I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka “the Mormon Church”) 40 years ago, a few months before starting high school in east San Diego County. Almost from day one, I encountered anti-Mormon literature, usually in the form of pamphlets given me by well-meaning friends (and yes, they remained friends). Many of these pamphlets were published right there in San Diego, and local anti-Mormon groups would actually attend and try to disrupt periodic LDS multi-congregation meetings (stake conferences).
This puzzled me, because the pamphlets I received were badly written and badly researched, and the claims made were usually irrelevant, fallacious, taken out of context, distorted, or just plain wrong. Since I, as a high school student, had little problem doing the research necessary to see just where these claims went wrong, I wondered why the authors of these pamphlets had failed to do the same. I finally reached the conclusion that they were either ignorant or dishonest; it took thoughtful evangelical Christian scholars about another 30 years to reach the same conclusion.
But what startles me the most about anti-Mormon authors and lecturers is their insistence that they are the ones who really know what the LDS Church believes, teaches, and practices, and that we (I and other Latter-day Saints) do not. I have found this to be a constant theme over those 40 years, and yet it never ceases to amaze me, coming from people who (it becomes quite clear) have little knowledge or understanding of the basic LDS sources.
The presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney (who, by the way, is not my prime choice for President) has elevated anti-Mormon rhetoric from the evangelical pamphlet-and-seminar ghetto where it has languished to national prominence. Commentators and reporters — largely from the Secular Left instead of the Religious Right — have likewise demonstrated their profound lack of knowledge about LDS history and doctrine, yet have felt free to pass sweeping judgment upon Romney and the LDS Church itself, often in terms that would generally be considered offensive, bigoted, or even “hate speech” (a phrase I don’t particularly like) if applied to Judaism, Catholicism, or Protestantism, much less to Islam.
Hugh Hewitt, God bless him, has been all over this for months, and some other bloggers have chimed in as well. But Hugh’s not in the position to actually set people straight on LDS doctrine, practices, and history (though I suspect he could do a better job than most people, including some LDS Church members).
And so this blog. I plan to take up key issues as they arise in the press and other media, or simply as the whim strikes me.
A brief note on my own qualifications. Besides having been an involved, believing member of the LDS Church for 40 years, I have also during that time amassed a library of roughly 300+ books on religion, most of which I have read (or am currently reading). About 80% of those are LDS-related (doctrine, history, scriptural commentary, etc.), but the rest are not. Those remaining 60+ books deal primarily with Judaism and Christianty, but I have books on other religions as well; I have read the Teachings of Buddha, the Tao Te Ching, and am currently working my way through the Qur’an (or, more accurately, through The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an as presented in English, since the Qur’an as such exists only in Arabic). My LDS Church service has included two stints in ward bishoprics (congregation leadership) and several stints as a Sunday School teacher (including currently teaching the adult class for our ward). I’ve personally read the Old Testament cover-to-cover six or so times (including twice in the last 18 months; spent all last year teaching it), the New Testament a dozen or so times (teaching it this year), and the Book of Mormon well over 30 times (and possibly over 40; I lost count some time back). I’ve read Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage over 15 times; heck, before I had even graduated from high school in 1971, I had not only read both Jesus the Christ and The Articles of Faith (also by Talmage), but I had read all seven (7) volumes of History of the Church (by Joseph Smith) and all six (6) volumes of the Comprehensive History of the Church (by B. H. Roberts).
golden question — “What do you know about the Mormon Church? Would you like to know more?” A question Mormons regularly ask nonmembers, but rarely think to ask themselves. — Orson Scott Card, Saintspeak: A Mormon Dictionary (1984).
Oh, and I’ll note for David Sklansky’s benefit that I scored an 800 (perfect score) on the Math Level II Achievement Test back in 1970. I was also a National Merit Finalist and received a full National Merit Scholarship to Brigham Young University; actually I received two full scholarships to BYU, but they only paid me for one. On the other hand, I do not consider myself to be a “fundamentalist Christian”, so his bet doesn’t really apply.
In short, I know what I’m talking about. So I might as well get started. ..bruce..