What We Can Learn From Mormons (and What They Can Learn From Us), Part Two
Sermon by Michael Usey
April 18, 2010
Last week I talked with you about Mormonism. I shared with you that I believed Mormons were Christians, why I thought that, and talked about the reasons why we were partnering with them for the upcoming workday. This morning I was to share with you some things that we might learn from Mormons, and one thing they might learn from us. I’m going to accent the positives, but that doesn’t not mean I’m not aware of the negatives of both Mormon Christians and Baptist Christians. Every group that follows Jesus Christ has its blind spots and places where reform is needed. As Martin Luther said, the true church is always reforming, and always in need of reform. I intend neither to lionize or to demonize LDS. But, because we are deeply in love with God, we see in our LDS friends ways in which we can sharpen our devotion to God.
There is a great misunderstanding that what we believe is what we say. This is an old heresy, that true belief is what we verbally assert to, what we say with our mouths rather than what we do with our feet. But in reality what we believe in what is our life; it is what we do. If something is not in your week, then it’s not in your life. This is why during this Easter season, we’re asking everyone to come up with Credo statements. What is it that you believe? It is the things, tasks, events, people, relationships that you make time for. Let’s not kid ourselves: what we believe is what we do. If it’s not in your week, it’s not in your life: you are the architect of your days. The old saying that is true: If a Roman wanted to know what you believed, he would ask you. If a Hebrew wanted to know what you believe, she would follow you around for a week. Jesus made this same point over and over again: not those who say, Lord, Lord, but those who do the will of my father.
The passage from Matthew 25 for this morning is Jesus’ final parable, his last teaching before he enters Jerusalem, where he will be murdered. At the last judgment, people are separated by what they did to other people, whether they fed them or ignored them, visited them in prison or left them to rot, clothed them or cared less. This passage must not held up ahead of all others, but it does provide a certain clarity, and it the basis of one of the taglines of our church: loving God means loving people.
I see several Mormon practices that might inspire us. First, Mormons practice Family Home Evening. Monday evening is so sacred that all Mormon buildings are deserted and locked by 6 pm, and even phoning another family on that night is considered poor form. In places where lots of Mormons live, they often lobby schools and sport teams not to schedule activities on Monday nights. The LDS Church expects its members to spend Monday evenings together as families. This is far more than an occasion to gather around the TV together or go on a picnic—sorry, no Monday night football. The family home evening program includes praying, singing, and studying the gospel together. On many Mormon frig doors, next to the A+ spelling tests and soccer schedules, you find a little homemade poster listing several family home evening tasks such as prayer, song, lesson, game, and refreshments. Each family member’s name is written on a movable marker, and the names are rotated from task to task each week.
Ideally, it begins right after dinner, with each family member having prepared his or her assignment by then, particularly those in charge of the lesson and refreshments. In the case of young children, a parent or older sibling helps them get ready. It usually begins with prayer, then a song, followed by a gospel lesson geared towards the kids. Often the lesson has visual aides. Every family comes up their own lessons. Then there is a time for planning and discussion, a time to talk about family plans and problems, rules or vacation. One family I know of reports the best and worse thing that happened to him or her during the previous week. Then there is a time of fun: bowling, or playing a board game, or even doing a service project. Typically they close with prayer and a song.
Each family finds what works best at different stages of life. To avoid it becoming family homescreaming, they keep the evening fun and flexible. You want kids to look forward to it, not dread it. New and older married couples without children are encouraged to hold family home evenings together, and single people often group together on Monday nights. BYU organizes students living in dorms into groups for these evenings.
If the wider Christian church adopted this one practice, it would revolutionize our churches. Whatever your family looks like, the pace of life and the attractions of our culture seek to pull it apart. If you only take one thing away from this peek at Mormon practices, I encourage all of us to adopt something like this family home evening. (I can see from here my two teenaged boys: one is rolling his eyes; the other has a shoot-me-now look.)
Mormons also tithe, something many of you do as well; that is, they give one tenth of their income to the church. This money goes to the national church in Salt Lake City, which provides them with their operating expenses. The tithe may be on one’s gross or one’s net, but a tithe is required. They don’t pass the plate; a title is mailed to the bishop if it doesn’t have cash or to the financial clerk. Mormons believe that tithing is God’s Plan B, a first step in learning to live Plan A, which they call the Law of Consecration. Since their giving goes to the national church, this gives them little room for giving outside the church
College Park is fortunate to have lots of people who give sacrifically to the ministry of this church, some 10%, and a few much more. Our money stays with us, and our members decide where it goes to, and you and God decide how much you will give to this congregation. However, the Mormon tithe is a challenge to all Christians who give less than 10%.
Mormons tithe their time too, which is the basis for the mission that young adults go on between the ages of 19-25 for 2 years. Two Mormon missionaries were here last night, one from Idaho, the other from Las Vegas. They can be assigned anywhere, and they speak to people about their beliefs. It’s a time for LDS young adults to decide what they believe and why.
Another good aspect of Mormonism is their providing for the needy. Marshalling its organizational might, the LDS church has created one of the world’s most admired systems for helping people provide for their own material needs. In 1936, alarmed by the global depression that left millions in poverty, LDS President Heber Grant started a church welfare plan. By 2004, the LDS welfare program was the largest private welfare system in the world, with 113 storehouses, 105 canneries, 222 employment centers, 46 Thrift stores, and more than 3000 volunteers who serve as humanitarian missionaries. Their welfare program has three basic goals: to serve the poor; to encourage self-reliance, and to instill the value of service.
