Heresy and Adding Upon

Many Mormons find that many Christian discussions are compatible with Mormon belief. We cheerfully borrow from C.S. Lewis, for instance, simply adding a Mormon gloss to Lewis’s statements; we happily listen to Switchfoot or Joy Williams.

The idea of adding upon a Christian foundation has become popular in missionary discussion, as well. President Hinckley said, “To people everywhere we simply say, You bring with you all the good that you have and let us add to it.” This approach is a popular one, and is often viewed as a friendly gesture, a recognition that Christian belief is foundational in Mormonism.

The idea has been criticized by some non-Mormon interlocutors. Recently, Evangelical Sarah pointed out some concerns at her blog, writing:

Being on the receiving end of the comment “You wouldn’t lose anything…” is frustrating, as it takes but a moment of real reflection to realize that I would lose some beliefs that are very precious to me if I were to join the LDS Church. That’s not necessarily a valid reason not to join; it just makes the statement untrue. I cannot be Mormon and believe that God is a Trinity, I cannot be Mormon and believe that the one true church is the invisible body of all the redeemed regardless of official church affiliation or lack thereof, I cannot be Mormon and believe that God has faithfully sustained all the truth his Church needed throughout the centuries, and I cannot be Mormon and believe that God created from nothing everything in existence outside Himself. I would lose some things that are close to the core of what makes God so beautiful to me, beliefs that it would be almost physically painful for me to part ways with.

I think there’s a lot of truth to Sarah’s statement. She does a good job of pointing out some ways that the adding-upon approach understates real differences between beliefs, and in the process undervalues beliefs. Her analysis was thoughtful, and I’m glad that she addressed the topic.

However, I think that Sarah’s analysis just scratches the surface; and in fact, that her post may actually understate the difficulties with the idea of adding upon. There are much deeper conflicts here. In particular, the idea of adding upon is deeply problematic for many Christians because of the special concerns of heresy.

I’ll illustrate with a real dialogue that I had on this topic, two decades ago, with a high school friend named Shawn. Shawn was an Evangelical Christian (he generally used the term “born again” to describe himself). Shawn was determined to save Mormons, including me. We talked religion frequently. He stressed the importance of being born again in his own life, and constantly talked about the necessity of accepting Jesus as one’s personal Savior

One day in conversation, I asked Shawn, “so, what does accepting Jesus involve?” And he gave his own story — he bore his testimony, so to speak. Being born again meant accepting Jesus, both out loud and more importantly in one’s heart. Thus, it meant saying and believing, “I accept Jesus as my personal Savior.” That was exactly what Shawn himself had done in order to be born again.

This didn’t seem to clash with my Mormon beliefs, so I said, “okay, I can do that. Hey Shawn, listen. I accept Jesus as my personal Savior.” Of course, I said this with the intention of adding my own additional beliefs to this core. I certainly intended to stay Mormon. But I was happy to state a basic belief in Jesus. I was, in effect, engaging in an adding on exercise. And it was a natural response to the way that Shawn’s Evangelical Christianity had been described. He had set out a certain minimalist core: Say that you believe in Jesus, and you will be saved. (Given Pascal’s Wager, is there any reason *not* to do this?) This works just fine, in theory.

Of course, it didn’t go quite so easily in practice. When I said that I accepted Jesus, Shawn asked me if I still believed in Mormon doctrines. When I said that I did, he told me that my earlier statement didn’t count. (Yes, he said “didn’t count”; you’ve got to love the tactlessness of seventeen year olds.)

Our discussion then went through a predictable series of elaborations and clarifications. Shawn said that one had to accept Jesus as the only means by which a person can be saved; I replied, “okay, I accept Jesus as my personal Savior and as the only means by which I can be saved.” No, it still didn’t count. Shawn added that one had to accept the Bible as the sole Word of God. He knew that I couldn’t commit to that one.

I argued that this was highly unfair. I pointed out, repeatedly, that I had jumped through all of the hoops that Shawn himself had ever had to jump through. I had said and believed, “I accept Jesus.” That was all that he had ever done. His own being-saved statement hadn’t contained other caveats.

I asked him outright, can a person believe in Ezra Taft Benson as prophet, while also accepting Jesus as their personal Savior? No, he said. Why not? Shawn stuck to his guns. It was because if I said I believed Ezra Taft Benson was a prophet, then I must not really mean it when I accepted Jesus. The two were incompatible. Plus the scripture was important too — Shawn had been saved after reading the Bible, so it was implied; for me, it would have to be stated explicitly. Also, I was using different definitions of believe. And so on.

I had known ahead of time that basically all of this was going to happen; and it’s a conversation that I’ve seen repeated many times between Mormons and evangelicals. Typically, it’s a discussion that neither party finds very satisfying.

For many years, I thought that the issue was one of unwritten rules. Shawn had told me that I merely needed to accept Jesus. But it turned out that there had been a variety of unstated assumptions and unwritten rules. The stated rule, as presented to me — and as performed by Shawn in his own born again experience — was simply to accept Jesus in sincere statement. But there were unwritten rules — for instance, one could not accept Jesus and also believe in Joesph Smith as a prophet. I claimed that this was unfair, and Shawn pushed back as best he could.

I’ve long liked to think that I won that debate; he never did give me a satisfactory explanation. But on later reflection, I think that neither of us got to the real issue.

The problem was that as a Mormon, I could not simply follow Shawn’s path. His own route had been that of the unconverted. But I wasn’t merely unconverted; I was a heretic.

This is not a problem limited to Evangelicals and Mormons.

On my own mission, I became very familiar with baptismal requirements. I served in a relatively high-baptizing mission in Guatemala, and taught scores of people who joined the church. Like many missionaries, I was a district leader and zone leader for a while. I probably gave 30 baptismal interviews myself, plus preparing dozens more people for interviews.

The baptismal interviews asked a series of basic questions. Do you believe in God, and in Jesus Christ? Do you believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet? Do you believe the Book of Mormon is true? Do you commit to live the law of chastity, the word of wisdom, the law of tithing?

