Mormon Dissenters have been there from the start, but you wouldn’t think so given the official story they tell. The Mormon Church’s basic narrative is glossy as a travel brochure, summed up neatly in the potted, 15 minute lesson plan of the missionary handbook, Preach my Gospel.
‘Our message is remarkable and simple. God is our Father. We are His children. We are part of His family. He loves us. From the beginning of the world, He has followed a pattern of love and concern. Many times He has reached out in love to reveal the gospel of Jesus Christ so that His children can know how to return to Him. He revealed it to prophets such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. But people have repeatedly chosen to reject that gospel. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ Himself taught His gospel and established His Church, and accomplished the Atonement. Incredibly, people even rejected Jesus. Whenever people disregard or distort true doctrine and ordinances, God withdraws His authority to administer the Church.
Our invitation to you and all people is to add to the truths you already treasure. Consider our evidence that our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, have again reached out to God’s children in love and revealed the fulness of the gospel to a prophet. This prophet’s name is Joseph Smith. The evidence of this glorious truth is found in a book—the Book of Mormon—which you can read, ponder, and pray about. If you pray with a sincere heart, with real intent and faith in Christ, God will tell you by the power of the Holy Ghost that it is true.’ (Preach my Gospel, p.41)
The story is of prophetic dispensations, periods of apostasy when the gospel and the authority to preach it and organise God’s people are removed from the earth, restoration through prophets sent from God. This cycle is repeated, a cycle in which Jesus himself presided over a failed prophetic dispensation. It is significant that this part of the Mormon narrative contains a total of two paragraphs in the missionary teaching manual, Preach my Gospel.
There are four gospels in the Bible, but two paragraphs in the Mormon account of Jesus’ ‘dispensation’ before they move on to the Great Apostasy following the death of the apostles. There are eight paragraphs here about Joseph Smith. At the end of this cycle, the prophet of the latter days, of the finally restored gospel, is Joseph Smith.
This message appeals for several reasons:
- First, it’s simplistic, and people have a habit of reaching for the simplest explanations in life, without asking too any questions.
- It appeals to people’s sense that ‘the Christian Church has got it wrong,’ appeals to our prejudices and preconceptions. If only we could start afresh and get it right, and here is God effecting a reset.
- Here is evidence of authenticity in the form of new Scripture, the Book of Mormon, and living prophets. It just seems so right.
- Finally, this is happening now, in our time, and here are two missionaries come a long way to tell us.
Dispensations of Mormon Dissenters
However, contrary to the clean cut image of eager young missionaries and wholesome families, Mormonism has a dark side. From the start, there have been those who have dissented for one reason or another and these dissenters are worthy of our attention. You might speak of Mormon Dispensations of Dissent.
Mormon Dissenters and The Kirtland Safety Society
Perhaps the most serious episode of Mormon dissent in the early Church occurred during an economic depression in Kirtland in 1837. When the Kirtland Safety Society (a banking institution championed by Joseph Smith) foundered because it was seriously undercapitalised, a group of influential Church members called for Joseph Smith to be replaced as the Church’s leader, ultimately forming their own separate reformed church. In the agonizing division that followed, as many as 10 to 15 percent of the members in Kirtland left the Church. These included members of the Quorum of the Twelve and several of the Book of Mormon witnesses…read more here
Mormon Dissenters and the Nauvoo Expositer
In January 1838 Oliver Cowdery—an early Mormon dissenter and one of the Three Witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon—wrote to his brother concerning his indignation at Joseph Smith’s relationship with 16-year-old Fanny Alger, who worked as a servant in the Smith household. Cowdery said he had discussed with Smith the “dirty, nasty, filthy affair of his and Fanny Alger’s …” Polygamy was to be a millstone around Smith’s neck and would eventually lead to his assassination.
In the later part of May, 1844, William Law, who had been a member in the First Presidency, brought charges against Joseph Smith for adultery in relation to his polygamist union with Maria Lawrence, a nineteen-year-old. Bear in mind Smith now was 39. She and her sister Sarah were Joseph’s wards and lived in the Smith home. The Smiths were substitute parents. Smith denied it, of course.
William Law and his brother pleaded with Smith to put a stop to this new practice but were only rebuffed. Seeing that there would be no repentance, the Laws, along with several other dissidents, announced plans to print a newspaper detailing the various secret teachings of Joseph Smith. The one and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositor was printed on June 7, 1844, enumerating various false teachings of Smith, such as polygamy, multiple gods, secret societies and financial misdeeds.
Smith had the press destroyed following the first and only edition of the paper. The Expositor editors swore out complaints that led to Joseph and Hyrum Smith being arrested, along with John Taylor and Willard Richards, faithful leaders. It was in Carthage jail that Joseph Smith and his brother were killed by a mob. Thus Joseph’s secret polygamy and the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor became the catalyst for his murder…read more here
Mormon Dissenters by Recruitment: Sports Team Baptisms
The controversial “baseball baptism” program was Henry D Moyle’s idea to increase baptisms in order to fill the church meetinghouses. In the late 1950s and 60s, Missionaries would encourage young men to join sports leagues and used baptism as a prerequisite. Under this approach, large numbers of young men were baptized but very few were ever active in the church.
