Author Archives: Ben

Mormon Marketing: We are Mormon…

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Michael Baker describes and defines marketing strategy as a process that can allow an organization to concentrate it’s limited resources on the greatest opportunities to increase sales and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage (2008).  Limited is not usually how one would typically describe a national organizations marketing budgets, but it does shed a bit of light on how they coordinate and plan their marketing efforts.  Marketing strategy determines an organization’s choice of target markets, their positioning within the marketplace, marketing mix, and obviously the allocation of resources.  When a strategy is effective it will determine how the organization will successfully engage it’s customers, audience, prospects, and competitors in the market place.

What does a strategy look like when one of those organizations is an international religion, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?  The purpose of this article is not to engage in a doctrinal debate, nor does it  intend to cast any negative light on the LDS Church or Mormons in general, rather this article exists solely to rationally present the marketing tools, messages and mix that the LDS Church has and is now employing to strengthen it’s perception among non-Mormons and perhaps even it’s own membership.

According to a 1996 interview with the late LDS President, Gordon B. Hinckley, by CBS’s 60 Minutes, the LDS/Mormon Church hired a well known Jewish firm to handle their marketing effort, as confirmed by Mike Wallace in the following statement:

Gordon Hinckley prefers not to talk about Jesus returning to Missouri…He says that those points miss the point. He wants to portray Mormons as mainstream, not extreme. And for that Hinckley has hired a Jewish-owned public relations firm. Mormons hiring Jews to help spread the word?

 

Despite the impression that 60 Minutes gives, this push to mainstream the LDS/Mormon Church was well underway in the mid-1990’s.  It has been reported that this Jewish owned firm and others advised the Church that it was in their best interest to become more appealing to existing Protestants, Evangelicals, and Christians within the United States.  This point was perhaps a valid one since according to the most recent study by Pew Public Forum for Religion, over 50% of their annual converts come from these mainstream Christian backgrounds.  Richard and Joan Ostling noted this phenomenon in their 1999 book, Mormon America, writing, “Mormonism succeeds by building on a preexisting Christian culture and by being seen as an add-on, drawing converts through a form of syncretism. Mormonism flourishes best in settings with some prior Christianization.”  By changing their “on-boarding” process, image, and message they would make it far easier for Protestants, Evangelicals, and Christians to accept the LDS Church, tenets, and better assimilate into the culture.

This attempt to become more pleasing to mainstream Christians was beginning to take shape as early as the early to mid 1980’s.   For example in 1988 a survey was sent out to recent LDS converts and new temple going members asking about their experiences doing genealogical and temple work.  Below is a sample of this survey:

Survey question 28:
For a person who had been through the endowment ritual, “did you feel spiritually uplifted by the experience?” and “was the experience unpleasant?” and “were you confused by what happened?”

Survey question 29:
”Briefly describe how you felt after receiving your own endowment.”

Survey question 37-k:
”Did you find it hard to go to the temple?”

Survey question 39-b:
”have you ever fallen asleep during sessions?”

Survey questions 70-a and 70-b:
”Do you believe the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a prophet of God?”
”Do you believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church on the earth?”

Survey question 77-g:
”Do you have any doubts about specific LDS doctrines and teachings?”

A page at the end of the Survey was left blank in case the person had “any additional things to write about your feelings or activities in temple or genealogical work…”

 

It is not incredibly surprising that a short time later the more uncomfortable and controversial parts of their temple ceremony, and perhaps the most difficult parts for former Protestants, Evangelicals, and Christians to participate in, were redacted and discontinued, such as:

  • Protestant minister paid by Lucifer to preach false doctrine was eliminated.
  • All penalties (and gestures like throat slashing, chest slashing and bowel slashing) were eliminated.
  • Women’s promise to be obedient to husbands was modified.
  • The intimate position at the veil (foot to foot, knee to knee, breast to breast, hand on shoulder and mouth to ear) was eliminated.
  • The strange words “Pay Lay Ale” (meaning “Oh God hear the words of my mouth”) were eliminated.

At this point I am sure you are asking, what does this have to do with marketing the LDS/Mormon Church and belief system?  It all plays a significant role in the LDS Church’s “marketing mix.”  This term, Marketing Mix, was one coined by Neil Borden in 1953, and later refined in 1960, by E. Jerome McCarthy.  Marketing mix involves the 4 P’s, which are: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion.  Once again, you are most likely asking what do these 4 P’s have to do with a religion or the Mormon faith?  Great question!

The “product” that the LDS/Mormon Church is attempting to “sell” is their core tenets, lifestyle, and culture.  The “price” of this product is not money in the traditional sense, but rather what is the “investigator” or “prospective” Mormon going to have to sacrifice to become a member of the LDS/Mormon Church.  The “place” of the LDS Church involves the image or perception of the product in the mind of consumers.  The final P is “promotion” which encompasses, the total communications effort that an organization or marketer may use in the marketplace.

The changes that occurred within the LDS/Mormon Church in the 1980’s and 90’s was a clear attempt to correct some of the perceived shortcomings in their “product, place, and price.”  The amendments and changes made to their missionaries’ scripting, logo, and production and distribution of new Christ-centered films, such as the Lamb of God, were a clear attempt to change their “place” and “promotion” in the their chosen marketplace.  The changes made to the temple ceremonies, remodels of their church buildings that included more traditional “New England” style design, and greater emphasis on Jesus Christ provided a market correction to their “product” and “price.”  By tweaking the product to appear friendlier to mainstream Christians the LDS Church essentially lowered the “price” one pays to become and remain a member of the LDS Church.  These are all clear signs that the LDS Church saw a need to mainstream and “Christianize” for greater market appeal and potential.  For example, if being a Mormon does not feel and appear quite so peculiar there is the potential for greater societal and social acceptance by non-Mormons, thereby making it easier for individuals to consider Mormonism.

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The fourth P, promotion, has perhaps been one of the LDS/Mormon Church’s greatest strengths and at times their greatest weaknesses.  Just about anyone who has turned on a television has seen a commercial for the LDS Church.  There have been heartwarming commercials regarding families and family values.  There have been commercials offering to give away a free Book of Mormons.  As the mainstreaming of the LDS Church took place in the late 1990’s, there were then TV spots offering free copies of the King James Version of the Holy Bible.  These commercials frequently featured a telephone number that would connect them to missionaries and church volunteers who would encourage a visit by the LDS missionaries to accompany their free book.  Their ability to “promote” or market via the television was brilliant and largely unparalleled by other denominations at the time, which allowed them to raise considerable market awareness surrounding their “product.”

Most marketing observers would agree that the LDS Church’s greatest marketing weakness has been their lack of or late involvement with orchestrating their efforts on the Internet.  It wasn’t until 2007 that LDS leadership began to openly address this area of need. While addressing Brigham Young University, LDS Apostle, M. Russell Ballard, stated, “We cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches” (LDS, 2007).  He further explains their intention, in 2007, was to employ a grassroots strategy, stating, “While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time” (LDS 2010).  Based upon the recent and significant redesign and restructuring of their online marketing strategy, this grassroots concept must not have been working quite as well as anticipated.

Until recently, the LDS Church and it’s leadership has seemed content with allowing LDS bloggers, Latter-Day Saint apologists, and Brigham Young University based apologists to do most of their online marketing and discussions.

That has recently changed as the LDS/Mormon Church has launched a new and very different marketing campaign that is going to leverage both the Internet and Television.  This new campaign ironically enough seems to take some cues from the Evangelical’s mega-church movements eschewing traditional religious imagery and typography for more modern and edgy graphic design, videography and typography.  The LDS Church has redesigned their once missionary centric website, www.mormon.org, into a collection of hip videos and stories written and featuring the some of the more progressive Mormons available.  The LDS “Church News” reports the following,

“…originally launched in 2001, was designed to help people of other faiths learn more about the Church’s doctrines and beliefs. The revamped site, that launched midnight, July 15, still carries on the same purpose, but has been changed to incorporate more member involvement — especially in missionary work.

