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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Can Mormons and Evangelicals Co-Exist?

By: Bobby Gilpin and Michael Flournoy

Michael opening thoughts

In some ways Mormons and Evangelicals are like oil and water.  Both groups possess very distinct beliefs and when we come together our differences come to light more than our similarities.  Often, our doctrinal disagreements can result in bitter feelings and misunderstandings.  Over the last centuries relations haven’t been terrific between us, which keeps us from benefiting from any sort of profitable relationship.

Perhaps it is time for a change in the way we approach one another.  If it is possible for Mormons and Evangelicals to be friends, or at least coexist peacefully, here are a few places to start.  First, both our religions believe we have “good news” to share.  It shouldn’t be difficult for Latter-day Saints to understand that Evangelicals don’t consider themselves good friends at all if they don’t try to share the gospel, since we believe we’ll be held accountable for friends we don’t share it with.  Maybe we should allow our Mormon and Evangelical friends to share their view of the gospel with us. 

I know some of you are reading this and thinking, “blasphemy”!  Let me clarify that letting someone share their beliefs with you comes with no necessary commitments.  You don’t have to marry someone just because you go on a first date, and you certainly don’t have to switch religions simply because someone witnessed to you.  As every former Mormon missionary knows, it’s all about choice; and a good choice cannot be made without the proper information.  Evangelicals and Mormons alike will understand if their message is shared but not accepted.  Participating in this sort of exercise can strengthen friendships by allowing each participant to share the hope that is in them while learning about the other.

As Latter-day Saints we are intimately aware of the fact that Evangelicals disagree with us on many important doctrinal issues.  What we aren’t always so sure about is whether or not our Protestant friends bring these up simply to spite us.  However, it has been my experience that most Evangelicals are not excited about the prospect of any Latter-day Saint spending eternity in hell.  Usually when they talk religion to us, it’s actually because they care about us.  Of course, I understand that some Evangelicals (and Mormons) do not talk religion with love in their hearts, and I would encourage these individuals to get their priorities straight before entering into any sort of interfaith dialogue.
On this note, Evangelicals and Mormons should refrain from “telling” each other what they believe and try “asking” instead.  When we view each other with our Mormon or Evangelical lenses, what we see will not make much sense.  But if we try on one another’s glasses for a moment, and try to see things their way, we’ll see clearly why someone believes as they do.  This will eliminate the tendency to build and tear down straw men.

Sometimes I’ll hear Evangelicals say something along the lines of, “I’m not attacking you, I’m attacking Mormonism”.  What Protestants need to realize, is Mormons take their religion very personally, and so attacking our religion will be construed as an attack on us.  If an Evangelical absolutely feels the need to bring up an objection or concern with Mormonism, it should be done with the same tender love and care one would use to tell someone they might have cancer.  Evangelicals should also take care not to use the words “Mormon” and “Jehovah’s Witness” in the same sentence.  While we may share some similarities with Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are still very different religions, and lumping us together makes the perpetrator seem ignorant and “anti-Mormon”.

My advice to Latter-day Saints is to be sure we aren’t pretending to be the same religion as Evangelicals.  Certainly there’s a desire in Mormonism to be acknowledged as Christian, and we do use many of the same words a Protestant would use to describe their faith.  We should not be so zealous in our quest to expose similarities that we make our Evangelical friends perceive us as no different.

There is no reason Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals cannot be agreeable, even while disagreeing.  If we come to a point where we have to agree to disagree, that’s ok.  But if we’re going to change the way our relations have been sliding over the last few centuries, we need to admit that being friendly and really seeking to understand each others’ views can and should be done without compromising on our beliefs or our standards.

Bobby Opening Thoughts

I came across Michael Flournoy when I was in the middle of one of my all time favourite hobbies. Book shopping on Amazon. As I often do I was looking for books on Mormonism, the title "A Biblical defense of Mormonism" of course caught my eye.

 I was pleasantly surprised to see that Michael understands where I and many others come from theologically, (no modalism strawmen) as a result of a lot of dialogue with  Christians, and also that he had some interesting and even challenging points raised in this book. I looked him up on Facebook and the chat that has followed between us has brought about this idea of some joint posts. 

 When evangelicals hear of an ongoing dialogue with an LDS apologist or scholar etc I think we all often have the same fearful expectation of another compromise. Another evangelical for the sake of being "friends" with a Mormon letting go of some key beliefs and not asking some of the key questions, and further victory of the LDS churches goal of being accepted as Christian. 

