In this episode, Kurt continues the worldview series, this time discussing the religion of Mormonism. Topics discussed include a description of what Mormonism is, the difference between historical Christianity and Mormonism, the future of Mormonism, and more.
Listen to “Episode 38: Mormonism, Worldview Series” on Spreaker.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s a pleasure to be with you again this week here in the Defenders Media offices in downtown West Chicago and as Chris has often said, we are the only internationally acclaimed podcast coming to you from downtown West Chicago, at least to the best of our knowledge here. On today’s episode, we’re continuing on with the worldview series and we’re going to be looking at a sect, more so than a sect, it’s often labeled a cult, the issue and worldview of Mormonism. The past couple months we’ve looked at, the first one we did was on atheism. Last month we brought to you the topic of Islam and so this time around we’re touching on something slightly different, not as broad, more specific, but it should be an interesting program if you haven’t really learned much about Mormonism then this would you be a good show for you to continue to listen to and maybe you’ve met a Mormon on the street going door to door if they’ve rung your bell and maybe you’ve been presented with some things that they’ve said, but you might not know what they actually believe and in today’s show we’re going to go over those differences and how sometimes language isn’t clear in pointing out the meaningful differences that there are between the orthodox Christian view and the Mormon view. Before we get to that, just a few matters of business. Let me put on my hat here for the livestream folks. It is opening day week for the World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs. I think they are some of the favorites to go again to the World Series. Some of the odds in Vegas had the Cubs vs the Red Sox so we will see what happens, but very pleased that baseball season is in the air. We’ve been following, at least in my house, spring training, and it’s always fun to see the Cubs, my daughter especially, she likes Addison Russell, that’s her favorite Cubs player. She had a shirt gifted to her by her godparents, but she’s outgrown her so we just got her an oversized Addison Russell shirt and she loves it. She wears it to bed every night. She wants to wear it every day. The kids will be the kids.
Okay. Baseball season’s in the air. Let me say too, Defenders Media is running a giveaway and so if you want to win this book, Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant And Extreme by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Go to Defendersmedia.com and click on the giveaway button and I think in the next couple of days they’re going to be announcing the winner of that. It’s also signed so people here on the livestream which we’re doing today can see that there. Signed copy here of this book and you can win it for free. We’ll ship it out to you this week so go to Defendersmedia.com/giveaway and you can have a chance to win that. I think all you have to do is you’ve got to like the Facebook page and follow us on Twitter, something like that, and you can do that for Defenders and Veracity and you get a couple of different options for different points so that gives you a better chance at winning. So when you get a chance to do that in the next couple of days please do because I think we’re going to be announcing the winner this week for that.
If you want to have your voice heard on the show you can give us a call at any time. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. You can give us a call while we’re doing the show, Saturdays at 1 PM Central time, or you can leave us a message during the week and if it’s a comment that you want played or a question that you might have, we can air it for you, or just tell us if you want it to be private and we’ll express your question there through an email correspondence perhaps, but it’d be great to hear from you and I appreciate getting the comments and encouragement that some of you have given over the episodes. We’re now on Episode 38 so we’re almost to 52 which would represent a year and we’ve been doing it every week whether it’s me or Chris has filled in a couple of times. We’ve been doing it faithfully now for almost a year, a couple months, so that will be great to sort of hit that benchmark. I’d love to hear from you and see what topics you want for the show because we do have a variety as you know, we have a variety of topics and different guests and if you’ve got a suggestion, let’s make it happen. A number of people suggested doing this worldview series so here we are. This is the first Saturday of the month when we do the worldview series. I’m very open to the ideas that you might have and the things you want to have heard and the things we can talk about together and think through. There’s another way you can get in touch with me as well. Just text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888. It’s totally free and you can unsubscribe anytime, but basically, about one time a week I’ll send out a text message. I actually hadn’t the past couple of weeks. About one time on average, once a week, I’ll send out a text message and maybe notifying you of the upcoming show or see if there’s any questions or comments you guys might have and that’s another way you can talk to me and communicate to me as well. Otherwise you can send me the traditional email. The address is Kurt@Veracityhill.com and I’ll get your emails as well. I love engaging with some of the listeners that I’ve encountered over the several months and I know that some of you have appreciated the variety of the show going from political topics to theology and apologetics and whatnot so….