I never once asked any person, either one of my own teaching families or someone I was interviewing, what they thought of polygamy. Not once.

But now, let’s imagine a missionary who is serving in Colorado City, and who is interviewing a currently practicing Fundamentalist Mormon for baptism. For that missionary, the approach has to be different. The interviewee has to be asked not only whether they believe in Jesus and Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon; they *also* must be asked whether they have renounced polygamy.

Of course, an intelligent Fundamentalist could counter this with a basic added-upon argument. “I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. I believe the Book of Mormon. I accept Thomas S. Monson as well. And I *also* believe in The One Mighty and Strong who has told me to secretly revive plural marriage.” (In fact, this could be cast as a mere adding-on to a scripture already in the D&C.)

But our hypothetical missionary would have to reply — not unlike Shawn in high school — no, those are incompatible. You can’t both believe in Thomas S. Monson and also believe in the One Mighty and Strong. The Colorado City fundamentalist must commit to *more* than the Guatemalan family. This is because of the problem of heresy.

The heretic is fundamentally different than the unconverted. The unconverted needs to be shown basic building blocks of belief. But the heretic already knows those building blocks, and has chosen to twist them in unacceptable ways. Thus, the heretic needs not only to accept basic foundations, but also to renounce any heretical twistings of those foundations. Like an athlete who has developed improper form, the heretic must unlearn prior bad habits. The broken bone initially needs just a splint to heal. But if it has healed in a wrong direction, it must be re-broken before it can be set correctly.

(And what are those twisted bones or practice-field bad habits? As we see from Sarah’s post, or Shawn’s high school dialogue — or for that matter, our own fictional talk with the fundamentalist — they tend to involve a lot of the other details of the community.)

Thus the adding-upon argument would be ineffective. This is why our Fundamentalist cannot offer an adding-upon argument to support modern-day polygamy as a mere addition to Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon, and Thomas S. Monson. Certain types of adding-upon are not viewed as an adding-upon which leaves the foundation intact. Rather, they are viewed as an act which changes the foundation.

And this is why heretics require special consideration at the community gate, and why the heretic and the unconverted cannot enter the same gate. In this light, my impasse with Shawn makes sense. I was offering to enter a gate that could not admit me.

And this shows Sarah’s understatement as well. The invitation to “take your truth and add upon it” is not just descriptively incomplete. Rather, it may be viewed as an affront to the believer, an act of temptation itself, an invitation to take one’s true beliefs and to turn them into heresies. Of course, the invitation to add upon seems natural and friendly from within the community, as a mere suggestion to keep C.S. Lewis and simply add a Mormon spin. But for outsiders, the invitation to add upon may not only not be welcoming, but may in fact be viewed as a threat.

50 comments for “Heresy and Adding Upon

  1. February 19, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Very interesting, Kaimi. This makes me wonder what sort of additional requirements Evangelicals demand of converting Catholics. Do they need to verbally denounce the Pope? Disclaim any essential role for Mary? Desecrate the host, perhaps?

  2. Dan
    February 19, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    perhaps the phrase “to add upon” is the wrong one to use.

  3. February 19, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    Kaimi – I always enjoy your writing. You think and you question and you deliberate with intelligence. You may not always reach the same ?conclusions? that I do, but you always cause me to see something that I didn’t before.

    Thank you.

  4. Bob
    February 20, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Funny, I had an Evangelical Christian friend who felt if I were ‘born again’_ I could keep my Mormon ‘stuff’.
    Also a Baptist friend/minister who felt “born again’ was enough_ but I should dump the unneeded “Mormon baggage”.

  5. February 20, 2010 at 12:32 am

    Kaimi, I love what you’ve written here. Your distinction between the heretic and the unconverted is especially interesting. I’m trying to decide whether or not I think it’s useful.

    I disagree with the seventeen-year-old Shawn that one cannot have a saving faith in Jesus and be a believing Mormon. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus, or Paul, or anyone else present a doctrinal litmus test for true faith. For evangelicals, at least, belief in Jesus is not intellectual assent to a set of propositions; it is trading a heart of stone for a heart of flesh, gaining a new life. That’s what it is to be born again; it’s a spiritual transformation. One becomes a child of God by new birth, by being born into a life that will never end. And that is conversion.

    For that reason, if a Mormon who had already had this experience decided to leave the LDS Church and become Lutheran, I wouldn’t consider that to be conversion at the deepest level. The bare minimum, for me (and for any evangelical, if you really pushed him/her on it), is gaining a new heart.

    So if I were speaking to a Catholic, I wouldn’t focus on her belief in a pope, or a male priesthood, or any number of things that I find to be inconsistent with Christianity as I understand it. Those things are peripheral to the real issue, the issue of whether or not she knows God, whether or not she’s had an experience with God that has transformed her life and the way she looks at absolutely everything. I may well believe her to hold heretical beliefs, but they will not keep her out of the Kingdom. And because that’s the case, I’m not sure the distinction you’ve made can be as helpful for evangelicals as it may be for Mormons.

  6. nasamomdele
    February 20, 2010 at 12:50 am

    Great post.

    I had a few thoughts:

    1) President Hinckley’s statement needs no watering down. It is bold, and it doesn’t marginalize others’ beliefs. It is an invitation to challenge one’s preconceptions in an effort to progress. That he believed that Mormonism is progress is no surprise.

    In fact, this is an invitation that is transferable to many issues, civil rights, SSM, foreigners, whatever. We are constantly put in situations that challenge our preconceptions, and it is a valid argument that by failing to simply undertake the process of confrontation, one fails to progress, learn, or “add to” their life.

    2) In that sense, I think that for this discussion to be satisfying in any way, both evangelicals and Mormons need to be able to disconnect, at least partially, from their cherished traditions and try and find truth. For evangelists, this might mean confronting trinity vs. separate but one, or any of the other issues mentioned above.

