Wednesday, December 20, 2017

How to Respond When Your Faith Gets Blindsided

So, what do we say when we get that “out of the blue” factoid that claims to slam-dunk our faith? Here are three things you can do to minimize panic and conflict.

I got a call from a friend the other day.  He’d encountered a challenge to the deity of Jesus.  It was something about if you knew Greek and were familiar with the Septuagint then it was obvious Jesus was not God.  It was bothering a friend of his and this was a new assertion to him so he wanted my take on it.

Well, this was a new one to me too, so I went with my go-to reply when I don’t have an immediate answer: “Let me do some research and get back to you.”
 Craziness is easy to produce but harder to support. 
But it got me thinking.  After all, in this day of information chaos, fake news, new 'truth' and having to debunk the debunkers, what does a discerning, wise, even biblical response to claims that blindside our beliefs look like?

Here are three elements to a discerning, redemptive response.

1) Don’t directly engage the controversy. We are under no obligation to immediately answer random jabs at our faith. So it might be best to ignore the main point of the attack, resist the urge to counter with your favorite Bible verses on the subject, and don’t debate. Why?  The apostle Paul wrote “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel" (2 Tim. 2:24). Immediately countering a claim without understanding why it’s being brought up is akin to trying to kill a weed by pulling off one of its leaves; it is fairly ineffective.  The issue is way deeper. To eliminate bad fruit, kill the root. But first you have to find the root. Here’s how.

2) Listen and ask clarifying questions.  You can greatly diminish the intended shock factor by minimizing your reaction.  A one-word response like “Fascinating” or “Intriguing” followed by questions that show you are open to hear more minimizes the chance for debate.  Again, Paul is instructive, “… must not quarrel, but be kind to everyone, able to teach" (v. 24). Immediate debate only creates a scenario where no one is heard and no one wins.  Instead, use questions like: “Is this really important to you?” “What do you think about that?” or “Have you been thinking about this a lot?” Such questions divert the energy and focus of the conversation back to the questioner without tension or defensiveness and give us an opportunity to learn more about them, and why this has impacted their thinking and beliefs.

3) Ask for sources. There are very few unique or new ideas (Solomon would say there is nothing new) so it’s good to find out where this particular idea came from.  Place the burden of proof and validity for the idea back on them.  Can they tell you where this theory or claim originated? Did they look into it themselves? Has anyone provided a critical evaluation of the idea or assertion? After all, the bolder and more radical the claim, the greater the need for it to have come from a credible, reliable source, and the more important it is that it be backed by sound reason and documentation.  Craziness is easy to produce but harder to support. So when someone challenges Christian teachings and beliefs that have thousands of years of historical validity and attestation – such as the deity of Jesus – they need to earn the right to have the idea be granted serious consideration. 

Often we’ll find the claim had no more weight than tissue paper.  In some cases the person presenting the problem has already rejected the belief being attacked by the claim. They accepted the assertion not because it was well-documented or logical but because it validated an already-held point of view. When we refrain from reacting strongly or defensively we invite the person into a deeper consideration of the issue, and maybe a critical evaluation of the evidence that exposes falsehood and points them toward truth.

This is turn may open the door for us to encourage the person to evaluate the weighty and extensive biblical and historical evidence for the veracity of the point they were attacking.

At the very least, incorporating these three elements into our response can help defuse a potentially conflictive situation and keep us out of spiritual panic and drama. None of us have all the answers and we all have limited emotional and social strength. This way we can conserve it for engaging redemptively in the issues and relationships that matter most.

For sound, well-documented articles on a variety of spiritual issues visit

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

When Heroing Hurts

The stories we love the most have a hero or heroine, or better yet, a hero and a heroine.  And its even better if the two of them fall in love.  When I read a book or watch a movie I want noble heroes and happy endings.

But at times when I watch a great hero story, underneath my excitement and joy over good triumphing there is something darker - something that smacks of envy, jealousy, discontent. Why?  Because deep down, I wish that hero was me. Something in me longs for that rush of self-satisfaction, the pleasure of "feeling good about me", to know, or at least believe, I came through, I matter, I made a difference, I am valuable and therefore worthy of acceptance, approval, love. But the operative word is always "I." And therein lies the potential relational toxicity.