Today is April Fool’s Day and for those that are personal Facebook friends of mine, you will see my annual joke. Some of you know what that might be about, sort of one of my niche topics that I like to talk about, think about, and you’ll see that joke. I do it every year. Some of you I know will not be surprising to you. Some of you, maybe for new Facebook friends. You will be surprised by it. I see I’ve got a couple people that I tricked, I fooled, but I’m looking forward yet still to hearing from some of the friends I hear from every year who say, “Oh no. Not again Kurt. Here we go.” Check that out if you’re personal Facebook friends with me, just find me on Facebook, search my name, and I think you’ll find me there. I think that does it for the in-house matters. I believe so. I’m running solo today although we do have new call screener, Matthias, thank you for coming in today. Chris, the main wingman is off. He’s got a conference he’s attending today. I’m running the livestream. We’re going to probably turn that off here shortly, but for those of you following on the livestream, I hope that you’ll tune over to the website, Veracityhill.com where you can hear the rest of the show. Again, give us a call if you want to participate in this discussion today on Mormonism. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. Without further ado, let’s move in to the main segment of the show. We’re going to be talking about the issue of Mormonism and joining with me is the lead pastor of the Mission Church and the founder of Godlovesmormons.com, Ritch Sanford. Ritch. Thanks for joining me today.
Ritch: Yeah. Glad to be with you man.
Kurt: For our listeners, maybe people have heard this term Mormonism. Could you just give us a brief introduction as to what is Mormonism? Who are Mormons?
Ritch: Mormonism is the religion of the Latter-Day Saints. Mormons usually refer to themselves as LDS, that means Latter-Day Saints. It was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith in New York so it’s a very fundamentally American religion. In fact some historians have said it’s really the only true legitimate American born religion, world religion. They’re the ones who are famous for sending out the pairs of young men as missionaries. You often times see them on bikes riding down the streets and carrying the Book of Mormon wearing white shirts with a black tie and the little black name badge. That’s the Mormons, and they usually refer to themselves as LDS, especially in places like Utah up here where I live, they usually refer to themselves that way.
Kurt: It was started in New York state, but it seems that most Mormons today live in the state of Utah. Is that right?
Ritch: That’s right.
Kurt: Tell us a little bit about that history. Yeah.
Ritch: Absolutely. The inaugural story as is told today about Mormonism goes back to what’s called the first vision and this is a vision that a young boy whose name is Joseph Smith had when he was fourteen years old. He is reading the Bible feverishly trying to determine which of all the denominations or sects of Christianity is the true one, which do you take part in, and so he opens the Bible to James 1 where it says that if a man seeks wisdom, he should ask of God who gives liberally to all and so that’s exactly what he does. He prays to God and subsequently is walking in the woods and has an encounter with two bright shining personages that he will later identify as God the Father and God the Son. They tell him that all of these sects, all of the Christian abominations, their creeds are an abomination, and that basically he will be restoring the church to its rightful place. That’s kind of the founding story and over subsequent years as the legend goes, he will have more interactions with angels who will eventually bring him to a place on the hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York, where he will dig up an ancient book on golden plates that we now today know as the Book of Mormon. This Book of Mormon, it will by God’s direction he will supernaturally translate into English and he published that book in 1830 and that’s really when most people will say Mormonism began, the publishing of the Book of Mormon.
Kurt: I’m taking a few notes here. You said translated into English. The golden plates weren’t originally in English for Joseph Smith?
Ritch: Correct. I don’t want to keep using the words this way, but really it’s kind of a legend. The story goes nobody knows what was written on those plates. Nobody actually saw them other than Joseph. While there were some people who said that they saw them, later they would admit that they only saw those plates through the eyes of faith but not actually saw them. He’ll claim that they were written in Reformed Egyptian, a language that today historians have no record of that type of language ever existing, but he says they were written in Reformed Egyptian and God gave him the Urim and the Thummim, special kind of seer stones that ultimately he would peer into to be able to translate the Book of Mormon from Reformed Egyptian into English.
Ritch: The way that it ultimately got from there to Utah, the Mormons in the early Mormon history as their theology and doctrines were evolving continued to get kicked out of different places in the U.S. at that time, the mid 1800’s, and largely because of what would ultimately become their views on the inerrancy of Scripture, the way they viewed the nature of God, and of course, with their most probably notably understood for back in the 1800’s which was polygamy, they basically got run out of New York, they got run out of Ohio, they got run out of Missouri, and they landed in Nauvoo, Illinois, and after Joseph Smith was killed in Nauvoo, Illinois, or while living in Nauvoo, Illinois, Brigham Young took the leadership and led the people to Utah which at that people was not America. It was actually in Mexico. He led them to a new place that would become their new Zion and that’s why Utah still to this very day is kind of the epicenter of Mormonism.
Kurt: We have some Mormon missionaries in our neighborhood and I’ve even befriended from time to time them and have met with them, but it really is fascinating. One of the things that I have I guess learned from the Mormon Church is their laborers are devout. They’re serious. If Christians took a note out of their playbook on that…if I had to say one good thing that I’ve observed, it would be that. If we could train our young men to go and be like that that would really help the Christian, the invisible Christian church for sure.
Ritch: I’ve had many Christians say the same thing. Regardless of what they believe, they have a true devotion and a commitment to missionary efforts that we might rightly be able to admire.