    I think this is a very natural conflict that evolves in everyone’s life. I had a very good friend invite me to a worship service with him- full band and everything. I was standing in a huge auditorium of singing, swaying college kids. I felt like I had gone through this phase of religion years earlier at EFY, but I was happy for them for experiencing this. Years later, my friend is with a more serious church, and we laugh about that worship service. And that auditorium is full of a new crop of kids. At some point, he experienced some dissonance with that culture of religion and moved to something that “added to it”.

  7. In NJ
    February 20, 2010 at 1:07 am

    “Bring all the good you have and let us add to it” is not the same as saying “you will not lose anything.” It seems that the author, or at least Evangelical Sarah are conflating the two. What Pres. Hinckley said is true. Interpretations that add to it sometimes are not. Good = truth, no? Therefore, if what you have is not true, then, no you cannot bring it with you.

  8. Drew
    February 20, 2010 at 1:52 am

    I think it’s unfortunate that some of Sarah’s friends taught her that she wouldn’t “lose anything” by joining the church. Obviously, conversion requires the changing of one’s beliefs, even if those beliefs were, at one point, cherished. They might also lose friends, family, cultural traditions, etc. Perhaps her friends didn’t mean it that way, but that’s obviously how Sarah received it. It may have been a case of her friends trying to intellectualize the conversion process rather than allowing the Spirit to do the work. By encouraging others to bring “good” while allowing us to add to it, President Hinckley might as well have said, “You bring with you all the [truth] that you have and let us add to it.” Sarah was right, her member friends were simply distorting the true spirit behind his statement. To become Mormon, especially from evangelical beginnings, would require dropping many beliefs that they had previously held dear.

    #5, I’ve been a Mormon my entire life in Alabama and I have met very few evangelicals who believe the way you described for “any evangelical, if you really pushed him/her on it”. I wish that were the case because, despite our differences, your statement was rather refreshing. I say “refreshing”, because my friends, being of various Christian denominations (many of whom considering themselves to be evangelical), would consider the lot of them to be saved regardless of faith, while I was considered to be left on the outside. That, despite the fact that I met all their “criteria” (no different from what you outlined above) for being saved. The common response you hear is, “Well, Mormons believe in a different Jesus than we do”, thus, ensuring our being kept out of the kingdom.

    Kaimi, I see the value of your post in distinguishing between the unconverted and the heretic, in terms of how we can better understand why individuals of other faiths view us or deal with us in the way that they do. I’m not sure, however, I see its value in changing how I deal with others, other than to understand and remind myself that, to them, I’m coming from way out in left field.

  9. February 20, 2010 at 2:46 am

    The problem is that it’s hard to know exactly what you are dealing with.

    The lines between the “unconverted” and the “heretic” are not always clear. Neither is a person’s commitment or disinterest in their existing theological framework always absolute.

    Hinckley’s remarks about “bring what you have and let us add to it” were general remarks, meant to address the general population. And when you consider that the vast majority of people on earth – even among those who affiliate formally with a religion – are probably more “unconverted” than “proud heretic.” The truth is, most people who affiliate with a religion don’t really know what their religion teaches or involves, and hold only a loose sort of loyalty to it. Any missionary can tell you this. The people who are only lukewarm about their affiliations are far-and-away in the majority out there – in almost ANY country.

    In Japan, everyone would say they were Buddhist (really just as a way to get us to quit bugging them more than anything else) – but if pressed, it became pretty clear that what they really meant was that they were Japanese, and they didn’t consider Mormonism a part of that. In Japan, if you solve the clash between Japanese culture and the LDS framework, you’ve pretty much cracked the code to that country, and I guarantee you – theological conflicts with Buddhism aren’t going to amount to anything most people care about.

    It’s like this in America as well. Most people have no idea what their religious affiliation even means in terms of beliefs. I’m pretty sure most American Protestants and Catholics don’t have the foggiest idea what the Trinity means. In fact, a huge amount of them are probably tri-theists and literally wouldn’t lose anything by signing onto Mormonism – at least with respect to the Trinity. I’ve got Methodist relatives who belief God the Father has a physical body. It never even occurred to them that their pastor might disagree.

    And many Americans don’t have enough loyalty to their own Protestant denominations to really get all that upset when told about the Apostasy. For many it’s just a shrug of the shoulders and a “yeah, I can see how that would have happened.”

    These are the people that Hinckley had in mind when he made those remarks. These are the people that the missionary program in America is geared towards. It’s a matter of reaching not only the most numerous demographic, but also the most profitable demographic in terms of proselyting numbers. The LDS Church is nothing if not efficient.

    So Kaimi, I think you have the wrong people in mind when you hold up Sarah as an example. She’s an excellent blogger, and makes some wonderful points in that post that I agree with a great deal. But I don’t think Hinckley’s quote is directed at her. Nor is it really directed at Bridget Jack Meyers, or Craig Blomberg, or Greg Johnson, or Robert Bowman, or Gerald McDermott, Craig Copan, Aaron Shaf., Paul Owen, James White, or any other Protestant religionist who takes their affiliation seriously enough to have an in-depth knowledge of it and a loyalty to each of its precepts.

    Those people are highly impressive in their own ways. But they are in the minority. Hugely outnumbered by people for whom Hinckley’s remarks really are just the honest truth.

    You’ve got to know your audience. You and I Kaimi as online “heretics” ourselves, have spent so much time talking to fellow heretics on the opposing side, that I would suggest it’s possible that we’ve lost perspective of what an average Methodist, or average Evangelical, or average Catholic, or even average Mormon looks like.

    If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    Great article. I found a lot of insight in it. But I think it really applies more to our fellow heretics than anyone else.

  10. February 20, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Seth, we disagree on many issues, but broadly speaking I think you’ve hit on something really important (9#). What we really have here is where the general Latter-day Saint approach, which works well with the unchurched population, comes into contact with highly passionate and knowledgeable individuals of another faith community. In my experience, Mormon approaches have a tendency to break down where ardent believers come into contact with committed Latter-day Saints, especially if such individuals show interest in Mormonism.

