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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Of Temples, Churches and Crosses

Columnists, bloggers and other writers frequently do not familiarize themselves with the terminology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And may I say, it's mutual. We Mormons don't know a nave from an apse; we don't kneel in our services and so don't know what a prie-deux is. Mention hermeneutics or exegesis to us and our eyes will glaze over. We can only respond, "How's that again?"

But we don't spend a lot of time writing about other churches in the major dailies. And we try to be polite and not bother to correct things others say about us, unless they really cross the line, usually something about doctrine.

So forgive me if I take a few minutes here to define some terms.

First of all, it's the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not the Mormon Church. We recognize that that's a bit of a mouthful, so it's acceptable to call members or cite instances of history or doctrine "Mormon" or "L.D.S."

Outsiders tend to use three separate terms, which are perfectly clear to us, interchangeably. These are Church, church and Temple.
  • The Church. The overall organization. As in "The Church places great emphasis on higher education."
  • the church. The meetinghouse, where Sunday worship services are held. Also used for other kinds of meetings, parties, etc.

  • The Temple. The place where special ceremonies, such as baptism for the dead, are performed. They are closed on Sundays so members may attend their regular meetings. On Mondays they are closed for cleaning.
One blogger wrote of a black family that was turned away from a Temple on a Sunday. All they wanted, the writer stated, was to attend a simple Sunday worship service. The writer interpreted this as racism. In fact, the Temples are closed on Sundays and nobody -- black, white or green -- gets in.

It's true that you will not see a cross on or in a church or a Temple. There may be many explanations for this. My personal explanation is simply that the cross predated Jesus' life on earth by untold millennia. It appears in ancient rock art, carved there by persons who never heard of Jesus Christ. It is familiar to us as the Egyptian Ankh. We see it in so many places, indicating so many different things, that I don't just automatically think of Jesus Christ when I see one -- on an ambulance or a national flag, for example.

Finally, nothing in the New Testament indicates that the cross was used, or was expected to be used as a symbol of the Atonement. The taking of bread and water or wine is what the Lord commanded should be done in remembrance of his sacrifice.

According to L.D. Hammons (sorry; I'm not familiar with him or his credentials, except that he is obviously Christian, but he certainly shares my viewpoint in this matter):

To say that an object-shape contributes to Christianity is to attribute religious power to the object. Believing that religious objects have spiritual power is false worship and false dependence on a physical object. . . .The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is basic to Biblical Christianity, and believers remember Jesus Christ's sacrificial death when they participate in the Lord's Supper. Religious symbols, such as the cross, have no spiritual power, and such symbols are neither needed nor appropriate as aids to the worship of God.

For a illustrations and further explanations, see the Wikipedia entry at
or  The Cross: an emblem of Christianity

God-fearing Christians believe that Jesus accepted crucifixion on a cross for the benefit of us all. The message from this is at the heart of all true Gospel preaching and consequently the cross symbol is used by two billion Christians all over the world.
This has not always been the case however. Christians didn’t use the sign of the cross as their religious symbol for many generations after Christ was crucified. Rather than being a Christian symbol of hope and love, it only had the negative association as an execution apparatus for criminals.
So initially, Christians adopted the fish symbol or the trident symbol to identify their religion. Then, early in the 4th century, when Emperor Constantine publicly declared that Christianity should be tolerated1, execution by crucifixion was abolished and the cross became the emblem for Christians.
The cross is now carried by more people than any other religious talisman and is considered by a few to be sacred to the extent that it becomes icon of adoration in its own right. However, such idolatry is certainly not the norm in Christendom, particularly Protestant Christianity. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

What Is the Place of Religion in American Political Life?

Does the Constitution really call for the "separation of church and State?

If so, where, and what does it mean? I don't claim to be a Constitutional scholar, but to be honest, I've never been able to locate this phrase there. Everyone, or nearly everyone, knows that it is a phrase used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptists. 

Interestingly enough, in light of the current question as to which denomination is Christian and which a cult, Danbury Baptists wrote to Jefferson because they felt they were being denied certain rights because of their faith. In other words, Baptists were in a cult!

Danbury is in Connecticut, and fell within the northern reaches of the Anglican Church. The States, roughly from Connecticut to Virginia, taxed their citizens for the support of the Anglican (Church of England) Church, without regard to membership therein. 

For fuller information, click on Founding of The Episcopal Church Part I , Tony Knapp.

It is in this light then that Jefferson's famous letter was written, and by which we can see more clearly the meaning of Article One of the Bill of Rights.