Kurt: Yeah. I want to talk more in a little bit about sort of their missionary work and to see what sort of progress if any it’s making, but before we get into that, something I was told once by a Mormon was that I believe the same thing you do and this is something I’ve actually been told a couple of times now I can recollect in my life and so I’m just wondering, if Joseph Smith was reading the Bible and he thought, boy all these denominations seem wrong, how is it that Mormons can say “I believe the same things you do.”? Do they and perhaps if they don’t then in what ways do they depart from historical Christian belief?
Ritch: That’s a great question. The reason that’s an issue is because over time the doctrines of Mormonism have dramatically evolved and so originally in 1830, 1831-2, I think that most of Mormonism would have looked very Protestant. It seems that’s the case. The Book of Mormon itself contains largely very very Protestant themes. A Christian could probably read through the Book of Mormon and think at the end, “This isn’t terribly different from what I believe.” There are some things in there, don’t get me wrong, but in general it sounds like a good Protestant document, but through the evolution of Mormon thought and teaching up until the modern day, it kind of went from rejecting this Christian nomenclature so that it would not want to be referred to as a Christian or an evangelical born-again up until the modern era and honestly our generation today is very eager, not just willing, but eager, to call themselves Christian which is new for Mormonism. For many generations they did not want to be called Christian at all, uniquely Latter-Day Saints. But yes, today if I was to ask a random Mormon on the street almost without exception they would say yes.
Kurt: Interesting. Tell us then in what ways maybe do they depart then from Christian belief? On sort of core Christian belief, do they accept the Trinity? Do they think there’s one God in three persons?
Ritch: No. That’s actually one of the very first things they will reject. One of the first things if you were to ask a Mormon, “What’s the biggest difference between your beliefs and those of traditional Christians?”, and it’s likely that they will say something about the Trinity within the first sentence. That’s a pretty common objection from Mormons. Let me summarize by saying it this way Kurt. There is no category of beliefs in which Mormons and Christians believe the same thing. When I say believe the same thing, I mean, to have a sufficient level of agreement for unity. There isn’t a category of belief in which we could confirm each other. Even different denominations in the world today, different modes of baptism, different ways we view salvation, different eschatologies, all those different things. Christians can acknowledge “That’s my Christian brother, but we view this differently!”, because we have a sufficient level of agreement on the fundamentals of the faith. Mormons and Christians however do not have the ability to say that rightly understanding what we believe about the doctrine.
Kurt: One issue there in particular that I think of, you mention baptism. Orthodox Christians believe whether it’s infant or adult baptism, it still functions in the same way, but Mormons, isn’t there this idea of baptizing dead people?
Ritch: That admittedly is I think a little bit of a misconception from outsiders often times, Christians as myself. Mormons do participate in baptisms for the dead, but that is exclusively for those who have already died in order to offer them a second chance at the good things that got cut off after they died. Living Mormons would never have themselves baptized by another person. A living Mormon would do a baptism very similar to what a Christian baptism would look like. It might be in a river. It might be in a church building. It might be in a lake or in the ocean. It’d probably look very similar. If you saw it from a distance you might not know if it was a Christian baptism or a Mormon baptism, but I think what you’re getting at is a major difference. They do believe that there are many works that are prerequisites for salvation. I’m using Christian terms right now Kurt because they wouldn’t use those terms in that same way, but is a prerequisite for salvation to be baptized, and not just baptized but baptized by somebody with priesthood authority in the Mormon Church. That’s just one example.
Kurt: Correct me if I’m also mistaken, another, and again this is Christian language, another sacrament is marriage. Right? They think in order to be saved you have to marry someone. Is that right?
Ritch: That’s true. They believe that it is a prerequisite for, we can’t use the words salvation because Mormons have a different definition for that, but it is a prerequisite for exaltation, which can be a synonym for eternal life and so yes, the greatest good that God can offer is only available to those who get married and is not available to those who do not, and not just married Kurt, but married in a Mormon Temple. It pretty much in every category, we tend to diverge from major beliefs categories here.
Kurt: There seems like there could be so much that we could go into for us to learn a bit more about Mormonism, so I’m curious, maybe let’s get to the status of the Mormon Church today. Do you find that it’s growing and if so in what ways or do you see that it’s declining? You’re there in Utah and you’re in the midst of it. What are your observations?
Ritch: We have statistics as well as just my anecdotal observations. The statistics do tell us that it’s kind of whoever wants to interpret them gets to say what they want to say. The statistics would say that Mormonism is growing. The difference between what a Mormon statistician might want to say and somebody outside might be willing to admit is that the growth is slowing dramatically, so the rate at which the Mormon Church is growing is diminishing quite dramatically. In fact, their greatest numbers are not coming from converts but new births, lot of kids, lots of kids in Utah and Mormon families in general. It was about a year ago during general conference, a major LDS gathering that takes place twice a year where the prophet speaks to his people. The leaders of the LDS church released numbers on their growth and a lot of them, there’s a huge wind, look at this growth, but they didn’t show how much the conversion growth had been down from previous years, even though they had recently infused an increase of nearly 20,000 more Mormon missionaries all around the globe. So even with additional efforts, lots of extra money, more temples being built, there are less and less people converting to Mormonism now than ever before.
