Mormonism, Christianity, and Cults

I recently learned of the current controversy regarding First Baptist Dallas Pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress and comments he made in support of one candidate. Reporters heard something that piqued their interest, and went to find out. Turns out, shocker, I know, that this prominent conservative Christian pastor thinks Mormons are members of a cult. This is almost as big news as when the Southern Baptist Convention said they were going to pray for Jews.

The problem in this controversy is one of semantics. Non Christian people and Christian people sometimes can’t communicate clearly. When Jeffress says cult, reporters think of compounds with automatic machine guns and explosives. It takes them about 0.07 seconds to hit the oddball religious news alert, and away we go. Now Jeffress is going all over the place talking about it.

As for how the world views cults, Mormons don’t fit their understanding of one. Calling Mormons members of a cult on national TV just confuses people. Our soundbite generation cannot compute that. Jeffress says that he went on to explain more about what he meant, but of course that is too long for a news soundbite. The Hardball clip that’s going around, the commentator can’t get past his own definition cult. Is Jeffress concerned about a member of a cult in the White House? Jeffress keeps trying to define Mormonism as a theological cult.

Let me boil it down for you.

No, Mormons are not going to give all their money to the church and turn up, en masse, all dead with white sneakers and open packets of cool-aid littered around. In that connotation of the word cult, of course the Church of the Latter Day Saints are not a cult. They are a religion. Everyone I have ever met has been very nice, highly moral, and deeply committed to their faith. But not in that Going-to-mass-suicide-and-take-as-many-ATF-agents-with-us-as-we-can kind of way.

Mormons are an offshoot of traditional Christianity. They claim they have a more complete faith than us regular Christians. But there are several defining characteristics that define them theologically as a Christian cult.

For Christians, theologically, cults can be defined using a simple process:

“+, -, x, /”

Christian Cults are an offshoot of traditional Christianity that:

+ Add to scripture
Subtract from diety of Christ
x Multiply what is required for salvation
/ Divide their followers from traditional Christianity

Groups who do those things are generally thought to be non-Christian but traditional Christianity. Yes, I mean that members of those cults are not going to heaven. (Of course, if you dig a bit into Mormonism you see that I’m not going to be in their heaven either, so turn about’s fair play, right?)

So, how do the LDS measure up to that criteria?

+ Mormons claim that in addition to the Bible, the Book or Mormon and other texts should be considered scripture. They add to scripture.

Mormons do not think Jesus Christ is a part of a Triune God. He is Elohim’s only “begotten” son, but not his only son. In fact, Lucifer is Jesus’ brother. He is not part of the Trinity. He is not God, like Elohim is God. (Before you comment and say it, I know that the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible, but evidence for it is. Traditional Christians believe in it. Mormons don’t.) Mormons subtract from the deity of Christ.

X Mormons cannot achieve the highest level of heaven unless they do certain things here on earth. Salvation is not by grace alone, but works are required to enter the Celestial Heaven. Plus, if you want to be able to have your own planet and be a god, you must be married in a Mormon temple. Mormons multiply what it takes for salvation.

/ Mormons believe that they are the fully restored church, and that while most Christians have some truth, it is not complete. Mormons are the only religion that has complete truth on the earth. Traditional Christianity generally believes that as long as denominations hold to certain basic truths, the minor tenets of each group’s polity and practice do not bar them from entering heaven. These differences have to do with worship practices and general theology, but do not impact salvation, and the work of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in that act. Mormon divide themselves from other Christians as the holders of complete truth.

So, am I saying that every Mormon in the world will end up in hell? No. I don’t know the condition of any other person’s heart. In fact, one of the major LDS “mission” fields is Christian people. They often meet people of faith, and then convert them to Mormonism. It is likely that there are some nominal Mormons who have true faith in Christ. But, that faith did not come as a result of any Mormon theology or teaching.

What I am saying is that Mormon theology will lead you to hell. While they use the same words as traditional Christians (God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, grace, salvation) they mean something else entirely. If you worship the mormon god, you worship someone other than the God of the Christian Bible. I know that sounds harsh, but when push comes to shove, that’s the cold hard truth of it. Mormons and Christians do not believe the same thing. That’s part of the reason mormon active;y seek to make converts from Christianity. They genuinely care about us knowing the whole truth. I don’t fault them for it, but that doesn’t mean we have the same faith.