We all cringed when we heard Richard Mouws words in 2004 at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, when he apologized on behalf of the evangelical world saying this:

"We have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in things we have said about you. We have told you what you believe without making a sincere effort first of all to ask you what you believe."

While of course this will have at times happened, many Evangelicals that heard this sighed. Thinking Mouw was pandering to the LDS people without gaining an understanding from many of those in ministry to Mormons themselves about their methods and motives.

LDS Apostle Jeffrey Holland in his talk "Standing together for the cause of Christ" said:

“If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which He revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the millennium can be ushered in and Christ takes possession of His kingdom.”

While there may be good intentions here, for evangelicals this wreaks of compromise, and also the misconception that our goal is to tear down, when actually the intention is to serve God by bringing people to Himself. This is not about wrangling and contending but rather preaching and causing people to submit to Christ leaving behind their false religion. LDS people may not accept this conviction but often the fact that this is our desire is missed.

It often seems that the only people that are known to publically dialogue with the LDS apologists scholars or leaders are those that compromise, and don't make the points or ask the questions that many others think should be asked.

However is it possible for someone to dialogue with LDS people, publically and honestly with friendship love and respect without compromise?

In October 2013 Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler visited Brigham Young university regarding issues of the threat to religious freedom. Probably the most memorable quote Mohler made on this visit was as follows:

I am not here because I believe we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together,”

Its my desire that LDS people see that while I and many others share the sentiment of this quote, that LDS people who go strictly with the teachings of the LDS church have missed the gospel of grace and are not going to heaven, that this is not a belief that we take pleasure from at all. Often this is not understood.

I do not like this belief, but nevertheless I hold to it on the conviction that the gospel of grace and the God who saves, has been missed by the Mormon church. So often the label "Anti-Mormon" can get thrown around and before you know it any good motives are irrelevant and missed. The desire of myself and many others in doing this ministry is to bring people to Christ.

If I were to say that I myself have never communicated in a way that may be less than totally friendly or respectful or have never assumed the beliefs of the LDS person I am speaking too before asking, I think I would be less than honest. So often a supposed "expert" like myself can jump in too quickly without truly respecting the other person by listening as well as speaking. Sometimes the conviction that I have something this person needs to hear can overtake the fact that they may not want to hear it, at least not in a disrespectful manner.

If there is a way through dialogue with Michael that I can learn from him how to better communicate with LDS people, and start a respectful, uncompromising dialogue then this seems like a great opportunity.

Michael Closing Thoughts.

Ephesians 4:15 says that we may grow up unto Christ in all things by “speaking the truth in love”.  Notice that this verse does not say speaking the truth is love.  Are we at times coming across too aggressively, saying the truth hurts as an excuse to be overbearing?  Indeed, we may honestly have love in our hearts while sharing our message, but if we are unable to show that love so that the receiver recognizes it as such, it is useless.

When Bobby initially contacted me on Facebook, I knew immediately that I could trust him.  Although he unflinchingly acknowledges that he is anti-Mormon (the religion), he is at the same time one of the least anti-Mormon (the individual) people I’ve come across.  Sometimes the things he says on his blog “Mormonism Investigated” can sting a bit to read, but his writing is devoid of sensationalism and exaggeration.  If any Evangelical is wondering what tone to take when engaging Latter-day Saints, I highly recommend taking a look at Bobby’s articles, he does a great job of it.  
Finally, let me just say that Evangelicals make wonderful friends, and if any LDS readers have them, you know what I’m talking about.  There is zero doubt in my mind that Protestant Christians are God-fearing, respectable people.  I’m so grateful for my Protestant friends who continue to put up with me, showing Christ-like love day in and day out. 

Bobby Closing Thoughts

This is hopefully the first of many posts where Michael and I will, learn, teach, dialogue, laugh, get frustrated, and so on with each other in love, with the goal of truly understanding each other, and of course seeking to bring the other closer to Christ.

This is new territory for me and I hope that people reading will enjoy this as much as we do, and I hope this opens a lot of doors for people to see that dialogue between LDS and Evangelical people, or other faiths for that matter, does not have to be disagreeable and does not have to compromise in the process.


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  2. I have a problem believing that any believing LDS is a Christian.. Sorry Micheal.. There is a wide gulf between the Biblical doctrine that there is ONE GOD and he is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And that of there is One God who is the Father another who is the Son amd a thrird that is the Holy Ghost..