Kurt: When we say that this growth rate is declining, what do you think are some of the factors? Why is there a decline in the growth rate I should say?
Ritch: I honestly think that it’s the advent of the information age. People have access to the information that has made it very difficult for Mormons to keep their truly condemning history under wraps to put it simply.
Kurt: The skeletons in the closet.
Ritch: Exactly! One of the things we’re trying to uncover here is one of the big differences between Mormons and Christians, well Mormons believe that there are an infinite number of gods potentially and that men can become gods, literal gods, like our God is a God of this planet, and they can rule over their own planets. We believe that Jesus is not a created being but the creator, unique and has an exclusive on the title “The Son of God.” Mormons believe that Jesus was created and that He is the spirit brother of Lucifer, the spirit brother of you and me for that matter. On almost major account they think differently and a lot of these things can be directly attached to the statements made by past LDS leaders which are now becoming more and more available for people to see and scrutinize over time. I think information has definitely driven the exodus from Mormonism.
Kurt: Are there skeletons in the closet regarding the founder Joseph Smith? What are some things about him and what he did? Have people found any of that repulsive and sort of used that to leave the Mormon Church?
Ritch: Certainly. It’s an important thing to bring up. One of the major changes that has taken place in Mormonism over the course of the past couple of decades since the internet has really taken off and people have access to it everywhere they go. Mormons who used to deny the underpinnings of the truths of Joseph Smith, what actually went down with the life of the originator of their whole movement, they’re realizing now, “Oh my goodness. This stuff is real.” Let me give you a story example of this. I have some friends in different parts of the country who are LDS, one of whom grew up in Chicago and he and I were talking about Joseph Smith on one occasion and I told him one of the things that I have an issue with Joseph Smith was his polygamy and more to the point his polyandry. Polyandry refers to a wife having more than one husband where polygamy is a husband with more than one wife. To me, that’s completely not allowed in the Bible. It’s against what the Word of God says from beginning to end. There’s only one word in the Bible for a man who takes another man’s wife and that’s adulterer. There’s just no other way around it. This Mormon friend immediately rejected it and goes “That is not true. Joseph Smith only had one wife. He never had more than that.” I began interacting with more people in Utah and asking that question and I was amazed at how many people told me they’d been Mormons their entire life, maybe 20, 30, 40, 50 years and had never heard that Joseph Smith had more than one wife. In an attempt to feign transparency the LDS leaders just maybe almost two years ago now admitted that Joseph Smith had as many as 40 wives and of those 14 were already married to living husbands. There were family members who were part of the same marriage situation together. Mother-daughter pairs. Sister pairs. And there were even young girls as young as 14 years old being married out to Joseph for sexual unions and these are things that Mormonism had been trying to hide for years but finally just came out and they had to admit to being true. That’s an example of just some of the condemning histories that make it really hard for people to remain Mormon after they hear about them.
Kurt: Let me play devil’s advocate here. Would Mormons, especially Mormon apologists perhaps, say something like, “Well he did marry many women, but the marriages were never consummated. It was just a spiritual marriage and there’s no sexual relationship that occurred.”
Ritch: Short answer to that question is yes, that had been the line for many years, but the most legitimate authors of the books, going through Mormonism right now to talk about Joseph’s polygamy, they totally deny they approach and they say they were sexual unions, that’s the point. In fact, if he just wanted to take care of all these other women, why didn’t he just buy them groceries? Why the marriage. The purpose for marriage even biblically is in order to be consummated, for there to be a sexual one man, one woman union, that’s the purpose to it, and so at this point a significant number of the apologists will acknowledge, “No. They must have been sexual unions.” And even the LDS church itself on their website, LDS.org has admitted, I think they said in kind of a slippery way, but they said that we admit that it is possible that many of these marriages were sexual unions. They didn’t come out and say, “Yes. We know for sure they are”, but they said it is possible. Now you and I could never say, “Well it’s possible Jesus sinned a lot of times. It’s possible that Jesus didn’t die on the cross.” It’s not possible. Of course, it’s not possible. In the same way, if they would say it’s possible it means it’s one of the potential realities that can exist.
Kurt: Maybe it’s just a little bit of special pleading that they just don’t want to admit that it happened.
Ritch: I think that’s true.
Kurt: We brought up the information age here, the internet, and so this is where a lot of people are learning about Mormonism. This is where a lot of Mormons are learning about their own religion even though they weren’t taught these things. They weren’t taught the skeletons in the closet. Why is it that it’s the internet? Why can’t they ask these questions? Did they just not know to ask the questions or is there social stigma behind stouting your faith like it is in some Christian communities?
