—in a sense, everything in the Temple is a reminder that, one day, we will all kneel to acknowledge there is no other name nor way whereby salvation may come except through Christ Jesus.

It occurs to me, as I mentioned with regards to Joseph Smith, that some outside of Mormondom feel threatened by Mormonism’s acceptance of so many people, principles, books, and practices as holy. It is as if some feel that our acceptance of Temples, prophets, the Book of Mormon and the like somehow lessens our reliance on, trust in, or faith in Jesus Christ. Quite the opposite, however, is true. Instead of these leading me away from Christ, they lead me to the Savior. There are some Mormons, to be sure, who set their sights beyond the mark of Christ. Some of these saints have gone astray because they fail to center their faith on the Savior. The central principles of Mormonism, however, anchor me, and many others, in Christ. These principles are like planets orbiting the sun—their existence does not detract from the sun’s brilliance, it merely reflects the Son’s light and helps us to focus our gaze, ultimately, on the Son’s central role in our Salvation.

Hoping for reconciliation,

Tyler

13 Comments:

Blogger annegb said...

I don't know if this will help your reconciliation efforts, but I had a Freudian slip while working at Wal-Mart in January.

I had on a necklace that said, "I Am A Child of God." A man came through and saw it and asked, "Are you a Christian?"

My reply, "No, I'm a Mormon."

Busted by my own words. I wish I could go back and explain.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Well stated Tyler. I'm not sure that you will get what you seek, but we shall see.

9:04 AM  
Blogger tyler said...

Annegb--Maybe you're friend from walmart will see your comment here (:.

Eric--Reconciliation is a long shot, but worth a try.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im not saying that I have a monoply of the truth when it comes religion and christianty but then neither do you. I believe it is quite haughty of the LDS to proclaim itself as the "only" true way to achieve the kingdom of God. Using that logic, Mother Thresa is not worthy of heaven. I believe she is very worthy of heaven and I guess the final word goes to God and not the LDS.
I dont believe a word that Joseph Smith ever said or wrote unless of course it had something to do with him procurring another sex partner. The same goes for Brigham Young. In my book he was a despot at best. Everything I need to know about Brigham Young was made clear when Brigham took a "fancy" of another mans wife and said to the man "This woman is now mine, you will have to go find another." I guess Brigham was not into sharing.
The foundation of the LDS is based on Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, two men who do not rate very high on my list. If God instructed Joseph and Brigham to carry on polyagamous relationships - Then why was it stopped? If God did not instruct them to do so then that would make both Joseph and Brigham false prophets. Would it not? It certainly would in my mind but Im sure it would not in yours. I see it as black and white and Im sure you see some color of gray (or maybe rose).

10:53 AM  
Blogger tyler said...

Anonymous--

I'm glad to know you read the letter--I was beginning to worry it might never reach its intended audience.

Your questions about polygamy are good ones and I'm not sure I have a wonderful and complete answer. To be sure, there are commandments which, though important at one juncture, fall out of the cannon later--such was certainly the case with sacrifice by the shedding of blood. Why polygamy was important pre-1900 and stopped thereafter I do not know.

Happily, however, Mormon theology predicts a happy future for Mother Teresa. There is no question she lived (from all I know) a saintly life and would seem, if anyone ever did, to deserve salvation. Ironically, of course, and as you have pointed out earlier (I realize this may not be the same "anonymous" but I am going to assume so), salvation actually comes by grace--but her life was nonetheless exemplary. In any case, Mormon theology actually seems to me to have the only logical answer to the question your comments suggest: what happens to those who live good lives but who never have a chance to embrance the fullness of the truth. Temples provide a place where vicarious ordinances can be performed in behalf of the deceased. Mother Teresa will one day have the chance to embrace the fullness of the Gospel--her agency, through the Savior's atonement, will determine her destiny.

While we teach the fullness of the retored Gospel, our Prophet has made it clear that we invite those of all religious persuasions to join us and bring with them the religious truth they already have. Furthermore, while my theology contains a fullness of the truth, I certainly do not.

Finally, Richard Bushman (a nationally-respected history professor at the Univerity of Columbia) has concluded that Joseph was not, in fact, addicted to sex but that he instead only reluctantly accepted the doctrine of polygamy.

Still hoping for reconciliation.

