Category Archives: Traditional Christianity

Billy Graham breaks with a 30-year policy and appears to endorse Mitt Romney

My good friend Dan Blatt over at Gay Patriot send me an e-mail this afternoon which I just saw a little while ago, pointing to a Washington Post article that states that Mitt Romney met with Billy Graham, and Graham for all intents and purposes endorsed him:

Graham then asked Romney what he could do to help.

“Prayer is the most helpful thing you can do for me,” Romney said. “And what you’re planning, what your son has shown me is going to be very very helpful. And I appreciate that. Its going to be terrific.”

Graham, Franklin Graham and Romney then prayed and as the meeting ended, campaign aides said that Graham told Romney: “I’ll do all I can to help you. And you can quote me on that.”

Ever since Watergate, Graham has had a policy in place of not endorsing presidential candidates (cf. this 1980 article). He came close in 2000, meeting with George W. Bush just two days before the election, but even there he restated his policy:

Graham, in Jacksonville, Fla., for an evangelistic campaign in the city’s Alltel Stadium, met with Bush for a private prayer breakfast. In posing for photographs with Bush and his wife, Laura, and his son, Franklin, Graham stated: “I don’t endorse candidates, but I’ve come as close to it as any time in my life.”

The Florida Times-Union, on its Internet site, noted: “The legendary evangelical leader, the Rev. Billy Graham, practically endorsed Bush,” whose race against Vice President Al Gore concludes with Nov. 7’s general election.

Graham, who led in prayer when Bush was inaugurated as governor of Texas, was quoted by the newspaper as saying he had already voted by absentee ballot in his home state of North Carolina. “You can guess who I voted for,” said Graham, who has acknowledged being a lifelong Democrat.

The danger, of course, is that the money quote from Graham is being repeated by Romney aides; on the other hand, I suspect the Washington Post did some verifying of its own.

What is truly telling is the language: “I’ll do all I can to help you.” That’s not a tepid endorsement or a ‘lesser of two evils’ resignation; that’s about as full-throated as Graham can get at his age. I will be interested to see if it helps some of those Evangelicals who are concerned about putting a Mormon in the White House to vote for Romney anyway.  ..bruce..


Some perspective on the “Mormon Moment” from early Christian history

I recently bought Pocket History of the Church by D. Jeffrey Bingham, a brief summary of the history of the Christian church, starting after the death of the Apostles. While reading it this afternoon, I ran across the following passage, which made me quietly chuckle. If you substitute “Modern Christianity” and/or “Modern Secularism” for “Romans” and “Mormons” for “Christians”, there are some remarkable parallels:

Roman religion also was intimately related to the past. Greco-Roman society held that the rites of the ancients were more harmonious with the gods than the newer rites. That is, the past was closer to the ancient gods. For Roman society, only one ancient religious doctrine existed, and it was expressed and maintained in a variety of traditional forms by various nations. Abandonment of these variant but traditional forms and customs was wicked. Novelty in religions, they thought, was irreligious. Therefore, because Christians were seen as antisocial and “new”, they were viewed as a danger to Rome. The gods were unhappy and had to be pacified.

When Christians worshiped only one God, their polytheistic Roman neighbors viewed them as atheistic. When Christians gathered in worship, separate from Roman life, they were seen as destructive to the social structure of the empire. In their refusal to confess the emperor’s deity they were viewed as wicked. Their refusal to engage in civic religion led the Christian apologist Tertullian to write that the Romans considered Christians “public enemies” and “enemies of Rome.”

But the Romans did not end their criticism of Christianity with reference to what they viewed as irreligion. They also criticized Christianity for being irrational. Christians seemed to receive their teachings by faith rather than by rational examination of the evidence or critical thinking. According to the Christian theologian Origen, one Roman, Celsus, wrote that some Christians said, “Do not ask questions, only believe.”

Also, the Romans interpreted some Christian practices as deplorable, because of what seemed to be a secretiveness, a ridiculous perspective of life, death and future judgment, an arrogant haughtiness towards Roman religion and a lifestyle of perversity. Minucius Felix, a Latin Christian apologist of the third century, recorded some early Roman understandings of Christian rites and beliefs. Many unbelievers thought that Christians were “a people skulking and shunning the light, silent in public but garrulous in corners. They despise the [Roman] temples as dead houses, they reject the gods, they laugh at sacred things. . . . They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another. Everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters.”

