To the Editor:
Your correspondent William Fisher has written a constructive response to my recent letter about religion and politics, which deserves an explanatory reply.
To begin with, he has overlooked one important word in my letter — “among.” I said that the Mormon notions I cited were “among their beliefs” — thereby recognizing (though not stating) that there were others of a more familiar nature. No doubt adherents can make a strong case for the virtues of Mormonism. I readily acknowledge that they share with Christians general beliefs in God, Jesus, the Bible, salvation, eternal life, and other basic doctrines — though specific interpretations of these vary widely. But “the devil is in the details,” and to these we must also give attention.
It is natural that encyclopedias, needing to be concise, tend to present only the positive and widely accepted aspects of a topic. It is also understandable that websites and promotional materials, seeking to be enticing, tend to gloss over or ignore entirely elements they would rather not be known. For these reasons, my summary of some Mormon teachings focused on the latter kind, and drew primarily on original sources.
The sentences in what Mr. Fisher calls a “mishmash” are condensations of paragraphs in the following Mormon documents: Foreword to the Book of Mormon; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith by Joseph Fielding Smith; Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints; writings of Lorenzo Snow, Mormon president, 1898-1901; Sermon of Brigham Young, Deseret News, June 18, 1873; Journal of Discourses of Brigham Young; and Doctrine and Covenant Stories, a picture book for Mormon children (page references available on request). The only non-Mormon sources used were denominational pamphlets about Mormonism, published, no doubt, to warn their adherents against the tactics of Mormon home visitations.
Not being a scholar in these matters, I have been greatly helped in identifying these teachings and their sources by a friend and retired deacon in Florida who has researched them more fully than I.
The Bible, the Quran, and the Book of Mormon all contain both uplifting and less savory elements — as do the religions they inform. The Mormon website presents the positive side of its religion, but makes no mention of the aspects described in my letter. Hence, many may not even know of them.
However, adherents, supporters, and inquirers of any faith need to be aware of and acknowledge its “feet of clay” — and then decide whether the assets outweigh the liabilities. The intent of my letter was to point out the inconsistency of making fallacious charges about Obama’s religion while ignoring the more bizarre aspects of Romney’s. I don’t want to let people ignore the latter, or pretend they don’t exist, by just looking at the glossy print materials and website presentations.
For example, the Mormon website proudly asserts that the “Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints,” by virtue of its name, is a “Christian Church.” However, its name is not to be found in the list of 37 member denominations of the National Council of Churches, or the 349 member churches of the World Council of Churches, or the 12 members and 109 associates of the World Evangelical Alliance. Instead, they energetically seek to win people away from those churches and into their own. Within the community of Christian churches, this practice is considered unethical and is colloquially labeled “sheep-stealing.” (A congregation I once served was gravely upset by having some of our faithful members persuaded by home visits of Mormon missionaries to leave us and join their movement.)
I am sorry if some were offended by my letter. I only sought to get a fuller picture before us.