    To the Christian the belief that this one God has been from from everlasting and will continue to be the only true and living God to everlasting.. Is paramount

    The LDS teach a finite God. Yes as I say they they are up in arms saying "no we don't". But you do teach the Father as being a Being that became a God through obedience to laws and ordinances. It doesn't matter how you believe that he put on Godhood the point is that HE HAD TO BECOME A GOD. He was something else before He did so..

    I was taught in mormonism that Jesus was our elder brother.. That there was a time in the far distant past when Jesus was born to the Father in a preexistent state.. That before that time Jesus existed only as a "pre preexistant" intelligence ( I say that because there is no other way I know of to describe that state of being in LDS teaching).. At any rate Jesus existed in some state of creation being something other than God.

    The LDS also taught me that the Father in Heaven also went through this same process. So there was also a time when the Father was not God.. That is diametrically apposed to Christian beliefs and doctrine.. We believe that God is the Only God that exists and He is ALWAYS GOD.. Yes, that is what I said, not "was" always God, He "IS" always God..

    This is the major division between the LDS and the Christian.. As long as mormonism hold that God became the being they see Him to be, and Christian agree with the Bible that He is always God there can be no real fellowship.. We believe in two different Gods..

    1. Thank you Michael and Bobby! I've come to know you both and value our dialogue and learning I've gained from each. James, you are exactly the person I hope is influenced by the efforts of Michael and Bobby - their efforts are good and worthwhile and reflective of their sincere faith in Jesus Christ.
      Bobby and I have gone round and round about the the LDS view of the "origin of God" which was introduced by those attending a funeral where Joseph Smith Jr. spoke just months before his murder (1844). The compilation of their notes has become known as the "King Follett" sermon or discourse. In 1911, the First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith issued this statement with regards to the King Follett sermon, " "When the sermon was first published it did not receive the revision or sanction of the Prophet Joseph, who preached it, and it was reported from the impressions obtained by four different persons who heard it, neither of whom was a shorthand writer. There are some points in the sermon which appear to be in direct conflict with revelations accepted by the Church as divine.”
      In 1997, in an interview with Times magazine, President Hinckley was asked the following question and his answer follows: "Question: …about that, God the Father was once a man as we were. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing. Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?
      Answer: I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.
      Past prophets, like Lorenzo Snow, have taught, "As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be.”
      While the first part of that statement has been a point of interesting discussion I consider well meaning speculation, it is NOT a foundational Mormon doctrine. What is a foundational Mormon doctrine is the second part of Lorenzo Snow's statement and that is that we are all children of God and as such we have the potential of godliness. As Paul taught in Romans 8:16-17: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."
      James, the only thing keeping Mormons and Evangelicals from enjoying any "real fellowship" is individuals deciding on their own that they don't want "real fellowship" with each other. To that our Lord and Savior has spoken, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." "Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away."
      Thank you again Michael and Bobby!

  3. The "King Follett" excuse is so tired now that it is ridiculous when an LDS apologist trundles it out.
    I was LDS for almost twenty years, President Snow's aphorism was taught from primary to adult Sunday School and was taught openly by 13 of the 16 prophets of the church.
    President Hinckley denial of it in a public forum was the cause of confusion, outrage and apostasy.
    It may not have been a "foundational Mormon doctrine" but it was believed and still is believed by A LOT, I dare say a majority of active Mormons, and is a source of hope to them. How can they aspire through faith, obedience and temple attendance to become as God is, if God just popped in to existence "as is" .
    A lot is made of the fact that the "King Follett" sermon may have been misreported, but it is not often told who the four witness to this sermon, whose accounts of it were are still held, in their own hand writings and combined in to the version we have today.
    These men were not "nobodies" or random members of the congregation, they were their SPECIFICALLY to take notes
    The first was Willard Richards Second Counselor in the First Presidency to church president Brigham Young
    The second was Thomas Bullock clerk in the Church Historian's Office
    The third was William H. Clayton clerk and scribe to Joseph Smith, Jr. who there at his request to copy down the sermon
    Finally and most damning of all the fourth was Wilford Woodruff, Sr. was the fourth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
    These men were not unreliable witnesses and the sermon preached was thought by the prophet himself worth recording as a major new teaching of the church.
    In light of this for the church to continue to use this "explanation" to excuse the teaching "As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be.” does more harm than good to the already fractured credibility of the church leadership.