The belief that Christians were clandestine in their gatherings because of their shameful “incest” (because they married those they called “brother” and “sister”) was common, as was the charge that they were cannibalistic (they ate the body of Christ and drank his blood). Because of the secret nature of their rites, and also because some groups claiming association with Christianity were reported to have engaged in acts of perversity, the rumors grew to absurd proportions. Christians were even accused of eating infants. The Christian apologist Athenagoras was accurate when he said, “Three charges are brought against us: atheism, Thyestean feasts [cannibalistic banquets] and Oedipean intercourse [incestuous unions].”

As strange as it may sound to modern Christian ears, the Romans were appalled at the supposed wickedness, social rebellion, irrationality and impiety of the Christians. The “popular and uncritical” rumor about the Christians, to use the language of Athenagoras, set the tone for how the Romans responded. Of course, we ought not to think that early Christianity was perfect or without blame. Many Christians did not balance their faith in the one true God through Jesus Christ with a biblical call to morality and state loyalty. In addition, some non-Christians who associated with believers were said to have practiced their Roman religion in feasts that did involve promiscuous rites. On the whole, though, the charges of rampant perversity in Christ’s body within the Roman Empire were false. (pp. 31-33)

Sounds kind of familiar, huh?  ..bruce..

Deacons and the sacrament

Not having a teaching assignment myself during Sunday School, I tend to bounce between Gospel Essentials and Gospel Doctrine, while occasionally going to neither and instead hanging out in the chapel with my iPad. A few weeks back, I happened to attend Gospel Essentials, where Phil[*], a lifelong (and still staunch) Catholic who has been attending our ward since early this year with an LDS friend, asked a very good question. He noted that in the Catholic Mass, it is the priest, the father, a man dedicated to full-time church service and who has been through extensive training (his words, not mine), who prepares and administers the Blessed Host. He questioned, then, why it is that we let kids prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament in our own church.

I am (rightly or not) considered the “go-to” person for tough or obscure questions in that class, so the instructor turned and looked at me. I started to give a fairly standard answer about the Aaronic Priesthood being a preparatory priesthood, but stopped before I got very far into that, because something entirely different came to me, something I’m not sure I had ever considered before. What I ended up saying was something like this:

The Savior, through His ministry, emphasized time and again themes such as “except ye be as a little child”, “the last shall be first”, and “the least of these my brethren”. It is perhaps in that spirit that He selects the youngest and least “qualified” of His priesthood bearers to perform one of the most sacred duties, to carry and give His body and blood to the congregation.

I can’t remember if I said much more beyond that, but I have looked at the sacrament with fresh eyes since then. I know that having deacons pass the sacrament is a relatively recent innovation (end of 19th century/early 20th century); nevertheless, it can serve as a powerful reminder that the Lord calls upon “the weak and simple” (always a favorite missionary scripture) to do most of the work of proclaiming His gospel. It is also a reminder that, from where the Lord sits, there isn’t that much difference between the “highest” and “lowest” of us. As I said in the post I just linked to, “[God’s] grace is not only greater than we imagine, it is greater than we can imagine.” The Savior on the last night of His life stooped to wash the dirty and calloused feet of his disciples; we should not scorn to take His body and blood from a 12-year-old boy.  ..bruce..

[*] Name changed to protect privacy.

Rethinking the Flood (part IV)

I’ve previously expressed my opinion (here and here, plus here) that the classic (conservative Christian) view of the Noachian flood — a worldwide immersion of liquid water, likely between 3000 and 2000 AD — is implausible due to a complete lack of geological, archeological, and ecological evidence for such an event (cf. this Dialogue article by Clayton White and Mark Thomas). On the other hand, as I explain in my posts, I do believe a major climatic shift happened that gave rise to the Flood narrative in the Old Testament as well as in many other cultures and traditions. However, I believe it had to do with event surround the end of the last ice age, in which a very sharp warming period was followed by a brief ice age resurgence (the Younger Dryas period), which in turn was followed by another sharp warming period. This climactic whipsaw appears to correlate with some significant human and fauna declines, especially in North America (where LDS doctrine places the pre-flood patriarchs).

