Why I Love Mormons, but not Mormonism
by James R. Spencer
First of all, I want to say that I really do love Latter-day Saints. I was a Mormon elder for ten years. My wife and I were married in the Mormon temple in Idaho Falls, Idaho in 1966. Our first daughter was "born under the covenant." I served in virtually every auxiliary in the Church.
When I was born again in 1974, my wife, Margaretta, sought a divorce. But God stopped her. Two years later she, herself, was born again. (I have told that story in my book, Beyond Mormonism: An Elder's Story (Chosen Books, 1984). I have now been in full-time Christian ministry for fifteen years. I have written seven books on Mormonism and other aspects of the cults, the occult, and secularism.
So, when I say I love Mormons (I don't just mean that I love my relatives and those neighbors who happen to be Mormon) I love Mormons as a people. And, I am not simply referring to the agape love I feel for all mankind as a result of my submission to Jesus Christ, though I do love them in that way. Let me explain: I love Mormons in the sense of being attracted to them, being interested in them, and admiring them. Before I get too carried away, I should say that sometimes Mormons turn me off. At times I lose patience with them and, of course, I have had occasion to cross swords with Mormons. Sometimes Latter-day Saints have said unkind things to me because of my mission to evangelize them. They have not understood my heart. Often, they have decided that since I want to win them for Christ (and thus away from Mormonism) that I must hate them. Because of that there have been times, I must admit, that I have been angry with individual Mormons.
But I really do have great regard for Latter-day Saints. I like the fact that Mormons prize many of the same values I do: family, morality, country, education, etc. Latter-day Saints tend to be hard-working and good citizens. Many of them, including those in my own family, sacrifice themselves for the welfare of their children and give unstintingly of themselves to Church and civic projects.
Many Latter-day Saints share with me the great privilege of having been reared in rural communities in the Rocky Mountain West. They share with me the warm memory of a simpler age when Norman Rockwell paintings were not considered maudlin or silly and when standing for the national anthem at sporting events produced tears of pride. Our common rural-American respect for decency came home to me a couple of years ago when I watched Utah Senator Orin Hatch defend Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas against unsubstantiated sexual harassment charges. In spite of the great religious differences which separate me from Mormons, I respect the fact that a majority of them live quiet, peaceable lives.
In addition to all that, most active Latter-day Saints have a genuine hunger to please God. In that sense, they are God-fearing. And I believe they are sincere. Though many Christians can contradict my personal experience, I have never met a Bishop I didn't like. The ones I have known have been intent on doing good and serving God to the best of their knowledge.
Second, I love Latter-day Saints because God loves them. Sin has separated them from God. Nevertheless, they are very precious to God; He loves them with an everlasting love and, like the father of the Prodigal, He scans the horizon for the return of his lost sons and daughters.
As a redeemed man and as a preacher, I am keenly aware of the plight of the Lost. While I cherish the joy of my salvation, I anguish at the thought of those who have not yet received full restoration in Christ. The vast majority of Mormons, I am absolutely convinced, are lost. My heart goes out to them.
When I think of the Lost, I often think of the Children of Israel who were in bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt; slaves who made bricks day and night and lived in tyranny and oppression. Such is the life of the Lost. Though many Mormons have learned to live a civilized life (in some cases they even live lives which reflect the best parts of Christian character) they do not escape the hounding pain of living in unremitted sin. Unforgiven sin ravages the human conscience. Mormonism may salve the superficial wounds of sin, but it does not solve the sin problem. Only the blood of Christ, applied by faith alone, can wash away sin. Religion can never do that. No matter how vigorously one wrestles with the commandments of religion, he cannot, by that process, come to terms with God and receive forgiveness. Mormons are completely ignorant of the way to forgiveness. My heart goes out to them.
The pain of Mormons trapped by religion and isolated from real forgiveness haunts me. The frustration they feel at never being good enough, of never quite measuring up, rips at my heart. The weariness I see on their faces (a weariness which hardens in middle life when their hearts begin to tell them that they are not strong enough to boot-strap themselves into full spiritual health) causes me to weep. And it causes me to love them.
