Monday, March 12, 2012

Thurday Night Together: A Baptist Experience and Mormon Doctrine


Last month I was in Baton Rouge for the Mardi Gras jump rope work shop hosted by the Heart n’ Soul jump rope team. Louisiana is GREAT and I love visiting mostly because the people and the food are so great. Plus, I love that they decorate for Mardi Gras as intensely as the rest of the country decorates for Christmas.

Last year at this same workshop I had a discussion with a friend about whether or not Mormons are Christians, which I posted on this blog. It was a great discussion and hopefully cleared up a few questions about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and what be believe about Jesus Christ. 

This year I have another story to tell and a few more doctrinal issues to hopefully make clear, this time over the course of a few blog posts. One night my friend Kaylee who is from Baton Rouge invited those of us staying at her house to go to “Thursday Night Together,” or “TNT,” a young adult activity hosted by the Baptist student organization on LSU campus. I was excited to go because I like experiencing different religions and seeing what they do. The atmosphere was really neat; a bunch of co-ed twenty-somethings of all varieties, colors, sizes, personalities, and backgrounds together on a Thursday night. I’ve done the college thing and I know there are other things to do on a Thursday night, yet they all fit TNT in their schedules because they like the atmosphere, company, and want to do something about their faith in God and Jesus Christ. 

Everyone was super nice, we were offered food (of course, it’s the south), and everyone we walked by on our way in to the meeting room said hi and welcomed us. Kaylee introduced us to a number of people who all were sincerely and genuinely excited to meet us and they made me feel so welcome and comfortable.

The evening started with a live performance from Mosaic, a Baton Rouge-native gospel band based out of Nashville. The band was really talented and reminded me of EFY and the whole crowd was really into them. I just enjoyed seeing all the college students excited about God and their faith in Jesus Christ. I was also looking forward to hearing the pastor speak because I’m always interested to hear what other preachers say and how it resembles and differs from what I believe. I was not, however, ready for what this pastor was going to talk about. 

The very first thing he talked about after introducing his topic? Mormons. He told us that he chose to speak on the Trinity and how much of a daunting task such a subject was, but he felt that the was subject important so he was going to teach us about it that night. And then he said, “doctrine is important when discussing the Trinity. Now the Mormons...” and he went off about what (he thinks) we believe. For at least fifteen minutes he talked about “Mormon doctrine” and how off base we are, starting with, “Mormons will tell you that they believe in the Jesus taught in the Bible, the Jesus you and I believe in. But if you open up their Book of Mormon they do not believe in the same Jesus Christ preached in the Bible. They don’t even understand their own doctrine.” He went on to tell the congregation about the “Mormon Jesus” and said a whole bunch of very twisted or outright wrong things that I don’t feel the necessity to repeat here.

I can only imagine what my friend Kaylee who invited us or the other jumpers that came were thinking. For one, I’m sure the whole thing was a bit awkward for them. Kaylee put her hand on my arm as he started into his criticism and said, “It’s okay,” which I just waved off letting her know that I wasn’t offended or anything. Really though, for one, being offended is a choice. And two, c’mon, I’m a Mormon and I served a mission for the Church for two years in Ukraine; I’m used to other people telling me what I believe; this is nothing new. I just was not expecting it that night.

Living in Boise I learned from numerous people that their churches or their parents’ churches actually have anti-Mormon classes and preach anti-Mormon propaganda in church. I understand that much anti-Mormon literature is available, especially online. Also, with Mitt Romney vying for presidential office, many blogs and columns today are discussing not his political platform, but what they think are the weird “doctrines” of the Mormons. Yes, I’m used to people telling me what I believe, being very very wrong about it or grossly twisting it, and not caring whether or not they are right.

To them I say, why not do simple homework and check your facts? (See also this post.) Why pull your information from sources, most of whom are antagonists, rather than the real source--The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself? The Church has ample information online, most people probably know a Mormon somewhere, either in their neighborhood or at work. And you can always ask Mormon missionaries; click on the link in the left sidebar or they can come right to your house, you don’t even have to do anything.

Finding correct information about anything is possible with today’s technological marvels. Find the source and start there. Then go ahead and read criticisms and see what feels right and what doesn’t. But why go with the first thing you hear, or with the strangest thing you hear?

