I arrived safely in Honduras on Thurs (Feb 14) and went straight to a planning meeting with representatives from ENLACE, a Christian TV station that will be recording a day-long pastor's conference I'm teaching at on Feb 26th. They are still waiting for approval on the estimates for doing the recording for us, but in the meantime they provided a number of additional contacts with key media people in the city. Roger Hansen, our board President and founder of IRR was so wise when he made the decision to send me to Honduras to do the first conference last May and recommended we use that opportunity to professionally film several teaching segments with a live audience of pastors. Because of that trip last year, many of the people I met and worked with are not only having me back, but are connecting me with even more people this time.
Luis Carrion (on staff with World Gospel Outreach) is coordinating most of my visit and providing my transportation. WGO is also letting me stay at their guest facility up in the mountains. This is the view from the balcony where I eat breakfast most mornings.
From our meeting at ENLACE we drove over to the Mormon Temple which seemed to have very few people there. Rather than take a tour we drove to the parking area that is higher up the mountain above the Temple complex to take pictures and assess how the LDS Church was handling the transportation of visitors to the open house. This is the view of the whole temple complex.
We noticed two young couples who were also just hanging out in the open area also looking at the temple and started talking to them. It turned out they were Mormons from a different city and were going to tour the temple the next day. We had a very amiable conversation with them that lasted about 40 minutes but it was also very sad. I asked if they were familiar with the Mormon Church teaching about the nature of God - that God was once a man like us, and had progressed, working his way up to godhood, so that he was now an exalted man with an exalted goddess wife. They affirmed that yes, that is what they believed about God. I then asked them if they were aware how different that was from the Bible's teaching that there was only one God who had always been God, and so he had never been a man like us, nor had he needed to progress or change from being a man into being a God. So my concern was that Joseph Smith had rejected that teaching of the Christian Churches and the Bible, and had instead said he would refute that idea that God had always been God
and take away the veil so that people could see. (The link goes to an LDS Church published sermon which contains Joseph's teaching on this - scroll down to the subhead that reads God an Exalted Man
). Their response to this was to say that it was Jesus who had become a man on this earth not God the Father. I clarified my statement to say that LDS teaching was that God had been on his own planet, not this one, but that it was God the Father who had to progress to become God. The LDS man's response to this was to say that Joseph was referring to when God the Father and Jesus Christ came down and appeared to him during the First Vision. This must have been what Joseph was referring to. The woman jumped in to add that she thought Joseph Smith may have said this but in talking about God, he was really talking about Jesus coming down because the Father and Jesus are one God in purpose and it was Jesus who came to this earth and was tested like all of us. I responded that that was not in the teaching manuals of the church, and that I had those manuals which were also online, in fact the manual they were studying right now on Lorenzo Snow in chapter 5 had the Lorenzo Snow couplet "As man is now, God once was; as God is now, man may be." This couplet is affirmed as doctrine.
Interestingly, once I quoted that, the man affirmed that was exactly right, that God has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as mans. His wife however asked me if I thought it was referring to the Father because it said "God." I said I knew it was referring to the Father because this is how both Lorenzo Snow and Joseph Smith explained it. And that Joseph Smith taught that just as Jesus had a God the Father, so God the Father also had a father, and a grandfather, etc. At that point the wife affirmed that yes, we do have the belief that the Father also had a father, so I pointed out that meant that at one time God was not God, he was merely a man like us. I also said it was fine if they had that concept of God, but that was not a concept of God shared by any other Christian church, it was a belief unique to Mormonism because it was introduced by Joseph Smith. I mentioned that I knew LDS people, however, who were not aware of that LDS teaching, so my concern was they were being deceived by not being taught what Joseph Smith and almost every other LDS leader had taught about God being a man like us, who lived on an earth and had to progress, had to work hard and had to obey commandments, to eventually become God. At that point she tried to explain that God the Father's progression took place in a spirit world, not on an earth. That some members don't read the manuals and really might not learn this till they did. I wasn't sure where she was going with this, and after a few sentences she just kind of trailed off after saying that God did not come down to an earth.
So I said, the critical point was the nature of God. Had God evolved from man to God, or had God always been God? Since they had already affirmed the Lorenzo Snow couplet, I expected them to say yes to God having evolved from a man to God. But instead they both immediately replied, "God has always been God." So I simply said, "If God has always been God, then what Joseph Smith said was an error" to which she said "No" so I explained that Joseph Smith said that there was a time when God was once a man. He said 'we have supposed and imagined that God was always God. I will refute that idea and take away the veil so you can see. God, at one time, was a man like us." The man replied, "And he always has been."
