Do you ever have long form arguments in your head about topics you deem important? I certainly do. Who am I talking to? Why am I do this? How come I seem to win every time? I find myself in this internal dialogue often. It happens on the car ride to work, on a walk in the park, and while I’m mowing the lawn. Whenever I have free time, my mind is often in a constant state of dispute. In fact, I sometimes have to turn off my music or podcast because my internal debater is distracting me too much. My most exciting arguments come from my debates with my religious self and my non-religious self.A couple weeks ago a speaker at church who happens to be the stake president of the area in which I live. A stake president (SP) is the local spiritual leader who guides 5-8 congregations who are lead by their own stake president appointed bishops. His talk provided a healthy amount of brain debate. I would like to outline a few points he made and rebut them in a self congratulatory way. I understand there is a certain level of immaturity involved in building an indefensible offensive against an non-existent naysayer in my mind and now subsequently on a blog. I only ask your consideration of the weight of what was said to the congregation of believers and who said it.
Philosophies of men mingled with scripture
Using the language of philosophies of men mingled with scripture in a Mormon setting immediately creates a kind of defensive stance. This is part of the culture through teaching found in the temple in which Lucifer is accused of teaching Adam and Eve false doctrine by mingling the ideas of men with the ideas of God, thus alchemizing sacred truths with ideas from a fallen sinful mind. The stake president in his talk introduced the anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon that teach in this manner. One of them was named Nehor who taught the following:
He also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life. (Alma 1:4)
The SP then expounded and said, “Nehor taught false doctrine here, not all men shall have eternal life. We believe, as all Christians do, that you must do certain things in order to obtain eternal life. It is not just a Mormon thing, it’s a Christian one.” First of all this is a straw-man argument that holds little weight. When you say, “everyone will be saved and have eternal life no matter what you do!” no honest theologian will say this is true. Secondly, this is where the first mind manipulation comes into play, or dare I say, philosophy of the SP mingled with doctrine. His emphasis was not on the many check marks that Mormons must accomplish, not only once but continue to do until death to have eternal life, it was on the universality of all Christian teachings. All Christians would agree that one does not just get eternal life handed to them for free, there is something more. In reality, he is speaking truth, but he is bending the emphasis to point the listener to the easy, “it’s not just Mormons that would disagree with this statement” argument. It makes it easier to stomach, and nod, with agreement, “yeah, we aren’t weird, we don’t have crazy requirements for eternal life, we are like all Christians.”
For every question you have the church has an answer
The SP continues his preaching against the teachings of anti-Christs by describing the false doctrines spread about against the Mormon church on the internet. He says, “There is far more anti-mormon material on the internet than there is true Mormon material on the internet.” This is clearly a scare tactic, and one that has been used for decades. What is intended when he says something like this? From my perspective, I believe he is indoctrinating believers into thinking that anything on the internet that has disparaging information about the church is most likely false, squarely on the basis on probability. It’s the idea that, “if you run into something that makes you question, first, it’s most likely false information, and second, get your answers from approved sources.” This teaches people to close their mind to critical thinking, and investigation. The idea is taught, “There is so much anti-mormon stuff out there, you cannot trust it, so do not investigate. If you have questions go to approved sources. We know what you need to know, do not think for a second that you are capable yourself to reason through these things.” This method perpetuates the evil practice of assuming people who leave are deceived by clever anti-mormon material, and I am disgusted by it.
He ended his remarks by saying, “any question you may have about the church, the church has a readymade answer.” This simply is not true, and I will go as far as calling him a liar. If you believe the following are answers:
- It’s not pertinent to our salvation
- We will find out when we die
- God’s ways are not man’s ways
- That’s what God said
- That is what the prophet said
- Sometimes prophets can be speaking as men and not as prophets
- It was policy or folklore and not doctrinal
If those are answers, then I owe the SP an apology, he is not lying, he is intellectually dishonest. This method of teaching, again, further perpetuates the idea to the listener that there are really no hard questions or considerable doubts that hold any weight that the church can’t ready answer at the click of a mouse. It teaches people to say to themselves, “Why think critically about the truth claims of the church, someone has already done that for me, they already have all the answers” This is unethical. This is mixing partial truths with immoral indoctrination. I believed these things until my awakening. One of the hardest things for me to bare was the idea that the anti-mormon material was not only actually true, but that it was suppressed from me because I believed they were either lies, or that there was an easy answer someone respectable had already come up with.