“We’ve tried to really brighten the site itself,” said Ron Wilson, manager of Internet and marketing for the Church’s Missionary Department. “We did a lot of user research and tried to find what would work best”

Research shows it is through the interaction with members that many myths and misconceptions vanish. Becoming interactive “friends” with people throughout the world is one way members are sharing their beliefs from the comfort of their own homes”  (Holman, 2010).

This site and these ads are seeking to further refine both the “product,” “place,” and “price” of Mormonism by attempting to show the general public how cool, normal, and progressive the Mormon population and culture has become. To say this is surprising from an organization as conservative as the LDS Church is an understatement.  Here are some examples of what is featured on the new site:

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Meet Rose:  A painting teacher warned Rose that she was throwing away a promising career as an artist by getting married. A husband, four kids, a beautiful home and a remarkable body of work beg to differ. Rose’s spirituality infuses her work as an artist and a mother.

Meet Emily & Family:  He does PR for a UN foundation. She’s a global public health advocate. He speaks French, Italian, Spanish, Armenian and English. Her work helps people in 35 countries. He’s illustrious. She’s unstoppable. They have 3 kids. Their life is crazy, and they love it.

Meet Chris:  A husband, a father, a creative director at the US Library of Congress, a cyclist, a photographer, and a Mormon. Chris balances work, family and fun as gracefully as he rides his bike through Washington, DC.

 

The campaign, while certainly groundbreaking and seeks to dispel some longstanding myths and perception of members, is also drawing the ire of some within the LDS faith and blogosphere.  ABC News recently interviewed LDS blogger and popular host of “Mormon Stories,” John Delhin, stating:

“I think it’s fabulous. I think it represents in many ways the best impulses of the Mormon people,’ Dehlin says. ‘It represents tolerance. It represents multiculturalism. It represents an empowerment of women, inclusivity.'”

The report goes on: “But Dehlin says the ads do not reflect Mormon doctrine and teachings when it comes to race, gender equality and individualism. For example, he says, ‘the husband is supposed to work and the mom is supposed to stay home and take care of the kids. There’s a difference between what the prophets teach us and what this PR campaign is holding up.'”

 

Some of the church’s critics have expressed some frustration, noting that the message of the campaign does not necessarily correlate with the current Mormon experience at the local level in most cases.  Holly Welker, of the Huffington Post, expressed similar sentiments, writing,

“I’ve long appreciated the complexity of Mormon character and the uniqueness of individual Mormons, and I’m totally down with a project to reveal that to the rest of the world. I just wish the church hadn’t spent the last three decades encouraging, if not demanding, homogeneity and blandness — or, to use the official LDS term for the virtue of uniformity, correlation.

So the new ads, challenging the effects of correlation, are overdue. However, they’re not perfect. First, while profiles might feature hipsters with trendy clothes, the opinions and beliefs in a profile must be completely orthodox and thoroughly respectful, or it will be rejected by the site.

Second, as ECS of Feminist Mormon Housewives notes, there’s a bait and switch going on in the profiles of women: most featured profiles showcase “women with small children who choose to work outside the home in demanding careers,” which is not the ideal Mormon women are told to aspire to — instead, they’re encouraged to be stay-at-home-moms whenever possible. ECS concludes that if the church doesn’t address the discord between what it tells its own members Mormon families should be like, and what it tells the rest of the world Mormon families are like, then “this PR campaign is disingenuous at best, and just plain gross, at worst.”

 

According to Deseret News, in addition to the online component, “The LDS Church recently launched an advertising campaign in nine U.S. markets, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; St. Louis; Baton Rouge, La.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Rochester, N.Y.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Oklahoma City; Tucson, Ariz.; and Jacksonville, Fla. The campaign includes ads on television, radio, billboards, bus platforms and the interior of transit vehicles” (Campbell 2010).  Additionally, University of Central Oklahoma professor Sandra Martin noted that while the ads won’t accomplish everything the church seeks to do, “People are talking about it. They’ve been able to cut through the clutter which is the first step to get people to listen”  (Campbell 2010).

These ads are a significant departure in another respect; they are individual rather than institutional.  For example, in times past the advertising done by the church was meant to represent the whole church and it‘s institutional culture and beliefs.   The LDS Director of Media, Scott Swofford explains, “We have not made an effort to only show famous or perfect people. You are going to see warts in this campaign, and people aren’t used to that in Latter-day Saint communication and hope they will be patient and understand we are all fellow strugglers trying to align ourselves with the truth.”  Does this new approach to “message” and “promotion” equate to a greater understanding and “place” thereby generating demand for the “product?”

Several events have precipitated and necessitated this new advertising approach.  Consider the events of the last three years such as the failed Romney candidacy for president and the brutal fights for traditional marriage in California, Wyoming, and Massachusetts.  Most would consider these politically charged events to be largely failures from a public relations perspective for the LDS Church.  The mainstream press vilified the Church, it’s leadership, and often times the membership, as being closed minded white-racist-homophobes.  The voting public in the Southeast and Midwest turned out in to vote for Evangelical governor Mike Huckabee while making their outrage and displeasure with Mitt Romney’s membership in the LDS Church, known to the national media.  After four years of this rhetoric most would agree that there was significant need for a new marketing message regarding who and what the Mormon faith is all about.

Despite their current efforts, what is truly puzzling is that the LDS Church knew as early as 2007 that it was going to be facing greater scrutiny and pressure due to the coming political initiatives and Mormon candidates.  The following quote from Deseret News demonstrates the fact that they did acknowledge the challenge that Romney and Proposition 8 in California could pose to the public’s perceptions of Mormon and yet they are only now modifying their strategy.

“We have to walk a very fine line to stay away from political issues,” said Michael Otterson, Media Relations Director for the 12.6 million-member worldwide Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “But it is clear that the profile of the church will be raised during this (campaign) period. All of the things that are going on will serve as catalysts to raise questions about us and who we really are.”

As you can clearly see the marketing approaches and strategies employed by the LDS/Mormon Church are varied.  It will be interesting to watch the affect and effectiveness of this most recent initiative.  Will it have an affect in terms of the LDS Church’s product, place, price and promotion?  It is interesting to note that the LDS Church has made the decision to abandon a focus on doctrine in it’s advertising instead focusing more on the people and culture.  This is similar to the approach that the Protestant/Christian/Evangelical community has chosen to embrace over the last 15 years with limited long-term success at retaining members.  There is currently a backlash underway within the Evangelical community as Christians decry the loss of deep doctrine in favor of greater emphasis on cultural and social initiatives and acceptance.  Only time will reveal the overall effectiveness of this most recent “I am Mormon” campaign.

References

Ostling, R. & Ostling, J.  (1999).  Mormon America:  The Power And The Promise.  HarperOne; 1st edition.

Baker, M.  (2008). The Strategic Marketing Plan Audit 2008. ISBN 1902433998. p.3

(2007).  Apostle Urges Students to Use New Media.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Newsroom.  Retrieved on:  August 20, 2010 From:  http://lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/news-releases-stories/apostle-urges-students-to-use-new-media

Welker, H.  (2010).  Mormon PR Campaign:  Do Good Individuals Equal A Good Church?  The Huffington Post.  Retrieved on:  August 21, 2010 From:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/holly-welker/mormon-pr-campaign-good-m_b_690383.html

Campbell, J.  (2010).  Mormon Media Observer: Ad campaign gets mixed reviews. Deseret News:  Mormon Times.  Retrieved on:  August 25, 2010.  From:  http://www.mormontimes.com/article/16679/Mormon-Media-Observer-Ad-campaign-gets-mixed-reviews

Holman, M. (2010).  A New Mormon.org.  Church News.  Retreived on:  August 25, 2010.  From:  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/59596/A-new-Mormonorg.html


Church as the Bank of Salvation

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God’s truth is found in the living Word and the written Word.  It is revealed by God through His Holy Spirit, and confirmed by the Bible.  It is not found “in” Bayside, Reno Christian Fellowship, or Saddleback, but only by and through God.  This is one of the central issues that I have with the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church is that they view salvation and grace in terms of what the church has to bestow on it’s members.

