There are many on the internet publishing information about our faith, often not very flattering. Some of that information is faith-shaking. But where does it cross the line into being “anti-Mormon”? Some would say that anyone who says anything that is not uplifting or faith promoting is anti-Mormon, but that seems like a pretty low bar. I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who meets that standard. I’ve certainly heard talks at General Conference that didn’t meet that standard. What is uplifting to one person is downright depressing to another!
So, who are these anti-Mormons? Here are some possible divisions:
- Outsider critics. Growing up in Pennsylvania, anti-Mormon literature was ubiquitous. I used to take delight in writing rebuttals in the margins of these treatises so the target audience would have the benefit of my teen Mormon wisdom. It seemed quite clear to me that these materials were designed to protect the flocks (as well as the payroll) of local ministers. These materials were a mix of unsavory truths, speculation, and sensationalist conclusions. A quick search today revealed a $65 anti-Mormon, er “witness” kit that someone with a lot of time on their hands and $65 to burn can use to argue with and likely confuse their Mormons neighbors. Fun at block parties, I’m sure.
- Insider critics. I never considered the idea that insider criticism could be labelled “anti-Mormon” until the Bloggernacle really took off. Growing up in a ward run mostly by college professors, I considered cultural debate to be a fundamental aspect of the culture; after all, both Jesus and Joseph Smith got their start by being critical of existing religions and their cultures. I do think insider critics can cross the line if they present as fact what is speculation. But are insider critics a threat to the organization or just to those who love the very things they dislike? One person’s bathwater is another person’s baby.
Perhaps it’s easier to identify anti-Mormons based on their intentions:
- Seeking to destroy the church vs. seeking change to improve the church. Usually when I’ve heard the term “anti-Mormon” it has been to describe those who wish the church ill, who would like to see it destroyed, who think it is a force for evil or that it is deceptive and harmful. But some (both insiders and ex-Mormons) do in fact have valid criticisms of our culture, our history and how it is portrayed, and even some of the byproducts of our doctrines. Where is the line crossed between lobbying for change that one believes will make the church more successful and seeking to destroy the church? Is all ark-steadying going too far? That presupposes that leaders only take direction from God, not from members, even when changes sought are cultural rather than doctrinal. I suppose it’s like dieting. Do you still love the body and want it to be healthy or are you at war with the body, starving what you hate?
- Persuading people to leave vs. supporting belief. Is it ever appropriate to encourage someone to leave the church? Some would advise that if it’s a toxic influence in your life because of your own individual circumstances, you should move on. Some orthodox members would say that people who don’t like it should leave it. Where is the line? For me, it’s at the point where critics feel belief in the church is a character weakness? Yet, there are those who restrict how belief looks and sounds to the point that they limit how many people can belong. Personally, I found Paul Toscano’s argument compelling, that more people have left the church because of its leaders than because of anything he (as a detractor) said. It’s one reason that the Book of Mormon cautions us about the weaknesses of leaders being a stumblingblock. The only people who have no impact on others are the ones who say and do nothing, and our words and actions can have unintended consequences.
- Telling ugly truths vs. making specious conclusions. There are sites that would like to expose the white-washed version of history as a conspiratorial cover-up. In so doing, these sites frequently make the same errors of the white-washers. They make unfounded conclusions based on scant evidence. They just do it in the opposite direction. They are anti-apologists, but are they anti-Mormons? Are they anti-Mormon if what they say is true but not the party line? Are they anti-Mormon if they don’t know that their speculations are not necessarily accurate? If so, can’t that same criticism be leveled at believers who have unexamined assumptions that are based on wrong information?
Or perhaps we should ascertain who is an anti-Mormon by what they hope to gain from sharing their views:
- Anger over personal wrongs. There are those who have been personally wronged (often by poor local handling of a sensitive matter), and others who inaccurately perceive they were wronged (including some with mental health concerns). Is it being anti-Mormon to share those grievances in a public forum when private handling has failed these individuals? Do they want to put others on their guard? Do they want to call attention to abuses? To me, this falls into the “collateral damage” category. A large organization like the church will fail some individuals some of the time. If their wrongs are not effectively redressed in a discreet manner, their version will come out somewhere, and it may not be pretty.
- The so-called three “enemies” of the church: homosexuals, feminists, and intellectuals. The downside of labelling these groups anti-Mormon is that there is a history of them not being treated very well in the church so they have some legitimate grievances. Additionally, belonging to these three groups is more of an innate characteristic rather than a choice, and all three groups operate with some disadvantage or stigma within church culture. The internet provides a soft power alternative for those who have little social power in the church. Is it better to be an advocate for others (e.g. a man who is a feminist, a heterosexual who supports the GLBT community) to ensure one is not merely acting in self-interest? Who advocates for the outcasts of our culture?
