Thursday, April 17, 2008

Attention Bloggernacle: How would you respond?

For the last couple of weeks I've been wondering how I would respond to someone not of our faith who learns that when Joseph Smith asked the Lord which church to join, he "was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” Now I find myself needing to respond, and yet I'm still not quite sure what more to say.

Recently I've engaged in a dialogue with a Presbyterian Pastor in my home state of Oregon. It's really been quite intriguing trying to understand where we each are coming from. See for example some of the back and forth in the comments sections of "Why don't Mormon Elders Answer My Simple Questions?" and "I met an honest Mormon today"--two posts that have provided the opportunity to have a open and honest discussion. I'm glad I came across the conversation and joined in.

However, the only thing that has me "stumped" is the abomination quote above, which appears to be quite a public relations challenge. Especially among those who won't let it drop! Moreover, I recall Elder Marlin K. Jensen admitting that one of the toughest sells we have is the claim to be the "only true church". We're held accountable for these statements (and other harsh/brash statements by past LDS leaders) by other churches who take offense at them, and with good reason. And quite frankly, I feel for them. So I ask for your help. I personally feel humbled, grateful, and blessed by my testimony of the restored Church and the restored Gospel. So naturally I find myself frustrated with trying to reconcile my sincere desire to simply have a christian conversation with those not of our faith, and yet having to account for past quotes that don't really come across as very "neighborly". I know, I know, "The Lord said it--they're his words". Problem is, I feel he would say things a lot differently if he were to sit down with some of his sincere followers no matter what church they belong to today.

So how would you respond? President Hinckley has no doubt tried to reach out and work with other faiths and we definitely teach that we ought to be good neighbors and reach out and treat each other as Christ-like as possible. Yet I can empathize and see how it might come across to them when they learn about this claim, as well as the fact that the Lord in revelation said that this was "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth" (see Doctrine & Covenants 1:30).

I don't feel the need to prove anything. I just want to be better about how we come across to people who think that they're just encountering a pleasant facade when we try to converse with them but have reason to suspect that we "really" think bad of them (or that we're somehow better than them)--which is, at least in my case--not true. I believe we have much truth to share with each other, and much to learn from each other, so it's my natural reaction to flinch when words like "abomination" are thrown out there. There has to be a better way to address this little dilemna. Any ideas?


Todd Wood said...

Clean Cut, is Joseph seeking to copy a little of Paul's words?

I surely don't apologize for the apostle Paul's words in inspired scripture.

I am another one of those ministers who likes respectable but very frank conversation.

ben said...

Try searching the FAIR webpage.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you have a very exciting opportunity. I can't think of a better approach when engaging in dialogue with those of other faiths to place yourself in the shoes of those with whom you are speaking. I hope you will continue to post lessons learned from your experience.

In addition, if this is the "only" thing that has you "stumped" then I would say you are really doing quite well. If we don't get it right the first time, we should take courage and try again. The fact that you are actually asking this question is, I believe, of paramount importance. My own view is that as you continue to engage in conversation and explore and flesh out other related issues, that you will find a way to express more fully your position on the subject at hand.

I have several resources on my blog about interfaith dialogue and so I hope you’ll visit.

Lakes are Great said...

I'm not quite sure that there is need for anyone to take offense to the statement mentioned BECAUSE I don't feel like God was saying all of the people who were practicing those various faiths were an abomination, but rather, that the preachers who were preaching damnation to all who didn't join their church were an abomination. I feel like that statement was more of a distaste for what was being taught, which was not what Christ had taught, that was an abomination to God.

Rick Anderson said...

"Abomination" may seem like strong language to us, but maybe that's because we're not God. Try to look at it from something like his perspective: if divine authority really does matter -- and it's certainly reasonable to propose that God might think it does -- then any church that falsely claims to have divine authority is likely to seem pretty abominable to God. And any church that claims to preach eternal truth without a claim to divine authority isn't going to be much better.

With this issue as with so many others, the question is whether or not Joseph Smith saw and heard what he claims he saw and heard. If, in fact, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him and said what he reports they said, then our opinion about what they said doesn't really matter much -- our job is to listen and heed. If, however, God and Jesus Christ did not appear to him and say those things, then we should ignore his report of the experience altogether. Either way, our opinion about the word "abomination" is pretty much irrelevant, I think.

Clean Cut said...

I appreciate the insights. The Church Newsroom website just posted a recent article about respect for diversity of faiths that I found very timely:

SALT LAKE CITY 18 April 2008

"A respect for the diverse beliefs and unique contributions of all the world’s faiths is one of the hallmarks of Mormonism. From the earliest days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith elevated the principle of religious liberty and tolerance: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may” (Articles of Faith 1:11).

"In that same spirit, Church President Thomas S. Monson made a plea during general conference, a semiannual worldwide meeting, for more religious understanding: “I would encourage members of the Church wherever they may be to show kindness and respect for all people everywhere. The world in which we live is filled with diversity. We can and should demonstrate respect toward those whose beliefs differ from ours.” Latter-day Saints accept all sincere believers as equals in the pursuit of faith and in the great work of serving humanity.

"Emphasizing God’s love for all people, not just those of one religion, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency, the highest governing body of the Church, declared: “We honor and respect sincere souls from all religions, no matter where or when they lived, who have loved God, even without having the fulness of the gospel. We lift our voices in gratitude for their selflessness and courage. We embrace them as brothers and sisters, children of our Heavenly Father. … He hears the prayers of the humble and sincere of every nation, tongue, and people. He grants light to those who seek and honor Him and are willing to obey His commandments.”