    People aren’t really sure what to say or how to approach these individuals. Often the result is less than favorable. Typically, the response has been for these two groups to avoid each other, or if they engage in friendly association, they avoid the topic of religion. If they do discuss religion, the approach tends to be less than positive, and has the potential to turn polemical. In all fairness, Mormons mostly come into contact with people who actually are interested in joining the Church and meet converts to Mormonism who join because they want to join. While becoming a member of the Church does entail sacrifices, those who join from other Christian backgrounds do not sacrifice theological beliefs to join the Church. If they didn’t believe the teachings of the LDS Church and fervently believed the teachings of their own church, generally speaking, they wouldn’t convert. Mormons often see converts from other faiths as validating the truth claims of Mormonism, but generally speaking, converts to Mormonism from other faiths are simply not representative of ardent believers of teachings in that faith, otherwise they wouldn’t be converting.

    What we see are Mormons struggling with how to relate with individuals who are deeply committed to their faith but, for whatever reason, come into contact with the Latter-day Saints. There are very few tools and resources available to facilitate meaningful dialogue between passionate Evangelicals and passionate Latter-day Saints. Hopefully, that is slowly changing.

    Seth, having said that, I really think you do a disservice to group all the Evangelicals above into one category without offering the caveat that they are not one unified group in terms of approaches with the Latter-day Saints, neither are they unified in terms of theology (in some cases they hold opposing theological views). As most readers probably have never heard of all these individuals, I have to point out that they differ radically in terms of their views on interfaith dialogue, mission, and approaches with Latter-day Saints. It really does a disservice to lump them all together as if they represent a unified group. Again, I know you are using them as an example of knowledgeable and passionate believers, but they disagree widely amongst themselves as to how they should relate to Latter-day Saints, and Latter-day Saint readers absolutely need to know that. If you want to turn Mormons away from dialogue with other Christian groups entirely, the sure way to do it is to lump all these individuals together as what Latter-day Saints can expect if they come into contact with Evangelicals.

  11. February 20, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Drew (#8),
    I think your friends in Alabama would still affirm my “bare minimum”; they just wouldn’t think one could be a believing Latter-day Saint and reach that bare minimum. If they think you’re having an experience with a different Jesus, then you’re automatically disqualified, in their minds, from being reborn by the real Jesus (until, that is, you renounce “Mormon Jesus” and embrace “Christian Jesus”).

    Seth R. (#9) and aquinas (#10),
    Your insights into Mormons being more equipped for talking with people of other faiths who aren’t very knowledgeable than people who are knowledgeable are fascinating. Thanks.

  12. cadams
    February 20, 2010 at 11:03 am

    OT: Recently after reading some of Orwell’s essays like “Politics and the English Language” and “Propaganda and Demotic Speech,” I came away very impressed with his ability to discern between the political lies in his generation, and how he strung together syllogistic phrases and beautiful English prose, in a thoughtful and meaningful way. Kaimi, I think your writing compares very well. It will never be famous because it’s not about highbrow subjects, but I hope you will republish your thoughts to a wider audience if the opportunity arises. I also enjoyed many of the comments as well. What would Orwell have been like if everyone could have published their comments to his?

  13. Timer
    February 20, 2010 at 11:10 am

    To become a Mormon (and to get a temple recommend), you have to believe in

    1. God
    2. Jesus Christ and the atonement
    3. The restoration

    That’s it. You can believe all of the things that Sarah mentions and still be a Mormon.

    Fortunately (for some of us) there is also no requirement that your beliefs be well-defined, logically consistent, and fully figured out. We’re not Unitarians, but we’re pretty tolerant of heretics (at least until they really start making trouble…)

  14. February 20, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Sarah, thank for your comment. I want to stress that it isn’t merely a question about being knowledgeable or informed, it’s also a question about a commitment and intensity of belief (Seth used the term loyalty), which sometimes will lead to acquisition of knowledge of one’s historical and theological roots, allowing for a more nuanced understanding and in turn heightening sensitivity to theological differences and distinctions.

    I think Kaimi’s use of the term “heretic” is very apropo because a heretic is someone who is passionate about particular beliefs (it’s not an absence of theological commitments), and historically speaking, heretics sacrificed their life for their beliefs, sometimes these beliefs were technical in nature from an outsiders perspective. Really did it matter whether the Holy Ghost “proceeded” from both the Father and the Son or just the Father and not the Son? The answer is yes, it really did matter to the individuals involved in that debate.

    Social scientists use the term “religiousity” and speak of a religiosity index, which may include the element of commitment. While the literature on affiliation switching is still forthcoming, people switch affiliations for a reason, and dissatisfaction with their current faith tradition is a key factor, and a low “commitment” to a particular theological worldview makes switching more likely to occur. I think Seth is absolutely right that there is wide range of degrees of theological commitments or sophistication among those with a preexistening religious “background” and merely self-identifying with a particular faith community is not a reliable indicia of sophisticated and nuanced theological commitments. So what I’m saying is that, generally speaking, when Latter-day Saints meet people who aren’t dissatisfied or spiritual seekers, and who are deeply committed to their faith tradition, such a person falls outside the typical investigator or potential convert model, and uncertainly ensues as to how to relate (and in some cases whether a relationship is even worth pursuing). The result is a kind of category confusion, except that in some cases the only categories available are convert or critic. If you don’t fit in to either of those categories, its uncharted territory. Perhaps that is a kind of oversimplified description but, even so, at the very least it could be a starting point for further discussion.