Churches are not repositories of or for God’s saving Grace and do not impart salvation but rather they are commanded to be vessels to facilitate the fellowship of believers as found in the book of Acts and the Pauline books.  Reference 1 Corinthians, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ” (NASB).  No where in the New Testament does it state that the Church/Body of Christ is the “gospel” or meant be a vehicle for salvation, but rather a conduit to grow disciples of Christ and to use each persons spiritual gifts for the building of His Kingdom. (Romans 12:5-7)

People often gravitate to discussion involving the virtues of Catholic or Mormon emotion versus the emptiness of Protestant emotion.  Emotion should never be used as a gauge for truth or commitment.  Jeremiah was very clear in his warning that our heart is corrupted and is not be used to determine truth.  This is not to say that I am disputing the problems that are found in both faiths.  The struggle to bring today’s youth to Christ and devote their lives to His service is monumental and most faiths with the exception of the cults are finding it quite challenging.   Protestants in some cases have lost sight of what John called our “first love,” in Revelations, and instead are pressing on without a centralized focus on the One who both calls and saves us; Christ Jesus!  Without this focus we will continue to lose members and fail to permanently convert people to God with that solemn declaration the Christ is LORD and surrender their lives to His service!  I do not nor will I advocate for the Evangelical movement to abandon their progressive music, concerts, or even the mega-church phenomenon, but what they must do is refocus on Christ and the basics that existed with the early Church!

True growth in our relationship with God comes as a result of surrender, belief, studying and immersing ourselves in God’s Word, and establishing true fellowship with believers.  We need to quit relying on Pastors, Priests, Churches, and mass media to solely facilitate our relationship with God and get back to what is truly lasting and important.  In my walk with God, I have grown 1000% more in my relationship and understanding of God while in private study and in small group fellowship than I ever have in church based worship.  The world needs to quit equating church attendance, while important, to being the sole means for gaining a lasting relationship with God.


To Whom Are You Sealed?

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To Whom Are You Sealed?  Such an easy question to propose, but the answer for some may be difficult to articulate.  While reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I was struck by this very question and how it relates to our lives here in the 21st century.  Ephesians 1:13-14, reads:

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (NASB)

These two rather simple looking verses contain matters of grave importance to those who profess a belief in the good news of Christ.  Consider the first part of verse 13, “after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”  There was a time when, as believers, we had first heard “the message of truth,” but Paul elaborates, stating, ”having also believed.”  He is referring to that incredible moment when we truly heard and understood.  It is the moment that we become transformed by God through Christ.  We are adopted into the family of God, becoming “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28 NIV).  It is only then that we begin to understand the Cross to be so much more than just a formula for assuring our place in heaven, rather we begin to realize that our Creator came to Earth and allowed himself to be scoffed, scorned, tortured, and ultimately chose to sacrifice Himself for us!  It is this moment that we become sealed to Jesus Christ.

The importance of being sealed to Christ cannot be emphasized enough, particularly when we consider the state of mankind. Too many try to justify themselves with the lie that God somehow condones their sin.  The irony is that most know that God does not and will not condone their sin.  This deep realization drives many to suffer needlessly in guilt and frustration.  This guilt that to many know causes them to run from God, seeking refuge in alcohol, drugs, and other detrimental behaviors.  So many believing they can be justified by their own actions plunge further into darkness and despair.  Then there are those who seek to justify themselves by listening to sermons, attending church, or perhaps they explain that they are not as sinful that person next to them. Make no mistake that regardless of your sins, actions, or choice, WE ARE ALL BROKEN AND SINFUL PEOPLE.  We are all in desperate need of God’s love.  Don’t lose hope, brothers and sisters; we have message for these broken people.  It is the message of Jesus Christ.

To begin to better understand some of the sacrifices that God made for us, consider Abraham and Isaac’s situation.  In a monumental show of faith, Abraham and Isaac begin their assent to the alter at Mount Moriah.  Take a moment and consider the powerful emotion that Abraham must have felt on that hike.  Imagine the solemn and strained conversation between a father and son, and the terrible pain in this father’s heart as he bound his son.  Most Jewish scholars agree that Isaac was not a small boy at this pivotal event, but was most likely a grown adult.  Considering his age it is likely that Isaac could have successfully resisted his father’s effort, but instead he faithfully chose to submit to his father.  Now imagine as Christ in Gethsemane, is pleading with The Father to let this cup pass from Him, even asking if there be any other way!  Just as Isaac has the ability to successfully resist his father, so did Christ.  No one disputes that Christ had the divine ability to pick up and lay down His life at His discretion.  It is this power that makes the events leading to and on the Cross that much more powerful!  The Father and Son knowing of no other way to save their people allowed the Son to be sacrificed.  Our Creator submitted Himself to be killed, and as Hebrews 9:27 states: so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many…”

Will we not submit and surrender ourselves to the One that surrendered Himself?  There is no lasting peace and comfort outside of Jesus Christ!  Haven’t you been running from God long enough?  Lay your sins, mistakes, and pain at the foot of the Cross and take refuge in His blood and in knowledge that He is risen!

The next portion of the verses holds promise for those that have listened and now believe, when it states, “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.”  There are several important components to this powerful statement.  The first, we are all sealed.  Paul does not state that some are sealed, or a few were sealed, rather it is boldly stating that all who listen and believe are sealed!   By reading the previous 12 verses contained within this chapter we know this is a promise that God makes; He is facilitating this mighty sealing.  We are sealed by the Father, in and through Jesus Christ.  What is the importance of this sealing?  This sealing is a result of what Paul states in verse 7, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.”  Through His sacrifice and His grace we are redeemed, through this act of believing in His grace we become sealed to Christ.

This statement regarding our “sealing” may seem a bit abstract, but consider the importance of what Paul is attempting to teach.  In our current state, we are challenged in understanding the full scope and benefit of this “redemption through His blood…”   Paul speaks to our limited understanding and perspective in 1 Corinthians 13:12, stating:  “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (NASB)  Our position and nature in this life limits both our ability to see the bigger picture and for the most part beyond ourselves.   This principle is restated in 1 John 3:2, “…now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (NIV)  We can not truly grasp this concept of complete redemption, nor do we appreciate the true value of the “inheritance” that we have technically not yet fully received, as such it becomes necessary for us to be sealed in Christ Jesus through the “promised Holy Spirit.”  This sealing assures that we belong to God.  In the midst of this life’s sin, suffering, pain, and confusion we can be reminded that we are God’s; that we have been bought and paid for at a price, by our God.

Having dissected and gained a better understanding of the passages from Ephesians, I want to direct my next set of comments to the LDS readers of my blog.  The question, “To Whom Are You Sealed?” is an appropriate question no matter your religious affiliation, but if you are LDS/Mormon it takes on a different and greater significance.  In, Spencer Kimball’s book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, he states:

In order to reach the goal of eternal life and exaltation and godhood, one must be initiated into the kingdom …one must be endowed and sealed in the house of God by the prophet who holds the keys or by one of those to whom the keys have been delegated; and one must live a life of righteousness, cleanliness, purity and service… (p.6).