Article I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,  (the famous "Establishment Clause"). The federal government cannot force you join, attend or otherwise uphold or support any one denomination. Neither can it levy taxes for that purpose. States? Counties? That's a different question, and one which seldom if ever comes up.

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. This part is less clear-cut. A few days ago a man half-strangled his little boy and threw him out of the car, abandoning him on the roadside. He did this, he said, because God told him to. 

Are we eager to elect this man to public office? Article Six of the Constitution states:

no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. Not even for axe murderers, child abusers, and their ilk? How about headhunters? Or can it be that these are not really religious questions?

There must be something else involved here. Whether we recognize it or not, are we in fact living under a higher law?
 Is America a Christian nation?

No. We are not a Christian nation. But we are, undeniably, a Judaeo-Christian Nation. That doesn't mean that only Jews and Christians are welcome here. But it does mean that anyone living here must abide by those principles. Those who shed innocent blood, steal their livelihood from the weak, do not honor those who came before, are not contributing to our society and cannot be tolerated here or anywhere.

Every clan, village and nation in history has had the Ten Commandments. They may not be written out or enumerated, there may be six or 20 or 14, but those basic concepts are what it takes to make a society viable.

So to summarize:

 What Is the Place of Religion in American Political Life?

We can require that the office-seeker be honest, well-intentioned, educated. We want him to be responsive to the current national and world situation. We hope his personal behavior won't embarrass us on the world stage.

We cannot require that the office-seeker avoid cults or agnosticism or atheism.  

Religion is and must remain a personal choice. 

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Is "Mormonism" a Cult?

I hadn't planned to comment on this, nor on Mitt Romney's presidential aspirations, but sometimes the daily news overtakes common sense and forces writers to join the debate.

By now everybody knows what happened at the Values meeting, so I won't go into that. I will, however, attempt an answer -- not "the" answer, but "an" answer to the cult business.

Not being certain what exactly is meant by the term "cult," and having decided that "us-against-them" may be accurate, but is not comprehensive, I went to the Merriam-Webster (an Encyclopedia Britannica Company) Dictionary for help. Here's their take on it:


noun, often attributive \ˈkəlt\

Definition of CULT

1: formal religious veneration  
Plea: Guilty as charged. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does practice religious veneration.
2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also: its body of adherents 
Plea: Guilty again. There is a system of religious beliefs and rituals, and there is a body of adherents.
3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also: its body of adherents 
Question: By whom? By what authority does one religious body call another "unorthodox?" 
Again, I'm not sure what "unorthodox" means. Call me "stupid" if you like, but I want to get this right.
Back to M-W: unorthodox  means "not orthodox". Now there's a shocker. So how about "orthodox"?


adj \ˈr-thə-ˌdäks\

Definition of ORTHODOX

1 a: conforming to established doctrine especially in religion b: conventional
2  capitalized: of, relating to, or constituting any of various conservative religious or political groups: as a: eastern orthodox b: of or relating to Orthodox Judaism

Examples of ORTHODOX

  1. He took an orthodox approach to the problem.
  2. She believes in the benefits of both orthodox medicine and alternative medicine.
  3. He is a very orthodox Muslim.
  4. I attend an Eastern Orthodox church.
  5. My grandmother is Russian Orthodox.
I'm guessing that by "orthodox," much of what we shall call "mainstream" Christanity means accepting and conforming to the Medieval Creeds. In brief, Trinitarians.

Latter-day Saints are not Trinitarians. We believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. We believe they are one in intent and purpose, but that they are not therefore different names for the same being. When Christ in the Garden said "Not my will but thine be done;" or on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou  forsaken me?" it does not make sense to us to maintain that he was talking to himself.

Someone on one of the morning talk shows pointed out that the press and others are determined to bar religion from the public discourse. Sometimes people try to block Nativity scenes, or even have crosses removed from military cemeteries. But just let a Republican aspire to public office and -- Whammo! -- religious beliefs return with a vengeance. At this point we throw all our journalistic scruples out the window, along with any concept of fairness or truth.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not alone in having been labeled a "cult." Richard J. Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, California, recalls "a reporter once asking me: 'Evangelicalism, is that like Scientology and Hare Krishna?'"
A family I happen to know is about equally divided between Baptists and Lutherans. At Holiday gatherings, theological differences were served up with the turkey. On one memorable occasion, a Baptist pointed out that, "You know, there really was a John the Baptist, but there has never been a John the Lutheran." The Lutheran's priceless comeback: "John the Baptist lost his head, and the Baptists have been running around without one ever since!"
So, is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Christian? (The name ought to give you a clue). Or is it a cult?  I'd say that's up to you. What do YOU  think a cult might be?

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