  15. Drew
    February 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Sarah (#11), maybe, and maybe not. I think many would fall into either category. And, likely, it depends a lot upon what part of the country you live in- different cultures, demographics, etc. I’m guessing that you’d find many more evangelicals out west who are open to mormons sharing a place with them in the kingdom, because they are far more familiar with our beliefs, morals, etc., than many evangelicals down South. Mormons, in Utah for example, often know very little about evangelicals. That, I believe, is through little fault of their own. They just aren’t in contact with that many. You mentioned the trump card (that is, “I know” such and such is true) that is used by many Mormons. It’s a cultural thing. I’ve never been the biggest fan of sharing a testimony in that way. It seems repetitious, and I feel there are far more effective ways to do it. That said, I believe the vast majority of Mormons use it with the best of intentions. Down here, a popular evangelical trump card is the “Mormon Jesus.” My experience (and I hope it’s clear I’m not lumping everyone into the same group) has been that many evangelicals believe mormons are going to hell because they (being evangelicals) believe that:

    1) We don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of mankind, and The Way to return to our Father.
    2) We don’t believe the Bible is the word of God.

    They’ll often state their “bare minimum” requirements of acceptance of these truths, as well as the change of heart showing our desire to serve and follow Christ. Often, when they find out that I believe the aforementioned to be true, they’ll say something like, “Really? You believe Jesus is the Savior, and the Son of God? And you believe the Bible is the word of God” I reply, “Yes.”…..”Well, you believe in a different Jesus.” Their trump card. Or they might change some of those “bare minimum” requirements, as in Kaimi’s experience with Shawn, until they find a difference. I’ve never really known how to respond to the “different Jesus” argument. Yes, we have some different beliefs about Jesus–those differences being ones that I love and cherish. Those differences, even though they weren’t part of the “bare minimum” to begin with, are too much, despite the fact that we believe the Son of Mary, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, is our Savior and that through his sacrifice we can enter into God’s rest. It’s like sometimes they will defend their preset beliefs that we’re hellbound, even after learning our beliefs concerning Christ and the Bible, by changing those bare minimums to suit their argument. It would hurt my feelings as a child, but now it doesn’t bother me at all because I understand that my own beliefs in a Restored Church, with the authority to act in Christ’s name, to, likewise, be threatening to individuals of other faiths, including evangelicals. I’ve just never known how to respond to that trump card that is the “mormon Jesus”, because I don’t believe mormons and evangelicals believe in a different Christ.

  16. February 20, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Great post, Kaimi. This is all about theological boundaries being used to define community, imo. Evangelicals do it, Catholics do it, everyone does it. For a long time Seventh Day Adventists were considered heretics by the Evangelical community; now for the most part they are embraced.

    There’s also the fascinating case of Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God. This church was long considered a heretical cult by evangelicals (and was included, along the LDS Church, JW’s, et. al. in the anti-cult literature the Christian press puts out). Armstrong died in the 80s, there were some theological revisions, and poof! almost overnight they became an accepted evangelical denomination.

    My point is, these boundaries do shift over time. Heretic today, brother tomorrow!

  17. Wilfried
    February 20, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    AS “In NJ” (7) made clear, one must understand what Pres. Hinckley meant. The broader context of the various interviews and talks in which he mentioned “all the good” that people can keep emphasizes moral, social and cultural “good”, rather than doctrinal truth:

    “We recognize the good in all people. We recognize the good in all churches, in their efforts to improve mankind and to teach principles that lead to good, stable, productive living. To people everywhere we simply say, ‘You bring with you all the good that you have, and let us add to it. That is the principle on which we work’ (interview with Philippines Television, 30 April 1996).

    In that way Pres. Hinckley constantly reached out to others, but never implied that people who join the Church could keep believing in doctrines that are incompatible with the Restored Gospel.

    In the mission field I have seen more than once to what kind of problems it can lead when, e.g., Catholic converts are unable to let go of uniquely Catholic doctrinal concepts. I don’t think it was ever implied that converts can keep some of their “truths”, perhaps in private or as part of memories, but not to preach or teach them in church lessons.

  18. February 20, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Thanks for your comments so far, everyone. I’m enjoying the comments, and I think that folks have made a lot of good points.

    Dave (1), that’s a good question. I suppose we should ask our EV interlocutors in this thread. :)

    Off the top of my head, I think that there’s likely to be a wide variation between churches, but that many churches would be likely to accept Catholics without specific repudiations. But then, I think that evangelicals (correct me if I’m wrong, folks) are likely not to see Catholics as real heretics.

    Bill (3)

    Thanks for the kind words. And from one heretic to another (grin), I always appreciate your comments. :)

    Bob (4)

    I think it’s true that there’s a wide degree of variation. As comments in this thread make clear, not everyone is as stringent as Shawn.

    More replies to come . . .

  19. February 20, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Sarah (5)

    “I’m trying to decide whether or not I think it’s useful.”

    Well, you know what they say, some things that are true are not very useful. :P

    “I disagree with the seventeen-year-old Shawn that one cannot have a saving faith in Jesus and be a believing Mormon. Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus, or Paul, or anyone else present a doctrinal litmus test for true faith. For evangelicals, at least, belief in Jesus is not intellectual assent to a set of propositions; it is trading a heart of stone for a heart of flesh, gaining a new life. That’s what it is to be born again; it’s a spiritual transformation. One becomes a child of God by new birth, by being born into a life that will never end. And that is conversion. . . . Those things are peripheral to the real issue, the issue of whether or not she knows God, whether or not she’s had an experience with God that has transformed her life and the way she looks at absolutely everything. I may well believe her to hold heretical beliefs, but they will not keep her out of the Kingdom.”

    I like this. I think it’s a strand of evangelical thought that comes out from time to time (see, e.g., Jack Meyers).

    It’s not the only strand I’ve seen; and I think that at least some evangelicals would disagree with it. Obviously Shawn did, though some of that may have been youthful zeal. More than that, my evangelical uncle has had a decade-plus of correspondence with the family along the same lines: we *must* renounce Mormonism or we *will* be damned. He’s a bit anti-social in some ways, and it’s not just Mormons, he harasses all sorts of people. I’m pretty sure that the Catholic relatives get it too, and my atheist/agnostic aunt definitely gets flak from him.

    So I wonder — how prevalent is each strand? What is the general Jack -Meyers/Shawn ratio in the EV population?