I also find interesting that “Mormonism” was the only other religion discussed that night by the preacher. I’m not surprised, I feel that Mormonism is oftentimes the only religion discussed or brought up or pointed out. I’ve found that “Mormon” is used to describe people just like race or hair color, more so I feel than any other religion. Perhaps I just notice it more because I am a Mormon, but I don’t think so.

As the preacher continued on and on about our “doctrine” I will admit that I got pretty frustrated. My heart rate accelerated and the thought even crossed my mind that I should defend my faith and stand up and tell him and everyone that what he was saying wasn’t true. I didn’t, which I feel was a good thing, and honestly how effective would that have been? It was not the time or the place and it would have been disrespectful to interrupt his sermon. I will admit that I did try and find him afterward; I wanted to shake his hand, look him in the eye, and simply tell him that I was a Mormon and that I did not believe hardly any of the things that he said I did. That also didn’t happen because I couldn’t find him. Which may have been better, who knows.

On the way out Kaylee apologized to me and to all of us for his sermon. Apparently his teachings on the Trinity don’t line up with her beliefs either and this particular sermon was not a typical sermon for their Thursday Nights Together. (As a side note, I've learned since then that he will not be invited back to TNT either.) I told her I didn’t care, that I’m used to people being wrong about what I believe and criticizing my faith. And I did take the opportunity then to let my friends know that most of what he said wasn’t true and the rest was pretty twisted. I’m grateful I had that opportunity to clear it up.

Really the evening was fun and the whole experience was interesting. As I said before, the evening started out great and I felt very welcome and comfortable. I was excited to see what the Baptist church college-age meeting was like. And it was encouraging to see that many college-age people making God and religion a priority in their busy lives. I’m not offended about the extremely negative and criticizing way the pastor chose to talk about my church, just sad that people believe that about me and that most people don’t know the truth.

Be mindful of the source when you hear things about other people and religions. A lot of animosity and criticism exists concerning races, nations, and religions and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often the target in this war of words and tumult of opinions. In the end, no publicity is bad publicity and the Church is not threatened by man because the kingdom of God will prevail.1 Joseph Smith taught: 

The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done. (History of the Church 4:540.)

The angel Moroni told Joseph Smith that his name, “should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that is should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” (Joseph Smith--History 1:33). I know this to be true for I have seen it all over as I travel and specifically in this instance of which I have told today. 

The Jesus Christ in whom I believe is the Jesus Christ preached by all the prophets from the foundation of the world, who was in the beginning with God, and by whom all things were made.2 I believe in the Jesus Christ who is the Only Begotten of the Father, who is full of grace and truth.3 I believe in Jesus Christ who went about doing good,4 healing the sick, and raising the dead and the Jesus Christ who performed all manner of miracles according to the people’s faith. I believe in the Jesus Christ of whom the Old Testament prophet Isaiah prophesied would be, “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” who would, “[bear] our griefs, and our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3-4). I believe in the Jesus Christ who suffered both body and spirit, who fell on His face in the Garden of Gethsemane and took upon Himself the sins of all mankind.5 I believe in the Jesus Christ who rose on the third day to become the firstfruits of them that slept, who gained victory over the grave that He might draw all men unto Him.6 

Yes, I believe in the Jesus of who Peter testified was, “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16:16). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the “Mormons” as my pastor friend referred to us, preaches Christ crucified,7 having suffered in the garden and on the cross, completing His Atonement of our bodies and spirits with His resurrection on the Third Day; the very Christ who is found in all the scriptures. 

I leave you with the words of the Master Himself: “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. 
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“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
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“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:35,38,40).

His way leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. This is the Jesus Christ in whom I believe.

Jeremy


Notes
  1. Jesus Christ told Peter that His church is built upon Himself, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). Daniel saw the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar and taught that, “the God of heaven [will] set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Dan. 2:44).
  2. John 1:2-3
  3. John 1:14
  4. Acts 10:38
  5. Doctrine and Covenants 19:18; Matthew 26:39; Mosiah 15:9
  6. Acts 10:40; 1 Corinthians 15:20; Mormon 7:5; 3 Nephi 27:14-15
  7. 1 Corinthians 1:23