Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fostering Knowledge of the Gospel

family readingWe still haven't adopted any children, but we have been keeping two foster kids for the last couple of months. Getting three kids' homework and four kids' baths taken care of consumes most of our evenings, so when we do get time to sit down and read a story, I want to make it count — enter the Big Picture Story Bible.

Recently we were reading the story of Noah and the flood, and my eldest volunteered that God wouldn't destroy the world again with water but with fire. (Insert happy dance.) The older foster child said everyone would go to heaven then. And I told her no.


She was aghast. She had never heard such a patently unfair thing in her six years — and that includes the times I've grounded her from the tv for hitting her brother.

There are two things I want to say about that experience.

1. In taking these two children into our home, we got to make sure that they heard the gospel — both the bad news and the good — at least once in their lives. A seed has been planted that will hopefully bear fruit in their souls. That's a big part of why we're doing this. It is an honor and a privilege. I encourage all of you to try it. (It's not a lifetime commitment.)

2. These kids have been in some church for at least the last year and a half (between my house and their previous foster home), and they are just finding out everyone doesn't automatically go to heaven. What are we teaching our kids?

Perhaps we think six years old is too young. But when these kids leave us in a couple of months, they may never go to church again. And that may be true of more kids than we know. We have to make use of every opportunity. Their eternity may depend on it.

Photo by Travis Seitler

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Can I Vote for a Mormon?

After answering the question of whether Mormons are a cult with a solid "yes and no," we should turn to the next question that's on so many minds, since there are two Mormons in the GOP presidential primary right now: Can I vote for one for President of the United States?

It's true that Mormons are pretty far outside of normal, orthodox Christianity, but their belief system still produces a world view that is in line with that of most evangelical Christians, at least on the most practical matters.

We can expect a Mormon president to be pro-life and pro-family — both in the laws they champion and the judges they appoint. As people who are committed to unpopular and difficult lifestyles, we can expect them to support freedom of religious exercise for all Americans. Beyond that, I think you'll find their chosen party labels tell you more about their views and aims than does their religion.

There are understandable concerns about a Mormon president creating interest in the LDS religion, but I can't believe they'll get such a huge boost from that. People may consider the Mormons out of curiousity, but their decision to stay with them or not will say more about traditional Christians than about the Mormon president.

And how far are we willing to take that concern? If we don't vote for a Mormon because it may cause people to become Mormons, next we may have people in the Church of Christ refusing to vote for Baptists or Calvinists refusing to vote for Arminians. Ridiculous? Yeah. So is voting against a Mormon over this.

There's one truth we need to keep in mind in this whole thing: We're looking for a president, not a pastor.

All of the objections to voting for a Mormon for president should fall away if we keep that truth in view.

One last warning: Even if you don't vote for a Mormon in the primary, it's appearing increasingly likely your choice in the general election will be President Obama or a Mormon. If you decide to opt for a candidate of a minor party — the "true Christian" in the race — you will simply be voting for Obama. That's simply the way our system works.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is Mormonism a Cult?

With Mitt Romney again running for President of the United States, the word "cult" is getting a lot of air time.

Is the Mormon church a cult? You can't give a simple yes or no answer.

There are (at least) three ways to use the word "cult" — and they're all correct usage:

The broadest, but least common, refers to any system of worship. It is not derogatory; it simply distinguishes one religious group from another. In history, the "Jewish temple cult" was the way orthodox Israelites worshipped YHWH at Solomon's temple in Jerusalem.

The narrowest, and most common among Americans at large, refers to groups with wildly unusual teachings that influence their members using unethical tactics (e.g., sleep deprivation) and try to cut them off from their friends and families (at least in the popular imagination). Think Branch Davidians or Heaven's Gate.

In between these two in scope is a usage that is common among American Evangelicals: a group that is an unorthodox off-shoot of an existing religion. It simply refers to groups that don't follow all of the rules. By this definition Christianity is a cult of Judaism, and the Jehovah's Witnesses are a cult of Christianity (because they do not hold to the deity of Christ or the doctrine of the Trinity).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka, LDS Church or Mormons) is also a cult of Christianity by this definition.

The problem is that most Americans, when hearing the word cult, think about David Koresh or Jim Jones. To these Americans, calling the Mormon church a cult is sure sign that you are a weirdo. You'll rarely, if ever, be given a chance to explain what you mean. You'll simply be tuned out or castigated.

It is not useful to call the LDS Church a cult in politics or apologetics. It demeans you. Just don't do it.