"The late Krister Stendahl, emeritus Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm and professor emeritus of Harvard Divinity School, established three rules for religious understanding: (1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies; (2) don't compare your best to their worst; and (3) leave room for "holy envy" by finding elements in other faiths to emulate. These principles foster relationships between religions that build trust and lay the groundwork for charitable efforts.

"The spiritual and physical needs of the world require goodwill and cooperation among different faiths. Each of them makes a valuable contribution to the larger community of believers. In the words of early Church apostle Orson F. Whitney, “God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of his great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous, for any one people.” Thus, members of the Church do not view fellow believers around the world as adversaries or competitors, but as partners in the many causes for good in the world. For example, the Church has joined forces with Catholic Relief Services in a “collaboration of caring” that aids victims of famine and natural disaster. Furthermore, the Church worked with Islamic Relief Worldwide and the Islamic Society of Great Salt Lake to provide immediate humanitarian assistance in December 2004 to the tsunami-hit areas of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

"It is important to note that interfaith cooperation does not require doctrinal compromise. Though the Church asserts its ecclesiastical independence and recognizes its doctrinal differences, this does not prevent it from partnering with other faiths in charitable projects. These efforts are based on universal values. A different interpretation of the atonement of Christ, for example, need not diminish the mandate of Christ to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Therefore, it is necessary to maintain a separation between charitable efforts and doctrinal tenets, while at the same time sharing mutual concern for those in need. People of good faith do not need to have the exact same beliefs in order to accomplish great things in the service of their fellow human beings."

NM said...

Personally speaking, I don't take offence at the "...all other churchs/creeds are abominations..." statement. Of course, it might give the post-modernist more ammunition to fire his gun with and further his contempt that all transcedent truth are mere power statements.

I liken J.Smith's claim about all other creeds as abominations (we'll assume it's a claim at the moment) to Jesus' claim of being the only Way, Truth and Life in John 14. In the same way that Jesus was asserting His uniqueness, the same might be said for J. Smith's assertion for the LDS church's uniqueness =)

With Jesus' example, he backed-up everything he said with miracles, through excorcisms, power over the elements, healing the sick, raising the dead etc. and through prophecies, which were to come true. I mean, can you imagine the look on people's faces as he claimed to be the ONLY way to the Father? I don't think the people were ready to hear the claim as I'm sure they were asking for an objective way to the Father...and not the fact that THE way is through Jesus alone?! It is of no wonder that Jesus was charged with blasphemy =) But the dilemma for them I guess is, with Jesus' ability to create all these miracles - AND claim to be the ONLY WAY - what can you do but believe him?

So, I guess the issue is not about how to communicate the LDS church's uniqueness in a 'neighbourly' way - in much the same way that Jesus did not dress up his claims in a 'neighbourly' fashion either...the issue is: if it is true (that the LDS church is the only true church), then it is to be CELEBRATED! =D Because if truth is truth, it will stand up to any scrutiny =)

In the same way that if Jesus really did die on the cross and was raised up on the third day, then it is also the most wonderful news =D

This is a FANTASTIC post =) Thanks Spencer, I really enjoyed reading certainly made the old cogs turn!

Clean Cut said...

Thank you NM. I though your comments were fantastic! You're really right on. I appreciate it!

Kelli W. said...

I love this post Spencer. I love reading the comments and feeling the different spirit conveyed through the different readers leaving their thoughts. I have so much to say in the matter but lack the time to write! Keep on sharing your thoughts!

SusieQ said...

Spencer, this doesn't answer your question, but I thought you might find it interesting:

You and Mrs. Clean Cut do a great job of articulating your thoughts and ideas. Keep it up!

The Faithful Dissident said...

I’d like to think that the “abomination” lies not within the members or clergy who with a pure heart attend their church, but those who knowingly pervert the Lord’s word by molding it into something that fits their own agenda, which I think are few in number. I would also like to think that the vast majority of people who attend their individual churches have the best intentions and worship according to their conscience, just as we do in our own church. I don’t think it’s wrong for us to believe that we have the truth, because doesn’t everyone believe that they are right? At the same time, if we have the fullness of truth, does that equal a monopoly on truth? I personally don’t think so.

Thanks for an interesting post! Hope you find the time to stop by my blog sometime. :)

Jancisco said...

I remember learning in some gospel related class that "abomination" referred to something that had once had life and the life had been taken away from it. It makes sense in this context. However, I can't find a reference, and you know how reliable seminary teachers are (just kidding), so I don't know if that is a plausible answer. It does make sense though, in the context of the apostasy. Understanding that the meaning of words change through the centuries softens the "PR" side of it a little bit more.

I'm glad you commented on my blog; I'll keep checking back here. I think I've seen your wife at Raymond Rimkus or some shower or something. Small, small world.

Thaddeus said...

Seriously small world. I stumbled on this blog independent of your comments on nathan's blog or my (and my sister, Jancisco's) blog.

As far as your response goes, I might say something like this:

Members of the LDS Church don't hate members of other churches. That is not where the conflict lies. The teachings of the apostate churches are hypocritical and abominations.

I believe the exact quote is, "I was answered that I must join none of them [the then-current churches], for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
Joseph Smith History 1:19, emphasis added.

We love people of other faiths! Most protestants I've met are warm, caring, decent people who genuinely follow the Savior's path!

We also know that God does not like His truth distorted, nor does he look kindly on those who knowingly twist His words. These "professors" aren't necessarily all pastors and teachers, but many of them are. Joseph Smith ran up against a good number of them in his lifetime.

What Do Mormons Believe?

Clean Cut said...

Thanks Thaddeus. Small word indeed. I appreciated what you said on Nathan's blog too. It's good to "see" you again! Thanks for adding your insights.