What does that have to do with politics? Not as much as some would think. A person’s faith should permeate everything they do, and that won’t stop if that person becomes President. But, as I said before, Mormons are generally great folks with high moral standards. And I’m pretty sure no sitting President is going to try to make Polygamy legal, so no worries there. For me, I won’t vote for someone just because they are a Christian, and won’t vote against them just because they are not one.

Word of note: Please don’t email me or comment and say that I am deliberately misrepresenting the truth. It’s one thing if I have a fact wrong, it’s quite another of my opinion differs from yours.

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Advice for Alex Sink

The nation watched at Rick Scott upset poll favorite Bill McCollum. In what turned into a very nasty and expensive race, just about every piece of dirty laundry in Rick Scott’s closet was aired. And Republicans still chose Scott.

Now the race is between Democrat Alex Sink and Rick Scott.

To date, Sink’s campaign has risen above the dirt. She didn’t really engage in the race yet, easily beating her opponent. As a result, she is relatively unknown.

I’m sure she will be getting all kinds of advice today. Here is mine: focus on the issues.

McCollum tried everything he could to defeat Scott. He pulled all kinds of mud from the past. Scott responded by telling his side of the story. When things got ugly, Scott focused on things McCollum had done in office and things he had said in the campaign.

People have seen the dirt on Scott, and the voted for him anyway. Sink should focus her campaign on the issues. That is the hope she has of winning.

Sanctity of Life Should Apply to All

Yesterday Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the U.S. who performed late-term abortions, was shot a killed while serving in his home church. He was apparently killed by a man that opposes abortion. At this time, authorities think he acted alone; not in conjunction with any organized pro-life group.

I am about as Pro-Life as it gets.

I believe that human life, ALL human life had intrinsic value. Genesis 1:27 says “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (NIV) That alone is enough to place a high value on the life of any person. For example, if we put a dollar amount on this worth- People pay millions of dollars for paintings (images) of landscapes and portraits, how much more is the living image of the creator of the universe worth? Plus, we have been created for a purpose, and God has a desire to have a relationship with each of us. Murdering a person is wrong. The loss of any human life is a horrible tragedy.

Therefore, I am against capital punishment. Inmates are not an imminent threat to anyone. Regardless of what they have done, their life is still worth something. And, if we kill them, they lose any chance to accept Christ.

Is there any time I could condone killing a person? If someone escapes from jail and breaks into my home, about to murder my family, I would end that person’s life to protect others. But if I saw the same escaped felon on the street, I would not pull up and shoot him in cold blood. The difference is the imminent threat.

If I think it’s wrong for us to kill a person that has done heinous crimes against others, how much more do you think I am against killing little babies who have done nothing to anyone? I believe life begins at conception. I once had a professor (Oddly, she was a deacon at a Southern Baptist Church in town) who claimed that God was the biggest abortionist in history, since so many zygotes did not achieve implantation in the uterine wall (or something like that). She said that if those were babies at conception, then God was killing them. I think she was off her rocker to compare a natural process of life and death to the intentional process of abortion.

I do not think we can make anyone give up their own life to save another person’s. If I am walking along a cliff and see someone hanging over the side about to fall I cannot force someone else to go over the side to try and save them. That would be the rescuer’s decision. Similarly, if the life of the mother is in imminent danger, and the choice is that one person lives, we cannot force the mother to die to protect the baby. That should be her choice.

However, a threat to someone’s lifestyle is not a threat to their life. And please don’t even start with the excuse that the baby’s life won’t be a good one so we should kill it. Go ask anyone born to a tough life, would they prefer to be alive or dead? That idea has nothing to do with the baby’s well-being, and everything to do with our desires.

What about the shooting? Besides ending a human life which is a horrible thing no matter who it is, there are a couple of other issues here. One, the murderer probably did this to prevent more abortions. The doctor’s clinic is shut down for a week. Then what? What has this really done to slow the number of abortions? It has actually hurt the pro-life cause because of the negative light pro-choice advocates will now cast on pro-life advocates.

Two, there was no imminent threat. How does the murderer know that something in yesterday’s sermon may not have changed the doctor’s mind about abortion? How does he know he would ever have done anything to harm another person again?

No, this doctor’s death was as horrible as any abortion he ever performed. Killing abortion doctor’s is abhorrent. There can be no justification for this.