My own view is that intentions are what makes someone anti-Mormon.
Luke 9:50: “for he that is not against us is for us.”
An anti-Mormon believes that being Mormon is foolish or bad, that everyone would be better off without it. Because of this belief, they seek to bring it down. They would encourage all members to leave and discourage non-members from converting. Those who seek to improve it through change, even if they are critical in the process, even if they have personally left it, are not anti-Mormon in my opinion – even if an outcome is that some people do take their information as justification to leave the church. Frankly, many also leave due to orthodox opinions shared at church, and nobody is taking those folks to task over it as far as I can see. How do you see it?
- Do intentions matter or are outcomes more important?
- Is it anti-Mormon if someone shakes people’s faith when they were just trying to improve matters or share information that is accurate?
- Is it anti-Mormon if someone wants changes that are positive for the disenfranchized but negative for others?
*It’s deja vu all over again. This post was originally posted at BCC. It has been slightly edited for our Wheat & Tares audience. 🙂
There is no such thing as bad publicity! The exception of course is when the bad publicity happens to be true! This is the thorny problem the church faces. The church and members certainly aren’t harmed by accusations that Mormons have horns!
Seeking to destroy the church vs. seeking change to improve the church. I think this is the line and I think the church agrees or there would be a flood of Bloggernacle related disciplinary councils. Of course improvement means change and change threatens many.
The church has changed, is changing and will continue to change or it will experience a contraction in membership. It has already reached market saturation in mature areas and is only growing in newer markets. As a result criticism based in truth that leads to change is healthy and supportive and will provide opportunity the church to continue to grow. The church’s constructive critics are actually it’s friends even if they happen to be intellectuals, feminists or gays.
Anti-Mormons have always held a special place in my heart since I joined the Church. I was exposed to them very early on and I did a lot of research on their claims.
I do think that those professionals of yesteryear, the Ed Deckers, Walter Martins, Sandra Tanners and the others are pretty passe at this point. The Internet has over taken their usefulness. I am sure some of them are still out of the Church circuit, earning their living as before.
And while the Church doctrine is still at the forefront of disputes with the Churches, the ready access to many disgruntled members (ex-members) has made the disputes more personal and more about so-called damage to individuals rather than doctrine.
So I don’t know if I would classify that trend as Anti-Mormon because in some cases, it is real members making comments. I suppose there are some who would consider that Anti-Mormon, but I don’t think so.
I agree that the outsider critics are just protecting the fold. They have no idea what to criticize to make Mormons worry. They’re constantly working from the wrong premise (Biblical innerancy)or just making criticisms that wouldn’t matter to most Mormons.
I’ve never been sure why some people viewed anti-Mormon literature as so terrifying myself, though I have heard and seen the sentiment expressed. Back when I was 10, my school teacher attempted to persuade me that my religion was untrue. It strikes me now, that when I said I’d my Bible into school, and did exactly that (bring my Bible, not Book of Mormon) he was probably quite surprised, both that it was a Bible, and that it was my own personal copy. I wasn’t a communicative child, so didn’t say anything to my parents. However the eldest of my brothers had the same teacher when he was 8, and did tell my parents that the teacher was telling him his religion was wrong. My parents simply said that this was because the teacher was concerned about him, but was in this case wrong, and didn’t really need to worry. My brother was happy with that. When I was 16 & 17, I used to go along to CU meetings at VI form college. My form tutor would often be present – he was a Born Again, and although not so outspoken as my earlier teacher, did manage to make known his concern.
I attended University just opposite the Hyde Park Chapel in London, so there were anti-Mormon campaigns on campus from time to time. The chaplains and CU knew me, and were all very pleasant. I got to see the Godmakers film (organised by the Methodist chaplain I think, he was there anyway, and was concerned to make sure I was okay afterwards) and also attended a ‘truth about Mormons and JWs’ meeting organised by the CU, which was a bit of let-down, presumably because the guest speaker had been told I was there, and didn’t really say anything much at all about Mormons or JWs. The CU student president was a great guy and very respectful. The published books I came across were all rather feeble.
Nothing to match the vitriol sometimes expressed on the blogs from members, disaffected or not so disaffected, I’ve found. Got to vent that frustration somewhere perhaps?
1. Intentions do matter. My parents judged the teacher by his intentions. I suppose they could have made trouble for him if they’d been so inclined.