The irony of this statement is that no where does Kimball discuss or stress the importance of Jesus Christ in assuring one’s salvation but rather directs the reader to a set of works and ordinances that must be obediently completed in order to earn their place in God’s presence.  Some of you might be quick to point out that there is mention of a sealing in this statement but do not be mislead.  The sealing referred to by LDS/Mormon leaders is not the same that the Apostle Paul had written of in the book of Ephesians.  LDS/Mormon president, Howard Hunter, goes deeper into their concept of sealing, in the following way:

“…celestial marriage, where wife is sealed to husband and husband sealed to wife for eternity. We know, of course, that civil marriages end at death; but eternal marriages performed in the temple may exist forever. Children born to a husband and wife after an eternal marriage are automatically sealed to their parents for eternity. If children are born before the wife is sealed to her husband, there is a temple sealing ordinance that can seal these children to their parents for eternity, and so it is that children can be sealed vicariously to parents who have passed away (Ensign, Feb. 1995).”

Latter-Day Saints cling to the concept of sealing, not as a way of being assured of God’s love, but rather their ability to remain with their family members after death.  They practice and champion this doctrine as crucial to achieving their “glory” and “eternal life.”  Ultimately, it is an essential step in assuring their progression toward Godhood.  It also must be understood that through these sealings, faithful Mormon women are to be called out of their grave in order to be resurrected.  Without a sealed husband there can be no vehicle for a women to achieve her “glory” and “eternal life” according to Mormon doctrine.   Shockingly, for an organization that professes a belief in the risen Savior and even includes His name in their name, there is a fundamental disregard and lack of necessity for Christ, the Cross, and His blood!  There is more talk of ordinances, principles, and family than there is about our reconciliation and justification by and through Christ.

As a Mormon, it was my experience and observation that due to the prevailing theological, cultural, and societal conditions most members of the LDS Church are far more concerned about their family’s scorn and disapproval, than God’s.  Upon my leaving the church, and resigning my membership, I was frequently presented with the statement/question, “How can you turn your back on your family and your ancestors!?”  The more appropriate question should have been, “How can you turn your back on God or Christ!?”

It is truly frightening that my friends and family were more concerned about how my choice reflected and affected the family, than how it might have affected my eternal salvation!  This type of thinking is institutionalized and is systemic among the Latter-Day Saints due to their devotion to the concept of eternal marriage, sealed children, and endless genealogies.  I was taught growing up that my ancestors and deceased family were counting on me to earn my place in the Celestial Kingdom and would be actively viewing my life and choices here on Earth.  I was admonished to keep my behavior appropriate, as my great-grandparents would be “watching.”

The Bible provides clear rejection of these doctrines and attitudes.  In Matthew, Christ boldly answers and directs the Pharisees to a truth that is in opposition to the theology of the LDS/Mormon Church:

Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God…” (Matthew 22:28-30 NIV)

Again, I propose the question, to whom are you sealed?  Are you sealed to the One that provides everlasting peace, freedom, and refuge or do you seek the fleeting comfort and justification that the world provides us?  I would call on you and pray humbly that you seek Him this day!  Kneel down wherever you are and in your exhaustion stop running from God.  Embrace His love and comfort, he longs for your relationship and it is only He who can heal you.  Take all those burdens, mistakes, pain, suffering, sin, conflict and lay them at the foot of the Cross.  Paul reminds us in Colossians 2:13, “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”  Our God has made us alive in Christ!


Dare you speak it’s name?

AMCULT-JUSTICE GAVELI recently read an interesting and ironic article on Deseret News’, Mormon Times news outlet.  The article attempted to draw similarities between Harry Potter, Voldemort, and excommunication.  Mormon Times writer, Sharon Haddock, reports that a speaker at the Annual Religious Education Student Symposium makes the case that excommunication has become the Mormon equivalent to Voldemort.  She explains that Mormons all know of excommunication but choose to approach it similar to those in the movie, Harry Potter, approach Voldemort.  Instead of speaking his name they rather refer to him as “He Who Must Not Be Named.”  The article continues to explain that excommunication has become a “taboo” topic when in fact it is something much more pleasant, an incredible act of mercy and symbolism for God’s own love for us.  This article could not be more inaccurate, and can only be explained as being an outright propaganda piece for Salt Lake.

Despite the articles assertions, there is nothing pleasant about being threatened or actually excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint, except for the possibility that those who have been excommunicated might be more inclined to see Mormonism for what it truly is and to accept the Christ of the New Testament.  The prospect of being excommunicated within the LDS Church is another example of the temporal structure within the church effectively limiting the power of the Blood of Jesus Christ, thus distorting Biblical truth.  According to the LDS Church, Christ’s blood alone is not sufficient to rectify the sins that make excommunication necessary.  One could draw a parallel between the doctrine of “blood atonement” taught by Brigham Young and this current excommunication phenomenon.  It is essentially teaching that we must kill your membership and spirit in order to save it.  I will have to vigorously denounce and disagree with these assertions, as they are not in harmony with the teachings of the Bible.  While there is Biblical precedence for excommunication, and I agree with it’s temporal necessity, in Mormonism it takes on a different meaning than what is detailed with the Books of Matthew and 1 Corinthians.  To fully understand these connotations, you must understand that LDS doctrine teaches there is no glory or living again with God without full membership in their church and completion of their temple ordinances and rituals.

The prospect and threat of excommunication hangs over the heads of every single active and inactive member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  This damaging and far reaching action is at the disposal of any Bishop and Stake President.  According to the 2006 version of the Church Handbook of Instructions – Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics  gives the following definition, “A person who is excommunicated does not enjoy any of the privileges of Church membership.  He may not wear temple garments or pay tithes and offerings…excommunication almost always lasts at least one year.”  The Handbook also gives a warning that a member of the church who is excommunicated will have their “temple blessings revoked.”  It is not hard to understand why members of the church are reluctant to speak the name of excommunication openly; it has the potential, in their minds, to affect their ability to achieve glory, their family’s ability to remain together, and their status within the church or ward.  Being excommunicated is like taking a nuclear weapon to a person’s reputation and status with their close-knit congregations.

Knowing what excommunication is within the LDS faith is one thing, but how does one bring upon themselves this weapon of mass reputation destruction?  Let us return to the handbook that Bishops and Stake Presidents are supposed to use as an official guide.  According the 2006 Handbook it states that a member “may” be excommunicated for the following:

  1. Serious transgressions
  2. Violations of temple covenants
  3. Unrepentant disfellowshipped members
  4. Members who make serious threats to other members
  5. Church leaders or members that “impair” the good name of the church
  6. Murder
  7. Incest

The Handbook goes on the explain what behaviors necessitate a church “Disciplinary Council.”  This church version of a criminal court is only symbolically so with no jury of peers or defense council but rather the arbitrary judgment of a Stake President, Counselors, and the Stake High Council.  A member “must” be tried for the following transgression, infraction, or sins:

1.      Murder
2.      Incest
3.      Child Abuse
4.      Apostasy
5.      Serious transgression while holding church leadership positions
6.      Pattern of transgressions
7.      Transgressions that evidence a Predator
8.      Widely known transgressions

A member “may” be tried by a Disciplinary Council for:

1.      Abortion
2.      Transsexual Operation

The Handbook indicates the following “may not” be necessary for inclusion in Disciplinary Council, but leaves the door open:

1.      Failure to comply with some church standards
2.      Business failure
3.      Non payment of Debts
4.      Civil Disputes
5.      Sins admitted after a significant passage of time

The Disciplinary Council has at its disposal the following options once judgment is rendered:  No action, Formal Probation, Disfellowshipment, and Excommunication. Ironically the sin that is discussed most in-depth and prominently within the Handbook of Instruction is that of “Apostasy.”  This “transgression” is perhaps one of the most feared and misunderstood charges that can be leveled against any member of the LDS Church whether they are active or not.  According to the Handbook the following are all hallmarks of members who may have fallen into apostasy:

  1. Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or it’s leaders.
  2. Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected…
  3. Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected
  4. Formally join another church

Many members believe that by openly disagreeing with church authorities whether it be on the local level or Salt Lake opens themselves up to becoming defendants in a Disciplinary Council.  Once again it becomes a situation or an environment where members are not only afraid to openly discuss the specifics of excommunication but even more terrified that by openly discussing it that their thoughts and discussion could become fodder for a priesthood sanctioned Apostasy investigation, as allowed by the Handbook.