Ms. California: Past & Present Issues

April 19th one of the finalists in the Ms. USA pageant was asked a question, which she answered. Let the controversy ensue.

Now, some weeks later, she’s back in the news. It seems that she has done some things that could get her crown ripped away. The two main issues center on “racy” photos taken when she was younger and recent appearances which were not sanctioned by the pageant officials. I should point out that my opinions here are mine, and not representative of any organizations I am associated with.

1. The pictures. To be honest, this was disappointing news. I have not seen the pictures, but assume they really are “racy’ or there wouldn’t be much of a story here. I know she was 17 then, and people make mistakes. Wednesday reports of more pictures have surfaced. (Some reports say these are electronically altered.)

The lesson: Things you do now matter in the future.

She should have disclosed these images up front, so there would be no question about it now. I personally don’t think her excuse about being a model, and that models “pose for pictures, including lingerie and swimwear photos” holds up. We all make mistakes. I hope she realizes this was one. Let me be clear, I am not defending these images, nor her lack of disclosure to pageant officials. I think posing like that was wrong, and then not being up front about it was wrong.

This isn’t the first time we have heard that beauty pageant contestants have posed for racy pictures. Ms. USA had some controversy with it’s winners before, but I don’t remember this much media attention being paid to a runner up before. I doubt we would know anything about it, if her answer to that question had been different.

2. The appearances:

“The detailed document prohibits the titular Miss California from making personal appearances, giving interviews or making commercials without permission from pageant officials. In the last 10 days, Prejean has made televised appearances at her San Diego church and on behalf of the National Organization for Marriage, a group opposed to same-sex marriage.”

There is also a TV commercial from NOM.

Meanwhile, the Miss Universe Organization, which also owns the Miss USA pageant, confirmed Tuesday that it had sent a letter demanding the National Organization for Marriage to remove the Prejean spot from the air and the group’s website. It includes footage from the April 19 pageant.

The Miss Universe Organization “neither sanctions nor disapproves of the viewpoints expressed in the advertisement but cannot allow its copyrighted material to be used without permission to support the National Organization for Marriage’s political agenda and fundraising efforts,” organization President Paula Shugart said.

NOM executive director Brian Brown said the group did not plan to comply with the pageant’s request.

“It is clearly fair use, and all they are attempting to do is silence us by using false legal claims,” Brown said. “But they have another thing coming if they think these ads are coming down. None of us are relenting, least of all Carrie.”

NOM President Maggie Gallagher also issued a statement Tuesday sympathizing with Prejean over the release of her modeling picture and saying it did not disqualify her as a traditional marriage advocate.

“Of course Carrie is not perfect,” Gallagher said. “On a personal note, as a former unwed mother, I want to say to Americans: You don’t have to be a perfect person to have the right to stand up for marriage.”

For me, this hinges on who she was appearing as. I mean, did she go to her church and appear as Ms. California or as Carrie Prejean? I know, she is the same person, but she is much more than just Ms. California. She shouldn’t lose the right to speak her mind… more to the point, to defend herself from attacks… because she has a crown in California.

If she was recognized in her church, and that happens to be on TV… are we really saying this is a Ms. CA TV appearance? This is the local body that is going to pray for her, and help her deal with this mess, which only exists because liberal, open-minded people can’t stand an opposing viewpoint on national TV. If there is anywhere she could go and be on TV as herself, it is her local church.

The NOM stuff… The TV commercial uses footage from the pageant. It doesn’t have anything new from Carrie. They are claiming fair use, and that is really between the pageant people and NOM, and shouldn’t concern Carrie.

She appeared at a news conference that unveiled the ad. Again, is she appearing officially as Ms. California, or as Carrie Prejean who happens to be at the center of a controversy surrounding a question asked to her during a pageant?

Let me frame this differently. She is asked in public a question, and her answer embarrasses liberals who asked it. They ignite a controversy, and attack her publicly. And they mock her and try to discredit her. Should she be restricted from speaking in her defense, or in the defense of her ideals because she holds the crown of Ms. California… the crown that put her in the place where she was asked this question to begin with?

In no way did she solicit a question on gay marriage during the pageant. Those silly people made the call to ask that, and didn’t like the response. Basically, they started this mess, and they are continuing it. But now, when she defends herself… she gives them the excuse to remove the crown?