Too many late night conversations with haunted Latter-day Saints have worn me down. I can think of dozens of Mormons who have communicated to me their despair. Among them were numerous leaders within their local Mormon communities. Many have said to me, "I wish I could have what you have, but I can't." What stops them is fear. They are afraid to leave; afraid if they do their spouse will leave them; afraid they will lose their position in the community; afraid they will lose the respect of their children. Their heart-breaking stories move me to love them.
I see Latter-day Saints who bear up bravely under the strain of life without the sure hope of eternal victory. Like lost men plunging through dense jungle foliage or workers sweating under great loads, they press on. They continue to hope that rest lies in the next clearing or over the next hill, but it never comes. Their burdens continue to wear away at them. All too often, Latter-day Saints fall into a stupor as they age. The burden of self-sufficiency and the need to make themselves righteous takes its toll. Much too often it ends in bitterness and despair.
I want to reach out to these Latter-day Saints. I want to take them by the lapels and make them see. In most cases I cannot make them see. That makes me very sad.
Yes, I really do love Latter-day Saints.
I LOVE THEM BECAUSE GOD HAS MADE ME LOVE THEM
The third and most important ingredient in my love for Mormons is the pressure God exerts in driving me to love them. God has spared me from the consequence of my sin; I therefore desire Him to rescue those who are still in their sins.
When God saves us, He delivers us from our own foul nest. Redeemed Christians sing: "Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me." Redeemed Christians know they were wretched when Jesus found them. They were poor, and naked, and rebellious. They were (and are) completely undeserving of Divine favor. Waking up to our salvation, we are exuberant, joyous, and thankful, but then we see that many around us have not awakened. When we see those who are asleep to the salvation of God, we want to wake them. But beyond that, since we ourselves were recently asleep, we understand that these poor creatures are pitiful and needy. In some ways they are helpless and hopeless. Who could not love those so wretched?
We walk among sinners dead in their sins; just like us in every way except they are lost. This constant walking through the slumbering dead causes our hearts to cry out for their awakening. We implore God to awaken them. We weep for them. And in this we begin to understand the scripture:
Hereby perceive we the love [of God], because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down [our] lives for the brethren. (I John 3:16)
Yes, I love Mormons. I love sweet, quiet Mormons like Margaretta's recently departed grandmother. I love dedicated Mormon bishops who burn midnight oil to please the brethren. I love Jack-Mormons who smoke and drink coffee, but who still can't escape the web of Mormonism. I love Mormon youth who step up to the plate of expectation and try to hit home-runs for their parents. I even love the new intellectual or liberal Mormons who want to be free from Mormonism, but who donŐt have the courage to break away.
I repeat, I love Mormons.
But I don't love Mormonism.
MORMONISM IS EMOTIONALLY DESTRUCTIVE
As much as I love Mormons, I hate Mormonism. I hate it because it binds intellectual and emotional burdens upon the backs of its adherents. As one who preaches the gospel of freedom, I am compelled to hate the Mormon gospel of bondage. Jesus says, "Come unto me, all [ye] that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mt. 11:28) In contrast, Mormonism says, "You can never rest."
Latter-day Saints are well aware of the tremendous pressure upon them to "live up to the gospel standard." Many who are genuinely faithful to Mormonism complain that the Church demands so much of them that it wears them out: Too many Church "jobs" and "callings"; too many meetings; too much financial pressure. Instead of offering its faithful members rest, forgiveness, and acceptance, Mormonism constantly harps at them to do more, work harder, and "lengthen their stride." While that may seem noble, it isn't. People who are restless seek the peace that passes understanding and a drink which will satisfy them. Instead, Mormonism offers only the dust and ashes of human striving. Mormon legalism simply does not work. Social statistics from Utah, for example, show that places where Mormonism is strongest have higher rates of divorce, child abuse, teen suicide, and other social problems than the nation as a whole. When I see that Mormonism perverts the gospel of grace to a gospel of self-improvement techniques, I hate it.