Is it wrong to come through, or to want to come through? I don't think so. We were created to be in relationships, to love, help, encourage, protect, care, save even. But why do we want to do it? And what happens if we don't succeed? Those two questions, related to motive and outcome, make all the difference.

If my primary motivation for entering into another's story is so I can feel good about me, so I can get a hit of the 'hero' drug to calm or dispel my own fear of feeling inadequate, worthless, or insignificant, my 'heroing' has hurt.  Instead of being curious and caring I've pried. Instead of being open and invitational I've demanded more details. Instead of listening to a hurting or confused heart, I've rushed to dispense my wisdom and insight. And at the end of it all, instead of being humbled by my own inadequacy in the face of another's deep pain, tragedy or chaos, I've felt proud of how much they shared and how much I was there for them. Or, if it didn't go well from my perspective, if I failed in my heroing, I've felt bummed, frustrated and empty.  Tragically, regardless of the outcome, if my motive was me I remained oblivious to how much damage I did and how much I likely hindered the true work of the Holy Spirit.

I have a reminder on my desk, a small, three-sided piece of engraved marble that I've looked at numerous times while writing this. On one side it has black felt so it doesn't scratch my desk. On a second side it has Colossians 3:17, "Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus." On the third side it has this from Mother Teresa:
"We can do no great things; only small things with great love."
I bought it years ago when I recognized my penchant for wanting to do great things so I could feel good about me.  The Holy Spirit used it to prick my ego bubble and remind me that my job is to love and point people to Jesus as the true Hero of everyone's story.

But man, that selfish desire to be the hero runs deep in me, a dragon that has to be slain over and over again. Gratefully, Jesus has instilled an even deeper desire in my new heart, a desire to embrace my own inadequacy as the necessary starting point for loving well, and to cultivate a mindset that trusts that God is Hero enough, both for me and anyone He brings my way.

Friday, June 09, 2017

3 Reasons Why Mormon Racism Won’t Go Away

Nearly 40 years after the LDS Church officially removed religious restrictions for its members of African ancestry, Black Mormons are still hearing the N-word—from fellow “temple worthy” Mormons.  
A recent Salt Lake Tribune article by Peggy Fletcher Stack highlighted this and other racial issues within the Mormon Church. These problems persist despite pronouncements from leaders and the publication of an official essay on Race available on the church website. 

The troubling question is “Why”?

I think there are three reasons that go to the heart of what’s wrong with Mormon religion today.
  1. Mormon leaders have never truly repented of the bigotry and racism endemic to their own religious system.
  2. Mormon leaders have never disavowed their canonized Scriptures used to support and defend their racist policies and practices.
  3. Mormon leaders are more committed to the growth of the organization than they are to the truth of Jesus Christ that can truly transform lives.
1. Mormon leaders have not repented.  To this date, neither the LDS First Presidency nor the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have ever confessed the bigotry and racism practiced and justified in the name of God for what it was and is — an evil, sinful, wrongful, maligning and denigrating treatment of people made in the image of God.  And there is no way that the statements made by LDS leaders right up to the time the ban was lifted can be construed as anything other than rank racism.  Read the statements by Brigham Young and later LDS leaders for yourself.  Repentance involves confessing and acknowledging the wrong that has been done, taking responsibility for it and turning and going in the opposite direction because you own the fact that your previous direction was wrong, hurtful and unjustifiable. 

Not only have LDS leaders been silent when it comes to owning and repenting of their sin, they have attempted to dodge and minimize the seriousness of their religiously institutionalized racism by justifying it or attempting to deny there was any true corporate racism happening. They have resorted to cherry-picking random historical facts (like Joseph Smith ordaining Elijah Abel) as if that somehow offsets or allows them to now dismiss decades of racist teachings and practices.  
As long as LDS leaders at the highest level continue to justify or minimize the racism of previous leaders and the organization as a whole, their members will continue to feel justified in their racism.

2. Mormon Scripture still supports racism.  One of the primary reasons prior LDS leaders would not remove the ban, was because they said they could not remove the ban.  The curse on Blacks as pertaining to the priesthood and the dark skin of other races was God’s doing and was recorded in their Scriptures.  See for example: Racism in the Book of Mormon, and Blacks and the Book of MosesThese Scriptures are still accepted and endorsed as the foundational sources for Mormon religious belief and practice.  Until these sources are disavowed, pronounced false and erroneous, and removed from the Mormon canon, LDS people will find justification for their own racism in them.  Why should they not - they are ‘scripture.’  

