Latayne C. Scott is the author of numerous books on Mormonism from a Christian perspective, including The Mormon Mirage. She is also a former member of the LDS church. We’ve asked her to share some thoughts on Mormonism and Christianity with us here at Koinonia.
A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today
1 of 5: Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Zondervan’s new edition of The Mormon Mirage contains all the original reasons why I left the LDS Church, after being a faithful, happy, BYU-scholarship, temple-recommend Mormon. But about 50 percent of this new book is comprised of completely new content – necessitated because the LDS Church is one of the most metamorphic, dynamic religious groups of all time.
Rewriting this book was a labor of love and sorrow. Prevalent in the reviews of the book (in both previous and present editions) has been the observation that I am not bitter, nor is my writing vindictive. That’s because I have no such emotions in my heart.
However, it’s easy to understand why there are hundreds of thousands – perhaps even millions – of ex-Mormons who have no such kindly feelings toward the church they left. Many are still processing the feeling of spiritual betrayal that it took me years to overcome. Worse yet, I see an increasing number of people who leave the LDS Church and are not seeking spiritual guidance from anyone or anything. For example, postmormon.org (a non-religious site) logs between 7 and 8 million site visits month. http://www.rickross.com/reference/mormon/mormon549.html Its discussion boards are lively and often acrimonious. This organization gives ex-Mormons a place for dialogue on its discussion boards and attracts doubters with billboards throughout Utah that proclaim: “You are not alone.”
The existence of such a cyber community was unimaginable when I left Mormonism 35 years ago. (I was indeed alone: In fact, I had been an active member of a Christian church for five years before I ever met in the flesh another ex-Mormon Christian.) It’s a whole new world in the twenty-first century, one in which there are two groups within the LDS Church: “chapel Mormons” and “Internet Mormons,” whose worldviews, religious tolerance, and knowledge of their own church comprise what can only be accurately described as two different realities.
Part of this divergence is directly traceable to the LDS Church’s leadership which, as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune years ago, began to deliberately cover up and whitewash oddities and contradictions in two areas: in its own history, and in the teachings by its self-avowed inspired leaders. In fact, LDS leaders once spoke openly about the necessity to “conceal” such things.http://www.janishutchinson.com/newsletter.html
While such practices may disturb Christians, it has devastated many Mormon, as seen in the story of Michael Barrett, an LDS attorney who once was called on by Mormon Church leadership to participate in such cover-ups. Barrett, an assistant general counsel to the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington, left the church over this issue. http://www.ils.unc.edu/~unsworth/mormon/churchhistory.htmlhttp://www.mrm.org/michael-j-barrett
The thought that a church in this information-rich age would think to rewrite its own history to make it more acceptable to its members and Christians is not only shocking to many faithful “chapel” Mormons, it is incredible to most evangelical Christians. After all, haven’t we seen great strides in building bridges between Mormon scholars and Evangelicals? And to the extreme, did not Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Mouw publicly and spectacularly apologize to Mormons for our “sins” against them?http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=19612
On the other side of the fence, Mormons appeal: Can’t we all just get along?
Here’s an excerpt from The Mormon Mirage that addresses that question.
LDS apologists such as Robert Millet say those who critique Mormonism usually use a straw-man approach: characterizing Mormonism in terms of obscure statements by long-dead men, and using disputed or fringe teachings to describe LDS doctrines. Even some Christian writers have made the same accusation.1 Eric Johnson of Mormonism Research Ministry, however, has formulated a simple list of beliefs to which the vast majority of Mormons of the 21st century would agree:
1) The idea that “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become”;
2) The idea that temple work is essential to reaching the highest level of the celestial kingdom;
4) The idea that a person must be baptized in the Mormon Church to have an authentic baptismal experience;
5) The idea that Joseph Smith and succeeding church leaders were given complete authority on earth; and
6) The idea that the Mormon Church is the most trustworthy church in the world.3
To Johnson’s list I would add the following:
7) The idea that a complete apostasy from Christ’s teachings and Church began in the second century AD and necessitated a restoration instead of a reform; and
Lastly, The assertion that a personal, feelings-based “testimony” of events and doctrines outside of one’s own personal experience (Joseph Smith’s first vision, for instance) is a reliable arbiter and authenticator of truth claims.
This is the Mormonism of real Mormons today. And there’s not a single statement there with which an Evangelical Christian could agree, no matter how many friendly fireside chats are held between us. Just as they make Mormonism distinctive from traditional Christianity, these elements are also significant enough and powerful enough to disqualify Mormonism from categorization as Christianity.
Tomorrow I’ll share with you an area of theology, representational thought, which I have found useful in dealing with concepts like Mormonism.
1) Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen, The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002). Mosser, one of the editors, levels the charge that “some evangelical apologists jealously guard the kind of Mormonism they don’t believe in” (81).
2) “Standard works” of the LDS Church are its four books of scripture.
3) Review by Eric Johnson, “The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement.” Online at Mormonism Research Ministry:http://www.mrm.org/topics/reviews/new-mormon-challenge-responding-latest-defenses-fast-growing-movement
For more information, see The Mormon Mirage 3rd Edition: A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today (Zondervan, 2009). Also available as an audiobook and as an expanded-text E-book for Nook, Kindle and other reading devices.