The threat of excommunication is often used as a politically motivated weapon.  It has been speculated by many that have been excommunicated that Salt Lake routinely orchestrates local Disciplinary Councils in order to quietly take care of those members who have become critical of Salt Lake or the LDS Church as a whole.  Many of the infamous “September Six,” who were excommunicated in September 1993, contended that Boyd Packer, Apostle of The LDS Church, played a significant behind-the-scenes role in their excommunications, despite the church policy that excommunications are suppose to be strictly a local affair.  It is becoming increasingly clear that the church leadership both locally and in Salt Lake are increasingly growing weary of those that point out flaws in history or doctrine, making strategic excommunication a convenient tool.

As if the threat of having your life as a Mormon turned upside down is not significant enough, the Bishop and Stake President are given sole discretion to announce excommunications to the congregation, especially if the related charge is apostasy.  The Handbook specifically encourages this public announcement when the individual has been speaking out and disagreeing publicly with church leaders.  Curiously the handbook encourages Bishops not to publicly discuss excommunication when sexual sins are involved, indicating that those allegations could be damaging to a family.  Ironically, it was my observation while in Mormonism that families stood to lose more friends and influence for “Apostasy” than any allegation of sexual sin.

Unfortunately, the recent trend has been to strategically leak the details of the investigation, Disciplinary Council, and subsequent excommunication to the press, when a high profile member of the LDS is involved.  For example, take the case of the former Bishop Simon Southerton, who has been at the forefront of making public information relating to the DNA problems related to the Book of Mormon.  He has been extremely vocal and public in his research that calls church doctrine, leaders, and scriptures into question.  Rather than excommunicate him for apostasy, it was broadcast that he was to be charged with adultery, and excommunicated in 2005.  To make matters worse the LDS Church violated it’s own Handbook and guidelines by publishing the following in their own newspaper, Deseret News:

An Australian who wrote a book saying DNA evidence contradicts ancestral claims of Mormon belief faces disciplinary action that could get him excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Simon Southerton has been ordered to appear at a July 31 hearing before church leaders in Canberra, Australia… rather than charge him with apostasy, LDS leaders in his area have charged him with adultery. (2005)

Ironically, it is not allowed to announce excommunication for adultery to the congregation, but the LDS Church can publish it in their newspaper?

No one is immune to the potential of church discipline.  I observed this firsthand while attending Brigham Young University in Idaho.  After repeatedly asking questions and for clarification regarding early church history and leadership in my religion classes, I was asked to stop, by my Bishop.  This harrowing appointment with my Bishop came as a result of asking my religion professor why seminary and BYU did not teach about the events surrounding the Kirtland Anti-Banking Safety Society.  I was told in class that I was not being “faith promoting.”  Later in the Bishop’s office, I was told that I was causing problems in class with these “sorts” of questions, and that they indicated that I had “ulterior motives.”  He was adamant that this was not going to be tolerated, and could easily be construed as apostasy.  He went on to ask if I would like to call my parents and explain to them why I had been excommunicated and expelled from school.

I certainly understand the temporal need for excommunication for murder, incest, and predators but to freely and openly use it as a bully technique for quieting discussion and disagreement is certainly not in keeping with the Holy Spirit and doctrine of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   The tactics used by LDS Church leadership relating to excommunication and Disciplinary Councils seem closer to Nazi Germany rather than a church that claims to be the “one true church.”   It is little doubt why members of the LDS Church are terrified to even speak the word “excommunication” as this writer reports.  The ramification of being involved in a Disciplinary Council and Excommunication are so far reaching and detrimental to someone’s life within the LDS Church, both officially and socially; it should be regarded with a measure of fear and avoidance.  It is principally one of the reasons that my wife and I decided to legally have our names removed from the records of the LDS Church, rather than wait for a frustrated church leader to excommunicate us for being involved with another Church or being critical towards LDS Church leaders.  Our greater fear was that something far more sinister would be alleged as the reason for excommunication, and freely announced to our LDS friends and family, leaving us with little recourse to publicly clear our names.


One Word & It’s Misunderstood Implications

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There is currently an international obsession, perhaps even an infatuation, with the term, “Christian.”  Suddenly every denomination, group, and church wants to take upon them this designation.  Some faiths that previously had boasted regarding their differences with Christianity, or even demonstrated outright rebuke of mainstream Christianity are now turning to this term with full embrace.  There seems to be an incredible misunderstanding regarding the meanings, origins, and ramification of this term.  Let’s take a moment and examine the meaning and historical contexts, allowing you to decide whether your religious doctrine or if your personal beliefs will allow you to take this incredible and transforming designation upon yourself.

It is interesting that while there are references to this term within the pages of the Bible, the term was not used widely, nor was it claimed by Christ himself when teaching his disciples and followers.  The first recorded use of this term was within the book of Acts.  In Acts 11:26 it says, “…The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (NIV).”  The term is once again introduced a short time later in Acts 26:28 when Herod Agrippa II responds to the Apostle Paul, “… Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”  It comes again within 1 Peter 4:16, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (NIV).  Within non-Christian texts the term is first recorded to have been used when Josephus records the following within the Antiquities of Jews, “the tribe of Christians, so named from him.”  Tacitus also used the term to record that “Christians” were responsible for the Great Fire of Rome, in 65 A.D.

This term itself is bore out of the Greek, Χριστιανός (christianos), which is taken from, “Χριστός (christos).”  This Greek term, Χριστός (christos), is understood to mean “anointed one.”  Christos was also used to translate the Hebrew, מָשִׁיחַ, or Messiah; which means “the one who is anointed.”   As an interesting note the adjectival ending on the term “christianos” denotes belonging to, as in slave ownership (Bickerman 1949).  Very early Christians were defined as those who would accept and declare that “Jesus is Lord.”  By this declaration they are submitting to the Blood of Jesus Christ and become as Paul wrote in Romans bondservants to Him.

One of the defining criteria for Christians is their bold declaration that Jesus Christ is Lord, but what does it mean to declare Christ Lord? The term Lord or LORD with the Bible is derived from the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, YHWH; a sacred Hebrew name for God.  This sacred name is made even more personal when God declares himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14, by declaring both hid name and his nature, “I AM THAT I AM”.  Within the confines of this simple statement He is declaring His self-existent, all-powerful nature to Moses, so that he may declared God to His people!  Incredibly it becomes even more personal than just a name, when God comes in flesh, and in John 8:58 he boldly declares His name, “…before Abraham was born, I AM!” (NIV)  As Christians, when declaring Christ as Lord we are making a bold declaration that Christ is the Jehovah of the Old Testament; that He is the one true, eternal, self-existing God come in flesh to rescue his people through the cross (John 1:1,14).

Knowing the importance of declaring Lordship is one thing but some might be asking how do we personally declare this?  The Apostle Paul writes about this very subject in his letter to the Romans.  In the fifth chapter, verses 5-8, Paul writes:

… God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV)

Our ability to declare Christ’s divinity comes as a result of not only our acknowledgement, but our ownership of our “powerless” nature to overcome our own sins.  We are the “ungodly” that Paul speaks of in the preceding scripture, but despite this condition our God demonstrated his love for us, by coming to Earth to die for us!  We demonstrate our faith in Christ’s divinity by placing Him at the center of our worship.  We grow that faith and deepen our worship by establishing a lasting, meaningful, and connected relationship with Him.