This next one really pushed me over the edge, which motivated me to write this piece. The SP, then references a fake website that “an anti-mormon published recently that resembled almost exactly the church’s newsroom website.” Remember, the SP brings up anti-Christs at the beginning of his talk which presumably was done on purpose to connect those that promote a balanced approach to the foundational claims of Mormonism with anti-Christs. How are anti-Christs viewed? Let’s ask Jesus himself
There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24)
A subtle, or maybe not so subtle connection. That’s all the SP said about the fake website, only that there was one recently. Now people think that there are websites out there that look like legitimate Mormon sites but are run by anti-mormons, which is a partial truth. This talk dripped with fear mongering and deception, it was ironic to the core.
This fake website that was temporarily running was satire on the isolated events surrounding the church’s summit with the NAACP (May 18). This meeting was of particular importance to believers and nonbelievers alike. The church had, until 1978, kept people of African descent from participating fully in the church based on the color of their skin. The racist ban was particularly pernicious as it banned them from the rituals granting eternal families and eternal life.
Here is a piece from an article written about the fake website:
The hoax was the work of Jonathan Streeter, a former Mormon who lives in Texas and hosts the blog Thoughts on Things and Stuff.
Streeter said he had pondered what kind of statement the LDS Church might put out if it ever apologized for its past policies on race — and how he might write his own false apology as a thought-provoking parody.
“What would it look like if the church engaged in a completely vulnerable, open, contrite apology,” Streeter said, “in much the way that they teach [church] members that they should undergo repentance, including full confession and remorse.”
At that point, the website arrives at its punchline: a false apology for institutional racism attributed to Nelson, who is viewed as a prophet by the Mormon faithful.
“I offer a full unqualified apology for the error of racism which was taught from this office and in the tabernacle and over the pulpits of our churches the world over,” Nelson is quoted as saying, which to reiterate, he did not do.
The fabricated statement also includes an announcement by Nelson of a “Scriptural Review Committee on Race” that would recommend updates for the church’s religious texts to remove “faults of men around racism which have been left uncorrected.”
Do you not think providing context around what this ‘fake website’ was about would be important? Apparently the stake president did not think it mattered. The SP clearly mingled some truth with some blatant sleight of hand.
Where will this leave me in 5 years?
One the more sinister defenses against challenges to the Mormon church is the classic “where will you go?” argument. In October 2016 church apostle M. Russell Ballard said:
If any one of you is faltering in your faith, I ask you the same question that Peter asked: “To whom shall [you] go?” If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do?
This type of rhetoric was taught by the SP during his talk as well. “If you were to believe some of this stuff (referencing anti-mormon teaching), you have to ask yourself, where will this leave me in 5 years?” Mormons tend to think they have the answer to all life’s problems, and if you were to leave it your life would be in shambles. That idea combines nicely with the belief that full answers or happiness can not be found outside the church, because they have “the fullness of the Gospel”. Mormons will put on a happy face and say people can be happy outside the church, but not as happy as they could be.
What members of the church despise most is when one of their own decides to leave. Because the church is welded to the identity of its followers, any form of opposition is viewed as an attack on the individual’s identity. If a full believer can leave, that means the current believer might be following a lie, and that isn’t possible in their brain. Cognitive dissonance does not allow the average believer to even consider their worldview may be incorrect. So they say things like, “you do not know what you’re doing, where will you go?, where will you find happiness?, how will you lead a moral life?, I feel sorry for you.” These responses are condescending and downright rude. Thanks SP for preaching and perpetuating this harmful teaching.
I think I have made my case pretty clear. The leader of about 4,000 individuals is choosing to continue the backwards preaching against mormon opposition. It is silly and immature. Because members are taught to not criticize its leaders (in fact they covenant, aka super promise, in the temple to never do it), they are somewhat obligated to not question authority. And so, I echo the words of the courageous character in the Book of Mormon Korihor, when I say this stake president taught us partial truths, even philosophies of men mingled with scripture, “to keep [us] in ignorance, that [we] may not lift up [our] heads, but be brought down according to [his words]. Ye say that this people is a free people. Behold, I say they are in bondage.” (Alma 30:23-24)
How ironic, the talk about the dangers of the half-truths was based on half-truths.