Ritch: No. You’re exactly right. There is certainly way beyond a social stigma. There’s a level of fear that seems to follow active Mormons in regards to interacting with things that are not, quote, faith-promoting, unquote, might be a way they would say it, so any type of literature or resources that could be seen as anti-Mormon, honestly, they tell the people stay away from this stuff. Do not touch it. They might even recommend or abstaining from it to a similar level of severity that Christians might teach their kids to abstain from pornography. I wish this wasn’t as true as it is, but the truth is I’ve actually been on the street in Salt Lake City witnessing to Mormons and just talking to people as I run into them and I’ve had grown men and women who when they’ve heard me say things that were talking against something that Joseph Smith said, put their hands over their ears, begin yelling, and literally run away. Unfortunately this is kind of common, although that response was not as common as I’ve seen before. The general approach to anybody saying something against the LDS Church has been, “You’re not allowed to do that”, and that’s why the internet age has brought in a whole new influx of truth because now they can in the comfort of their own basement, no one else is around, you can research Mormonism and find the real truths.
Kurt: That’s something else. Maybe part of the challenge in reaching Mormons is just getting them to be comfortable in having a healthy dose of skepticism, a healthy dose because, in and of itself, even the apostle Paul had doubts. When you read the book of Galatians it talks about how after 15 years of preaching the Gospel he wanted to make sure that what he was preaching was right. So even he had questions, a little bit of doubts that he went to the other apostles to confirm.
Ritch: And that is certainly not something in Mormonism. My wife had told a good Mormon friend of ours not long ago, she was just talking about the importance of faith and our kids growing up knowing what is true and my wife something like, “I want my kids to challenge what we teach them. I want for them, if they need to, to run out and chase down what is the actual facts and get to the bottom of it so that they can truly believe for themselves,” and the Mormon friend looked right at her with a start, kind of went white, and she said, “I would never want that for my kids.” Christians. We’re truth-seekers. We’re creatures of the light. We just want to see truth. We have no fear of what is true and that’s why we can even look in the Bible and see the foolish things that Peter said and did, the sinful activities of the leaders of the Christian movement and all the way back into Judaism in the Old Testament days. We don’t hide things in that way. It’s one of those things that has been culturally a part of our Gospel since the very beginning is that we are sinners and we need a perfect Christ.
Kurt: If you’ve got a comment or question about Mormonism you can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. Ritch. This has been great. Let’s continue after a short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: I’m here with Ritch Sanford of GodlovesMormons.com and today we’re just talking about Mormonism, sort of an introductory episode here to that worldview, that belief system, but before we get into that, it is time for one of my favorite new segments of the show.
Kurt: This week we’ve got two political themed memes. The first one is this and we’ll put these up at the website for those that are interested to check these out for yourself. The first one is a picture of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and it says “No one can screw up health care as bad as Democrats. Hold my beer.” It seems that there’s been a big snafu with the GOP trying to pass the AHCA and there was a lot of concern. Interestingly enough, this united Democrats and the House Freedom Caucus who both were against it for different reasons mind you. I think I was a little concerned myself with some of the issues there that would have happened. Of course a number of people in the Republican Party are angry at the House Freedom Caucus for sort of being more purist. The point I have made, and I’ve made this online on Facebook is this to people that dispute this, even against Republicans that are blaming the House Freedom Caucus. What did the House Freedom Caucus do that was any different from what the GOP has been saying for seven years? They’ve been supporting the same sorts of legislation that the GOP even voted on successfully in the House back in 2015 and so it’s only now that the GOP is offering something different, which makes one think that the past bills have just been for show and so I think that’s maybe concerning to people that really support free market economics. I guess that’s all I’ll say on that. Paul Ryan maybe had a snafu and I think it’s been a small embarrassment, people are going to forget this stuff in six months. That’s just the way politics works. Small embarrassment for Paul Ryan and for even President Trump on this. Let’s move to the second meme. Here it’s a picture of Donald Trump and Barack Obama. This comes from Daily Kos. The other one came from Conservative Review. This one says “Donald Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes in 2016. Barack Obama won the popular vote by almost 5 million votes in 2012. Which president has a mandate?” It’s which president had a mandate, but at any rate, just a small grammatical point there, so mandates, that’s an interesting thing, a lot of people, politicians say we’ve been given a mandate by the American people. Yadda yadda yadda. I’m not a fan of this. This is just a rhetorical line. It’s not even an argument. It’s a rhetorical ploy because there is no such thing ever as a mandate because we just elect the people and they do their work and so usually that means there’s still going to be fighting for legislation and that no person should ever just back down for the sake of the most recent election. Senators are elected on six year terms and they’ve gotta do their job for six years regardless of the outcome so that’s the beauty of the system. So I’m not so much a fan of saying that such and such has a mandate and I don’t think we should be that way for either of the two major parties. I think we should take each piece of legislation on its own and we need to evaluate whether it fits with our views or not. We shouldn’t just bow down to whoever wins the presidency because the presidency is just one branch of government. It’s not a monarchy so the president doesn’t always get his way and in the future hopefully her way, you know. We just need to take each part of legislation as its proposed and evaluate them based on their merits in the same way that we need to evaluate philosophical and theological arguments on their own merits and not necessarily who they’re coming from because people can be wrong and so we shouldn’t just let people have their way. Yes. That’s what I think about that. I wouldn’t believe in mandates so Daily Kos, I think that’s how you say it. I would say you’re wrong on both ends. That does it for my favorite segment of the show.