Interesting side note:  If LDS leaders actually believed their own Scriptures contained the express will of God, they would not have felt a need to lift the priesthood restriction.  They would, to this day, continue to hold to what was taught previously, not caring one whit about public sentiment - valuing more what they understood to be revelation from God than the opinions of men.  The fact is, LDS leaders have repeatedly changed core doctrines when these became unpopular and threatened the growth or well-being of the organization.  Which brings us to the third reason racism in the LDS Church won’t go away.

3. Mormon leaders value growth and promotion of the organization over Truth.  The facts surrounding the lifting of the ban via a press release in June of 1978 indicate the driving force and primary motivation for removing the race restrictions was a desire for growth and greater world-wide expansion. LDS growth in Brazil was greatly hampered by the ban, and it was going to get worse with the opening of a Mormon temple in Sāo Paulo where most of the members who worked on the temple would not be allowed in it.  The rituals necessary for eternal life would be only available to those completely free of Black blood.

For similar reasons, LDS work in Africa was nearly non-existent prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban. Since that time Africa has become one of the fastest-growing Mormon regions in the world.  Meanwhile, in the USA, until it was removed, the priesthood restriction on blacks was a growing social blight for the LDS church, hampering its proselytizing and tarnishing its image. The priesthood restriction on blacks had become a social and demographic liability to what LDS leaders valued most - numeric growth and a good public image.

The commitment on the part of LDS leaders to growth rather than truth has become increasingly obvious over time as LDS leaders have dodged issues like racism, Joseph Smith’s 30+ adulterous relationships, the fraudulent nature of the Book of Abraham, and the multiple, oft-conflicting versions of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.  Rather than openly acknowledging and admitting the problems they instead have chosen to go with carefully crafted statements, limited admissions (of what can no longer be denied), and blame-shifting. Their actions resemble far more the damage-control maneuverings of shifty politicians than the transparent, straightforward proclamation of truth that characterizes true prophets.

In so doing, they send a clear message to their members about what Mormons should value most - protecting the image of the organization and its leaders at all costs, even at the cost of truth itself.  This in turn creates a religious culture of deception and an increase in unethical behavior. When such behavior is justified for the growth and good of the organization, it is but a small step to then mislead and manipulate the membership as a whole for the greater corporate good.  Thus, when commitment to truth at all costs is sacrificed to organizational expediency, the caring, loving treatment of “brothers” and “sisters,” those who are fellow members of the group, takes a backseat to the pursuit of personal or corporate agendas, or a person’s own biases and prejudices.  This guarantees the perpetuation of issues like racism rather than their eradication.

Some Hope for Change?
It is encouraging, however to see that some LDS people are recognizing these issues.  Stack, in her article quotes Bryndis Roberts, a black Mormon as saying: 
The church's ‘race problem’ is ‘much larger and runs much deeper than most of us would like to admit’ and the source is found ‘in its teachings, its actions and its inactions.’
The question is, will LDS leaders come to the same conclusion? In order for Mormon racism to truly become a thing of the past, and LDS people to experience internal spiritual transformation, LDS leaders will need to embrace truth and Jesus’ kingdom values over corporate values. Then they will need to take appropriate, repentant and redemptive action no matter what the cost.  After all, what does it profit a General Authority to gain the whole corporation and lose his soul? 

Monday, January 09, 2017

When ‘Alarming Truths’ Turn Out to be Sad Falsehoods

I can see why it would be hard to stay Mormon these days. LDS leaders can no longer maintain or indiscriminately promote their carefully manicured image of the church.  Joseph Smith looks less prophet-like with every new disclosure.  They have now made Brigham Young the scapegoat for decades of racist teachings and practices. The lies, deception and cover-ups of other LDS leaders involved with polygamy are an Internet search away.  Even current LDS Apostle Jeffrey R Holland is shown to have deliberately misled students at Harvard.

Yet what is sad is the response of some LDS faithful who choose to stay. Rather than being grateful for their brothers and sisters who transition to other churches of historical Christianity, there seems to be a concerted effort to smear any spiritual alternative to their own Mormon faith.  In doing so they appear willing to ignore facts and perpetuate falsehood if this will bolster the image of the Mormon Church.