To support this program, Mormons fast every first Sunday of the month, know as Fast Sunday, the slowest Sabbath of the month. Mormons have fasted since the 1830s, and they point to three basic reasons: mastering the body, helping the poor, and growing spiritually. Fasting is an opportunity to step off the food treadmill for a while and think more about God. When Mormons fast, even those who are affluent and well fed gain a short term understanding of what going hungry feels like. From this experience, they grow in compassion and desire to serve others. Plus, they give what they would have paid for food that day to help those who are hungry, inside or outside the church.
When I first came to CP, I use to fast a half dozen times a year, because it was something our Lord did. Last year I fasted once, a spiritual discipline I’m afraid I have neglected.
Mormons are also known for their emphasis on maintaining health. When founding prophet Joseph Smith introduced Mormonism’s health code, known as the Word of Wisdom, little did he know that science would validate many of these teachings more than 100 years later. They abstain from alcohol, caffeinated teas, coffee, illegal and recreational drugs, and tobacco. (btw, caffeinated sodas are the subject of endless debate.) While the 19 th century Mormons enjoyed many of these things in moderation, most Mormons now do not use them. Likewise, the Mormon law of chastity helps reduce a host of physical, emotional, and spiritual ills. Today Mormons enjoy some of the most favorable health rates of any demographic group. As someone who is overweight and drinks too much Pepsi Max, I need the reminder of the Word of Wisdom.
Lastly, everyone in a Mormon congregation has a job and these jobs rotate annually. Everyone has something to do, which helps get the work done and makes everyone feel a part of things. It’s a great idea really: to give everyone a job so that the work is spread around and everyone has a sense of ownership and purpose.
So these are a few things that we Baptists can learn from Mormons: Their Monday Family Home Evening, their demand for tithing both time and money, their two year mission for young adults, their help for their own needy, monthly fasting, emphasis on maintaining health, and giving every member a job to do. Not all of these are unique to Mormons; many of you practice some of these as well. But these can serve as challenges to us, and be talking points with the LDS members we will work with this coming Sat.
Baptist Christians have something to offer Mormon Christians. Most of the profound differences we have with Mormons are institutional differences, meaning they are issues that part and parcel to Mormonism. We differ on issues such as:
Authority: Mormons believe that Jesus directly governs their church, making his will know through 15 men who govern the church as apostles. The most senior apostle (by date of apostleship, not birth) is set apart as the prophet and president of the church. He selects two other apostles as his counselors to constitute the first presidency. The remaining 12 become the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. In addition the church calls men to serve as seventies. As you can see, this is a much different idea of authority from Baptist Christians, and one that is very similar to the RCC. We believe we have no mediator between God and humans, and that we are equal before God, each of us a minister, each of us a priest to each other.
The Role of Women: As in many other faiths, women cannot be leaders in the LDS—Not the prophet, nor an apostle, nor seventies, nor the presiding Bishopric. This is true on the local level as well. (Nine women, however, serve as national auxiliary leaders over the children, young women, and relief society.) We, on the other hand, believe God calls women as well as men to be servant leaders. God does not restrict giftedness to one gender.
Ecumenicity: Although most other Christians accept each other’s churches as valid in God’s sight, Mormons believe their own church is God’s only “true and living” church currently on the face of the earth. Mormons respectfully acknowledge that many religions contain elements of God’s eternal truths, but they believe that only the LDS Church possess the full package of God’s authorized priesthood. We might see Mormons as fellow Christians, but they will not see us in that same light.
Sexual Ethics: Mormons believe sex must be strictly channeled into marriage between one man and one woman. They do not accept homosexuality as valid for a Christian; they regard masturbation as sinful and impure; they reject abortion for all reasons except rape, incest, or medical necessity. In addition they maintain modesty, avoiding any clothing style that isn’t compatible with the temple-issued underwear commonly known as garments. Mormons women and girls generally don’t wear two-piece swimsuits. This is very similar to the sexual ethics of the RCC, but much different that what many liberal Baptist Christians believe.
History: Only Mormons accept Joseph Smith’s version of history: that Jews fled across the ocean to America. Native Americans do not have Hebrew DNA, and the events detailed in the book of Mormon are not supported by archaeology. (For example, the existence of horses before the arrival of Columbus.)
The nature of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit: I talked about this last week, that Mormons do not believe in the Trinity.
These are institutional differences, meaning they are deep within the structure of the Mormon church. Individual Mormons are not free to differ with the church on these issues, and, as you can see, many of these positions are very similar to those of the RCC. Roman Catholic Christians may regard us as fellow Christians, but we are not free to take communion with them.
Because we affirm the experience of Mormon Christians, we are compelled to also affirm those Christians who have left Mormonism. If you read the testimonies of those who left the LDS church, there is a constant theme of feeling bound, of legalism, of not being free, of the practices of their faith getting in the way of their relationship with God. I believe the strength of Mormon Christians is their discipline, and it has much to say to us who are too often lax in our faith. However, our strength is often our weakness, and the dark side of discipline is legalism. I am not saying all Mormons are legalists; I am saying that is a real and present danger in their version of Christianity. The danger of Baptist Christians is being lax in our faith, but our strength is freedom, freedom in Christ. Christ means freedom, freedom from all kinds of legalism. We are a free church filled with free Christians in the free church tradition. We are open to new ideas, in fact, in the words of the proverbs passage outside my door, we look for them. Christ came to set us free from everything that binds us, even church structure and tradition. I am not saying that Mormons are the ROTC of the church and that Baptists are the flower children, but there is some true in that failed analogy. You are free to decide what you believe about God in Christ, how much you will give to the church, what you believe about appropriate Christian sexual behavior. Christ came to set us free from everything that binds us, that robs of joy, anything that gets in the way of our relationship with God, and if Christ sets you free, then you are free indeed.