Kurt: Alright. Now before the break we got a brief introduction to what the Mormon worldview and we’ve contrasted that a bit today with Christianity and the reason why I think this is important is because in my experience, I have met a number of Mormons throughout my life who have said that “I believe the same thing you do”, or “I’m just like you in our beliefs.” I’ve heard that on multiple occasions from Mormons, but is that really something that holds weight and maybe listener, you’ve also heard the same thing with interactions with Mormons that you may know, but it seems that the tough reality is, no, we don’t believe the same thing. There are some differences and there are some crucial differences. There are important differences that as Ritch said categorically are insufficient to think that we’re brothers and then we also talked about how the growth of the Mormon Church is declining and that’s largely it seems due to the advent of the internet and how information is more readily available so with the rest of the time that we have today, Ritch, I’ve got some questions for you then, a bit more about the ministry with Godlovesmormons. When people leave the Mormon Church, what happens to them? Where do you see them go?
Ritch: That’s a real shame. The best numbers we can come up with and most this is anecdotal, but kind of viewing, just kind of what we see going around with the relationships we have built, the ministry partners in Utah, the best guess we have is between 50-60% runs straight off to the Nones category, the agnostic maybe atheist category of people, and so the rest of them we are desperately trying our best to bring real truth. There’s a bridge that we can build for those who have a good ethical desire to believe in God, honor Jesus, without Joseph Smith, without the Book of Mormon, and that’s what we’re seeing
Kurt: And so what are some of the ways that you’re trying to reach those folks? You’ve got a church, right, the Mission Church, is that a big emphasis in reaching out to ex-Mormons?
Ritch: Yeah. Obviously that’s at a certain stage in a person’s kind of faith journey. It’s not usually the very first stop that an ex-Mormon will make, or a devout Mormon will make is, “Hey. Let’s check out a Christian church in the area,” because Mormonism would contend historically that a preacher in a Christian church is a worker of Satan not to be trusted, lots of evil things in that regard, so we’ve tried in many different ways to provide on-ramps for people to truth and that’s Godlovesmormons.com is probably our most direct focus on the Mormon community, not only here but around the world, giving people an access to Christian answers to Mormon objections and helping Christians engage with their Mormon neighbors better. That’s Godlovesmormons, we’re spending most of our time doing that.
Kurt: It’s sort of dual purpose insofar as it seeks to reach Mormons and, including ex-Mormons, but also just to educate Christians to teach them about Mormonism. Is that right?
Ritch: Exactly. When we started doing this actually, we realized that we could either try to make it directed towards Mormons or ex-Mormons or we should make it towards Christians and try to teach Christians how to interact with Mormons and quickly realize that rather than splitting up our time to do two separate projects or one devoted to the Christians, we really needed to point it towards Mormons. We needed to do it in a language that Mormons could understand because Christians are more than willing, I’m so pleased to be part of this amazing group of people around the world united by Christ who are more than willing to learn new, literally, learn new languages and learn new cultural isms and learn helpful ways to evangelize and use apologetics and Christians are willing to make that leap so if we pointed it towards Mormons, Christians could kind of listen in to my conversation with a Mormon and learn from that, and that’s actually exactly what we’ve been finding to be the case.
Kurt; So when you say that people are even pleased to learn a new language you don’t mean English to French. What you mean is, and correct me if I’m mistaken, I think I understand, is that they learn sort of a new vocabulary. It’s a new language that it’s words. We could say the same thing but really we mean something very different by them. Is that right?
Ritch: Absolutely. So words like Jesus, Satan, God, world, sin, salvation, Heaven, Hell, all of those words have entirely different meanings between Mormonism and Christianity and most Christians assume that it’s the same meanings and that’s usually what makes of the most misunderstandings in conversations.
Kurt: You listed a few there. Draw that out a little bit. Tell us what a Christian would mean by one of those terms and then what does a Mormon mean?
Ritch: When we say God we mean the limitless exclusive creator, the one and only God, the only who ever existed and ever will, the creator of all things, limitless and unchangeable and perfect. That’s what we mean when we say God. Out here when you say God that means one potentially sinful person who became a god in a premortal existence or a pre-exalted existence I should say and is now a limited being who is one of an infinite number of limited beings and that we can also become one of those exalted god-beings as well. It’s so different when we talk about, even the difference between monotheism and polytheism. Mormonism is the most polytheistic religion that exists.