Additionally, taking upon the name of Christ and declaring Him to be Lord, requires that we acknowledge His substituationary atonement, as spoken of in Isaiah 53:4-5.  In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth he declares, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  To be a Christian one must acknowledge, believe, and surrender to the One that had no sin and yet sacrificed Himself for us!

This relationship in Christ is solidified and deepened when we as followers surrender to Him; acknowledging the power and efficacy of His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection.  Christ teaches in John 11:25-26, while comforting Martha, “…I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this?”  Do we now believe in this?  Will we not trust in Him that he alone has the power to conquer sin and death?  Taking the name of Christ upon you requires your possession of this gift and a call to profess it.

With these sacred declarations and relationship comes the responsibility to defend the name of Jesus Christ from those that seek to diminish his Lordship.  The adversary seeks to lead God’s people from the presence of our Father through deceit and lies.  It is our responsibility as followers and bondservants of Jesus Christ to see that this does not occur.  This is particularly true as the adversary seeks to use an empty definition of Christ to accomplish his nefarious plan of destruction.  We are warned of this in Paul’s Epistle to the Church at Corinth,

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” (2 Cor. 11:3-4 NIV)

This frightening warning from Paul is still very much applicable in our day and age.  Paul is warning us of those that teach of different Christ’s from that taught within the Bible.  Paul continues by offering a stern warning to those that entertain different Gospels.  We cannot afford to be led astray by those that preach anything other than a “pure devotion to Christ.”  That “pure devotion” must be centered around the Christ that is taught of and foretold of by the Bible; the Christ that is God come in flesh, that is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8 NIV).   Anything less than this is surely to result in our eternal condemnation (Galatians 1:8-9 NIV).  There are sects, groups, and major religions that are currently preaching different gospels and Christs that are specifically targeting those that acknowledge  Christ but do not yet have a relationship with Him.  They seek to pervert the Gospel of Jesus Christ by relegating Him and His mighty sacrifice to the footnotes of their doctrines!  As Christians, it is our duty and divine responsibility to refute these teachings, while loving those that have been lost to the lies of the adversary!

Reference:

Bickerman, Elias J. (April, 1949). “The Name of Christians”The Harvard Theological Review 42 (2): 109-124


Knowing of Him and Believing In Him…is there a difference?

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There is a haunting warning contained within the Gospel of Matthew.  In the seventh chapter verses, 21-23, it reads:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”  (NIV)

In this series of verses we are offered a warning that there is the potential to have Christ deny any relationship between Him and us.  How do Christians know the differences that exists between knowing of Him and believing in Him?  The true importance of this topic is difficult to fully quantify in written word but consider the promise to those that believe as opposed to merely knowing of Him, as highlighted in John 3:16-17:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  (NIV)

Those that “believe” in Him are promised eternal life.  Many reading this are probably groaning at the prospect of life eternal, but this promised existence is glorious and is devoid of the pain that we experience in this life.

Our belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Father is the most important component in our faith as Christians.  This verse is manifesting and declaring our God’s impossible love for us.  This love is not self-centered or an esoteric concept for men to debate, but it is a literal manifestation through the sacrifice of His Son!  This incredible demonstration of true love, God’s own self sacrifice, gives us hope and eternal promise.   How do we distinguish and ascertain the differences between simply knowing who Christ is, and establishing a true belief in Him?  How do we avoid this terrible conversation explained to us in Matthew, at our judgment?

Gaining a knowledge of Christ is relatively simple.  Reading the Bible gives the seeker a glimpse into both his nature and his ministry.  Researching the writings of historical figures around the time of Christ substantiates His existence.  This intellectual acknowledgement of the man that was Jesus does not require any heavy lifting neither intellectually nor with regards to our faith.  One can even intellectually agree on the divinity of Jesus, but even this agreement does not truly constitute the act of believing, that Christ is seeking from us.

For example, after my exit from the LDS faith I struggled with my belief in God and consequently my doubts regarding Christ.  During this dark walk without God, I was given the opportunity to attend a local First Presbyterian church, where I heard a sermon regarding the historicity of Jesus Christ.  During this sermon I was intellectually forced to acknowledge the historicity of a man name Jesus Christ, but the most important moment came when the Pastor began to discuss the resurrection.  As he discussed the evidences of Christ being raised, I was faced with an incredible prospect; I had to acknowledge the Son of God!  I could and had to acknowledge Him after this sermon, but I did not yet “believe” in Him as stated in John and Matthew.  At this point, I now know that  I would have had a very difficult and devastating discussion with Christ at my judgment due to my lack of true belief in Him. Despite my knowledge of Him, He did not yet know me.

The act of “believing,” that He is commanding and pleading with us to gain, involves trust and confidence. This trust and confidence must be placed in the knowledge that only He can save us!   Not only do we trust him with matters of eternal destiny; we must trust in Him enough to place Him at the head of our lives and daily affairs.   To believe, is to place trust in His teachings, words, and example.  To believe, is to trust that He can and does have the power to change our lives.

If you have never before trusted Jesus Christ, let this promise of transformation and everlasting life be yours today – believe!  Declare your own spiritual bankruptcy, knowing that there is nothing you can do to secure your own salvation.  After reading this please drop to your knees and pray to allow Him to come into your life and take over.


My Journey Out of Mormonism

A friend recently explained to someone that my conversion to Christ was similar to that of the Apostle Paul.  The weight of a comparison to Paul is a little embarrassing but I feel as though I, too, had scales that fell from my eyes.  While I am not new to the doctrines and philosophies related to Christianity, I have just recently surrendered to Christ and allowed Him to enter my life.  This year has been described as the worst year for Americans, in the last 50 years, but it has been incredible for me.  This year a miraculous change has occurred with my life, a change that has not only been revolutionary, but has resulted in what the Apostle Paul described in his second letter to the Corinthians as, “..a new creation” in and through Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  Just as Paul explained that the “old has gone, the new has come,” so has it in my life.  With this transformation, I have committed to turn my life over to God.

As many of you know, I was raised Mormon.  I was raised in a very devout home.  My dad was an Elders Quorum President, Bishop, High Counselor, and a member of a Stake Presidency.  We were raised with high expectations regarding our knowledge of the Book of Mormon, Mormon doctrines, and church history.  I started having doubts about Mormonism in my junior and senior year of high school but it started to boil over while I was at Ricks College/BYU, in Rexburg. During that time I was able to speak with many professors and church leaders, but never got adequate answers to my questions regarding the faith.

I came home from BYU, and received my mission call, but I felt incredibly dishonest having anything to do with a mission while I was undecided about my own faith. My dad was adamant that I needed to ignore my doubts, go on a mission, and I would be fully converted to Mormonism. I decided not go on a mission. I moved out of my parents house the night I decided not to go.  I took a step back from Mormonism for about 15 months, after this event, and attended Catholic and Christian services in an attempt to find truth elsewhere.  These services were interesting and I learn a great deal, but they did not result in any religious and spiritual changes in my life.

My wife and I got engaged a few months after I moved out.  Fourteen months later we were married.  The next month she converted to Mormonism.  I did not object as I clung to hope that with marriage and my own family I could come to some better agreement with Mormon doctrine and culture.  We were active in the church for the better part of the next 4 years.

In 2003 we went to the temple, where we were “endowed” and “sealed.” In the months prior to attending the temple many members explained that it would be a powerful spiritual experience that would strengthen my testimony and answer many of my questions regarding doctrine, but it instead left me with more questions and a shattered testimony.  As we drove home from the Oakland temple, I was not filled with reassurance or any confirmation of the Spirit that what I had just participated in was anything heavenly or God-like.  Instead, I was left wondering how costumes, signs, and tokens were anything other than fraternity-like rituals. Something inside me bristled at the notion that any of these temple rituals were needed to come closer to either Jesus Christ or our salvation.  Additionally, it was even more perplexing to learn that my wife needed me to attain her exaltation and glory.  This limit being placed upon the Blood of Christ seemed repugnant even before I had gained a witness of the true Jesus Christ.  I am not and cannot be anyone’s intercessory or savior.