Mormonism is emotionally destructive and it silences all who attempt to reform it. Mormonism stifles dissent. During the past few years, Utah newspapers have documented the "purge" of Mormon intellectuals, historians, advocates of women's rights, and political ulra-conservatives (to name just a few groups) for speaking out. Men like BYU historian D. Michael Quinn, and Steve Benson, the grandson of Ezra Taft Benson (recently departed Mormon Prophet, Seer, and Revelator), have found themselves outside the Church because they openly and honestly disagreed with Church policy. Mormon leaders excommunicated Michael J. Barrett, a CIA lawyer, because he published Mormon doctrine in newspapers. They excommunicated Maxine Hanks for publishing her views on Mormon feminism.
Any religious system, even if it is ignorant of the plan of salvation, should (as a minimum) help its adherents find peace and self-respect. The primary Christian values of love, acceptance, and forgiveness seem lost on Mormon leaders. They rule their people with fear and threats of excommunication. I am driven to hate a system which punishes faithful members who raise honest questions.
I HATE MORMONISM BECAUSE IT IS SPIRITUALLY DESTRUCTIVE
Just as I love Mormons because of their helpless condition, so I hate Mormonism because it makes them helpless. Mormonism forces people down a dead-end path. Mormonism promises life, but delivers death. Mormonism is a philosophy which, I believe, was conceived for the sole purpose of keeping people from finding Christ.
I know that many people have trouble hearing me say that. Mormonism, they argue, has much in common with Christianity: the Bible, the belief in Jesus as the Son of God, the belief in water baptism, and so on. But a thing is not equal to another thing simply because the two share some attributes. All mammals, for example, share dozens of common attributes, such as the possession of legs, two eyes, ears on the sides of the head, nostrils, lungs, a heart, and many other things. However, a man is not a horse, and a cow is not a dog. A submarine has hatches, portholes, and a propeller, but it isn't an airplane. Mormonism glues attributes of Christianity onto the rotten hull of humanism and declares it to be Christianity.
The question is just this: Does Mormonism teach men and women how to escape the consequences of sin or not? If it does, then it is worthy of the title Christian and I should pledge my allegiance to its precepts. If it does not, I should regard it as a great evil. Further, if it purports to offer salvation, but offers instead damnation, then I should sound the alarm to warn Mormons of its deadly deceit.
I am convinced that Mormonism merely masquerades as Christianity. I'm convinced it destroys the eternal souls of Latter-day Saints. In past editions of this newsletter I have regularly discussed how Mormonism does this. I will simply remind the readers of a few key points which cause me to believe what I do.
First, Mormonism teaches that men may become gods. Every active Mormon can recite the adage: "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become." This concept clearly blurs the line between Creator and creature and is anathema to all Judeo-Christian religious thinking. The First Commandment, the Shema (Deut. 6:4), and all orthodox theology steadfastly resist the temptation to exalt man to godhood.
Second, Mormonism teaches that Jesus' atonement was insufficient to save us. His death, according to Mormon theology, was only part of the work needed to save men from eternal separation from Him. Mankind must finish the work by adding to the Atonement his own obedience to laws and ordinances in order to attain full peace with God.
Third, Mormonism teaches that only certain men can perform necessary religious rites which will enable another to enter heaven. Only those who hold the Mormon priesthood can perform, for example, water baptism. So in other words, Mormonism makes it impossible for a man to come to Jesus Christ in simple faith and be saved. Jesus is no longer "The Way, the Truth, and the Life," but merely part of the way.
Mormonism redefines the essence and nature of Christianity and replaces it with a complex system of man-made laws and legalistic requirements for salvation. That is why I hate it.
I love Mormons. I want them to find the peace that comes with discovering submission to the Christ of the Bible (a loving, gracious, sacrificing Christ who desires to rescue them from performance righteousness and cruel oversight by tyrannical taskmasters).
As a former Mormon, I can't forget my people. As a Christian I can't stand by and watch them being systematically abused without hating the system which abuses them.
If I truly love Mormons, I must hate Mormonism.
Copyright 1995, James R. Spencer
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