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A remark on Frontline's special, The Mormons

August 19, 2008

My wife and I have been watching on DVD the recent Frontline piece on the Mormon ‘church’ (entitled simply ‘The Mormons’). Overall, I have been pretty satisfied with it. While it is certainly not as helpful as reading a book on the religion, the director has done a pretty good job showing both the good and the bad. It appears to us to be pretty even-handed, but, then again, we do not have a ‘dog in the fight’; at least, we do not have a ‘dog in the fight’ interested in defending the Mormon faith. I suspect that the director has irritated his fair share of Mormons.

What I most object to is the way Frontline subtly demands Mormonism liberalize. It nearly ‘expects’ Mormonism to reject the Joseph Smith ‘myth’ (in the Tolkien sense) as historical rubbish and seems to frown upon Mormonism’s insistence on ‘orthodoxy.’ Those who have dissented were given long sympathetic air-time. This is manifestly unfair.

I took exception with Frontline’s implicit view that the liberalization of Mormonism is consistent with its founding beliefs.* It is fairly evident that the program believes that Mormonism should “come to terms” with the historicity of its founding.** I agree with that Mormonism should do this; they do this in the interest of truth. But Frontline seems to think that Mormonism can continue to exist qua Mormonism while rejecting that very historicity. They seem to believe that Christianity and Judaism have successfully done the very same thing.*** But this concedes the debate to liberalism too quickly.

If Jesus has not risen from the dead, if he is not in fact the Saviour of the world, if he did not do what the Bible describes him to be doing, if he did not die on a cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, then Christianity is a sham. We all ought to pack up our bags and go home. Similarly, if the ‘prophet’ Joseph Smith is not really a prophet, if he really did not see God the Father and God the Son, if there were no gold plates, if the ‘revelations’ are a figment of his imagination, then Mormonism has no right to claim anyone’s service as missionaries, nor demand their members pay a tax to the ‘church’; it is also a sham. They ought to pack up their bags and go home, or turn to historic orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. It is preposterous for Frontline to assume that Mormonism can continue to exist while conceding that the historic events surrounding the founding of Mormonism are not true. Mormon intellectual Terryl Givens correctly concedes as much when he says,

One could no sooner divorce the historical claims of the Book of Mormon from the church than one could divorce the story of Christ’s resurrection from Christianity and survive with religion in tact.

This stems from the low view of religion—the view that all religions are man-made and concocted by fellows who are simply more clever than the rest of us. This point may be true. Yet if it is, to espouse that any religion continue is to espouse that men persist in lying to one another.

I have one more note on this series. I grieve that Richard Mouw said what he said on this series. I understand that he has been trying to get ‘evangelicals’ and Mormons together. Yet his remarks as a ‘representative of evangelicalism’ only added confusion. His patience with Mormons is wholly baffling. One wonders if he has ever read what his New Testament has to say concerning false teachers.

________

*For example, see the sections ‘The Early Revelations,’ ‘Dissenters & Exiles,’ and ‘Disciplinary Actions’; one wonders why Frontline deemed it necessary to include this latter section.

**They give Margaret Toscano nearly four minutes of the 11 minute segment ‘Disciplinary Actions.’

***The opening of ‘Dissenters & Exiles’ captures what seems to be Frontline‘s perspective:

All religious systems have to move beyond their own founding. And many religious systems have found that very difficult to do. Christianity did it. Islam did it. Judaism did it. The question is Can Mormonism do it? The past is thrusting itself up in front of the Mormon day after day, almost hour after hour, and it’s difficult to deal with it, and, like much of the past, it’s very messy.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. A cultural guide for the non believer permalink
    August 19, 2008 10:03 pm

    Christianity is a sham; lucifer would say this and that’s who Jesus defeated. He payed and we don’t have to, but it’s a sham and we pay anyway.

    The Joseph Smith revelations are seen as the same. If they did happen it was Satan acting with lucifer’s creations and UFOs, etc. Of course Jesus was damned and that is the example, allot like Joseph smith; but was it really Satan or Lucifer like Jesus?

  2. August 20, 2008 1:59 pm

    I’d say that’s a pretty good, fair review. Thinking back on it, I can only remember the really eery music that seemed to purposely make Mormonism look or feel really strange/mysterious. That’s the part I hated. Very astute observation that a huge chunk of time was given to dissenters. They ought to have their voice, but it shouldn’t be the predominant sound.

    I have only one question. You say you were baffled by Richard Mouw’s patience with Mormons. Do you really think patience is not a good thing? He seems sincere in trying to point out where Evangelical’s can do better in seeking understanding.