In the aftermath of the temple experience I was largely ignored and was without anyone willing to provide any more concrete answers due to the “sacred” nature of these rituals.  I was left in confusion and chaos about my faith and membership in the LDS Church.  The only advice from my dad and my church leaders regarding the temple was to read my Book of Mormon and keep attending the temple; I was left without any other choice than to investigate these rituals, doctrine, and church history on my own.  What I found was utterly shocking and undeniable.  After a great deal of research I came to the conclusion that the LDS faith was nothing more than a distortion and a perversion of mainstream Christianity.  It is false, the history they teach is wrong, and there was no salvation in it

Once I left the church in 2006, I quickly realized that since I was born into it, I was left with little else to believe in.  While I had knowledge of Christian and Protestant doctrine I was still challenged by topics of God’s nature, Christ’s divinity, and salvation.  I became a self described “atheist” and “agnostic.” I avoided anything remotely religious during the two years after leaving Mormonism. I swore I would never step foot in a church.  I describe this as my journey in a desolate wilderness.  There was no joy or true happiness, only an attempt to fill the God shaped void in my heart and mind with worldly objects.

In late 2007, God had other plans, as my wife’s parents invited me to their First Presbyterian Church. I reluctantly agreed to attend. Their Pastor spoke of the historical accuracy and truthfulness of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, and His resurrection. It was like being hit with a spiritual 2×4. I suddenly could not deny the existence of Jesus Christ nor could I deny that he was the Son of God. Despite this witness, in a moment of weakness, I decided to ignore this life changing information.

Over the next two years, as I look back, God was definitely knocking and pleading with me to turn my life over to Him. I guess he became impatient and decided to give me a louder wake up call. I lost my job in May 2009, and when it happened I thought it was devastating. Ironically, looking back over the last 8 months, it has been the greatest thing that has ever happened in my life. In late July, I began talking with 2 Christian friends from high school and a cousin. After talking with these people, I finally realized that I needed to give God an opportunity to flourish in my life, I was tired of running from Him.

My wife and I attended Bayside Church, in Granite Bay, within 15 minutes of taking our seats the Spirit grabbed a hold of me.  I can distinctly remember sitting there singing the chorus of Amazing Grace, and in my spiritual exhaustion I offered my life and myself to Him.  I was finished running away from God, and surrendered to the call to come to Him; I was finished trying to mask my need for God with worldly objects.  In that moment with tears streaming down my face, I knew with all of my soul and mind, through the Holy Spirit, that Christ is Lord!   In a split second I clearly knew, and now know, of the One and Everlasting, all-powerful, all-knowing God as explained to us in Isaiah 45, 1 John 3, and Revelations 1.  I gained a witness of the Lord Jesus Christ who is God come in flesh (John 1:14) to dwell with us; that it is only through Him that we come to the Father (John 14:6).  I gained a witness that through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross we have been given the ability to receive reconciliation. This ability to seek reconciliation is a free gift that must be embraced.  That morning I chose to embrace the gift!  I suddenly realized that there is nothing I could do to earn the favor of God, rather I put my trust in what Jesus did for us on the cross.

With this transformation has come the call to become a Pastor.  In His infinite wisdom, The Lord has seen fit to bestow upon me certain gifts and talents; I would be remiss if I did not dedicate those to both building the Kingdom of God, and protecting the “Body of Christ” from those that detract from the good news , which we know to be the birth, life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-8).  It has been incredible what the Holy Spirit has done in my life and in my knowledge of the “Good News!”  I am in awe of the information and wisdom that has been imparted to me, after the “scales” have fallen from my eyes!

I am determined to live my life in the service of the One who called us, our Lord Jesus Christ.  I am rejoicing in the opportunities and callings to serve the Kingdom and God’s people.


Merry Smithsmas To All…

Did you remember to celebrate today!? Did you celebrate the baby laying in the cradle? Did you celebrate the nativity that BYU titles, “Bless Be His Name?” I am not speaking about Christmas, but rather December 23rd. Today is a sacred day indeed, it is the day when we should be giving solemn thanks for the birth of the man that has “has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.”, at least that is what LDS/Mormon scripture would lead us to believe. The Deseret News, LDS Church owned newspaper, boldly reminds us not to loose sight of this date with everything surrounding that other holiday we celebrate in December. The newspaper admonishes us, “However, another important December date is often forgotten in the rush of the season. On Dec. 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vt., the fifth child of Joseph and Lucy Smith, Joseph Smith, Jr., was born. “ (Kristine Frederickson, Deseret News 12/20/09) This newspaper for the Lord tells us to “acknowledge” Jesus Christ, but that we should “revere Joseph Smith.”
This admonition to “revere” Joseph Smith begs the question, what should we be celebrating? Should we be celebrating the polygamy, polyandry, the secret underwear, the constitutional crimes, or the incredible claims of seeing God The Father and Jesus Christ? Perhaps we should consider celebrating one of the more beautiful gifts that Joseph left with us, polygamy and polyandry. The church has never publicly acknowledged Joseph Smith’s participation and endorsement of polyandry and has done a phenomenal job keeping his polygamy a lesser-known fact to LDS membership.

Many have been told and taught that polygamy was necessary doctrine brought about by the senseless murders of too many Mormon males in the confrontations with mobs in the 1830-40 in Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio. Unfortunately this form of apologetics does not explain why it continued well into the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and why the US census has always demonstrated that in this period there was many more males than females in the Utah/Deseret Territory.

The creation of officially recognized polygamous marriage was bore out of the necessity to explain Joseph’s and many of the church leadership’s relationships and marriages to other women. The creation of this “new & everlasting covenant,” as the LDS scriptures refers to it as, allowed for the creation of many of the secret rituals of Mormonism including garments/underwear and temple rituals.

Even more shocking than the polygamy was perhaps the polyandry. By most historian accounts more than ten of his 33-48 wives were married to other men and continued to live with their original husbands, but frequently visited Smith overnight. It has been written that Smith claimed these marriages were required to test the commitment of those closest to him.

The best example of this testing is the demand placed on LDS Apostle and close friend of Joseph Smith, Heber C Kimball. Joseph demanded that Heber give him his wife, Vilate. According to Orson Whitney in his biography of Kimball, Joseph gave him an ultimatum, Mormonism or his wife. Kimball gave in and presented him with his wife on Smith’s doorstep. Perhaps we should commemorate this day in history by presenting our wives to our church leaders as an offering for our Smithsmas spirit.

Another lasting memory of the “Prophet Joseph” comes in the form of his momentous First Vision, in which he reports seeing two personages that informed him that all of Christianity was an abomination. Nevermind those pesky Biblical teachings about angels and personages of light coming from Satan… The late Gordon Hinckley, President of the LDS until his death, commented, “Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision…Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration.”

That is placing considerable weight and emphasis on something that has had a convoluted and unclear past. According to the LDS Church the First Vision occurred in 1820, but the first published account did not appear until early 1842. It is puzzling to say the least that if the Mormon Church was created upon a mandate from God The Father and Jesus, why was it not part of the original dialog or canon of the church?

Equally damning perhaps that in 1834-35 as the leadership of the church attended the “School of Prophets” there was no mention of the vision anywhere in the seven lectures included in the course. This school sought to teach church leadership the core doctrines and beliefs of the church. Despite these lectures’ discussions regarding the nature of God there is no mention of Joseph seeing or conversing with God or Christ.