I bring all this up because I ran across a diagram today, based on the Greenland GISP2 ice core data, that shows just how dramatic that climactic whipsaw was compared to climate changes since then (the temperature scale to the left represents a reconstruction of the temperature on the Greenland icefield based on oxygen isotope ratios; click on the image to read the original paper explaining the use of this ratio as a ‘global’ proxy):

Greenland GISP2 ice core reconstructions

Many debates are still going as to what triggered the sudden up-down-up shifts, each of which occurred very quickly. But I suspect the antediluvian and Noachian events occurred in this time period.  ..bruce..

Why the Catholic Church is upset with “New Moon”

After having seen “New Moon” on Friday afternoon with my sweet wife Sandra, I was a bit startled in late night browsing to read the following article (hat tip to Big Hollywood):

The latest movie in vampire saga Twilight is a ‘deviant moral vacuum’, the Vatican said yesterday.

New Moon, which opens in Britain today, is a ‘mixture of excesses aimed at young people and gives a heavy esoteric element’, a spokesman added.

The blockbuster opened on Wednesday in Italy and took £1.8million at the box office.

Monsignor Franco Perazzolo, of the Pontifical Council of Culture, said: ‘Men and women are transformed with horrible masks and it is once again that age-old trick or ideal formula of using extremes to make an impact at the box office.’

Huh? “Deviant moral vacuum” for a series that gets mocked because of the lack of premarital sex among its youthful characters? And I’m not entirely sure what “heavy esoteric element” means or why it would be a reason to condemn a movie. After all, the Vatican (as far as I can tell) had nothing to say about “2012” which actually depicts the violent death of the Pope and the rest of the Catholic Church leadership, along with hundreds of people being crushed by the collapse of St. Paul’s Basilica. Given all the films that are out there, with plenty of morally objectionable content, why would the Vatican choose to unload on “New Moon” of all things?

Then it hit me: the Volturi.

For those of you who haven’t read the series/seen the films, the Volturi are in effect the global rulers of all vampires and the only ones who can and do enforce (via death) a small set of rules — intended to keep the existence of vampires a secret — upon other vampires.

And, by the way, the Volturi live in Italy, where they rule from a large secret domed chamber. And they sit in throne-like chairs wearing formal antique clothing (see photo above).

Now, I don’t think that Stephenie Meyer had the Catholic Church in mind (at least, not consciously) when she invented the Volturi. The Volturi don’t act like religious leaders, and they don’t live in Rome but rather in Volterra (an actual small ancient town in the Tuscany region of Italy). But I suspect that someone at the Vatican saw the film, drew certain inferences, and was not happy, particularly given Meyer’s well-publicized LDS (Mormon) background. I also strongly suspect that if the Volturi had lived somewhere other than Italy that the Vatican would have had nothing to say about the film. ..bruce..

P.S. The movie itself? Meh. Better done than the first one, but the first 30-45 minutes seemed to drag. On the other hand, the 2nd book was the weakest of the four.

Another reason I’m glad we’re not “Christian”

Of course, by “Christian” I mean “Traditional Christianity”, which is the phrase often used by Evangelical and Catholic churches to define Christianity in such as was as to exclude the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  And as far as I can tell, “Traditional Christianty” tends to start with the first Council of Nicea, so as to avoid all those pesky beliefs and practices of early Christians which suspiciously resemble LDS beliefs and practices.

But I ramble. Here’s my latest reason why I’m glad we’re not “Traditional” Christians:

Let’s look at all the ways that this cartoon does not apply to LDS doctrine and beliefs:

First, we don’t believe that Earth is the only planet on which God has placed His children. Instead, we believe that He has created “worlds without number” and that “the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” So God didn’t wait “14 billion years” for anything, but started populating planets long ago.

Second, we were all around back then, when this universe was being created. We knew why is was being created and what our role in it would be.