    Also, I’m intrigued by your comment that this is a particularly Mormon analysis. I guess it is in a sense; but then, what I’m trying to do here is to analyze and attempt to understand (from a Mormon perspective) a behavior that I usually see from evangelical interlocutors. So I’m *not* trying to put a particularly Mormon spin on it, instead I’m trying to understand the behavior on as objective a level as possible (and if I’m putting a peculiarly Mormon spin on it, I’m worried that my analysis is not going to be accurate in its discussion of potential motive).

    I guess I’m wondering on a broader level — if it’s not the heresy/repudiation issue, then why *do* a significant number of evangelical interlocutors seem to think that repudiating Mormonism is a necessary part of any Mormon accepting Jesus (but not a part of an atheist accepting Jesus, for instance)?

  20. February 20, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    aquinas (14),
    Thank you for correcting me; that distinction is important.

    Drew (15),
    I want to clarify that my belief that Mormons can be born again does not come from my believing that most Mormons have good morals, or are great people, or have some orthodox Christian beliefs (though I think those things are all true). It really has very little to do with Mormonism specifically, though there probably is a factor of familiarity with Mormons that plays into my willingness to make statements like the ones I’ve made. My point is that being born again is a matter of the heart, not a matter of good theology or good morals. So while there is probably an element of truth to your assessment about evangelicals out west as opposed to evangelicals in the South, I’m not sure I think there’s as strong a correlation between familiarity and Christian acceptance as you seem to be inferring.

    We evangelicals definitely have trump cards (trump cards that are far most distasteful to me than any LDS trump cards I’ve encountered, I might add). Trump cards are ugly no matter who they’re coming from. It’s a chore to work them out of my system.

    MikeInWeHo (16),
    With the Worldwide Church of God specifically, I’d like to clarify that evangelicals didn’t change theological boundaries to accept them. The WWCG changed its theology, and it’s now a distinctly evangelical body. You’re right that evangelical boundaries change over time; I just wouldn’t use that as an example of it.

  21. February 20, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    I can’t speak for Sarah, but there’s a very good reason I interpret Hinckley’s statement to mean that traditional Christians don’t have to give up anything to join Mormonism: because that’s how the Mormons in my life have used it. Mormons have very directly said to me, “So why don’t you become LDS? You can still keep all of your old beliefs. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.” Often they’ve used it in the context of the erroneous narrative that Mormons never tear down the beliefs of others, in contrast to us wicked evangelicals with our counter-cult literature and our temple square protesters. It’s not that Sarah and I have misunderstood Hinckley’s words, it’s that Mormons have.

    The other thing I would point out is that while it may be technically possible to believe in things like the Trinity and creation ex nihilo and be Mormon, “possible” and “welcome” are two different things. Being tolerated under the condition that I keep my heterodox beliefs to myself and never share them from the pulpit or as a Sunday school teacher sounds like a pretty miserable existence to me. Let’s face it: traditional evangelical beliefs in God are very unwelcome in LDS wards. You teach that our creeds are an abomination for a reason.

    Anyways, I think it’s a good post and I think there’s a huge difference between converting a fairly unreligious person and converting someone who’s passionately convicted of their current religion. Those two groups require very different approaches, and most Mormons are only prepared to reach out to the former.

  22. February 20, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    “It’s not the only strand I’ve seen; and I think that at least some evangelicals would disagree with it…So I wonder — how prevalent is each strand? What is the general Jack -Meyers/Shawn ratio in the EV population?”

    Good question. I live in Utah, where most of the evangelical churches seem to be somewhat on guard, so I’m not sure I have a good pulse on that anymore. In evangelical academia, I think the Jack Meyerses may outnumber the Shawns, but in general, maybe the Shawns outnumber the Jack Meyerses…I really don’t know. What I do know is that right now, my opinions are almost always in the minority among evangelicals with whom I speak, but when I go to Fuller Seminary in the fall, I don’t expect that to be the case at all.

    “I guess I’m wondering on a broader level — if it’s not the heresy/repudiation issue, then why *do* a significant number of evangelical interlocutors seem to think that repudiating Mormonism is a necessary part of any Mormon accepting Jesus (but not a part of an atheist accepting Jesus, for instance)?”

    I’ve been trying to figure this out for years. I think there are a lot of factors. Here are a few of my ideas…

    1. Evangelical Christianity is entrenched in modernism and is very, slowly unentrenching itself. This means that many contemporary evangelicals are overly concerned with rationality and have a high view of human ability to understand truth. For people who have this worldview, the message of Jesus is rational. It’s logically coherent, not just to God, but to people as well. Adding Mormon distinctives to Christianity sullies its purity and makes it sub-Christian. If Christianity is a set of logical theological truths, taking any of those truths away or adding anything that threatens them results in something other than Christianity. Most evangelicals have been raised with this kind of mindset, though it’s never stated in this way.

    2. If you admit that you’re wrong, it proves to us that we’re right. I find such thoughts welling up in my own heart, so I suspect that other people find the same ugliness in theirs. We may not even be aware that this is part of our motivation, but I’ve come to believe that it’s rarely absent. This is fear.

    3. We are genuinely concerned about aberrant beliefs. They’re barriers to intimacy (with God). Even if we don’t put it that way, if our hearts are anywhere close to really caring about yours, this is a factor. I passionately desire for every Mormon to fully embrace salvation by grace alone and to be absolutely firm on God’s being the only God in existence. At least part of my motivation for wanting this is factor #2, but it’s also that I really believe it would bring Mormons more freedom and joy to know God and redemption in this way. However, some of us forget that only God can judge the heart, that our judgments about the extent to which (what we consider to be) aberrant beliefs can keep someone from God are worthless.

  23. February 20, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    I think I should add a fourth:

    4. We’ve been taught that Mormons have a different Jesus, that Mormons will say anything to get us baptized, and that Mormons use the same words as we do but mean different things. We’ve been taught that Mormonism is a cult. We read books on new religious movements that tell us what Mormons really mean when they say x or y. We don’t even hear you when you speak; we hear our interpretation of what you’re saying.

