Inasmuch As Ye Have Done It Unto One of the Least of These My Brethren, It Matters Not to Me

by Johnny Townsend

Mormons (and others claiming to be Christian) seem to routinely ignore Matthew 25:40, one of the most profound statements from the New Testament. No one is perfect, and human nature is what it is, but it seems many people are able to ignore this verse without feeling the slightest bit guilty about it. Mormons, of course, are good at feeling guilty for all the many things they’re supposed to do yet often cannot, but they don’t appear stressed over this central point. In fact, they almost seem to glory in their disregard for “the least of these.”

Is it because of the wiggle room in the statement? When people do or say things that make life harder for addicts, do they say, “Well, that verse doesn’t apply here. Jesus would never be an addict”? When they ban gays from marrying, do they say, “That verse doesn’t apply. Jesus would never be gay”? When they ignore homeless people, do they say, “That doesn’t apply. Jesus would never be a bum who couldn’t hold a job”? When they refuse to guarantee health care, do they say, “That verse doesn’t apply. Jesus could always just heal himself”?

There’s no need to be compassionate to those who need medical marijuana. Jesus would never use marijuana. There’s no need to be understanding of doubters. Jesus never would have doubted. There’s no need to stop shunning ex-Mormons. Jesus would never have left the Church. It seems easy to justify any oppression or lack of compassion for all those people we don’t like because the verse doesn’t really apply. Jesus would never be any of these horrible, lazy, unrighteous people, so Mormons (and other Christians) simply can’t make themselves treat these “others” appropriately. They would never treat Jesus badly, of course, but these other people actually deserve to be treated badly because they’re nothing like Jesus.

If your ward chorister was anything like mine, when he or she directed the congregation to sing “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief,” you were forced to sing every last verse. (I don’t even need to tell you how many verses there are, do I? You know.) And what do we learn from that hymn?

We must feed the hungry without asking anything in return.
We must provide water to those who thirst without asking anything in return.
We must help the homeless without asking anything in return.
We must provide medical care without asking anything in return.
We must be compassionate to those in prison without asking anything in return.

So where is that wiggle room now? Poor Blacks in Flint, Michigan are the Savior. People whose water is polluted by fracking are the Savior. People who can’t afford to pay their heating bill are the Savior. Homeless people who disgust you are the Savior. Syrian refugees are the Savior. Palestinians are the Savior. Roma “gypsies” are the Savior. Climate change refugees are the Savior. That crazy person ranting on the bus is the Savior.

President Nelson and the rest of the LDS leadership need to speak plainly and frequently on the need for Mormons to help these specific people so the members aren’t able to emotionally wiggle out of their moral obligation to help the suffering.

Until they do, the vast majority of members of the Church will continue to feel justified not only in refusing to help but also in heaping additional oppression onto these groups.

Do LDS leaders think that’s really what the Savior would have wanted? Are they telling us that the teachings of Jesus from the New Testament are no longer relevant? Is the Jesus we all studied while growing up outdated?

Many people already think Mormons are not Christians. If they’re right, perhaps it’s time to update the name of the Church to something more accurate.

Is “The Church of If You Need Help You’re Clearly Not Worthy of Being Helped by Latter-day Saints” too bulky?

Well, I’m sure with the direct conduit to Jesus 2.0 (New and Improved!) which LDS General Authorities enjoy, they can come up with something better.

My most bizarre interfaith interaction

This is something that happened to me when I was about 11 years old, and it has stuck with me all these years because it was just so dang weird. As you can tell from the title, I do not mean to imply that this is at all typical of interactions between Mormons and (non-Mormon) Christians.

Back when I was 8 or 9, the movie Grease with Olivia Newton-John was the coolest thing! My favorite cousin — a devout Mormon about my age — loved the film. We all sang to the record together when our two families visited. I think that’s why my parents didn’t really have a problem with the film — it was a fave with other trusted Mormon family members. And — while we were very active Mormons, and pretty strict — we were far from the strictest Mormons in the ward. My parents were strict but flexible.

Anyway, when we moved to Minnesota, a Christian girl from my neighborhood quickly became my best friend. Her family was stricter than mine. She wore skirts to school and was forbidden from wearing jeans (specifically “double-seam pants”). I’ve never met anyone before or since who had that particular restriction.