2. I don’t think so. Aren’t we supposed to be developing that strong faith that will withstand storms etc? What kind of missionaries are we if we can’t have an honest discussion about the facts, be that with members or non-members? If we’re going out there to tell others the good news, then we’re going to hear it from someone eventually. Better a member maybe?
3. What kind of changes did you have in mind? I can’t, off-hand, think of any that would be positive for the disenfranchised, whilst at the same time being negative for others.
Hawk – I agree with your simple definition of an “Anti” as being one of intention. Some are merely disaffected persons who lash out of out bitterness or feelings of rejection. Others are, as you pointed out, competitors that feel threatened. Then there are those who feel that WE are the ones who err and deem it their “mission” to save us from ourselves.
From within…hence the name of this Blog (W&T). It’s true that there are the proverbial wolves in sheep’s attire. But we have to be careful in guarding ourselves from hidden wild canines. I was at first alarmed by the labeling of homosexuals, feminists, and intellectuals as “enemies” of the Church. True, some may have apostatized and declared themselves to be enemies; but they are NOT our “Enemies” merely because they dissent or may have mistaken ideas. Else, we may as well have a God that responds much like the “deity” that objected to Captain Kirk’s question about WHY “Gawd” needs a starship…with lightning bolts!
It is NOT “anti” to have an honest discussion about even the thornier issues. Nor should we get our G’s in a twist if we can only agree to disagree on some things. I’ve disagreed with you, with Jeff Spector, with Sen. Reid of Nevada, and yet I would object vehemently to anyone presuming to judge the faithfulness of you all (there are others, omitted for brevity) because we don’t agree on politics or social issues. I’m not so arrogant as to presume the infallibility of MY opinions. Therefore, I’m a bit careful about labeling anyone as “anti”…I’ll let the person do it for themselves if they so choose.
This is a murky area.
Faith-promoting discussions are easy – those take place week after week in Church, different meetings, Church publications, etc.
And clearly anti-Mormon sources are somewhat easy as well – those people/organizations who are very obviously and truly “anti-Mormon”. But this gets a bit more grey. In a recent discussion on the Pope, his resignation was dismissed as not a big deal, as he is nothing more than a “figurehead”. We spend millions and millions, and send out a force of tens of thousands of people to convince Catholics and Baptists and others that they are “wrong”. We do it under the assumption that we are “right” or “more correct”, but we are still talking against their leaders and their beliefs and their traditions.
We do this without batting an eye – yet if someone does the same to us – we call them “anti-Mormon”. Does that mean our missionary force is “anti-Catholic” or “anti-Baptist” or “anti-Hindu” or whatever?
And for the third area – members IN the Church who talk about various “non-faith-promoting” topics – it is a grey area as well.
For many people, it provides validation. They realize that they are not alone. They realize that many members might feel the same way as them, yet still be valid and contributing members. It gives them the strength and justification to go forward as a part of the Church, retaining their concerns.
For others, it goes the other direction. Sometimes it may be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. They may not be able to reconcile it.
We could STOP discussions out of concern for the second group, but what harm could this potentially cause the first group? Ultimately, if the gospel is to have power, it needs to be able to stand on its own and withstand any scrutiny.
Just my opinion.
Mike S – “are we anti-Catholic, anti-Hindu or whatever?” I think we can frame missionary discussions in an additive manner rather than subtracting (as Joseph Smith said “treasuring up the good of other faiths”), but ultimately, yes, our missionary efforts are still saying “that stuff, as good as it is, isn’t enough.” And maybe that’s anti-those-other-faiths on some level.
But we can believe those religions are edifying, that they make good people better, that they enrich the world’s morality by providing positive guidance and community. You can believe yours is the best without believing others are all evil.
Certainly Bruce McConkie was anti-Catholic. To me, that wasn’t proper or right. He was uncharitable toward the Catholic church. He was offensive in his views and overlooked the positive influence of Catholicism in people’s lives.
Seminary instructors and Sunday School teachers ripped Catholics as belonging to the G&A Church for generations, in part based on McConkie’s teachings and others. I shudder when remembering as missionaries the sacreligous poses we would strike within the confessionals of great cathedrals. I am terribly embarrassed and remorseful for having participated. I could cite so many other examples. When we sow the wind, we reap …..
#8 – And the “Conk” was castigated by David O McKay et. al for some of the things he wrote in the first version of “Mormon Doctrine”, Catholic-bashing included. I served in the Italy Rome Mission back in the 80’s. We had it drilled into us over and over that the shape of the Italian “boot” notwithstanding, we elders of Zion were NOT working on the “Devil’s Doorstep”. And I can tell you that though the Italians, and also the huge diverse group (for example, we had a group of Russian emigres in our district) of “fur-ren-ners”, are a very interesting lot, it does not seem that the Adversary had any particular foothold on that corner of the world as opposed to anywhere else. Back then, we thought it’d be wonderful IF a temple were to be built about dear ol’ Roma…ta dah!