During this same period, 1835, the LDS Church printed their canonized Doctrine & Covenants, a book of scripture that contains many of the churches most controversial and important doctrines. In the preface for this book it mentions that it includes, “the leading items of religion which we have professed to believe.” How does a religion supposedly built upon a heavenly mandate fail to mention that as a leading item of their belief?

The easiest answer to the above question is that is wasn’t important until it needed to be… At the time of the First Vision’s publication in the LDS periodical “Times and Seasons,” the Church was in a state of chaos. Members of the church’s leadership were being excommunicated and many more had become opponents of the church. Ironically, the first few handwritten accounts of the “First Vision” chronicle not a visitation from God and Christ but rather “angels” that gave Smith assurance that his sins had been forgiven. Considerably different that what is taught today…

The other interesting component of the “First Vision” story is the fact that most church leaders did not even teach this story until the mid-1870’s. In an 1850 letter by John Taylor, the third LDS President, wrote explaining that Joseph Smith was visited by “two personages” making no mention of God, Jesus Christ, nor any damnation of Christianity.

With so many questions and discrepancies surrounding this event why would church leaders place so much emphasis on this story? Again, Gordon Hinckley explains the paradox involved, “I would like to say that this cause is either true or false. Either this is the kingdom of God, or it is a sham and a delusion. Either Joseph talked with the Father and the Son, or he did not. If he did not, we are engaged in blasphemy” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Reports, October 1961, p.116).

In the second point made, Joseph Smith does in fact make overt gestures to join the Methodist Church in the Harmony Township, in 1828, by signing up for the probationary classes. This is less than one year since being lead to the Golden Plates by the “Angel Moroni.” Additionally, despite the alleged story of a visitation from God and Christ, his family in 1824 joins the Presbyterian Church. Further damning, according to Joseph’s father, Joseph Smith was “baptized, becoming thus a member of the Baptist Church” (Interview With The Father of Joseph Smith, The Mormon Prophet…1870).”

A celebration of Joseph Smith’s birthday would not be complete without a true look at the quotes, words and songs that Latter-Day Saints use to describe their founder. Many Protestant Christians might be familiar with the usage of the phrase or song, “Blessed Be His Name,” but they would be mistaken in thinking this is referring to Jesus Christ. Consider how the LDS Church thinks that famous title should be used. In 2005, Brigham Young University, official LDS college, setup a Joseph Smith nativity scene to commemorate the 200 year anniversary of his birth and titled it, “Blessed Be His Name.” I guess we should be careful not to lose sight of the blessed name of Joseph Smith during this busy Christmas season.

Nativity

An LDS Hymn takes it another step further and declares: “His equal now cannot be found, By searching the wide world around. With Gods he soared in the realms of day, And men he taught the heavenly way.” With all that being said, perhaps my favorite way of reflecting on Joseph Smith this Smithsmas is by reading a quote from his own hand,

“I have more to boast of than any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such work as I.” (History of the Church, Vol.6, pp. 408-09)

We should put our trust in the One and Everlasting God, and in the one that we come allows us to come to Him, Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Let us celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with full knowledge and appreciation for the immense sacrifice and freedom that He brings to us that seek and accept him! Remember that the Bible contains the everlasting message from God to his people. This Christmas season commit your life to following Christ. Christ boldly declares in John 11:25-26, while comforting Martha, “…I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this?” Do we now believe in this? Will we not trust in Him that he alone has the power to conquer sin and death? As Christmas approaches let us heed the divine counsel of our God come in flesh (John 1:1, 14). I will close with the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter the Ephesus, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe (Ephesians 1:18-19).”


Confused Beginnings


There are many unanswered questions surrounding the life and teachings of Joseph Smith. One thing is certain, his claims, life, and stories are now firmly engrained in the claimed truth of Mormonism. The late Gordon Hinckley, President of the LDS until his death, commented, “Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision…Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration.”

That is placing considerable weight and emphasis on something that has had a convoluted and unclear past. According to the LDS Church the First Vision occurred in 1820, but the first published account did not appear until early 1842. It is puzzling to say the least that if the Mormon Church was created upon a mandate from God The Father and Jesus, why was it not part of the original dialog or canon of the church?

Equally damning perhaps that in 1834-35 as the leadership of the church attended the “School of Prophets” there was no mention of the vision anywhere in the seven lectures included in the course. This school sought to teach church leadership the core doctrines and beliefs of the church. Despite these lectures’ discussions regarding the nature of God there is no mention of Joseph seeing or conversing with God or Christ.

During this same period, 1835, the LDS Church printed their canonized Doctrine & Covenants. A book of scripture that contains many of the churches most controversial and important doctrines. In the preface for this book it mentions that it includes, “the leading items of religion which we have professed to believe.” How does a religion supposedly built upon a heavenly mandate fail to mention that as a leading item of their belief?

The easiest answer to the above question is that is wasn’t important until it needed to be… At the time of the First Vision’s publication in the LDS periodical “Times and Seasons,” the Church was in a state of chaos. Members of the church’s leadership were being excommunicated and many more had become opponents of the church. Ironically, the first few handwritten accounts of the “First Vision” chronicle not a visitation from God and Christ but rather “angels” that gave Smith assurance that his sins had been forgiven. Considerably different that what is taught today.

The other interesting component of the “First Vision” story is the fact that most church leaders did not even teach this story until the mid-1870’s. In an 1850 letter by John Taylor, the third LDS President, wrote explaining that Joseph Smith was visited by “two personages” making no mention of God, Jesus Christ, nor any damnation of Christianity.

With so many questions and discrepancies surrounding this event why would church leaders place so much emphasis on this story? Again, Gordon Hinckley explains the paradox involved, “I would like to say that this cause is either true or false. Either this is the kingdom of God, or it is a sham and a delusion. Either Joseph talked with the Father and the Son, or he did not. If he did not, we are engaged in blasphemy” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Reports, October 1961, p.116).

In the second point made, Joseph Smith does in fact make overt gestures to join the Methodist Church in the Harmony Township, in 1828, by signing up for the probationary classes. This is less than one year since being lead to the Golden Plates by the “Angel Moroni.” Additionally, despite the alleged story of a visitation from God and Christ, his family in 1824 joins the Presbyterian Church. Further damning, according to Joseph’s father, Joseph Smith was “baptized, becoming thus a member of the Baptist Church” (Interview With The Father of Joseph Smith, The Mormon Prophet…1870).”

Why would a prophet of God that has been instructed not to join any Church by God The Father and Jesus Christ, having been told that all Christianity is an “abomination” allow himself and his family to join three of those blasphemous churches?


Hope vs. Despair: The Promise of Hope from Jesus Christ

The hallmarks of walking with Christ are joy, peace, and an assurance that we do not walk alone. We are taught in Phillipians that, “…the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The adversary desperately wants to separate us from that which gives us comfort, instead leaving us with discouragement, sadness, and despair. As devout followers of Christ we are engaged in spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:12 explains it best, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Unfortunately, many on this earth including some that profess a believe in Christ walk in defeat and discouraged by the rigors of this life. Were we expected to go this journey alone there would be real reason to become discourage, but rest assured we do not walk alone. Instead we comforted and asked to trust our Lord. We need to worry whether our might will be truly enough to defend against that which seeks to destroy us. We are given the example of David in the book of 1 Samuel, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands (17:47).” Our intimacy with the Lord and our ability to rely on his strength will see that we are victorious through Him. Our simple act of invoking the name of the Lord in our hours of need is a divine power and priveledge given to those that choose to walk closely with Him.

In Philippians 2:9-12 we are taught, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Christ’s name is above every name to point where those that hear it should bow! The glory and majesty that is Christ name is further evidenced by verse 8 of 1 Peter, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…” We may be under attack, our minds may be under siege as the adversary seeks to undo what we have established with our Lord and Savior, but take solace and comfort in the fact that are afforded the protection and glory of God through Jesus Christ!