Kurt: Say that again? How is it one of the most polytheistic religions?
Ritch: Because they don’t only believe in a potentially infinite number of gods, but an ever increasing number of gods. So it’s not as though there’s a set number of billions of gods. There’s literally ever-increasing for ever and ever and ever and ever more gods will be added to the universal count.
Kurt: Wow. That’s usually not the idea that you get when people are talking about Mormonism.
Ritch: Here’s the way this works out. As a Christian, Kurt, you have some Mormon missionaries come to your house and you say, “I as a Christian believe there is only one God who created everything that exists and is without limit, perfect and unchangeable.” You know what those Mormon missionaries will say? They’ll say “We agree. We agree.” The reason they’ll say that is because they define those phrases differently. They’ll insert words in their minds they won’t say out loud. They’ll say, “We believe there’s only one God” and then they’ll insert in parentheses in their mind “For us.” So on this Earth, we’re not allowed to worship any other gods, but there are an infinite number of gods out there. When we say something like “He’s the only one who ever existed” they go “That’s true, from our worldly perspective.” For me to be willing to worship or look up to. We say that He’s without limit. They think that too. They think it differently. The God of Mormonism is bound by universal constraints. There’s many things He cannot do that He might will to do. Very different gods.
Kurt: Fascinating. Wow. So tell me, what are some of the ways, you’ve got the website. You’re doing church work. What are some of the ways that you are reaching people there in Utah?
Ritch: Some of the ways we’ve had, we do regular street evangelism. We do friendship evangelism with neighbors and people we’ve got to know. We meet with Mormon missionaries regularly, both at Ward houses which are Mormon church buildings, and also in our own home we invite them over. We do Bible studies with ex-Mormons right now to help them reach their family members who are still in the LDS Church and honestly if you sit down and run the neighbors, Utah has the lowest percentage of Christians in the United States by far. We have three times less Christians percentage wise in Utah than any other region of the country. You don’t usually find that statistically because Mormonism is usually lumped in with Christianity in national statistics. You don’t usually find them. You have to look a little deeper and remove Mormonism from those stats to see that. If I were to have all the Christians in our congregation, in our county, who are willing to engage in evangelism, to try to connect with other people as friends and get to know them and over barbecues, years worth of time investing into relational evangelism, which is important. I fully and highly value that. You would have to do that with nearly 100 people over the course of our time in Utah in order for a single generation of Mormons to hear the Gospel. Speed by necessity, we have no other option but to try to get the word out there in stranger evangelism, radio shows, we do a radio podcast every single week, put out the Gospel message going out there, and online presence so we can get more and more people.
Kurt: You’ve got a great website. It looks very well done and let me tell you, you make some awesome videos. That’s probably got to take a lot of time to do but they’re very well done and so I’m very glad to see that because we need well-done content.
Ritch: It’s worthy of putting in good effort isn’t it?
Kurt: Yeah. That’s right.
Ritch: It reaches people for Christ. It’s definitely worth our greatest efforts.
Kurt: Awesome. Ritch. Thank you for all the work that you’re doing and let’s stay in touch and have you on the show again.
Ritch: Thank you very much Kurt. It’s been fun.
Kurt: Thank you. Have a good one.
Ritch: You too.
Kurt: Okay. So we’ve got a caller here, we’ve got David here on the line and David, as I understand it, thanks for calling in, you are an ex-Mormon. Is that right?
David: That is correct.
Kurt: Thanks for calling in to this particular episode. I’d love to hear your story a little bit. Can you briefly tell us sort of about your background? Were you raised in the Mormon Church?
David: Yeah. Most Mormons would know this terminology. I was born into the covenant and that means that your family had already gone through the temple and had been married with the words that they were used, that they were sealed for all time and eternity there. I was born into a Mormon family and raised into a Mormon family all my life.
Kurt: I’m just curious. Is your family still largely Mormon or?
David: Both my parents are still currently Mormon and my sister as well as my brother-in-law, but he is a returned missionary.
Kurt: Gotcha. Okay. So when was it for you that you left the Mormon Church? Were you a teenager? Did you do your Mormon mission? What’s your story?