Bill Maher is on HBO.
@7: The “concern for the second group” thing implies that staying in the LDS church is always, and for all people, the healthiest choice. And the fact that most LDS church members appear to believe this, and are encouraged to believe this, is the biggest thing colouring this discussion.
That’s why you can have all those missionaries going out and tearing down others’ faith — “oh but we’re just adding to it by saying that they’ve got everything wrong, especially about gays” — and Sunday School teachers saying that Catholicism is the Great and Abominable church and that black people bear the curse of Cain, and other stuff I heard in church in the last decade, and not see yourselves as anti-anything.
No, the people who get upset about this — whether they’re Mormons or not — are the ones who are at fault. They’re “disgruntled,” they were “offended,” and if only we had some way to better resolve their issues, i.e. make them be quiet. Because hurting people isn’t a crime, if you do it in an approved Mormon way … only speaking up about how you’ve been hurt.
The LDS church’s values have a lot in common with abuse culture and rape culture.
It’s interesting that all of your potential categories of intention are about wanting to persuade people to leave or stay. What about those who don’t believe and simply find the topic of Mormonism interesting to discuss? Unless their remarks are 100% praise for the wonderfulness of Mormonism, they will also be called “anti-Mormon”.
I think this term has been so consistently abused to encourage the faithful to fear and misinterpret any and all criticism that it should be rejected entirely, or simply reserved for people who explicitly self-identify as “anti-Mormon”.
Chanson – personally, I would agree that folks like Jan Shipps (she fits the description you gave) are neither anti-Mormon nor really pro-Mormon. I think there are plenty within the church who would think she and those like her are “dry” Mormons (lacking only baptism in their minds). The term “anti-Mormon” itself is what makes it all a leave or stay dichotomy. If you are anti- something you are against it, therefore, you fight it, etc. But if we avoid terms like this, we avoid false dichotomies. My point in the OP is that very few people are truly “anti-.”
HawkChick, I like to also distinguish between “Antis” versus those that merely have theological differences and also former members.
Someone whose religious viewpoint is not the LDS one isn’t necessarily AGAINST “us”, they are simply worshiping “Gawd” (or Baal, or Allah, or the lawn Gnome, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster…) IAW their conscience. Can’t fault them for that. Likewise with someone whom for whatever reason has disassociated themselves from the Church. If they don’t have a testimony, then what good to themselves or the body of the Church is their nominal membership anyway? If they want to leave, let them go in peace.
Where someone becomes “anti” is more or less picking a fight with the Church itself or whatever member(s) have, in their minds, earned their ire. Often the reasons are as much personal as they are theological. They can leave the Church, but they can’t leave it alone. At minimum, it would seem that these types have unresolved issues and are frustrated by the usual restrictions of genteel society. The best way to deal with them, if they will allow it, is to not give them what they want most…an audience.
There is a difference between stating your conviction and tearing others down. I think it is totally reasonable and fair to state the LDS church is the one true church. I happen to believe this. I sometimes make the mistake, as I did in an earlier post, of pointing out that I feel other religions are wrong. This is fine for God to state this, as he did to Joseph Smith, as he is the author of all truth. He has that right, I do not.
Likewise, I think it is fair to state marriage should be between one man and one woman, which I believe. With this said, we don’t need to demonize those with same gender attractive. The right course of action is to state our belief and hold our ground. We don’t need to demean or put others down, even when they start throwing stones at us for holding our ground.
It is also fair to believe what God told Joseph in the grove about other faiths; and, what the prophet Nephi taught about any faith that is not the Lamb of God.
Other religions have bashed the Catholic church in the past and continue to do so today. The LDS church is not the only religion to attack the Catholic church. Easy to Google this information. If the LDS church leaders used the same tactics that other religious leaders and their members use against the church to put the church down etc. there would be a major outcry by those religions. Imagine if LDS people stood outside of buildings and event of other religions – with signs calling them all sorts of names (like they do to the LDS) – the LDS would be arrested, it would be all over the media, and there would be all sorts of demands for the LDS to “cease and desist”.
There are over 700 anti-cult “ministries” (anti-Mormon) in the United States alone. They are non-profit and make money tearing the LDS church down and spreading false and inflammatory information. Some of them attack other religions but not to the degree with which they go after the LDS church.