Third, even on our specific planet, Earth, God didn’t wait until Abraham or Moses and then “tell some desert people how to behave.”  He started with Adam and continued with Enoch. Furthermore, we believe that God has spoken to various groups at various times throughout human history, not just those recorded within the Bible.

And, of course, fourth, God is not a glowing ball of lightHe is our Father and we are His children.  ..bruce..

Yet another cautionary tale from other churches

In the LDS Church, we sometimes chafe at the strict control that Church HQ imposes on what individual wards can do or buy. Among other things, this often leads to a slow adoption of technology; less than 10 years ago, the ward I was in was still using a computer that ran Windows 3.x and was hooked up to a dot matrix (not laser) printer. In fact, around the same time frame, the print edition of the Sugar Beet (think: LDS version of the Onion) ran an article to the effect of the Smithsonian recognizing LDS ward computers as being the oldest continuously operating personal computers in America. Of course, in the past 10 years, the Church went through a significant upgrade, moving to Windows XP, laser printers, and dial-in membership/tithing updates, but still, that was years overdue. (On the other hand, if the Church currently mandates that all new ward computers run Windows XP instead of Vista, that could actually be a good thing.)

On the other hand, this story from today’s Washington Post suggests just how much trouble individual LDS wards could get themselves into without those controls (emphasis mine):

The District government has filed a lawsuit alleging that five companies defrauded at least 30 Washington area congregations of hundreds of thousands of dollars through a computer equipment scam that has spread to at least 20 states.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, in a 16-page affidavit, alleges that agents for the companies offered the churches free computer kiosks to enhance their outreach. What the churches actually received was inexpensive computer equipment that often did not work. The kiosks, located in church foyers, were to serve as electronic bulletin boards for announcements and community activities and would pay for themselves through paid advertisements.

But the suit alleges that congregations unknowingly signed leases obligating them to pay tens of thousands of dollars for faulty equipment. After the kiosks were installed, Nickles said, church accounts were drained by unauthorized withdrawals and unlawful collection practices.

Read all the details, then reflect upon the LDS tendency to trust LDS entreprenuers and professionals, even when said trust isn’t warranted. I could easily see something like this happening. Something to keep in mind next time you’re inclined to grumble about Church policies and restrictions.  ..bruce..

And now a cautionary lesson from the Evangelicals

Early in February, I wrote a post titled, “LDS history and organization: a cautionary tale from the Catholics“. It deal with the controversy within the Catholic Church over the Legion of Christ and recent revelations regarding its founder, Father Marciel Maciel. I drew conclusions about the need for the LDS Church to continue to to be open and honest regarding its own history.

Today in the Christian Science Monitor is an article by Michael Spencer, a self-described “postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality”. The article is entitled “The coming evangelical collapse”, and while I think that Spencer may be overstating his thesis, his reasons for thinking that Evangelical Christianity will collapse are worth considering as Latter-day Saints:

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. . . .

2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we’ve spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. . . .

3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. . . .

4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to “do good” is rapidly approaching. . . .

6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.

7. The money will dry up.

For the most part, the Church has avoided or is seeking to avoid these very problems. The big exception is #1, particularly in light of Proposition 8 in California (the irony being that the Evangelical group Focus on the Family alone spent three times what the LDS Church did in supporting Prop 8, yet no one is burning Bibles in front of FotF HQ down in Colorado Springs [or as we say here in Colorado, “the Springs”]).

I do not have enough expertise in the Evangelical churches to judge the accuracy of Spencer’s observations and the likelihood of his predictions. My suspicious is that he is (consciously or not) overstating his case in order to conform with his own frustrations and expectations, something not unknown here in the Bloggernacle. But be sure to read the whole article. ..bruce..

[UPDATE: Here’s a post to discuss possible futures of the LDS Church, particularly in America.]

LDS history and organization: a cautionary tale from the Catholics

Within the LDS Church, we continue to debate publicly and agonize privately over issues in LDS history (hagiography, naturalism, etc.) as well as occasionally getting our knickers in a twist over perceived or real issues in LDS leadership, both local and general. However, I think we sometimes lose perspective at just how open our history is and how self-correcting our organization is.