Wow, it was heartbreaking to watch this young, very sincere couple struggle to both affirm what they knew had to be true about God always being God and at the same time affirm the truth of Joseph Smith as a prophet, including saying that Joseph had not taught that God had been a man, but rather God had somehow progressed in the spirit world and had gotten married so he could have celestial children, and that they were here to do the same thing, to get married for eternity and progress and also become gods. And when I prompted if that meant having and making their own worlds, she said they weren't sure, but when I asked if that wouldn't be necessary so they could repeat the progression process she said "yes."
Now if it seems like they were simultaneously affirming mutually contradictory beliefs about God, well, that is because they were. It is one of the sadder and more frustrating aspects of trying to talk to LDS people about key teachings.
I asked as well about how we know truth and how we can guard against being deceived by the false prophets Jesus warned about, and she replied with the standard LDS answer of "prayer" - asking God and he lets you know what is true. From there we worked through prophets and apostles as the foundation of the church, the Book of Mormon and the fact that it contradicts the Bible and then I asked if they knew how we got the Book of Mormon. When I mentioned Joseph dictating with the stone in the hat, they both affirmed they'd already heard about that. I must admit I was a little surprised, so I asked who they heard it from, and they said "people like you." But, as we talked what became clear was even though they had heard that, they did not believe it was true. They said the same thing about Joseph and Brigham Young's polygamy - they had heard about Joseph Smith having many wives but did not believe that was true, and they knew about Young's many wives, but he never had physical relations with any of them. They were all widows and he only took them in as wives to take care of them. When I mentioned that all those things were well known in the States and that even LDS historians affirmed they were true they simply would not believe it. They knew the Church was true, they had a strong testimony of it and that Joseph was a prophet, so none of those things could be true; that there could not possibly be a historian who was a member of the church who would believe those things and remain a member. When I assured them that some were LDS historians still in good standing with the church, their reply was, "That cannot be."
At that point I knew I was not going to convince them of anything so I asked them to please investigate and research these things for themselves, because my concern was their own leaders were deceiving them and taking advantage of the fact that they were sincere, dedicated believers who cared about God and doing the right thing, but they were being kept from knowing many historical facts that LDS members in the States already knew about. Their repeated reply was, "we've heard all those things, and we know they are not true. We know they are just rumors that are made up."
It makes me wonder who is telling them that? What LDS leader or leaders are assuring them that these disturbing pieces of information are false? One of the last things I said to them was it was for people like them that I had come to Honduras. Because here they were, sincere, dedicated people who loved God, and the leaders of the Mormon Church was taking advantage of them and willing to deceive them to the point that they would deny or not tell them about objective, documented facts from their own history that in the United States are not even disputed. I also said that with God there were no coincidences, so the fact that I was there to talk to them, to bring them truth that they did not know, based on facts, was evidence of how much God loved them and cared about them because He wanted to rescue them from all this. I shared briefly about the Mormon Temple endowment ceremony and how at one point Lucifer appears to Adam and Eve as part of the ceremony and is wearing an apron that represents his (Lucifer's) power and priesthood. Shortly after that, Lucifer tells Adam and Eve to make their own aprons, and at that point the ceremony pauses and every Mormon going through the ceremony is told to now put on their aprons - which they then wear throughout the rest of the ceremony.
About the only response they had was to say, "oh please don't say that, you will regret it some day" and after I finished explaining it, they said, "that can't possibly be." At that point we'd been talking for about 40 minutes and we needed to be heading back for supper, so I thanked them for the time and conversation and said that God always had a purpose and loved them so much, at which point, she asked me, do you think God could have a purpose for us helping you? And I said definitely, that in talking to them they had helped me, because God had given me even more compassion for people like them who are so sincere and dedicated - at which point they laughed - but it was good laughter, because we had remained friendly and respectful of each other through the whole thing. So we exchanged names and I gave them my card and they invited us to come tour the temple and I assured them we would visit it and take the tour. She asked if she could say one last thing and I said sure, so she told me I needed to talk to the church's general authorities, because there was a lot she didn't know, but they did know it, and they could answer any and all questions I could possibly have. I simply replied that I had talked to some general authorities and that she would probably be surprised to know how much they knew and acknowledged about these things.
We parted amiably and after Luis and I got in the truck, he just shook his head and commented on how sad it was that they were willing to discount the evidence in order to maintain faith in their church and their leaders. My hope and prayer is that the seeds of truth planted in love will bear fruit, and that God will continue to grant us opportunities to lovingly and respectfully interact with so many who need the truth to set them free.
Later that night I got to share with Luis and Cathy's home group (like a church fellowship group) about the core differences of Mormon teaching and the importance of understanding LDS culture and seeing LDS people and anyone from a different religion as our neighbor and not our enemy. It was a great informal time of sharing and Q&A and I got to do it in English while drinking coffee. When we finished up a little before 10 pm, and Luis drove me back to the mission house, I realized why I felt so tired. Except for some napping on the plane, I'd been up for about 42 hours straight. It was a great first day but my bed was a welcome sight.
To be continued ...