  24. E
    February 20, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    Sarah, you’re explanation #1 is very enlightening and really helps clarify a lot of frustrating interactions I have experienced in the past with evangelicals. I am truly impressed with your insightfulness. Thanks for your contributions.

  25. Eric Boysen
    February 21, 2010 at 10:12 am

    I think the born again experience is at least in a way the generation of the fire in the belly that God demands of us as Christians. I have less fear for the soul of a committed Christian of any stripe, or even a committed Moslem, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. than for the uncommitted Mormon.

    I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (Rev 3:15-16)

  26. February 21, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Thanks for the clarification about the WWCG, Sarah. I knew that too but wasn’t clear in my original comment. The interesting question is really this: how much further would the LDS church have to mainstream before it starts to be accepted as a Christian denomination by evangelicals? (Quite a bit, imo)

    Your comments in #23 highlight how un-Christian the evangelical community has been toward their Mormon neighbors. Talk about bearing false witness! They could say “We have profound theological disagreements that leave the LDS church outside the boundaries of orthodox Christianity” but instead you get “Cult! Lies! Different Jesus! Run for your lives!”

    Anybody else here remember the late Walter Martin and his book “Kingdom Of The Cults” ? He was apoplectic, and set the tone for how evangelicals view other faith groups. Early editions included Roman Catholicism as a cult, as I recall. It keeps getting revised. Now the 7th Day Adventist and WWCG make the cut, and there’s more focus on Islam-as-cult. Odd book. It’s like an evangelical DSM.

  27. Eduard A. Erdtsieck
    February 21, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    We are living in a nation, whose Christianity is fading fast, overtaken by governance of the Unrighteous Mammon. What is the issue of the day; Should Mormons lower their values and become more accepting of a losing religious movement?

    My answer is NAY; Never! Why?

    The First Vision is an undenialible reality, as the actors in one of my favorite movie; “Dr. Zhivago”. Most of them are no longer among the living, yet I am sure they were living beings. I still enjoy watching them.

    When I first heard the Vision story of Joseph, I was a teen, then; I thought, Joseph does not waste a word. There was no burning bush, no finger writing on the wall. Just plain, straight and unadorned. My subsequent thought was; God must think He had something important to say by appearing unvarnished and in all His Glory.

    Through the years, I can say, God is not dead, but alive.

    Christianity is myopic, it cannot see further than Jesus, Christ. It has no way to explain, Why Jesus said to His disciple, just before He was arrested and put on trial: “tonight, I shall offend many”?

    Christianity is a booster for Jesus, Christ; but as a movement has no understanding what Jesus of Nazareth meant, when He said; If you have done it unto the least of these, your brethren, you have done it unto Me.

    GOD, yes; Jesus’ and my heavenly Father, is the Great Parent of the Universe and He looks upon the human family with fatherly care.

    Jesus of Nazareth promised, Father in heaven, that He would come down to proclaim the Laws, that makes heaven, a place for peace. He was cruxified

    Joseph Smith, Jr was assasinated for building 3 cities and bringing skilled European immigrants into the wilderness and then ran for President of the USA by appealing for tolerance, from his neighbors, for his budding faith.

    When the USA is about to be overrun by the workings of the Unrighteous Mammon, watering down what I belief is not in my or God’s interests.

  28. annegb
    February 21, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    I think:

    1. It’s not that big a leap from Mormonism to most of what CS Lewis says

    2. Seth’s right, President Hinckley was generalizing

    3. President Hinckley was a master at public relations and his statement was simply a really smart sound bite. Because, while it may have put off some people, it probably enticed others.

    4.We “damn” each other way too much, Mormons and non-Mormons alike. We presume to speak for God, who’s in and who’s out. We study and debate and make decisions and, I believe, have only glimpses into God’s reality.

    I think for most of us, things are going to work out just fine.

  29. Unrighteous Mammon
    February 21, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I’ve never heard of Dr. Zhivago, and I doubt that any of its so-called actors really ever existed. And I think that Mormons should *definitely* lower their values and become more accepting of a losing religious movement like the silly myopic evangelicals.

    And no matter what happens, remember, my minions are about to overrun the USA. We are like a boulder cut without hands out of a shark with a laser on its forehead. Mwahahaha!

  30. February 21, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    I would like to take this opportunity to announce that “mammon” is one of my favorite words because it sounds like “mammary.”

    Carry on.

  31. February 21, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Wow, that’s an awesome insight. And we all know that mammaries are evil. That explains the unrighteousness of mammon.

    It gives a whole new spin to the scripture: You cannot serve God and boobs.

    Also, it makes me very worried about Mammon overrunning the USA.

  32. February 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Ah Kaimi, as best I can tell, our government has been run by boobs for over a decade now.

  33. Eric Boysen
    February 21, 2010 at 6:09 pm


  34. Eduard A. Erdtsieck
    February 21, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Well, Kami, I am not sure of that. Ms. Jack Meyers, you have great insight in those things.

    We may not be far off in interpreting it this way.

    When I was a baby, I needed milk to grow stronger physically. As an adult I need money to increase my feeling of “entitlement” of the things of the world.

    Somewhere in the NT the Apostle Paul said it much better.

  35. Timer
    February 21, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    “Being tolerated under the condition that I keep my heterodox beliefs to myself and never share them from the pulpit or as a Sunday school teacher sounds like a pretty miserable existence to me.”

    Careful, Jack. You are describing the life of every Mormon blogger here. :)

  36. February 21, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Careful, Jack. You are describing the life of every Mormon blogger here.

    LOL, good one.

  37. February 21, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Bridget Jack Meyers and Timer, speaking truth to power.

  38. February 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    For what it’s worth, I had an investigator who was asked about polygamy in his baptismal interview. It didn’t bother him.

  39. February 22, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    For the record, I think Hinckley meant his remarks to mean “bring whatever TRUTH you have and let us add to it.” Implying of course, that you can leave your untruths at home.

    I don’t think his remarks were an invitation for people to attempt a mutant love child out of Five-Point Calvinism and the Gospel Principles manual.