Sadly, it wasn’t long before another Christian girl moved into the neighborhood. I’m not sure whether they went to the same church, but the new new girl was quickly BFF (to use an anachronism) with my best friend — whereas with me, we had kind of a tolerating-each-other standoff.

One day I had my two friends over for a slumber party. Yes, in those days, that was totally typical for Mormon kids. In those days, there wasn’t even a whisper of a hint that slumber parties were something good Mormon kids should avoid.

One of the components of an early-80’s slumber party was renting a VHS film. I don’t recall whether my friends came along with me to “Mr. Movies” where the film was selected, but the film for the evening was Grease. And we all watched it without the slightest indication that anything was amiss. We then spent the rest of the night playing board-games and dress-up, as was the custom of the time.

The next school day, my two friends walked up to me together during recess. They explained to me — with much gravity — that if ever I were to throw a party again where the film Grease would be shown, then I should tell them, so that their moms could come pick them up and take them home.

This was, sincerely, one of the weirdest things anyone has ever said to me in my life. Because of course I told them the film was Grease before I put it in and we all watched it. And how insulting of them to imply that — if they had objected to watching it (which they didn’t) — that I would have insisted on putting it in, and they would have had to call their respective mothers to be driven three blocks home, and I would have watched it alone.

But the coda of the story was even more bizarre!!

They then told me that next time I should show them a more wholesome movie, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. This stuck with me because it was just so random. I mean, I had never seen this film (still haven’t), but I’d heard of it, and naturally I would have been fine with selecting that as the film of the evening — if they’d have suggested it.

It was very clear that they’d gone home and told their mothers that they’d watched Grease, and then they came to school and recited to me wholesale exactly whatever nonsense their mothers had said to them about it — without attempting to filter it through their own brains in the slightest.

Needless to say, one corner was soon cut from this friendship triangle. (I’ll give you one guess who it was…)

This whole story came back to me recently when I learned that — not only is the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers a story of forcibly abducting women and holding them against their will — it actually has a catchy song about the joys of rape:

As questionable as the film Grease is, it absolutely floors me anew to realize that those strict Christian parents found the above to be more appropriate fare for their 11-year-old daughters!!!!

Jesus Repositioned

In the 1970’s for reasons yet unexplained the Mormon Church suddenly found itself under scrutiny by mainline Protestant denominations. The basic charge was that the Mormon religion is a non-Christian cult. The Mormon’s response was to reposition Jesus in the Mormon display case. There emerged a Jesus consciousness that was unlike anything that had ever existed in the Mormon Church. With the repositioning of Jesus the Churched moved from stage one Jesus to a stage two Jesus.

From the very beginning the role of Jesus has been obscure in the LDs Church. In the officially approved First Vision account God the Father, Elohim, introduced Jesus, Jehovah, telling Joseph to “hear Him.” Jesus took over then. In every way it should be apparent that Jesus is the man. He is the God of the Old Testament to whom the people prayed and who answered their prayers. He is the God of the Book of Mormon, hearing and answering prayers. And his is the voice of the revelations Joseph Smith received, as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants. Yet Mormons don’t address Jesus, they pray to Elohim, and more or less believe that it is He that answers their prayers.

While in Christian religions the primary message was (and is) Jesus Christ and Him crucified, the primary message in Mormonism centered on Joseph Smith the prophet who restored the gospel. He was extolled, acknowledged and celebrated for restoring the only path to salvation and exaltation. In the process of celebrating the man who communed with Jehovah, Jehovah Himself was pushed off to the side. The atonement was acknowledged, but based upon what was heard over the pulpit it was clear that Christ’s atonement was insufficient in of itself to bring about the Mormon version of salvation. Without the restored Church—thank you Joseph—humankind was lost.

Was that doctrine? It is hard to say, but it is what was taught, and is still taught with some modification. The modification found in the second stage, was to celebrate Jesus the Savior of the world. It became fashionable to express one’s love for the Savior and his atoning sacrifice. Coupled with that was the intense effort to convince the doubting world that Mormons truly are Christians. After all, it is the church of Jesus Christ and it is Jesus who stands at the head of the Church. But don’t forget it is God the Father, Elohim, to whom we ask for direction, guidance, and blessings. It is to Elohim that we express our sincere gratitude for the blessing He bestow upon us. When it is said the Lord directs this church, are they referring to God the Father, or God the Son?

