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.