Tyler

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Anonymous--

It is difficult for me to tell if you sincerely want answers or if you are simply trying to argue. I will assume you sincerely want answers and try to explain my thoughts on some of your questions.

From your post it seems you do not agree with the LDS church’s former practice of polygamy. I understand your concern. Polygamy doesn’t make sense to me. I am an active member of the LDS faith and I don’t claim to understand polygamy. Now, with that said, what I do understand is that God at times has asked his people to live certain laws. The Old Testament is a wonderful example of a time when Christ’s church lived different laws than we live now – including polygamy. The fact that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had more than one wife does not make sense to me – but it also does not make them terrible men in my eyes. I know that God has always, and will always, give commandments to his children. If polygamy was a commandment in the time of Abraham, and it was, then I fully support his polygamous lifestyle. Why was polygamy taken away? I don’t know. Similarly with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. I believe polygamy was a commandment for these men, and subsequently the commandment was repealed.

Also, you mention:

“It is quite haughty of the LDS to proclaim itself as the ‘only’ true way to achieve the kingdom of God. Using that logic, Mother Teresa is not worthy of heaven. I believe she is very worthy of heaven and I guess the final word goes to God and not the LDS.”

You are right; the final word goes to God and his Son Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches just that:

“O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.

I fully believe that Christ will judge each man and woman for his/her decisions based on his/her understanding of the Gospel. As for Mother Teresa, I believe that honest seekers of truth, like Mother Teresa, embrace truth – and act accordingly -- when they find it. I believe Mother Teresa will be judged, just as the rest of us, on the truth she encountered in her life. If she was not presented an opportunity to accept the fullness of the Gospel she will not be judged as though she had that opportunity.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So are you saying that the LDS religion is the one and only religion that has God's blessings? Is God then a Mormon? Its sure seems so in your mind. Please explain this to me.
As for polyagamy ending in the 1900's - The reason for that is the US Federal Govt was going to effectively put the Mormon Church "out of business." Thus taking away their tax exempt status. This then became a very easy decision for who ever was the "prophet" at the time. The prophet was not instructed by God, but by the head bookkeeper of the LDS. It was strictly dollars and cents. Many, many, many dollars. The LDS then declared that polyagamy was going to occur in Mormon heaven and there was nothing the Feds could do to stop it in heaven. Even though we both know that "polyagamy is very much alive and well in the Mormon community. Many practice it openly, others are more descreat. ie a permanent housekeeper or a permanent nanny(or both) who also bear children for their "husband."
Yes I am bothered by all the secrecy that goes along with the LDS. Ive heard that the further you go up the LDS ladder the more secrets you learn. Im more concerned about all the blood rituals, tattoos, mutilations and other things done to the members with a knife. I find it scary at best.

1:47 PM  
Blogger tyler said...

Anonymous--

It would be much easier to respond to your comments if you provided some support for your claims, which, it seems to me, range from debateable to bizarre.

Where, for example, have you heard about Mormon tattoos? The current Mormon prophet has actually encouraged members not to get any kind of tattoo. The idea that we use tattoos as a scret symbol of membership is foreign to me.

I believe truth is expansive, encompassing, in a sense, the universe. I also believe almost all people have some truth, including Mormons. Most people, however, including many Mormons, are lazy about truth--many of us do not care that much about learning truth, certainly not enough to exert ourselves in an attempt to assertain it.

Sometimes, however, God selects a prophet and reveals truth directly. These men of God offer us a window into the eternities--they allow us to glimpse, through their writings and words, the fullness of the truth. Joseph Smith was one of these ways. In fact, both critics and supporters have spent the almost two-hundred years since Joseph's ministry grappling with the magnitude and expanse of what he taught.

As to your comments on polygamy, I'm afraid your reasoning about the moitvation for revelation is a bit too simple. You seem to have concluded that a prophet can either do things for practical reasons or for divine reasons--why could both not be true? In the case of polygamy, Wilford Woodruff makes it quite clear that many of the reasons for banning polygamy are practical, he states, in fact, that "the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of the families of the Church, and the confiscation of the personal property of people..." was simply too high to pay--the Lord revealed it would be better that the practice be discontinued.