One example is a recent error-filled blog post titled “The Alarming Truth Behind Anti-Mormonism.”  Posted on Jan 2, 2017 by Dustin Phelps, in just a matter of days it had been shared over 30k times.

Phelps states his purpose upfront: “to expose what anti-Mormonism is and what its objectives really are.”  How much does he get right?  Sadly, very little.   On closer examination the ‘Alarming Truths’ proposed by Phelps turn out to be little more than sad and quite misleading falsehoods.

Sad Falsehood #1: There is only one credible alternative to the Restored Gospel – and that alternative is Atheism
Despite how much LDS people want to be accepted as 'fellow Christians" by non-Mormons, Phelps appears unwilling to share the Christian label with anyone who chooses to leave the LDS fold.  For the Mormon religion there are only two churches, - itself (the one true church, the church of the Lamb), and the church of the devil (1 Nephi 14:10).

Phelps builds on the Mormon church’s own foundational presupposition that it is the only valid spiritual game in town, and makes several jarringly false statements about why it’s “simply impossible to leave the Restored Gospel for another version of Christianity without realizing you have lost so many of its essential elements.”   Could it be that Phelps realizes that if Joseph was a false prophet then nothing unique to Mormonism is necessarily true? Is this why he responds to criticism of Mormonism by attacking historic Christianity and its Scriptures?  He states:

basically every reason to doubt Mormonism is a good reason to doubt Christianity. Not enough archaeological evidence of the Book of Mormon? Feel like some of the archaeological evidence might contradict the Book of Mormon? The same is true of the Bible.

This is false and simply a smokescreen to hide the evidence.

The general archaeological reliability of the Bible is well-established and has been for centuries.  For specific examples and quotes from renown archaeologists see this article. In contrast, the glaring lack of credible Book of Mormon archaeology is amply documented.  

Next Phelps addresses another main reason Mormons are questioning their religious system – Joseph’s polygamy:

Joseph Smith offends Western sensibility? Not nearly as badly as prophets such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Joshua. A quick gander at the Old Testament shows that Joseph Smith has a relatively immaculate record (based on Western standards) compared to many of the prophets who came before him.

Again, an audaciously false statement in light of the historical facts.

The moral failures of biblical personages are portrayed as exactly that – moral failures with often far-reaching consequences, and when David, for example is confronted with his adultery and murder, he immediately repents and turns from his sin.  Joseph Smith, on the other hand, sins repeatedly, lies about it, attempts to cover it up and hide it and never repents.  Meanwhile, leaders of the LDS church have done all they can to hide, minimize and excuse his behavior. The LDS church cannot have it both ways. Either everything Joseph said and did regarding his multiple wives and the stories he told them to convince them to go along with his advances were true or they were not. Either Joseph was simply and obediently reinstating and following the Old Testament pattern of polygamy per God’s command (which always involved physically consummating the relationship – what was the point otherwise), or he was lying about it and manipulating teenage girls and other men’s wives, and God had nothing to do with it. As Dr. Rob Bowman has amply documented in his extensive response to this same article, Joseph’s polygamy little resembles the polygamy of the OT.

So it is sheer nonsense to assert as Dustin Phelps does that: “And so we find that arguments against Joseph Smith are really arguments against all the prophets”.

There are numerous and well-documented reasons why the most logical conclusion in light of what we know of Joseph’s life and character is that he should not be accepted as a true prophet of God – none of which apply to the prophets and apostles of the Bible.   Phelps is dodging the real issues and problems with Joseph’s conduct and misdirecting his fellow LDS members with false information and false affirmations.

Sad Falsehood #2: Anti-Mormonism isn’t just about getting people to lose faith in our Church, it’s about getting people to lose faith in God, in Christ, in revelation, in religion.

This is as shameful as it is sad as it is false.

For many former Mormons and outreach ministries the goal in exposing the lies, deceit and false teachings of Mormonism is all about helping people find the truth – the very thing Jesus said would set them free. There are thousands of people who have turned from LDS religion to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who love their Heavenly Father more than ever, who are receiving revelation in the form of daily guidance from the Word of God, the Holy Spirit of God and the people of God. 