The second stage, after nearly fifty years, is giving way to the third stage where Jesus is being repositioned even further. The availability of historical documents, long unavailable, has left many seeing the Prophet Joseph as being quite different from the picture they were exposed to in church. Not only do they see Joseph as having feet of clay, they find his successors equally clay footed. Faced with a challenging historical Joseph, the jello-like status of doctrine/theology, and what looks to many as unbending, rigid leadership, many members are facing what is often labeled a faith crisis.

It is this crisis that is producing the third repositioning of Jesus. What we see are people confessing they aren’t church centered they are Christ centered. Since they are Christ centered and not church centered they claim to have found a way to sidestep those challenging and distracting behaviors, teachings, and practices of past and present leaders. While many in the Church adhere to the council to keep your eyes on Church leaders and you will be safe, this third stage is restating it to keep your eyes on Jesus, and you can look past the human failings of Church leaders.

Initially that may seem to work, but it isn’t without its hurdles. One major hurdle, and there are many, is that it is simply a platitude. Once you get past the surface expression, and ask such questions as what it really means to be Christ centered in the Mormon Church, and how is it manifested in practice; how does being Christ centered in the Mormon Church differ from being Christ centered in any other church; how does a Christ centered Mormon, differ from a church centered Mormon? Once you begin down that road I think you will encounter mostly barren ground.

I suspect, though, that those questions really don’t matter. First off, Christ’s Special Witnesses haven’t been able to position Christ at the center of the Church in any meaningful way. They have as difficult a time explaining Mormon’s trinitarian Christ—Christ the son, Christ the elder brother, Christ the Father, as others do the Trinitarian Godhead. In fact, they haven’t been really clear as to what it means to be a Special Witness.

In addition, the Mormon Church is the proclaimed Kingdom of God, and that means it is institutionally centered. The gospel and the church are one and the same, members have been told. You simply can’t eliminate the challenges by announcing you are Christ centered, while e actively participating in a culture that is institutionally bound. You are going to have to find another way to deal with the challenges.

Points of agreement between atheists and Mormons

In my last SiOB, I highlighted a list of “things that both atheists and Mormons can largely affirm together” by Aaron Shafovaloff. Then Andrew S picked up the discussion and even attracted Aaron Shafovaloff himself to attempt to explain it.

I had highlighted the list mostly because many of the items were so hilariously off. In an attempt to account for the phenomenon of people choosing to “stay LDS” after a loss of belief, Shafovaloff had tried to come up with a list of beliefs that are common among the three groups: atheist exmos, agnostic NOMs, and believing Mormons. That’s a reasonable approach, but the key problem is that Shafovaloff didn’t make a serious attempt to understand any of these positions or what they have in common. His list seems to be more an exercise in trying to discredit the three categories by lumping them together.

Then it hit me that it actually is an interesting question! Are there points where atheist exmos, agnostic NOMs, and believing Mormons are more likely to agree among themselves than to agree with non-Mormon Christians? Absolutely!

Here’s my first attempt at such a list:

  • The unique beliefs and doctrines of Mormonism are no crazier than the beliefs of Christianity — they simply seem more outlandish because they’re less familiar to most people.
  • Some of the unique beliefs and doctrines of Mormonism are more appealing and/or make more sense than their mainstream Christian counterparts.
  • Although they are related, the question of whether the CoJCoL-dS is true and whether it is a net force for good are two separate questions.
  • There are many reasons why people might want to continue to practice Mormonism and/or identify as Mormon even after a loss of belief.
  • Mormonism encourages a number of worthwhile pursuits such as journal-writing, genealogy, setting goals, self-reliance, and growing your talents.
  • Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best musicals ever!
  • The text of the Bible alone does not conclusively point to a specific set of beliefs about God. The particular doctrines of modern Christianity are more a product of millennia of traditional interpretations building on one another than a product of directly reading the text.
  • It doesn’t matter if you can find some Bible passages that seem to contradict Mormon beliefs. The Bible contradicts itself. It doesn’t need Mormonism’s help. If you believe that a benevolent God wrote the Bible, then it is reasonable to imagine He’d provide some additional guidance to explain it.
  • Calling Mormonism a “cult” is problematic since it implies that older religions are somehow wholly different in character.
  • The principal arguments against Mormonism also apply to Christianity.

What do you think? Which points would you add, subtract, or alter?

Maybe once it’s honed, we can pass it along to a faithful Mormon blog for their feedback!