I write this because while doing my usual scan of the blogosphere this morning, I stumbled across a series of posts having to do with a Catholic order — the Legion of Christ — and the parallel lay organization, the Regnum Christi Movement. I claim no particular knowledge of or familiarity with either group or their respective context within the Catholic Church. But what is clear from the posting I’ve read today is that the founder of the Legion of Christ, Father Marciel Maciel, who died about a year ago and who is very much venerated by the LC and RC membership, is now acknowledged to have fathered at least one child out of wedlock (on top of earlier accusations regarding sexual abuse of young men).  This appears to be quite devastating for those who have been defending Fr. Maciel’s name for some time (mostly in light of the earlier accusations). Here are some more links to discussions on this issue: here, here, here, here and here.

I write none of this to somehow attack the Catholic Church or its beliefs; to the contrary, the Catholic Church itself appears to be doing its best to deal honestly and appropriately with these issues, which really exist in organizations outside of itself. Instead, I think there are two important lessons here for us, one in terms of LDS history, the other in terms of LDS organization.

First, the sense I get from the various postings on this subject is that Fr. Maciel was revered by LC and RC members to a degree that even the most zealous Joseph Smith fan might flinch from. To quote from the New York Times article:

In Catholic religious orders, members are taught to identify with the spirituality and values of the founder. That was taken to an extreme in the Legionaries, said the Rev. Stephen Fichter, a priest in New Jersey who left the order after 14 years.

“Father Maciel was this mythical hero who was put on a pedestal and had all the answers,” Father Fichter said. “When you become a Legionarie, you have to read every letter Father Maciel ever wrote, like 15 or 16 volumes. To hear he’s been having this double life on the side, I just don’t see how they’re going to continue.”

Of course, we’re studying writings of Joseph Smith in Priesthood and Relief Society, and the LDS Church is now putting out 30 volumes of of the Joseph Smith papers. But the recent trends in “faithful” LDS historical scholarship have almost all been towards frankness (Rough Stone Rolling, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball) to an extent never seen before. There has been much debate in the Bloggernacle and elsewhere about “inoculation” and openness in LDS history; I think that the issues surround Fr. Maciel suggest the need to continue that openness.

Second, for all the grousing that goes on about the “Mormon hierarchy” or, on occasion, the lay nature of most LDS leadership, I think that the host of problems and the apparent divisiveness that appear to surround the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, particularly in light of the new information about Fr. Maciel, underscore the danger of such ancillary priesthood orders and lay organizations. While an undergrad at BYU (1970s), I remember having a discussion with one of my professors about some friends who were starting an independent scripture study group. The professor said — half-joking, half-serious — said, “You realize that’s how most apostate groups get started, don’t you?” Those friends didn’t apostatize, but I certainly ran into my share of such groups that had while I was at BYU, both as a student and as a teacher (cf. C. S. Lewis on “the lure of the Inner Ring“).

Try this thought-experiment: imagine organizing a group independent of the LDS Church explicitly (and strictly) led by Melchizedek priesthood holders, focused on the Restoration gospel, publishing its own books and materials, training its own personnel, and carrying out specific priesthood functions parallel to and independent of the Church. (Right now, depending upon your age, you may be thinking either of the Freeman Institute or one of the many Utah-based multi-level marketing corporations, but that’s not what I’m talking about.) Now imagine a lay (or, as we would say, “auxiliary”) organization specifically for families that reports to and is guided by this group, again all operating completely independent of the LDS Church itself.

Right about now, “train wreck” may be what is passing through your mind; it’s certainly what passes through mine.

We grouse at times about the quality of teaching and leadership within the LDS Church, about the arbitrary decisions often made by bishops and stake presidents, about the uniformity imposed by the Correlation Committee, and the simplicity of the “Sunday School answers”.

Yet, I think those are all either tremendous strengths or, at worst, acceptable issues that are much better than the alternatives.  While we all at times feel a wish to remake the Church in our own likeness and image, it is not at all clear that this would be a good thing for anyone but us, and possibly not even for ourselves.  In short, the next time you’re tempted to grouse about the Church, be careful what you wish for.  ..bruce..