Got to love liberal open minded viewpoints. Their tolerance only knows one boundary- conservative thought.

Update: Heard on local news that she gets to keep her title, at this point anyway.

Misquoted

I just heard that I was misquoted by a local news outlet during the 11:00 news. They did OK at 6:00 PM, but totally misrepresented the truth at 11:00. They said that our church was encouraging people to stay home and watch the services online.

The truth is that we encouraged people to follow the CDC guidelines, and if they were sick we encouraged them to watch the services online or on TV.

This station routinely shifts interviews to portray the most sensationalistic report.

Swine Flu: Reaction or Overreaction?

Today during the services I had two different local news agencies ask for interviews about the Swine Flu and our church’s reaction. My answer was that we “are monitoring the situation, and will make necessary adjustments as they are needed, however at this time we are confident that the daily safeguards we already have in place provide adequate protection for both our members and guests. Our buildings are thoroughly cleaned and santized on a daily basis, particuarly in the preschool and children’s area, where special attention is paid to santizing toys. In addition, we agree with the recommendations the CDC has put forth regarding ways to prevent the spread of disease, including hand-washing, covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and for those who are sick to stay home and get well. All of our worship services are available for viewing online or on television, and we encourage anyone who might be sick to stay home and take advantage of these alternatives.”

The Catholic Diocese in the Orlando area issued a letter that encouraged people not to touch each other during mass. While each organization must make it’s own decisions about how to handle a situation like this, I have a different opinion. To be clear, I am not speaking as a representative of the church, but as an individual. I think that we are over reacting just a bit.

The regular flu kills thousands each year. In comparison, this outbreak is much less deadly, so far. What makes Swine Flu more scary is that the people that have died, some of them have been in the prime of life and should have been able to fight the flu off. Plus, we have no vaccine for this strand.

However, we just don’t know very much about this. One local news agency reported that this flu strain may not be that strong. I have heard all kinds of rumors, one person said they had heard that this strain of flu was around last year but no one knew it. They said that explained how the normal flu shots had little effect on flu season last year.

Now, we could know a lot more tomorrow, but we don’t know now. With no current cases in Orlando (One girl apparently had it here, but has gone home and not even her immediate family caught it), and still so much not known, I agree that we should be aware, but keep doing our normal thing at church. Recently Leonard Sweet tweeted, “Has a pig made us into a no-touch church? Jesus didn’t just heal lepers. He touched them.”

Jesus hung out with lepers and we are afraid to shake hands? I think we should be smart, but not overreact.

How Would You Handle Anonymous Public Criticism

I ran across this article on MondayMorninginsight.com. An anonymous blogger was criticizing a church. More somewhat illegal events happen. Blogger gets investigated, and his identity is now known.

I work for a church. I have gotten all sorts of anonymous complaints. Phone calls and handwritten notes are most common. Any time you change anything you get complaints from somewhere. It is difficult to lend them and credibility if they are anonymous.

But what if the complaints are public, and anonymous? How do you handle that? it’s difficult to do biblical conflict resolution when you can’t go to the individual. I think the best way is to address concerns that are legitimate to the congregation, and ask the person to come speak directly with you, or a rep from the church. If a news story emerges, then answer honestly, and say what you can. When you are walking in the light, it is simple speak the truth. If you have made a mistake, own up to it. If it’s just a complaint, address it. Diffuse the story with the truth.

Do Winners Write History? On Wikipedia it May Be So

On Monday Fox News reported that President Obama’s Wikipedia entry has been edited to removed almost all entiones of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers. Skirting the issue about whether those two people have any undue influence on the president, the removal of this content raises some questions about the neutrality of the user-edited web encyclopedia.

From the article:

And users of the free online encyclopedia — which is written and edited by users — have reportedly deleted attempts to add Ayers’ name to Obama’s main entry.

One such addition, according to WorldNetDaily, included details of Obama’s tenure alongside Ayers on the board of directors at several organizations in Chicago during the 1990s.

“Within two minutes that Wikipedia entry was deleted and the user banned from posting on the website for three days, purportedly for adding ‘Point of View junk edits,’ even though the addition was well-established fact,” WorldNetDaily reports.

Though Obama was baptized at the church in 1988 and remained an “active member” at Trinity United for two decades, Wright is not cited in a paragraph on Obama’s religion.