They have realized that the external ‘goodness’ and ‘niceness’ of being Mormon (and LDS people can be some of the kindest, nicest and sincerest people you will ever meet) will never remove the guilt, pressure and ongoing sense of failure they feel when they are honest about how far short they fall of God’s standard of perfect holiness.  Many former Mormons have realized that if grace is only going to come “after all they can do” they will never get grace, because no one, anywhere, at any time has ever done ‘all they can do.’   So instead they have repented of trying to earn God’s favor, of working to achieve worthiness, and in humble gratitude have accepted the double-transfer Jesus died to offer – all their sin, guilt, failure and falling short are exchanged for Jesus’ perfect righteousness, his absolute holiness and his totally measuring up to the Father’s standard of perfection.

The result is a confident and close relationship with God built on faith and trust in Him, more gratitude in life, more intimacy with Jesus Christ and more acts of service done from a grateful heart of love in response to the great gift of grace and mercy they’ve been given.  Hardly the atheism in any of its facets portrayed by Phelps.

Yes, it is true that way too many LDS people when learning the truth about their religion move toward atheism and agnosticism.  But their choice to ignore God and his son Jesus Christ does not make Mormonism true anymore than an abused woman’s choice to ignore good counsel and get drunk or high now means her abuser is a man of love and integrity.   A bad response to a bad situation does not turn the bad situation good.

I would like to suggest that so many former LDS people turn to "atheism” rather than to Jesus Christ himself because they have been part of a system that creates practical atheists.  It’s not they don’t believe there is a God, but even as they live as “good Mormons” they’ve never turned to Christ alone for the answer to their sin problem, nor sought to trust God alone for their spiritual needs.

So many LDS people today have a testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and of their own good works and a sense of pride at all they are doing to get mercy they've earned, and grace that comes after all they can do. But they have never come broken and empty handed, drawn by the Holy Spirit of God to true faith and repentance, trusting in Christ alone to reconcile them to God the Father as the one and only God who has existed or ever will exist.

Mormonism’s appeal is an appeal to the prideful flesh of man, adding his own work to the work of Christ, pulling himself up by his own bootstraps. Such appeals will never bring about the brokenness and humility and stark recognition of our sinfulness in the presence of an absolutely Holy God who cannot tolerate even the least amount of sin.

So when religious, prideful, self-confident people find:

a) Their religious source of information to be unreliable (as has happened in the wake of the 13 Church essays finally admitting what critics of Joseph and the Mormon system have been decrying for decades)

b) Their 'spiritual' leaders from Joseph Smith on are little more than savvy, at times dishonest business men and politicians who strive to make good PR-based decisions to keep a religious corporation growing, and

c) Their temple ceremonies that have cost them 10% of their income have more to do with freemasonry and occultism than revelation from God, it is not surprising they would continue to do what they have been doing – rejecting the grace of God and living independent, self-confident lives. 

Now they are simply doing it without the religious trappings and social pressure to conform to the religious system called Mormonism – which is in some ways has helped prepare them for atheism.  Think about it – there is no ultimate transcendent God in Mormonism.  There is no one single Being who is the First and Primary cause to Whom everyone and everything in the cosmos is subject.  Instead, the Mormon God is one of an endless progression of glorified men (and women), working their way to a divine state in order to create more humans who can likewise progress and continue the cycle.  Even the atonement of Jesus Christ in Mormonism guarantees nothing but a physical resurrection - and everyone gets that regardless of whether they had faith in Christ or outright rejected him. 

One more really sad thing

A final, telling aspect of this popular LDS blog is that it reveals a sad facet of Mormon culture. A significant segment of the Mormon religion is comprised of people who will share and promote information that, at some level, they probably know or at least sense is wrong.  Yet because it is ‘faith-promoting’ and reinforces “I-am-in-the-only-true-church” and distracts them from the internal unease caused by disturbing facts, they will circulate it amongst themselves. In so doing they assuredly proclaim to one another the beauty of the emperor’s new wardrobe while he parades naked and exposed through town.  How much better to break with the crowd and courageously embrace the truth that God has indeed spoken through his prophets and apostles. To see that in so doing God has showed us how to spot prophetic imposters like Joseph Smith, something LDS leaders themselves acknowledge.  Maybe it’s not so much about being “anti-Mormon” as it is being pro-freedom and pro-truth.

Do you want to better understand the truly freeing, life-transforming gospel of grace found in the love Jesus Christ?  Watch this short video  or check out the resources here.