The rush to baptize was accompanied with the establishment of baptism quotas for missionaries and memorized missionary discussions which were to be delivered verbatim to potential converts. As a consequence thousands of names were on record of young boys and girls no one knew or had seen. There followed tens of thousands of ‘excommunications’ of young people who never wanted to be Mormons in the first place, recruits who became Mormon dissenters by default…read more here
It Simply Doesn’t Work
My wife and I became Mormon dissenters and left Mormonism because it simply doesn’t work. There was no quarrel, nobody hurt us, indeed we loved the people and found them among the best we ever knew. We simply became increasingly aware of what a struggle it was to keep up with all the demands of the religion. It was something we were to later relate to Paul’s words in Romans 7. I agree with the law but finally have to admit I can’t keep it, even when I want to.
Then there is the growing awareness of people more or less resigned to the idea they were never going to get to the fabled Mormon Celestial Kingdom of God, but a lower kingdom will still be nice. So what was that all about?
We had been Mormons through a period of unprecedented growth in the UK in the latter part of the 20th century. Wikipedia reports:
‘In the mid-1950s, membership in the United Kingdom and Ireland stood at 9,000, when the second major phase of the growth and development of the Church in the British Isles began. Emphasis was given to “staying and building,” and steps were taken to ensure that Church members in the United Kingdom did not need to emigrate to enjoy all the blessings of the Church membership.
President David O. McKay dedicated the London Temple, at Lingfield, Surrey, on September 7-9, 1958. The first European stake was created March 17, 1960, in Manchester, and others followed in rapid succession. Where only a handful of LDS chapels existed in Britain before 1960, with most congregations worshiping in rented rooms or halls, by 1970 more than 100 chapels had been completed, and this number rose to around 250 by the end of the 1980s. These manifestations of a permanent presence led to a dramatic reawakening in the British Isles, and an era of increased baptisms and Church growth.
The Public Communications Department was established in 1975 to disseminate information about the Church. The Church Educational System began its work with youth, and missionary and temple work increased. More genealogical records were obtained for microfilming, and a network of family history centers was inaugurated. The Church Welfare Services program, with its support to the needy based on the principle of work, commenced in 1980 with the purchase of a 305-acre farm at Kington, Worcestershire. In January 1985 the London Missionary Training Center, located near the temple, opened its doors.’
These were exciting times, anything seemed possible, and looking back I realise we left just before it all went south for a lot of disillusioned Mormon dissenters through the next thirty years.
Secrets and Lies Create Mormon Dissenters
We can look over Mormon history, or the history of any cult, and find the kinds of scandals, secrets and lies, divisions and dissent I have described. Since 2013 the church has been quietly publishing the Gospel Topics Essays, addressing these issues, facing the challenge of inescapable search engines and the Internet, exercising damage control.
Such stories are having a devastating effect on the Mormon Church, as members discover for themselves that Joseph Smith had up to forty wives, that there was a banking scandal, that their recruitment efforts have not been as honest as one might think, that there are very many differing accounts of the so-called first vision. Mormon dissenters rise in every generation.
But that is why people are sometimes put off witnessing. As more than a few have said to me, ’I can’t be an expert on all these cults,’ but you don’t need to be. It is always helpful to know something about the other person’s faith, to witness from a place of knowledge, but…
Plain Teaching From God’s Word
As I have looked again over the section of the missionary lessons from which I quoted above, I have found ample material to drive me to my Bible and challenge Mormonism with plain teaching from God’s Word. After all, that is what my wife and I needed, not an exposé of Mormonism, but an exposure to truth.
- Dispensations: Mormon missionaries will teach there is a pattern of prophetic dispensations that makes up much of the recorded history of the Old Testament. Is this true? If you know your Bible you will know it isn’t.
- Apostasy: This pattern of dispensations being pushed prepares you for the idea of periods of apostasy, when the heavens are silent. Is this true? Yes and no. There are times of disobedience and apostasy in the Old Testament, but if you know your Bible you will know God doesn’t start again with someone else. Rather, he calls the same people who have strayed back to walk in his purposes. Need I point out the first Christians were Jews?
- Apostles: Having established in your mind the idea of apostasy, they introduce evidence of New Testament apostasy with the death of the apostles. After all, isn’t the church built on the foundation of apostles and prophets? But if you know your Bible and a little church history, you will know it is not apostleship that is passed on but the gospel message, the teaching of the apostles…read more here
- Restoration: The great good news of Mormonism is that, through Joseph Smith, God has restored his New Testament Church in the latter days. But if you know your Bible, and some church history, especially the creeds, you know Christians believe the same fundamentals today as were believed in the beginning and through church history. Where we have strayed we have, just like Israel of old, been brought back through acts of reformation, a return to the Word of God, and the apostles’ teaching.
- Church: They present a nice neat package they call church, demonstrating faithful continuity since Joseph Smith. But if you know your Bible, and a little Mormon history you will know Mormonism has a very fractured, dark, and dingy history, but more importantly, your Bible will tell you the church is not an organisation, or building, but a temple built of living stones.
Mormonism and the NAR
If this sounds similar to something else on the church scene today you would be right. As I have studied and researched the New Apostolic Reformation I have been amazed to see Mormonism jumping out at me from almost every page. So much of what I have shared is characteristic of the NAR.
- It is a restorationist movement
- It claims to have apostles and prophets that speak directly from the throne of God
- A buzz word for the NAR is seasons. ‘We are in a season of…’ making it clear you must be engaged with them in this season, because what God is doing in this season he is doing through them. It sounds a lot like a new dispensation of prophets.
- They even have new Scripture in their Passion Translation, which frankly I wouldn’t read to my dog.
In such times, it is as important as it has ever been to read and know your Bible, to meet the sometimes mesmerising challenge of error with the plain, sobering word of Scripture.