Ayers aside, as a person who takes faith seriously, not mentioning the name of a pastor he dedicated a book to in the section on religion seems just a bit over the line to me.

So, is this a case of users actively policing attempts to sully the name of our president, or users sanitizing factual ties to our president? I suspect the answer to that question may be tied to who you voted for.

There’s No Such Thing as Bad Publicity… Unless you are a Church

I used to think that it was true that all publicity was better than no publicity, even if it was negative.

But that’s not true of churches. We are not a company selling an amoral product. If a car company has a scandal, but still makes good cars, people still buy those cars. If the executive of a food company is accused of tax fraud, people still buy the macaroni and cheese they might sell. People buy products based on the quality of the product. And, any mention of a company can actually promote recognition of the company. So while people may not approve of the executive’s actions, the name of the company is heard, and since they generally don’t associate the negative actions of a person with a product, any publicity is better than none.

But what if car company knowingly uses faulty tires on it’s SUV’s? Or a food manufacturer ships tainted peanut butter? That scandal affects the product, and negative publicity attaches.

With a church, life change is what is offered. You have a life, get a relationship with Jesus, and your life is different. The very thing that churches offer the world is behavior identified. That is, while it is spiritual transformation and personal relationship is internal, it is expressed through how we interact with the world. Our behavior should reflect this difference.

When our personal behavior doesn’t reflect the change, a small form of personal negative publicity attaches. In a broader sense, if the church (both capital “C” Church and the local body) doesn’t reflect a Christ-changed population, then our witness is hurt.

Now, we could go into a longer discussion about the responsibility of holy living and the testimony of the Church in the world, and how we are failing, but let me shift toward my recent experience. How the church interacts with the community at large can be a very good thing, or a very bad thing.

In the case of this memorial service, there is so much negative publicity surrounding the criminal case and family that almost everyone that interacts with it ends up being viewed negatively. My greatest concern was that for the next year or so while the case was still going on, anytime a member of the church was doing ministry they would have a conversation like this:

“Wow, thanks for doing this, why are you helping me?”

“I am a part of a group from First Baptist Orlando, and we are out doing this kind of thing today.”

“First Baptist Orlando? Didn’t you guys host that service for Caylee Anthony? Why would you do that? That family is horrible.”

So, instead of talking about faith we would always have to start a conversation diffusing our association with this case. It really doesn’t matter if the family is horrible, or what the actual facts are, because it is perception that would drive the conversation.

So, there was risk. In this case, if we were seen as choosing some sort of side on the criminal matter, we lose. If we don’t do the service and seize the opportunity to minister to a family and hurting community, we fail. Plus, heaven forbid, if anyone else in the family was implicated in some sort of criminal activity.

Strip the controversy away. This is a family that has lost a child, and had another family member accused of the crime. The father had a suicide scare. They have endured intense scrutiny. Forget about everything else, this family is hurting. Without the controversy, no one would think twice about a church ministering to them. In fact, if it was known that a church refused to minister to a family with this much pain, that would be a situation that would be viewed negatively by the public. That’s one of the reasons we agreed to host the service.

Ministry is complicated.

An Odd Feeling… I don’t like that I miss it

I’ve been experiencing an odd feeling the last couple of days.

No, I don’t miss the calls and attention. That’s not it. But I do think there was a rush in knowing something everyone else wanted to know. Because of my position with the church, I was informed about all kinds of things that all kinds of news media types would have really liked to know. I deflected and refused to answer all kinds of questions because I shouldn’t have answered them. But I did know the answers.

What is it about people that makes us want to be “in the know”, that makes us desire to be informed? It’s not just simple curiosity. I know lots of things that have to do with media and technology that most people don’t care about. That doesn’t produce the same feeling.

It’s when you know what the other guy wants to know. That’s the key element.

Sadly this crosses over to general ministry. I have seen churches that operated among staff on a kind of “knowledge is power’ principle. They will tell you what you have to know, and nothing more. Nothing demoralizes an young ministry staffer more than not being trusted, not being included in the “why” of a decision. Even if they are not the decision maker, they want to know some of the reason why a direction was chosen.

But this management style still exists, and those who employ it wonder why their staff has low moral, and does not seem to understand the vision. Let them in on the “why” and see what happens.