Gay People Do Exist – Coming out to my Grandparents

Gay People Do Exist! Coming Out to My Grandparents

My grandparents were/are committed Christians. They’ve taught 3rd and 4th grade Sunday school for as long as I can remember. On the infrequent occasions when I attended their church, from kindergarten until I was about 12, I always pulled up a chair and sat between them while we were going over the lesson as a class and eat doughnuts my grandma faithfully bought every Sunday. They taught me about God, prayed with me, and told me of God’s grace. We sang songs such as:

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

I had a girlfriend of three years before I came out in April of 2008. I was dealt the harsh truth: Jesus loves you unless you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersex, or queer. Jesus couldn’t love gay people, because gay people didnt exist!

My first nephew was born nearly a year and a half ago; my grandparents are now great-grandparents! They bask in their new role with zeal and eagerness along with awe and wonder as they babysit him three days a week. They revel the time they spend with him as they play their newest silly game of peek-a-boo.
He giggles with delight as he covers his eyes. At his young age when his eyes are covered, it doesnt matter if his head, shoulders, knees, and toes (eyes, ears, mouth, and nose) are showing — he is invisible to you and you are invisible to him. This is how he understands visibility: seeing = mutually engaged. My grandparents, however, should know that covering their eyes doesnt mean that another person doesnt exist!

Not unlike my nephew, my grandparents cover their eyes and gay people go away; they cease to exist! By association, I ceased to exist. Me coming out as (non-existantly) gay meant that I had succumbed to “the world’s view”! I was defying what God had revealed in the Scriptures.

I am not gay because there are no gay people! Get it? Got it? Good! I am a straight person dabbling in homosexuality. Describing myself as gay belied my lack of faith in what God had told them (sic)! The only thing they failed to do was question my faith in God completely because I, a heterosexual mind you, loves and advocates for the equality of gay people. Completely un-Christ like, I know!

The kicker is this: While my grandma never got so far as to tell me this in this heart-to-heart, fuzzy spirit-filled conversation, she has said she believes THERE ARE ex-homosexuals!?!? So, there are ex-homosexuals, but not homosexuals? It is a logic nightmare!

From this, I learned the simple, unvarnished truth: My grandparents are bigots. While progressive in a couple of ways, their racist views that have since long passed and their current views towards homosexuality are representative (reminiscent??) of many people in their generation who view the Bible as the infallible Word of God and the Scriptures inerrant.

Our three hour talk had somehow strayed into a series of invectives about my character and crescendo'd when it's affect on familial affairs were brought up: I was told that if my girlfriend of nearly three years and I ever got married (never mind that this conversation took place in 2008, and the fact that I lived in California and she in Virginia - at the time it wasn't even a logical possibility) I would no longer be allowed at family gatherings. My grandma said, "Homosexuals are fine as long as it's not in 'this' (meaning her) house."

At this point I knew: I knew that it would only be a matter of time before, as a lesbian, I would be forced to choose between fidelity to my sexual identity and acceptance and approval from my fellow Christian grandparents (and, by extension, the rest of my family). I knew it spiked a fear of further mistrust and oppression. I knew from the intense intuitive emotional reaction I had that the homophobic bigoted view of my grandparents were irrational and unjust.

And unfortunately, I learned the hard way that the divide between the gay and straight Christian community that I grew up in was large and all-pervasive. I was told that gays and lesbians are more depressed, arent normal, and that I definitely was not one. Believing that God allowed me to born with such desires while condemning me to hell/annihilation lead me to a year of suicidal ideations. My grandparents were able to shove me back in the closest, rationalize away my existence and effectively ignore an entire class of people with their childish thinking of peek-a-boo, I don’t see you.

Up until then, I figured my grandparents would always love me. At that moment however, I learned the harsh truth that love is not unconditional. My grandparents claimed to love me, but she only loved the person they thought I was and the person they hoped I would be. My grandparents certainly dont accept who I am, let alone tolerate the possibility of it even being mentioned. I haven’t given up the hope that my grandparents may someday move past their homophobia, but my existence no longer hinges on their acceptance either.

I just wish they would have been more willing to remain a part of this grandchild’s whole life – not just they part that they can accept. I wish they would uncover their eyes and see me, their grandchild, and the injustices I’ve suffered. I want them to know that I do, indeed exist!



