“Mormons are all crazy,” said my New York liberal atheist friend. ”They’re nuts!”
“Why do you think they’re crazy?” I asked.
“It’s a weird religion. Very strange,” he said. “It’s so recent. It’s not something that happened in biblical days. A burning bush in the desert thousands of years ago is one thing. But golden tablets in upstate New York in the 1820s is another. They call themselves the ‘Church of Latter-day Saints,’” he continued, “But Christianity was completed before then.”
My friend is right about one thing: You couldn’t sell the fact that God spoke to Moses through a burning bush today. You’d have a hard time getting people to believe in the Ten Commandments, or many other divine revelations, not to mention Jesus’ resurrection. People would probably not buy the idea today that Mohammad rode up to heaven on a silver horse either.
The problem for Mormons is that their prophet, Joseph Smith, discovered golden tablets in New York in 1827 which had inscribed on them the Book of Mormon. That seems to be, for a lot of people, a little bit too recent.
Anyone claiming to be a prophet today, like the 12 apostles of the Mormon Church, or their leader, considered a prophet of God, is looked on by many with a certain ridicule. But in their time John the Baptist, and Jesus himself were ridiculed, and shunned, too.
But give them all time and they become holy men.
So what’s the cut off?
How long ago, at what date, is it believable that a prophet can actually appear and receive the word of God? Clearly, 1827 for at least 20 percent of our population, is not long ago enough.
Mitt Romney, as everyone knows, is a lifelong Mormon and this has clearly cost him votes. In Saturday’s South Carolina primary, exit polls show that religion played a major role in elevating Gingrich to the win and breaking the Republican race wide open. Though, as the Post polling team points out, Romney doubled his share of the evangelical vote from 2008, nearly three-quarters of Gingrich’s support in South Carolina came from evangelicals; just over half of Romney’s did. It will be interesting to see whether Romney also has religion problems in Florida, which is not as heavily evangelical as South Carolina.
It seems the Rev. Brad Atkins, president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, was right when he said: “In South Carolina, Romney’s Mormonism will be more of a cause of concern than Gingrich’s infidelity.”
Gingrich supporter Judy Manning of Marietta said of Romney, “I’m afraid of his Mormon faith. It’s better than the Muslims. Of course, every time you look on TV these days you find an ad … telling us how normal they are. So why do they have to put ads on TV just to convince us that they’re normal if they’re normal?” Manning is also concerned about polygamy “that doesn’t follow the Christian faith.” (Polygamy has been outlawed in this country and is banned by the Mormon church.)
What is it that is most threatening to the average anti-Mormon? Many Mormons are bewildered. They don’t understand why, if God spoke to prophets 2,000 years ago, he is incapable of speaking to them again. They believe that God speaks to anyone he wants to speak to and that revelations continue in modern times.
It’s true that these days people think of revelations as having to be something spectacular like a burning bush, that the voice of God will only show up during earthquakes or hurricanes or tsunamis. Mormons believe that God can come to anybody any time, which is why people pray.
In the Bible, I Kings 19:11 and 19:12 God appears to Elijah.
19:11 And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord: but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake;
19:12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”
It is the still small voice Jews and Christians point to when they talk about revelations.
One of the things that concern those who are suspicious of Mormons is that they haven’t followed the institutional “orthodox” Christian Church. Mormons feel that that Christianity went off course and astray from the simple teachings of Jesus around 300 years after his death. They want to get back to the early Christianity before councils, and schisms and splits. They don’t want to reform, they say, they want to restore.
When people criticize the church for its name “Latter Day Saints,” it’s because they think Mormons are calling themselves saints when in fact, the word saint, in ancient times, meant a member of the church.
The 12 apostles of the Mormon Church today take their direction from their leader, Thomas Monson, who they believe receives inspirational guidance from God. By the same token, Catholics believe that the holy spirit inspires the election of the pope. The pontiff can affirm someone as a “saint” and proclaim that they have performed miracles. Catholics believe in transubstantiation, whereby during communion, the wafer and wine turn, they believe, into the blood and flesh of Christ.
Mormons and “orthodox” Christians alike believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that he died on the cross for their sins and arose and ascended to heaven.
Mormons call themselves Christians and feel that they have a great deal in common with Protestants, Catholics and even Jews and that there are far more similarities with those religions than differences.
So what are we to make of all of this?
“I guess you can say that all religions are weird,” said my New York atheist friend. “I guess Mormon’s are not any weirder than any other religion. They really believe it.” And, he added, “they’re really successful.”
Sally Quinn | Jan 22, 2012 9:32 PM