    NOTE to ADMIN: (this is a corrected entry – feel free to delete the comment in moderation)

  40. February 23, 2010 at 7:23 am

    I agree generally about the difference between the approach between a heretic and unbeliever described here. When I was a Junior in High School I had a similar experience with a friend. It was very unsatisfying to both of us.

    As I have been thinking about this, I was reminded of a song I have been hearing in Primary, “I Know That My Savior Loves Me” (lyrics
    mp3). It sounds so similar to what your friend Shawn first described as the way to be saved.

    It is so simple and sweet. As each child puts their heart with these words they will gain a testimony of Jesus, and strengthen their personal relationship with Him. I am so happy that the Primary chose this song!

  41. Eduard A. Erdtsieck
    February 23, 2010 at 8:56 am

    I liked Gordon B. Hinckley, because he was not apologetic about the doctrines of Jesus, Christ; which were revealed through Joseph Smith, Jr. Hinckley never was. More often than not, Mormons are reticent and unsure of their own beliefs. That’s where we all began.

    He spoke with authority and knew details, which he sprinkled through his lectures like bread crumbs. My hand-brain coordinations was too slow to pick it all up. Mostly I wanted to listen, but then I thought, gee, I should have written it down.

    As for Unrighteous Mammon, #29; you are an interesting interlude to where we all are going. HaHa haha.

  42. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    February 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    While I respect Sarah’s right to affirm what she views as fundamental Christian beliefs, the doctrines of creation ex nihilo and the three-in-one shared substance, wholly impassive and unemotional God that were created by Saint Augustine and the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon, are clearly not things that Peter, Paul or John required people to believe before they could be baptized. The New Testament is pretty clear about the need to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the virgin born, resurrected Son of God and the atoning Savior, but there is no evidence that Jesus or the apostles taught people that they had to believe that God created time and space from nothing (which would have been contrary to the Hebrew words of Genesis 1), or that Jesus and his Father were fundamentally a single being (which is simply contradicted by Jesus’ intercessory prayer in John 17). How the plain word of John 3:16 about God’s infinite love is reconciled with the creedal insistence that one cannot be a Christian if you think God feels emotions, is still a mystery to me.

    The great virtue of getting a basic education in the Greek philosophers whose work underlies European culture is to see the real source of those non-biblical beliefs that were incorporated into Christianity in an effort to make it intelligible to the Greek-speaking non-Christians of the Roman Empire. The impassive, unitary God of the creeds is right there in Aristotle and Neo-Platonism, and clearly not in the Gospels, the Acts, or the Epistles. The unmoved mover who sets time and matter in motion is a construct of clever Greeks, not of Jehovah-worshipping Jews.

    The Evangelical theologians who support the Openness of God see the impassive god as a false idea that has no Biblical legitimacy. They see the Trinity not as a unitary being, but as a society whose members relate to each other in a love that humans are called to emulate. If someone is an Evangelical Christian who believes those things about God, he or she can take those beliefs with them into Mormonism.

    So, there is no question that people who are educated members of the Catholic Church and many other denominations are going to have to leave behind certain beliefs if they accept the message that Joseph Smith brought from God. But they will not lose any TRUTHS, including all of the truth in the Bible about the Savior.

  43. February 23, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    #42 RTS ~ I don’t believe that Sarah ever claimed that one can only be a Christian if one believes in the Trinity or creation ex nihilo. In fact, I would say that her #5 says quite the opposite.

    What she said was that one cannot be Mormon and believe in those things, so those are beliefs she would lose if she converted. And functionally, I still think that’s pretty true.

    As to the rest of your comment, are you seriously trying to play the old “Greek philosophy corrupted your God” canard? Because coming from Mormons that’s always so . . . yawn.

  44. Bob
    February 23, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    #42: Raymond, please don’t make me choose between my Bible Jews and the Greek thinkers. I want the best of both, and I think can have that.

  45. February 23, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Raymond Takashi Swenson (42),
    Ditto what Jack (43) said; I don’t think one needs to believe those things to be a Christian. In fact, I don’t even believe half the stuff you attribute to mainstream Christianity (I believe that God has emotions, and I don’t believe God is impassible in the way you seem to be using the word).

    And this is tangential, but…I don’t have a problem with social trinitarianism, but it’s still different from the Mormon Godhead (as I hear it most often discussed); social trinitarians affirm a single God in existence. Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit are a single God. Not one in purpose; one God.

  46. Cameron Nielsen
    February 24, 2010 at 1:01 am

    @39 –
    “For the record, I think Hinckley meant his remarks to mean “bring whatever TRUTH you have and let us add to it.” Implying of course, that you can leave your untruths at home.

    I don’t think his remarks were an invitation for people to attempt a mutant love child out of Five-Point Calvinism and the Gospel Principles manual.”

    I laughed out loud. My sentiments exactly.

  47. February 24, 2010 at 8:17 am


    Isn’t it the “adding” that makes us heretics in their view?

    IMO, we should definitely be born again, no quotes needed. But it is more than just accepting Jesus as my Savior, it means receiving baptism and confirmation — and thereafter being sanctified by the Spirit. They didn’t put 3 Ne 27:20 on the cover of Preach My Gospel by accident.

  48. February 24, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Pres. Hinckley’s comment goes to Brigham Young comments saying that all truth is Mormonism. That we can accept truth from any source. I certainly hold to that principle.

  49. February 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    The sentiment actually dates right back to Joseph Smith. If the selection from the HC can be believed, anyway: “we don’t ask people to throw away any good they have got; we only ask them to come and get more.” (HC 5:259).

  50. March 5, 2010 at 10:48 am

    These are the people that Hinckley had in mind when he made those remarks. These are the people that the missionary program in America is geared towards. It’s a matter of reaching not only the most numerous demographic, but also the most profitable demographic in terms of proselyting numbers. The LDS Church is nothing if not efficient.

    “Proselyting” is not a word.

Comments are closed.