FInally, polygamy is, quite simply, no longer sanctioned by the Church, any member found practicing it is excommunicated--the Church can enact no stricter penalty.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you do admit that there are blood rituals that require the use of a knife? Either there is or there isnt. Which is it? Im a "give me the facts kind of guy." I will then have to conclude that the drawing of blood with a knife is a common practice at all Mormon ceremonies. Hey, you certainly dont need my permission to carry on such activities. I just know I wouldnt want one of my fellow church members slicing me up like I was a ripe tomato.
So Tyler, you still didnt answer my question - "Is God a Mormon?" Either he is ot he isnt.
Im glad we agree on who and what caused the "official" end of polyagamy. It was God-fearing Christians like my forefathers who insisted on ending this ungodly practice. If polyagamy was not stopped, Mormons of today would still be practicing it. Im 100% sure of it. Even though you refuse to admit it - most Mormons are looking forword to the day when they can again practice it in heaven. I see it as similar to the 99 virgins promised to suicide bombers of Islam.
The more questions I have about the LDS, the fewer answers I am able to find.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read something about lds and some how I landed here. I am really not a religious person. But you inspired me thank you!

8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to tell you, Mormonism has nothing to do with Christianity.

Joseph Smith was a satanist.

http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/False%20Religions/Mormons/doom.htm

My family is descended from Orson Pratt; other relatives of mine were Mormon handcart pioneers, so I know a little bit about the inner workings of Mormonism.

Mark Twain visited Utah in 1861-
here are some of his impressions:

"Destroying Angels," as I understand it, are Latter-Day Saints who are
set apart by the Church to conduct permanent disappearances of obnoxious
citizens. I had heard a deal about these Mormon Destroying Angels and
the dark and bloody deeds they had done, and when I entered this one's
house I had my shudder all ready. But alas for all our romances, he was
nothing but a loud, profane, offensive, old blackguard! He was murderous
enough, possibly, to fill the bill of a Destroyer, but would you have any
kind of an Angel devoid of dignity? Could you abide an Angel in an
unclean shirt and no suspenders? Could you respect an Angel with a
horse-laugh and a swagger like a buccaneer?

There were other blackguards present--comrades of this one. And there
was one person that looked like a gentleman--Heber C. Kimball's son, tall
and well made, and thirty years old, perhaps. A lot of slatternly women
flitted hither and thither in a hurry, with coffee-pots, plates of bread,
and other appurtenances to supper, and these were said to be the wives of
the Angel--or some of them, at least. And of course they were; for if
they had been hired "help" they would not have let an angel from above
storm and swear at them as he did, let alone one from the place this one
hailed from.

This was our first experience of the western "peculiar institution," and
it was not very prepossessing. We did not tarry long to observe it, but
hurried on to the home of the Latter-Day Saints, the stronghold of the
prophets, the capital of the only absolute monarch in America--Great Salt
Lake City. As the night closed in we took sanctuary in the Salt Lake
House and unpacked our baggage.

http://www.readprint.com/chapter-10722/Mark-Twain

http://www.readprint.com/chapter-10727/Mark-Twain

7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tyler: Using Richard Bushman as an expert on Joseph Smith's sexual attitude is not one that I would call fair nor impartial. Born in SLC, attended BYU, member of LDS. Could you provide reference for proof from non LDS sources?

annegb:

I have seen the old commercials "I'm not Christian, I'm a Mormon" - It's hard to shake what you have been taught. Busted is right.

I find it interesting too that although Jesus is a main character in Temple ceremonies - so is Satan. I'm not saying this is Satan worship. However, it should be mentioned he has a major role in the ceremony.

The reference to drawing a knife in the ceremony isn't fair to those who went through the temple after 1990. Since the unchanging ceremony was change to remove the reference to blood atonement. But since God is a changing god, that must explain that too.

5:34 AM  
Anonymous tyler said...

Anon:

I can't imagine you're the original. If you're new, welcome! If you are the original, long time no see!

As for the devil in the temple video, I would remind you he also has a pretty prominent part in the creation narrative as recounted in Genesis as well as in certain parts of the New Testament. His role is even larger in, say, the Screwtape Letters. I hardly think his presence says much about any of the foregoing except that they may aim to teach us about his nature and how best to avoid his methods.

As for Richard Bushman, I would challenge you to name a more reliable and objective source. Certainly being Mormon no more invalidates Bushman's work than not being Mormon invalidates that of other authors. Bushman's biography has been widely praised and is generally considered the most authoratative biography of the Prophet to date and probably for many years to come.

Thanks for reading.

1:56 PM  

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