David: Sure. I grew up through the ranks as a normal adolescent in the Mormon Church. You receive at the age of 12 the Aaronic Priesthood and the office of what’s called the deacon, and from there you go to a teacher and then here to being actually called a priest at 16 under what is called the Aaronic Priesthood. It is moving up in the ranks of the hierarchy as the Mormon Church is a very hierarchal structured organization. From there you receive the Melchizedek priesthood when you’re 18 and I received all of that and the office of an elder in this case, so then at 19, most youth, most male youth go on a mission, and so I was called to the Brazil mission and so I served the Mormon Church for two years faithfully there. You can say I was honorably discharged. At that point when I returned, I was still in good standing with the church so my doubts started pressing. When I was 16, I encountered anti-Mormon literature, had some doubts, but sort of resolved those doubts with the Mormon apologist answers. So there, I went on a mission from 19-21, but upon returning, because on the mission you’re allowed to read certain books, so I was only confined to those books. Upon returning then, I was researching heavily into the questions that had come up during the two years, some of the interactions that I had, and everything came to a head where I lost my testimony, the biggest stumbling block was the Book of Abraham, which is a purported Scripture translated by the power and gift of God to Joseph Smith, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, when indeed we know today that it had nothing to do with Abraham at all.
Kurt: You ended up sort of losing your trust in the Mormon Church and your Mormon beliefs. What happened then for you? Where did you go?
David: Once the first block went down and I had access to Dr. Robert Ritner, who’s written the definitive debunking of the Book of Abraham at the University of Chicago. So all the stuff started falling, the problems with the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the more common issues that you hear on the internet. From there, once losing my testimony, they say losing your faith in what the church purports, I entered a phase of grave wickedness in terms of sexual immorality and partying, what a normal millennial would…college years. That’s the lifestyle that I was living at the time.
Kurt: So then, what happened? Did you, I take it you’ve come out of your secular atheism? What happened then?
David: Sure. Once a person loses their testimony in the Mormon Church, most of them unfortunately become atheists and by the grace of God, He actually drew me out to Himself and really never have let me go in terms of continuing to study the Scriptures and the Bible and religious matters, though you know I studied the occult, and dabbled in conspiracy theories, but once the Lord really got a hold of me, He sort of dispelled all these wild and crazy fringe beliefs that I had as a Mormon and then of course those that I had picked up being tossed about by every wind of doctrine. Once He got a hold of me He really decisively saved me and I can probably say that I am one of His, He adopted me as His child, He gave me the new birth, and I can claim Him as my Lord and Savior today.
Kurt: Great. Awesome. So yes, so you’ve come to the true faith, the orthodox faith, and so you’re one that was able to recognize how the Mormon worldview has, or at least, says it has some similarities to the orthodox Christian teaching and you were able to weed out where those other false beliefs were so that’s really a great testimony that you have. Let me ask you this? What would you say as an Ex-Mormon. If you were to talk to a Mormon today, what would maybe just a couple things that you would say to help them understand the differences, not necessarily a high up Mormon, but just your average Mormon on the street. What would you say to them to convince them of these differences?
David: Yes. So organizations like GodlovesMormons and of course the other resources that are out there on the internet, CARM, just to name another that is highly influential in the arena, all those resources that you will always lead them to, but in terms of conversations on the street or in personal conversations, the first thing I would highly recommend to people is to look up a presentation on, and I have a YouTube video up on this, it’s called The Impossible Gospel. Just type it in, Impossible Gospel Mormons, and it will lead you to the topic of soteriology, how one gets saved, and for the Book of Mormon, all you have to do is remember the third to last Scripture in the Book of Mormon. It says that if you deny yourselves of all ungodliness and love God with all your might, mind, and strength, then is His grace sufficient for you. So obviously just meeting them on the road where you’re talking about “Have you ever denied yourself of all ungodliness?” and their answer will obviously be no, and the Scripture obviously says that then the grace of Jesus Christ is not sufficient for you. It leaves them in a quandary and the Impossible Gospel presentation is meant to get them to see that they have never met a person that has followed the commandments all of the time perfectly and nor could they ever repent of it perfectly. Essentially, they’re trying to live the perfect life, a works-based, a hyper works-based life system, and it’s impossible.
Kurt: It’s historically Pelagianism. They think they can earn their salvation through their works.
David: Correct. And then in terms of Jesus Christ, I would also recommend people to show the differences in the different Jesuses, the different Christs, in other words one is eternally God, has been eternally God, from the foundation of the world, whereas the other one is a created being, sort of an Arianistic type of viewpoint and is the brother of Lucifer and also showing people that the Mormons actually deny the virgin birth of Christ as found in Jesus: The Christ by James E. Talmage. Sort of these sort of points. Soteriology and the Christology would need to be discussed with Mormons.
Kurt: And so the method you take is by positing these, as you said, quandaries, because you know the Bible says somethings here, but then the Book of Mormon says some things here where they are conflicting ideologies. Good. David. Thanks so much for listening to the show today and for calling in and sharing your testimony. It’s great to hear that and I hope that it’s an encouragement to listeners here that Mormon apologetics is a worthwhile endeavor and it’s an effort worth supporting, so David, thanks so much.
David: Thank you.
Kurt: Alright. Well. That does it for the show today. I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons and partnerships with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0. Thanks to the tech team. Matthias, and to our guest Ritch Sanford and I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
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