  3. August 20, 2008 9:24 pm

    Respondent 1, I cannot quite make out what you are saying.

    Clean Cut, I agree that evangelicals should understand Mormons. But Mouw, I believe, was too cordial toward Mormon theology in the program. I know you profess Mormonism, and I have no intention of speaking in an offensive way to you. I agree, Mormon theology should be understood by evangelicals before they speak concerning it. But I want to be clear. It is incumbent upon evangelicals, including Mouw, to repudiate openly the false church of Joseph Smith and its doctrines. Eternity and the souls of men are at stake in this repudiation. Mormonism is not a branch of historic Christianity. If I may say so, I urge you to reconsider your own adherence to its teachings.

  4. August 21, 2008 9:10 am

    I agree with your statement that Mormonism is not a branch of historic, or traditional Christianity. If it were, we would have no need to exist or to share the message of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  5. brad permalink
    August 22, 2008 4:33 am

    CC–

    Hmmm… If you admit to not being “a branch of historic or traditional Christianity” what are you restoring the church to?

    How can you restore to something you claim no part of?

  6. August 22, 2008 10:11 am

    Good question Brad. We claim original Christianity; not the Christianity born out of the councils and creeds of men. We claim original priesthood authority, and acknowledge a “falling away” of pure Christianity through the subsequent centuries after the death of the apostles. To a degree, Protestants claim this to, but feel that the Reformation solved the problems. Latter-day Saints feel that more than a reformation was necessary, but a complete Restoration.

  7. August 22, 2008 11:34 am

    I don’t think you can divorce Mormonism from the history and have anything much left.

    We Mormons do not usually bother much with orthodoxy and organized theology. Ours is pretty open-ended, and the authoritative commentary is all over the place. We prefer to keep our theology open-ended and ambiguous. You can see that as an advantage or a disadvantage – as you choose.

    Some Mormon scholars have noted that Mormonism does not have a theology as much as a history and a system of ethics. We rarely view the scriptures as a source of correct orthodoxy. Rather, we see the scriptures as a series of divine narratives that we are supposed to re-create in our own personal lives.

    Our main concern, as a Church, is the making of covenants with God, and participating in a divine destiny. A destiny that is really just an extension of the journeys of Abraham, Moses, Nephi, and others. Rigorous theology is of secondary concern.

    With this in mind, the key passage of the entire Book of Mormon is probably Jacob chapter 5. Read through that chapter, and realize that Mormons consider themselves to be personally enacting the latter portion of the allegory. This is our primary concern – to which concerns of systematized theology take a decided back seat.

    Mormons consider the story of the Restoration (the story of Joseph Smith) to be a foundational part in the entire grand narrative of God’s dealings with Israel – and through Israel – the entire human family. You cannot neutralize that and still emerge with a religion that is anything more than a quirky detour of American Protestantism.

    I know that our lack of rigorous theology and hard orthodoxy irritates our Protestant neighbors. But you have to understand – we just don’t do religion the same way you do. We don’t consider theology of primary importance the way you do.

  8. brad permalink
    August 23, 2008 8:45 am

    c.c.

    “We claim original Christianity; not the Christianity born out of the councils and creeds of men. We claim original priesthood authority, and acknowledge a “falling away” of pure Christianity through the subsequent centuries after the death of the apostles.”

    First, to show how the Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasian, Chalcedonian Creeds are different from the faith of the Apostles would be a daunting task.

    Second, the dismissing of the creeds of men is quite amusing from one whose canon comes from one man obviously separated from the glorious company of the apostle and prophets.

    To a degree, Protestants claim this to, but feel that the Reformation solved the problems. Latter-day Saints feel that more than a reformation was necessary, but a complete Restoration.

    I do not know of any thinking Protestant who would make such a claim. The “sixth pillar,” after the five sola’s, is that the reformed church is always reforming.

    Seth–

    I think you have the more accurate representation of what your religion really is. I cannot say that CC is trying to be deceptive, because maybe he really believes the things he says. But I think you have a clearer presentation of what Mormonism is about.

    Either way you are both deceived.

    Jesus did not say, “You will be part of the narrative and the narrative will set you free.”

  9. August 24, 2008 1:59 pm

    “Jesus did not say, “You will be part of the narrative and the narrative will set you free.””

    You’re ignoring what the object of our narrative is.

    Neither did Jesus say, “You will be orthodox, and orthodoxy will set you free.”

  10. September 10, 2009 9:26 am

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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