~ SoACTing

When Religious Naivety and Ignorance [Hurts]

I’ve said some naively ignorant things in my time. But, then again, I’m nearing my mid twenties, so I’m sure I’ve still yet to see the rest of the iceberg. Nonetheless, regrets are worth analyzing for the lessons they teach to help avoid the same mistakes in the future, so that hopefully, when I look back, I find that, contrary to what I often tell myself, I haven’t said quite the number of naively ignorant things that I’ve thought.

Here is one of mine:

“I should wear my Spiderman outfit and you should wear your white jumper (pants) to work — we can look stupid together.”

I jokingly said this nearly three years ago while I was in a particularly jovial mood after having been out with my best friend all day. Yet it was met by silence. Worse, it was met with a sort of bewildered insincere smile, which – as anyone who knows my best friend will tell you – is as close as he’ll come before he turns his back and walks way while shaking his head in disgust or coming back with some sarcastic one up-manship retort.

Undeterred I tried again – cleverish-ly (or so I thought) suggesting he wear his fanny pack to top it off. Again, silence appeared to be the name of his game along with that Mona Lisa smile. “You don’t think its a beyond brilliant idea?” That thin smile curved neither up nor down. Slowly, I had ignorantly dug a hole as I anxiously waited for him to take my hand and jump aboard my ship of providing a source of amusement with me at work. “Well do you have a better idea?”

To my great disappointment he settled on something along the lines of, “Perhaps another day.” Then he quickly and solemnly added, “And a different outfit.” Somehow I had naively missed the 180-degree turning of the tide. While I was lining up deck chairs for the firework show, my grand finale ended with, “You mean costume!?”

While I hadn’t recognized that I had taken the wind out of his sail with my first bout of ignorance — there was no mistaking it now. Tears glistened in his eyes. His ship had been sunk.

You see, I didn’t know what temple garments were at the time. In fact, I knew so little about Mormonism that whenever he used the acronym “LDS” it took me a second or two to recall what it stood for.

While this may seem like some small, benign incident, it had a galvanizing impact on me. Little did I know – it was the beginning of the end; the beginning of a headlong dive into Mormonism, and the end of more than two decades of considering myself a Christian.

Stay tuned for more in my series of “How Studying Mormonism Led Me out of Christianity!”
~ SoACTing

Taking the Bible Literally

Some years ago, a co-worker expressed her frustration to me. I don’t know how we got on the topic, but she said she just wanted someone to tell her exactly what was in the bible and what it meant. I didn’t make a comment about this, as I wasn’t actively religious. I just remember thinking – isn’t that the point of continued church attendance and study? To find meaning for oneself?

It seems to me that this is part of the reason people spend their entire lives studying the bible (whichever version they study). When I worked at a bookstore chain, there was an entire row filled with different versions of bibles. The King James Version (the version the Utah LDS church uses), the New International Version and others. I knew (from seminary) that Joseph Smith had “started” his translation of the Bible, but I never knew he had finished it. I believe that the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) church uses this translation, and you can purchase it from them.
Continue reading “Taking the Bible Literally”

Oldies but Goodies: Testimony of a Dissident

A while back another blogger asked me to submit an essay about my Mormon experience. Probably, for good reasons he changed his mind and never published it. Since it is already written and might shed some light on my argument at Times and Seasons, I might as well publish it myself. It might help some people to understand where I am coming from.

Testimony of a Dissident
When I grew up in the seventies and eighties, Church was a liberating experience. My mother converted when I was six. My father never joined the LDS Church and refused permission for me to get baptized until I was fourteen. Since the prohibition was never sufficiently justified, it only stimulated my aspirations.

I was an enthusiastic Mormon, walking five miles to get to Church when I couldnt afford public transportation. Except for my younger brother, I was the only Mormon in my school. Everyone knew about me because I was a Mormon for a reason. Probably the best indicator of my commitment to the Mormon cause was my role as a joint teacher in the conversion of over thirty Germans, which contributed to the creation of another ward. Continue reading “Oldies but Goodies: Testimony of a Dissident”

Your Sunday School Lesson: The First Vision

According to the philosopher Mircea Eliade, of whose work I learned at BYU, every community, tribe, or nation requires an origin myth. The account of a community’s or practice’s origin has far reaching consequences because it implies how they relate to the cosmos, which is necessary for human beings to imbue their world with shared meaning. Mormonism’s origin myth is the first vision.
Continue reading “Your Sunday School Lesson: The First Vision”